The Media and Bernie Sanders

I like Bernie Sanders.  I like his ideas, and I like his approach to campaigning.  Out of all the candidates that have officially announced their candidacy for president, only Sanders has outlined sensible policies to take care of the American people.  He is also the only candidate to have drawn a crowd of 10,000 supporters.  So why does the media label him an “underdog” or a “long shot?”  Here a just a few examples of what I’m talking about.

“Bernie Sanders has been running for president for two months, but Wednesday night in Madison, Wisconsin, his long-shot campaign got real.”- Dan Merica, CNN, July 2

“The haul marks a strong performance for the underdog candidate, but still puts him well behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.”- John Wagner, The Washington Post, July 2

“The Vermont senator is winning over progressive voters and has raised millions in small donations. Could this underdog campaign have a fighting chance?”- Lauren Gambino and Ben Jacobs, The Guardian, July 3

“Bernie Sanders an Unlikely Source of Competition for Hillary Clinton”- Good Morning America, ABC, July 3

I get that Hillary Clinton is the “big-name” nominee, and I understand that she has a well-oiled political machine already in place.  I also know that a lot of people have been waiting for 2016 to see her run.  When the media, however, has all but crowned her the Democratic nominee, what message does that send about our political system?  What does this mean for democracy?

I see the media portrayal as having two possible effects.  First, people love to root for the underdog.  As such, the more the media says Sanders doesn’t have a chance, the more support he’ll receive.  Second, it could take support away from Sanders because people also like the sure thing.  They don’t want to feel like their support is wasted on somebody who might not be the nominee.

What are your thoughts?  Will the media’s portrayal of Sanders help, or hurt, his chances?

Thanks for reading.

Differing Perspectives

Last night, Gov. Bobby Jindal spoke in Iowa and sent out a tweet with this image, calling it a “great turnout.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 8.02.18 AM

Also last night, Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke in Madison. Here’s just one photo illustrating the turnout.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 8.06.07 AM

Notice the difference?  Granted, Sen. Sanders has been an official candidate longer than Gov. Jindal, but I think the size of the turnout for the respective candidates speaks volumes on whose ideas resonate more with the voters.


Thanks for reading.

Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Kickoff

On Tuesday, May 26, Sen. Bernie Sanders gave his official campaign kickoff speech in Burlington, VT.  He spoke for about thirty-five minutes, first describing the problems of the United States and then outlining his agenda to fix them.  In the video clip below, he takes the stage at around 40:00.

One of the things that stood out to me was his perception of the American political process.  Early on he proposed, “Now is not the time for thinking small.  Now is not the time for the same old, same old establishment politics and stale-inside-the-beltway ideas.”  Given that many pundits and policymakers have argued either the U.S. is in decline or others are catching up, we need big, bold reforms.  The U.S. is no longer “Number 1″ in many areas (especially social indicators).

Even though the U.S. is stagnating, Sen. Sanders has a plan to “revitalize American democracy.” The national voter turnout in the 2014 midterm elections was around 36 percent- the lowest since the Second World War.  The Pew Research Center conducted a poll in the wake of the midterms, part of which looked at reasons why non-voters did not vote.  Here is what they found:

Why Some Didn't Vote (p.21)

Although he probably did not plan on it, Sen. Sanders addressed the “Didn’t like vote choices/didn’t care/didn’t know enough” crowd during yesterday’s speech.  He talked about the lack of confidence and feeling of cynicism pervading the American electorate and how he wanted to reach out to voters.  His campaign, he argued, “will not be driven by political gossip or reckless personal attacks.”  He went on to say that the problems facing the U.S. require “serious debates,” and the media must not turn the campaigns into game shows or soap operas.  This kind of talk (and subsequent action) should help decrease that 20 percent who didn’t care or know enough.

Among the issues that ail the U.S., Sen. Sanders focused on wealth and income inequality, poverty, the decline of the middle class, campaign finance, and climate change.  He proposed to increase the current minimum wage of $7.25 (a “starvation wage”) to $15 (a “living wage”) over the next few years and to introduce a progressive tax system.  One way to create good-paying jobs, he said, is to invest in infrastructure.  Additionally, Sanders discussed the idea of universal pre-K education and making public universities tuition-free.  He lashed out at conservative donors the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson for their role in distorting the democratic process and argued for public funding of elections.

