POLITICS

Could the DNC Steal Votes From Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire and Beyond?

Statistical anomalies in previous elections point to frightening vulnerabilities in how votes are tallied

In 2012, Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the GOP's Iowa caucus by a margin of just eight votes.

That result was announced at 1:30 AM on Caucus night, but two weeks later there was a different result. The Republican Party of Iowa had performed a recount of the votes and Rick Santorum—a candidate broadly considered too far outside the mainstream to stand a chance in the general election—was revealed as the actual winner. By that point of course it was far too late. Romney had already gotten the media attention that comes with winning, and had capitalized on that sense of momentum to achieve a solid victory in the New Hampshire primary.

2012 Iowa Caucus results Business Insider

If that sounds familiar, that's because there is currently a "recanvassing" under way in Iowa to reassess the results of a contest that will once again be decided by a very slim margin. Though Bernie Sanders managed a clear victory in the popular vote, Iowa's elaborate system for awarding "State Delegate Equivalents" at each caucus location (to then be converted to the actual delegate count that determines the Democratic party's nominee), has resulted in a near-tie between Senator Sanders and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

The official winner may not be announced for days or weeks—or it may never be known at all. In the mean time, Pete Buttigieg declared himself the winner on Caucus night, and has been treated as such by much of the media. With Sanders looking more and more like the frontrunner, Buttigieg is seen as much more palatable to moderate general election voters, and many powerful donors and party insiders would much rather he get the nomination. With that in mind, the chaos in Iowa—particularly the faulty app and the release of partial results that seemed to favor Buttigieg—has already sparked speculation of party corruption and election rigging for Sanders voters holding on to memories of the DNC's favoritism toward Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it may be more instructive to consider the model of the 2012 Republican primaries.

2012 GOP Primary candidates AP

2012 was not a simple year for Republicans in the way 2016 was for Democrats. Much like the 2020 field of Democratic candidates, there was not a presumptive nominee, but rather a wide field of contenders with centrists—Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman—struggling against the enthusiastic support for more extreme candidates like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. Polling seemed to swing wildly, from one candidate to the next until—according to some accounts—the RNC tipped the scales toward the man considered the most electable (read: bland and inoffensive) candidate.

The case of bias for Romney is as elaborate and detailed as every budding conspiracy theory about Acronym, Shadow Inc., and the new "Voter Protection Director" for the Nevada State Democratic Party—especially considering the contentious events of the Nevada Democratic Party state convention in 2016. Likewise, the overwhelming variety of those details is evidence—depending on your perspective—of either how insidious the whole plot was, or of the depths of its adherents' delusion.

Unrest at Nevada Democratic Party state convention in 2016 Chase Stevens/AP

For a start, there were a variety of issues in that year involving states attempting to increase their influence on the process by ignoring the traditional schedule for primaries and caucuses, skipping ahead of other states. The RNC was conflicted about how to handle that tactic, but many voters felt that the resulting schedule favored Romney's candidacy by allowing states where he polled well to vote earlier, further emphasizing the sense of building momentum. That much was acknowledged as a problem even at the time, but there are other issues that remain murkier. Was the miscount in Iowa intentional? Did the RNC combine fundraising with Romney's campaign too early? Did they pad Romney's delegate count to prevent a brokered convention? Most worryingly of all, were votes flipped to Romney in state primaries that lacked a paper trail?

Whatever the confusion in Iowa, the caucus system is at least public and relatively easy to monitor. But primaries that are carried out with all electronic voting machines are a black box, and the state parties run the show with little oversight. Unlike a federal election, primaries are fundamentally under the purview of political parties. They can choose their nominees however they like. They have chosen a roughly democratic system for a variety of reasons (to build enthusiasm, test candidates' campaign skills, and avoid voter alienation) but if they wanted to undermine the integrity of that process in order to ordain the candidate they see as standing the best chance in the general election, there would be little to stop them. According to two statisticians, Francois Choquette and James Johnson, that is exactly what happened in 2012.

Choquette and Johnson statistical analyses Choquette and Johnson, 2012

When Choquette and Johnson analyzed vote totals out of hundreds of precincts, they discovered a strong tendency for voters in larger precincts to favor Mitt Romney more than did voters in smaller precincts. These results have been criticized as attributable to demographic differences between precincts, but when researchers looked at results out of precincts that kept paper records of voting, that tendency disappeared. Likewise in Utah—where Romney was always expected to win by a wide margin—the results showed no shift in preference toward Romney based on the size of the precinct. The trend was so distinct in competitive precincts with no paper trail that Choquette and Johnson were unable to account for it as a result of chance or any factor other than deliberate fraud. According to their work, Romney received approximately a 7% bump in the most populous precincts in multiple states as a result of votes flipped from other candidates—allowing him to secure the nomination handily.

Choquette and Johnson's evidence was brought to court in a lawsuit filed by a third statistician at Witchita State University. Beth Clarkson works in the university's National Center for Advanced Materials Performance, and was inspired by Choquette and Johnson's research to investigate similar anomalies in Kansas's 2014 general election—larger precincts trending toward Republican candidates. She sued to gain access to more detailed records in order to build a statistical model that could shed light on the question of fraudulent vote flipping. Unfortunately Clarkson's efforts were stymied by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who argued that releasing the time-stamped records could somehow violate voter anonymity.

Kris Kobach with Donald Trump Kris Kobach with Donald Trump

You may recognize Kris Kobach as perhaps the greatest enemy of unbiased elections in recent American history. Kobach is the man whose voter fraud commission pushed the false narrative of millions of fake voters in support of discriminatory voter ID laws, and whose apparent political and white-supremacist motivation for adding a citizenship question to the national census resulted in the Supreme Court rejecting the change—which would have led to dramatic under-counts of immigrant populations, and a shift in congressional districts that would disproportionately benefit the Republican party. While he was able to halt Clarkson investigation, many have credited her lawsuit as being instrumental in the push for recently enacted legislation which now requires post-election audits in Kansas. Reached for Comment, Clarkson admitted that this was a step in the right direction, though she was "not impressed" with the audit techniques being utilized.

Overall, Clarkson seems pessimistic about the fidelity and security of our elections, saying that there is still a lot of potential for fraudulent vote counts, "anytime there's no way to check a paper record." This does include several races in the Democratic primaries, though the New Hampshire primary taking place today is utilizing paper ballots, which leave less room for tampering. Nationally, there has been a push to move toward that model, but for those of us who will be casting votes on electronic machines, Clarkson advocated that, where possible, voters check their electronic vote against the paper record to ensure their vote was recorded correctly. And for all voters, Clarkson had a reminder to check your voter registration online in advance of every election. With recent voter purges Clarkson says there have been many cases "of people being surprised when they arrive at the polls to vote and find out, 'Oh, they don't have me down as a registered voter.'"

Voter registration purge ACLU

Beyond that, electronic voting remains so opaque and vulnerable, all we can do is continue pushing for paper-based voting systems and remind our nation's political institutions—as the primary process continues through New Hampshire and beyond—that we are watching them; that we will not take any irregularities lightly.

POLITICS

Amy Klobuchar's Entire Subreddit Is an Ironic Joke–and So Is She

Amy Klobuchar ate salad with her comb and then made her aide clean it.

Prior to their official half-endorsement of Amy Klobuchar as the "Democrats' Best Choice For President," The New York Times covered another side of the Minnesota senator. "Senator Amy Klobuchar was hungry, forkless and losing patience," wrote political reporters Matt Flefenheimer and Sydney Ember.

"An aide, joining her on a trip to South Carolina in 2008, had procured a salad for his boss while hauling their bags through an airport terminal. But once onboard, he delivered the grim news: He had fumbled the plastic eating utensils before reaching the gate, and the crew did not have any forks on such a short flight.

What happened next was typical: Ms. Klobuchar berated her aide instantly for the slip-up. What happened after that was not: She pulled a comb from her bag and began eating the salad with it, according to four people familiar with the episode.

Then she handed the comb to her staff member with a directive: Clean it."

Amy Klobuchar Washington Examiner

Flefenheimer and Ember's deep dive into Klobuchar's campaign team reads more like a copypasta than an account of real events; but alas, Klobuchar herself even seemed to lowkey brag about her history of mistreating her staff. "Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes," Klobuchar said during a CNN Town Hall in February 2019. "Have I pushed people too hard? Yes. But I have kept expectations for myself that are very high. I've asked my staff to meet those same expectations. The big point for me is that I want the country to meet high expectations."

The CNN Town Hall audience may have cheered for that line, but voters don't seem to be "eating the salad," proverbially speaking. Klobuchar has consistently polled near the very bottom of people's choices for Democratic primary candidate, with recent polls placing her just over 3%. In other words, The New York Times' endorsement of Amy Klobuchar is strange considering the fact that she's basically unelectable.

But while, statistically speaking, pretty much nobody actually likes Amy Klobuchar, her behavior has struck a chord with a specific demographic on Reddit.

For context, while the overall Reddit community leans white, male, and liberal, many political figures' most ardent supporters use Reddit as a gathering space for promoting their candidate of choice. From the quarantined r/The_Donald with its 785k members (Russian bots included) to r/SandersForPresident with 380k, almost anyone can find their favorite presidential pick on Reddit. Even r/Tulsi has over 17k people who want Tulsi Gabbard to be president for some reason.

