Roger Smith to the rescue

Posted on February 8th, 2017 in Science,Secrecy in Government,Trump Mania,War by Robert Miller

I have never read an article by Roger Smith, but if you are a liberal or inclined in that direction, then what Roger Smith has to say, will warm the cockles of your heart. You can read his article in it’s entirety at the Washington Spectator here. The title of his article is “What Americans Really Believe.”

You have to read his missive in it’s entirety; I have not copied it verbatim as I normally do because I was unsuccessful in getting the figures copied and duplicated to my satisfaction. There are many criticisms of his conclusions. For one thing there is a tendency for American voters to delay deciding who they will vote for, until the last few days of the election and then they have a tendency to vote with their emotions rather than the kind of objectivity that Roger Smith assumes is operating consistently throughout all of our lives.  But it is a good read and a must read if you consider yourself to be a “Liberal” or “Progressive.” What follows is the brief introduction to Roger Smith’s introduction.

Roger Smith

What American Really Believe

Since the dawn of the internet and the concurrent surge of Fox News and right-wing talk radio, the various forces on America’s right and far right have cleverly and disingenuously labeled themselves “conservatives.” They have then successfully cemented two “big lies” in the consciousness of a majority of the American public: first, that the media in this country is an almost total captive of card-carrying “liberals” who impose their views through reporting as well as opinion; and second, that a solid majority of Americans shares the radical Social Darwinism that has been successfully peddled since the dawn of Reagan as conservative views.

The first falsehood can be—and has been—easily debunked by simply examining the even-handedness that selfsame American media applies to what it labels “Right” and—absurdly—“Left.” But the second big lie is more insidious, and has found its most receptive host among its intended target, liberals or, as current parlance now requires, “progressives.” It is the pervasive belief that America is a “conservative country.” What follows should effectively demonstrate the falsity of that view—by the carefully weighed and collated opinions of the American public.

I am not relying on my opinions. As a long-time observer of American politics, an occasional minor participant in Democratic campaigns, and a consumer of market research in my professional life, I have opinions on most issues of importance. But however strongly I may hold them, they represent what marketers call a “mother-in-law” survey. They are of zero value in assessing what the broad public thinks.

Instead, the following exegesis represents a deep dive into years of attitudinal polling results that reveal what Americans currently think on a broad range of major issues, and how that thinking may have evolved over the past several decades. There is a key distinction between election polling and issues polling. The first is subject to large imponderables: future unknown events that could change minds; legitimate mind-changing; and, of course, outright dissembling to the pollster. Asking people what they believe on a given topic is essentially removed from these variables.

I have relied on Pew Research and Gallup as my primary sources, as they offer unmatched depth of questioning in a consistent matter over decades on a uniquely wide range of issues. Occasionally, I’ve relied on other polling organizations—WSJ/NBC, CNN/ORC, NYT/CBS—when their polls presented the most on-point data. And in all cases, the most recent polling results have been cited, with historical periods selected to reveal the most significant attitudinal shifts.

What I found will surprise even close observers of the American political scene. The results conclusively demonstrate that Americans, in their deepest political/social beliefs, are thoroughly liberal in most of their views and moderately liberal in the balance. They are not the “conservatives” described by the relentless propagandists of the right. Further, while these collective views have decidedly tilted toward the more moderate-to-progressive in recent years, this reality about what Americans actually think (as opposed to whom they vote for) has been consistent since Barack Obama began his presidential campaign and on some issues well before that.

Because of the unique personas and peculiar histories of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, this year’s election was not, I suspect, decided by ideology per se, but on the complex elements of personality and narrative, and by angry and alienated blue-collar voters desperate to change how Washington works.

I recall precisely the day I realized just how badly we had been deceived by right-wing agitprop: November 24, 2014. Republicans had just completed their second quadrennial sweep of off-year elections, adding 13 House seats to bring them to a modern-day record of 247 members. The Senate was flipped from a Democratic majority with 55 members into a Republican majority with 54.

