Dave Weigel recaps all the currents that flowed around the Ellison-Perez contest for DNC chair, and covers most of the bases very nicely. One of those bases, of course, is that Ellison was the Bernie guy and Perez was the Hillary guy. Josh Marshall comments:

The Democratic party will have a hard time moving forward if every contest must be reduced and simplified into a replay of the 2016 primary battle.

That's true, but you know what? It's only been a few months since the election. These things take time. All things considered, Democrats are in surprisingly fine fettle considering just how thoroughly they've been tromped over the past few years and how little time has passed since Donald Trump won. A few high-profile lefties have been complaining about Keith Ellison's loss and how it proves the Democratic Party is a pawn of Wall Street etc. etc., but the emphasis here should be on "few." And those few are mostly people who had no patience for mainstream liberalism anyway. All things considered, there's been very little blowback from Tom Perez's win. Nearly everybody seems pretty anxious to move on and win some elections.

One other point while I'm on the subject. Marshall also says this:

I think most Democrats realize or believe that the politics of the Obama era will not be the politics that is necessary in the post-Obama era. But probing beneath that general agreement is where things get more contentious. For many on the left of the party — and broadly speaking, the Sanders wing of the party — this isn't some evolutionary development or a general insufficiency of the Obama era. Obama's incrementalist, cautious policy approach — deemed "neo-liberal" in its policy particulars — is what made Trumpism possible, they argue. So Obama-ism it is not just outdated or insufficient. It is the cause of the present crisis and must be specifically repudiated before the party can move forward.

For a long time, one of the favorite tropes of centrist columnists was that Republicans needed a candidate who was fiscally conservative but socially liberal. This was primarily because these columnists themselves were fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Someone,1 however, pointed out that exactly the opposite approach was more likely to succeed with actual voters: fiscally liberal but socially conservative. And roughly speaking, that's how Trump campaigned.2 By adding a wall and an immigration ban to the normal conservative stew, he was, in effect, more socially conservative than even a guy like Ted Cruz. Fiscally, however, he was relatively liberal for a Republican. Sure, he yakked about the national debt, but he also promised not to touch Social Security or Medicare; he wanted to tear down Obamacare but was vocal about replacing it with something even better; he wanted a surge in Pentagon spending; he touted a huge infrastructure spending plan; and he promised tax cuts for all.

Roughly speaking, the fiscally conservative/socially liberal quadrant describes libertarians, who have spent decades trying to gather a following but haven't succeeded anywhere in the world, as far as I know. It's literally the only quadrant of this matrix that's clearly a loser. Conversely, the basic Democrat and basic Republican quadrants have attracted plenty of followers. The only one that's never really been tried recently is the Donald Trump quadrant.

But if it weren't for the hammerlock of the two-party system, it's long been viewed as a very plausible winning combination—and Trump just proved it could be. But he pulled this off by taking advantage of his rare ability to work around the traditional parties, not because of a backlash to the "neoliberalism" of the Obama era. White working-class voters have been fleeing the Democratic Party for decades, but not because Democrats were too stingy. It was because they were too friendly to gays, too prone to spending welfare money on blacks, and wanted to take their guns away. Donald Trump fixed all that.

1Sorry, I don't remember who. It probably came from more than one person.

2Whether he governs that way remains to be seen.

I have finally figured out who Donald Trump reminds me of. He's a dumb version of Robert Moses.

This is a relief. It's been burrowing around in the back of my mind for a long time, but I couldn't quite place who I was thinking of. This should free up some space in my brain for further incisive political comparisons.

We learned today that President Trump wants to increase defense spending by $54 billion. How much is that, anyway?

This is tricky. Normally, you'd just take a look at defense spending over the past decade or so and see how it compares to the trend. However, ever since 9/11, a big chunk of defense spending has been for "Overseas Contingency Operations," known to the rest of us as "wars." You don't want to count that as part of the baseline. On the other hand, the OCO account sometimes acts as a sort of slush fund for ordinary spending, which basically hides increases in baseline defense expenditures.

With that caveat in mind, here is baseline defense spending since 2001:1

There are two ways you can look at this:

  • All this is doing is getting defense spending back up to its Obama-era levels prior to the sequester.
  • Yikes! That's a 45 percent increase since 2001.

Do we really need to be spending 45 percent more than we did in 2001 for baseline defense? Remember, if we decide to invade Iraq and take their oil, that would get funded separately. The baseline budget is just to support basic military readiness.

