Tag Archives: hillary clinton

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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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.

2016-07-31_1130

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.

2016-08-01_1859.png

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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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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Good news

Trigger warning: indefinite detention, electoral disenfranchisement, racism

The past few weeks have seemed like a bit of a parade of bad news – with Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican primary among other worrisome events. Recently, however, there’s been a few small but significant changes that can give us hope.

Think of the children

After the number of unaccompanied children crossing into the US peaked in 2014, the public’s attention to the issue has steady declined. Even as fewer children have ended up in the overcrowded and dangerous detention facilities scattered across the southwest US, those already here have largely faced a toxic mixture of judicial neglect and increasingly unrealistic orders for them to leave the country.

A new report from Generation Progress touches on the issues that I and others noticed were looming problems just as the crisis began – that very few of these cases have assigned lawyers or even translators. Concerned Senators and Representatives have stepped in with new federal legislation requiring more extensive availability to those services as well as more thorough accountability for the agencies overseeing these detention facilities and court proceedings. Unfortunately, as long as the Senate and House are Republican-controlled, these reforms are unlikely to become law.

The day’s wages

In New York and California a similar tentative step forward, in this case on the minimum wage, has unfolded. In both progressive-leaning states with large labor pools, local activism was sufficient to push for incrementally raising the wage floor. In New York, the main determinant will be regional, with New York City proper seeing its wages move up the most quickly, followed by outlying parts of the urban center, and lastly other parts of the state. To a certain extent, that reflects cost of living, although across the state that will catapult minimum wage workers from $9 an hour into a more manageable economy. In California, the changes will be tailored more to the type of business, with smaller companies given slightly more time to adapt.

072814-minimum-wage_map
(Changes have so far been concentrated in states with minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage, however. Image modified from here.)

Many commentators have viewed this as a reflection of the populist politics fueling Senator Sanders’ presidential run, but the piecemeal approach in both California and New York is more reflective of the gradual and contextual increases advocated by Secretary Clinton. Far from outside of these policy victories, Clinton took part in the celebratory rally put on by New York Governor Cuomo in her adoptive state.

Who counts the voters

Whether at the state level or federally, these different movements aimed at improving the quality of life have relied on elected leadership. In short, they have needed at least the possibility of voters caring about these issues to motivate political action. The capacity for that to happen as evenly as possible with the population of a district was upheld 8-0 by the Supreme Court on Monday in Evenwel v. Abbott.

This case was launched by the Project for Fair Representation, which previously played a role in an unsuccessful challenge to affirmative action and a fruitful dismantling of the electoral pre-clearance system. The racial dimensions of their work are deliberate and striking, and Evenwel was no exception. The Cato Institute (known for its own relationship with racist, colonialist, and antisemitic ideologies) published a rather flowery amicus curiae on behalf of the plaintiffs in Evenwel where they argued-

Once again this Court finds itself at the intersection of the VRA and the Fourteenth Amendment. The parties here are caught in the inevitable trap of (1) maintaining majority-minority districts under complex, overlapping standards and (2) administering electoral schemes that do little to advance racial equality while doing much to violate voter equality— the idea that each eligible voter’s vote should count equally. In the background of this conflict, there lurks a cacophony of precedent and oft-conflicting court administered standards that have arisen from Section 2 cases. Basic constitutional guarantees of equal protection inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment— such as OPOV—are getting lost in this thicket.

Avoiding racial discrimination under these circumstances is particularly difficult in jurisdictions where “total population” and “citizens of voting age population” (CVAP)—standard metrics for evaluating whether a district violates OPOV—diverge due to varied concentration of non-citizens. As with the tensions amicus Cato has described before, jurisdictions navigating between the VRA’s Scylla and the Constitution’s Charybdis are bound to wreck individual rights—here, voter equality—on judicial shoals.

The reality that redefining electoral districts across the country by either eligible or registered voters would cast aside representation for people ineligible to vote or unregistered (who are largely people of color) is only indirectly considered. It’s framed as an unfortunate cost needed to make each vote cast equally contested by candidates – a pipe dream as turnout can easily inflate a given voter’s power or swamp their decision in a sea of others’. These organizations, all too recently comfortable with the legal realities of Apartheid, were pushing for a milder version of the same multi-tiered political system, where there are people represented and people beneath consideration.

Perhaps most tellingly, the case here sought a structural response to the reality that millions of people are disenfranchised – while being incarcerated (and depending on the state, afterwards as well), for being undocumented or otherwise non-citizens, or from the inaccessibility of the voter registration system. Instead of asking why those people are beyond the pale of electoral participation and what could be changed about that, it treated their exclusion as an accepted given to be worked around.

Luckily the Supreme Court saw things differently, and as the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund described it:

Upwards of 75 million children—13 million of whom are Black—not yet eligible to vote would have been counted out of the redistricting process had appellants prevailed. Indeed, appellants’ case threatened to take America’s redistricting process back to nefarious periods in our democracy similar to when Black people were counted as 3/5ths of a person for redistricting purposes and expressly excluded from the body politic.

The Court’s decision today vindicates the “one person, one vote” standard, which rightly takes into account Census-derived total population counts when apportioning voting districts. This standard has been applied universally for over 50 years by all 50 states and the thousands of localities within them. Moreover, this clear understanding of “one person, one vote” is already regarded as America’s “de facto national policy” in legislative redistricting, enjoying overwhelming, bipartisan support among state and local governments. Today’s decision reaffirms the guiding logic of this inclusive standard, which fosters access to electoral representation and constituent services for all people, regardless of race, sex, citizenship, economic status, or other characteristics, or whether a person chooses to or is able to vote.

That vision of participatory democracy is the engine that’s helping to drive these modest steps towards a fairer political and economic system. This newly post-Scalia Supreme Court has made clear that they favor that understanding of how this country could organize itself.

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The long shadow of the Panama Papers

For the last few days, world news has been abuzz about the world’s as of yet largest leak of private information, which are now being called the “Panama Papers.” Publicized by a German newspaper a year after being given them, the information is from a Panama-based investment firm specialized in offshore and otherwise tax evasive practices. Major names around the world have been listed as having engaged in hypocritical and at times criminal financial transactions designed typically to avoid paying the full tax cost owed to various countries and localities.

One of the central figures in the leak was Iceland’s former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who resigned on Sunday. Elected as a reformer who largely delivered on promises to turn Iceland’s economy back around, the revelation that he had profited from the financial reforms he oversaw through an undeclared and indirect investment essentially invalidated his political legitimacy.

2016-04-05_1414.pngCountries in which heads of state, high ranking public officials, or close associates have been named in the current leak.

Although uniquely duplicitous and corrupt, his place in the broader story of the Panama Papers actually speaks to a broader worry. His gains from Iceland’s economic restructuring weren’t just undisclosed, they were also untaxed. There’s a palpable failure of an Iceland-like series of new restrictions and standards on banks to address the ability of him and other Icelanders to strategically engage in capital flight. With Iceland facing warnings from international financial institutions over the costs of their response to the global crisis, this isn’t a trivial matter. It’s a shortfall in the millions if not billions globally, which in a political climate of widespread austerity has been felt worldwide by the classes who don’t have hidden bank accounts.

Outside of the Sanders-Clinton fight eating up US leftists’ attention, this is one of the system problems the “Warren Wing” has been hinting with growing volume. In the wake of anemic banking reforms, Elizabeth Warren’s individual focus has shifted somewhat towards addressing capital flight, even if just rhetorically. That’s just about the only ideological contingent in the US that can talk about this easily – for civil libertarians currently defending encryption this is an example of the public costs that high tech and high price secrecy can incur, for the more corporate friendly this only demonstrates the shady ethics of the economic order they defend, and for domestically-focused social democrat factions this represents the international scale of the problem which they often don’t acknowledge.

With a Democratic primary debate barely more than a week away, this is precisely the issue that both of them can and should be pressed on. Let’s see if CNN’s Wolf Blitzer brings it up.

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In the News: Black lives within the political process

Between the on-going water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the dramatic swing in the presidential primary towards the South, all eyes have been on the ways that anti-Black racism continues to affect the lives of all people in the United States in myriad ways.

Flint as unnatural disaster

ThinkProgress has put together a more than century-long timeline of the demographics, budgeting, and general economic health of Flint to create a more contextual view of the city. After decades of growth and success, Flint is now grappling with several health problems as a result of under-investment in water infrastructure. To make the long story short, complex community investment decisions have been decided in ways to prioritize resources for predominantly White communities and to undermine particularly largely Black communities’ expectations of communal responsibility and a democratic process.

flint_river_better.png(The Flint River, from here.)

The results are expensive public amenities that offer virtually nothing of use or provide actively dangerous “resources” like toxic water. The surrounding economics are – perhaps deliberately – complicated, but the ultimate effect is that greater costs are extracted from communities like Flint for dramatically inferior products. It’s a racket, and the greatest beneficiaries of it are the wealthy White communities essentially absolved of any social expectations while places like Flint are asked to pay twice if not more – once for water and again for medical care.

Who isn’t accountable?

Faced with catastrophes like that, Black community organizers and #BLM activists have minced no words in describing how they will hold the entire system responsible. Chicago-based Aislinn Pulley drew directly on the situation in Flint itself when describing why she was dissatisfied with the meeting offered by the Obama administration:

We must ask what is criminal justice when children, the elderly, the disabled and everyday working people in the city of Flint, Michigan, cannot safely drink their water due to lead contamination which has occurred because the local government switched the city’s water sources in 2014 in order to allegedly save money.

That was only one of the calamities befalling Black communities that she covered, however, as she also describing among others the on-going problems unique to Chicago (namely Rahm Emmanuel’s shutdowns of public schools and potential involvement in covering up police violence). The list of unaddressed disasters, which Pulley describes the Obama administration and other powerful actors in our society as failing to adequately acknowledge let alone treat, makes clear the scope of the problem for Black communities – one that exists on an inescapably society-wide level.

New leaders, old problems

With the presidential primaries beginning to take up even larger shares of the national discussion and President Obama as one of the institutional figures who is viewed as having failed to tackle this issue, who will replace him has become a charged question.

With Donald Trump remaining for the most part in the lead in the Republican primary, more detailed attention is being paid to his background. The racially-charged elements of his business experience as a land developer in the New York area have garnered some attention, but the past couple days have specifically seen a remembrance of his volatile comments on a 1989 rape case. Trump was among the prominent New York voices that effectively lobbied for the reinstatement of the death penalty because of that case, in which five men of color were wrongly convicted as the police and state courts later admitted. Luckily none of them were actually put to death, but their years in prison cannot be undone. For many, Trump’s role in this was a testament to how second nature racist dynamics may be for him.

At the same time, Sanders caught many commenters’ eyes with a speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. He was essentially endorsed by nearby Clarkston’s Mayor Ted Terry, who is White, which came in the form of an upbeat comparison of him to Martin Luther King Jr. Statements and interactions like that by White participants at such a culturally significant location for many Black Americans seems to have struck a dissonant chord for many others. As one Black twitter user responding to a video of largely White supporters at the event noted-

Recent news on Hillary Clinton, alternatively, has focused positively on her speech on racism at Harlem. This bodes positively for her campaign, as she seems to be counting on a racial gap in support between her and Sanders. That said, her current success seems less like she has become a favorite among Black voters so much as that she hasn’t yet done anything to illicit the types of responses Sanders has gotten. As someone positioning her potential presidency as in many ways an extension of Obama’s, many of the more nuanced critiques of him and many more will likely be applied to her as well.

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Digesting the caucuses

It’s rather easy to get overwhelmed in terms of what exactly happened yesterday. The process itself is arcane and at times mind-boggling. Across the state of Iowa, thousands of party activists met at appointed locations and selected their choice of major party nominee for president in 2016. For Democrats, they basically shouted their way to dominance in those various schools, churches, and other public locations, with contingents remaining at the end of the process being proportionately awarded delegates. For Republicans, they for all intents and purposes held a primary vote, which selected delegates bound to vote proportionately for the candidates the average citizens voted for.

It’s hard to match last year’s wild ride in which the vote counts in eight precincts in the Republican caucuses simply went missing, but the story of a precinct decided one unclaimed delegate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton by a coin toss shows that dysfunction remains the true winner of every Iowa caucus. In the midst of all that chaos, it’s difficult to determine that, well, much of anything of meaning happened, let alone what it would be. Here’s a short list of what the tea leaves suggest to me though.

Clinton has to work for it… for now

What was initially announced on Monday as a statistical tie between Clinton and Sanders has largely been reinterpreted as an extremely narrow victory for Clinton. That suggests a tight race heading into New Hampshire, where Sanders rightly expects to have something like a home court advantage. A combination of racial demographics, an intensifying class consciousness in the electorate, and local familiarity are going to make this a particularly close and contestable competition in these two states.

Before the Sanders campaign gets too excited, however, that’s not how things are likely to continue after those two states. He’s made some particularly cavalier statements that are likely to alienate voters politically aware of racial inequality or immigration policies. In late February, Nevada will hold a closed caucus, and following that the map of Democratic primaries and caucuses moves to the South, which for Democrats means a decidedly less White voting electorate. If Clinton can effectively articulate the discomfort some people of color have with the racial dimensions of Sanders’ policies and rhetoric, the race won’t stay quite as up in the air.

Rubio wins… the consolation prize

Marco Rubio was widely hailed as the “winner” of the Republican caucuses, considering that Donald Trump underperformed the expectations that he might eclipse Ted Cruz and that Ted Cruz was the favorite to win in any case. Rubio nearly reaching the same levels as Trump indicates that at least in some contexts the largely “tuned out” voters Trump has attracted to the caucuses can end up being about equal to the “establishment” minded voters. The real surprise here, assuming this dynamic holds in later states, is that the conflict within the Republican Party between those factions is not about a wealthy minority and the mass of voters, but about equally-sized blocks of people who show up at the polls.

The real win that Rubio has pulled off is that he bested Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and other similar candidates at representing the “establishment”. There are structural advantages in the primary to appealing to that part of the Republican electorate, but it’s not clear that that will be enough to rocket Rubio’s support out of third place.

Not establishment, not grassroots, not insurgent… so what exactly is Cruz?

With Rubio and Trump each pulling in just over a fifth of the vote, that leaves Cruz with a lion’s share that’s contrasted with both an establishment-aligned bloc and a disaffected and mad as hell insurgency. Ted Cruz’s muddled place between those two camps has probably been the least acknowledged strength in the Republican primary campaign.

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(Weighted Iowa Republican Caucus returns: Ted Cruz in yellow has support throughout the state, Donald Trump in purple dominates in the more conservative southwestern corner of the state, and Marco Rubio in green dominated in outlying suburbs of the largest cities. From here.)

He has the bona fides, visibility, and authority of the typical establishment candidate like Rubio – he’s not going to make Trump-style blunders about the nuclear triad or commit to unfeasible revenge fantasies as policy proposals. He also has the ability to talk about policies and politics in the language average people attracted to extremism want to hear – something that Rubio at times struggles with.

If anyone can keep the fragile union of social conservatives and imperialist libertarians together in the Republican Party, it’s him. That’s a daunting task for anyone, however, especially one whose birth location is in conflict with some of the most extremist rhetoric at the heart of the anti-Obama politics that have come to define the Republican Party.

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A limited socialism

Trigger Warning: racism, slavery, lynching

Earlier this week, I noted that Bernie Sanders’ socialism quite abruptly runs aground when applied to some groups peripheral to a lot of his politics. The reality of poverty in the Middle East is something his political view of the world apparently can’t accept, and so he had to essentially deny the reality that the United States is the wealthier nation in almost every respect when interacting with even resource-rich countries like Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

Over the course of this week, a strange domestic cousin to this apparently has come out as a part of what is driving down support for Sanders within many Black political circles. I just wanted to briefly point to what struck me as vital explanations of how Sanders’ comes across on this issue. The always fascinating Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote on Sanders’ statements about reparations:

This is the “class first” approach, originating in the myth that racism and socialism are necessarily incompatible. But raising the minimum wage doesn’t really address the fact that black men without criminal records have about the same shot at low-wage work as white men with them; nor can making college free address the wage gap between black and white graduates. […] Sanders’s anti-racist moderation points to a candidate who is not merely against reparations, but one who doesn’t actually understand the argument. To briefly restate it, from 1619 until at least the late 1960s, American institutions, businesses, associations, and governments—federal, state, and local—repeatedly plundered black communities. Their methods included everything from land-theft, to red-lining, to disenfranchisement, to convict-lease labor, to lynching, to enslavement, to the vending of children. So large was this plunder that America, as we know it today, is simply unimaginable without it. […] judged by his platform, Sanders should be directly confronted and asked why his political imagination is so active against plutocracy, but so limited against white supremacy. Jim Crow and its legacy were not merely problems of disproportionate poverty. Why should black voters support a candidate who does not recognize this?

I think Imani Gandy quite succinctly wrapped up the issue on twitter a day later:

Much of the presidential campaign so far has been about parsing the ways in which Donald Trump wants to redirect economic redistribution towards certain (implicitly, White) communities. Bernie Sanders’ radical language for himself and his ideas has helped him avoid a similar examination so far, but it’s worth checking to see in what ways he hopes to address the social, economic, and political inequalities felt by people of color.

His treatment so far of those unique experiences as simply more common in communities of color is stopping short of directly addressing them. If that’s the level of consideration his political philosophy has for people of color, it doesn’t really sound like it exists for them.

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A tale of two capitalisms

Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have kicked up quite the commotion within the Democratic Party in the past couple of weeks. I’ve mentioned before how Sanders’ presidential campaign has pushed fellow candidate Hillary Clinton into adopting more substantive promises to the liberal base, particularly when it comes to affordable access to education. More than a few observers have noted how this has stoked the less obvious competition within the Democratic Party over what economic policies the leaders of the party will advance.

That’s just what’s happening within the presidential primary, however, as Elizabeth Warren is similarly galvanizing the Democrats’ economic left in the Senate. Even while Sanders’ defense of reinstating Glass-Steagall regulations on banks has captured the media’s attention, it’s easy to see Warren’s less eye-catching work on those and other issues. In a traditional legislative dynamic, her criticisms and suggestions to the financial industry and the broader economic system both suggest she might block financial deregulation in the Senate and help inspire left-leaning Democrats in the House to directly oppose it.

Beyond opposing a conservative vision for the economy, Warren and like-minded congressional representatives have begun presenting the type of reforms that are anathema for Republicans and distasteful to the more corporate-friendly Democratic circles. She began a speech last week by deflating the calls for lowering corporate taxes, and from there moved to a progressive tax proposal arguing that “revenue generated from corporate taxes is far too low.”

As a part of that, she delivered deeply topical response to the economic conversations being had among both conservatives and centrist Democrats about lowering the taxes collected on international companies to encourage them to remain in or return to the US. As Warren explained, “Fortune500 companies proudly proclaim that they are making record-breaking profits, and then they hire armies of lawyers to make sure they don’t pay taxes on those record-breaking profits.” With Carl Icahn having openly done this, she seems to have a point. She wasn’t kidding about the armies, either, as she noted-

“In just the past ten years, the amount of untaxed, off-shore profit has increased nearly five-fold. In other words, one of the hottest investments in America in the past decade hasn’t been biotech or big oil, it’s been tax lawyers. The money sheltered overseas is now about the same as the combined total earnings of all US corporations in 2013.”

Big-short-inside-the-doomsday-machine

“The Big Short” is, according to Warren, actually the big siphon.

She points out that the push for lowering taxes in the US to be competitive is being driven by other country’s somewhat collective efforts to “shut down tax dodges”. The main companies keeping their money perpetually between countries to avoid taxes in either are looking for a deal competitive with their current set-up that can replace the looming risk of tax litigation.

Centrists like Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and business-centered Republicans like Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) have been happy to offer that kind of a deal, including deemed repatriation (one-time giveaways on sheltered companies that keeps them from paying the full cost of back taxes).

As I’ve noted before, one of the most salient differences between the parties in the coming election appears to be their distinct understandings of economics and capitalism. What Sanders and Warren seem to have done is created that, not only by pushing some centrists like Clinton further to the left, but also by making others like Schumer into obvious examples of the centrist wing, rather than just another Democrat.

It’s become common to argue that the two parties are essentially indistinguishable on economics. It’s true that they are both offering, for the most part, fundamentally modern capitalist economics. That said, the specific prescriptions within that type of economic thought have begun to notably diverge. Their common worldview isn’t as shared as one might suspect.

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Coal lights the way

Perhaps it’s because the heart of coal country – West Virginia and Kentucky – won’t be voting in the presidential primaries until relatively late in the season next Spring, but coal hasn’t capture the conversation quite as much as it has in prior campaigns. As a commodity, it’s deeply implicated in almost all of the issues raised in both major parties – climate change, energy availability, domestic economic competitiveness – but it’s become something of a pariah.

Lewis Wickes Hine

A West Virginia coal mine entrance, by Lewis Wickes Hine, 1908. From here.

Quietly however, a few prominent politicians have still come out recently with policies for the industry and its most intense regions of operation in the US. That there is a space for the government to do something to help is, surprisingly, something of a bipartisan concern, particularly advanced by the more business-centered wings of both major parties.

Still, that’s about where agreement ends. Republicans led by Ohioan Republican Senator Rob Portman have called for investment to encourage innovations within the coal industry, particularly to capture carbon emissions. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, instead suggested a broader revitalization project to address any negative outcomes of her environmental policies. It aims to shore up public education in the region and expand access to job training, in case the industry’s workforce ends up being reduced.

In spite of their differences, both proposals attempt to shrink the climate footprint of the US and improve the economic lot of the people of Appalachia. Their different ways of going about those goals, however, indicate a subtly distinction between the typical economic policies from the major parties. The government filling in for the failure of investors to create a drive for carbon-capturing power plants is basically a gentle nudge on the existing market dynamics. The government creating opportunities for people to enter different industries is equally capitalist and competition-minded, actually, but understands the government’s role differently. Instead of redirecting the occasional dinner conversation, the government puts a lot of thought into the seating chart and lets conversations develop organically from there.

What this speaks to is a broader disagreement on how capitalism and economics necessarily function, or at least potentially could. From the conservative perspective, private ownership is absolute and can only rarely and carefully be circumscribed. From eminent domain to taxation, the government is begrudgingly permitted to get involved, but with the constant expectation that it should explain its reasons why and quickly get back out.

For liberals on the other hand, and that doesn’t mean anti-capitalists, the understanding is that the government has always been involved, if for no other reason than it sets up the courts and legal standards that create our understanding of ownership and award different people ownership of different goods, territories, or resources. The government’s involvement is a constant – as it continually maintains the legal, social, and political systems and expectations that basically create the economic system.

It’s a shame that coal has ended up on the back burner of US politics, because the policies around it have created such a great example of the contrasting understandings of the world and ideas about how it should work which the two major parties are offering.

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Push and pull

There’s been a lot of strange back-and-forths in the news this week. Here’s a short list of some interesting forms of that which I saw crop up in the past couple days.

From Sanders to Clinton, yet again

I’ve written here before about one of the key dynamics in the current Democratic presidential primary being how further left critics of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have nudged her into adopting more liberal policy proposals. With Clinton largely holding her own on issues of social justice, the main part of that has been on economic policy. Most obviously, sitting Vermont Senator and fellow candidate Bernie Sanders has effectively pushed Clinton into adopting similar platforms to him on the availability of higher education.

That said, similar efforts to promote unionization and financial industry regulation haven’t (yet?) become shared policy ideas between Sanders and Clinton. On Tuesday, the Campaign for America’s Future asked if one of the most recent iterations of those economic politics from the Sanders-Warren wing of the Democratic Party might be picked up by Clinton. In this case, it’s a repeal of a “performance pay” tax exemption for larger companies in order to pay for cost of living adjustments for Social Security recipients. Fresh from having failed to assure a number of people that she wants to protect Social Security in the long term, Clinton might need to pick this battle, unless she wants to write off a large chunk of the Democratic primary vote.

The Keystone Pipeline is dead! Long live the Keystone Pipeline!

Recently, the proposal to build a new pipeline from Canada to shipping areas in the southern US was officially rejected by the Obama administration. The company that has been seeking the pipeline’s construction for years now thinks they might have another Clinton-economics-related shot at getting it done in spite of that though: NAFTA. As the Hill put it, they “could ask a tribunal to mandate compensation from the United States for rejecting the pipeline, or even require that the project be approved.” With the possibility of the Trans-Pacific Partnership looming in our future, it seems important to note how its smaller, weaker predecessor allows business interests to challenge and even overrule the decisions of a democratically-elected government.

Who will survive in America?

One of the criticisms of the Keystone Pipeline, is the displacement that it already has begun to cause within certain rural communities. Unfortunately, that upheaval is hardly unique to that specific part of the US, as artist and astrophysicist Nia Imara documented in her recent photography project about gentrification in Oakland. The East Bay Express published earlier this week a short but intriguing look into her process and relationship with the community while creating her work.

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What good does it do?

Rhetorically, there were a number of moments in last night’s debate that seem to have captured parts of the liberal imagination. Hillary Clinton appealed to a basic right to bodily autonomy and to make that right accessible with support for Planned Parenthood and related medical providers. Bernie Sanders unequivocally declared that Black Lives Matter. Martin O’Malley almost captured something similar by stating that bigotry had no room in the Democratic Party, but Jim Webb’s own comments throughout the night called that belief in such a categorical progressiveness into question. Even in that case, Webb’s presence highlighted his out-of-place status in the broader Democratic Party. As Jamelle Bouie put it:

In short, Webb being there only underscored the stated commitments to addressing racial, gendered, and other inequalities. There aren’t really any Dixiecrats anymore. This is what the Democratic Party has become.

So with a tight field of candidates largely competing to be a presidential nominee who could advance that sort of US self image at the highest level in the country, what’s not to love? The Democratic Party has won the popular vote five out of six times in the most recent elections (which translated into four uncontested wins). The Reagan Revolution seems to have been more of a momentary happenstance of White Flight from the Democratic Party that could make the White House an insurmountable Republican fortress.

While White people continue to be a majority of residents of the US, and disproportionately represented in electoral registration and participation, enough didn’t flee the Democratic Party that they and a growing number of voters of color can be a surprisingly effective electoral coalition. It’s tempered by all of the problems inherent in national coalitions – it’s slow-moving, continually renegotiated, and subject to limited radical action – yet it can at least promise to get a lot done and seemingly mean it.

Part of the implied problem there is that there are limits to what any political party can do. Almost by definition, they operate within a standard political process. The closest thing to an alternative are parties like Sinn Féin or historically India’s Congress Party, which are political branches of counter-state forces. The Democratic Party’s origins are rather different from that sort of an organization, and the type of imperial conditions that encourage those types of political parties haven’t existed in the US for several centuries. In the absence of that, a mainstream, gradualist policy-tinkering has become the order of the day.

Even that however is difficult for Democrats to enact on a national scale as the brief window in 2009-2011 showed. As a Party, they held the presidency and majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Healthcare reform debates choked out almost every other reform issue, leaving us with the current situation in which many hallmarks of the Bush era linger – most obviously widespread warfare, indefinite detention centers, and mass surveillance. Deportation actions increased, Guantánamo remains open, and we’re using drones more than ever. Weren’t the Democrats interested in ending all of that? Weren’t there great flowery statements in debates and elsewhere on the campaign trail against those exact things?

There’s a number of other, less intractable factors that could be blamed for that, from fickle Blue Dogs to Filibuster-enabling Joe Lieberman. As much as the Democrats can’t deliver on everything because of the political and electoral system they must work within, there’s also a question of what they can do with a presidency dependent on how well they do in Congress and the states. Tomorrow and later this week I’ll take a look at the prospects of the Democratic Party in down ticket races and what they could potentially make of 2016.

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Police unions or Black lives: what kind of Democratic Party will this be?

Trigger warning: anti-Black racism, police violence, gun violence mention

Tonight’s Democratic Presidential Primary debate, which I’ll be liveblogging here, is an opportunity for observation. The three major candidates – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sitting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley – have all had various reactions and responses to the many different populist and grassroots political demands made in both the general electorate and within the Democratic Party itself over the past couple of years. While they discuss those and other issues on stage next to each other, something of a contest is unofficially being held, to see what ideas “win” the debate, in terms of both being highly visible and being effectively asserted.

With all three of those candidates having at least once put their foot in their mouth on the current popular discussion around anti-Black racism and police violence, one thing being measured tonight is whether (and if so, how) will they pick apart the increasingly elaborate falsehoods surrounding the police forces in the US as both worryingly vulnerable. The past several months have seen a prominent return of forms of violence sadly familiar to Black communities in this country, with the killings of among others Sandra Bland in police custody.

That violence cuts to the core of the modern Democratic Party, which arguably arose out of Fannie Lou Hamer’s demand for civil rights and political agency at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. She recounted a part of her personal history – from facing housing and employment discrimination for attempting to register to vote to its ultimate conclusion of her being violently beaten in a jail cell for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time while Black. Her experiences were sadly typical for her time and have continued into the modern day with deaths like Bland’s. The modern Democratic Party has been profoundly shaped by her testimony, so it is key to ask tonight how each of those candidates carry forward the lessons she asked the people in this country to learn.

Police force members and others aligned with them have sought to obscure that reality, that those specific forms of violence are an on-going problem. Recently, a blatant misinformation campaign of sorts has been launched – misrepresenting the risks of police work and decrying that the police are under excessive surveillance on the job. The numbers are publicly accessible, however, and paint a different picture of slowly but steadily declining non-accidental deaths for officers who are on the job (2003 and 2008 were the only Bush era years with fewer than 50 gunfire deaths, while only 2010 and 2011 have had more than 50 gunfire deaths during the Obama era). The talk surrounding increasing oversight on police conduct has been born out of incidental recordings – sometimes those used to observe other people who are on the job – finding astounding discrepancies between police eyewitness and video testimony.

blm caravan Los AngelesA sign from a Los Angeles #BlackLivesMatter affiliated protest on October 10, from here.

Since Fannie Lou Hamer’s challenge to the Democratic Party, it has become increasingly common outside of Black communities to associate the police and their political pressures with the Republican Party. That’s a mistake, as they are a unionized portion of the public sector workforce. Like most such groups, they do skew towards the Democrats – and donation records (available only in aggregate between police and firefighter groups) show virtually all of their top recipients being Democratic Party members. With the Republican Party making an effort to show that those two unionized groups won’t face the same degree and forms of hostility under their governance as other public sector unions and a large chunk of Democrat-leaning constituencies increasingly critical of the broader system of policing in this country, that is threatening to change. If Democratic candidates want to maintain their edge with that specific type of union, they will likely have to signal their investment in the existing police force tonight. Police force members and organizers will be tuning in and want to see the Democratic candidates side with them over their critics.

In many politically-minded disciplines, it’s increasingly common to find people discussing power as at least in part the ability “to define reality” in the sense of psychologically organizing and labeling the complex world we all share. People with power – which can mean anything from people simply with certain communal or personal identities that are privileged as well as individually empowered people, like major presidential contenders – play a key role in declaring what is real. What the candidates tonight have is inherently a moment in which they have to pick a side in a contest for policy control in the Democratic Party and make it clear how they see the world (and in the process, influence how people like you and me can respond to their rhetoric and their policies). Tonight we will see what choices they make, among other things in terms of embracing, ignoring, or rejecting false ideas that some people are desperate to popularize about the police.

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Tugging Clinton along

For several months this has been the comparatively cynical leftist view of Bernie Sanders: that his campaign is a shell game. His purpose in the otherwise largely uncontested Democratic Presidential Primary is to create excitement within liberal and specifically economically populist political circles that can then at least in part be ceded to Hillary Clinton when she (inevitably, the theory goes) becomes the nominee.

There’s been multiple responses to that among the communities targeted by that supposed campaign. Some have insisted that Sanders is the only candidate they would support so that strategy wouldn’t work. Others have staked out positions more critical of the current system – particularly on racial inequality – than Sanders, suggesting he himself would need his radical bona fides challenged. Perhaps most commonly however, people have noted that even if he or his campaign only hope to influence the election and not have him run in the general election or even win, he can still have an effect not just on popular support for the Democratic Party but on policy. The most common form of this has focused on language. The hope is that he will force Clinton into policy promises or even more broadly will change the type of questions asked of candidates in all primaries.

That’s the exact note hit by one piece hosted by the Campaign for America’s Future: that Sanders’ “hope was to ‘trigger the conversation’ about the way the economic and political system is rigged by the billionaires and their corporations. He wanted to begin a movement around a vision of how the country could be run for We the People instead of a few billionaires and their giant corporations”. You’ll notice the lack of detail, because public discussion this early in the campaign policy does tend to be pretty vague and broad. While Sanders’ campaign has led in the primary at providing details about their planned policies, few other campaigns have reached near that level of specificity or had either critics or the media ask for that. Even assuming that Bernie can pressure the rest of the Democratic field into talking similarly to him he’d have to stick in the race long enough for detailed policy rather than general rhetoric to be standard in order to put pressure on other campaigns, namely Clinton’s.

In the past week or so we’ve not only finally started to reach that time in the primary, but Sanders deliberately testing the waters to see if that dynamic of forcing other people in the primary to the left on policy can work. Clinton’s eventual adoption of a plan similar to Sander’s proposal for how to make higher education more financially accessible came with a months-long lag time. Sanders originally presented his plan in May, with the aims of it being to increase the number of people with college degrees and decrease the economic hardships for those who are in the process of attaining one. In August, Clinton capitulated on that issue and discussed a draft of a similar plan that more specifically emphasizes reducing overall student loan burdens rather than enrollment and graduation, Sanders’ focuses.

Two days ago, Sanders pressed the issue further by stating that he would pay for his plan with a tax on financial industry transactions. Today, he doubled down while circulating a petition in support of his Workplace Democracy Act – which is designed to promote unionization and related labor organization. In short, he’s testing the nature and scope of his influence after having eventually gotten Clinton to present her own version of a policy plan similar to his. Martin O’Malley appears to even be possibly doing his own pushing on the front-runner Clinton, by urging the US to embrace a more humanitarian policy on refugees. Whether these efforts can hone their ability to lead Clinton into advocating for these types of policies remains to be seen, as does that these promises can actually materialize into political action in office.

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