That day I picked up the Wall Street Journal, read the results of a WSJ/NBC post-election poll and had my Eureka moment. Respondents were asked to give their views on a range of issues that had been prominent in the Congressional elections. Here are some of the results of that post-election poll, after eliminating those who offered no opinion.

The attitudes of a substantial majority of voters seemed wildly out of kilter with the near-total support for Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, et al. But it was the final poll question that was most revealing: “How do you feel about the Congressional elections that just ended?” Reflecting on the landslide just delivered to a party that opposed every one of these positions polled, 53 percent of respondents pronounced themselves “happy” with the outcome, and only 40 percent said they were “unhappy.” While campaign spending limits were not raised in this WSJ/NBC poll, a Gallup poll earlier that year—four years after Citizens United came thudding down—had found that 80 percent of respondents favored strict limits on campaign spending, a finding that, per The New York Times, was true “regardless of political philosophy, party identification, age, educational attainment, sex or income level.”

It is results like these that make it tempting to agree with Bill Maher’s trenchant remark that “the true axis of evil is the stupidity of our population and the brilliance of our marketing.” However, in this article it is the wisdom of 50-plus percent that by definition will rule. By topic, here is what 20 years of polling tells us our fellow citizens think.

 

polling results are available to show that the general public doesn’t buy these tired shibboleths, already disproven by comparisons of neighboring states with differing minimum wages. In July of 2015, a group called the Small Business Majority polled the owners of small businesses around the country. The results showed that 60 percent of them supported raising the hourly minimum wage from its present $7.25 to $12, with 75 percent of those in favor saying they “strongly supported” this 60-plus percent increase.

Taxation Fairness—One issue that has faded from its former prominence in the minds of voters is tax reductions, long ago brilliantly rebranded by the right as “tax reform.” Trump uncovered an obvious lack of enthusiasm among angry working-class whites for any further reductions in marginal tax rates on the rich and the super-rich. Yet this has not dimmed the enthusiasm of the Republican Party, and indeed Trump himself, for proposing substantial, upper-bracket-weighted tax reductions. Yet 64 percent of all respondents (and 52 percent of those identified as Republicans) are “bothered a lot” that corporations “don’t pay their fair share” of taxes. And 61 percent of all respondents, including 45 percent of Republicans, were equally bothered that “Wealthy People” don’t pay their fair share.

Of more amusement value than surprise was the 33 percent of Republicans who responded that they were “bothered a lot” that “Poor People” didn’t pay their fair share. Yet a Gallup survey released on Tax Day of this year confirmed that tax reduction has declining potency as an issue. It found that 51 percent of those polled considered their own taxes “too high”—down from 65 percent giving that response in 2001. This indicates, I believe, that back in the heyday of Republican tax-cutting, the average voter viewed such plans as “great—my taxes will be cut.” Today, it is far more likely to be heard as: “They want to cut some fatcat’s taxes, not mine.”

Global Warming/Climate Change—The right has cleverly pitched its opposition to combating climate change as a defense of economic growth. Their argument that progress on one front can only be achieved by a serious cost on the other is even more wrong than usual, yet provides some cover for the climate-change denial that is almost required of every Republican officeholder. Yet this easily refutable position has been met with a strange unwillingness by Democrats to go beyond bland nostrums about the need to treat the issue seriously, leaving unanswered the claim that addressing climate change can only come at unacceptably high direct and indirect economic costs, or that the carbon cap-and-trade scheme once offered by Republicans only became anathema when championed by President Obama.

Democratic candidates should consider what the mass of voters, rather than Republican climate-change-deniers, think about this subject. Some 59 percent told WSJ/NBC pollsters in 2014 that they felt strongly enough about climate change to support limiting carbon emissions. When asked by Gallup this year whether they worried about global warming “A Great Deal” or “A Fair Amount,” 64 percent answered “A Great Deal,”while 36 percent who responded said they worried “Only a Little” or “Not at All.” This would appear to be an arena where voters would respond favorably to serious proposals that show how to reconcile economic growth with a reduction in man-made carbon emissions.