I guess we can all make up our own minds about this, though I can't say that I've heard any persuasive arguments that the Pentagon is truly suffering too much with a $550 billion budget. The real question is whether Trump's $54 billion increase can get through Congress. Normally, Republicans would pass it via reconciliation, and they wouldn't need any Democratic votes. However, this increase would blow past the sequester limits put in place in 2013, and my understanding is that this can only be done via regular order.2 That means Republicans need at least eight Democratic votes in the Senate.

Normally, they could probably get that. But if they try to balance this $54 billion increase with a $54 billion cut to the EPA and safety net programs, there are very few Democrats who will play ball. So what's the plan here?


1Historical budget authority here. OCO levels here. I adjusted for inflation using the GDP deflator. This seemed more appropriate than consumer inflation measures like CPI and PCE, but it doesn't actually make much difference. They all show pretty similar inflation levels over a short period like this.

2Though I admit I can't find an authoritative confirmation of this. I think that any spending above the sequestration levels can be filibustered, but I'd appreciate confirmation from someone knowledgeable about this. The sequester applies only to discretionary spending, and it's possible that Republicans can add $54 billion to defense if they slash $54 billion from mandatory spending elsewhere.

President Trump long ago gave up on the fib he told repeatedly throughout the campaign about having a secret plan to defeat ISIS. There was never any plan, so now it's up to the Pentagon to come up with one. They should have it ready for Trump in a few days, and this morning the LA Times gives us a preview:

The month-long strategic review, which Trump requested Jan. 28, is expected to include proposals to send more U.S. troops to both countries, deploy more U.S. forces near the front lines, give greater authority to ground commanders, and possibly provide weapons to Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.

....U.S. analysts said they don’t expect the new plan to differ dramatically from the Obama administration’s approach, at least in Iraq.

No, of course it won't differ much from Obama's approach. That's because Obama's approach is pretty much the only possible approach unless you're willing to send tens of thousands of front-line troops to Iraq to do the fighting. Nobody, including Trump, is willing to do that, so you're left with only tweaks here and there. A few more advisors, an uptick in bombing runs, small changes in the rules of engagement, etc. That's been true from the start.

Trump, of course, will sell his base on the fiction that this plan is a radical toughening up of Obama's feckless approach, and they'll believe him. Eventually it will work, whether or not they make changes to Obama's plan, and then Trump will crow endlessly that this is what happens when you put a man of action in the White House. Sigh.

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG. We are all so screwed.

Our story so far: Republicans spent years vilifying Obamacare and promising to repeal and replace it at their first opportunity. Then that opportunity came, but they still couldn't agree on the "replace" part, so they suggested something called repeal-and-delay: repeal Obamacare now, and work on a replacement plan later. But that turned out to be pretty unpopular even among Republicans, who naturally wanted to know what they were going to get before Obamacare was dismantled. So Republican leaders went back to the drawing board and tried to draw up a replacement plan. So far this has been a dismal failure, for the obvious reason that even a mediocre replacement plan will cost a lot of money, and they don't want to spend a lot of money.

What to do? The Wall Street Journal reports that repeal-and-delay is back:

Republican leaders are betting that the only way for Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act is to set a bill in motion and gamble that fellow GOP lawmakers won’t dare to block it.

Party leaders are poised to act on the strategy as early as this week, after it has become obvious they can’t craft a proposal that will carry an easy majority in either chamber. Lawmakers return to Washington Monday after a week of raucous town halls in their districts that amplified pressure on Republicans to forge ahead with their health-care plans.

Republican leaders pursuing the “now or never” approach see it as their best chance to break through irreconcilable demands by Republican centrists and conservatives over issues ranging from tax credits to the future of Medicaid.

There you have it. It's "obvious" they can't craft a decent replacement plan now, so they're going to try to convince everyone that they can craft a replacement plan later. This is obvious nonsense, but they're just going to bull ahead and dare anyone to stop them.

This is extremely high-risk-high-reward. First of all, they might just lose. All it takes is three defections in the Senate. Second, they can't repeal everything, and a partial repeal will send the individual insurance market into chaos. Third, President Trump has already gone on record opposing this strategy, and he's not a guy who likes to publicly back down. And fourth, they're leaving themselves open for the mother of all Democratic attacks. I don't think Democrats are nearly as divided as the press would have us believe, but if Republicans go ahead with this plan it will unite the party instantly. Politically, it would be a godsend for Democrats.

The desperation Republicans are showing here is remarkable. They are all but admitting that they flatly can't pass a health care plan that's worth the paper it's printed on. This is not an auspicious start to their plan to show the country just how great things can be if they'd just put the GOP in charge once and for all.

The Wall Street Journal writes today about Japan's stagnant economy and persistent deflation:

During Japan’s go-go 1980s, Hiromi Shibata once blew a month’s salary on a cashmere coat, wore it a few times, then retired it. Today, her daughter’s idea of a shopping spree is scrounging through her mom’s closet in Shizuoka, a provincial capital.

....The U.S. appears to be leading other parts of the globe out of an extended era where central banks relied heavily on low and negative interest rates and stimulus to jump-start growth and keep prices from falling....Japan remains definitively stuck, despite a long and aggressive experiment with ultralow rates. A quarter-century after its property bubble burst, a penny-pinching generation has come of age knowing only economic malaise, stagnant wages and deflation—a condition where prices fall instead of rise.

....Since then, annual growth has averaged less than 1% amid periodic recessions. Prices began falling in the late 1990s....Many economists believed the Bank of Japan’s 2013 stimulus would be enough to jolt the nation out of its downward spiral of weak growth and falling prices....Some economists contend the government should try even more fiscal stimulus and monetary easing. Others argue the stimulus has already saddled Japan with so much debt—now 230% of gross domestic product—that it could end in an economic collapse.

It's true that Japan has suffered through two decades of low growth:

But there's way more to this story. Obviously, the bigger your population, the bigger your GDP. The fact that the Russia has a bigger GDP than Switzerland doesn't mean it has a better economy. It just means it's bigger. The key metric to judge whether an economy is in good shape is GDP per working-age adult, since that tells you how productive your workers are. So let's look at that:

Despite its persistently low inflation, Japan's economy is doing fine. Their GDP per working-age adult is actually higher than ours. So why are they growing so much more slowly than us? It's just simple demographics:

Japan is aging fast. Its working-age population peaked in 1997 and has been declining ever since. Fewer workers means a lower GDP even if those workers are as productive as anyone in the world. Now put all this together, and here's what you get:

This is GDP per capita. That is, the amount of stuff that Japan produces for each person in the country. Over the past two decades it's grown 20 percent. And aside from the Great Recession, that growth has been pretty steady. It's not declining. It's not stagnating.

Under the circumstances, Japan is doing fine. Each of their workers is as productive as ours, and their productivity has actually grown a little faster than ours. But there's only so much you can do when your population is declining. Given the demographic realities, Japan is probably doing about as well as they could.

There are two things I take away from this. First, there's not much the Bank of Japan can do to stimulate their economy. It's already running pretty well. Second, despite this, Japan is suffering from persistent deflation. Why? If their economy is productive and growing, deflation shouldn't be any more of a problem for them than it is for us. Somehow, though, the very fact of a declining working-age population—and, since 2011, a declining overall population—seems to be driving deflation. This is very mysterious, especially since Japan's deflation has persisted even in the face of massive BOJ efforts that, according to conventional economics, should have restored normal levels of inflation.

So why didn't it? Is it really a consequence of demographic decline? Or is it something else?

The New York Times tells us about President Trump's TV strategy:

One West Wing official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about strategy, said the administration craved the split-screen television images of Mr. Trump at round-table discussions with business executives every few days on one side, and the vehement protesters of his administration on the other.

This sounds right. Trump seems to believe that sitting around a table with powerful business executives is "presidential." It's basically a child's idea of what a president looks like. So that's what he does. I don't think it's even cynical image manipulation on his part. He really does think this is what makes a president presidential.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, we have this:

A day before delivering a high-stakes address on Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Trump will demand a budget with tens of billions of dollars in reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department, according to four senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the plan. Social safety net programs, aside from the big entitlement programs for retirees, would also be hit hard.

This is obviously the work of Mike Pence and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney more than it is of Trump himself, but Trump will nonetheless be the master showman selling this plan. It's also more symbolic than anything else, but it's symbolism that matters since it means Trump is signaling that he's willing to go along with Paul Ryan's feverish devotion to cutting spending on the poor. We already know that Trump is also eager to cut taxes on the rich, so it appears he and Ryan are entirely on the same page. The next few months promise to be bloody.

The Oscars! They are tonight! I went to them once and my dad lost to Nicolas Cage and then took us to McDonald's and I had 20 McNuggets and many hot mustard sauces. (But dad already had an Oscar so like it was totes political; he totally should have won).

Anyway! I'm going to watch the Oscars and put some thoughts about them in this here post. The kids, they used to call this live blogging, but Twitter sort of is a running live blog and it kind of killed that whole thing, so instead of doing proper live blog time stamp stuff I'm just going to continually update this article and we'll see where it goes! Maybe tomorrow morning this will just be a Reuters post I copy and pasted in.

