Archive for the ‘political follies’ category

The Great Vote Fraud Data Mistake…A Cautionary Tale

May 11, 2017

Just in time for the latest, greatest Shitgibbon pursuit of all those not-good-people who got to vote for his opponent, Maggie Koerth-Baker brings the hammer down.  She’s written an excellent long-read over at Five Thirty Eight on what went wrong in the ur-paper that has fed the right wing fantasy that a gazillion undocumented brown people threw the election to the popular-vote winner, but somehow failed to actually turn the result.

The nub of the problem lies with a common error in data-driven research, a failure to come to grips with the statistical properties — the weaknesses — of the underlying sample or set.  As Koerth-Baker emphasizes this is both hardly unusual, and usually not quite as consequential as it was when and undergraduate, working with her professor, used  found that, apparently, large numbers of non-citizens 14% of them — were registered to vote.

There was nothing wrong the calculations they used on the raw numbers in their data set — drawn from a large survey of voters called the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The problem, though, was that they failed fully to handle the implications of the fact that the people they were interested in, non-citizens, were too small a fraction of the total sample to eliminate the impact of what are called measurement errors. Koerth-Baker writes:

Non-citizens who vote represent a tiny subpopulation of both non-citizens in general and of the larger community of American voters. Studying them means zeroing in on a very small percentage of a much larger sample. That massive imbalance in sample size makes it easier for something called measurement error to contaminate the data. Measurement error is simple: It’s what happens when people answer a survey or a poll incorrectly.1 If you’ve ever checked the wrong box on a form, you know how easy it can be to screw this stuff up. Scientists are certainly aware this happens. And they know that, most of the time, those errors aren’t big enough to have much impact on the outcome of a study. But what constitutes “big enough” will change when you’re focusing on a small segment of a bigger group. Suddenly, a few wrongly placed check marks that would otherwise be no big deal can matter a lot.

This is what critics of the original paper say happened to the claim that non-citizens are voting in election-shaping numbers:

Of the 32,800 people surveyed by CCES in 2008 and the 55,400 surveyed in 2010, 339 people and 489 people, respectively, identified themselves as non-citizens.2 Of those, Chattha found 38 people in 2008 who either reported voting or who could be verified through other sources as having voted. In 2010, there were just 13 of these people, all self-reported. It was a very small sample within a much, much larger one. If some of those people were misclassified, the results would run into trouble fast. Chattha and Richman tried to account for the measurement error on its own, but, like the rest of their field, they weren’t prepared for the way imbalanced sample ratios could make those errors more powerful. Stephen Ansolabehere and Brian Schaffner, the Harvard and University of Massachusetts Amherst professors who manage the CCES, would later say Chattha and Richman underestimated the importance of measurement error — and that mistake would challenge the validity of the paper.

Koerth-Baker argues that Chatta (the undergraduate) and Richman, the authors of the original paper are not really to blame for what came next — the appropriation of this result as a partisan weapon in the voter-suppression wars.  She writes, likely correctly in my view, that political science and related fields are more prone to problems of methodology, and especially in handling the relatively  new (to these disciplines) pitfalls of big, or even medium-data research. The piece goes on to look at how and why this kind of not-great research can have such potent political impact, long after professionals within the field have recognized problems and moved on.  A sample of that analysis:

This isn’t the only time a single problematic research paper has had this kind of public afterlife, shambling about the internet and political talk shows long after its authors have tried to correct a public misinterpretation and its critics would have preferred it peacefully buried altogether. Even retracted papers — research effectively unpublished because of egregious mistakes, misconduct or major inaccuracies — sometimes continue to spread through the public consciousness, creating believers who use them to influence others and drive political discussion, said Daren Brabham, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California who studies the interactions between online communities, media and policymaking. “It’s something scientists know,” he said, “but we don’t really talk about.”

These papers — I think of them as “zombie research” — can lead people to believe things that aren’t true, or, at least, that don’t line up with the preponderance of scientific evidence. When that happens — either because someone stumbled across a paper that felt deeply true and created a belief, or because someone went looking for a paper that would back up beliefs they already had — the undead are hard to kill.

