Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What does Tom Price's nomination say about the future of Obamacare?


OK, I'm done now, right?  Trump will pick Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services.  Price, like all Republicans, hates Obamacare, but unlike most Republicans, has proposed outlines of replacement plans.  According to conventional analysis, that seems to mean that the chances of an Obamacare repeal just went up because Trump is somehow more focused on repealing it.

Um, no.  That's not how legislation works.  Once a piece of legislation is signed into law, repealing it requires new legislation.  That starts in Congress.  Would Trump repeal Obamacare?  Yes.  His governing philosophy can be summed up thusly...

Congress, however, is not necessarily so brazen.  Good reference: Thomas Mann's Unsafe at Any Margin.  Catch the reference to famed George W. Bush supporter, Ralph Nader?  Actually, Mann wrote the piece much earlier, back when Nader was actually a hero to liberals.  The premise of Mann's work is that Members of Congress tend to overestimate the electoral danger they face, and they might not be as brazen as Trump.

The problem is that while a lot of people would see premium reductions under an Obamacare repeal, millions more would lose coverage entirely with the elimination of tax subsidies, the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and the return of denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.  None of the sketched replacement "plans" would do much to cover them.  Taking away health insurance for millions could be risky, and if Mann's thesis is still right, then congressional Republicans might not be so ready to repeal the whole thing.

Trump?  Sure.  Price?  Yup.

Ryan?  McConnell?  Everyone in their caucuses?  They need almost full party unity, because they aren't getting any Democratic support for a full repeal...

As I have said before, the risk-averse strategy is as follows.  First, make an announcement that Obamacare is a cancer that has metastasized to the point that it must be removed surgically rather than all at once.  Then, repeal the employer but not the individual mandate.  Then, repeal the medical device tax.  At each stage, make a big deal of it.  Then, start repealing smaller and smaller parts, with the announcements getting progressively smaller, and eventually just let it fade away, making more and more marginal tweaks.

Then again, Republicans could be doomed in 2018 anyway given midterm swings, and they may never get another chance.

Still, this is what I was saying before Price.  What does Price indicate about the future of Obamacare?  Nothing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The OSU incident and jumping to conclusions

Just a quick post, since we know very little.  Of course, that didn't stop people from stock posts at other sites!

The initial reports were that the Ohio State attack was an "active shooter" incident.  Nope.  Guy with a car and a knife.  What kind of knife?  I actually care about that, as a knife aficionado.  A kitchen knife, from what I have read, which makes an important point about the stupidity of Ohio knife laws, which essentially make both everything and nothing legal, depending on the whims of a cop deciding whether or not to harass/arrest the person in question.  (Take a wild guess what determines that...).

Basically, the deal in Ohio is this.  It is legal to own any kind of knife, even an "automatic" knife (switchblade type things).  However, it is only legal to carry weapons that are guns.  You can openly carry guns in Ohio (not on campus, though!), but not lethal weapons that are not guns.  So, if a cop decides that your knife is a lethal weapon, you are a crook.  What makes a knife a lethal weapon rather than a handy-dandy tool?  That's entirely up to the cop.  There are also local laws that vary across the state, but at the state-level, see how problematic that is?

Anyway, in the immediate confusion, when initial reports were of an active shooter, left-leaning sites immediately put up their "we need gun control NOW NOW NOW" posts.  Of course, with no information about the individual in question, the gun in question, how he acquired it, etc., there was no way to assess whether or not those proposals would have any connection to the incident.

Right-leaning sites either went for paranoia about the government coming for your guns (yeah right, particularly now), or for fantasies about how everything would have been resolved faster if everyone had guns, not even knowing the circumstances, which could have been such that everyone pulling out guns would have just left a hail of bullets and lots of casualties.

Ah, gun control.  The issue that makes everybody lose at least 20 IQ points.

Hey, everyone!  Let's not jump to conclusions and immediately make our stock arguments every time guns possibly come into the picture.  Sometimes, there isn't even a gun involved!

It was a knife anyway.  And remember, Freddie Gray was arrested and died because the cops falsely accused him of having a switchblade.  It was an assisted-open knife, which was legal in Maryland.  Just sayin'...

Monday, November 28, 2016

"Resistance" to Trump

So, there's this petition floating around my campus, and plenty of rhetoric about resisting a Trump administration.  Anyone reading this pretentious, little blog knows that I am not exactly a fan of Trump.  I've even acquired my own little Trump troll who keeps trying to post a comment linking to Trump t-shirt sales for my troubles!  (Sorry to tighten the commenting rules, for those few who do so).

Still, let's talk a bit about "resistance" to Trump.  Resist what?  Dude ain't even president yet.  Will he be a decent president?  No, of course not.  Resistance, though?

Anyway, here's the petition circulating around my campus.  My name is not on it, nor will it be.  Some of it should be easy for everyone to back, like opposition to hate speech.  Trump is a racist, misogynist demagogue, and he inspires people like David Duke to think that their time has come.  How do we know?  Because David Duke says so, loudly and proudly.  No, I'm not linking to that piece of shit.  They should be shamed back into their hiding places.

Then, though, there's other stuff.  There's Point 3 in that petition, about active refusal to comply with immigration authorities regarding raids and deportations.  Under ALL circumstances?

Let's take an analogy to tax codes.  A 99% tax rate is confiscatory and unjust.  Would we be morally justified in resisting it?  Yes.  What about a 10% tax rate?  No.  Some redneck fuckwit (you know him as Cliven Bundy) probably thinks so, but to a reasonable person, no.  So, where is the line at which we cross over into unjust and confiscatory territory?  I don't know.  That's debatable.  However, to take the position that all taxation is theft?  Um, no.  That's Ayn Rand territory.  Grow up.

So, back to immigration.  Let's say Trump passes some law that tells any institution that takes federal funds (mine does) that we have to investigate the legal status of anyone with a Spanish surname, and then hand them over to the Feds if we can't verify their status.  Um, civil rights, anyone?  Equal treatment under the law?

On the other hand, if a criminal sex trafficking operation is being run out of campus, don't we have an obligation, morally, to comply and help shut it down?

Yes, those are extremes.  That's kind of the point of looking for the equivalent of a 1% and a 99% tax rate.  One, you must comply, the other, you cannot comply.  Where is the line?  I don't know.

What I am not comfortable doing is saying that I will not comply without having some specification of the laws and actions with which I am not complying.

Trump is a vile piece of shit, and a racist demagogue.  What will he do, or at least, try to do?  I don't know.  I don't know if he knows.  He's also a moron, constrained by a Speaker of the House who hates him.  That's another relevant point here.  We aren't 1930's Germany.  We have a weak executive in a system of separated powers.  Resistance?  To what?  Condemn hate speech and create an atmosphere conducive to learning?  Yup.  Do that.  But, before we state that we will not comply with the law, maybe we should know what legal actions we won't be complying with...  Just a thought.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Technophobia and fear of hacked elections

So, noted Donald Trump activist Jill Stein is pushing this recount nonsense, and Clinton isn't going to stand in her way, even if most Democratic pols aren't really going to push hard.  As I've said before, they know that this is a pointless endeavor.  Does Stein have buyer's remorse, or is she just as much of a fucking moron as she seems at face value?  Hard to tell, but for today, let's talk about technophobia.

Can computers be hacked?  Yes.  Computer scientists like to freak the fuck out about computerized voting.  Why?  Because they know how to do the hacking.

News flash:  any election can be hacked.  The question-- the real question-- is which type of election is easiest to hack.  We have a grand tradition in this country that includes stuffing ballot boxes the old-fashioned way, going back centuries.  We have done our best to make that as difficult as possible, and we have little evidence of anything like that in recent elections.  Why don't computer scientists freak the fuck out about those methods?  Because they don't think about them, and computers are scaaaaaary.

Any conspiracy theory about hacking elections through computerized voting systems has to address the question of how it was done, given that the machines are off-line.  From a practical standpoint, is that really how someone would go about fixing an election?  No.

It's just what computer scientists fear because it's what they know.

And it's what the public fears because it's what they don't know.

Funny, that.

Sunday music: If you don't love blues (no grass today), you hate America

Also, this guy is an Aussie, as his accent will give away, but the tune came to mind for today's post...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Will Trump really pick Romney for Sec. State?

I've been having a difficult time wrapping my brain around this one.  Rumors keep swirling around Romney, and I can't help but wonder if the Trump transition team is circulating them to get credit for a decision that Trump can't bring himself to make.

Here's the problem.  Trump's Attorney General pick should have been Ted Cruz, not Jeff Sessions.  Sessions is a caricature-- an unreconstructed racist, denied a federal judgeship in 1986 for that, by a Republican Senate, and about one neuron short of a synapse.  Why did Trump pick him?  He was rewarding one of his few early supporters, and picking an, um, fellow traveler.

Yet, Cruz was the obvious pick for a serious Republican president.  He is the platonic ideal of asshole, hated by his own party in addition to the Democrats, so Republicans in the Senate would have been thankful to be rid of him.  More importantly (probably), he is also a brilliant lawyer, probably the smartest in the party, and selecting him would have been a great way to show a capacity to reach out to one's defeated adversaries.