INTERNATIONAL ISSUES

Attitudes Toward Free Trade—Thanks to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, in their very different ways, an issue that had been considered a fringe motivator became a subject of public debate this election year. A poll of economists, who obviously have some grasp of the subject matter, would yield a 90 percent-plus vote in favor of “free trade.”

To the average citizen, the concept is less clear. Pew Research conducted a poll in August asking a fairly simple question: Do You Think Free Trade Is Good or Bad? The result was a near-even split between 37 percent saying “Good” and 39 percent selecting “Bad.” Rather telling was the 24 percent who opted for “Don’t Know.” Republicans and Republican-leaners fell into a 61 percent “Bad,” 32 percent “Good” split, while Democrats and Democratic-leaners came out at 58 percent “Good,” 34 percent “Bad.” This issue does not, however, present a clear-cut right-left division, as free-trade opponents occupy both extremes of the political spectrum.

Increased Defense Spending—Getting at underlying public attitudes toward America’s military posture at a given moment is not simple, with views often being influenced by which party occupies the White House. But how Americans see either increasing or decreasing defense spending is a reasonable proxy for whether a given individual wishes to see the United States expand or contract its overseas involvement. Snapshots taken by Pew Research this year and in 2011 provide a particularly useful insight into this issue, as 2011, in retrospect, can be seen as the high-water mark of support for American withdrawal from its extended overseas commitments. In comparison, this year’s primary season saw strong demands by all 16 Republican presidential hopefuls, save Rand Paul, for a large increase in defense spending.

 

While support for either reducing defense spending or maintaining it at current levels fell from 83 percent to 64 percent in the past five years, those two choices were still favored by 80 percent of Democrats and a solid majority of Independents. Clearly, ISIS and the Syrian crisis have diminished the public’s ardor for a retrenchment in our overseas commitments. But the most striking conclusion to be drawn from these numbers is that, even today, only one out of three Americans wants to see an increase in defense expenditures—a fundamental tenet embraced by Trump and almost all Republicans.

Who Do Americans Trust to Handle Foreign Policy?—This question had always been the Democrats’ achilles’ heel. In 1994, voters rated Republicans the safer choice, by 47 to 28 percent over the Democrats. In 2000, before 9/11, the GOP advantage stood at a narrower but still comfortable 37 percent to 30 percent. It took George W. Bush, and the widely accepted conclusion that the Iraq War was a disaster, for Democrats to come out on top by 2008, with a striking 48 percent to 35 percent advantage. But by this September, the Republicans had regained the upper hand, as Gallup found 47 percent of Americans trusting them better to handle foreign policy, versus 40 percent naming the Democrats.

THORNY ISSUES

Abortion—It is now 43 years since Roe v. Wade came down. After an initial 10-year period of surprisingly passive acceptance of the decision as the law of the land, the right—particularly the evangelical right—in the 1980s discovered its usefulness as a wedge issue. This has led to a hardening of positions on both sides. The right has done an effective job of dishonestly presenting its viewpoint as that of a growing majority, while using dishonest political coinages such as “partial-birth abortion,” and defining advocates of a woman’s right to choose as supporters of “abortion on demand.”

Looking at the polling data back over decades, one quickly sees that asking people to self-identify as either “pro-choice” or “pro-life” is a fool’s errand. But one can come to some solid conclusions about public opinion on this complex subject if one breaks responses regarding the desired legality of abortion into not two groups but four:

Those who favor abortion being:
• Always legal
• Legal under most circumstances
• Illegal in most cases
• Always illegal

Over the years, Gallup has found little variance in support for the two camps—when the first two categories are combined and weighed against the combination of the second two. Thus, Pew Research found that 57 percent of Americans polled in 1996 and 56 percent in 2016 said abortion should be legal either “Always” or “In Most Cases,” while those who responded that it should be either “Illegal Always” or “In Most Circumstances” totaled 40 percent in 1996 and 41 percent now. Thus the pro-choice camp has maintained a steady and solid advantage. Even the heated topic of federal funding of Planned Parenthood, despite the intense recent efforts of its opponents, gets a 58 percent thumbs-up.

Today, one of the Republicans’ standard “G’s”—God, Gays, and Guns—has been turned into a solid negative for them.

So where does that leave politicians seeking to balance reasonable policy and political risk? I think it lies in winning over most of the group that wishes to see abortion limited to only a few circumstances (the biggest single sector at an average 36 percent over the past five years) and who are repelled by the absolutist stance of nearly every major Republican politician. This year’s GOP platform avoided spelling out the landmine issues of abortion in the cases of rape or incest, but 59 percent of people polled think abortion should always be permissible in these two extreme circumstances. At the same time, the ironclad opposition by many on the left to any restrictions on abortion is a liability for candidates. The banning of “partial-birth abortion” (or its correct medical description “late-term abortion”), which is already prohibited in 16 states, is supported by 64 percent of potential voters, including 59 percent of Democrats. The reluctance of many progressives to recognize that steady advances in neo-natal science make the failure to support third-trimester bans in all cases except the life of the mother a time bomb for Democrats.

Gun Control—There is no issue where defining the morally correct position and the politically effective stance is a harder needle to thread. You may ask if people favor such measures as requiring background checks at gun shows or for online sales (85 percent do), or if sales to the mentally ill should be banned (a surprisingly lower 79 percent say yes), or if there should be a federal database of gun sales (70 percent are in favor). But these statistics regarding support for specific forms of gun control legislation reveal little about where people actually stand. To discern that, we are grateful once again to Pew Research for asking in July of 2015: Which is more important to you: 1) to control gun ownership or 2) to protect the right to own guns?  When forced to choose, 50 percent considered control of gun ownership more important, while 47 percent responded that protecting gun rights was more important.

Capital Punishment—While there is not yet majority support for the liberal position of abolishing state executions, recent polling shows it is tantalizingly close. A poll released by Pew this September showed only 49 percent of respondents favoring capital punishment, with 42 percent opposed—a dramatic swing from the 80 percent support, 16 percent opposed split in 1995. Solid majorities of both Independents and Democrats oppose capital punishment, with only the 72 percent of Republican supporters keeping the overall total marginally in favor of its retention. Eleven states, comprising 26 percent of the nation’s population, have since 2000 either legislatively abolished capital punishment or subjected it to a moratorium imposed by government. (Note: In the November election, Nebraskans voted to overturn their legislature’s abolition of the death penalty, while Oklahoma voters resoundingly endorsed its retention. California sent a mixed signal, defeating a ban on executions while narrowly passing a ballot measure that moderately reformed the process. California, with 750 inmates on death row, has not executed anyone since 2006.)

 

CONCLUSION

There is a clear conclusion to be drawn from this deep dive into the polling data regarding what Americans truly believe about an enormous range of issues: despite the right wing having cleverly and dishonestly sold the public on the idea that this is a “conservative” country, the clear majority is most definitely progressive. The most eager purchasers of this skewed view of our polity have been Democratic politicians and the Democratic Party itself. While Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council may have been reading the tea leaves more or less correctly in 1995 when they moved the party toward the center, there is unquestionably a solid majority support for broadly progressive views in America today. This means that there should be a solidly progressive electoral majority, enough to not just elect a Democratic President, but also a Democratic majority in the Senate. The House, due to brilliant post-2010 GOP gerrymandering, requires by expert estimate about a 7 percent greater Democratic vote just to ensure a 50-50 split, and that may be a bridge too far for at least one or two more election cycles. Should we ever again have a “normal” election, it is my hope—and my belief—that these realities about what Americans truly believe will, at long last, assert themselves.

Post-election Afterword: I completed this article months before the election, expecting a different outcome. Neither I nor the editor expected to find ourselves having to justify how the views of a clear majority of Americans on nearly every major political, economic, and social issue could possibly be rationalized with the results of the election, which Trump won in the Electoral College, although trailing Hillary Clinton by approximately 2.8 million votes.