There’s lots more at the link.  Highly recommended.  At the least, it will arm you for battle w. Facebook natterers screaming about non-existent voter fraud “emergency.”

Image: William Hogarth, The Humours of an Election: The Polling, 1754-55

Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

July 22, 2016

Josh Marshall has a tweet stream going talking about the Trump-Russia alliance.  As he sees it, the Manchurian-by-way-of-Queens Candidate isn’t even trying to hide his alliance with/subservience to Putin.

I’m not sure I wholly believe it, but I can’t come close to ruling it out, and that cranks the dangers of this election up to eleven.  Which is why I found this story a welcome bit of comic relief:

Sargent_MadameX

@IvankaTrump

Shop Ivanka’s look from her #RNC speech: http://bit.ly/29Qj7dE #RNCinCLE

  • 271271 Retweets
  • 748748 likes

This isn’t Ivanka Trump tweeting, technically. It’s @IvankaTrump, but that’s the Twitter handle forIvankaTrump.com. If one has one’s own clothing line, it seems natural that you’d wear pieces from it; perhaps the marketing folks saw an unplanned opportunity to plug the outfit on Twitter. It’s $138 at Macy’s; apparently her father’s boycott of the chain doesn’t apply to her. The garment is described as a “sophisticated sheath dress” that “works wonders at both social and professional occasions” — and, clearly, political ones.

Oh, also? The dress is “imported,” according to its description.

So perhaps this was a just a smart move by the site’s marketing team to capitalize on the moment. Possible. Or perhaps Ivanka Trump has been doing this for the entire convention, posting a series of photos from the event at her website with personalized captions to each — and links to where you can buy all of the things she’s wearing or carrying.

So yeah, maybe the Trump campaign is Putin’s Hail Mary attempt to reverse the outcome of the Cold War.  And maybe it’s just one long grift, the true family business now being carrie on by the smart child.

Of course, there’s no reason that what we’re seeing couldn’t be both a floor wax and a dessert topping.

Image:  John Singer Sargent, Madam X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)1883

Everything Old Is New Again — John Rogers Is Always Right Edition

September 15, 2015

Top line from today’s New York Times/CBS poll of the Republican presidential primary:

The proportion of Republican voters favoring Mr. Carson rose to 23 percent from 6 percent in the previous CBS News poll, which was taken just before the first televised Republican debate in early August. Over that same period, Mr. Trump made modest gains, to 27 percent from 24 percent.

In case any of our MSM friends are truly arithmetically challenged, that means that Donald Trump and Ben Carson — two men who have less capacity to fill the office they seek than I do to perform neurosurgery or figure out how to lose money owning a casino — combine to grab half of Republican electorate.

50%.

One out of every two polled.

Damn.

Hieronymus_Bosch_011

The key number, of course, is Trump’s total, that “modest” step to precisely the level that John Rogers identified, so long ago, as the crazification factor:

John: Hey, Bush is now at 37% approval. I feel much less like Kevin McCarthy screaming in traffic. But I wonder what his base is —

Tyrone: 27%.

John: … you said that immmediately, and with some authority.

Tyrone: Obama vs. Alan Keyes. Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.

John: Objectively crazy or crazy vis-a-vis my own inertial reference frame for rational behaviour? I mean, are you creating the Theory of Special Crazification or General Crazification?

Tyrone: Hadn’t thought about it. Let’s split the difference. Half just have worldviews which lead them to disagree with what you consider rationality even though they arrive at their positions through rational means, and the other half are the core of the Crazification — either genuinely crazy; or so woefully misinformed about how the world works, the bases for their decision making is so flawed they may as well be crazy.

John: You realize this leads to there being over 30 million crazy people in the US?

Tyrone: Does that seem wrong?

John: … a bit low, actually.

Of course, based on the recent polling gains recorded by our favorite lunatic neurosurgeon, we may be in a situation even the great Kung Fu Monkey has not yet encountered.  It’s entirely possible that we could soon see a survey that has both Trump and Carson at 27%.  Do we have non-overlapping magisteria of crazy working now in Not-Your-Grandparents’-GOP™?

Run away! Run away!

Open Thread, my friends.

PS:  Bonus link to Charles Pierce on the special snowflake that is Our Donald.  When Pierce nails an image, that image stays nailed:

Trump is so thin-skinned that, if he swallowed a flashlight, he’d glow like a Japanese lantern.

Hieronymous Bosch, Ship of Fools (detail), betw. 1488-1510. (Unsure on the color correction on this one, folks.  Been decades since I saw it in the flesh).

Randy Newman Creates The Last Romney Campaign Reboot Ad

September 18, 2012

Randy knows how to write till it hurts:

(Via Greg Mitchell.)

I liked the Taft tree climbing line best, meself.

How To Botch A Job Interview

August 31, 2012

I didn’t watch the RNC.  Not a minute.

Wait!  To avoid a Kessler spanking, I should admit that when I turned the TV on Wednesday night looking for a west coast ball game, I found the cable set to one of the network stations.  So there was that glimpse of the convention floor — maybe a few seconds while fumbled for the mute button, and a few more while I tried to punch in the channel I wanted.  There’s that…

But, after I got back from the dinner welcoming our new victims graduate students to campus last night, I had a great time following the comment threads around the web on the trainwreck of Romney’s big night.  And as the hilarity over the Eastwood fiasco played out — a little sadly for me, because he’s done some great work on both sides of the camera — and as the clock relentlessly ticked on and as Rubio made it at least 3 if not more in the list of prime time speakers beginning now in their primary campaigns for 2016 and then as Romney finally tumbled onto stage with only 20 minutes or so left in prime time, and bumbled through much of that precious time before apparently finding his rhythm a bit after at least a chunk of his audience had been switched to local news, or the last beer, or bed — and then to face that fact that when all was said and done on this evening that was supposed to build a bond between the last three true swing voters in the United States and the remarkably sophisticated simulacrum of a human being operating under the code name Willard Mitt Romney, the only thing anyone actually remembered was a kind of recognizable weird old guy channeling the signals picked up by the filling in tooth 31 to drive his argument with an empty chair…

…as all that took place, I thought, W. Mitt Romney has just crashed the last remaining claim he has to the notion that he could do the presidency, even should he (FSM forbid!) manage to occupy it.

Consider:  when one runs for President there are only a few things over which the nominee has true total control.  Really there are only two:  the choice of a running mate, and the production of the wholly staged kabuki of the nominating convention.  The Ryan selection was botched, just from a technical point of view – a Friday evening news dump, the awkward pas de deux in which Romney and Ryan both tried to assert that the Ryan plan wasn’t really the Romney one and so on.  Leave aside the merits or not of Ryan as a running mate, just the way that the choice oozed out into public discussion was weak.

And now this.  The convention was rough from the start — and while you surely can’t blame the Romneybots for Hurricane Isaac, Chris Christie’s giant raspberry, spraying Jersey bluster all over Ann Romney’s red dress was not exactly what the Cyborg/Grannie Starver ticket had in mind.  Then you get to the mostly forgettable second day, made extraordinary by Paul Ryan’s delivery of a speech that was, in the end, an indigestible bolus of falsehood .  As someone pointed out at a link I’ve now lost, you’d think a properly run convention would have given Ryan sufficient guidance to make the lies just a little less obvious — just enough to provide cover to the both-sides-do-it/boys-will-be-boys school of coverage.  But noooo…with the result that what was supposed to be a day of media praise for Ryan’s extraordinary powers of intellect and his courageous embrace of hard truths…and of anticipation of the launch of the Romnoid’s Human Emulation software update…became instead a chorus of disdain — one that even reached the Fox News website!

Amazingly, all that pales before the my-eyes-deceive-me spectacle of Clint Eastwood trading implied obscenties with an empty chair…dragged out so long that the nominee himself was forced into that one true sin of convention production values:  crossing over out of prime time into the local news slot.

Holy Rotini, FSM! that’s just elementary.  Incredibly bad planning.  Grotesque management.  A failure not of ideas or character or of policy analysis or even emotional persuasion…but of the pure, basic demand that someone who wants to run something should, you know, actually do so.

And that for me is the lasting message of this convention.  Mitt Romney presents himself as the controlling intelligence whose experience as a top manager prepares him to run a more effective government than that of slacker/community organizer/government hack/oh, by the way – President Obama.

Remember, Romney isn’t running on his record in Massachusetts because it (a) largely sucked and (b) because the point at which it didn’t — with the passage of Romneycare — is the one that he just doesn’t seem to recall.  He isn’t running on Bain directly, because that record has messy details in it that accompany exercises in vampire capitalism.  He can’t do much with the Olympics because, you know, he didn’t build that.  So all that’s left is this general claim that he’s got the leader stuff down, that he can run things, that he’s a deciderer, and what he decides goes, and goes right.

And now this convention.

Seriously:  you can’t put on a three hour television show, you can’t run the country.  It’s as simple as that.

Images: Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh’s Chair, 1888.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Apotheosis of the Spanish Royal Family, 1762-1766

The Dog that Ain’t Barking

August 14, 2012

GOS’s Laura Clawson is getting here before me, but there’s an overwhelmingly obvious truth unsaid within the now-notorious Politico piece on Republican campaign operatives’ despair over the Ryan pick.

The piece channels keening over the fact Ryan plan screws up what was presumed to be the Republican’s best tactical approach to winning the White House, by shifting focus from Obama’s record on the economy (however distorted or outright BS-ed the Romney characterization of that record was and would be) to one in which we will confront a choice between to sharply distinct policy and moral visions for the future.

That is:  the Politico folks take the usual horserace approach to the latest twist in the campaign.

But that approach buries the lead. Yes, the economy ain’t that great and Romney could build traction there, again, however disengenously.  But the real story here is something that we’ve been talking about more or less overtly for the last several days — and that’s the bit  Politico and its GOP sources really want to avoid talk about.

Consider:

“I think it’s a very bold choice. And an exciting and interesting pick. It’s going to elevate the campaign into a debate over big ideas. It means Romney-Ryan can run on principles and provide some real direction and vision for the Republican Party. And probably lose. Maybe big,” said former President George W. Bush senior adviser Mark McKinnon.

Another strategist emailed midway through Romney and Ryan’s first joint event Saturday: “The good news is that this ticket now has a vision. The bad news is that vision is basically just a chart of numbers used to justify policies that are extremely unpopular.”
These are technical doubts:  how is Romney going to win an election in which he has to defend very specific proposals that voters actually loathe.
But the real point isn’t that Ryan’s presence on the ticket  makes it harder for the GOP to figure out how to write ads or get out the vote come November.  It is that Ryan’s presence brings into sharp relief exactly what the party and its backers has spent decades trying to obscure.  Republicanism doesn’t work. It sucks.  Really, truly, deeply.
That is to say, as everyone reading this already knows — but too many in the country haven’t grasped, yet — the basic policy presumptions of the Republicans  either have been tried and been seen to fail (see, e.g. tax cuts and economic growth, George Bush II edition) or can be analyzed and recognized as disastrous. (See, e.g., the GOP and Ryan plan to return health care to the status quo ante of the pre-Obamacare universe, only worse, with no cost controls and the burden of paying for health care inflation shifted from a national insurance pool to an individually aging population, AKA You and Me).
It never gets better.  With every attempt to look at actual empirical evidence, the basic inadequacy of the low-tax/deregulated/War of All Against All approach to the social contract becomes more obvious.  The voters get this — which is why the Ryan plan is seen as literally intolerable when described accurately to just folks.
That’s the real story.  Not the horse race stuff.  No.  The GOP as “led” by Romney and actually headed by the forces behind him and Ryan is committed to a program that is literally destructive to America.  Not just most Americans — but to the overall health of the economy, the environment, and all the physical, human, and moral infrastructure that makes somewhere a good or bad place to live.
Put this another way.  As Politico likes to report, political tacticians worry about now to the election:
….

Republican consultant Terry Nelson is hoping that a big debate on the presidential level will make it tougher for Democrats to mischaracterize the debate down ballot, where many Republican candidates in the House and Senate have already taken votes in favor of the Ryan plan. The more Romney and Ryan have to defend Ryan’s plan in the presidential race, the more they’ll provide air cover for other candidates.

Well, perhaps.

But if that “defense” forces voters to think hard about what the Republican approach to America’s future actually means…well that’s Obama’s job, and ours, isn’t it?

Images: Edgar Degas, Race Horses in a Landscape, 1894

Pieter Breughel the Elder, Portrait of an Old Woman, c. 1564

Dunbar Loved Shooting Skeet: Boring Republican Edition

July 18, 2012

I know DougJ hates (most) process stories, and so do I, usually. Doug calls out one claim in particular, the suggestion that how a campaign operates offers much or any insight into how the candidate would govern.

Again, I think there is some force there.  Being President is not actually a managerial job; if that duty falls to anyone in the White House (as opposed to the departments and other units of the Executive Branch) that’s the job of a the chief of staff.  Bill Clinton couldn’t manage his way out of…well, I’m not going to supply a noun there, I think.  But the government he headed was remarkable effective.  Bush the younger headed (and did not run) a pretty damn good campaign in 2000 — and his administration was crap, leaving aside the policy differences I and pretty much everyone reading this may have.

But even so, at least some of the time the decisions a candidate takes during his campaign and the impact of those choices on how things run does provide some information that is of real use in imagining the presidency to emerge from one side’s victory or the others.  Tell me that Obama’s discipline vs. McCain’s flailing at the point of the Lehman collapse didn’t offer some real insight.  You can talk Palin all you want, and the fact that the electoral environment for McCain in the ruins of Bush’s presidency was incredibly hostile, but the crazed “suspension” of his campaign was a real blow to his chances.

So with all that as prelude, consider this NYT story on Mitt Romney’s VP search.

Amateur pundit fail disclaimer: Let me remind  you that the political navel gazing below is worth precisely what you paid for it.  It is exactly the kind of musing that both DougJ rightfully sneers at.  You have been warned.

OK…back to your regularly scheduled programming:

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I read this as one of the most subtly devastating indictments of Romney as a potential president I can recall reading. Consider this, high in the piece:

Mr. Romney’s possible running mates, who have handed over reams of documents to the campaign, have probably opened themselves to  a greater level of scrutiny than the candidate himself, especially on the thorny question of taxes. Mr. Romney has said he will disclose federal tax returns covering two years by Election Day, far fewer than the 23 years’ worth that he handed over to Senator John McCain as a possible vice-presidential pick in 2008.

Heh indeed, one might say.

Then, there’s this:

Friends and advisers say that after assessing basic qualifications and personal chemistry, Mr. Romney has been guided by a simple principle: do no harm to the ticket.

It’s not so much that trying to avoid hiring the next Sarah Palin is a terrible idea (the context for that concluding sentence), but as a glimpse of the thought-process of a man who would lead, I read a clear hint of someone deciding out of fear, not confidence.

And how about this:

Determined to avoid the frustrations and tensions of the past, Mr. Romney’s team is taking steps to ensure that the eventual running mate — and his or her staff — functions as a true extension of the campaign, not as an autonomous political operation.

Again, on the face of it, this is an obvious thought.  But the choice is once more framed as a negative — “I don’t want no rogue, get me a lapdog.”  That’s a crap message to project to the American people about the person Romney’s campaign alleges has, if needed, the stuff to be the Leader of the Free World.

Then there’s the stuff that reinforces what is slowly becoming another theme in the coverage of this campaign, that Mitt Romney delegates poorly, micromanages, gets deep into the weeds of decisions in ways that constrain his organization’s ability to act swiftly, nimbly:

Many hands are involved, but the research is done by separate teams, so that only Ms. Myers and Mr. Romney have access to the full picture at all times.

Mr. Romney has taken a hands-on role. He checks in with Ms. Myers roughly every other day to discuss his thinking. And the candidate, a Harvard-trained lawyer, reviews some of the background information himself.

At the end of every day, confidential materials (tax returns, investment records and real estate documents) are returned to a vault at the Romney campaign headquarters in Boston.*

Read those short grafs again.  Tell me what you see there.  For me, I get a picture of compartmentalization, organizational secrecy, no chance for anyone within the organization to cross-fertilize thinking, and, most important, one in which all the lines of information and power are absolutely retained by one man only.

That may work in business (though it very often does not).  It may be easier to get away with in finance than in any actual operating enterprise. But one thing is for sure — this is a what the boss from hell looks like…

…which is to say it’s not a profile of a [successful] President.

Then there’s the Romney operation’s approach to the real job they have for the Veepster unit:

 Aides have begun discussing how to deploy Mr. Romney’s running mate on the trail and at fund-raisers. Campaign officials envision having the candidate headline a combination of $30,000-per-couple dinners in big cities and smaller events in second-tier locations, to gauge which proves more lucrative.

Ah, yes.  RomneyBot 2000 will assess the performance of its wholly-owned subsidiary, the better to assign an appropriate functional matrix to that operation.  Now it’s hardly a new thought that Vice Presidential candidates are supposed to take some of the fund-raising grind off the back of their headliner, but I have to think the NYT folks know exactly how unpresidential that sounds.  Good for them.

Finally, there’s the matter of where all this meticulous preparation and organizational engineering gets team RMoney:

In a recent interview with CBS News, his wife offered a slightly deeper insight into their thinking.

“I think it’s going to take someone else that’s going to be there with Mitt,” she said, “with the same personality type that, that will enjoy spending time with them and also competent, capable and willing to serve this country.”

So, after all that, in the Romneyverse the first and most important criterion for a Vice Presidential candidate be that he (almost certainly “he”) be of the right sort (right height?) to hang with the fellow at the top of the ticket.

Which is why, as the Times reports, the campaign has ended up with TPaw and Portman at the top of the short list, Paul Ryan (oh please..) and Bobby Jindal as less likely choices, and Condi Rice still getting courtesy mentions because, the Times suggests, Ann Romney thinks well of her.

What a pallid set of options!  And worse — yet entirely predictably, given its nature:  look at how Romney’s process (appears) to have landed him with a selection universe that does not allow him to shore up any meaningful weakness in his own candidacy.

For example: not enough has yet been made of how incredibly weak are Romney’s foreign policy and national security chops.  I know that such concerns are way down the list for most of the electorate — but still, not for all, and not for a critical subset of elite “independents.”  Romney has zero experience in either of those areas, and we are, after all, still at war in Afghanistan, dealing with a truly dangerous conflict in Syria, concerned about Iran and so on — not to mention the tricky policy issues of how to deal with China’s emergence and so on.  Big stuff. Stuff that matters to both lives and the global (and American) economy.  And Romney has a resume in which the closest he comes to international affairs is outsourcing Olympic tailoring to Burma/Myanmar.

Obama, recall, was similarly poorly prepared for the international side of his job.  So who does he hire?  Joe Biden, long time head/ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Someone who could indeed have drawn invidious comparisons with the man who selected him — older, very experienced, all that.  But Obama had the confidence to pick someone who could enhance his candidacy, rather than merely echo it.

Romney’s pursuit of mini-me’s?  Makes him look cautious, predictable, small.

*Note yet further evidence of the absurdity of the idea that the sole stockholder, chairman of the board, president and CEO of Bain Capital was somehow utterly uninvolved with his firm’s decisions for three years.

 Images:  Francisco de Goya, They Sing for the Composer, 1796-97.

Diego Velasquez, Portrait of Philip IV, 1656.