Archive for the ‘current events’ Category
Long time readers know that I am highly skeptical of third party politics. If the goal is to change policy from within the system, then third parties are an incredibly inefficient way to do it. But once in a very long while, third parties have a crucial role to play and we’ve arrived at such a moment.
Right now, the Libertarian Party has nominated two formed Republican governors, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, to be their presidential and vice presidential nominees. Normally, you could ignore this news as LP candidates do really, really badly in elections (<1%).
But this year is different. I don’t think that the LP, or any third party, could reasonably win it all, but the LP has two very important roles to play because both major party candidates have incredibly negative ratings. That means a well run third party ticket can get a few percent of the vote and actually have a serious media presence.
The popular vote count could be crucial in the event that Trump has an unexpected popular vote surge or he tries to win by getting a few swing states like Ohio and Florida. An LP ticket that hits 3-4% of the vote could easily deprive Trump of a win in a few places like New Mexico or Colorado. Losing even just 1 or 2 small states that often go GOP makes it incredibly hard for a GOP candidate to reach 270 electoral votes, even if they get lucky in Ohio. An LP ticket that hits 10% of the vote almost surely dooms the GOP candidate as most LP voters would likely be disaffected Republicans.
This is extremely important as Trump has openly declared war on immigrants, has promised to use the Federal government to hunt enemies, and is under investigation for fraud. I am not an HRC supporter, but I do genuinely think that Trump’s election would be a step toward violent nationalism, racism and cronyism.
Perhaps most importantly, the LP could use its window of visibility promote ideas that are now absent, or highly obscured, in current discourse: consistent opposition to war; immigration liberalization; and a more systematic decriminalization of drugs. Thus, having two professional politicians represent these ideas is of great benefit.
If Johnson and Weld can push these ideas while depriving Trump of a victory, then all I can say is “thank you for service.”
A lot of people have slammed The Party Decides for not getting this year’s primary completely correct. But I take a different view. The Democratic primary is going as planned, so that supports the theory pretty well. Even on the GOP side, there is some evidence that party dynamics are working as expected.
So let’s get the stuff that doesn’t fit the theory out of the way. Yes, Trump’s impending victory doesn’t fit but that’s not hard to understand in my view. And yes, the two major establishment candidates, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both massively failed.
But there is one important feature of the GOP primary that does fit the Party Decides model – the elites successfully blocked Ted Cruz from becoming president. There is a great deal of evidence that the GOP elites actively hate Cruz:
- Even though he’s the sole remaining viable contender to Trump, Cruz has very few endorsements – only 7 of 31 GOP governors have endorsed, only 6 of 54 GOP senators have endorsed, and about 30 of 234 GOP representatives have endorsed.
- Mitch McConnell hates him.
- John Boehner hates him, too.
Let’s be clear here: party leaders hate Cruz and only about 20% of the national leadership will endorse him over an egomaniac billionaire and a second tier regional politician. It’s clear – the party decided they hate Ted Cruz.
The 2016 Democratic primary is a mirror image of the 2008 primary. In 2008, Hillary Clinton fell behind in delegates on Super Tuesday and required blow out victories to regain the lead. Even though it was extraordinarily unlikely that she could do that, Clinton continued to run until the very, very end. Now Hillary has done the same to Sanders in 2016. He got a big win in New Hampshire and a tie in Iowa, but did very poorly in South Carolina and never recovered. He can only climb back into the lead if he gets big wins in big states to offset Clinton’s lead, which didn’t happen this week and is unlikely to happen over the next month. Yet, Sanders is still running strong. Why?
A few reasons:
- By basing his campaign on small donors, it is possible to continually raise money. He can bypass the party establishment who would normally yank support for a campaign at this stage.
- He’s an ideological candidate. Sure, he’d love to win and is trying his best, but he wants to change policy and the terms of debate. That doesn’t require him to win the most pledged delegates.
- It’s fun. If the support is there and you’re winning a bunch of states, even small ones, why quit? It’s gotta be more interesting than Vermont.
- A Clinton indictment: Let’s say there is a 1% chance that Federal prosecutors will indict on a misdemeanor or felony. If Sanders places a strong second in the nomination contest, he’d make a strong case that he should be the back up. And if he gets the nomination, there’s a good chance he’ll win the presidency since the economy is relatively strong. So a 1% chance of becoming president is easily worth the time and effort.
Clinton will likely get the pledged delegate majority in May, but the primary will continue to Bern.
Sadly, various news sources report that anti-Trump forces within the GOP have begun to weaken. This is unfortunate because it actually isn’t that hard to prevent a Trump nomination or a Trump presidency. The Constitution and the party system has a lot of built in features that were specifically designed to prevent a Trump like figure from gaining power.
Let’s go through them, starting with the hardest:
- Republican voters can actually start voting for Cruz or Kasich. There are more than enough delegates left to get Cruz to 50%. This will not happen because about 40% of GOP voters simply want Trump and nothing will stop them.
- The establishment rallies behind Cruz. This isn’t hard to do in theory, but Cruz is a notoriously difficult personality and has alienated the people who can help him the most. If that actually happens, Cruz could probably prevent Trump from getting 50% of the pledged GOP delegates.
- Even without the establishment endorsements, Cruz and Kasich might realistically keep Trump below 50% of the delegates. Then, Trump might lose on a second ballot at the convention as delegates are released from their candidate. But that assumes that the delegates from Rubio, Cruz, and the others stick to a single anti-Trump candidate. This requires coordination that the GOP does not have. But it can happen and states can ensure that Rubio or Cruz loyalists become non-Trump delegates.
- If Trump manages to get 50% of the delegates, the RNC could simply refuse to hold a vote. Just as the Senate is under no obligation to vote on a President’s nominees, a party is not under obligation to actually nominate a candidate.
- If Trump becomes the nominee, establishment Republicans can run a Third Party and it would easily prevent a Trump presidency. For example, a Romney campaign could probably win Utah, Idaho, and a few other mountain states and steal enough electoral votes to make a Trump win impossible. A Romney campaign could also suppress the non-Democratic vote just enough to throw Florida to the Democrat.
- If no candidate wins a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives will vote for president and they could choose Cruz or Paul Ryan.
- The Constitution makes it clear the States choose electors. And, as has happened in the past, States could simply pass legislation to appoint electors who will vote for a person that did not win the state. Even if one big conservative state did that (e.g., Texas or Florida), it would prevent a Trump presidency.
In other words, there are actually lots of ways to stop Trump from becoming president or even the nominee. It’s really pathetic that anti-Trump republicans have given up so quickly. For a party that sees itself as the tough guys, it’s sad that they surrendered faster than the French.
In a story full of neglect and willful ignorance, there are a few heroes. One is Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatrician and Michigan State professor who raised the alarm with data on kids’ blood-lead levels from the local hospital. Another is Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech environmental engineer who took on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality after a Flint resident sent him a lead-rich water sample for testing.
Hanna-Attisha and Edwards provide shining examples of how academics can use science to hold the powers-that-be accountable and make meaningful change.
Taking on the status quo is hard. But as Edwards discusses in the Chronicle, it’s becoming ever-harder to do that from within universities:
I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill — pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index — and the idea of science as a public good is being lost….What faculty person out there is going to take on their state, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?…When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency, no matter how outrageous their behavior? We just don’t do these things….Everyone’s invested in just cranking out more crap papers.
When faculty defend academic freedom, tenure is often the focus. And certainly tenure provides one kind of protection for scientists like Hanna-Attisha (though she doesn’t yet have it) or Edwards who want to piss off the powerful.
But as this interview — and you should really read the whole thing — makes clear, tenure isn’t the only element of the academic ecosystem that allows people to speak out. Scientists can’t do their work without research funding, or access to data. When funders have interests — whether directly economic, as when oil and gas companies fund research on the environmental impacts of fracking, or more organizational, as when environmental agencies just don’t want to rock the boat — that affects what scientists can do.
So in addition to tenure, a funding ecosystem that includes multiple potential sources and that excludes the most egregiously self-interested will encourage independent science.
But beyond that, we need to defend strong professional cultures. Hanna-Attisha emphasizes how the values of medicine both motivated her (“[T]his is what matters. This is what we do … This is why we’re here”) and prompted her boss’s support (“Kids’ health comes first”), despite the “politically messy situation” that might have encouraged the hospital’s silence. Edwards lectures his colleagues about “their obligation as civil engineers to protect the public” and says, “I didn’t get in this field to stand by and let science be used to poison little kids.”
Intense economic pressures, though, make it hard to protect such this kind of idealism. As market and financial logics come to dominate institutions like hospitals and universities, professional values gradually erode. It takes a concerted effort to defend them when everything else encourages you to keep your head down and leave well enough alone.
Promoting academic independence isn’t without its downsides. Scientists can become solipsistic, valuing internal status over real-world impact and complacently expecting government support as their due. The balance between preserving a robust and independent academic sector and ensuring scientists remain accountable to the public is a delicate one.
But if I have to choose between two risks—that science might be a bit insular and too focused on internal incentives, or that the only supporters of science have a one-sided interest in how the results turn out—I’ll take the first one every time.
The Obama strategy in 2008 had a plan A and a plan B. Plan A was to knock out Hillary with big victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. Didn’t work. Plan B was to pad the delegate lead by exploiting small state caucuses and minimizing the damage in Hillary friendly places like New York. That worked, especially since the Hillary campaign was simply incompetent.
Sanders has a similar plan. His Plan A, the early knock out, almost worked. I suspect that Bernie might have even won the popular vote in Iowa, given that the Iowa Democratic Party is refusing to release vote tallies as they did in previous years. So Bernie is on to Plan B. That means he has to accomplish two things:
- Max out caucus states.
- Minimize losses in large primary states.
This is the list of remaining states in February and Super Tuesday and delegate totals for Democrats according to US election central:
- Alabama 60
- American Samoa caucus 10
- Arkansas 37
- Colorado caucus 79
- Georgia 116
- Massachusetts 116
- Minnesota caucus 93
- Nevada 43
- Oklahoma 42
- South Carolina 59
- Tennessee 76
- Texas 252
- Vermont 26
- Virginia 110
You will notice that Bernie has at least three easy states: Vermont, Massachusetts, and probably Minnesota. Then, it gets really hard, really fast. This is not because Hillary will magically become a great campaigner, but the fundamentals favor Hillary.
There are two reasons. First, you win Southern states in the Democratic primary by doing well among Black voters. South Carolina (Feb 27) will be the first test of how well Bernie can move these voters. If he comes up short in South Carolina, it’s bad news because you have more Southern states coming up real fast such as Alabama and Georgia on Super Tuesday and other Southern states soon after that. Second, in March, you will see the types of big states that Hillary dominated in 2008 because of superior name recognition, such as Texas (51% for HRC in 2008), New York (57%), California (51%), Ohio (53%), and Pennsylvania (54%).
Is it impossible for Bernie to win the nomination? Of course not, but he needs to really dominate outside of the establishment friendly mega-states like Ohio and California. That means an immediate and massive turn around in the Black vote, a wipe out in the caucus states, and some strategy for containing the losses from the big states, which even challenged Obama. That sounds really hard to me.