One Thing

Observed at the National Gallery, D.C.:

Vietnam 1965

Posted in DC, Museums etc. | 1 Comment

Technobrats And Monocausality

Before we get to the meat of the post, Steve Randy Waldman comes up with a humdinger of a quote, one I think I’ll be using often:

Vox is a wonderful publication along many dimensions. One of its virtues is that it provides constant exercises in how a few statistics or credentialed quotes combined with ones own authoritative voice can mislead bright writers into thinking they know the one scientific truth of things.

Ouch. But let’s move to the topic at hand (boldface mine):

Politics is not about individuals. It is about communities and communal identities. Osama Bin Laden was a wealthy man, the men who brought down the twin towers were educated people who would have been able to live and prosper in Western countries. Surely, then, such acts of terrorism have nothing to do with the poverty and pathologies and resentments of Middle Eastern countries, since the individuals who perpetrate terrorism are not primarily the poor or those most directly affected by those pathologies? Terrorists must just be motivated by terrorism, that is the only explanation. I hope that the shallowness of this argument is self-evident, dear reader.

Double ouch. By the way, would anyone ascribe the rise of the fascist Golden Dawn Party in Greece* to ‘Fascists Are Gonna Fascist?’ Anyway, now let’s move to the topic at hand:

Matthews and several of his peers at Vox have invested themselves in a narrative that says the sophisticated, carefully evidenced take on the Trump phenomenon is that it’s all racism, nothing else matters. Now, it is obvious that racism and nativism and neofascism are an important and particularly disturbing aspect of the Trump phenomenon, that people who overtly identify as racist or neo-Nazi have found a home in a tent that Donald Trump has made comfortable for them. But it is also obvious that, within the Republican Party, Trump’s support comes disproportionately from troubled communities, from places that have been left behind economically, that struggle with unusual rates of opiate addiction, low educational achievement, and other social vices. If you insist on focusing on individuals, you may miss the connection, because the worst off within communities — actual chronic discouraged workers, addicts — are likely to express no opinion to the degree they can be polled at all. Trump primary voters are white Republicans who vote, automatically a more affluent baseline than the white voters generally. At the community level, patterns are clear. (See this too.) Of course, it could still all be racism, because within white communities, measures of social and economic dysfunction are likely correlated with measures you could associate with racism… Explanations have consequences, not just for the people we are imposing them upon, but for our polity as a whole. I don’t get involved in these arguments to express some high-minded empathy for Trump voters, but because I think that monocausally attributing a broad political movement to racism when it has other plausible antecedents does real harm.

There’s a lot more at Waldman’s post, but that damn Rothwell paper the technobrat pundit set keeps citing as evidence has been badly misinterpreted:

Yes, the segregation and distance to Mexico effects are racist, but the mortality/health effects among white people aren’t due to racism….

To return to the snark from the post headline, we know that disease can have a genetic basis. Therefore, a significant fraction of Trump’s support is due to the genetic composition of certain white populations. I’m being snarky, because there is a large economic component of health outcomes. How pundits can claim this paper proves that Trump’s support is exclusively due to racism escapes me when white mortality is a strong indicator of Trump support. As Rothwell himself notes, “Yet, more subtle measures at the commuting zone level provide evidence that social well-being, measured by longevity and intergenerational mobility, is significantly lower among in the communities of Trump supporters.”

…obviously racism plays a significant role in the rise of Il Trumpe–I’ve made that point myself for years (and, for what little it’s worth, I was claiming the Republicans were a white nationalist party long before it was cool). Unless you want to claim that the increased white mortality in pro-Trump communities is largely genetic, and that underlying genetic variatiaon is driving this pattern, health outcomes and intergenerational mobility are economic issues–and, taking the paper at face value, these seem to have an effect–meaning their solution requires economic remedies.

