Monthly Archives: November 2020

Did analytics ruin Major League Baseball?

[Headline graphic: Billy Beane (left) and Paul DePodesta (right). The General Manager and assistant General Manager, respectively, for the 2002 Oakland A’s and who inspired Michael Lewis’ book, “Moneyball.” (Photo by GabboT; used under the CCA-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)]

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 25, 2020)

As he announced his resignation from the Chicago Cubs as that organization’s president of baseball operations earlier this month, Theo Epstein, considered by many the High Priest of modern baseball analytics, made this shocking admission about the current state of baseball:

“It is the greatest game in the world but there are some threats to it because of the way the game is evolving. And I take some responsibility for that because the executives like me who have spent a lot of time using analytics and other measures to try to optimize individual and team performance have unwittingly had a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game. I mean, clearly, you know the strikeout rates are a bit out of control and we need to find a way to get more action in the game, get the ball in play more often, allow players to show their athleticism some more and give the fans more of what they want.”

Epstein’s comments were painful for me on two fronts. First, he was leaving the only baseball team I’ve ever loved, having helped the Cubs win the only World Series championship of my lifetime. Second, he put a dagger in the heart of every Bill James and sabermetrics devotee who, like myself, have spent countless hours pouring through the statistical abstracts for Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Football League on a quest to build the perfect Rotisserie league baseball team and fantasy football roster.

There is no better feeling than the long search and discovery for those two or three “value” players who nobody else thinks about and who can turn your Rotisserie or fantasy team into league champs.

In a direct way, sports analytics are the intellectual steroids for a generation of sports fans (slash) data geeks who love games they never played beyond high school, if even then.

Epstein’s departure was not entirely a surprise. The Cubs have not come close to their glorious World Series triumph in 2016—though it has to pin that on Epstein. The Cubs still have (when healthy) one of the most talented rosters in baseball. Instead, the surprise was Epstein’s targeting ‘analytics’ has one of the causes of baseball’s arguable decline.

Like many baseball fans, I’ve assumed baseball analytics—immortalized in Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball” about the 2002 Oakland A’s and its general manager Billy Beane, who hired  a Yale economics grad, Paul DePodesta, to assist him in building a successful small market (i.e., low payroll) baseball team—helped make the MLB, from top-to-bottom, more competitive.

In the movie based on Lewis’ book, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, this scene perfectly summarizes the value of analytics in baseball (and, frankly, could apply to almost every major industry):

Peter Brand (aka. Paul DePodesta, as played by Jonah Hill):

“There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening and this leads people who run major league baseball teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams…

…People who run ball clubs think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins, and in order to buy wins you need to buy runs.

The Boston Red Sox see Johnny Damon and they see a star who’s worth seven-and-a-half million dollars. When I see Johnny Damon what I see is an imperfect understanding of where runs come from. The guy’s got a great glove and he’s a decent lead-off hitter. He can steal bases. But is he worth seven-and-a-half million a year?

Baseball thinking is medieval. They are asking all the wrong questions.”

While Beane and DePodesta may have lacked world championships after they introduced analytics into the process, the A’s did have nine winning seasons from 2002 to 2016 during their tenure, which is phenomenal for a small-market, low-payroll team.

At the team-level, the 21st-century A’s are the embodiment of how analytics can help an organization.

But is Epstein still right? Has analytics hurt baseball at the aggregate level?

Let us look at the facts…

Major League Baseball has a Problem

Regardless of the veracity of Epstein’s indictment of analytics for its net role in hurting the game of baseball, does professional baseball have a problem?

The answer is a qualified ‘Yes.’

These two metrics describe the bulk of the problem: (1) Average per game attendance and (2) World Series TV viewership. Since the mid-1990s, baseball game attendance relative to the total U.S. population has been in a near constant decline, going from a high of 118 game attendees (per 1 million people) in the mid-1990s to 98 game attendees (per 1M) in the late 2010s (see Figure 1). At the same time, the long-term trend is still positive. That cannot be discounted.

Figure 1: MLB per game attendance (per 1 million people) (Source: baseball-reference.com)

While the relative decline is significant, the real story of MLB attendance since the league’s inception in the late-19th century is the surge in attendance after World War II, a strong decline after that until the late-1960s, and a resurgence during the 1970s and 80s. In comparison, the attendance decline per capita since the mid-1990s has been relatively small.

Consider also that despite a per capita decline in game attendance since the 1990s, total season attendance has still grown. In 1991, 56.8 million MLB tickets were sold; by 2017, 72.7 million tickets were sold. This increase in gross ticket sales has been matched by a steady rise in MLB ticket prices as well. The average cost of an MLB baseball game in 1991 was $142, but by 2017 that figure increased to $219 (a 176 percent increase). In that context, the 15 to 20 percent decline in game attendance (per capita) seems more tolerable and far from catastrophic. In fact, if it weren’t for this next metric, baseball might be in great shape, even if its relative popularity is in decline.

The TV ratings and viewership for MLB’s crown jewel event, the World Series, has been in a near straight-line decline since the mid-1970s when Billy Martin’s New York Yankees and the Tommy Lasorda-led Los Angeles Dodgers were the sport’s dominant franchises, and happened to be in this nation’s two largest cities. Big market teams in the World Series is always good for TV ratings.

As seen in Figure 2, average TV viewership for the World Series (the orange line) has declined from a high of 44.3 million in 1978 (Yankees vs. Dodgers) to just under 9.8 million in the last World Series (Dodgers vs. Rays).

Figure 2: The TV Ratings and Viewership (average per game) for the World Series since 1972 (Source: Nielsen Research)

Even with the addition of mobile and online streaming viewers—-which lifts the 2020 World Series viewership number to 13.2 million—the decline in the number of eyeballs watching the World Series since the 1970s has been dramatic.

In combination with the trends in game attendance, the precipitous decline in live viewership offers one clear conclusion: Relatively fewer people are going to baseball games or watching the them on TV or the internet. That’s a formula for an impending financial disaster among major league baseball franchises.

While stories of baseball’s imminent death are exaggerated, baseball does have serious problems. But what are they exactly? And how has analytics impacted those probable causes?

Are baseball’s problems bigger than the game itself?

Before looking within the game of baseball itself (and the role of analytics) to explain its relative popularity decline, we must consider the broader context.

