Friday, July 29, 2016

Don't Boo...Don't Cheer...VOTE!

In my various social media feeds, now that the nominees are clearly determined, I’m seeing a version of the following statement: “I live in [insert Republican/Democratic leaning state name here], so it won’t matter that I don’t vote because I don’t like either Donald or Hillary.”

This angers me more than anything else I’m seeing about this election.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2012, 84.3% of those of us who were eligible to vote, registered to vote. Of that number, only 53.6% chose to cast a ballot in that Presidential election. That means that not only did 16% of American citizens not even bother to register, but also 43.4% actively stayed home. Nearly half stayed home!

Now we all know about the Electoral College and how it works, so I hear you when you say “but the popular vote doesn’t matter.” But that’s not exactly true.

However! Electors are designated based on the outcome of the states’ popular votes. Win the state, win the Electors; win the Electors, win the Presidency. (Yes, Nebraska and Maine do it differently, I know…)

In 2012, at the state level, the state with the highest levels of voter turnout (according to the Washington Post, who was citing statistics from Nonprofit Vote) was Minnesota, who saw a turnout of 76.1% of eligible voters. So the state where nearly a quarter of the people stayed home on election day was the best performing. Minnesota’s electors were distributed based on what 39% or more of the registered voters of Minnesota wanted. Minnesota voted for Obama 53% to 45% (according to NBC News). So would those 23.9% of votes that stayed home have mattered to the outcome of the election? O you betcha!

In my home state of Massachusetts, the popular conception is that it is a Democratic stronghold when it comes to Presidential elections. 66.6% of the state turned out to vote in 2012. So one third of those who could vote, did not vote. Obama took Massachusetts 61% to 38%. But throw the 33.4% of people who stayed home into the mix, and you have a possibly very different outcome; if they were Republicans who stayed home because “their vote doesn’t matter in MA,” they cost their candidate 11 Electoral Votes. On an even more local level, in the town where I work, the split was Obama 52% to Romney 46% with 13,204 people voting out of the 14,295 who could vote, according to the US Census. So those 1,091 people who didn’t vote could have swung the town’s vote.

We can play this game with every state in the union and for both parties. The worst turnouts in 2012 were in Arizona (53%), Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Hawaii (44%). The best were in Minnesota (76.1%), Wisconsin, Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa, Maine, and Virginia (66.9%). No state should feel good about its numbers. In both lists, there are “red” and “blue” states that are critical to the Electoral College, and in all cases, the outcome of the last election could have been different if those who didn’t vote actually did cast a ballot!

So if you are saying “I don’t matter, so I won’t vote in the fall,” Please re-think it! You do matter, your choice matters, your vote matters! It may not feel like it does, but we each can add our voices to the collective whole and in that way be heard.

We, as a country, get more divided through apathy. Disagree with each other, support who you like, argue about it, but in the end get out and vote! This 2016 election is going to come down to how many people actually get to the polls to vote. States are making this more and more difficult to do, which is shameful and deserves our immediate attention. But the only way it gets attention, the only way our country gets better, the only way we can shape our future is for all of us to take that one day a year every four years and exercise our one responsibility as citizens.

So boo, cheer, post, tweet, all of that and more, but above all, in November: VOTE!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Something wicked this way comes

It's maybe time to get nervous. Rather than tell you lots of stuff, I'll tell you a little and let you click a few links and draw your own conclusions.  I'm not 100% confident that all that is in these links is fully accurate, but even if it is a little bit so, we've got another economic downturn on the way. It will be different from the last one, because the last one was centered in the bubble in the real estate market. This one will be bigger and badder. And I don't mean "bad" meaning "good"...

1. Retail store closings
Ask yourself: Why would so many of these super large chains be closing down so many of their stores? McDonalds? WalMart? This is just the list for this year, by the way. Remember two things: WalMart's method is to drive out all the "mom and pop" stores from an area with their "low low prices" so that the people have no other shopping options. What do people do when WalMart closes? Also, Sears/KMart/Macys are all anchor stores in malls.  When they go out, there is a huge ripple effect. Remember Ames? Remember Bradlees? You can still see the remnants of the malls they used to anchor...filled with weeds and empty storefronts with busted windows.

2. Subprime auto loans are on the rise
You don't even have to read the article. Just look at the graph in the middle. Then think to yourself: "Gee, I wonder if banks/investment houses are packaging this debt and selling it like they do with mortgages?" Yes. Yes they are. And the current default rate on these loans? 12% are 30 days past due, and 30% are more than 60 days past due. The auto industry relies upon steady sales to keep itself alive in this country. High sales=financial health, right? Wrong. Who are they selling these cars to? And who is dumb enough to invest in bundled high risk auto loans? Apparently, our investment banks are.

