Saturday, June 30, 2018

Follow-up on Maxine Waters and negative partisanship

I'll be brief this morning, since I rambled yesterday on this topic.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) had to cancel an event.  Here's a write-up from Roll Call.  Short version:  she's getting death threats.  Shocker.  How can I be so cold-blooded about this?  This is what politics are, particularly today.  She didn't call for violence, but Trump has a history of calling for violence against anyone who protests him.  I wrote about it regularly during the GOP primaries.  Also, his supporters are really, really racist.  So, of course they're going to make death threats.  Will they actually do it?  Probably not, but violence against outspoken African-Americans is kind of an American thing.  Also, um... the events were scheduled in Alabama and Texas.  No further comment necessary.

Anyway, the topic for today is a simple reminder.  Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster coined the term, "negative partisanship," in this paper.  Essentially, partisanship is no longer so much about liking one's own party as it is about hating the other party.  Donald Trump is the perfect exemplar of negative partisanship.  He is hatred personified.  Racial hatred.  Misogyny.  He is the vessel of Republican hatred of Democrats, and every out-group represented by Democrats.  Democrats, in turn, hate him for some combination of his racism, his misogyny, or his partisan hatred itself, and that spurs more Republican hatred of Democrats and attachment to Trump.  Infinite mirrors, reflecting hatred.

Maxine Waters called for confrontation.  The result?  Death threats to the point that she canceled her events.  How many Trumpkins want her assassinated?  There is really no way to say, but keep in mind that Trump himself worships Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Saddam Hussein, and authoritarian dictators generally.  He constantly praises them for their "toughness."  Yesterday after that shooting was the first time in my memory that Trump ever acknowledged a role for a free press in society, finally deviating from his fascist rhetoric about how the press is the "enemy of the American people."  One of his main campaign slogans in 2016 was a demand to imprison his opponent.

The Republican Party is not a "normal" small-d democratic party engaged in good-faith debate, and Donald Trump, if he could have his way, would stamp out all dissent.  That's why he praises every other world leader who has done so.  Maxine Waters calls for confrontation, and cancels events because of death threats.  Yup.  This is where we are now.

But make no mistake-- the negative partisanship we observe is not symmetric.  Waters didn't call for violence, as Trump regularly has, and that asymmetry is not about ideological purity.  Sorry Grossman & Hopkins, but when the GOP circles the wagons around a tax-raising, trade war-starting, Putin stooge, this ain't about fidelity to the principles on those sacred tablets handed down from Mount Vernon by Saint Ronnie.

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

I could use this one for a Sunday post, but what the hell?  Tara Nevins, "The Wrong Side," from Wood & Stone.

Friday, June 29, 2018

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

The Downbeat Critic's Poll for 2018 came out, and I pay attention to that.  Some interesting choices there, and as a guitar fan in particular, my eye immediately goes to that choice.  Mary Halvorson.  For those of you who pay attention to the jazz posts here, you'll see a heavy focus on hard bop and post-bop, but very little free jazz or anything "avant-garde."  I tend to think that most of those people are naked emperors.  Mary Halvorson, though, really may just be smarter than I am.  I pay attention to her, try to listen, and I know there's something there.  When I listen to her, I feel like one of the old guard, who just barely understood that Bird & Diz were onto something, but couldn't really fully wrap their brains around it.  Anyway, here's some Mary Halvorson, if you dare.

Maxine Waters, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and civility

Well, HeLLOOOO!  I am Mr. Manners, but of course, it would be terribly improper and uncivil for you to refer to me as Mr., but of course, you, my dear readers, know that.  For you see, my proper title is Doctor Manners.  Or, if you prefer, Professor Manners.  Either would be appropriate, and that is really the subject for today.  Propriety.  Propriety and civility.  I have been asked to write a guest post by our McGoohan-inspired blog administrator, and I must say, I rrrrrrelish the opportunity to address any audience on this vital topic because we must always be civil and proper, and what better venue for a discussion of civility and propriety than The Unmutual Political Blog?  So, shall we begin?

First, let us...

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Get lost, asshole!

Sorry, folks.  Little technical difficulty.  I don't know who that jackass was, but that was the second strangest B&E I have ever experienced in my life.  Anyway, I might as well keep going with the theme.  It's sort of like the "professor's challenge."  That's a game we play, in which we try to work in whatever has been left on the board from the previous class, just to see if we can do it.  Can I handle this one?  Yeah, why the fuck not?!  In fact, I think nobody is more qualified than yours truly to address this bizarre pseudo-issue.

As a refresher, professional liar, Sarah Huckabee Sanders got herself kicked out of a restaurant, which has a "liars not served here" sign posted, or at least, one implied.  Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) called for more confrontations of the kind, and backlash against Waters ensued, along with debates about "civility."  She was even unjustly accused of calling for violence.  Hmmm...

Oh, civility.  I'm gonna go on a ramble here.  Don't worry, kids.  I brewed plenty of coffee.  Time for a bit of a tangent, though, because I have to do things in a roundabout way.  It'll be fun.  I promise.

What kind of fictional villains do you hate to hate?  That's a weird question, I know.  Villains are supposed to be the characters with whom you don't identify, by general structure, unless you are a psycho.  Some villains, though, are really interesting villains because you can identify with them.  They have ideological perspectives that make them compelling.  Comic books are great for this.  My favorite?  Magneto.  What makes Magneto a great villain is that he is, basically, right.  Magneto is a holocaust survivor who sees anti-mutant activities by the government and hate groups as nothing more than naziism redux, and since every effort Xavier makes at the "can't we all just get along" philosophy falls apart, Magneto is kind of right.  What makes him villainous is his methodology, but his core perspective is kind of right.  You don't have to agree with what he does to understand and sympathize with his perspective.  Did you see Black Panther?  I admit I didn't read the comics, even though I know I should read Ta-Nehisi Coates's.  Did you find yourself thinking that Killmonger was kind of right?  Wakanda sat back and did nothing while black people were oppressed around the world and throughout history.  Killmonger wanted to do something.  You may not agree with what he wanted to do, but Wakanda, by hiding and doing nothing despite its technology, was arguably complicit.  Killmonger was kind of right.  That's what makes for a great villain.  Having a legitimate point and a legitimate perspective.  I love works of fiction with that kind of villain.

Then, there are the moustache-twirlers.  They're just boring.  I don't hate to hate them.  I just hate wasting my time with them because they're boring.  The easiest way to portray a character as a moustache-twirling villain would be something like having the character kidnap children.  Lazy writing.  That's just making someone over the top evil.  I mean, who does that in real life?  Oh, right...

What kind of villains do I hate to hate?  The ones who set my blood boiling?  The ones who make me crave their comeuppance?  The ever-so-civil ones.  Example:  I just read the fourth book in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series.  I'm not really a fan, but someone suggested it as a point to skip to for when it gets good.  Meh.  Anyway, the villain is Aurora, the "Lady of Summer," who is sort of a fairy queen-in-waiting.  Not only is she ever-so-polite and proper, she is warm, and gentle, and wants you to know how caring she is, and how much it hurts her to see you in pain.  When she's fucking murdering you.

With Aurora, it is less of an act than with other villains who pull the "I hate to see anyone in pain" act while wreaking havoc, but these are the villains who just piss me off the most.

Here's the thing, though.  They never fail to act with "civility."  Note the sarcastic quote marks.  "Civility" is the polish you put on a turd.  (Decency is not being a turd in the first place).  You can polish a turd, but it's still a turd.  The problem with a polished turd is that someone might pick it up.  I'd rather you not polish the turd, to avoid any such mishaps.  If you go around polishing turds, you are doing a disservice to the world by concealing reality.  The reality of a polished turd is that it is still a turd.  A villain who behaves as Aurora does in Jim Butcher's Summer Knight is a polished turd.  Don't polish turds.  Flush them.  The last thing we need is a bunch of turds running around giving people e coli because some asshole polished them instead of flushing them.

Decency.  That's different from civility.  Decency is behaving in an honorable manner and following basic principles of morality.  Civility is smiling, and sitting upright and maintaining and even tone of voice, and all of that surface-level stuff.

Civility, I am not the first to note, is the demand made by those in power to those out of power because a) it's a hell of a lot easier to smile when you are in power, and b) there's no reason to express anger when you have all the power.  Telling people out of power not to express anger because it's uncivil?  That's a bullshit trap.  It's a way to tell people out of power to shut up and take it.  With extra condescension.

I am not the first to note that while MLK is now praised for his civility in retrospect, that is not how those in power described him at the time.

Righteous anger is easy to condemn as "incivility."  Then again, so is the behavior of Donald J. Trump.  I'll get to him.  I'm gonna run out of coffee, though.  I still haven't even gotten to Waters or Sanders.  I should hurry that along.

Maxine Waters.  I'm not generally a fan.  In Going Off The Rails On A Crazy Train, Waters ranked fifth on my "batshit list."  Unlike Pelosi, who made the list on the basis of a leadership position, Waters got there by being Maxine Waters.  Trump insulted her intelligence which... Donny doesn't get to do that, but Waters has never really impressed me as being a font of wisdom.  So, I approach any mention of Waters with, let's just say, a bias against her that I admit up-front.  On the other hand, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  Ooooohhh, can that woman lie.  Donald Trump is the most crooked politician in American history.  I'll state that.  He may very well be controlled by a hostile foreign government.  He is a racist, a misogynist, grossly incompetent, and he lies more than any human being in history.  And Sarah Huckabee Sanders's job is to go on camera and lie to defend him.

