All posts by subir

When you challenge entrenched power, you will be accused of being threatening and violent.

In the history of every challenge to entrenched political power, a time arrives when the challenger is accused of threatening behavior, violating norms or violence. There is a natural dynamic driving such accusations.

The authorities, by definition, control rule-making and rule-implementation. They can deploy state security (or in certain cases private security forces) secure in the view that this will be seen as a legitimate use of power to “maintain order”. The very act of challenging the present order leads to accusations of fomenting disorder.

Most of us are accustomed to giving the benefit of doubt to a uniformed force and the agents of authority. We are predisposed to view disgruntled citizen-protesters as a rabble or mob.

The criticism of challengers/protesters comes in two forms:

  • Attempts to conflate a broad non-violent movement with violent groups who may or may not espouse the same goals (or look the same, scruffy, poor, brown).
  • Attempts to hold leaders responsible for controversial words/actions used by anyone associated with the movement.

For example, Abolitionists were accused of condoning violence when some refused to unequivocally condemn John Brown. Every day of slavery was an orgy of violence inflicted on slaves, but this was the current order, and therefore unremarkable.

There was concern the American suffrage movement would adopt the “window-breaking” tactics of the British suffragette movement. British suffragettes eventually moved on to more extreme violence (including bombing and arson). Flipping a chair sounds pretty tame compared to that.

Gandhi was accused of encouraging riots and imprisoned for six years on this charge by the Bombay High Court. In arguing his case, the prosecutor said:

“Of what value is it to insist upon non-violence, if at the same time, you preached disaffection to the Government, holding it up as sinful and treacherous, and openly and deliberately sought and instigated others to overthrow it”

The prosecutor, good Christian though he was, may have forgotten that Jesus simultaneously asked his followers to turn the other cheek and threw the money-changers out of the temple. In his sentencing statement, the judge said to Gandhi:

“But having regard to the nature of your political teaching and the nature of many of those to whom it was addressed, how you can have continued to believe that violence and anarchy would not be the inevitable consequence, it passes my capacity to understand.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. The criticism leveled against Sanders by some on this site is along the same lines. It seeks to delegitimize dissent by labeling it incitement.

The American Civil Rights movement is a case study of such tactics on both sides. MLK was accused of inciting violence, condemned for expressing empathy for rioters and subjected to surveillanceIsolated calls for violent protest, though condemned by many, were employed to discredit the entire movement.

That’s a controversial claim in some quarters

The Trade Union movement in the US has seen violence directed at it, and elements within it have resorted to violence as well. In more recent years, concern has been expressed about confrontations associated with Black Lives Matter protests. Some observers seek to paint the entire movement as composed of rioters or claim it is a “war on cops”. One end result is to label it a “controversial group” (see right). BLM supporters have pointed out the civil rights movement also relied on creating violent confrontations with authority.

You can find similar threads running through criticism of the American Indian rights movement, the Palestinian civil disobedience movement and indigenous rightsmovements in various other parts of the world. Of course, the Democratic convention of 1968 is a similar case. Bill Clinton’s Sister Souljah moment was a variation on this theme, and used to undercut the Rainbow coalition. The last is quite an interesting case, since it reminds us that Bernie Sanders has seen this tactic used by another Clinton to undermine a movement he associated himself with.

The actual cause or movement may be small, or big. The dynamic of challenger and challenged is the same. In general, the goal of entrenched power in these cases is to create distaste for the challenger, by branding them or their methods as “unacceptable”:

  • You may mean well, but the way you’re going about it is wrong (we will set the terms of debate)
  • Now is not the time, we have more urgent matters (we will set the priorities)
  • What you’re suggesting is not achievable (we will define the overton window)
  • If you don’t accept our authority you’re giving cover to violence (give up now)
  • You’ve had some success, we’ll take over now (know your place)
  • etc. etc. etc.

To those who have followed the history of protest movements and political challenges, this is all quite predictable. To those who haven’t, you have just seen it in action.

It comes as no surprise to me that Bernie and his supporters are being accused of intemperance, lack of discipline and even violence. I am not upset by this, it is to be expected that “chair flipping” and “curse words” at a heated state convention would morph into wall to wall coverage of “chaos” and “melees”. As if there were people running around with broken bottles, brass knuckles and switchblades in Las Vegas.

The reactions of all parties concerned have been as expected. Senior Democrats who hold significant power are unaccustomed to being challenged Certainly not in public, and certainly not by the hoi-polloi who hold no power with the two-party system. Harry Reid runs a tight ship in Nevada, I doubt anyone in the Nevada Democratic party has even walked out of a meeting in a huff in recent years. So the sights and sounds of chants, curses and “chair flipping” engender the same response as the sight of a Visigoth horde on the Strip.

Curiously, Nevada had a similar “controversy” during the first round caucus. Sanders supporters were accused of “shouting down” a live Spanish translation. It later emerged they had been shouting for a neutral translator, and objected to high-profile Clinton surrogate Dolores Huerta serving as translator while wearing in a Clinton t-shirt. The initial version of events advanced was that civil rights icon Dolores Huerta had been shouted down by “BernieBros” and Spanish participants denied a translation. Who has time to understand what they were actually asking.

It’s tough for me to get worked up over heated words or curses by some person somewhere. Ours is a big country that has many passionate and stupid people in it. As was ably demonstrated in another diary, in 2008, some passionate supporters of Hillary Clinton also indulged in cursing and invective. In Nevada this year, Hillary supporters have gotten quite heated as well.

But hypocrisy never goes out of style in politics:

Debbie Wasserman Schultz in May 08, cochair of HRC’s campaign, arguing superdelegates should decide race for Hillary

That was then, today, continuing the campaign means Bernie is “willing to do harm”.

Thankfully, Bernie is well prepared for all this. If you have spent any time on the left, as part of various struggles for equal rights, all of this is very familiar. Bernie came into this primary with an understanding of the history of protest and challenge, so there are no surprises for him here. His message discipline has been virtually flawless, his consistent advocacy of non-violence has been rock-solid, and he has avoided the trap of apologizing for things he has no control over.

This is a vigorous campaign to determine the nominee, and secondarily a platform. It should continue for now.

PS. Quite predictably, camp Clinton seems unaware of the implications of leveling such allegations against Bernie’s supporters. Come July, Democrats will be running against Trump, who has actually incited and abetted violence. In August, when Hillary brings Trump’s behavior up, he will be ready to remind folks that it is what Hillary and her surrogates were accusing Bernie of a few weeks earlier.

Secondarily, if Democrats believe they want to go into November with Bernie voters alongside them, it’s probably best not to spend part of the summer equating them with Trump supporters. That will be remembered in October when Hillary’s surrogates are in full-scale Trump supporter vilification mode.


NYT headline/article is indefensible. So is DailyKos FPers’ red hot take on it.

The New York Times published an article today with the headline:

Bernie Sanders, eyeing convention, willing to harm Hillary Clinton in the homestretch

The headline doesn’t read “harm Hillary’s prospects” or “harm Clinton’s campaign” or “harm Clinton’s chances”. It reads harm Hillary Clinton.

Remarkably the NYT went with it though no one on the Sanders campaign said they were “willing to harm Hillary Clinton”, or even her presidential campaign. The article provides these quotes:

Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Mr. Sanders, said the campaign did not think its attacks would help Mr. Trump in the long run, but added that the senator’s team was “not thinking about” the possibility that they could help derail Mrs. Clinton from becoming the first woman elected president.

“The only thing that matters is what happens between now and June 14,” Mr. Devine said, referring to the final Democratic primary, in the District of Columbia. “We have to put the blinders on and focus on the best case to make in the upcoming states. If we do that, we can be in a strong position to make the best closing argument before the convention. If not, everyone will know in mid-June, and we’ll have to take a hard look at where things stand.”

This doesn’t come close to what the preceding text and the headline suggest. Devine is saying Bernie will continue to compete till the last primary is over. That they will not be deterred by subjective claims that competing in these primaries (you know engaging in politics) is going to derail the eventual Democratic nominee.

Here’s the other direct quote from the campaign in the article:

But Mr. Sanders has sharpened his language of late, saying Tuesday night that the party faced a choice to remain “dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy” or “welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change.”

Mr. Sanders’s street-fighting instincts have been encouraged by his like-minded campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, who has been blistering against the Clinton camp and the party establishment. On Wednesday, he took to CNN to accuse Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the Democratic national chairwoman, of “throwing shade on the Sanders campaign from the very beginning.”

“Street-fighting instincts”? WTF did I miss? Did Sanders’ come out and say “I want my corners”? Did he break out some Kung Fu? Did he tear off a bicycle chain with his bare hands and wave it around?

No, he’s saying pretty much what he’s been saying all along. We Democrats have no problem believing “regulatory capture” can happen. We have no trouble believing the Republican party is enthralled by the Kochs or Adelson or any number of other plutocrats we love to hate. But lord help the person who might suggest this could happen to our party.

That NYT headline was used in both print and online. As if that weren’t bad enough, a DailyKos Front Pager published a diary titled:

Sanders campaign admits it wants to hurt Clinton, even if that means helping Trump

An alarming new report from the New York Times details Sanders’ destructive ramp-up, explaining that the senator is now hoping to “inflict[…] a heavy blow on Hillary Clinton” and is “willing to do some harm to Mrs. Clinton” so that he might “arrive at the Philadelphia convention with maximum political power.”

the words in quotes are not from the Sanders campaign, they are NYT reporters’ words. No one said they “want to hurt Clinton”. But that’s not about to stop the DailyKos FP. This FP diary (which has been shared thousands of times on social media) makes a lot of claims cut from whole cloth.

There you have it. Sanders is flat-out “not thinking about” whether his efforts to hurt Clinton could aid Trump—he’s just going to “put the blinders on” and worry only about himself, not the national and global issues at stake. It’s an absurd and outrageous win-at-all-costs strategy: absurd because Sanders cannot even win, no matter what “power” he might grab hold of; outrageous because Trump poses an existential threat to this country—and to this world

Except, the NYT article being relied on has this paraphrase of a direct quote:

Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Mr. Sanders, said the campaign did not think its attacks would help Mr. Trump in the long run

which in an alternate reality, allows our DK FPer to claim:

Sanders’ campaign is now taking a scorched-earth approach toward its opponents—even if that means helping Donald Trump win the White House.

The diarist and the NYT headline/article authors are rushing to reach the conclusion that Bernie’s campaign won’t stop at “helping Donald Trump”. Nothing, not even the campaign saying they don’t believe this is the case will keep the NYT and the FPer in question from reaching their desired conclusion. And in this FPer’s mind, anything other than immediate and abject surrender by Bernie Sanders and his campaign would create “an existential threat to this country—and to this world”.

This is a bald-faced attempt to delegitimize dissent. It is an attempt to delegitimize one candidate’s ongoing campaign before the primary is over, before a nominee has been chosen.

This is, in fact, an attempt to delegitimize the remaining primaries. If DailyKos FPers believe continuing the primary is going to create an “existential threat to this country”, why don’t they stand up and demand the remaining primaries be cancelled? If the result has already been determined, is the charade of the remaining primaries more important than “an existential threat to this country—and to this world”? Surely not.

Then why not come out and suggest they be cancelled? Why bother with a convention at all? Why not simply declare Hillary Clinton the nominee? Why do we carry on this dangerous game of primaries and democracy if it poses such “an existential threat to this country—and to this world”? Wouldn’t we all agree that a coronation is the better option?


Tax returns and an oligarchic presidency.

A couple of days ago, a DKos staffer linked to and quoted a National Review article:

“The Democratic socialist from Vermont, a man who rages against high earners paying a lower effective tax rate than blue-collar workers, saved himself thousands using many of the tricks that would be banned under his own tax plan.”

Now, it may bug some that the quote is from Buckley’s publication. That doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that NRO’s argument was gleefully parroted without examination. The “tricks” in question are deductions for state taxes, charitable contributions, mortgage interest and job-related expenses. If deducting state taxes on your federal return is considered a “trick” and is going to be used to bludgeon Bernie, then we are reaching the wrong conclusions from the returns candidates disclose.

I’ve seen snide comments about the Sanders’ effective tax rate popping up in discussions, along with repeated broadsides about “why won’t he release his returns”, followed by “he’s only released one year of returns” and “where are the rest”. Bernie has released his and Jane’s 2014 tax returns, and what I’m going to do here is review that alongside the Clinton’s 2014 return and discuss what they reveal about our political system, tax regime and this election cycle.

As an aside, I hope Bernie releases additional returns quickly. There was a lot of innuendo and fuss before he released 2014, and now that has switched over to why he’s only released one. The fact is that going by 2014, there’s nothing of particular interest in them. Here is the interesting fact:

If Bernie is out of the race, Clinton or Trump will be president. With near certainty, the White House will be occupied by a person with oligarchical levels of wealth and income.

Once you understand that, the attacks about Bernie’s returns, tax rate and deductions look very much like swift-boat style attempts to attack his strengths and distract attention from his opponent.

So what does an oligarch’s tax return look like?

Income inequality: Candidates for the Democratic party nomination

The Clintons income of $28 million for 2014 is 136 times Sanders’ income for the same period And the Sanders are doing pretty well, they had income and Social Security benefits that totaled over 200k last year, putting them in the top 5% of Americans. However, the Clintons’ income of $28 million place them in a different league entirely. The numbers may seem abstract, so I’ve graphed them on the right. Sanders’ income is less than 1% of what the Clintons made in 2014. Where did that $28 million come from?

SPEECHES $9,730,000 $10,492,000
CONSULTING $6,417,475
AUTHOR $36,442 $5,563,867

That adds up to over $32 million, but there are expenses (commissions, fees etc) associated with this income that reduces it on their tax returns. Another way to look at the disparity is that Hillary receives more for an hour of speaking than Bernie makes in a year. That should give pause to those who wish to believe both these statements are true:

  • Bernie’s complete tax returns are of extraordinary significance (though his and Jane’s income derives almost exclusively from his Senate salary and Social Security)
  • What Hillary tells captains of industry is none of our business, even if her administration would be responsible for regulating them and setting tax policy.

The second belief should be rejected out of hand. Bernie is right to ask why so many large enterprises (particularly in Finance) believe it makes sense to spend 250K on a speech by Hillary.

When those seeking the highest office in our country receive over $10 million a year for speeches to businesses, it is important to know what was said. It is our business because we live in an era where the Financial Times ran this front-page story today: Middle Class takes a hit in most US Cities:

The hollowing out of the middle class.

More than four-fifths of US urban areas have seen declines in household income since the turn of the century, according to research that exposes the middle class decline at the heart of this year’s presidential election campaign.

The research on urban centres hosting three-quarters of the US population shows that median household incomes, adjusted for the cost of living in the area, grew in only 39 out of 229 metro areas between 1999 and 2014. […]

It reveals a steady erosion of the middle class across the US map, with 203 out of 229 metro areas experiencing a decline in the share of their populations that are middle income. At the same time, 172 metro areas saw increases in the share of their population that is upper income, and 160 saw a rising lower-income share.

This isn’t some commie-socialist rag raging on about the oligarchy. It’s on the front page of the Financial Times, the daily read of the global banking elite. My peers know the American middle class is being hollowed out. We know the US now has levels of inequality greater than those in India and much of the developing world. The question is whether the electorate will allow itself to be distracted from these very real issues by manufactured controversies.

What’s the story with tax rates?

The table that follows has data culled from the Clinton/Sanders tax returns for 2014. I want you to look at this data with this fact in mind:

For half a generation (15 years), 80% of urban areas in the US have seen nothing but declining incomes.

INCOME (AGI) 27,946,490 205,271
ITEMIZED DEDUCTIONS 5,159,242 56,377
TAXABLE INCOME 22,787,248 140,994
FEDERAL INCOME TAX 8,970,503 26,961
STATE/LOCAL/RE TAX 2,923,902 24,509
FED TAX RATE (OF AGI) 32.10% 13.13%
STATE TAX RATE (OF AGI) 10.46% 11.94%
COMBINED TAX RATE (OF AGI) 43.96% 29.71%

AGI is line 37, Itemized Deductions are line 40, Taxable Income is line 43 on the 1040s. I’ve halved the Clinton’s self-employment tax (line 57), since for Sanders employer pays half of his Social Security and Medicare (which I calculated based on reported wages/salary of $156,441). State/Local/Real-Estate taxes are from Schedule A.

The Clintons pay a higher tax rate than the Sanders in general. But that’s to be expected, their income is 136 times Sanders’. That’s what a progressive tax system is supposed to accomplish. Do note though that Sanders’ state/local and payroll tax rates are higher. That’s to be expected as well, since these tax schedules are often regressive. Looking at federal income tax rates alone doesn’t give you a good sense of the relative impact of taxes on the incomes of average Americans or the well-off versus the truly very rich.

The percentage tax rates are also a bit misleading because of the huge disparity in income. Small exclusions have huge impacts on Sanders’ tax rate, and almost none on the Clintons because their income is so insanely high (they are among the top 5,000 tax returns in the US, or 0.005% of taxpayers). The standard exemption for married couples is $7,900, that’s 4% of Sanders’ income. It is 0.028% for the Clintons. The Clintons deducted $41,883 in mortgage interest, that’s 0.15% of their income. Sanders deducted $22,946 in mortgage interest, that’s 11.17% of their income. Oh yeah, and charitable contributions. The Clintons gave $22,700 to unaffiliated charities. That is 0.08% of their income.* The Sanders gave $8,350 or over 4% to charity.

I do want to point out that all my calculations have somewhat understated the gulf between the Clintons’ income and Sanders’. There are 5 million tax-payers/households who have incomes higher than Bernie. Perhaps 4,000 tax returns showed more income than the Clintons.** That’s among 147 million joint and individual tax returns (I’m using 2013 stats on tax returns since the IRS hasn’t published 2014 yet).

If the US were a small city

If we compared the US to a city with 100,000 households, the Sanders are pretty well-off, only 3,700 people made as much or more than them in 2014. They’re comfortably in the top 5%. The Clintons on the other hand, are one of the three highest-earning households in our fictional city. They’re in the top 0.003%.  And as the Pew Research demonstrates, the middle class has been hollowing out over the past 15 years. The top three families though, have seen their incomes rise greatly.

Income inequality by the numbers.

It’s tough to visualize such disparities, but let’s try. In the graph at the right, all the blue boxes are tax returns with AGI under 50k. Orange is AGI between 50k and under 200k. Sanders squeaks into the green box by a hair, that’s 200k to 500k. The remaining little multi-colored boxes are AGI over 500k. That last little red box at the bottom right is tax returns over $10 million. That red box contains 12,839 returns out of the grand total of 147,351,299. Only 0.0087% of tax-payers make it into the red box. That is where the Clintons fit in, somewhere in the upper end of that box, with $28 million. Trump is a few notches above them with estimated income of $160 million.

Forget the population at large for a minute and let’s just compare their political peers. Sanders is among the poorest 20% of Senators. The Clintons are far and above the wealthiest ex-presidential couple alive. At $110 million in net worth, they are five times wealthier than the next, George HW Bush, who’s worth about $23 million. Or put in another way, the Clintons made as much from giving speeches in 2014 than George H. W. Bush is worth.

Look, this is a lot of detail, and your eyes may be glazing over. But I’m delving into it because I believe it’s blatant swift-boating to make a fuss about Bernie’s tax returns and tax rates while dismissing the fact that Hillary made 50 times as much from giving speeches to various industries. She won’t release the transcripts for those speeches, but some around here want us to believe that $25,000 in mortgage interest on Bernie’s tax returns is more problematic than $10 million in speaking fees? If that is not a calculated distraction, I don’t know what would be.

Let’s set aside the important concerns around time-deferred quid pro quo (speeches/consulting) for a moment. The new normal also means that, in a very narrow sense, both nominees (Trump/Clinton) would have oligarchic levels of wealth and be personally impacted by tax policy in significant ways. They have an enormous personal interest in how our government taxes the extremely wealthy. The highest federal income tax bracket is 39.6%, and it applies to income over $466,950. If a new tax bracket of 50% were created for income above $1 million, it would raise the Clintons’ tax bill by $2 million. Trump’s would go up by over $10 million.

That’s real money. In the Clintons’ case, it’s more money than the median American household earns in 40 years of working for 50K a year. In Trump’s case, it would take the median American household 200 years of working to earn as much as that increase in taxes.

Oh, and by the way, 2014 was not unique, the Clintons made over $27 million in 2013, as follows:

SPEECHES $13,170,000 $9,680,000
CONSULTING $5,652,250
AUTHOR $110,102 $3,011,597

Who rules? A Blue or a Red Oligarch.

I do want to make sure I identify the forest and don’t get lost in the trees. Bernie will lose the Democratic nomination unless we see some unexpected news in a few days. He will likely end up about 200 pledged delegates behind Hillary. This is an amazing result for someone who was unknown to most Democrats when the campaign started last year. If he goes to the convention with 1920 pledged delegates, he will end up 3% behind Obama’s result when he ran against Hillary in 2008 (47.39% vs 50.35%). It is a remarkable run.

Are the tree stumps obscuring your view of the forest?

But Bernie’s loss would mean the two presidential candidates will be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. One has an annual income of $28 million and the other’s is well over $160 million (estimating 4% returns on a reported $4 billion fortune).

Take a look at the income comparison on the right, remembering Sanders income puts him in the top 5% of American incomes. When he’s gone, like it or not, our choice for president will be between two individuals who have oligarchical levels of wealth. Keep in mind that we’re discussing income, not wealth. This is money made in one year. Wealth levels are far higher. The Clintons have $110 million, and Trump is likely worth $4,000 million.

I won’t dwell on how Trump made his money, we live in a celebrity age and there’s no getting away from the remunerative “value” of personal brands. But I will note that looking at the recent nominees, John McCain ($100 million), Mitt Romney ($250 million), John Kerry ($200 million), we’ve been putting up candidates with oligarchical levels of wealth for some time. Compared to them, George W Bush was almost middle-class ($20 million). Al Gore’s net worth of $1.7 million in 2000 and Barack Obama’s of $1.3 million in 2008 make them relative paupers. Of course, Gore is now worth $200 million, so that ship has sailed. We’d have to go to Bob Dole ($5 million) and Jimmy Carter ($7 million) to get to levels of wealth for ex-presidential candidates that the average person can somewhat relate to. Since 2000, half our candidates have had oligarchic levels of wealth. This year, we may well have no non-oligarchic choice.

Look, this is not about demeaning monetary success. I don’t begrudge Trump or the Clintons what they have. This is about whether or not the pool of viable candidates for president  (i.e. nominated by one of our two major parties) has to draw solely from the oligarchic class of about 5,000 families. You may think that’s okay. After all, the president is in an even narrow bracket. No one else commands the armed forces of the US, has the nuclear codes, and comes close to wielding as much power. What’s a few tens of millions compared to that. But perhaps it should not be that way. Obama wasn’t in the oligarchic class when nominated. Lincoln certainly was not. Nor was George W. Bush for that matter, he had 896k in income in 2000 (Cheney definitely was, he made $36 million in 2000). FDR, for all his reputation of being fabulously wealthy, had half the fortune the Clintons do (in inflation adjusted dollars).

The fact that we see their faces on our TV screens makes it seem as if their lives and cares are familiar to many of us. Yet in reality, we’re talking about levels of wealth, economic security and comfort that are simply in another galaxy from the experience of the average or median American. Perhaps that is what the presidency is meant to be, an imperial office occupied by those who are very removed from the cares of ordinary Americans. Perhaps it isn’t meant to be that way.

* Oh yeah, the Clintons also also gave 3 million to their own foundation. Except it’s really tough to separate the foundation from political activity. The Clinton Foundation hosts a lot of summits, conferences and cocktail parties around the world, mostly for folks who’re in the Clinton’s tax bracket. In 2013, they spent more on travel, events and meetings ($38 million), than on the signature program of funding medical supplies via UNITAID ($29 million). The foundation also directs funds to the foundations of influential Democrats and political activists. Many of the donors to their political campaigns cut enormous checks to the foundation. In some ways, it’s an extension of the campaign since many staffers have moved between the foundation and political campaigns. Yes, it does promote many laudable programs, but the foundation serves as a platform for the Clintons and their political allies to get in front of wealthy individuals, many of whom donate to the political campaign as well. It also pays for a lot of travel for the Clintons. In any case, I’m not going to count it as a charitable contribution. It’s something in between, kind of like the fact that Bernie helped pay for his niece’s wedding. You may wish to argue over it in the comments.

The 1% is pretty stratified as well.

** I’ve charted the top 0.70% to the right, it’s not the top 1% because I used 500K as the income cut-off (using IRS tax data). There were 1.07 million tax returns with AGI above 500K. But most of them are irrelevant when analyzing the Clinton or Trump figures. The top 12,839 returns showed income of roughly 375 Billion. Each of them showed income above $10 million for 2013. But 106 Billion of that was on the 400 returns showing the highest AGI. IRS doesn’t give you the distribution, but the average was 265 million, so $100 million in income as a lower bound for being in the top 400 is probably a good guess. That means the remaining 12,439 returns average $21.667 million each. We know that distribution is skewed too, so with $28 million in income, the Clintons are likely in the top third, that places then safely within the top 4,000 returns. Trump is probably in the top 400 returns.

The medium is the message.

Twitter Network Graph: Occupy Wall Street mentions

There were multiple notes yesterday discussing variations of the term “low information” and how Internet access impacts the race in different parts of the country. The furore over those comments obscured something that I’d like to discuss.

The distinction in this cycle is not between voters/observers who are less or more informed (as in understanding the issues, the resumes and the candidate’s positions they most care about). It’s about where their information is coming from and how that source amplifies or dampens the anti-establishment sentiment driving this cycle. The significant distinction is between those who are primarily informed by and trust the mainstream media, and those who do not. It’s not just what people consume either, it’s about the medium they are comfortable with and the level of interaction they have with it.

That doesn’t mean the medium is the only factor, or even the primary factor. It’s a big country with a lot of strange wonders in it.

One to Many communication

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Pravda means Truth.

One person talks, many people listen. This describes most traditional media like newspapers, television and radio. Feedback from the audience is necessarily limited.

The medium’s nature supports the rise of a limited number of voices who accrue an audience (fragmented or broad). That audience, and access to it, makes them desirable targets for cultivation. PR firms serve as the cross-pollinators of this ecosystem. Their success is measured in the number of TV interviews set up for clients, the number of positive newspaper articles etc. The “journalist” bags a big get, everyone’s happy.

The relentless dynamic of the market does the heavy lifting, collapsing the range of views to those deemed desirable. We’ll never get Jeep to buy airtime if we’re talking war crimes! So Kissinger becomes an elder statesman. But everyone loves a reality-show train-wreck so let’s run Trump 24/7.

One to Many communication:

  • gravitates towards an elite point of view. The great unwashed aren’t hosting cable news shows, they’re on Twitter or screaming at the car radio.
  • is built on relationships, breaking them is costly, so there’s built in resistance to change.
  • values “experience”.
  • is very risk-averse (big stakes).
  • is conservative (devalues big changes).
  • it dampens the anti-establishment sentiment (at least in the Democratic race).

In the beginning there was Usenet

In the early 1990s, if you wanted a good pie-fight, Usenet is where you went. Venues for many-to-many communication are as numerous as snowflakes in a blizzard today. But the game is the same. Radically different views are presented, the more radical the better. No matter how banal your observation, someone, somewhere, will find you and let you know they don’t agree. The range of possible views is expanded.

Anonymity or pseudo-anonymity changes the type of information produced. Considered judgement rendered by pundits is not highly valued. Perhaps rightly so, those sonorous tones are so often just a cover for group-think. Feedback is ubiquitous. So the standard bearer’s claim that candidate A was not an active participant in Civil Rights is undercut by footage showing young candidate A being arrested at a civil rights protest five decades ago. Another standard bearer accuses candidate A’s supporters of shouting “English only”, within hours video is up contesting the claim. Democracy in action, E Pluribus, cacophany.

Many to Many communication:

  • gravitates towards a non-elite point of view. It is the conversation you would find in a pub or a state fair.
  • loves iconoclastic insights that challenge the narrative (viral ideas).
  • relationships are low-value (I have 945 other FB friends).
  • does not value “experience” (a blue check is just another image).
  • rewards risk-taking in dialog(very low stakes).
  • is anti-conservative (does not value the status quo).
  • it amplifies the anti-establishment sentiment (in all the races)

Respect the Challenge

Political coverage in the mainstream media thrives on “respect”.

1568: When print was revolutionary.

Respectable opinions are aired. We expect everyone to respect each other. Respectable people are covered. Respectable ideas are presented and outlandish ideas are laughed off the stage. This is a value system that privileges the privileged.

Those who are molded by this world believe mastering it is the only way to move towards a better future. A respectable candidate is one who has gained the respect of the respectable media and will present respectable proposals to achieve respectable goals. They deliver the goods by respecting the process.

The new media, call it social, call it Usenet, is about challenge. You post something, I post something better. Someone says this person is worthy of respect and within minutes you will learn the many ways they have failed. The endless feedback loop ensures no spin will go unanswered. No plea for respect will go unchallenged.

And those who are molded by this world believe a better future can only be forged by challenging and therefore necessarily dis-respecting sacred cows.

That’s all.

Empire State of Mind: Yes, New York can FeelTheBern!

Map_of_New_York_congressional_districts_from_2013_to_2022.jpgWelcome to New York! The state so nice, it was covered in ice (until 22,000 years ago).

NY_Congressional_Districts_110th_Congress.pngTo your left you can see what the map of NY’s congressional districts looked like in 2008. If you look up, you’ll see the current CDs scraping the sky. We have 27 districts. Howaboutdat!

12 of our 27 districts are in New York City (5-16 roughly speaking).

Did you know that every faucet in NYC serves the champagne of tap waters? And they run 24×7.

So what is New York about?

We’ve got Niagara Falls (so named by the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois), we’ve got the Finger Lakes (best Riesling in the country!), the Adirondacks (hike the High Peaks!), and the Catskills (Nobody puts baby in a corner! and Woodstock!). We’ve got Lake George (Andiatarocte to the Mohawk), Lake Placid (John Brown is buried here but his soul keeps marching on), the Thousand Islands (Manitouana to the Haudenosaunee), West Point and the Hudson River. The Mohican tribe called the Hudson the Muhheakunnetuk, or “river that flows two ways”. That’s because the lower half is virtually flat (2ft elevation at Troy), making it a tidal estuary sitting in a fjord. The Hudson is also called a “drowned river”, the rising tide sends salt water all the way up to Poughkeepsie, 75 miles north of NYC! And yes Virginia, we have fjords in New York, mother nature carved out some skyscrapers for us too! Alexander Hamilton died on the banks of the Hudson. We’ve also got some of the best public beaches in the world, plus the Hamptons!

Oh yeah, almost forgot, we also have New York City. That means we’ve got Central Park, Van Cortlandt park, Prospect Park, Alley Pond Park has the oldest tree in New York, it’s 400 years old. We’ve got Hell’s Kitchen, Washington Heights, and Harlem, which used to be the Dutch village of Haarleem, just as the city itself was New Amsterdam before it was New York, and it was Manhattan to the Lenape before that. We’ve got a county for Kings, and a county for Queens, two baseball teams, two basketball teams, two airports (three if you count Newark, five if you count Teeterboro and Westchester) five boroughs, and I’m sure we have hobbits, because Frodo Lives!. We’ve got the Empire State Building, the Verrazano Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, a bridge (renamed) for RFK, the Throgs Neck Bridge and the Whitestone Bridge and a bridge for Ed Koch. The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority is a front for the Men in Black. We’ve got Times Square, Broadway, the West Village, the East Village, Chelsea, the Bowery, Madison Ave, Fifth Ave, the Avenue of the Americas, the meatpacking district and Soho. We’ve got the place where Lincoln gave the speech that sent him to the White House, and after that we built Union Square, Grant’s Tomb, and Grand Army Plaza. We’ve got Loisaida, and Alphabet City, Sugar Hill and Spanish Harlem, we’ve got hipsters and hasidim in Williamsburg, Greenpoint used to be Polish now it’s condos, Bay Ridge is still Italian, and Bayside used to be but the Koreans are moving in. Flushing is Asian and Astoria is still kinda Greek Opa!, Elmhurst’s little public library has books in dozens of languages and Jackson Heights has the rest, the Russians are in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn Heights is genteel and Park Slope has valet parking for strollers. The longshoremen are long gone from Red Hook, Bushwick is still edgy, Bed-Stuy is gentrifying and East New York may someday too. We’ve got Columbia, NYU, Cooper Union and FIT, CUNY (25 colleges, 400,000 students), Fordham and the New School (Bernie’s an alum, it’s a socialist utopia in the den of Mammon and Senator Bob Kerrey was once it’s president). We had Zika and Ebola, and everyone still rides the subway! Coz you only live once.

You name it, we got it. And I’m not even going to start on the art, or the literature, or the music, or the fashion, or the money.

We’ve sent a half dozen presidents to DC (you’re welcome America). Grover Cleveland was sworn in twice, but he won the popular vote three times! Teddy Roosevelt had the best result of any third-party candidate in a Presidential election, plus he was fit as a Bull Moose. We sent Franklin Delano Roosevelt to rescue the country from the Great Depression and you liked him so much you elected him four times! Then you had to amend the constitution to make sure no one ever did that again.

And I’m leaving out a lot of stuff so we can begin to…

Talk politics!

Both candidates can claim NY as home. Hillary relocated to Westchester. Bernie was born in New York. He left, but we forgive him for that. Brooklyn had the Dodgers back then, three baseball teams! So you could say we attract and produce the best. It’s a big state though, and we do have our share of idiots. Sorry for Drumpf (and Peter King)!

The last time Hillary Clinton ran for general election in New York was November 2006, her last primary was February 2008. Bernie Sanders hasn’t lived in New York since 1968. He doesn’t know subway tokens are history! But we love him anyway, he reminds us of so many opinionated, passionate New Yorkers we know.

Lots has changed in New York since 2008, and we’re going to have a debate in a week, a key question is whether the candidates can tailor their message for NY. New Yorkers have finely tuned bullshit detectors, pandering won’t help either candidate. It has to be from the gut.

The state is typically divided into two segments. Upstate is anything north of Westchester/Dutchess counties. Downstate is anything to do with New York City. But I’m going use a three part division, NYC, NYC suburbs and Upstate. That makes a lot more sense to me when thinking of New York in political terms.

Virtually every major New York politician has endorsed Hillary and she can count on their organizations. Bernie has an uphill struggle, but a very large number of dedicated volunteers and supporters who can help him bridge the gap.

Broad strokes, Bernie’s got a good chance to run away with New York. Depends on how quickly he can introduce himself to NYers. Upstate is pretty much his for the asking. The suburbs are probably out of his reach. Winning New York City will depend on whether he can hit the right notes for the city’s issues.

I’m going to look at 2008 primary results as a base and make some projections using them. In 2008, New York went for Hillary:

HILLARY 1,068,496 139
OBAMA 751,019 93

Obama won only 3 congressional districts back then. They were the old CD6 (South-East Queens), CD10 (Central Brooklyn) and CD11 (Central Brooklyn). These roughly correspond to today’s CD5, CD8 and CD9. All three of those districts are majority African American. He lost Harlem/Upper Manhattan (old CD15, current CD13) 53-47.  That’s Charlie Rangel’s district (he’s my rep), it’s 30% Black, 25% White, 5% Asian, 8% Mixed and a whopping 35% Other. In reality 55% of it is Hispanic.

Obama did very poorly in upstate rural/industrial areas (mid 30s). He didn’t do much better in Nassau (lots of white flight here) and Suffolk (rural). He hit the 40s in the Northern suburbs (Westchester, Putnam etc).

Broad brush, I expect:

  • Rural counties to flip from Hillary to Bernie.
  • Cities hit by industrial decline to go for Bernie (Buffalo, Rochester, Troy)
  • I think Hillary’s strength is limited to Suffolk, Upper East Side, Westchester, Staten Island and possibly, just possibly Harlem, central Brooklyn.

The complete 2008 results at Congressional District are at The Green Papers, you can also view them by county and by congressional district at

Comparing voter registration figures between November 2015 and April 2016, the news doesn’t look good for Hillary. Three district now have between 14,000 and 22,000 fewer registered Democrats. They are:

  • CD7: Nydia Velazquez (LES, Chinatown, Brooklyn waterfront)
  • CD8: Hakeem Jeffries (Central and S-E Brooklyn)
  • CD9: Yvette Clarke (Central and South Brooklyn)

The last two are districts we would expect to go for Hillary. CD7 depends on the Hispanic vote, we’ll talk about that a bit more when we discuss NYC.

On the other hand, upstate and rural districts (CD1-4, CD17-23, 25, 27) now have a few thousand more Democrats each. I would expect Bernie to outperform here.

Okay, let’s talk numbers first and then we’ll delve into explanations.

Where are the Votes?

I’ve pulled together a table below that shows you each Congressional District. You can see the percentage of the vote Hillary got in 2008. These are my own rough estimates based on a reading of how districts were redrawn. They are not as precise as a precinct level tabulation and re-allocation to new CDs would be. Life’s short, don’t have the time to do that.

I assume turnout is the same as 2008, with 1.82 million out of 5.27 million registered Democrats showing up. If turnout is much higher than this 35% estimate, then we may see Bernie up by more.

The columns below are Congressional District, Representative, Delegates Available, Region, HRC Vote Share in 2008, Forecast Vote share for Bernie, Forecast Delegates for Bernie, Forecast Raw Vote for Bernie, Net change in Democrats over last 6 months, Median Household Income for CD. Keep an eye on the median income since we will talk about that a bit.

CD1 Lee Zeldin-R 6 Suburb 65% 60% 4 23466 3221 85K
CD2 Peter King-R 6 Suburb 67% 60% 4 28220 2951 86K
CD3 Steve Israel-D 7 Suburb 70% 40% 3 16202 2466 101K
CD4 Kathleen Rice-D 6 Suburb 60% 50% 3 26788 3491 92K
CD5 Gregory Meeks-D 6 NYC 62% 55% 3 31105 -1190 59K
CD6 Grace Meng-D 6 NYC 70% 60% 4 46335 59 59K
CD7 Nydia Velazquez-D 7 NYC 64% 55% 4 36177 -14416 48K
CD8 Hakeem Jeffries-D 6 NYC 56% 30% 2 29190 -21874 42K
CD9 Yvette Clarke-D 6 NYC 65% 30% 2 16085 -19362 49K
CD10 Jerrold Nadler-D 6 NYC 56% 60% 4 54182 -2005 81K
CD11 Dan Donovan-R 5 NYC 65% 30% 2 28381 -3776 63K
CD12 CarolynMaloney-D 6 NYC 60% 35% 2 23141 6252 94K
CD13 Charlie Rangel-D 6 NYC 53% 45% 3 18681 -2718 38K
CD14 Joseph Crowley-D 7 NYC 62% 55% 4 53556 921 52K
CD15 Jose Serrano-D 6 NYC 68% 50% 3 56869 -3316 24K
CD16 Eliot Engel-D 6 NYC 55% 40% 2 26321 647 63K
CD17 Nita Lowey-D 6 Suburb 55% 45% 3 34203 3567 91K
CD18 Sean Maloney-D 6 Suburb 55% 50% 3 37871 3888 77K
CD19 Chris Gibson-R 5 Upstate 60% 60% 3 31004 4814 57K
CD20 Paul Tonko-D 7 Upstate 64% 45% 3 18877 6386 62K
CD21 Elise Stefanik-R 6 Upstate 68% 65% 4 41513 3702 52K
CD22 Richard Hanna-R 5 Upstate 70% 60% 3 32574 3645 49K
CD23 Tom Reed-R 5 Upstate 60% 60% 3 21006 3533 47K
CD24 John Katko-R 6 Upstate 68% 60% 4 27202 1 52K
CD25 Louise Slaughter-D 6 Upstate 63% 65% 4 33155 6335 51K
CD26 Brian Higgins-D 7 Upstate 60% 65% 5 29597 -1531 43K
CD27 Chris Collins-R 6 Upstate 60% 65% 4 42238 1600 59K
PLEO 30 14
AT-LARGE 54 26
TOTAL 247 47.5% 128 863,935 -12,709

I didn’t include racial composition in the analysis above. The suburbs are pretty white (70-80%) with sizable Asian populations, the city is very diverse. Upstate New York has a sizable black population (10-20% in many CDs), but is largely white. Clearly, the Democratic electorate may not match the racial composition of the larger population. There are a lot of immigrant population centers within the city and outside it. CD6 is over 40% Asian, CD7 is 20% Asian, 40% Hispanic. CD13 has a number of big Universities (Columbia, CIty College, Yeshiva) so does CD10 (NYU, New School, FIT) and there are a number of CUNY campuses sprinkled across the city with hundreds of thousands of students enrolled. If they turn up and vote for Bernie, he could exceed expectations.

One other thing. No one has a great read on the Jewish vote in NY (which can be up to 20% of the primary vote in NYC). There’s a lot of support for Bernie among younger and more progressive Jewish voters. But older and more religious voters don’t seem to be fond of his largely secular stance. Some people may be turned off by his take on the Israel/Palestine conflict and his insistence that the US deal with both even-handedly. He is getting particularly bad press in Israel for his comments to the Daily News on the Gaza conflict last year. The former Israeli ambassador is accusing Bernie of ‘blood libel’. Both issues are probably going to hurt him with the Orthodox population, concentrated in Williamsburg and Borough Park. About 40% of Jews in NYC identify as orthodox, that number has grown in recent years. Orthodox voters could impact CD7, CD9 and CD10. 10 is balanced by the largely secular/liberal Upper West Side (Jerry Nadler’s district). 7 has a big Hispanic population, 9 is majority African American. I have Bernie winning 10 and 7, but losing 9.

What about the Polls?

The latest Quinnipiac poll has this breakdown of support for a Clinton/Sanders primary among likely voters:

18-44 45-64 65+ WHT BLK
CLINTON 36% 60% 73% 48% 66%
SANDERS 63% 35% 22% 47% 31%

The polls says Hillary leads 54-42, or 12 points. Hillary has a net unfavorable rating in NY, 45-49 while Bernie’s is favorable at 54-30.

I forecast Bernie winning 47.5% of the vote, but walking away with 128 of 247 delegates. That’s largely because I think the delegate math can work out in Bernie’s favor and I wanted to show this path. See Torilahure’s excellent diary on NY delegate math which presents an alternate scenario, a Clinton blowout. I expect Bernie to do well enough to get a 4-2 split in a number of rural districts (1, 2, 21, 24, 25, 27) and some uber-liberal districts in NY (6, 7, 10). That accounts for the lopsided result in delegates.

I think he could do much better than that, but it depends on whether he can hit the right notes in NYC. Also note that NYC is very diverse economically. It has some of the richest, and some of the poorest districts in the state. Lots of working-class people in NYC and the small, though active Working Families Party has endorsed Bernie. More on that below as I discuss each region and what went into the forecast.

Current polls have Bernie and Hillary separated by 10-12 points. When asked about this, Bernie said:

“Well that’s an interesting point. In my home state where the people know me pretty well, I got 86 percent of the vote,”

Upstate (CD19-27)

Our big population centers here are Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Schenectady, Utica, Troy and Binghamton. We used to have a lot of industry upstate thanks to cheap transport and great waterways. The decline of American manufacturing has hit the region hard over the past few decades. We have a number of universities upstate, and a lot of agriculture. The eastern part of upstate New York borders Vermont and looks a lot like it. The Western part sits on top of Pennsylvania, and shares a lot with it.

On the CD map, it’s districts 19 through 27. I figure all of them except CD20 (Albany) go for Bernie by various margins, mostly in the 60s. Hillary swept them in 2008, but the dynamic in this race seems different to me. Think of the Massachusetts/Vermont/New Hampshire primaries, Bernie won virtually all the rural counties. Much of upstate New York is adjacent and has the same demographics/economy. Bernie should theoretically appeal to three key demographics upstate, industrial working-class families, rural/farm families, and students.

I think it’s going to be tough going for Hillary upstate, even though voters there supported her in her senate bids and the 2008 primary:

Hillary Clinton’s political ascent can be traced to the time in 1999 when she expressed her support for dairy farmers in the upstate New York village of Endicott. And the summer that year when she shunned Martha’s Vineyard to vacation in Skaneateles, and promised voters in the depleted industrial city of Schenectady that as a New York senator she would revive the upstate economy.

The strategy helped Mrs. Clinton win her 2000 Senate race by double digits, a victory fueled by the unlikely support of white working-class voters in upstate New York who had previously voted Republican but were won over by the first lady’s attention to their underserved area.

I’m not so sure this is going to work again. After all the talk about speaking fees and the Clinton’s nine figure net worth, I suspect many voters upstate will view Hillary as being somewhat out of touch. Hillary hasn’t driven a car since 1996, while Bernie describes his car as a “red Chevy” and doesn’t know how old it is.

In general election matchups Clinton beats Cruz 53-32, Kasich 46-41 and Trump 53-33. Bernie’s margins are better at 56-28, 47-37 and 56-32 respectively. Much of Sanders’ improvement in margin comes from upstate New York where Sanders does 3-9% better in head to head match ups with the three than Clinton does.

Fracking is a big issue for liberal activists upstate, they managed to force a state-wide ban on the practice (protecting NYC’s champagne of tap waters). And the issue can lead to election victories:

Both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns are said to have studied the progressive Democratic primary challenge to Mr. Cuomo two years ago by Zephyr Teachout, an unknown law professor who won a surprising 33 percent by challenging Mr. Cuomo from the left, partly by highlighting her staunch opposition to fracking.

Ms. Teachout carried counties on the Pennsylvania border and in the Finger Lakes region, where grass-roots anti-fracking groups mobilized voters.

By the way, Hillary Clinton endorsed Teachout’s male opponent Andrew Cuomo, even though Zephyr would have been the first female governor of New York ever. I guess that glass ceiling just wasn’t important enough to smash through.

Down-ballot plug: Zephyr Teachout has endorsed Bernie and is running for Congress in the 19th district. If she wins, she’ll turn the district blue (the incumbent, Chris Gibson-R is retiring). Show her some love folks, primary is June 28th!

College impact: Two bright spots for Obama upstate in the 2008 primary were CD26 and CD28. CD26 was anchored by Binghamton, which has a big SUNY campus with 17k students. CD28 included Niagara Falls and Rochester which has two big colleges RIT and U of Rochester with 30k students between them. Those districts have been redrawn and look very different, their population is spread between today’s CD25, 26, 27. Bernie should do particularly well there.

The Suburbs (CD1-4, 17-18)

Westchester (CD17, 18) and Nassau (CD3, CD4) are solid Hillary. CD3 has the highest median income in the state, at 101k, CD4 (92k) and CD17 (91k) are not far behind. Many commuter towns with a lot of professionals who work in NYC. Wall Street bashing detracts here and in CD12 which is anchored by the Upper East Side.

CD1 and CD2 are a blend of the suburbs and upstate NY. They don’t have many commuter towns since most population centers are over 50 miles from NYC. They have a fair amount of agriculture and fishing and are actually whiter than the Westchester/Nassau. That said, they have high median incomes. They both have Republican reps, the Democrats in the area are either working class or socially liberal. I have them both going for Bernie.

The Big Apple (CD5-16)

In the table above, I included median income to give you a sense of how wealthy different CDs are. NYC contains both extremes. In some cases, median household income (half of families are below, half above) obscures even greater disparities. For example, median income in CD1 is 85K while mean income is 108K. All those Hamptons beachfront mansions drive up the mean/average. CD3 is even more extreme, 101K median and 142K mean. CD10 goes from 81K to 145K. CD12 is the big kahuna though, 94K median, 154K mean. A few blocks on Park Avenue account for that surge.

You want to talk class disparities? New York lives class disparity extremes every day. We have people making billions, literally billions a year and we have people getting by on minimum wage (soon to be $15 yay!). We have several dozen 100 million dollar apartments, and giant towers built specifically for absentee Russian and Chinese billionaires to use as savings accounts or tax dodges. Meanwhile, we have people living on the streets, including families, and thousands in shelters every day because they can’t afford rent. We even have a political party named The Rent Is Too Damn High!

There’s a big local political story that ties some of this together. The former speaker of the NY State Assembley, Sheldon Silver (D) was convicted and is awaiting sentencing in a corruption scandal. He received millions in no-show “consulting fees” from a number of law firms representing real-estate developers. In return, clients of these firms got bills passed reducing property taxes on luxury apartments they were building. That’s just the beginning. The speaker of the NY Senate, Dean Skelos (R) has also been arrested and convicted on bribery, corruption and extortion charges, again related in part to real-estate developers. Our governor (and Clinton ally) Andrew Cuomo (D) abruptly shut down an anti-corruption investigation that looked like it was going to focus on Silver. The US Attorney for southern NY, Preet Bharara (D) led all these investigations and others into Citibank, JP Morgan and Madoff. He said there were no federal charges to be filed concerning the closure of the commission, though he was critical of Cuomo and their investigation continues.

If Bernie were to tackle this as a pattern of political corruption that erodes our tax base, that may strike a chord. Thanks to various property-tax abatements, some of the multi-million dollar apartments going up in NYC have their property taxes reduced by up to 95%. It took a special bill in the state legislature to get an abatement for One57, the 90 story building on 57th street with numerous apartments priced close to or over 100 million dollars. I’ll let the NY Times explain what this meant:

The penthouse at One57, which offers panoramic views from 1,000 feet above 57th Street, recently sold for a record-setting $100.5 million.

But it is not the price that has grabbed the attention of housing advocates, policy analysts, developers and city officials. Rather, it is one of peculiarities of New York real estate: a billionaire’s lair that comes with an incentive that cuts this year’s property tax bill by 95 percent, or an estimated $360,000.

The Real Deal, a NY real-estate blog said this about One57:

But tax breaks at One57 cost the city $65.6 million in property tax revenue, according to a damning new report from the city’s Independent Budget Office. And those subsidies, which underwrote 66 affordable units in the Bronx, could have produced nearly 370 affordable units instead.

In most other parts of the country, wealth is hidden away behind high walls and gated communities. In New York it walks the street accessorized with a tall trophy in Manolo Blahniks and a Hermes tote. Or looks at you from the back seat of a chauffeured Bentley on Madison Avenue. What I mean is, New York is ripe for a conversation about class in a way much of the rest of the country isn’t. We have families with large staffs of nannies, housekeepers and fitness consultants. But they’re outnumbered by families living on a train-conductor or bus driver’s salary of 60k.

If Bernie can connect with families living on fixed incomes for whom the monthly rent payment is a big deal, he will win NYC. I know he can do this convincingly because he’s spoken about his parents’ financial struggles under similar conditions. Affordable housing is a huge issue in New York. You can become mayor of NYC if you can convince folks you’ll deliver on affordable housing and reduce the waiting lists of tens of thousands of families looking for a decent apartment within the city limits. BTW, DeBlasio has walked back some of his campaign promises on affordable housing. If Bernie addresses the issue as well as he has in his platform, and relates it to his work on affordable housing in Burlington, ears will perk up.

If he can find a way to speak to the 38% of NYC residents who are foreign born, he will do well with those of us who came here from somewhere else. He can talk to this with authenticity and has, because his family is an immigrant family.

Bernie is a recognizable character in New York, even if he hasn’t lived here in a long while. He’s someone we as New Yorkers have known all our lives, even if we’ve never met this particular incarnation. All over our great city and state, we have earnest Bernies who have turned their talents to the greater good and spurned the allure of riches. Some of them are young, others have been fighting the good fight for decades. We know them and we admire their rectitude. If Bernie can connect with New Yorkers, and I think he can, he could walk away with NY.

A lot of people around here have suggested Bernie’s critique of Wall Street will hurt him in NYC. They are mistaken. That is only true of small pockets in the city and the suburbs. Roughly 350,000 people work in Financial Services in New York and I’m one of them (some of my colleagues are registered Republicans). Many of us saw the crisis up front and center, and saw friends and co-workers lose jobs. There were over 50,000 layoffs in our world during that period and many thousands of careers were set back years. We are not keen to see it repeated.

That 350,000 sounds like a big number, but we have 5.26 million registered Democrats and there are numerous constituencies among the 350k. We have a few thousands Masters of the Universe pulling serious money who are probably unlikely to vote for Bernie. We have a lot of mid-level executives in revenue and non-revenue roles who probably feel more comfortable with Hillary’s tone and presentation and won’t be voting Bernie (not yours truly). We have a lot of younger people in the ranks who are more receptive to Bernie’s message and saw a lot of friends get hurt in 2008-09. A number of industry jobs are in commercial/retail banking and these folks know they aren’t on Wall Street (they may want to get there since pay is generally better) and most don’t see Bernie as attacking them.

And that is within the industry. Outside the industry, views on Wall Street are much more of a mixed bag. Gentrification, changing neighborhoods and rising rents are a big story and people lay some or most of the blame on the financial sector with its outsized pay packages and a global elite who snap up second homes in NYC. Anyone who thinks bashing Wall Street is a death knell in New York doesn’t know New York. Heck, we elected Rudy Giuliani mayor partly because he was tough on white-collar crime.

Okay that’s it. You made it through one of the longer election diaries. Come visit us in NY sometime, we like people who pay attention.

Bottom line, Bernie can win New York, he can even win it by a yuuuuge margin. But only if we get out and do the work, canvassing and calling for Bernie. We have 12 days, that’s an eternity in New York. Work like your future depends on it. Because it does!

The Six Trillion Dollar Mistake

When someone asks me why I’m for Bernie rather than Hillary, I say it has to do with the Six Trillion Dollar Mistake.

It’s difficult to understand a figure as large as $6,000,000,000,000.

6 Trillion would buy us one of these four nice things:

  1. 50 years of tuition-free public college and 50 years of free universal pre-K.
  2. 7 years of free health-care for 100 million Americans.
  3. $20,000 as a gift to every man, woman and child in America.
  4. Bullet trains connecting every major city,  85 Nuclear-powered Aircraft Carriers, 10 Space Stations, 10 manned missions to Mars, ten million homes for the homeless plus the Starship Enterprise.

But instead of getting these nice things, we got one shitty thing. The war in Iraq. Which was followed by other shitty things like ISIS.

The war was dreamt up and executed by Bush/Cheney. It is their fault. But others acted as enablers:

  • 48 Republicans and 29 Democrats in the senate enabled the war.
  • 215 Republicans and 85 Democrats in the House enabled the war.

And some tried to stop them:

  • 21 Democrats, 1 Republican and 1 Independent in the Senate tried to stop them.
  • 126 Democrats, 6 Republicans and 1 Independent in the House tried to stop them.

The independent in the House was Bernie Sanders.

One little known Illinois state senator knew it was a mistakeand tried to stop it.

Among the 29 Democratic Senators who enabled Bush/Cheney was Hillary Clinton.

What a colossal mistake.

  • A 6 Trillion Dollar Mistake.
  • 500,000 Iraqis dead  mistake.
  • A 4,425 dead American soldiers mistake.

Hillary defended that decision for 13 years. Only admitting it was a mistake in 2015. Biden said he made a mistake in 2005, ten years sooner.

All that experience and it took 13 years to admit it was a mistake. How can you learn from your mistakes if you won’t admit them for three terms and you only get two?

I’ll take the politician who doesn’t enable such mistakes over the one who does.

That’s what’s at stake in this primary, and why you should be working you butt off to make Bernie the Democratic nominee and the next president of the United States.

McGovern, caucuses and Nader: trying to delegitimize Bernie

If Bernie exceeds Hillary’s pledged delegate count, I expect him to win the nomination. I do not believe superdelegates will be able to toss the nomination to Bernie. If they do, I expect the Democratic party to be damaged in this cycle, and perhaps many cycles to come.

However, that consideration has not stopped many Democrats from presenting various arguments meant to undercut the message of Bernie’s victories thus far. A 74-year old socialist from Vermont running in his first national race is beating a candidate who has run multiple national races and was considered so formidable that no other major politician thought to challenge her candidacy. That the challenger is doing as well as he is, having amassed 45% of the delegates awarded thus far, is a demonstration of extreme dissatisfaction with Business As Usual in the Democratic party.

The BAU faction of the Democratic party (let’s call them, the “establishment”) is in reality near panic over this threat. That was plainly apparent prior to super-Tuesday. Hillary’s wins on that day calmed people down a bit. But what everyone knows, is that this is an anti-establishment year, and the establishment’s preferred choice is a weak candidate. Whatever you may think of Hillary’s personal abilities and qualifications, by her own account, she is not a natural politician. That fact is driving fear within the party establishment.

It has led to various people making attempts to delegitimize Bernie’s success so far, or lay the groundwork to deny him the nomination if he secures a majority of pledged delegates. I do not think any of these attempts will succeed. But we must understand them, if we seek to prevail.

Below the fold for more…

Caucuses aren’t undemocratic, super-delegates are

There have been public calls for Bernie to step aside, for “the good of the party”. The calls are generally coupled with the suggestion that his path to securing a majority of pledged delegates is impossible. I’ve discussed before, how this is plainly untrue, and I will have updated targets later this week. But in one case, the person making a call for Bernie to step aside also said that his victories thus far don’t count for as much since many of his delegates were secured from caucus contests, and caucuses are “undemocratic”. This attempt to delegitimize Bernie’s pledged delegates is what I want to consider first.

We should recall that the Democratic party also held caucuses in 2008. The insurgent candidate, Barack Obama won or tied each and every caucus. These were the results in terms of pledged delegates:

IA 16-15 1
NV 13-12 1
AK 9-4 5
CO 35-20 15
ID 15-3 12
KS 23-9 14
MN 48-24 24
ND 8-5 3
NE 16-8 8
WA 52-26 26
HI 14-6 8
TX 38-29 9
WY 7-5 2
GU 2-2 0

Obama won the caucus contests by a net 128 delegate margin. Since Obama ended ahead by roughly 62 delegates, it’s fair to say the caucus contests (“mostly white” states by the way) handed him the victory. If you want to now claim caucuses are “undemocratic”, you should also have the courage and clarity to admit that Obama was chosen as the nominee in 2008 by an undemocratic process and unless you’re a PUMA, you didn’t really have a problem with it then.

But the fact is, caucuses are not “undemocratic”. At least no more so than any other system of democracy that requires some commitment of time and travel. If the Democratic party had a problem with caucuses, it should have revised its rules in 2009, or later. They didn’t.

I’ll tell you what is “undemocratic” though, superdelegates.

They are undemocratic in the sense that the Senate was undemocratic before the 17th amendment was passed and the popular election of Senators became the norm, in 1913.

They are undemocratic in the sense that the Presidency was undemocratic, before it became the norm to select presidential electors by popular vote. That change in the 1820s is incidentally, tied to the foundation of the Democratic party and the election of Andrew Jackson. The last state to adopt the popular vote was South Carolina, after the Civil War, you can read into that whatever you want.

The superdelegate system is undemocratic in its intent. It is explicitly designed to overturn the will of the people. It is based on the belief that party leaders know better when it comes to selecting a nominee.

And finally, it is undemocratic because it was motivated by fear of the people. Not a fear that the people would choose a demagogue who would then seek to destroy our individual rights. Not a fear that the people would choose someone unprepared for the presidency. Though to be honest, the other party is well on it’s way to doing both with Trump. It was a fear that the party would choose someone unacceptable to the party elite and their view of what the general electorate wanted.

Bernie’s campaign is absolutely on the money with their very public lobbying of superdelegates over the past month. What they are doing is raising the profile of superdelegates among the Democratic primary base. The better people understand how superdelegates work, the better position they’re in to judge their actions at the convention. So having a public discussion about what arguments work and don’t work on superdelegates is a good thing.

We do not have a system of direct democracy in this country, nor would I advocate one. We delegate to our representatives the authority to make policy and write legislation. But the people jealously guard their right to choose the representatives who then subsequently create policy and legislation.

If, at the convention, Democrats reveal that a single DNC member’s vote counts as much as the 15,000 individual citizens who elected each pledged delegate from Hawaii, it will not go over well.

The real goal here is to have Bernie drop out, so that itappears that Hillary has overwhelming support in the pledged delegate count and avoid any sort of real contest on the convention floor. In other words, keep the coronation on track.

All this is of course entirely acceptable. The Democratic party is a private institution which has no defined permanent role in our system of government. Parties have come, and parties have gone. We have seen six different party systems in this country. But if you are a Democrat, and wish to see a future for your party, you will want to ensure the pledged delegate count is the one that matters.

He’s winning because he’s spending so much money

Some commenters here and in the media claim Bernie is only winning because he has spent 2x, 3x or 10x the amount Hillary has in a particular state. I got an e-mail from the Hillary campaign this week saying:

If you think Bernie Sanders isn’t gunning for a comeback, take a harder look at his campaign. They outspent us on the air 27-to-1 in Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska, and after they won those three contests, they turned around and raised ANOTHER $4 million in just 48 hours.

It then asks for money, because Hillary is having a tough time matching Bernie’s fundraising this year. He’s raised 63.5 millionin Jan-Feb to her 45m. But another goal is to create the impression that Bernie only wins where he outspends Hillary by huge multiples. Thankfully, OpenSecrets consolidates fundraising data for both Hillary and Bernie’s campaigns. So we can evaluate the claim that he’s spending more than she has:

RAISED $159,902,013 $139,810,208
SPENT $129,066,926 $122,598,571
ON HAND $30,835,088 $17,211,636
SMALL DONORS $28,585,437 (18%) $94,162,132 (67%)
LARGE DONORS $116,826,391 (73%) $43,932,888 (31%)
$2700+ DONORS $75,500,362 (25,705 people) $4,001,068 (1,257 people)

In addition, Hillary has $63m raised by SuperPACs, of which almost $19m has been spent, leaving $44m (mostly in Priorities USA and Ready PAC).

In aggregate, Hillary has spent more than Bernie. Adding the SuperPACs, she has spent $24 million more than Bernie has. That 25% higher spending has resulted in 23% additional delegates. So thus far, they’ve both gotten roughly what they’ve paid for (ignoring external media impact).

What’s caught the establishment flat-footed is that Bernie has managed to raise as much as Hillary has. With most other candidates, the knock would be that they can’t raise enough money, therefore aren’t viable. With Bernie, the knock is that he can raise enough money, but he needs to spend it to win, so he’s unviable.

See how this works?

But aside from the bullshit arguments about who’s competing where and spending what, it’s also worth looking into where the money comes from. The vast majority (73%) of Hillary’s money comes from contributors who give more than $200. The vast majority (67%) of Bernie’s from those who give less. Roughly 47% of all of Hillary’s funds came from people who maxed out their contribution ($75 million). For Sanders, that number is far lower at 3% or $4 million total.

I want to talk about what it means to a campaign to raise funds in each way. To raise money, Hillary has to attend private fundraisers. The people forking over $2,700 to her campaign or twice that per couple aren’t going to join 20,000 other for a rally. No, they expect face-time with the candidate and a passable dinner in a private environment. Plus cocktails so it isn’t all boring politics. Those giving $669,400 expect even more. All that sucks up the candidate’s time. Time that can’t be spent with voters because campaigns have a definite end date. That creates a structural advantage that both campaigns are aware of:

I don’t have a super PAC and I don’t travel the country begging millionaires to contribute to my campaign. This is a grassroots campaign.

— Mar 14, 2016 @berniesanders

In contrast, Bernie’s fundraising is far more efficient. He spends a couple of minutes in a speech making an appeal for cash, and it comes rolling in. Many people are set to donate to the campaign on a regular schedule.

The end result is that Hillary is spending multiple evenings a week scarfing down shrimp cocktails at the homes of wealthy supporters, while Bernie is out campaigning. And he’s still raising more money than her.

McGovern lost, lefties can’t win in America

Numerous people point to McGovern’s loss in 1972 to Nixon to claim:

  1. America is not fertile ground for a “liberal” candidate
  2. McGovern’s primary win was therefore a mistake where voters (who we know are stupid and naive) chose someone too liberal to win
  3. To avoid this fate, it was essential to create the “superdelegate” fix to protect primary voters from their stupidity and naivete.

I will admit that most senior Democrats aren’t dumb enough to call primary voters stupid and naive in public. They might choose to say “carried away” or get “overexcited by unreasonable and unachievable proposals”. But make no mistake, what they mean is that primary voters are stupid and naive.

The problem is, this three stage argument falls apart when evaluated carefully.

McGovern was almost certainly the most “liberal” Democratic nominee in recent memory. But his loss cannot be ascribed exclusively to his policy positions or ideology. At least equally, and perhaps far more important, were his choice of Eagleton as VP and the subsequent revelation that Eagleton had undergone electro-shock therapy for “depression” (later diagnosed as bi-polar disorder). McGovern’s initially firm “1,000%” backing of Eagleton and later back-tracking hurt him immensely. The failed attempts to recruit Ted Kennedy, Edmund Muskie, Hubert Humphrey, Abraham Ribicoff, Larry O’Brien and Reubin Askew as replacements caused further damage. Many of them had run for the nomination against McGovern. Birch Bayh, Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey had refused to join the ticket earlier. All these refusals were a symptom of a broader problem, McGovern was abandoned by the Democratic party, in and outside the South.

Perhaps primary voters weren’t so stupid and naive to choose McGovern. Perhaps they just misjudged the lengths to which the party would go to sabotage a nominee considered too far to the left. Now, I should point out that McGovern won only a quarter of the popular vote, about the same as Humphrey. He did win over 50% of the delegates.

Looking at it this way, the “superdelegate” fix takes on a different meaning. It is not to prevent the party from being tripped by a “too liberal” candidate who is bound to lose in the general. It is there to prevent the primary being won by a candidate the “establishment” doesn’t approve of. Subtle difference, but it clarifies why this has bearing in 2016. The party looks at Bernie’s candidacy as a guerrilla campaign by someone who hasn’t “paid their dues”. Quite apart from the ideological position that Bernie inhabits, the bigger fear is that the party’s ticket will be headed by someone who is not enmeshed in the complex web of favors and collectible chits that would otherwise allow party grandees to exercise control over their agenda.

And we should not mince words here. If Bernie wins the nomination, he will be the first nominee in a number of generations who owes little to the establishment. If you believe this is a drawback, by all means you should oppose Bernie’s nomination.

By the way, at the time the superdelegate system was devised, the fear was not about nominating a “liberal” candidate, but about infighting within the party that would undercut the eventual nominee. The examples in everyone’s minds were McGovern, who had to deal with multiple contenders challenging him, and Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Bernie is going to be a spoiler, just like Nader

Some people have begun to point to the 2000 race (also a “third-term” run) and raise fears of a similar situation. That Bernie might undertake a “spoiler run” or fail to throw all his support behind Hillary in the unlikely event she wins the pledged delegate count and the nomination.

If Hillary wins the nomination and subsequently loses the election, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Democratic party will find a way to blame it on Bernie or his supporters.

Not that I think Gore’s loss can or should be blamed on Nader, or people who voted for him (or on Bill Bradley). Gore was a bad candidate, Liberman was a bad choice, Bill Clinton was unmentionable during the campaign because Gore didn’t want to be associated with blowjobs in the Oval office. The fact is, the Democratic party should have made better choices or run a better campaign. That they failed to do that cannot be blamed on Nader.

But they will say, whatever you think of Gore-W-Nader, you’ve got to admit it was a disaster, because Iraq.

Perhaps, though the thing is, we’re not talking about Gore or Nader, we’re talking about Hillary. Hillary voted for the war in Iraq. There was no apology in 2008 because it was seen as a political liability. She did not admit it was a mistake till her book was published in 2014.

The point I’m making is that whatever you think about Gore v. W, you can’t use Iraq to argue that Hillary would be better if another Iraq came up. Because she voted for Iraq! Imagine Hillary ran instead of Gore in 2000 and lost. Blaming the war on Nader would be nonsensical because we know today that Hillary voted for it.

In fact this whole line of argument is ridiculous on its face because Al Gore initially supported a confrontation with Iraq. In February 2002, he called for a “final reckoning” with Iraq, saying the country was a “virulent threat in a class by itself” and calling for Saddam Hussein to be ousted. By September 2002, he wasarguing against the war, claiming the focus should be on tracking down the culprits behind 9-11. We know he agreed with Bush and co that Iraq/Saddam were a key problem in the Middle-East, that the US needed to remove Saddam. We just don’t know what he would have done if he actually commanded the army. He might have joined the majority of Democratic senators who voted for war (including Hillary).

But blaming Nader is a very convenient way for Democrats to ignore our own faults and avoid making necessary changes. The psychological candy delivered by blaming it all on Nader means people will continue doing it.

Stealing Elections

I’ve had a couple of discussions about whether attempts have been made or will be made to steal votes in a primary, if Bernie begins to get close.

I don’t really think that is going to happen, nor will it be effective if attempted, for a variety of reasons:

  1. To steal an election, you have to control the machinery of the elections. You also have to demand and receive, absolutely, unquestioning loyalty. I don’t think the Clintons have any of that.
  2. The proportional delegate allocation system reduces the rewards from a stolen election, unless you can shift enormous numbers of votes.
  3. You could try to maneuver to gain additional delegates at the district/state conventions, but the Clinton campaign appears to be completely inept at this. All the upward revisions in delegate counts due to unviability or split delegate thresholds have gone to Bernie.
  4. Looking at the contests to come, I don’t know which states might be the most vulnerable.


None of this matters if Bernie doesn’t win the pledged delegates. Go out and phonebank, facebank and GoTV.

A lynching: The terrible truths of our existence.


Back in October, I wrote about a man, Mohammed Akhlaq, who was killed by a mob that suspected he had eaten beef.

On Friday, Mazlum Ansari (32), and Imteyaz Khan (15), were found dead hanging from a tree in Jharkhand in Eastern India. They had left that morning with 8-12 buffaloes for a cattle trading fair. Along the way, they were stopped, beaten and hung by a mob. Photos of the lynching were widely published in the Indian press.

Local police have arrested five men for the murders and suggested theft was a motive. The buffaloes would have been worth a few thousand dollars. Complicating this story is that fact that all five of the men arrested for the murder are Hindus, and the victims are Muslim. One of the men arrested, Mithilesh Sahu, is part of a local vigilante Gau Raksha Samiti (Cow Protection Society).

Such societies have spent years agitating for “beef bans” and have assaulted people suspected of eating beef or selling cows to slaughter. Over the past year alone, mobs have beaten to death a Muslim truck driver said to be transporting cattle, and beaten to death a Muslim man they believe was about to steal a calf.

The slaughter of cows is illegal across much of India since many states have passed laws against it. Buffalo do not enjoy such strong protection and their slaughter for meat is still largely legal. The right-wing BJP government which holds power in the center has allies in the Hindutva movement that actively support the “beef ban” agenda and sponsor many of the vigilante groups.

Accusations of beef-eating have a long history in Indian politics. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (a Kashmiri Hindu) was accused of eating beef and being soft on beef-eaters by his political opponents. Nehru himself had used the claim that British colonial troops “cannot live without beef” to garner support among Indians for the political movement he helped lead. He opposed bans on cow slaughter arguing that India was a composite society. Nevertheless, numerous laws discouraging or prohibiting the slaughter of cows were passed under left-wing governments led by Nehru’s Congress party. The Indian constitution directs the state to prevent the slaughter of cows and there were large-scale protests against cow-slaughter in the 60s. The cow-protection vigilante societiesdate back to the 1870s and have always been enmeshed in the broader politics of the time. During the election campaign that brought Mr. Modi to power, he campaigned against what he called a “pink revolution” that has made India the largest exporter of beef in the world (mostly buffalo). Several students at one of India’s elite universities (Jawaharlal Nehru University), including the head of the student union were arrested over political speeches and demonstrations earlier this year. One of the most damning accusations leveled against them by the right, was that they were “anti-national” since they allegedly ate beef. Despite common misconceptions, this is not unusual in India. Many people, including numerous Hindu communities eat beef.

In this particular instance, multiple motives may be at play. Mr. Sahu reportedly told the police he believed the cattle were being sold for slaughter and called on several associates to help detain the traders. Within the warped mind-set of cow-protection fervor, this is legitimizes the lynching. Relatives of the victims report that the cow protection societies in the area have spent the past ten years trying to persuade and threaten cattle-traders to exit the trade. Though it is equally likely that some of the suspects used the opportunity to settle old scores, others might have been motivated by the opportunity to steal the buffaloes, and others might well have been driven by general animus towards Muslims.

Such a mix of motives is a staple of political/nationalist/racial mob violence. It’s the same political recipe, with regional flavor applied as needed. So this lynching is in many ways similar to murders and pogroms that targeted many peoples, but primarily black men and boys across America. It is also similar to violence againstIndonesians of Chinese descent, anti-Irish sentiment, the dispossession and persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict, the persecution of Jews across Eastern Europe, violence against LGBT people in Latin America and elsewhere, and the distrust and hatred that follows the Roma.

Hatred of the other, religious fervor, plunder and ethno-nationalism in their various forms drive such violence. Sexual assaults and rape follows this toxic mix just as surely as night follows day.

Politicians through the ages have used ethno-nationalist-racist-religious sentiment to garner support. Always, they have tried to ride this tiger to power, damn the consequences. Some do this more openly than others. The effects are worse in some cases, but universally terrible for the poor, the marginalized and the other.

The BJP rides this tiger in India, supported by its Hindutva allies including the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), theRashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Shiv Sena. The politics of division and ethno-nationalism requires both soft and hard-line proponents. Such a mix of individuals allows the hardliners to appeal to outright bigots, while more presentable faces practice a softer form of bigotry. A third group will make appeals based on unrelated matters, often the effectiveness of authoritarian methods to deliver material growth.

If this sounds familiar to you, that is not accidental. America, like all human societies, is not immune to the appeal of forces that stoke deep-seated fears and tribal sentiment. At various times, the Democratic and Republican parties have practiced the politics of division, attempting to set people against people. In our recent past, the Republican party has been the primary home for such forces.

Today, we are witness to a master class in how one individual can stoke hard and soft bigotry simultaneously by talking out of both sides of their mouth. The pattern is the same, stoke hatred, encourage violence (openly or tacitly), disavow responsibility for mob violence, rinse, repeat. We watch this with the fascination of amnesiacs who seem to believe this is somehow novel, unusual or imported. It is none of that.

Those who under-estimate Donald Trump have, in my view, failed to fully confront what RFK called “the terrible truths of our existence”.

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.


I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done.

When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

— Robert F. Kennedy, in his speech The Mindless Menace of Violence, delivered April 5, 1968 the day after MLK was assassinated.

Please read that short speech, if you haven’t recently. It has many lessons for us today.

By March 16, 2008, 84% of pledged delegates had been awarded

I’ve been seeing comments recently comparing March 2008 and March 2016, saying Obama was virtually guaranteed the nomination by that date, and therefore Hillary is this year.

The fact is the primary calendars differ wildly between 2016 and 2008.

First off, in 2008 we had 3,564 pledged delegates. In 2016 we have 4,051 (13.66% more). Therefore a 300 delegate difference in 2016 is equivalent to 264 delegates in 2008.

In terms of percentage of delegates awarded, we won’t be where we were on March 17, 2008 till Jun 6, 2016. So if you want to compare leads in delegates and make arguments about Hillary’s inevitability, please wait till June 6, 2016 to do so.

Pledged Delegates Awarded by March 17:

2008 2998 84%
2016 2031 50%

Pledged Delegates available on March 17:

2008 566 16%
2016 2020 50%

States left to vote:

2008 PA, GU, IN, NC, WV, KY, OR, PR, MT, SD
2016 AZ, ID, UT, AK, HI, WA, WI, WY, NY, CT, DE, MD, PA, RI, IN, GU, WV, KY, OR, VI, PR, CA, MT, NJ, NM, ND, SD, DC

By this point in 2008, only two big states (100+ delegates) were left: North Carolina and Pennsylvania. This year, Washington California, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey are left.

In 2008:

JAN 448 IA, NH, NV, SC, MI, FL
FEB 2135 AL, AK, AR, AS, CA, CO, CT, DE, GA, ID, IL, KS, MA, MI, MO, NJ, NM, NY, ND, OK, TN, UT
MAR 415 OH, RI, TX, VT, WY, MS
TOTAL 3564

All March primaries and caucuses were over by March 11, 2008.

In 2016:

FEB 156 IA, NH, NV, SC
MAR 1-15 1875 AL, AS, CO, GA, MA, MN, OK, TN, TX, VT, VI, KS, LA, NE, ME, MI, FL, IL, MO, NC, OH
MAR 16-30 273 AZ, ID, UT, AK, HI, WA
APR 731 WI, WY, NY, CT, DE, MD, PA, RI
MAY 235  IN, GU, WV, KY, OR
JUN 781 VI, PR, CA, MT, NJ, NM, ND, SD, DC
TOTAL 4051

So let’s not jump the gun on calling the race. We have a ways to go yet.

Pivoting to the center doesn’t help if you’ve been surrounded.

The Median Voter is the power behind the throne

“Leadership” is about moving to where the voters are

If you’ve ever taken a political science class, you’ve probably seen the graph on the right. It’s a linear political spectrum, with the left shaded in all it’s pinko commie glory. The Median Voter theory suggests the optimal solution for a candidate is to move towards the center, i.e. closest to the median voter.

When Democratic candidates follow this strategy, they stake out a position slightly to their left during the primary, and then pivot to the right when the electorate broadens in the general. They’re trying to get as close to the median voter in each contest.

This is conventional wisdom and has been understood for decades. It is very likely the wrong kind of analysis to apply to this election cycle. It’s not that the theory is wrong, but rather that the cycle is unlikely to play out along the linear political spectrum. If my guess is correct, candidates who play the median voter game will falter, because the game itself has changed.

Voters understand the game

The first change is that voters are aware of this strategy, and it becomes less optimal as voters become more aware of the game (after repeated plays). Thanks to cable news and better reporting on primary nomination contests, voters now expect candidates to tack to the center. Some have resigned themselves to this because they assume all politicians are “non-authentic” in this way. Others rationalize it as a tactic required to be effective in a game where jockeying for position is part of the race.

There’s a wildcard in this cycle, a candidate who effectively says he won’t play the pivot game or run negative ads. And thanks to his long service, it is clear he hasn’t changed his positions over the years. That alters the game, because a new option presents itself with characteristics that aren’t represented on the one dimensional ideological scale. Those qualities are trust and consistency. Trust that the candidate will not shift positions out of convenience or be swayed by “interests”. The candidate also phrases policy in terms of moral imperatives rather than exclusively material aims, an important difference in language.

But perhaps most importantly, the one dimensional ideological scale is painfully inadequate. Because Drumpf.

The map is no longer one dimensional?

The median voter strategy is effective when competing against candidates who play on the left/right axis and when the views of voters follow a normal distribution along this axis. But this is not the case in this cycle, because we have an unconventional candidate in Drumpf. Drumpf isn’t following the strategy in the conventional sense. He is looking at a different map, a map that looks like this:

Two dimensional political map of four candidates and their positions

Trump plays hop-scotch on the ideological map, quite literally spanning left and right and surrounding the center.

And his views are not a fixed range on this map either. I had a tough time situating his tax plan which calls for no income taxes on any married couple earning less than $50,000. I ended up creating a separate circle for him near progressive taxation. The same goes for his critique of pay-to-play politics. It’s almost as if he plays hopscotch with ideological categories (which feeds into his narrative of independence). On this two dimensional ideological map, he encircles the center. If the center is weak because the electorate is polarized, the middle might be as empty as a doughnut hole. If the electorate is skewed towards the left, then a clear left candidate can fend off encirclement there and that might be the optimal strategy.

Trump iterates positions rapidly, picking and discarding ideas as he goes. Unlike conventional Republican politicians, he is permitted to do this because:

  1. He has no ideological debts to the conservative movement
  2. He claims to strive for effectiveness (that’s what “make a great deal” means)
  3. Voters have low expectations and allow him to learn as he goes along

You may think 3 is very unfair. For example, throughout the campaign, Drumpf said he would order US armed forces to “take out the families” of terrorists and commence torture. He reversed his position last Friday. Most politicians are wondering why he is permitted to test these positions our publicly, while they feel compelled to secretly poll-test even minor changes in position.

Now, to be blunt, we know the US has tortured people suspected of terrorism, we also know the US has delivered suspects into the custody of regimes known to torture. At some point in the campaign, I expect Trump to reference this and deride both Democrats and Republicans for letting each other get away with it.

More likely than not, he will walk away from his pivot with a reputation for moderation and flexibility with some portion of the population (it’s all negotiable).

Spanning the left-right divide

When his positions are evaluated, Drumpf does not sit on the conventional left/right divide. Quite literally, he spans the left/right divide on economic policies, with some that are populist (protectionist trade policies, progressive taxation, universal health-care) and others that have traditionally been on the right (deregulation, cutting Federal agencies). But he is careful not to take stances that directly penalize the poor and middle-class.

To those accustomed to conventional American politics it looks as if Trump hopscotches around the map, picking positions seemingly at random. He expresses socially liberal views (planned parenthood does great work), extreme authoritarian views on law and order (go after terrorist’s families), protectionist sentiment on trade (force companies to produce goods here), 2nd amendment rights and forced decryption in terrorism cases. The authoritarian bent is clearly evident, but there are a number of outlier positions.

Part of the reason many people engaged with politics brand him a “con-man” is that Trump does not subscribe to the ideological markers that have become rote in American politics. That is why you have the spectacle of so many Republicans saying he isn’t a “true conservative”.

Many political scientists do not recognize this dynamic, and remain wedded to the 65 year old, one dimensional model they were taught in graduate school:

Political scientists have had a pretty good idea since the 1950s of how voters tend to make their choices: by identifying which candidate fits closest to them on an ideological spectrum.

“They look and identify themselves on a liberal-conservative dimension, and they pick who is closer to them,” said Andrew Reeves, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis. “From that perspective, Sanders is positioned fairly far out there on the left.”

This is absolute nonsense of course, which is why independents are the largest party in america. They don’t self-identify on the liberal-conservative spectrum.

Look, the linear model is a tool. And it’s a good analytical tool for the job some times, and sometimes it’s not. In a contest with Cruz, it would be a useful tool, but with Trump it is less than useless. It’s downright dangerous with Trump, who jumps around on the liner model. In fact, as I note he jumps around on the 2 dimensional model as well. And if we were to create a 3 dimensional model with “soft issues” like character, trust and independence on them, I think he would jump around on that too.

Tone, Independence, Competence, Authenticity

Social choice theory has produced a number of important results that illuminatepolitics. But social choice theory focuses on policy issues. Perceptions about candidates’ competence, character, independence, authenticity are considered soft issues and largely superfluous. Part of the reason they are ignored is that they do not fit on the linear model, or on a two dimensional model. That which cannot be measured is ignored in such analyses.

The only time voters choose from a policy menu as per the model is when we have direct referendums and ballot propositions. We do not have those at the federal level in the US, though Switzerland does. There is a caveat, Bernie is suggesting mass civic engagement and public demonstrations can serve as a proxy for referendums.

In a presidential contest, voters are picking an individual in whom they see a reflection of their views and values concerning the world. They rarely look at this individual as a policy automaton. And if there’s one thing that Trump isn’t it’s a policy automaton.

If Bernie’s candidacy fails, I suspect in some eyes, the mantle of authenticity (no political correctness), competence (great deals) and independence (I didn’t take millions from donors) will pass to Trump. Worse, his ideological encirclement of Hillary may see voters on the economic left head towards Trump. And that is truly as frightening as MB laid out.

To many ears, his claims that he will “make the best deals”, playing fast and loose with ideology (“I’m my own man”) sound like independence and pragmatism, and it’s coupled with claims of competence (at making deals apparently). Playing the pivot to center game and assuming that will bag the median voters is a risk with a candidate who spans left and right. Especially if he can find the self-control to moderate his tone in the general election.

And moderating the tone will have an impact. He can claim many of the extreme positions are simply matters of degree and tone:

Hillary is for fences, I want a wall, apparently her problem is with how big and beautiful it will be and how I’ll make Mexico pay for it. If you’re going to say I shouldn’t be advocating torture, why didn’t anyone have the guts to prosecute Bush/Cheney first, who actually did it?

If he does moderate his tone, I expect the media narrative to change. You’ll hear talking heads blundering on about how presidential is sounds, and how it might just have been an act. They’ll be patting themselves on the back in a self-congratulatory orgy, deluded by the claim that they’ve moderated Trump with “tough media scrutiny”.

This is an anti-establishment, anti-pay-to-play cycle with an opponent who does not play along the customary ideological map. For a conventional candidate to succeed, they have to be extra-ordinarily talented. By her own admission, Hillary is not a “natural”. Democrats ignore the risks at our peril.