Archive:

October 2016, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Election Scorecard, 10/31:  Last Friday, FBI Director James Comey announced a renewed investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails.

The betting market reacted immediately, reducing her probability of winning from 82.3 percent to 74.4 percent.   The poll model lowered her edge from 7.3 percent to 6.4 percent.  (As usual, there may be small changes in both during the day.)

I think the poll model is telling us more than the betting market, right now.

In the past, "October surprises" have had, at most, small effects.
Some of the October surprises listed above (the halt in bombing in North Vietnam and Bush’s DWl) appeared to have a modest effect on the polls.  Others, less so.  All told, these surprises moved the polls — from the week before to the final week — about 1 or 2 percentage points, on average.  None of the surprises on this list moved the polls by more than 2 points.
So I don't expect this one to have any more effect than it already has.  (It is possible, of course, that we'll have another one today, or a "November surprise", but they are as likely to hurt Trump, as Clinton.)

Last week, I said that anyone betting on Trump should get at least 15-1 odds; I am sticking with that, but I am also lowering my prediction of Clinton's margin to 6.0 percent, from 6.5 percent.

(As far as I know, most of the formal models of American elections gave the edge to a Republican candidate this year.  They use different variables, but most would see the slow economic growth, President Obama's foreign policy failures, and time-for-a-change sentiment helping the Republican.  So why has Donald Trump trailed Hillary Clinton ever since the conventions?

One of the modelers thinks he knows.
If Donald Trump screws this thing up for Helmut Norpoth, he’s not gonna be happy about it.

“He’s sabotaging my model!” Norpoth says, laughing.
(The model has been right in five out of five of the last elections.)

Some people have speculated that Trump enjoys running for president, but doesn't actually want to be president.)
- 4:09 PM, 31 October 2016   [link]


How Bad Is Air Pollution In China's Cities?  This bad.
Would you pay $100 for a whiff of Welsh air?

In some of the world’s most polluted cities, people apparently will:  Sales of bottled air from fresh-smelling places are taking off.

An Australian company is hawking six-packs of air bottled in places like Bondi Beach in Sydney or the eucalyptus-covered Blue Mountains.  A Canadian firm sells containers of Rocky Mountain breeze as an antidote to smoggy skies (“a shot of nature,” its marketing promises).
(Links omitted.)

And a British firm is selling Welsh air, with a "morning dew feel".

The article doesn't mention any American exporters, though there are certainly places in the United States that have high quality air.

(This 2014 Guardian article will give you a feel for just how bad air pollution is in Beijing; this Wikipedia article has numbers, along with this interesting fact:  On some days, the level of small particles exceeds the maximum on the instrument used by the US embassy to measure them.)
- 8:39 AM, 31 October 2016   [link]


Success May Take Longer than we had expected.
- 7:33 AM, 31 October 2016   [link]


The Speculation About The Latest "Clinton" Emails Is Intense:  But I'm not going to join it, with one exception, because, I don't know enough.
The thing about Friday’s news is that it left a lot of questions unanswered.   Comey’s letter to Congress was cryptic, and his motivations for sending it were uncertain.   There are conflicting reports about whether the emails include messages to or from Clinton, how many emails there are, whether they’re new or something the FBI has looked at already, and whether the FBI requires a court order to investigate them in more detail.  Even the reporting that the investigation pertains to devices owned by ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin, is based on anonymous sourcing.  There’s a lot we don’t know.
(Links omitted; emphasis added.)

In fact, we know almost nothing about the emails and, as I understand it, are unlikely to learn anything about them before the election.

So speculation about them seems mostly pointless with, as I said, one exception.

I am willing to speculate about Director Comey's reason for revealing this investigation, now.  I suspect he did it because so many in the FBI are unhappy with his earlier decisions in the case.  He decided to go a little tiny bit public, in order to prevent a mutiny in the ranks.

(My April rant, about the delays in the Clinton case and the Trump cases, seems even more appropriate, today.)
- 4:47 PM, 30 October 2016   [link]


When Lincoln Was Called "Two-Faced", he came up with a memorable reply.

