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Silicon Valley Not Really Feeling the Bern

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 10:08 PM EDT

Based on donor data, Brian Fung says that Bernie Sanders has a lot of fans in the dotcom biz:

This wouldn't be worth mentioning except for the fact that Sanders appears to have a broad-based appeal among Silicon Valley workers compared with his rivals. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sanders's campaign committee seems to be by far the biggest recipient of donations from employees of Alphabet (Google's parent company), Apple, Microsoft, Amazon.com and Intel.

....This sets up a few possibilities. It's conceivable, for instance, that Clinton's support among tech companies is actually higher than what we can observe from her list....Another possibility is that tech-industry folks are donating to Clinton but in amounts too small to break into the lists we're looking at....What we can say is that Sanders appears to have much more support than Clinton across a wider range of tech companies, even if the amount of that financial support is relatively small.

Nah. Google employees are split nearly evenly between Bernie and Hillary, and employees of the other four companies probably are too. We just can't see them because their totals fall below the top 20 in Hillary's donor list. But why guess about this? All we have to do is look at the overall industry numbers. Here they are:

Compared to overall fundraising, this represents a bigger tilt toward Hillary than average. And despite the size of this sector, it represents a dismal 0.43 percent of Hillary's total campaign donations and 0.36 percent of Bernie's. So we can draw the following conclusions:

  • Hillary has broader support in the internet sector than Bernie.
  • Hillary gets a bigger percentage of her donations from the internet sector.
  • Silicon Valley is full of cheapskates who don't care much about politics.

So there you have it.

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Donald Trump Is Right: The GOP Primary System Is Rigged

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 6:35 PM EDT

I hate to agree with Donald Trump about anything, but he's got a point: the Republican primary process is really unfair. Just look at New York: Kasich and Cruz won 40 percent of the vote but only 4 percent of the delegates. It's an outrage.

And it's been that way all along. In the early contests, Trump's opponents won 68 percent of the vote but only 38 percent of the delegates. On Super Tuesday they won 66 percent of the vote but only 57 percent of the delegates. In early March they eked out a fair result: 63 percent of the vote and 66 percent of the delegates. But on Super Tuesday II it was back to business as usual: they crushed Trump with 60 percent of the vote but won only 38 percent of the delegates.

I'm glad Trump is helping shine a media spotlight on this gross inequity—and he deserves special credit since he's the one benefiting from it. It's a pretty selfless act. Maybe someone will finally start paying attention to the way the Republican establishment is so obviously in the bag for Trump.

Is It Finally Time For a UBI?

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 3:55 PM EDT

UBI is having a moment. Not a big moment, mind you, but a moment nonetheless. Why?

UBI stands for Universal Basic Income, and it's just what it sounds like. It guarantees everyone, rich and poor alike, a certain minimum cash income and replaces the alphabet soup of current welfare programs. No more food stamps. No more Section 8. No more unemployment compensation.

On the right, UBI got a boost a few years ago from Charles Murray, who championed the idea in his book In Our Hands: A Plan To Replace The Welfare State. On the left, the rise of Bernie Sanders has given it a bit of new momentum, even though it's not part of Bernie's campaign platform. It's also gotten some attention thanks to planned experiments in Finland and the Netherlands, and a referendum for a national UBI in Switzerland this summer. On his Freakonomics podcast last week, Stephen Dubner suggests it's "an idea whose time finally may have come."

So what are the pros and cons? Here's a quick, extremely non-exhaustive rundown.

THE GOOD

#1: A UBI eliminates bad work incentives.

There's a problem inherent with all means-tested welfare benefits: they phase out as you make more money. Suppose you make $15,000 per year, and above that point you lose 50 cents of welfare benefits for every dollar you earn. This means that working more hours or taking a more challenging job doesn't pay much. On net, a raise of $5,000 per year only gets you $2,500 of actual compensation. This reduces the incentive to work harder in order to escape poverty. But a UBI is different: Since you continue to receive a UBI no matter what your income, it has no effect on work incentives.

#2: A UBI reduces admin costs.

Means-tested programs all have to be administered, and that costs money. A UBI reclaims nearly all of that. The government just sends out a monthly check to every citizen, and that's it. Admin costs are minuscule.

#3: A UBI allows the poor to live freer lives.

Poor people no longer have to endure a demanding gauntlet of welfare offices and complicated forms. They don't have to prove their income is low, or that they have kids, or that they're actively looking for work. Nor do they have to accept only the specific forms of welfare the government feels like giving them. They just get a check every month, and they can spend it as they please.

THE BAD

#1: It costs a fortune.

A reasonable UBI would probably amount to about $10,000 per year, which works out to a total cost of $3.2 trillion. Of course, we'd also eliminate lots of welfare payments, so the net cost would be less than that. But even accounting for that, it would probably require the federal income tax to be doubled or tripled. That's a pretty tough sell.

#2: It can't replace everything.

You can—barely—live on $10,000 per year. But that won't pay for health care. It won't pay for public schools for our kids. We'll still have to keep some welfare programs around even with a UBI. On the plus side, as long as these programs are universal, they generally retain the benefits of a UBI: low admin costs and no bad work incentives.

#3: What about children?

This is tricky. Option A is to simply include them like everyone else. But this provides a substantial incentive to have children in order to get their UBI, and that's not something most voters are likely to accept. Option B is to give children a smaller UBI than adults. But would that be enough to provide for them properly? Nobody wants kids to suffer because their parents are poor. How do you ensure that?

#4: What about the elderly?

Should retirees be folded into the UBI? If so, their pensions would be quite a bit lower than they are now. If not, we'd basically be guaranteeing a higher UBI for old people than for young people. Would that seem fair to most people?

#5: Money is a sadly vulnerable commodity.

It's an unfortunate but painful truth that poor people are often vulnerable to having cash taken away from them. It can be stolen, of course, but more likely it's simply confiscated by someone they're living with. This is obviously a problem with earnings of all kinds, but one advantage of existing welfare programs is that it provides a minimum floor to this. A drunk and abusive husband can't take away your Section 8 voucher or your food stamps or your Medicaid in order to blow it on beer and smokes.

This is just the briefest outline. And it may be that in the near future we no longer have much choice about this anyway. As robots take away more and more jobs, a UBI may be the only realistic answer to a nation full of robots that can replace low-skill workers at almost no cost. If we get to a point where a substantial number of people flatly don't have the skills to perform any job for any wage, what are we going to do? The most likely answer is that we'll end up with a UBI whether we like it or not. And that makes it worth thinking about right now.

Harriet Tubman Will Replace Jackson on $20 Bill

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 12:58 PM EDT

Who says Broadway musicals are a dying art form?

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Wednesday will announce plans to both keep Alexander Hamilton on the front of the $10 bill and to knock Andrew Jackson off the front of the $20 in favor of Harriet Tubman, sources tell POLITICO.

....Lew's reversal comes after he announced last summer that he was considering replacing Hamilton on the $10 bill with a woman. The plan drew swift rebukes from fans of Hamilton, who helped create the Treasury Department and the modern American financial system....Supporters of putting a woman on the $10 bill have complained that it will take too long to put a woman on the $20 bill. But people familiar with the matter said new designs for the bills should be ready by 2020. Treasury is likely to ask the Federal Reserve, which makes the final decision, to speed the process and get the bills into circulation as quickly as possible.

The movement to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill gathered strength after the Broadway musical named after the former Treasury Secretary and founding father became a runaway smash hit.

Quick! Someone create a smash hit dubstep-zydeco dance musical featuring Andrew Jackson. It's his only hope.

I still wish Lew had chosen Frances Perkins, since I like the tradition of portraying people on currency who have served in office, but that's just a personal thing. (Though I do admire Perkins greatly, and think she deserves more attention than she usually gets.) Still, it's hard to argue with Tubman—or with any of dozens of other women. When you're going from zero to one, there are a whole lot of worthy choices.

And it's also nice to see that they can manage to put a new bill in circulation by 2020 after all. I mean, 2030? Seriously? How can it take 15 years to design a new bill and start shipping it to banks?

POSTSCRIPT: There's a bit of irony here. The $20 bill is ubiquitous largely because that's what ATMs have been spitting out since the late 70s. But a twenty today is worth less a ten back then. We really ought to be using $50 bills as our go-to walking-around currency these days, and that's what ATMs should be churning out. By 2020, maybe they will be. And by 2025 cash will probably have disappeared entirely. So by the time Tubman finally makes it onto the twenty, we won't be using them much anymore. Women just can't catch a break.

Harriet Tubman to Replace Andrew Jackson on the $20

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 12:34 PM EDT

US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will reportedly announce on Wednesday the decision to replace the image of former President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with an image of Harriet Tubman.

