What's the Deal With Oldsters and Hillary, Anyway?

| Sun Apr. 17, 2016 2:52 PM EDT

It's Sunday, and that's time for some idle musing. Today's idle musing is this: why is it that us oldsters tend to favor Hillary over Bernie? Obviously we have some substantive reasons, just as Bernie supporters have theirs. But it's a funny thing. I pretty much agree with Bernie's take on money in politics. I like his attitude toward Wall Street. I have reservations about his foreign policy, but I still suspect that he'd be less interventionist and more to my liking. And yet, I still lean toward Hillary. Partly this is also substantive—she's better briefed, her proposals are more realistic, and I think she could get more done—but there's no denying that a lot of it is mood affiliation.

For some reason this got me thinking about fight scenes in movies. Bear with me here. If you watch a movie from 50 years ago, the fight scenes will mostly strike you as ridiculous. The staging is weak, the sound effects are amateurish, and the choreography is slapdash. Things improved over the next couple of decades, but then they went overboard. Fight scenes began to devour blockbuster movies, with directors all trying to one up each other. But really, a fight is a fight. After a while, there's little new you can do, and all the CGI in the world can't hide that. Anyone who saw the most recent Star Trek movie knows what I'm talking about. The final fight scene was absurd, tedious, and completely unnecessary. But JJ Abrams put it in because he figured his audience demanded it. And I suppose they did. But those of us who have been watching movies since the 60s or 70s found it boring and predictable.

Now on to politics. To me, Bernie is like one of those fight scenes: I've seen it all before. On the Democratic side, primaries have specialized in having at least one bold truthteller like Bernie in every cycle since the 1960s. Sometimes they're lefty truthtellers, sometimes they're "hard truths" truthtellers, and sometimes they're a bit of a mishmash. But the one thing they have in common is that they can afford to tell the truth—in the beginning, at least—because they're mostly running as rebels who don't really expect to win. And if you're not seriously trying to win, there's no downside to being entirely candid. Who cares if you're going to lose a few important demographics in the process?

Since 1968, we've seen at least one of these in every contested Democratic primary. Off the top of my head, the list includes Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Mo Udall, Gary Hart, Paul Simon, Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, Howard Dean, and Dennis Kucinich. They all attracted a crowd of fans, some more than others, and generally speaking they were lionized by the press. None of them won except for McGovern, who went down to an epic defeat in the general election. (Probably any Democrat would have lost that year, but McGovern lost in a landslide.)

So this year I look at Bernie, and I see the same old thing: a bold truthteller who could afford not to play conventional politics because he was never really planning to win. He just wanted to get his issues on the table. The fact that he's running so close is probably as much of a surprise to him as it is to everyone else.

But this is obviously something that's far more salient to older voters than to younger ones. Bernie doesn't seem fresh and courageous to us. He seems like the same guy we've seen every four years. They all have one or two issues they care about. They want those issues on the table, and running for president is a good way to do it. They usually drop out by spring. And generally speaking, most of them probably didn't have the temperament to make good presidents.

Obviously your mileage might vary. Maybe Bernie is finally the one to do it, and I'm just too old and jaded to see it. Maybe his temperament is different, and he'd surprise us all by being a pretty good president. Maybe he'd get serious about rallying his troops to care about downballot elections, and win control of Congress. Maybe he'd really get a lot of the stuff done that he's been talking about.

I doubt it. But then again, none of the previous truthtellers has ever made it to the White House, so who knows? Maybe eight years from now we'll all be feeling the Bern.

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American Independent Party Voters in California Mostly Just Screwed Up When They Registered

| Sun Apr. 17, 2016 11:36 AM EDT

I suppose I shouldn't laugh at this, but the LA Times reports today that the American Independent Party has grown to about 500 thousand members in California since it started up in 1968. Why? A survey suggests that about three-quarters of AIP members thought they were registering as lower-case independents—that is, voters with no party preference. Now that's a low-information voter.