That's vile.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders is vile.  She is playing an active role in the destruction of one of the most important elements of any civil society-- the concept of truth.  If she were a fictional character, she'd be a boring villain for the purity of her evil.

At long last, she has no decency.  One could find a definition of, "civility" that her behavior meets, but I would find her lies uncivil, or at least indecent, even if she didn't deliver them with her patented sneer.  She's not Aurora.  She's a boring, one-dimensional villain.

What, then, is she owed?  Or rather, let me turn this around.  Can I draw a distinction between the "incivility" of what Waters has called for, and how, say, Trump behaves?

Yes.  Yes, I can.

Remember when Donald Trump bragged about the size of his penis during a presidential debate?  Yes, that happened.  It wasn't some nightmare, or hallucination, or something like that.  That happened.  And then a bunch of racist, redneck fuckwits, with an assist from the FBI director, made that douchebag president.  Oh, and he brags about getting away with sexual assault.  Do you need a moment?  I'll wait...


I know, you're still nauseous, but I've got more to say.  Hey, it's summer.  What the hell?  Anyway, after Trump's penile-insecurity debate moment, I wrote this post.  Trump was and is regularly attacked for being vulgar and uncivil.  That, as I saw it, was never really the problem.  To take the cock-brag moment as an example, the problem wasn't that he broke decorum to brag about the size of his penis on the debate stage.  The problem was that he is so insecure that he felt the need to do so.  So, I started that post with a set of hypotheticals intended to get at the real importance of acting in a well-mannered... um... manner.

Trump is a bully (among many other things).  You can be a bully and still follow all of the rules of "civility," though.  My current maybe-favorite author, Nora K. Jemisin [swoon], has a term for it:  "weaponized politeness."  It is the term she uses in reference to the character of Feldspar in The Fifth Season.  Feldspar is a woman who rises through the ranks of "The Fulcrum" in part by always following the rules of civility in such a way as to cut everyone around her down.  And always with a polite smile.  She's vile.  Read the book and you'll hate her just as much as your POV character, Syenite.  Feldspar is "civil," but she is in no way a good person.  I don't give a damn whether you use weaponized politeness or just call everyone "weak," the way Trump does.  It's all the same thing to me.  The difference is about power.  Trump bullies people over whom he has power.  Right now, that's pretty much everyone.  Whether you do it with crude insults or weaponized politeness is irrelevant.

Protest against someone in a position of power cannot be categorized the same way.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders is in a position of power.  She abuses that power.  She abuses people.  To be blunt, she abuses everyone by lying about everything.  She diminishes America's capacity to have anything remotely resembling democracy because however we define "democracy," it depends on open debate with at least an agreement that there is such a thing as objective truth.  Liars on Sanders's scale undercut the foundations of democracy to such an extent that, yes, she abuses everyone by diminishing the country.  She has power, and she abuses it.

I warned years ago that there was no point in interviewing Donald Trump because he is basically Tony Clifton.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders can't manage the same pace of lying as Trump, because no one can, but a good faith conversation with her is as futile.

What, then, is "civility" when it comes to engagement with Sarah Huckabee Sanders?  She is not making good-faith arguments from a perspective with which I, or Maxine Waters simply disagree.  She's a liar, and she is contributing to the downfall of democracy in America.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is facing protest.  Whoever is in power will always claim that protesters are violating rules of "civility," and as I said, it is easy to smile and maintain an even tone of voice when you have all the power, thereby turning it into just another condescending attack when the people you hurt voice their opinions.

So, yeah.  Civility.  I'll take decency instead, thank you very much.

What about the possibility that protests of this kind will cause backlash?  I doubt it matters.  Trumpkins can't possibly hate Democrats any more than they already do, independent voters will just swing with the economy (which is doing quite well), and generally, the country is pretty much fucked anyway.  Look forward to my July 4th post!  It'll be celebratory!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Anthony Kennedy's retirement (and Ruth Bader Ginsburg)

I have several reactions.

1.  A year ago, I wrote this, basically saying that Kennedy should retire.  Strategically, it was obviously the right move.  Sticking around until the last moment he could guarantee a Republican Senate to confirm a replacement was perfect strategy.  Anthony Kennedy was thinking about the implications of his choices for the future.  That's what smart people do.

2.  The other part of that previous post was the contrast of my Kennedy semi-prediction with Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  She could have stepped down under Reid's post-nuclear Democratic Senate and easily had a like-minded replacement confirmed, but she was too oblivious to understand what Reid's partial nuclear option meant, so she stuck around, and now she'll probably die with Trump in the White House.  Ginsburg is a fool.  If you are a liberal, you should detest her for her cluelessness and narcissism.  Those traits are going to leave you, in all likelihood, with either a 6-3 conservative majority that lasts for years, or at best, a 5-3 majority if the Democrats can scrape out a Senate majority in 2018*, but even then, unless the economy tanks, Trump wins in 2020 anyway.  Ginsburg is not smart, and like I said, liberals really should hate her for not doing what Kennedy is smart enough to do now.  If you are a Ginsburg-worshipping liberal reading this, and getting pissed off at me, ask yourself this question.  Suppose Ginsburg dies with Trump in the White House.  It is more than a reasonable likelihood given her age and cancer.  Suppose, further, that the GOP has at least Pence breaking a tie in the Senate, and Trump appoints some Federalist Society-type to replace her, and I remind you that she could have been replaced by some mini-Ginsburg if she had just swallowed her pride back in 2014, with Reid extending the nuclear option.  Are you still going to have fond memories of her?  A 5-4 conservative majority can flip.  6-3?  That's harder.  I'm crass and cold-blooded.  You know what else I am?  Correct.

3.  Of course, the 5-vote conservative majority was inevitable once Comey handed the White House to Trump, and given McConnell's stunt back in 2016 blockading Scalia's seat.  Anthony Kennedy's retirement was going to move the Court to the right, and Ginsburg couldn't have stopped that.  All she could have done is prevent further slippage.

4.  Roe v. Wade is probably toast.  Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch are going to be champing at the bit for a case to overturn it.  Trump doesn't care, unless he has to abort a mistress's little "oopsie" because, come on, he probably has, and he'll just go with some right-wing Federalist Society pick.  Roberts would never, under any circumstances, strike down an abortion restriction, so the only question is whether or not he would actually overturn Roe v. Wade, but realistically, come on.  He will.  Kennedy was the only real hold-out among the conservative block, and with him gone, replacing him with a Federalist Society pick will put the court over the edge for a Roe v. Wade overturn.

5.  For anyone who rejects the attitudinal model, and says that Justices only rule on constitutional interpretation, or something like that, care to place a wager on how Kennedy's replacement will vote on abortion restrictions?  I'll place my bet now, not even knowing who it will be.

*Current betting at PredictIt gives the GOP more than a 2-to-1 edge for retaining the Senate.

On immigration, I told you so

If I were a bigger person, I wouldn't do the "I told you so" thing, but... I'm me.  I told you so.  You may have missed it amid all of the big Supreme Court news, but the House finally voted on their bullshit immigration bill, and it went down hard.  Why?  The conservatives wanted no part of anything even resembling a compromise.  Why not?  Because I was right all along.  They consider granting "amnesty" to be a high crime on par with the holocaust, and want to put a scarlet "A" on the suit lapel of anyone who supports it.

Everything these people do is theater, and the "moderates" who backed down on the discharge petition got snookered.  Shocker.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Are Democratic incumbents getting primaried from the left now?

The big headline from yesterday's elections was Rep. Joe Crowley's (D-NY) loss to a moonbat*, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Weird things happen.  This was a weird thing.  The incumbent lost.  On rare occasions, that happens.  The Republican Party has been shifting ever-rightward at least partially out of an overblown fear of primary challenges, which are based on a few anecdotes rather than actually serious threats.  Incumbents are safe, particularly in primaries.  They are less likely to lose primaries than they are to lose general elections, and centrists are more likely to win general elections than extremists.  See, for example, Canes-Wrone, Brady & Cogan's 2002 APSR article, or Walter Stone's new book.  If incumbents move away from the center out of a misplaced fear of primaries, they are making strategic mistakes.  D or R, it's a strategic mistake.  Crowley lost.  If the Democratic Party does what the GOP has been doing, and acts like there is vast leftward pressure from primaries on the basis of an anecdote, well, at least we'd have symmetric stupidity.

*Remember that rightwing wackos are called "wingnuts," and leftwing wackos are called, "moonbats."  Technical, political science jargon.  Get your insults straight.

