What parts of congress to watch

One of the most fascinating moments in Sunday’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was this exchange, concerning the checks and balances that glue together our federal government:

CLINTON: Well, here we go again. I’ve been in favor of getting rid of carried interest for years, starting when I was a senator from New York. But that’s not the point here.

TRUMP: Why didn’t you do it? Why didn’t you do it?


CLINTON: Because I was a senator with a Republican president.

TRUMP: Oh, really?

CLINTON: I will be the president and we will get it done. That’s exactly right.

TRUMP: You could have done it, if you were an effective — if you were an effective senator, you could have done it. If you were an effective senator, you could have done it. But you were not an effective senator.


CLINTON: You know, under our Constitution, presidents have something called veto power. Look, he has now said repeatedly, “30 years this and 30 years that.” So let me talk about my 30 years in public service. I’m very glad to do so.

It gives us a stark contrast between the two of them, and their comparatively normative political approach and Jacksonian strongman theory of politics respectively. But it also serves as a reminder that try as they might neither candidate would really be capable of governing alone. They’re not running for a dictatorial position, just a key linchpin in a bigger political system. So, who else should we watch in the coming weeks?


The Democrats face a steeper climb than the Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, given that they have to make up for lost seats from the 2014 midterm election and consolidate large enough supermajorities to overcome procedural blocks – namely the Senate’s filibuster.

Luckily for them, however, in several Republican-held seats they now can run something of a double-hitter against those GOP incumbents. Several Republican-run state governments have been embroiled in serious scandals or become nationally embarrassing over the course of the same election year as the national nomination of Donald Trump for president. Republican-leaning voters are in many corners of the country divided as to which candidates to support. What’s more, the competition between national figures within the Party has left many of them with contradictory queues in terms of how to vote.

These dynamics play out in similar ways in various parts of the country. In Kansas, there’s Governor Brownback’s Republican state administration which has bankrupted basic state services. In Michigan, it’s that Governor Rick Snyder (R) is implicated in mass water contamination. Likewise, in Maine Republican governor Paul LePage seemingly says a new outrageous thing each day.

In four, key, Republican-held congressional districts in those states, the GOP has a slight advantage given that most voters are White and suburban-dwelling, but the compounded scandals have chipped away at their lead. The effect has made KS-02, MI-06, MI-07, and ME-02 all unexpectedly more competitive than originally perceived because of how toxic the Republican Party has become in those places.


I wrote quite a bit about this dynamic often overlooked in the national press in the last presidential cycle, in 2012. As national politics are coalesced around a pluralistic and urban Democratic Party and a nationalistic and rural Republican Party, the electoral map in California has fallen into a predictable pattern of by and large a blue coast and a red interior. With more congressional districts than any other state, it’s both a block of vital votes in the House that can’t be ignored and something of a microcosm of national political trajectories. When a party does well nationally that blue-red divide tends to shift within California locally.

In 2012, that meant a consolidation of the coast as almost entirely Democrat-held and an expansion into more contested seats right along the dividing line. Two of the districts I covered specifically in that year seem relevant again, with Democrat Ami Bera in CA-07 yet again desperately trying to maintain a blue outpost deep within redder territory and Republican Jeff Denham in CA-10 likewise trying to stave off the steady march of Democrats from the sea to the Sierras.

Further south, however, three other races seem to present interesting tests of this red-blue competition as well. In CA-24, along the southern central coast, Democrat Lois Capps is stepping down, leaving an open seat in one of the more White, rural, and centrist portions of the coast. That poses a question of just how durable Democratic holds on the coast necessarily are.

Meanwhile, in CA-25, Republican Stephen Knight is the last congressional GOP office-holder in any part of Los Angeles county. In a district that is now majority minority, his reelection bid cuts to the core problems faced by elected Republicans – both in California and nationally. Finally, in CA-49, Republican Darryl Issa is running to keep one of the few remaining coastal outposts of the California Republican Party. Can he keep it? Or has an endorsement of Donald Trump been too much even for him?


Even with those and other districts in which scandals and demographic transitions give Democrats at least a fighting chance, more seats must flip to change party dominance in Congress. If this proves to be a wave year, and it may very well be, there’s scattered rural districts around the country which seem poised to jump – but it’s not clear in what direction. Angry at an increasingly wide cultural gap and less enthused given the particularly anemic economic recovery, voters in these places seem ready to sabotage the Republican Party by going for Trump, but also ripe for a Sanders-style democratic socialism.

In PA-16 and VA-05, Republican lawmakers may have set themselves up for failure under these types of electoral conditions. Both are suburban-rural and White majority districts, designed to help boost the number of Republican-held districts in their states overall. That type of electoral math has great dividends when the electorate remains predictable, but populist sentiment has prompted voters to behave in ways that many party elites found baffling. While both districts are Republican-leaning, their current GOP representatives are not seeking reelection, adding yet another dose of unpredictability.

Many of those same underlying conditions rear their head in NH-01, but there’s an additional surreal flavor. Arguably one of the most unstable districts in the country, it’s alternated between Democrat Carol Shea-Porter and Republican Frank Guinta as representatives since 2006. In the past few election cycles, neither has held it for more than one of the congressional terms (which only last two years). They’re the two major party candidates this year once again. While the district leans right, and with a more rural and White composition it feels quite Republican, Shea-Porter has historically won it each recent year there’s been a presidential race. This election will test that pattern.

Among these types of districts, NY-19 stands out as defined less by dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and attraction to a type of political agitation more at home among the Democrats. It noticeably has more consistently leaned to the left of these other districts in both national and local races. This year, Zephyr Teachout who previously ran to the left of Andrew Cuomo for New York Governor, will try to capture the Hudson Valley area seat by running a Sanders-type Democratic campaign emphasizing economic equality and opportunity. Combined with yet another Republican incumbent not up for election, this is yet another test about how the Democratic Party might be able to reclaim support ceded for many decades to cross-over vote to the Republicans.


You’ll note, that all of these places to look at are congressional districts, not Senate seats, like what Clinton held. That’s because the Senate seems to be approaching heat death. For months now, the most likely outcome of the Senate races has appeared to be a deadlocked 50-50 division, with the Vice President casting the tie-breaking vote. So much for looking back to the house for an answer to where policy comes from. Maybe it’s buried in a classically overlooked spot on the Presidential ticket.

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A kingly presidency casts a long shadow in Republican thought

In the cavalcade of strange that was last night’s townhall debate, one particular exchange stood out for many:

DONALD TRUMP: So we’re going to get a special prosecutor, and we’re going to look into it, because you know what? People have been — their lives have been destroyed for doing one-fifth of what you’ve done. And it’s a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

MARTHA RADDATZ: Secretary Clinton, I want to follow up on that. I’m going to let you talk about e-mails.

HILLARY CLINTON: Everything he just said is absolutely false, but I’m not surprised.

TRUMP: Oh, really?


CLINTON: Last time at the first debate, we had millions of people fact checking, so I expect we’ll have millions more fact checking, because, you know, it is — it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.

TRUMP: Because you’d be in jail.

We’ve heard this same pivot from questions of legality to morality before, from someone very different: Mitt Romney.

If for no other reason than his clear opposition from early in the primary, Romney is quite clearly not interested in supporting Trump. Even still, as much as he might disagree with Trump, this moment last night especially echoes Romney’s own statements at funnily enough the corresponding debate in 2012. This pattern, from such different candidates, speaks to an emerging political tendency in the Republican Party.

Many seem to have trouble recalling this, but many of Trump’s lines can be seen as having passed through Mitt Romney’s hands if not originating with him. All of the ingredients for a Trump-style candidacy were there in 2012, even if missing the curiously distinctive feeling of Trump himself. Quickly, who said which of the following?

1: “It was a terrorist attack, and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people. Whether there was some misleading or instead whether we just didn’t know what happened, I think you have to ask yourself”

2: “These are radical Islamic terrorists. […] He won’t use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism.'”

3: “The president’s policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and pursue a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy is unraveling before our very eyes.”

(Answers: Romney in 2012, Trump yesterday, and Romney in 2012, respectively.)

One particular point stood out then in 2012 and stands out now, and perhaps demonstrates the unique effects of Trump on this shared vocabulary. That is, the notion of the president as someone unconcerned and beyond daily legal matters. Just like the magic power of some version of the phrase “islamist terrorism,” both Romney and Trump share an idea of an almost monarchic presidency.

It’s easy to overlook the basis of agreement here. As I wrote about at the time, Romney’s borderline kingly presidency was shaped by inaction, with him promising to set a moral standard of sometimes hiring women. His idea of the presidency was not one of creating legal realities to prevent discrimination (in this example), but actively avoiding that for simply setting an example.

Trump’s promise to investigate and jail Hillary Clinton if elected is not only more proactive than that, but bombastic in tone. A violation of basic principles of democratic governance, it’s much harder to overlook. Still, let’s not erase the roots of this kind of Trump-style despotic presidential policy.

At its core, his explanation for why he would tap a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton is tonally quite similar to Romney’s justification for having “binders full of [the résumés of] women”: it’s an act of moral conviction, not legal action. He presses the point on the basis of Clinton seeming mendacious, not there being the possibility of broken laws (in part because there isn’t much of that left after so much investigation).

Questions of legal standards take a back seat to morality – whether the particular concern is fairness in the workplace or conduct of a public servant outside of the realm of legality. The law is secondary or even irrelevant… in a position of literal executor of laws.

5906767325_f454beca73_o(Credit to Quinn Dombrowski, from here.)

Legality has long been understand in US political thought as not the be-all, end-all. From our founding, arguably, critiques of the legal system simply being how it is have been part of what has shaped us as a country. But from a revolution which began as a protest against voting and taxation procedures and policies of quartering and invasive searches, to a Civil Rights Movement about many of those same concerns, the classic concern about the limits of legality has been about correcting it with arguments from morality and decency, not replacing it with hazily subjective ethical standards.

The modern Republican Party in part seems preparing to break with that long tradition by not just approaching laws from a place of skepticism, but utter doubt of their existence. While Trump may have exacerbated those trends, this isn’t a new phenomenon and arguably a tendency that’s fueled his rise more than been a product of it.

Last night’s townhall debate has been transcribed here. For a video and transcription of 2012’s corresponding debate, look here.

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The rock, the hard place, and the eternally sought-after undecideds

The elections podcast by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight team contained this rather interesting moment near its end on Monday:

NATE SILVER: Neither of these candidates has really won that many people over. Clinton is still at only about 42 percent in the [national] polls, down from about 44 or 45 percent right after the convention. 42 percent is not that good. It’s better than being at 39 percent, which is what Trump is at, but some of the marginal Clinton voters now have gone to [Libertarian candidate Gary] Johnson and [Green candidate Jill] Stein. How could Clinton potential lose this election if her favorables are slightly less bad than Trump’s?  If more of her voters go to Johnson and Stein. I think she needs a plan for dealing with that. If you assume that third party vote will fade… well, maybe… […]  but you certainly can’t count on that. I’ve never seen an election before where the number of decideds like goes up as the election goes on. [Laughter]

In this of all election cycles, maybe we should consider this before laughing.

This is an election cycle where, unlike in the last one, significant swings have proven possible and suggest exactly those unthinkable reversals. A lot of the restrictions I talked about in the last presidential cycle seem to continue to ensnare presidential contenders – most notably that Trump is trying what Romney wouldn’t, to say he’s at once in favor of two diametrically opposed immigration policies. But woven in between first Obama’s and now Clinton’s inability to effectively harness the news cycles and first Romney’s and now Trump’s need to hold two positions at once, there’s an almost supernatural destabilizing element: the decided voter who un-decides.

To fully credit them, there’s most likely no singular bloc of voters who fit that description. Even from the same part of the political spectrum, the motivation for a particular de-decider will vary, and as a result their undeciding can arrive at any number of times. While this seemingly new phenomenon is in some ways a reflection of this race – between two major candidates with net negative popularity, and maybe popular to get buyer’s remorse from – it’s also a manifestation of alienation from the two parties themselves.

That dislike for the two major parties doesn’t precisely fall evenly, and so neither do the un-decided. Amid recent allegations of corruption and other non-ideological criticisms, Hillary Clinton is perhaps more vulnerable to losing support for appearing to embody some of the greatest flaws in the system more generally. For Trump, similar allegations might limit or even undo his support, but the perception of him as an electoral outsider might also soften the blow.

Perhaps more coherently than any other recent presidential election, this one has been predicated on ideas of candidates’ relative flaws. With both major candidates facing limited enthusiasm and low popularity, running against their opponent has played a much bigger and more universal role this year than previously.

One of the problems that strategy poses, however, is that some of your support won’t kick in until it looks like you might lose. On the level of this that we have reached this year, what’s more, some of your supporters won’t necessarily stick around once it looks like you will safely carry the election. Conscientious voting has been raised as an issue in both primaries and into the general election, priming voters to ask themselves that if they don’t absolutely need to make a lesser-of-two-evils choice, then why bother.

2016-09-07_0936(The Princeton Election Consortium’s national meta-margin and FiveThirtyEight’s national polling averages, both showing the “sine wave” fluctuations Nate Silver mentioned earlier in the same podcast.)

For Clinton, someone absorbing support from her left and her right on the basis of her not being Trump, this creates boom-bust cycles of her support, or as Nate Silver put it – sine waves across the electoral polling. Like last year, the two major parties have pretty much played each other into a Democratic-leaning stalemate on the national level.

What seems to be new this year is that the sea is choppy, not that we’re in a different boat. The real proof of this dynamic, of course, will be born out in whether Clinton recovers some of these supporters now that the race is tightening again. Until then, as Silver said, we haven’t yet seen a race where the number of undecided voters goes up… but there’s always a first time.

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LePage, race, and what this is all about

Trigger warning: racism, Nazism

If you haven’t watched this detailed recap of the on-going contentions against Governor Paul LePage (R-Maine), please do. While laying out all of these racist statements is in and of itself useful, what stood out to me most in the whole set is what Rachel Maddow’s guest Bill Nemitz said-

“What nobody seems to be able to get their head around is this fixation on race. I mean, if, yes, Maine like many other states has a real problem with this inflow of drugs into our state, and there’s unanimity on that, that we need to do something about it. What people can’t figure out is why whenever he raises this problem, he has to overlay this issue of race on to it, rather than just address the fact that we have to stop the drugs.”

In a nutshell, what has left many confused is the way that a rational, reasonable discussion about social problems caused by drug trafficking and abuse has been transformed by LePage into rants about race.

The reality of drugs in Maine is a problem for security and public health, independent of the race of the sellers, consumers, and others affected by the availability of drugs. But that understanding is of that in and of itself as an issue. The presumption here is that in LePage’s mind this issue is in and of itself relevant, rather than a potential opportunity to raise his reading of a manifestation of a broader political reality – one that is about race.

