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Topics - Greg Davidson

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Biden's large lead has been remarkably stable, except for recent growth to about 10%. Looks like almost 350 electoral college votes for Biden/Harris, less than 200 for Trump/Pence. Unlike 2016, Biden's lead is above 50% nationally, and of the small number of undecided voters, most of them are likely to go for the challenger over the incumbent.

I predict there will be considerable attempts to make excuses after the loss. Like the three million imaginary illegal voters that Trump used to explain his loss of the popular vote even as he won the electoral college in 2016.

So I'd like some predictions from those of you who are going to be trying out excuses in mid-to-late November. When you make accusations about cheating, do you predict that there will be an equal amount of cheating in states with Republican Governors and Secretaries of State, or will your theory of cheating be based on only states where Democrats are in charge? Will you predict that the results will favor Biden more than the pre-election polling in states (like California) where every voter is sent a ballot?

My prediction is that the votes for Biden and Trump will be similar to the polling results, with a slight Biden tilt as the late deciders go against the incumbent.

I've been spending my writing time on a novel rather than commenting on politics. 200,000 words (too long I know, maybe it's two novels chopped in the middle). And I have simultaneously been doing research on novel-writing (I know, maybe not the right sequence). One suggestion they had was that if you were writing a genre novel, know the expectations of readers so you could fulfill them. And if you were not writing a genre novel, you still needed to understand genre expectations to know where you would need to guide readers off of the path that they might expect.

Assume my novel is in the fantasy genre, using the background of the biblical book of Genesis from Noah through Jacob fleeing Canaan (an alternate assumption is that it was in the biblical fiction genre, but I am assuming more Ornery people are fantasy readers). I wrote up this blurb in 20 minutes, but if you saw something like this on the back of a 560 page paperback book, what would be your expectations about the novel? Are there any ways this could go that you would find particularly satisfying? Is there anything that if it were excluded you would feel cheated?

What would you do if almost everyone on earth had been killed, and your father said it was because you were evil? Humanity has a second chance, but after the rainbow blessing, God’s voice goes silent. While Shem’s family dies and his father Noah falls into drunkenness, he lives for centuries, seeking atonement by protecting future generations from the evil that caused the Flood.  As the population explodes and people invent technologies, writing, cities, cults, and war, Shem’s efforts never seem enough. Then, after three hundred and sixty-eight years, word comes from the East that God has spoken again – to a man named Abram.     

General Comments / Injustice of the Republican Tax bill
« on: January 03, 2019, 10:18:32 PM »
Are you angry yet?

I just plugged my data from 2017 into the 2018 version of TurboTax to see what the Republican Tax Law does to the income of those in the 1%. There's still two provisions that TurboTax says that the IRS has not finalized their determination, so this is approximate. The difference is a savings of $13,600. Note that  includes a provision aimed primarily against wealthy Blue states that limits deductions for state taxes to $10K - if I came from a lower-tax state than California, the net benefit of the tax law to someone with my income would be $22,400.

So all of you who voted for President Trump and the Republicans in 2016 - how much are you saving on your tax bill this year? Do you think that this tax cut primarily aimed at the wealthy was a good idea? Do you still?

And this is income tax savings - don't forget that by cutting Corporate tax rates by 1/3rd, everyone who owns stock got about a  9% increase in the value of their portfolio. For my retirement account, that's about another 100K.

Of course, this tax cut has ballooned the deficit by $300B+ in just the first year (and that's when the economy is doing well - it will be disastrous when the economy slows).

Okay, any of you Republican voters angry yet? Because this was by far the single greatest impact that the Republicans elected in 2016 had on the country - this is what you got for your vote. And don't blame me - I voted (and donated) to stop injustice such as this.

Conservatives often claim that they don't hear Muslims properly condemn the ideology of hatred that inspires acts of terrorism by Islamic extremists. That includes a number of those who post here on Ornery. Well, the grotesque events of this week provide an opportunity to test the sincerity of those condemnations: 

Wednesday - A shooter attempts to get into a black church, when that fails he goes into a Kroeger's and executes two African Americans but tells a white guy "whites don't shoot whites"

Friday - The largest number of simultaneous political assassination attempts in American history, with the targets being those identified by the President, Fox News, and the right-wing media as enemies of the people

Saturday - Pittsburgh shooter, echoing the narrative from the President, Fox News, and the right-wing media about Jews bringing in "hostile invaders to dwell among us?", kills 11 Americans at a Synagogue.

Under President Trump, the US government-supported Radio Marti put out a program five months ago attacking George Soros as  “multimillionaire Jew” and “the architect of the financial collapse of 2008.”  Soros was one of the targets of Friday's assassination attempts

So, any condemnations of this ideology from Republicans?


First, in some other forums I have found some interesting and refreshing progress by asking positive-oriented question that still cover values, but don't necessarily align across the same old partisan boundaries. Second, I am curious if we would have agreement on this. And I am asking for practical experience, rather than theoretical doctrine. When you meet a new person, whether they are a neighbor, co-worker, or someone on the street, what considerations (if any) go through your head?

General Comments / National Novel Writing Month
« on: September 08, 2018, 11:31:57 PM »
Also known as NaNoWriMo - it's in November, and I have signed up. I figure the time I spend here, on Facebook, and Quora can all be converted into novel writing. The rules of NaNoWriMo are that you can think about plotting and characterization, but you annot start writing the novel until right after midnight as you are entering November 1st. The goal to "win" is to get 50,000 words of a first draft out before midnight November 30th 

My favorite novel that originated in NaNoWriMo is Wool by Hugh Howey.

General Comments / Did VP Pence anonymously author the resistance NYT Op-ed?
« on: September 05, 2018, 09:56:05 PM »
Here is the op-ed which appeared mid-day today. The indication that it might be by VP Pence is the word "lodestar" - almost no one uses this term, but VP Pence has done so repeatedly in the past. So it might be VP Pence, or it could be a set-up designed to implicate VP Pence. The NYT did vouch for the source, saying that they knew who it was, and that the person was a "senior official in the Trump Administration".

President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader.

It’s not just that the special counsel looms large. Or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hellbent on his downfall.

The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

I would know. I am one of them.

To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.

But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.

That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.

In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.


The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.

It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.

The result is a two-track presidency.

Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.

Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.

We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.

There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.

General Comments / Check your voter registration
« on: August 24, 2018, 12:46:23 PM »
Excellent website from Headcount, which has been a nonpartisan voter registration organization for 14 years. Check your registration, and if you have been dropped from the rolls, this enables you to re-register:

Every so often we should take a step back and look at what has actually been done in the real world that relates to these policy arguments that we have. The largest (only) legislative accomplishment of Trump and the Republicans is the passage of a massive change in tax law that they wrote up during a lunch and passed the next day. ~$1T of this tax break went to America's ~10 million millionaires - that averages $100,000 of benefit per millionaire household. Is that how it has affected us here in the real world?

My wife and I met for our annual session with our financial planner on Friday (from one of the major companies that do financial planning).  He explained the portion of our financial gain on assets due to the Trump/Republican tax cut. Suprisingly, the tax cut has the least effect on large-cap companies, because they already are multi-national and shuffle most of their profits to low tax places like Ireland. The effect on stock prices for mid-sized companies is about 8% and for small cap it's 12% (smaller companies are less likely to have ways to shuffle profits offshore). Tax cuts benefit those who own shares of companies for the pretty straightforward reason that if you own stock because a company is profitable, and suddenly its taxes go down by 1/3rd, as a capitalist you get more profits. 

Well, my wife and I have $1.4M in our 401(k)s and another 200K of investments in a fund - that makes us some of the millionaires that this tax law was designed to help.  Based on our distributions between large cap, small cap, bonds, etc., that's ~$80K of wealth transfer to us just from increased asset values. And in addition, my guess is that we will save ~$13K in federal income taxes next year (although living in California constrains that - people with our income in many other states will get much more money).

Yes, I benefit from this, but it still strikes me as obscene. How crazy did the Republican Party have to be when looking at income distribution in the United States in December 2017 and decide that the most important problem was that millionaires did not have enough money? And this was a Republican Party that was shutting down government under Obama because they said they feared the deficit was too high - well, they increased the annual deficit by $300B/year in order to provide this massive give-away to those who need it the least.

So all of you Trump voters - how much is this helping you? More than half of all Americans have no stocks or 401(k)s  You loved this plan in the abstract, how happy are you with the reality of who gets what?

