Minority Government?

It now appears, pending the results of the Green Party’s initiative to force recounts in three states, that Hillary Clinton, while losing the election through the Electoral College, actually won the popular vote by more than two million votes. That is the largest popular vote margin in favor of a losing candidate in U.S. history. Even Al Gore only had a 540,000 vote margin.

So, despite a significant Electoral College victory, President-elect Trump is essentially the minority candidate who is behaving as though he won a great majority. If Trump pushes the wide range of issues that he trumpeted during the campaign, he’s very likely to alienate the majority of the nation, especially given that neither candidate was regarded favorably by a majority of the electorate. Yet, if he doesn’t push at least some of the campaign issues, he will alienate sectors of his hard-core base, which is already a minority.

There are already signs of discontent among the most conservative of Trump supporters as a result of Trump’s potential and proposed Cabinet appointments.

Add to that the fact that some Republican senators oppose certain of Trump’s pledges and that the Republicans only have a two vote majority in the Senate, and it’s not hard to see that enacting some of what he promised will be anything but easy, and may not even be possible.

On the other hand, both parties believe that an overhaul of the corporate tax structure is necessary and that tax reform should be undertaken. Fixing the corporate tax mess is likely to be the easier part of that, especially since Trump’s proposed changes to individual income tax rates will cause the federal deficit to soar. Trump and the Democrats both want to improve the nation’s infrastructure, but conservative Republicans… not so much.

With Jeff Sessions as attorney general, assuming he is confirmed, which is more likely than not, the U.S. position on immigration will definitely harden, the only question being how much and in what specific areas. And while Trump has stated that conditions for minorities need to improve, his only specific point so far has been that all the legislation pushed by Democrats hasn’t done the job.

So…just what will a Trump Presidency bring? Lots of people have firm ideas, including me. I suspect we’ll all be wrong to some degree

Economics of Speed

Just over forty-nine years ago, in October of 1967, William J. Knight flew the North American rocket-powered X-15 at a speed of Mach 6.72 [4,520 miles per hour (7,274 km/h)], to set the still-unbroken speed record for a manned aircraft.

The speed record for an unmanned aircraft was set by NASA’s X-43A at Mach 9.6 on November 16, 2004, at an altitude of 33,223 meters over the Pacific Ocean.

The top speed for a manned aircraft taking off on its own power belongs to the SR-71 Blackbird which established in July of 1976 a still-standing speed record of (2,193.2 mph; 3,529.6 km/h), approximately Mach 3.3. There are reports of faster speeds, but not under accepted standards for records.

None of these aircraft are known to be operational today, ostensibly because the first two were experimental research aircraft that served their purposes, and because it’s been stated that the SR-71’s reconnaissance objectives can now be achieved by satellite or UAV reconnaissance at a much lower cost. Of the 32 SR-71s built, twelve were lost to mechanical or other non-combat causes. Over 800 SAMs were fired at SR-71s, and none ever hit, but the operating cost of the SR-71 exceeded $85,000 per hour, and ran $300 million a year, essentially $10 million per operating aircraft per year.

When I left the Navy, the F-14 was the top fighter [at least Navy pilots thought so], but it was retired early, despite being not only faster and able to do more than the F-18, because it required more than twice as much maintenance and because of [disputed] claims that some of the missions it could handle were no longer necessary.

The fastest commercial aircraft was, of course, the Concorde with a top speed of Mach 2.04, and, like the SR-71, it was retired from service for economic reasons, because it never made a profit, and refitting costs would have made it even less profitable.

Economics also have impacted commercial airliners. Today, on major routes, it takes longer to fly point to point than it did fifty years ago. The 1960s Boeing 707 actually cruised at faster speeds (roughly 3% faster) than does the latest B-737-800. The reason is that that newer airliner use high-bypass jet engines that are currently much more fuel-efficient at slightly slower speeds, and since fuel costs range from 26-35% of operating costs, fuel efficiency is far more highly prized than speed.

The bottom line: For both the military and for commercial air travel, economics outweigh speed.

The “Free Market” Economy

One of the on-going Republican policy positions, as well as a stand taken by President-elect Trump, is that too much government regulation hampers the economy and costs jobs, and that the “freer” an economy can be, the better.

The problem with this stand is that it ignores reality. Markets don’t work very well, and sometimes not at all if there isn’t a certain amount of order. In turn, maintaining order requires an overriding structure and authority backed by some sort of force, or at least the possibility of force. Most conservatives will accept that as a necessity.

So the question really becomes one of what, if anything, should government [or the authority structure] do beyond providing basic order. Despite those who feel government should do nothing, in historical practice, most western governments have, if spottily, required some basic standardization and regulation of trade. The size, weight, and composition of basic foodstuffs have been set forth; counterfeiting forbidden; and often the times and places prescribed where goods could be sold, as well as where certain noxious practices, such as rendering and smelting, could be carried out.

Most societies have been aware of the dangers of adulterated foodstuffs. Rye contaminated by ergot fungus and turned into flour can result in ergotism, which caused tens of thousands of deaths in Europe from the 1300s through the mid-1800s, but more than a few unscrupulous farmers still sold contaminated grain to millers, even after the cause of the disease, popularly known as St. Anthony’s Fire, was known. Meat-packing in the U.S., even in the early part of the twentieth century, was often terribly unsanitary, as revealed in Sinclair Lewis’s The Jungle, a book which spurred public outcry, which led to reforms including the Meat Inspection Act.

Bit by bit, the U.S. government passed laws and implemented regulations to improve food safety. Later, after it become clear that industrial practices had resulted in rivers that caught fire and were too toxic for fish to survive, and that air in some areas was barely breathable because of airborne pollutants, Congress passed environmental laws to regulate the emission of various classes of pollutants.

Now… the question that tends to get overlooked by those who claim that all these regulations are excessive and that business and industry could do just fine if they didn’t have to comply with all the regulations is, if businesses could protect public health, why they never did. The answer is simply that the economic structure didn’t allow them to do so.

Producing anything in the fashion most beneficial to consumers’ health and in the most environmentally sound way costs more than ignoring the health and environmental issues. Therefore, the way to maximize profits is to do the bare minimum in terms of health and environmental issues, the bare minimum being not immediately poisoning your consumers and workers or the surrounding environment. Any business that does more than that jeopardizes its own future because, when there are no regulations, or lesser regulations, the business that increases its costs to improve health and environment becomes less profitable.

And that is exactly what’s happened in terms of the thousands of U.S. businesses that have offshored production of goods to third world nations or those with lower environmental and health regulations.

There’s a definite trade-off between environmental and health safety and cost of production. And higher costs of production mean higher prices. U.S. consumers want cheaper goods, but they also have wanted cleaner air and waters. The only way we can have both, in the present world, is to import cheaper foreign goods from other countries who are polluting their air and water, endangering the health of their workers and environment, and paying those workers far less.

What China is already discovering is that there is, in fact, even under an authoritarian government, a level of pollution that is too much, but even if other nations improve their health and safety standards, and most will have to, over time, they’ll still be able to produce goods more cheaply.

Which brings up the question of exactly how a Trump administration intends to “return” jobs to the U.S. without increasing the price of goods produced by those workers. Or does he intend to attempt [because it’s not clear that he can succeed] to reduce environmental protection in order to lower costs of production? If not, then he and Congress will have to impose tariff barriers and those barriers will increase the costs of goods to U.S. consumers.

Of course, I haven’t yet seen anyone in the incoming administration publicly dealing with these questions… and I have some doubt that we will.

Dated?

Apparently, one of the big concerns by advertising professionals is whether an ad campaign is “current” and not “dated.” I’ve also heard this being voiced about cover art on books, and how political campaigns are being conducted, particularly after the recent election, despite the fact that the furor over the Electoral College is anything but new or recent.

