Monday, July 31, 2017

U.S. Companies Post Profit Growth Not Seen in Six Years

from the WSJ
America’s largest companies are on pace to post two consecutive quarters of double-digit profit growth for the first time since 2011, helped by years of cost-cutting, a weaker dollar and stronger consumer spending.

Earnings at S&P 500 companies are expected to rise 11% in the second quarter, according to data from Thomson Reuters, following a 15% increase in the first quarter. Close to 60% of the firms in the index have reported second-quarter results so far.

Corporate America’s strong earnings performance comes as several policy initiatives that were expected to help boost companies’ bottom line—corporate-tax cuts and increased government spending on infrastructure—have been sidetracked amid political infighting in Washington, D.C., which culminated with the recent failure of the health-law bill.
Even as activity inside the Beltway bogged down, the markets have been on an almost nonstop rally since the election. The S&P 500 is up 16% since early November and 10% this year.

“You could argue that the stock-market investor overestimated Trump but underestimated earnings,” said Christopher Probyn, chief economist for State Street Global Advisors.

The second-quarter profit gains are spread across industries from Wall Street banks to Detroit’s car factories to Silicon Valley’s software labs. Earnings are expected to decline only in the utilities sector, according to data from Thomson Reuters. ​

Several factors are at work, analysts and economists say. A weaker dollar has made it easier to sell U.S.-made goods overseas and has kept borrowing costs low. U.S. wages have improved enough to help bolster consumer spending without raising employer labor costs so much to dent the bottom line.

Companies also continue to reap the fruits of their recent zeal for cutting costs, Mr. Probyn said. “We underestimated some of the cost-cutting and restructuring that has gone on within the various industries; that has permitted earnings to keep doing well.”

Sales, too, rose in the quarter, by an expected 5%, the second-biggest increase in more than five years, according to data from Thomson Reuters. The figures reflect actual results for about half the S&P 500 index, and analysts’ estimates for those that had yet to report results as of Friday.

On Friday, the Commerce Department reported that gross domestic product rose at a 2.6% rate in the second quarter, up from 1.2% in the first quarter.

Executives say even rapid progress on a tax rewrite or an infrastructure bill is unlikely to help improve profits soon.

“We’re halfway through the year, and they haven’t done [tax overhaul],” Christopher Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. said last week. “We’re not going to have enough time for it to trickle through and really benefit this year.”

On an investor call earlier this month, James Dimon, chief executive officer of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. said: “We’ve been growing at 1.5% to 2% in spite of stupidity and political gridlock because the American business sector is powerful and strong and is going to grow regardless.” Mr. Dimon has made several comments about the need for bipartisan policy revamps.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“Political and policy uncertainty continues to weigh on health care, taxation, regulation and trade,” Debra Cafaro, chief executive of Ventas Inc., a real-estate investment firm specializing in senior housing and health-care property, said Friday. “Washington has been wildly unpredictable.”

As executives discuss results with investors and analysts, events in Washington have faded into the background. S&P 500 companies that mentioned President Donald Trump or his administration during their latest conference calls are down by a third compared with three months ago, according to an analysis by research firm Sentieo.

The market has also largely stopped reacting to blow-by-blow developments in Washington, despite uncertainty over the size, shape and timing of any tax and infrastructure initiatives, said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist with Prudential Financial Inc.

Last week, congressional Republicans and the Trump administration outlined some plans for tax changes to cut individual and corporate tax rates “as much as possible” with a timeline to advance legislation this fall. Many specifics aren’t yet known. President Trump has also promised to put $1 trillion toward infrastructure, likely from a mix of private and public funding, although details remain unclear.

Corning Inc. CEO Wendell Weeks, who was at the White House this month to announce new U.S. investment and hiring, told analysts last week that he still expects Congress to overhaul the tax code—eventually.

“What I am much less confident about is how the political math works in any given year,” Mr. Weeks said. “So I think calling timing on that one is above my pay grade.”

Honeywell International Inc. CEO Darius Adamczyk earlier this month said he hoped lawmakers would advance plans for revamping the tax code as soon as the current quarter. Still, he isn’t counting on it.

“I think there’s more uncertainty in that now than maybe even before, so I can’t let that sort of rule the business,” Mr. Adamczyk said.

That uncertainty could make it difficult for companies to sustain robust earnings growth, said Omar Aguilar, chief investment officer of equities for Charles Schwab Investment Management.

Companies are reporting solid cash flow, but capital spending has been weak until recently. Uncertainty over tax policy may exacerbate that reluctance to invest, Mr. Aguilar said. “Tax reform is clearly what the future may require for these numbers to continue on the same pace.”

Evan Greenberg, CEO of insurer Chubb Ltd. , told investors last week that the U.S. badly needs a tax-code overhaul and higher government infrastructure spending to remain competitive.

“But an awful lot of this requires legislation, and we need an administration that is focused, that is working with Congress,” he said in a conference call. “And we need a Congress that comes together to address these issues of our country.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

Chuck Schumer: A Better Deal for American Workers

from the NY Times
Americans are clamoring for bold changes to our politics and our economy. They feel, rightfully, that both systems are rigged against them, and they made that clear in last year’s election. American families deserve a better deal so that this country works for everyone again, not just the elites and special interests. Today, Democrats will start presenting that better deal to the American people.

There used to be a basic bargain in this country that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could own a home, afford a car, put your kids through college and take a modest vacation every year while putting enough away for a comfortable retirement. In the second half of the 20th century, millions of Americans achieved this solid middle-class lifestyle. I should know — I grew up in that America.

But things have changed.

