Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tuesday music: If you only listen to American music, you just suck

I really should learn more about Chinese music.  Mongolian music doesn't count, but Tuvan music is cool.  Here's Huun Huur Tu.  60 Horses In My Herd, the full album.  Tuvan throat-singing is weird and cool.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Legal versus statistical reasoning on Kavanaugh

For many reasons, I am a statistically-trained political scientist, not a lawyer.  We'll skip the Shakespeare today, though.  Instead, let's take some time to go through some of the important differences between how statistical reasoning and how legal reasoning approach the issues with "Brett."

Let's start with the simplified version of a point I have already made.  Suppose we believe that there is a 50% chance that "Brett" committed the attack that Ford alleges.  Note that I am now shifting my language somewhat.  Under legal reasoning, that would constitute "reasonable doubt."  He would be acquitted.  Were we to have a serious confirmation process that properly assessed nominees, though, "Brett" would not be confirmed because a 50% chance of such an allegation being true is too high.  Some of us want Supreme Court nominees of... unimpeachable character, not ones who just manage to show "reasonable doubt."  Reasonable doubt is the standard by which you escape criminal conviction, not the standard by which you secure a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.  Acquittal does not mean innocence.  It means reasonable doubt.

What is the mathematical threshold for reasonable doubt?  Um...  Uh...  There, uh...  Yeah.  There's a reason lawyers say, "reasonable doubt," rather than "convict if probability of guilt is greater than p where p=.95," just to pull a social science number out of a hat.  How would one, or 12, ever put a number like .93 on the probability of guilt in any case?  Unless they hang the number entirely on assessment of DNA evidence, or something similar, that kind of quantification is just too hard in too many cases.  So, you have legal standards like "reasonable doubt," or, "preponderance of evidence" in civil cases.

Understanding what that means, though, clarifies the silliness of saying, "well, we can't convict Kavanaugh, so he must be confirmed."  A 25% Bayesian assessment of the chances of innocence realistically means reasonable doubt, but would you confirm someone to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court if there were a 75% chance of that person having committed a horrific crime?  25%  10%  Really?  Reasonable doubt is not the standard by which decent, intelligent people confirm Supreme Court nominees.  Insert comment about who is neither decent nor intelligent here.

This is the time for Bayesian statistical reasoning.  Updated assessments of the probability of guilt.  Start with Ford's therapist's notes.  Is that direct evidence of Kavanaugh's guilt, in legal terms?  No, but in Bayesian terms, once you have that piece of information, you update your assessment of the probability of his guilt upwards.  Legal versus statistical reasoning.  A court wouldn't give a shit about those notes because the therapist wasn't there.  It was years later.  A statistically trained mind cares.  It is more information, indicating that the claim is not just a political attack.  Enter Ramirez, the Yale student "allegedly" harassed at a party by "Brett."  We now have two separate claims.  Does one claim increase the probability that the other claim is true?  In Bayesian terms, once I have a second claim, I'm going to update my prior that the first claim is true upwards because it suggests a pattern.  In legal terms, one claim is not evidence that the other is true.  They're just two separate accusations.  Legal versus statistical reasoning.

Remember, though, that the issue here isn't the question of whether or not anyone can secure a criminal conviction.  The question is whether or not this is the guy who should be trusted with a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.  There's no "ruining his life," or any such bullshit.  If he doesn't get appointed, he stays a judge on the DC Circuit, which is not exactly a ruined life.

How certain do you want to be about people with that kind of power?  "Reasonable doubt" certain, or as certain as possible?  There is a time for legal reasoning, and a time for Bayesian reasoning.  Bayes' theorem.  It's a law too!

As for Bayesian assessments of "Brett's" chances, they're way down.  Here's the betting with Ramirez's story now public.  At this point, I have no clue.

Monday morning blues: If you don't love blues, you hate America

David Jacobs-Strain, "Take My Chances," from Ocean Or A Teardrop.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Who has more to lose if there is no Ford testimony?

It is still not clear whether or not Christine Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Since the Republicans on the Committee are all white men, and all hostile to Ford, they want to have a woman lawyer come in to interrogate Ford, which would be highly unusual, and Ford still calls bullshit on this.  Also, Grassley wants to let Kavanaugh speak second, so that when he tells blatant lies, as he no doubt will, she has no chance to rebut them.  This is a standard tactic in pseudo-investigative charades.  Anyway, until these details are worked out, we don't know if Ford actually will testify.  There is no real agreement.  Right now, we are facing a game of chicken.  Sort of.  Who blinks?

For all of the fancy game theory I study, it is amazing how often real politics are explained by the simple stuff, like "chicken."  You know chicken.  Two drivers, customarily piss-drunk, drive towards each other.  Whoever swerves is the chicken.  Whoever doesn't gets bragging rights.  Ideally, you don't swerve, and the other driver does.  Worst outcome is the disaster of the crash.  Obviously.  Second worst is to be the chicken.  You have to face humiliation.  By default, then, second best is if both drivers swerve.  You don't win, but if both drivers swerve, at least you're both chickens.  That's chicken.  There are two "Nash equilibria."  A Nash equilibrium is a set of strategies in which no one actor has an incentive to change strategies given what the other actors are doing.  The equilibria are the circumstances in which precisely one driver is swerving.  It's just a matter of figuring out who swerves.

In reality, though, a lot of the interesting analogs to chicken are games in which the "disaster" isn't that disastrous, or at least, not equally disastrous for everyone.  In chicken, that disaster pretty much sucks, which is why only drunken idiots do it.  Drunken idiots do a lot of things.  Which is not an excuse, "Brett."  Which is not an excuse!  Fuck you, "Brett."

Anyway, Ford wants to testify after "Brett" so that she has a chance to rebut that liar's lies, and she wants a normal Senate hearing, where the questions come from Senators.  If that creates the bad optics of a bunch of angry, old, white men harassing a rape victim, well, that's the Republican Party's fault for being the Republican Party.  Stop being that way, and you won't have to deal with the optics of a little thing I like to call, "reality."  Tell your optics-lawyer to go do something with herself, Chucky, and live with what you are.  Or better yet, change.  Oh, who am I kidding?  That ain't gonna happen.  Anyway, Ford prefers a normal hearing that reveals what the GOP is as clearly as possible.  Craven defenders of a rapist sack of shit, pulling the same crap they did to Anita Hill.  They'll still confirm "Brett," but she wants them to reveal themselves as fully as possible in the process.

Grassley?  His preferences are the opposite.  He wants to hide behind a female lawyer.  He doesn't think rape should be a crime and wants Ford to go back to the kitchen, or something.  But, he's also too much of a fucking coward to act publicly like what he is, because he knows how much backlash there will be if the bullying of Ford comes entirely from the white men leading the party of white men.  He wants to cower behind a woman.  Such a manly man, Chuck!

OK, so what about the disaster?  What about the scenario of no testimony?  The GOP confirms Kavanaugh having not heard testimony from Ford.  How bad is that?  Um... It gives them some bad news stories, which they spin as being Ford's fault for refusing to testify.  A few bad news cycles, at most before Trump's Trumpiness pushes it off the headlines with some new atrocity.  Politics junkies like me never forget it, but hey.  Thomas is still on the Court, and invocations of Anita Hill's name don't change the fact that he has a vote, has had a vote for decades, and will still have a vote for many years to come.  I don't see that as being that bad for the GOP.  They can walk away.

How bad is it for Ford?  She's already getting death threats.  How much worse can it get?  Particularly with whatever creature Grassley wants to unleash on her in his misogynistic cowardice?  (I was going to type, "attack dog," but caught myself because of certain linguistic patterns.  I have no compunctions about "creature" in this context, though.  Have no illusions about what the Senate GOP wants to do to Ford.  If you question my metaphors, ask Anita Hill.)  Yeah, she can walk away.  This is not something she needs in her life, particularly since the probability of this affecting the outcome is so low.  Right now, PredictIt puts "Brett's" chances at 2-1, but a) I think that underestimates his chances, and b) I don't know if his chances are dependent on testimony or something else.  Ford might potentially be able to make the GOP look bad for confirming a rapist, but I don't know if she can actually affect the probability of it.

That means both parties can walk away.  Neither have that much to lose if negotiations break down.  Chicken ends in a disaster when the parties each think the other will swerve.  This could very well go that way.  Right now, the GOP doesn't seem to be bending on whether the questions will be done by the misogynistic old men of the Senate GOP caucus itself, or the female lawyer behind whom they want to hide, for example.  Why not?  They're cowards who don't want to re-create the optics of the Anita Hill hearings, demonstrating what misogynistic scum they are.  Ford has nothing to gain by letting the female lawyer interrogate her.  That combination would mean no hearings.

In the end, though, remember that these hearings don't really matter.  There is no one in the Senate whose opinion will be dependent on what is said.  Anyone who wants to vote to confirm "Brett" will find a reason to do so in something he says, and find a reason to disregard Ford.  This is all theater.  It always is.

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

Jim Hurst and Missy Raines, "Nothing to Lose, from Two.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Kavanaugh, Keyser Soze, and why the GOP will prevail on most things in the long-run

When discussing the politics of a rapist, I think we need to let a rapist explain things.



It's all about having the will to do what the other guy won't do.  That's the criminal world.  The point of creating a civil society, through government, is to make that not be the case.  We try to create a society of laws so that the Hungarians' approach in The Usual Suspects doesn't work.  You try to do what the other guy won't do, and you get punished.  Not by Keyser Soze, but by the legal system.  OK, I'm not being original here.  This is basically Hobbes.  What do you want?  All the cool stuff has been written before.

The problem comes, then, when one party decides to take the Hungarians' approach to government itself.  You don't need numbers, you don't need anything but the will to do what the other party won't do.  And, there's no Hobbesian "Leviathan" stopping you because you are doing it to vie for control of that leviathan.  That's the point.  You win, and you are the beastie from the depths.

The will to do what the other guys won't.  Like put a fuckin' rapist on the Supreme Court just because you know that the rapist will side with your guy on executive power.  Thank you for explaining that will-to-power gangster thing, Mr. Rapist, sir.  (He really is a good actor, though.  Shame about how so many great artists are shitbags, but I've written enough about that before.)  Yes, "Brett" will probably be confirmed, and he will be confirmed for a few reasons:  1) the GOP doesn't care at all about rape, ever, 2) Trump can browbeat the party into nearly anything, 3) he hates losing, and 4) he wants someone who will take a maximalist interpretation of executive power.  Is it certain that "Brett" gets confirmed?  No, but McConnell is calling it a done deal.  Gee, it's almost as though his mind had been made up long ago, and he doesn't care what Ford has to say because he doesn't think rape should even be a crime...  Why would Ford ever think she isn't going to get a fair hearing?  Hmmm...

And the Supreme Court leads to the broader observation of party tactics.  One party would blockade a seat for an entire year and tell a president that he can't appoint anybody.  They don't care how qualified or moderate.  That would be the GOP.  McConnell specifically.  When Scalia croaked, the GOP decided that they would blockade his seat for a year, regardless of whom Obama nominated.  The posterboy for hypocrisy, Orrin Hatch, even said that Obama would be able to confirm Merrick Garland specifically, predicting, though, that it wouldn't happen.  Obama nominated Garland.  Hatch did his Orrin Hatch thing, backtracked like the master-hypocrite he is, and followed Mitch McConnell's will-to-power approach to controlling the Supreme Court by having the will to do what the other guy won't do.  Blockade the Supreme Court just 'cuz they can.

Let's be clear on this.  Nobody had ever done what Mitch McConnell did.  Nobody had ever really considered it.  They just did it.  Before Scalia's body was cold(er), McConnell said he didn't give a flying fuck whom Obama nominated, Obama alone in the history of presidents didn't get to fill Supreme Court vacancies 'cuz the GOP said so.  Not even if he nominated the one specific guy Orrin Hatch said he could nominate.

This is the will-to-power that will put "Brett" on the Supreme Court because they don't care that he's probably a rapist.  This is the will-to-power that eventually caved and backed Roy Moore.  Yes, the voters of Alabama actually decided to back a Democrat over him, but remember that Mitch McConnell didn't, and nobody in Republican leadership did.

As this is happening, Rod Rosenstein is preparing himself to get fired.  Why?  There is a good chance that he said something about the 25th Amendment and/or wearing a wire around Donny.  In jest or not, his job has been hanging by a thread for a while now, and once he's gone, along with Sessions, who gets fired right after the midterms, Mueller's investigation ain't long for this world.  I've been writing since the beginning that the probability of Trump facing any real consequences for his actions is absolute, mathematical zero.  Why?  The will to power.  Not just his-- the Republican Party's.  If you have an entire political party, with an associated media apparatus, dedicated fully to the proposition that you are above the law, as Donald Trump does, then you are above the law.  There is no leviathan above the Republican Party to impose the rule of law on them because they use the will-to-power to prevent the rule of law through the leviathan.  That's the point.

So, here's how it works.  Let's say the Democrats take the House.  High probability of that.  Right after the midterms, Trump fires Sessions and Rosenstein.  Mueller is probably next.  His investigation is effectively shut down.  Democrats in the House try to take over.  Committee chairs start hearings, issuing subpoenas, etc.  What happens?

Trump tells them to go fuck themselves.  He refuses to comply, and tells everyone in the executive branch to refuse to comply.  He fires everyone who even thinks of complying.

Lawsuits ensue.  They make their way up through the courts.  They get into the grabby, rape-y hands of "Brett."  What does "Brett" say about this?  He says Trump can do whatever he wants because he's President.  On his side, "Brett" has Plagiarist-Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas, and they drag Roberts along.

What then?  Impeachment?  Sure, go ahead and move on articles of impeachment.  Even if the Democrats took the Senate, there's no way to get 2/3.  Mueller's findings probably get buried when Trump pulls his Saturday Night Massacre, and anything he can't bury, Fox News just lies about, following Donny's lead.  Anyone want to challenge any of this?  Guess where this goes, ultimately.

That's right.  The US Supreme Court.  Hi, "Brett."  Neat and tidy, right?

And of course, I have to put in a little reminder about what a fucking moron your hero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was for not stepping down when Obama could have named a replacement.  She dies, and the wages of the Nietzschean approach to politics just expand and get locked in for that much longer.  Ginsburg is a narcissistic moron, and you should stop liking her.  Anthony Kennedy is smarter than she is, and that's why we are having this dust-up.  Understand that.

So, what now?  Um... Uh... Why would anyone ask me that?  I'm just the peanut gallery.  I write the occasional book with academic jargon, math 'n stuff, and rant on this pretentious, little blog, but I kind of think we're fucked.  Why?  Because one party has decided to adopt the approach of the Hungarians from The Usual Suspects.  Democracy doesn't actually work based on rules.  It works based on norms.  When one party no longer abides by those norms, and instead decides to adopt the Nietzschean will-to-power approach, doing anything and everything to seize power, I don't know what the response is because the problem isn't a constitutional/structural problem.  The problem is that party.

There is no legal, constitutional or structural solution to the problem of one party gone this far wrong.  They can be defeated so badly that they fade out of existence, but a) that's hard to do intrinsically, b) that's really hard to do when that party has a powerful media apparatus supporting it, and c) that's really hard to do when the problem is that so many people supporting that party do so because they, themselves are evil.  Yes, I will use the word, "evil."

Donald Trump is cartoonishly evil.  And I do mean "cartoonish."  The best demonstration, for those who never caught this, was Mark Hamill.  His "Joker" was great, and it was amazing what happened when he started reading Trump's tweets, word for word, in his Joker voice.




If your words sound like something an actual, literal cartoon villain would say... dude.  Somethin's wrong here.  Donald Trump is a cartoon villain.  The problem is that the Joker he most resembles is from The Killing Joke.  If you are a comic book person, you know what I'm talking about here...  The animated Batman show never went that far, but Alan Moore... um, well, you should read it.  The Joker is supposed to be scary.  Anyway, then there was that fun game from a while back:  who said it?  Trump or Mussolini?  Trump is cartoonishly evil, and his appeal to his fans is based on racism and misogyny.  Period.

So, overwhelm them in an election, right?  Here's the problem with that.  Too many voters are just stupid.  They think that the economy is directly controlled by the president, so if the economy is doing well, then the president is a genius.  I've written about this enough before that I won't elaborate again here, but it means that the country is subject to dumb luck.  We could very well get to 2020 with an economy in decent enough shape that the collapse of democratic civil society and the rule of law doesn't stop the racists, misogynists and nincompoops from reelecting the most idiotic and cartoonishly evil politician in the history of this country.  Remember, though, that Trump is just a symptom of the problem.  As I have written many times before, he is the logical conclusion of trends that began decades before, and the party that tolerates him does so because they will accept anything for the sake of victory.  That is what the will to power means.

So, yes, "Brett" is probably going to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.  That is both a demonstration of what Keyser told Agent Kujan about the Hungarian strategy, and a furtherance of the goal of locking in power.

The rule of law is supposed to prevent the Hungarian approach of getting your way by having the will to do what the other guy won't do.  However, if you take that approach to the control of government, who's gonna stop you?  If one party has the will to do what the other party doesn't, guess who wins?

A few weeks ago, at the APSA, one of my grad school colleagues accused me of being a nihilist.  I'm not a nihilist.  I'm a fatalist.

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

Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer, "The Power and the Glory," from Drum Hat Buddha.


Friday, September 21, 2018

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

OK, so... warning.  Have you ever noticed that a lot of older music has a creepy, rape-y vibe to it?  I'm going with that for this evening.  Sorry if this ruins Wes Montgomery for you.

Wes Montgomery, "Besame Mucho," from Boss Guitar.


"Fairness," and the Kavanaugh nomination

I am concerned that the word, "fairness," or perhaps the word, "unfair," may be permanently tainted by excessive misuse by Donald Trump, but I am going to use the term here because of the discussion around fairness to Kavanaugh.

Defenders of Brett Kavanaugh have insisted that he has a right to a hearing in which Ford gives testimony, and faces questions.  After all, if his nomination is going to be defeated on the basis of her allegations, shouldn't there be some process by which her allegations are examined?  The process should be fair to Kavanaugh, right?

My response?  Fuck "Brett."  This isn't about him.  This is about the country, and who is going to be one of the nine members of the US Supreme Court.  For life, making rulings that will impact everyone.  This is about determining who is the best person to hold that position.  Fuck fairness to "Brett" and his entitled ass.

I have already indicated that I believe Ford, but that isn't even the point here.  This isn't a trial.  In a criminal trial, the basic question is the probability of innocence or guilt.  I've gone back and forth with legal scholars on this at the occasional conference, as someone who crosses back and forth between disciplines (I do election law, so I deal with some legal types), but here's my statistician's view of criminal law, contested by some legal scholars.  Set a probabilistic threshold for conviction.  If that threshold is met, convict.  Otherwise, acquit because we don't want to convict innocent people.  The parameters for estimation should be evidentiary, and the threshold should be high.  There.  Done.  That's criminal law, from a statistician's point of view, in simple form.

Now, "Brett."  What is the probability that he is guilty, given the evidence?  I'd have a hard time putting a precise number on it (but I'll try, shortly), but higher than 50%.  Could I convict on it?  Statute of limitations has passed, but even that aside, I have no idea, not having heard any testimony.  Still, and this is important...

This isn't a criminal trial.  If the Senate did decide not to confirm "Brett," all that would happen to him is that he would stay a judge on the DC Circuit Court, which is still massively powerful.  That's not ruining a man's life, or anything close to it.

What is at issue here?  Picking someone for one of the most powerful jobs in the country.  How certain do you want to be that the individual is not a rapist, going back to my basic, probabilistic approach to most things?  I'd like to be as close to 100% as possible.  How sure am I for "Brett?"  Right now, if I had to put a number on it, if I had to be as generous as possible to "Brett," the number I'd give him is 10%, but realistically, that's high, given the baseline rarity of false accusations of rape and corroborating evidence (the therapist's notes).  Could you convict on the therapist's notes alone?  No, but again, this isn't a criminal trial.  That's the ass-backwards way to think about this.  You don't say, 10% is high enough to put this motherfucker on the Supreme Court.  You say, 10% is way too fucking low to put this motherfucker on the Supreme Court.  Look at it this way.  If this had been caught in a background check, would he have made it through a rigorous vetting process?  No.  That's the point.  And don't give me this shit about how any nomination can be defeated by an allegation.  Will that allegation be backed by therapist's notes that predate the nomination by years?  No.  I call bullshit.

Now, that does mean there would be a chance of denying "Brett" a place on the Supreme Court because of a false allegation.  Boo fucking hoo.  This isn't about him or his entitled ass.  If that's what you think of as a monumental injustice... just keep reading.  I don't give a rat's fucking ass about what "Brett" thinks he is entitled to have.  This is about the country.  Worst case scenario for "Brett" is that he goes back to the DC Circuit Court.  Cry me a fuckin' river for him and the unfairness of it all.

However, anyone truly concerned with the unfairness of false accusations might be interested in a little thing called "The Innocence Project."  They find people wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death.  They use DNA evidence to exonerate those people and save their fucking lives.

Funny (ha, ha), but these people rushing to "Brett's" defense and worried about the fairness of the process, and what a false accusation might do... I've never heard any of them say a kind word about "The Innocence Project."  Gee...  It's almost as if they don't have a coherent theory of the role of due process or the importance of evaluating the truth of accusations.  In criminal justice, all accusations are true to these people.  Except in the case of rape.  Then, all accusations are false.  Why, if only I could figure out why they treat rape accusations differently...

Thursday, September 20, 2018

On "moderates"

As you may have noticed, I... don't like Susan Collins.  I suppose it would be more precise to say that I don't respect Susan Collins.

Some time in the not-too-distant future, she will either croak or retire from the Senate and do something else with her annoyingly warbling voice, and there will be many lamentations from the pundit class about how the Senate will be losing one of its last "moderates," and oh, how horrible that will be.

What does it mean to be a moderate?  In political science, we measure ideology in Congress with Keith Poole & Howard Rosenthal's NOMINATE score, which is basically a fancy index built around all of the roll call votes that legislators cast.  It goes from -1 (most liberal) to +1 (most conservative), and the scale keeps getting reset as the GOP keeps moving rightward.  Yes, really.  The thing is, it isn't actually a one-dimensional thing.  Poole & Rosenthal estimate a multidimensional ideology system that explains roll call votes.  However, over time, everything has collapsed onto the first dimension, which is liberalism-conservatism.  That dimension explains over 90% of all roll call votes, and Collins is right around 0.  In mathematical terms, in Congress, that's what it means to be a moderate.  Moderation, given multidimensionality, means many more things outside of Congress, and historically, its meaning has changed.  Still, right now, it means squat.  Sorry, I mean, it means zero.

Is that good?  Why?  In terms of policy outcomes, if you have an electorate with preferences that are "normally" distributed (bell curve, Gaussian distribution, blah, blah, blah), there are nice mathematical properties to having the outcome close to the preferences of the median voter, but is there any logical reason to believe that "moderate" policy leads to better outcomes objectively?  Better economic outcomes, stronger national security, etc.?  No.  And plenty of the "moderates" in congressional history were actually horrible people.  Southern segregationists and such.

Collins isn't a segregationist.  She's just a moron.  Also, she's now attacking Ford.  That's right.  It's "unfair" for her not to testify immediately.  On fuckin' Grassley's timeline.  Yeah, some people remember what those motherfuckers did to Anita Hill, and obviously there's no reason a rape victim would be shy about putting herself through that, right?  No, Collins is pretty much fully on board with "Brett."

Collins is a zero.  In every respect.  Being moderate, mathematically, means being a zero.  And in voting terms, that can affect outcomes, but only if you do so when you are "pivotal."  Do you swing the outcome?  Do you wield your power, as a moderate, to change outcomes?  Or, do you just posture and go with the flow?  Do you, for example, earn that zero by voting against your party only when you know it won't make a difference?  That'd be pretty cowardly, wouldn't it?

Collins hasn't stood up to Trump at all, she'll submit fully to "Brett," and I'm frankly having a difficult time remembering a single time that Collins has really made a mark.  During the healthcare vote, she sunk "skinny repeal" along with Murkowski and McCain, but then all three voted for a tax bill that included "skinny repeal" as a provision, so she gets zero credit for that act of independence, as far as I'm concerned.

Why does Collins get a "zero?"  Because when it doesn't matter, i.e., when her vote won't be pivotal, she is willing to vote against her party.  When has she done anything important?  I can't think of a time.

Notice, of course, that I am far less harsh on Lisa Murkowski.  Why?  Murkowski a) doesn't do the "look at how moderate I am" blustery thing, and b) Murkowski actually bargains for her vote, and gets something.  Collins is just a dupe.  Professionally.

Yet, when Collins goes, one way or another, there will be much lamentation over how great she was because she was a moderate.  And yet, I cannot find any stamp on policy from her moderation.

Remember how her vote for that tax bill was contingent on stabilization for the individual markets, like restoring the cost-sharing subsidies?  Whatever happened to those bills that McConnell promised her he would move in exchange for her vote?  Oh, right.  McConnell duped her, just like I said, because Collins is nothing but a useless dupeshit.

Enough of this moderate-worship.  Collins is getting duped into voting for "Brett," and even defending him, and even attacking Ford, all for the sake of making it easier to overturn Roe v. Wade, despite her pledge to oppose any nominee who would overturn it.  Why?  Because she's Susan Collins.

Remember what Jonathan Chait said about Collins's Maine-twin, Olympia Snowe?  Here's the quote:

If a Gingrich administration proposed spending a trillion dollars to erect a 100-foot-tall solid-gold Winston Churchill statue on Mars, Snowe would no doubt decide, after careful deliberation, that the wise course was to trim the height down to 90 feet and perhaps use a cheaper bronze alloy in the base.

Moderates...

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Another post on Susan Collins and "Brett"

It appears as though the path has been cleared for "Brett" to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.  From now on, I think that's how I'll type his name.  "Brett" has the proper dudebro sound to it.  Anyway, Ford doesn't want to testify before the FBI investigates, the FBI doesn't want to investigate, and Grassley and the rest of the boys want to go full steam ahead.

Over at PredictIt, Collins and Murkowski's chances of voting for "Brett" are back up to around 70 cents on the dollar each, as of this morning.  Without Ford giving public testimony, the GOP will continue to rally around their dudebro rapist because they've got so much practice at rallying around a dudebro rapist at this point.  Roughly two years!  So, what's going on with Collins?

Right before the rape story broke, I posted this about Collins and her propensity for getting duped, and how that has played out with "Brett."  Essentially, she calls herself "pro-choice," but she seems to revel in letting people dupe her into behaving as a "pro-life" Senator.

Look, abortion is a tricky issue, and it is an odd quirk of history that it lines up with the rest of modern liberalism and conservatism.  The central question is the question of when life begins.  If life begins at conception, then abortion is murder.  If not, then it's not murder, and abortion restrictions are restrictions on a woman's right to control her own body.  Which is it?  That depends on your assessment of when life begins.  Why does that line up with anyone's assessment of the proper tax rate?  Weird quirks of history.  Another story, the best source of which is Hans Noel's Political Ideologies and Political Parties in America.

Why do "evangelicals" support Donald Trump, the most un-christian politician in American history?  Part of it is "negative partisanship," as Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster call it.  They hate Democrats, and Trump is partisan hatred personified, but a big part of it is a deal with the devil.  They support him, and he reciprocates by giving them conservative judges, with the aim of banning abortion and trying to turn back the clock on gay marriage and other issues, although that one would be harder for a variety of reasons.  Abortion, though?  That absolutely is on the table.  "Brett" is why they support him.  Either they are getting duped, or Collins is.  Collins and the evangelicals can't both be OK with "Brett," unless Collins is also full of shit when she says she's "pro-choice."

Why support a rapist, or even reject so much as the possibility of rape, unless you are getting something in the deal?  If you believe that life begins at conception, then abortion is murder.  How many murders are there to be stopped?  What would you give up to stop them?  If your goal is to ban abortion, you put "Brett" on the Court, and rejoice.  Then, you rationalize your choice by telling yourself that "Brett" must be innocent because it's easier that way.

If you are Susan Collins, and you really are pro-choice, you have to ask yourself:  why are all these social conservative evangelical-types still supporting "Brett?"  Am I the one getting duped here?  "Brett" can't both support and oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, and isn't there anything fishy about this guy?  Collins even made some noise about how if "Brett" lied about Ford, that's disqualifying, but her chances of supporting "Brett" are, according to betting, back up to around 70%.

Why?  Because she is getting duped.  Susan Collins is an idiot.

Look, I can understand a party loyalist just doing the party loyalty thing.  I can even understand a social conservative rallying behind the conservative nominee.  Susan Collins, though, is just a moron.  Or, as I put it last week, a "dupeshit."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The stakes of the Kavanaugh nomination

Things have heated up far more than I expected.  I could try to salvage my prognostications by pointing out my company in this respect, but why bother?  This is the Trump era.  Every day is just another day in "Crazytown," as John Kelly said.  (HT:  Bob Woodward).  However, it is worth taking a moment to remind everyone of precisely what the stakes are with the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court.

For those who care about having there be consequences for your actions, no matter who you are and who your friends are, this matters, but that's one of those moral type of things.  Statute of limitations means that the worst that can happen to "Brett" (let's just call him by his dudebro name) is that he doesn't become one of the nine members of the Supreme Court.  Ooooh.  Consequences.  Yeah, that'll impress me.  I suppose being remembered as the rapist version of Harriet Miers in history books is something, but "Brett" will still basically get away with it.

So, what are the other stakes?  What is the difference between how "Brett" would rule and how any non-"Brett" Trump nominee would rule?  Let's distinguish between two types of issues.  Normal issues, and Trump-related issues.  By Trump-related issues, I mean issues of executive power, presidential immunity from prosecution, etc.  On normal issues, any subsequent Trump pick after a "Brett" defeat would be identical to "Brett."  There is a clone factory called "The Federalist  Society," and they crank out "Bretts" like the telomere problem just never existed.  They look alike, they sound alike, they rule alike, and that's why Gorsuch plagiarized!  Zing!  Nope, still not over that one.  Trump had a... what's the opposite of a "black list?"  Oh, right.  A "white list."  As in, all white.  A bunch of white dudes.  They're all pre-cleared.  Except they don't like pre-clearance.  Sorry, still not over that one either (look up Shelby County...).  Tangents and minor rants aside, Trump could just pick another name from the Federalist Society's "white list" of pre-cleared names, and he'd get a nearly identical white dude who'd rule the same way as "Brett" on any substantive issue.

And then, there are those Trump issues.  Executive power, immunity from prosecution, etc.  There is a high likelihood that this is the real reason "Brett" jumped to the top of the list.  Donny-boy found out that "Brett" doesn't like the idea of presidents having to face any legal consequences for their actions and decided that he had found his white boy.  And they probably had a great, little chat about all the things they'd like to do to Ivanka, or something.  With most other non-"Brett" Federalist Society nominees, Trump could be reasonably sure they would side with him, but with "Brett," he could be more certain.  So, that is a consideration.  What does that mean?

Not a lot.  None of this is likely to make it to the Supreme Court because none of this is going to make it past Congress.  Remember that Mueller's operating assumption is that he can't indict.  His plan is to run his investigation and leave it to Congress to decide how to respond with respect to Donny-boy.  The Senate is in play at the moment, but the chances of the Democrats getting 2/3 in the Senate is a mathematical zero, and the chances of Republicans turning on Trump is a mathematical zero.  Add to that the potential for a self-pardon, Trump's capacity to fire Sessions and Rosenstein and replace them with Trumpkins who then fire Mueller before anything more dangerous happens to him... this doesn't go anywhere.  Yes, Trump would rather have "Brett" there than a more generic "Federalist Society" clone, but even there, the stakes are low.

What, then, are the stakes here?  What outcomes will be different if "Brett" is forced to recognize that this time, no means no?  If you believe in consequences for powerful people, watching a rapist shitbag get put on the Supreme Court is an ugly thing, but be pragmatic here.  Trump's people missed this in the vetting process.  Since there was no written record anywhere, it would have been hard to catch, but they missed it.  The reason Trump doesn't want to... withdraw... is that he hates losing.  That's the biggest thing here, politically.  Pride.  The biggest thing here is point-scoring.  At the end of the day/week/month, whatever, someone who will rule exactly like "Brett" will wind up on the Supreme Court.  And that's why I still think "Brett" makes it.  Republicans don't want to lose.  That overwhelms any sense of moral justice.  I'd be happy to be surprised here, but in the end, I doubt any rulings would be different.

Tuesday music: If you only listen to American music, you just suck

More Brexit craziness.  Here's John Renbourn, "The English Dance," from The Black Balloon.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Updating assessments of Kavanaugh now that Ford has come forward

What was that I was writing yesterday?

Oh, yes.  I'm a Bayesian statistician.  Let me remind you what that means.  It means I begin with a set of "prior" probabilities, and I update them as new information becomes available.  New information is available.  Christine Ford, the formerly anonymous woman who wrote the letter to Diane Feinstein, has now come forward as Brett Kavanaugh's accuser.  We also have new details about the history of the accusation.  This leads to two types of Bayesian updating.

First, can I update my Bayesian assessment of Kavanaugh's guilt or innocence?  Yesterday, I began with the baseline probability of Kavanaugh's guilt based entirely on the low probability of an accusation being false.  I had nothing else.  Today, we have more.  Not only has Ford revealed her identity, there is history to the accusation.  I don't put much stock in the polygraph.  Those things are pretty much bullshit.  However, the accusation predates the Kavanaugh confirmation by years, so this clearly isn't just an attempt to derail his nomination.  The accusation was made in private, where Ford had nothing to gain, and there is a therapist's record.  The therapist's records give some cover for anyone looking for discrepancies, including the question of four versus two attackers, although that could be explained.  This isn't a perfect recording of events, but all things considered, update the probability of Kavanaugh's guilt upwards.  Criminal conviction on this kind of thing?  Statute of limitations aside, I don't know, but from a Bayesian point of view, I side with Ford.

Next, does this affect Kavanaugh's chances of confirmation?  Yesterday, I was skeptical that anything could.  I didn't consider the possibility of the anonymous woman coming forward.  This does affect his chances.  As of this morning, over at PredictIt, Collins's chances of voting for Kavanaugh are down to 64 cents on the dollar, with Murkowski at 53.  Why the difference?  Murkowski called for postponing the Judiciary Committee vote.  She actually sounds like she might take this seriously.  That's easier for her since she never dug that Kavanaugh hole for herself.  Murkowski has always been the smarter of the two.

Yes, Kavanaugh really might lose.  The odds still favor him, though.  You may be tempted to look at those probabilities and start multiplying them together, but they are not, in statistical terminology, independent events.  They will turn on the same factors.  One of those factors is Donald Trump.

Very soon, Trump will begin making phone calls and scheduling visits with any wavering Republicans.  The pitch will combine appeals to party loyalty with the need to defeat the Democrats on all things with threats.  The threats will get ever more aggressive if anyone keeps wavering.  If I had to bet right now, I wouldn't bet because I don't bet.  I invest in a diversified portfolio, but I'd still say the slightly smarter money is on Kavanaugh getting confirmed.  When in doubt, bet on Republican cowardice in the face of Donald Trump.  Yes, a few Republican Senators are calling for delay.  So far, none have announced outright opposition to Kavanaugh.

Christine, you are a brave woman.  Challenge anyone in power, and try to force them to face the consequences of their actions, and you will face retaliation.  That is an absolute, 100% guarantee.  I am a statistician, and I don't give 100% guarantees.  Except on this.  Of course, Kamala Harris wasn't there during the Anita Hill hearings, so this could be much more interesting.  Still, when in doubt, bet on Republican moral cowardice in the face of Donald Trump and other sexual predators.

Yeah, I was wrong on the Jones-Moore race in Alabama.  I could be wrong on this too.  Notice how uncertain my assessment is.  So, who's gonna be the first Republican Senator to oppose Kavanaugh and face the wrath of a Trump tweet?  Gee... oppose a rapist on the Supreme Court, or dodge a Trump tweet.  Yeah, I can see how that would be a tough choice.

Monday morning blues: If you don't love blues, you hate America

John Mooney, "One Step Forward," from Against The Wall.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

The rape allegations against Brett Kavanaugh

Did he do it?  That's hard to say with any degree of confidence.  We have an anonymous letter.  Suppose it happened.  Staying anonymous would be the smart thing to do, given what the Republican Party would do to the woman, regardless of the facts.  This isn't a party that respects facts.  If it were false, and just written by someone who wanted to stir up trouble, obviously staying anonymous would be the smart thing to do.  Which do you believe?  You have to assess the relative frequencies of false rape allegations, the incentives that women have to remain silent, your assessments of Kavanaugh, and lots of other stuff, with so much time having passed that no real investigation can take place, which is why the FBI turned down the investigation.  Statute of limitations.  So, did he do it?  There is a high likelihood that your assessment of Kavanaugh's guilt is influenced by your assessment of Kavanaugh, which is influenced by your politics.  And that's where we're going with this post.

Kavanaugh will likely be confirmed.  Democrats are irrelevant.  From a Republican perspective, there are two kinds of incentives for assessing Kavanaugh and his guilt or innocence-- political incentives and cognitive incentives.  The political incentives are obvious.  First, they want a conservative Justice, and Kavanaugh is conservative.  I've ranted enough about the theater of confirmation hearings, and bullshit of doctrines of constitutional interpretation, and all of that nonsense.  Supreme Court Justices are ideologically-motivated politicians in stupid costumes, who dress up their ideology in the trappings of terminology so obscure that you need separate libraries on every campus just to translate their bullshit from legalese to plain, fucking English and figure out exactly what method they used to obscure their liberalism or conservatism, because that's all they're doing.  The attitudinal model, people.

But wait, you say.  Or rather, I say.  If the Senate... forced its will on Trump, so to speak, wouldn't the GOP just demand a non-rapist conservative?  Surely such things exist, right?  (Hey, it was all consensual with Larry "Wide Stance" Craig!  Adults too!  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your next Supreme Court Justice, and the closest thing the GOP has to anyone practicing healthy, affirmative consent!)  Well, no.  It won't work that way.  There are other political incentives.  Specifically, the horrific, unthinkable, unbearable pain of a Trump tweet.

You see, the reason Trump has to... force... Kavanaugh on the Senate, the GOP and the country, is that he cannot bear rejection.  And we, as a society, must understand how badly rejection hurts Donald, around whom the known universe revolves.  That gives him the absolute right to force his will on anyone and anything to fulfill his needs.  His need for Brett Kavanaugh.  (Maybe some of that is the executive power thing, and maybe some of that is bro power, but who can really say at this point?)  So, Trump has the right to force his choices on anyone.  His weapon of choice is the tweet, which is the object of abject terror for all Republican legislators.  Their fear of a Trump tweet will keep them from even considering objecting to Kavanaugh.  That weapon he holds, as he forces his will on the GOP Senate, will ensure that even if there are further revelations about Kavanaugh, they'll confirm him.  (One of these days, I shall attempt to write with some subtlety.  That day is not today.  I don't like these people.)

Remember, national Republican figures couldn't even bring themselves to oppose Roy child-fuckin' Moore.  Even Richard Shelby didn't vote for Doug Jones.  If Roy Moore was acceptable to these people, what makes you think that they'll turn on Kavanaugh with weaker evidence against him?

They all knew Roy Moore was guilty, but they couldn't bring themselves to support Doug Jones.  Difficult-to-assess allegations against Kavanaugh will do absolutely nothing to these people.  Yes, I am clearly writing as though Kavanaugh were guilty with my club-you-over-the-head, cringe-inducing metaphors, but... I'll get to that.  After all, I kind of live in a permanent state of cringe these days, and I'm just trying to share.

Anyway, that's just the set of political incentives.  Now, let's address the cognitive incentives.  Nobody wants to vote to confirm a rapist.  OK, Donald Trump does.  That dude loves rapists, but he's a sociopath.  Different category.  Most Senators aren't actually sociopaths.  There is a difference between being a bad person and being a sociopath.  Antisocial personality disorder is a thing, and it isn't just being an asshole.  A group of geese is called a gaggle.  A group of lions is called a pride.  A group of assholes is called a Senate.  Yes, they're assholes, but a sociopath is a different creature altogether.  Donald Trump is a straight-up sociopath.  Most politicians, vile though they may be, aren't actual DSM-diagnosable sociopaths, the way Trump is.  So, voting to confirm a rapist to the Supreme Court would be cognitively troubling.  Nobody wants to think of themselves as the villains.  So, people disregard information that puts themselves in a bad light.  The easiest thing to do, for the GOP Senators then, is to tell themselves that the allegations against Kavanaugh aren't credible because they can't be verified, came up just at the last minute from an anonymous source, and so forth.  Reject the claims, confirm Kavanaugh because he seems like such a nice guy.

Look, I've ranted in many contexts about how you can't tell who the monsters are by how nice and polite they seem on the surface, but that's a little thing called "reason," and most people suck at that.  They pick a side, and rationalize it.  For all you know, this dude is fuckin' Cosby, and that debt isn't from baseball.  It's from buying the drugs he used on the women, and then paying them off.  Is that particular story bullshit?  Almost certainly, but my point about Cosby is that you can't tell from his surface demeanor.  If, however, you have cognitive and political incentives to side with the guy, you will.

And finally, let's circle around to Susan Collins, about whom I have written plenty in the context of Brett Kavanaugh.  Collins promised, repeatedly, that she wouldn't vote for anyone who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.  I have called bullshit on that promise, called Collins a "dupeshit" for intentionally letting herself get duped by Kavanaugh and this process, and called Brett Kavanaugh a craven liar for his duplicitousness in how he approaches the issue.  How will Collins vote?  Here's the current betting at PredictIt.  83 cents on the dollar says she votes yes, as of this morning.  I'd say that sounds low, but let's go with it.  Why?  Collins doesn't care.  She wants to vote yes.  She let herself get duped by Kavanaugh's "settled law" line of shit because she wanted to vote for him, and she was looking for a reason.  If she was looking for a reason to vote yes, then why does anyone think she will be swayed by an anonymous letter about something from high school that cannot be investigated by the FBI because of the statute of limitations?  Collins clearly wants to vote yes, and has wanted to do so all along.  It is difficult to explain something to a Senator when her avoidance of a Trump tweet depends upon her not understanding it.  I don't think that's the exact quote, but I think it went something like that.  If not, it should have.  Collins votes yes.

Did Kavanaugh do it?  I'm a Bayesian statistician at heart.  I begin with the probability that a rape accusation is false, as a baseline.  I'd like to update that probability, but I can't.  You can't assess these things by surface personality.  Remember Cosby.  And investigating here would be really hard.  All I know here is my Bayesian prior.  Most accusations are true.  So, for the purposes of a blog post, in my general state of disgust, I'm willing to write cringe-inducing metaphors based on my Bayesian prior.

I also have a high degree of confidence that Kavanaugh will be confirmed, meaning that one of Trump's SCOTUS picks will be a definite plagiarist (Gorsuch), and the other a probable rapist, given my Bayesian prior.  Awesome.  Look up the etymology of that word please.  I am using it for a reason.

Keep in mind, though, that were Kavanaugh to be rejected on the basis of this letter, that would mean that any SCOTUS nominee could be defeated with an anonymous letter.  False rape accusations are very rare.  My default is to believe the accusations based on my Bayesian priors, but acting as though all accusations are true without the capacity to verify them could turn into trouble.  Every time someone in a position of power is accused of rape or other misconduct, they try to avoid the consequences of their actions by telling horror stories of some slippery slope.  Bullshit, but if an anonymous letter really could defeat a SCOTUS nominee, that would be problematic.

Of course, the Democrats aren't calling for that.  They are calling for a pause and investigation.  Ain't no slippery slope in that.  This is really hard to investigate, though, and given the time and circumstances, this doesn't go anywhere.  Kavanaugh gets confirmed.  It's as simple as that.  Awesome, in an... older meaning of the term.

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

John Hartford, "Turn Your Radio On," from Aereo-Plain.


Saturday, September 15, 2018

How big a deal is Paul Manafort's flip?

So, what does it say that the rape accusation against a Supreme Court nominee isn't the biggest news?  How about the "normality" of something so "yuge" being overshadowed by yet another Trump story?  There are various sci-fi tropes in which the characters find themselves in an alternate universe so bizarre that you wonder how they can find it acceptable and plausible.  This is that alternate universe.  I want to go home now.  I don't like this place.

Anyway, Paul Manafort has flipped.  Yes, I am surprised, but it isn't the biggest shocker ever.  Trump could pardon him for federal crimes, but I guess things were looking more bleak for him on the state criminal front, where Trump's ability to intercede on his behalf was more limited.  In that case, yeah, flip.  So, how bad is this for Trump?

Consider Manafort himself.  What does he have to offer?  There are two broad categories of things he can offer:  documents and testimony.  Documents?  Unless they are hidden somewhere that Mueller's boys haven't already raided, it isn't clear what they'll find.  The question, then, is the value of Manafort's testimony.

What is a crook's testimony worth?  Well, here's the thing.  It isn't just Paulie, is it?  You've got Paulie, Michael Cohen, whatever bit Papadopoulos offered, and pressure has to be mounting on Flynn.  There's Gates...  Add documents, and you've got potentially a lot.  Add the public information about things like the Trump Tower meeting, add Trump's own statements about the firing of Comey, add Comey's statements and memos, and it isn't just Paulie flapping his gums to save himself a couple of years in the pokey.  Manafort's testimony, in context, could be worth a lot.  He was a Russian asset, and probably the main agent of Russian influence within the campaign, if I had to guess based on what's public now (although there's still a lot we don't know).  If this were anything approaching a normal prosecution, this would be "yuge."

Keep a few things in mind, though.

1)  A sitting president cannot be indicted, according to the legal model under which Mueller is operating.  I keep reading various commentaries about how the legal question has never been put to the constitutional test, and blah blah blah, but a) it doesn't matter since Mueller won't try to indict Trump, and b) Kavanaugh, shall we say, likes to turn things up to 11 when it comes to executive privilege and power, and once he gets his rapist ass onto the Supreme Court (more on this tomorrow), challenging this doctrine becomes impossible.  Trump cannot be indicted as a sitting president.

2)  If things get at all hairy, Trump can and will pardon himself.  Has this been put to the legal test?  Not yet, but let's ask Brett to turn down the music so that we can ask him what he thinks.

3)  The probability of Trump being removed from office through impeachment remains zero.  Conviction in the Senate requires a 2/3 vote.  The question isn't whether or not Manafort flips under threat of state-level charges from which Trump cannot pardon him.  The question is whether or not good ole' boys in the Senate flip on him.  They won't.  Ever.  No matter what.

I still haven't addressed potential electoral consequences of Mueller's findings, or long-term effects of the scandal on the GOP, and at some point, I will begin dealing with that, but anyone who thinks that Manafort flipping will take down Trump legally, no.  Think it through.  The basic legal mechanics haven't changed.

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

We're dipping into the classics this morning!  Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant, "Flippin' the Lid."  This one is on a bunch of compilations, but I have it on Stratosphere Boogie.


Friday, September 14, 2018

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

Given my general preference for pre-fusion jazz, one might be surprised by how often I use Herbie Hancock, who is a misunderstood musician in the history of jazz.  He got his big break, as so many of the greats did, playing for Miles Davis.  Hancock, along with Wayne Shorter, was a member of the second quintet, and while on break, he recorded what is arguably his magnum opus:  Maiden Voyage.  Here's "Eye of the Hurricane."  Ron Carter and Tony Williams, from the Quintet, are the rhythm section.


Big changes in congressional rules?

This may or may not be extremely important.  Buried amid the craziness of daily news in the modern era, stuff like this happens.  Here's the gist:  we don't know for certain which party will control the House of Representatives starting in January, but whichever party it is may have way less power.  A group of 8 Democrats and 7 Republicans have made a pact not to support a Speaker without rules changes to the House that would strip the majority party of major power.  The Roll Call article gives you the rundown, but for my money, the most interesting change would be a requirement for 3/5 to pass any bill under a "closed rule."

A closed rule is a restriction that prevents any amendment from being offered when the bill reaches the floor of Congress for a vote.  Whenever the majority party wants to get a bill through unamended, they use a closed rule.  It blocks minority party influence, and blocks any input from anyone not on the committee that considered the bill in the first place.  Closed rules are an important mechanism for maintaining majority party procedural control by locking out the minority party.  This is classic "cartel" model legislative politics, as it has been called by Gary Cox and Mathew McCubbins in Legislative Leviathan.  Here's the thing, though.  Move the bill passage requirement from 50%+1 to 3/5 and unless the majority party has 3/5, you need minority party buy-in to make a closed rule work.  In other words, you can't do it.  You need to let amendments happen.  Does that end majority party procedural control?  No.  The Rules Committee can still play its games, but this would still be big, if it happened.

Right now, it looks like the Democrats are favored to take the House of Representatives.  What does this mean?  If these 8 Democrats are sincere, and willing to follow through, Democrats need to win by a bigger margin to get procedural control, or they have to pander to these ninnies.  Republicans?  Same deal (maybe...).  Of course, they might be willing to fold.  The whole point of being spineless is that you fold, right?  On the other hand, even if the Democrats do win and pander to the disarmament caucus, so what?

Odds still favor the GOP for the Senate, so passing a Democratic bill through the House in the 2019-20 period is irrelevant.  A GOP-controlled Senate wouldn't pass any Democratic bills anyway, and even if the Democrats did take the Senate, Donny-boy may be illiterate, but he knows how to write his name, and that means he'll learn how to veto.  Same issue.  There won't be any successful Democratic legislation through 2020, no matter what the stop-us-before-we-legislate caucus says.

What about the Republican ninnies?  They'll cave.  If the GOP holds the House by a narrow margin and the speakership contest comes down to their votes, they'll cave.  The cartel will hold.

And always remember that congressional rules change over time!  The basic issue, though, is that you probably shouldn't expect major rule changes that influence the content of legislation to be determined by 7 or 8 people.  Still, this matters.  Pay attention.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Susan Collins, Brett Kavanaugh and the Art of Getting Duped

Oh, Susan Collins.  Are you the dumbest member of the Senate?  The competition is rather stiff, but I wouldn't rule it out.

Here's where things stand.  Susan Collins insisted that she wouldn't vote for any Supreme Court nominee who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Donald Trump nominated... someone.  He's like, a Republican nominee, or something.  Federalist Society credentials, the whole shebang.  The bind for Collins is that while she occasionally votes against Republican bills, this dude ain't named "Bill."  "Brett" and "Bill" start with the same letter, but they're different names.  I know!  I've spent a long time studying them!  Oh, and Collins would never have the spine to vote against a Republican SCOTUS nominee.  That, in and of itself, is fine.  She says she's pro-choice, and OK.  If she set all policy, abortion would be legal in at least some circumstances, but she doesn't set policy.  She's just a Senator.  That entails making choices.  Two in particular.  She votes for the guy who runs the Senate, and she votes on SCOTUS nominees.  By voting for Mitch McConnell, she effectively votes pro-life, and relatedly, by voting for nominees like Neil Plagiarist-Gorsuch rather than working with Democrats to force a vote on Merrick Garland, she votes pro-life.  That, too, is fine.  Lisa Murkowski describes herself the same way, but all votes have tradeoffs.  Murkowski can legitimately say that she simply thinks that she will get policies she likes more often from McConnell than from Schumer, and from Plagiarist-Gorsuch than from Garland.  Plausibly true!  That means she'd sacrifice her position on abortion, but abortion isn't the only issue.  Why am I not criticizing Murkowski?  Because Murkowski never dug herself into a hole by saying she'd never vote for someone who'd vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Murkowski is smarter than Collins.  She understands that there are tradeoffs, accepts that, and gets what policies she can in her constrained position.

Collins?  Not so much.  She made a promise that anyone with a brain knew she wouldn't keep.  Kavanaugh is clearly hostile to Roe.  He seriously digs Rehnquist's dissent in Roe, and has given plenty of other answers demonstrating that he doesn't like that ruling.  "Settled law" is a bullshit phrase.  Collins let herself get duped because she wanted to get duped.

Now, though, she is complaining about money being raised against her if/when she votes for Kavanaugh.  Bribery!  Money!  Icky!  Evil!

Why is she doing this?  Here is the problem with getting duped.  It makes you a laughingstock at best.  There is this weird thing in politics where people worship "moderates."  I don't get it, but it's there.  Susan Collins is a "moderate."  What does that mean?  A subject for another time, but there are many varieties of moderates, including people who are indecisive on many issues, and people who are extremists in opposing directions on many issues.  And wishy-washy twits like Susan Collins.  What kind of moderate is she?  The kind that is a useful idiot to the right, and a useless idiot to the left.  She loudly protested that she would vote against the kind of nominee that Kavanaugh almost certainly is, even though she lacks the courage to do so.  Her best attempt at salvaging any dignity is to pretend that she is being victimized by...

MONEY!!!

Why?  The left hates money.  If it is the left that is going after her for her impending betrayal of a vote, turn that into her being victimized by money.  Does it make any sense?  No, especially given the "crowdfunding" structure of the financial campaign, but this is the best she can manage, given the trap she set for herself.

Collins never had any intention of voting against any Trump nominee.  She just needed to force that nominee to jump through the usual rhetorical hoops to give her cover, so that once that nominee does  vote to overturn Roe, she can plead ignorance.  The beauty part of stupidity is the plausibility of the ignorance defense.  Will Roe be overturned?  I'd put the odds at greater than 50% at this point.  Thomas and Alito?  Yeah, they'll overturn.  Gorsuch and Kavanaugh?  Very likely.  The biggest question mark is whether or not Roberts would demand that they uphold whatever the abortion restriction in question is under narrower grounds because of some Roberts-y weaseliness.  However, the probability of any abortion restriction being struck down bythis Court is exact, mathematical zero.

My new term:  "dupeshit."  I use the term, "dipshit," a lot for Trump, so perhaps a new one is in order for Collins.  A dupeshit is a particular variety of dipshit whose stupidity is of a specialized form:  getting duped.  Collins intentionally lets herself get duped.  By Trump, by McConnell, by Kavanaugh, by anyone with an R after their names, even if that R is implicit.  Because she enjoys getting duped.

Susan Collins.  Dupeshit.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Presidents, the state of the economy, and capitalism vs. communism

This has been bubbling up for the last couple of posts, so I may as well write something more formal, to the degree that anything is formal around here.

Yes, folks, the economy continues to do quite well.  Not quite as well as Donny's ubiquitous lying boastfulness, but quite well.  One of the most difficult things for anyone who isn't either an economist or an economically trained political scientist (hi!) to wrap their brains around, though, is just how little presidents have to do with such things.  A couple of months ago, I wrote this, spelling out what presidents can and cannot do to the economy, and mostly, they can't do much.  They matter primarily in times of crisis.  During a recession, you can either be Hoover or FDR, or perhaps somewhere in between, but when things are chugging along normally, presidents are mostly just there.  They fill Fed vacancies, and aside from times of crisis, that's their most consequential economic decision.

It is understandable why people want to attribute credit or blame to the president for the state of the economy.  The state of the economy is the simplest and arguably the most salient assessment of the national condition, unless we are in a war, or something like that, and the president is the highest office.  Human brains are wired to find connections, even when there are none.  People assume causal patterns amid randomness.  Why?  There are evolutionary reasons for the difference between making Type 1 and Type 2 errors, in social science jargon.  Suppose you eat some plant, and get sick.  Maybe it was a fluke, and maybe it was semi-poisonous.  If it was truly bad for you, you really don't want to eat that again.  Don't.  Worst case scenario, you avoid a plant that did nothing because of a fluke.  Humans can survive a long time without food.  Water?  Three days, but food?  Eh, you'll be fine.  We assume causation where there is none.  Scavenging food?  That's evolutionarily beneficial.

In politics?  Um... maybe not.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, presidents just can't do much to the economy in normal times.  Politically, this is as abnormal a time as we have ever seen, but economically?  This... is just a pretty good time, and there is nothing for a president to do.  Trump appointed a normal person to the Fed, and signed a tax bill whose content he couldn't read and which would have been the same regardless of which Republican applied Grover Norquist's "working digits" theory of the executive after demonstrating the correctness of Alan Abramowitz's "Time For A Change" model and beating Clinton, particularly with the possible assist from James Comey (and Russia).  And, there's little reason to think the tax bill has had any significant effect on the economy, since it has been growing at a comparable rate to what it was prior to its enactment.  Economically, Donald Trump doesn't matter, except his trade war, which so far has been small enough to have little if any macroeconomic effect visible in any numbers.

And that's as it should be.  The idea that a president would sit around centrally planning the economy is called what, again, class?  "COMMUNISM!"  Except that... yeah.  Really.  Centrally planned economies don't work.  Try it sometime!  Or, better yet, don't.  History has run that little experiment.  It doesn't work.  Donald J. Trump, Very Stable Genius, is not spending his days and nights, sitting around with a spreadsheet, centrally planning the economy.  Even if he were the smartest smart person in the history of smart people, he'd fail.  And he's not.  He's a fuckin' idiot.  The point of capitalism, though, is that economic activity is decentralized.  Individual consumers and individual firms make individual decisions, and the state of the economy is the aggregation of those individual decisions.  What can the government do to affect how those decisions aggregate?  Not a whole fucking lot.  That's where communism goes wrong.  The Fed can manage the inflation/unemployment tradeoff by setting interest rates, subject to the zero lower bound.  That's something!  It's also not the president.  The president can influence fiscal policy, which matters most in times of crisis, which this isn't, economically.  Politically, we are in an unprecedented crisis, but the economy is not in a crisis, so the president is economically irrelevant.

Look, I know this is hard.  The economy matters a lot.  The president is the most important elected official in the country.  That doesn't mean that the president controls the economy, or even has much influence.  Telling people this goes against everything human brains are wired to do.

Here's the question, though.  What specific actions did a specific president take?  What were the alternatives that the specific president could have taken, and what would have been the consequences?  FDR was economically consequential.  Herbert Hoover was economically consequential.  Both Dubya and Obama were.  And here's where I praise both.  TARP mattered.  It was the right thing to do.  The financial system was collapsing, TARP was needed to prevent another Great Depression, and after Congress stuck their collective heads (further) up their asses, the Bush Administration used the full force of Bush's workouts (along with a stock market plummet) to yank their heads free and get TARP passed.  The financial collapse was bad, but it would have been far worse without TARP, and Bush and Paulson did right.  You don't like his tax cuts?  I don't care.  That's ideology.  TARP helped save the economic system.  Obama struggled against mindless anti-Keynesianism to pull the country out of the "Great Recession," and had to stop idiots in the GOP from pushing the country past the "debt ceiling."  I'll give both Dubya and Obama credit for specific actions with clear economic consequences in times of crisis.  Strip out ideology, and do the math.  The Buchler-Gekko rule applies.

Bill Clinton?  It's hard to find specific actions he took for which we can give him credit for the booming 1990s economy.  The point is to find specific actions in times of crisis.

Trump?  Nope.  He is just doing his best to undercut his amazing luck with his stupid trade war, but that's anti-capitalist!

The beautiful thing about capitalism is that it insulates the economy from the decisions of a worthless dipshit like Donny Trump.  He is a perfect demonstration of why we should be glad we don't have a centrally planned economy.  They don't work, and they'd be even worse with someone like Donny at the helm.

Instead, he can spend his days and nights toilet-tweeting lies and racist conspiracy theories while the economy grows apace because economically, presidents just don't matter that much.

Hurray for Adam Fucking Smith.  His invisible hand is bigger than Donny's.  Grab away, Adam!

Remember when Republicans used to be capitalists instead of mercantilists?  Good times, good times...

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9/11, social science and modern politics

Today is 9/11.  I nearly forgot until I scanned the morning news, and saw mention of it.  And that's today's theme.

It has been a while since I have mentioned Philip Tetlock's Expert Political Judgment, but it is a great book that everyone should read.  It addresses why social scientists fail to make certain kinds of predictions, why most of us are no better than educated lay-people at predicting individual events rather than explaining aggregate patterns (that's really what social science is about anyway), and the different approaches that lead to better predictions.  Predicting 9/11?  Nope.  We didn't do that.  We fail at a lot of that kind of stuff.  We suck.

From a different side of the bookstore entirely, another of my favorite books is about to be turned into a tv series.  Isaac Asimov's Foundation.  I am nervous about this, since tv adaptations, and movie adaptations of great works have a spotty record, but for now, I'll reserve judgment.  Anyway, for those who haven't read it, read the first three books.  They're classics for a reason.  They are about a galactic civilization far in the future that is collapsing.  A mathematician named Hari Seldon devises a system called "psychohistory," which allows him to predict the future, and set things on a path to avoid the worst of a coming dark age as the galactic empire collapses.  Psychohistory allows Seldon to make pretty good predictions about how specific individuals will behave, but get away from one person, and that doesn't work.  Mostly, it works by explaining big trends in history.  He can't predict minor events.  Just the big stuff.  Big trends, because while minor deviations occur, they tend to revert to course.  Random errors cancel out, and history is basically set by socioeconomic forces rather than weird, one-off events, so even if weird, one-off events occur, things revert over time to their normal course.

This is a model of history that is perhaps different from, for example, Charles Stross's model in The Merchant Princes series, although that takes place over a shorter time span than Foundation (only a couple of centuries separate the primary timeline from the "New Britain" timeline, although the Clan's timeline broke off thousands of years earlier).  Still, enough of Seldon's course corrections play out over a comparable time span that the timeline differences in Stross's series matter.  Asimov's model and Stross's model are different, and I bring up The Merchant Princes series because there is an event in a timeline close to our own in which a nuke goes off in Washington D.C., and the result is that the timeline diverges so much that it goes from looking like that timeline was our own to something so radically different as to be a completely alternate history.

And yet, when we look at politics today, 9/11 is a date that I can nearly miss, even after just mentioning it in a recent post.  In this country, several thousand people died.  We are unused to that on any one day, and 9/11, 2001 was terrifying.  Even for a mathematician like me, because we didn't know what came next.  The big death tolls were from what the US did in response, though, and let's be blunt about that.  Justified or not, it's the truth, and even McCain admitted that the Iraq War was a mistake before he died.

Here, though, I can ask:  how would politics be different today without 9/11?  Obviously, we can't re-run American politics to know, but I can do some silly speculation.  Example:  Clinton's support of the Iraq invasion gave Obama the opening to beat her in the 2008 Democratic contest.  No Iraq War, no Obama.  No Obama, do we get Trump?  He was a creature of birtherism, after all...

Then again, I have argued on plenty of occasions that Trump is the natural conclusion of trends that began in the GOP with Gingrich, who predated 9/11.  If so, that kind of reasoning falls apart.  We are back to Asimov versus Stross.

9/11 is kind of out of the picture.  Terrorism is not a primary political issue at the moment, the economy is booming, and the basic undercurrents of racial tensions in American politics have been there for, well, centuries.  Have the basic underlying forces reverted to whatever they would have been without 9/11, as Hari Seldon would have said?

The basic observation that racial tensions have returned to their central place in American politics, supplanting terrorism, kind of sounds psychohistory-y to me.

Not that I can do Seldon's math.  If I could, maybe I'd find some out-of-the-way corner, call it Terminus, and hide there for a while.  And if you tell me that some damned robot taught me the math, I'd tell you to stop it with the retconning.*


*Don't read the prequels.  For the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, don't read the prequels.  I hate that damned robot!

Tuesday music: If you only listen to American music, you just suck

I'm not really inspired today, so here's some desert blues, which is common listening for me.  Tamikrest, "Outamachek," from Adagh.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Could Ted Cruz really lose?

This is a strange one.  Ted Cruz is an incumbent Republican running statewide in Texas.  Could he really lose?  There is a lot of buzz around this right now, and betting odds at PredictIt right now only put him at a 60-40 favorite.  The RealClearPolitics polling average right now gives him an average of a 4.4 point lead over O'Rourke, which is closer than any incumbent wants to be, and closer than it should be in Texas.  If 2018 did turn out to be the Democrats' version of 2010, it is possible for Cruz to lose.  Still, you do have to bet on the douchebag.  A few observations:

1)  Party ID.  Yes, we always have to start with this.  When in doubt, party ID wins.  Look what it took for a Democrat to win in Alabama:  the GOP had to nominate a damned child molester for Doug Jones to win.  And even then, it was close.  Texas is somewhat closer than Alabama because it is more diverse, but party ID is really hard to overcome.

2)  The effects of personality are generally overestimated.  Yes, Ted Cruz is a really horrible person, and everybody hates him.  If that mattered so much, then how did he get into the Senate?  Oh, right.  He's a Republican, and it's Texas.  See #1.  As I often say when I teach my Congress class (or, really, plenty of my classes), a group of geese is called a "gaggle."  A group of lions is called a "pride."  A group of assholes is called a "Senate."

3)  There is an old line that liberals fall in love, while conservatives fall in line.  Actually, conservatives fall in love too.  See:  Trump, Donald.  However, the left is frequently looking for some hero.  Somehow, O'Rourke has become one of these people.  Why?  Doesn't matter.  See #2.

4)  At the end of the day, legislative elections are affected by a combination of local and national forces.  Primarily, that means the partisan balance of the constituency, the relative experience levels of the candidates, and the partisan tides, to the degree that they exist, as they are determined by things like the state of the economy and presidential popularity.  Those things are, of course, in tension, as I have written.  We have a booming economy, but an unpopular president, which calls everything into question in terms of the potential for a partisan tide.  Yet, that is really the only way Cruz gets the phony, underutilized cowboy boot from his state of preening fashionistas*, given the partisan balance of Texas.  O'Rourke is a "quality" candidate, by the standards of the great guru of legislative elections, Gary Jacobson, because he is a member of the House of Representatives, but he's still a challenger running from the wrong party against an incumbent.  He needs a partisan tide, and that's indeterminate right now.

Could Ted Cruz lose?  Crazier things have happened.  Way crazier things have happened.  Alabama elected a Democrat because the GOP nominated a fuckin' child molester.  And Donald Trump is President, along with everything that goes along with that.  Generally, though, I go with political science, and political science says bet on Cruz.

And yes, if I had gone with political science in 2016, good ole' Alan Abramowitz's fancy, high-falutin' math (OK, it was simple OLS) would have told me to bet on "some Republican, whoever the fuck that is."  I'd have been right.


*If you aren't herding cattle, but on some real fucking shoes, you overly-fashion-conscious posers!

Monday morning blues: If you don't love blues, you hate America

Texas blues legend, T-Bone Walker!  "I'm About To Lose My Mind."


Sunday, September 9, 2018

The efficacy of "resistance" inside the White House

I suppose we have to keep dealing with that anonymous op-ed from the New York Times.

During the 2016 election, I addressed what I called the "burn it down" theory of electing Trump.  The idea was that Trump would be so horrid that there would be a reaction moving the country dramatically to the left, as in response to the Great Depression, but as recently as March, I came back to this, and my assessment was as follows.  My analogy was that we are being slowly eroded rather than burnt down, meaning there won't be a counter-reaction.  And there may not be a way back.

However, I am also not comfortable calling Trump the worst president ever.  Back in February, I posted this about a political science paper by Rottinghaus & Vaughn, surveying members of the Executive Politics section of the American Political Science Association (that would be the conference I just attended).  They put Trump dead last, and I excoriated them for not putting James Buchanan dead last.  That dude brought about the Civil War.  Trump hasn't done anything that bad.  Yet.  James Buchanan was the worst.  Period.

Later in that post, I went through some of the reasons that Trump hasn't been the worst, though, because he is clearly the least informed, least intelligent, most sociopathic and most corrupt president we have ever had.  If you made a list of all of the worst characteristics a person could have to make that person as bad a fit as possible for the job, you'd have Donald J. Trump.  As I have argued, he's like a stress test for the country, akin to that faced by banks.  Absolute worst case scenario.  So, why isn't the country completely aflame?  I went through three possible reasons while excoriating my fellow political scientists from the Executive Politics section of the APSA.  Time, opportunity, and checks within the executive branch.

We are less than halfway through Trump's first term, and yes, I write, "first term" because I put the odds at greater than 50% that he gets re-elected.  Most presidents are re-elected.  My Bayesian prior is that he wins a second term because I don't think that the scandals will have any electoral consequences in 2020 after enough mindless repetitions of the pilfered and misappropriated phrase, "fake news."  The American public is too stupid.  Am I worried about offending anyone with that?  No.  I wrote it and they can't fuckin' read.

Anyway, Trump has plenty of time to bring about disasters.  Even Buchanan didn't torch the country on Day 1.  That's clearly not where I'm going with this post, though.

Opportunity?  Still relevant.  Presidents matter most in times of crisis, and Donald Trump is the luckiest motherfucker in history, but how long can his/our luck hold?  How many presidents go through their terms without a serious economic/international crisis?  Bill Clinton.  He, um... got lucky in the White House.  Anyone with that kind of luck should bust out some cigars to celebrate!  A lot of it really is luck, but crises do happen, and Trump is going out of his way to create crises with his stupid fucking trade war.

And that brings me to what else I wrote in that February post.  I referenced Corker's comment about the White House being "adult day care," while belittling Corker for letting himself be brought to heel like the spineless coward that all congressional Republicans are.  And now, we have the anonymous op-ed.  The author basically says that this really is what's going on.  They all know Trump is psycho, and the reason things aren't bursting into flames is that the White House staff and cabinet are stopping the fuckin' Idiot-in-Chief from doing all of the lunatic shit he wants to do.  This account is backed by Woodward's book, painting the same picture.

I return, then, to the Trump versus Buchanan comparison.  Without the resistors inside the White House, if these accounts are correct, Trump would do a lot more damage.  How much?  We don't know.  We can't know.  Enough to "burn it down," as my earlier posts discussed?

Well, one of the accounts we have from Woodward is the observation that Trump wanted to plan a first strike on North Korea.  My most dire warning of Trump has been, and continues to be that he could just start a war that escalates to nuclear war.  Woodward's account says I've been right about that.  This has been a serious risk, tamped down by the resistors around Trump.  Thank these people for saving our collective asses.  Of course, if things had gone down that road, I wouldn't look at the situation as a glorious opportunity to rebuild.  That really would be too close to a Ra's Al Ghul situation.  Only a comic book villain looks at that scenario and says, "yeah, let's do that so that we can rebuild."  Just because this country elected a cartoonish villain as president doesn't mean those of us with the capacity for conscientious thought must adopt comic book mentalities.

Regardless, if Woodward and the op-ed writer to whom I shall continue to refer as "Shallow Throat" are correct, then what keeps Trump from sinking to Buchanan levels of horribleness is the fact that Trump is surrounded by an efficacious resistance.

However, that leaves time and opportunity.  The slow erosion of our democratic norms continues apace regardless of what the resistors do, and there is no way around that.  That damage may be irreparable.  Beyond that, though, in order for Trump to commit one single act to light the fire we cannot douse, the resistors only have to fail once, and the probability of that happening asymptotically approaches 1 the longer Trump remains in office.  This is the basic problem of the crooks versus security.  If crooks are trying to breach security, over and over again, maintaining security requires being successful every time.  The crooks only have to be successful once.  Given enough time, success becomes inevitable.  Then, there's opportunity.  Opportunity for Trump to do real damage comes from points of crisis.  We aren't at a real crisis point, economically or internationally, which minimizes the importance of whoever sits in the White House.  Crisis points happen.  1962 happens.  1941 happens.  9/11 happens.  There are times when it really matters who the president is, and that you have someone sane and competent, as Michael Bloomberg implored at the DNC in 2016.  The longer Trump is in office, the greater the probability that we hit a point at which it matters who the president is, and Trump is too stupid and crazy to handle a crisis, no matter how efficacious the resistors are.

Yes, it looks very much like the resistors are doing everything they can to keep things from going up in flames.  Can that last?  The longer Trump remains in office, the higher the probability that they will fail at least once on something big.  All that batshit crazy idiot needs is once and James Buchanan could lose his title.

Put on a fresh pot of coffee, resistors!  No sleep for the weary!