Sports fans today demand something different from what MLB offers

Living with a teenage son who loves the NBA and routinely mocks my love of baseball, I see a generational divide that will challenge any attempt to update a sport once considered, without debate, to be America’s pastime. Kids (and. frankly, many of their parents) don’t have the patience or temperament to appreciate the deep-rooted intricacies of a game where players spend more time waiting than actually playing. Only 10 percent of a baseball game involves actual action, according to one study. For kids raised on Red Bull and Call of Duty, baseball is more like a horse and buggy than a Bugatti race car.

And the in-game data supports that assertion. In 1970. a nine-inning major league baseball game took, on average, two-and-a-half hours to complete. In 2020, it takes three hours and six minutes. By comparison, a World Cup soccer match takes one hour and 50 minutes from the moment the first whistle blows. An NBA game takes about two-and-a-half hours.

Baseball is too slow…and getting slower.

[For a well-constructed counterargument to the ‘too slow’ conclusion, I invite you to read this essay.]

In contrast, the NBA and World Cup soccer possess near constant action. Throw in e-games (if you consider those contests a sport) and it is reasonable to conjecture that baseball is simply a bad fit for the times. Even NFL football, whose average game takes over three hours, has challenges in that regard.

Did analytics lead to longer baseball games? Let us examine the evidence.

Figure 3 shows the long-term trend in the length of 9-inning MLB games divided into baseball ‘eras’ as defined by Mitchell T. Woltring, Jim K. Rost, Colby B. Jubenville in their 2018 research paper published by Sports Studies and Sports Psychology. However, I did re-label their ‘post-Steroids era’ (from 2006 to the present) as the ‘Analytics era.’

Figure 3: Average length of a 9-inning MLB game since 1946.

Though I will share upon request the detailed statistical analysis of the intervention effects of the baseball eras on the average length of MLB games, the basic findings are straightforward:

(1) The average length of 9-inning MLB games significantly increased during the ‘Integration,’ ‘Free Agency,’ and ‘Analytic’ eras, but did not increase during the ‘Expansion’ and ‘Steroids’ eras.

(2) The long-term trend was already pointing up before the ‘Analytics era’ (+50 seconds per year), though analytics may have had a larger marginal effect on game length (+78 seconds per year).

As to why the ‘Analytics era’ saw an increase in game times, one suggested explanation is that the ‘Steroids era’ disproportionately rewarded juiced-up long-ball hitters who tended to spend less time at the plate. In contrast, though the ‘Analytics era’ also has emphasized home run hitting, the players hitting home runs are now more patient. According to baseball writer Fred Hofstetter, pitchers have also changed:

“This (increase in game times) won’t surprise anyone who follows the game closely. The general demographic change trending into 2020:

  1. Patient hitters are replacing free swingers
  2. Hard-throwing strikeout-getters are replacing pitch-to-contact types

Pitchers who throw harder tend to take more time between pitches.9 Smart hitters take more pitches. There are more pitches with more time between them. The result is a rising average of time between pitches.”

Are these changes in the game related to analytics? It is hard to know given the concurrent (and assumed) decline in steroid use in the 2000s MLB, but the apparent consensus is that the pitcher-batter dynamics since 2000 have been more sophisticated and time-consuming than during the ‘Steroid era.’

My conclusion on the impact of analytics on the length of MLB baseball games: Unclear.

Are there other aspects of baseball affected by analytics?

Investigating the role of analytics in 21st century baseball is complicated by the confounding effects of other changes going on in the game around the same time — the most obvious being MLB’s increased enforcement of its performance enhancing drug policies. But sports writer Jeff Rivers notes another ongoing trend: this country’s best athletes are increasingly choosing football and basketball over baseball, though this trend may have been going on for some time.

“Major League Baseball used to offer its athletes the most prestige, money and fame among our nation’s pro team sports, but that hasn’t been true for decades,” writes Rivers. “Consequently, Major League Baseball continues to lose in the competition for talent to other major pro team sports.”

It is also possible analytics have exacerbated this supposed decline in athlete quality by discouraging some of baseball’s most exciting plays.

“The focus on analytics in pro sports has led to more scoring in the NBA…but fewer stolen bases and triples, two of the game’s most exciting plays, in pro baseball,” asserts Rivers.

Is there really a distinct ‘Analytics era’ in baseball?

Another problem in assessing the role of baseball analytics is that the ‘Analytics era’ (what I’ve defined as 2006 to the present) may not be that distinct.

Henry Chadwick invented the baseball box score in 1858 and, by 1871, statistics were consistently recorded for every game and player in professional baseball. In 1964, Earnshaw Cook published his statistical analysis of baseball games and players and seven years later the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) was founded.

In the early 1970s, as statistics advanced as a topic among fans, Baltimore Orioles player Davey Johnson was writing FORTRAN computer code on an IBM System/360 to generate statistical evidence supporting his belief that he should bat second in the Orioles lineup (his manager Earl Weaver was not convinced, however).

In 1977, Bill James published his first annual Baseball Abstracts which, through the use of complex statistical analyses, argued that many of the popular performance metrics — such as batting average — were poor predictors of how many runs a team would score. Instead, James and other SABRmetricians (as they would be called) argued that a better measure of a player’s worth is his ability to help his team score more runs than the opposition. Instead, the SABRmetricians initially preferred metrics such as On-Base Percentage (OBP) and Slugging Percentage (SLG) to judge player values and would later prefer combining those metrics to create the On-base Plus Slugging (OPS) performance metric.

[Note: OBP is the ratio of the batter’s times-on-base (TOB) (which is the sum of hits, walks, and number of times hit by pitch) to their number of plate appearances. SLG measures a batter’s productivity and is calculated as total bases divided by at bats. OPS is simply the sum of OBP and SLG.]

Batting averages and pitchers’ Earned-Run-Averages (ERA) have been a systematic part of player evaluations since baseball’s earlier days. Modern analytics didn’t invent most of the statistics used today to assess player value, but merely refined and advanced them.

Nonetheless, there is something fundamentally different in how MLB players values are assessed today than in the days before Billy Beane, Paul DePodesta and Moneyball.

But when did analytics truly take over the talent acquisition process in major league baseball? There is no single, well-defined date. However, many baseball analysts point to the 2004 Boston Red Sox, whose general manger was Theo Epstein, as the first World Series winner to be significantly driven by analytics.

Something unique and profound was going on in major league baseball’s front offices from the time between Billy Beane’s 2002 A’s and the Boston Red Sox’ 2007 World Series win, their second championship in four years.

By 2009, most major league baseball teams had a full-time analytics staff working in tandem with their traditional scouting departments, according to Business Administration Professor Rocco P. Porreca.

So, why did I pick 2006 as the start of the ‘Analytics era’? No definitive reason except that is roughly the halfway point between the release of Lewis’s book Moneyball and 2009, the point at which most major league baseball teams had stood up a formal analytics department. It would have been equally defensible to set 2011 or 2012 as the starting point for the ‘Analytics era’ as many of the aggregate baseball game measures we are about to look at changed direction at around that time.

The Central Mantra of Baseball Analytics: “He get’s on base”

Lewis’ book Moneyball outlined the baseball player attribute 2002 A’s assistant general manger Paul DePodesta’s sought after most when evaluating talent: Select players that can get on base.

This scene from the movie Moneyball drives home that point:

As the 2002 A’s scouting team identify acquisition prospects, the team’s general manger, Billy Beane singles out New York Yankees outfielder David Justice:

A’s head scout Grady Fuson:  Not a good idea, Billy.

Another A’s scout:  Steinbrenner’s so pissed at his decline that he’s willing to eat a big chunk of his contact just to get rid of him.

Billy Beane:  Exactly.

Fuson: Ten years ago, David Justice—big name. He’s been in a lot of big games. He’s gonna really help our season tickets early in the year, but when we get in the dog days in July and August, he’s lucky if he’s gonna hit his weight…we’ll be lucky if we get 60 games out of him. Why do you like him?

[Beane points at assistant general manager Peter Brand (aka. Paul DePodesta)]

Peter Brand: Because he get’s on base.

This was the fundamental conclusion analytic models would start driving home to a growing number of baseball general managers after 2002.  Find players that can get on base.

Theo Epstein was among the first general managers to drink the analytics Kool-Aid and he did it while leading one of baseball’s richest franchises — the Boston Red Sox.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Analytics is not the cause of baseball’s systemic problems. For those who assume major league baseball is a sinking ship, analytics did little more than re-arrange the deck chairs Titanic.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: nuqum@protonmail.com

 

 

 

 

“Major League Baseball and its fans would be more than happy to throw you and Google boy under the bus if you keep doing what you’re doing here. You don’t put a team together using a computer.

Baseball isn’t just numbers. It’s not science. If it was, anybody could do what we’re doing, but they can’t because they don’t know what we know. They don’t have our experience and they don’t have our intuition.

You’ve got a kid in there that’s got a degree in economics from Yale and you’ve got a scout here with 29 years of baseball experience.

You’re listening to the wrong one now. There are intangibles that only baseball people understand. You’re discounting what scouts have done for a hundred and fifty years.”

 

All models are wrong, but some are useful. (George E. P. Box, 1979)

“An approximate answer to the right problem is worth a good deal more than an exact answer to an approximate problem.” — John Tukey

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.

-Aaron Levenstein

 

All generalizations are false, including this one.

Mark Twain

 

A big computer, a complex algorithm and a long time does not equal science.

— Robert Gentleman

 

Statisticians, like artists, have the bad habit of falling in love with their models.

— George Box

 

 think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.

By Richard Feynman

He uses statistics like a drunken man uses a lamp post, more for support than illumination.

— Andrew Lang

 

“It’s easy to lie with statistics; it is easier to lie without them.”

— Frederick Mosteller

 

Say you were standing with one foot in the oven and one foot in an ice bucket. According to the percentage people, you should be perfectly comfortable.

-Bobby Bragan, 1963

 

On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

Charles Babbage

 

Do not trust any statistics you did not fake yourself.

— Winston Churchill

 

We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge.

Rutherford D. Roger

 

Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’. – Unknown

 

“You are like a river. You go through life taking the path of least resistance. We all do—all human beings and all of nature. It is important to know that. You may try to change the direction of your own flow in certain areas of your life—your eating habits, the way you work, the way you relate to others, the way you treat yourself, the attitudes you have about life. And you may even succeed for a time. But eventually you will find you return to your original behavior and attitudes. This is because your life is determined, insofar as it is a law of nature for you to take the path of least resistance.”
― Robert Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance

Wake up, America! The U.S. is not going bankrupt

[Headline graphic: Photo downloaded flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6793826885 (This image is used under the CCA-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)]

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 25, 2020)

The recent Twitter exchange by Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Nikki Haley, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., over whether the U.S. can afford direct payments to U.S. households to help with the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic is a shining example of how our two major political parties can unite in constructive dialogue to solve our nation’s most pressing problems.

I’m just kidding.

The AOC-Haley debate over direct financial aid to Americans suffering due to the pandemic was a poopfest.

AOC and Nikki basically told Joe Biden and his call for national unity to go screw themselves.

The AOC-Haley Twitter exchange lasted only a few snarky tweets:

AOC: To get the (corona)virus under control, we need to pay people to stay home.

Haley: AOC, Are you suggesting you want to pay people to stay home from the money you take by defunding the police? Or was that for the student debts you wanted to pay off, the Green New Deal or Medicare for All? #WhereIsTheMoney

AOC: Nikki, I’m suggesting Republicans find the spine to stand up to their corporate donors & vote for the same measures they did in March, except without the Wall St bailout this time.

And I know you’re confused abt actual governance but police budgets are municipal, not federal.

AOC: Utterly embarrassing that this woman was a governor & still doesn’t have a grasp on public investment. Wonder if she says federal financing works like a piggy bank or household too?

All this faux-seriousness from folks who worship Trump for running the country like his casino.

And if you allow me to judge the winner of the AOC-Haley Twitter spat, AOC won in a first period knockout. It was the 1986 Mike Tyson-Marvis Frazier fight, only with more attractive combatants.

But before I give AOC too much credit, her rebuttal to Haley’s assertion that the U.S. can’t afford to solve America’s most serious problems (i.e., health care costs, student debt, climate change, etc.), realize that AOC is simply repeating an economic argument developed by advocates of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).

In an over-simplified summary, MMT describes currency as a public monopoly and economic problems such as unemployment as evidence that a currency monopolist is overly restricting the supply of the financial assets needed to pay taxes and satisfy savings desires.