None of this has anything to do with Bernie Sanders. As you can see, voters declaring no party preference have been on the rise for well over a decade. But it still makes a difference: if you're independent, you can vote for Bernie in the California primary. If you're AIP, you can't. So it's likely there are upwards of 400 thousand registered voters in California who may be leaning toward Bernie but won't be able to vote for him. They better re-register quick if they want to feel the Bern.

They won't, of course. Anyone who made a mistake like this isn't likely to care enough about Democratic Party politics to bother. Still, it makes you wonder if someone could siphon off, say, Republican votes by starting up the Independent Voters of the Republic Party or something. Worth a try!

Why Do We Put Up With Saudi Arabia? Maybe We Don't Have Much of a Choice.

| Sat Apr. 16, 2016 5:06 PM EDT

Responding to reports that Pakistan's intelligence service funded a deadly 2009 Taliban attack on a CIA outpost in Afghanistan, National Review's David French says we should release the secret 28 pages of the 9/11 report that describe possible Saudi involvement:

We’ve long known that our “alliance” with Saudi Arabia has put us in bed with the devil. It’s time for us to find out how evil that devil truly is.

....I recognize that the needs of war sometimes require our nation to ally itself with dangerous regimes (see World War II for the most salient example), but there is still a difference between a shaky or temporary ally and an actual enemy — a nation that is trying to undermine American interests and kill Americans. In other words, there is a line, and it is worth asking (and re-asking) if Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are on the right side.

This is one of those remarkable issues that unites far right, centrists, squishy left, and far left. We all think pretty poorly of Saudi Arabia, and we'd all like to know what's in those 28 pages. The fact that no one in the federal government wants to oblige us just adds to our conviction that these pages contain something pretty damning.

Still, this raises a difficult question, especially for conservatives: who do you want the US to ally with in the Muslim world? The basic power blocs in the Middle East are the Sunni gulf states led by Saudi Arabia and the Shiite bloc led by Iran. Obviously Iran is out. So does this mean conservatives want to dispense with allies altogether? Give lots of arms to Israel but otherwise just pull out of the Middle East altogether? Launch periodic wars against whoever happens to be the greatest perceived threat at any given time?

My loathing of Saudi Arabia is pretty boundless on all sorts of levels: religious liberty, treatment of women, encouragement of Wahhabi intolerance throughout the Muslim world, geopolitical treachery, general tribal assholishness, human rights in general, and plenty of other things I've probably forgotten. At the same time, Iran is hardly a sterling citizen. They lack some of Saudi Arabia's vices, but make up for it with others (less proselytization, more export of terrorism). And at least Saudi Arabia cooperates with us some of the time. Iran wants nothing to do with us.

This is all pretty obvious, but I guess it's why I go off on rants about Saudi Arabia only occasionally. It's easy to do for someone like me, who has no influence over anything. But if I were president, and I had to choose from a steaming pile of seriously ugly choices—with American interests, American lives, Mideast stability, and the threat of global terrorist surges all on the line? Well, I might look at everything, hold my nose, and play nice with the Saudis. I don't know. But that's apparently the choice that President Obama made, even though it's pretty clear he didn't like it much.

Everyone Knows Why Hillary Clinton Won't Release Her Goldman Sachs Speeches

| Sat Apr. 16, 2016 1:15 PM EDT

John Judis says he's worried about Hillary Clinton again:

I don't understand why she can't put the Goldman, Sachs question behind her. I initially assumed that she either didn't have transcripts or that what she said was the usual milquetoast stuff politicians offer up. But her continued refusal to provide transcripts (which I now assume must exist) suggests that there must be something damning in them.

If she gets the nomination, she'll face these questions again in the fall, and if Trump or Cruz is her opponent, these questions will detract from the attention that their past utterances about Mexican rapists or masturbation or whathaveyou.