Today’s working Americans and the young are justified in having greater doubts about the future than any generation since the Depression. Americans believe they’re getting a raw deal from both the economic and political systems in our country. And they are right. The wealthiest special interests can spend an unlimited, undisclosed amount of money to influence elections and protect their special deals in Washington. As a result, our system favors short-term gains for shareholders instead of long-term benefits for workers.

And for far too long, government has gone along, tilting the economic playing field in favor of the wealthy and powerful while putting new burdens on the backs of hard-working Americans.

Democrats have too often hesitated from taking on those misguided policies directly and unflinchingly — so much so that many Americans don’t know what we stand for. Not after today. Democrats will show the country that we’re the party on the side of working people — and that we stand for three simple things.

First, we’re going to increase people’s pay. Second, we’re going to reduce their everyday expenses. And third, we’re going to provide workers with the tools they need for the 21st-century economy.

Over the next several months, Democrats will lay out a series of policies that, if enacted, will make these three things a reality. We’ve already proposed creating jobs with a $1 trillion infrastructure plan; increasing workers’ incomes by lifting the minimum wage to $15; and lowering household costs by providing paid family and sick leave.

On Monday we are announcing three new policies to advance our goals.

Right now, there is nothing to stop vulture capitalists from egregiously raising the price of lifesaving drugs without justification. We’re going to fight for rules to stop prescription drug price gouging and demand that drug companies justify price increases to the public. And we’re going to push for empowering Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for older Americans.

Right now our antitrust laws are designed to allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care. We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition.

Right now millions of unemployed or underemployed people, particularly those without a college degree, could be brought back into the labor force or retrained to secure full-time, higher-paying work. We propose giving employers, particularly small businesses, a large tax credit to train workers for unfilled jobs. This will have particular resonance in smaller cities and rural areas, which have experienced an exodus of young people who aren’t trained for the jobs in those areas.

In the coming months, we’ll offer additional ideas, from rebuilding rural America to fundamentally changing our trade laws to benefit workers, not multinational corporations.

We are in the minority in both houses of Congress; we cannot promise anyone that this Congress will begin passing our priorities tomorrow. But we have to start raising our voices to present our vision for the country’s future. We will seek the support of any Republicans willing to work with us, but more important, we must start rallying the American people to support our ideas.

In the last two elections, Democrats, including in the Senate, failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program for the middle class and those working hard to get there. We also failed to communicate our values to show that we were on the side of working people, not the special interests. We will not repeat the same mistake. This is the start of a new vision for the party, one strongly supported by House and Senate Democrats.

Our better deal is not about expanding the government, or moving our party in one direction or another along the political spectrum. Nor is it about tearing down government agencies that work, that effectively protect consumers and promote the health and well-being of the country. It’s about reorienting government to work on behalf of people and families.

Americans from every corner of this country know that the economy isn’t working for them the way that it should, and they wonder if it ever will again. One party says the answer is that special interests should continue to write the rules and that government ought to make things easier for an already-favored few.

Democrats will offer a better deal.
This new deal is better than nothing. Barely!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


from the Baltimore Sun
The City Council is deeply divided over a proposal to impose a mandatory one-year sentence for carrying a handgun in much of Baltimore.

The council held an impromptu, 45-minute debate on the idea Monday afternoon before the legislation was even introduced Monday night. Seven members of the 15-member body say they'll support the measure, while four oppose it. The remaining four say they're maybes.

Council leaders say the ordinance is a necessary step toward getting rising levels of violence under control in Baltimore by ensuring that people caught with a gun get time behind bars. Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young urged his colleagues to support the measure during a working lunch that turned into a lengthy back and forth on the bill.

"The criminals are running this city," Young said. "We're not running it, they are. And if we want to do a first step, it is this bill right here."

But opponents of the idea said there's no evidence to show that mandatory minimum sentences drive down crime and that tying judges' hands could lead to unfair outcomes.

"This is not something that's innovative," said Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, who quickly came out in opposition to the bill after city leaders announced it last week.

The bill would create the one-year penalty in cases where a person was convicted of carrying a handgun within 100 yards of a school, church or other place of public assembly — a definition city officials say would cover most of Baltimore. Supporters had to tie the measure to certain locations for the proposed city ordinance to be allowed under Maryland law.

Carrying a handgun on city streets without a hard-to-get permit is already illegal under state law, but police officials have focused on court records that they say show judges are being too lenient with gun offenders, frequently suspending part of their sentences.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis praised Young and Mayor Catherine Pugh on Monday for backing the measure.

"I think our community demands that we do things differently and hold people accountable who choose to illegally possess guns and use those guns to resolve conflict," he said at a news conference. "Period. It's not about mass incarceration. It's not about zero tolerance."

But Councilman Brandon Scott, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee and an opponent of the bill, said officers are arresting fewer people suspected of gun crimes and not targeting the people most likely to commit violent acts.

"Just passing this legislation is not going to make gun arrests go back up," he said. "We can't have this conversation in a vacuum."

In addition to Scott and Burnett, Council members Shannon Sneed and Ryan Dorsey have said they oppose the measure. Council members John Bullock, Mary Pat Clarke, Bill Henry and Zeke Cohen said they need to consider it further.

Prior to the council meeting where the bill was introduced, Young and other council members met with eight mothers whose sons had been fatally shot and are urging passage of the bill.

Alice Oaks, the mother of two murdered sons who is president of the group Survivors Against Violence Everywhere, broke down in tears discussing the bill.

"Guns have impacted my life tremendously," she said between tears. "It got me to a point where I wanted to commit suicide. I'm for what Jack is bringing to the table. No mother, no one, should have to go through this pain."