And that's exactly why Trump couldn't do it.  Remember after Trump defeated Cruz?  He was still spreading batshit crazy lies about how Ted Cruz's father was involved in the Kennedy assassination.

This is a guy who is still fuming about Rosie O'Donnell, who got into those messes with the Khan family, Alicia Machado, and many more.

And the fact that he won anyway tells him he has no need to reach out to past enemies.  Rather, he should be as petty and vindictive as he wants.

Mitt Romney was the leader of the neverTrumpers.  He was the guy who gave this speech.

Donald Trump gave the HUD nomination to Ben Carson.  Why?  Well, Carson supported him, and well, "urban."  Ya' know.  Figure it out.  Can Donald Trump really give the State Department to Romney?

He gave the UN Ambassadorship to Nikki Haley, who was critical of him.  But Romney?  Tell me the guy who is still fuming about Rosie fucking O'Donnell is going to hand the State Department to this guy.

Then again, it's Trump.  Who the hell knows what he'll do?

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

Broken promises and democratic norms

It will take a lot of time to continue sorting out that New York Times get-together in which Trump admitted he had no clear intention of fulfilling many of his campaign promises, but that should be at once shocking and not at all shocking.

From a political science standpoint, it is worth pointing out that most politicians at least try to fulfill their campaign promises, and most promises are sincere reflections of their personal beliefs.  A great book that applies in most cases:  Jacobs & Shapiro's Politicians Don't Pander.  Basically, candidates look for ways to pitch what they want to do anyway in palatable terms, and try to actually do it regardless of what people want.  But at least they don't pander!

Trump, though, has no real policy beliefs.  He's not a politician!  He just says whatever he thinks will get traction at the time, with no long-term plan.  So, he is backing away from everything, or at least giving himself wiggle room.  That leads to some deep ironies.  In the case of prosecuting Clinton, it was a dilemma of throwing out democratic norms by prosecuting a vanquished opponent, or throwing out democratic norms by immediately disregarding a campaign promise central to his campaign, rallies and convention.

That kind of thing wouldn't be necessary for someone with a long-term plan, coherent beliefs, etc.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Thanksgiving post on argument

It's Thanksgiving.  That time of year when drunken relatives of different political persuasions attempt to persuade.  So, here are some tips on argument.

Don't.  It doesn't work.  At least, facts don't work.  One of the critical things we have learned from the research of Brendan Nyhan is that when we expose people who hold factually mistaken beliefs to corrections, those who are most highly informed are the most likely to dig in, and have their prior beliefs reinforced.  So, if your drunken asshole uncle believes some batshit crazy conspiracy theory, exposing him to reality will only cause him to believe in it more firmly.  Why?  You're part of it, you conspirator, you!

People change their minds sometimes.  There are tips about how to confront people with their own values, etc., but fuck that.  I am a political scientist.  When I am not forced to admit that, though, I tell people that I am a statistician.  Why?  It gets me out of having to listen to people's crap.  Nobody wants to argue about statistics!

So, my advice to you for Thanksgiving, and how to deal with that drunken asshole relative, is this.  Be the bigger troll!  Your dumbass, redneck, racist, piece of shit uncle wants to gloat about Trump?  Tell him that Jared Kushner is controlling Trump and making him a pawn of the jews!  That's the great thing about racist morons.  They're morons, and they get dumber the drunker they get!

And as usual, one from The Drive-By Truckers...

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Rigged election claims: here we don't go...

Remember when we were all shocked that Trump pulled out a surprise victory on election day?  I mentioned that if the shoe were on the other foot, Trump would claim that such a gap between the polls and the vote tallies would be indisputable proof of vote tampering.

Well, this piece is now making the rounds, claiming that the vote was hacked in the upper midwest 'cuz, well, yeah.  That thing I just said.

Was the vote stolen?  Probably not.  What I'll talk about here is how subdued the Democratic rhetoric has been.  Is it because the Democrats, unlike the Republicans, aren't a bunch of sore losers?  No.  They keep whining about the "popular vote" as though it means something.  That's called "being a sore fucking loser."  It doesn't matter if you still have more pieces on the chess board.  You got checkmated.  Deal with it, you whiny little children, and no, you don't know that you would have won the popular vote had that been the rule.

Rather, here's another observation.  The Democrats got burned, badly, by 2000.  Their attempt to contest the election failed.  Regardless of why it failed, the end result of that failure was to legitimize Bush's presidency when he could have entered the White House under a cloud of suspicion.

If Hillary Clinton seriously pursued this, she would lose.  The result would be to further legitimize Trump, and make Clinton, and the Democratic Party look worse.  Democratic Party leaders know this, remembering 2000.  That's why they aren't stupid enough to pursue this nonsense.  It isn't that they are better losers than Trump and the Republicans.  They just have longer memories.  Funny.  The donkeys have longer memories than the elephants!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Democrats' obsession with watching the popular vote numbers come in

Yes, Hillary Clinton "won" the popular vote.  Note that I put "won" in quote marks.

1)  I do so because there is nothing to win.  That is like getting checkmated in a game of chess and claiming to have "won" the total number of pieces still left on the board at the end of the game.  That isn't how the game works.  The game is the electoral college, and as I have written before, we don't know how the popular vote tally would have turned out if the election had been run under that rule.

2)  Democrats' fascination with watching Clinton's lead grow is wallowing in misery for no reason, particularly given 1.

3)  Back in the "Nate Silver is full of shit" series, I excoriated Silver for emphasizing the possibility of a popular vote-electoral college split, and thus overestimating Trump's chances, when Clinton's popular vote lead was around 5.5 points.  Hey, look!  When her lead is just over 1 percentage point, it is possible.  It is still hard to say how much of that was Comey's meddling and how much of that was widespread polling error, but my basic point remains true:  popular vote-electoral college splits require close elections, like around 1 percentage point in the popular vote.  Will Clinton's lead get high enough for that to change as the last few numbers come in?  Nope.  Not even close.

4)  Legitimacy is about perception.  Trump won given the rules of the game, and he will be perceived as legitimate by the majority of the populace.  Trying to fight that by pushing the popular vote is a losing game.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The future of the filibuster: Part V (Legislation edition)

In Part IV of "The future of the filibuster," I addressed the basic deadness of the filibuster on court nominations, but here, let's talk about the complexity of the filibuster on legislation.

The Senate already has a way around the filibuster on a lot of legislation.  It is called "budget reconciliation."  The Senate can cut off debate automatically on any bill classified as a budget reconciliation bill.  The catch is that the bill must be budgetary (i.e., it can't be on stuff like abortion restrictions, or, well, telling insurance companies they can't discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions...), and it can't increase the deficit for more than ten years.  The Senate can do a lot with budget reconciliation bills.  Just not everything.  Tax cuts galore!  As long as they expire in 10 years.  Spending cuts galore with no expiration!

Notice, though, that they can't do a full Obamacare repeal, and that's the catch.  Or the benefit.

So, do the Republicans really want to repeal Obamacare?  I speculated on this recently, and I've been wavering.  The problem is that repealing it before the subsidies went into effect would have been a hell of a lot easier than doing it now, which takes away health insurance from a lot of people.  Ted Cruz pushed a government shutdown before the subsidies kicked in fully because he said that a full repeal would be harder once they did kick in.  He's full of shit on a lot of stuff, but that?  That was kind of right.  A full repeal now could cause some backlash.

But, if the Republicans bring a full repeal to the Senate, let the Democrats filibuster, and strategically avoid going nuclear even though we know they can because Reid used the tactic in 2013 on judicial confirmations, then by pretending the nuclear option isn't there, the Republicans use the filibuster as cover to avoid the political backlash they don't want to face.

Or, maybe they really do want to do a full repeal.  In that case, the House votes for a full repeal, it passes easily, they bring the bill to the Senate, the Democrats filibuster, McConnell uses the nuclear option, and the filibuster is gone for all legislation because that's the only way to pass a full Obamacare repeal.  It can't be done through budget reconciliation.

The point is that filibusters exist at the sufferance of the majority.  If they want it to continue to exist on legislation, it will.  If they don't, it won't.  If Schumer's caucus shuts down all legislation the way McConnell blockaded the Third Circuit, McConnell will be forced to use the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster entirely.  That would be stupid at this point, though.

Otherwise, we find out just how badly the Republicans want a full Obamacare repeal.  If they are serious about wanting to repeal it as badly as they say, they go nuclear.  If they don't press the button, then their Obamacare hatred is just theater at this point.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The future of the filibuster: Part IV (Supreme Court edition)

With Part III demonstrating how Mitch McConnell got exactly what he wanted by forcing Reid to use the nuclear option, we now have enough to say what happens, basically, with Scalia's Supreme Court seat, and judicial filibusters more generally.

The filibuster is either non-existent at the Supreme Court level, or just an illusion.  Remember from Part I that in 2005, the Democrats caved on the filibuster because of the threat of the nuclear option.  Democrats got basically nothing from the deal, but they caved anyway based on the abstract promise of some possibility of maybe being able to filibuster in the future.  Maybe.

If Republicans can peel off enough cowardly Democrats to reach 60 votes, they don't need to invoke the nuclear option to confirm a Trump Supreme Court nominee, but if so, then the filibuster exists only as an illusion because it cannot be used in practice by Democrats.  Were positions reversed, though, Republicans would certainly filibuster, and Democrats would be forced to go nuclear, as they did with the Third Circuit under Obama with Reid.

Alternatively, suppose Democrats don't cave.  They do filibuster.  Republicans can't give up the Supreme Court seat.  The whole point of McConnell's gambit after Scalia's death was to hold the seat open for a Republican President.  To let Democrats block it now would be to give up after victory.  They would have to finish the job on the nuclear option for the courts and extend it to the Supreme Court.

So, either the Democrats cave and the filibuster is only an illusion for court nominations, or the Democrats don't cave, and the Republicans finish killing the filibuster on court nominations.  Either way, there will be no functioning filibuster on court nominations.

Do you like that?  Do you want pure majoritarianism?  Remember that the Senate is not really majoritarian in its apportionment anyway.  Did you like the filibuster before?  Did that depend on who was in control?  Of course it did.  The filibuster was a procedural issue, and it is extraordinarily difficult for people to separate procedural preferences from their outcome preferences.

William Riker (yes, there really was a political scientist named "William Riker," and no, that's not why I majored in it) called this the "heritability" problem.  Process determines outcome, so your preference over process is the same as your preference over outcome.  Deal with it.  Or don't.  But functionally, the filibuster is dead on court nominations.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

It's an instrumental.  No words.  Get it?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The future of the filibuster: Part III (McConnell got what he wanted)

In Part II of "The future of the filibuster" series, I talked about how we got to where we are.  The post-nuclear Senate.  Where we are is pretty much exactly where Mitch McConnell wanted to be.  Smart guy, McConnell.

McConnell forced Reid to use the nuclear option in 2013.  Why?  He wanted the filibuster gone for the next time Republicans had a Senate majority, and the Presidency.  He just didn't want to be the guy who pushed the button.  And, Republicans got the Senate majority in 2014, and then the White House in 2016.  Now, Republicans can use the 51 vote threshold for cloture that Reid was forced to create to fill executive branch appointments, and all judicial vacancies below the Supreme Court.

We have to be careful, though, to avoid the teleological fallacy.  We cannot always conclude that the end is the intent.  However, since this was pretty clearly McConnell's thought at the time, and many of us asserted it at the time (sorry, this blog wasn't around then), I'm going to go ahead and say this was McConnell's plan.

But, there is a second part to the plan.  Reid gave him precedent.  Once Reid went nuclear, he put nukes on the table.  What about the Supreme Court?  What about legislation?  The key here is that if McConnell uses the nuclear option, or even threatens it, he can point to Reid's previous use of it.  That's why precedent matters.  Note, too, the fact that Democrats caved to the threat in 2004.  Precedent matters.

Now that we have the precedent, we can make some predictions.  Starting in Part IV!  There's only so much I can write in one morning.  I try to do these over my coffee, and there's only so much coffee I can drink.

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

On the rock side of country, but for semi-obvious reasons, I'm sticking with the Alabama thing.

For traditionalists, here's this...

Yes, it is possible to have a sincere love of John Coltrane, and country music.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

You know, it takes a lot of obscure musical knowledge to be able to come up with genre-specific joke references across multiple genres every week.  And people ignore the jazz posts...  Philistines.

The future of the filibuster: Part II (Shoes, unlike raincoats, aren't reversible)

Welcome back for Part II in "The future of the filibuster."  Right now, I see the future of the filibuster as pretty bleak.  In Part I, I talked about how the Senate walked right up to the edge of the nuclear option until a group of 7 Senate Democrats caved in 2005, but next came the 2008 election.  Barack Obama became President.  Those 2004 Republicans who insisted that the Constitution required a straight up-or-down vote on all judicial nominees?  They began denying "unanimous consent" on many of Obama's nominees.  A "unanimous consent agreement" is how you impose a time limit on debate in the Senate.  The consequence was to require cloture votes.  Many of those same Senators would then vote no on cloture.  However, the 2008 election gave the Democrats 59 Senate seats, and when Arlen Specter switched from the Republicans to the Democrats, the party had enough to invoke cloture on a party line vote.  Even when they lost their 60th vote from Ted Kennedy's death, they could usually count on a defection or two from Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, or one of the other few remaining moderates to get a nominee through.  Slowly, but the nominees could usually get through.  Still, Obama had more nominees blocked than George W. Bush.

Reid faced pressure to use the nuclear option.  After all, Republicans threatened the nuclear option for less, but Reid didn't.

And then came 2013.  Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did something truly unprecedented.  He announced that the entire Republican Party would stand unified to block Obama from filling any vacancies on the Third Circuit.  They would filibuster, as an entire party, any nominee, no matter who they are.  No Third Circuit appointees for Obama.  That's the court right below the Supreme Court.  Majority Leader Harry Reid had a choice.  Either let the Republicans have complete control of the second-most important court in the country, or go nuclear.

Here, I apply the concept of "common knowledge of rationality" from game theory, best explained by this classic scene from The Princess Bride.

The problem with Vizzini's attempt to solve the battle of wits is that he can't game it out that way.  Infinite regress.  I am rational.  You are rational.  I know that you know, you know that I know, and so forth.  There is no end point, so you can't solve the game by picking an arbitrary end point.

What does this have to do with Mitch McConnell?  He had to know that Reid couldn't let the Republicans take complete control of the Third Circuit, so he had to know that his maneuver would force Reid to use the nuclear option.  Therefore, he must have wanted Reid to use the nuclear option.  Why?  Well, we'll have to come back to that...

But Reid did it.

Harry Reid threw out the fucking rule book.  He announced that the Senate rules required only a bare majority for cloture when debating court nominees below the Supreme Court, or executive branch confirmations.  Is that what the actual text of the rules say?  Fuck no.  But, might makes right.  "Might" being defined as 51 votes.  Republicans "protested" (having forced Reid's hand), demanded a vote on the ruling, which passed, and now we have a post-nuclear Senate.


Of course, the fact that Reid didn't nuke the filibuster completely is why we are debating the future of the filibuster.  And that's why this is a series.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The future of the filibuster: Part I

Time for another series.  I keep getting this one, and it is complicated.  Will the filibuster survive, in any form?  Despite recent reports that Hatch and others want to keep it, I doubt it.

So first, how we got here.  Ending debate in the Senate requires a "cloture motion," which requires 3/5, not a majority.  Calling a vote requires ending debate.  So, you can block anything in the Senate by refusing to allow debate to end.  That's the filibuster.  You can broaden the definition of filibustering to include any other form of "dilatory motion," which basically just means being a procedural douchebag and using every trick in the book to drag things out as much as possible to delay or stop anything from happening, but let's stick with the endless debate version for now.

Judicial filibusters became a big issue in 2004 under George W. Bush, when the Democrats began filibustering a few nominees for federal courts below the Supreme Court, whom they viewed as too conservative.  The Republican majority in the Senate objected because this was an extension of the filibuster that was unusual, although part of a general increase over time in the use of the filibuster.  At the time, Senate Republicans claimed that the Constitution required every nominee to get a straight up-or-down vote.  (Note that as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Clinton was President, Orrin Hatch refused to act on several of Clinton's nominees, thereby preventing them from getting votes in actions that were not filibusters, but, well...).  The solution?  The "nuclear option," which many Republicans at the time called, "the constitutional option."  The Senate Majority Leader at the time, Bill Frist, would ask then-Vice President Dick Cheney (President of the Senate, by the Constitution) to issue a ruling on whether or not the rules of the Senate permitted the filibuster for judicial nominees.  Even though the rules clearly did, Cheney could say otherwise.  Democrats could object.  Cheney's ruling would be put to a vote.  Upholding Cheney's vote, though, only required 51 votes.  When the nuclear option was put on the table seriously in 2005, Republicans had 55 seats.  Changing the rules to let judicial nominees get through with a bare majority would require 67 votes.  Invoking cloture required 60 votes.  Pretending the rules didn't exist?  That would only require 51 votes.

The situation ended when the "Gang of 14," consisting of 7 Democrats and 7 Republicans made a deal.  The 7 Democrats would vote for cloture on the controversial nominees, giving the Republicans a victory on all the main judges, and if the Republican leadership ever tried to go nuclear, even though they would no longer have a need, those 7 Republicans would vote no, thereby preserving the hypothetical filibuster under the hypothetical situation of maybe sometime kinda sorta they might think about letting the Democrats maybe filibuster.  Translation:  Democrats caved.

Boy, that nuclear option must be one helluva threat, right?  Nobody would ever push things that far, right?  Join us for Part II, when we discuss how views of the filibuster and the nuclear option are situation-dependent.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Trump, Pence, and... Jimmy Carter?

I have another new piece up at The Conversation.  This one is about how Trump will turn into Jimmy Carter on domestic policy if he doesn't let Pence act as his liaison with Congress.  The Conversation seems to have decided that any time they want a piece written on Pence, I'm the one to do it.*

This is actually a pretty clear extrapolation from a point I've been making since back in March.  See here and here.  If you want to understand Trump, read Nelson W. Polsby's Consequences of Party Reform.  I'll just add a few brief comments about the oddity of how relatively strong the president is on foreign policy, and how relatively weak the president can be legislatively.  Yes, Trump really could be a Carter legislatively, unable to convince Congress to impose the tariffs he wants, while sending the military around the world with nobody to stop him.  Chain of command versus checks and balances.  The War Powers Resolution of 1973 gives the President 90 days, effectively, to do whatever he wants with the military before Congress imposes any limits, and that's before we talk about nukes, which don't pass through the generals the same way.  Oh, and do those restrictions mean anything in the wake of Syria and Libya anyway?

So, yes, Trump might really turn into Jimmy Carter.  Legislatively.  On foreign policy?  Who knows?

*Did'ya know I predicted he'd be on the ticket back in April?  Did'ya? Huh? Huh?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Repealing Obamacare?

This is a tough one.  Obamacare is fully in effect.  Several million people are getting either tax subsidies to buy private health insurance, or Medicaid.  Repealing Obamacare would cut some people's tax rates and insurance rates, but take away health insurance entirely from millions more.  That is politically dangerous.

A year ago, I would have said that if Republicans got full control of the Presidency, House and Senate, they would have done the following.  First, they would have asserted that Obamacare is a cancer that has metastasized to the point that it can no longer be repealed with a chainsaw.  It must be done carefully and surgically.  First step:  repeal the employer, but not the individual mandate.  The difference is obscure to some, but important, symbolically to some, economically to few.  After all, most employers with more than 50 people voluntarily provide health insurance anyway.  It is mostly about either symbolism or thresholds.  But, Republicans could claim it as a big win.  Then, repeal the medical device tax.  After that, it gets tricky.  Every month or two, repeal some tiny, obscure provision, make a big deal of it, and then let it fade away, saying that they are getting deep into the weeds and counting on the press and the populace to have the memories of goldfish.

Now?  The thing about a Trump victory is that it says to Republicans that they can get away with grabbing 'em by the pussy.  When you're the President, they let you do that.

In 2009, Democrats took control of the House, Senate and Presidency for the first time since 1993-4.  That was the first time for them since Carter.  This time around, Trump was predicted to lose by most analysts.  And if he is the disaster that he could well be, that could spell long-term trouble for the Republicans.  Opportunities for major policy change are rare.  Democrats took the opportunity to pass Obamacare in 2010, recognizing the rarity of the opportunity.  They paid a heavy electoral price.

So, there are two ways to think of this.  First, Trump's victory, combined with the fact that Democrats paid a heavy price to pass Obamacare might mean Republicans can actually repeal it with fewer electoral costs than one might have expected.  Just be brazen.  Alternatively, Republicans may be screwed anyway, particularly if Trump is a disaster in other ways, so they may as well take their last opportunity to get rid of Obamacare along the way.  Either way, these opportunities are few and far between, so repeal it now.  Put another way, what's the point of campaigning if they just twiddle their thumbs and diddle their interns rather than actually passing legislation?

So, will Republicans actually repeal Obamacare?  A year ago, I would have said no way.  Now?  Haven't I been burned before with that kind of blanket prediction?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Populism is bullshit

As we continue to... grope for explanations for last Tuesday, the word, "populism," continues to bubble to the surface, just as it did with Brexit.  It is kind of a bullshit label, if nothing else for its imprecision.

Is Trump a populist?  That depends on how you define the term.  Obviously.  That's true for any label.

Etymologically, the term derives from the notion that the candidate/party/movement is set on the side of the populace, in opposition to an elite, as though the political system is a dichotomy.  That dichotomous view of politics is shared ironically by both Karl Marx and Ayn Rand, who simply disagreed on whether the monied class was on the side of good or evil.  Trump's policies are as beneficial to the non-elite, in that dualistic view, as any other Republican, unless we view trade protectionism as inherently more beneficial to the non-elite.  Could one argue that?  Yes, but trade protectionism also raises prices and hurts exports, so that necessitates an economic argument and shouldn't be granted the label of "populist" automatically.  As for whether or not Trump's background makes him a man of the people, um...

Of course, there was an actual "populist movement."  It was a late-19th Century movement built around farmers, the silver vs. gold thing, William Jennings Bryan, blah, blah, blah.  Does Trump have any connection to that?  Perhaps tangentially, in that he kept promising to revive doomed industries, but that's sort of like defining populism as either the leadership of lost causes or hucksterism.

When people say "populism" today, though, they frequently mean, "racism."  It is kind of strange.  The movements that get labeled "populist" are frequently vaguely "nationalist," which are frequently, well, ethno-nationalist, and so forth.  The connection is tenuous, but not entirely accidental.  The basis is the idea that the majority of the population is, by definition, well, a majority.  Which minorities, then, are we talking about?  Elites or racial and ethnic ones?  (Or, as they are perceived by hardcore racists, is it all the same?)  Hence the historical connection between "populism" and racism.  Trump earned David Duke's endorsement, but as I have written before, the underlying politics of race are more complicated at the party level.  Regardless, if you want to call someone a racist, just call him a racist.  Fuck euphemisms.

Let's get down to brass tacks, though.  Populism, at its core, is about reflecting the populace, if the term is to have any real meaning.  The will of the people.  Ain't no such thing, kids.  Three people, 1, 2 and 3.  Three options: A, B and C.  How does each person rank them?  Here are their preference orders.  Person 1's first choice is A, then B, then C.  Person 2's first choice is B, then C, then A.  Person 3's first choice is C, then A, then B.  Watch this, and then let your head spin.

How does the group rank A relative to B?  The group prefers A to B because persons 1 and 3 both prefer A to B.  Now, how does the group rank B relative to C?  The group prefers B to C because persons 1 and 2 prefer B to C.

So, the group prefers A to B, and the group prefers B to C.  The group should prefer A to C, right?

Do they?


They don't.  Persons 2 and 3 prefer C to A.  Therefore, the group prefers C to A.

The group prefers A to B, B to C, and C to A.  Yup.  That's fucked up.  The will of the people?  No such thing.  You can't reflect the will of the people when there ain't no such thing.  No candidate can ever represent the nonexistent will of the people.

There's no such thing as a populist candidate.  Populism is bullshit.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Questions for the media in the Trump era

Donald Trump portrayed himself as the victim of a media conspiracy.  The media hated him.  And yet, at many points throughout the campaign, they made decisions that benefited him.

1.  How do the media decide how much time to give to any one scandal?  (Yes, "do" not "does."  Latin).  Compare the amount of press coverage to the email "scandal" and to Trump University, for example.  One will go to trial.  The other won't.  That requires some media introspection.  Yes, Comey forced the press at the last minute with his bullshit violation of DoJ policy, but there was a lot of coverage beforehand of the email stuff, even when the press knew there was no "there" there.  On the other hand, Trump University was a scam, and everyone knows it.  Trump probably used money from the Trump Foundation "charity" to bribe Pam Bondi to call off a criminal investigation in Florida.  That is at least highly plausible.  Which got more media attention?  Some media introspection is probably in order.

2.  Polls consistently showed that voters believed Trump to be the more honest candidate, even though, well, no.  PolitiFact has problems, but they can at least convey how asymmetric the lying was.  How do the media convey the reality when one candidate is as shameless and brazen as Trump?  If voters thought that Trump was more honest, the media failed.  Period.

3.  Is there a point to the debates?  My analogy is as follows.  A law firm brings in a group of job candidates.  At some point during the interview, each interviewee is handed a violin and asked to play some Bach.  The task of debating is unrelated to the task of presidentin'.  At no point in Obama's term has he been asked to do what he did on the stage with either McCain or Romney.  Never.  It just isn't part of the job.  Clinton destroyed Trump.  Three times.  And apparently it didn't matter.  And this has happened before.  Kerry destroyed Bush.  And it didn't matter.  Why do we do this?

Because the media need something to cover, and because we have done it in the past.  This is a media spectacle that doesn't appear to me to serve any purpose.

4.  How should the press conduct interviews?  People like Trump, in particular, are a problem.  I've been comparing him to the Andy Kaufman character of Tony Clifton for a while, which makes interviewing him a challenge.  He's a performer who never breaks character.  Trump is an extreme example, but the more disciplined candidates get, the more pervasive the problem gets.  Clinton herself was pretty disciplined.  Try getting a straight answer out of her on the email server issue.  Yes, it was a bullshit scandal, but the real deal is that it was driven by her personal paranoia, which she couldn't admit in an interview, for obvious reasons.  This is pervasive, and the press needs to figure it out as candidates become more disciplined.  Yes, I just called Trump disciplined.  It takes a form of discipline to never break character.

5.  What should the role of the press be?  In traditional views, there is a tension between the idea that the press should be a neutral provider of information, and a watchdog in the muckraking tradition, hostile to all power.  Is there anything unique and different about Donald Trump, though?  Yes.  Let's not delude ourselves about this.  Donald Trump has threatened to work to open libel laws against journalists who criticize him, threatened to go after Jeff Bezos because the Washington Post was critical of him, yanked press credentials for organizations whose coverage he didn't like, had a campaign manager-- Corey Lewandowski-- who assaulted a journalist, who regularly leads rallies that border on calls for violence against the press, and who idolizes Vladimir Putin.  Is the normal, watchdog role of the press sufficient in this situation?  Or, does Trump's behavior necessitate a more hostile response from the press?

6.  What can Trump do to the press?  Realistically, very little.  Yes, the voters just gave nuclear weapons to an impulsive, vengeful, idiot child who doesn't understand nuclear deterrence.  Yes, you should worry about that.  But, we have a constitutional system in which the president, despite his love of telling people, "you're fired!" cannot simply fire civil servants to force them to do whatever he wants.  The president has a great deal of power, but this is not 1930's Germany and Donald Trump, unlike Hitler, is a fucking idiot.  Journalists are not in any direct, serious, immediate danger.  They do, however, have to worry about access to information.  At this point, everyone should read an old book by Bernard Cohen called The Press and Foreign Policy.  Old and largely outdated, what remains relevant is that the press is still dependent on the White House for information on international security issues.  This is a problem for those journalistic outlets who are critical of Trump.  They still need access to the White House, and Trump can cut them off.  See 5.  That matters.

There are a lot of questions and concerns for the press going forward.  There are a lot of questions and concerns period.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Saturday, November 12, 2016

What if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee?

As the Democrats form their circular firing squad, here come the inevitable Sanders-would-have-won arguments.  They are based on weak to no evidence, and frequently logically inconsistent.

Let's start with the logical inconsistency.  The standard first argument about Sanders is as follows.  Clinton entered the race as a weak nominee on the basis of her high unfavorable ratings.  It varied over time, but by the end, RCP put her average unfavorable rating 12.6 points higher than her average favorable rating.  Sanders, throughout the primaries, had better net favorables.  So, the argument goes, he would have been a better candidate.

There's a big, glaring logical hole in this argument.  Clinton lost to a candidate with worse ratings.  Trump's unfavorables were 21 points higher than his favorables at the end!  So, why do we think that the candidate with the higher favorable rating will do better?  We shouldn't.  It's just nonsense.

Say it with me again, folks.  Alan Abramowitz was right.  The "Time for a change" predictive model works.

Next, what everyone forgets about Clinton's supposed weakness is that, from around 2009 through 2012, she was more popular than Obama.  By far.  Why?  Once it became clear that Obama had won the nomination in 2008, Republican leaders started speaking nicely about Clinton, hoping to peel off some of her disaffected supporters.  Then, she had a relatively non-partisan role as Secretary of State.  She was widely lauded as Secretary of State, and held in high public regard as a result.  Observe.

That didn't start to change until, say it with me, "Benghazi!!!!!!!"  Remember, you have to pronounce all of those exclamation points.

If unlikability were an intrinsic quality of Clinton, her numbers wouldn't have been so high in 2011.  Rather, this shows that a figure's favorable/unfavorable numbers can be brought higher or lower depending on the level of attack.

Which brings me to Bernie Sanders.  Since this blog hasn't been around that long, I don't have long-time readers, but short-time readers know that I really don't have a shred of respect for Bernie Sanders, and never did.  Let's ignore his favorability numbers throughout the primary since Clinton lost with higher favorability numbers than Trump.  The simple question is this.  Sanders supporters insist, without evidence, that he had some magic juju to withstand negative campaigning.

What would an anti-Sanders campaign look like?

There is one valid point, but it is pure hindsight.  No Comey.  James Comey fucked Hillary Clinton in direct violation of DoJ policy.  There were a lot of other things going on in that campaign, but let's not overlook James Comey.  With Sanders as the nominee, that wouldn't have happened.  However, if you bet against your opponent drawing an inside straight, that's a smart bet, even if it does happen, causing you to lose.  Comey fucked Clinton in violation of DoJ policy, but that's hindsight.

What we do know about campaigns, though, is that ideological extremists are at an electoral disadvantage.  This has been measured over and over and over again.  Basic cite:  Ansolabehere, Snyder & Stewart, American Journal of Political Science 2001.  That's the obvious one, off the top of my head about Congress, but there are too many to list.  If anyone actually requests, I'll put up a full bibliography.  But, it's Saturday morning, and I'm typing off the top of my head.  Sanders is more extreme than Clinton.  Period.  That's measurable and known.

Next, Sanders calls himself a socialist.  Do I really have to explain how that would play in a general election?

And here's the final thing.  Sanders is completely untested as a candidate.  Nobody has ever run a serious, negative campaign against him.  Clinton treated him with the most gentle, kid gloves imaginable.  Why?  Because apparently, she had to treat his supporters as skittish, little woodland animals who could be scared away at the slightest movement.  And if the convention was any indication, she was right.  I'm sure Sanders supporters felt mortally wounded by any marginally negative comment Clinton ever made during the course of the primary, but compare whatever such comments may have been to what Trump said about Clinton.  Be serious.  Sanders has never been subjected to a real, negative campaign.  And yet, Sanders supporters somehow insist that he possesses some magic juju that makes him immune to negative campaigning, and whatever Trump would have said about him would have bounced off of his magic hippy armor in a puff of flowery pot smoke and spread love and peace to the world.

So, I've got this pile of dry tinder.  It cannot bern.  I mean, burn.  No matter how hard you try, it will never be set aflame.  How can you tell?  Well, look!  It's not on fire!  Observe the total lack of flaminess!  What?  Have I ever tried to light it on fire?  NOOOOO!  Don't you DAAARE threaten my precious pile of dry tinder!!!!  But it's immune to fire!  So, when walking into a burning building, spread it all over yourself, and you'll be safe!  See, cuz it's magic and immune to fire, which you can tell, cuz it's not on fire!

So, to sum up:  Sanders' favorability ratings meant very little because a) favorability ratings are fleeting and subject to political pressure, b) the candidate with the higher favorability ratings lost, c) Sanders had never been tested in a campaign, d) he was more ideologically extreme, making him weaker, e) the "socialist" label is plenty of ammunition outside the context of a Democratic primary, and f) the inability of the Sanders supporters to handle criticism of Sanders might undo the candidacy anyway.

Is there historical precedence for a Trump candidacy?  Nope.  What about Sanders?  Yup.  McGovern.  Dude lost to Nixon, who is probably the closest analog to Trump, in a landslide.

Saturday music: If you don't love country, you hate 'mer'ca

"'mer'ca" is exactly what a lot of people hate right now, but fuck it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday music: If you don't love jazz, you hate America

Yeah, I'm sticking with this.

Real and imagined dangers of a Trump Presidency

Yes, this is happening.  There are some very fake dangers, and some very real dangers.  Let's separate them out.  I'm not going to address tax policy, the Supreme Court, Obamacare, or anything like that.  These are conventional policy issues.  Argue about them at the Thanksgiving dinner table with your drunken relatives.

Bullshit worries

1)  A massive deportation force
Trump claims that he wants to deport the millions upon millions of illegal immigrants in the country.  Doing so would require a massive army roving the country, gestapo-style, to hunt down anyone who might be illegal, haul them off, check their status, etc.  Disaster, obviously.  Also, no way.  Why?  Congress.  Would Trump do it on his own, if he could?  Maybe.  Nobody knows because nobody knows how to parse any of Trump's bullshit.  But, think of the financial cost and number of people who would have to be brought in to make this happen.  Then, think of the opposition from every industry dependent on illegal immigrant labor.  Think of the cost of food afterwards.  Think of the lobbying pressure that will be brought to Congress.  You know what Congress is really good at?  Delaying, and ultimately doing nothing.  This is bullshit.  Trust in Congress to delay and do nothing, regardless of Trump.  An increase in border patrols?  Sure, but a massive force to roam the country?  No way.

2)  Tariffs and full-blown trade wars
Trump wants to threaten tariffs to punish other countries and start trade wars.  That would be massively stupid and destructive.  He can't do that on his own.  That requires Congress.  See 1.  Add to that Congress's hatred of taxation and the rest of the Republican Party's belief in free trade.  Did you ever think you would be thankful for Congress's default inaction?  Trump's ability to start a trade war will be very limited.

Real worries


Sorry, but this is fucking huge.  Nuclear weapons exist as a deterrent.  71 years ago, we used two atomic bombs to end WWII.  They were so fucking terrifying that they ended the war, and despite the fact that there are other countries in the world with nuclear weapons, nobody has been stupid enough to use them for 71 years.  Nobody.  They exist as deterrents.  If you have them, nobody sane attacks you (i.e., nobody but jihadis).  That's why North Korea will NEVER give them up.  That's why Iran wanted them.  We engaged in a cold war with the Soviet Union that never escalated into a hot war, despite proxy conflicts.  Why?  Because with nuclear weapons on the table, you don't do that.  The risks are too high.  Nuclear weapons are deterrents, not weapons of attack.  Donald Trump doesn't understand that.  Donald Trump never will.  This is the Number 1 danger of a Trump presidency.  He thinks that a nuclear weapon is just a weapon of attack that can be used to fight a war and end a war, as in WWII.

So, suppose he thinks that he can solve all of our problems in the Middle East by dropping a nuke or two there?  He kept insisting that he had a secret plan that would be devastating...  If one of those nukes is aimed at Syria, how does Putin respond?

Even if Putin doesn't respond in kind, how does the world react?  Are we a rogue nation?  Does the world impose sanctions on us?  When the world imposed economic sanctions on South Africa for apartheid, the government collapsed eventually.  Best case scenario, the world just panics, and there is a global economic collapse.

What is the probability that Trump will stupidly launch a nuke?  2%?  3%  I don't know.  Maybe you are 97% sure that Trump isn't that stupid.  Any number other than 100% should scare you more than some phantom deportation force that Congress probably won't fund.  Remember, Trump does not need congressional authorization to launch nukes, and the generals, whatever they think, cannot intervene to stop it.  When that order is given, it is followed.  Period.  If Trump decides to launch even one missile, even on impulse, that's it.  That is what makes this different.  No checks.  No balances.

I cannot help but think of Dick Cheney's 1% Doctrine.  To clarify, I am NOT advocating anything.  I am analogizing.

2)  I could write more stuff, but, really?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How political science beat the polls in 2016

In my quick and dirty summary of 2016, I made the observation that anyone who just went with Alan Abramowitz's "Time for a Change" predictive model did far better than anyone who followed the twists and turns of the presidential campaign or the polls.  That isn't unique to 2016, and to push that point further, I've spent a bunch of time going through the shit I've said here.  I got a hell of a lot right before the general election campaign got going.  In other words, before I got distracted by the polls.  Back when I relied on political science.  Political science beat the polls.

In March, I declared the Republican primaries over.  While many of my contemporaries were still in the throes of Trump denialism, I was pointing out his inevitable nomination, and describing the contours of a Clinton-Trump general election contest.  Here are the main things I said.

1)  In a March 17 post, I basically called it a toss-up.  I'm not sure why I didn't mention that the Democrats had already won two contests in a row, which tilts things Republican, and informs the Abramowitz model, but whatever.  I pointed out that the economy was in shaky territory, Trump's ideological incoherence could help him, slow mobilization of minorities could hurt Clinton (and we now suspect did), Trump supporters would be enthusiastic, leading to turnout effects, and money would be a wash, as it always is.  Therefore, a toss-up race.  Tied at the national level.  When undistracted by polls, as I was back in March, I kind of nailed it.

2)  In a March 21 post, just four days later, I wrote that polls might systematically underestimate Trump's support because of the "Bradley effect," in which respondents don't want to admit their support for a candidate.  Trump's record of, let's admit it, racist and misogynistic behavior make him someone with whom you might not want to be associated, if you don't want people to think you are OK with racism and misogyny.  As we now know, the polls were systematically wrong.  Nailed it.

OK, to be fair, we don't know yet that this was a Bradley Effect.  A lot of work is left to be done on what happened to the polls.  There is also the possibility that the pollsters just got the "likely voter screen" wrong, and failed to figure out who was likely to show up on election day.  The issue I have with that possibility is the consistency of the error rates.  Some states had bigger error rates than others.  Wisconsin!!!  But, there was a lot of consistency between most states' error rates in the polling averages.  There is work left to be done, but I suspect some Bradley effects somewhere in the data.  Dissertations and books will undoubtedly be written on the topic.

3)  In a March 25 post, a few days later, I got something very, very wrong.  Why?  I left political science and started bullshitting.  I speculated that Trump, as an entertainer and businessperson, might display some chameleonic tendencies and change for the general election.  Nope.  He won anyway.  As Trump would say, "WRONG!"  Why was I wrong on this?  It wasn't political science.  It was just punditry.  Do you see what happens, Larry?

There's plenty more, obviously, because I post something every morning.  Why?  This whole thing is basically a writing exercise for me.  Thanks for indulging my narcissism.  Regardless, that set of stuff in March jumped out at me as worthy of revisiting.  Political science works.  Bullshit doesn't.  Oh, and yes, Alan Abramowitz is a badass, while Nate Silver just does guitar face.  No, I'm never letting up on that.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Popular vote tallies in an electoral college system are bullshit

Yesterday, before we found out that all of our polling data were worthless piles of infectious biological waste, I posted this about misleading claims regarding the electoral college.  Here's another one.  Yes, the electoral college is bullshit, and obviously, one party is more likely to be unhappy with it than the other right now.


The popular vote tally isn't just legally irrelevant.  It is also analytically meaningless.  You cannot assume that the popular vote would have turned out the same way if the election had been held under a nationwide popular vote rule.  The social science term is the "counterfactual."  What if the world had been otherwise?  If the Constitution specified a nationwide popular vote, the candidates would have behaved differently, and likely so would voters.  Turnout is often higher in competitive states, and the candidates make no effort to boost turnout among supporters in solid states like California or Texas.  That wouldn't be the case if the election were held under a nationwide popular vote.  Many things would be different under the counterfactual.

Who would have come out on top if the campaign had occurred under that rule?  We have no way to know when the nationwide popular vote was so close.  That doesn't mean the electoral college doesn't distort things.  But, you cannot assume that Clinton would have won if the election had been held under a nationwide popular vote because the campaign would have played out differently.

On rigged elections and if the shoe were on the other foot...

I credit my wife with this observation.

Donald Trump won because the polls were wrong.  If Clinton had outperformed the polls, Trump would have cited that as evidence of a rigged election and refused to concede.

A cold, level-headed analysis from a political scientist about what the FUCK happened

1)  Throughout the latter part of the campaign, I have written that Trump's chances have depended on one of two things:  either an intervening event, or massive polling failure.  Both happened.  The polls were wrong across the board.  Clinton's nationwide lead didn't hold.  Trump outperformed across all states.  Massive polling failure.  Why?  That will take time to figure out.  But, we also had an intervening event.  Comey's announcement of the reopened FBI investigation undoubtedly helped Trump in the polls, and the Sunday announcement that it was all bullshit was probably too late to reset the race.  So, while I was predicting a Clinton victory, both of my conditions for a Trump victory materialized.

2)  I began the Nate Silver is full of shit series excoriating Silver for overestimating Trump's chances in mid-October.  In that first post, I posed the question of how I would respond in the case of a Trump victory.  Here was the critical quote:
Now, Trump could still win, in which case there are universes branching out from here with President Trumps, where I revisit this post.  What will I say in those universes?  Perhaps something like this:  "OWWW!  It really hurt when those monkeys came flying out of my ass!" 
Or, more realistically, "wow, that was some crazy shit when they perp-walked Clinton," or a more somber comment on a terrorist attack, because that's probably what it would take at this point to save Trump's candidacy.
Basically, yup.  Comey didn't make her do the perp walk, but yup.  He announced that he had re-opened the investigation into the email issue.  And her polling lead collapsed.  Of course, the polls were bullshit too, but that's another mater...

3)  Let's talk more about my "Nate Silver is full of shit" series, and who beat Silver.  Alan Abramowitz.  In Nate Silver: Master of statistical guitar face, I pointed out that, while Nate Silver gave Trump a somewhat higher probability of victory than other prognosticators as of October, (and  a higher probability than I did), Abramowitz's "Time for a Change" model predicted a Trump victory, and if Trump won, we should call him a badass.  Trump won.  Abramowitz is a badass.  He predicted Trump's victory based on June data (well, his model did, but even Abramowitz doubted it).  And his model is always right.  This was the first year that I have ever doubted Alan Abramowitz's model.  I will never doubt it again.  Here's how it works.  Three variables:  GDP growth in the second quarter of the election year, presidential approval, and a "time for a change" variable that penalizes the party that has won two elections in a row, as the Democrats had going into 2016.  Fuck Nate Silver.  Abramowitz's model called this thing months ago.  My only mistake was that, for the first time ever, I doubted it.  I will never doubt it again.  I repent my sins.  Hail Alan.

Repeat after me:  I will never doubt Alan Abramowitz's "Time for a Change" model again.

4)  Not that this matters much, but that Slate decision to release exit polls?  Yeah, fuck that.  Votecastr was wrong all day.  Fuck them.  Everyone was wrong.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The electoral college is bullshit, but not for the reasons you think

As election day proceeds, so far without incident (did I just jinx it?) much of the whining across news sites is about which voters matter, and which voters don't.  Cue the whining about the electoral college.

So, let's get this straight, folks.  The electoral college is bullshit.  Nobody designing an electoral system on the basis of "first principles" would create the electoral college.  It is a kludge, created at the Constitutional Convention to get the states to ratify the Constitution.  No electoral college, no Constitution, and hence no country.  That still means the system is idiotic.

However, not for the reasons you think.

I live in Ohio.  Why?  Because they won't let me teach at Case Western Reserve University from a beach on Maui.  That doesn't mean I matter.  Any one voter is irrelevant.  Any one voter has zero chance of swaying the outcome of a presidential election.  We are all, each of us, gnats who could disappear without the country ever noticing.  I occasionally pop up on national tv or write a book, and that's still true for me.  One voter won't sway an election.  That's what happens when the population of the country approaches 325,000,000.  Even in Florida in 2000, the final tally had Bush ahead by 537 votes.  One voter flipping would have reduced the margin to 535.  So, no, living in Ohio doesn't mean I matter more than a voter in California.  Neither of us matter.  I'm OK with that, and you should be too.  Otherwise, you are demanding too much power over a country with 325,000,000 people in it.  Get over yourself and stop demanding power over everyone else.

And as a state, California is factored into the electoral college.  California gets 55 electoral votes.  Clinton will win them.  California is relevant.  Without those electoral votes, Clinton would be toast.  So, those of you in solid blue states like California, quit your fuckin' whining.  Those of you in solid red states like Texas, same deal.  Your states matter.  You don't matter, but neither do I.  Why?  325,000,000.

The electoral college is still stupid.  It is a screwed up mathematical aggregation system because of the Senate issue, arbitrary thresholds at the state level introduce distortions, and I could go on, but I won't bother today.  Regardless, living in Ohio doesn't make me relevant because Ohio won't be decided by one vote, and California, where I lived previously, is factored into the electoral college too, so quit whining.  If you are going to complain about the electoral college, do it properly.  The problems aren't what you think.  Maybe later I'll do a more rigorous critique.

It's not Friday, but this isn't quite jazz...

That was track 5.  Here's track 4...

What I will be watching today/tonight

1)  Slate.  They will be breaking the news embargo on exit polls, and releasing data throughout the day.  Why is this a big deal?  Florida 2000, of course!  After polls closed in the peninsula (Eastern time), but before they closed in the panhandle (Central time), the networks tried to call Florida based on exit polls, and some speculated that this may have depressed turnout in the panhandle.  That's when the news organizations really cracked down on the exit poll embargo.  This year, Slate is just going to do data dumps throughout the day, in real time.  Ethical?  Who cares?  I'll be checking them obsessively.

2)  New Hampshire.  If Clinton wins New Hampshire, so much for Trump's chances, and their polls close early.  So, even if Slate doesn't screw everything up for everyone, we can still tell pretty early if Clinton locks this thing up, even without the usual key states of Florida and Ohio.

3)  The Senate.  I haven't been bothering to talk about it, because, well, Trump, but if Clinton wins with a Republican Senate, Supreme Court chaos.

More to come...

Monday, November 7, 2016

Warnings on how political scientists will interpret/explain Trump

I started this pretentious, little blog with a series called "Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead," detailing all of the ways that Donald Trump's rise broke all of our cherished, little models.  So, as we begin to grapple with tomorrow's result, whatever that may be, I'll give you, my very, very few readers, some advanced warning on the inevitable bullshit that my profession will spew.  None of us understand 2016, nor what it really means.  Hopefully, we will in the not-too-distant future, but right now, we still have work to do, extracting our heads from our collective recta.  Three warnings, in particular, stand out.

1)  Be wary of any explanation that is purely "institutionalist," meaning one that excludes voters from the process.  Trump won the nomination because voters-- Republicans-- liked him.  He got this far because those voters stuck with him.  Any examination of the Trump phenomenon that writes voters out of the process in favor of jargonistic handwaving about institutional features of the political system is bullshit.

To this end, Julia Azari at least makes some progress in this Mischiefs of Faction piece.  Yes, that blog functioned a bit like the Politburo for The Party Decides, AKA, the wrongest book ever written on party politics, but Azari never drank the kool-aid.  And, in her piece, she at least begins to build in voters.  For my money, she still oversimplifies in some critical ways, leading to...

2)  Be wary of any explanation that doesn't grapple with party asymmetry.  Clinton for all her many, many, faults, is basically a normal politician.  However, right before the first Comey announcement, I posted this joking that we weren't actually having a presidential election this year.  The presidential election looked more like one of those 2010 Senate races with Christine O'Donnell or Sharron Angle.  Here's the thing, though.  Which party nominated each of those candidates?  If, as Azari claims, the problem is the gap between the strength of our partisanship and the weakness of our party institutions, then the Democrats should be just as capable of nominating these kinds of asshats.  So, either the problem is within the Republican Party rather than truly institutional and pervasive, or the Democrats could just as easily have nominated a Trump-like figure.

In terms of party asymmetries, then, I return to one of my very first posts.  Grossman & Hopkins keep arguing that the Republican Party, unlike the Democrats, care about ideological purity, which is why they behave differently.  Oh yeah?!  Then why did they nominate the most ideologically impure candidate of the field?  Watch those party asymmetries and ask yourself:  where are the Democratic Trumps?

3)  Be wary of ex post facto arguments.  Here's a fun little one from the authors of The Party Decides.   Yeah, they're the ones whose model said Trump shouldn't have had a chance, and I've been picking on them since I started this blog.  Deservedly so.  Finally, they have come around to the position that maybe good, ole' Nelson Polsby has something valuable to say on the topic of nominations.  As in, party reform, post-68, gave power to the voters to tell the party muckety-mucks to go fuck themselves, leading to the rise of candidates that they can't control, and this, maybe better than The Party Decides, explains nominations in the current era.  Hmmmmmmm......   It seems to me like I started writing that a while back...  Like, back in March.  I don't even know where to start, so I'll just pick on one egregious line:
Yet we do not wish to be too hard on Party Decides. Its account of nominations in the period 1980 to 2004 remains, in our view, sound.
Aside from the line about not wanting to be too hard on their own book, I'll note the time frame for which they give themselves credit.  Note that they don't take credit for doing well in either 2008 or 2012?  I actually think their model did a mediocre-at-best job in 2004, but, well, take a look at my original critique of their success/failure record.  They just never impressed me.  At least they finally started reading Nelson Polsby.  A bit late.

Political science got a lot very, very wrong this year.  We don't know why.  But, a lot of smoke will be blown.  Be warned.

The big, unanswered questions before tomorrow

In the first post of the "Nate Silver is full of shit" series, I made a few remarks about the unlikelihood of Trump's victory as of October 14, and what I would say in the unlikely event of his victory from that vantage point.  Here's the quote:

Now, Trump could still win, in which case there are universes branching out from here with President Trumps, where I revisit this post.  What will I say in those universes?  Perhaps something like this:  "OWWW!  It really hurt when those monkeys came flying out of my ass!"
Or, more realistically, "wow, that was some crazy shit when they perp-walked Clinton," or a more somber comment on a terrorist attack, because that's probably what it would take at this point to save Trump's candidacy.

Well...  We didn't see a perp walk, but James Comey at least temporarily upended the race by announcing that the FBI had reopened the investigation into the email thing.  And now, it's closed!  With the election tomorrow!  Which means we have no time for polls to tell us if the new announcement undoes the damage of the initial announcement!  So, here are some big questions.

1)  How fast does information move?  How fast does it move to the very narrow slice of swing voters, and how fast does it move to likely Clinton voters who might just have stayed home and may still stay home?

2)  Does Comey's second announcement matter, or has he already reframed the election around Clinton rather than around Trump?  This is an election that the Democrats should lose.  Two Democratic victories in a row with a tepidly growing economy-- Clinton's lead is only because the Republicans were dumb enough to nominate Donald J. Trump, and by moving the focus away from him, Comey still helped the Republicans.

3)  Has the last week already had an effect on get-out-the-vote efforts on either side?  Remember, it could boost Republican efforts, if they had GOTV, the problem being Trump's lack of "ground game."

4)  With a race this crazy, can something happen today?

Basically, I make no claim to know the chances of how this shakes out tomorrow.  Clinton will probably win.  How are her chances?  Better than yesterday, worse than before Comey reopened the FBI case.  Without polling data, and without time to collect polling data, we are flying blind here.

So, as long as I am talking about a lack of polling data, that makes Nate Silver completely worthless today.  A major announcement happened last night.  We have no polling data, and we will get no polling data before the election.  There is no point in even checking his estimates.  The only sources for any quantitative estimates right now would be betting markets.  PredictWise currently puts Clinton at an 89% chance, which is right below where she stood before the Comey announcement.  Whatever.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Re-reassessing Comey after Clinton is cleared again

Well, that was fast.  The FBI has reached the conclusion that every serious analyst knew they would-- nothing on the Weiner computer will lead to charges against Clinton because of how the FBI arrived at the decision not to prosecute in the first place.  Comey has sent another update.  So, let's revisit my earlier post reassessing Comey's motives for announcing the reopened investigation.  Re-re-re-re, Santayana or something.

In that post, I argued that the best predictor of Comey's behavior was whatever hurt Clinton the most, but was legally defensible.  Does Comey's sudden announcement change that?  There are two possibilities.

1) Comey is on the level, and he informed Congress at each step in good faith.  When the Weiner computer came to light, he informed Congress, and when the investigation wrapped up, he informed Congress.

2) Comey was trying to hurt Clinton's campaign at the last minute (or, rather, 11 days before the election), but the FBI agents assigned to review the emails were more efficient than he expected, and he knew he couldn't sit on the fact that the investigation had essentially concluded.  So, his unexpectedly efficient team forced his hand.

If scenario 2 is correct, then Comey screwed up by announcing the re-opened investigation about two days too early at least.  Either that, or he really was on the level, and just looks like a jackass right now.

For what it's worth, here is the prediction market on Comey resigning by the end of the year.  If Clinton wins on Tuesday, and her odds just went up bigly, as Trump would say, watch Comey's resignation numbers go up.

The likelihood of major unrest because of Nevada

Yesterday, I posed a nightmare scenario of unrest on November 9.  Clinton pulls out a bare majority in the electoral college by winning Nevada, even though the polls have Trump leading there.  His current lead is 2 points in the RCP average.  If Nevada guru Jon Ralston is right, though, Trump is already toast there.  I'm skeptical, but let's go with that scenario.

If that all plays out, we get a perfect storm for rigged election claims.  The electoral college majority hinges on a state in which the polls and the vote tally diverge, which would signal to Trump supporters that something shifty is going on, which is exactly what he has been saying since the summer.

However, whether or not that plays out hinges on... Florida!  No, we can't get away from that damned state.  Here's the current RCP map, with no toss-ups.  That has Clinton at 297 electoral votes, with Florida colored blue because of Clinton's narrow lead in the polls there.  Take Florida's 29 electoral votes and give them to Trump and Trump hits the magic number of 270.  Say hello to President Trump.  Unless we switch Nevada from red to blue.  RCP's map has Nevada colored red because of Trump's 2 point lead in their average.  If Ralston is right and RCP's average is misleading, then even if Trump pulls out a Florida victory, Trump still loses.

So, let's check the betting markets on Florida.  PredictIt currently gives Trump around a 35% chance of winning Florida.  Nate Silver, who I keep saying is full of shit, gives Trump just over a 50% chance of winning Florida.  Silver still projects a Clinton victory from her holding onto NH, and I have no clue what happens in New Hampshire, but my basic point here is that, if we believe Ralston, we need to crunch some basic numbers.

Suppose Ralston is right.  Suppose NH is a total coin toss.  Suppose PredictIt is right on Florida (Clinton leads in the polls and Silver is, as I keep saying, full of shit), and suppose that Florida and NH are independent contests (wrong, but fuck it-- if NH really is a coin toss, we can treat it as independent, and I'm just trying to make a simple point).  Ignoring everything else and doing some very back-of-the-envelope calculations, the shitstorm scenario occurs if Trump wins NH and Florida, which occurs with probability .5*.35=.175.  So, right now, call it a 17.5% chance of a total shitstorm on November 9.  Using very rough math.  And that's assuming no terrorist attacks or other new messes.  Of course, if Silver is right about Florida (and Ralston is right, and NH is a coin toss), .5*.5=.25, and we've got around a 25% chance of all hell breaking loose.

I'm not trying to give you an exact probability of blood in the streets.  Just a ballpark estimate.  You can play around with the numbers yourselves, and maybe build in some degree of interdependence in the probabilities.

Sunday music: If you don't love bluegrass, you hate America

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Nevada, and a brutal, ugly prediction

Right now, the polls in Nevada show a narrow Trump lead.  However, the head honcho in Nevada prognostication says that ain't so.  Jon Ralston says that Trump will lose there, and what if he is right?  As I have been saying for the last few days, we just don't know the state of the race right now.

So, here's a very ugly scenario.  Trump wins New Hampshire, but Clinton squeaks out an electoral college victory with Nevada instead of New Hampshire in her column.  If that happens when there is a discrepancy between the polls and the final tally, we get something very ugly.

Last summer, I wrote a series called "Zero-sum politics" about how Trump's view of politics as a zero-sum game might lead to problems after a loss, but it would rest, in part, on whether or not Republicans accept the correctness of the polls.  If Trump is behind in the polls, Republicans accept the polls, and Trump loses, then everything is fine.  However, if Trump is at least thought to be winning, and then loses, trouble ensues on the basis of rigged-election claims.  If Nevada polls show a Trump lead and Clinton gets the Nevada victory, which tips the electoral college, be afraid.  Things get ugly on the basis of rigged-election claims.

Enjoy your weekend!

Reassessing James Comey's motives

On Monday, I posted something about James Comey's motives when he announced the reopening of the Clinton email investigation.  I gave it the most innocent interpretation possible-- the old "mini-max regret rule" from rational choice theory.  The idea is that you try to minimize the maximum amount of regret you would feel if things go wrong.  So, what if Clinton wins, then we find something on the Weiner/Abedin computer that leads to an indictment and everyone finds out that Comey sat on the information before the election?  That would suck for him.  To avoid that, make the information public, even though that means violating the Department of Justice rule against making announcements on investigations within 60 days of an election to avoid influencing elections.

Here, though, let's re-evaluate that.  Let's evaluate Comey's motives with... social science!  John Stuart Mill to the rescue!  Mill was famous for a lot of cool stuff, but for those of us on my side of the discipline, we still love "Mill's Methods."  It is a cool bundle of analytic techniques to help us with causal analysis.  Let's compare three different "independent variables," or potential causes that can explain Comey's behavior in general rather than any one, specific case:  the mini-max regret rule, the Department of Justice keep-your-fuckin'-mouth-shut-to-avoid-influencing-elections rule, and the screw over Hillary Clinton rule.

What would each rule have to say about the Weiner computer?  Well, the mini-max regret rule would lead Comey to make an announcement that the investigation has been re-opened.  Why?  See Monday's post.  The KYFMS rule is pretty clear cut.  The DoJ policy is not to say anything within 60 days of an election regarding investigations that might influence the election, and Comey was advised, by the Attorney General (an Obama appointee...) to follow that rule.  He was advised to wait until after the election to update Congress, which would have been both within the law and DoJ policy.  The SOHC  rule says to make the information public for obvious reasons.

Well, there's the problem, right?  The SOHC rule gives the same prediction as the MMR rule.  We need another case.  We have one!  Comey told the Feds that they shouldn't reveal that they had confirmed Russia's involvement in the DNC hacks.  His reasoning?  The KYFMS rule.  He said that it could influence the election.  Comey's worry was that if the DoJ confirmed that Russia is working to elect Trump, it could help... someone!  So, in the case of the Russia hacks, he wanted to apply the KYFMS rule.  But, what would the MMR rule have implied there?  Suppose Trump had won, then it had come out that Comey had quashed reports confirming Russia's work before the election on his behalf.  Wouldn't that have sucked for Comey?  The MMR rule in the Russia case would push him towards openness there too, and his willingness to disregard KYFMS should have been consistent.  So, what's the pattern?

This is how we do things with Mill's Methods.

Case Mini-max regret DoJ nonintervention Screw Clinton Comey’s action
Russia Speak Silence Silence Silence
Weiner computer Speak Silence Speak Speak

OK, see the pattern?  The "dependent variable" is Comey's action.  Which "independent variable" perfectly predicts Comey's action?  It's the SOHC rule.  Had Comey followed the MMR rule, he would have pushed for openness in the Russia hack case, and had he cared about the DoJ nonintervention rule that he cared about in the Russia case, he would have waited two weeks to reveal the Weiner computer.  On the other hand, if his goal is to screw over Hillary Clinton, reveal the Weiner computer stuff because it can hurt Clinton, but try to quash the Russia thing because it could have helped her.

Can Comey be convicted of a Hatch Act violation on the basis of this little table?  No fucking way.  But, it does make Comey look less like he did in my Monday post.  We then have the business of his announcement that the FBI wouldn't file criminal charges.  It is highly unusual for the Feds to make a statement that charges would not be filed and then to say that the person under investigation is also a terrible person who did terrible, terrible things and we should all hate them.  At the time, it looked like a rhetorical bone for the Republicans.  In the context of that Mill's Methods table above, it looks a lot like violating norms-- not laws but norms-- against Clinton.  As leaks continue to drip out of the FBI about investigations, we must remember this: the following statements are not incompatible:

1)  Clinton is sketchy.
2)  The Feds are out to get her in ethically sketchy ways.

There is absolutely no incompatibility between statements 1 and 2.

So, as we head into the final days of the worst election ever, I'll repost my passover-ish four questions for this election.  If you need to ask a jewish friend to explain it, do so.

1)  How is this election different from all other elections?
2)  On all other elections, we choose between a Democrat and a Republican.  Why, on this election, do we choose between a paranoid, secrecy-fetishist with a personal entitlement complex and a reckless, sociopathic, racist, misogynist demagogue?
3)  On all other elections, we get public servants.  Why, in this election, only scum?
4)  On all other elections, we only have to shower once after we vote.  On this election, why do we need to shower twice?

And for anyone who cares, I'll be doing Fox News today at around 2:00 Eastern, although I suspect that most of the readers here aren't regular Fox viewers.