Archive for the ‘Things that actually matter’ category

A Handful Of Quick DACA-Related Thoughts

September 5, 2017

 

Others have said what needs to be said about the Coward Trump and his DACA debacle.   Here’s my PGO addition:

1: To reinforce a point Charles Pierce made today: DACA folks are Americans. Full stop. They may not be citizens, but they are us; members of our society, our community.  They are not strangers.

Any attempt to frame them as aliens, or criminals — or as developmentally delayed moral agents who need (as John’s former elementary school teacher put it) being taught right from wrong — is both wrong and vile.

2: Task one is whatever we can do to “help” our Republican friends in Congress to fix the steaming pile of rodent droppings the leader of their party just dumped in their punchbowl

Task two, of course, is to teach every national Republican, no matter what goodness may reside in their hearts, bless their hearts, the lessons California GOPsters learned post Prop. 187.

To me that means that the first priority for any political action centers on voting.  I’m going to call my local town Democratic committee first, and see what I can do there to register folks.  Given that my town votes 2-1 D every election, with good turnout, I’m hoping they’re making the same connections they do every election with Ds who need help in New Hampshire.  If I get no joy there, I’ll contact folks directly in neighboring states.

After registration, it’s voter education and then turnout.  That’s it.  The unintended consequence of Trump’s reign of misrule is that a lot more people have become aware that politics does in fact matter where each of us live.  It’s incumbent on all of us to make sure that realization doesn’t go to waste.

Last: again, this isn’t an issue in my home town of Brookline, MA — but this is why we need Democrats running in every office, down to assistant dog catcher.  Neighbors seeking votes mobilize voters as no one else can; if we have people doing so for every office, that’s a big part of the battle right there.  So I’ll be doing what I can to tell those up the food chain in the party that we gotta do what the Republicans, to their tactical credit, have long understood to be vital.

That’s it.  My motto going forward: Get (Stay) Mad. Get (More Than) Even.

Over to y’all.

Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus 1601.

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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

Trump Administration Reverses Course; Supports Massive Funding Increase For Performance Art

April 7, 2017

A sidelight on yesterday’s Tomahawk raid on a Syrian airbase.

1:  Fifty-nine Tomahawks fired.

2: Targetting:  “The targets included air defenses, aircraft, hangars and fuel.”  For good reason (IMHO) the strike avoided stored chemical weapons.  Personnel at the base were warned of the impending attack and as of now, no casualties have been reported.

3: Results: some shit got blown up. All of it can be repaired or replaced with out, it seems, significant difficulty.

All of which is to say that this was what most kindly can be called a warning shot, and rather less so, performance art.

Which gets me to my point.  The price tag for fifty nine Tomahawk missiles runs a little bit shy of $90 million.

For scale: that’s roughly 60% of the $148 million the to-be defunded National Endowment of the Arts received in 2016.

I believe Donald Trump’s grant was titled, “Very Expensive Holes In Concrete.”

Image: Adrian Hill, A British Mine Exploding, sometime during World War I.

Reds Under The Bed

December 10, 2016

The non-revelation that Vladimir Putin actively tried to select the next US President — and succeeded — has been pretty well covered by now.  I just want to add one question that’s been bugging me all day:

What did the Trump campaign do, and when did they do it?

We do know a few things.  Michael Flynn was both a national security advisor to the Trump campaign and has ties to the Russian propaganda apparatus.  Former Trump campaign head Paul Manafort has worked for Russia and allied states, and has a rich, long-held trove of contacts with the state apparatus there.  Donald Trump himself famously asked Putin to hack Hillary’s emails.  I’m sure if we had the same access to Trump’s, his campaign’s and the RNC’s communications that we had to Hillary’s and her team’s, we could well have some very interesting reading.

Short of that, it seems a basic question to ask of the Trump circle.  Did any of them conspire with a foreign power to manipulate (steal) the election?

The fundamental crisis we face, of course, is that a foreign power fucked with our election, which ended in the result sought by an adversary.  But while that’s the obvious disaster,  it gets worse if the Russians had active co-conspirators within the Trump camp.  That moves them from illegitimate, to traitors.

513px-giotto-kissofjudas

That may seem a stretch — but given the extremely well documented Russian connections that obtained in the Trump campaign through the crucial months of the general election, it’s seems to me that it’s imperative we get real answers as to who did what to whom over here.  This is where I hope Marty Barron has his people working (I’ve given up on Dean Baquet).  And I hope there are folks at the CIA pissed off enough to help out.

Whoever does it, this really is a time that puts the idea of the elite press to the test.  Either they cover Trump and all his high crimes and misdemeanors, or they give up, and the American experiment lurches to its increasingly imminent collapse.

I live not in expectation, but in hope.*

*Hope is the thing with feathers. The one Dick Cheney kept trying to shoot out of the sky.

Image: Giotto, The Arrest of Christ (Kiss of Judas)betw. 1306 and 1308.

If You Don’t Know Who The Patsy At The Table Is, Dear Trumpkins…

November 28, 2016

...it’s you:

Again and again, President-elect Donald Trump presented himself as the coal miners’ candidate. During the campaign, he promised to bring coal back into the economy, and jobs back into struggling Appalachian towns.

But now some in coal country are worried that instead of helping, Trump’s first actions will deprive miners — and their widows and children — of the compensation they can receive if they are disabled by respiratory problems linked to breathing coal mine dust.

That’s because buried in the Affordable Care Act are three sentences that made it much easier to access these benefits. If Trump repeals Obamacare — as he vowed to do before the election — and does not keep that section on the books, the miners will be back to where they were in 2009, when it was exceedingly difficult to be awarded compensation for “black lung” disease.

coal_mining_18th_c

This is by no means a done deal, given that at least some coal-country legislators (Joe Manchin, for one) have declared their support for retaining this in whatever comes out of the health care catastrophe the GOP is determined to commit.  But McConnell is, as usual, mum on the matter, and if I were a coal mining family depending on the pittance they do get (top payment for a miner with three dependents: $1,289/month), I’d be getting ready not for hard times — they’re already here — but worse.

update — obligatory post soundtrack:

The key change the ACA implemented in black lung cases was to shift the burden of proof: instead of a miner having to prove that the work caused the disease, under the new rules,

If a miner has spent 15 years or more underground and can prove respiratory disability, then it is presumed to be black lung related to mine work, unless the company can prove otherwise.

This wasn’t a case of free money all around. As reporter Eric Boodman writes,  “In 2009, 19 percent of claims for black lung benefits were successful; in 2015, that percentage had jumped to 28.” That’s a big jump — but hardly evidence that the black lung compensation process is a wild government grab of beleaguered coal company assets.

Those companies hate the rule, with a spokesman telling Boodman that it’s created “a supplemental pension program” rather than the compensation for occupational disease, which is as fine a bit of high priced turd polishing as I’ve seen in a while.

TL:DR?  Think of this as Mencken’s rule in action:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Trump voters in coal country — West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky — were promised their country back.

What will they receive?

The shaft, deeper and darker than any hole miners have dug in the hunt for what will continue to kill them where they stand.

Image: Léonard Defrance, Coal Mining, before 1805.

The Siberian Candidate

July 28, 2016

The Trump story of the morning appears to be a clumsy attempt to walk back yesterday’s folly/treason.  The ferret-headed Benedict Arnold now says he was just kidding.

In the reality-based universe this looks ridiculous, a twelve year old bully’s gambit to duck out of trouble when his mouth makes a promise the rest of him can’t back up.

In a political world described to the electorate but a media community that is either complicit (Fox, et al.) or cowed into ineffectuality (at best), it’s at least a solid move by Trump, and maybe more so.  He gets two main benefits out of what should be a candidacy-killing blunder.

The first is a refocusing of attention onto the Hillary email story, never mind that the actual hack — and the evil thereof –was not on Clinton’s server but was instead an attack against one of America’s two major political parties.  To all those — I spoke to one yesterday — who see Hillary as guilty, guilty, guilty, any means necessary to bring her down is just fine, and this story helps fuel that hunger while reminding everyone, yet again, that Hillary is the worst ever traitor/murderess/spy/arglebarglegabblegibberish….

The second, and even more potent benefit to Trump is the distraction his invocation of Russian spycraft offers the media.  This is classic misdirection. Focus on the more sensational, but ultimately off-the-point element of a story instead of the meat of the matter.

That would be, of course, how Trump has already, and will likely continue to pay off on Putin’s investment in his sorry ass.  Josh Marshall wrote an elegant bill of indictment a week ago, and Adam L. Silverman has gone into some detail on the extraordinary damage Trump is wreaking on more than a half a century of American geopolitics.

To do the TL:DR — Trump increasingly depends on Russian money as more and more of the major players in the western financial system have learned to their sorrow that he’s a litigious deadbeat.  That means that Trump doesn’t have to be a witting agent of the Kremlin; he’s already been bought and paid for (and, as Adam has noted, he’s long curried favor with/genuinely supported Russian authoritarians).

Giotto_di_Bondone_-_No._28_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ_-_12._Judas'_Betrayal_-_WGA09213

You can see how much vig he’s paid already:  threats to NATO and other allies, the signals he’s sending on Putin’s ambitions in the Baltic, Chamberlain-esque appeasement in his seeming willingness to accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, explicit changes the GOP position on Ukraine in an unequivocal shift towards the Kremlin line.

Does Trump believe in any of that, independently of a Russian handler? Who knows and who cares.  The threat Trump’s Russian connections poses to US and world security exist whether or not he’s a dupe, a useful idiot, a debtor, or (easily the least likely, IMHO) an actual witting asset of the FSB.  The real story lies in two strands and two only.  First:  follow the money.  What does Trump owe to whom? Where does/can he lay his hands on cash these days?

Second:  look at what Trump has done and proposes to do.  Not the conditional BS — how great it would be if Putin hacked HIllary.  The real stuff, the weakening of the western alliance, down-the-line support for Kremlin actions and arguments.

This is a test of our political media, one I’m afraid is already being flubbed.  Trump is a good — no, a great — three card monte player.  The patter conceals the real action.

This is how a Siberian Candidate gets the job done.

For our part, it’s a matter of keeping the story alive as much as we can in every venue we can: calling representatives, hitting social media, writing letters to the editor, and above all, talking to voters who need help seeing what’s at stake in this election.

Image:  Giotto di Bondone, Judas Receiving Payment For His Betrayalbetween 1304 and 1306.

Trump’s Supreme Court

May 18, 2016

William_Hogarth_004

Here’s the list of potential Trump nominees,:

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has released a list of 11 potential Supreme Court justices he plans to vet to fill the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia if he’s elected to the White House.

Trump’s picks include Steven Colloton of Iowa, Allison Eid of Colorado and Raymond Gruender of Missouri.

Also on the list are: Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, Joan Larsen of Michigan, Thomas Lee of Utah, William Pryor of Alabama, David Stras of Minnesota, Diane Sykes of Wisconsin and Don Willett of Texas. Trump had previously named Pryor and Sykes as examples of kind of justices he would choose.

Reading through the TPM comments on the post there on this subject, it seems like we’ve got some cherce* ones here.

Any of our legal types care to chime in?

*Cherce.

Image:  William Hogarth, The Court c. 1758.   I know that I’ve used this before.  But it’s just perfect whenever the topic of GOP jurisprudencerecklessness comes up.