Once the bill was introduced, Young told council members from the dais that the city is on pace for more than 400 homicides this year.

"This is about carrying illegal guns in the city of Baltimore," he said. "This is not about color or race as some folks have suggested."

Young took issue with some protesters at the meeting who held up signs opposing mandatory minimum sentences. He said he's had three family members killed by gun violence.

"If it hits your family, you want the maximum amount of time served," he said. "Unless it hits your family, don't complain."

At the lunch, Henry said he wanted to know more about how State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby would use such an ordinance, saying the bill would represent a power shift.

"When you take it away from the judges, you're giving it to prosecutors," he said.

Mosby has declined to spell out her position on the bill, but has issued a statement saying she is supportive of measures intended to strengthen gun control.

Council leaders had sought to fast track the bill during the council's quiet summer period. They hoped to have something for the mayor to sign next month.

City Councilman Eric Costello told The Baltimore Sun Monday morning his Judiciary Committee would hold a hearing and vote on the proposed gun legislation — a key legislative step — at 10 a.m. Tuesday. But he agreed to back off that idea after some of his colleagues objected at the lunch. He said Monday afternoon that the hearing would not be held until next week at the earliest.

"This is the most critical issue the city is facing right now, "We need to all be focused on this issue." Costello said.

Costello said the council could vote on the bill twice in August — a practice called a "double reading" — which would allow Pugh to sign it into law as early as next month.

"We need to take this seriously," he said of the high level of gun violence in Baltimore.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Next Senator from Michigan?

from the LA Times
Kid Rock dropped two new songs and their corresponding music videos overnight as Thursday turned into Friday — the clincher to a week of bold statements in which the Detroit singer appeared to declare he's running for the Senate.

After teasing an imminent "major announcement" on Wednesday, Rock tweeted a picture of a campaign yard sign reading "Kid Rock for U.S. Senate," accompanied by a link to a campaign-style website offering merchandise for sale and flashing slogans such as "Pimp of the Nation" and "Party to the People." And while there was skepticism, the 46-year-old singer born Robert James Ritchie is insisting he means what he says.

"It's not a hoax," he wrote in a post on his personal website Thursday evening. "It's a strategy."

"Like politicians write books during their campaigns, I'm planning on putting out music during mine and IT ALL STARTS TONIGHT AT MIDNIGHT," he continued.

He also responded to incumbent Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who'd tweeted, "I know we both share a love of music. I concede he's better at playing guitar and I'll keep doing what I do best: fighting for Michigan."

His take? "I concede she is better at playing politics than I am, so I'll keep doing what I do best, which is being a voice for tax paying, hardworking AMERICANS," said Rock, who hasn't kept his Trump-supporting ideology under wraps.

He became politicized, according to Rolling Stone, after his hometown of Detroit filed for bankruptcy.

But until he files with the Federal Election Commission, the Internet is likely to keep wondering whether it's all a Trump-style marketing campaign for songs "Po-Dunk" and "Greatest Show on Earth"

The "Kid Rock for U.S. Senate" website diverts from the typical parameters associated with campaign-affiliated sites in a number of ways. For example, campaign sites must confirm that potential donors are U.S. citizens before completing any transactions. The Kid Rock site redirects visitors to a third-party webpage, hosted by the Warner Bros. record label, to seal its sales.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for one, is taking Kid Rock seriously. She's already addressed her supporters with a fundraising email titled "Senator Kid Rock (R-MI.)"

“Well, maybe this is all a joke — but we all thought Donald Trump was joking when he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower and announced his campaign, too," Warren said, as reported by the Boston Herald.

“And sure," she added, "maybe this is just a marketing gimmick for a new album or tour — but we all thought Donald Trump was just promoting his reality TV show, too."

Capitalism w/Asian Values...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sailing to Philadelphia

I am Jeremiah Dixon
I am a Geordie boy
A glass of wine with you, sir
And the ladies I'll enjoy
All Durham and Northumberland
Is measured up by my own hand
It was my fate from birth
To make my mark upon the earth

He calls me Charlie Mason
A stargazer am I
It seems that I was born
To chart the evening sky
They'd cut me out for baking bread
But I had other dreams instead
This baker's boy from the west country
Would join the Royal Society

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
A Mason-Dixon Line

Now you're a good surveyor, Dixon
But I swear you'll make me mad
The West will kill us both
You gullible Geordie lad
You talk of liberty
How can America be free
A Geordie and a baker's boy
In the forests of the Iroquois

Now hold your head up, Mason
See America lies there
The morning tide has raised
The capes of Delaware
Come up and feel the sun
A new morning has begun
Another day will make it clear
Why your stars should guide us here

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
A Mason-Dixon Line

Symbolic Violence, or, Why the Meme Wars Matter

from Wikipedia (On Pierre Bordieu)
Species of capital and symbolic violence

Bourdieu extended the notion of capital, defined as sums of money or assets put to productive use. For Bourdieu, these assets could take many forms which had not received much attention when he began writing. Bourdieu habitually refers to several principal forms of capital: economic, symbolic, cultural and social. Loic Waquant describes their status in Bourdieu's work in these terms: "Capital comes in 3 principal species: economic, cultural and social. A fourth species, symbolic capital, designates the effects of any form of capital when people do not perceive them as such."[46]

Bourdieu sees symbolic capital (e.g., prestige, honor, attention) as a crucial source of power.[47] Symbolic capital is any species of capital that is, in Loïc Wacquant's terms "not perceived as such," but which is instead perceived through socially inculcated classificatory schemes. When a holder of symbolic capital uses the power this confers against an agent who holds less, and seeks thereby to alter their actions, they exercise symbolic violence. We might see this when a daughter brings home a boyfriend considered unsuitable by her parents. She is met with disapproving looks and gestures, symbols which serve to convey the message that she will not be permitted to continue this relationship, but which never make this coercive fact explicit. People come to experience symbolic power and systems of meaning (culture) as legitimate. Hence, the daughter will often feel a duty to obey her parents' unspoken demand, regardless of her suitor's merits.

