Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Green New Deal: The Good, the Bad and the Nuts (II)

Now that a little more time has elapsed since the GND roll out, the responses on the left to the initiative have become clearer.
First, there are some folks--I would mention Mike Tomasky and Jonathan Chait here--who see the GND as being net negative because it's so far over the top that it discredits the Democrats and provides abundant ammunition to the GOP. Tomaksy describes it as "a home run for Mitch McConnell". Chait describes it as basically bad and a kind of anti-capitalist fever dream dressed up in green clothing.
That seems a bit harsh. Surely some credit is due for putting the general idea into play even if some of the specifics are, well, bonkers. On the other hand, another stream of left commentary is probably much too forgiving of the wackier aspects of the GND. (Examples: Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times; Maggie Koerth-Baker on 538.) The general idea here seems to be that since the basic idea is so good, we don't really need to worry about nutty ideas that are associated with it. Hey, we're moving the Overton window here, don't bother us!
This is not convincing. The possibility and desirability of moving said window does not mean that you can loudly assert whatever wish list agenda you have and expect good results. The Overton window is indeed movable, but it's not that movable. It still has to respect the underlying structure of public opinion and the state of real world politics.
Finally, there are those who are sympathetic to the general idea but recommend that a GND actually be at least somewhat economically and politically feasible and actually be targeted on climate change. I recommend here the approach of Noah Smith whose Bloomberg column on designing a GND "that isn't over the top" is well worth reading. Some excerpts:
"I propose an alternative Green New Deal, which would focus on actually defeating climate change. Some of the proposals here are included in the Green New Deal resolution; some are not.
The first pillar of an alternative Green New Deal would be green technology. If the U.S. can discover cheap ways of manufacturing cement and concrete without carbon emissions, and of reducing emissions from agriculture, it will give developing countries a way to reduce carbon output without threatening their economic growth. To this end, the U.S. should pour money into research. The budget of ARPA-E, the agency charged with leading this research, should be increased from about $300 million to $30 billion per year.
The second way to move green technology forward is to encourage the scaling of these technologies. As companies build more solar power, batteries, smart grids, low-carbon building retrofit kits and other green technologies, the costs go down. To that end, the government should provide large subsidies to green-energy companies, including solar power, batteries and electric cars, as well as mandating the replacement of fossil-fuel plants with zero-carbon plants.
Infrastructure spending is also important. The original Green New Deal’s goal of building a smart electrical grid is a good one, as is the idea to retrofit American buildings to have net zero emissions.
Technologies developed in the U.S. need to spread quickly to other countries. All ARPA-E breakthroughs should be freely transferred to other countries....
[A]n alternative Green New Deal should include proposals to make sure as little as possible of the costs of the transition fall on the economically vulnerable. Government infrastructure and retrofitting projects will naturally create many green jobs. The proceeds of a carbon tax can be rebated to low-income Americans, either as a carbon dividend, or through earned income tax credits, child tax credits, food stamps, housing vouchers and income support for the elderly and disabled. These policies combine the goals of fighting climate change and supporting the poor and working class.
In order to sweeten the deal politically, an Alternative Green New Deal should also include some economic policies that aren’t directly related to climate change — but make sure these are things that should be done anyway, and which won’t break the bank. Universal health insurance....should be included [as well as] Increased spending on public universities and trade schools in exchange for tuition reductions, and grants to help lower-income students pay for these schools,...
Finally, an alternative Green New Deal should involve progressive taxes, both to raise revenue for the spending increases and to let the nation know that the well-off are shouldering more of the burden. Wealth taxes and inheritance taxes are good ideas.....
This alternative Green New Deal has similarities to Ocasio-Cortez’s version, but also has key differences. By focusing on technological development and international assistance, it would tackle the all-important problem of global emissions [while] avoiding huge open-ended commitments like a federal job guarantee or universal basic income...Ultimately, this plan would represent the U.S.’s best shot at fighting the looming global menace of climate change while also making the country more egalitarian in a safe and sustainable way. It would be a worthy successor to the original New Deal."
This makes good sense to me. It's plenty ambitious but actually has some intellectual coherence as a GND, rather than a wish list. It would likely be more effective and certainly more salable than the original proposal. If folks are really serious about a GND, that's the direction we need to go in.
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BLOOMBERG.COM
The emphasis should be on climate change while limiting costly new entitlements.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Rebuilding the Blue Wall

Amy Walter at Cook Political Report has a good piece out on the Democrats' best shot in 2020. The setup:
"There’s something of a consensus forming that the 'easiest' or least risky electoral path for the Democratic nominee in 2020 is to reconstruct the so-called "Blue Wall" in the industrial midwest. If the Democratic nominee wins every state Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, plus Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, that Democrat would win 278 electoral votes — eight more than the 270 needed to win. Just as important, it means that Democrats wouldn’t need to sweat Ohio or Florida. They can lose those big, electoral-vote-rich states, and still have enough to win the White House."
Michigan:
"Trump carried the Wolverine state in 2016 by less than 11,000 votes. But, a recent WDIV/Detroit News poll finds Trump’s job approval in the state a bleak 38 percent favorable to 53 percent unfavorable....More ominously for the president, his job approval rating among independent voters in the state was just 43 percent, with 50 percent disapproving. EPIC/MRA pollster Bernie Porn, who founded the non-partisan Michigan-based polling firm more than 25 years ago, told me that even a motivated GOP base will get Trump, at best 43 percent of the vote. The rest needs to come from independents and/or disaffected Democrats."
Wisconsin:
"A Marquette University poll in mid-January found Trump’s job approval underwater by 8 points (44 percent to 52 percent). More dangerously, however, almost 50 percent of voters in Wisconsin (49 percent) say they’d definitely vote against Trump in 2020, while another 8 percent said they’d probably vote against him. Meanwhile, just under a third of Wisconsin voters (27 percent) say they will definitely vote for the president in 2020 with another 12 percent saying they’d probably support him next year."
Pennsylvania:
"Unfortunately, we don’t have much recent polling in Pennsylvania. But, a January Morning Consult survey pegged Trump’s job approval in the state at -10, similar to his showing in Virginia."
So, what could go wrong?
"Ambivalent voters who disliked both presidential nominees. Tepid enthusiasm from Democrats for their nominee. Tremendous support and energy from Republicans for theirs. Those were the three most important factors in Trump’s success in the three blue wall states. As we look to 2020, we know that Trump continues to enjoy solid support from his base, but the Democrats are at least equally energized to get out and vote against him. This leaves the battle for the 'ambivalent' voter as the most critical piece of the 2020 strategy. Trump has done little in his tenure in office to woo those not already in his base. The only question now is if Democrats will nominate a candidate who can appeal to these voters, or if they will choose a flawed candidate who will, once again, force these voters into having to decide between the "best-worst-choice."
Hmm. Now who might be the Democratic candidates who could appeal to those voters? That's the 64 zillion dollar question.
COOKPOLITICAL.COM
There’s something of a consensus forming that the 'easiest' or least risky electoral path for the Democratic nominee in 2020 is to reconstruct the so-called "Blue Wall" in the industrial midwest. If the Democratic nominee wins every state Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, plus Wisconsin, Pennsylvan...

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Does Voter Suppression Work?

A bit under the radar, studies have been accumulating that tend not to show much effect from voter ID laws on registration or turnout. If true, this is good news, since it means that Republicans are wasting their time and energy on something that basically doesn't work as they intend it to work. And gloomy Democrats, who are perpetually worried that the GOP simply won't let the Democrats win, can cheer up a bit.
The latest study is a massive one by two economists on a 1.3 billion (!) case dataset from Catalist Analytics, which is a very good--and Democratic leaning--big data firm. They find essentially no effect on reducing turnout, either in general or among specific demographic groups. I've looked at the study and it seems sound. And as I note above, it's not exactly an outlier in the current literature.
I still wonder about some specific cases like the precipitous drop in black turnout in Wisconsin in 2016. Still, it is starting to look like this egregious tactic on the part of the GOP just doesn't work that well.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Klobuchar Fever: Catch It!

