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Maybe we’re making a fundamental attribution error in our judgment of those who failed to vote

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I’ve been critical of those who did not vote, assuming that the reason was that they didn’t care, lacked civic virtue, and so on. But then reports like this made me think that perhaps I’m making a fundamental attribution error regarding the reason. Wikipedia:

In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error, also known as the correspondence bias or attribution effect, is people’s tendency to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation, rather than considering external factors. It does not explain interpretations of one’s own behavior, where situational factors are more easily recognized and can thus be taken into consideration. The flip side of this error is the actor–observer bias, in which people tend to overemphasize the role of a situation in their behaviors and underemphasize the role of their own personalities.

As a simple example, consider a situation where Alice, a driver, is about to pass through an intersection. Her light turns green and she begins to accelerate, but another car drives through the red light and crosses in front of her. The fundamental attribution error may lead her to think that the driver of the other car was an unskilled or reckless driver. This will be an error if the other driver had a good reason for running the light, such as rushing a patient to the hospital. If this is the case and Alice had been driving the other car, she would have understood that the situation called for speed at the cost of safety, but when seeing it from the outside she was inclined to believe that the behavior of the other driver reflected their fundamental nature (having poor driving skills or a reckless attitude).

The phrase was coined by Lee Ross[1] some years after a now classic experiment by Edward E. Jones and Victor Harris (1967).[2] Ross argued in a popular paper that the fundamental attribution error forms the conceptual bedrock for the field of social psychology. Jones wrote that he found Ross’ phrase “overly provocative and somewhat misleading”, and also joked: “Furthermore, I’m angry that I didn’t think of it first.”[3] Some psychologists, including Daniel Gilbert, have used the phrase “correspondence bias” for the fundamental attribution error.[3] Other psychologists have argued that the fundamental attribution error and correspondence bias are related but independent phenomena, with the former being a common explanation for the latter.[4]

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2014 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Daily life, Election

The Pew Report: Republicans do not want cooperation with the President

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Interesting and not totally surprising:

Stand up to Obama

That’s from a very interesting report with quite a few charts. Obviously, conservatives are in favor of gridlock in Washington so long as Obama achieves nothing. Very odd attitude toward the US, I think.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2014 at 11:48 am

Posted in Election, GOP

National Security and Double Government, by Michael J. Glennon

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The Boston Globe has a review of Glennon’s new book:

It has long been the province of conspiracy theorists to claim that the real power of government is not wielded by the obvious practitioners of statecraft — presidents, members of Congress, the judiciary — but by secret or semi-secret entities, real wizards whose hidden machinations send us to war, sell us out to enemies, siphon public treasure into private hands. Depending on your talk show or paranoia of choice, these are the bankers, oil barons, one-worlders, war profiteers, Bilderbergers, Masons, Catholics, Jews, or Trilateralists. Our formal institutions, in this scenario, are stage sets, Potemkin villages; our officials are puppets; we are an unsuspecting audience.

Michael Glennon, a respected academic (Tufts’s Fletcher School) and author of a book brought to us by an equally respected publisher (Oxford University Press), is hardly the sort to indulge in such fantasies. And that makes the picture he paints in National Security and Double Government all the more arresting. Considering Barack Obama’s harsh pre-election criticisms of his predecessor’s surveillance policies, for example, Glennon notes that many of those same policies — and more of the same kind — were continued after Obama took office. “Why,” he asks, “does national security policy remain constant even when one President is replaced by another, who as a candidate repeatedly, forcefully, and eloquently promised fundamental changes in that policy?”

The answer Glennon places before us is not reassuring: “a bifurcated system — a structure of double government — in which even the President now exercises little substantive control over the overall direction of US national security policy.” The result, he writes, is a system of dual institutions that have evolved “toward greater centralization, less accountability, and emergent autocracy.”

If this were a movie, it would soon become clear that some evil force, bent on consolidating power and undermining democratic governance, has surreptitiously tunneled into the under-structure of the nation. Not so. In fact, Glennon observes, this hyper-secret and difficult-to-control network arose in part as an attempt to head off just such an outcome. In the aftermath of World War II, with the Soviet Union a serious threat from abroad and a growing domestic concern about weakened civilian control over the military (in 1949, the Hoover Commission had warned that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had become “virtually a law unto themselves”), President Truman set out to create a separate national security structure.

By 2011, according to The Washington Post, there were 46 separate federal departments and agencies and 2,000 private companies engaged in classified national security operations with millions of employees and spending of roughly a trillion dollars a year. As Glennon points out, presidents get to name fewer than 250 political appointees among the Defense Department’s nearly 700,000 civilian employees, with hundreds more drawn from a national security bureaucracy that comprise “America’s Trumanite network” — in effect, on matters of national security, a second government.

Glennon’s book is not a breezy read: It’s thick with fact and not unappreciative of conundrum (“The government is seen increasingly by elements of the public as hiding what they ought to know, criminalizing what they ought to be able to do, and spying upon what ought to be private. The people are seen increasingly by the government as unable to comprehend the gravity of security threats.”). Nor is he glib with proposed solutions: to adequately respond to the threats posed by a below-the-radar second government will . . .

Continue reading.

The Boston Globe also ran an interview of Dr. Glennon, under the headline “Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.”

THE VOTERS WHO put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.

But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.

Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.

Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.

Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.

Glennon’s critique sounds like an outsider’s take, even a radical one. In fact, he is the quintessential insider: He was legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a consultant to various congressional committees, as well as to the State Department. “National Security and Double Government” comes favorably blurbed by former members of the Defense Department, State Department, White House, and even the CIA. And he’s not a conspiracy theorist: Rather, he sees the problem as one of “smart, hard-working, public-spirited people acting in good faith who are responding to systemic incentives”—without any meaningful oversight to rein them in.

How exactly has double government taken hold? And what can be done about it? Glennon spoke with Ideas from his office at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. This interview has been condensed and edited.

IDEAS: Where does the term “double government” come from?

GLENNON:It comes from Walter Bagehot’s famous theory, unveiled in the 1860s. Bagehot was the scholar who presided over the birth of the Economist magazine—they still have a column named after him. Bagehot tried to explain in his book “The English Constitution” how the British government worked. He suggested that there are two sets of institutions. There are the “dignified institutions,” the monarchy and the House of Lords, which people erroneously believed ran the government. But he suggested that there was in reality a second set of institutions, which he referred to as the “efficient institutions,” that actually set governmentalpolicy. And those were the House of Commons, the prime minister, and the British cabinet.

IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?

GLENNON:I was curious why a president such as Barack Obama would embrace the very same national security and counterterrorism policies that he campaigned eloquently against. Why would that president continue those same policies in case after case after case? I initially wrote it based on my own experience and personal knowledge and conversations with dozens of individuals in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies of our government, as well as, of course, officeholders on Capitol Hill and in the courts. And the documented evidence in the book is substantial—there are 800 footnotes in the book.

IDEAS: Why would policy makers hand over the national-security keys to unelected officials?

GLENNON: It hasn’t been a conscious decision….Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.

The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”

RELATED: Answers sought on CIA role in ‘78 JFK probe

IDEAS: Isn’t this just another way of saying that big bureaucracies are difficult to change?

GLENNON: It’s much more serious than that. These particular bureaucracies don’t set truck widths or determine railroad freight rates. They make nerve-center security decisions that in a democracy can be irreversible, that can close down the marketplace of ideas, and can result in some very dire consequences.

IDEAS: Couldn’t Obama’s national-security decisions just result from the difference in vantage point between being a campaigner and being the commander-in-chief, responsible for 320 million lives? . . .

Continue reading. His conclusion:

GLENNON: The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people. Not from government. Government is very much the problem here. The people have to take the bull by the horns. And that’s a very difficult thing to do, because the ignorance is in many ways rational. There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change.

We see how important it is to the national security state that the citizenry NOT be well-educated—as George Carlin says, the owners don’t want citizens with critical-thinking skills.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 2:58 pm

Seems very much on the mark

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Remember this post from yesterday on the destruction of our educational system? It’s continuing.

Remember this post from yesterday on how Wall Street simply controls the government and will never be truly punished for their grand-scale theft and fraud? while those impacted by the theft get no relief whatsoever?

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 2:05 pm

William Pfaff on the midterm elections

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William Pfaff writes:

The dominating significance of the mid-term American legislative elections just finished has been the occasion’s dramatic confirmation of the corruption of the American electoral system. This has two elements, the first being its money corruption, unprecedented in American history, and without parallel in the history of major modern western democracies. How can Americans get out of this terrible situation, which threatens to become the permanent condition of American electoral politics?

The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.

This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.

These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.

Those readers old enough to remember the radio and early television broadcasting of pre-Reagan America will recall the non-partisan news reports and summaries provided by the national networks and by local stations in the United States. There were, of course, popular news commentators professing strong or idiosyncratic views as well, but the industry assured that a variety of responsible opinions were expressed, and that blatant falsehood was banned or corrected.

The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Electoral Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).

The two decisions turned political contests into competitions in campaign advertising expenditure on television and radio. The election just ended caused every American linked to the internet to be bombarded by thousands (or what seemed tens of thousands) of political messages pleading for campaign money and listing the enormous (naturally) sums pouring into the coffers of the enemy.

Previously the American campaign first concerned the candidate and the nature of his or her political platform. Friends and supporters could, of course, contribute to campaign funds and expenditures, but these contributions were limited by law in scale and nature. No overt connection was allowed between businesses or industries and major political candidates, since this would have implied that the candidate represented “special interests” rather than the general interest.

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech; Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.

The Court’s prohibition . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Election, Politics

Voter suppression does work: Lowest voter turnout in decades

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A big part of the GOP’s election strategy is quite simple: enact laws and regulations that make it much harder to vote, and combine that with shorter hours and fewer polling places in Democratic-heavy precincts. In other words, the idea is to win the election by any means at all.

The Democratic approach is much more defensible: get as many people to the polls as possible and work for a huge voter turnout so that election results will truly represent the will of the citizenry. In other words, while the GOP does everything in its power to ensure that only Republicans vote, Democrats do everything in their power to ensure that everyone votes. Oddly, some commentators simply cannot understand why a political party would favor having everyone vote—which reveals a disturbing attitude toward democracy. This column at ThingProgress  shows how completely these commentators miss the point—and the column concludes:

But as the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration said in areport in January, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier for people to vote. Extending early voting periods, expanding voter registration opportunities and mailing ballots to all voters are all fixes that might have primarily Democratic support, but actually expand voting opportunities for everyone and increase turnout across the board. As the New York Times noted, “There’s really nothing inherently partisan about expanded voting opportunities.”

But the GOP doubled down on suppressing voters. Juan Thompson reports in The Intercept:

On Tuesday, older, white voters — who traditionally support Republicans — went to the polls in droves, while turnout among traditionally Democratic groups — the young, the minoritized, and women — was down. Indeed, overall turnout declined to an estimated 36.6% of eligible voters, the lowest rate of participation since the 1940s, despite the $3 billion spent by candidates, political parties, and super PACs.

Yes, President Barack Obama’s poor performance and approval rating undoubtedly played a role in the lower turnout. But the evidence is piling up that systematic voter suppression, including voter ID laws and dubious vote-fraud prevention software, played a significant part in keeping people from casting ballots, as well.

Take the situation in Texas, where Democrat Wendy Davis lost badly to Republican Greg Abbott in the gubernatorial race. More important than her expected defeat is that the Lone Star State had the lowest voter turnout in the country at 33%, down from 38% four years earlier. It’s difficult to determine to what precise extent Texas’s new voter ID law is to blame for the poor turnout, but “there are somewhere between 600,000 and 1.4 million registered voters in Texas without state ID,” according to Kathleen Unger, whose nonprofit, VoteRiders, works to get people the documents they need to vote. Working through local organizations, two-year-old VoteRiders went into Houston’s Harris County this year in response to what Unger called its “very restrictive” voter ID law.

Despite such efforts, some Texans were still unable to vote. Think Progress’ Alice Ollstein recently documented how some Texas voters were dropped from the rolls or denied ballots because they couldn’t afford new IDs. Ollstein couldn’t quantify such incidents, but a recent Government Accountability Office report on voter ID laws in Tennessee and Kansas foundthey decreased turnout in those two states in 2012. In Texas, there are indications the same thing happened this year, including the fact that provisional ballots increased by half on Tuesday to 16,463, an uptick from the 8,000 issued in 2010. Provisional ballots are given to voters who have difficulty proving their eligibility, and because some thwarted voters don’t even bother to cast them, they are a proxy for larger problems.

“THE GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE’S OFFICE HAD NO EXPLANATION AT ALL AS TO WHERE THOSE VOTERS WENT.”

In Georgia, meanwhile, nearly 40,000 new voters mysteriously vanished from the rolls, possibly due to scrubbing by a controversial software system known as Crosscheck. Turnout was only34%, which is down six percentage points from 2010.

Over the past two years Raphael Warnock, leader of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, worked with the New Georgia Project to register some 80,000 new and mostly black voters. New Georgia Project’s efforts was the state’s largest voter registration drive in 50 years, according to reports. “It’s a fundamental, basic American right to vote”, Warnock told me. Such thinking explains why he was so angry when half of those new voters failed to appear on the rolls this fall. “The Georgia Secretary of State’s office had no explanation at all as to where those voters went”, Warnock explained. A person in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office declined comment (after alerting me to the fact that “the election’s over”). But earlier this year, that same office accused the New Georgia Project of voter registration fraud. In the end only 50 questionable forms were found.

Georgia, it must also be noted, is one of 27 states using the controversial software Crosscheck to weed out supposed voter fraud. Al Jazeera, which recently finished a months-long investigation of the program, found an astonishing 7 million Americans suspected of voter fraud on the Crosscheck lists. That despite the fact that voter fraud is almost unbelievably rare. One dogged investigator, a professor focused on election administration at Loyola University Law School, found just 31 credible incidents between 2000 and mid 2014, nationwide.

Crosscheck scours the names of voters who live in the 27 states, and if a first and last name matches in two states both persons are flagged and purged. The surnames most likely to be flagged? “The lists are heavily weighted with names such as Jackson, Garcia, Patel and Kim — ones common among minorities”, Al Jazeera reported. “List matching is an inaccurate science that burdens, disproportionately, minority voters”, said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Weiser also claimed that voter complaints to her group’s hotline were higher this year than ever before. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2014 at 9:54 am

Alaska opens itself for voter fraud of the hacker variety

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Steve Friess reports in The Intercept:

When Alaska voters go to the polls tomorrow to help decide whether the U.S. Senate will remain in Democratic control, thousands will do so electronically, using Alaska’s first-in-the-nation internet voting system. And according to the internet security experts, including the former top cybersecurity official for the Department of Homeland Security, that system is a security nightmare that threatens to put control of the U.S. Congress in the hands of foreign or domestic hackers.

Any registered Alaska voter can obtain an electronic ballot, mark it on their computers using a web-based interface, save the ballot as a PDF, and return it to their county elections department through what the state calls “a dedicated secure data center behind a layer of redundant firewalls under constant physical and application monitoring to ensure the security of the system, voter privacy, and election integrity.”

That sounds great, but even the state acknowledges in an online disclaimer that things could go awry, warning that “when returning the ballot through the secure online voting solution, your are voluntarily waving [sic] your right to a secret ballot and are assuming the risk that a faulty transmission may occur.”

That disclaimer is a pre-emptive admission of failure, says Bruce McConnell, who served until 2013 as the top cybersecurity officer for DHS. “They admit that they are not taking responsibility for the validity of the system,” McConnell told The Intercept. “They’re saying, ‘Your vote may be counted correctly, incorrectly, or may not be counted at all, and we are not taking any responsibility for that.’ That kind of disclaimer would be unacceptable if you saw it on the wall of a polling place.”

In 2012, Alaska became the first state to permit internet balloting for all voters, and no problems were reported during the system’s first deployment. But there weren’t any high-profile races then, and Alaska wasn’t an electoral factor in the presidential race. This year, the state has two nail-biters: the Senate race between incumbent Democratic incumbent Mark Begich and Republican challenger Dan Sullivan, and the gubernatorial contest between GOP incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell and independent Bill Walker. The Begich-Sullivan contest is particularly noteworthy, since it could be the deciding factor in the GOP attempt to retake the Senate. Right now, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight is giving Sullivan a narrow two-point edge, but polling in Alaska is notoriously difficult—which means that any online tampering might be hard to detect because there’s little reliable data on what election outcome to expect.

Add to that the fact that cybercrime experts from across the nation say the system, created by a Spanish-based company called Scytl, can potentially be duped from anywhere in the world. Malware that already resides on many personal computers could be activated to alter votes, PDFs could be altered as they travel from the voter’s computer to that of the elections department, servers could be hacked, and insiders could change vote tallies — all without anyone ever knowing.

Computer scientists have already done some of these things in controlled laboratory experiments, in some cases attacking the same systems that Scytl has deployed in other jurisdictions around the world. In fact just this week . . .

Continue reading. Later in the article:

“It’s a scary threat because the way we’ve done it, no one will ever know the ballot got changed,” Kiniry said. “The ballot isn’t changed on the voter’s computer. We haven’t done anything to attack the election department’s computers. We just changed the ballot while it goes over the internet.”

Written by LeisureGuy

3 November 2014 at 4:39 pm

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