My hope is that this presentation of the underlying views of a majority of Americans will enable readers to oppose the false prophets of further accommodation with the right, and to arm themselves with the knowledge that time, demographics, and the American people are on the side of progressives. Reconciling the views of Americans with how they vote I will have to leave to others. —R.S.

Now go read the original article which you can find here


 

Roger Smith worked at the precinct level in New York in the 1960s on both of John Lindsay’s successful mayoral campaigns and in 1972 co-chaired the spectacularly unsuccessful “Wall Street for McGovern” organization. He also worked for Senator Frank Church’s presidential bid in 1976. During the ’70s, he wrote a series of financial articles for Playboy under the nom de plume John B. Tipton. Over the past two decades, his journalistic focus has been on the media and entertainment industry, including a biweekly column in Variety on the economics of all aspects of entertainment—“It’s Only Money”—from 1999-2001. His politics have been unapologetically liberal all these years.

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I Am Sad Today

Posted on November 10th, 2016 in Politics,Science,War by Robert Miller

Two nights ago, we witnessed the election of a man who assaults women, and someone who is a practitioner of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. All in one bundle: you get one and you get them all. Donald J. Trump is not known for his compassion for the average Joe Blow. I think he is repulsed by the very people who supported him throughout this historic election: he doesn’t have a history of helping those less fortunate than himself. In fact, if anything, he has a history of stiffing the very workers hired to make his buildings for him. Here is what we have to look forward to in the coming weeks and months and years of his presidency: we will see the radicalization of the Supreme Court, the suspension of the Paris climate accords (he can’t do anything about this for 4 years, but after the grace period he is free to run his own game), the resumption of drill-baby-drill. Of these, I am mostly distressed about the president-elect, turning his back on climate change, because we only have a little time left, before the doomsday clock rushes in and takes all of our options away. Trump is so taken by his inflated image of himself, that he will be robbed of the capacity to act quickly and decisively in the best interests of the United States and our precious democracy. Suddenly, I see our democracy as being highly fragile and in need of life support. How did we get here?

I am dumbfounded as to how this happened, but in many ways, I do not blame the people who elected him. The dividing line for the election was sharply on the line of those who have prospered from globalization and those who have not.  I blame the level of inequality that has grown, once we embarked on the period of financilization and globalization which began in the 1990’s and the greed we have manifested in this country. Will this be end of America as we have known it, will our annihilation as a democracy be laid  on the doorstep of greed and avarice. Will we long for the country we had just one a day prior to the election. At the same time, I hate to think about our future and I wonder how we will come to regard those who elected him. I think we will have further animosity between the Trumpites and the Clintonites. Donald Trump has promised to renounce the trade deals represented by NAFTA and the new one referred to as TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). If he succeeds in doing this, the prices of household goods for this followers with go up in cost. Those more affluent will be able to afford this increase; thereby creating an additional level of income inequality.

Tony Schwartz, the co-author of The Art of The Deal, who got to know Trump by hanging out with him while writing the book, refers to the him as a “sociopath.” I am truly sorry about what we are about to go through, I am numbed beyond capacity to imagine all of problems that await us with a Trump presidency. Where all the trends were pointing to a more progressive era, with Bernie Sanders stroking the notes of a new progressive era, we have now taken such a hard right turn, I am breathless and speechless at the same time.  I am not breathing normally since the election and I suspect that applies to some of you as well. I wish I had more soothing news to report, but this is the time to batten all the hatches. In many ways we are all alone. The Republicans control the House and the Senate and with the election of Donald Trump, they now control the White House. They appear equipped to do anything that want, and there is little we can do about it. But we need to hunker down and do all we can to preserve our democracy. At the same time the Democratic party has made a let us down big time, and I wonder if a third party is now long overdue.

