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Archive for January 16th, 2017

Just when you thought the Trump ethics disaster couldn’t get worse, it did

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The authors of an excellent column in the Washington Post are:

Richard Painter, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota, was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. He is vice chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Follow @rwpusa

Norman Eisen, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President Obama from 2009 to 2011. He is chairman of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington.
Follow @NormEisen

The column begins:

The latest front involves the Office of Government Ethics and its director, Walter Shaub Jr. , who has had the temerity to speak up against Trump’s plan to deal with his conflicts of interest as “meaningless.”

Both of us, former ethics counsels for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively, have worked with Shaub, a career public servant who, in our experience, provided nonpartisan and wise advice. Now, Shaub is being pilloried — and may be at risk of losing his job — for doing just that, and asserting correctly that Trump’s approach “doesn’t meet the standards . . . that every president in the last four decades has met.”

How does the Trump plan fall short? The president-elect asserted that the conflicts laws don’t apply to him but ignored the most fundamental one of all: the constitutional rule that presidents may not accept cash and other benefits — “emoluments” — from foreign governments.

Trump’s lawyer then offered a porous and insufficient plan to address this problem: The Trump Organization will donate profits from foreign governments’ use of his hotels. But why only hotels? What about foreign sovereign payments to buy his condos or apartments, for use of his office buildings or his golf courses, not to mention his massive foreign government bank loans, and other benefits? And why only profits, when the Justice Department has long held that the emoluments clause covers any revenue from foreign governments — not simply profits?

For speaking up about the shortcomings of this plan, Shaub found himself in the Republican crosshairs. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that has jurisdiction over the White House, demanded Shaub appear for a Star Chamber-style recorded inquisition and implicitly threatened to shut down the Office of Government Ethics if Shaub did not submit. Chaffetz ought to have been doing the exact opposite, supporting OGE and demanding documents from Trump about any financial ties to Russia or other foreign governments.

Then, just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. The incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, went on national television to threaten Shaub. In a scene like something out of a gangster B-movie, Priebus warned the director that “he ought to be careful ” and gave his blessing to Chaffetz’s interrogation. Priebus’s glare of menace was unmistakable. The only thing he left out was cracking his knuckles.

Priebus went on to make assertions about Shaub that were false. For example, he claimed Shaub was “political” because he “may have . . . publicly supported Hillary Clinton,” which is simply untrue. Shaub has done no such thing. (Before becoming director, Shaub made modest political donations, as did his Republican predecessor.Indeed, both of us have also exercised this same First Amendment right.)

Priebus also attacked Shaub’s competence, and so his livelihood, questioning “what this person at Government Ethics, what sort of standing he has any more in giving these opinions.” In fact, the director is a dedicated and talented ethicist who has served Democratic and Republican presidents alike with distinction and without controversy for many years. He has already approved 54 percent of the Trump nominees who have submitted their paperwork to OGE, compared with just 29 percent at this point in the Obama transition eight years ago. If the White House chief of staff had made these kinds of threats against the head of OGE when we were serving in the White House, we would have resigned immediately. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2017 at 8:58 pm

Trump gets no respect. That’s because he hasn’t earned it.

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Dana Milbank writes in the Washington Post:

Kellyanne Conway is walking a Dangerfield line.

“We got no forbearance. We got nothing. We got no respect,” the Trump strategist told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last week, complaining about media coverage of her boss. “This man is president of the United States!”

Conway raises a fair question: Why hasn’t the president-elect been given more respect?

Here’s a fair answer: He hasn’t earned any.

To Trump’s many self-assigned superlatives, he can now add another: the sorest winner. With charity for none and with malice toward all but his supporters, he has in the past two months set a new standard for gracelessness in victory.

Instead of brushing off criticism, as a president-elect can afford to do, Trump in recent days marked Martin Luther King weekend by telling off civil rights icon John Lewis (a King acolyte) and his “falling apart” and “crime infested” congressional district. He bemoaned “Saturday Night Live” spoofs as a “hit job” and used the words “crap” and “sleazebag” in his public statements. He called the top Democrat in the land the “head clown” and accused the American intelligence community of acting like Nazis.

He responded to criticism from Meryl Streep by calling her an “over-rated” actress and a “Hillary flunky who lost big.” He likewise cheered that his “Celebrity Apprentice” replacement Arnold Schwarzenegger got “swamped” in ratings compared with “the ratings machine, DJT. . . . But who cares, he supported Kasich & Hillary.” Trump said the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee is discussed only because “the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!”

At a news conference last week, Trump continued to gloat about the “beautiful scene on November 8th,” and he invoked his vanquished opponent five times, portrayed Hillary Clinton as weak. This campaign-style news conference followed Trump’s “thank you” tour of campaign-style rallies in states that he won and preceded the disclosure that the incoming administration was weighing punishment for the press — upending more than a century of precedent and evicting journalists from the White House.

The losers often have hard feelings after elections. But this much enmity from the winner is extraordinary. Trump, after his election-night promise to “bind the wounds of division” and be a “president for all Americans,” never attempted reconciliation. A day later, he falsely condemned “professional protesters, incited by the media,” and at year end he taunted opponents via Twitter: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”

This explains Trump’s short honeymoon. His favorability rating jumped from 34 percent during the campaign to 44 percent in late November in a Quinnipiac University poll as Americans gave their new leader the benefit of the doubt. But that same poll showed his favorability back down to 37 percent. Views about his honesty, leadership and ability to unite the country dropped similarly.

His behavior during this time has not been what one typically calls presidential. He has echoed both Vladi­mir Putin and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange on Twitter and blasted away in all caps. He attacked Vanity Fair magazine editor Graydon Carter after an unfavorable review of a Trump Tower restaurant. His attack on a local steelworkers union president resulted in death threats. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2017 at 7:42 pm

Sign that things are out of whack: World’s 8 Richest Have as Much Wealth as Bottom Half of Global Population

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Gerry Mullany reports in the NY Times:

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How concentrated has wealth become in the globalized modern world? Here’s one answer: Just eight of the richest people on earth own as much combined wealth as half the human race.

That’s a notable change from last year, when it was reckoned to take 62 of the superrich to match the assets of the 3.6 billion people in the poorer half of mankind.

The charity Oxfam does the math each year and publishes its results just in time for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where many of the spectacularly wealthy are often among the attendees, along with diplomats, political figures, and business and cultural leaders. The Oxfam report on inequality is on the agenda for discussion at the forum.

Oxfam bases its figures in part on Forbes’s annual list of billionaires and the magazine’s estimates of their wealth. This year, Oxfam said, new data gathered by Credit Suisse about the global poor led it to lower its estimates of their assets, and revise its findings about how few rich men — the eight are all men — were needed to equal the wealth of 3.6 billion people.

Here are the eight, with their net worth as estimated by Forbes, whose annual survey depends on a range of sources: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2017 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

For Trump, Three Decades of Chasing Deals in Russia

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Megan Twohey and Steve Eder of the NY Times probably join Trump’s rapidly growing blacklist for this report:

It was 2005, and Felix Sater, a Russian immigrant, was back in Moscow pursuing an ambitious plan to build a Trump tower on the site of an old pencil factory along the Moscow River that would offer hotel rooms, condominiums and commercial office space.

Letters of intent had been signed and square footage was being analyzed. “There was an opportunity to explore building Trump towers internationally,” said Mr. Sater, who worked for a New York-based development company that was a partner with Donald J. Trump on a variety of deals during that decade. “And Russia was one of those countries.”

The president-elect’s favorable comments about President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and the conclusion of United States intelligence officials that Moscow acted to help Mr. Trump’s campaign have focused attention on Mr. Trump’s business interests in Russia. Asked about the issue at his news conference last week, Mr. Trump was emphatic on one point: “I have no dealings with Russia.” And he repeated: “I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we’ve stayed away.”

The project on the old pencil factory site ultimately fizzled. And by the time Mr. Trump entered the presidential race, he had failed to get any real estate development off the ground in Russia. But it was not for lack of trying.

Mr. Trump repeatedly sought business in Russia as far back as 1987, when he traveled there to explore building a hotel. He applied for his trademark in the country as early as 1996. And his children and associates have appeared in Moscow over and over in search of joint ventures, meeting with developers and government officials.

During a trip in 2006, Mr. Sater and two of Mr. Trump’s children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, stayed at the historic Hotel National Moscow across from the Kremlin, connecting with potential partners over the course of several days.

As recently as 2013, Mr. Trump himself was in Moscow. He had sold Russian real estate developers the right to host his Miss Universe pageant that year, and he used the visit as a chance to discuss development deals, writing on Twitter at the time: “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”

As the Russian market opened up in the post-Soviet Union era, Mr. Trump and his partners pursued Russians who were newly flush with cash to buy apartments in Trump Towers in New York and Florida, sales that he boasted about in a 2014 interview. “I know the Russians better than anybody,” Mr. Trump told Michael D’Antonio, a Trump biographer who shared unpublished interview transcripts with The New York Times.

Seeking deals in Russia became part of a broader strategy to expand the Trump brand worldwide. By the mid-2000s, Mr. Trump was transitioning to mostly licensing his name to hotel, condominium and commercial towers rather than building or investing in real estate himself. He discovered that his name was especially attractive in developing countries where the rising rich aspired to the type of ritzy glamour he personified. . .

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Late in the article:

. . . Mr. Trump said his efforts put him in contact with powerful people there. “I called it my weekend in Moscow,” Mr. Trump said of his 2013 trip to Moscow during a September 2015 interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.” He added: “I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top of the government people. I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.”

When asked about Mr. Trump’s claim that he had “stayed away” from Russia, Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization, said it was a fair characterization given that none of the development opportunities ever materialized. Mr. Trump’s interest in Russia, he said, was no different from his attraction to other emerging markets in which he investigated possible ventures. Mr. Garten did not respond to questions about whom Mr. Trump met with in Moscow in 2013 and what was discussed. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2017 at 4:50 pm

The Banned Books Your Child Should Read

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Perri Klass (“M.D.” she inexplicably adds, as though her column contained medical advice, which it does not) has an interesting column in the NY Times on the utility of banned books:

More than 40 years ago, my seventh grade English teacher began the year by telling us that we were definitely not allowed to read “The Catcher in the Rye because we weren’t “ready” for it. So naturally we all went out and read it immediately.

I told this story to my son when he was a seventh grader. I meant it as a funny story, and I pointed out that it had taken me years to appreciate that teacher’s pedagogic strategy. But then my son read the book himself right away. The mere long-ago echo of a possible ban was enough to make it interesting.

Adults have been known to worry a great deal about the possible corrupting influence of the printed word on children. If you look at the list of “frequently challenged children’s books” maintained by the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom, you will see a wide range of touchy topics. (A book is “challenged” when someone tries to get it removed from a library or a school curriculum.)

Books can get challenged because they involve magic (Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling), or because they offend religious sensibilities. “A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, has been challenged as both overly and insufficiently religious. Some books are challenged because they depict children behaving, well, childishly (Junie B. Jones, the heroine of a series of books by Barbara Park, gets in trouble for using words like “stupid.”) So adults worry that books may be bad for children’s morals and for their manners.

“I think it happens in the U.S. more than in some other countries,” said Leonard Marcus, a children’s book historian and critic. “There’s a squeamishness in the U.S. about body parts I think that goes back to the Puritan tradition, and has never completely died out.” He pointed to the controversy around Maurice Sendak’s 1970 children’s book “In the Night Kitchen,” which centered on the illustrations showing the naked — and anatomically correct — little boy whose nocturnal adventures make up the story.

“Anything with any sexual content is likely to attract attention and hostility,” said Joan Bertin, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. “Regardless of the nature of its message — whether it is deemed to be helpful or instructive or insightful in some way or just merely titillating — people don’t make that distinction.”

In fact, banned book lists can be a great resource for parents looking for books that teach kids about the world and themselves.

When your children read books that have been challenged or banned, you have a double opportunity as a parent; you can discuss the books themselves, and the information they provide, and you can also talk about why people might find them troubling. Here are a few books that are often challenged, yet present great opportunities for children to learn.

IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL: CHANGING BODIES, GROWING UP, SEX AND SEXUAL HEALTHBY ROBIE HARRIS. Your children should have age-appropriate books to help them learn about bodies, and you can find plenty of those on any list of banned or challenged books. This book, with illustrations by Michael Emberley has become a classic of information about bodies, development, and sexuality. First published in 1994, it has now gone through several editions and updates. Ms. Harris, who also wrote “It’s So Amazing,” for younger children, and “It’s Not the Stork,” for those even younger, says most of the challenges to her books have revolved around issues of gay sexuality, though masturbation and contraception can also be flash points. (She is also a good friend, and I have helped at times with pediatric questions on some of these and other books.)

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTSBY DAV PILKEY. This series, which has long been legendary for its compelling power over small boys, has sometimes been at the top of the most-challenged list, perhaps in part because (surprise) there are many jokes about undergarments. These books will definitely help children appreciate that bodies and their functions can be profoundly funny and silly (actually, most children seem to know this anyway).

In addition to being attacked for their potty-mouthed humor, the “Captain Underpantsbooks have come under scrutiny because they are full of children playing tricks and disobeying and generally creating havoc; again, as with Junie B. Jones and her big mouth, there is this strange sense that children need stories about obedient model children.

ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET BY JUDY BLUME. In this widely beloved novel by Judy Blume, originally published in 1970, but still on the most-challenged list, the narrator is deeply preoccupied with the when and how of menstruation. An other Judy Blume perennial, “Deenie,” which came out in 1973, is about a young girl struggling with scoliosis and the brace she has to wear, but it was the most attacked of her books, Ms. Blume says, because it included references to masturbation. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2017 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Daily life

Can behavioral science help in Flint?

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Sarah Stillman has a lengthy and interesting article in the New Yorker:

A week after Donald Trump’s election, a thirty-year-old cognitive scientist named Maya Shankar purchased a plane ticket to Flint, Michigan. Shankar held one of the more unorthodox jobs in the Obama White House, running the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, also known as the President’s “nudge unit.” When she launched the team, in early 2014, it felt, Shankar recalls, “like a startup in my parents’ basement”—no budget, no mandate, no bona-fide employees. Within two years, the small group of scientists had become a staff of dozens—including an agricultural economist, an industrial psychologist, and “human-centered designers”—working with more than twenty federal agencies on seventy projects, from fixing gaps in veterans’ health care to relieving student debt. Usually, the initiatives had, at their core, one question: Could the growing body of knowledge about the quirks of the human brain be used to improve public policy?

For months, Shankar had been thinking about how to bring behavioral science to bear on the problems in Flint, where a crisis stemming from lead contamination of the drinking water had stretched on for almost two years. She wondered if lessons from the beleaguered city could inform the Administration’s approach to the broader threat posed by lead across America—in pipes, in paint, in dust, and in soil. “Flint is not the only place poisoning kids,” Shankar said.

In recent years, behavioral science has become a voguish field. In 2002, the Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work with a colleague, Amos Tversky, exploring the peculiarities of human decision-making in the face of uncertainty. (Their collaboration is the subject of a popular new book by Michael Lewis, “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds.”) A basic premise of the discipline they’d helped to create was that people’s cognition is bias-prone, and susceptible to the cognitive equivalent of optical illusions. As a result, small tweaks of presentation or circumstance could make a major difference: if a judge rendered a decision about granting parole just before a meal, the inmate’s odds for a favorable outcome dipped to near zero; just after the judge ate, the chances rose to around sixty-five per cent. Grocers had learned that they could sell double the amount of soup if they placed a sign above their cans reading “limit of 12 per person.

But, for all the field’s potential, its advances seemed mostly to have served the private sector. (And there they often veered toward sly consumer coercion.) A prominent exception was the “nudge,” a notion advanced by the legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein, now at Harvard Law School, and the University of Chicago behavioral economist Richard Thaler, in their 2008 best-seller “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” They stressed the role of “choice architecture”: the countless factors that coalesce around a given decision, often shaping outcomes in crucial, if barely visible, ways that could be rearranged. Sunstein and Thaler described the concept with public policy very much in mind. The subtle context in which we make choices, they theorized, could and should be stacked in favor of the social good. In the public sector, this meant gently nudging citizens toward certain choices, through techniques like automatic enrollment and reminder prompts, that take into account the fact that most of us, as Thaler told me, are “more like Homer Simpson than like Albert Einstein.”

President Obama saw the appeal of the nudge. In 2009, he tapped Sunstein to head the most bureaucratic-sounding of bureaucracies, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. During the next three years, Sunstein worked to bring behavioral insights into the government’s approach to policy. But the reach of these ideas remained limited. The nudge’s most appealing feature, its simplicity, was also among its constraints. Though the tweaks had vast potential implications, their small-bore design made it difficult to address the larger forces behind stubborn structural challenges. “We can’t take on some big problems, like climate change, and solve them entirely with nudges,” Thaler told me.

Shankar agreed, and, in her White House role, she wanted to test a wider range of tactics and delve deeper into problems. For the first two years, her team focussed mostly on programs that were narrowly defined, even though they could still affect thousands or millions of Americans: for instance, easing health-insurance enrollment, or helping veterans access education benefits. But Shankar was eager to see how her team might weigh in on more systemic, seemingly intractable problems associated with inequality, from homelessness to racial bias in policing. Flint seemed like a good place to find out. The city’s water crisis was tied up in deeply entrenched, even multigenerational, issues: “its racial history, its socioeconomic circumstances, all of it,” Shankar told me. Early last year, the team began gathering research relevant to Flint, drawing, in part, from public-health scholarship. In October, she and a colleague, an economist named Nate Higgins, visited the city for the first time, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency, to ask residents about their evolving needs.

Then, on November 8th, Donald Trump was elected. For days, Shankar walked around shell-shocked. Her team, if it even continued to exist in the new Administration, would soon belong to one of the most anti-science President-elects in history, who has called climate change a “hoax,” spread unproven claims about vaccinations’ ties to autism, and mocked new brain-science-backed N.F.L. guidelines to prevent concussions, saying that football has grown “soft.”

In 2010, the United Kingdom became the first country to set up a government office devoted solely to making use of behavioral science. Backed by the new Conservative government, a hodgepodge crew of social scientists, psychologists, and data nerds, calling themselves the Behavioural Insights Team, tried to find opportunities for government savings and other improvements through simple tweaks. People were less tardy with their taxes, for instance, when they were shown that most of their neighbors paid on time. Many of the British team’s projects aimed to use behavioral research for social uplift. In one, it conducted a randomized controlled trial to determine which of eight different prompts was most effective in soliciting participation in organ donation. (The winning message: “If you needed an organ transplant would you have one? If so please help others.”)

More recently, the team addressed British doctors’ overprescribing of antibiotics, contacting outliers who’d written prescriptions at the highest rates. The letter it sent did little more than note the recipient’s status on the far end of the statistical spectrum, but the prescription rates dropped by three per cent during the next six months. Some critics dismissed such accomplishments as overhyped fluff; others warned of a rising nanny state. Even the team’s guiding mantra—“Make It Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely”—could be seen as nothing more than common sense.

Shankar got interested in the field as a teen-ager. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she once thought she’d become a classical violinist. (For several years, she was taught by Itzhak Perlman.) A hand injury derailed her musical aspirations, and, while recovering at home, in Connecticut, she happened upon a book by the psychologist Steven Pinker and became enamored of cognitive science. As a undergraduate at Yale, she conducted research on primates, travelling to a tropical island to study rhesus macaques, with the aim of mapping a feature of cognition known as “essentialism”: “Does a monkey know what makes a coconut a coconut, and an apple an apple?” (On the island, she learned to dodge monkey urine from the tree canopy overhead; the macaques carried a version of herpes B that could be lethal to humans.) Later, as a Rhodes Scholar and doctoral student at Oxford, she visited a famous flavor factory in Ohio, where she tested whether she could hijack the sensory perceptions of professional flavorists: giving them a lime-tinted beverage, say, that had the taste of tangerines.

After Shankar did her postdoctoral research, at Stanford’s Decision Neuroscience Lab, she began looking for a job. In the field of cognitive science, many of the opportunities for an aspiring researcher were of a particular type, geared toward helping to make big companies richer, or rich people thinner, or thin people more alluring on algorithm-based dating sites. Behavioral science’s bro-culture adaptations—the life hack, the quantified self—had proliferated. Shankar worried about her next steps. She didn’t want to spend her life in a suit, or in a lab, or on a remote island, dodging monkey excretions.

One day in 2012, she flew from California to a friend’s wedding in Connecticut. While there, she had tea with her college mentor, the Yale psychologist Laurie Santos. “I feel like the job I want doesn’t even exist,” Shankar told her. She added, sheepishly, “I guess I’ll go into consulting?”

Santos mentioned that she’d just returned from a conference, where she’d heard about the Department of Agriculture’s efforts to put behavioral science into practice to aid children from low-income families. Through a small nudge—a government initiative that automatically enrolled kids in free federal school-lunch programs, by simply cross-checking their eligibility for preëxisting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (snap) benefits—hundreds of thousands of children were fed, without the shame and the bureaucratic hassle that kept parents from signing them up.

The idea that a minor government modification could decrease a child’s hunger—and perhaps, in turn, improve his or her trajectory in school—stuck with Shankar. It was simple, even obvious, as the best behavioral insights often are. Later, she learned that the Department of Agriculture supported a whole slew of behavioral projects. One, conducted by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, found that if school cafeterias rebranded plain vegetables with catchy names—X-Ray Vision Carrots, say, or Power Punch Broccoli—consumption soared.

Shankar felt that she’d found her path. She reached out to Sunstein, who had returned to Harvard, and asked if he knew of any openings in government. He gave her the name of a contact at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Shankar sent what seemed like a long-shot pitch to the deputy director, Tom Kalil, to join the office and find ways to weave behavioral insights into the heart of public policy. They met, and, to her surprise, Kalil hired her as a senior science adviser. Shankar was twenty-six.

She moved to Washington, D.C., in early 2013, leaving her bike and her books in California, “in case things didn’t work out.” Even before her new job began, she e-mailed Kalil with the outlines of a broader aspiration. “One of my more ambitious, longer-term goals,” she wrote, “is to begin laying down the foundation for the creation of a U.S.-based behavioral insights team.”

By the start of 2014, with guidance from some of the field’s big names, Shankar had recruited her first five experts from academic institutions and nonprofits. They began working closely with a growing list of agencies, including the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, and the Treasury.

That year, the team sought to put together small collaborations that could garner quick results. It formed a partnership with the Department of Education and a nonprofit, uAspire, to find a way to lessen “summer melt.” Typically, twenty to thirty per cent of students in urban districts who were accepted to college didn’t matriculate, owing to last-minute burdens like financial-aid deadlines. The team helped devise a pilot program in which students were sent eight personalized text messages over the summer, prompting them to follow through. Matriculation rates increased by several percentage points. Shankar’s group offered to help other agencies with similar tweaks, to facilitate microloans to farmers, or to reduce the overprescribing of antipsychotics and other drugs by Medicare providers.

Then, on September 15, 2015, President Obama gave the team the ultimate nudge: an unusual Executive Order, titled “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People.” It formalized the team as an official entity, and urged all federal agencies to “develop strategies for applying behavioral science insights to programs and, where possible, rigorously test and evaluate the impact of these insights.”

Four months later, the President declared a state of emergency in Flint. Shankar saw her chance to test the mandate’s reach. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2017 at 10:50 am

Linguist George Lakoff explains how the Democrats helped elect Trump

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Paul Rosenberg interviews George Lakoff in Salon:

George Lakoff didn’t start off in the world of politics. He was a founding father of cognitive linguistics, starting with his 1980 book, “Metaphors We Live By (co-authored with philosopher Mark Johnson). The book showed how immediate, concrete experience — bodily orientation, physical movement, and so on — structures our understanding of more complex and abstract experiences via “conceptual metaphors” such as “Consciousness Is Up,” “Love Is a Journey,” etc.

Facing the rise of Newt Gingrich in the 1990s and bewildered by how he and other liberals could not make logical sense of conservative ideology (what do gun rights, low taxes and banning abortion have in common?), Lakoff found an answer in conceptual metaphors derived form two contrasting family models explicated by Diana Baumrind as authoritarian (“strict father” in Lakoff’s terms) and authoritative (“nurturant parent”), as described in his 1996 book, “Moral Politics.” His 2004 book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate,” drew on a wider range of cognitive science and gained a mass audience, but failed to fundamentally change how liberals and Democrats approach politics, as was richly illustrated by the recent election of Donald Trump.

But Lakoff is nothing if not persistent, and has penned an election postmortem like no other, “A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, and What the Majority Can Do.” It rearticulates the arguments of his earlier books — including others like “The Political Mind,” Whose Freedom?“ and Philosophy in the Flesh — along with fresh analysis and new insights that push hard for opening up a new realm of possibilities, instead of retrenching, retreating or repeating strategies and tactics that have failed in the past. In it, Lakoff displays both an intimate familiarity with detailed examples and a broad-based visionary outlook.

Salon spoke with him to explore both, with an eye toward expanding the horizon of the possible on one hand, and avoiding potholes on the other. He’s talking with Chelsea Green about expanding the essay into a book, but the ideas in it really can’t wait. The Democratic establishment needs to be shaken up, and the rest of us need to be stirred.

You’ve been writing about politics from a cognitive science perspective for more than 20 years. A lot of people have listened to you, but the Democratic political establishment as a whole has not, and that was reflected in the election of Donald Trump. As you note in your article, “The polls, the media, and the Democratic Party all failed to understand conservative values and their importance. They failed to understand unconscious thought and moral worldviews. While hailing science in the case of climate change, they ignored science when it came to their own minds.” So let’s start there. What do you mean by that, and how did it happen?

If you’re a conservative going into politics, there’s a good chance you’ll study cognitive science, that is, how people really think and how to market things by advertising. So they know people think using frames and metaphors and narratives and images and emotions and so on. That’s second nature to anybody who’s taken a marketing course. Many of the people who have gone into conservative communications have done that, and know very well how to market their ideas.

Now, if instead you are a progressive, and you go to college and you’re interested in politics, what are you going to study? Well, you’ll study political science, law, public policy, economic theory and so on, but you’re not going to wind up studying marketing, most likely, and you’re not going to study either cognitive science or neuroscience.

What you’ll learn in those courses is what is called Enlightenment reason, from 1650, from Descartes. And here’s what that reasoning says: What makes us human beings is that we are rational animals and rationality is defined in terms of logic. Recall that Descartes was a mathematician and logician. He argued that reasoning is like seeing a logical proof. Secondly, he argued that our ideas can fit the world because, as he said, “God would not lie to us.” The assumption is that ideas directly fit the world.

They’re also, Descartes argued, disembodied. He said that if ideas were embodied, were part of the body, then physical laws would apply to them, and we would not have free will. And in fact, they are embodied, physical laws do apply to them, and we do not have absolute free will. We’re trapped by what the neural systems of our brains  have accumulated. We can only see what our brains allow us to understand, and that’s an important thing.

So what he said, basically, was that there are no frames, no embodiment, no metaphor — none of the things people really use to reason. Moreover if we think logically and we all have the same reasoning, if you just tell people the facts, they should reason to the same correct conclusion. And that just isn’t true. And that keeps not being true, and liberals keep making the same mistake year after year after year. So that’s a very important thing.

After “Don’t Think of an Elephant” was published, you got a lot of attention but your message really didn’t sink in. I think it was largely because of what you said above — what you were saying simply didn’t fit into the Enlightenment worldview that Democratic elites took for granted from their education.  

When I started teaching framing the first thing I would tell the class is “Don’t think of an elephant,” and of course, they think of an elephant. I wrote a book on it because the point is, if you negate a frame, you have to activate the frame, because you have to know what you’re negating. If you use logic against something, you’re strengthening it. And that lesson was not understood. So if people think in terms of logic — it’s a mistake that’s made every day on MSNBC — you go on there and you’ll get people saying, “Well, you know, Trump said this, and some Republicans said that and Jeff Sessions said this and here are the facts that show they’re wrong.” You just keep repeating the things that you’re negating. And that just strengthens them.

Did that happen in Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

That showed up there. The Clinton campaign decided that the best way to defeat Trump was to use his own words against him. So they showed these clips of Trump saying outrageous things. Now what Trump was doing in those clips was saying out loud things that upset liberals, and that’s exactly what his followers liked about him. So of course they were showing what actually was helping Trump with his supporters.

I tried to convince people in the Clinton campaign — early on, I wrote a piece called “Understanding Trump,” in March 2016, and it was sent to everybody in the Clinton campaign. Everybody at the PAC, for example, got a copy of it. It didn’t matter; they were doing what they were told to do.

Another problem was the assumption that all you have to do is look at issues, and give the facts about issues, and the facts about the issues supposedly show up in polls, and then they apply demographics. So there was this assumption, for example, that educated women in the Philadelphia suburbs were naturally going to vote for Hillary, because they were highly educated. They turned out also to be Republican, and what made them Republican was Republican views, like Republican views about the Supreme Court, abortion, things like that. So they didn’t all go out and vote for Hillary.

Or the campaign assumed that since Trump attacked Latinos, and Latino leaders didn’t like Trump, that the Latinos would all vote for Hillary, and many Latinos voted for Trump. Why? Because “strict father” morality is big in Latino culture. The campaign was not looking at values. They were looking at demographics, and they missed the role of values.

Which you’ve been pounding on for a long time now.

Well over a decade. During the Bush administration, I talked to the Democratic caucus. I was invited by Nancy Pelosi, and I talked to them about “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” and the strict father/nurturant parent distinction, and I pointed out that one thing strict fathers can’t do is betray trust. It turned out that the Southerners in the caucus agreed strongly, and they wanted to have me work with them on talking about Bush betraying trust. But Nancy said, “Well, we should check with the polls first,” and she checked with one of the major pollsters who said, “Oh no, my polls show that people trust Bush, therefore we can’t use it.” And the idea is to follow the polls, rather than change them. And this is a big difference between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans try to change the polls, whereas Democrats try to follow the polls.

There are other problems with polling you point out as well.

Yes. The next problem has to do with going issue by issue. This is happening right now. Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer went onto the Rachel Maddow show on the same day, and they said, “The American people agree with us, issue by issue, each case and we’re going to press Trump issue by issue, and we’re going to start with health care and go on to other things.” What they’re missing is values.

They’re missing the idea that many Americans who depend on health care, affordable health care, for example, have strict-father positions and voted for Trump against their interests. And this is something has been known for ages, that a lot of poor conservatives vote against their material interests, because they’re voting for their worldview. And the reason for it is that their moral worldview defines who they are. They are not going to vote against their own definition of who they are.

This is missed by the unions as well. Unions don’t really understand their function. Unions are instruments of freedom. Unions free people from corporate servitude. From corporations saying what hours they can work, what wages are possible, and so on. The argument against unions that has come in so-called “right-to-work” laws misses the fact that unions are instruments of freedom, and instead suggests that unions go against freedom. They go against your rights. And the unions don’t know how to argue against right-to-work laws. So that’s a problem with liberals working in unions.

There’s something more basic underlying all this, isn’t there? From “Moral Politics” on you’ve been hammering on liberals’ failure to claim and proclaim their own values.

All progressives and liberals have a moral worldview, what I described as the nurturant-parent worldview. When applied to politics it goes like this: Citizens care about other citizens, they have empathy for other citizens, and the work of the government is to provide public resources for everybody. Public resources, from the very beginning of our country, not only apply to each private citizen, but they also apply to business. From the very beginning we had public roads and bridges and public education, we had a national bank, and the patent office for businesses, and interstate commerce laws for business, and so on. And a judicial system that’s mostly used for business.

Since then the government has supported business even more, especially through the promotion of scientific research, the development of pharmaceuticals, computer science, support of public research and public universities. The Internet began as ARPANET, is in the Defense Department. Think about satellite communication — that was made possible by NASA and NOAA. Very important things we did. What about things like GPS systems and cell phones? Our government is maintaining not just our cell phones, but the world economic system which all uses GPS systems and cell phones.

People don’t see the role of public resources, which are there to run the world economy, to help you in your everyday life, to give you communications, like this interview right now. This is just something that’s never said. When I say this to progressives, they say, “Well, of course that’s true, isn’t that obvious?” The answer is no. It is not obvious, because the next question I ask is, “Have you ever said it?” And the answer is no. The question after that is, “Will you go out from now on and say it?” And I don’t get enthusiastic “Yes!” answers.

People need to know this and it needs to be said all the time. It needs to be said about every single business. The person who has done best at it has been Elizabeth Warren. When Obama tried to use the same message he got it wrong, he said if you have a business you didn’t build that, and then he got attacked and he dropped it. But in fact this is something that does need to be out there.

There are other things that need to be said that progressives don’t say because they don’t really understand how framing works. Framing is not obvious. People read “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” they got some of the ideas, but when they tried to apply it, it turned out it’s not so easy to apply. You need some training to do it, and you need some ideas.

For example. Trump said we’re going to get rid of regulation, when there’s a new regulation we’re going to get rid of two for every new one that comes in. But what are regulations? Why do people have them? They’re there for protection of the public in every place. Why do you have environmental regulations? To protect against pollution and global warming and so on. Things that are harmful. Why do you have an SEC regulation? To protect investors, and protect people who have mortgages. Why do you have food and drug regulations? To protect against poisons. This is important. You’re protecting against corporate malfeasance. Corporate harm to the public. When they say, “We’re getting rid of these regulations, no one reports in the media, “They have gotten rid of protections, and they’re going to get rid of more protections!”

You’ve pointed out how Trump has actually been clever in ways that liberals, Democrats and the media didn’t understand. You laid out a number of mechanisms. So can we go through a few of those? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2017 at 10:41 am

Posted in Books, Politics, Science

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