Even though I don’t drink beer, I really liked and appreciated the Anheuser-Busch commercials which featured their Clydesdale horses. So did all of our beer-drinking friends, but it appears that all of us are “dated,” because using gentle humor, good feelings, and horses was just not appealing to the current generation, a generation that I find less than appealing if they’re actually motivated to buy beer based on dumb commercials featuring clueless young males.

I’ve also heard that Facebook is becoming dated, and that email is almost passe among the younger generations and that communications are largely carried out through tweets and somethings called Snapchat and Instagram, and that websites such as mine, which actually discusses matters in far too many words, are positively antediluvian. It would appear that written communications of more than 128 characters are also “dated.”

Knowledge of history is also clearly “dated,” given that the vast majority of college students on the local university campus have no idea about the civil rights violence of the 1960s and 1970s, the Great Depression, the causes and results of either World War I, World War II, or Vietnam. Music majors seem to arrive at college knowing little about any music except rote-rhythm pop, and seem unable to learn or memorize melodic lines of more than four bars without what seems to them to be excruciating effort, while Hamilton has become the only history lesson many students even want to pay attention to.

Printed newspapers are becoming dated as well, and magazines are in the process of following that trend. And now, a number of school systems aren’t teaching cursive writing, presumably since it’s also dated, despite recent scientific studies showing that writing actually enhances memory and learning.

But then, as the recent election just demonstrated, facts and knowledge are also dated.

Grunt Work

Last week one of my readers posted election turnout statistics, which revealed an interesting pattern – that Republican voters turned out with about the same numbers in every presidential election over the last twelve years, but that Democratic votes varied dramatically, apparently based on the “appeal” of the candidate, and particularly the appeal to African-Americans.

But it wasn’t just candidate appeal that affected turnout. With lawsuits recently upheld by the Supreme Court that restricted the ability of the Justice Department to monitor state election procedures, a number of states “consolidated” polling locations and reduced voting hours, and such restrictions have been shown to reduce minority voter turnout far more than they did Republican turnout, which is exactly what they were designed to do.

Such state acts have been currently held to be legal, but I’d hold that they’re scarcely moral, not that morality counts in elections. Only votes do.

And that gets down to the bottom line. Republicans have been working hard for years on a state-level strategy designed to create a political system more to their liking. They’ve gerrymandered Congressional districts so that Democrat voters are concentrated in fewer districts, which is the principal reason why the House of Representatives is overwhelmingly Republican. What also tends to get overlooked is that getting elected to the House gains an aspiring politician visibility and the ability to fundraise, and if there are more Republican representatives in a state’s delegation, then the Republicans have better odds in eventually electing more senators from that state.

What they’ve done is perfectly legal, but it takes time, effort, and money, all of which Republicans have, and have used effectively over the past decade and even longer, while much of the Democratic constituency is far shorter on all three.

The other factor is cultural change. Like it or not, we now live in a “celebrity” culture, and the key factor in celebrity is the ability to relate to people through the mass media. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump could do this with their supporters, Hillary Clinton much less so.

In terms of the 2016 election, although it was far from obvious at the beginning, what this meant was that the Democrats were at what I’d call a structural disadvantage from the start, in that all the election-year “ground game” and organizational skills in the world would be hard-pressed to meet the Republican challenge without a “popular” candidate, and especially hard-pressed once they nominated Clinton.

What I’m saying is not an “excuse” for Democrats. What I’m saying is that Democrats have gotten out-organized, out-funded, and out-maneuvered. Democrats, and this includes others with the same concerns, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have tended to focus on protests and lawsuits, but in the end votes count. No matter how necessary, or how worthy legal and political change may be, in our system that requires changing the laws. Changing the laws requires changing the lawmakers, and changing the lawmakers requires getting more votes at state and local levels… and working at that year after year after year, not just in an election year.
If you get enough votes, even the Electoral College comes your way.

And, as the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding.