Why didn’t we demand justice and vengeance for last month’s Syrian dead?

The Assad regime, in alliance with the Russians has forced various factions towards Idlib, this includes ISIS and other rebel forces. This week, we learned that dozens of civilians died there, struck by a chemical weapons attack. The Assad regime is most likely responsible.

Dozens of people, including children, died — some writhing, choking, gasping or foaming at the mouth — after breathing in poison that possibly contained a nerve agent or other banned chemicals, according to witnesses, doctors and rescue workers. They said the toxic substance spread after warplanes dropped bombs in the early morning hours. Some rescue workers grew ill and collapsed from proximity to the dead.

The opposition-run Health Department in Idlib Province, where the attack took place, said 69 people had died, providing a list of their names. The dead were still being identified, and some humanitarian groups said as many as 100 had died. — NY Times

There was almost universal outrage and an outpouring of sympathy for the victims of this atrocity. US media provided wall to wall coverage, as is appropriate for such an atrocity. During an interview earlier today, Hillary Clinton said she had long advocated air-strikes against Assad’s air force and thought they were still a good idea.

President Trump has now ordered these strikes and over 50 missiles appear to have struck a Syrian air-base. I’ve seen numerous comments in support of this bombing on DKos. Several segments of the “Resistance” have rallied to the war-cry of President Trump in the name of dead Syrian children.

Well, that reminds me of something that happened last month involving Trump and dead Syrian children:

Iraqi rescue workers on Friday pulled dozens of bodies from the ruins of a building in Mosul, where residents allege a U.S.-led coalition strike killed 137 people a week ago. — Washington Post

So, where was everybody last month when OUR bombs buried dozens of Syrian children under rubble of our making? Why didn’t you ask that the runways our jets and drones take off from be pock-marked?

And this wasn’t the only US strike last month to kill large number of civilians. On March 16, US forces bombed Idlib, Syria, apparently targeting an Al Qaeda meeting. Almost immediately after the strike, human rights organizations on the ground said roughly 50 civilians had died in the strike and it had demolished a mosque during prayers while 300 people were inside. Yes, that’s the same Idlib Assad struck. Everyone is bombing the same town.

There are other reports that US led airstrikes in Raqqa hit a school sheltering refugees, leading to 33 deaths. And then before that, we had a US ground mission in Yemen that led to the death of 9 young children under the age of 12 and more than a dozen other civilians. The White House called it a “winning, successful mission”.

So why aren’t you asking for the US Air Force, which dropped the bombs that killed these people to be grounded? Why weren’t you outraged last month at what OUR government had done? Why do you only get incensed when it’s some other son of a bitch doing it?

“The use of chemical weapons against innocent Syrian men, women, and children is a clear violation of international law. The Syrian regime must be held accountable for this horrific act, and its actions underscore why the United States should embrace innocent people who are fleeing in terror.

But the Constitution gives the power to authorize the use of military force to the legislative branch. Expanded military intervention in Syria requires action by Congress. If President Trump expects such an authorization, he owes the American people an explanation of his strategy to bring an end to the violence in Syria. We should not escalate this conflict without clear goals and a plan to achieve them.” — Elizabeth Warren’s statement

— Cross-posted at DailyKos | @subirgrewal

Kansas Democratic Party didn’t have $20k to help a House special election 5 days away. Why?

James Thompson is running for a US House of Representatives seat in Kansas’ 4th district. The election is in five days. It looks like he might actually have a chance to turn this deep-red district. That’s partly because the Republican opponent seems inept and also because Democrats are very engaged. In a special election where turn-out and engagement will make the difference this is a real possibility. Cook report moved it to likely Republican today (from safe). The candidate is on DKos, and he has a real chance to win this seat, he’s a veteran and a civil rights lawyer.

If you haven’t already, please contribute at ActBlue or visit the campaign websiteto volunteer and share their materials on social media. If you’re in Kansas, volunteer to GoTV.

PS. The candidate is endorsed by Our Revolution and, as of today by Daily Kos. Volunteers (including yours truly) are urging Our Revolution to crank up its GoTV phone/text machine for James Thompson. That is likely going to happen.

The campaign has had to scramble for cash, partly because no one thought they could win. So unlike the much closer race for Georgia’s 6th district, where John Ossoff has raised over $8 million, Thompson has only manage to raise $300k or so. But suddenly, the race seems in contention, with 5 days to go. Something must have scared the GOP because they pumped money into ads in this district that Trump carried by 27 points.