Buckle up, friends! This baby is about to get cooking. (Don't cook your baby. Unless it's not a human baby and you are referring to a Boar's Head piece of meat as 'baby')

• This Jimmy Kimmel monologue was either a) not great and totally forgettable, or b) i have not been paying enough attention because I was making that art of me in the grass with Julie Andrews and the Oscar statue.

• The first Oscar is Best Supporting Actor and it goes to Mahershala Ali from Moonlight! He's apparently the first Muslim actor to ever win an Oscar, which is nuts. That's insane. That it took this long for Hollywood to give a performer of the second largest religion in the world its highest recognition is insane.

Suicide Squad, an unwatchable film, just won some technical Oscar. Think about that. Suicide Squad is an Academy Award winning film and Donald Trump is president. God is dead.

• You know what was really great this year but wasn't nominated for an Oscar because it is actually not a movie at all and thus not eligible? The Amazon Original television show Mozart In The Jungle!  It's better than like 90% of this crap. Do you like it? They're so cute together, the weird conductor and the weird oboist! I hope they fall in love. I mean they are in love but I hope they admit it to themselves, get together, and stay together. Relationships are hard, but when when you put in the effort they can be really rewarding. Anyway, it's not a film so it wasn't eligible tonight.

OJ: Made In America won best documentary! I haven't seen all the other nominees but I have seen that and it was great. It was a great companion piece to the similarly great The People Vs OJ Simpson. My colleague Edwin Rios actually wrote a great thing about how OJ: Made In America is great.

• Mel Gibson is nominated for Best Director tonight. A story:

 

• LOL at this prophetic Trump tweet

• Viola Davis won! And she gave a really sweet speech.

• The film The Salesman from Iran just won best Best Foreign-Language Film. The film's director Asghar Farhadi announced a few weeks ago that he was going to boycott the ceremony because of Donald Trump's stupid fucking Muslim ban. A statement was read in his absence.

• The dude from Mozart in the Jungle just appeared at the Oscars to present some animation award! Is he reading this post? If you are reading this, star of Mozart In The Jungle, please know that I am a big fan and would love to hangout sometime. Do you go to SoulCycle? I love SoulCycle. Let's go to SoulCycle!

• The guy from Mozart In The Jungle came back to present some second animation award but first gave a really eloquent little speech about how Trump's wall is dumb and evil. Sir, sir, sir, I love you. I want to be your best friend. I should probably learn your name.

• I'm tired. I have to be up early tomorrow to interview someone :(. I might just stop watching this. But I also might not stop. You know what they say, "life isn't a song you're playing, it's a song you're writing." No one knows what the next brick on your path is even though you're the one who lays the bricks, you dig? I dig. And I might keep updating this...or i might not.

• I personally don't really care for Seth Rogen's films but he seems nice?

• Michael J Fox just said he wanted to point out how much "we all owe to editors.” Indeed. This rambling blog post could probably use one.

• Some British dude won some Oscar. Finally, the British have arrived.

• Oh the British dude who won was the editor of Abortion, I mean Arrival. Arrival was about abortion.

• Hahaha the We Bought A Zoo thing was great.

• The cat who directed La La Land just won Best Director. It could have gone to the dude who did Moonlight. I don't know who should have won and believe "should have" is a question for the poets, but I really liked La La Land and I say that as a person who went to theater camp and, i don't mean to brag, had their first sexual relations backstage at a musical.

• Emma Stone won Best Actress! I don't personally care if she was better than whoever, but she seems like such a sweet person. I really think that she at least appears to be maybe the most lovable Hollywood celebrity. I hope and believe that she probably is. Anyway, my main point is: congrats for this actress who seems objectively wonderful.

•HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT Warren Beatty just gave Best Picture to La La Land but then they came out to say he fucked it up and it was actually Moonlight!!

 

This was just so nuts

A post shared by Ben Dreyfuss (@bendreyfuss) on

• i'm going to bed, but the real winner tonight was Marisa Tomei.

Man of the people that he is, Donald Trump likes to pick rich guys for high-level positions in his administration. Unfortunately, that poses a problem:

President Donald Trump’s nominee for Navy secretary, investor Philip Bilden, is expected to withdraw from consideration, sources familiar with the decision told Politico, becoming the second Pentagon pick unable to untangle their financial investments in the vetting process....Like billionaire investment banker Vincent Viola, who withdraw his nomination to be secretary of the Army earlier this month, Bilden ran into too many challenges during a review by the Office of Government Ethics to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the sources said.

To become Secretary of State, maybe all this divesting of huge fortunes is worth it. But Navy Secretary? Probably not.