Sen. Sanders introduced his agenda as a “simple, straightforward progressive agenda which speaks to the needs of the American people” which would bring about a “very different America.”  If people took the time to listen to Sanders and read about his ideas, I think they would realize that he is exactly what America needs right now.  No other candidate has such a clear vision and agenda.  It is indeed time for a political revolution.

Thanks for reading.

College For All

On May 19, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the “College For All Act,” calling for the elimination of “tuition and related fees” at public universities in the United States.  In his speech he gave a number of reasons for his plan, including the fact that 40 million Americans have $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, and many European countries have eliminated their tuition and fees. In essence, he argued that a university education should be a right.

This last concept was introduced back in 1966 in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Article 13(2)(c) states, “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”  Since then, all but a handful of states have ratified the Covenant– Comoros, Cuba, Palau, Sao Tome and Principe, and the U.S.  In other words, the U.S. is not keeping up with international standards.  We are an exception in the global community.

Since I previously wrote a post comparing the U.S. and Scandinavia, I will not go in to what he said about other countries.  Suffice it to say, he is correct that those countries have eliminated tuition and fees.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty of it all- the cost of eliminating tuition and fees at public universities.  In his plan, the federal government pays for 67% of the total tuition and fees, while the states pick up the remaining 33%.  In order for the federal government to pay for their part, Sanders introduced a tax on Wall Street.  This means that taxpayers have to foot the bill for the state portion.  Being the curious person that I am, I wanted to figure out what that would be here in Wisconsin.

Most of the data I used came from the UW System Fact Book, 2013-2014.  I started by calculating the total number of undergraduates (Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors only) at each of the UW universities and colleges.  The Fact Book was kind enough to have already split those numbers up into resident and non-residents, although it did not break down non-residents into reciprocity students and non-reciprocity students.  This is important because the cost of tuition for the former is cheaper than for the latter group.  The Fact Book also has the tuition/fees for each institution, again making my life a bit easier.  Since it did not break down students by full time or part time and reciprocity or non-reciprocity, I made everybody full time and the reciprocity students into non-reciprocity students.  This means that my calculations will actually be at the maximum level.  As such, the total amount of undergraduate tuition/fees paid in 2013-2014 for all 26 UW universities and colleges would be $1,513,092,675.  Again, that is higher than actual because of my methodology (making everybody full time and charging all non-residents the out-of-state tuition/fees.)  Under Sen. Sanders’ plan, the federal government’s bill would be $1,013,772,092, leaving $499,320,583 for Wisconsin residents.

To figure out the amount for Wisconsin residents, I used the population numbers from 2013.  Since I could not find numbers for the amount of taxpayers that year, I divided the $499.3 million evenly among those employed in July 2013 (2,887,850).  The resulting amount would be $172.90 per employed person.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that rate stays the same for 45 years (putting your employment age from 15-60) and that the employment numbers stay the same.  If you paid $172.90 each year for 45 years, you would pay a total of $7,780.50; the weighted average of tuition/fees in 2013-14 was $7,232.  Over four years that average amounts to $28,928, but you only paid $7,780.50; in other words you pay for one year over your working lifetime and get three years of university education for free.  On top of that, the average debt of borrowers for the UW system as a whole in 2013-2014 was $29,219.  Eliminating tuition and fees just about wipes out that debt, giving students a chance to get on their feet after leaving the university.

While this is not exact, it does give us a ballpark figure.  It clearly shows that eliminating tuition/fees at public universities is actually a better deal than our current system.  As such, I hope that the public will give Sen. Sanders’ plan serious consideration.

Thanks for reading.