That’s a concept that might, to those not used to reading certain historical pieces, seem strange, but if you have read up on some branches of anti-fascist criticism, you may have run across a similarly confused assessment. Here’s Ernesto Laclau on page 121 of Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (published in 1977):

[T]he radicalized German petty-bourgeoisie which was experiencing in a confused way the post-war crisis, the iniquity of the Versailles Treaty, inflation, foreign occupation, etc., was interpellated by nazism as a race. All the anti-plutocratic, nationalist, democratic aspects, that is to say all those elements which constituted the identity of the dominated classes as ‘people’, and which thus expressed their contradiction with the power bloc, were present in Nazi discourse but the interpellated subject was a racial one. Through this identification of popular traditions with racism, a dual aim was achieved: all the jacobin radicalism proper to a radical confrontation with the system was retained whilst its channeling in a socialist direction is obstructed.

Like much of Laclau’s work, it can be difficult to decipher this tidbit, but in essence the exact same transformation as that of today’s Governor LePage played out under the Weimar Republic. A set of messy yet interrelated issues – the Versailles Treaty, inflation of the Reichsmark, French and Belgian occupations of the Rhineland – were not really addressed by the Nazis so much as subsumed into their politics within which race was an inescapable foundation. What could have been subjects in and of themselves became vehicles for discussing the primary issue for Nazis under their worldview: the topic of race.

Ausstellung "Der ewige Jude"(A 1937 Nazi poster describing Jewish people as having “typical external features”.)

What does it say that a remarkably similar dynamic to one of the Nazis’ has cropped up in, of all places, Maine? It’s easy to very this as another piece of evidence to sew into the broader debate about whether the Republican Party under Donald Trump is veering into fascism. That’s too easy though. This is a public official elected governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014. His racist comments on this particular issue began before the Iowa Caucuses and before eleven of the seventeen major candidates in the Republican primary had dropped out.

Perhaps this says less about LePage or Trump as individuals than it does about the Republican Party nationally.

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There shall be no next war

TW: nuclear war, colonialism

“[T]here shall be no next war” is what President Truman remarked 71 years ago to the day. He announced that publicly after having approved a second nuclear strike against Japan. He was motivated by leaked Japanese intelligence suggesting they were unlikely to agree to unconditional surrender in the nightmarish aftermath of Hiroshima on August 6th.

History makes a mockery of that sentiment, of course, as Truman used that speech to lay the groundwork for a US military presence around the world that has remained to this day. That is a presence that exacerbated Cold War tensions and ignited several proxy conflicts. It is a presence that today has morphed into the bulwark against terrorism and other inheritors of the not-so-long-lived forever war against communism. They are among the bases from which drones today take off and at which they land, having done their deadly work in unmanned skies.

In many ways, the US has seen nothing but war after Truman’s pronouncement.

800px-Nagasaki_1945_-_Before_and_after_(adjusted)(Nagasaki, Japan – before and after nuclear bombing.)

To attribute this militarization of the US to that single decision by Truman – to use nuclear weapons to force a total, complete, and unconditional surrender by Japan – is to inflate it unrealistically. But, still, it seems a notable stop along our way into the modern situation. This was the beginning of the presidency as a position that has a finger eternally perched on top of a button labeled “end the world.”

It was already pushed once with no adequate justification – 71 years ago today. Hiroshima, of course, only has paper thin excuses, of ignorance, of the heat of battle, of the seeping paranoia of a rising Soviet Union. But what happened 71 years ago today, in Nagasaki, followed the tearing down of all of those weak claims. The president by that time had the information key to understanding the pointless inhumanity of nuclear strikes, yet strike he did.

The risk the world faces in November is not our arsenal falling into unwise hands, but it returning to them. We have been here before, and tens of thousands of civilians died in one of the worst ways imaginable.

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Into the general

The post-convention speculation has begun, but perhaps we should heed Nate Silver’s advice to wait a little longer, a smidgen more past the 100-day mark until the general presidential election. To tide us over, let’s talk about the map that Clinton and Trump find themselves confronted with. Here’s one I drew up based off of how different voting blocs in the electoral college have cast their votes since 1992.


To put it simply, there’s two complimentary groups of voting blocs, who can on occasion get caught up in the excitement for a candidate that wins the country as a whole, but by and large, vote consistently for a particular political party’s candidates. After drawing up categories of voting blocs based on that, there emerges a third group – those who never demonstrated a clear preference for one major party or another, and overwhelmingly voted with the electoral college’s result as a whole.

Briefly, let me explain the logic behind using this time period. The fall of the Soviet bloc has receded in most people’s memory, but it actually doesn’t seem that far of a stretch to view it as a slate-cleansing point.

As an event, it cuts to a core change within the Democratic Party – the movement from progressive capitalism in the styles of Roosevelt and Johnson towards the more centrist economics of Clinton and Obama. Unions disintegrated, protectionism faded, and the Democrats redirected their attention away from structuring the economy in general and towards resolving dysfunctional outcomes case by case. The demonstration of the Soviet model’s failure on the global stage, no doubt, played a role in the transition. Liberation was curtailed to inclusion, and environmentalism mutated into today’s green capitalism.

While the Democrats’ sought a new future to imagine, the Republican Party changed the tone in which they viewed the past. By the 1980s, it had been captured by the conservative movement which very openly expressed interest in returning most social practices to a part true and part mythologized past. That remains one of the motivating concerns of most people in the conservative movement – a return to the social arrangements before Roe v Wade, before the Civil Rights Act, before Lawrence v Texas.

Under Reagan that was an optimistic expectation, a simple step back before continuing to evolve as a nation along preferred conservative lines. Under George Bush that idea had begun to sour. Once the fall of the Soviet Union occurred, large sections of the Republican base were on the verge of open revolt – a clean return to the Pax Americana they thought they remembered was increasingly out of reach. That bred a sense of desperation, and out of that came most of the support for Ross Perot, the perceived recapturing of the Republican Party with George Walker Bush, the Tea Party movement, and even now Donald Trump’s candidacy. As others have said, Republicans’ morning in America has become their midnight darkest – a paranoia that began in the early 1990s.

Even as both of these broad portions of political thought in the US rethought their positions, their voters became more consistent and more polarized. So, in that way, the 1992 presidential election was the first of a series of nationwide demonstrations of a new voting pattern. Born out of the earlier party realignment driven by Johnson’s Civil Rights Act and Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the past six elections have been the crystallization of those dynamics.


The math of this model can help paint a particular picture of what strategies Clinton and Trump can draw on. Forget the parties, their political histories, their precisely constituencies – it’s just red, blue, and everyone else.

Thinking of it in those terms, there’s three groups of electoral voting blocs with their own strengths and weaknesses:

  • Team Blue: This group tops out at 246 electoral votes, just a mere 24 votes short of a win. It’s not just the biggest of the groups, but it’s also the one with best retention. The other team has only poached one of its voting blocs one time – which is only worth 4 votes. Although durable and large, it still falls short of a win on its own and suffers from not having many inroads to winning the support of other electoral blocs, making it possible for it to strike out at convincing anyone else (think 2004).
  • Team Red: Topping off at 219 electoral votes, this set of electoral voting blocs is not as close to a win as the leading team, but it’s a much closer second than the distant third. It holds a track record of getting three times as many electoral votes against popular Team Blue candidates than vice versa. What it has in better appeal, however, it lacks in stability, with a fully majority of its components’ votes having gone Blue at one time or another (occasionally multiple times).
  • Team Consensus: A mere 73 votes, this is the smallest group. In part because it plays kingmaker between the two teams, its preferences as a whole are the best predictor of which candidate in a given year will win. Those preferences aren’t to be treated as loosely shared either – in half of this time period’s elections they’ve voted unanimously for the electoral college’s winner. The most likely outcome after that has only seen one defector among them. As the smallest of these blocs within the electoral college however, it can’t fully capture either party’s interest because it’s mathematically impossible to win with it alone.

A sort of a political rock-paper-scissors has emerged here. Blue is big and dependable but has to convince others to come along, Red is almost as big and great a pulling in outside support but perpetually at risk of its coalition disintegrating, and there’s a powerful bloc outside of the two which adeptly supplies the votes to put either over the top but can only choose between these two larger factions’ preferences.

electoral college weighted proportionality

What does this mean for this year’s nominees? More than anything else, it shows how Clinton has followed conventional thought on these political realities and Trump has eschewed that sort of traditional approach.

For Team Blue’s leader (that’s Clinton), the biggest concern within this electoral model is to invite in of Team Consensus and encourage defections from Team Red as much as possible. That’s been followed through on – as she’s selected her running mate from a recurrently defecting Red bloc (Virginia), who is fluent in the minority language common to one of the largest ethnic groups in several Team Consensus blocs (New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Florida all are among the most Latin@ states in the country).

Meanwhile, Team Red’s leader faces a two-front conflict: to maintain a lead in the many states that threaten to break from the pack as well as to bring in support from outside of that group. During the primary contests earlier this year, I noted that Trump appealed more strongly to voters inclined towards the messages of Team Red but living in areas that skew Blue, particularly compared to his rivals. Since then, many have noted that Trump biggest gains have largely come in the form of unexpectedly effective performances in swing states amid news about unusually anemic support for him from Republican bastions.

Don’t worry, someone else did the math and this isn’t a party realignment (at least, not yet). We’ll have a more direct answer to that come November, but the difference is speaks to is more that between Clinton’s and Trump’s strategies. The former is playing the game the way you’re expected to, in spite of the difficulties is poses. The latter, however, seems frustrated by the differences he must balance, so he’s trying to upend the table they’re competing on.

With him now breaking an unspoken rule of every would-be president – don’t criticize the immediate family of a fallen service member – he truly is betting on the possibility that this contest can play out differently than anyone expects. No matter what, this speaks to the kind of temperament he has as a person, but he took seriously the possibility that he could win states no Republican has in my lifetime (namely Pennsylvania), something Clinton never appeared to considered even with unusual polling statistics coming out of Utah and Mississippi. He’s the kind of person who’s quick to set his heart on something, and ignore any signals about what is necessary to give up to reach it.

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Brexit: the Welsh puzzle

The results are in, the markets have panicked, Prime Ministers have stepped down, and no one seems brave enough to press “the big red button” of officially informing the EU that the UK intends to leave. In short, the public referendum to see if the UK would prefer to leave or remain in the EU has been a bit of a mess.

Funnily enough, with support for leave tanking in the wake of several walked back promises on public funding and bans on further immigration, it appears that the vote on the UK’s future in the EU will actually have the greatest impact on the different parts of the UK’s relationships with each other. What’s leaped out at many is the divide between the vastly greater voter pool that is England (which voted in almost all its subdivisions to leave) and the rather different returns among the smaller populations in Northern Ireland and Scotland (both of which decisively voted to remain).

Out of that has come talk of a border referendum in Ireland and renewed interest in Scottish independence. Departition and separation serve on the one hand as vehicles to avoid leaving the EU or speed the process of reentry, but also demonstrate a vulnerability of the UK. On the one hand, it now functions as a democracy, but on the other not only must it wrestle with a past of global colonial violence but modern borders drawn by those processes applied to what once were neighboring nations. One’s former colonial subjects seldom vote to withdraw from the world hand-in-hand with their on-going occupiers.

With a slim majority also voting to leave within Wales, it’s easy to instead summarize the regional differences in the vote as being between north and south rather than colonized and colonizer. That misses some of the complexities of the Welsh vote, which are not only key to understanding what happened there but help contextualize the successes of remain and meaningfulness of the EU to Northern Ireland and Scotland.


One of the most decisive discrepancies between how those in England and those in Wales decided to vote on this referendum was in terms of immigration. Especially at the end of the campaign, that issue became squarely central, with EU membership being conflated with a comparatively open borders, less restricted immigration, and more generally the existence of immigrants.

In England, the implications were loud and clear to the foreign-born populations largely concentrated in London, the Southeast of England, and to a lesser extent the Southwest. In part because of immigrant voters, those would be respectively the only English subdivisions that voted in favor of remaining, in favor of leaving by less than the narrow victory in Wales, and the narrowest victory in England still larger than that in Wales. Among other factors, immigrants concerned about the rhetoric and politics of the leave campaign were a key part of the remain vote in England.

The precise opposite demographic tendency shows up in Wales, with the subdivision with the most immigrants – Powys – being the one with the largest leave-lopsided return. The trick to that is that immigrants to England tend to be also immigrants to the UK. Generally speaking, they are people of color from former UK colonies or immigrants from fellow EU countries particularly Poland and other eastern European countries. Those are the populations that have in the wake of the election faced harassment and even violence.

In stark contrast, the majority of immigrants to Wales are immigrants from wthin the UK, and overwhelmingly, they’re English. This is particularly true in, you guessed it, Powys. In stark contrast to the key importance of voters of color in London and elsewhere in England, some of the least immigrated-to parts of Wales were where remain locally won. Bro Morgannwg, Caerdydd (also known as Cardiff), and Sir Fynwy – all along Wales’ comparatively less immigrated-to southern coast – were among the five local areas where remain won.


(The percent of local Welsh populations born in England from the 2011 census.)

While immigration is fairly common even along the western coast of Wales, that is also in some ways the nationalist heart of the country – where the highest percentage of the local Welsh population has retained the use of Cymraeg, the Welsh language. That’s where the other two remain-leaning local subdivisions can be found: Ceredigion and Gwynedd.


(The cymrophone percentage of the Welsh population, according to the 2011 census.)

Speaking very generally, the most English parts of England tended to vote leave, while the most Welsh parts of Wales tended to vote remain. What was supposedly a referendum on the fate of the whole of the UK was heard very differently not just between locals and immigrants, but different groups of locals.

English colonial legacies

Much has been made about every local major subdivision of Scotland voting in this referendum to remain in the EU. While many have been quick to talk about a divergence between Northern Ireland and Scotland on the one hand and England on the other, it’s important to note that there is not the same level of uniformity in Northern Ireland’s vote.

To those familiar with the contested fate of that corner of the UK, the Brexit vote is just another confirmation of a familiar voter pattern. Stretching from Antrim then south around Belfast while dipping into that city’s eastern neighborhoods, leave won. Everywhere else in Northern Ireland, remain did.

This is a geographic manifestation of the most basic of divisions of that area, baked into the region’s uniquely power-sharing government since the Good Friday Agreement. Those now somewhat ironically called “Unionists” – largely descended from settlers affiliated with the UK’s colonial rule of the whole of Ireland – voted to leave. Those termed “Nationalists” – who typically have precolonial, Irish ethnic ties to the area – voted to remain.


While much of the analysis of this has rightly noted that there were some concrete EU policies driving those different voting patterns – from an Irish desire for harassment-free travel across the border to some unionists’ desire for an isolationist UK that may look the other way if The Troubles return – few have talked about this as a parallel to what can be seen to some extent in Wales.

English immigration is a phenomenon seen in Scotland as well, but in Wales and Northern Ireland it appears to be one more fiercely politically interested in maintaining the image of a powerful UK. It might not always find logical outlets, as the momentarily free falling pound showed, but there is a political constituency in both Northern Ireland and Wales who just seemingly demonstrated they don’t think of themselves as either of those things except in residency.

$350 to the NHS

For all their similarities, however, the voting dynamics in Northern Ireland and Wales don’t perfectly align. While high concentrations of English immigrants were what helped make some of the highest leave returns within Wales, some of the least immigrated-to portions of the country also saw leave majorities. North of Caerdydd, in the heart of Welsh coal country, immigrants from either elsewhere in the UK or the world are rarer than anywhere else in Wales. Those places form the backbone of the Welsh labor movement, which has fallen by the wayside of an inability to deliver equality and dignity amid deindustrialization. They voted last week to leave, in some places by margins not seen elsewhere in Wales.

(W. Eugene Smith’s “Three Generations of Welsh Miners” taken in 1950 in South Wales, from here.)

This is the portion of Wales most directly invested in the social services of the UK. It’s their Labour votes which propelled the so far only Welsh prime minister, David Lloyd George, into office, in which he laid the groundwork for what would become the National Health Service (NHS).

Although the agitators who forced that and similar provisions through were Welsh, the past century since that has seen the best access to those services quite clearly be designed around locations in England, not Wales. Welsh coal country may not have the worst access to NHS facilities when compared to, say, central Wales, but it remains a pressing issue that they may be redirected to an NHS location in Caerdydd, if not England itself due in part to the lack of resources in Wales.

While the leave campaign led with a dogwhistle about the NHS with mixed results in many polls, one of the places that seemingly played best was among the Welsh especially in coal country. The EU has meant free travel for Irish, and a market for recently discovered mineral deposits for Scots, but it’s been seen as part of a broader disorientating restructuring of the Welsh economy.If anywhere saw a leftist euroskepticism, it was Wales.

The largest bloc of leave voters feeling bitter about suddenly reversed promises to increase NHS funding is undoubtedly the Welsh, and now EU development grants may suddenly dry up as well. Hitched, perhaps soon without Scottish or Irish partners, to an English-led “union,” for many in Wales the lofty question of national independence and the pressing reality of poverty won’t stay two separate discussions with two separate half-successful parties to vote for (Plaid Cymru and Labour respectively).

In a strange way, these Welsh voters helped sabotage the referendum and threatened their anemic local economies, yet may have just forced their nation as a whole to take a long hard look at itself. It’s difficult to picture a Welsh economy without the benefits of the EU, but perhaps a euroskeptical outlook is what might drive Wales to or even passed independence not just from Brussels but also from London.

While Ireland has seen conflict and Scotland has actually staged votes on leaving the UK, Wales has dallied in more gray zones of devolution and greater local autonomy. Tethered to a tanking UK economy, suddenly desperate for a way to outvote English people caught in a frenzy of xenophobia and imperialism reminiscence (that may very well turn on Welsh), and lied to about increased funding for social services – what part of all that tells Welsh people not to start thinking more drastically?

Last week’s vote revealed the several deep tensions within the UK. What’s easy to recognize is how there is already an independent Ireland (and a campaign for its expansion) and a Scottish Nationalist Party. This was blatantly a demonstration of how English people’s politics and theirs diverge. It’s harder to sort through, because it’s more effectively masked, but there’s a lingering echo of the same sentiment in Wales. Whether it can emerge into that level of separatism is a question only time will tell.


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The revolutionary spectacle: Sanders’ answer to Trump?

As the primaries and caucuses have unfolded I’ve spent a lot of time revisiting this piece I wrote about Trump nearly a year ago. In a nutshell, I said his campaign wasn’t viable. It would alienate too many people for him to win the general election, if not the primary itself. While he has managed to become the presumptive Republican nominee, it was only after months of him achieving mere pluralities in state after state. He was the frontrunner from early on, but a limited one who took many months to lock up the nomination. With the steady loss of RNC staffers just in anticipation of having to work with him, a similar uphill slog looks likely to be his best case scenario in the general election. There’s a certain point where you can’t be overtly hostile to everyone outside your narrow part of the electorate and expect to win nationwide elections.

What’s hopefully more interesting, in light of the protracted Sanders-Clinton contest, is turning that question of what an ultimately unsuccessful campaign was actually about onto another target. In Trump’s case, I thought and to a certain extent still think, it’s about reaffirming certain voters’ sense of security. Even in a general election defeat, Trump will have demonstrated to those who feel “silenced” by “political correctness” that many people share at least parts of their White supremacist worldviews. The “silent majority” doesn’t even need voter fraud conspiracy theories at the end of the day – many of its members will probably settle for just not being alone, for being heard and recognized and agreed with by someone.

With Sanders’ campaign looking increasingly similarly non-viable, it seems worth asking what analogous benefit supporters are getting out of it. On the surface, it might seem obvious – Sanders has called repeatedly for a political revolution, and his supporters are hopeful that he might oversee some sort of radical reinvention of this society. But his campaign consistently stepped back from exactly those types of demands at almost every turn. Sanders himself didn’t just dismiss reparations as impractical or difficult, he outright categorized them as outside of his concerns about economic injustice. While he goes further than most candidates in terms of suggesting greater political autonomy for indigenous peoples, his campaign’s messaging confirms that that would remain limited to reservations and similar spaces determined by the settler colonial state.

Actual anti-colonial revolutionaries have rejected this sort of approach pretty explicitly in the very midst of his campaign. Indigenist theorist

[The Americas are] a prison house of nations, and that as such it is without a single, unified class structure. There is no ineluctably singular ‘proletarian’ class here.


While there have been high tides of radical settler working-class struggle, perhaps most vibrantly seen in the early work of the Industrial Workers of the World, even those movement failed to truly break with general trend of settler labour movements to ignore, submerge and derail anti-colonial movements arising from within the popular ranks of the domestic colonies. Regardless, even that high tide ebbed nearly a century ago. Since then the settler working-class has primarily functioned outright as a bulwark of colonial and fascist oppression domestically and imperialist aggression overseas (it had previously as well, but it was at least tempered at times by nominal anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist organizing by some strata of the settler working-class movement). Both the failure of even the most radical expressions of settler working-class labour organizing, as well as the broader historic trend of the settler working-class to act as a reactionary bulwark is a result of their class aspirations, which are inherently petty-bourgeois in nature, seeking a greater slice of the imperialist pie, or, in the era of neo-liberal globalization, to re-assert their position on the imperialist pedestal at the expense of hightened [sic] exploitation and oppression of colonized peoples.


The settler left cannot imagine a future where the garrison population does not continue to hold down the majority of the land of A’nó:wara Kawè:note [the Americas]. It doesn’t matter if settler society is re-organized on the basis of a confederation of autonomous anarchist municipalities and industrial collectives, or a federative socialist workers’ state of the marxist sort: so long as the land is not relinquished back to its original owners then all that will develop is settler colonialism with a marxist or anarchist face.

So it must be recognized that all of A’nó:wara Kawè:note [the Americas] is stolen land, and that over the course of revolutionary anti-colonial struggle all of it must be liberated, even if that goes against the material interests of the settler population. The rights and aspirations of the domestic colonies will be given primacy.

This means the return of all land seized via treaty, the overwhelming majority of which are demonstrably fraudulent, and were never signed in good mind on the part of settlers. Many settler anarchists and marxists propose a line of upholding treaty rights, and the full application of previous agreements such as the Two Row Wampum as the vehicle for what they call ‘decolonization.’ However, this politic immedietely [sic] falls into the trap of assuming that settlers have an inherent right to at least posses some of the land, which is in fact simply a more insiduous [sic] form of settler colonialism. Further, the treaties and other like documents are what removed thousands of Indigenous peoples from their lands, marching them hundreds or thousands of miles to foreign lands, and sequestered all of us, even those of us who remained on ancestral lands, onto reserves and reservations. So all of the treaties must be scrapped, and the land returned that they were used to seize. Self-determination that is restricted to the open air prisons in which one is held prisoner is not real national liberation.