Excellent column today in the Post by my friend Henry Olsen. If you aren't familiar with Olsen, he is one of the smartest and most interesting of conservative analysts. He is an acute political observer and does not write to troll Democrats into doing something that he believes will really benefit Republicans.
The subject of Olsen's column is Klobuchar's candidacy for the Democratic nomination. He believes Klobuchar is "Trump's worst nightmare". Here's his basic argument and I think it's a good one
"Forget all those recent allegations that she may have been mean to her staff. Unless there’s something more, such as tolerating or hushing up sexual or racial harassment, all this shows is that Ms. “Minnesota Nice” might just have the touch of steel a real leader needs. After all, no one ever accused Margaret Thatcher of being Miss Congeniality.
Focus instead on what she brings to the race: her record as a strong liberal without progressive zaniness; the example of keeping her head during the Kavanaugh hearings while all others were losing theirs; eight years as the chief prosecutor for Hennepin County, Minn.; a stable, more than 25-year marriage; a daughter. Lawyer, mom, senator, president?
Her political appeal is apparent. She breezed to her first statewide win in 2006 over Rep. Mark R. Kennedy (R-Minn.). Kennedy had represented a seat in suburban Minneapolis, so he started with strong name recognition from running two competitive races in the state’s dominant media market. 2006 was a Democratic year, but Klobuchar crushed him by a massive 20-point margin, losing only eight counties. She has not had a tough race since, winning last year by 24 percent.
She could only do that by appealing to both swing groups in America’s volatile electorate, blue-collar Trump Democrats and white-collar, anti-Trump Republicans. Democrats in Minnesota are known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party because of their 1944 merger with the Farmer-Labor Party. Blue-collar Trumpers can see Klobuchar as a Democrat in that tradition rather than a fan of the identity politics that seems to be sweeping the national party. And white-collar former Republicans can see her as someone like themselves: educated, tolerant, ambitious, conscientious.
Trump’s margin was so thin that any significant defection among either group dooms him. Many anti-Trump Republicans nevertheless voted for him in 2016 because they thought Hillary Clinton was worse. The same was true for a good number of the blue-collar Trump Democrats. Klobuchar will be difficult to demonize because of her manner and her record. If the best nickname he can come up with, based on the recent revelations, is something like “Krabby Klobuchar,” she can start measuring the Oval Office draperies."
Just to be clear, I'm not necessarily hopping right on the Klobuchar train. But I do think she's interesting. I still like Sherrod Brown and would be happy if he got some momentum.. And Eilzabeth Warren, despite some obvious problems, is just terrific on economic policy stuff and could really strike home with her populist approach. So I am keeping an open mind at this very early date in the cycle.
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WASHINGTONPOST.COM
She may be the Democratic Party's best chance at taking down Trump in 2020.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Trump's Nightmare, Democrats' Dream?

1. The most important states for the Democrats to carry in 2020 against Trump lie in the upper Midwest and Rustbelt.
2. The Democrats' best chance to carry these states lies in a candidate with roots and appeal in that area like Sherrod Brown or Amy Klobuchar.
3. Therefore, a candidate like Brown or Klobuchar should be the Democratic nominee.
Discuss. Seriously, this logic seems pretty strong to me. Not to say these candidates are the only ones who could win, just that, by this logic, they'd have the best chance. And it seems very, very important that the Democrats win this election.
More on this argument from David Leonardt today in the New York Times:
"[I] Democrats wanted to identify their best hope for beating Trump, what would that candidate look like?
Above all, it would be a candidate good at persuading Americans that he or she was on their side — on their side against the forces causing the stagnation of American living standards. More specifically, this candidate would be someone who could persuade swing voters of this allegiance.
Swing voters still exist. Enough Americans switched from backing Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016 to House Democrats in 2018 to help decide those elections. I understand why some Democratic activists are instead drawn to the idea of victory through turnout: It offers the promise of avoiding any political compromise. The problem is, there are virtually no examples of Democrats winning close races without emphasizing persuasion. The 2018 attempts, in Florida, Georgia and Texas, all fell short.
Yet progressives shouldn’t despair — because swing voters are quite progressive, especially on economic issues. For years, we’ve been hearing about a kind of fantasy swing voter, conjured by political pundits and corporate chieftains, who is socially liberal and economically conservative (as many pundits and chieftains are). The actual swing voter leans decidedly left on economics, in favor of tax increases on the rich, opposed to Medicare cuts and skeptical of big business.
Still, these swing voters don’t think of themselves as radical. They are typically patriotic and religious. Many think of themselves as moderate and, strange as it may sound, many thought of Trump as moderate in 2016. When Republicans can paint a Democrat as an out-of-touch elitist — like they did Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore or Michael Dukakis — the Republican candidate often wins these voters. When Democrats can instead come off as middle-class fighters, they tend to win.....
[I]f I were Trump, I would fear Klobuchar and Brown. Either would be well positioned to take back blue-collar states Trump needs, like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and maybe even Ohio and Iowa. They could also play well in the Sunbelt suburbs of Arizona, Florida and North Carolina."
A little more detail on this. The formula for success in the upper Midwest/Rustbelt is clear: Carry white college graduates, strongly mobilize nonwhite voters, particularly blacks, and hold deficits among white non-college-educated voters in the range of 10 to 15 points. Unlike Hillary Clinton in 2016 (she was obliterated among white non-college-educated voters in state after state), Democrats in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota (especially Amy Klobuchar!) got all three parts of the formula right in 2018.
Brown in Ohio got it right, too. According to exit polls, he carried white college graduates by five points and lost white non-college-educated voters by a mere 10 points.
Success against Trump in 2020 in the upper Midwest/Rustbelt region will depend on repeating this formula. The necessity to keep down deficits among white non-college-educated voters, especially in rural and small-town areas, will be hard with Trump on the ballot. But the 2018 results from likes of Klobuchar and Brown show Democrats the way in these states.
QED.
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NYTIMES.COM
Amy Klobuchar, Sherrod Brown and how to be a middle-class fighter.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

