Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The strategic power of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Since I like to tell my political friends about insidery Pelosi-type stuff where I feel I can provide new information, I don't end up discussing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez much. She plays the outside game. And she plays it so well.

She has an amazingly varied political skillset that we don't have anywhere else -- social media ability, strategic acumen in asking questions during congressional investigations, and a sense for how to move the Overton window leftward. Her early advocacy for higher taxes helped to bring Sanders' similarly large income tax increase and Warren's especially interesting wealth tax within the frame of legitimate discourse.

She can do this because she's in a district where Democrats win 75%-80% of the presidential vote share. Republicans can depress her poll numbers nationally -- which they're doing with constant Fox News attacks -- and she'll still win her district comfortably every time.

I like the fact that she's taking so much right-wing lightning and not running for President. Having a Congressional lightning rod sticking up to where Presidential candidates are getting zapped less often is nice!

It's the same way I like seeing Republican media still shooting at Hillary. She won't be running again! Gentlemen, keep wasting your ammunition on a non-candidate. And perhaps when you're beaten in 2020 by someone you should've been shooting at instead, that will be Hillary's strange revenge against those who hated her.

Rumor has it that AOC has attracted a Republican challenger for 2020, who wants to run on a pro-ICE line in the 50% Hispanic district. I hope Republicans donate heavily. Waste your money too, gentlemen. Maybe we'll beat the Senators you should've donated to, and pass the wealth tax. Don't worry, it'll cost you a little less after you wasted that money.

It seems that right-wing media has made its people hate her, while left-wing media still hasn't gotten the message all the way out to its people yet. So to all those of you sharing AOC memes: thanks for helping. 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Some SDNY speculation after Mueller

Plausible-optimistic speculation is that instead of indicting Trump himself, Mueller simply passed the investigations on to other prosecutors. If one of them is SDNY, the office that got Michael Cohen, this could really have the feel of a movie script.

SDNY is where Preet Bharara used to work (and where he won 85 consecutive insider trading cases). He was prosecuting Prevezon, a Russian mafia-linked corporation, for a $200 million money-laundering fine under the Magnitsky Act. Then the Trump Administration fired him. With the prosecution disrupted, Prevezon settled for a mere $6 million fine, as their attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya was delighted to announce.

It was Veselnitskaya, a former Soviet counterintelligence officer, and a translator who met with Manafort, Kushner, and Donald Jr in Trump Tower during the campaign to talk about the Magnitsky Act and about "dirt on Clinton". Trump Tower is geographically within the Southern District of New York.

So, that's a lot to absorb if you haven't heard it before. But here's the upshot. SDNY is famous for being ferocious. How do you think they feel about having Bharara knocked off a case against the Russian mafia, and having to settle for $6M out of $200M? I can't imagine they're too happy about it.

As it happens, the apparent quid pro quo that got their superstar fired and lost them the case was negotiated within their jurisdiction. So maybe it's for the best that Mueller didn't bring any indictments. Someone less constrained and more furious might have said to him, "This one is ours."

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Eulogy for my father

My father died in January of this year. This is the eulogy I read at his funeral, about a month ago.
Achintya Kumar Sinhababu was born in a tiny village called Kadakuli, in the Indian province of West Bengal. The name translates to “Muddy Road”, and the total population was probably under a hundred. Much of his family still lives there – we’re the only ones who live in America. They’re having a funeral for him there too now, with hundreds of people from surrounding villages in attendance.

Apart from knowing that he was born in the early 1950s, we aren’t sure about the date or even the year of his birth. Back in those days, people used to write down inaccurate birthdates to get extra rations from the government. But the modern world is full of forms that require you to claim a birthdate, so April 3 1951 is what he used.

If you met my father in the last few years, you probably knew him simply as a sweet old retired man, which is indeed who he was. But since you might not know as much about his journey from that poor village in India to being a top research scientist in America, that’s what I want to spend some time telling you about.

Those of us who are born in the US take it for granted that we’ll be able to go to high school. But many people on the village didn’t have any education beyond elementary school, and India was poor enough back then that high school had to be paid for privately. Fortunately, my dad had stellar test scores in junior high, and my grandfather used those scores to convince the headmaster of a boarding school some distance away to admit him for free.

Despite coming from a poorer background than many of his fellow students, Dad kept doing well academically and soon got a reputation as the smartest kid in the class. Only two meals a day were provided at the high school, and during hard times back home he had trouble getting enough money from the family for a third. But because of how well he was doing in class, wealthier students were happy to trade their food to him for tutoring.

In high school, Dad discovered chemistry, the focus of his work for the rest of his life. He told me a month before he died that the one thing he always had was that he understood the atom better than anyone else. And that’s how he achieved success in life – understanding chemistry from the atoms up.

He did well enough on the exams at the end of high school to win a scholarship to Presidency College – the most prestigious university in the state and one of the most prestigious in all of India. From there, he was accepted to do his Masters degree at IIT Kanpur, a top Indian science and engineering school. At the next level, American universities started to get interested. After sending out applications to places that didn’t insist on charging application fees, because he didn’t have the money to pay, he was invited to do a PhD at the University of Iowa.

Right before he went to Iowa, he married a girl from a village a short distance away.  Mom’s mom had been going to the temple and praying that Dad would marry her daughter. Grandma was delighted, and it also turned out very well for my brother, my sister, and I that they got married.

So after setting up in Des Moines, Dad went home to bring his wife along with with him. It must have been bewildering for Mom – a girl from an Indian village, going straight into an Iowa winter. She had to learn her English in America. We don't really have any pictures from back then, because Mom and Dad didn’t have enough money for a camera.

In 1980, Dad got his PhD and was offered a postdoc at the University of Kansas. He would finally have enough money to start a family, so that’s when I come into existence. It’s also when there’s enough money to buy a camera, so we have more pictures starting around then. Robin is born in 1983.

Dad raised us with an immigrant’s sense of the amazing possibility ahead of us in America. To him, America was the land of opportunity, the place where he could rise to levels of success that weren’t really possible in India. He wanted us to work hard and succeed in the amazing new world ahead of us. He still tried to teach us some of the best things of the old country – we watched the 94-part Indian TV series of the Mahabharat, the great Indian epic. But the overall cultural direction was forward into America. We learned baseball, not cricket. Dad was a big fan of Westerns. He really liked High Noon and its iconic theme song.

When he wasn’t at home, Dad was off in the lab doing science. Since Dad being amazing at chemistry is what’s driving this whole story, I want to tell a little science story to help you understand that.

This is from when Dad was a postdoc, working in the lab at the University of Kansas, trying to answer the questions chemistry researchers are supposed to answer. He was researching a reaction that was important to industrial chemists, who were trying to set it up in factories to make a lot of some useful molecule. A problem they often run into is that their reactions only make a small amount of the molecule, and make a lot of waste. With the reaction Dad was researching, Kansas, an input molecule kept reacting with itself, leading to lots of waste products which happened to smell terrible.

Dad got the idea that the surface of silica gel had the right structure to hold the input molecule apart from other molecules of its kind when the reaction was started. Separated from each other, the input molecules woldn’t react with themselves. Then the reaction would proceed efficiently, without the bad-smelling waste products. I think he could just see this in his scientific imagination as he thought about the molecules. So he put some silica gel in when he did the reaction, and got very little waste. He published a paper on this in the September 1983 volume of the Journal of Organic Chemistry. The title is "Silica gel assisted reductive cyclization of alkoxy-2, .beta.-dinitrostyrenes to alkoxyindoles."

After the paper came out, he went to a conference where two chemists working in industry publicly thanked him for figuring out how to do a clean synthesis of the desired product. One expressed wonder that silica gel, of all things, was the way to make it work. If I understand how Dad figured that out, it’s basically a matter of understanding the atom, working your way up from there to how atoms come together form the surface of silica gel, and then understanding what that surface will do to affect a chemical reaction.

While the actual science was going well, Dad still wasn’t finding the job openings to become a professor like he’d always wanted. So in 1988, he and Mom took me and Robin to Raleigh, North Carolina, where Supriya would soon be born. That’s where he would start working in the pharmaceutical industry for Glaxo, which eventually became Glaxo Wellcome, which eventually became GlaxoSmithKline, which is now called GSK.

Once he got to industry, Dad’s career really took off. He turned his understanding of atoms and molecules to a new and important topic: Drug metabolism, or how to make sure pharmaceuticals do what they’re supposed to in your body. When you take some medicine, it has to be swallowed, survive the stomach acid, get absorbed in the intestine, not be toxic to something else in your body, and then actually do the thing it’s supposed to do. Shaping a molecule so that it could dodge all the stomach enzymes and get absorbed and not be toxic and do its job was the order of business. Dad started out working on that as a pharmaceutical chemist, and later in his career was hired to manage teams of scientists working on those issues for major pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Those management responsibilities are what brought him from North Carolina to Philadelphia with GlaxoSmithKline, and Philadelphia to the San Francisco Bay area with Genentech. They brought him in to build new groups of scientists working on drug metabolism. And that’s what he did, hiring fast and building big teams of scientists.

After his work with Genentech was finished, Dad retired to Roseville, where many of you know him from. After five decades of hard work, he was finally free to relax. Nature and science were never far away – he’d spend the evenings watching YouTube videos about the animal kingdom and space exploration. I wish he could’ve had many more years of contented evenings like that – it would’ve been a fitting reward for decades of contributing to scientific knowledge. But I don’t think he felt he really needed a reward for that. Figuring out the answers is what a scientist wants to do, for its own sake, and that’s what he did.  

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Pelosi chronicles

Back in November, I posted a series of stories about Nancy Pelosi's amazing legislative achievements for my Facebook friends. Today Pelosi returns as Speaker. So I thought it would be good to share these stories publicly.

The first of my Nancy Pelosi stories, chronologically speaking, was from the worst time I’ve ever lived through in politics.

It was late 2004. George W. Bush had just been re-elected. Having launched a pointless war that would kill a million people, he turned his attention to privatizing Social Security. As he said two days after winning re-election, “I earned capital in this campaign, political capital. And now I intend to spend it.” Nothing had stopped him before, and what would stop him now?

Pelosi had become House Democratic Leader. Republicans had a 233-202 House majority and unified control of government. Dick Gephardt, the previous Democratic Leader, had sponsored the 2002 Iraq War Resolution, hoping that a forceful pro-war position would help his Presidential campaign. (There’s a lot we need to fix about the Democratic Party. But believe me when I say that it is so much better than back then. ) Having gotten their war from Gephardt, Republicans expected to get Social Security privatization from Pelosi.

Privatization would’ve been a policy design horror story. Social Security is one of the most efficiently administrated parts of the federal budget. Money comes in, checks go out, the computer does it, and there isn’t much overhead. Contrast this with the fees people would be paying if they each had to manage a personal Social Security account in the stock market through major financial corporations. And then there’s the large influx of naïve new investors for Wall Street to plunder. One of the lowest-overhead parts of the federal budget would be turned into a giant corporate welfare machine.

More importantly, the whole point of Social Security is to make sure you don’t end up in poverty when you’re an old person who can’t work. We don’t want you being miserable in your old age, no matter whether you’re bad at investing. Turning the program into personally managed investments is the end of that. (There were kludgy solutions like guaranteeing a minimum payout no matter how your stocks did. Economically minded friends will be able to describe and criticize the sort of investment behavior that encourages.)

Republicans weren’t unified on how to pay for the transition costs associated with privatization. Many refused to raise taxes, being Republicans. Some refused to cut benefits, as that was politically toxic with elderly voters. Some refused to run deficits, because back then a few Republicans were still like that. (

So despite the Republican majority, any way of funding the plan would require some Democratic votes. Republican leaders knew this. Fortunately, Pelosi did too. Good vote-counting isn’t just knowing how the votes will go now, but how they’ll go if compromises go this way or events go that way. That’s what Pelosi does.

When Republican leaders tried to pressure Democrats into supplying the extra votes for privatization, Pelosi made sure they found united opposition and no willingness to negotiate. The ease with which Republicans got the Iraq War from Gephardt made them expect a Democratic version of Social Security Privatization that they could make slight concessions to for the necessary Democratic votes. Republicans and centrists kept asking Pelosi when the Democratic version of Social Security privatization was going to come out. Her answer from spring of 2005 was: “Never. Is never good enough for you?” (link below)

Privatization did have one Democratic supporter for a little while – Congressman Allen Boyd from Florida. I don’t know what Pelosi did to him to make him stop. But after he retired and became a lobbyist, he became a top source for quotes about how awful Pelosi is. This is why I get so frustrated with lefty types who dislike Pelosi. You don’t even know how much your enemies hate her for crushing them.

Pelosi’s strategy killed privatization. Republicans didn’t have the votes within their caucus because they couldn’t agree on the funding. Because Pelosi had held the caucus together, Republicans couldn’t get the votes from Democrats. Knowing they’d lose, Republican leaders didn’t even bring the bill to the House floor. Major initiatives usually die in the Senate because of a filibuster or the lower degree of control leadership has over Senators, but Pelosi killed Social Security Privatization so hard it couldn’t even be voted on in the House.

Many of my friends see Trump’s election in 2016 as the worst political event in their lives. For me, Bush’s re-election in 2004 was bigger. We were in the depths of a giant war, and Republicans had won an election on it. I’ve enjoyed being your Optimism Guy for the past two years. But I couldn’t have done it back then, as the only future I could see was war everywhere and American politics spiralling into endless horror. I can do it now partly because in that darkest moment, Nancy suddenly destroyed Social Security privatization.


It's occurred to me that the many folks who got into Democratic politics during the Trump Era may not sufficiently appreciate Nancy Pelosi because they don't know the old stories. I should tell you how Pelosi turned the Democrats into a party that favored withdrawal from Iraq.

Pelosi had always opposed the Iraq War. In 2002, she voted against the war resolution. In 2005, she wanted to push for withdrawal, while fellow Democrats Rahm Emanuel and Steny Hoyer thought it was a better strategy to continue with the "we support the war but don't like how Bush is doing it" line with which John Kerry had lost in 2004.

Pelosi turned to her political ally Jack Murtha, an ex-Marine with enough Vietnam medals to cover much of his barrel chest. Murtha had voted for the war, but had misgivings. So Pelosi asked him to sponsor the withdrawal resolution. He gave a big speech on the floor of the House and was attacked heavily by right-wing media... but in mainstream circles, it played well. Democrats who wanted withdrawal but were nervous about being tarred as unpatriotic were willing to fall in line behind the decorated war hero. It made withdrawal acceptable and shifted the whole party.

By the 2007-2008 primary, basically every Democrat wanted to get out of Iraq. We were far from 2003-2004 when Howard Dean was seen as extreme for criticizing the war. Iraq War opposition was actually more prominent on the Republican side (Ron Paul!) than Iraq War support on the Democratic side.

Pelosi has bad favorability ratings for the reasons that successful legislative leaders are going to have bad national ratings. They do the dirty legislative work of pulling mean tricks to pass and block things, and they need to win elections only in their own district. So it's easy to attack them and they can just take it. They get used in attack ads, but anyone you swap Pelosi for will get smeared by Fox News and Breitbart and used in attacks the same way.

The thing Pelosi is most amazing at is wrangling votes, and I have some good stories to share about that. But this story demonstrates the Pelosi approach to PR. She understands that the point is to generate good PR for people and causes who need it, not for herself.


The most triumphant of the Nancy Pelosi stories is about how she passed Obamacare for the second time, when everyone thought it was doomed.

The first time, she had to make concessions to Bart Stupak's bloc of anti-abortion House Democrats. She knew that the Senate would pass a more pro-choice bill, and it soon did. The plan was to compromise the bills in a relatively pro-choice way before pushing the final version back through both chambers. (America has trouble passing major social welfare programs largely because our system requires cumbersome stuff like this.)

But then Ted Kennedy died. A Republican won the election to replace him... in Massachusetts. This left too few Democrats to break the filibuster for the compromise version. So the House needed to pass the Senate bill. It differed from the House bill in all kinds of controversial ways including abortion. Nobody thought the votes were there.

Nobody except Pelosi. She said she'd find the votes, and she found them. Jonathan Cohn knows the story best, so I'll turn things over to him. It starts with the seemingly cataclysmic Massachusetts Senate election:

"On the night of the election, prominent House Democrats Barney Frank and Anthony Weiner told MSNBC they thought health care reform was effectively dead. According to senior Democratic aides, Pelosi figured that Massachusetts left her with a core of only about 180 Democrats sure to vote with her. She’d have to pick up the rest from a group that was divided among themselves.

One of Pelosi’s first moves was an appeal for calm. Take a breath, she told her members, and don’t say anything publicly that might set off a stampede. In caucus meetings, she listened—and then, ever so slowly, she started to push. “After Massachusetts, there was a big Democratic caucus, everybody was trashing health care, and you left the room thinking, ‘This is just never going to happen,’” one senior Democratic aide recalls. “And then, the next caucus, she’s talking about how we’re going to do it. ... I thought there was no way in hell.”

But, if Pelosi projected confidence, she had a major worry: Back at the White House, a debate over whether to proceed with comprehensive reform was playing out one more time. Rahm Emanuel was, once again, proposing to find a quick deal on a smaller bill that would insure just kids. And he wasn’t just talking it up internally. He’d discussed the idea with members of Congress, and, in February, The Wall Street Journal published a story about it. Whether Rahm was merely exploring the option or actively shopping it, Pelosi thought all the talk of an “eensy weensy bill,” as she called it, was undermining her efforts. She told the administration she needed Rahm to cease and desist.

The internal debate was no secret at the White House, and, particularly in the first two weeks after Massachusetts, many administration officials assumed that health reform really was “Dead, DEAD DEAD,” as one put it to me in an e-mail. Officials also had their own frustrations with Pelosi: Once the smoke had cleared, all sides realized the only way forward was to have the House pass the Senate bill, and then amend the Senate bill using the reconciliation process. But Pelosi kept insisting the Senate go first, something administration officials thought unworkable as politics and policy. Pelosi had asked Obama and Reid not to pressure her publicly, lest they alienate more members; they were complying. But, privately, many administration officials feared Pelosi wouldn’t budge because she couldn’t—that votes in the House would never materialize.

But, every time this debate reached the Oval Office, the president came down in the same place: He was elected to do the big things, and he wasn’t ready to give up. He told his cabinet, apparently referring to a Tom Toles cartoon in The Washington Post, that they were on the two-yard line—and he didn’t want to settle for a field goal. At a town-hall meeting, he gave an unscripted, 20-minute soliloquy on the importance of reform; at a House Republican retreat in Baltimore, he showcased Republican obstructionism and demonstrated the deep, intricate knowledge of policy that he memorably lacked three years before, at that Las Vegas SEIU forum... Pelosi used the time to work on her members, while House staff—coordinating with their White House and Senate counterparts—quietly figured out how to write a bill that would fix the Senate package within the intricate rules of reconciliation. Reid worked his caucus, urging them to give Pelosi time and making sure 51 members would be ready to approve the reconciliation bill when the time came.

There were familiar political hurdles, like the tax on benefits, which had become the critical piece for winning CBO validation of cost control. Obama agreed to scale it back, and then told the unions they'd have to take it. In the end, once again, it came down to abortion, because the Senate’s language was less restrictive than what Stupak had won. John Dingell reminded Stupak, to whom he’d been a mentor, how important reform was. Stupak relented, accepting an executive order that merely affirmed existing bans on taxpayer-funded abortions. By this time, House leadership and the White House were working as a team. Insiders from both camps observed that Obama and Pelosi seemed to be reinforcing one another—and, together, conjuring up a political miracle.

The final weekend played out like a microcosm of the debate: Conservative protesters descended upon Capitol Hill, marching on the lawn and through the House office buildings, hurling racial and homophobic epithets, and—in one case—saliva at Democrats. But the Democrats responded by closing ranks. When Pelosi gave her closing speech, the entire caucus rose in ovation. “We will be joining those who established Social Security, Medicare, and now, tonight, health care for all Americans,” she proclaimed. As Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, watched from the speaker’s box and, nearby, Nancy-Ann DeParle hoisted her son onto her lap, electronic scoreboards tracked the vote—214, 215, and, finally, 216. A spontaneous cheer erupted from the House floor: “Yes we can! Yes we can!”

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Election 2018 wrapup

With all of Election 2018 finally done, it’s time for a wrap-up on predictions and outcomes and strategies for the past and future. I also get to tell you about Katie Hobbs!

The House: I thought we’d gain 36 seats. We got 40! Now we can investigate Trump, block major Republican legislation, and throw our weight around in budget battles. Nancy Pelosi will wield the gavel. No Speaker in my lifetime has swung it better.

I donated $250 to one House race on a tip from a friend, but no more. I was already pretty confident, and running up the score after about 230 seats doesn’t affect things that much. (Especially with Nancy optimizing on the inside, which is worth five seats easily over a replacement-level speaker). The House won’t be a major 2020 donation focus unless something weird and bad happens. I’m projecting economic and Mueller conditions to be worse for Republicans next time, letting us hold the House easily.

The Senate: This hurt. I thought we’d stay at 51R-49D. But we lost two seats, and fell to 53R-47D. Indiana, Missouri, and Florida are the losses that I thought we’d win. FiveThirtyEight had Joe Donnelly up over 3% in Indiana, and then he lost by 6%. Things were almost as bad for McCaskill in Missouri. Something weird is going on with Midwestern polling – over the last two cycles, Democrats have underperformed the polls there, even as they’ve outperformed the polls out west. But I expected Democrats to outperform in AZ, MT, and NV, and they did. The Mountain West trends our way.

I donated $11K to Senate races this year after $7K last year, mostly through Leadership PACs. (These are the awesome way to make Senate donations; I’ll explain later.) I expect that Senate contributions will be my big thing into 2020. If we beat Trump but can’t win three Senate seats, Mitch McConnell just blocks the Democratic President’s legislation and judges. That must not happen. I’ll talk to you about ways to stop it in the coming weeks.

Governors: I didn’t anticipate the losses in Ohio and Iowa – more bad Midwest. And I didn’t expect Andrew Gillum’s heartbreaking defeat in Florida. I did correctly pick a split between the two big vote suppression states. The sorrow was Brian Kemp suppressing the Georgia African-American vote hard enough to beat Stacy Abrams in Georgia.

The joy was Laura Kelly giving Kris Kobach the beating he deserved for shutting down Hispanic polling places in Kansas. We won Nevada too, as Jon Ralston’s masterful analysis of the early voting predicted. Fellow academics and union siblings rejoice, Scott Walker is beaten in Wisconsin!

I didn’t donate into gubernatorial races, because I don’t know state stuff as well as I know federal stuff. It would be good to know more. Governors are powerful. Also on the state level, winning state legislatures in 2020 is how you control redistricting and get gerrymandering power. I want to learn more about how to win those in 2020. But to win the 2020 battleground states, the big race to win in 2018 was…

…State Secretary of State in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio: These races control voting procedures in important states for 2020. The polling on these races is sparse and useless, so it’s hard to make any predictions. I thought we’d win Michigan and 3 of the next 5; I was 1 too optimistic. Losing Ohio hurts big, as that office has a lot of power. Iowa confirms the story about the interior Midwest moving away from Democrats.

On the awesome side, the new state Secretary of State in Michigan is marathon-running law school Dean and Ubermensch Jocelyn Benson, author of State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process (2010). Jena Griswold will oversee the 2020 presidential election in Colorado, and, I expect, the Democratic acquisition of Cory Gardner’s Senate seat. We lose the interior Midwest; we gain the interior West. Which brings me to Arizona, and Katie Hobbs.

I should say a little about her Republican opponent. Steve Gaynor opposed the use of Spanish (and local native languages like Apache and Navajo) in election materials, and called for repealing the sections of the Voting Rights Act that say that they should be printed in languages that the local population speaks. (Hello Arizona Republican, I see that you are trying to win elections by confusing Hispanics and Native Americans.) An intrepid reporter noted that the “no trespassing or else I call the police” signs outside his mansion were printed in both English and Spanish.

Meanwhile, Hobbs’ big idea was making it easier for people to vote. She ran in part on a platform of shortening voting lines. She also opposed dark money (anonymous political donations). My Facebook friends and I donated tens of thousands of dollars to state Secretary of State races – thanks to everyone who got involved. Katie Hobbs may have gotten close to 1% of her campaign funding from us.