(I've seen other versions of the quote.  It is certainly possible he said it more than once, varying it to suit the situation and audience.)
- 7:54 AM, 30 October 2016   [link]


Did A Science Fiction Writer Predict Trump's Movement?  Perhaps.

I'll give you the data, describe the story, and let you decide.

First, the data.
There’s quite a wide range — with live polls showing a notably wider gender spread than online and automated polls. But on average, Clinton leads Trump by 15 percentage points among women while trailing him by 5 points among men. How would that look on the electoral map?
The maps are worth a look, but for those who don't want to spend the time, here's the summary:  If only men voted, Trump would have a solid win, and if only women voted, Clinton would win in a landslide.

That gap between men and women is the largest I've seen, in a national election.

Now for the story, but first, a warning from its author:
I have lost one agent and several friends over this story.  A woman I had up to then respected told me, "This castration-nightmare is for a psychiatrist, not an editor"; and a male friend of many years put the story down with tears in his eyes, saying, "You've written the manifesto.  The statement of principles for all the guys in the world."  My intention was neither castration-nightmare nor ringing manifesto; it was satiric, very gently but encompassingly satiric.   I may have failed.
(I put in that warning, just in case you decide to discuss the story — with either sex.)

The story, "The Masculinist Revolt", was written in 1961 by William Tenn, and can be found in his Wooden Star collection.

The story begins with a men's clothing manufacturer deciding, in a time of unisex styles, to make a specifically male style.  He decides to revive the codpiece.

It proves a popular hit, and inspires a political movement that sweeps the nation, but is eventually defeated.

Here's how Tenn ends the story:
The codpiece has survived as part of modern male costume.  In motion, it has a rhythmic wave that reminds many women of a sternly shaken forefinger, warning them that men, at the last, can only be pushed so far and no farther.  For men, the codpiece is still a flag, a flag of truce perhaps, but it flutters in a war that goes on and on.
Let me remind you that this is intended as satire.  And, as I said, I'll let you decide whether it tells us something about Trump's movement.

(Here's William Tenn's Wikipedia biography.)
- 3:48 PM, 29 October 2016   [link]


What Do The British Bettors Think Of Hillary Clinton's Chances Now?  They've lowered her probability of winning by about 8 percent, since the news on the renewed FBI investigation came out.

But, for now, the probability of her winning the presidential election seems to have stabilized.  And they still see her as about a 3-1 favorite

(This post seems to be hinting that one or more bettors got an early tip on the new investigation.)
- 12:47 PM, 29 October 2016   [link]


In Chicago, Humans Are Trying To Renew An Old Alliance:  They are trying to persuade feral cats to stick around.
CHICAGO—Nicolas Cuervo and his neighbors called, texted and pleaded. Finally, after over three months of waiting, their highly coveted order arrived: a crate of stray cats.

“It was almost like getting a newborn,” said Mr. Cuervo, a 44-year-old copywriter, who had three cats from a street pack delivered to him last month.

Now, Mr. Cuervo is waiting some more—to see if he can persuade the beasts to stick around.
To stick around, and control the rats in his area.

(Since it's a Wall Street Journal article, try that link, or do another search with the paragraphs I quoted.)
- 10:36 AM, 29 October 2016   [link]


For Your Entertainment:  Here's the latest from Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner — and conspiracy theorist.

(For the record:  I have no idea what is in the batch of Clinton emails found by the FBI, and neither do most of the people commenting on them.

But I can say this:  Those who would like to have a presidential campaign where we discuss the issues should recognize that was exceedingly unlikely once Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had been nominated.)
- 2:36 PM, 28 October 2016   [link]


Top-Two Trick:  A clever political tactician can find ways to exploit any election system, but there is one trick that, as far as I know, works only with a top-two system, and only when used by the minority party.

Suppose we have a Democratic state and the Republicans put up two candidates for some statewide office, and the Democrats put up more than two.  Then it is possible for the two Republicans to go on to the general election — even though more votes are cast, totally, for the Democrats.

And that's exactly what just happened in Washington's state treasurer race.   The two Republicans, Duane Davidson and Michael Waite, together received 48.42 percent of the vote; the three Democrats, John Paul Comerford. Marko Lilas, and Alec Fisken, together received 51.57 percent of the vote — but all three finished behind the two Republicans.

Was that deliberate?  Probably not, but it is interesting that in 2014 the Democrats ran exactly two candidates in the heavily Republican 4th district, and this year the Republicans ran exactly two candidates in the heavily Democratic 7th district.

(If you remember the Condorcet criterion, you'll realize that the top-two system, whatever its advantages, fails to satisfy it.).
- 11:21 AM, 28 October 2016   [link]


Who Isn't Giving To Donald Trump's Campaign?  His surrogates, and his family.
With less than two weeks until the election, Donald Trump has amassed an impressive army of small donors, fueling his bid with individual contributions of $200 or less.  But noticeably absent from the list of contributors is basically anyone with the last name Trump, many of the surrogates who represent The Donald on national television, and members of his own campaign staff.

According to a review of Federal Election Commission filings by The Daily Beast, only one of Trump’s children showed up on a list of itemized receipts for the campaign: Eric.  On Sept. 7, 2016, Eric Trump appears to have contributed $376.20 listed only as “meeting expense: meals.” It appears that money was later refunded.  Eric Trump did not respond to a request for comment about the transaction.
(Links omitted.)

Well, they know him better than we do.

(It is possible, though unlikely, that they have have given him contributions below the $200 legal limit for reporting.)
- 8:23 AM, 28 October 2016   [link]


Reagan And His Famous Co-Star:  Another story from Bob Dole's Great Political Wit.
Lou Cannon, the veteran reporter and Reagan biographer, recalls a fellow journalist who asked President Reagan to sign a movie photo from Bedtime for Bonzo, the film in which the future President starred alongside a chimpanzee.  Reagan readily agreed, writing below his name, "I'm the one with the watch." (p. 97)
(Here's the Wikipedia article on the movie.)
- 7:58 AM, 28 October 2016   [link]


Do "Top-Two" Primaries Help Relatively Moderate Candidates?  Possibly, and that race in the 7th district I mentioned this morning might provide us another example.

To see that, take a look at the results from the primary.  All together, there were 9 candidates: 5 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 2 with no party preference.

After an ordinary primary, the top Democrat, Pramila Jayapal, would have faced the top Republican, Craig Keller, in the general election; instead, she'll be facing another Democrat, Brady Walkinshaw.

And here is the crucial point:  Both of them have an incentive to appeal to the almost 37 percent of the voters who did not vote for either of them.  And to the voters who skip primaries, voters who tend to be less extreme.

That may explain why both candidates, in this very Democratic district, are touting their ability to work with Republicans.

That's especially true for Walkinshaw, who lost to Jayapal by almost 2-1 (82,753-41,773) in the primary.

(Another?  Yes, although again we have to qualify with "possibly".  In the 2014 election, the general election in the very Republican 4th district was between Republicans Clint Didier and the relatively moderate Dan Newhouse.   Didier led Newhouse, by a small margin, in the primary, but lost to him in the general election, most likely because Democrats preferred him to Didier.)
- 4:08 PM, 27 October 2016   [link]


Frank Luntz Is Probably Exaggerating when he says Marco Rubio would be leading Hillary Clinton by 8 points, and John Kasich would be leading her by 12 points — but they were leading her by 4 points and 7 points, respectively, back in March.   In the same set of polls, Donald Trump was losing to her by 6 points.

And if the Democratic candidate were, for example, Joe Biden?  He'd probably be leading Trump by 10 points, or more.
- 2:42 PM, 27 October 2016   [link]


Quasi-Official Spokesman For Washington State's Democratic Party Disapproves Of Democrat's Tactics:  Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat criticizes a Democrat (!) for unfair campaign tactics.