PS: I am investing most of my anticipated income tax savings in donations to Democratic candidates

So far, it has not mattered that he has blown up the deficit, broken campaign promises (one of hundreds was universal health care for everyone at lower costs, made concessions to our enemies without anything in return (North Korea) while offending our allies, had more convictions in the first years of his Administration than President Obama had in 8...

Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh even suggested that the President should be immune from any legal consequences for his actions until he's out of office. But by that standard, a President could literally take a gun and murder any Supreme Court Justices who disagreed with him as long as he had the votes of 34 Senators. And a President with those powers does not ever have to leave office.

So what are the red lines?  I am assuming that if President Trump literally pulled a trigger to commit a murder, that would be adequate to change your view (but I am also prepared to be surprised). But go beyond that - are there any other things he could do that would stop you supporting him?

Another interesting research paper from SSRN

Terrorist attacks often dominate news coverage as reporters seek to provide the public with information. Yet, not all incidents receive equal attention. Why do some terrorist attacks receive more media coverage than others? We argue that perpetrator religion is the largest predictor of news coverage, while target type, being arrested, and fatalities will also impact coverage. We examined news coverage from LexisNexis Academic and for all terrorist attacks in the United States between 2006 and 2015 (N=136). Controlling for target type, fatalities, and being arrested, attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 357% more coverage than other attacks. Our results are robust against a number of counterarguments. The disparities in news coverage of attacks based on the perpetrator’s religion may explain why members of the public tend to fear the “Muslim terrorist” while ignoring other threats. More representative coverage could help to bring public perception in line with reality.

A rigorous paper that tests multiple hypotheses against a broad database and checks against plausible counterarguments:
We identify five testable counterarguments. First, white homicide victims receive more media coverage than minority victims (Gruenewald, Chermak, & Pizarro, 2013). Drawing from the disparities in homicide coverage, the discussion on out-groups, and the societal position of the victim(s), it is also possible that attacks against an out-group receive less media coverage. Second, symbolism can be important in terrorism. Certain dates, such as Hitler’s birthday and the anniversary of 9/11, attract more violence.10 When attacks occur within close proximity to these symbolic dates, they may receive more media coverage. Third, we may expect to see less media coverage when responsibility for the attack is unknown (Weimann & Brosius 1991; Weimann & Winn 1994). Fourth, we may expect to see more coverage when the individual(s) responsible are connected with a larger group that uses terrorism. Lastly, when classifying whether or not a violent incident is terrorism there can be insufficient or contradicting information that makes it difficult to make a definitive determination. If experts question whether or not an incident should be considered terrorism, members of the media may have similar difficulties. It is possible that classification differences can explain variation in coverage, potentially resulting in ambiguous cases receiving less media attention. We tested our argument on why some attacks received more media coverage than others against these alternatives.

General Comments / #3 rated TV show Roseanne cancelled
« on: May 30, 2018, 01:20:44 AM »
This happened today by ABC in response to a tweet she made that used racially charged language about a female African American (Valerie Jarrett) who worked in the Obama Administration. I think Roseanne Barr has every right to make any kind of comments, even racist ones. There absolutely should not be any law made that would impede her ability to make such comments.

I also think that those working on this show have the right to resign in protest, and ABC/Disney has the right to cancel the show, which they did.

I personally suspect that this will get picked up as the first sitcom on Fox News or by some other network (HBO has a much wider range of speech in its programs, and I find somethings there pretty offensive even when they are ostensibly attacks from the left on the right - for example, Bill Maher). And this cancellation will probably strongly motivate those fighting culture wars from he right to support the show, guaranteeing a very large audience which = $$$)

PS: I did find amusing the idea to recast the lead of the new Roseanne, using Wanda Sykes (an African American comic who was some kind of producer on the show and who resigned after Roseanne Barr's comments) - the joke being that they recast the daughter Becky in the middle of the first run of the series, they both pointed at the change in casting and ignored it.

USA Today reviewed all of the Facebook ads the Russians bought

Young Mie Kim, a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher who published some of the first scientific analysis of social media influence campaigns during the election, said the ads show that the Russians are attempting to destabilize Western Democracy by targeting extreme identity groups.

“Effective polarization can happen when you’re promoting the idea that, ‘I like my group, but I don’t like the other group’ and pushing distance between the two extreme sides,” Kim said. “And we know the Russians targeted extremes and then came back with different negative messages that might not be aimed at converting voters, but suppressing turnout and undermining the democratic process.”

