Friday, April 22, 2016

Trump and Clinton are the Face of What is Wrong with American Politics

There is something wrong with American politics if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the
presidential nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties.  Their candidacies speak both to the flaws of the presidential campaign selection process, the parties, the media, the substance of policy debate in America, and even to them as individual candidates.
Let’s start with the fact that both Trump and Clinton are horribly flawed candidates.  If all the polls are correct, they are the two most unpopular individuals to potentially get  their parties’ nominations in the last 40 years.  For both, more than half of those surveyed indicated that they do not like them or would not vote for them, potentially suggesting a race where significant numbers of voters stay home or hold their noses and vote for the lesser of two evils.  In a normal year with good choices neither of these candidates would get their party’s nomination and if they did, would be trounced by the opposition.
By the time the primary season is over barely 10 million people will determine the party nominees.  We have super-delegates, caucuses, and arcane party rules that make no sense, rendering it less than a fair democratic process to select party nominees.  These rules make the Electoral College seem fair and intelligent by comparison.  What is clear is that the primary process is unfair.  Trump and Sanders are correct–the process is hugely rigged and controlled by insiders, insulating the party against the change and reforms that are needed.
For Trump, his racist, sexist, and jingoist world view, his near vacuous policy stances, and his overall simplistic political views are embarrassing and they will do little to help the white working class who are his core supporters.   Trump’s claim to fame is his mastery of the media and his ability to bluster and pout his way over others.  He does well in a year where his part has abandoned working and middle class America and has embraced a plutocratic vision of America.  He talks a good game to help the people the GOP has left behind but offering many of the same policies that put the USA into the terrible shape it is.  Moreover, his stance on many social issues is simply the  same as what many Republicans have advocated for years, but it says it more clearly.  For example a few weeks ago when he said and then retracted his statement that women should be punished for having abortions, he was saying no more than really what many of the extreme pro-life really imply when they want to make abortion illegal.  Trump is both the logical extension and death of the Republican party.
For Clinton, yes sexism is part of her problem but certainty not every criticism of her is sexist. She tried this argument against Obama and it failed then.  She has a real credibility problem, consistently espousing positions that she repudiates when it seems politically convenient.  In 2008 she moved to the left when she say the party and Obama moving that way, she is doing that again this year with Sanders. But even if that is not true, face it, she embodies a neo-liberal corporate perspective on the world that is reinforced by a rather hawkish foreign policy perspective that is more classically found in Republicans.  Face it–Clinton is not a progressive. Yes she and her supporters like to point to a 92% voting agreement between her and Sanders in the Senate.  That proves nothing.  Given the polarization, almost all Democrats votes together nearly 90% of the time.  Moreover, that 92% reflects votes on issues on the agenda, not ideological views on where candidates stand or how they would vote on issues if they could set the agenda themselves.  Overall, Clinton’s selection kills off the future of the Democratic Party ready to be inherited by Millennials who see no good reason to support her and who will walk away from the political system if she gets the nomination.
Taken together, the choice between Trump and Clinton is that between two establishment elites who have marketed their personalities to the top of their respective parties.
Notice I say “marketed.”  The two have not so much campaigned as marketed their campaigns.  In fact, on of the main problems this year with the 2016 elections is the degree to which marketing has replaced politics and the news, and ideology has replaced facts. Look at the coverage by FOX, MSNBC, and CNN for example.  They are no longer covering the news so much as they are marketing it.  The debates and their political coverage–the issues the cover, the slants on facts–all reveal a bias in favor of how they can sell the news for profit.  This year the mainstream media, including the NY Times, and the Washington Post, abandoned all pretense of objectivity.  They created Trump because he sold advertising and ratings.  Recent studies point to all the free media coverage given to Trump and how little to Sanders.  We saw that in the repeated attacks on Sanders, in how they keep wanting to declare him dead.  Even such liberal stalwarts as Paul Krugman write less with authority and more with his biases showing.  He writes as a privileged Baby Boomer clueless to what Millennials and real people think and feel.
Part of the reason the mainstream corporate media has so misunderstood this years elections is because of their corporate and political biases, but also because of their inside the beltway perspective on the world that insults them  David Brooks recently confessed that he never understood the degree to which Americans were hurting and how they contributed to the populism fueling Trump and Sanders.  I guess it is kind of hard to see economic hardship when you vacation in the Hamptons,  own the Mar A Lago in West Palm Beach and are worth billions, or dwell in Chappaqua, NY and make $28 million per year.
The media have not only missed how the two parties have largely ignored most Americans, but it has missed the power ful generational forces, the polarization, and other trends driving American politics this year that distinguish it from last year.  They have largely assumed the present year is no different than the past.
But the media marketing of politics goes hand in hand with the candidate marketing of their views, and their surrogates doing the same thing.  Truth seems to be a major victim this year along with sanity and thoughtfulness.  Candidates and their surrogates spew and emote over inconsequential things, pushing interpretations of facts into the realm of fantasy.  “Liar Liar” and truth meters are working overtime.  I have also seen too many people I know better move way beyond offering cogent discussions into politics, demonizing those who support rivals (even of the same party) as stupid or worse.
There is something just wrong with our political system this year and Trump and Clinton are the face of all that is flawed and the are really a by product of all that has gone wrong.  Realistically, can’t we do better than this?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Inconvenient Federalism: The Dangers of States’ Rights and Travel Bans


“Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it” is an old adage that might apply to Republicans when they make calls for federalism and states’ rights.    When Republicans began advocating for more state power they probably never expected to get what they are seeing now–states pressuring one another on policy and human rights issues, and states doing things that the national government cannot do.  And when Democrats and Liberals cheer for state travel bans to punish states for bathroom bills, they too may be opening themselves up to the dangers of federalism.

The Republican and conservative call for states rights and federalism is a creature of the 1970s rooted in two issues.  The first is a reaction to the expansionist federal government during the New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson.  Both were  liberal enterprises that significantly expanded the role the federal government in ways that conservatives and Republicans did not like.  The other call for federalism was in reaction to the liberal Supreme Court policies of the Warren Court which expanded constitutional protections to a host of issues, including criminal due process, civil rights, privacy, and eventually under Chief Justice Warren Burger, reproductive rights and abortion.

The call for states rights and federalism was an effort to limit the federal government’s power, at least its liberal bent.  Let states do it, so the claim is, and they will do it better.  They are the laboratories of democracy, capable of innovating and more in touch with their local needs and people.  States’ right in theory is about local democracy, ostensibly at least.  In reality, the belief among many Republicans back in the 1970s when the “New Federalism” was first championed, and even today, was that states rights would weaken the national government, undo the liberal agenda, and allow for conservative outcomes to prevail.

In many cases federalism did work.  A weakened national government meant states could again pass anti-abortion, anti-gay, and just about any other anti-something legislation that they wanted. Yet it was an inconvenient and inconsistent  federalism.   When Reagan appointed Antonin Scalia to the Supreme  Court and for the last 30 years when he and it became a reliable institution supporting conservative outcomes there was no complaint about the federal government.  The same was the case when Bill Clinton signed welfare reform, the Defense of Marriage Act, or when George Bush increased federal powers to wage the war on terrorism.

But conversely, federalism also meant that states were freed up to act and do things they could not do before.  The concept of New Judicial Federalism, launched by a famous 1986 law review article by Supreme Court Justice Brennan, meant that state courts could draw on their constitutions to innovate.  And they have.  It was state courts that launched the gay rights movement, eventually pressuring the US Supreme Court to constitutional a right to same-sex marriage last year.  But states have also moved on marijuana legalization, health care reform, banning the death penalty, right to die legislation, minimum wage, and a host of other reforms that the federal government could not pass and which conservatives did not like.  Change is more often than not bottom up and not top down, and the federal courts have taken their cues from state courts to make doctrinal changes under federal law.

But now there is yet another face to federalism that brings mixed blessing to conservatives and Republicans. Consider on the one hand decisions by the states or North Carolina and Mississippi to pass bathroom legislation restricting transgender individuals to use facilities that correspond to their gender birth.  Or Indiana’s recent decision to place new restrictions on abortions.  This is clearly what state righters had hoped for.  But now consider the reaction to the bathroom bills.  States, including Minnesota, have now imposed bans on non-essential travel to these states and are leading the way to encourage corporations and organizations to boycott these states.  Unleashing federalism means that states have the power to pressure one another to tow the policy line.  Doubtful this is what states’ rights advocates envisioned.

But there is something dangerous with this new federalism–it invites retaliation or use for less than noble reasons, and thus is not good news for Democrats. At what point will North Carolina or Mississippi retaliate against Minnesota and issue its own travel bans?  Or what if other states decide they do not like legislation in Colorado or Washington legalizing marijuana?  Or what if some states want to pressure another on tax, education, or other policies?  So far the new federalism boycotts have been launched to support liberal causes, but why not for conservative ones too?  Minnesota’s economic travel ban makes many Democrats feel politically smug but that tool can be used against them too.

This type of federalism runs very close to economic protectionism and parochialism that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause was meant to prevent.  The Constitutional framers of 1787 had seen the states discriminating against one another and part of the entire constitutional project was to bring economic and political unity to the country.  Federalism and states rights can easily be symbolized by a burning cross as it can be by a burning joint. One’s rights should not depend on which state one lives in.  Freedom and equal opportunity means freedom equality of opportunity for everyone, regardless of where they live.  This is what E Pluribus Unum is supposed to stand for.

The new federalism movement is both a failure when one thinks of nationalism and building a UNITED States of America, but is also showing how the states’ rights movement has not lived up to what many conservatives and Republicans envisioned.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Bathroom Politics and Transgender Discrimination

Prejudice always seems to start in the bathroom.  First it was the separate but equal doctrine that
forced African-Americans to use segregated facilities, including bathrooms.  Then it was Phyllis Schlafly and those opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment for women who raised the fear of men using women’s bathrooms as a way to defeat the amendment.  Opposition to gay rights was flamed by visions of sexual predators lurking around bathrooms. Now it is the opponents of transgender rights using the bathroom as a way of furthering prejudice by supporting legislation requiring individuals to use bathrooms designated for them based on their birth gender.