3. Inflation rates are starting to move
Yeah, sure, you say. But they aren't moving that much. Right. But they are moving. Why is inflation so low? Because the Fed has been flooding the nation with electronic cash ("quantitative easing," remember?) and keeping interest rates ridiculously low, despite a minor bump Janet Yellen announced a little bit ago. That's the only tool available to curb inflationary pressure: moving interest rates on government bonds. The current interest rate is nearly 0. (I think it is near 0.3% right now...) Some folks see rates as on the way up (see an article here). Why keep rates low? Because mortgages and loans are indexed to the Fed's rate. So if the Fed's rates are low, we get quick and easy money to borrow to pay for our cars and houses...

Why do we need to borrow? Because we need to have money to spend money at stores to keep the economy going strong. But retail stores are closing and laying off workers. So maybe we aren't spending enough money. So the Fed wants rates to stay low, so we will borrow more. And spend more. And be deeper in debt.

Oh, and the banks/investment houses are offering "bespoke tranche opportunities" to investors. These are bundled packages of the debt that you and I incur when we take a loan or get a mortgage. That should sound familiar. They used to be referred to as CDOs, and that practice of bundling them together is what caused the economy to crash in 2008 when too many banks loaned too much money out to too many people who couldn't pay it back. And then they bet against their own investors and the system collapsed.

Just recently the relationship between the long term interest rates and the short term interest rates (this is called the yield curve) were practically flat-lined. A flat yield curve is a concern because it usually presages an inverted yield curve, and that, my friends historically indicates a recession or depression.

Throw in the fact that the Chinese economy is certainly in the toilet, and their currency is really really stressed, (leading the Chinese government to hype nationalism with higher levels of aggression in the South China Sea to distract the Chinese people from their problems...); oil prices are wicked low (good for the gas tank, suuuuper bad for the global economy), the European Union is looking shaky (Brexit, anyone?) and the international scene is not so good.

Taken individually, those are all interesting facts. Put together, well, I'm saying it now and hoping I'm wrong:

Something wicked this way comes....

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Why Trump will kill the GOP

Listening to Donald Trump in these debates, I’m struck by two things:
  1. He is going to win the GOP nomination.
  2. That will spell the death of the GOP.

He’s going to win the nomination because he has tapped into a “Populist” anger. As the Boston Globe quoted him in the last debate: “I will gladly accept the mantle of anger,” he said. “Our military is a disaster. Our health care is a horror show. Obamacare, we’re going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. And yes, I am angry.”  It is worth noting that none of his statements there are objectively true.  But that doesn’t seem to matter to Republicans, who seem to be agreeing with his statements whole-heartedly.  As are his rivals, who don’t want to appear “weak” by disagreeing with the rage of the white males.  In fact, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Chris Christie are all attempting to out-Trump Trump, by raising their own levels of indignation with the incompetence of the Obama administration and the terrible state that America has fallen to under his watch.  

It is obvious to all that Trump is driving this race, and he has been since he entered it.  Unafraid of controversy, and funded by billions, he is free to say whatever he wants, and gleefully engage in “telling it like it is.”  His rivals are unable to match his braggadocio, verve and derision of others because they have played the politics game of hedging safely too long to keep up. And the poor, white, God-fearing, American male, trained by years of WWE and the NFL, eats up his testosterone-laden pronouncements, and, barring some catastrophic collapse it looks like they will head to the polls and support him enough to carry him through to the convention.  Momentum is on Trump’s side.

And that’s bad for the GOP. In the past, the pattern during the silly season has been to play to the base and foam at the mouth, then get the nomination, then wipe off the drool and drift to the center.  Trump won’t follow this plan, because Trump can’t.  He is trapping himself into this character that he has created. The base that is all riled up by his performances will feel utterly betrayed should he moderate his positions or his tone as he enters the general election, and it is an open question in my mind as to whether or not he even can moderate those things. So, should Trump win, which seems likely at this point, he will be in so deep as to not be able to do what’s necessary to win the overall election, which will be bad for his party. Why?

Firstly, Democrats, if they are remotely competent, should be able to pick up on the “__________ is from the party of Trump” opportunity to paint their opponents with the Trump brand of politics, energize their own base and make some gains in the House and Senate positions.

Secondly, Trump is paving the way for his successors, who will view his victory as the path to future dominance.  Especially if the next president is a woman, they will come back in four years convinced that viciously disparaging her record with half truths will lead them to the promised land.  And the GOP will become even more populist. And less able to appeal to moderates/centrists across the board, let alone women, people of color, thinking human beings…

So the GOP needs to have someone other than Trump win, or they risk a scenario where the long term prospects for the party is a series of losses on the national stage. If only their party had a living breathing leadership...