Politico reports Lew will also announce that the image of Alexander Hamilton will remain on the $10 bill, but that the back of that bill will feature members of the suffragist movement. Last month, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the Broadway musical Hamilton, met with Lew to discuss keeping the former president on the $10 bill. 

The movement to replace Jackson's image with Tubman's image started with the "Women on 20's" group, which advocated featuring a woman on the $20 bill because of Jackson's controversial support of the Indian Removal Act.

This is a breaking news post. We will update once the announcement is made.

Factlet of the Day: Youth Turnout in New York Wasn't Much Different Than in 2008

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 12:33 PM EDT

For the record, here's the Democratic turnout in New York in 2008 and 2016:

 

Total Turnout

18-29 Turnout

2008

1.82 million

273 thousand

2016

1.81 million

322 thousand

The turnout rate among all residents aged 18-29 was up from 9.8 percent to 11.5 percent. That's a nice increase, but as I recall, Obama didn't spend a whole lot of time in New York in 2008. When you take that into account, it's hard to see much evidence here of a massive surge in youth interest caused by the Bernie Sanders campaign.

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It's Not Just Blue-Collar Workers Who Voted For Trump Last Night

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 11:47 AM EDT

I don't really know how much to make of this, but Donald Trump's victory in New York last night was remarkably thorough. Take a look at the exit poll results on the right for evidence.

Yes, Trump did well in his wheelhouse of high school grads. But college grads and postgrads also voted for him by huge margins. In New York, at least, having a PhD (or an MA or a law degree or a medical degree) didn't do much to help you see through his obvious flimflam.

Perhaps even more remarkably, Trump's strongest support didn't come from blue-collar workers with modest incomes. It came from middle and upper-middle-class voters. Whatever their motivations, it didn't have anything to do with China and Mexico taking away their jobs.

Another Pension Fund Goes South After the Great Recession

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 11:14 AM EDT

Here's the latest big pension fund in trouble:

More than a quarter of a million truckers, retirees and their families could soon see their pension benefits severely cut — even though their pension fund is still years away from running out of money.

....Like many other pension plans, the Central States Pension Fund suffered heavy investment losses during the financial crisis that cut into the pool of money available to pay out benefits. While the stock market has recovered since then, the improvements were not enough to make up for the shortfall....That imbalance left the fund paying out $3.46 in pension benefits for every $1 it received from employers. The shortfall has resulted in the fund paying out $2 billion more in benefits than it receives in employer contributions each year.

One of the big criticisms of 401(k) style retirement plans is that they can lose a bundle when the stock market tanks. And sure enough, that's exactly what happened during the Great Recession. The value of 401(k) plans fell dramatically, causing a lot of pain for people who were close to retirement.

But don't let that make you nostalgic for the good old days of defined-benefit pensions. Sure, they promise a steady retirement income, but promises are only as good as the money to back them up. This means that pension funds which lost a lot of money during the Great Recession are in no better shape than 401(k) plans that did the same. There's no magic here.

What's more, 401(k) plans have rebounded since the depths of the recession: taking into account both their losses and their subsequent gains during the recovery, the average 401(k) balance has grown more than 10 percent per year between 2007 and 2013. Apparently that's not the case for the Central States Pension Fund. Perhaps those much-maligned 401(k) plans are a better retirement vehicle than their critics give them credit for?

Three Officials Charged in Flint Water Crisis

| Wed Apr. 20, 2016 10:04 AM EDT

Update, April 20, 10:20 a.m. EST: Three state and city officials have been charged in connection to the Flint water crisis. Flint employee Michael Glasgow was charged with tampering with evidence and two officials from Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality, Steven Bush and Michael Prysby, were charged with office misconduct and tampering with evidence.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is expected to announce the first set of criminal charges on Wednesday in connection with the Flint water crisis that exposed city residents to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water. The Associated Press reports that up to three officials will be charged, including two state regulators and one Flint employee.

The announcement comes just one day after a federal judge dismissed a $150 million lawsuit filed by Flint residents on behalf of those affected by the city's contaminated water system. The "man-made disaster," as Flint's mayor called the situation, started with a 2014 move to switch the city's water source to the Flint River instead of Lake Huron, where Detroit residents get their water, in an effort to save money.

Gov. Rick Snyder has come under pressure to resign amid growing evidence that state officials knew the change in water systems exposed residents to high levels of lead, leaving thousands of children at risk of brain damage. On Tuesday, Snyder announced he planned to drink filtered water from a Flint residence for at least a month in order to prove it is now safe to consume.

For more on the crisis, head to our investigation here.