As Waldman put it, “it is also obvious that, within the Republican Party, Trump’s support comes disproportionately from troubled communities, from places that have been left behind economically.” And there will be consequences to misidentifying the problem:

But many not-unusually-racist “white” people who, fairly or not, perceive Clinton as an icon of a corruption, now see Trump as the only game in town. It is tempting, among those of us who would be appalled by a Trump victory, to try to sway undecided voters by equating voting for Trump with racism full-stop. That’s a bad idea. If it becomes the mainstream view that Trump voters are simply racists, it leaves those who are already committed, those who are unwilling to abandon Trump or to stomach Clinton, little choice but to own what they’ve been accused of. Racist is the new queer. The same daring, transgressional psychology that, for gay people, converted an insult into a durable token of identity may persuade a mass of people who otherwise would not have challenged the social taboo surrounding racism to accept the epithet with defiant equanimity or even to embrace it. The assertion that Trump’s supporters are all racists has, I think, become partially self-fulfilling. In and of itself, that will make America’s already deeply ugly racial politics uglier. It will help justify the further pathologization of the emerging white underclass while doing nothing at all to help communities of color except, conveniently for some, to set the groups at one another’s throats so they cannot make common cause. It will become yet another excuse for beneficiaries of economic stratification to blame its victims. Things were bad before this election. They are worse now, and we should be very careful about how we carry this experience forward.

Though I suppose the writers and shareholders at Vox will come out alright regardless…

*This isn’t hyperbole: the minister of the interior is nicknamed “The Hammer.” Why? Because he used to beat his political opponents with a fucking hammer.

Posted in Economics, Racism | 1 Comment

Links 10/17/16

Links for you. Science:

New paper: “Why most of psychology is statistically unfalsifiable”
Promising Ebola Drug ZMapp: The Real Lessons of an Inconclusive Study
UW-Madison countered more outside job offers to faculty last year
Brain drain has begun . . . and it’s costing millions, academics warn
I Don’t Think You’re Ready for This, Jelly


The Inequality Fight Dividing Hillary Clinton’s Hometown (excellent)
Harvard think tank gets millions to study poverty — but will it learn anything new? (probably not, but depending on what they advocate, it might be a useful propaganda machine)
D.C. Council to consider free legal help for poor residents in housing cases
This is an awesome time to be a construction worker in Boston
Will decriminalization solve the drug scourge?
Wealthy Chinese buyers are a growing force in U.S. real estate markets (high-priced urban areas should just impose a 20% tax on housing that isn’t the owner’s primary domicile)
Bernie Sanders Tweet Causes Ariad Pharma Stock to Plunge 14% (good)
T reversed half of fines against Keolis for winter turmoil
The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy
The Middle East and the Next Administration
Capitalism & loneliness
The Economics of Noncognitive Skills
How Trump Happened
Group accuses Mike Pence of voter suppression after state police raid registration program in Indiana
You Can’t Fix Education
The most radical thing the Black Panthers did was give kids free breakfast

Posted in Lotsa Links | 3 Comments

We’re Missing The Point About Trump’s Charges Of Illegitimate Elections

It’s the self-projection, stupid.

What I mean by that is everything Trump accuses someone else of doing, he’s doing himself. Sexual assault by Bill Clinton? Turns out Trump is a serial groper–and boasts about it. The Clinton Foundation is thoroughly corrupt? The Trump Foundation is nothing more than a tax dodge. It goes on and on.

So when Trump is claiming HITLERY KLINTOON is going to steal the election, that it will be “rigged”, it would absolutely be par for the course to assume Trump (and his campaign) are actively working on rigging and stealing the election. It would be out of character if they weren’t.

Some of what Republicans are doing involves their ongoing effort to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters. While that’s not getting the media coverage it deserves, that is out in the open. But consider this: imagine if the polls for Pennsylvania hold up–Clinton has a large lead–but on election day, the results are a lot closer. Any Democrat who claims she wouldn’t think something odd has happened is lying. While I think Pennsylvania’s margin is tamper-proof, what would that mean for down ballot races?

I use Pennsylvania as an example for this reason:

Because this should scare the shit out of every single Democrat (boldface mine):

But most identified Pennsylvania as the greatest concern. There, according to Verified Voting 47 counties of 67 vote on digital voting machines without a written backup record if something were to go awry—a reality that is very much on the minds of state officials (legislation is working its way through the House to examine the issue of voting modernization.) In Pittsburgh and Philadelphia—two Democratic strongholds whose turnout typically decide the fate of the state’s outcome—around 900,000 voters will cast ballots entirely on paperless touchscreens DREs, if previous elections are any guide. Then, at least from the voters’ perspective, they will disappear into a sea of ones and zeroes.

Montgomery County, a crucial Democratic redoubt in the suburbs of Philadelphia—an area sometimes seen as having the potential to swing the entire state—is one such locality that uses a paperless electronic machine, and only one machine, for all 425 precincts: Appel’s Sequoia AVC Advantage.

With all the talk about how Trump is wrong about the elections being rigged–against him–I worry that we’re setting ourselves for a real problem in the other direction.

Just use optical scans [scanning machines] and publicly announce precinct tallies at the precincts. This is too important not to get right.

Online, I’ve seen several people arguing that it would be impossible to ‘steal’ an election. But this isn’t a legal issue, this is an information transfer issue: can people’s votes be accurately turned into reliable and representative vote totals? One of my day jobs is to try to break a complex computational system, to find all of the ways things can go wrong, and to make the system generate gibberish (it’s kinda fun actually). So when people make extravagant claims about the integrity of our voting system, that just tells me they haven’t been paying attention to the actual system.

Moreover, our voting system has already been hacked:

In Fairfax County, Virginia, an investigation into a 2003 school board race found that a vote was subtracted for every 100 votes cast for one of the candidates on 10 machines. With margin sizes small enough to be noticed, local elections were vaulted into the forefront of these debates…

But the tipping point came in 2006, when a major congressional race between Vern Buchanan and Christine Jennings in Florida’s 13th District imploded over the vote counts in Sarasota County—where 18,000 votes from paperless machines essentially went missing (technically deemed an “undervote”) in a race decided by less than 400 votes….

The auditing techniques of most states aren’t sophisticated enough to detect a subtle attack—every 100th vote switched from Trump to Hillary Clinton, for instance. “The whole point of a Risk Limiting Audit is not to find the tally down to the last digit,” explains Wallach. “The problem you’re trying to figure out is if the error rate is big enough that I could change who won.”

(and that’s just a taste. The article has much, much more). And I’m not the only one who thinks this could happen, security expert Bruce Scheier does too.

We haven’t even broached the subject of altering vote totals at county or state registrars (well, I guess I just did). Many of these ‘systems’, according to Politico, are nothing more than Excel on an unsecured computer. Not exactly impregnable.

At this point, someone will argue that the system is so decentralized, it would be impossible to hack national or state elections. Well, the 2008 and 2012 elections might suggest otherwise:

Here’s what they found in the GOP Iowa caucus in 2012:


What the authors did is look at the percentage of votes cast (the vertical axis on the left) according to the number of votes cast, where voting precincts where sequentially added from largest to smallest (the horizontal axis on the bottom). In other words, if the smallest precinct had 100 votes, with the next largest having 110, then the 210 mark on the graph would give the results of those 210 votes. Admittedly, one graph is tinfoil helmet territory, but look at New Hampshire in 2012:

[more states at the original post]

…Oddly enough, this pattern occurs in seven other states [eleven total]. And it always favors Mitt Romney. This doesn’t seem to be an urban/rural divide either: the authors took a geographically randomized subset of the data and found the same patterns. In addition, these patterns also hold within counties. What it looks like is that someone is electronically putting his or her thumb on the scale in large precincts to tilt things towards Romney (the one state that doesn’t appear to have this problem is Utah where Romney won in a blowout). This also isn’t opponent specific: in some cases Paul took the hit, while, in others, Santorum did.