And then we have r/AmyKlobuchar. With 147 total members, roughly seven of whom seem to be online at any given time, the truly incredible thing about Amy Klobuchar's subreddit isn't its minimal user base. It's the fact that pretty much everything posted there is ironic.

The most upvoted post on the entire sub is titled "Amy Klobberchar" and contains a meme recounting a fictional incident wherein Amy Klobuchar threw a stapler at a staffer. In fact, many of the posts in r/AmyKlobuchar hone in on Klobuchar's history of staffer abuse, depicting Klobuchar firing unpaid interns and stepping on people's necks.In another top post on the sub titled "Why I am voting for Amy," a user lists off reasons including, "She is abusive towards her staff. We need a fighter, not a wimp," and, "I like the taste of boot."

The same New York Times article that covered the salad incident included a leaked email that Klobuchar has sent to her staffers regarding the things people said about her on Twitter: "We are becoming a joke and it is making me a joke."

As it turns out, Klobuchar's prophecy was self-fulfilling. By continually treating her staff like garbage, Klobuchar invoked the attention of a small but vocal demographic of roughly 147 people who don't like seeing low-paid interns treated like garbage.

Perhaps much more importantly, though, to most of the American electorate, Amy Klobuchar still doesn't matter.

POLITICS

#ILikeBernie, and the Cluelessness of Hillary Clinton

We are all nobodies in Hillary Clinton's eyes

In the 2016 Presidential Election, Hillary Clinton dominated the endorsement race.

She had the backing of every prominent Democratic figure within moments of declaring her candidacy, while Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley made do with the scraps. For the campaign of a politician like Martin O'Malley, that was a death sentence. His term as Mayor of Baltimore was famously dramatized on HBO's The Wire in the figure of Tommy Carcetti—an idealistic politician who sacrifices his values in service of his ambitions and the political machine. A politician like that needs the support of as many establishment backers as he can get, and the fact that Hillary Clinton was taking up all the air in that exclusive room left O'Malley with about 0.5% of the Iowa Caucuses. A politician like Bernie Sanders is another story.

For Bernie Sanders, grassroots support from ordinary voters matters far more than the support of powerful elites. That was his strength in 2016 with #FeelTheBern, and it remains his strength in 2020 with #ILikeBernie, and his army of volunteers and small dollar donors. Just as in 2016, Hillary Clinton doesn't seem to know how that works, and the citizens of Twitter desperately want to teach her with a flood of scathing responses to her recent quote that "nobody likes" Bernie—including at least one from a former Clinton advisor.

Do endorsements even matter next to this kind of enthusiasm from supporters? Despite scant endorsements from traditional kingmakers and power players, Sanders' 2016 campaign won in 21 states, garnered 46% of pledged delegates, and took the race all the way to the convention. Meanwhile, in the Republican primaries, Donald Trump collected very few high-profile endorsements—and almost no newspaper endorsements—while easily besting his opponents in state after state.

Comparisons of Sanders to Trump are never far from the lips of many mainstream pundits, and while much of that tendency is built on a faulty "horseshoe" theory of politics (that the "far-left" and the far-right of the political spectrum bend toward each other), there is a kernel of truth hidden in there. Both Sanders and Trump built their political successes on a perception of authenticity. That's what made their fans so passionate, despite the lack of institutional support. But while Donald Trump is an erratic, unprincipled con-man who built that perception primarily on the basis of his shameless embrace of racist and sexist rhetoric—"he tells it like it is"—Bernie Sanders is seen as authentic because he's been consistently fighting for the same causes, with the same uncompromising vigor, for four decades.

Since he entered politics in the early 1980s, if not long before—the image of him as a young activist being arrested during a civil rights protest in Chicago speaks volumes—Bernie Sanders has been fighting for a vision of justice that most Americans have only recently come around to. A vision that embraces issues of race, gender, and sexuality, but also of class, and of the ways that those concepts interact. And it is precisely because of that commitment that voters love him while, within the political machine, "nobody likes him."

That's what Clinton said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, going on to claim of Sanders that "nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician." She was referring specifically to Sanders' role in Congress, but what she revealed is that she is still deep in denial about her 2016 loss.

While it's always important to point out that Clinton received nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump—and would have won the presidency if our electoral system wasn't holding onto a useless relic of our nation's worst historic crimes—it's still worth noting that her primary flaw as a candidate played a role in her poor performance in key states.

She was and is perceived by many voters as inauthentic. She plays the political games too well and too willingly, adjusting her public and private stances to her audience. Someone who doesn't play at all, who—in Sanders' own words—doesn't "tolerate bullsh*t terribly well," must seem like a strange creature. Her issue with him is not that he is a "career politician," but that he built that career on a foundation of grass-roots support, rather than mutual political aid within the institutions of power. Why doesn't he just play ball?