For what it's worth, I think we all know what's in those transcripts: a bit of routine praise for the yeoman work that investment bankers do to keep the gears of the economy well oiled. Maybe something like this:

These are tough times for investment bankers. I think Goldman Sachs is the only organization with a lower approval rating than Congress [audience laughs politely between bites of prime rib]. But seriously, folks, Main Street and Wall Street need each other. Bankers aren't villains. I support higher leverage requirements and regulation of derivatives [audience stares moodily at their forks], but I've always said that we need to do it in a practical way. Some of the financial engineering that's come under such attack from the Bernie Sanders of the world [audience brightens] is just what our country needs. It helps states build roads and cities build schools. You're the villains when things go bad—and maybe sometimes you deserve to be. But other times you're the heroes America can't do without.

This is the kind of thing that people say when they give a speech. But in the hands of a political opponent, it will come out like this:

Bankers aren't villains....The financial engineering that's come under such attack from the Bernie Sanders of the world is just what our country needs. It helps states build roads and cities build schools....You're the heroes America can't do without.

Something like that, anyway. My own guess is that it's vanishingly unlikely Hillary said anything in these speeches that's truly a bombshell. Her entire life suggests the kind of caution and experience with leaks that almost certainly made these speeches dull and predictable. But the Goldman folks knew all that up front. They just wanted the cachet of having a Clinton address their dinner.

Still, when you give speeches to any industry group, you offer up some praise for the vital work they do. It's just part of the spiel. And Hillary knows perfectly well without even looking that some of that stuff is in these speeches—and it can be taken out of context and made into yet another endless and idiotic Republican meme. Remember "You didn't build that"? Sure you do.

On another note, if Hillary does release the transcripts, she's sure not going to do it now. She'll wait until she has the nomination wrapped up and then release them during the dog days of May or June. If possible, she'll do it the same day Donald Trump blows up the news cycle again. By that time, Democrats will all be circling the wagons to defend her and the entire foofarah will be dead by the time the real campaign starts in September.

As for the odds of a genuine bombshell, I'd put it at about 1 percent. I guess you never know about these things, but literally everything in Hillary's 40-year political career suggests a woman who simply doesn't traffic in bombshells. It's not in her personality, and in any case, long experience has taught her better. It's only barely conceivable that something genuinely damning is anywhere in any of those speeches.

Campaign Reporters Hate Everyone

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 8:35 PM EDT

Who gets the most positive campaign coverage? Vox asked Crimson Hexagon, a social media software analytics company, to run the numbers, and the answer is John Kasich. Who gets the most negative coverage? Hillary Clinton.

No surprise there, I suppose. As usual, though, I'd caution against making very much out of this. For starters, there's not a lot of difference between the candidates. And sometimes there's just bad news to report. I think that Hillary has been the target of some poor reporting on her email problems, but that doesn't change the fact that she was bound to get a lot of negative coverage no matter what. That's life.

The chart on the right shows net coverage (positive minus negative) for all five of the remaining candidates, and the most telling statistic is that campaign coverage is just overwhelmingly negative, full stop. On average, each of the candidates received about 5 percent positive coverage and 35 percent negative coverage. It's no wonder that everyone thinks they're treated uniquely badly by the press. They obsess over the fact that they (really and truly) get overwhelmingly bad coverage, without realizing that everyone else does too. Apparently campaign reporters just hate the idea of writing anything positive about anybody.

Bernie Sanders earned $205,000 in 2014

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 7:56 PM EDT

Earlier today I noted that someone who earns $200,000 pays an average federal income tax rate of 15 percent. Well, it turns out that Bernie Sanders is really, really average. He released his 2014 tax return tonight, and it reports that he had an adjusted gross income of $205,617 and total taxes due of $27,653. That's 13 percent of his income.

Oddly, his return shows total wages of $156,441, even though US senators earn a minimum of $174,000. I'm not sure what the explanation for this is. He also shows charitable contributions of $8,350, which is 4 percent of his income. He'll get some flak for that, I suppose, but I find all the showiness of politicians about their charitable donations to be tiresome. Whatever it is, it's fine.

I just want to know why his reported wages were less than his official salary. Does the Senate pay less if you collect Social Security benefits?

UPDATE: In comments, machev suggests that Bernie contributes $17,500 to the federal equivalent of a 401(k). So his reportable income is $174K - $17.5K = $156.5K

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Maybe Quantum Physics Can Explain How An Object Can Be So Hot and Cool at the Same Time

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 4:32 PM EDT

Canada (a country to our north) has a prime minister (a sort of president-type person) who is very handsome (sexually appealing). People like (like like) him because he says charming things and is liberal.

So anyway Justin Trudeau was visiting some chalkboard factory or something and a reporter jokingly asked him to explain quantum computing thinking that har har no way could the attractive liberal president type person answer this question but them BAM he did answer it.

This is pretty great and everything but FYI the United States also has a very handsome liberal president-type person and he did this years ago.

Your move, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Justice Department Is Investigating Treatment of Gay and Trans Prisoners

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 3:46 PM EDT

The Justice Department and the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia have launched a joint investigation into the treatment of gay and transgender inmates in Georgia prisons. The DOJ confirmed to the Georgia Voice that this is the first time it has opened an investigation focused on LGBT prisoners.

The probe follows the high-profile case of Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman who, as Mother Jones reported last year, sued employees in Georgia's correctional department for allegedly denying her medical treatment and failing to protect her from sexual assault while she was detained. She was released from prison last August, and the lawsuit was settled in February.

"All prisoners in Georgia institutions are entitled to serve their time safely, especially if physical harm or abuse occurs because of a prisoner's sexual orientation or gender identity," John Horn, US attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, told the Georgia Voice.

The DOJ recently released new national guidelines to help protect transgender inmates, who face high rates of sexual assault.

Friday Cat Blogging - 15 April 2016

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 2:56 PM EDT

At vast expense, I have spent the past few weeks completely renovating my work area. Needless to say, I didn't do this for me. I did it for you, because you all deserve blog posts written in the most stimulating and technologically advanced surroundings possible.

It all started when I suddenly realized that I had never liked my desk lamp—so I bought a new one. Then it kind of snowballed. You know how it goes. As you can see, the cats are pretty happy with the whole setup. Sometimes they share the birdwatching pod, other times they stretch out in their own private pods. What more can a cat ask for?

Hillary Fudges on the Minimum Wage

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 2:40 PM EDT

I didn't see last night's debate, but I noted this in the transcript this morning:

BLITZER: If a Democratic Congress put a $15 minimum wage bill on your desk, would you sign it?

CLINTON: Well, of course I would. And I have supported supported the fight for 15. I am proud to have the endorsement of most of the unions that have led the fight for 15. I was proud to stand on the stage with Governor Cuomo, with SEIU and others who have been leading this battle and I will work as hard as I can to raise the minimum wage. I always have. I supported that when I was in the Senate.

SANDERS: Well, look...

CLINTON: But what I have also said is that we’ve got to be smart about it, just the way Governor Cuomo was here in New York. If you look at it, we moved more quickly to $15 in New York City, more deliberately toward $12, $12.50 upstate then to $15. That is exactly my position. It’s a model for the nation and that’s what I will do as president.

This is a pretty obvious evasion, and I'm sorry to see it. Here's her official position:

Hillary believes we are long overdue in raising the minimum wage. She has supported raising the federal minimum wage to $12, and believes that we should go further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts, and workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, such as the Fight for 15 and recent efforts in Los Angeles and New York to raise their minimum wage to $15.

Blitzer's question was clearly about raising the federal minimum wage to $15, and Hillary immediately said she'd support that. But she doesn't. She supports a $12 federal minimum wage. Pretty obviously, though, she wanted the TV audience to take away a different impression.

I hate to see pandering like this. Hillary's position on the minimum wage is perfectly reasonable: a federal minimum of $12. States and cities have always been able to enact higher minimums if they want, and the president has no say over that. So why not say so? Would she really lose that many votes? My guess is that none of the hardcore $15 folks are voting for her in the first place.