Symbolic violence is fundamentally the imposition of categories of thought and perception upon dominated social agents who then take the social order to be just. It is the incorporation of unconscious structures that tend to perpetuate the structures of action of the dominant. The dominated then take their position to be "right." Symbolic violence is in some senses much more powerful than physical violence in that it is embedded in the very modes of action and structures of cognition of individuals, and imposes the spectre of legitimacy of the social order.

In his theoretical writings, Bourdieu employs some terminology used in economics to analyze the processes of social and cultural reproduction, of how the various forms of capital tend to transfer from one generation to the next. For Bourdieu, formal education represents the key example of this process. Educational success, according to Bourdieu, entails a whole range of cultural behaviour, extending to ostensibly non-academic features like gait, dress, or accent. Privileged children have learned this behaviour, as have their teachers. Children of unprivileged backgrounds have not. The children of privilege therefore fit the pattern of their teachers' expectations with apparent 'ease'; they are 'docile'. The unprivileged are found to be 'difficult', to present 'challenges'. Yet both behave as their upbringing dictates. Bourdieu regards this 'ease', or 'natural' ability—distinction—as in fact the product of a great social labour, largely on the part of the parents. It equips their children with the dispositions of manner as well as thought which ensure they are able to succeed within the educational system and can then reproduce their parents' class position in the wider social system.

Cultural capital refers to assets, e.g., competencies, skills, qualifications, which enable holders to mobilise cultural authority and can also be a source of misrecognition and symbolic violence. For example, working class children can come to see the educational success of their middle-class peers as always legitimate, seeing what is often class-based inequality as instead the result of hard work or even 'natural' ability. A key part of this process is the transformation of people's symbolic or economic inheritance (e.g., accent or property) into cultural capital (e.g., university qualifications).

Bourdieu argues that cultural capital has developed in opposition to economic capital. Furthermore, the conflict between those who mostly hold cultural capital and those who mostly hold economic capital finds expression in the opposed social fields of art and business. The field of art and related cultural fields are seen to have striven historically for autonomy, which in different times and places has been more or less achieved. The autonomous field of art is summed up as "an economic world turned upside down,"[48] highlighting the opposition between economic and cultural capital.

For Bourdieu, "social capital is the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition."[49]

Sunday, July 9, 2017

G-20 Hamburg Burns

America, Land of the "I'm Not Elite" Elite

It's all about the hat
from the Boston Herald
“It’s hard to be an elitist once you’ve met the elites.”

That was CBS News’ Will Rahn’s take on last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival, where wealthy, liberal elites on the mean streets … er, slopes of Colorado discussed just how tough their lives have become. From Donald Trump’s White House to the capitals of Europe, elitism is out of favor and the Acela Corridor class is as annoyed as John Kerry waiting for a table at a crowded Martha’s Vineyard restaurant.

I’m kidding, of course. John Kerry never waits for a table ...

Liberal elites are exasperated by the “deplorable,” “ignorant,” “uneducated” Trump supporters who only stop clinging to their guns and religion just long enough to vote against their betters. But American voters aren’t populists by nature. Washington, Jefferson, Wilson, the Roosevelts, even Barack Obama — all were economic or intellectual elitists who won the hearts of the masses.

So why are they so out of favor today? It’s not your arrogance or condescension, my elitist friends.

It’s your incompetence.

Who gave us Obamacare? Why, super-genius Barack Obama and his super-smart pals including Jonathan Gruber. You remember Gruber. He’s the O-Romney-Care architect famous for claiming that the stupidity of the American people helped get Obamacare passed. And when it did, the Ivy Leaguers of The New York Times cheered.

So how’s Obamacare working? To use a phrase I learned at a Harvard symposium on health care policy, it stinks. It didn’t keep its promises (did you get to keep your doctor?) and it’s in economic collapse.

OK, the Obamacare fiasco is old news. What about the current front-page crisis, North Korea? How did Donald Trump get us in a mess where the only options are nukes in the hands of a mad boy with a bowl cut, or rockets raining down on 25 million residents of greater Seoul?

Answer: He didn’t. North Korea is the terrifying mess it is today thanks to deals it cut with elites like Bill Clinton and the Europeans. For 25 years, the West’s Korea policy has been the one pushed by liberal elites, not anti-globalist populists. North Korea kept making deals, getting payoffs, then getting caught cheating — followed by even better deals from the bright bulbs of the diplomatic elites.

The political elites brought us the economic meltdown of 2008, then used our money to bail out their rich friends and donors. During the so-called “recovery” (the worst since World War II) and under the watchful eye of Obama and Elizabeth Warren, incomes surged at the top but sagged for the working class. In 2010, victory in Iraq was assured and ISIS didn’t exist. Today hundreds of Westerners have died from ISIS-inspired terror, and the collapse of order in the Middle East led to Europe’s mass migration crisis.

And then elites wonder how that devil Donald Trump turned the voters against them.

Imagine how different the world would look if their ideas had worked? If Obama-care really did bring health care costs down as promised, or improved health outcomes for average Americans. If the billions taxpayers lost in bailouts led to higher middle-class wages. If cutting deals with dirtbags like North Korea and Iran led to a safer, more peaceful world. In other words, imagine a world where the elites and their ideas hadn’t failed miserably. Think we’d still have President “Mean Tweets” Trump?