In other contexts Clinton has made it clear that she still blames Sanders for Donald Trump's victory. The fact that Bernie's firm principles threw her pliability into such stark relief may have made her flaws more visible and played a role in her failed candidacy, but her latest comments make it clear that she doesn't believe in another way for politics to work. The backroom deals and the focus-tested positions are politics to her. The idea of actually trying to build a better system—one that works for justice for all people—is "all just baloney" to her, and she feels "so bad that people got sucked into it."

We feel bad for you too, Hillary. You were a career politician too, and you may have gotten your name on more bills than Bernie Sanders—and I'm sure your fellow senators were impressed with your work—but none of us can name one. Your lack of vision, and the political strategies cemented in the 90s prevented you from pushing for the kind of change that might have been your legacy. People will remember Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All, whether or not the bill ever receives a floor vote.

Visionary change must seem like baloney to someone who had fully adapted to political stagnation. Bernie was no more responsible for you being branded "Crooked Hillary" than you were responsible for Barack Obama being labeled a Muslim. In both cases the slander was an exaggeration of the real story. And while political weaknesses are fair game, the fact that your staffers chose to distribute the image of Obama in a turban in 2008 points to the flaw in your character—in the character of the people with whom you surround yourself and in your entire approach to politics—that Sanders' biggest fans rejected in you. The flaw that Trump capitalized on with that nickname.

Obama Turban Picture

So yes, by the standards you built your career on, Bernie Sanders is a failure, and "nobody" likes him. His authenticity and his principles are incompatible with the kind of glad-handing and ass-kissing that could have won him some more endorsements. Luckily for him, there are a lot of us nobodies in the world, and we don't just exist on Twitter behind the explosion of #ILikeBernie posts that emerged in response to your interview. We vote.

So when you're asked if you would endorse in the case that he wins the nomination—that you're "not going to go there yet," it's tempting to point to your hypocrisy, but the more important point is: We don't care. We've moved on from politicians like you.

POLITICS

The Warren-Sanders Feud Is a Threat to the Future of America, and the World

They need to put their differences aside if either of them hopes to win

In a recent interview with New York Magazine Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez commented that "in any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America we are."

With consistent cries for party unity since before presidential candidates even began announcing their campaigns, it would be tempting to attack Ocasio-Cortez as splitting the party, but she is absolutely right. There is only a unified party to split on paper. America's winner-take-all style of voting forces disparate political interests to share a title and to pool donors—unless they have the ability, like AOC, to source their own funding.

AOC Bernie SandersGetty Images

The GOP has used this to their advantage, emphasizing social wedge issues like abortion and immigration to pull working-class white voters away from their economic interests on the left—convincing them to cheer on tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy. For the Democrats, however, the powerful faction of the party that represents professional-class interests—the private-public partnership, means-testing, social-program-cutting wing—has represented a barrier to participation for truly progressive candidates and voters.

That's why it has been heartening, prior to this week, to see Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren avoiding the temptation to attack one another. While many of Bernie's supporters online have adopted toxic attitudes toward anyone other than their preferred candidate, and many Warren supporters have questioned Bernie's feminist bona fides (particularly in light of that toxicity from many "Bernie Bros"), the candidates and their campaigns seemed largely cordial and supportive of one another. It's important, as the marginalized left-wing of the party, to focus on commonalities and mutual aid if there is going to be any hope of overcoming the powerful centrist forces that have ruled the party and served moneyed interests with only moderately less zeal than the Republican party.

Sanders Warren TruceJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

That shared effort began to fall apart on Saturday night when Politico ran a story under the headline "Bernie Campaign Slams Warren as Candidate of the Elite." The story included excerpts from a document purported to be circulated within the Sanders campaign, with scripts instructing volunteers how to attack rivals in the Democratic primaries. While criticisms of Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are hardly surprising, the attacks on Warren—noting that her supporters are predominantly educated, affluent voters who "who are going to show up and vote Democratic no matter what"—came as a surprise in the context of the candidates' established alliance.

Skepticism in these cases is usually warranted, but the article contained little to suggest that the content was anything less than official and approved by Bernie Sanders himself. By the time Sanders came forward to repudiate the document and deny its official status, the damage was done. The rift was already beginning to widen.

Warren responded that she was "disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me," and she sent out a fundraising email that asked both for donations and for supporters to share personal stories and perspectives to contradict the framing of her base as elitist. If that had been all, then it might have been easy to move on and return to a mutually supportive stance within a few days. But the real damage was done when people close to Warren, perhaps in an effort to retaliate, spoke to CNN about a private conversation the two had in 2018.

Back then, the thought of actual voters making actual choices seemed distant and abstract, and the candidates sat down to discuss strategies against Trump and to establish the general truce that has held until now. Everyone involved seems to agree on those points, but differing reports emerge when it comes to the topic of gender. As CNN reported, Warren laid out her strengths as a candidate: "She could make a robust argument about the economy and earn broad support from female voters." Bernie was not on the same page.

According to anonymous members of Warren's team, Bernie didn't think a woman could win. Bernie shot back with his own version of events, saying, "It is ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn't win... What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could. Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016." When Warren herself was finally convinced to weigh in directly, she urged people to move on, claiming that she was more interested in what she and Sanders agree on… But she also confirmed the more inflammatory version of events: "Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate. I thought a woman could win; he disagreed."

While there is certainly a conversation to be had about to what extent America remains too sexist to support a female candidate, it seems like a stretch to accept the idea that, in 2018, Bernie would hold such a categorical view against the possibility of a woman being elected president. What makes it particularly questionable is the existence of footage from a C-SPAN appearance three decades earlier, in which Bernie says, "In my view, a woman could be elected president of the United States. The real issue is whose side are you on? Are you on the side of workers and poor people, or are you on the side of big money and the corporations?"

bernie c-spanC-SPAN

The suggestion that Bernie's views have become more regressive since 1988 seems far-fetched. The inclusive, forward-thinking persona he has consistently presented to the public for 40+ years doesn't line up with this supposed private view. Then again, the idea that Warren would simply lie about Sanders' comments seems equally unlikely. Who you believe seems to depend largely on who you prefer, and the two camps seem to be moving further from each other as the Iowa Caucuses close in. On one side, Bernie Sanders is a sexist; on the other, Elizabeth Warren is a liar.

Without a recording or a transcript of the conversation, it doesn't seem quite justified to land in either of those camps. Without third-party witnesses, the basic facts of who did and who said what can quickly dissolve. The message that was intended and the message that was received crystallize in each person's mind to the point that they become irreconcilable. Perhaps Bernie did think that a progressive man was better poised than a progressive woman to counter Donald Trump's brand of populism in the 2020 election. Maybe his way of saying so was so clumsy that Warren took it as a broad statement about the viability (or lack of viability) of female candidates, and she recounted it as such to people close to her. Short of calling either of them a liar or worse, that is the best I can muster—a version of events that I prefer to believe in order to maintain my respect for both of these candidates.

Supporters from both sides will no doubt find this middle-ground unsatisfactory. The rift feels real right now, and it's starting to seem like each side is trying to undermine the chances of the other. But while only one candidate can win the nomination in the end, their support draws too much from the same pool of voters to allow this rift to remain. Already Bernie supporters who also donated to Warren are turning against her with the hashtag #RefundWarren. But the sad truth is that neither can win in the general election without support from the other's ardent fans. And who really stands to benefit from continued fighting? The center and the far-right. It can only help Joe Biden and Donald Trump. And Donald Trump seems to know it...

If Sanders and Warren can't each count on the other's supporters to get behind them as the primaries shake out, then Biden will likely hold onto his narrow lead. And if one of them does manage to get the nomination with this acrimony still hanging in the air between them, no amount of campaigning for one another is going to muster the sort of passion that we can count on to overwhelm Donald Trump in the general. 2016 should have taught us that much.

This feud needs to end now. Warren and Sanders need each other, and our country needs them. They are the only candidates taking America's economic divide seriously, and the only candidates willing to tackle climate change with the resolve and transformative action it requires. If Donald Trump gets reelected, he will continue to make both of these problems far worse, destroying hope for economic justice and a sustainable future. If Joe Biden is our next president, then we will go back to enacting middling, inadequate reforms—one step forward for every two steps back.

Hillary 2016Hillary supporters as 2016 election results came inGetty Images

Warren and Sanders, united, represent our only real hope. Of course, they each believe that they are best suited to the job. They wouldn't be running otherwise. But if either of them is going to win, they need to come together, reaffirm progressive unity with one voice—acknowledging the differing accounts of events and decrying sexist limitations. Either of them can win this election, but neither can do it alone.

ISSUES

Jeffrey Epstein's Exorbitant Lifestyle: Private Islands, Conspiracy Theories, and Networks of Corruption

Epstein's lifestyle was unimaginably creepy, but it's indicative of a larger problem.

Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell on Saturday, having been accused of sexual abuse by nearly 80 women.

He leaves behind a legacy of destructive opulence.

Epstein lived a lifestyle of unchecked consumption. The billionaire possessed a number of extravagant homes. His Manhattan townhouse allegedly cost $77 million and contained disturbing oddities—such as a hall full of fake eyes that were initially created for injured soldiers. It also contained a photorealistic mural that featured Epstein in jail, surrounded by prison guards, as well as a life-sized female mannequin that hung from a chandelier.

His private ranch was even more grandiose. At 10,000 acres, Zorro Ranch is a sprawling stretch of land, to which Epstein allegedly flew young girls, and where he abused them with the help of his supposed madam, Ghislaine Maxwell. The ranch was also a place where he attempted to impregnate hundreds of women in an effort to seed the human race with his DNA. This attempt was inspired by his distorted belief in transhumanism, a theory that the human population can be improved through artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.

Image via BBC.com

The townhouse and the ranch paled in comparison to his primary place of residence—his private island. St. James Island is located in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Epstein purchased it in 1998. According to a contractor, Steve Scully, Epstein possessed two private offices on the island, as well as a strange blue-and-white striped temple and a lagoon full of flamingos. The island was, allegedly, the location of a variety of heinous crimes and was casually called the "Island of Sin" and even "Pedophile Island" among some of Epstein's acquaintances.

Epstein had ties to countless businesses and money-making ventures, and he had a particularly fraught relationship with Victoria's Secret, a company that may have funneled models directly to him—and from which he may have embezzled millions. He had a circle of powerful friends that included Donald Trump, Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen, and Bill Clinton. He was also a serial liar, constantly fabricating relationships and insinuating himself into the scientific and political communities, including ingratiating himself with scientists by bankrolling their research. He is an example of the way that money can pave pathways and open doors for people with little to offer other than their purported fortunes and their charisma.

Between the bizarre decor of his homes, his interest in nefarious ideas like eugenics and cryogenics, and the suspicious circumstances of his apparent suicide in a Manhattan jail, Rolling Stone was right when it published the headline, "Conspiracy theories have gone mainstream."

Many of the conspiracy theories currently swirling around the Internet center around Epstein's relationship with Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, with #TrumpBodyCount and #ClintonBodyCount trending on Twitter and Trump himself tweeting about the Clinton conspiracy. Many others believe that Epstein faked the suicide, as the cameras in the jail cell stopped working at the time of his death.

With its tangled web of lies, the Epstein case is "the end of an information ecosystem that at least feints at asking questions before pretending to have the answers," according to Anna Merlan.

Is this the end, or just a step towards chipping away illusions and unearthing the corruption inherent to America's wealthiest class? After all, it's likely that there have been thousands of Epsteins before—billionaires in bed with politicians and scientific communities who abused women without consequence and who've funded false scientific research.

Maybe social media is, in its ugly, distorted way, finally bringing the dark money and covert alliances at the heart of America out into the light. Maybe next, the Internet could come for people like the Koch Brothers, the billionaires who paid millions to shut down climate change research.

Based on the nature of social media, though, it'll be a long time before we arrive at anything like the truth.

Little Saint James Island. Image via The Cut

POLITICS

The Road to 2020: Is Joe Biden just Hillary 2.0?

Can the Democratic establishment get it right this time?

With the first Democratic primary still about eight months away, the Democratic party establishment appears prepared to throw all of their weight behind Joe Biden.

To hear MSNBC or CNN tell the story, Joe Biden has been the Democratic party's frontrunner since before he even declared his candidacy. Whether or not this is entirely true, however, is debatable. Misleading polls are being conducted and then misrepresented by many liberal news outlets as a means of solidifying Uncle Joe's frontrunner status early on in hopes of swaying voters toward the "more electable" candidate in the primaries. If Joe Biden can be made to look like he actually has the best chance of clinching the nomination or winning against Trump in a general election, then, voters will be more likely to vote for him as the safe bet.

IVN, or the Independent Voters Network, self-described as "a platform for unfiltered political news and policy analysis from independent-minded authors," has highlighted the biased nature of many political polls. IVN writer, Rudolpho Cortes Barragan reports:

"FiveThirtyEight, which is owned by ABC/Disney, functions as a sort of gatekeeper for polling, and polls are extremely important for candidacies. The public is told that polls judged as A+ by FiveThirtyEight are to be seen as real bellwethers of popular opinion. In reality, 'the polls' are manufactured to produce the results that the pollsters (and their corporate funders) want to see."

Barragan goes on to cite a recent Mammoth University poll as evidence. "The results showed Biden 9 percentage points ahead of Sanders," he writes, "but if you look closely you will see that more than 70% of the people polled are over the age of 50. Any honest person would be able to tell you that the 2020 electorate will be far younger than 50." The data is seldom presented within its full context on mainstream news outlets like MSNBC or CNN, and instills in voters a false sense of Biden's electability and props him up as the "safe" vote.