Similar patterns are found in some of the 2008 primaries and in the 2008 general election. In 2008 in Cuyahoga County, OH, the same type of pattern favored McCain over Obama, even though there is no relationship whatsoever between the ratio of Democrats to Republicans and precinct size (R-squared is 0.01). Interestingly, these patterns also weren’t seen in the 2008 Democratic or Libertarian primaries.

In 2015, a mathematician stumbled across this paper and set out to disprove it, only to end up agreeing with its findings:

A Wichita State University mathematician sued the top Kansas election official Wednesday, seeking paper tapes from electronic voting machines in an effort to explain statistical anomalies favoring Republicans in counts coming from large precincts across the country….

Clarkson, a certified quality engineer with a Ph.D. in statistics, said she has analyzed election returns in Kansas and elsewhere over several elections that indicate “a statistically significant” pattern where the percentage of Republican votes increase the larger the size of the precinct.

While it is well-recognized that smaller, rural precincts tend to lean Republican, statisticians have been unable to explain the consistent pattern favoring Republicans that trends upward as the number of votes cast in a precinct or other voting unit goes up. In primaries, the favored candidate appears to always be the Republican establishment candidate, above a tea party challenger. And the upward trend for Republicans occurs once a voting unit reaches roughly 500 votes.

“This is not just an anomaly that occurred in one place,” Clarkson said. “It is a pattern that has occurred repeatedly in elections across the United States.”

The pattern could be voter fraud or a demographic trend that has not been picked up by extensive polling, she said.

“I do not know why this trend is there, but I know that the pattern is there and one way to establish that it is or is not election fraud is to go and do a physical audit of paper records of voting machines,” she said.

Clarkson wants the hard copies to check the error rate on electronic voting machines that were used in a voting station in Sedgwick County to establish a statistical model…

Clarkson became more interested in the issue after reading a paper written by statisticians Francois Choquette and James Johnson in 2012 of the Republican primary results showing strong statistical evidence of election manipulation in Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Clarkson said she couldn’t believe their findings, so she checked their math and found it was correct and checked their model selection and found it appropriate. Then she pulled additional data from other elections they hadn’t analyzed and found the same pattern.

…there is something really weird going on here, and it is consistent with–which does not mean it is due to–someone trying to subtly weight the favorites.

Unfortunately, Clarkson lost in court (always get a lawyer). But eleven states across multiple elections with the same trend is not a ‘local’ problem.

Keep in mind, in 2008 and 2012, McCain and Romney very well might not have known about this (personally, I don’t think they did; I do think someone did this intentionally, however). In fact, anyone familiar with complex software with multiple dependencies could very well conclude no one is at fault–that this is a glitch in the code (like I mentioned, when you spend your time trying to break things, you stumble across some crazy shit), though I think that’s unlikely. But something very weird happened.

To be blunt, it’s a lot harder to hack your credit card information than it is to hack your vote. Which inspires confidence, doesn’t it?

That’s why I’m worried about Democrats arguing that the elections can’t be ‘rigged.’ What if they are–against Democrats?

So what should Democrats–and anyone else who cares about accurate voting results–do? First, electronic-only machines need to be eliminated. Second, for this election cycle, those machines that don’t provide a paper record as well should be randomly inspected (i.e., code and hardware review). Third, even if Democrats win the presidency (and I think we will), we need to analyze the precinct-level results and be ready to go to court to impound voting machines and paper trials, as well as gain access to the code and hardware. Fourth, precinct tallies need to be publicly announced at the precinct to identify any downstream tampering. Fifth, random precincts need to be spot-checked to see if they match the paper tally.

While this could be a problem for the presidency (again, I doubt it), we really don’t know if there is anything going on with state and local races–which, again, has happened before. It’s worth investigating.

Note: A pdf of the paper can be found here.

Posted in Democrats, Statistics, Voting | 5 Comments

Links 10/16/16

Links for you. Science:

Obama’s Cognitive Dissonance About Mars
The ‘Swiss Agent’: Long-forgotten research unearths new mystery about Lyme disease (excellent)
What’s up with the green stuff invading the Potomac River?
A drug used to treat Crohn’s disease could suppress HIV, monkey study suggests


How Did Walmart Get Cleaner Stores and Higher Sales? It Paid Its People More
How Trump Took Hate Groups Mainstream
The insulin market is heading for a shakeup. But patients may not benefit
WHERE THE PISA GAPS ARE: Amanda Ripley wrote a book!
Two Stories About The Watergate Exxon
WHERE THE PISA GAPS ARE: Substantial international gaps!
DC has rent control, but if landlords aren’t making a 12% profit they can file a hardship petition and raise rent (putting the rent back into rentier!)
WHERE THE PISA GAPS ARE: Large gaps within the American scores!
Millennials Are Not Lazier Than Boomers
WHERE THE PISA GAPS ARE: A scam concerning immigrant kids!
Region’s leaders discuss possible sales tax to fund Metro (of course Hogan and Virginia won’t raise taxes…)
‘Where is the light?’ frustrated Metro board member asks of system’s grim outlook
Guy Angrily Staring at Trump During the Debates Was Thinking Exactly What You Thought He Was
Colorfully Decorative Storefronts Reveal the Story of Paris
Man Who Held ‘Better To Grab A P***y Than To Be One’ Sign At Pro-Trump Rally Has Ties To White Nationalists

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

David Bossie’s Citizen United Targets Old People With Dementia

Because scammers gotta scam. David Bossie, who is not only the founder of Citizen United, a rightwing activist group, but also an advisor to Donald Trump has a very interesting fundraising model. And by interesting, I mean vile (boldface mine):

Conservative groups stand to rake in massive sums of money by allying themselves against a Clinton presidency and then sending out letters hitting up donors for cash to help them keep fighting her.

One group in particular is poised for a windfall: Citizens United, a group that makes conservative documentaries. It’s best known for its role in the 2010 Supreme Court decision, and its president, David Bossie, is currently taking a leave absence to work as deputy campaign manager for the Trump campaign.

And it has a history of sending out mailers that raise serious ethical questions—and that may prey on senior citizens with dementia and Alzheimer’s….

Jennifer Bell, who runs the blog Drowning in Junk, knows all about this. She helped care for an elderly relative—now deceased, who we will not name out of respect for the family’s privacy—who once wrote a $100 check to Citizens United. Bell said the relative suffered from dementia, and after writing that first check, received frequent mailings and phone calls asking her to give more. Sometimes she would get five pieces of mail per week from the group. The woman was eventually hospitalized, so Bell had her mail redirected to her own address to help her manage the onslaught.

That’s when she started to notice how disturbing some of the mailers were. One mail piece, which had Bossie’s name on it, said the relative had sent Citizens United a $50 check which was lost in the mail.

“I am writing this letter to ask for your forgiveness and understanding with a recent mix-up with the Post Office,” Bossie wrote. “As a result, we were unable to receive your $50 donation.”

“Citizens United was the victim of a clerical mistake that temporarily decreased our ability to receive all of our mail,” the letter continues. “I would say I am shocked but what do you expect from a government run organization!”

…“If you can see it in your heart to re-send your $50 in the included postage-provided envelope it would be a blessing to us,” the letter concludes.

Bell said her relative never sent that $50 check in the first place. Bell’s family had taken away the relative’s checkbook before she was hospitalized, so they knew she hadn’t sent a check. Moreover, how would Bossie know she had sent one if it never actually got to him?

Why would Citizens United send out a fundraising solicitation that appears to be a lie? Bell said she suspects the group designs mailers to prey on elderly people with memory loss.

The fact that they’re sending this fraudulent piece of mail that says, ‘Oh, we didn’t get your $50’—that means they know the person has forgotten they didn’t send a check,” Bell said. “If you send them multiple pieces in a day, they’ll write a check for every piece because of dementia or Alzheimer’s.”

This is nothing new for Republicans. Earlier this year, the Republican National Committee was caught sending people letters with “NOTICE OF DELINQUENCY”:

On Wednesday, Kristen Burzynski shared to Facebook a notice her grandmother got in the mail from the Republican National Committee. Her grandmother, said Burzynski, has never registered as Republican or made a political contribution, so the letter might have been brushed off as junk mail had it not been for the words “NOTICE OF DELINQUENCY” printed in bold red letters on the envelope.

“She gets this ‘urgent’ letter in the mail, causing her to immediately panic and wonder whether her house is secure or whether she is in serious financial trouble,” wrote Burzynski in the post.

The contents of the letter also levied accusations of “delinquency” — because the Republican Party had allegedly contacted Burzynski’s grandmother “multiple times” without response. (The nerve of that woman!)

“We need you to come forward today and send a contribution of $25 or more to help make sure we have a fully funded Republican National Committee,” continued the letter writer, who was kind enough to include the convenience of a credit card form.

And they start ’em young too–in 2004, the College Republicans targeted elderly people:

The College Republican National Committee is under fire for using front organizations to collect millions of dollars in contributions, including money from elderly people with dementia…

Internal disputes over fundraising tactics have been brewing among the College Republican groups for at least three years, but they surfaced in late October, after publication of damaging news reports in the Seattle Times and the Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C.

The Times reported that a number of elderly donors gave far more money than they could afford.

“I don’t have any more money,” Cecilia Barbier, 90, a retired church worker in New York who made more than 300 donations totaling nearly $100,000, told the paper. “That was all the savings. … Now I’m scrounging.”

Monda Jo Millsap, 68, of Van Buren, Ark., told the Times she emptied a savings account and then got a $5,000 bank loan to give a total of $59,000.

Hoplin declined to be interviewed for this report. He told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “We’ve come to discover that there are a few donors who have been confused, a few donors who have some form of dementia, who aren’t entirely sure of the amount of money that they’re giving–and how often they’re giving.” He said any donors who believe they were misled will have their money refunded.

Note that the offer to refund people only came after two separate investigations.

I guess the biblical principle of ‘honor your father and mother’ is honored only in the breach.

This, of course, has no bearing whatsoever on how the Republican Party supposedly lost its way.

It’s also probably preferable to voter intimidation. I guess.

Posted in Basic Human Decency, Bidness, Conservatives | Leave a comment

Links 10/15/16

Links for you. Science:

New diabetes tech is coming. But will it make much difference?
The Black Death: At least one in three Europeans and untold millions in Asia died. What was the source of this brutal, lethal efficiency?
A two-fold challenge: the experience of women of color in genomics
When should I get the influenza vaccine?


In Leaked Speech, Clinton Promises Bankers to Stand Against Pot Legalization ‘In All Senses of the Word’
New data on highway deaths suggest that Congress needs to revisit speed limits, advocates say
How One 19-Year-Old Illinois Man Is Distorting National Polling Averages
As ObamaCare Death Spiral Continues, Flailing Institutions Attempt to Cope (I’m not as anti-ACA as the author–it has done some very good things–but the Massachusetts experience showed that either there would be companies leaving the marketplace or massive consolidation leading to higher prices. This was predictable and predicted, even if Very Prestigious Economists chose not to listen)
Dead Hogs and the Dirty Ground: America’s infrastructure problem is far worse than crumbling bridges and roads
Elizabeth Warren’s Work Is in Trouble: Thanks to a federal court featuring a wacko justice (voting Democratic matters, including down ballot. It really does)
The Russia Channel
Treasury finalizes an important rule to block tax avoidance
Wacky Far-Right Theory For Trump Tape Leak Gets Mainstream Play
D.C. Council Committee Advances Pro-Tenant Rent-Control Bills
Donald Trump’s D.C. Hotel Shows His Brand Is Sinking Along With His Poll Numbers
What Cities Have the Most People Living Near Rapid Transit?
It Ain’t Over
Why the hell is the US helping Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen? A brief guide.
Democrats — the party of the professional class?

Posted in Lotsa Links | Leave a comment