On Election Night, it looked like we had lost. But the same swell of late-counted votes that won the Senate race for Kyrsten Sinema later carried Hobbs to victory. The final tally was Katie Hobbs 50.4%, Steve Gaynor 49.6%.

It’s always hard to tell where the tipping points are with these things, but there’s a slight chance that we collectively tipped the race for Katie Hobbs. And if we did, we gave Democrats control of voting for a Presidential battleground with a vulnerable Republican Senate seat in 2020. So if you donated and Arizona wins the White House for Democrats, or if a close Arizona Senate win lets us pass Medicare for All funded by a carbon tax, it might’ve been you.

Monday, November 26, 2018

How NC Republicans meddled with judicial elections, and defeated their candidate

North Carolina Republicans may be America's worst for gerrymandering. They control 10 of the state's 13 Congressional seats, despite being in a battleground state Obama won in 2008. This year they tried manipulating other election rules. The story of their failure may brighten your day.

The NC Supreme Court keeps objecting to Republican gerrymanders. Republicans had one of their favorite judges up for re-election this year, and they didn't want Democrats to defeat her.

So Republicans decided to end judicial primaries. They expected the Republican judge's incumbency to prevent other Republicans from entering the race. But since Democrats had an open field, multiple Democrats were likely to run. With Democratic votes divided, the Republican incumbent would win. It's basically Gore-Bush-Nader 2000, except with the Nader (G) changed to (D).

This whole plurality-wins system isn't a great way to run an election. But if you're in that system, you need primaries! That way, one side doesn't lose an election simply because it had more candidates. Republicans were trying to rip down that safeguard for temporary partisan gain. They would soon learn how important it was.

Democrats informally coordinated amongst themselves and put up only one candidate. Well, kind of. Anita Earls, who had done important legal work against Republican gerrymandering, ran as the only official Democrat. Another Democrat named Chris Anglin switched to the Republican Party and ran. He and Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson would both be on the ballot with (R) after their names.

Republicans soon realized what had happened. They thought they were going to divide the Democratic vote, but Democrats had created a bogus Republican to divide their vote instead. Republicans tried passing a new law that would prevent Anglin from running with the (R) because he hadn't been a Republican long enough. But they hadn't passed the law soon enough. Courts ruled that Anglin could run with the (R).

Anglin mostly kept a straight face through the whole thing, but sometimes he just seemed to be having fun. From his op-ed in the Charlotte Observer, where he repeatedly taunted the Republican state legislature:
When I announced, I stated I was running as a Republican to be a voice for the many disaffected, conservative, constitutional Republicans who believe the party has left them, and to make the point that partisan judicial elections are a mistake. They force judges to kowtow more to parties, and it is how you get judges like Roy Moore. 
Some have questioned if I’m a “genuine” Republican. That is a fair question for many elected GOP leaders today. Is Donald Trump?
Infuriated Republicans tried to get their people to vote for Jackson rather than Anglin. But people don't pay enough attention to state Supreme Court races to receive the message. The election results were:
Anita Earls (D) 49.56%
Barbara Jackson (R) 34.07%
Chris Anglin (R) 16.37%

If it didn't stop the percentages from summing properly, I'd add: "Schadenfreude: 100%".

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Run for Senate!

People like to talk about their favorite Democrats running for President. But if those Democrats aren’t Senators, I want them running for Senate instead.

The 2020 Democratic presidential field will be crowded. Senator Merkley once told me that every Republican in the Senate looks at Trump and thinks, “I could do that job so much better!” while every Democrat in the Senate thinks, “I could beat him in 2020!”

Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren are all testing the waters, and I expect most of them to run. Probably we get a bunch of other Senators (Jeff, were you talking about yourself too?), various governors, and a few celebrities.

This isn’t a primary where a Hillary Clinton figure will have locked down near-unanimous support from major Democratic party actors like labor unions, national pro-choice groups, and influential legislators like John Lewis and James Clyburn. I’m not seeing that any one candidate has consolidated that much early support among party actors. (That’s the term the political scientists use, though “party actors” often makes me think of Lindsay Lohan.)

It might seem easier to win a primary that’s anybody’s game. You don’t have to go up against Hillary! But it’s actually really hard. You have to go up against everybody. It may be harder to beat everybody.

With so many candidates, I expect the best and second-best ones to be almost equally good, when ranked in terms of all the good things like having the right policy ideas, general competence, and being able to win the general election. Even assuming that Beto is in total a better Presidential candidate than Kamala, Kamala for President and Beto for another Texas Senate challenge in 2020 could easily be better for progressives than Beto for President and a definite loser for the Texas Senate race.

Why? Because having more Democratic Senators is a huge deal. One fewer Democrat in 2010, and Obamacare would’ve been filibustered to death. One fewer Democrat in 2017, and Obamacare repeal would’ve passed.

There’s also the issue of judicial nominations. I expect we’ll be ready to quickly refresh our Supreme Court bench if we win the White House in 2020. Trouble is, Mitch McConnell can just refuse to hold votes on our nominees if he controls the Senate, like he did with Merrick Garland. What you can do as President depends on whether you have legislative majorities. It’s best if your majorities don’t depend on Joe Manchin.

So when I hear about a red-state Democrat who put in as awesome an electoral showing as Beto, I think to myself: please, just run for Senate (again) – you’re worth much more to us there. Montana governor Steve Bullock is talking about running for President, since he’s pretty popular there and term-limited out… and Steve, your state has a Senate race in 2020! Maybe some of these people are happy just to raise their national profiles with Presidential attention, which is totally fine, as long as they're okay with running for Senate in the end.

I say this with Sinema likely to win AZ, and Nelson still having a fighting chance in FL. Winning those seats probably won't affect that much in 2019-2020, but they could be huge in 2021-2024. That's why I donate most heavily to Senate races. Good Democrats should take my money.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

2018 midterm predictions, donor's eye view

While Election Eve is a good time for predictions, my donation strategy has depended on them all along. I want my money to tip the balance in important races, so I need to predict how close those races are. My predictions are below, combined with discussion of how they've guided my campaign contributions over 2017-2018.

I should thank everyone else who listened to my donation advice. I contributed over $25K of my own money over the last two years, and it seems that I've guided close to that amount in other people's donations. I hope I've advised you well, and that we can make tomorrow night a happy turning point in these terrible times.

The House: I'm guessing that Democrats gain around 36 seats and win a 231-204 majority. This is roughly the consensus forecast between 538 and insiders with access to private polls. Polls suggest that Trump's awful responses to recent right-wing violence slightly hurt Republican chances over the last week.

I only donated $250 to a House candidate this year (Sean Casten in Illinois -- 538 has him down by 50.1% to 49.9% right now, so that's where I like to send my money). Winning the House matters big for blocking Trump's policies and protecting Mueller, but running up the score doesn't help that much. Since it seemed to me that I had a better chance of tipping an important balance in other races, I didn't donate much to House campaigns.

The Senate: My median forecast is for the Senate to stay 51R-49D. That forecast could easily be off by one, and perhaps more. I have Democrats winning NV, FL, and two out of three in AZ, MO, and IN. (I donated to AZ and MO -- IN snuck up on me.) I could easily see 3/3 or 1/3, though -- things are really close. I'd be delighted to see Beto win in TX, Taylor Swift's army pick up a Democratic victory in TN, and another Heitkamp miracle in ND. If you're in these states, you have a real chance and I dearly hope you win! My guess has always been that Beto's coattails would generate some House wins but that he'd fall just short. But his poll numbers have strengthened in the last days, and I hope my Texas activist friends can prove me wrong.

The sheer number of Senate races in play, plus the bonus effectiveness of donating through Leadership PACs, made the Senate central to my donation strategy. I put in $15K in Senate Leadership PAC contributions over 2017-2018, plus $3K in direct donations. Some of my 2017 money went to Sherrod Brown in OH and Tammy Baldwin in WI, who seem safe, but insofar as early contributions have the effect of intimidating challengers, those may have been worthwhile. The top challenger in OH dropped out earlier this year, so Brown got to run against a second-tier guy. I'd love to win the Senate and block any further Republican nominations. But even if that's out of reach, making things close could have a nomination-disrupting effect, and I dearly want a Senate majority in 2021 to make major legislation possible.

Governors: I'll basically take the 538 model with Democratic wins in FL, OH, WI, NV, and IA, and assume one out of two in KS and GA based on late-breaking news. In KS, the pointless independent candidate's campaign treasurer resigned and endorsed the Democrat. In GA, the Republican's spurious allegations of Democratic hacking have at least a decent chance of working against him, and in any case aren't the kind of risky move you make if you're confident of victory.

I didn't have early knowledge about the state-level details important to these races, so I didn't donate any money here. But a lot of them are very important, especially where the governor has significant power over voting and redistricting, which are a big deal for 2020.

State Secretary of State in AZ, CO, IA, MI, OH: Hard races to predict, because polling is scarce and murky for offices at this level. Michigan looks good; the others are close. But in view of good Democratic trends in IA and OH, I'll say we win Michigan and 3 of the 4 others.

State SoS races have been my #1 donation priority this year, and many of you gave to them. They let you have a huge impact on 2020 by controlling voting procedures, and are probably the most cost-effective way you'll ever find to defeat Trump. My donations here totaled $8320, and I hit the state-level ceiling in CO. Facebook friends donated even more! I hope I have happy things to say about these races in the days to come, and again two years from now when they've done their work on the 2020 election.

Monday, November 5, 2018

If we lose

Seeing the early voting numbers from Nevada makes me optimistic about this election. (Most of this year's votes are in, Dems up 3%.) I think we win the House, keep the Republican Senate majority around 51-49, and pick up some Governor and state-level offices that set up 2020 well. I'll make more specific predictions on Election Eve.

But suppose that doesn't happen. Suppose we don't even win the House and Republicans pick up a few Senators. Nate Silver has this as a 15% outcome. Best to be prepared, so here are my thoughts in advance for a bad Election Night:

We are, of course, going to have two more years of bad things because Republicans are in power. They'll expend resources on arbitrary cruelty towards vulnerable people when Democrats would expend them on solving major national and global problems. There are all kinds of things that could go horribly wrong on larger scales too.

But there will still be time to prevent the total collapse of democracy, with total Republican dominance, that defeat in 2020 might bring about. If Republicans win 2020, they'll have the Supreme Court and new gerrymandering and the vote suppression offices. Then it may be 10 years or more of Trump-like Republicans rather than two, and I don't even know what kind of dystopia we'll be at the end of that. But losing 2018 doesn't mean we lose 2020.

Maybe in 2020, the stock buyback bubble just popped and Trump botched the response so the market crashed more. And even after Mueller was fired, a State AG picked up the pieces and convicted Trump of giving $200 million in Magnitsky Act fines back to the Russian mafia in exchange for hacking Hillary. If none of this had happened in 2018 and we came close, having it by 2020 probably adds up to a winning year.

I've hoped to win 2020 in 2018. Winning the offices that control voting in 2018 and just letting natural Democratic majorities do their work in 2020 is a big part of the strategy. Protecting Mueller will help too. And the Senators we win now, we keep until 2024.

If you're doing a lot this year (thank you so much people who are calling/ texting voters or knocking on doors!) you're doing amazing things to build the path out of the Trump Administration. But if we lose this time, please don't stop. I'll be right here with you for the next two years doing the weird set of things I do to help. They won't have beaten us yet.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

My amazing junior colleagues

Since the last time I boasted to you of my junior colleagues at the National University of Singapore, Weng Hong Tang got tenure (congratulations!) and we hired Zach Barnett (also congratulations!) Now we're hiring again, and I want to show you the amazing publication records of the people you'll get to work with if you join us.

Together the four of them have a total of 32 papers at stages from conditionally accepted to published, with 20 appearing in top-10 journals. Their average year-of-PhD is 2016, so they've achieved all this while being collectively only 8 years out of grad school. So apply for our job and join these prolific young philosophers!

Qu Hsueh Ming, NYU 2014
“Hume’s (Ad Hoc?) Appeal to the Calm Passions” (forthcoming) Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie
“Laying Down Hume’s Law” (forthcoming) Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.
“Hume’s Internalist Epistemology in EHU 12” (2018) Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
“Hume’s Dispositional Account of the Self” (2017) Australasian Journal of Philosophy
“Hume on Mental Transparency”, (2017) Pacific Philosophical Quarterly
“Hume’s Doxastic Involuntarism” (2017) Mind
“Prescription, Description, and Hume’s Experimental Method” (2016) The British Journal for the History of Philosophy 
“The Title Principle (or lack thereof) in the Enquiry” (2016) History of Philosophy Quarterly 
“Hume’s Positive Argument on Induction” (2014) Nous
“Hume’s Practically Epistemic Conclusions?” (2014) Philosophical Studies
“The Simple Duality: Humean Passions” (2012) Canadian Journal of Philosophy

Bob Beddor, Rutgers 2016
“The Toxin and the Dogmatist” (conditionally accepted) Australasian Journal of Philosophy
“Modal Virtue Epistemology” with Carlotta Pavese (forthcoming) Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
“Might do Better: Flexible Relativism and the QUD” with Andy Egan (forthcoming) Semantics and Pragmatics
“Noncognitivism and Epistemic Evaluations” (forthcoming) Philosophers’ Imprint
“Subjective Disagreement” (forthcoming) Noûs
“Believing Epistemic Contradictions” with Simon Goldstein (2018) Review of Symbolic Logic
“Justification as Faultlessness” (2017) Philosophical Studies
“Process Reliabilism’s Troubles with Defeat” (2015) The Philosophical Quarterly
“Evidentialism, Circularity, and Grounding” (2015) Philosophical Studies

Abelard Podgorski, USC 2016
“Normative Uncertainty and the Dependence Problem” (forthcoming) Mind
“Wouldn't it be Nice? Moral Rules and Distant Worlds” (2018) Nous
“Rational Delay” (2017) Philosophers’ Imprint 
“Dynamic Conservatism” (2016) Ergo
“A Reply to the Synchronist” (2016) Mind
“Dynamic Permissivism” (2016) Philosophical Studies 

Zach Barnett, Brown 2018
“Philosophy Without Belief” (forthcoming) Mind
“Belief Dependence: How Do the Numbers Count?” (forthcoming) Philosophical Studies 
“Tolerance and the Distributed Sorites” (forthcoming) Synthese
“No Free Lunch: The Significance of Tiny Contributions” (2018) Analysis
“Fool Me Once: Can Indifference Vindicate Induction?” with Han Li (2018) Episteme
“Conciliationism and Merely Possible Disagreement” with Han Li (2016) Synthese