Anyone familiar with Westneat's record will find that startling, until you learn that the Democrat was attacking another Democrat.   (Our "top-two" primaries sometimes result in two members of the same party facing each other in the general election.)
The quiet race to replace Jim McDermott in Congress finally heated up a degree or two.  Which immediately caused gaggles of Seattle progressives to faint.

Brady Walkinshaw, who is believed to be trailing Pramila Jayapal in the Democrat vs. Democrat 7th Congressional District contest, this week launched the first attack ad.  As these things go, it’s pretty mild.

But the reaction wasn’t.  Jayapal’s campaign went thermonuclear, invoking race, misogyny and Donald Trump.
Those not familiar with politics here may need some translations.  Walkinshaw is a gay Hispanic, and Jayapal is a woman who immigrated from India, so both are "two-fers".  In this area, as in most of the United States, a "progressive" is a person who believes in ideas and technology common late in the 19th century.

Walkinshaw has been urging people to vote for him because he is a gay Hispanic, and Jayapal has been urging people to vote her because she is a woman from India.  Some would conclude that makes both campaigns racist and sexist.  But I doubt that Westneat could understand that way of thinking, even if he tried.

But, if you are a Republican, or a Democrat with a sense of humor, you'll enjoy his column, anyway.

(Here are the campaign sites for Walkinshaw and Jayapal, and here's a description of the 7th district, "the most Democratic majority-white district in the United States".

Minor correction:  The race has never been "quiet", since both candidates have enough money to run frequent TV ads.)
- 8:17 AM, 27 October 2016   [link]


Bob Dylan Fans will like yesterday afternoon's New Yorker cartoon.
- 6:28 AM, 27 October 2016   [link]


Well, Isn't Everyone?  That was my instant (and admittedly unserious) reaction to the exchange between Newt Gingrich and Megyn Kelly, where he accused her of being "fascinated by sex".

Which would make her like, say, 99 percent of us.

Why, less two weeks ago, the New York Times ran an editorial urging us to pay less attention to Panda sex.

(For the record:  She denied it, but I would bet she is at least interested in the subject.)
- 1:51 PM, 26 October 2016   [link]


TV Networks Can Broadcast Graphs:  For decades, I have been annoyed at how bad our TV news programs are at presenting numbers.  It is rare, for instance, for a story on a public budget to give a total, and even rarer for the story to compare it to a previous year.

And the producers are almost all unwilling to use basic visual aids to present numbers, visual aids like simple bar graphs, line graphs, or even tables.

Until recently, the TV producers had a partial excuse; the low resolution of their broadcasts made it hard to show any but the simplest graphs.  But that has changed, and they could do better now, if they tried.

And one of the networks is.  From time to time, I watch a few minutes of NHK World.   The Japanese network routinely uses simple line graphs in their business reporting, and I have even seen a scatter plot used, appropriately.

I don't want to give the network too much credit; so far, other than that scatter plot, what I have seen is simple line graphs of currency changes, and the like.  They are almost identical with the graphs you can see, for example, over single columns in the business pages of the New York Times.

But they do demonstrate what can be done on TV, and I hope to see their example grow and spread to other networks.

(From what I have seen so far, NHK World has two main objectives, promoting Japanese products, and promoting tourism in Japan.)
- 10:20 AM, 26 October 2016   [link]


Donald Trump, Libel Lawsuit Loser:  Donald Trump has threatened libel suits many, many times.  He has actually gone to court just seven times.
The study was prepared by Susan E. Seager, a former journalist, a Yale Law School graduate and a longtime First Amendment lawyer.  She found seven free speech-related lawsuits filed by Mr. Trump and his companies.  They included ones against an architecture critic and his newspaper; a book author and his publisher; a political commentator; a former student at Trump University; two labor unions; a network executive; and a beauty contest contestant.

“It’s based on court records, all of it,” Ms. Seager said in an interview.  The report includes 81 footnotes.

The report concluded that Mr. Trump had lost four suits, withdrawn two and obtained one default judgment in a private arbitration when a former Miss Pennsylvania failed to appear to contest the matter.
(What kind of man sues Miss Pennsylvania?)

Or is he a loser, in a broader context?

The fact that he is so willing to go to court has, almost certainly, affected what others say, and write, about him.

For example, if you read the beginning of the article, or this discussion in the Washington Post, you'll learn that he may have scared off the American Bar Association.

As you probably know, Trump has called for changes in our libel laws that would make it easier for people like him to sue.  He's not a strong supporter of freedom of speech — for other people.

(The lawsuit against the book author deserves a longish post, all by itself.)
- 9:07 AM, 26 October 2016   [link]


Some Trumpistas Won't Like Yesterday Morning's New Yorker Cartoon:  But many others will.
- 6:18 AM, 26 October 2016   [link]


What Did President Obama Know About Clinton's Email Server, And When Did He Know It? (3):  In July, I asked that question; in September, I learned that his aides knew about the server, but was still not sure what Obama himself knew.

Now we learn that Clinton's aides believed Obama knew — and tried to cover for him.
A top aide to Hillary Clinton appeared to worry in March 2015 that President Obama might be accused of lying about his knowledge of Clinton’s private email server.

In a brief email chain released by WikiLeaks on Tuesday, Clinton allies seemed to scurry to respond to Obama’s claim that he was unaware of Clinton’s use of a personal email account while she was secretary of State until after it became public.

“[L]ooks like POTUS just said he found out HRC was using her personal email when he saw it in the news,” Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin told other campaign aides in a March 7, 2015, email, using acronyms for the president and Clinton.

“[W]e need to clean this up - he has emails from her - they do not say state.gov,” responded Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s former chief of staff at the State Department.
That still doesn't quite prove that Obama knew, but it makes it the most likely conclusion.

There is another reason for thinking Obama knew:  It seems likely that the Obama team, not trusting the Clintons, would have put one or more people in the State Department to spy on Secretary Clinton.  Obama might not pay as much attention to official communications as he ought to, but I suspect he pays close attention to his internal spies.
- 2:56 PM, 25 October 2016   [link]


Breitbart Boys Behaving Badly:  You may be wondering why that's news, if you have been following Breitbart since the Trump forces took it over.

But their partner is what makes this story important.
A liberal activist and organizer coordinated with reporters from the conservative news site Breitbart during the primaries to cover his disruptions of events for candidates such as Sen. Marco Rubio.

Aaron Black, an associate with Democracy Partners and a former Occupy Wall Street organizer, worked with the pro-Trump site Breitbart, tipping it off about his stunts, exchanging raw video and coordinating coverage, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
It's almost enough to make you start thinking about that Donald-Trump-is-a-Clinton-plant conspiracy theory, again.

While Andrew Breitbart was alive, I thought the organization was useful and, mostly, honest.  Now I don't trust anything they put out.  Not that all of it is false, but I don't want to spend my time meticulously checking each detail before I use one of their stories.
- 10:47 AM, 25 October 2016   [link]


Alien Signals From 234 Star Systems?  That's what two Canadian astronomers think they've found.
It’s a bold claim.  Two astronomers think they have spotted messages from not just one extraterrestrial civilisation, but 234 of them.  The news has sparked a lively debate in the field as other astronomers think the claim is premature and are working fast to get to the bottom of the signals.

In 2012, Ermanno Borra at Laval University in Quebec suggested that an extraterrestrial civilisation might use a laser as a means of interstellar communication.  If the little green men simply flashed a laser toward the Earth like a strobe light, we would see periodic bursts of light hidden in the spectrum of their host star.  They would be incredibly faint and rapid, but a mathematical analysis could uncover them.
Most scientists think the mathematical analysis he and his graduate student, Eric Trottier, did, is flawed in some way.

Still, the finding is so important, if true, that a team is going to take a close look at a few of those 234 stars, looking for planets.

Even if the finding does turn out to be false, Borra deserves credit for thinking of another way to look for aliens.
- 9:59 AM, 25 October 2016   [link]


You Expect Aliens To Be Alien:  But perhaps not quite that alien.
- 7:28 AM, 25 October 2016   [link]