 

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What might have been

Posted on September 15th, 2016 in American Hegemony,Books,Capitalism,Climage Change,Economy,Education,War by Robert Miller
Children with gas masks 1941 in Great Britain

Fig 1  Children with gas masks 1941 in Great Britain

This is the story of what might have been, had FDR stayed alive to finish his fourth term as the President of the United States, he died just as his fourth term was beginning on April 12, 1945. This story begins in the more modern days of Global Climate Change and “Black Lives Matter.” Had FDR been around to finish his fourth term, things might have gone very differently: we might have avoided the Cold War. Let me say at the outset that I regard the Cold War as the most senseless, the most costly, the most wasteful thing that was ever perpetrated on the human soul. In addition to its cost [we are spending more than a trillion dollars every year] part of which is to support our nuclear capability. Now, Obama has recently announced that we will spend a trillion dollars to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal; creating in the process much smaller ‘bombs,’ the use for which has not yet been specified. Where is the logic in this? We should be putting all of our energy into getting rid of the Nukes, so at least some us can get some sleep. So far this news has not been contested by the American public, who will have to pay for this enhancement, while our roads and bridges continue to erode. We will miss the opportunity to invest in education and training to help advance our students and prepare them for better lives. We are still living with the dangerous aftermath of the nuclear arms race and no one knows if or when we will successfully mitigate the danger that these threats pose. World-wide I count the total number of lethal warheads at 15,493; the United States (7100), Russian Federation (formerly the Soviet Union, 7300), France (300), India (110), Great Britain (210), China (210), Israel (80), Pakistan (120), North Korea (8); [See Fig 2]

The number of Nukes still threatening the stability of our planet; based on national distribution

Fig 2. The number of Nukes still threatening the stability of our planet; based on national distribution

all of these nations have placed our civilization in a perilous future, one that has no guarantee that we will emerge from this nightmare with our bodies intact rather than be instantly  vaporized.   Should a single one of these be fired accidently or not, the whole array of these missiles might go off in some horrified, modified synchrony and in doing so eliminate all human life on this planet; perhaps we will go back to a state where only bacteria will survive and we will restart the life’s cycle all over again. Conceivably we might already have done this and we are currently enjoying life the second time around like Bill Murray’s rendition of Groundhog day.

The reader might ask, quite sensibly, why the author of this posting would wander back and revive interest in a President that has been dead for more than seventy years. But that is when the Cold War started and we have a special responsibility, because most of the blame for starting the Cold War falls on our shoulders:  we have to face the fact that We Started The Cold War.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning

These are the words Churchill used when the Battle of Britain was safely concluded in November 1942 at which time Pearl Harbor had already taken place, so the Americans were in the war, alongside Great Britain. Although it didn’t seem so at the time, it proved to be prophetic projection to the end of WW II; even though there would be many more years of bloodshed and the final blow of WW II would not be struck by the British, or the French, or the Americans, but it would be the Russians, who, against all odds defeated the vaunted sixth German army at the battle of Stalingrad; from that moment on it would be the Red Army, including the tank battle of Kursk that further destroyed the German army’s capacity to make war, and allowed the Russians to march right into Berlin, though they would pay an enormous price along the way: the final tally was 27 million Russians dead [mostly civilians, I recently heard a professor of Russian history proclaim that the death toll for the Russians in WW II could be as high as 40 million]. I mention this because far to few Americans are aware of the fact that Russia won WW II. Hitler send upwards of 200 divisions into the war against the Russians, but the most the allies faced was 10-15 divisions in the wars in Africa and Sicily; event in Sicily was a bloodbath for the Americans and British.

What I really want to talk about

I will come back to WW II later, but first I want to paint the full panoply of the collective threats we face today.

It seems to me and to many others I know, that the world is on fire, not just because of our many failures related to war on “terror,” and there are many of these, but also plaguing us is the incomplete recovery from the Great Recession, that has introduced all of us to the deficiencies of globalization, which concentrates too much wealth into the hands of those that don’t need it and don’t spend it appropriately. The most recent data, released very recently suggests that improvements in median income rose 5.2 % in 2015, but we will need to see a steady progress of these years, before we get too excited.

This is one reason that Donald J. Trump has has staked out a claim to be the President of of the United States. With all the uncertainties in this race, and the fact that the polls seem to be narrowing, he just might win the election, even though right now he has a special talent for inducing people not to like him at all.

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