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How the electoral college gerrymanders the presidential vote

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Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post:

Here’s a fun little thought experiment demonstrating the fundamental arbitrariness of the electoral college: Had two state borders been drawn just a little bit differently, shifting a total of four counties from one state to another, Hillary Clinton would have won the election.

Take a look at the imaginary map above, which comes from an nifty online tool called Redraw the States. It was created by Kevin Hayes Wilson, a mathematician and data scientist working in computer science education.

This map moves Lake County, Ill. to Wisconsin, turning that state blue. It moves Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties from the Florida panhandle to neighboring Alabama. That’s enough to turn Florida blue. With victories in Wisconsin and Florida, Clinton squeaks to victory in the electoral college, 270 to 268.

Exact same votes, slightly different borders, radically different outcome: the capriciousness of the electoral college laid bare.

After the election, a former classmate posed Wilson a question: How stable are the electoral college results under small changes of geography? That is, how much of Donald Trump’s electoral college victory is attributable to the odd quirks of geography or history that are baked into our country’s state and county borders?

The answer, Wilson found, is “quite a lot.”

To arrive at this answer, Wilson built his interactive border-drawing thought experiment. It allows you to select any number of counties and move them to a different state to see how the electoral results would shake out under those borders.

Recall that the electoral college system is mostly winner-take-all (Maine and Nebraska are the exceptions, assigning most of their electors by congressional district). In Illinois, for instance, it does not matter whether Clinton won by 859,000 votes (her actual margin) or just 5,000 votes — in either scenario, all of the state’s electoral votes go to her.

That 859,000-vote margin means Clinton could lose hundreds of thousands of votes and still win Illinois handily. In Lake County, just north of Chicago, Clinton beat Trump by about 70,000 votes. That’s greater than Trump’s winning margin (about 20,000 votes) in the entire state of Wisconsin.

So, if you let Wisconsin annex Lake County, that state’s margin shifts from 20,000 votes in favor of Trump, to 50,000 votes in favor of Clinton. And Clinton still wins Illinois, just by a slightly smaller margin. The net electoral result is that she wins both states.

A similar process is at work in the Florida Panhandle counties. Clinton lost the state by about 120,000 votes. Across the three Panhandle counties of Santa Rosa, Escambia and Okaloosa, Trump’s total margin was 126,000 votes.

Moving those three counties to Alabama does not change the outcome there — Trump won the state handily anyway. But it does mean that Clinton wins Florida by about 6,000 votes, enough to shift all of the state’s electoral votes into her column.

Because we are indulging in electoral fan fiction here, we could go completely hog-wild and posit that state borders do not even need to be contiguous. If that were the case, you’d need to alter only two counties to give the election to Clinton: you could make Los Angeles County, Calif. (Clinton margin: 1.2 million votes) part of Texas to change the Lone Star State blue. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Election, Government, Law

Beyond fact-checking: After the catastrophic media failure of 2016, the press must master “crucial evidence”

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Paul Rosenberg writes in Salon:

The media failed disastrously during the 2016 presidential election. The only questions, really, are how and why — and what can be done about it. This is especially urgent as President Donald Trump, with his repeated attacks against the press, only threatens to make matters worse.

The problem can be thought of in a threefold way: First, issues virtually disappeared from the campaign. Second, the resulting overemphasis on personality and politics was badly skewed toward controversy and sensationalism, which strongly disfavored Hillary Clinton as her emails got far more sustained and prominent attention than Trump’s much more varied range of serious problems. Third, although fact-checking flourished as a media subgenre, it utterly failed to protect American democracy against a pathological liar with authoritarian ambitions who was able to deflect attention repeatedly without ever answering fundamental questions.

The failure of fact-checking is particularly frustrating to the “reality-based community,” but the problem may well be that they’re not actually being reality-based enough. That’s the suggestion that philosopher William Berkson advanced recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. Fact-checking may not be enough, he argues. We need something much bolder: policy-checking. Conceptually, it’s reminiscent of the Office of Technology Assessment, an office established in 1972 to provide Congress with objective and authoritative analysis of complex scientific and technical issues. (It was abolished by Newt Gingrich when he became speaker in 1995. Archive website here.)

But Berkson’s concept is broader both in scope — encompassing all policy issues — and in terms of its primary audience, the press and the public. The media’s failures weren’t due to “lack of ability or courage,” he argues, but to “the lack of a clear and strong model for drawing fair and objective conclusions about the candidates’ policies.”

Without such a model, the media relied instead on a confused notion of “balance,” which “misled them time after time,” Berkson said. If Trump was visibly terrible, “balance” required that Clinton be terrible too, regardless of whether they were actually comparable.

