Weekend Links

Female soldiers honor Women's Suffrage Day
If women can still vote on November 8, 2016, the Republican Party is doomed. Sad! Soldiers at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan with the 87th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion performed a skit depicting the women’s suffrage movement, Aug. 24. This month marked the 93rd anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Congress passed the 19th Amendment was on June 4, 1919 it was then ratified Aug. 18, 1920. (Photo by 1Lt. Amanda Cookman, 87th CSSB) By 1st Lt. Amanda Cookman (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1008171) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Some of the articles I read this week:

  • Hillary Clinton has adopted more liberal policies during her campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination in response to a strong Bernie Sanders challenge and a liberal shift among Democrats. Pressure from the grassroots is how change happens. Some people may call this flip-flopping, but we can also call it democratic responsiveness to the will of one’s supporters. For example, better that Clinton has publicly promised to protect and expand Social Security than otherwise, whatever her personal feelings.
  • Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) restoring the voting franchise to 200,000 Virginia citizens is a good example of how politicians tend to enact policies under pressure from their supporters, even if we think those politicians are centrist hacks. Change often ends with a political leader rather than begins with him or her. As Scott Lemieux explains, “In the end, presidents lead coalitions.”
  • On a related note, while trying to engage political opponents is good, Sanders supporters would do better by focusing on pressuring the party that shares their interests rather than pretending that the Tea Party is full of closet democratic socialists.
  • Donald Trump figured out how to hack the Republican nomination contest.
  • However, in doing so, Trump has alienated the largest voting force in American politics: women. Conservatives like to minimize these problems Republicans have with certain voting groups by railing against “identity politics” (let’s briefly mention two problems with this: first, it’s a category error to conflate interests and identity, and second, it’s a blatant double standard that somehow it’s bad for Democrats to appeal to certain groups based on their interests, such as reproductive health, while it’s okay for Republicans to appeal to certain groups based on their interests, such as discrimination against LGBT citizens). Josh Marshall puts it in terms of “political bilingualism” in which the two likely candidates, Trump and Clinton, speak mutually unintelligible politics. The problem for Trump is that his language is understood by fewer and fewer people. Trump’s going to need a repeal of the 19th Amendment in order to win the general election.
  • The Republican Party is really, really unpopular.
  • Ed Kilgore interviews an expert on the Republican nomination-process and learns that it’s possible to thwart Trump if he doesn’t reach the majority threshold of 1,237 first ballot-pledged delegates, but hey, who knows at this point.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!


Please Sign My White House Petition

President Obama receives his “the world rejoices that you’re not George Bush” Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway in 2009. Photo: Harry Wad [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

If you agree with the argument below, please sign my petition. You don’t have to sign up for anything – name and email address are enough to log your signature. After 150 signatures, the petition will get a public spot on the website for all visitors to see. If somehow it gets to 100,000 signatures by May 26th, the White House will respond.


After today’s primaries, it’s a near certainty that the presidential nominees for both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are going to be people who want to do stupid shit abroad. Any Republican nominee will re-establish torture as official American policy, antagonize Russia, threaten war with Iran, and re-commit large numbers of American troops to our misadventures in the Middle East. Hillary Clinton’s poor foreign policy instincts (Iraq War!) are well-known, though we may hope her experience as Secretary of State in President Obama’s administration has had some moderating influence on her worst tendencies.

There are probably many good reasons for him not to do this, but I’d like to see President Obama give a speech in which he tries to establish a new foreign policy doctrine based on his “don’t do stupid shit” principle. Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a fantastic profile of President Obama and his foreign policy for the April issue of The Atlantic. From the article, in a section about what to do about Syria:

  • Hillary Clinton, when she was Obama’s secretary of state, argued for an early and assertive response to Assad’s violence. In 2014, after she left office, Clinton told me that “the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad … left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” When The Atlantic published this statement, and also published Clinton’s assessment that “great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Obama became “rip-shit angry,” according to one of his senior advisers. The president did not understand how “Don’t do stupid shit” could be considered a controversial slogan. Ben Rhodes recalls that “the questions we were asking in the White House were ‘Who exactly is in the stupid-shit caucus? Who is pro–stupid shit?’ ” The Iraq invasion, Obama believed, should have taught Democratic interventionists like Clinton, who had voted for its authorization, the dangers of doing stupid shit. (Clinton quickly apologized to Obama for her comments, and a Clinton spokesman announced that the two would “hug it out” on Martha’s Vineyard when they crossed paths there later.)