Sanders holds that exact policy stance on what reservations could be, and the same dynamic in which he advocates renegotiating the same relationships between groups rather than redefining them crops up on other issues as well. His perspective of Israeli colonialism carefully frames the right of Jewish communities in the region to exist as predicating the Israeli state and implicitly denying at least the vast majority of Palestinians’ right of return to properties seized. Just as he envisions greater autonomy for indigenous groups in their few remaining spaces under US occupation, his language on the Israel-Palestinian conflict suggests he would promote Palestinian statehood and a “freezing” of Israeli expansion. No restitution for al Nakba, no return to land still under Israeli occupation, no accountability for the continuing systemic violence.

So, if Sanders’ campaign isn’t about overhauling the colonial relationships a whole host of people worldwide have with the United States government, what exactly is his “revolution”?  The concessions he’s gotten from the Democratic Party make it seem dourly procedural – that what he’s won is greater influence on the Party platform for significant but still unsuccessful presidential candidates, and what he’d like to also get are various reforms to primaries, namely more open ones. That all does not a revolution make.

Is that really why people have voted for him, donated to him, or volunteered for him though? Obviously there’s as many answers to those questions as there are people who have done any or each of those things for his campaign, but his “revolution” has been for many a potentially approachable “radicalism”. It’s one that speaks decisively about ending this era, particularly in terms of corruption and the excesses of the wealthy, but shrinks back when it comes to some of the key relationships underpinning the US locally and globally: settler colonialism, anti-Blackness, and capitalism.

There is a reason why his support has in general been so markedly White in comparison to the broader electorate – his “revolution” is one that can be palatable to the exact White “radicals”

I’ve written about this before, that in essence Sanders’ socialism doesn’t seek to address the unique forms of exploitation – capitalist and otherwise – experienced by various groups, especially people of color. The question here is what do those politics do for his predominantly White supporters. Their needs ultimately seem fairly similar to Trump’s supporters – to feel comforted. Treating the minor tweaks to existing colonial policies as a revolution places policies more confrontational to White supremacy as safely outside of consideration or acknowledgement.

It’s important for Sanders’ supporters to ask themselves if just like how Trump’s campaign delivers on some people wanting to feel like the omnipresent True American but also a righteously resistant minority, if the Sander’s campaign provides them a similar resolution to contradictory desires. Does it give them a way to feel like they’re dismantling a sprawling oppressive system while continuing to largely benefit from it? Does the right want to stop any tentative steps towards decolonizing this country while the left wants to wash its hands and call the process over and done?

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Sanders’ lost opportunity in appealing to California

As Hillary Clinton’s delegate count creeps towards a hard fought win, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has increasingly hung their hopes on one state alone – California. It might seem like a curious choice. Racially diverse and a part of the Democrats “blue wall,” California seems more comparable to Illinois, New York, or Pennsylvania – all states Hillary Clinton won. Sanders’ support has largely come from more predominantly White states, both within and outside of typical “blue states” with his wins admittedly coming from places as socially different as Oregon and West Virginia.

In spite of breaking the pattern so far, there’s a certain logic to it, particularly if Sanders returned to the rhetoric he used when first launching his campaign. California was initially touted by many as a success story for the implementation of Obamacare, but the longer term frustrations with putting it in place have created an untapped political market in the state that could be decisive if addressed well.

Like all states, California’s experience with Obama-era health care reform boils down to effectively three big picture changes:

  • Health care providers and health insurance companies face greater obligations to their patients and customers, but in exchange those customers are required to have coverage.
  • In order to help people who would have trouble paying for that coverage, medicaid and other assistance programs are given greater resources and more people are deemed to qualify for their assistance.
  • In order to make accessing and assessing insurance plans easier for everyone who can pay for that coverage, those plans will be helpfully listed on online-accessible exchanges.

That seems simple enough, right? At first, California avoided most of the pitfalls and hangups that other states experienced with putting together those initiatives – the state didn’t drag its feet to expand Medi-Cal or leave it to the federal government to build the online exchange’s website. The system worked. The public health care available was enough of a carrot and the threat of a tax penalty for lacking coverage was enough of a stick, and so in 2014’s open enrollment alone 1.9 million people applied for coverage through Medi-Cal and 1.3 million people purchased insurance through the exchanges.

Hopefully you noticed the discrepancy there. People too poor to afford insurance asked the state to provide it for them, and waited a decision. People with enough wealth to buy it bought and had it, end of story. This wasn’t an abstract demonstration of class inequality. This was about access to health insurance, at times to cover chronic or vital health problems. People died from lack of care while the wait list ballooned into the thousands.

Worse yet, the exchanges and Medi-Cal application system – although tied together into one system – would permit people to apply for Medi-Cal, and only that program, if they met the income standards to do so (see answer 9). Lower income people were literally obligated to wait, and denied access to expensive care in the name of protecting them from the cost. Meanwhile, the question of whether they would be liable under the tax penalties for lacking coverage while waiting for an answer from the state remained hanging in the air.

For all its horrifying flaws, with court rulings and administrative decisions this privatized public health insurance model has seen some improvement. Many Californians do, at the end of the day, want to retain the Covered California system, but there is a sizable chunk of the electorate that could stand to hear some talk about how to shake up the system for the better. Looking at the numbers of applicants and enrolled, as a raw number it’s probably a bigger one that is open to criticism of it, even while wanting the system to exist in some form. That’s a tricky place to articulate, where we need this public system but with different ideas underpinning it, but whoever describes it first could become surprisingly popular in California.

Bernie Sanders seemed prepared to be that candidate and speak in that way towards the beginning of the primary campaign. His messages on how he envisions health care policy still speak to many of the fundamental problems a “success story” like California has seen under Obamacare. Health care, under the PPACA, has not become an essential human right that the state must guarantee, but only a public good it will guarantee you if you demonstrate adequate need. The practical application of that – that by the thousands people have to wait for that assessment to occur – is a nightmarish reversal of any talk about inalienable rights, which the Sanders campaign continues to use. In short, the implication in some of Sanders’ statements, that he would reduce or even dismantle the application process for publically-provided health care, taps into the precise flaws and frustrations with the system as is in a place like California.

But, as of now, those have stayed just implications. To be frank, it’s unclear how much any president can or would be able to shape a redesigned ACA that would address that problem. Sanders might actually have a greater ability to champion that within the legislature, and to the extent that he has, could rely on replaying clips of that in a last minute ad blitz in California. He has less than a fortnight for that now. Can he pivot back to that discussion and articulate this nuanced point about a flaw within a means-tested public health care system? It might already be too little and too late.

The featured image for this article is of the California State Senate Chamber in Sacramento, California.

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Who hustles the hustler?

Trigger warning: racism, antisemitism, the Holocaust

After months of progressives gnashing their teeth that Donald Trump only adds a glean of faux-populism to policy ideas that are straight out of Atlas Shrugged, many are celebrating that his campaign may have finally let the cat out of the bag.

With the Republican nomination locked up, one of Trump’s most prominent and earliest supporters, representative Chris Collins (R-NY) has qualified the Border Wall as probably going to just be “virtual”, and the mass deportations Trump has discussed as being “rhetorical”. The deeply xenophobic mentalities that animate a plurality of average Republican primary voters – quite literally popular ideas – have a long history of being floated by major Republicans only to be yanked back. For all his promises to break that pattern, it looks like Trump might at least go through the motions of moderation.

So in light of this apparent change of tone, the right-wing coalition continues to threaten to dissolve and their most likely success case isn’t the worst case scenario for people of color and others targeted by their politics. Amidst the overly eager left-wing cracking out the champagne, let’s all consider how Trump’s primary supporters will take the news about being tricked once again.

While these quotes began to surface describing how minimal and non-corporeal the anti-immigrant regime will turn out, a piece of Trump’s base pasted the face of journalist Julia Ioffe on to the photograph of Auschwitz prisoner number 6874 and sent her directly images contrasting “bad Jews” – antisemitic caricatures of Jewish men – with “good Jews” – a lampshade with the same caricature’s face.

(From the collection of images she was sent or found, republished here.)

What prompted this avalanche of antisemitism towards Ioffe? She had questioned Melania Trump’s narrative about her family – and particularly her father – having traditional values. Ioffe had dug deeper, found a cavalierly abandoned half-brother Melania’s father had from an earlier relationship, and published in spite of a (noted in her article)  request for her to “respect [Melania’s father’s] privacy”. She interviewed the estranged relative himself for her piece. It seems he weighed in differently on  whether he should be included in this portrait of Melania’s Slovenian family.

The people still sending Ioffe Holocaust imagery edited to update it for more Trump-related uses think they have already won. They aren’t being guarded with their language on Twitter, because they don’t think there’s any reason to be – Trump has essentially won the nomination and they expect him to win the general election. The genie is out of the bottle, and it’s calling a Jewish journalist on blocked numbers and playing clips from Hitler’s speeches. The antisemitism isn’t new, but there’s a degree of brashness Trump has allowed it to adopt – because that type of attitude is what allowed him to upend all the expectations in the Republican primary.

In aggregate, this country’s social mores aren’t actually designed so that you can’t win prominent party nominations while advocating ethnic cleansing. That secret, historically the lynchpin of this extremist group not taking control of the Republican Party, is out. This isn’t going away. If anything, it’s going to get worse.

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Debunction Junction

Trigger warning: suicide, racism, classism

David Brooks’ New York Times column for today has already garnered a host of critical responses (most intriguing, in my opinion, this one about his casual equation of Sanders’ and Trump’s support). Let me just quickly hop into the fray to point out a particularly egregious falsehood he lazily propagated: that Trump’s support is being driven by class resentment.

As Brook’s put it:

This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century. This declinism intertwines with other horrible social statistics. The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high — a sure sign of rampant social isolation. A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows. Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it.

The pain he’s talking about there is admittedly as much social as it is economic, but in case the attribution of the Trump (and to a lesser extent Sanders’  too) insurgency to lower economic orders was missed, he spells it out later on – “I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own.”

To be frank, bullshit.

Brooks is a traveler in many circles, overwhelmingly ones that are urban and economically upwardly mobile, but several of them have been epicenters of Trumps ascendancy. Most of his time is in New York City, which Trump carried decisively and was the site of his original announcement that he would be campaigning for president. Brooks is also active at his alma mater the University of Chicago – another city with a Republican primary electorate that overwhelmingly opted support Trump.

Admittedly Brooks holds positions at Duke and a regular spot on the PBS News Hour taking him into the bubbles of moderate Republicans in Durham and Arlington respectively, but that those completely blinded him to the reality of Trump’s support in other places he works is utterly bizarre.

Brooks might claim that it’s a lower order element within New York and Chicago that he doesn’t associate with that support Trump, unlike his refined Republican colleagues. That is also, to be frank, bullshit. The Economist of all sources, a paper that you would expect to be invested in this type of narrative of deluded poor people supporting crypto-protectionism, has compiled data showing that Trump’s support is pretty evenly spread across income brackets but if anything skews slightly towards those with above median incomes.

trump income supporters

As I’ve noted here before, Trump’s support is complicated by region and class and a number of factors, but what appears the most consistent to me is that he appeals to people tired of being told to be nicer, to be better, to be respectful to people they don’t consider worthy of respect. That appeals to a lot of less well off people, sure, but most consistently to certain social not economic demographics. It resonates with White Southerns who have wanted vindication for decades. It resonates with conservative traditionalists outside of the South who live in more generally progressive areas and as a result encounter those messages fairly often.

Can Brooks not see that or does he just not want to?

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The news this week has seen a couple of stunning reversals, where tides turned or sometimes even more shockingly refused to.

google protest

A collaboration of almost every major name in left-leaning political action protested in front of Google’s headquarters yesterday morning. Credo, UltraViolet, Bend the Arc, ColorOfChange, and Daily Kos all sent representatives with a clear message – that Google, or more specifically Google-owned YouTube, shouldn’t provide streaming services for the Republican National Convention this year, at least as long as Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee.

In this day and age, conventions are less of a formal process and generally more of a three-day long political advertisement describing the Party’s and particularly the Party’s presidential nominee’s vision for the country. In that light, even with Trump facing more scrutiny than typical at the convention, it still would be more of a platform for him than vehicle for voters to become informed about his policies. In light of that, this protest followed in the footsteps of similar calls for him to not be a guest on various news programs and for several companies to divest from his businesses and television shows.

google protest 2.jpg

Unfortunately, not long after the protest Google announced that YouTube would indeed be the streaming service available for this year’s Republican convention.

Big Money oozes down ticket

While sponsors and service-providers might not have been so skittish over the prospect of a presumably Trump-nominating convention, many high profile donors have been as noted in an article on Wednesday on Reclaim the American Dream. Terrified of Trump’s potential to alienate voters from the party as a whole, a huge rush of donations has already gone in conservative circles to state-level races, and sometimes even more locally.

Author Hedrick Smith points out that the funds involved are already reaching extremely high numbers more typically associated with national campaigns:

Conservative donors have contributed nearly 70 percent of the $707 million in SuperPAC money raised to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the hot senate races in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, SuperPacs, Candidates and parties on both sides have raised war chest that already total from $23 million to $32 million in each state.

Many of these states will in all likelihood still see extensive advertising from presidential campaigns, but the level of wall-to-wall saturation associated with those types of candidates is already promising to become more common with senatorial races, and maybe even more local ones as well.

Distorting democracy

In this jaded age, it’s easy to look at that rush to support Tea Party freshmen senators with unprecedented donations and simply see it as a reflection of the problems in our post-Citizens United electoral system. Unfortunately, these sorts of structural flaws have long been with us and for many years now have been redirecting electoral outcomes away from their expected course, as detailed in a Demos report on Chicagoan politics released yesterday.

Some of the findings in the report catalog what’s long been said about local races with a lot of money put into them: that much of it comes from outside of the communities holding the elections, and that it biases candidates towards business and upper class interests. Interestingly, it also showed that among the large donations that are still made in-community, at least within Chicago they overwhelmingly come not only from White residents, but from White residents living in wildly disproportionately White parts of the city.

Against a telling gender gap as well, what this report showed is how systemically disruptive these large donations tend to be. It not only is an opportunity for outsiders to sway local decisions to their favor, but just another vehicle for uniquely powerful local voices to assert their narrow vision of how their city is and what their city could be. That’s how the city that rioted against Trump’s appearance can also have a leadership that pursues racially-charged policies that sound quite akin to his.

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This week’s tea leaves

From the globe’s climate to the particularities of abortion access in Missouri, this past week has seen a number of bold but understated announcements. Digging through the implications of what’s been revealed, here’s a few things to keep on your mind.

Global warming is accelerating

NASA released a report on temperature data they collected in March of this year, showing it to be the second most anomalously warm month in all of their modern climate observations. The infamous “hockey stick” is now observable in month-level or similarly more short term graphs, not just in centuries-long looks at global temperatures, implying that global climate change has reached a new velocity.

march 2016 anomaly nasa 1(March 2016 is circled in red, from here.)

One assessment of the data suggests that a strong El Niño, which is associated with higher temperatures in much of the northern hemisphere, might be part of what’s making rapid warming suddenly more noticeable. Mapping the temperature anomalies to different parts of the earth lends that theory some credence as the most unusually warm parts of the planet in March were almost all in northern temperate or polar areas.

march 2016 anomaly nasa 2(From here.)

GOP Senators see the writing on the wall

A number of Republican Senators have long been discussed as uniquely vulnerable in the upcoming elections this fall. Often brought into office in the atypically conservative-driven elections of 2010, they will likely face a different electorate this year, partially because of the presidential election.

A recent report from Politico, however, suggests that this wariness isn’t just being felt among newly-elected Senators. John McCain (R-AZ), who is more or less tied with his likely general election Democratic competitor, has stated he won’t be attending the Republican convention this summer, so as to focus on his own election. A similar announcement was made by Richard Burr (R-NC), who was reelected for the first time in 2010. Even Senators with longer histories in DC appear to want to play it safe this time around.

Stopping Planned Parenthood becomes leaking patient information

Months after the brouhaha stirred up by widely discredited allegations of criminal activity, Planned Parenthood operations in some states are still facing investigations. Although already cleared by the Missouri Attorney General’s office, one Missouri state senator is continuing to press the issue with a subpoena of large amounts of information on abortion from the organization. So far the state’s Planned Parenthood has stated they will comply but only if patient confidentiality is assured – which apparently has yet to be done.

A contention of wrongdoing has already mutated into a cavalier approach towards the safety and privacy of former patients. Imagine what it could become next.

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Simone Zimmerman – how the Sanders campaign clarified their message

Trigger warning: Israel/Palestine conflict, antisemitism, islamophobia, racism

The Sanders campaign caught a significant amount of flack this weekend for his trip to Rome to meet with Pope Francis. Just in terms of the optics – the deference it suggested to an institution wracked recently and historically by criticism, particularly over its role in socio-economic inequalities – the meeting clashed with Sanders’ primary political message of the need for a popular voice in more spheres of life. Or did it?

A second scandal of sorts for his campaign broke earlier last week, and called into question whether Sanders’ campaign is about social and economic justice anymore. In short, what transpired was that his campaign hired a young Jewish activist, Simone Zimmerman, only to “suspend” her mere hours later over comments unearthed from her personal Facebook dating back to the spring of 2015. Angered over Israeli military policies, she typed this out, addressing then and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole. He is the embodiment of the ugliest national hubris and the tone-deafness toward the international community. Fuck you, Bibi, for daring to insist that you legitimately represent even a fraction of the Jews in this world, for your consistent fear-mongering, for pushing Israel, in word and deed, farther and farther away from the international community, and most importantly, for trying to derail the potentially historic diplomatic deal with Iran and thus trying to distract the world from the fact that you sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people this summer, that a brutal military occupation of millions more continues under your watch, and that you are spending time and money on ridiculous campaign opportunities like this instead of actually working to address the real needs of your own people.

Netanyahu insulted our President but also much worse. He does not speak for me as a Jew, an American, and as a thinking person. #BibiDoesntSpeakForMe

She later modified it to cut out the swearing, saying instead “Shame on you”. The Sanders campaign is not just any campaign, and the decision to suspend Zimmerman over this discovered comment uniquely calls into question their political vision and policy prescriptions. In this race, his rhetoric has often been accused of being one note, with his emphasis on not only economic inequality but the need to reform the political process to limit campaign contributions. That is an important political question, and Sanders himself has spoken about the haunting questions is raises about whether we still live under a truly democratic system.

It’s also a loftily abstract issue in politics, that the average person contends with directly only once in a few years. A more every day issue of freedom of speech, tied into the reality of insurgent campaigns like Sanders, is whether people with less can be coerced into particular statements or political silence. In the age of the internet this has leaped from an issue about bosses demanding their employees take off the bumper sticker on their car, to now the ability of employers to fire or punish their employees over literally anything traceable to them online – like a Facebook post, even before it was edited. Sanders just made a statement about where he stands on the more colloquial experience average people have with the intersection of economic and political power.

Setting aside the issue of freedom speech, this speaks to the thorny place Sanders finds himself in terms of outreach towards Jewish communities. Reminiscent of the liberal if not socialist Zionism of a bygone era of Jewish politics, he has limited appeal to more modern Zionist circles. Given his policies on Israel, however, anti-Zionist Jewish activists, like Zimmerman, have historically found themselves in even greater dissonance with him. His choice to hire Zimmerman, in fact, was seen as a sign of changing ideas about which Jewish circles require outreach and what that would typically sound like.

2016-04-18_0746(From a New York rally held the year before, credit to Martyna Starosta.)

By pivoting back into staffing decisions in line with a more traditionally Zionist Jewish politics, the Sanders campaign has echoed what I’ve noted in their politics for months now: a focus on whittling down what the supposed political revolution will be about. Reparations have been declared as outside the purview of economic injustice, now implicit criticism of Zionism is beyond a similar pale. This is a facet of his political organization that’s increasingly hard to ignore.

In fact, one of the heralds of this moment in which Sanders’ revolutionary politics shrank back is eerily relevant. In one of the year’s first Democratic debates, Sanders spoke about the economic and political elites in Qatar and Saudi Arabia as if they not only were representative of the broader population, but also as ultimately responsible for resolving problems in entirely other states just in the same larger region of the world.

Now, he’s suspended a staffer, over her declaring that the head of a state in that part of the world, who claimed to speak for her, was not truly representing her. Sanders’ previous discussion of the region acted as if someone like Zimmerman, a person categorized on paper by certain ethnic or national words like “Qataris” or “Saudis” or “Jews,” was not meaningfully different from most others roped together with those words.

He sure showed her with a suspension.

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Wasn’t me

In the past week, a few allegations of wrongdoing jumped back into the spotlight. From a failure to prevent mass lead poisoning to data journalism steadily descending into propaganda-crafting, almost everyone’s been predictably quick to shift blame elsewhere.

A humbling experience

That’s how still sitting Michigan governor Rick Snyder has described the medical crises in Flint. In his own words, they’ve been a “humbling experience” – for him naturally, the most important person in these cavalcade of missteps. From initially a story of rampant cost-cutting and the widespread destruction of local government in predominantly Black communities across Michigan, Snyder has recast the disaster that has left thousands of children exposed to horrifying levels of lead as a tragedy centered on him.

Like an archetypal king hypnotized by advisors with vile designs, Snyder is the true star of this story for having been misled by staff who supposedly convinced him that he would receive alarmist messages about Flint’s water supply. Snyder’s own intentions couldn’t be more clear, since part and parcel with this retelling of the catastrophe is labeling responsibility for the crisis as having been taken.


Over the past year, calls for raising the minimum wage in many corners of the US as well as nationally have become an almost omnipresent part of the political discussion. More quietly but just as persistently, the popular demand for living wages reflective of the emerging economy has been met by pessimistic predictions of spiraling inflation and anemic employment. To arbitrate between the two, many have turned to data-driven journalists and academics, hypothetically armed with statistics and motivated by a zeal for unveiling the objective truth.

Except, that hasn’t happened. One of the most widely circulated looks into the economic outcomes of raising the minimum wage, penned by economics professor Mark Perry, has fallen under criticism for having drawn from multiple data sets while comparing Seattle (which raised its minimum wage) compared to the surrounding metropolitan area (which didn’t). This may sound minor, but this reads less like mixing together data to reached a more complete picture and matching figures to create the desired result. The goal was never to describe what was happening as a result of the new law, it was to manufacture a glossy statistical justification for a particular take on raised minimum wage.

Perry’s response since the writing of that and other articles describing this and other problems with his research has been to edit the charts in question, noting that the information comes from disparate data sources that aren’t ideal to cavalierly compare. He’s also added an addendum arguing in essence that there’s nothing to see here.

Not caught… not yet

In a bit of lighter news, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have taken the news that no US nationals appear to be implicated in the leaked Panama Papers to heart. They’re now asking the Justice Department to more carefully investigate the matter to make absolutely sure that that’s the case.

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