Thompson’s campaign asked the Kansas Democratic Party to chip in with $20K for a mailer to counter the Republican efforts. The state party couldn’t do it because they are strapped for cash.

“I don’t think it’s atypical for campaigns to ask parties to chip in. We asked the party to pay for a $20,000 mail project that would essentially be an early voter outreach,” Curtis [Thompson’s campaign chief] said.

Curtis referenced the party’s latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, which showed the party had $274,111 cash on hand at the end of February.

That figure appears to be in error, however.

A Feb. 20 letter from the FEC to the party says the filing lists a $143,000 transfer from “Hillary Victory Fund.” But the FEC letter says a review shows only $14,300 was disbursed.

That would mean the party’s actual cash on hand was closer to $145,000.

Kansas’ Democratic Party has limited resources, and there are a lot of other races they want to support this year. We have to trust their judgement on this call.

But, there’s still the question of what happened to that $143,000? And why can’t Democrats commit resources to a House race that they might be able to win?

See below the fold for more.

The Hillary Victory fund was a Joint Fundraising Committee between the Hillary campaign, the DNC and all state parties. It allowed the fund to collect a single check from a wealthy donor of up to $350k. This is far in excess of campaign finance limits for the candidate, but it was based on the idea that this massive contribution would be distributed between all the joint fund-raisers (the DNC, state parties, etc).

Back in May last year, Politico broke a story that only 1% of the money raised by the fund was making its way to state parties. In fact, the fund was sending money to state parties (likely to meet FEC requirements) but the DNC was turning around and asking for up to 90% of it back the same day. We had a diary about it at the time. It is possible that is what happened here.

The end result state parties can’t fund small requests in an important congressional race. The real shame is that the money was raised by telling donors it would be used to rebuild state parties:

In the days before Hillary Clinton launched an unprecedented big-money fundraising vehicle with state parties last summer, she vowed “to rebuild our party from the ground up,” proclaiming “when our state parties are strong, we win. That’s what will happen.”

But less than 1 percent of the $61 million raised by that effort has stayed in the state parties’ coffers, according to a POLITICO analysis of the latest Federal Election Commission filings. — Politico

Donors believed what they were told about rebuilding the state parties:

After POLITICO revealed that the victory fund was asking for couples to donate or raise a whopping $353,400 in order to sit at a table with Clinton, Clooney and his wife, attorney Amal Clooney, at a fundraiser last month in San Francisco, Clooney admitted that was “an obscene amount of money.” But he justified it by saying “the overwhelming amount of the money that we’re raising is not going to Hillary to run for president, it’s going to the down-ticket.” — Politico

The Hillary Victory fund raised 530 million. 145 million was spent on expenses, 158 million was sent to the presidential campaign, 108 million was sent to the DNC. That left 119 million for the state parties (22%), though much of that seems to have gone back to the DNC. The DNC also disbursed funds to state parties during 2016, but the majority of its expenditures during the 2016 cycle was spent on the national race.

This is in the past. We can only learn from it.

Here’s what you can do now to help Thompson’s campaign win.

If you haven’t already, please contribute to Thompson’s campaign at ActBlue and share their materials on social media. If you’re in Kansas, volunteer to GoTV.

PS. The candidate is endorsed by Our Revolution and, as of today by Daily Kos. Volunteers (including yours truly) are urging Our Revolution to crank up its GoTV phone/text machine for James Thompson. That is likely going to happen.

— Cross-posted at DailyKos | @subirgrewal

Car insurers are charging more in minority neighborhoods as per Pro Publica investigation.

ProPublica has a major investigative analysis where they conclude that Minority Neighborhoods Pay Higher Car Insurance Premiums Than White Areas With the Same Risk

ProPublica bought data on average damage claims in white and non-white neighborhoods and compared them with the rates insurance companies are charging in these neighborhoods. They consistently find that auto insurers charge more in non-white neighborhoods even when average loss rates per vehicle are lower. To remove variations based on driving records, age etc. They focused on a mythical 30 year old woman with a good driving record and one four states, California, Illinois, Texas and Missouri.

The analysis is quite thorough, though they are working with industry wide data since insurance companies won’t release their own loss rates broken down by neighborhood. The report is quite damning. Insurance companies are bound by various state regulations that prohibit discrimination and require pricing to reflect risk.

OTIS NASH WORKS SIX DAYS A WEEK AT TWO JOBS, as a security guard and a pest control technician, but still struggles to make the $190.69 monthly Geico car insurance payment for his 2012 Honda Civic LX.

“I’m on the edge of homelessness,” said Nash, a 26-year-old Chicagoan who supports his wife and 7-year-old daughter. But “without a car, I can’t get to work, and then I can’t pay my rent.”

Across town, Ryan Hedges has a similar insurance policy with Geico. Both drivers receive a good driver discount from the company.

Yet Hedges, who is a 34-year-old advertising executive, pays only $54.67 a month to insure his 2015 Audi Q5 Quattro sports utility vehicle. Nash pays almost four times as much as Hedges even though his run-down neighborhood, East Garfield Park, with its vacant lots and high crime rate, is actually safer from an auto insurance perspective than Hedges’ fancier Lake View neighborhood near Wrigley Field.

— Pro Publica

Most insurance companies refused to respond to their requests. Some have responded with “we don’t discriminate based on race” boilerplate that does not address the specific issues around rating setting algorithms that the article raises. Some of the state insurance regulators and insurers pushed back on ProPublica’s methodology claiming ProPublica’s dataset is incomplete and doesn’t accurately reflect loss rates. Of course, insurers also refuse to release more complete data, or make it available for analysis, so there is no way to validate their claims.

They could release the data to independent researchers to exonerate themselves, but haven’t offered to do so as yet. The industry has a long history of covering up redlining practices. My own take is that Pro Publica’s methodology is reasonable, and they’ve identified a very strong pattern that requires further investigation.

ACTION: So what should you do if your concerned about this? There are three actions you can take.

  1. Call your insurance company, ask to speak with a supervisor and ask to provide ProPublica with a specific response to this article that provides details on their pricing algorithm. Tell them you will not be satisfied with boiler-plate, non-quantitative legalese that states “we don’t discriminate”.
  2. Call the state insurance commissioner. If you live in one of the states ProPublica investigated, their websites/numbers are below. All of them have consumer feedback hotlines and e-mails:
    1. California Department of Insurance1-800-927-4357 (@CDINews)
    2. Texas Department of Insurance1-800-252-3439 (@TexasTDI)
    3. Illinois Department of Insurance: 1-866-445-5364
    4. Missouri Department of Insurance: 1-573-751-4126 (@MissouriDIFP)
  3. Write to your representative in Congress and ask that they investigate this, especially if they are on the Housing and Insurance committee.

And please go read the entire article which also covers the history of redlining in the insurance industry, and the extensive efforts insurance companies and banks went through to cover up redlining and withhold data from investigators. ProPublica interviewed black insurance agents who related older practices that included denying coverage entirely in minority neighborhoods (redlining), to dissuading agents from working in black neighborhoods. They also descrieb the various excuses insurers have used to mask redlining practices. Thurgood Marshall was denied car insurance by Travellers because they said he lived in a “congested” area (Harlem). What are they odds they issued insurance at competitive rates on the Upper East Side, which is as “congested”? The NAACP and others advocated for the passage of anti-discrimination laws through the 40s and 50s:

most states passed laws stating “rates should not be inadequate, excessive or unfairly discriminatory.” The legislation defines discrimination as “price differentials” that “fail to reflect equitably the differences in expected losses and expenses.”

Of course, the laws didn’t immediately stop discrimination. In a thorough examination of MetLife’s history released in 2002, New York state insurance regulators catalogued all of the ways that the company discriminated against black applicants for life insurance — dating back to the 1880s when it refused to insure them at all, to the first half of the 20th century when it required minorities to submit to additional medical exams and sold them substandard plans.

In the 1960s, as insurers stopped asking applicants to declare their race, MetLife began dividing cities into areas. In minority areas, applicants were subject to more stringent criteria, according to the report. In 2002, MetLife agreed to pay as much as $160 million to compensate minorities who were sold substandard policies.

One plausible explanation for higher prices is “price optimization” algorithms which seek to maximize profits by predicting which consumers are less apt to shop around and quote them higher rates.

— @subirgrewal

The Deification of Hillary Clinton: Sarah Jones reviews Susan Bordo’s book.

Susan Bordo’s book “The Destruction of Hillary Clinton” (and an extract published in the Guardian), has been discussed extensively on DKos previously here, herehere and in several other less heavily commented diaries.

Sarah Jones has a review of the book up at TNR which is worth a read.

She begins:

Susan Bordo is right about one thing: Sexism is real and Hillary Clinton has been subjected to it. The spectre of Hillary-the-nasty-woman is persistent and familiar—but it’s only one of the many reasons Clinton lost her latest White House bid. The story of her defeat is a complicated one, encompassing rising anti-establishment fervor, campaign error, and yes, prejudice. But you wouldn’t know it from reading Bordo’s new book.

Sarah goes on to comment on various aspects of Bordo’s book, including the:

  • scapegoating of millennials
  • unwillingness to acknowledge Clinton ran as a pragmatic realist and knowingly took positions to appeal to Republican voters turned-off by Trump
  • claim that Monica Lewinsky “has steadfastly insisted that there was nothing abusive (or even disrespectful) about Bill Clinton’s behavior.”
  • attempt to minimize the “super-predator” speech by claiming it was about “older drug dealers”
  • studious disregard for “moments when the candidate seemed to misread the public mood—such as her repeated claim that “America is already great.” ”

And yes, she addresses Bordo’s focus on tweets by “Bernie Bros” (a pejorative invented by Clinton partisans as a sequel to 2008’s “Obama Boys”):

To Bordo, rude Twitter users prove Sanders’s inadequate commitment to the left. Bordo never asks if her one-sided framing is evidence that she lives in a bubble, and what a telling oversight. Female Sanders supporters would have told her that Clinton backers are also guilty of online harassment—and that the label “Bernie Bro” has been deployed to erase the very existence of left-wing women, drowning out valid critiques of Clinton’s platform.

Bordo’s book is having its fifteen minutes, and perhaps we should perhaps just let that pass.

If it weren’t for this observation:

It crystallizes an emerging tendency in liberal discourse: the notion that critics of Hillary Clinton are either trolls or naive children. […]

Destruction offers no real lessons for Democrats. It’s a hagiography, written to soothe a smarting party. That is precisely why they must ignore it: There is no path forward that does not account for past mistakes. Hillary Clinton’s destruction was at least partly her own making, and if Democrats want to start winning elections it’s time they saw the truth.

Sarah’s review is well worth a read.

What if he isn’t colluding, just clueless?

There is clearly a lot we don’t know about the role Russia’s intelligence agencies played in the 2016 election. Investigations continue, both in Congress and by US intelligence agencies. I haven’t seen much attention paid to one possible outcome of the investigations. What if it turns out that Trump himself didn’t actively collude with Putin or any foreign agencies seeking to influence the election. What if he was clueless about this as he is (sometimes intentionally) about many other things?

That’s Mark Cuban’s take, as he outlined in a series of tweets yesterday.

Cuban then goes on to speculate that Manafort and Flynn were recommended to Trump who brought them on without  much due diligence. This is plausible, Trump prides himself on making decisions based on “very little knowledge”. With the haphazard, home-grown nature of his campaign, it’s quite likely no one even knew what screening questions to ask when bringing people into the campaign.

Trump is clueless enough to have asked, during a campaign rally:

“Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Someone actively conspiring with Russian intelligence wouldn’t be expected to say that. It might however, be blurted out by a careless person who has associates whispering in their ear that another e-mail dump might help the campaign.

If the rot is limited to Manafort, Flynn and a couple of others in the Trump campaign orbit, then we need to temper our expectations of the result. Unless it’s clear that Trump himself colluded (like Nixon) on an electronic DNC break-in, it’s unlikely he’ll be forced to resign or impeached.

There is no process to remove a president who is lazy, uninformed, uninterested or vulnerable to psy-ops and social engineering by foreign agents. Congress can’t and won’t impeach a president for incompetence.

There is still a political benefit to such a result. It will damage Trump’s awful agenda further and dent his approval ratings even more. So, we should continue to push for thorough, independent investigations. But it is likely that all we end up with is a hobbled Trump presidency. That would still be a good result for 2018 and 2020, but it is bound to disappoint some who believe Trump’s not long for the White House.

FWIW, my own take is that the alt-right in general (Trump included) adores Putin because they see in him a like-minded strongman who has used the Russian equivalent of white-supremacist, Islamaphobic, Christianist rhetoric in a quest for power.

“The Destruction of Hillary Clinton” has few lessons and heaps of condescension.

Susan Bordo published an extract from her forthcoming book in the Guardian, under the title: The destruction of Hillary Clinton: sexism, Sanders and the millennial feminists.

A quote from the piece:

They didn’t witness the complicated story of how the 1994 crime bill came to be passed or the origins of the “super-predator” label (not coined by Hillary and not referring to black youth, but rather to powerful, older drug dealers).

Go ahead, watch the video:

Your lying ears are probably telling you Hillary Clinton just said “they’re often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators”.

That’s because you’re an empty-headed, inexperienced, young millennial who doesn’t have the benefit of Bordo’s spidey-senses. Which is why you don’t know “kids” is actually a secret code-word for “powerful, older drug dealers”. Silly you.

Sanders’s branding of Hillary as establishment, however, seemed vastly unjust and corrosively divisive to me, especially when delivered to a generation that knew very little about her beyond what Bernie told them.

Not only are you too dumb to understand what “kids” means when Hillary Clinton says it, you’re also largely ignorant about politics in this country over the past 25 years. This generation doesn’t know much about politics or the Clintons and so abjectly failed to recognize HRC as the superior political product.

It’s really quite lamentable how impressionable and stupid we are, to fall for the rock-star charisma of a 75 year old grandpa, and that too only eight years after we fell for the rock-star charisma of a 47 year old black guy:

As I watched Sanders enchant the crowds, it was something of a deja vu experience to see a charismatic male politician on stage telling women which issues are and aren’t progressive.

The entire extract is meant to tell Bernie supporters they’re rubes without any agency of their own, incapable of discriminating between candidates. Apparently, millennial feminists weighed down by student debt were seduced by Bernie’s charisma, not his steadfast call for public colleges to be as affordable as when he (and Bordo and Clinton) attended.

On the off-chance that someone remembered there were substantive policy differences between Bernie and Hillary, Bordo is standing by to explain how silly we are to think that should matter.

As Jonathan Cohn wrote, in May: “If Sanders is the standard by which you’re going to decide whether a politician is a progressive, then almost nobody from the Democratic party would qualify. Take Sanders out of the equation, and suddenly Clinton looks an awful lot like a mainstream progressive.”

Let me paraphrase Jonathan Cohn’s prescription, quoted admiringly by Bordo:

First, forget that strong tea you tasted yesterday. We’re going to give you this weak tea, and just to make sure your little young heads don’t get all confused about it. The weak tea is what you get, and you will and should like it.

Earlier in the piece, Bordo is incensed that Bernie claimed the mantle of “progressive” from HRC, going into a long explanation of what “progressive” has meant over the years. And a couple of paragraphs later, she admits that you can only get Hillary to “mainstream progressive” if you remove Bernie from the data-set.

There’s a rank stench of paternalism, yes paternalism, wafting from this piece.

Bordo knows what is progressive and the silly Bernie supporters seduced by his “charisma” know less than nothing, we were just easy marks for a slick Burlington salesman. That paternalism might explain the next phenomenon that catches her attention:

too many young Democrats made it very clear (in newspaper and internet interviews, in polls, and in the mainstream media) that they were only voting for Hillary Clinton as the lesser of two evils, “holding their noses”, tears still streaming down their faces over the primary defeat of the person they felt truly deserved their votes. Some didn’t vote at all.

Ah yes, the crime of insufficient enthusiasm, which all Bernie supporters are forever guilty of. Of course, this couldn’t have anything to do with the candidate, it’s a product of Bernie supporters’ inherent moral failings, along with their youth, ignorance and inexperience as explained above.

This whole line of thinking is so ridiculous that even Bordo manages to lose the plot:

He was the champion of the working class (conveniently ignoring that black and white women were members, and that their issues were also working class issues)

Yes, for once I agree with her. Working class issues are indeed issues that impact black and white women, and all working people. Bernie reminded us of this throughout the campaign. For example, in his announcement speech:

Now is the time for millions of working families to come together, to revitalize American democracy, to end the collapse of the American middle class and to make certain that our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy a quality of life that brings them health, prosperity, security and joy – and that once again makes the United States the leader in the world in the fight for economic and social justice, for environmental sanity and for a world of peace.

Or when his campaign developed a comprehensive position on racial justice (before HRC’s did). Those are all reasons his campaign spoke to me, and why I knew he was more “progressive” than HRC. Jonathan Cohn’s attempt to adjust the curve and make HRC a “mainstream progressive” wasn’t compelling during the primary. Bordo echoing him a year later won’t do it either.

HRC had an opportunity to join the Congressional Progressive Caucus during her eight year senate career. It counts several dozen representatives as members. She did not.

Which allows me to remark on another prejudice that Bordo has managed to imbibe:

if Clinton had more support from the Democratic party, that was due in large part to the relationships she had cultivated over the years, working with others – something Sanders was not particularly good at.

By the way, that is the same CPC that Bernie helped found when he arrived in the House. So much for not being “particularly good at” working well with others. It’s also worth noting that the CPC overlaps significantly with the Congressional Black Caucus.

The fact is, HRC is a relatively “conservative” Democrat who inhabits a space between the right (on economic issues) and the left (on social issues). During her ascent (as part of a power couple) to the height of political power in our country, she had to make hard political choices, and there were reasons for making those choices. Some of them had to do with her priorities and what she believed, others with the circumstances. For instance, while serving as a board member at Walmart:

Fellow board members and company executives, who have not spoken publicly about her role at Wal-Mart, say Mrs. Clinton used her position to champion personal causes, like the need for more women in management and a comprehensive environmental program, despite being Wal-Mart’s only female director, the youngest and arguably the least experienced in business. On other topics, like Wal-Mart’s vehement anti-unionism, for example, she was largely silent, they said.

HRC was appointed to the board while her husband was governor of Arkansas (where Walmart is headquartered), to address the criticism that the board was composed entirely of white men. While in that role, she advocated for women in managerial roles, but not for rank and file working class women at Walmart who would have benefited from a union.

Some of those choices have been personally taxing for Hillary. For instance, her support for the Welfare Reform act caused a long-lasting rift with Marian Wright Edelman that has never been repaired.

In the end, Bordo’s long essay boils down to, us young ones don’t know what Hillary Clinton had to go through. If we accept that argument, then why not make it in defense of Lindsey Graham? Do we really know what Lindsey Graham had to go through, why he made the political compromises he did? Maybe we should cut him some slack and vote for him for president? Of course that’s a bad idea because much as there is to admire about Graham, his politics don’t align with ours, which is why we’re not enthusiastic about the prospect of voting for him.

The sad fact is that HRC was the wrong candidate for 2016. This was an anti-establishment cycle and she was the establishment candidate. She would have been the establishment candidate with or without Bernie. Without Bernie in the primary, her campaign might have made an even stronger pitch for suburban voters, by down-playing progressive economic issues. Would that have enthused millennial feminists?

There is much to admire in Hillary’s career and life, and even her two unsuccessful campaigns. Appreciating that does not require infantalizing those who supported Bernie as Bordo does.

I’m ready for Hillary, she has over 2026 delegates. I want Bernie supporters to #OccupyDemocrats

This is not a conversion diary. Bernie remains my first choice.

Nor is this a diary encouraging you to shift your support to Hillary. This is a diary explaining why (in my view) the primary is over, and what that means to me.

Why Now?

For me, the primary is now over. I did not believe this on March 15. I did not believe this after New York. I did not buy it yesterday, when the AP decided to call the race for Hillary the day before California and New Jersey voted. I did not believe this was true until today. Till Hillary had won over 50% of all pledged delegates.

It is mathematically impossible for Bernie to win 2026 pledged delegates, because there aren’t enough remaining now. The term “mathematically impossible” has been thrown around for a while, but it was not true till today.

In my judgement, winning a majority of pledged delegates has always been the only criteria for the nomination. Now, barring catastrophe, Hillary will and should be the Democratic nominee.

Hillary leads by over 3.5 million popular votes. It is very tough to explain away that entire margin. You may quibble with some of that, for example that it undercounts caucus states. But three and a half million is a lot of voters. At the end of the day, the win was square. I won’t say “fair” and square since the field was always tilted in Hillary’s favor. Democratic party grandees and institutions have had a thumb on the scale throughout, for obvious and well understood reasons. But it was fair enough.

In any case, we don’t get handicaps in politics.

In the face of all the institutional opposition, it is remarkable that Bernie came as far as he did. Bernie will win 1800 delegates and roughly 43% of the popular vote. That is absolutely amazing for someone who was polling in the teens when we started last year. His strength speaks to the desire among Democrats, and the broader population, to see a fairer and more equitable economy (both opportunity and results) and to see our country live up to its ideals both within and without. But this is politics, the path is always uphill for challengers and those outside the “establishment”. Bernie should compete in the DC primary, and delegates should help push his policy agenda at the convention. In other words, they should do what they were picked in primaries and caucuses to do.

So do you support Hillary?

Yes, I do. And to be clear, I am enthusiastic (to a degree) for a Hillary Clinton presidency, not simply resigned to it. I will be glad to see a third term for a Democrat. I’ll be glad if my daughters grow up with a woman serving as president, even though identity politics has never been of much interest to me. Bernie’s insistence that we are all in it together spoke to me far more than Bobby Jindal’s appeal to a common Indian heritage.

Many places throughout history have had female rulers, including absolute monarchs. In general, their tenure didn’t mean much to most women or the poor. The gulf between kings, queens and the small-folk stayed as wide as it was. Queens can start wars just as willfully as Kings can. Women elected to high office can choose to deny free milk to schoolchildren. Gender and race are ubiquitous in American politics. Class though, is under-appreciated in our society and one of the many satisfactions of Bernie’s run this year is the increased class consciousness (yes, that’s what I said).

Despite all that, it is important when a woman makes it to the presidency. I am not about to demean those to whom this is important.

I am hopeful we will see a wave election and win back both the Senate and House (I have a small wager riding on that). I am very pleased we will be nominating an accomplished, hard working, capable candidate with extensive experience in government.

Those who insist Bernie should step aside for a “historic presidency” deserve ridicule. As if being the first non-Christian major party nominee wouldn’t be historic. As if it did not take Hillary Clinton days after the final primary to reconcile herself with the equally “historic” candidacy of Barack Obama.

I was somewhat undecided last summer. Is that so hard to believe? Through the summer, I had my doubts about whether or not Bernie could win the general election and how effective he would be. I like Hillary enough to have donated to her campaign. That said, I would be much more enthusiastic for a Bernie Sanders presidency, and I believe he would stand a better chance against Trump. Nothing I’ve seen so far has changed my view. This continues to be an anti-establishment cycle, and that will be the biggest risk to Hillary’s campaign.

I am enthusiastic about having Hillary as our candidate despite many concerns. Primarily that a pivot to the center by Hillary will mis-fire against Trump and lead to a very narrow victory, or perhaps a loss (I think this is unlikely). I have misgivings about Hillary’s hawkish foreign policy stance and a myriad of concerns about her close links to special interests and concentrated economic/political power. Hillary’s apparent nonchalance towards potential conflicts of interest between the Clinton foundation, her duties as secretary of state, and her speaking engagements give me pause. I do not think Hillary’s prescriptions for TBTF will prevent future bailouts. I find her numerous shifts on climate change, trade, gay marriage, prison/criminal justice reform and welfare disconcerting.

Yet, if we are to be honest with ourselves, this is no more so than the vast majority of politicians. Our distaste is for the system that permits such behavior among our elected officials, not purely with an specific individual who may exhibit it. And if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that many of our most storied presidents have been flawed, and sometimes corrupt, including the ones who ascended to become three letter acronyms.

I am hopeful that Hillary will govern well, and move us towards a better society incrementally. I am optimistic that our candidates and elected officials up and down the line, having seen the remarkable success of Bernie’s campaign, move towards a more progressive position both on domestic issues and on foreign policy.

Why then, do I feel sick to my stomach?

This is where I feel I have something to say to fellow Bernie supporters.

Have you ever fought with people you thought were family, or close friends? Then you know why you’re feeling the way you are. No betrayal burns like that of blood. No knife cuts deeper than one wielded by a friend.

For many Bernie supporters, that is what this campaign has often felt like. And the same is true for many who have supported Hillary.

It was bound to be this way.

In time, that will pass, and we will be the better for it. We will understand our allies better. And we will know we were mistaken to consider some allies at all. And we will know that some alliances go so far, and no further.

For myself, throughout this campaign, I have tried to remain detached from what people on the internet on either side say. Yes, that includes much of the discussion on Daily Kos. I’ve never felt my political views should be influenced by whether I find other supporters distasteful or particularly attractive. If I did, my views on both candidates would have been thoroughly warped. Throughout this cycle, I have tried to find the substance as far as I can.

Am I giving up on Bernie?

I am disappointed that Bernie will not win the nomination. Deeply disappointed. Of all the candidates across the spectrum, my views align best with Bernie’s policy positions. In my mind, no one exemplified my ideal of what a democratic leader would look like, or the values I wished they would espouse better. I would have liked to see his policies implemented and this perspective re-enter the American mainstream. I would have liked to see a more perfect union. I would have liked to see a government of the people, for the people and by the people reign across this land.

So what’s the way forward?

I think our best chance to do that is by occupying the Democratic party . In my mind, that is short-hand for having left-leaning candidates run for national, state, local and party positions at every level. If we are successful, we will not only shift the Democratic party back to the left on foreign policy and economic issues, but also ease the path for future left-leaning candidates up and down the ballot. At the very least, we should stand up and insist that bashing the left becomes a thing of the past in the Democratic party.

I believe we need to be the loyal opposition within the Democratic party, making alliances in the way Bernie has over the years. Do not for a moment, allow yourself to forget that we remain the smaller faction within the party. Do not forget, for a moment, that for many Democrats, Sanders and his supporters are the disheveled, slightly smelly guests who are barely tolerated at dinner as a charity. Why, the diary at the top of the rec list expresses this sentiment:

Bernie Sanders was able to get his message out because he ran in OUR primary.

The left was systematically sidelined by Dixiecrats for decades, derided as soft-headed liberals. Third way Democrats have continued that tradition. We should not allow it to continue any longer.

I know many consider this a hopeless, impossible task. Some are keen to give up on both parties, a pox on both their houses. I understand the sentiment. I don’t agree with it because I’m an institutionalist. I know how difficult it is to create institutions and I will always want to try to change one before advocating it be torn down.

I respect Jill Stein enormously, and I do believe there is a role for third parties in our system. You won’t ever hear me blame anyone for voting for a third party candidate. Your vote is yours alone. It’s no one’s business but yours. And yes, I respect the choice of my republican friends, even those who say they will vote for Trump. I believe they are extremely misguided, but their vote is theirs alone. That is what democracy means to me.

You won’t hear me blame the losses of Democrats on candidates from any other party. Of course, if Hillary were to lose the election, I fully expect many to blame Sanders and Stein. I will argue vociferously against that view if this were to come to pass. That’s what Democrats did with Nader and it was wrong-headed. The failures of candidates are theirs alone, only clumsy craftsmen blame the competition for their loss of market share. Gore’s loss was down to him, and perhaps the shenanigans Clinton got into, some of which rubbed off on Gore.

 I disagree with Dr. Stein. I don’t believe the two-party system is a dead end. I believe change is possible, despite all the institutional forces that seek to stall and pervert it.

For those who think neither party will change dramatically, I remind you that they have. For both better and worse. By 1964, the Democratic party had been enthralled by Dixiecrats and their predecessors for over 100 years. Yet, in the span of less than 10 years, the party was transformed and Dixiecrats were conclusively ejected or neutered.

Change is possible. It can come from the most unexpected of quarters, and yes LBJ was one of the most unexpected. A foul-mouthed, deeply corrupt, cut-throat politician rammed a Civil Rights act through Congress when none had passed since reconstruction.

I remind people of this partly because I’m an institutionalist. I believe in the power of institutions and the case for working within them when possible. Bernie is too, which is why he has called for a “political revolution” and caucused with Democrats for decades.

So yes, change is possible, and parties can even be turned on their heads. But to bring the change we need to the Democratic party, we need to #OccupyDemocrats.

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.

blm_oreilly.png
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.

@subirgrewal

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?

@subirgrewal

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?

bernie-clinton-income.PNG
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?

2014 BILL HILLARY
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:

ST_2016.05.12_middle-class-geo-01.png
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.

2014 CLINTON SANDERS
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
PAYROLL TAX (SOCIAL SEC/MEDICARE) 389,722 9,522
FED TAX RATE (OF AGI) 32.10% 13.13%
FED TAX RATE (OF TAXABLE INCOME) 39.37% 19.12%
STATE TAX RATE (OF AGI) 10.46% 11.94%
PAYROLL TAX RATE (OF AGI) 1.39% 4.64%
COMBINED TAX RATE (OF AGI) 43.96% 29.71%
COMBINED TAX RATE (TAXABLE INCOME+STATE/LOCAL/RE TAX) 47.78% 36.85%
INCOME PUTS THEM IN 0.003% 3.7%

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.

tax-returns-2013.PNG
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:

2013 BILL HILLARY
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.

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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.

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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.

Occassionaly, I want to share something with the world.