“Don’t do stupid shit” is a critique of generations of American foreign policy consensus that prescribes military action as the logical response to all crises, be they manufactured like Iraq in 2003, or real like Libya in 2011. The principle suggests that Americans be realistic and self-aware about what we can and cannot influence abroad, and be prudent about the use of force, which should only be deployed when there is a “direct threat.” I would very much like to see President Obama publicly state and clarify this doctrine before his presidency ends. With any luck, it would go down as one of those transformational statements about American behavior in the larger world, constraining would-be military adventurists and becoming a benchmark by which future presidents are judged. If you agree, please click the link below and sign the petition:


Super Tuesday III: What’s At Stake in the Mid-Atlantic

Mid-Atlantic (plus Rhode Island), come on down! You’re the next Super Tuesday! By Grayshi, Roke (Own work, also File:BlankMap-USA-states.PNG) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

This coming Tuesday, April 26th, is the third time during this presidential nomination cycle that a bunch of states rich in delegates will vote on the same Tuesday. There will be one more “super” Tuesday on June 7th, when the big prizes of California and New Jersey (don’t snicker) are up for grabs for both parties’ candidates. What happens in two days will influence the shapes of both races going forward, so let’s go ahead and see what’s likely to happen and what it all means.

First, the region that votes on April 26th is the Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, with Connecticut included depending on who you ask, plus Rhode Island). This region has structural, geographic, and demographic features that favor both parties’ front-runners. Structurally, both parties in all five states are holding primaries. So far, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have done very well in primary elections compared to their performances in caucuses. On the Democratic side, the fact that these are closed primaries – meaning only registered party members can vote – leans even more heavily in Clinton’s favor. Clinton has been dominating with people who tend to be registered Democrats, which kind of belies the “no enthusiasm for Clinton” trope, at least among the Party’s base, but that’s a subject for a different post.

Geographically, the region favors Trump because of its ties to New York City and the dread “New York values” so reviled by Texan Ted Cruz. Republican evangelical voters in these states may give Cruz some support, but overall his brand is toxic in the Mid-Atlantic. Cruz’s doubling down on support for North Carolina’s discriminatory LGBT law and past arguments that sellers and users of sex toys are criminals are unlikely to make his brand less toxic there. Increasingly desperate #NeverTrumpers may strategically vote for Cruz or with their conscience for John Kasich, but with Trump poised to win at least a plurality in each state, let’s predict he wins a majority or better of the delegates at stake, with a “big but” explained in the next paragraph.

One more structural note on the Republican side. Amazingly, most delegates Pennsylvanians send to the convention will be directly elected, but without voters knowing which nominee those delegates prefer. This is nuts and favors the much more organized Cruz campaign. Trump is guaranteed 17 delegates if he’s the overall winner, but 54 delegates will not be bound to any nominee. If Trump and his supporters think the process is rigged now, wait until they get a load of Pennsylvania. With such an undemocratic process that is by no means guaranteed to correlate with actual Pennsylvanians’ preferences, Trump may not get as big of a delegate haul as he deserves.

On the Democratic side, Clinton enjoys a big demographic advantage in addition to her structural ones in the region. Bernie Sanders has not done well in states with denser and/or more diverse populations. His most recent victory was in Wisconsin, which is 86% white. This Tuesday’s whitest state, Pennsylvania, is 82% white; meanwhile Maryland, the most diverse of the five states, is 58% white. Maybe the demographics don’t doom Sanders in all five states, but given Clinton’s polling leads and the cultural affinities with New York where she just won big, let’s predict Clinton goes five-for-five.

Now, the math behind the delegate counts is what ultimately gives these analyses and predictions any meaning. Let’s start with the Republican contest (thanks FiveThirtyEight), where a candidate needs to reach 1,237 delegates for a majority. So far, 1,712 of the total 2,472 delegates have been awarded to specific candidates. It’s estimated that almost 200 of the delegates could officially be “unbound” for the first ballot at the convention, which confuses the analysis and is going to be a subject of ongoing intrigue. For our purposes, let’s take FiveThirtyEight‘s numbers at face value and run the numbers:

  • Donald Trump has won 846 delegates, which is 47.1% of the total so far. He needs 391 more delegates for a majority, which is 58% of remaining delegates up for grabs, 172 of which are at stake on Tuesday.
  • Ted Cruz has won 544 delegates, which is 30% of the total so far. He needs 693 more delegates for a majority, which is 102.8% of remaining delegates.
  • John Kasich has won 149 delegates so far, which remarkably is both still behind Marco “Not Even in the Race Anymore” Rubio’s delegate count and means if he won every single delegate remaining (674), he’d still be behind Trump!

The last time we did this analysis, Trump needed a 59% pace to win an outright majority on the first ballot. He’s more or less in the same position he was a month ago, but with less margin for error now with fewer delegates remaining. Cruz joins the Kasich Club in being mathematically eliminated from winning an outright majority on the first ballot at the convention. That’s unless he convinces most of the unbound delegates to commit to him AND he does much better in the remaining races than he’s done to date, neither of which are likely. I’d say Trump is likely to get 58% or better of the delegates on Tuesday, but again, Pennsylvania’s rules really confuse the situation.

Cruz may be more competitive in Indiana with its 57 delegates at stake on May 3rd, but he’s drawing dead. The best he can hope to do is deny Trump a pre-convention majority while convincing unbound delegates to withhold the boost Trump would need to get to 1,237. Trump appears very likely to be within striking distance of 1,237 with the help of unbound delegates should he fall short of a majority.

If we take it as a given that legitimacy is important for whomever becomes the Republican nominee, I don’t see how the Republican Establishment denies Trump the nomination if it happens he’s the clear delegate winner but just shy of a majority. During the modern nomination era, it’s a singular occurrence that two candidates who are ALREADY non-viable in terms of reaching a majority are even still in the race. Usually, once candidates reach this loser milestone (if not before), they drop out and rally behind their preferred remaining candidate, or in the case of only one left standing, they throw their support behind that person for the sake of party unity. The situation really shows the notable degree to which a large proportion of the Republican Party loathes Trump. Tuesday’s contests should only exacerbate this problem.

Relying on FiveThirtyEight again, how do things look on the Democratic side? Like last time, let’s ignore the superdelegates since it’s unlikely they will go against the candidate who wins a majority of elected delegates. Please refer to that previous piece if you want to know my stance on superdelegates; long story short, get rid of them. Without superdelegates, there are 4,051 elected delegates, which means a candidate needs to win 2,026 in order to claim democratic legitimacy.

  • Hillary Clinton has won 1,443 elected delegates, which is 54.4% of delegates awarded so far. She needs to win 583 more for a majority, which is 41.6% of  the remaining 1,400 delegates.
  • Bernie Sanders has won 1,208 elected delegates, which is 45.6% of delegates awarded so far. He needs to win 818 more for a majority, which is 58.4% of the remaining delegates.

Sanders, in spite of his string of victories in the seven contests before he lost big in New York, has gained no ground on Clinton over the past month. That doesn’t mean he should drop out. In fact, he’s much more viable at the moment than any of his Republican counterparts. The problem for Sanders is the math and the likely outcomes in remaining states. Let’s look at the following scenario.

Let’s be generous and suppose that Sanders takes half of the 384 delegates at stake on Tuesday (Clinton is likely to do better than 50%, but for the sake of argument). If he does, that increases his delegate count to 1,400, but reduces remaining delegates from 1,400 to 1,016. Sanders would need 626 of the remaining delegates to reach a majority, which then would be 61.6% of remaining delegates. Even under this rosy scenario where Sanders ties in the Mid-Atlantic, he goes from needing 58.4% of remaining delegates beforehand to needing 61.6% in future contests.

This problem for Sanders is nicely illustrated by the updates in FiveThrityEight‘s delegate targets for each state for each candidate. Based on state profiles, the targets are numbers for each remaining state that the candidates have to hit in order to get on track for a majority of elected delegates, given they hit their targets in all other future contests. They’re reasonable numbers based on the current state of the race; for example, Sanders could have used a landslide in New York where his FiveThirtyEight target was 125, or 50.6%, of the total 247 delegates at stake. With no polling indicating a Sanders landslide in New York, they arrived at the more modest majority target. Sanders ended up only getting 108 delegates in New York, or 43.7%, which now means his targets in upcoming states have to go up. With polls showing consistent Clinton leads in California, do we really think he’s going to hit the target of 239 (50.3%) out of 475 delegates? And that assumes he gets 189 (49.2%) of 384 delegates on Tuesday. I’d say 173, or 45%, is the most he’s going to get in the Mid-Atlantic.

This is why a contest that so far has been 54% Clinton to 46% Sanders is pretty much out of reach for Sanders. That 8% difference doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you factor in how states are likely to vote and the delegates remaining, it’s nearly impossible for Sanders to make it up.  He’s not finished and I hope he keeps going, but if I were in his campaign, I’d get to work on a strategy for influence within a Hillary Clinton general election campaign and presidency, based on delivering votes for the Democratic Party in November.

Weekend Links

Central Park New York skyline
Thank you, New York, for sharing your values with Ted Cruz. By dronepicr (Central Park New York skyline) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Here are some articles I read this week (update below):

  • One of the many myths that Americans believe about our politics is that politicians don’t keep their promises. Professor of political science Timothy Hill explains at FiveThirtyEight that elected officials tend to keep most of their promises.
  • In a response to a comment about “An Open Letter to Sanders Supporters” I mentioned that progressive defenders of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party need to get constructive about how the Bernie Sanders faction can leverage its size and energy for actual influence within the Democratic Party. For now, let me outsource that to James Downie at The Washington Post.
  • Sanders probably would have done better in New York – but he still wouldn’t have won – if the state had reasonable deadlines for voter and party registration. Scott Lemieux argues that New York needs to change its policies on these matters. Lemieux also notes that even with more reasonable deadlines, closed primaries are justified and the special snowflakes too pure to soil themselves by identifying with a major party need to get over themselves.
  • Ed Kilgore, who now writes at New York Magazine, finds Republicans saying exactly what I’ve always feared about Sanders – he’s exactly who they are dying to run against. I may disagree with Republicans about most policies, but I’ll give them this: they know how to exploit weakness and win elections. I don’t doubt for a second that by the end of the summer Sanders’ favorables would be underwater after a sustained red-baiting attack. All the general election polls that show Sanders running stronger than Clinton against all comers are really quite meaningless and won’t correlate with November until American voters start paying attention in July after the conventions.
  • New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait finds John Kasich doing an unfortunate impersonation of William H. Macy’s character from Fargo during an interview with The Washington Post. Kilgore finds the Kasich campaign doing none of the things it actually needs to do in order to be relevant at the convention in Cleveland. Turns out Not Moderate Kasich is also Not Not Full of It Kasich and Not Competent Campaigner Kasich.

Enjoy the weekend and this classic Fargo clip!




Update: I pressed “publish” before I read about Prince’s unfortunately young death at the age of 57. Via Jesse David Fox at Vulture, start, continue, or end your own rabbit hole appreciation of the man and his music with this awesome guitar solo during George Harrison’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction:

The Federal Debt Doesn’t Matter

L0068411 Histoires Prodigieuses; the Monster of Cracow
I am debt fury made flesh and I have come to devour your country. By Pierre Boaistuau [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Democratic Party’s chances at keeping the White House this November are looking good at the moment, so that means it’s time for deficit scolds to jump out of hiding and scare us all into thinking the federal debt is coming to eat our children.

The first real “boo!” of the election season is last week’s Time cover story by James Grant. The Time cover does some basic arithmetic and tells us that every American man, woman, and child would have to pay $42,998.12 to pay down U.S. debt. If we follow Time‘s lead and analyze information as if we were children, that means infants had better start polishing up their resumes. Stop soiling your diapers and get a job!

The article gets off to a bad start when Grant makes the trite observation that if America were a household it would be in bad credit trouble. Except the United States of America is not a household, but a country that has granted its federal government the authority to create and regulate the money supply. How many of you have a legal dollar printing press in your home? This apple is nothing like this orange.

For a good rundown of just how wrong are Grant’s premises and why the federal debt is nothing to fear, read Jeff Spross’ article at The Week. Paul Krugman reminds us that Grant is wrong on his signature issue of inflation, is a gold bug, and increased and well-targeted deficit spending now would likely improve the country’s long-run fiscal outlook.

I’ll leave the economic and journalistic criticisms of Grant’s article to the above experts and two more here and here. If I can add any value to the discussion, it may be on the political side. Polling consistently shows that a majority of Americans are worried about the federal debt in the abstract. This makes sense, right? Most Americans understand that carrying debt can be bad because if they have too much and can’t pay back some of it then the bank or a repo person comes and takes their house or their car. This is why we hear Republican candidates for president constantly talking about federal debt in existential terms.

However, polling also consistently shows the following: Americans are deeply confused about the nature of the federal debt, oppose practically every spending-side policy that might reduce the debt, and overwhelmingly support the very revenue-side policy for addressing debt that Grant and his ilk take off the table, which is raising taxes on the rich. At best, deficit scolds like Grant and Republican candidates for president are deeply confused themselves about the federal debt and the solutions majorities of Americans support in order to address it. At worst, deficit hysteria is cover for an agenda that majorities of Americans actually oppose: tax cuts for the rich and cutting programs such as Social Security, Medicare, etc.

We’re going to hear a lot of deficit nonsense from Republicans during the general election. Remember that whether their motivations are sincerely held but wrong ideas about the deficit or cynical manipulation of opinion in order to enact an unpopular agenda, the U.S. government is not like a household and the federal debt is really not a big deal. The country faces many challenges. The Monster of Krakow is not one of them.

Ted Cruz is Running for Theocrat-in-Chief

Do you want Ted Cruz in your bedroom? Do you want to turn back the clock to 1905, when this picture was taken? TrusTed 2016! By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

In 2007, Ted Cruz’s Texas solicitor general office argued that the use of sex toys was tantamount to “hiring a willing prostitute or engaging in consensual bigamy” in an effort to maintain the state’s ban of “marital aids.” Cruz and Texas lost the case but not before exposing conservative Christian views on sex for all the world to see. Read the linked articles for succinct descriptions of the case and relevant laws and legal precedents. Here are some of the “best” parts of Cruz’s argument:

  • “There is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.”
  • “The morality-based interests behind the statute’s prohibition on commerce in obscene devices include discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex and the pursuit of sexual gratification unrelated to procreation …”
  • “But even assuming that Appellants had articulated a right sufficient to satisfy the first prong of the Glucksberg test [establishing a right as fundamental], they could not show that the right to promote dildos, vibrators, and other obscene devices – or, indeed, even to use those devices in private – is ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty’.”

This is why liberals have no patience for myths that the Republican Party cherishes liberty and personal responsibility.

Both parties believe the federal government has roles to play in the lives of its citizens. For example, Democrats think the government can interfere in people’s lives to make it less likely they will die of curable diseases or go bankrupt fighting them; Republicans think that the government can interfere in people’s lives in order to make them criminals for selling or using dildos.

Well, at least an American theocracy run by Cruz would ban this scene from the seminal (ha, see what I did there?) Wayans brothers film White Chicks (2004). I have no interest in explaining why I’ve seen this film, and it probably goes without saying, but this is not safe for work:



Weekend Links

dali cloudy morning
View from my window here in Dali, Yunnan Province on a recent morning.
dali sun rays ila
View from our school this morning.

Some links for the weekend:

  • New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote a few good pieces recently. Here he is on the stakes of the 2016 election for the environment, the pragmatic tradition of African American voters given that the American system almost always requires compromise and gradual, incremental change, and the questions New York Democrats – and really, all Democrats and Democratic Party-leaners – need to consider when voting in this year’s primaries.
  • Also in New York Magazine, reporter Gabriel Sherman has a fascinating article on Donald Trump’s campaign. Sherman deserves a Pulitzer just for the fact-checking technique he uses in this paragraph alone:
    • Trump is cheap, and proud of it. Indeed, Lewandowski’s bonus for winning New Hampshire was a paltry $50,000. It’s part of Trump’s central argument: He will run the government like a business. (Though, truth be told, there are few businesses that operate the way his does: Trump’s company is primarily a marketing vehicle at this point, licensing his name to other firms’ developments.) “I don’t spend much money,” he told me. “In New Hampshire, I spent $2 million” — actually $3.7 million — “Bush spent $48 million” — actually $36.1 million — “I came in first in a landslide, he came in sixth” — actually fourth. “Who do you want as your president?”

  • Bernie Sanders apparently does not know what he’s talking about when it comes to the policies behind some of his signature rhetoric. That’s a problem if you want to be the grown-up in the room come November. Though, not knowing what they’re talking about rarely seems to be a problem for Republican candidates. Anyway, while I’m fine with Sanders as the nominee, his coming up empty on policy makes it a bit harder to Feel the Bern.
  • Speaking of not feeling it, Josh Marshall lets Sanders and his campaign have it for claims that Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be president. As an advocate for vote the party not the individual, I think that Sanders – while it’s his right to campaign as he sees fit – is playing with fire here.
  • Good on a former Republican staffer in Wisconsin for being honest about what motivates strict voter ID laws: knowledge that such laws restrict minority and younger voter participation, taking away Democratic votes.
  • Speaking of Wisconsin, here’s my recap of the primaries there on Tuesday.

Have a great weekend!