Berkson’s background is in the philosophy of science. He was a student of the legendary Karl Popper — famous for articulating the crucial role of falsifiability in science — and has written about how social science can be made as rigorous as the physical sciences. His notion of policy-checking builds on that foundation: If social science can be made that rigorous, then policies based on it can be as well, and journalists can benefit from a policy-check resource, just as they now benefit from fact-checkers. Beyond that, if policy-based reporting can be made, it becomes more likely that it will be done widely and well. The more that happens, the more reality-based attitudes and values will tend to rub off on everyone involved — journalists, audiences and politicians.

It’s not a magic cure. There can be no single silver-bullet remedy for a sweeping systemic failure. But this idea could play a crucial role in helping to tip the balance moving forward, and altering the whole system of how journalism is done — moving it in a positive, empirically grounded direction, directly opposed to the disintegration epitomized by the rise of fake news. If that is to happen, the idea needs to be more widely known, understood, critiqued and refined. That’s why Salon reached out to Berkson to elaborate on his concept: its foundations, possibilities and requirements. This interview was conducted by email, and been lightly edited.

Given that the media failings in the 2016 campaign are painfully well-known, I’d like to begin by asking you to explain your model and what makes it uniquely powerful. You’ve said that it “involves the identification of crucial evidence.” What is “crucial evidence,” and what sets it apart from other kinds of evidence?

Evidence is “crucial” when you have two different theories which predict different events in the same situation. In such a situation, evidence of what actually happened will tell you that one theory is definitely false — the one contradicted by the observable facts — while the other theory is confirmed. That’s crucial evidence. To use a simplified, standard example, seeing a black swan refutes the theory that “all swans are white.” At the same time, it confirms the conflicting theory that “all swans are white or black.”

It’s important that while crucial evidence refutes the contradicted theory, it doesn’t prove that the confirmed theory is right. The next swan might be green, contradicting the theory that all swans are black or white. This asymmetry — that refutation is logically stronger than confirmation, and that confirmation is not proof — turns out to be critically important in social science and for evaluating social policies.

Can you give us an example from the history of science?

In my first book, I wrote about the discovery of radio waves by Heinrich Hertz. At the time, there were two rival viewpoints. One thought that the influence of electricity and magnetism on distant objects was instantaneous — action at a distance. The other theory said the forces take time to travel through space. When Hertz demonstrated the electromagnetic waves, radio waves, with a finite velocity, it ended the debate. Hertz’s effort was a “crucial experiment,” but there are crucial observations of what is happening naturally, without any experiment.

This is important, as reporting what you observe is at the heart of journalism. And crucial observations follow the same logic. The most famous one, a hundred years ago, refuted Newton’s theory of gravity, and confirmed Einstein’s. Einstein’s theory predicted that the sun’s gravity would bend light rays passing near it. Eddington figured out that during a solar eclipse he could see the stars close to the sun, and they would appear shifted from their positions in a way he could calculate from Einstein’s theory. The stars did appear to shift as Einstein’s theory predicted, and in contradiction to the predictions of Newton’s theory.

You’ve written elsewhere about the widespread failings of the social sciences to employ this model, and develop testable theories. Could you say a few words about that problem, and why it need not persist?

Many have argued that because of the complexity of society, it is impossible to identify plausible testable theories in social science. However, they assume that social theories have to fully predict the evolution of a social system to be testable. For testability, as I wrote some years ago, it is enough to identify patterns that excludesome possibilities. My wife, Isabelle Tsakok, a development economist and also a former Popper student, took up the challenge of identifying such patterns in economic development.

In her book, she showed that five conditions are necessary for poor countries with traditional agricultures to transform into modern wealthy economies. She was able to document that all now-wealthy countries, including the U.S., met the conditions during their transformations. The conditions are not sufficient, as some countries have fulfilled them and still not succeeded. So the pattern doesn’t fully predict what will happen if a country does fulfill all the conditions. But because the conditions are necessary, vital to broad-based economic growth, the theory still has huge policy implications.

You say that the analysis needed to identify crucial evidence is sometimes accessible to journalists, and you cite as an example the fact that tax cuts have never paid for themselves in U.S. history. Yet, we continue to hear claims to the contrary. What is that evidence? 

The data are unequivocal on tax cuts not paying for themselves fully, and you can see it in many analyses such as this one from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Tax cuts can increase growth somewhat in the short term, but in the U.S. they have never created enough growth to make up for the lost revenue by increased tax receipts. In fact, in the past, investment of tax funds has regularly grown the economy more than cutting taxes and leaving the money in the hands of the rich. For example, the economy grew more under tax-increaser Bill Clinton than tax-cutter Ronald Reagan, and more under tax-increaser Obama than tax-cutter George W. Bush. This claim of tax cuts paying for themselves has never been respectable amongst professional economists; even George W. Bush’s economic advisor Greg Mankiw once labeled those who advanced this claim as “charlatans and cranks.”

Why does this qualify as “crucial evidence”? . . .

Continue reading.

We must use the knowledge we have accumulated, else what good is it?

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2017 at 3:59 pm

NYT: Trump Team Had “Repeated Contacts” With Russian Intelligence During the Presidential Campaign

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The amazing NY Times report is discussed by Kevin Drum, who notes in addition to the report itself,

And by the way, I shouldn’t miss this chance to flog my favorite hobbyhorse again: FBI Director James Comey, who knew all about this, pushed hard not to make it public during the campaign. Instead he considered it more important to inform Congress that he had discovered additional copies of Hillary Clinton’s emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Priorities.

And as Drum says,

Just to make this clear: At the same time that Russian intelligence was hacking various email accounts in order to sabotage Hillary Clinton, multiple members of the Trump team had repeated phone calls with senior Russian intelligence officials. And during this entire time, Trump himself was endorsing a foreign policy that appeared almost as if it had been dictated to him by Vladimir Putin.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2017 at 8:57 pm

Gerrymandering is the biggest obstacle to genuine democracy in the United States. So why is no one protesting?

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What’s weird is that it’s perfectly easy nowadays to use software and demographic and map data to do an excellent job of drawing district lines to produce districts that are compact with boundaries that when possible follow natural boundaries (e.g., county lines, city limits, rivers, etc.). Some states have followed that method for years.

Brian Klaas reports in the Washington Post:

Brian Klaas is a Fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and author of The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy.

There is an enormous paradox at the heart of American democracy. Congress is deeply and stubbornly unpopular. On average, between 10 and 15 percent of Americans approve of Congress – on a par with public support for traffic jams and cockroaches. And yet, in the 2016 election, only eight incumbents – eight out of a body of 435 representatives – were defeated at the polls.

If there is one silver bullet that could fix American democracy, it’s getting rid of gerrymandering – the now commonplace practice of drawing electoral districts in a distorted way for partisan gain. It’s also one of a dwindling number of issues that principled citizens – Democrat and Republican – should be able to agree on. Indeed, polls confirm that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all stripes oppose gerrymandering.

In the 2016 elections for the House of Representatives, the average electoral margin of victory was 37.1 percent. That’s a figure you’d expect from North Korea, Russia or Zimbabwe – not the United States. But the shocking reality is that the typical race ended with a Democrat or a Republican winning nearly 70 percent of the vote, while their challenger won just 30 percent.

Last year, only 17 seats out of 435 races were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less. Just 33 seats in total were decided by a margin of 10 percent or less. In other words, more than 9 out of 10 House races were landslides where the campaign was a foregone conclusion before ballots were even cast. In 2016, there were no truly competitive Congressional races in 42 of the 50 states. That is not healthy for a system of government that, at its core, is defined by political competition.

Gerrymandering, in a word, is why American democracy is broken.

The word “gerrymander” comes from an 1812 political cartoon drawn to parody Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry’s re-drawn senate districts. The cartoon depicts one of the bizarrely shaped districts in the contorted form of a fork-tongued salamander. Since 1812, gerrymandering has been increasingly used as a tool to divide and distort the electorate. More often than not, state legislatures are tasked with drawing district maps, allowing the electoral foxes to draw and defend their henhouse districts.

While no party is innocent when it comes to gerrymandering, a Washington Post analysis in 2014 found that eight of the ten most gerrymandered districts in the United States were drawn by Republicans.

As a result, . . .

Continue reading.

It’s important to recognize that there are powerful people who want American democracy to be broken. That’s why it’s so hard to fix.

Later in the article:

These uncompetitive districts have a seriously corrosive effect on the integrity of democracy. If you’re elected to represent a district that is 80 percent Republican or 80 percent Democratic, there is absolutely no incentive to compromise. Ever. In fact, there is a strong disincentive to collaboration, because working across the aisle almost certainly means the risk of a primary challenge from the far right or far left of the party. For the overwhelming majority of Congressional representatives, there is no real risk to losing a general election – but there is a very real threat of losing a fiercely contested primary election. Over time, this causes sane people to pursue insane pandering and extreme positions. It is a key, but often overlooked, source of contemporary gridlock and endless bickering.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2017 at 9:15 am

Posted in Election, Government

Disturbing: “I Was Trained for the Culture Wars in Home School, Awaiting Someone Like Mike Pence as a Messiah”

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Kieryn Darkwater writes at Autostraddle.com:

I was working the polls on election day, handing people ballots and explaining how to fill them out properly. I made it my mission to come up with interesting uses for the removable tabs and entertain people for the 30 seconds that I had their captive attention. When 7 pm hit, people came in looking grim. “Did you hear about the polls?” they’d ask. “No,” I said, “but don’t tell me, I need to get through the next hour.” I guarded my polling location from news of what was happening because we still had to close – I still had to close – and needed to be able to focus without dealing with the sheer terror of reality.

I checked Twitter as I got in my Lyft back home. Shock bombarded and horror filled me as I scrolled through my timeline. I hoped the panic would vanish once the CA votes were counted. It didn’t. Slowly the new reality set in – the one where I wake up horrified and lose more of my basic human rights every day. The one where I wake up and am reminded that I was prepared for this, I saw this coming, I know what’s happening.

I grew up in the far-right evangelical conservative (Christofascist) movement; specifically, I was homeschooled and my parents were part of a subculture called Quiverfull, whose aim is to outbreed everyone for Jesus. I spent my teen years being a political activist. I was taught by every pastor I encountered that it was our job as Christians to outbreed the secularists (anyone not a far-right evangelical Protestant) and take over the government through sheer numbers. I was part of TeenPact, Generation Joshua and my local Teenage Republicans (TARS).

When the Tea Party rose in 2009, that was my culture. The Tea Party was step one. I was laying the groundwork for those elections in 2006. These people didn’t come out of the blue like it seemed. This plan, this Christofascist takeover of the US government, has been in the works for decades. When evangelical conservatism started becoming popular and more mainstream around the 1970s, the foundation was being laid for the tragedy playing out right now.

Evangelical conservatives started taking over their local republican parties and founding organizations like Operation Rescue, Homeschool Legal Defense Association, Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, just to name a few.

hsldamission
via HSLDA.org

Michael Farris founded HSLDA in 1983 as a way to ensure that homeschooling was legal, but what he’s been striving for is the wild west. His organization is trying to keep homeschooling away from any interference so the children he trains through his sister organization, Generation Joshua, would be able to fly under the radar. Generation Joshua started in 2003, primarily catering to children homeschooled by extremely religious rightwing adults. Its purpose was to train us to fight in what the Christofascists have been calling the “Culture Wars.” It’s a loose and ambiguous term that basically means anything or anyone that doesn’t align with this very specific view of Christianity must not be allowed to continue. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s grim. Christianity repurposed.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 January 2017 at 10:57 am

I suggest the media ignore Kellyanne Conway in the future because of her habit of stating baldfaced lies

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Whatever the reason for Kellyanne Conway’s constant stream of counterfactual statements (aka “lies”), she demonstrably and habitually speaks in falsehoods. Rather than follow her appearances with corrections to the statements she’s made, I recommend simply not publishing her comments: they are too often false.

Here’s one from just this morning, reported in Salon by Taylor Link:

President Donald Trump’s definition of “voter fraud” appears to include his own daughter after reports indicated Tiffany Trump was registered to vote in both Pennsylvania and New York. Her predicament falls under his own Twitter encapsulation of the the problem: “those registered to vote in two states.” As the president put it:

But on Thursday, Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway said that the report about Tiffany was false and offered her own alternative facts.

“I just want to correct a part of your reporting,” Conway said on NBC on Thursday morning. “I talked last night with Tiffany Trump and she said it is flatly false that she is registered in two states. And I recall talking with Tiffany all through the fall when she was trying to make sure she could reregister in New York to vote for her father. She had been registered in Pennsylvania and went through the process.”

Despite Conway’s assurance, a local election official confirmed to NBC News after the interview that Tiffany Trump was indeed still registered to vote in Philadelphia, where she had attended college at the University of Pennsylvania.

It is not illegal to be registered in two states at the same time. It is a common occurrence when people move across state lines. But the revelation about Trump’s dual-active voting status is significant because it would appear to be the type of “fraud” that the Trump administration hopes to investigate.

Democrats have expressed concern that Trump would use innocuous findings from the investigation — like the fact that a lot of people who voted are registered in two states — as a pretense to propose stricter voting laws, which would hurt poor and minority residents (who happen to vote Democratic). But if Trump’s daughter was unintentionally in violation of the very “fraud” he is investigating, it might be harder for him to justify a crackdown on voting.

Watch Conway dispute incontrovertible facts below: . . .

Here’s the video.

Perhaps Stephan Bannon can assist in keeping Kellyanne Conway from speaking to the media, which (in a NY Times report by Michael Grynbaum) he views as the enemy in any event. (Liars regard truthtellers as the enemy.) The Grynbaum report begins:

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief White House strategist, laced into the American press during an interview on Wednesday evening, arguing that news organizations had been “humiliated” by an election outcome few anticipated, and repeatedly describing the media as “the opposition party” of the current administration.

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile,” Mr. Bannon said during a telephone call.

“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

The scathing assessment — delivered by one of Mr. Trump’s most trusted and influential advisers, in the first days of his presidency — comes at a moment of high tension between the news media and the administration, with skirmishes over the size of Mr. Trump’s inaugural crowd and the president’s false claims that millions of illegal votes by undocumented immigrants swayed the popular vote against him.

Mr. Bannon, who rarely grants interviews to journalists outside of Breitbart News, the provocative right-wing website he ran until last August, was echoing comments by Mr. Trump this weekend, when the president said he was in “a running war” with the media and called journalists “among the most dishonest people on earth.”

During a call to discuss Sean M. Spicer, the president’s press secretary, Mr. Bannon ratcheted up the criticism, offering a broad indictment of the news media as biased against Mr. Trump and out of touch with the American public. That’s an argument familiar to readers of Breitbart and followers of Trump-friendly personalities like Sean Hannity.

“The elite media got it dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong,” Mr. Bannon said of the election, calling it “a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away, that will always be there.”

“The mainstream media has not fired or terminated anyone associated with following our campaign,” Mr. Bannon said. “Look at the Twitter feeds of those people: they were outright activists of the Clinton campaign.” (He did not name specific reporters or editors.)

“That’s why you have no power,” Mr. Bannon added. “You were humiliated.”

Of all of Mr. Trump’s advisers in the White House, Mr. Bannon is the one tasked with implementing the nationalist vision that Mr. Trump channeled during the later months of the campaign, one that stemmed from Mr. Bannon himself. And in many ways Mr. Trump’s first week has put into action that vision — from the description of “American carnage’’ Mr. Trump laid out in his inauguration speech, to a series of executive actions outlining policy on trade agreements, immigration, the building of a border wall and the demands that Mexico pay for it.

He is one of the strongest forces in a White House with competing power centers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2017 at 1:51 pm

Kevin Baker looks at what was lost with Trump’s victory

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Kevin Baker writes in the NY Times. His full column is definitely worth reading (I at first wanted to quote the entire thing), but let me quote just one section:

. . . I know that Mr. Trump was elected, in part, because too many people were still hurting in this economy, from the terrible disruptions of their lives and their communities over the last 25 years. I have been poor and desperate myself, and I know what that feels like. In their giddy rush to globalization and the paper economy, too many liberal — and conservative — leaders have made the same mistake that they made in Vietnam, when they tried to palm that misbegotten conflict off on the poor and the working class. They have forgotten — again — that this great nation will endure and will prosper only if we all prosper together.

Yet that is no excuse for what we did last November.

Throughout our history, Americans have encountered economic shocks much worse than anything we know today, and with many fewer resources at their disposal. American working people have agency, they are plenty educated, and in past crises they rejected the extremism that other nations turned to. Even in the Great Depression they did not succumb to the ideologies of Fascism and Communism sweeping the world. When the system seemed broken in the past, when the elites and the major parties seemed irretrievably corrupt and deaf to their appeals, their response was to build true democratic movements from the ground up, and to push them on to victory even if that took decades.

The populists after the Civil War, faced with the collapse into peonage of American farmers — then about half the population — built nationwide lecture and correspondence networks, and eventually won the reforms they needed, even though it took them more than 60 years. The first wave of feminists fought for more than 70 years to win their biggest demand; Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were dead by the time women got the vote. African-Americans battled ceaselessly, in every way they could, against their enslavement and Jim Crow, training their own lawyers to take their cases to the Supreme Court. The struggles for labor rights, gay rights, Hispanic rights, civil liberties, religious toleration, women’s control over their own bodies — all these battles and more took decades to win. They are the glory of our civilization.

Today’s passive, unhappy Americans sat on their couches and chose a strutting TV clown to save us.

What they have done is a desecration, a foolish and vindictive act of vandalism, by which they betrayed all the best and most valiant labors of our ancestors. We don’t want to accept this, because we cannot accept that the people, at least in the long run of things, can be wrong in our American democracy. But they can be wrong, just like any people, anywhere. And until we do accept this abject failure of both our system and ourselves, there is no hope for our redemption. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 January 2017 at 1:50 pm

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