The United States and Scandinavia: A Comparison

During the May 3 edition of “This Week,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told George Stephanopoulos, “If we know that in countries in Scandinavia, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, they are very democratic countries obviously; their voter turnout is a lot higher than it is in the United States.  In those countries, health care is a right of all people.  In those countries, college education, graduate school is free.  In those countries, retirement benefits, childcare are stronger than in the United States of America.  And in those countries by and large, government works for ordinary people in the middle class, rather than, as is the case right now in our country, for the billionaire class.”  Stephanopoulous responded, “I can hear the Republican attack ad right now; ‘he wants America to look more like Scandinavia’.”  Sanders was okay with that, arguing, “That’s right.  That’s right.  What’s wrong with that?  What’s wrong when you have more income and wealth equality.  What’s wrong when they have a stronger middle class in many ways than we do, a higher minimum wage than we do and they’re stronger on the environment than we are.”  Sanders went on to say that there is nothing wrong with learning to other countries.  The portion begins around 1:40 of the video clip–

It is in that spirit that I set out to compare the U.S. and Scandinavia on a number of topics, including some of those mentioned by Sen. Sanders.

GDP per capita (2013)
a) Denmark: $59,818.60; b) Norway: $100,898.40; c) Sweden: $60,380.90; d) United States: $53,042.00

Individual Income Tax Rate (2014)
a) Denmark: 55.41%; b) Norway: 47.2%; c) Sweden: 57%; d) United States: 39.6%

Unemployment Rate (2013)
a) Denmark: 7.0%; b) Norway: 3.5%; c) Sweden: 8.1%; d) United States: 7.4%

Income Inequality (Gini Coefficient- the closer to 1, the greater the inequality, 2011)
a) Denmark: .253; b) Norway: .250; c) Sweden: .273; d) United States: .389

Quality of Overall Transport Infrastructure (Rank out of 144; 2014)
a) Denmark: 15; b) Norway: 28; c) Sweden: 18; d) United States: 16

Public Investment on Infrastructure (% of GDP; 2014)
a) Denmark: 3.4%; b) Norway: 3.3%; c) Sweden: 4.5%; d) United States: 4.1%

Total Paid Leave for Mothers (in weeks; 2014)
a) Denmark: 50; b) Norway: 81; c) Sweden: 60; d) United States: 0

Paid Leave Reserved for Fathers (in weeks; 2014)
a) Denmark: 2; b) Norway: 14; c) Sweden: 10; d) United States: 0

Public Spending on Education- Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary (% of GDP, 2011)
a) Denmark: 7.0%; b) Norway: 6.2%; c) Sweden: 6.0%; d) United States: 4.9%

Public Expenditure for Childcare and Early Education (% of GDP; 2014)
a) Denmark: 2.0%; b) Norway: 1.2%; c) Sweden: 1.6%; d) United States: 0.4%

Cost of Childcare, Couples (% of average wage; 2014)
a) Denmark: 11.9%; b) Norway: 14.9%; c) Sweden: 5.8%; d) United States: 35.1%

Mean Score in PISA (2012)
a) Denmark: 500; b) Norway: 489; c) Sweden: 478; d) United States: 481

Poverty Rates for Children (2010)
a) Denmark: 3.7%; b) Norway: 5.1%; c) Sweden: 8.2%; d) United States: 21.2%

Voter Turnout (2013 or latest available year)
a) Denmark: 87.74%; b) Norway: 78.23%; c) Sweden: 84.63%; d) United States: 66.65%

Environmental Performance Index (Rank out of 178; 2014)
a) Denmark: 13; b) Norway: 10; c) Sweden: 9; d) United States: 33

Health Care Ranking (out of 11 countries, 2014)
a) Denmark: Not part of the study; b) Norway: 7; c) Sweden: 3; d) United States: 11

Life Expectancy (2014)
a) Denmark: 79.9 years; b) Norway: 81.4 years; c) Sweden: 81.9 years; d) United States: 78.7

Corruption Perceptions Index (Rank out of 175; 2014)
a) Denmark: 1; b) Norway: 5; c) Sweden: 4; d) United States: 17

Press Freedom Score (0 is the most free; 2015)
a) Denmark: 12; b) Norway: 10; c) Sweden: 10; d) United States: 22

Life Satisfaction (10 is most satisfied; 2014)
a) Denmark: 9.4; b) Norway: 9.7; c) Sweden: 8.9; d) United States: 7.5

Since Denmark, Norway, and Sweden do not have laws for a minimum wage, I did not include that data.

While the list of indicators is not exhaustive and does not give a complete picture of life in these countries, it would appear Sen. Sanders is on to something here.  The question now is- what can U.S. policymakers learn from these countries?

To learn more about the three Scandinavian countries in general, check out their embassy websites:

Thanks for reading.