Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
Not unexpected, but still…: Republican Governors Association outguns its Democratic counterpart as it gears up for next races
There’s a lot of Koch money flowing into politics—well, a lot from a lot of right-wing billionaires: Carl Icahn, Peter Thiel, and others. There is literally a list of them, and that is just those who backed Trump. You can bet they would back Republican governors and unlikely to back Democrats. So that’s a lot of money going rightward.
David Jordan reports for the Center for Public Integrity:
Republican governors will have reason to celebrate when they meet in Washington this week.
Fundraising reports for two of the largest players in gubernatorial politics show Republicans have a large cash advantage over Democrats heading into a two-year period when over two-thirds of the governors’ seats will be up for election.
The Republican Governors Association raised more than $60.7 million compared with the Democratic Governors Association’s $39 million in 2016, according to the groups. In the last decade, the RGA has consistently outraised its Democratic counterpart, although the DGA was able to narrow the gap last year compared with previous years.
The momentum appears to be continuing. After President Donald Trump’s upset win last November, the RGA more than doubled DGA’s fundraising effort, $5.1 million to $2.1 million in the final weeks of 2016, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of IRS fundraising records.
Both of the groups are now gearing up for this year’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, where each seat will be open because New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia are term-limited.
In 2018, 36 governor positions will be up for election, including 20 anticipated to have no incumbent. Republicans hold 26 of those positions, Democrats hold nine and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is an independent.
“The RGA is formidable, and I do think that the money they have been able to pump into these governorships over the years explains why they have so many Republican governors,” said Kyle Kondik, political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “In close races, the extra bit of money makes all the difference.” . . .
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Obviously, building the kind of strength the GOP enjoys takes years of planning and commitment. The gerrymandering alone (which again gives them strength) is no quick project. It seems a 20-year effort at least. You have to build statehouse control so that you control the redistricting. Except in those states that have blocked that tactic. (Search this blog on “gerrymandering” for more info, including some good video explanations.)
So that’s one answer: go for fair districting that produces representation in the legislature that is congruent to the voters of the district. That is, if 40% of the voters are one party but they elect 80% of the representatives, that’s prima facie evidence that the redistricting that was done was unfair.
Unfortunately, being fair ranks much higher for liberals than it does for conservatives, who place a higher value on Ingroup/Loyalty and Respect/Authority. Thus conservatives tend to win.
So let’s set up a redistricting commission to ensure a fair representation. Who is against a fair representation?
I thought this was interesting: the “most-read” articles (and in that sense the most popular) are as I write:
- A majority of Americans are embarrassed by President Trump
- Things got VERY ugly on CNN last night
- James O’Keefe finally realized that people will develop conspiracy theories all on their own
- President Trump is losing his war with the media
- Kellyanne Conway: Feminism associated with being ‘anti-male’ and ‘pro-abortion’
Beyond fact-checking: After the catastrophic media failure of 2016, the press must master “crucial evidence”
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”? . . .
We must use the knowledge we have accumulated, else what good is it?
That was a question asked on Quora.com, and Chris Joosse (tagline: “Limited government, fiscal conservative”) responded as follows:
In no particular order:
- No, the liberal left doesn’t harbor deep-seated desires and grand plans to control every aspect of your life in ‘political correct’ totalitarian style. You’re being told that because it makes you easier to influence politically (there’s nothing so unifying as a common enemy).
- Yes, the folks on the left do love America too, and no, they don’t hate you or your freedoms. Whoever tells you these things is not your friend or ally- you’re their tool to the extent you believe that stuff. When lefties sound frustrated with you, part of that is they don’t like that you’re being taken advantage of in ways that affect everyone. Also, they’ve been trying to tell you this a lot, but it doesn’t seem to be getting across.
- Liberals are never coming for your guns. They might want you to comply with some rules and accept some limitations to their use, and some are beyond angry with how the gun die-hards refuse to accept any regulation whatsoever, but it’s just. not. going. to. happen. The folks telling you it’s gonna happen are the same folks who just sold you your stockpiles of ammo at price-gouging rates because you were convinced you had to buy it while you could. They’re not your friends; you’re their marks.
- No, lefties aren’t in favor of Sharia law when they make it clear they don’t like to see Muslims discriminated against. It means they don’t want the USA to act like a theocracy, not because they want to impose a Muslim one.
- No, the Nazis and fascists weren’t left-wing, and it doesn’t matter that the GOP was once the party of Lincoln and civil rights. What does matter is that the GOP is the party of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and false claims about rampant voter fraud.
- No, ‘getting tough’ on social issues such as crime or drugs doesn’t work. If it did, the problem would already be solved. It’s quite possible that the perceived unfairness of ‘get tough’ rules (as applied) contributes to the problems (like the way community:police relations aren’t good in high-crime areas).
- No, the money from tax cuts to the rich never ever ever ever trickles down, and the people who tell you it will are making out like bandits while you wait.
- No, we’re not broke from idle moochers draining the system and living large on too-generous benefits. We spend tons on corporate welfare and government contracts, more than we do on other sorts of welfare. The stories about welfare queens and lazy moochers living large on the dole are invented to keep your attention away from all the tax dollars going into corporate pockets.
- No, the USA isn’t number one in the world at anything now, except for per-capita incarceration, military spending, and the prices we pay for medical care and pharmaceuticals. We have lots of potential to be better, and wanting the USA to be better isn’t the same thing as not-loving America.
- We get it, the future in which white people are a minority makes you uneasy- but the problem isn’t who’s a minority, it’s that minorities are regarded and treated as second-class citizens by too many people. Fix that part, and everything has potential to turn out fine. Not fixing it means when we’re the minority, it’ll be our (or our grandchildren’s) turn to be treated as second-class, and we’ll deserve it when we have to protest about how White Lives Matter. Social justice isn’t about taking away white rights, it’s very much in our interests.
- No, it’s not hypocritical when ‘tolerant’ liberals aren’t tolerant of intolerance or bigotry. It would be hypocritical if they were.
- A lot of those jobs are never coming back, and politicians telling you they will aren’t your friends- you’re their marks. Already the easy-to-automate work has been automated, and eventually even the skilled labor (like automating work) will eventually be automated. (yes, today there is software writing other software, machines building other machines). Eventually, this will force us to re-think the idea of work being our identity, or how to organize an economy with surplus labor that still looks like America.
You can also browse his answers to other questions.
Christopher Ingraham has a great article in the Washington Post on the practice of gerrymandering, clearly explained in this short video:
Ingraham’s article is well worth reading because the problem is so prevalent. States that have solved it have taken the drawing of district lines away from the legislature and given it to an independent commission (see end of post). Ingraham’s article begins:
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called on lawmakers and the public to take a number of steps “to change the system to reflect our better selves” for “a better politics.” The top item on that list was to end partisan gerrymandering: “we have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around,” Obama said.
In most states, state legislatures draw the district boundaries that determine how many delegates the state sends to the U.S. Congress, as well as the general partisan make-up of that delegation. State legislatures are partisan beasts, and if one party is in control of the process they can draw boundaries to give themselves a numeric advantage over their opponents in Congress. This process is called gerrymandering.
Some state legislatures are more brazen about the process than others. Maryland’s districts, drawn by Democrats, are one particularly egregious example. North Carolina’s, drawn by Republicans, are another. Advocates of reform have proposed various solutions to the problem over the years. In some states, redistricting is put in the hands of an independent commission. In others, lengthy court battles are playing out to draw the districts more fairly.
But a fundamental problem with district-drawing still remains: as long as humans are drawing the lines, there’s a danger of bias and self-interest to creep into the process. There is another way, however: we could simply let computers do the drawing for us.
From a technological standpoint it’s fairly straightforward — a software engineer in Massachusetts named Brian Olson wrote an algorithm to do it in his spare time. As I described it in 2014, Olson’s algorithm creates “optimally compact” equal-population congressional districts in each state, based on 2010 census data. It draws districts that respect the boundaries of census blocks, which are the smallest geographic units used by the Census Bureau. This ensures that the district boundaries reflect actual neighborhoods and don’t, say, cut an arbitrary linethrough somebody’s house.”
To see what this looks like in practice, compare this map of our current congressional districts (top) with one we stitched together from Olson’s output (bottom).
Big difference, isn’t it? You can check out a larger version of the compacted map here. Rather than a confusing snarl of interlocked districts, you have neat, trim boundaries that make intuitive sense. Here are some individual state comparisons I made back in 2014 that let you see some more of the detail: . . .
Some states have solved the problem, as Wikipedia notes:
Rather than allowing more political influence, some states have shifted redistricting authority from politicians and given it to non-partisan redistricting commissions. The states of Washington, Arizona, and California have created standing committees for redistricting following the 2010 census. Rhode Islandand the New Jersey Redistricting Commission have developed ad hoc committees, but developed the past two decennial reapportionments tied to new census data.
The Arizona State Legislature challenged the constitutionality of the use of a non-partisan commission, rather than the legislature, for redistricting. In Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the US Supreme Court in 2015 upheld the constitutionality of non-partisan commissions.
Note that both red states and blue states have been able to clean up their act on redistricting (though it seems that Arizona did not go quietly).
Wikipedia has an excellent short article devoted to Redistricting Commissions. Well worth reading and pondering and then getting your state moving toward it.
That’s from Colin Marshall’s Open Culture column. He notes:
This line of thinking, put in such stark terms, can make Machiavelli seem like an offputtingly harsh (if quite intelligent) character. But his writing is more nuanced: he advocates not using flat-out lies and violence to achieve one’s ends, but indeed to be nice — just “never to be overly devoted to acting nicely,” an attitude he thought the West’s popular readings of the story of Jesus of Nazareth too often advocated — while always knowing “how to borrow – when need be – every single trick employed by the most cynical, dastardly, unscrupulous and nastiest people who have ever lived.” Nice guys, in short, have no choice but to learn from their enemies.
You can learn more about the sometimes harrowing experiences that taught Machiavelli [in the video below]…
The common understanding when I resumed shaving with a DE razor over a decade ago was that razors ranged from “mild” at one extreme to “aggressive” at the other, and thus razors could be linearly ordered on this dimension. Some attempted to map razors on real numbers to simplify the ordering, since it is trivially easy to order numbers. Blade gap was the number most commonly used, as I recall.
It took me a few years, but I finally had to recognize the truth of my own experience: razors range from “mild” to “aggressive” with respect to comfort, but they also range from “mild” to “aggressive” independently with respect to efficiency. The ideal razor is one that is “mild” wrt comfort and “aggressive” wrt to performance, and I have a fair number of them since those are the razors I tend to keep.
Some thing with politics. We are constantly pushed toward a linear ordering from extreme liberal at one end and extreme conservative at the other. But, as explained on this page, that doesn’t match what our experience. It’s better to view your political stance on two dimensions: economic issues and social/cultural issues. The site takes an interesting look at the recent election from the viewpoint of their “political compass.”
They offer a little quiz for you to see how you rank, and they swear that “it’s entirely anonymous and your responses are not logged.” I just took the test—it’s quick and easy—and my results are pretty much what you would expect from reading this blog: