Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cruising the Web

One thing that all these protests over the Electoral College accomplished was to help my students understand what the Electoral College is and how it works. When we cover the unit on the presidency, I usually have them debate maintaining the Electoral College or endorsing the idea of the National Popular Vote for which a state's electors would be instructed to vote for the winner of the national popular vote. It should be an interesting class session this year.

Michael Barone ponders how the standard political rules were upset in 2016. The only question is whether these anomalies are unique to Trump and Clinton or we'll revert to standard politics in the future.
1. Money doesn't seem to matter so much any more. "Money is the mother's milk of politics," the legendary California Assembly Speaker Jess Unruh said half a century ago. But some winning campaigns this year operated on what Unruh might have regarded as low-lactose diets, notably President-elect Trump's.

The Trump campaign spent somewhat more than half as much as the Hillary Clinton campaign, but won nearly half again as many electoral votes. And that's not counting the spending of super PACs supporting the Democrat.

Sure, after 13 years of "The Apprentice" Trump had the advantage of celebrity, which helped him get the lion's share of cable coverage during the primary season. But he used the spotlight to make arguments and advance policies that won votes. Clinton spent most of August fundraising in rich people's homes. But what she did with her one-month record haul of $143 million didn't swing many votes.
TV advertising no longer seems so influential. We saw so many attack ads this year and they didn't seem to make much of a difference this year. This year Twitter seemed to be a more potent political tool than an expensive TV ad. And Barone makes a point that is rarely understood by those fearing corporate money.
A corollary is that the Democrats' obsession with the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision allowing corporate political communications is utterly beside the point. Visible corporations don't want to take partisan sides — or if they do their PR departments opt for political correctness.
Another rule broken was the influence of celebrities. Just as a celebrity video targeting Trump electors didn't do anything, all the celebrity endorsements for Clinton didn't add up to much for Hillary Clinton. And the role of outrageous gaffes weren't as determinative as they have been in past. There were countless statements that Trump made in the past year and a half that I thought would be enough to destroy his candidacy. The press would play such statements over and over and Hillary ran quite a few ads that I found quite powerful, but it didn't seem to make a difference except to convince anti-Trump voters to dislike him even more.

Political analysts have spent the past 12 years talking about how using data to microtarget voters has become so important in modern elections. This year - not so much. Barone has a recommendation for Democrats going forward. Instead of looking for excuses for Clinton's loss such as racism, James Comey, or Russian hacking, they would do well to examine how the political rules changed this past election and how to adapt. The Republicans should also be paying attention. For myself, I'm wondering how to adjust my curriculum for covering elections next year. Everything that Barone points out didn't work for 2016 has been a standard part of my curriculum. I am thinking that what I will do for next year is to cover what has usually worked in elections and then cover how it didn't hold true this year. Who knows how the template will work in 2020?

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Well, these statistics aren't a surprise. It seems that the media didn't get worried about the supposed plague of "fake news" until Trump won the election.
Media organizations published about 200 individual stories, analyses, and op-eds mentioning “fake news” and the campaign between Oct. 1 and Election Day, according to a Washington Free Beacon review of Lexis Nexis data. Many of those stories homed in on how the bubble mindset encouraged by ideological herd thinking led Trump supporters to fall for convenient narratives.

In the month following Donald Trump’s victory news organizations published 3,600 pieces about the “scourge” and “plague” of fake news and the role it played in tilting the scales against Hillary Clinton. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was castigated for saying it is “extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election.”
, as Chris Mooney's book
Some news organizations downplayed fake news’ influence throughout October. A Washington Post media reporter was more concerned about anti-Semitism among alt-right trolls than the fake memes and false stories they shared with one another on Facebook.

John Tierney has a provocative article in City Journal about the Left's war on science. Usually, we hear, as Chris Mooney's book tells it about The Republican War on Science. Tierney isn't so impressed by Mooney's arguments.
Where are the scientists who lost their jobs or their funding? What vital research has been corrupted or suppressed? What scientific debate has been silenced? Yes, the book reveals that Republican creationists exist, but they don’t affect the biologists or anthropologists studying evolution. Yes, George W. Bush refused federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, but that hardly put a stop to it (and not much changed after Barack Obama reversed the policy). Mooney rails at scientists and politicians who oppose government policies favored by progressives like himself, but if you’re looking for serious damage to the enterprise of science, he offers only three examples.
Those examples actually come from the Left.
All three are in his first chapter, during Mooney’s brief acknowledgment that leftists “here and there” have been guilty of “science abuse.” First, there’s the Left’s opposition to genetically modified foods, which stifled research into what could have been a second Green Revolution to feed Africa. Second, there’s the campaign by animal-rights activists against medical researchers, whose work has already been hampered and would be devastated if the activists succeeded in banning animal experimentation. Third, there’s the resistance in academia to studying the genetic underpinnings of human behavior, which has cut off many social scientists from the recent revolutions in genetics and neuroscience. Each of these abuses is far more significant than anything done by conservatives, and there are plenty of others. The only successful war on science is the one waged by the Left.
As Tierney writes, both sides display scientific illiteracy and cherry-pick research and evidence to support their arguments. But Tierney argues that, in general, the threats to science that we see today come from the Left.
The first threat is confirmation bias, the well-documented tendency of people to seek out and accept information that confirms their beliefs and prejudices. In a classic study of peer review, 75 psychologists were asked to referee a paper about the mental health of left-wing student activists. Some referees saw a version of the paper showing that the student activists’ mental health was above normal; others saw different data, showing it to be below normal. Sure enough, the more liberal referees were more likely to recommend publishing the paper favorable to the left-wing activists. When the conclusion went the other way, they quickly found problems with its methodology.
Ideally, scientists would be able to submit their work for peer review to correct such confirmation bias; however, there just aren't enough conservatives in some fields, especially in the social sciences where the ration from Democrats to Republicans is at least 8 to 1, even more in some fields in social sciences.
The lopsided ratio has led to another well-documented phenomenon: people’s beliefs become more extreme when they’re surrounded by like-minded colleagues. They come to assume that their opinions are not only the norm but also the truth.
Groupthink has become so routine that many scientists aren’t even aware of it. Social psychologists, who have extensively studied conscious and unconscious biases against out-groups, are quick to blame these biases for the underrepresentation of women or minorities in the business world and other institutions. But they’ve been mostly oblivious to their own diversity problem, which is vastly larger. Democrats outnumber Republicans at least 12 to 1 (perhaps 40 to 1) in social psychology, creating what Jonathan Haidt calls a “tribal-moral community” with its own “sacred values” about what’s worth studying and what’s taboo.
Tierney details several, poorly-designed studies purporting to show that conservatives are "unethical, antisocial, and irrational simply because they don't share beliefs that seem self-evident to liberals." He reports on a history of backlash against scientists who explore an ideologically unpopular line of research. If scientists want to research a hypothesis that is not politically correct, they can't get funding or get their work published. Tierney has quite a few examples that are well worth reading.
And that brings us to the second great threat from the Left: its long tradition of mixing science and politics. To conservatives, the fundamental problem with the Left is what Friedrich Hayek called the fatal conceit: the delusion that experts are wise enough to redesign society. Conservatives distrust central planners, preferring to rely on traditional institutions that protect individuals’ “natural rights” against the power of the state. Leftists have much more confidence in experts and the state. Engels argued for “scientific socialism,” a redesign of society supposedly based on the scientific method. Communist intellectuals planned to mold the New Soviet Man. Progressives yearned for a society guided by impartial agencies unconstrained by old-fashioned politics and religion. Herbert Croly, founder of the New Republic and a leading light of progressivism, predicted that a “better future would derive from the beneficent activities of expert social engineers who would bring to the service of social ideals all the technical resources which research could discover.”

This was all very flattering to scientists, one reason that so many of them leaned left. The Right cited scientific work when useful, but it didn’t enlist science to remake society—it still preferred guidance from traditional moralists and clerics. The Left saw scientists as the new high priests, offering them prestige, money, and power. The power too often corrupted. Over and over, scientists yielded to the temptation to exaggerate their expertise and moral authority, sometimes for horrendous purposes.
Examples are eugenics and the fear of overpopulation leading to China's one-child policy. One of those scientists, physicist John Holdren, who is President Obama's science adviser, had some horrific policy proposals based on his theories of overpopulation.
Eugenicist thinking was revived by scientists convinced that the human species had exceeded the “carrying capacity” of its ecosystem. The most prominent was Paul Ehrlich, whose scientific specialty was the study of butterflies. Undeterred by his ignorance of agriculture and economics, he published confident predictions of imminent global famine in The Population Bomb (1968). Agricultural economists dismissed his ideas, but the press reverently quoted Ehrlich and other academics who claimed to have scientifically determined that the Earth was “overpopulated.” In the journal Science, ecologist Garrett Hardin argued that “freedom to breed will bring ruin to all.” Ehrlich, who, at one point, advocated supplying American helicopters and doctors to a proposed program of compulsory sterilization in India, joined with physicist John Holdren in arguing that the U.S. Constitution would permit population control, including limits on family size and forced abortions. Ehrlich and Holdren calmly analyzed the merits of various technologies, such as adding sterilants to public drinking water, and called for a “planetary regime” to control population and natural resources around the world.
Such certainty underlay policy proposals on global cooling in the 1970s, the campaign against insecticides, genetically-modified foods, and a whole slew of other technological innovations. The government pronounced with great assurance on nutrition science that has since been reversed. And, of course, there is climate change.
These same sneer-and-smear techniques predominate in the debate over climate change. President Obama promotes his green agenda by announcing that “the debate is settled,” and he denounces “climate deniers” by claiming that 97 percent of scientists believe that global warming is dangerous. His statements are false. While the greenhouse effect is undeniably real, and while most scientists agree that there has been a rise in global temperatures caused in some part by human emissions of carbon dioxide, no one knows how much more warming will occur this century or whether it will be dangerous. How could the science be settled when there have been dozens of computer models of how carbon dioxide affects the climate? And when most of the models overestimated how much warming should have occurred by now? These failed predictions, as well as recent research into the effects of water vapor on temperatures, have caused many scientists to lower their projections of future warming. Some “luke-warmists” suggest that future temperature increases will be relatively modest and prove to be a net benefit, at least in the short term.
So the pattern is to assert that the science is settled and then to assert that their preferred the policy proposals are the only way to address global warming and then to paint anyone who disagrees as a "denier" and corporate shill. But, as Tierney reports, the money flows in the other direction.
The most vocal critics of climate dogma are a half-dozen think tanks that together spend less than $15 million annually on environmental issues. The half-dozen major green groups spend more than $500 million, and the federal government spends $10 billion on climate research and technology to reduce emissions. Add it up, and it’s clear that scientists face tremendous pressure to support the “consensus” on reducing carbon emissions, as Judith Curry, a climatologist at Georgia Tech, testified last year at a Senate hearing.

“This pressure comes not only from politicians but also from federal funding agencies, universities and professional societies, and scientists themselves who are green activists,” Curry said. “This advocacy extends to the professional societies that publish journals and organize conferences. Policy advocacy, combined with understating the uncertainties, risks destroying science’s reputation for honesty and objectivity—without which scientists become regarded as merely another lobbyist group.”
Read the whole article.

As an example of what Tierney is talking about, the WSJ reports on "science deniers" at the EPA.
Speaking of fake news, the political scientists at the EPA have rewritten the conclusion of a report in order to cast doubt on the safety of hydraulic fracturing. Consider this EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s parting gift to Donald Trump.

Last week the EPA issued the final version of a five-year study evaluating the impact of hydraulic fracturing, the oil and gas drilling method known as fracking, on groundwater contamination. The draft report released last year for public comment concluded that fracking has not “led to widespread, systemic impact on drinking water resources in the United States.” The EPA’s findings haven’t changed, but its conclusion has.

After being barraged by plaintiff attorneys and Hollywood celebrities, the EPA in its final report substituted its determination of no “widespread, systemic impact” with the hypothetical that fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances” and that “impacts can range in frequency and severity” depending on the circumstances.
So the EPA replaced what their scientists found with discussion of what "could" happen.
Yet after reviewing more than 1,000 studies, the EPA couldn’t find more than limited evidence—mostly alleged by plaintiff attorneys—of operational failures causing contamination. That the EPA uncovered only a few instances of contamination among a million some wells reinforces its prior conclusion that fracking doesn’t threaten the drinking-water supply.

The EPA now asserts that “significant data gaps and uncertainties” prevent it from “calculating or estimating the national frequency of impacts.” For instance, water-quality data was not collected everywhere prior to the introduction of fracking, which has allowed plaintiff attorneys to ascribe any contamination to oil and gas companies.

Methane can leak into groundwater naturally, and the EPA even notes that “site-specific cases of alleged impacts” are “particularly challenging to understand” because “the subsurface environment is complex.” Scientists have documented methane in the shallow subsurface of Susquehanna County, Pa.—one area of alleged fracking contamination—dating back more than 200 years.

So after spending $30 million and five years to produce a risk assessment, the EPA has found no evidence that fracking causes widespread contamination. Two years ago, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo used the pretext of scientific “uncertainties” to ban fracking, and the EPA’s revised report will give him cover for depriving upstate residents of its economic benefits. Progressives are using the report as ammunition in their media campaign against fracking, and plaintiff attorneys will use it in lawsuits.

Liberals denounce anyone who cites uncertainties about carbon’s climate impact as “deniers.” So it’s ironic that they are now justifying their opposition to fracking based on scientific uncertainties. As for the EPA’s science, bending to public comment from litigants and actor Mark Ruffalo does not instill confidence in the agency’s integrity.
Yet the Republicans are the ones painting as conducting a war on science.

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Tim Weiner writes at Reuters the fascinating story of a Cold War plan in the 1980s to strike back at the Soviet Union for its theft of western technology by making sure the Soviets got specially designed defective software and hardware. The Soviet spies were stealing as much as they could from the west.
William J. Casey and Vice President George H.W. Bush, respectively, the director and ex-director of the CIA, read the gist of the translated Farewell dossier. They shared it with Richard V. Allen, the national security adviser, who assigned a staff member, Gus Weiss, to help devise a long, slow, subtle and devastating plan of counterattack. Weiss wrote an after-action report for the CIA in 1996. You can read it on the agency’s website.

“It was a brilliant plan,” Allen said 20 years later in an oral history interview. “We started in motion feeding the Soviets bad technology - bad computer technology, bad oil-drilling technology. We fed them a whole lot, let them steal stuff they were happy to get.” FBI agents posed as corrupt military contractors. They shipped clueless Soviet spies everything they sought and more: computer chips for next-generation weapons, blueprints for chemical plants, state-of-the art turbines. Each had a subtle and fatal defect. This herd of Trojan horses soon started running wild and biting the Russian bear.

And then the United States decided to really let them have it.

The Soviets needed the software for sophisticated computer systems to control pressure gauges and valves vital to an immense natural-gas pipeline under construction from Siberia to Eastern Europe. The CIA and the FBI surreptitiously steered a Soviet Line X officer to a Canadian company that had exactly the software he’d been assigned to steal. Moscow was well pleased. The codes and silicon chips were implanted in the Trans-Siberian pipeline in late 1982. Months passed. Then, slowly, the pressure started building - tick, tick, tick. Out in the frozen tundra, a fireball exploded.

Of course, had the tables been turned, this could have been seen as an act of terror. But no one was killed. In the context of the Cold War, it was fair play. The CIA put the final touches on the Farewell case by sending deputy director John McMahon to Western Europe with his own dossier: the names of 200 Line X officers and foreign agents. He delivered it to the intelligence services of NATO nations.
It is to be hoped that something similar is going on behind the scenes right now.

If there was any hope that the crushing of human rights in Cuba would change after the death of Fidel Castro, the recent weeks have removed that hope.
Authorities across Cuba have cracked down on dissidents, arresting dozens, keeping others from marching in Havana, and detaining an American human rights lawyer, activists said Sunday.

In the first such anti-dissident operation since Fidel Castro's death last month, President Raul Castro seemed to indicate the Americas' only one-party communist state was in no mood for dissent.

A roundup in the country's east snared dozens and derailed street protests planned to demand that political prisoners be freed.

We're coming up on the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Max Hastings writes that this should be an opportunity to remember the brutality of that revolution and Soviet policies that led to tens of millions of deaths. He covers the way that western writers have served as "useful idiots" to promulgate the Soviets' propagandist view of history.

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Now the Left is conducting a war on colors. Or at least one particular color.
For many sports teams, chants at games and pep rallies are a must. While most of them are dated and relatively uninspired, they are a treasured tradition at many schools.

One of the most classic chants is simply shouting the school’s name or colors back and forth among parts of the crowd. For one Connecticut high school, however, this practice has come under fire.

East Hampton High, whose school colors are blue and white, has been told they can no longer chant “blue” and “white” because the use of “white” is problematic. Principal John Fidler wrote in a note to students that “given the current social climate across our country, our use of the ‘white’ cheer is under suspension.” Fidler added that students should show pride for their teams “through other means.”
Apparently, everything now is about race, even the color of team uniforms.