Stony Brook University Professor Stephanie Kelton, a former Bernie Sanders economic advisor, is among MMT’s most visible current advocates.

And, in truth, MMT is not that new. The theory’s core ideas ate not far removed from 100-year-old Chartalist Theory and similar economic arguments have been offered by U.S. economists and bankers for decades.

In a 1993 Harvard Business Review published dialogue, William A. Schreyer, Chairman of the Board Emeritus, Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., New York, New York, a sharp critic of MMT, still concurred to one of its principle conclusions:

“The federal budget deficit is not the most important threat facing the U.S. economy. When policymakers focus narrowly on the budget deficit, they ignore what truly drives rising prosperity and long-term economic growth, that is, saving and investment. There is real danger in Washington’s myopic fear of the deficit. As we have seen too often in recent years, a focus on deficit-driven government accounting can place growth-oriented economic policy in a straitjacket.”

But there is also no doubt that politicians like Bernie Sanders and AOC are probably most responsible for helping propel MMT-thinking into mainstream political debate.

But before you think I’m a doughy-eyed lefty, think again. I voted for Trump twice, label myself ‘pro-life,’ believe ‘woke’ politics has more to do with politicians finding a new way to milk Americans for more campaign donations than anything else, and remain a healthy skeptic of the doomsday predictions surrounding climate change (though, I am convinced the earth is warming due to human activity and its consequences are real).

AOC would never ask someone like me for my vote.

Nonetheless, AOC’s logic on helping American households deal with the economic consequences of the pandemic is far more coherent than anything Haley or any other major politician have said on the subject. And that includes Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.

No country has ever gone bankrupt spending money on solving its most serious problems — and the coronavirus pandemic is that type of problem.

As Prof. Kelton likes to ask, “Did we spend too much money on World War 2?”

All that being said, I remain sensitive to the question: “Can large, long-term federal deficits be a bad thing?”

And my understanding of Prof. Kelton and MMT is that, of course, federal deficits are bad if the government spends the money poorly. Imagine if our $27 trillion national debt had been obtained entirely through the government purchase of solid gold bathtubs for every American street corner. Our currency would be worthless and our economy in a shambles. Buying U.S. debt would be the worst investment option on the planet.

But that’s not how this country has spent the money it has printed. Not even close. Past spending and investment decisions (public and private) have made the U.S. economy the best long-term investment around. Admittedly that could change. A twenty-year military occupation of country with little impact on the world economy or U.S. strategic interests might do that if we give it a chance. But even that questionable investment comes with economic upsides, particularly if you are a military contractor or an MSNBC military “analyst.”

The fact is, simplistic notions of what policies the U.S. can and cannot afford are rooted in, as AOC puts it, a flawed understanding of public investment. Financing the federal deficit is not like a piggy bank or household budget. To treat it as such is to risk doing real and lasting harm to the U.S. economy and the American people.

Therefore, it is time we collectively wake up to the con that the U.S. cannot sustain deficit spending, a deception engineered out of self-interest by politicians from both parties who gain more power by perpetuating it.

The reality is that the U.S. can sustain deficit spending as long as the money is spent wisely and solves real problems.

AOC — 1 … Nikki Haley and the U.S. Political Establishment — 0.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: nuqum@protonmail.com

A Elegy for Donald Trump

[Headline graphic: President Donald Trump speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland (Photo by Gage Skidmore; used under the CCA-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)]

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 6. 2020)

I am a Bernie Sanders-supporting registered Democrat (check the voter databases in Iowa and New Jersey); yet, I never hated Donald Trump, even as everyone around me did. My wife and I stopped talking politics on the morning of November 9, 2016 and my mother-in-law to this day only refers to him as “Number 45” or “Turdface.”

But I see beyond his fake tan and broken syntax and recognize some of the good things Trump did over the past four years: He reset some bad trade agreements. Told our European allies it was time they chipped in their share for mutual defense. Oversaw an unprecedented surge in small business growth. And, most importantly, helped expose the falsehood of the Washington, D.C. trope that large, ceaseless federal budget deficits are inflationary and need to be dealt with through deep cuts in entitlement and discretionary spending. If there is one thing Donald Trump is good at, it is running up debt and still being rich.

Finally, I always knew Trump wasn’t a Russian tool (as that whole three-year, media-fueled hullabaloo was the Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘fake news’). The Washington establishment wanted to discredit Trump from the moment he was elected and the Russiagate story was the perfect pulp fiction to do it.

Truth be told, I was entertained watching Trump annoy the news media. They kept telling me Trump was a liar but that’s not what I saw. Trump was not a fabricator of facts — he was simply a CEO who could only regurgitate new information after he had dumbed it down to a point where it was unrecognizable as discernible fact. That’s not lying. That’s called being wrong. There’s a difference. A big difference.

Kevin Weinberg, a 30-something computer programmer, writer and anime aficionado, posted on social media one of the most honest postmortems I’ve yet seen for soon-to-be former President Donald Trump:

If you love Trump as much as I do, don’t riot. Don’t loot (not that I need to say it, as our side never does this). Accept Trump’s sacrifice for us. He destroyed his life, his business, and his future for his country, so that we could save our Constitution by ending the attack on our courts. I am so sad to see President Trump lose (which he probably will). But we should honor his sacrifice. He changed politics forever.

Republicans are now trending ‘big tent.’ Hispanics are rapidly switching teams. Each election we (the Republicans) gain more Hispanic and Black support. Liberals will eventually be the party of white women with college degrees in gender studies.

Sure, I could quibble with a couple of assertions in Mr. Weinberg’s elegy, but his basic point mirrors the central sentiments I’m hearing and reading across the Trump universe today (for which I now paraphrase): We are sad, but we believe Donald Trump stood for something that is not fairly represented in the national media or among political and economic elites: The American economic and political system is designed for the benefit of the few, not the many.

If I may interject, Donald Trump utterly failed in changing that inequity dynamic, even as I remain sympathetic to the guiding belief that I believe motivates most Trump voters: The American political and economic system doesn’t work for most Americans.

The election of Joe Biden fails to address that problem on every meaningful level. In fact, I think he will significantly set that project back. A Biden administration is a regression-to-the-mean that will re-empower the same forces in the Barack Obama presidency that engineered that fastest growing wealth gap since the Reagan years. Every problem can be solved by government-funded tax credits, block grants, or low-interest loan programs that do more for the balance sheets of corporate America (and the value of stock holdings among corporate executives) than for the household budgets of average Americans.