Of the roughly 3,500 ads published this week, more than half — about 1,950 — made express references to race. Those accounted for 25 million ad impressions — a measure of how many times the spot was pulled from a server for transmission to a device.
At least 25% of the ads centered on issues involving crime and policing, often with a racial connotation. Separate ads, launched simultaneously, would stoke suspicion about how police treat black people in one ad, while another encouraged support for pro-police groups.
Divisive racial ad buys averaged about 44 per month from 2015 through the summer of 2016 before seeing a significant increase in the run-up to Election Day. Between September and November 2016, the number of race-related spots rose to 400. An additional 900 were posted after the November election through May 2017.
Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton. A few dozen referenced questions about the U.S. election process and voting integrity, while a handful mentioned other candidates like Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush.

California's economy has surpassed that of the United Kingdom to become the world's fifth largest, according to new federal data made public Friday.

California's gross domestic product rose by $127 billion from 2016 to 2017, surpassing $2.7 trillion, the data said. Meanwhile, the U.K.'s economic output slightly shrank over that time when measured in U.S. dollars, due in part to exchange rate fluctuations.

The data demonstrate the sheer immensity of California's economy, home to nearly 40 million people, a thriving technology sector in Silicon Valley, the world's entertainment capital in Hollywood and the nation's salad bowl in the Central Valley agricultural heartland. It also reflects a substantial turnaround since the Great Recession.

All economic sectors except agriculture contributed to California's higher GDP, said Irena Asmundson, chief economist at the California Department of Finance. Financial services and real estate led the pack at $26 billion in growth, followed by the information sector, which includes many technology companies, at $20 billion. Manufacturing was up $10 billion.

And my particular favorite part, because there were numerous predictions from right wingers that when California was governed by Democrats that the economy would get much worse. Now let's just remember that a Republican Governor took over from a Democrat in 2003, and then a Democrat took over for that Republican in 2011. So wouldn't it be surprising if the economic trends were exactly the opposite of the right wing predictions?

California last had the world's fifth largest economy in 2002 but fell as low as 10th in 2012 following the Great Recession. Since then, the most populous U.S. state has added 2 million jobs and grown its GDP by $700 billion.

California's economic output is now surpassed only by the total GDP of the United States, China, Japan and Germany. The state has 12% of the U.S. population but contributed 16% of the country's job growth between 2012 and 2017. Its share of the national economy also grew to 14.2% from 12.8% over that five-year period, according to state economists.

General Comments / How would you answer his SAT-style question?
« on: March 05, 2018, 01:13:12 AM »
I am in an extended debate elsewhere with a very intelligent friend of mine (he was the systems engineering lead on the LCROSS mission and for a few years on the James Webb Space Telescope). But we are at an impasse at a pretty basic level on how to interpret this paragraph from a 2013 government study. I'd like you to read it, then tell me which of two statements best summarize this paragraph:

"Defensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence, although the exact number remains disputed (Cook and Ludwig, 1996; Kleck, 2001a). Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million (Kleck, 2001a), in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008 (BJS, 2010). On the other hand, some scholars point to a radically lower estimate of only 108,000 annual defensive uses based on the National Crime Victimization Survey (Cook et al., 1997). The variation in these numbers remains a controversy in the field."

  • the estimated number of defensive uses of guns ranges "from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year."
  • the estimated number of defensive uses of guns ranges from 108,000 to more than 3 million per year.

Here's a wild idea, may be a bad one, it's almost definitely not feasible, but I would be interested in feedback from strong 2nd Amendment supporters. 

What if there was no limit whatsoever on who could buy a gun. Zero. But we do add steps so that every time a person is murdered with a gun, we could impose a liability penalty on those who had custody at some point over the murder weapon.  Those steps may be expensive and annoying bureaucracy, they may even be draconian, they may create paranoia in the minds of those who believe they are justified in using hidden weapons against the US government, but would this approach address all of the issues associated specifically with the Second Amendment? Assuming you would not agree with this approach, why not?

Here's how it would work:
Every gun had to have a ballistics fingerprint in a national database (like a DNA database), every gun had to have a registered owner (would need a gun census only performed once), every gun sale (and re-sale) had to be registered, and if a gun was used in a murder then each person in the chain of custody would be liable for a sizable fine, say $1 million. The liability would be the same even if the gun were stolen.  And failure to register a gun would similarly carry a high fine (say, $100K per unregistered gun).

General Comments / What's your 2017 tax bill (by percentage)?
« on: February 23, 2018, 08:17:12 PM »
Just finished with Turbotax, the last filing of taxes prior to the massive shift of tax cuts to the wealthy that will be in place for 2018.  We had a good year for family income, with some stock option equivalents coming in that won't be here in 2018, and so this illustrates the current tax burden for families within the top  1%:

24%  Federal income tax
8%    California state income tax
0.5% Total combined % paid for Social Security and Medicare (both my wife and myself)
0.1% Property Tax (on a 2400 sq-ft home with a shared garage with another home; roughly $1M value)

And 99% of our income is from the wages/salaries/tips category - the tax rates would be even lower if more of our income came from investment (you know, the money that comes because you own stuff, not because you performed tasks in exchange for money).

So what percentages do you pay? And looking at the data, do you believe that the most important change in our tax structure was to cut rates so that 80% of the savings went to people in my income level or those who are wealthier?


When President Clinton was first under investigation, Republicans argued that the initial investigator Robert Fiske (a Republican) was not independent enough because he had been appointed by Clinton, and so Ken Starr (a Republican who had worked for Clinton’s opponent and had already advised Paula Jones in her legal actions against Clinton) was later put in charge of the investigation.

In the Trump era, Republicans argue that Robert Mueller (a Republican appointed by the President)  is too biased against Trump and so needs to be replaced by another Trump appointee. After also firing Republican Jim Comey, how do you imagine today's Republicans would feel about an investigator who had worked for Trump's opponent in the last campaign and who had advised those taking legal actions against Trump?

On this critical matter of how to investigate whether the President of the United States is above the law, can any Republican out there defend this position?

This is the first President in US history ever to include in his campaign remarks that he could shoot someone in the street and his supporters would still support him.

Well, there has already been textbook perjury committed by Jeff Sessions in his confirmation hearing and by Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner in his first two false submissions of an SF-86. President Trump has removed from office the three government officials driving investigations of his ties to Russia, the last one being James Comey who based on prior actions is no ally to Democrats. What if Trump fires Mueller - a second Republican, who has always enjoyed strong bipartisan support and respect?

How about pardons? If Trump starts pardoning current and former members of his team, members of his family, and even himself, will you still support him?

Or does it have to be him shooting someone in the street?

Always love to add some data to an argument.  After many years of continued governance by a Democratic Governor and Legislature, California continues to experience strong job growth. Back in 2011 when Republicans on this site we arguing that California's Democratic government and the associated level of taxes and regulation would cause jobs to continue to depart the state. At the time, there already was a big gap with the California unemployment rate 4.2% higher than Texas

If the right wing opinions were right, then the gap should have gotten worse. Instead...

"California piled on 19,300 jobs in March and its unemployment rate dropped to 4.9%, according to figures released Friday by the state’s Employment Development Department. That’s the first time since December 2006 that the jobless rate has fallen below 5%."

Meanwhile Texas unemployment is now higher than that of California

While Texas' jobless rate has typically hovered at or near the national number, in March, the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate ticked upward to 5 percent, while the U.S. rate declined to 4.5 percent.
Texas' unemployment was up from 4.6 percent in March of last year.

California, meanwhile, has seen its jobless rate decline, from 5.6 percent in March 2016, to 4.9 percent last month.

I have to rush now (I'll get the numbers later), but let's baseline the unemployment rate, stock market, annual GDP growth, and budget deficit as of Monday and then predict where we will be in October 2018.

I'd like to hear, particularly from Trump supporters, where you think we will be if our new President-elect is successful by your standards. Feel free to include other measures, such as the number of illegal immigrants in the country, the number of people killed in terrorist attacks on American soil, or any other metrics that you believe would show how President Trump has been successful in the first 21 months in office.

What if there is a substantial difference between polling results and actual outcomes? There will be a strong temptation to make accusations of cheating or fraud. There may be some ways to rule out cheating as an explanation for divergence between polling and actual votes. First, let's identify the theoretically possible reasons why polling and actual votes may diverge. There are huge differences of opinion over how likely each of these are, and while I believe that the case is strong for some and weak for others, let's take them all as potential explanations that some Americans will believe as a reason for a gap between polling and actual vote totals:

  • Voting officials cheat in some way with ballots cast to give more votes to Trump or Clinton
  • Illegitimate votes cast by non-citizens or multiple votes cast by the same individuals are accepted and counted
  • Reductions in polling sites and other barriers to voting reduce the turn-out for those most affected 
  • The difference in the efforts by the two candidates in terms of investment/staffing for get-out-the-vote efforts delivers a higher share of potential voters to the polls for the candidate who had the biggest ground game
  • External entities somehow hack the voting machines to favor one candidate or the other
  • People hesitant to tell pollsters that they are Trump or Clinton voters

All but the last of these should vary significantly based on State. No matter how likely or unlikely we believe it is that voting officials will cheat in the ballot count, I think we can all agree that it is even less likely that Republicans would cheat to help Clinton or Democrats would cheat to help Trump.

The second potential gap between polling and actual results (of fraudulently cast votes) has been of strong concern to Republicans. Voting laws have changed in part to address this concern, and even though some have been thrown out by the court, there remain significant differences by state in ease of access at the polling place.  If there are gaps between polls and actual results because of fraudulent votes, it is logical to assume that this would occur most in Democratically controlled states with the least stringent voter ID laws and least in Republican-controlled states that have added voter ID laws.

The third potential gap (impediments to voting) has been of strong concern to Democrats, and so if this were to occur, it would be seen by Democrats under-performing relative to polls most in Republican-led states that have reduced access to polling or increased the stringency of voter ID laws.

The fourth potential gap (differential GOTV efforts) would be seen most prominently in states where the difference between Clinton and Trump (number of campaign offices, number of paid staff)  has the biggest gap relative to previous elections.

The fifth potential gap (external hackers) should vary widely over states, because there are so many different voting systems. If there is a gap between polls and actual votes due to hacking, we might see a tendency for states with similar voting technologies would be similarly affected (although we might only see swing states with similar technologies to be hacked).

The final potential gap (people not telling pollsters their true favored candidate) should not be correlated by state. Republicans sometimes assert that support for Trump is not adequately reflected in polls because he is not seen to be politically correct; Democrats sometimes assert that there is a significant population of conservative women who are keeping their support of Clinton to themselves. If there is a nationwide trend of actual vote counts diverging from polling, then it would most support one of these hypotheses for voters not revealing their true intentions to pollsters. 

Assuming that there is a gap between polling and actual results, we could use this analysis to identify which potential causes for that gap are the most plausible.  I have tried to analyze this in a way that is fair to all sides; can anyone think of something major that I have missed?

General Comments / Election Predictions (with 4 weeks to go)
« on: October 10, 2016, 10:29:21 PM »
Hillary Clinton will be the first Presidential candidate to get more than 70 million votes.

That not risky enough for you? Well, how about the following: 

I predict that she will earn a higher percentage of the vote than any other non-incumbent candidate has earned in the past 60 years except for Obama (and that includes Reagan with 50.75% of the vote in 1980).

Let's hear all of your predictions

General Comments / History doesn't repeat - but it rhymes
« on: September 17, 2016, 06:44:30 PM »
As he was running for president, Al Gore said he'd invented the Internet; announced that he had personally discovered Love Canal, the most infamous toxic-waste site in the country; and bragged that he and Tipper had been the sole inspiration for the golden couple in Erich Segal's best-selling novel Love Story (made into a hit movie with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal)... Could such an obviously intelligent man have been so megalomaniacal and self-deluded to have actually said such things? Well, that's what the news media told us, anyway. 

Eight years ago, in the bastions of the "liberal media" that were supposed to love Gore—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, CNN—he was variously described as "repellent," "delusional," a vote-rigger, a man who "lies like a rug," "Pinocchio"... Eight years later, journalists, at the prompting of Vanity Fair, are engaging in some self-examination over how they treated Gore.

Read the article - if you have memories of that election you can see where false memes were created, there's (some) acknowledgement of the soft expectations that led us to President George W. Bush. But mostly, it seems to echo the dynamic today where storytelling is really the core value of the media.   

[Note: this is not about the current state of the polls. As I think I have shared here earlier, I expect there to be multiple up-and-down cycles in polling, and after the date of the first debate there will be a whole new dynamic in play. I'd still bet strongly on Clinton beating Trump. But this does provide insight into one set of reasons as to why the election is so close)

Have you driven above the speed limit on more than 5 occasions? If so, then you literally have broken the law and should have had your driver's license revoked.