If this sounds eerily familiar, it's because the same thing happened in 2016. Hillary Clinton, like Biden, was prematurely propped up as the most electable candidate, even though an anti-establishment candidate like Bernie Sanders may have stood a better chance against Trump's "outsider" persona, which resonated with many voters (particularly across the midwest). This was proven in the wake of Trump's victory when analyses showed that many Bernie supporters either did not vote in the general election or jumped on the Trump ticket, preferring the radical change suggested by Trump's "drain the swamp" narrative over Clinton's years of experience as a politician.

Joe Biden, like Clinton, is firmly rooted in the Democratic establishment. While Trump's approval rating has wavered over the last few years, hitting its low at 35% in 2017, it has remained around 40 to 45% — a number that should be alarming for Democrats going into 2020, as there have been only three single-term presidents since World War II.

Either way, the Democratic party and its voters must avoid making the same mistakes if there is any hope of preventing a Trump reelection. Poll manipulation was not the only issue in the 2016 election. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) was also exposed for unfairly tipping the scales toward Clinton in 2016, effectively rigging the primary against Bernie Sanders.

Donna Brazile, former interim chair of the DNC, revealed in her book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House, the nefarious– although not technically illegal, according to US District Judge William J. Zloch, who dismissed a class action lawsuit against the DNC – actions of the Committee.

"Hillary would control the party's finances, strategy, and all the money raised," writes Brazile. "Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings."

It's unclear whether the DNC's current chair, Tom Perez, will run an honest and fair ship as we approach the 2020 election cycle. Perez held the position of labor secretary during the Obama administration, and Biden publicly threw his support behind Perez during his campaign for DNC chair; whereas Sanders preferred Keith Ellison, who lost by a narrow margin. Only time will tell if Perez will tip the scales in Biden's favor due to their favorable history together, but the Democratic party is no stranger to nepotism, so Perez – especially in light of 2016 – should be watched carefully in the months to come.

Even if the DNC does run a fair election this time around, electing Joe Biden would be a grave mistake. A mistake that the party already made last time around in the form of gifting the primary to Hillary Clinton. This election will not be one for tepid, center-of-the-road policies. We've already seen how an establishment centrist performs against Donald Trump. The Democratic party must embrace and adopt the progressive push to the left provided by candidates like Sanders and others if they have any hope of winning in 2020. Playing politics as usual will cost the Democratic party, and the nation, another four years of a Donald Trump White House.

ISSUES

Should prisoners have voting rights?

Bernie is talking about voting rights, but is this the most important issue facing offenders?

Bernie Sanders has gotten some attention, and a lot of criticism, for proposing that people currently incarcerated, on probation, or parole should have the right to vote.

He even wrote an op-ed about it. Kamala Harris said she supported the idea and then flip-flopped once she realized what a gaffe it was. Vox has an excellent, though undoubtedly "woke" take on the issue here.

This is a legislation that is opposed by 3 out of 4 Americans, which reveals that Bernie is a dangerous, even reckless candidate for the Dems. So many of his views are completely out of line with the mainstream. And we all know who is going to focus on those if he somehow surpasses Biden as the nominee.

Efforts to reform the criminal justice system are vital, but voting rights are just about at the bottom of the list of what matters to offenders. They want access to education and job training and work opportunities that will give them a chance to be productive in the world once they finally get out. The First Step Act was an excellent bit of progress, but there is so much more to do to block the school-to-prison pipeline. Progress is being made at the state level, and there seems to be a bipartisan consensus, aside from Sen. Tom Cotton, to keep reform moving forward.

State by state, offenders need fewer of the tripwires- high bail amounts, fees, fines, drug tests- that get them locked up in the first place or sent back to prison. Overcrowded conditions still abound in so many facilities.

While Bernie dreams of things that few people support, will he draw attention away from needed reform, maybe even turn people against it?

ISSUES

The Truth About Elizabeth Warren's and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Wealth Tax Proposals

Who would they affect?

There has been a lot of recent buzz about the idea of a "wealth tax" in the United States, particularly since Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York appeared on "60 Minutes" and laid out a plan that would tax the richest Americans at a rate as high as 70%, nearly doubling the current 37% top rate. Additionally, 2020 Democratic Presidental candidate and Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren, is reportedly working with UC Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman to design a proposal to levy a wealth tax on Americans with fortunes over $50 million. While these numbers may seem difficult to grasp, the kinds of wealth taxes democrats are proposing are not only not as extreme as they sound, but already practiced successfully in other parts of the world.