Yes privacy is an important legal right in America and should be respected.  Yet often times concerns of privacy masked underlying hostility and discrimination.   But privacy claims too often are incorrectly are invoked to thwart another powerful legal claim–the right to equal treatment.  When one looks at the Minnesota House bill HF 3396–The Bathroom Bill–requiring individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to their birth assigned gender, it is clear that the proposal should be considered unconstitutional under both the US and Minnesota Constitutions, and illegal under both federal and state law.

The Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause declares that “ no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction "the equal protection of the laws.”  While originally adopted after the Civil War to prevent discrimination against African-Americans, the Supreme and lower federal courts have used the Equal Protection clause to apply to many forms of discrimination, including that based on sex.  Courts have also used the Equal Protection Clause to address discrimination against gays and lesbians, and in recent years it has been invoked to protect transgender individuals.  In  Glenn v. Brumby, 663 F.3d 1312 (11th Cir. 2011), a federal court of appeals ruled that the termination of a transgender person by the State of Georgia because she was transitioning from one gender to another was a form of sex discrimination that violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has yet to adjudicate and rule on a transgender discrimination  claim under the state constitution.  Were it to do so it would reach arguments similar to that in Glenn.  The reason is that in cases such as State v. Russell, 477 N.W.2d 886 (Minn.1991) the Court has argued that the State’s Equal Protection Clause effectively provides as much or more exactly  scrutiny or protection against discrimination when compared to the US Constitution. If that is the case one can make a strong argument that the Bathroom bill also violates the Minnesota Constitution.

Turning to statutory claims, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans workplace discrimination based on among factors, sex.  The law has been invoked to prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals.  The basis for applying it that way started in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, 523 U.S. 75 (1998), where Justice Scalia ruled for the Court that title VII applies to any form of sex-based discrimination.  Discrimination against transgender individuals is sex-based.  In cases such as Smith v. City of Salem, 378 F.3d 566 (6th Cir. 2004),  Rosa v. Parks W. Bank & Trust Co., 214 F.3d 213 (1st Cir. 2000), and Schwenck v. Hartford, 204 F.3d 1187, 1201-02 (9th Cir. 2000), three different  circuits of the federal courts agreed that Title VII applies to transgender discrimination.

Most directly and recently, in January 2015 Deluxe Financial Services settled a Title VII case arising out of the company and its employees harassing a transgender person including forcing the individual to use the bathroom as determined by her birth gender.  The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had ruled in favor of the transgender person saying the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by subjecting her to “a hostile work environment and disparate treatment because of her sex, including because Ms. Austin is a woman who is transgender…”

Finally, at the state level, the clearest indication that the bathroom bill is illegal resides in the how it seeks to amend the Minnesota Human Right Act (MHRA) which, among other things, bans discrimination based on “sexual orientation.”  HF 3396 explicitly changes that law to create a bathroom exception. The Minnesota Supreme Court in Goins v. West Group, 635 N.W.2d 717 (2001) the Minnesota Supreme Court adjudicated a claim that a company had violated the Act when it required a transgender person to use the bathroom that corresponded to her birth gender. The Court ruled no in a bizarre case.

On the one hand the Court declared that the MHRA defines “sexual orientation” as including “having or being perceived as having a self-image or identity not traditionally associated with one’s biological maleness or femaleness,” therefore suggesting that a transgender individual may make out a potential claim under the Act.  However the Court then went on to argue that the employee had failed to establish that she had a right to use the bathroom designed for use by her biological gender and therefore her sexual orientation claim failed. Logically the case made no sense–the case was not about a transgender person wanting to use the bathroom designed by her birth gender and whether she had a right to use it. Goins is ripe for reversal and that too in part explains the reasons for the Bathroom bill.

Overall, there are strong reasons to think that House Republican Bathroom bill is legally suspect for several reasons at the federal and state level.  One should not let false claims of privacy  trump civil rights.  Prejudice has no place in the bathroom.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Go Wisconsin! The Coming Presidential Primary Showdown

Unlike Minnesota, Wisconsin matters in presidential politics and we shall see that again this Tuesday
.  In so many ways the primary there is significant, portending the direction that four presidential campaigns will take and whether the Dump Trump movement or the momentum of the Sanders’ campaign will continue.

In presidential general elections since 1976 Minnesota has reliably voted Democratic in every presidential election and it probably will again do so in 2016.  Were this a seriously contested state that the Democrats had to defend then it is going to be a bad year for them and their presidential candidate.  Wisconsin though is a presidential swing-state, although a weak one. Democratic Presidential candidates have consistently one it since 1988 but the margins of victory are often close and Republicans have campaigned hard to flip it.  Come this fall the presidential nominees will be there but not in Minnesota.