If the elites were even half as smart as they think they are, they’d be rethinking their ideas. They’d admit that the free market of a million minds is always going to be smarter than the best brain of the brightest bureaucrat. And they would learn the value of that most elite of virtues, humility.
I'm Not an Elitist, I Wear a Baseball Cap!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

G20 Merkel Mania!

Global capitalism needs ever cheaper sources of labour. Without borders, global capitalists don't need to move factories overseas, they can simply import cheaper labour to where the factories already exist!

Friday, July 7, 2017

The guilty secret of every diplomat in Washington DC

Diplomacy in Washington has been reduced to a modern day version of Kremlinology
from the BBC
It's tough being a diplomat when nobody talks to you. It's even worse when they aren't talking to you because they don't think you matter anymore.

When he was just a candidate, Donald Trump declared in his first major speech on the issue that "our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster". His solution was to replace it with a slogan: America First. What he hasn't replaced, now that he is president, are the people normally tasked with projecting America's power around the world.

"It can't be business as usual when the entire [upper] floor of the State Department is missing," one ambassador said.

Ambassadors in Washington are clueless these days, or rather clues are all they have, because, as this one was explaining to me, the usual avenues of diplomacy in the US capital have broken down. The same words were spoken by several ambassadors from across the globe that I've spoken to in DC recently.

The "missing people" are the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries of state with whom all the diplomats in the US capital normally conduct their day-to-day operational business.

There are presently dozens of senior positions lying vacant. The people who are acting up in these roles, by their own admission, have no authority to take important decisions.

Unfortunately for them, Washington, DC, is a city where your status is entirely defined by your ability to influence others. So the city's embassies, representing US allies in Asia, Europe and Latin America, have told their staff to largely bypass the state department and look for other avenues to get their voices heard.

With a president widely viewed as being entirely un-ideological on all issues other than trade, face time is key.

"Four minutes with him is worth hours of meeting with anybody else," a visiting head of state told me recently. World leaders recognise transaction is the new diplomacy.

America isn't taking one for the team anymore, because President Trump isn't a team player. So diplomats make sure they go into their meetings with an idea that Mr Trump can claim as a victory.

It must be structured, as one diplomat put it, "so he can say to people, 'we scored a win here,' because for him it's all about winning".

To make their case more effectively, America's allies are cloaking their own agendas in the president's language and priorities.

Complex political issues are boiled down as "fighting terrorism".

That's how the Saudi government played the president during his Middle East trip in May. The Saudis repackaged their long-simmering dispute with Qatar, over regional influence and the Muslim Brotherhood, as a battle against Islamist extremists.

Latin American leaders are recasting their "war on drugs'' as a "war on terrorism".

On trade issues, countries make their pitch on the benefits to Mr Trump's support base and how much the people who voted for him will end up paying for stuff in the shops.

A Western diplomat said his team had decided there were three groups of people President Trump listens to. There is his inner circle of White House advisers containing people like Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law; the former investment banker Gary Cohn; and Mr Trump's right-wing svengali Steve Bannon.

The second group is his cabinet, and their influence varies widely from person to person, reflected in the time they each get with him inside the Oval Office.

The third group is his pre-presidency contacts from New York, and the property and media industries.

So foreign diplomats try to talk to as many people in this group of interlocking circles as they can, in the hope that if these people see the merit in their case, they will convey it to the president. And if the president hears that view enough times, he will believe it.

However, after laying out this elaborate strategy, the Western diplomat confessed, "but then there are those who say the most important thing is to be the last person to talk to him before he makes a decision".

Diplomacy in Washington has been reduced to a modern-day version of Kremlinology, where each individual policy outcome is used to measure the influence of the people arguing for or against it.

From that is determined who is up and who is down and who is therefore important to influence.

The guilty secret of every ambassador in DC is that the first thing they do in the morning is check the president's Twitter feed. That is now the best, perhaps it's the only, way to work out what is going on with US foreign policy.

And while the White House press corps have derided Mr Trump's Twitter diplomacy, some of his allies have a grudging respect for it.

"An awful lot of politicians around the world are watching this and thinking, 'Can I learn from it?' because it's been astonishingly successful," one diplomat told me.

"This is a guy who had never run for public office anywhere and the first time he runs, he gets the biggest job on the planet. So he did something right."
"Four minutes with him is worth hours of meeting with anybody else," one head of state said
So it would "appear" that the normal Global Trade channels have been disrupted, but have they only been re-routed through to the "Trump network"? The unspoken rules in which the "State" once brokered all International corporate deals have been disrupted. Does this mean that the "State's role has actually been reduced (ie - a more laissez-faire "no NAFTA, no TPP?")? Only time will tell.

The Global Warming "Consensus"

A Few Demographic Facts

More on CompStat.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

What the Left Will Do to You, if You Oppose Them...

Democrats Motto: "Reward Friends, Punish Enemies"

from Wikipedia:
Naomi Klein (born May 8, 1970) is a Canadian author, social activist, and filmmaker known for her political analyses and criticism of corporate globalization and of capitalism.[1] She first became known internationally for her book No Logo (1999); then for The Take, a documentary film about Argentina’s occupied factories that was written by Klein and directed by her husband Avi Lewis; and The Shock Doctrine (2007), a critical analysis of the history of neoliberal economics that was adapted into a six-minute companion film by Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón,[2] as well as a feature-length documentary by Michael Winterbottom.[3]

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014) was a New York Times non-fiction bestseller and the winner of the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction in its year.[4] In 2016 Klein was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize for her activism on climate justice.[5] Klein frequently appears on global and national lists of top influential thinkers, including the 2014 Thought Leaders ranking compiled by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute,[6] Prospect magazine's world thinkers 2014 poll,[7] and Maclean's 2014 Power List.[8] She is a member of the board of directors of the climate activist group[9]
Just another example of Canadians influencing American politics (and you thought it was a bunch of Russians!)

States Won't Give Trump Voter Data Because They Would Lose Revenue from Selling It?

from the Washington Examiner
In the past week election officials in dozens of states have rejected a request from the newly-formed Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity to provide voter records for a study on the extent (if any) of election fraud. Some of those officials have expressed great indignation that the commission would even ask. Yet many of those same officials would gladly sell those very same records — to campaigns, to candidates, to political consultants, even to you. It's a situation that baffles some political veterans.

President Trump created the commission by executive order on May 11. Vice President Mike Pence is the chairman, and the vice chairman is Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate. Kobach is the one who sent the request to officials in all 50 states.

The purpose of the commission, Kobach wrote, is to identify "rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance or undermine the American people's confidence in the integrity of federal elections processes." Kobach asked state officials to answer some straightforward questions, like "What changes, if any, to federal election laws would you recommend to enhance the integrity of federal elections?" and "What evidence or information do you have regarding instances of voter fraud or registration fraud in your state?" and "What recommendations do you have for preventing voter intimidation or disenfranchisement?

Nothing too controversial there. But then Kobach added the request that has set off a firestorm:
In addition, in order for the commission to fully analyze vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting, I am requesting that you provide to the commission the publicly available voter roll data for [your state], including, if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.
In response, state officials not only refused to provide Kobach the requested information — at least 45 have said no so far — but have tried to outdo each other in expressing patriotic outrage that the commission would even consider asking such a thing.

"My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico," wrote Mississippi's Republican secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann.

"[The] Constitution ensures voters ballot choices will always be secret. Americans have died protecting this freedom," tweeted South Carolina's Republican governor, Henry McMaster.

"I find this request for the personal information of millions of Marylanders repugnant," said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. "It appears designed only to intimidate voters and to indulge President Trump's fantasy that he won the popular vote."

"I have no intention of honoring this request," said Virginia's Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. "This entire commission is based on the specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November."

For commission members, the responses are hard to understand. "The reaction to this has been absurd," said Hans von Spakovsky, a former Bush Justice Department official, former member of the Federal Elections Commission, and head of the conservative Heritage Foundation's Election Law Reform Initiative, who is now serving on the Trump commission. "The commission is asking for voter registration and other information that is publicly available. Not only do all of the political parties buy this information routinely from secretaries of states — so do candidates."

It's true. Just look at, say, the Department of Elections webpage in Terry McAuliffe's Virginia. The department lists "client services" that include the purchase of voter lists. To candidates, parties, campaigns, and "members of the public seeking to promote voter participation," the state of Virginia will sell:
Registered Voter List (RVL) and Newly Registered Voter List (NRV) — full name, residence address, mailing address, gender, date of birth, registration date, date last registration form received, registration status, locality, precinct, voting districts and voter identification number.
Want the data in slightly different form? Virginia also sells:
List of Those Who Voted (LTWV) — full name, residence address, mailing address, gender, date of birth, registration date, date last registration form received, registration status, locality, precinct, voting districts, voter identification number, election date, election type, and whether the voter voted in-person or absentee.
For another example, look at the state of Maine, which has also refused to cooperate with the commission, but which by law spells out the types of voter information it will sell:
The secretary of state or the registrar shall make available the following voter record information, subject to the fees set forth in subsection 2: the voter's name, residence address, mailing address, year of birth, enrollment status, electoral districts, voter status, date of registration, date of change of the voter record if applicable, voter participation history, voter record number and any special designations indicating uniformed service voters, overseas voters or township voters.
Notice that much of the information for sale in Maine and Virginia is similar, if not identical, to the data requested by Kobach. Many states have similar provisions. Which raises the question: If voter information is for sale, why is it a matter of principle to refuse to provide it to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity?

"It's silly," said Chris Wilson, CEO of the political consulting group WPA Intelligence and former head of research and analytics for the Ted Cruz presidential campaign. "This is data that we can purchase online from multiple states and multiple sources."

Von Spakovsky added that, if the fact that states sell voter information were not enough, federal law requires states to keep and give out the same information. The National Voter Registration Act, also known as the Motor Voter law, includes a provision saying, "Each state shall maintain for at least 2 years and shall make available for public inspection and, where available, photocopying at a reasonable cost, all records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters…" I asked von Spakovsky if that rather convoluted phrase covered voter rolls and information. "Yes," he answered.

There is one thing that Kobach asked states for — and it is important to note that Kobach's letter is a request, specifically asking only for information that is publicly available under state law — that is not for sale, and that is the request for the last four digits of a voter's Social Security number. Even though having the last four digits might be useful to researchers trying to distinguish between voters with the same names, it might be that states could reasonably refuse to give the commission that one bit of information. But that doesn't account for the across-the-board denials from so many states.

Of course, the big reason many state officials, particularly Democrats, are refusing to provide information is that they simply do not believe voter fraud exists, or exists in anything other than the tiniest numbers. But von Spakovsky points out that there are respected studies pointing to problems with the nation's voter rolls that deserve further study.

In 2012, for example, Pew Research published a study on the nation's voter registration system, which it concluded was "inaccurate, costly, and inefficient." Pew found that:
Approximately 24 million — one of every eight — voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.