Firstly, it's important to keep in mind that America operates on a progressive tax system, meaning, as Business Insider puts it, "as a person earns more and progresses through tax brackets, their tax rate increases for each level of income." So while many people balked at the idea of a 70% flat tax rate, Ocasio-Cortez clarified "Once you get to the tippy-tops, on your 10 millionth dollar, sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60% or 70%," she said. "That doesn't mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate. But it means that as you climb up this ladder, you should be contributing more." Essentially, the rich would not suddenly be destitute under this proposed plan; they would merely have to contribute an increasing amount as their fortune grew. So it wouldn't be the entirety of their $10 million fortune that would be taxed at 70%, but their 10 millionth dollar. While under Warren's proposal, the US would adopt a progressive wealth tax that would levy a 2 percent tax on fortunes worth more than $50 million, and a 3 percent tax on fortunes worth more than $1 billion, meaning billionaires would contribute amounts that are negligible in the context of their total fortune.


This would be similar to France's wealth tax policy, which is triggered at €1.3 million, but only the first €800,000 of this amount is tax free, and taxpayers pay between 0.5% and 1.5% on anything over this each year. This tax has worked successfully in France, despite it being applied to significantly lower amounts of wealth than Elizabeth Warren is proposing. Meanwhile, in Denmark, the highest tax bracket sees about 15% taxation, and citizens report great satisfaction in terms of quality of life and government services. In summary, wealth taxes are a simple and effective way to ensure that wealth does not become too heavily monopolized by a few people, while also ensuring that the poorest people are taken care of by the state.


But some don't see it that way, with many on the right reacting strongly to suggestions of an American wealth tax. House Republican whip Steve Scalise called Ocasio-Cortez's idea a "leftist fantasy program," while more moderate voices didn't react quite as strongly, but still suggested that while income tax laws definitely need to be reformed, a wealth tax is not the way to do it.

But to truly understand the argument, one has to compare what a wealth tax would mean to a real life billionaire, vs. what it would mean for the country. For example, with Warren's plan, only an approximate 75,000 families would be minorly affected, but the United States would earn an additional $2.75 trillion over a 10-year period. If you take the $57 billion fortune of Mark Zuckerberg, and apply this tax idea, he would only be taxed $1.7 billion, and then close to $0 in the following years if his fortune didn't continue to accumulate. For him, $1.7 billion is a small number that would in no way affect his quality of life. But if you think of the social services that would benefit from that $1.7 billion, you would undoubtedly see widespread effects improving the lives of the poorest Americans, making it difficult to argue that an American wealth tax would do anything but help the state of the nation.

Police Arrest Man in Connection to Explosive Devices Sent to Trump Critics

Law enforcement expects to find more devices.

UPDATE: On Friday, authorities reportedly arrested a man in connection with the bombing campaign against Democrats and ex-officials. It has not yet been made clear who has been arrested but according to three law-enforcement officials, the suspect was arrested in Florida, and is in his 50s.

So far, law enforcement has found 12 suspicious packages addressed to 10 people. The targets of the bomb campaign have all been outspoken critics of President Trump, and many speculate that the person perpetrating these attacks is a right-wing extremist.

CNN

On Wednesday morning, explosive devices were sent to former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the CNN offices in New York, though law enforcement intervened before any of the devices could detonate. Later on Wednesday, CNN reported that the Florida office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz — the Democratic National Committee Chair from 2011 to 2016 — has also been evacuated because of a suspicious package. This package appeared to bear the delivery address of former attorney general Eric Holder and the return address of Wasserman Schultz's office.

It's believed that the packages are similar to the bomb found in the mailbox of liberal philanthropist and business magnate George Soros on Monday, suggesting a connection between the incidents.

CNN

During a press conference at 1 PM on Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed that he had been informed that a package addressed to his office had been intercepted by security, bringing the number of suspicious packages discovered thus far to six.

Mr. Clinton was reportedly present at the couple's Chappaqua, NY home at the time of the attempted attack, but Mrs. Clinton was in Florida on business. It remains unclear whether the Obamas were in their DC home when the device was discovered. The CNN offices in New York have been evacuated as the package is being removed from the premises.

The perpetrator of the attacks appears to be targeting figures and organizations who have faced criticism from President Trump and conservatives. As The New York Times reports, Trump "has often referred to major news organizations as 'the enemy of the people,' and has had a particular animus for CNN."

To add further intrigue to the situation at CNN, the parcel was reportedly addressed to former CIA director, John Brennan. Brennan often appears as a guest on CNN and has been a very vocal critic of Trump, spurring the president to revoke his security clearance this past summer. Brennan has declined to comment on the attack.

CNN previously reported that another explosive device had been intercepted before delivery to the White House, but the Secret Service later clarified that this information was inaccurate, and they only intercepted packages meant for Obama and Clinton.

In a statement released Wednesday, the White House condemned the attacks, saying, "These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, the United States Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are investigating and will take all appropriate actions to protect anyone threatened by these cowards."

The devices will reportedly be transported to secure locations for supervised detonation, and law enforcement, led by the joint terrorism task force in NYC, will continue to investigate in hopes of discovering the origins of the packages.

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.