American Electoral Institutions Explained

Eric Levitz in New York Magazine on how political institutions keep American politics polarized between a median Democratic position and a right-of-median Republican position now that the urban/rural split between the two parties is entrenched:

By itself, the conservative movement’s apocalyptic paranoia might not constitute an existential threat to American democracy. The depths of the American right’s radicalism are formidable, but its breadth of popular support is not. The donors, activists, and primary voters who set the GOP’s agenda are more ideologically extreme than the Republican Party’s median general-election supporter. And so long as the GOP caters to the former, its national coalition is likely to be a minority one. Thus, if the United States were a majoritarian democracy — in which the Republican Party had to win a majority of the nation’s votes to have a hand in federal governance — then the party might soon find itself with sufficient incentive to marginalize its most extreme elements. But the U.S. is a very different kind of polity.

Every elected branch of the U.S. government structurally overrepresents low-density areas. And since America’s two parties are now polarized along urban-rural lines, the GOP has ballots to burn. Losing the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections hasn’t stopped Republicans from holding the White House for a majority of this millennium. Republican senators have represented a majority of America’s population for only two years in the last four decades — but Republicans have boasted Senate majorities for more than half of that period anyway. And many election forecasters expect the pro-Republican biases of the Senate and Electoral College to grow more pronounced in the years to come.

Those biases, combined with midterm elections that inherently favor the sitting president’s opposition — and a two-party system that ensures Republicans will always be the only option for “change” voters when a Democrat is in office — set a high floor beneath how far the GOP can realistically fall. One testament to this reality lies in the mounting evidence that Republicans have actually increased their support among nonwhite voters during the Trump era, even as the party has catered to white racial animus. With only two parties to choose from, socially conservative and/or disaffected nonwhite voters have proved willing to rally to the GOP banner even as Republicans have replaced their dog-whistle appeals to white grievance with foghorns. For these reasons, it is unlikely that Republicans will be consigned to the political wilderness long enough to make a break with the conservative movement thinkable.

-- Eric Levitz, "The RNC Has Made a Compelling Case for America’s Imminent Collapse," New York Magazine, August 25, 2020.

The Hellscape That Is Facebook

Scott Galloway: Rick, over the last decade, I was fascinated when you were talking about media mix. If you had a hundred bucks to spend on media, how has that mix changed in terms of where you spend that money? And if you could only go with one platform or channel to spend money, what would that be?

[Rick] Wilson: Twenty years ago, obviously the mix was 99 to 1. Or 99.5 to …

Galloway: TV?

Wilson: For TV.

Galloway: Even direct mail?

Wilson: Direct mail as a persuasion tool has been dead for decades. Direct mail is good for raising money. And even that is dying off.

Galloway: So, it was all TV. What is it now? You got a hundred bucks. Where do you spend it?

Wilson: If I have a hundred bucks right now, I spend 30 bucks on cable, I spend 35 bucks on digital, I spend 15 on broadcast. And then I do a mix of other stuff out there, depending on the market and the audience. There are still markets in this country that are great for radio. It’s insane.

Galloway: What platform has the best tools? I think I know what the answer is going to be.

Wilson: The hellscape that is Facebook is the most meaningful tool of political manipulation ever devised in the history of all mankind.

-- "How the Lincoln Project Gets Into Trump’s Head," New York Magazine, July 21, 2020

California SB 902

This bill, which passed the state Senate by a 33-3 vote June 22, would allow cities to grant by-right zoning approval for up to ten units in transit- and job-rich areas.

The bill is now headed to the Assembly for review.

In short, SB 902 would permit, but not require, local governments to implement zoning ordinances to permit housing projects of up to 10 units without CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review, if the housing is located in a transit- or jobs-rich area or in an urban infill site.

San Francisco-based State Senator Scott Wiener says that this bill “provides cities with a powerful new tool to quickly re-zone for increased density.”

The bill was introduced following the Senate defeat of Wiener’s SB 50, a controversial housing production bill that would have preempted local control of zoning.

“If SB 902 becomes law, it would be among the most powerful tools cities have to increase the number of affordable homes in our cities,” read a June 23 statement from advocacy group California YIMBY celebrating the bill’s victory in the Senate.