The Supreme Court and Trump's "travel ban"

I can't say I'm surprised by the ruling since I was too cowardly to make a prediction on this one.  I've looked through a bunch of my posts on the topic, and most of them were pretty weaselly.  See, for example, this one.  In the Court's opinions, no discussion of Lemon v. Kurtzman, which is my reference point in this matter, as I discussed in this older post, and certainly nobody had the courage to bring up what the travel ban obviously was:  redlining.  I've been calling it "redlining for muslims" all along.  The "attitudinal model," as a reminder, is the model that says Justices are nothing more than regular, old politicians with regular, old partisan and ideological preferences.  The costumes are just a stupid affectation.  As George E.P. Box said, "all models are wrong.  Some are useful."  We're gettin' a helluva lot of use out of that model lately.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

OK, Supreme Court, what am I supposed to teach on redistricting?!

Make up your damned minds.  I need to have lesson plans.

This will not stand, man.  This aggression will not stand.  Across this line you will not...  Also, Don Blankenship, "Chinaman," is not the preferred nomenclature.  I know he has nothing to do with this, but as long as I am quoting The Big Lebowski, I might as well add that in there, right?

Anyway, I really don't like those people on the Supreme Court.  They make my job difficult sometimes.  Here's the deal on redistricting plans.  What are the basic constitutional requirements?

1)  Equal population (since Baker v. Carr)
2)  Contiguity-- you have to be able to get from anywhere in the district to anywhere in the district without leaving the district.
3)  Race-- you have to... um... do... some... fuck, even I don't know, and I'm a published expert on this topic.

I'm not even mentioning partisan gerrymandering because those lily-livered cowards still won't make up their minds about that (currently, there is precedent stating that there could, in theory, be a plan that goes too far for constitutionality, but the Court has never said how far that is, nor struck down a plan for partisan gerrymandering, so I won't list it as a requirement, even though Gill v. Whitford was supposed to settle it!), but let's deal with the race issue.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been interpreted to mean that, when possible, states must draw "majority-minority" districts, or, districts in which a majority of the population is a racial or ethnic minority.  Those are the only districts in which non-whites have a significant likelihood of getting elected.  The issue here is what we call "descriptive representation."  White people vote for white people, mostly.  So, draw districts in which non-whites are majorities, and they can get their own representation.  VRA.  Then, we've got Shaw v. Reno, which says that race really shouldn't be the primary consideration in drawing districts.

So, race and redistricting?  There is no legal coherence, and everything is challenged.  Consequently, most plans are defended as partisan gerrymanders, which the Court won't strike down.  Along comes Cooper v. Harris last year saying that, in the South in particular, race and party are the same fuckin' thing.  So, you can't avoid a VRA challenge by claiming the partisan gerrymander defense.

Cooper v. Harris got stomped on yesterday by Alito's opinion in Abbott v. Perez.  It all boiled down to "assume good faith on race from conservative southern whites, even when presented with direct evidence to the contrary."  The whole point of Cooper v. Harris was to say that you can't hide behind partisanship in the fuckin' South.  In the South, race and partisanship are too closely intertwined.  So what does Alito do?  He says, maybe they're innocent.  Maybe it's not race.  It's just party.

Cooper v. Harris, motherfucker.  Cooper v. Harris.  He just breezed on past that one.

What is permissible and what isn't?

Let's be blunt:  whatever you can convince five SCOTUS justices to accept at the time is permissible.  There is no real rule.  That's it.  I couldn't tell you what will pass muster and what won't, and I am an expert in this shit.

Will that ever change?  No.  Why?  Because this is all bullshit.  The Supreme Court is not a group of learned scholars passing judgment based on sage wisdom interpreting a sacred document passed down to us from on high.  They're a bunch of weaselly politicians, making it up as they go.  That leaves people like me, who truly do understand redistricting, scratching our heads in frustration at their inability to make up their minds and come up with a consistent standard.

My standard lecture on redistricting when it comes to race is to say that we have no federal standard.  Everything gets challenged, and we can never say with certainty what SCOTUS will do because they can't make up their minds.

I like to bring dice into the classroom to demonstrate probability theory when I teach statistics.  I think I'll start using dice to demonstrate the Supreme Court's decision-making process when it comes to redistricting.  The Supremes do play dice with our political universe.  Sorry, Al, but you were wrong.

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

Sorry, but I got nothin' today, theme-wise.  Here's a Rokia Traore concert.

Monday, June 25, 2018

On racism, representation and democracy

I am relatively certain I have written something vaguely like this before, but I can't find the post.  It makes a fitting follow-up to yesterday's post anyway.

Consider two questions:

1)  Do all people deserve an equal vote, and hence equal representation and equal political power?

2)  Should racists have political power over racial and ethnic minorities?

Ooopsies!  If you answered, "yes," to Question 1, and, "no," to Question 2, then congratulations.  You have successfully been indoctrinated into western small-d democratic values.  You have also contradicted yourself.

The concept of the one-person-one-vote standard took a long time getting here.  First, we had to get rid of slavery, but even then, it took a century before we got the Voting Rights Act, and we still have enforcement problems.  Women didn't get the right to vote until a century ago.  There's a line about "the arc of history," but it is far too optimistic for me.  I'm more of a Sinclair Lewis kind of guy at this point.  Yes, we can... backslide.  Sí, se puede.

Anyway, one-person-one-vote.  We aren't supposed to deny people a vote, nor representation on the basis of political beliefs, right?  Right?

But, a vote is power.  If everyone has a vote, then everyone, racists included, have power, and that means the potential for racists to impose their will on racial and ethnic minorities.  To accept the one-person-one-vote principle as sacrosanct above all else is to accept racial oppression unless you accept a higher principle above the OPOV principle, in which case, you know, fuck democracy, but that's kind of what emboldens the "populists."  Read:  pissed off white people.

Legally, this gets into the issue of constitutional design, and my good buddy, Commander William Riker, of the Starship Rochester.  Good book:  Liberalism Against Populism.  By, "liberalism," he really meant libertarianism, in the tradition of James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, and the critical work here is actually The Calculus of Consent.  Buchanan and Tullock essentially argued that the only truly legitimate standard for voting is unanimity because everything else requires the imposition of will on someone who doesn't consent, and that is a situation with the capacity for exploitation.  They were concerned primarily with economic exploitation because they were economists, but it works for racial exploitation too.  Put civil rights up for a vote, and it tends to fail.  Had Brown v. Board been up for popular referendum rather than Supreme Court adjudication, things would have turned out differently.  Why?  Because segregation was popular.  Here's the thing.  Civil rights and civil liberties-- those are the things that we have cordoned off and said, "you don't put those up for a vote.  Popular opinion doesn't fucking matter on these things.  Racists-- go fuck yourselves (but please stop fucking your siblings) because you just don't get a say on this stuff."  This is the real source of "populist" anger.  They are structurally, legally prohibited from policy victory by a system that says that they are not allowed to win because we, as a society have deemed their positions too odious.

We're still stuck in that Question 1 versus Question 2 knot, though.  Why on these things and not on others?  Who says that these are the issues about which public opinion doesn't matter?

And it gets really messy the deeper we dig into my realm of scholarship.  Kenneth Arrow's Nobel was for Social Choice and Individual Values, which may be my favorite piece of scholarship ever written.  Arrow showed that a set of five conditions for "democracy" cannot simultaneously be met by any electoral rule.  Taking a set of outcomes and asserting that they cannot be allowed to win, no matter what the group's preferences are, directly violate's one of Arrow's conditions.

And I'm just fine with that because I am fine saying racists don't get to win, but that means you have to look back at Question 1 with some serious side-eye because fuck those people!  Yes, we are violating one of Arrow's conditions, but we already know from the impossibility theorem that we have to violate at least one, so who cares?  Let's just pick the least important, and violate that one.

The alternative is the Buchanan & Tullock problem.  Democracy is not truly about consensus.  Democracy is about imposition.  One of the points I addressed in my first book was the problem with the analogy between markets and elections.  In a market, you get what you buy.  I buy some hipster-approved coffee beans to grind myself every morning (guess what's on my mind!), and those are the beans I get.  You buy Starbucks, you get Starbucks.  We're each happy because we get what we buy.  In an election, I don't get what I vote for.  If I did, I'd be living in Clinton's America right now.  (2016 was the first time I ever publicly admitted how I voted because... you figure it out.)  What any one of us gets is dependent on how the rest of us behave.  In my first book, I put a stupid, pretentious term on that concept, because I'm an academic, and that's how we do things:  "the principle of voter interdependence."

[Excuse me for a moment while I remove the large stick from my ass...]

[AAHHHHH!!!!!  That's better.]

Anyway, this is the core problem with elections.  They necessarily generate "externalities."  Always.  Mechanically, they have to.  That's really why I don't like competitive elections.  They maximize the magnitude of the negative externalities.  What do things like civil rights protections do?  They limit those negative externalities.

They also reduce the stakes of elections, to the degree that they put policy beyond the reach of whoever wins.  That's automatic victory for the good guys.

And automatic loss for the racists.

As it should be.

Fuck democracy.  Racists can't be allowed to win, no matter how many of them there are.  That's the point.  That's why civil rights protections exist.  But, once you accept the premise of civil rights protections, you reject the value of the one-person-one-vote standard as sacrosanct.

As you should.  Racists shouldn't be allowed to win, no matter how many of them there are.  And you know that.  (The ones who don't aren't going to read this blog).  Now, wrap your brain around what that means for representation, voting and power.  It doesn't go to where most people think.

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

Otis Taylor, "Ten Million Slaves," from Respect the Dead.  There's another version on Recapturing the Banjo.  Everything Otis Taylor does is great.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

On human awfulness, psychology debunkery and immigration

Philip Zimbardo.  That would be the awful human being who ran the Stanford prison "experiment."  You know the one, right?  Students were assigned to the roles of either guards or prisoners, and within a couple of days, the "experiment" was shut down because of the level of mistreatment.  The "experiment" was among the more famous "social science" demonstrations of how ordinary people, or at least, Stanford students, could be easily manipulated into doing horrible things, in that case, just by being put into power relationships.

The thing about the Zimbardo experiment is that nobody could ever even really try to replicate it.  That's a big problem because, as you hopefully know by now-- I reference it frequently here-- psychology is undergoing what we are calling a "replication crisis."  A lot of psychology, to be blunt, is total bullshit.  A lot of it.  Pick a study in a major journal.  Maybe even a frequently-cited one.  Try to replicate its core finding.  You'll probably fail.  Why?  Because here's how the incentives are set up in psychology.  Devise an experiment.  Play around with the lab conditions and keep doing it until you find a "statistically significant" result.  This is a joke about jelly beans and acne, but it really is how psychology works.  Try replicating the green jelly bean thing, and you'll fail.  Same thing with a lot of psychology.

Right now, that's what's happening with psychology.  People are finally getting around to trying to replicate famous, and less-than-famous findings, and realizing that a lot of psychology is bunk.  A lot of psychology that you probably believe is bunk.

Philip Zimbardo.  The Stanford prison experiment.  It could never be replicated if anyone wanted.  Why not?  Human subjects.  If anyone went to their IRBs and said, "hey!  You know how all of that psychology stuff keeps getting debunked?  I wanna see if Zimbardo holds up.  Can I please try replicating the Zimbardo prison experiment?"  They'd get shut down faster than Trump trying to reach for his wife's hand!  Getting a proposal through IRB requires demonstrating no reasonable likelihood of psychological damage to any human subject.  Replicating Zimbardo?  They'd tell me to go fuck myself if I proposed trying to replicate that precisely.  There have been proposals for partial replications, and such, but really, fully replicating Zimbardo?  Nope.  No way.

That has put the whole shebang off-limits for the replication crisis.


And, this is where it gets fun for me as a Berkeley Ph.D., Zimbardo is a fuckin' fraud.  Remember all those sarcastic quote marks I put in the first paragraph?  Yeah, that's because there was no experiment.  As you may have read by now, Zimbardo coached everyone to play their roles in a specific, scripted way.  Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit!

Fuckin' Stanford!

All of this raises some interesting questions for misanthropes like me.  The Zimbardo "study" falls into the category of studies examining human capacity for evil.  This raises two closely related questions.  First, is the lab the right setting for such an inquiry, and second, do we require the benefits of a lab?

Social science jargon.  When done properly, social science works.  Zimbardo was a fuckin' fraud, so please don't impugn all of social science for what that motherfucker did.  Some of us are honest.  #notallsocialscientists?  Is that a thing?  I don't know.  I just write this pretentious, little blog.  Anyway, internal validity versus external validity.  When you conduct a study, internal validity refers to the extent to which your results are reflective of what actually happened within the bounds of your study.  In a lab, you can control the variables, so you have a high degree of internal validity.  If manipulating a variable, through random assignment, caused a change, you know what happened because you manipulated the variable.  That's internal validity.  External validity is the extent to which your results are reflective of what actually happens in a little place I like to call "reality."  The world outside your lab.  Social science experiments have a problem with this because lab settings, by their nature, have to get rid of a lot of realism.  My empirical work is observational, so it has a higher degree of external validity, but I can't be as confident in the internal validity because I'm not experimentally manipulating any variables.

Zimbardo wasn't doing observational or experimental analysis.  It was a con.  And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for some meddling kids.  But, what about the concept of a lab setting for studying questions of human awfulness?

Is it the right setting?  That depends on what you want to know.  If your goal is to find out the conditions that increase or decrease an individual's propensity to act in a despicable manner, then experimentally manipulating those conditions in a lab can be appropriate.  There have been questions raised about Milgram's methodology, consistency and the validity of his results too, but that's sort of what Milgram was addressing.  On the issue of requirements, though, that's where you sort of lose me.  I am an observational social scientist.

Yes, observation rather than experimentation.  Science does not require experimentation, and anyone who says otherwise does not understand science.  Think about what gets excluded from a definition that excludes observation.  Astrophysics!  Geology!  Come on, people, think about this shit.

Albert Einstein never did an experiment in his life.  The 1919 eclipse that made him famous was observation.  Seriously, people, think about this shit.

Anyway, what can we learn about the human capacity for awfulness through observation-sans-experimentation?  Plenty.  That's basically why I am a misanthrope.

Here's where something like Zimbardo's study would have been useful, had it been real.  Remember Abu Ghraib?  Zimbardo got some time in the spotlight when that scandal came out because of a question of prison abuse.  Prison guards tend to be shitbags.  Not just military prisons because, well, there isn't as much choice there, but prison guards more generally.  In fact, in general, people who seek out positions in which they have power over others tend to be fucking shitbags who abuse others.  But, is it just that people who want power tend to be bad people, or because Lord Acton was onto something?  The way to tell, if you are trying to get that specific, is by randomizing who has power, and who is powerless.  Zimbardo was full of shit.  He gave everyone a script, and said, "it's actin', baby, actin'!"  Sorry, that's, "Acton."

Does the world randomize enough, though, that observation-sans-experimentation will suffice?  Let's deal with race.  As whiteness is currently socially-defined, I am white.  I didn't choose to be white.  Some people have mixed heritage and can "pass" as one race or another because race is a social construct, but most of us didn't choose our races strategically in any way.  That creates a power dynamic.  What do people do with that?  Not in the lab, but in the real world?  Actual events.  Historical, and current.  That's some pretty ugly shit, isn't it?

We can talk about the history of slavery, segregation, and all that, but racism is still around, and still a big part of American life.  Case in point:  Donald Trump.  There are three constants about Donald Trump:  lying, bragging and racism.  He flies his racism flag high.  The Onion has had some difficulty in the Trump era because satire requires exaggeration, and it is hard to exaggerate a figure who is as absurd as Trump.  Consider this one:  "Panicked John Kelly Ushers Half-Naked Trump Away From Podium As President Shouts Support For Eugenics."  The only part about that piece that is really exaggerated is the "half-naked" part.  Trump is a fucking racist.  And he's not alone.  If he were, he wouldn't be President.

This is the part where you tell me that he "didn't win the popular vote," or some shit like that, and I then remind you why you shouldn't try to calculate the popular vote.  More importantly, Trump won a clear majority of the white vote.  White people fuckin' love his shit.  At the very least, they tolerate it.  And that tells you something.  They (may I avoid the first person plural pronoun, please?) didn't choose their position of power and they act in a way that creates things like... what we just saw on immigration.

And worse.

Most of the nation recoiled at the image of screaming children torn from their parents.  Not Stephen Miller, and probably not really Donald himself because they're racist psychopaths.  Inability to feel empathy combined with hatred of anyone with dark skin, and those sick fucks got off on the images.

This is the point, though, at which I remind you of the 10,000 or so people who die every day due to waterborne pathogens around the world.  That's before we talk about malaria, which we could address, not with water treatment facilities, but with simple netting.  How about the exploitation upon which our consumer products depend?  On what device are you reading this?  Did exploited children make it?  Probably.  I'm not joking.  You know that, right?  Right?  How many Americans give a rat's fucking ass about this?  I have a hard time finding any.  Why?  They're too obsessed with the fashion choices of a vacuous, Slovenian gold-digger with no self-respect.  Oh, and never forget the plagiarism thing!  I never forget plagiarism!

Yeah, Americans are fine letting that shit happen because it happens to dark-skinned people in what Trump calls "shithole" countries.  But, show them the faces, and confront them with the sounds of the screaming children, and they act differently.

What's the deal?

The deal is that people don't want to be confronted with the consequences of their actions, but this is exactly the policy that the American people voted to create, and it is not a break from history.

If anyone seriously claims to be morally repulsed, then how will they vote?  There's a midterm election coming up in 5 months, and a presidential election in 2.5 years.  There's an opportunity to do something about it.

What are white people gonna do about it?

I don't need a controlled experiment by some hypothetical, honest version of Philip Zimbardo to tell me, and neither do you.  Observational methods work just fine here.

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

Blue Highway, "Keen Mountain Prison," from Midnight Storm.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Trump had nothing to do with the House immigration bill mess

You may have read some variation of the following:  the House was close to passing a "compromise" bill between the "moderate" Republican House contingent and its more conservative wing, but Trump scuttled the bill, through some combination of tweeting and the family separation blowback.  Don't believe it.  Trump is, as ever, legislatively irrelevant.

Let's have a quick refresher on how we got to last week's House shenanigans over immigration.  House Democrats started to circulate a "discharge petition" for their immigration bill.  Discharge petitions can force a vote on blocked legislation, but the majority party leadership will essentially threaten to go back in time and murder your parents, undoing your entire existence, if you even consider signing a discharge petition.  They'll let you vote against them, but don't undercut majority party leadership's control of legislative procedure.  That's why no discharge petition has been successful in 16 years.  The perfect failure record of discharge petitions can now legally drive!  [Please, Failure, if I may call you by your first name:  use your fuckin' turn signal!]

So, Paul Ryan was dealing with two bills-- a conservative bill from the Freedom Caucus that had no chance of passage, and a discharge petition circulating from the Democrats, which some "moderate" GOPers were thinking about signing.  Ryan agreed to let the knuckleheads* have their doomed vote because they don't really care about policy outcomes anyway.  They just care about doing the I'm-more-conservative-than-you posturing bullshit.  Drama queens, all.

The "moderate" Republicans backed off from the discharge petition with some sort of empty promise.  That gave us the Kabuki Theater of last week's House proceedings.  Did you know that my first professorship was at Oberlin?  Snowflake-central.  A few years ago, one with a particularly fascinating crystalline structure complained about the sushi in the dining hall on the basis of "cultural appropriation."  I'm not joking.  I wish I were.  This happened.

I'd say there's a stronger case for what's going on in the House right now.

Anyway, my point is that last week's proceedings were all an elaborate show.  The conservatives just wanted a posturing vote.  As David Mayhew would put it, a "position-taking" vote.  See Congress: The Electoral Connection.  The "moderates" were just placated.  It was a "we hear you, and it's so cute that you think you matter" kind of thing.  Remember, though, that even if the discharge petition had worked, nothing was going to get through the Senate.  At this point, though, even that wasn't an issue because by keeping the proceedings within the party, the "moderates" were completely locked out.  The Freedom Caucus is basically a bunch of Stephen Millers, so they're never going to agree to anything the "moderates" really want, and if a bill were capable of getting Democratic votes, the Freedom Caucus would boot Paul Ryan's ass to the curb if he let it get to the floor.  Either way, that leaves the "moderates" isolated, and unable to form a legislative coalition with anyone.  This thing is doomed for the simple reason that the GOP, or at least, enough of it, doesn't want anything to happen on immigration except more border patrols and more deportations.

What does Donny-rip-the-kids-away-Trump have to do with that?  Not a thing.  This is all about internal dynamics in Congress.  Trump is just a racist, bloviating fuckwit.  OK, he's also a proto-fascist.  And a misogynist.  A serial sexual predator.  A mercantilist moron.  And possibly a traitor under the control of a hostile foreign power, but definitely guilty of obstruction of justice, but I should really stop now because I'm getting off-track here.  The point is that Trump is irrelevant to this particular matter.

The House Republican caucus has been completely dysfunctional since long before Trump came along.  Take him out of the picture, and they'd be just as gridlocked.  Trump is as much a symptom of Republican dysfunction as he is a cause of it.

What would I look for in a party making a serious effort at policy-making?  The introduction of legislation that makes its way through committee, hearings, markup, floor debate, etc.  The GOP has decided to never do that.  Why not?  Because they're not serious about policy.  They don't know what they're doing.

*John Boehner's term for the Freedom Caucus idiots.

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

Twangy, but not quite country, so this is kind of a cheat.  Ry Cooder plays every style imaginable, but this is a pretty country-esque little number, and a good one for the day.  "How Can You Keep On Movin' (Unless You Migrate Too)," from his best album, in my opinion, Into The Purple Valley.

Friday, June 22, 2018

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

I don't know if this counts as jazz, but this is pretty much impossible to classify by genre, so let's call it jazz for today.  Just to piss of Wynton Marsalis.  (Marsalis is a controversial figure in jazz for having a very exclusionist definition of jazz, and if you pay attention to the music posts, you can probably figure out that I'm not in the Marsalis camp.)  This is one day off from being the perfect post, after all.  Andreas Kapsalis & Goran Ivanovic, "Migration of the Solstice," from Guitar Duo.  Technically, Ivanovic was born in Croatia before emigrating here, though.  Also, he has recorded some straight-up jazz albums.  If you want something that even Marsalis might recognize as jazz from either of these c(ro)ats*, look him up.

*Technically, Kapsalis is of Greek descent, but I couldn't resist that one.

The internet sales tax ruling, state politics, and you

As you probably know by now, the Supreme Court did actually make a decision.  Apparently, they're capable of that.  Who knew?  They ruled that states can mandate the collection of sales taxes on internet sales, regardless of the presence of a physical store.  So, your costs are going up, right?  You used to buy stuff, sans sales tax, and now you'll have to pay 7%, or whatever depending on where you live, for those purchases.  You lost money.  That's just math, right?

It's actually more complicated than that.  Politics shall intrude.

So, here's the deal.  Let's say you buy a bunch of stuff from online retailers that don't currently charge sales tax.  Once you start paying those sales taxes, what else happens?  States don't operate their budgets the same way that the federal government does.  At the federal level, there is no real connection between revenues and outlays, which is why we run deficits.  States don't have the same capacity to do that.  Most are functionally required to balance their budgets.  Without the capacity to run deficits, they are dependent on a combination of primarily income taxes and sales taxes to fund their expenditures.  Yes, there are fees and stuff, but it is primarily through income taxes and sales taxes that they operate.  They have been forgoing sales taxes because of the move to online sales.  Give them the capacity to tax that, and they will.  Cue The Beatles.  Why doesn't that raise your total cost?  Because by taxing sales, there's something else your state doesn't have to tax.  Specifically, income.  States aren't going to run surpluses because they'd rather give someone a tax cut, particularly if the state is run by Republicans.  Cutting income taxes is simply a default political move that appeals to a specific constituency.  It's just easier.

So, if sales taxes effectively go up because they are imposed on internet sales, then whose taxes go down, or at least, don't get raised the next time the state has to handle some budgetary mess?  That's a matter of state politics.  That's a political choice to be made by whoever is in office.

There are some considerations.  First, whoever gets the state tax cut benefits more.  Who will that be?  That depends on who is in charge.  Republicans, in most states for the foreseeable future, so that'd be higher income folks.  Then again, who buys more tax-free stuff on the internet?  I don't know how this balances out.  If you were buying a lot of big ticket items, tax-free, online, this hurts you, but only higher income folks can do that, so if the higher income folks get a tax reduction to balance out what is effectively a sales tax increase, I don't know what the net effect is.  My point, though, is that this is actually slightly complicated.  It could be that middle or lower-income folks benefit more by virtue of not buying a lot of tax-free stuff on the internet, and getting an income tax cut at the state level.  Or, it could just be completely idiosyncratic, and dependent on everyone's weird buying habits, combined with how that interacts with state tax law.

In other words, it's just not clear to me how this helps or hurts any one, specific person.  You'll notice when you start paying that sales tax, and it will piss you off, but there may be other budgetary effects at the state level to balance that out.  That will depend on the state.

Then again, state governments, and politicians in general, pretty much have their heads up their asses anyway, so to suggest that they might handle the revenue increase rationally may be completely ludicrous.  "May."


Never mind.  Why do I keep trying to apply logic to politics?  Hey, look!  A windmill!  Tilt, tilt!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Why Trump caved on family separations, and what it means

Trump had to cave.  If he hadn't, Congress was going to pass legislation prohibiting family separations, at which point, Trump would have faced a choice.  Sign a bill banning his own policy, or veto the bill, at which point the veto probably would have been overridden because it was looking like there was enough support for a bipartisan bill with veto override potential.  Either would have been more embarrassing than just caving earlier.  Trump was going to lose.  He picked the least embarrassing way to lose.

What do we learn?  Americans have a peculiar sense of morality.  I wrote yesterday about the difference between killing someone in a random mugging, and killing people indirectly through the economic havoc wreaked by con artistry, referencing Terry Pratchett's Going Postal.  Both are immoral, but one allows perpetrators to delude themselves about what they are doing.  Americans like to delude themselves.  I frequently reference the 10,000 or so people who die every day due to waterborne pathogens, and that doesn't bother very many people in this country because they are faceless people in countries that Trump calls "shithole" countries.  Contamination in the water in Flint-- you at least get news stories for a couple of weeks, but the news stories have gone away, even if the water is still contaminated.  Americans want to not think about horrible things.  They'll do horrible things, and permit horrible things to happen.  They just don't want to think about it.  Doctor Who, The Beast Below.  Brits, but still...  Out of sight, out of mind.  Trump's family separation policy put horrible things in sight, and hence, in mind.

Problems ensued.

Our scholarly reference here is Shanto Iyengar and Donald Kinder's News That Matters.  Put people in a controlled setting.  Show half a regular news broadcast.  Show the other half, randomly selected, the same broadcast with an inserted story.  What happens?  The test group, who see the doctored program, are more likely to think that the issue at the heart of the doctored story is more important.  We call this the "agenda-setting" effect.  There are different "frames" that can be used to present the story, and that can affect how people respond, and people can be "primed," by context, to respond differently to news stories.  I'm summarizing a book, very, very cursorily, and it's way more complex than that.  Basically, show people a news story, and people think it is important.

Here's something interesting, though.  You'd think that a personal interest type of presentation, where there is a "vivid" news story to connect with people at an emotional level, would affect people more than a dry, "pallid" presentation, as Iyengar and Kinder put it in their book.  Not so much!

It may be that simply telling people that kids are being torn away from their parents would have the same effect as hearing the screams, but then again, Iyengar and Kinder didn't test that, and that's kind of an extreme thing, beyond the bounds of their data.  The sound of a child screaming, being torn away from his or her mother... stepping back and doing the Mr. Pump analysis requires being a golem.  And laughing at it requires being Stephen Miller.  Either way, it is difficult to say how much weaker the effects would have been with a pallid presentation, but the agenda-setting effects are there, and it is difficult for even Ted Cruz to ignore the reprehensibleness of the policy.

As a strategy, this was a loser, and Trump was going to back down.  He was going to be...

Weak.  Ooooh, that felt good to type.

What now?  Nothing.  Do you think this will matter in 2018?  Or 2020?  Remember the Access Hollywood tape?  Remember how horrified everyone who had a conscience was?  Roughly as horrified as we all were when that fucking shitbag was inaugurated.  There are five months between now and the midterm elections, and 2.5 years between now and the 2020 presidential election.  That's a lot of time for intervening events.  In 2016, what it took was James Comey's decision to hand the White House to Trump.  If he has regrets now, good.  That motherfucker needs to live with the guilt of what he did.  Every reprehensible thing Trump does is on him.  What can happen in 5 months?  2.5 years?  Damn near anything.  Will this matter?  Nope.

Democracy.  Now taking bids on alternatives...

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Of trade wars and family separations: calculating human tolls

Did you remember that there is a trade war going on?  It may be hard to hear through the sound of children screaming, but it is happening.  That difficulty is part of my point.

And so today, I make the obvious literary reference.  Terry Pratchett.  Because this is funny, right?  I'm sure Stephen Miller is laughing, anyway.  In Going Postal, the ruler of a city called Ankh-Morpork in Pratchett's "Discworld" decides to install a character named Moist Von Lipwig as the head of the local post office.  Yes, his name is "Moist."  Moist is a con artist, but he prides himself on never committing acts of violence.  He doesn't kill anyone, so he can't be that bad a person, right?  During a conversation with the golem assigned to keep an eye on him (Mr. Pump), he makes such an assertion, and Mr. Pump ascribes a body count to Moist's schemes.  Moist is horrified by the body count because he never considered the indirect effects of what he had done, but when he wreaks economic havoc, the consequences are real, and while indirect, they can be matters of life-or-death.  Moist just didn't see them because he had already absconded with the loot.  He was deluding himself by pretending there were no such consequences.  He was a con artist.  That made him, effectively, a thief, and that caused economic damage.  That economic damage killed people, if indirectly.  More people than if he had just stabbed the occasional random person in an occasional random mugging.  Yes, Moist was charming and witty and urbane, but he had a body count.  Mr. Pump made him see that.

I am sure that you have watched the images and heard the sounds of screaming children, separated from their parents.  Over 2,000 children.  That is the easy story to tell.  That is the easy toll to see and hear.  Did you remember/know that Trump-the-mercantilist's trade war is escalating?  That won't have the immediately obvious consequence of separating children from their parents and sticking them in cages, giving us those images.  By the numbers, though, the consequences may be bigger, once we calculate the indirect effects.  [Pump, pump, pump...]  In economics, everything is about indirect effects.  Tariffs choke off trade.  Prices of imported goods go up, making it harder for consumers to get by, employers who are dependent on intermediate goods that are imported have to lay people off or shut down, and people lose jobs.  Other countries retaliate with their own tariffs, and our businesses suffer, and you get more layoffs, and...  Putting the human faces on any of it is just hard, in contrast with child separations.  That doesn't mean the consequences aren't real.  Or bigger.  How big will the consequences of Trump's idiotic fucking trade war get?  I don't know.  It is just getting started, but in a country of 300,000,000, they can be minuscule and still far outpace the human toll of Trump's child separation policies.

Mr. Pump confronted Moist with the human toll of his schemes to deny him the illusion of thinking he was really that much better than a mugger who stabs the occasional victim.  But, what if the con artist with the indirect mass body count is also a small-time thug?

Just call me Mr. Pump.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Partisan gerrymandering: My reaction to Gill v. Whitford and the SCOTUS non-ruling

As you have likely read by now, the Supreme Court has reached its verdict in the vital case of Gill v. Whitford.  Finally, once-and-for-all, we shall settle the troublesome question of the constitutionality of the partisan gerrymander.  For years, the Court has wrestled with the question, waiting for the right case, and waiting for someone, anyone, to present them with a standard by which they can strike down redistricting plans to have crossed the line that they supposedly believe, in their hearts-of-hearts, to exist in the mathematical aether.  And so, from that great institution, the University of California, Berkeley comes a hero, who rises to the challenge!  Eric McGhee!  'Tis he, 'tis he!

For he has been trained in the arcane arts to devise formulae most obscure, but indeed, there layeth within these symbols, POWER!!!  For, you see, Kennedy has been waiting.  Waiting, most patiently, but waiting.  And surely, now shall be the time when Kennedy shall be moved.  He shall be, he shall be moved.  Is there a "knot" in there?  No, the knot has been cut.  Phrygians.  Hah!

What?  Standing?!  What the fuck do you mean the plaintiffs don't have standing?  Rick Hasen, who runs the Election Law Blog, referred to Anthony Kennedy as Justice Hamlet for his refusal to issue a ruling.  You say the plaintiffs don't have standing when you are ducking the question, like a coward.  Except, Hasen's making a Shakespeare reference, so it's, like classy 'n stuff.  (Psst!  Gordian Knot:  Henry V).

I'm me, so I'm just going to tell Kennedy one thing:  Shit, or get off the pot.  I'll make Shakespeare references along the way, but I'll tell Kennedy to shit or get off the pot.

OK, here's the deal.  Gill v. Whitford.  The Supreme Court has been saying for years that, in theory, a partisan gerrymander could go so far as to be unconstitutional, but a) they have never said how far that is, and b) they would need a standard by which to make such judgments, which they haven't had yet.  So, a few people, including Eric McGhee, worked on a mathematical estimation procedure that might get the Kennedy vote to create a standard for saying "no, you went too far."  It's actually a pretty cool technique, from a scholarly perspective.  Cool math is cool math.  I like cool math!

Essentially, the procedure estimates how efficiently a redistricting plan distributes Democratic and Republican voters.  If one party's voters are spread out more efficiently to win more seats, that's a gap.  That creates a bias, and there's your measure.  Bob's your uncle, and Anthony's your swing vote.

Done, right?

No.  The Court chickened out and refused to make a ruling, sending the case back to the lower courts.  This kind of ruling on "standing" is, in my political science-not-law assessment, what we call, "bullshit."  The people who brought the challenge were affected by the statewide plan, and SCOTUS said you can't challenge the whole plan, just your own district, but that misses the point about how plans are drawn.  Every line change creates ripple effects to maintain equal population under Baker v. Carr, so... no.  The point of McGhee's measure is that it is a measure of the statewide plan's efficiency gap.  You have to look at it at the state level.  That's the point.  The Court is wrong on the substance.  Why did they do it?  They just didn't want to issue a ruling.  They did the same thing they have been doing for years on partisan gerrymandering-- ducking the issue, and playing for time because they can't decide.

OK, Hamlet, shit or get off the privy.  I'd really like this to be settled before the next time I teach this stuff, but... that ain't gonna happen.  You people can't make a fucking decision.

You had ONE JOB!

Remember, though, that not everything you hate is unconstitutional.  Personally, I hate drivers who don't use their turn signals.  There are traffic laws involved here.  You know what isn't involved here?  The Constitution.  When you don't use your turn signal, you have committed a minor traffic violation and pissed me off.  What you haven't done is violate anyone's constitutional rights.  This isn't a constitutional issue.  In theory, there could be a place within the US without traffic regulations requiring the use of turn signals.  I wouldn't want to drive there, but there are plenty of places I don't want to drive.  New York, Boston...   My point is that there is shitty behavior that doesn't violate anyone's constitutional rights.

On the other side, what about stupid laws that aren't unconstitutional?  There is a reasonably high likelihood that you are reading this from Ohio, and perhaps have had to deal with... the Ohio tax code and its interaction with the municipal income tax system here.  It sucks.  Why?  It was designed to make a Rube Goldberg device look like a model of simplicity itself.  That doesn't make it unconstitutional.  That just makes it stupid.  Not every bad law is an unconstitutional law.  Telling yourself otherwise is how Republicans are now talking themselves into a silly lawsuit about how the repeal of the individual mandate makes the pre-existing condition protections in Obamacare unconstitutional.  Is that argument absolutely fucking stupid?  Yes.  And it is the result of telling yourself that everything you hate must be unconstitutional.

Partisan gerrymanders suck.  I'm an advocate of bipartisan gerrymanders.  That's different.  However, just because partisan gerrymanders suck doesn't make them unconstitutional, and I remain less-than-fully convinced by the arguments against their constitutionality.  This is some weird-ass 14th Amendment shit.  Look, the 14th Amendment provides for equal protection under the law.  Extending that to include partisanship and election law is some sketchy territory.

Could I argue that, if my candidate loses an election, I no longer have equal protection under the law because voters of the winning party got their way and I didn't?  Hopefully you see the problem with taking this argument to its logical extreme.  In Gill v. Whitford, the efficiency gap argument doesn't do that, but once you make partisanship and representation the concepts by which we assess equal protection claims, why can't I make that claim?  At the level of legislative elections and redistricting, I'm kind of OK with the implication here because it goes as follows:  draw homogeneously Democratic districts, and homogeneously Republican districts.  That way, nobody is stuck in a district where they voted for the loser.  That's actually the core of the arguments I have made about bipartisan gerrymanders for years.  Of course, you still have that presidency problem!

Hey, SCOTUS!  I'm not, like, equally protected 'n shit!  I didn't vote for Trump!  Throw that sumbitch outta office!  OK, technically, the emoluments clause gives them plenty of other reasons to boot his ass to the curb, but you get my point.  This is a tenuous argument, constructed not based on a good-faith reading of the 14th Amendment, but reverse-engineered for the purposes of finding a constitutionalesque argument against partisan gerrymandering that might appeal to the ever-constipated Danish Justice.  The text editor in my blog didn't like "constitutionalesque."  Too bad.  I like it.  I'm going to call it a word now, and start using it.  I shall define it as follows.  Constitutionalesque:  having the appearance of being constitutionally-grounded without actually being constitutionally-grounded.  Anyway, my point is that the plaintiffs' argument in Gill v. Whitford was always kind of bad faith.  Partisan gerrymanders are bad.  So, let's find a constitutionalesque argument that might get Kennedy on board.

But, he still hasn't made up his mind about whether or not that bowel movement will occur, and the sign on the lavatory still says, "occupied."

Yes, I am doing damage to the plaintiffs' argument in Gill v. Whitford.  The efficiency gap argument is one of bias, whereas I am posing the question of whether or not those who lose an election have a claim against the 14th Amendment.  However, once you pose partisanship as justification for a 14th Amendment claim, that goes to some ugly places in election law.

What happens now?  I still don't know.  Remember, though, that not everything you dislike is unconstitutional.  Also, refusal to issue a ruling because of standing?  Bullshit and cowardice.

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

So, what am I calling Macedonia now?  I'm still going to call it "Macedonia."  Greece lost the right to be taken seriously on anything other than food years ago.  I am actually kind of into Macedonian music.  One of the greatest guitarists around is a Macedonian guy named Vlatko Stefanovski.  He played for a while with a jazz-fusion group called Leb i Sol, but fusion is generally not quite my thing.  However, he has made some amazing music with Miroslav Tadic, a native of Serbia, who now teaches at Cal Arts.  They have put out a few amazing albums together.  Krushevo is highly recommended, but really, their live stuff together is just astonishing.  Here's a live recording of "Jovano Jovanke."  Stefanovski is the one in the baseball cap.

Monday, June 18, 2018

On power and corruption, Part VI: How losing becomes unthinkable

Well, distractions abound.  It has, in fact, been about three weeks since the last entry in this series, but I really did mean to get back to it.  Somehow, there are always other events about which to write.  Last week, though, Paul Krugman wrote this piece, sounding very much like what I had been writing throughout the "On power and corruption" series.  Focus not on the corrupt person at the top, but on the enablers who leave him there, blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, when I left off with Part V, I raised the topic of "ideological collusion," referencing Levitsky and Ziblatt's How Democracies Die.  Plenty of others have referenced this book discussing the relationship between Trump and congressional Republicans in order to make the claim that they tolerate his corruption for policy gains, but it is worth asking why, as I did towards the end of that post.  His corruption is, after all, staggering.  Donald Trump truly might be controlled by a hostile foreign power.  It remains an open question whether his solicitousness towards Putin is because of his personal hero worship of totalitarian rulers or blackmail.  At this point, we don't know.  We do know that he is the most corrupt president in history by far, though.  And so do people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.  So, how does one come to weigh some corporate tax cuts so strongly, even when combined with other tax increases included in the 2018 bill, that they will tolerate any level of corruption imaginable, including possibly treason, to preserve them?

I pulled a little trick there.  Did you notice?  I described the 2018 tax bill.  Compared to what?  Policy questions must always come back to that.  Compared to what?

Remember the Obamacare debates?  Remember the origin of Obamacare?  It started out as the Republican alternative to "HillaryCare," developed by the Heritage Foundation when the Clintons were pushing a healthcare reform proposal in '93 and '94.  Then, a Massachusetts Republican Governor named Willard somethingorother adopted it for his state.  Then, some black dude with a "D" after his name pushed it at the national level, and a bunch of scared, old, southern whites, led by a woman who might as well be southern, started screaming "DEATH PANELS!!!"

Compared to what?  That is the question, as far as policy debates are concerned.  In spatial theory-- my neck of the academic woods-- we put everything on a line (or sometimes a multidimensional policy space, when we really want to fuck with people's heads), and one location is the status quo, while another is the alternative, representing where policy goes if the bill passes.  You need to know both.  Honest debate requires honestly specifying both.

What is the cost of losing?  In utility terms, the utility differential between the policy options is U(alternative)-U(status quo).  That's going to be positive if I prefer the alternative, and negative if I prefer the status quo.  Simple.  How big is the magnitude?  It can be pretty big.*

Now, here's the thing.  How much corruption would you tolerate to avoid paying the cost of losing?

Yeah.  There's the rub.  The bigger the policy difference, the more corruption you tolerate.  More polarization means you tolerate more corruption, but it gets worse.

The more you believe batshit crazy fuckin' lies about the policy difference, the more corruption you tolerate.  Death panels.  Death panels.

Obamacare passed in 2010.  Have you heard anyone appealing their death panel rulings?  No.  Why not?  'Cuz it was all a big, fuckin' lie.  A pre-Trump, big, fuckin' lie.  And yes, Republican Members of Congress still believe this idiotic fucking bullshit.


Remember, policies and alternatives.  If you believe that the policy alternative to your side winning is shit like death panels, you will accept any level of corruption.  Corruption ceases to be an issue because policy gets weighted so heavily by false beliefs about what the policy alternatives are that you just tolerate anything.  Lies beget lies, and unfathomable corruption.

And those lies started before Trump became the center of the party.

This, though, explains the rank-and-file Members of Congress in the GOP delegation.  What about Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell?  What about the Republicans who always knew that death panels were a lie?  How do they justify enabling a corrupt person like Trump?  They need a different process.  More to come, with distractions, obviously...

*This is actually an important point in my new book, which I will discuss at some point here soon...  Until then, here's a link.  Also...

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

One of the best new blues bands around.  Southern Avenue, "No Time To Lose," from Southern Avenue.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Trump: Richard Nixon, Neville Chamberlain, or just some useless idiot?

I made a reference in yesterday's post to Neville Chamberlain.  Do you remember him?  He was the British Prime Minister who negotiated with Hitler in 1938, and decided that you know what?  Hitler ain't so bad.  We can reason with him!  And so, "my good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour [Brits even pronounced those u's].  I believe it is peace for [the cliche is "in," the quote is "for"] our time.  We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.  Go home and get a nice quiet sleep."

Neville Chamberlain has become the boogeyman in every conservative and neoconservative story of foreign policy.  Every foreign adversary is Hitler, so everyone who doesn't want to bomb the shit out of everyone else is Neville Chamberlain, and we know how that worked out.  The act of diplomacy is appeasement, just like Neville Chamberlain.  Are you even remotely complacent about any given adversary?

NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN!!!! You're NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN!!!  No talking, no diplomacy, no appeasement, no complacency.  It's all Hitler, all the time, baby!  Just like the History Channel, without that stupid alien shit.  If you're not on board with that, someone is going to give you the Neville Chamberlain misquote, and that's one hell of a burn.

Neville Chamberlain really did fuck up, though.

And then there's Richard Nixon.  Remember China?  There's a cliche about Nixon and China.  Richard Nixon is remembered for many things, but probably not sufficiently for buddying up to Joe McCarthy and going full HUAC.  Nixon was actually quite flexible on a lot of policy, which was why, as President, he signed a lot of liberal legislation into law.  He really hated communists, though, and combine that with his natural paranoia, and you had a recipe for some problems.  He was rabidly anti-communist, though.

So, we have the cliche about how only Nixon could go to China and settle relations with them because nobody else had the anti-communist credentials to do so without seeming like a commie sympathizer.  That isn't to say we haven't continued to have problems with China over the years, but hey, things could be worse.

All of this brings me, of course, to Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.  You may notice that Trump's rhetoric, post-summit, sounded a lot like Neville Chamberlain.  So, did Trump get duped like Neville Chamberlain, did he do a Nixon-China thing, or... is he just some useless idiot?

You can probably guess where I'm going with this, right?

First, Kim Jong Un is no Hitler.  He is a brutal, mass-murdering psychopathic monster, but not an expansionist one.  His goal:  to stay in power.  That's it.  He didn't invade the DMZ, much less Czechoslovakia.  Here's what you need to remember about the DPRK, going back decades.  They rattle their sabres until we give them food and fuel, then crawl back under their rocks.  That's it.  Their bluster is all sturm und drang, if I can use German without problematic connotation.  Those nukes?  They exist solely to deter us from attacking them.  Period.  Once you understand that, you stop being scared of them.  Would we rather have those nukes not exist?  Certainly, for many reasons, but North Korea is not, and never was Nazi Germany.  Given that, Chamberlain comparisons are problematic.

Second, the China thing.  Did Nixon actually calm anything down in 1972?  Maybe.  Possibly.  However, Nixon wasn't personally responsible for escalating the tensions.  He played a part, I'd argue, but he wasn't the central figure.  What was the likelihood of a nuclear war with North Korea before Trump was inaugurated?  Essentially zero.  Why?  Obama wasn't stupid or crazy, and neither is Kim.  Really.  Kim is a rational actor.  Evil is not the same thing as irrational.  The risk escalated because Trump escalated it.  Kim's sabre-rattling was nothing out of the ordinary for North Korean behavior going decades back, but Trump didn't understand that, because Trump is a "fucking moron" (source: Tillerson, Rex).  So, Trump started escalating in response, and that was how things started getting scary.

We are now back to, short-to-medium term, near-zero probability of a nuclear war with North Korea.  Yay, but that was how it was before Trump was inaugurated.  Nixon, to the degree that he improved relations with China, brought our relations to a level better than they were before he was inaugurated.  Trump escalated the risk of a war, and then de-escalated it back down to where it was before he was inaugurated.  That's not a Nixon-China thing.  That's better than nuking the Korean peninsula, by far, but this is a Nelson Muntz kind of thing.

Once Nelson lets that owl go, if he does, the owl doesn't owe him shit for letting it go.  OK, the owl owes him shit, in the sense of flying away and shitting on him, but beyond that, no, the owl doesn't owe him.  Are we safer than we were a year ago?  Yes, but that's not because Trump negotiated some deal.  It's because he stopped endangering us.  We don't owe him for that.  The problem is that Trump never understood what North Korea was really about, internationally.

And this brings me to the "useless idiot" model of Trump's diplomacy.  It seems natural, of course, for Trump to fall head-over-heels in love with Kim Jong Un.  Kim is a psychopathically evil, murderous, totalitarian dictator-for-life, whose people are tortured to death if they don't praise him with sufficient fervor.  In other words, he's everything Trump wants to be.  I wish this were a joke, or even a mild exaggeration, but anyone with a smidge of objectivity recognizes that Trump's assessment of Kim is one of hero-worship.  Kim now fully understands how to manipulate Trump.  Image and flattery.  Possibly some bribery too, if he can find a way, but image and flattery will get you everywhere with Trump.  I wrote a few days ago that the summit was an event in which nothing was ventured, and nothing was gained.

Certainly, nothing was gained.  Kim, despite Trump's bloviation, will not give up his nukes.  He didn't commit to anything, nor will he.  What did Kim gain?  The end of military exercises in South Korea... those don't mean anything on their own, but they were a bargaining chip.  Kim wanted them to stop, and Trump gave them up for nothing, because he knows precisely jack shit about "deals."  The legitimization of meeting with a US President, the photo ops, and saluting that general... well, what concrete damage does this do?

At this point, I revert to my basic, game theoretic perspective, and I have a hard time finding a quantitative way to specify any damage.  Like the South Korean military exercises, Kim wanted this stuff, so conditions could have been attached to the meeting, and saluting the general was just Trump being a clueless dipshit (i.e., being Donald Trump), but really, every small-d democratic world leader already hates Trump anyway, so finding the damage here is difficult.  Mostly, this all just shows how clueless Trump is.  So, I'm just sticking with "useless idiot" right now.

Trump is still dangerous.  An idiot with the capacity to blow up the planet is a dangerous thing.  The Neville Chamberlain comparison is the one Republicans would be making if a Democrat did what Trump just did, inappropriate though it is, but neither is the Nixon-China comparison appropriate.  No, Trump is just a useless idiot.

Given the alternatives for him, though, that's about the best-case-scenario we can expect.  Yay(?)

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

Phillips, Grier & Flinner, "Search for Peace," from Looking Back.  I admit, technically, this is a jazz piece written by McCoy Tyner, one of my all-time favorites, but, whatever.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Mark Sanford and what his loss means for Trump critics

Eventually, Mark Sanford found his way back from hikin' the old Appalachian Trail, and wound up back in the House of Representatives.  He was not a Trump fan.  The Republican Party of today does not tolerate anyone who does not bow down and worship Donald Trump in a religious manner.  It is the only true requirement.  Grover Norquist's tax pledge is now a joke, after this year's tax bill, which raised a shitload of taxes.  You can make Neville Chamberlain-style "peace in our time" proclamations with commie dictators, and have the GOP continue group-fellating you.  As long as you are Donald Trump.  What can't you do?  Criticize Donald Trump.

So, gone is the Appalachian Trail aficionado, Mark Sanford.  He lost a primary this week.  And, just to twist the knife like a ..., Katie Arrington actually said, "bless his heart," about Sanford when she won.  Yeah, she actually said that.  Fuck her.  Seriously, fuck her.  "Bless your heart" is way worse than anything I ever say.  Why?  Because it pretends to be civil and polite and all that fuckin' bullshit while actually being condescending as all fucking hell.  Vileness in the extreme.  Nora Jemisin has a term for this:  "weaponized politeness."  People who actually say shit like this... just... fuck them.  I really hate the kind of people who say, "bless your heart."  They're the absolute worst.  (OK, Donald Trump is the absolute worst, but people who say, "bless your heart" are up there).

Now, let's get this out of the way.  Mark Sanford is no moderate.  On the NOMINATE scale, his current score is .697.  That's based on re-centered scores partially computed for the current Congress.  For reference, using the same data set, I've got that goober, Louie Gohmert at .597.  Get me?  Mark Sanford-- not moderate.  Why do I say this?  Because there is a common storyline, popular among journalists and the commentariat, about an ideological purge in the GOP such that moderates lose their primaries.  It's a false story, built around a small number of anecdotes because most people never look at the big picture with aggregate data (hey, that's a common theme on this blog!), but it is a story to address.  Anyway, though, Sanford is no moderate.

Still, that reference is worth making.  There is ideological variation within the GOP House and Senate delegations.  They have shifted way right, but there is variation.  What most people fail to understand, though, is that despite the variation, practically nobody loses a primary unless they have been redistricted, or something like that.  Remember the paradox of news, as I call it.  What gets news attention does so because it is unusual, which makes you think, falsely, that it is normal.  Dick Lugar, and a couple of others, lost their primaries for being insufficiently conservative.  That made people think that there was a big ideological purge going on, and moderates were in serious danger of losing their primaries.  Nope.  Dick Lugar's loss was a story because it was so weird, even though he was to the left of most of his caucus, relatively speaking.

The problem, though, is in applying this to Sanford.  How many Republicans in Congress, or nationally visible in any way, criticize Trump?  There is variation in Republican congressional ideology.  We can measure it with NOMINATE scores.  How much variation is there in the extent to which national Republicans criticize Trump?  While up for reelection?

There's the problem.  The only ones willing to criticize him at all are the ones retiring or dying.  No, I'm not going to do the rituals of whatever for McCain.  The Keating Five tontine will just go to either Don Riegle or Dennis DeConcini.  Death zing!  Anyway, we have a sample problem.  "Liddle" Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Charles Keating's buddy, John McCain... they're all on their way out.  They won't face a primary after criticizing their Dear Leader, who has a... preferred method of dealing with anyone who doesn't kiss his fuckin' ass.

So, how do we assess this?  Out of the very small sample of legislators willing to criticize Trump and face reelection, they don't do so well.  What does that mean?  Statistically, I can't say anything.  I don't make inferences from samples this small.

However, it will reenforce the absolute, abject terror that Republicans in Congress have of Donald Trump.  From a scholarly perspective, the actual threat that primaries pose to Republicans in Congress is generally quite weak.  However, none of them can do math.  What they can do is spell, D-I-C-K.  They think about dick all the time.  It's really all they think about.  Just, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick.  Lugar, I mean.  I'm not saying congressional Republicans are just secretly gay, and covering it up with a bunch of hyper-masculine, homophobic bullshit.  Not all of them, I mean.  Anyway, my point is that they spend a lot of time thinking about dick.  LUGAR, I mean.  So, they get scared.  Irrationally so, because they blow an anecdote out of proportion, and think it is a bigger threat than it really is.  (Hmmm... that's a theme on this blog, isn't it?)

Mark Sanford.  He criticized Trump, and now his heart is blessed.  (Fuck you, Katie Arrington).  Any last remaining shred of will to criticize Trump will vanish into the ether among a party with no willpower, no courage, and no capacity to do math.  Then again, this is at least a stronger case because the small sample of legislators running for reelection after criticizing Trump means it isn't intrinsically the wrong inference.

Anyway, the lesson here is clear.  Don't name your children, "Richard."  You're just giving fodder to juvenile people like me.