More than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as voters.

Approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.
The problem with the Pew study, as von Spakovsky sees it, is that Pew did not study whether those registration problems actually resulted in voting problems. "We know for a fact that people who aren't U.S. citizens are registering and voting in U.S. elections," he said. "How extensive is that problem? I don't know because no one has ever done the work to find that out."

Now the Trump commission is seeking answers. To do so, it needs the information that, until now, many states routinely gave out to interested parties. Now, however, the states appear to be spoiling for a fight. Given the amount of public posturing involved so far, it's not at all clear the commission can succeed.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Maryland Election Officials Afraid to Prove Trump Wrong

from the Baltimore Sun
Maryland elections officials on Monday denied the Trump administration’s request for personal information about the state’s voters as part of a new federal investigation into alleged voter fraud.

Linda H. Lamone, Maryland’s elections administrator, rejected the request for information after receiving an opinion from Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who called President Donald J. Trump’s investigation “repugnant.”

“The assistant attorneys general representing the State Board of Elections have considered the request to the Board for the personal information of millions of voters and have determined that the requested disclosure is prohibited by law,” Frosh said in a statement. “I find this request for the personal information of millions of Marylanders repugnant; it appears designed only to intimidate voters and to indulge President Trump’s fantasy that he won the popular vote.”

Also on Monday, Maryland Deputy Secretary of State Luis E. Borunda resigned from the panel Trump convened to conduct the investigation. Borunda, a former Baltimore County school board member with little elections experience, was appointed to the commission last week.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said Borunda joined Trump’s 15-member bipartisan panel “on his own” and was not appointed by the Republican governor.

“He informed our office he has resigned from the commission,” Mayer said. Borunda did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland’s only Republican in Congress, suggested the Trump administration should withhold money from the state if elections officials won’t comply.

“I’m not surprised that Democrats are worried about investigations into voter fraud,” Harris said. “Why not cooperate? Most of this information is publicly available. There is no reason why not to cooperate with a federal investigation into the extent that voter fraud occurs in Maryland and whether some states are more lax than others.”

Harris cited the example of his former political opponent, Wendy W. Rosen, who pleaded guilty in 2013 to illegally voting in two elections.

“Clearly voter fraud happens in Maryland,” he said.

Last week, Trump administration officials sent requests to all 50 states for publicly available information as part of an investigation into the integrity of elections. More than two dozen other states have partially or fully denied the administration’s request.

Trump tweeted over the weekend that uncooperative states must have something to hide.

“Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?” he wrote.

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked for voter data including names, addresses, party affiliation, voting history and partial social security numbers.

The commission was created after Trump claimed on Twitter in November that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Trump won the Electoral College vote, but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes.

The president has never offered evidence to back up his claim.

“Repeating incessantly a false story of expansive voter fraud, and then creating a commission to fuel that narrative, does not make it any more true,” Frosh said. “There is no evidence that the integrity of the 2016 election in Maryland — or any other state — was compromised by voter fraud.”

Frosh urged Hogan and the State Board of Elections to speak out and “reject any further attempt to intimidate voters and obtain their personal information.”

Much of the requested information is public under Maryland law but must be requested by a registered voter of the state and cannot be used for commercial purposes. Many political campaigns, for instance, obtain such information for purposes of advertising and door-knocking.

Mayer said the state elections board should comply with state law, but not give out private information.

“As for any such request, the state Board of Elections should supply no more information than is required of them under the law,” he said.

The request came in a letter from Kris Kobach, vice chair of the presidential commission and the Kansas secretary of state. The letter does not ask for private information, but rather public voter-roll information.

“In order for the Commission to fully analyze vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting, I am requesting that you provide to the Commission the publicly-available voter roll data for Maryland,” Kobach wrote in the letter.

State law also says a Maryland voter must submit to the State Board of Elections a statement signed under oath that the requested voter information will not be used for purposes unrelated to the electoral process.

In Maryland, leading Democrats, including Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamentez and nearly 50 members of the General Assembly, condemned the commission’s work.

Former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the 2018 gubernatorial race, held a news conference Monday morning calling for the state board of elections to refuse to cooperate with the election integrity commission.

“If the secretary of state of Mississippi can tell this commission and Trump to go jump in the gulf,” Jealous said during a Monday news conference, “we should be telling them to take a flying leap off the Bay Bridge.”

Jealous used the issue as an opportunity to accuse Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of “silently playing footsie with President Trump.” He noted that several other state leaders already have rebuffed the commission’s request.

“We’re calling on Hogan to have the courage to let the people of Maryland know what he thinks, to step out of silence, to stop playing footsie with Trump and join the other states in saying, ‘No, no thank you, no way, no how,’” Jealous said.

Frosh said in a letter to Congress this year that voter fraud is not a significant problem in Maryland.

“To date, there are no cases in which it has been determined that an individual who cast a vote in the federal elections held in November 2016 was legally prohibited from doing so...,” Frosh wrote. “With only two instances of confirmed voter fraud from the total voter turnout of 2,734,176 in the 2012 Presidential General Election, we can safely say that there is no evidence of coordinated or systematic voter fraud in Maryland."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Maryland Argues Republicans not Harmed in Redistricting Case

Before Redistricting

After Redistricting
from the Baltimore Sun
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh asked a federal court Friday to dismiss a lawsuit that claims state lawmakers violated Republicans' constitutional rights when they redrew Maryland's congressional boundaries six years ago.

The state's response in the redistricting case — the first since the litigation forced several state Democrats to explain under oath the motivation behind Maryland's contorted congressional districts — asserts the plaintiffs have offered no evidence voters were targeted simply because they are registered Republicans.

Brought by a group of GOP voters in the 6th Congressional District, the case is one of several pending in federal courts that rely on new legal arguments to challenge the constitutionality of political gerrymandering. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear one of those lawsuits this fall — and that litigation, which comes out of Wisconsin, could play into the Maryland suit.

The Maryland lawsuit, filed in 2013, is focused on how the redrawn 6th District in Western Maryland led to the election of a Democratic congressman for the first time there in more than two decades. The plaintiffs contend the map violated the First Amendment by retaliating against people who voted Republican.

Frosh, a Democrat, countered Friday that there is no evidence the General Assembly targeted individual Republicans for retribution. He also noted that a voter isn't entitled to be represented in Congress by someone of like mind.

"All of plaintiffs' arguments hinge on a single false premise: That individuals who affiliate with a party have a right to maintain electoral successes gained by their party under prior redistricting maps," Frosh wrote. "Plaintiffs have produced no evidence that any decision maker 'specifically intended to burden the representational rights of certain citizens.'"

An attorney for the voters declined to comment.

Dirk Haire, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, dismissed the idea that the redistricting didn't hurt the GOP. The state party is not involved in the lawsuit.

"That's a total joke," Haire said. "Everyone in the state knows that the entire purpose behind the redistricting was to harm Republicans."

Gerrymandering, the practice of drawing boundaries for political advantage, often results in bizarre-shaped districts. Some studies have found that Maryland has one of the most gerrymandered congressional maps in the nation.

While politicians have long drawn districts for political advantage, computers have made the process an exact science. Carefully drawn maps can all but assure the party in power will retain its grip on the state legislature and congressional delegation for years.

No matter how the lawsuit turns out, it has refocused attention on the state's districts at a time when the issue is once again at the fore. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has advocated for a nonpartisan redistricting commission, ostensibly to curb partisan gerrymandering. Such a commission would likely result in Maryland sending more Republican lawmakers to Congress.

Under the current system, maps are drawn by the governor and approved by the General Assembly.

Democrats in Maryland have a two-to-one advantage in voter registration, but they control seven of the state's eight House seats.

In 2011, after adding heavily Democratic portions of Montgomery County to the Western Maryland-based 6th District, Democratic Rep. John Delaney ousted incumbent Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett. Delaney barely won reelection in 2014 — a point Frosh noted to underscore the competitiveness of the district.

But Delaney won with a 16-point margin in 2016, a presidential election year, and growth in the district suggests it will become more Democratic over time.

Lawyers deposed former Gov. Martin O'Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch as part of the lawsuit this year. In transcripts of those interviews, made public this month, O'Malley acknowledged that part of his goal was to make the 6th District more friendly to Democratic candidates.

Though that was not a surprise — O'Malley was the leader of the state Democratic Party at the time, as well as governor — it was the first time an elected official involved in the process acknowledged what was widely believed. Miller and Busch both continued to say partisan politics had nothing to do with the redistricting.

In his motion, Frosh wrote that an effort to draw a better map for Democrats did not represent a violation of the Constitution.

"The only evidence produced proves merely that the mapdrawers intended to create a more competitive district, one that slightly advantaged Democrats without considering any particular citizen's political conduct," he wrote.

The Supreme Court has often lamented partisan mapmaking, but the justices have failed to agree on a legal standard to decide when an effort to draw political advantage into a district crosses the line. The Wisconsin and Maryland cases are proposing different standards for how to determine whether a map is unconstitutional.

The Maryland case is being heard by a three judge panel. The court set a hearing in the case for July 14, and the judges asked both sides to prepare to argue whether the litigation should be put on hold until the Supreme Court rules in the Wisconsin case.
Every noon-time NPR talk show at the time was about how the redistricting would help Democrats win elections. It was ALL about giving the DNC one more Congressional seat by moving Republicans to heavily Democratic districts (Like the 7th & 8th) and transferring urban Democrats into the rural Republican 6th to create a "slim" but electable majority. That Frosh claims there's no "evidence" of political bias in the redistricting is LAUGHABLE. The defacto result was to flip political representation from a 10-term incumbent Republican (Bartlett) to a Democrat (Delaney)

from Wikipedia:
After redistricting, Delaney decided to run for the newly redrawn 6th District against 10-term Republican incumbent Roscoe Bartlett. The district had long been a Republican stronghold, but it had been significantly reconfigured. The Maryland General Assembly shifted heavily Republican Carroll County and a mostly Republican section of Frederick County to the heavily Democratic 8th district. It shifted Republican-tilting sections of Harford and Baltimore counties into the already heavily Republican 1st district. Taking their place was a heavily Democratic section of Montgomery County. The shifts were quite controversial, as Republicans accused Democrats of shifting district boundaries in their favor, while Democrats, led by Governor Martin O'Malley, insist the redrawn districts are fair and accurate representations of the state's population trends. During the primary, Delaney was endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards, Comptroller Peter Franchot, the Washington Post, and the Gazette. On April 3, 2012, Delaney won the five-candidate Democratic primary field with 54% of the vote. The next closest opponent, State Senator Robert J. Garagiola, received 29% of the vote, 25 points behind Delaney. In the November 6, 2012 general election, Delaney defeated Bartlett by 59%-38%, a 21-point margin. He won mostly on the strength of a nearly 56,000-vote margin in Montgomery County, which accounted for almost all of the overall margin of 58,900 votes.
I wonder if Frosh would also argue that "no Democrats would be harmed" if we undid all the Democrat gerrymandering performed in 2012...and THEY subsequently lost a few seats in the U.S. Congress?