I ❤ Nukes!

There was an interesting essay by Richard Rhodes today in the NY Times Book Review on the new book, A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow by Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist. The book sounds very intriguing and I imagine I will wind up reading it. But for now, what I have to go on is Rhodes' review, which is quite positive. Rhodes rehearses some of the book's arguments and comes, in the end, to the question of politics. The claim that nuclear power is politically infeasible, according to the authors, “is just a self-fulfilling prophecy, and we should not be so quick to write off the most practical solution for humanity’s most serious problem. Politics have a way of catching up with necessity.”
Rhodes sees this happening, but in a halting fashion:
"The tide may be turning. Politics may catch up with necessity. But the “Green New Deal” recently championed in Congress includes even existing nuclear power production only grudgingly, and promotes the notion that “A Bright Future” disputes — that 100 percent renewables can save the day. Nuclear has stalled in America and in Western Europe, largely for political reasons, partly because of the boom in fracked natural gas."
As I've remarked before, I always find it amazing that those who see a GND as a matter of life and death so cavalierly ignore one of the important and effective ways to combat climate change. Weird.
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NYTIMES.COM
In “A Bright Future,” Joshua S. Goldstein and Staffan A. Qvist look to Europe for examples of how nuclear energy can help solve the global warming crisis.

Friday, February 8, 2019

More on the "Nuts" Part of the Green New Deal Proposal

A GND of some kind is a great idea but it shouldn't be confused with a sudden and complete social democratic makeover of the United States. Kevin Drum helpfully provides this list of thirty (30!) items called for in the GND resolution:
1. Commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions within ten years
2. Provide “millions” of good, high-wage jobs
3. Repair and upgrade US infrastructure
4. Provide everyone with access to clean air and clean water
5. Repair historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth
6. Protect against extreme weather events
7. Eliminate pollution and greenhouse gases “as much as technologically feasible”
8. Meet 100 percent of power demand via renewable and zero-emission sources
9. Upgrade to smart grids
10. Upgrade all existing buildings for maximum energy efficiency
11. Invest in public transit and high-speed rail
12. Mitigate the long-term health effects of pollution and climate change
13. Restore fragile ecosystems
14. Clean up hazardous waste sites
15. Provide higher education to all
16. Invest in R&D of new energy technologies
17. Build wealth, community ownership, and good jobs in marginalized communities
18. Create union jobs that pay prevailing wages
19. Guarantee living wage to everyone
20. Guarantee family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to everyone
21. Improve union bargaining strength
22. Strengthen labor and workplace safety standards
23. Enact trade rules that increase jobs but don’t transfer pollution overseas
24. Reform the use of eminent domain
25. Ensure that all business are free from unfair competition
26. Provide all people of the United States with high-quality health care
27. Provide all people of the United States with good housing
28. Provide all people of the United States with economic security
29. Provide all people of the United States with healthy and affordable food
30. Provide all people of the United States with access to nature
Some of these things belong in a GND. Many others are things the left supports but have no logical reason to be in a GND. A GND will be hard to enough to pass and implement without loading it down with extraneous programs, no matter how worthy.
Noah Smith's column at Bloomberg captures this problem crisply:
"[A]lthough the Green New Deal bills itself primarily as an environmental policy and jobs program, the most expensive items are enormous new entitlements paid for by unlimited deficit spending.