But Wisconsin matters too in a different way.  This coming Tuesday the Wisconsin presidential primary will matter for both parties.  Consider first for the Republicans.

Dump Trump
Critical to the Dump Trump movement is beating Trump in Wisconsin.  The establishment Republicans have pulled out all the stops to support Cruz in the hope of preventing Trump from winning.  Why is Wisconsin so critical?  Right now if Trump continues on his current path of winning delegates he will either have enough to win the nomination on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention or be close.  If he has enough delegates in the first round to win the nomination then it is over–he is the GOP nominee.  If he falls short of a majority in the first round of voting then under most state laws or party rules, the delegates pledged to him can vote for whomever they want in the second and subsequent rounds.  At this point it is a brokered or contested convention and anyone can get the nomination.

The strategy behind the Dump Trump is to halt his delegate winning and Wisconsin looks like a good place to start.  Right now we know that mathematically only Trump can win enough delegates for a first round victory; it is impossible for Cruz or Kasich to do so.  Supporting Cruz in Wisconsin is something that establishment Republicans are doing not because they like him but because they dislike Trump more.    While the Dump Trump movement by establishment Republicans has so far failed they are hoping now they can succeed and eventually derail him from winning the nomination.

Whether this strategy will work is yet to be seen.  If it does, the convention will be a fight that parties normally do not want shown.  They want conventions to be four day infomercials for them.  They do not want to show off infighting.  But more importantly this year, a brokered convention will be ugly.  It will be the party establishment telling the voters in the primaries and caucuses that they got it wrong and that the candidate with the most delegates is not the one who should be the nominee.  In addition, if they stop Trump, who is the nominee?  I doubt Cruz, and Kasich is a long-shot.  Who will the party support and where will the Trump voters go?  Where will Trump go?  I doubt away quietly.

Sanders’ Surge
Clinton built up a huge lead with Super Tuesday and the Mini-Tuesday on March 15.  But since then Sanders has done very well, winning almost all of the states since then.  Some argue that Clinton’s best states were in the south and they are now behind her and that the path is there for Sanders to win the nomination.  Mathematically, he can.  If he can win approximately 58% of the remaining delegates he wins the nomination on the first round.  In the last six contests he has won by an average of about 58% and in northern states his winning margin is about 56%.  Right now Clinton has 1,266 pledged (non-super) delegates, Sanders has 1038. Yes Sanders is 228 delegates behind.  He has been closing for a couple of weeks while Clinton has been again assuming she is inevitable and turning her attention to Trump and not sealing the deal for her nomination first.

Polls at one time had Clinton with a 20%+ plus lead in Wisconsin.  Now polls suggest Sanders is leading.  This follows a pattern similar to other states that Sanders has won.  Wisconsin was supposed to be part of Clinton’s northern firewall.  It does not look that certain for her now and some rumors are that she is conceding the state to defend New York in a couple of weeks.

Sanders’ supports have many reasons to feel confident about Wisconsin.  Yet a word of caution–under Scott Walker and the Republicans the state enacted a very tough voter ID law.  It will be curious to see what impact that law has on students and Millennial voters.  The irony here will  be that if Clinton’s holds on in Wisconsin it might be courtesy of restrictive Republican voting laws.  Some also speculate that in a close contest Clinton may have the edge with super delegates.  Thus, Clinton could win not necessarily by winning the most delegates, states, or voters (although more Democrats have voted for her than Sanders so far) but through super delegates and restricted voting laws (keep in mind that Clinton wins in states too with closed as opposed to open primaries).

Mainstream pundits still dismiss Sanders.  They should not.  He can still mathematically win and in the last two weeks he has out-polled Clinton and won more delegates.  He is forcing her to defend  New York and that is something that many thought unthinkable.  Yet NY could be won by Sanders.  Clinton will not do well upstate NY and NYC has lots of very liberal voters–both Millennial and not–who might go for him.  Polls are tightening there.  A Wisconsin victory on Tuesday creates more momentum for Sanders and narrows the delegate gap more.  Never assume inevitable.

Caucus v Primary

Finally Wisconsin matters because it is holding a primary as opposed to a caucus.  In 2008 the turnout in the Wisconsin primary was 36.5%; in 2012 it was 30.9%.  Compare to Minnesota where  caucus turnout was 7.2% in 2008 and approximately 2.5%   This year again about 7-8%  of the voters caucused on March 1. Which system matters more to more people?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Governor Dayton is Correct: The Lessons of Private Prisons–Don’t Do It!

Note:  This is a preview of an op-ed of mine that will appear in Minnpost next week.

Private prisons are a major public policy mistake.  Contrary to their supporters, they are not less expense and better than public facilities.  Instead, their track record on cost, rehabilitation, and safety are generally inferior to public facilities, and their use has been to facilitate a war on drugs and petty crimes that has been racially discriminatory.
The debate to reopen a private prison in Appleton, Minnesota is reminiscent of one that took place 18 years ago.  In 1998 Minnesota was building a new correctional facility in Rush City.  State Senator Randy Kelly pushed hard for it to be privatized.  I was part of a team of impartial national experts at the Institute of Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School hired by the State to research what we then knew about the performance of private prisons across the country.  We looked at cost, recidivism, rehabilitation, safety, and legal  issues. We examined all of the studies  that then had been done on private prisons, we did extensive interviews across the country, and we toured public and private prisons. The final 1999 report, Privatization of Correctional Services:  Evaluating the Role of Private Prison Management in Minnesota, was sharply critical of the claims made by its advocates for privatization.
Initially there is a significant ethical and moral question regarding whether the punishment of crimes and offers should be done on a for-profit basis.  This is human exploitation at its worst.  One can also argue that the use of punishment and force by private individuals against another is inherently a governmental function and not something that should be privatized.  Our report raised these questions, but it went beyond the normative considerations to the empirical–what was the actual track record of private prisons, especially when compared to publicly-operated ones?
First, we found that many of the claims of cost savings were widely aggregated.  The stand measure of cost for prisons–per diem costs per inmate–did not always stand up.  Yes in some cases private prisons were less expensive per diem, but not always.   For example, in the State of Oklahoma where publicly-operated prisons had to compete with private operators for contracts to run individual facilities, the public institutions came out less expensive about half the time.  Cost was a wash.  But even here the numbers failed to reveal hidden costs.  In most of the contracts awarded to private prisons, the state was still on the hook for many medical expenses and it would be required to take back control of the prisons as a result of default or to deploy security in event of  riots.  Public dollars subsidized private prisons to make them profitable and look like they were cheaper than the public facilities.  Additionally, by the time one added in the public dollars to oversee and regulate the private prisons the savings to the taxpayer disappeared.
We also found that there were costs associated with the savings.  The areas where private prisons saved money was in first in terms of salary and skill level for corrections officers.  Public  facilities were generally well paid unions jobs that demanded a minimum skill level.   Prison privatization across the country often was a union busting activity that hired less skilled officers at much lower wages.  Second, private prisons scrimped on educational and rehabilitation services.  Third, they scrimped on everything else, leading, in the case of Oklahoma, to contracts than ran a hundred pages or more so as to require private operators to provide a range of services of sufficient quality that they tried to avoid in order to maximize profits.
What did all this mean?  In general private prisons have more safety problems than public  facilities.  There was more prisoner or innate to inmate violence and more civil rights violations in private as opposed to public facilities.  There was less emphasis on rehabilitation and higher recidivism rates in private prisons. Part of all this is a consequence of trying to save money by not providing services.  But something else was also going on.  No warden in a public prison was repeat  business.  On the other hand private prisons have a financial interest in recidivism.  The interests of the state and private prison operators is contradictory.
Finally, there is also one other major problem we found then with private prisons: the employees are not public and therefore they can go on strike.  Public prisons operated by the government employing public employees can prevent by them by state law from striking.   Private prisons and their labor relations are governed by federal law, preempting and state laws that would  bar strikes.  The potential of a strike or other labor problems raises many questions about safety.
In the 17 years since the Minnesota report was issued I have continued to research and teach  about private prisons.  For six of those years I also taught criminal justice courses.  Subsequent reports and studies largely reconfirmed the conclusions found in the 1999 report.  But the last 17 years have revealed some lessons we could not have seen then.  The rise of private prisons occurred along side the war on drugs, the broken windows theory of crime (arrest for the petty stuff before it escalates), mandatory minimum sentences, and three strikes and you’re out laws.
Nationally these laws exacted a racially discriminatory war against people of color.  In Minnesota, they led to an explosion in a prison population that has the worst racial disparities in the nation.  Private prisons have become what Nina Moore argues in The Political Roots of Racial Tracking in American Criminal Justice, a linchpin in creating a separate criminal justice system for people of color that is separate and unequal.  The private prison industrial complex is central to all the problems that Black Lives Matters rightly protests.
In sum, the lesson of prison privatization is that they are a bad option for Minnesota and Governor Dayton is correct in vetoing any bill that would allow this to happen.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Signals v Noises: How and Why the Pundits, Pollsters, Politicians, and Polticial Scientists are Confused About the 2016 Elections

Trump and Sanders perplex the professional politicians, pundits, pollsters, and even political scientists.  When I say Trump and Sanders I do not just mean them but instead they are proxies for the entire US 2016 presidential process thus far and probably until election day November 8.  No less than Nate Silver, Politics 538, and the pollsters blew it with the Michigan Democratic Primary last week.  The forecast was for a double digit Clinton victory, prompting Nate Silver to give Clinton a 98% chance winning that state’s primary.

So the question is why?  The core reason is laziness–assuming and following conventional wisdom is correct and failing to see the proper signals suggesting that something was unique about the 2016 election cycle.

Take us back to May 2015.  Back then the conventional wisdom among political insiders–and that includes politicians, political operatives, and pundits (journalists and commentators)–was that  Clinton and Bush would march to their party nominations and that the final general election would be a contest between these two predicted candidates.  Furthermore, even though Jeb Bush was going to win, the GOP had other strong candidates in Christie, Walker, and Jindal for example such that they would mount a powerful lineup against the inevitable Hillary Clinton.  Sanders campaign was dismissed as Quixote at best, with polls pointing to 60-70% leads by Clinton over him.  Trump too was dismissed as at best a vanity candidate would repeatedly implode, especially after each one of his insulting statements that all were sure would doom him.  But now of course nine months later and well into the primary season Trump is in a terrific position to win the nomination and Clinton, while leading Sanders in committed delegates, is not guaranteed and there are still reasonable scenarios for the Vermont Senator to win.  Even moving forward, assuming a Trump-Clinton contest the received wisdom is
that Clinton wins.

From my perspective all of this is wrong.  Last May I wrote about the chances of Trump and Sanders potentially winning, and I think that in a Trump-Clinton race Trump may win.  So why did do many get it so wrong?

Laziness is the issue.  Better yet, the answer is “Inside the Parkway” or “institutional disease.”  Specifically, those making the predictions are all politicians or pundits who are part of the establishment.  They are located with the narrow confines of Washington, D.C., viewing the world from that perspective.  They share the same world.  Look at CNN, MSNBC, FOX.  All the journalists know one another, their guests are from there.  They all share the same biases and perspectives and fail to see how the world looks from outside the parkway, outside of the formal institutions of power-Washington government on big  corporate for-profit
media–and they do not write from the perspective of how people view the world from the fly over regions of America.  Watch these dreary  shows, read all the on-line publications, and not just th partisan ones, and they reinforce one’s another’s biases.  They have a tight little club with the regular suspects of commentators or analysts  and none of them really look at the world from a different perspective beyond what they see from  their desks and studios in Washington.  They drool out conventional wisdom about how they view or think the world should operate, failing to recognize that just because they so it does not make it so.

What they missed of course then is the depth of anti-institutionalism pervading American society.  They confuse what has politically worked in the past with what is happening now or what will work in the future.  They simply think that the past is a certain predictor of the future without asking if there are any changed conditions that might suggest a new reality this year.  This is the laziness I speak of; and it is the source of confusing signals and noise.

What are some signals that should have been seen?  First, few appreciate the generational shift occurring in American politics.  Baby Boomers just don’t get this.  They are near clueless that  the power shifted from Boomers to Gen Xers with Obama and now it is shifting to Millennials.  They seem clueless to the different objective conditions driving Millennial politics.  This is a structural shift in politics and Clinton and her supporters largely fail to understand this.  Clinton represents old style politics–the type that brought us the Iraq War, massive student loan debt, a grim economic future, and global warming. The Boomers wanted a revolution to change the world and they not only failed but handed Millennials a crappy future.  The politicians and pundit class are Boomers.

But what is also missed is something else.  In a bipartisan fashion the policies of both the Democrats and Republicans over the last two generations have screwed over most people.  Republicans have explicitly become the party of plutocrats, losing track of the strategy Kevin Phillips endorsed in 1969 The Emerging Republican Majority which said that Nixon and the Republicans could capture the silent middle class majority by developing policies to help them. Reagan walked away from this strategy and the GOP has done little to address the economic problems of their base.  Similarly, the Democrats, especially Bill Clinton, became corporate Democrats, and they too have done little for middle class America. This is even true of Obama who worried more about restructuring Wall Street with tepid laws than in helping homeowners. He never supported reform to labor or union laws, never pushed on the minimum wage. Trump and Sanders  emerge as challengers to this anger.

The Republican and Democratic leadership has simply assumed they are the party and do what they want and often do not think that what others think matters.  Yes we have primaries and caucuses, but the GOP establishment has their silent primaries to pick who they want and the Democrats have their super delegates as the fail safe against  the people.  In both cases the leaders of the party are saying that the real people do not matter.  Create an insulated structure like this and it is no wonder the parties failed to see what is happening.

But the other signal missed this year is not understanding on the one hand that presidential politics is mostly television-driven, assuming what I have said is a politainment status that favors candidates who look and speak well on television.  Thus Trump.  But politics also goes to those who can best master new communication forms, and again Trump and Sanders have an advantage.  But at the same time one of the noises confusing so many is that too many come to believe all that is posted on the Internet or that simple spin is enough or that if one blurts out enough rage that will be  enough to change minds or win votes.  In effect, too many people are inferring too much from the social media in terms of what it tells us about the election.

Another noise has been the polls.  Polls have become rarefied and objectified into the belief they are firm predictors of the future. Remember, polls are snap sots of public opinion in time that  reflect knowledge and awareness at a point T in time.  People’s opinions change and they gather information and pay attention.  Pollsters have assumptions about who will participate or vote they are often flawed and even the best polls may not sample properly (this is especially the case with younger cell phone users).  Finally, statistically even the best polls run at least a 5% chance of being wrong, and this does not count sampling errors.