I am too cynical, but experience tells me, for most of at least, happy days will not be here again under a Biden administration.

Joe Biden is the autonomic reflex reaction of the American people to the perpetually embattled Trump presidency. However, the realities that created the Trump phenomenon in the first place –increased wealth inequality, anxieties over immigration, unbalanced trade agreements, the continued economic marginalization of working class Americans of all races and ethnicities, and a growing sense that the U.S. is in decline relative to the rest of the world — are stronger than ever.

The November 3rd election was an anti-Trump vote, but it in no way represented an endorsement of the Democratic Party, its ideas, or its desire to return to “normal times.”

To the contrary, the Republican Party’s core values remain the ideological fulcrum points for most policy debates in Congress — federal budget deficits are bad, what is good for corporate America is good for Main Street, U.S. military interventions are always motivated by good intentions, etc. — and is in an ideal position to stop any substantive legislation the Biden administration might propose.

As I said in a recent column, “The status quo won in a landslide on Tuesday.” Under Biden, the U.S. will keep bombing the same seven countries we bombed under Obama and Trump. The wealth gap will continue to grow. The U.S. will continue to have an inadequate health care system that denies millions of Americans access to needed health care and leaves millions more vulnerable to financial bankruptcy. And the planet will continue to warm at an alarming rate (see Figure 1 below), even after the U.S. rejoins the Paris Climate Accords.

Figure 1: UAH Satellite-Based Temperature of the Global Lower Atmosphere (through Oct. 31, 2020)

Nobody that cares about this country should be happy about with the status quo.

I will not miss Donald Trump as I am sick of the network news’ daily diet of “What stupid thing did Trump say today?

However, if we are ever going to face the real problems in this country — the problems that gave rise to Trump in the first place — the ‘Chicken Little’-hysteria that surrounded the Trump administration will need to be replaced by something more nuanced and intellectually honest — and, therefore, less attractive to news audiences.

Which is why I have no illusions that anything will actually get better under the next presidential administration, even if the news network anchors (not on the Fox News Channel) insist otherwise.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: nuqum@protonmail.com

 

The status quo won in a landslide on Tuesday

[Headline graphic: The Triumph of Caesar: Trumpeters by Jacob of Strasbourg and Benedetto Bordone; Used under the CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication license]

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com; November 4, 2020)

Conservative pundit George Will said after Barack Obama’s 2008 election victory that the loss was good for the Republican Party: “Republicans are a bad governing party, but an exceptional opposition party.”

Which soon will be evident as the Republicans spend the next four years calling into question the validity of this election and the president and Congress it elected.

And why shouldn’t they? Republicans and their wealthiest constituents win whenever their party can so badly muck up the legislative system nothing substantial or transformative ever gets passed. Doing nothing–the status quo–serves them as well as when they are in power and bear the aggravating responsibility of governing.

While the news networks are saying the final results for Tuesday’s election may not be known for days or even weeks, the actual result was hard-coded into the Constitution, monetary system, federal budget process and U.S. tax code years ago. America’s political and economic elites win every election. Its not necessary to count all of those unprocessed mail-in ballots. We already have our outcome: Hail, Caesar!

Also clear is that the biggest losers on Tuesday were progressives who think their progressive policies will ever get a fair hearing within the U.S. halls of power.

A Green New Deal? You’ll have to wait another four years. Address the looming student debt crisis? Not anytime soon. Shrink the nation’s growing wealth gap? Not gonna happen.

At a unique time in history when no Republican incumbent’s seat should have been safe, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell crushed his well-funded opponent by 20 points. One of my close Iowa friends insisted in the weeks before Election Day, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst was doomed. “She’s toast.” Supposedly, Theresa Greenfield, her Democrat opponent, was generating enthusiasm unlike anything they’d ever seen since a young Senator from Illinois traversed the state as he ran for president. Ernst won by almost seven points.

Joe Biden will be the next president, but any expectation of a mandate was crushed Tuesday night. Biden, similar to Trump in 2017, will limp into the presidency, already damaged goods–and that’s after every major news network (less Fox News) was basically a 24/7 Biden ad over the last five or six months. [Yes, there is data to support that charge; you’ll find it here. And don’t get me started on how bad journalism has become in this country. IMHO, we have propaganda outlets, not news organizations.]

If you are a progressive, do not despair, no matter how easy it is at the moment. Instead, now is the time to spiritually free yourself from the shackles of a one-party system that poses as a two-party system. It has failed, again, to give anyone hope for real change…and it will fail in the future as well. Cartoonist Charles Schultz warned us 50 years ago of this reality with his iconic bit where Lucy Van Pelt never lets Charlie Brown kick the football–yet Charlie never loses faith that ‘next time’ he will succeed. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t.

[In this analogy, think of Nancy Pelosi or Charles Schumer as Lucy and Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as Charlie Brown.]

Do you want an economically rational, universal health care system? Do you want an economic system where our best and brightest aren’t operating under the oppressive cloud of student debt for half of their working life? Do you want to end our pointless forever wars? Do you want to reduce the wealth inequality gap?

If you do, consider abandoning the Democratic Party. They are working for the same entrenched elite interests as the Republican Party. And I suggest a similar consideration for the populists in the Republican Party.

Progressives and populists joining forces? Now that would be an interesting political party.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: nuqum@protonmail.com

The 8 things President Biden could do to gain the respect of progressives

[Headline photo by Gage Skidmore; use licensed under licensed under the CCA-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.]

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; November 3, 2020)

No más. I can’t take it anymore.

If you thought the 2016 election was unwatchable, welcome to 2020 —an election where our main choices for president are two de facto Republicans.

Guess which party will win?

Sure, the “official” Republican Party lost control of the presidency and the U.S. Senate, but at the end of the day, its the Democratic Party that has moved to the right. And it is unlikely, based on the last Democratic presidency, that the new president will ever move credibly back to the left.

I predict more government spending disproportionately benefiting corporate balance sheets over American households, an expansion of U.S. military involvements across the globe, our inefficient health care system will stay inefficient, and our

Through their presidential nominee, Joe Biden, the “official” Democratic Party is the living definition of a status quo political organization. Their candidate defends the interests of health insurance and pharmaceutical companies while economically vulnerable Americans disproportionately die from the coronavirus. As our planet continues to warm at an alarming rate, he plays coy on the issue of fracking — does he support it or not?

He defends the interests of the big tech companies even as they’ve been shown to censor content produced by dissenting voices from the left and right. He defends maintaining current troop levels in Afghanistan despite the 18-year war having done little to bring sustainable democratic institutions or economic prosperity to the country; and, instead, has witnessed the Taliban expand its areas of control. In fact, there is no current U.S. military occupation or attempt at regime change that Joe Biden hasn’t promised to maintain or expand and said he would continue the current military budget levels (Recent Biden statements on U.S. military policies are here, here and here).

Joe Biden isn’t an outlier within the Democratic Party. He is a perfect representation of what that party has become since the rise of Bill Clinton.

The last 12 months of media-fueled propaganda attacking Trump (and indirectly supporting Biden) has worked. Like good propaganda, a lot of it is based on fact. Donald Trump has royally bungled the coronavirus crisis. Yet, at its core is a dishonest project to suggest Trump is the cause of America’s ills, when, in fact, he is merely a symptom.

Unsurprisingly, disaffected Democratic and Republicans are not so easily deceived. They remain as disillusioned as ever about the direction of the country under a Biden administration.

In 2016 they wanted to tear down the status quo and in 2020 they are getting it back in a more arrogant form than ever.

Our political system is broken relative to the average American and the people that helped make it that way are about to return to power.

Yes, the Trump experiment mostly failed. He did fulfill some of his promises: renegotiated bad trade agreements, spurred small business growth and employment on a historical level (particularly in minority communities), funded his wall (thanks to a secretively compliant Nancy Pelosi), tore up the Iran Nuclear Deal (which was actually a good agreement), and rolled back environmental regulations on the coal industry (which won’t change the fact that coal is still a dead man walking).

But when the final numbers are tallied, Donald Trump wasn’t the change-agent many thought he would be. He never ended our endless wars. He didn’t force the pharmaceutical companies to face real price competition. He didn’t even fulfill his 2016 campaign pledge to close the carried interest tax loophole for hedge fund managers.

Trump can blame the Democrats in Congress for some of these failures, but just as I was a harsh critic of Barack Obama and his inability to negotiate with a hostile Congress, I hold Trump to the same standard.

In business it is often said, ‘You have to give something to get something.’ Our current dysfunctional political system is incapable of such reciprocity. We are all to blame for that.

Nonetheless, I sit here today forced to accept the fact that Joe Biden — a self-described ‘deficit hawk’ and proud military ‘interventionist’ —is going to sit in the Oval Office for four years (health willing).

I try to keep my spirits up by believing that Biden will be a better president than he was as a U.S. Senator and vice president. I’d like to believe there are instances in history when a politician’s past performance did not predict his or her performance as president. If you can think of one, please let me know.

The evidence is overwhelming that our next president, in the recent past, willfully turned a blind eye to his own son’s capacious appetite for profiting from his father’s political office. That ain’t Russian propaganda, folks. That is a cold, hard fact.

Still, with my expectations planted in reality, I want to believe there is a sluggers chance that a Biden administration could do some socially progressive things.

Hence, I have come up with 8 policies that, should a Biden administration implement them, would lead me to reconsider my attitude towards him.

For each of these 8 policies, I’ve included my guess as to the probability they could be achieved. Additionally, I’ve tried to include mostly policy ideas that are currently supported by a majority of Americans based on recent opinion survey data (e.g., the 2019 and 2020 Pilot Surveys conducted by the American National Election Studies).

The following are mainstream policy ideas.

Let us get started…

(1) Remove American combat troops from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

It is hard to believe after over a decade of U.S. combat forces in Iraq, Afghanistan (and oil and gas generating portions of Syria) that we are still having this debate. Apart from removing the Saddam Hussein and the Taliban from power, the U.S. and its allies have accomplished little by remaining in these countries.

“The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the fundamentalist group from power,” says Middle East-based journalist Frud Bezhan.

So why are we still there? The cynical answer is: U.S. contractors are enriched by these occupations. The more polite answer is that the costs in keeping of U.S. troops in Afghanistan are not large enough to force a withdrawal.

The Biden campaign’s cryptic statements on Syria are the most chilling of his military policy ideas. According to his campaign website, Biden promises in Syria to stand “with civil society and pro-democracy partners on the ground…and ensure the U.S. is leading the global coalition to defeat ISIS and use what leverage we have in the region to help shape a political settlement to give more Syrians a voice.”

Biden and U.S. military leaders always fail to mention that Iran and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian forces have killed more ISIS fighters in the world than any other military force. In fact, the rise of ISIS can firmly be laid at the feet of the Obama administration.

According to writer Robert Morris, who has written extensively on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, one of the most pernicious and widespread myths is that the Obama administration’s reduction of combat troops in Iraq led to the rise of ISIS.

“Those who are trying to keep U.S. troops in Syria rely heavily on this myth,” says Morris. “It is central to the foreign policy ideas of both parties, and the ideology and future plans of the entire U.S. foreign policy establishment.”

The problem is that this myth about ISIS’ rise is “95 to 99 percent bullsh*t,” says Morris. “Obama’s Iraq withdrawal did not create the Islamic State (ISIS), but his intervention in Syria almost certainly did.”

Biden’s infrequent campaign mentions of Syria indicate he’s prepared to reimpose an interventionist, anti-regime policy that failed to overthrow Assad the first time, but successfully destabilized Syria and led to the death of almost 400,000 Syrians.

If establishment Democrats like Biden are consistent on anything, it is in their unwillingness to upset the military-industrial complex and our country’s foreign policy brain trust, even when they are demonstrably incompetent, as they have been with respect to the Middle East.

The chance a Biden administration would end these military adventures in any one of these countries? Close to zero.

(2) End US military involvement in Saudi Arabia/UAE’s war in Yemen

On the surface, this may be the one international conflict in which a Biden administration could do the right thing. The U.S. (and other European allies) supply Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with significant intelligence and logistical support in their nearly six-year effort to remove the Houthis, who are Shia Muslims, from power in northeast Yemen.

To date, according to the Yemen Data Project, Saudi-coalition air raids have killed nearly 9,000 Yemenis and have created one of the world’s most dire humanitarian disasters.

In an apparent response to this crisis, the U.S. House and Senate voted nearly two years ago to condemn and end the Trump administration’s support for the Saudi-coalitions efforts in Yemen (which, in fact, had started under the Obama administration).

Has the issue of Yemen been prominently raised in the 2020 presidential campaign?

Of course not. So don’t expect a Biden administration to do anything to upset the status quo in that region. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are close allies to the U.S. and the Iranian-allied Houthis are not.

The chance a Biden administration ends our support for the Saudi-UAE war on Yemen: 10%.

(3) Rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal (as negotiated by the Obama administration) and end sanctions immediately.

I have little positive to say about the Obama administration, but when it comes to the Iran Nuclear Deal —known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which was signed in July, 2015 —the previous administration hit a solid Texas League single. The JCPOA wasn’t perfect, but by bringing the Iranians into the constraints of an international agreement on nuclear weapons development, the Obama administration moved the ball forward on Middle East peace. Something the Clinton and G. W. Bush administrations did not do.

However, Trump’s short-sighted destruction of that deal has achieved nothing, except to move the region closer to a dangerous, full-scale ‘hot war’—which, though further enriching the U.S. defense contractors, sends shivers down the spine of global trading interests.

A war with Iran would likely be a far bigger foreign policy debacle than G. W. Bush’s unnecessary war with Iraq in 2004.

Thankfully, Biden (the candidate) has made rational statements about Iran during the 2020 campaign. “There’s a smarter way to be tough on Iran,” says candidate Biden. “This past month (August) has proven that Trump’s Iran policy is a dangerous failure. At the United Nations, Trump could not rally a single one of America’s closest allies to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Next, Trump tried to unilaterally reimpose UN sanctions on Iran, only to have virtually all the UN security council members unite to reject his gambit. Now there are reports that Iran has stockpiled 10 times as much enriched uranium as it had when President Barack Obama and I left office. We urgently need to change course.”

I don’t know what “reports” Biden is referencing, but I do believe Biden is prepared to reverse the significant damage Trump has done in the international community’s efforts to slow down Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

But not only should Biden recognize the dangers of Trump’s aggressive Iran policies, JCPOA was one of the Obama administration’s genuine foreign policy successes and reviving it would not require any contentious battles with Congress. Bringing the Iran Nuclear Deal back from the dead should be a no-brainer.

The chance the Biden administration rejoins the JCPOA and ends sanctions against Iran: An optimistic 75%.

(4) Pass a student debt relief program that forgives a substantial proportion of debt for the neediest students and reduces interest rates for others.

Student debt is a $1.6 trillion crisis waiting to happen and more than 30% of student loan borrowers are in default, late or have stopped making payments six years after graduation.

Forty-four million Americans are directly under the thumb of this debt burden, but all Americans feel the effects of this mess as more and more student debtors are delaying the traditional milestones of adulthood: marriage, children and home ownership.

A 2015 survey by Bankrate.com found that 21 percent of student debtors have delayed marriage, 26 percent have pushed back having children, and 36 percent have put off buying a home.

Those choices have measurable outcomes throughout the economy, and most of them are negative.

Where has candidate Biden stood on the issue of student debt? To my surprise, this is one issue where the Biden campaign has been fairly concrete.

For example, Biden proposes changing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, where currently the remaining debt is forgiven after 10 years of payments, to a program where $10,000 of federal student loan debt is forgiven each year for up to five years.

Biden has also proposed a income-based loan repayment program that would cut monthly loan payments in half compared to the Pay-As-You-Earn Repayment (PAYE), which was created under the Obama administration program and has the lowest monthly and total payments of any other income-driven repayment plans.

More broadly, Biden has proposed forgiving all tuition-related undergraduate federal student loan debt for borrowers who attended public colleges or Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and who earn less than $125,000 per year. Joe Biden has also said that he supports the $10,000 in federal student loan forgiveness proposal recently introduced by House Democrats.

Finally, Biden wants to restore bankruptcy discharge rights to student loans, which would allows debtors to stop paying their student loans if payments on those loans “impose an undue hardship” on the student and his or her dependents. [I’ll be nice and won’t mention that it was Senator Biden who helped rollback bankruptcy protection for millions of average Americans right before the 2008 recession. I won’t, but here is someone who will.]

All things considered, I believe Biden’s campaign rhetoric on student debt relief has been refreshingly specific and credible.

The chance the Biden administration passes a substantive student debt bill: a hopeful 50 percent.

(5) Decriminalize most drug possession offenses; stop using the justice system to help users and move treatment to the social services and mental health communities

Nowhere is Biden’s congressional record more disconnected from current public sentiment than when it comes to U.S. crime policy. From his first days as a House member through his Senate career, Biden has aggressively positioned himself as a “crime fighter.” In that effort, Biden frequently cites the 1994 “Biden” Crime Bill, as he once called it, as his greatest legislative achievement.

The 1994 Crime Bill, the largest crime bill in U.S. history, provided for 100,000 new police officers, $9.7 billion in funding for prisons and $6.1 billion in funding for prevention programs, which were designed with significant input from experienced police officers. The bill also eliminated Pell Grants for prison inmates, criminalized gang membership, established a three-strikes provision that mandated life sentences for people with two or more violent felony convictions, and gave states incentives to lengthen sentences, including for drug possession offenses.

However, not everyone who has suffered from drug addiction or lives in a minority community shares Biden’s love for the 1994 Crime Bill.

Leading into the 2016 election, activist Jeremy Haile, the federal advocacy counsel at the Sentencing Project, said, “Any Democrat that is interested in gaining support among the current electorate, particularly the progressive civil rights communities, is going to have to say that previous tough-on-crime policies were a mistake.”

The Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 only amplifies Haile’s earlier statement. “Many of us who grew up in the black community in the ’90s,” Patrisse Cullors, a political organizer and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, told the New York Times. “We witnessed the wave in which the policies that came from both federal government but also local government tore our families apart.”

And what does Biden still say about the 1994 Crime Bill?

Asked recently in a televised town hall, Biden admitted the 1994 Crime Bill was a “mistake.” However, just a year ago he was still defending the bill.