-- Larchmont Chronicle, July 1, 2020

Sen. Wiener Takes another Shot at Upzoning State's Single-Family Landscape (San Francisco Business Times, June 23, 2020)

YIMBY California's priority policy and legislation for 2020

Breed, Tubbs, Liccardo Supporting Bloomberg

Mayors London Breed of San Francisco, Sam Liccardo of San Jose, and Michael Tubbs of Stockton have all endorsed Michael Bloomberg for President, despite minimal support among their constituents for his candidacy, according to The Guardian:

There’s nothing surprising about a billionaire winning the support of the mayor of San Francisco, a city flush with tech wealth and new money.

But when the billionaire is Mike Bloomberg – and the endorsement is the latest from a string of California mayors he mentored and supported – the vow of support raises some eyebrows.

Bloomberg announced on Thursday that London Breed, San Francisco’s first black female mayor, would serve as his campaign’s chair of African Americans.

“Voters re-elected London Breed by a wide margin because she is taking on the biggest and toughest issues – and she puts progress over politics,” the former New York mayor said in a statement. “I’m honored to have her support and look forward to working with her not only to win this election, but to help make San Francisco and all of California stronger, fairer, and greener – with more affordable housing, more good jobs, and healthcare for all.”

Breed, who previously supported the California Senator Kamala Harris in the Democratic race for the presidential nomination, said on Facebook that she is backing Bloomberg because he “is the only candidate for president with a real plan for African Americans”, touting his Greenwood Initiative to increase black home ownership and the number of black-owned businesses.

All three mayors have attended Bloomberg's Harvard City Leadership Initiative program. Bloomberg was the first choice of only two percent of California Democrats in a December University of Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll. He has spent $24 million on political ads in California (all other candidates have spent $5 million) and is skipping early primary states to focus on California and other Super Tuesday states.

California Senator Kamala Harris

Senator Kamala Harris of California dropped out of the Democratic presidential race on Tuesday after months of low poll numbers and a series of missteps that crippled her campaign, a deflating comedown for a barrier-breaking candidate who was seeking to become the first black woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination.

The decision came after weeks of upheaval among Ms. Harris’s staff, including layoffs in New Hampshire and at her headquarters in Baltimore, and disarray among her allies. She told supporters in an email on Tuesday that she lacked the money needed to fully finance a competitive campaign.

“My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue,” Ms. Harris wrote. “But I want to be clear with you: I am still very much in this fight.”

The announcement is perhaps the most surprising development to date in a fluid Democratic presidential campaign where Ms. Harris began in the top tier. Her departure removes a prominent woman of color from a field that started as the most racially diverse ever in a Democratic primary, and raises the prospect that this month’s debate in Los Angeles will feature no candidates who aren’t white.
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Ms. Harris opened her campaign on Martin Luther King’s Birthday with a rousing speech in her hometown, Oakland, Calif., before an audience of 20,000 people, drawing comparisons to history-making black politicians like Barack Obama and Shirley Chisholm.

Maciej in Hong Kong

Macieg Ceglowski in Hong Kong

I should say a few words here about the curious way the protests are organized. The protesters learned in 2014 that having leaders was a weakness. Once the leadership was arrested, the heart went out of the occupy movement, and it lost momentum. So in 2019, there is no leadership at all. The protests are intentionally decentralized, using a jury-rigged combination of a popular message board, the group chat app Telegram, and in-person huddles at the protests.

This sounds like it shouldn’t possibly work, but the protesters are too young to know that it can’t work, so it works.

The protesters divide themselves into groups based on how much they can risk being arrested. The issue is not jail time, but the prospect of losing a job or being kicked out of school, now that China has shown it will crack down ferociously on companies that employ demonstrators. . . .

It is hard to believe this is the tenth week of protests. The energy and numbers are just astonishing. In spite of the relentlessness of the police, in spite of the beatings from thugs who the authorities have allowed to rough up people with impunity, every weekend Hong Kongers come out to march. . . .

We are now in the heart of the tourist district, with hotels and fancy restaurants all around us. If I came here during the day, I would be stopped and asked a dozen times if I wanted my clothes tailored. Tonight, the tailors have stayed home. The street is a sea of black-clad people in masks and hard hats. Word goes around that tear gas has already been fired two blocks away, and I fumble to get my equipment on.

The Persian poets say the nose is the outpost of the face. I am normally proud of mine. Its great bulk has preceded me into every difficult situation in my life, sniffing out both danger and opportunity.

But the mask I bought here is designed for more delicate faces than mine. When I put it on, it somehow channels the air I exhale directly into my goggles, which fog up instantly. I can only see for a few seconds at a time before the world turns into a white mist. But, I reason, not being able to see from condensation will be much better than not being able to see from tear gas. I hang goggles and mask around my neck and await developments.