Overall, the point is that laziness, inside the beltway disease, group think, and a host of biases and failures to see signals versus noises is what is making it so hard for so many to make sense out of the 2016 elections.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Reflections on the Prospects for Democracy in Africa and on the Impediments to that Happening

Please note:  This past week I attended a conference at the Truman Institute at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.   The Conference was on  Israel and  Democracy in Africa.  The paper was attended by political leaders and academics across many countries of Africa and Israel.  I gave a paper entitled "Reflections on the Prospects for Democracy in Africa and on the Impediments to that Happening."  I am enclosing here an abbreviated version of the paper as my blog.  Pardon the length of the excerpt  but I hope all of you find it interesting.  I have omitted the bibliography from these excerpts.

Introduction
            More than a half-century after the end of colonialism, democracy in Africa is still an enigma. By all counts and international measures African states generally rate poorly when it comes to respect for human rights, election integrity, corruption, and fair and impartial public administration.
            While 50 years ago independence looked to have situated much of Africa within what Samuel Huntington called second wave democratization (1991), the ability to stabilize western European style democracy across the continent not only appears to have had mixed success, but organizations such as Freedom House even describe  a retreat from it (2010).  Additionally, others contend that democracy or one manifestation of it–elections–are merely a facade or shell that mask underlying anti-democratic or authoritarian regimes (Adebanwi and Obadare 2012).  The question is why?  Why specifically after 50 years has democracy faced such a rough road and what are the future prospects for democracy forming and flourishing across Africa?  This is the subject of this article.


Measuring African Democracy
            How do the countries of Africa measure up as democracies? 
            Freedom House has ranked nations of the world since 1973 (2015).  They use three composite rankings.  The first looks at political rights and the second civil rights. Counties are scaled on a score  of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom, 7 the lowest.  Freedom House also categorizes countries along three dimensions: free, partially free, and not free.    States whose ratings average 1.0 to 2.5 are considered Free, 3.0 to 5.0 Partly Free, and 5.5 to 7.0 Not Free  One can compare  scores from the 1973 and 2016 rankings.  In 1973 (based on 1972 data) the median score for an African state on political  rights in 1973 was 5.875, in 2016 (based on 2015 data)  it was 4.50.  This means in 1973 the 5.875 score ranked African states as generally unfree when it comes to political rights, and partially free in 2016. Using a two-tail T test, the t-value is 3.68101. The p-value is .000194. The result is significant at p < .05..  This means that on average there has been an improvement in respect for political liberties across Africa from 1973 to 2016. 
            Second,   in 1973 the median ranking for civil liberties was 5.125, while in 2016 it was 4.32.  Again running a two-tail T test the t-value is 3.18033. The p-value is .001993. The result is significant at p < .05.  In general an improvement but African states remained in the unfree category during these time periods.  In the 1973 report Freedom House ranked only two states–Gambia and Mauritius–as free, in the 2015 report ten states–Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mauritius, Namibia,  Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, South Africa, and Tunisia–are classified as free.   Overall, in 1973 32 states are listed as unfree, in 2016 the number was 22.  Democracy has generally improved compared to 1973, but certainly one cannot say that democracy is sweeping the continent.  Additionally, comparing 1973 to 2016 misses something crucial–progress made and then regression. As Freedom House points out, democratic gains were made across much of Africa in the 1970s and into the 1980s, only to see overall and specific countries eventually regress or retreat from democracy.
            Perhaps another measure or ranking is to look to Transparency International’s corruption index (2015).  Corruption is measured on a scale of 0-100, with the higher the score the least corrupt. Using the most recent data from 2014, the median score for all countries ranked in the world was 43.18, for Africa it was 33.  Statistically, using a two-tail T-test, the t-value is -3.60972. The p-value is .000377. The result is significant at p < .05.  If one compares Africa to all other non-African states, the comparison is 33 to 47.68.  Here the t-value is 4.84552. The p-value is < .00001. The result is significant at p < .05.  One can conclude that African states are more corrupt than the world average, and the average for all non-African countries.  Individually, Botswanna, with a composite score of 63, was the highest ranked African county, coming in at 31st in terms of least corrupt. 
            As noted above, colonial independence in Africa was part of what Huntington called the second wave of democratization worldwide (1991).  Securing independence was a critical step toward forming a democracy.  Yet studies by Freedom House, for example (2010) point to backsliding by many African countries, having moved toward democracy they retreated.  Or they developed forms of democracy while really not being democratic.  For example, across Africa elections were used to legitimize autocratic or anti-democratic rules.  Serious opposition was lacking, or there was widespread election corruption or questions about voting integrity.  Or many of the states were described as hybrid democracies containing many features or institutions inconsistent with democracy, such as presidencies with strong men who effectively lacked any horizontal checks on their power even though they appeared to be elected into office (Van Cranenburgh 2012: 177)
            By one estimate between the years of independence and 2012 there have been at least 200 failed and successful military coups in Africa. (Barka and Ncube 2012). Alone between 1990 and 2001 there were   50 attempted military coups in sub-Saharan Africa (3).  Peaceful civilian transfer of power through elections are described as the exception and not the rule across the continent.  Additionally, after a burst of activity during the Arab spring, perhaps only Tunisia has moved closer to democracy.  Egypt and Libya have either made no net progress or regressed.  However, there is some evidence that subsequent to some military intervention produced regime liberalization and that such action and military rules are increasingly seen a illegitimate by many African citizens. Many political elites, including in the AU, also seem to be rejecting coups and preferring multi-party elections (Lynch and Crawford 2012: 23). States with histories of repeated fair and free elections seem to be developing supporting for human freedom and democratic values (Lynch and Crawford 2012: 5).

Assessing the Prospects for Democracy in Africa
            So why have African states generally been slow in developing stable democracies?  One set of theories is about inequality and poverty.
One standard measure of inequality is the GINI coefficient. This measure is on a scale from zero to 100, with zero representing no economic inequality between the rich and poor, while 100 would represent perfect inequality.  Many organizations compute GINI, but for this paper the most decent, December 16, 2015 calculations from the World Bank shall be used.  The World Bank data has reference points for most countries, including those in Africa, ranging from the late 1990s through 2013.  Using this data one finds a world GINI average of 35.2.  For Africa the average is 43.39.  Clearly African countries have a greater degree of economic inequality than the rest of the world.  On the face this might explain the difficult road to democracy in Africa.  Yet a 43 GINI does not necessarily mean that a democracy is impossible.  Among major countries of the world with GINI’s approximately this one finds the United States at 41.1.  Granted the US has the largest GINI of all democracies and it is still smaller than the African average, but nonetheless the African mean may or may not be beyond the boundary of what is necessary for a democracy, even if individual states in Africa may exceed even this mean.
            Perhaps there is some correlation between GINI correlation and a Freedom House classification.  By that, is there any correlation between a country label and how economically equal  the population is.  Running a correlation of countries where both GINI numbers and Freedom House classification are found, the correlation is 0.018.  Essentially no correlation between democracies  and degrees of economic equality.  But if instead a correlation is run between per capita GDP and  Freedom House classification as free, the correlation is 0.439–a low to modest but definite relationship.  There is some connection between democracies and  levels of economic modernization or development.  For example, among those states Freedom House classifies as free, partially free, and not free, the mean GDP per capita in US dollars is 14,476, $3,682, and $4,830.  There is not a significant difference between the incomes of the not free and partial free but the gap between them and free is significant.  In comparison the median GDP per capita for African states is $8034–far less than that for free countries.  This lends additional support to the claim that income or poverty (development) is a factor impacting the prospects for African democracy.

Conclusions
            Recent elections in the Central African Republic (Benn 2016) and Uganda (Gettleman 2016; Kron 2016) demonstrate that despite elections, challenges remain for the development of more than a formal democracy.  So what are some of the reasons for the failure of democracy to firmly root across Africa?
            First, nations fail often because of bad institutional design and feed off of poverty and create a vicious circle (Acemoglu and Robinson 2012).  Specifically, the formal institutions and structures of democracy do matter.  There must be both horizontal and vertical checks and balances or limits on power, especially on executives.  Missing across much of Africa are fully developed structures to limit power, especially upon presidents.  Additionally, while elections do take place across the continent, they are more contests in form than substance.  They are marred by corruption or fraud, often they are not really competitive, with meaningful opposition.  Instead, they are more facades to mask authoritarian power.  However, these elections are held to please western governments or funders who insist on them as prerequisites for funding (Adebenwi and Obadare 2012).
            But perhaps the biggest issues challenging the prospects for democracy in Africa are leadership, cultural, and economic.  In terms of economics it is less the gap between the rich and poor and more the relative poverty of countries in Africa.    Democracies across the world seem to tolerate some economic inequality, although across Africa it countries push the far limits of what may be possible in terms of a rich-poor gap to sustain democracy.  Instead, compared to other free countries of the world, African countries are generally poorer.  Thus, there is some evidence that the lack of economic development or modernization is in part a problem impeding democracy (Huntington 1991: 315).
            Modernization brings with it changed cultural attitudes toward democracy.  It empowers some groups, creates demands for more freedom.    Moreover, the practice of democracy reinforces democracy.  By that, the lack of successful democratic elections with peaceful transitions, or otherwise the lack of experience with democratic governance in specific countries and across the continent means that there is not a cultural or institutional memory or support built for democracy.  Democracy may be a habit of the heart and without a habit of successful democracy it cannot sustain itself. In effect, there is a feedback loop to democratic practice that is missing.
            Finally, there is the issue of elite support for democracy.  Unlike in the third wave of democratization that swept Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall where political elites supported democracy, this is often missing in the countries across Africa.  The commitment of rulers to rule of law, to supporting free and fair elections, civilian rule, and peaceful transitions are missing.  Lacking elite support, especially when they are united, creates little opportunity for opposition parties to emerge, or for an independent civil society to flourish. Combine this lack of elite support along with the intense corruption that pervades many countries that prevents state or national resources from being invested in economic development, and the results, not surprisingly, do not lay the groundwork for the emergence or prospects for stable democracies to form or flourish.