To be fair, the most impactful crime bills were passed in the two decades prior to the 1994 Crime Bill (my analysis on that topic can be found here). Nonetheless, at every opportunity, both as a House and Senate member, Biden has proudly voted for tougher crime laws. That position may still serve him well with the majority of Americans, including populists, but to left-leaning progressives, Biden is not on their side of the issue.

And, as president, I think Biden’s legislative record will remain faithful to his ‘tough-on-crime’ past, even if his rhetoric will be all over the map.

The chance the Biden administration pushes for the decriminalization of most drug possession sentences and takes the criminal justice system out of the drug enforcement process: No chance.

(6) Substantive reform of the U.S. health care system, including at least one of the following policies: (a) reducing Medicare eligibility to 55 years of age, (b) extending Medicare to all dependent children, or (c) offering all Americans the option to buy into the Medicare program through “Obamacare” or their employer

Biden has been clear on this. He will work to restore those features of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) that were rolled back by the Trump administration. Beyond that, he has promised only marginal changes to the U.S. health care system and has rejected any call for universal health care. Biden does not support “Medicare for All” and will oppose any effort coming close to it.

That said, he has coyly suggested “a public option like Medicare” could be added to “Obamacare” (though the details of this public option are thinly described on his campaign website) and he has proposed lowering the Medicare age eligibility to 60 years of age (down from the current 65).

However, the coronavirus has revealed the deep, systemic flaws in the U.S. health care system and the disproportionate burden this pandemic has placed on low- and middle-income households who cannot afford potential out-of-pocket expenses related to coronavirus treatment.

Biden is right when he says Americans are dying because of current U.S. health care policies under Trump. What Biden doesn’t tell you is that most of those policies have been a joint, 70-year project by the Democratic and Republican parties to protect health insurance companies, health care providers, and pharmaceutical companies from universal health care. Tweaking our ailing health care system, as Biden proposes to do, will not significantly improve U.S. health outcomes related to the coronavirus or any other health problem.

In the end, Biden will never support policies moving the U.S. significantly closer to a universal health care.

The chance the Biden administration passes substantive health care legislation: While there is a fair chance (25%) that the Medicare age eligibility standard will be lowered, the offering of a genuine “public option” or universal health care for all child dependents is not going to happen on Biden’s watch.

(7) Give U.S. households a federal tax credit for purchasing an all-electric vehicle; and an additional tax credit or cash incentive for a household to simultaneously trade in an existing combustion engine vehicle

I had to put one easy chip shot for Biden on this list. This is it: Restoring and expanding a federal tax credit for purchasing an all-electric vehicle, as well as reviving the “Cash for Clunkers” program.

Biden has already endorsed these ideas that are aimed at helping move the U.S. towards a green economy and help meet the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s goal of global net human-caused carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reaching ‘net zero’ by 2050.

Electric cars alone won’t get us to that goal, but with the continued decline of coal-based electricity generation, the increased greening of U.S. corporate energy consumption and recent advancements in carbon-capture and sequestration technologies, the U.S. is going to significantly move the ball forward on combating climate under a Biden administration. [Yes, I know Biden supports fracking, but that is small turnips compared to an all-electric U.S. vehicle fleet.]

The chance these two electric vehicle policies become law in a Biden administration: A strong 90%.

(8) Pardon Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange

Just when it seemed like I was warming up to the incoming Biden administration, the topic of press freedom and the U.S. government’s current effort to prosecute news publisher Julian Assange for publishing classified U.S. documents related to the Iraq War, brings those good feelings to an abrupt halt.

Sadly, I don’t need to single out Joe Biden on this issue. I can’t name a single U.S. politician, apart from Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who has stood firmly by our First Amendment and consistently supported the release of Assange. If he is tried and convicted in a U.S. court of crimes under the 1917 Espionage Act, the First Amendment rights of all Americans will be diminished.

What has Biden said about Assange? He called Assange a “high-tech terrorist.”

As is so often the case with Biden, he takes a meager understanding of the facts and exploits our worst instincts and biases to gain cheap political points.

All Americans, not just Biden, would benefit by learning the facts surrounding Assange. [You can find a good, balanced summary of the Assange case here by former New York Times reporter James Risen.]

The facts, as they are known today, show that Assange did not conspire with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016 (which, by the way, has nothing to do with the charges that keeps Assange in a U.K. prison, but does have a lot to do with why establishment Democrats are willing to damage our First Amendment protections for petty political purposes). He did not offer assistance to Chelsea Manning on how to anonymously infiltrate classified U.S. intelligence systems (which is among the charges against him). Finally, Assange and Wikileaks did not expose U.S. intelligence assets in the Middle East (or elsewhere) to harm, as often charged in the mainstream media. To the contrary, the facts consistently show how diligent and thorough Assange and Wikileaks were in redacting the names of intelligence assets from the Wikileaks-released documents.

What Assange did do is publish accurate information that exposed potential U.S. war crimes in Iraq and, most certainly, revealed facts about the U.S. military occupation of Iraq that reflected negatively on the U.S. government. What Assange and Wikileaks did is fundamentally no different than the New York Times and Washington Post publishing The Pentagon Papers almost 50 years ago. How ironic is that those two news organizations have been largely silent on the First Amendment implications of the his case?

The central character in The Pentagon Papers drama, former Pentagon intelligence officer Daniel Ellsberg, offers a biting analysis of the Assange case that you can watch here from The Jimmy Dore Show. [And is there any bigger indictment of today’s mainstream journalism than the fact that you can get better, more accurate information on the Assange case from watching the podcast of a jagoff nightclub comedian?]

The chance the Biden administration will pardon Assange: Negative zero.

Final Thoughts

One of the most demoralizing features of Joe Biden is how his 2020 campaign rhetoric contradicts much of his legislative record. He voted for harsher drug penalties before he came out against them as a presidential candidate. As a candidate, Biden said he wouldn’t touch Social Security or Medicare, even though as a ‘deficit-hawk’ Senator he spoke repeatedly about his support for putting those programs under the budgetary knife in the name of lowering the national debt. He opposed fracking before he recently came out for it — a stance he then clarified to mean he was always for it even when he was against it.

The national media has pulled double-duty in protecting the American voter from knowledge of these numerous inconsistencies between candidate Biden and his legislative record.

Unfortunately, as president, it will be much harder (though not impossible) for Biden to hide those inconsistencies from the millions of progressives who are rightfully cynical towards him at the start of his new administration.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: nuqum@protonmail.com