First, to be fair, it’s important to discuss the good ideas in the plan. The Green New Deal would retrofit all American buildings and factories to be carbon-neutral, electrify all transportation, and switch the entire electrical grid to carbon-neutral energy sources. These goals are highly ambitious, but they’re good targets. Ocasio-Cortez’s plan correctly recognizes that carbon taxes wouldn’t be enough to prompt private companies to do all these things on their own, and that large-scale government-funded infrastructure is required. Furthermore, a focus on scaling up clean energy would push the technology forward. That would help other countries — where most of the world’s carbon emissions are produced — to follow in the U.S’s footsteps.
But these environmental policies, as sweeping as they would be, wouldn’t be the most costly items on the list.....The plan...appears to combine a federal job guarantee, free college and single-payer health care. Depending on how one interprets [a] guarantee of “economic security” to all those who are “unwilling to work,” it might also include a universal basic income."
Smith costs out all the items included in the GND resolution and comes up with over $6 trillion a year. As Everett Dirksen might have put it, now you're talking about real money! And no, simply appealing to MMT (modern monetary theory for you uninitiates) does not solve the problem, either politically or economically, of how all this is to be paid for.
Personally, I believe we will, in fact, spend a lot of money on these various social programs over time, I just don't think it'll happen all at once. That will a long struggle with many twists and turns. It's highly unlikely we will be able to skip that process by just relabeling all our programs as component parts of a GND.
But a GND that's tightly focused on the energy transformation of the United States is a worthy goal to put into play. It will be immense accomplishment if we can just do that.
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Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Green New Deal: Good, Bad or Nuts?

Well, today was Green New Deal (GND) day, what with the release of the Markey-AOC GND resolution. What's in it and what should we think about it?
For content, I highly recommend David Roberts' lengthy summary on Vox. Very thorough and very fair.
As for what to think about it, that is complicated. As an opening bid on things to think about, it is certainly fine. If we are to have a GND, certainly the resolution touches on most of the things that should be considered. The aspirations are high, but to get a conversation started that is no bad thing. The Overton window, to use a much-abused term, is indeed moving and this document reflects that.
Moreover as Roberts points out, the document avoids taking definite positions in a number of controversial areas that would have limited its appeal:
* No position on how to pay for it; good, leave this for later.
* Does not insist on all renewables but rather on carbon-free energy; good, leaves door open for nukes and CCS.
* No specifics on carbon tax levels; good, also leave for later
* Does not insist on suppressing fossil fuels; good, this would be hugely divisive
That's all good (for now), but as Roberts also notes, there was short shrift given to important changes any GND worth its salt should include like densification and rapid electrification. And then there's the sort of nuts part of the document where they call for, essentially, the full social democratic program (a federal job guarantee, promotion of unions, aggressive fair trade and anti-monopoly policies, universal housing and health care).
Hey, I'm for all that too, but it would be bonkers to insist that all of that has to be part of a GND. We live in the real world and it will take real world politics to get anything like a GND done. Advocates like Sean McElwee may well believe that nothing less than what's in the resolution will do. As he truculently remarks: "By definition that means politicians who don’t support those goals aren’t progressive. We need to hold that line. Get on the GND train or choo-choo, motherfucker, we’re going to go right past you." (Charmingly, his current twitter display name is "GND now, choo choo motherfucker".
But Mr. McElwee is not, shall we say, the median voter so a more modest approach is probably in order. It will be hard enough to get a GND done without shoehorning in the entire left wish list.
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VOX.COM
A close look at the fights it picks and the fights it avoids.