This is the standard being applied to Hillary Clinton. Except she never even broke the law.

Please comment

Within a very short time after Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, she has led a campaign effort that has absolutely devasted Donald Trump and the prospects that he will win the Presidency. I suspect that some people will not give her any credit, instead asserting that Trump's fall was inevitable and she's just a weak candidate who got lucky. And I think that way of thinking may be because she is a female politician.

Look at the evidence - Trump had previously ripped through a field of 15 other Republican candidates.  Over a year, his failure was supposed to be inevitable, and yet somehow that never happened. And then in just a number of weeks after Sanders endorsed her and she could focus on Trump, he appears to be heading towards the biggest Republican loss since the 1960's. And it is notable that many of the ways in which Hillary has done such damage to his campaign has been through approaches that don't fit in with our stereotypical view of what it is to be a powerfgul male political figure.

Part of her strength is the strong support from Barack (and Michelle) Obama, her bitter rival from the 2008 campaign.  How did she get there with him, and his coalition? Well, after a bitter loss, she got up and left her ego at the door, serving him loyally as Secretary of State. That's unusual behavior for a leading national politician, and one that won the loyalty of many Obama supporters.  She had a thorough and diligently planned convention, attacking the smears against her character with testimonials from a lifetime on service to regular human beings in ways that are different from traditional politicians (you may not be swayed by her personal involvement with the health concerns of her constituents after 9/11, but her lifetime of actions were persuasive to many moderates). She was very conciliatory to the Bernie Sanders coalition, more so than a number of other politicians would be. She picked Tim Kaine as a VP candidate, an interesting choice because she was both prioritizing governing experience over campaign cachet and yet also she did have a planned niche for his campaigning skills. 

And someone had to plan the political attacks and traps for Trump.  The Khans did not show up at the Democratic convention by accident. There has been a huge effort expended in get-out-the-vote. She is implementing close to a 50 state strategy (a current lead in Georgia? Utah close?). Of course she is not flawless as a candidate. She lacks the same level of personal charisma as other candidates, and she has sufferred some damage as part of the 25 years of attack. But that's what makes her current efforts demonstrate considerable political skill.

Donald Trump has gotten kudos over the past year for the success of his innovative campaign approach. Bernie Sanders has gotten kudos for his insurgent campaign in the democratic primaries. But I suspect that Hillary Clinton will not get anything near the credit given to them despite beating them both.

And I believe that one reason for that is that she is a woman.

General Comments / Turkey Prediction
« on: July 15, 2016, 07:39:02 PM »
No matter what Obama does, those who have no idea what to do right now will criticize Obama for not doing what they ultimately decide he should have done.

Just heard that Obama came out for the elected government rather than the coup plotters. Therefore, the Republican position will be that the US should have immediately endorsed the military take-over.

What if we could conduct a test with two groups selected at random from the population of white American voters, in which the only variable would be that early in the survey one group would see a picture of President Obama in which his skin color has been artificially darkened? Much later in the survey, we would ask them if they support the Tea Party. 

If racism were unrelated to support of the Tea Party, we would expect to see the same level of support by those who had seen the accurate picture as well as those who had seen the darkened picture.  There might be some random variation, but nothing statistically significant.

The actual results were that the population of respondants who saw the darkened picture were 22% more likely to support the Tea Party. There were four other different test run, and all indicated that racism was more important than libertarian beliefs in predicting support for the Tea Party.  This doesn't mean that every person in this coalition is racist, merely that racism is a strong driver of who and why people chose to support the Tea Party.

These studies were conducted over three years, so the data is not up-to-date with respect to the politics of the moment surrounding Donald Trump, but it is noteworthy that earlier allegiance to the Tea Party has been strongly correlated to eary support for Trump.

General Comments / The fix for gerrymandering
« on: May 07, 2016, 11:40:37 AM »
It does not take a Constitutional Amendment, just a change in federal law that  elects Representatives by state and not by individual district.  Next time a party has the Presidency, 60 Senators, and the House of Representatives they could do this.

The federal law that laid the foundation for this two-party congressional system was first enacted in 1842, pursuant to Article I, section 4, which authorizes Congress to legislate rules governing the “manner” of congressional elections.  According to this statute, House members were to be elected “by districts composed of contiguous territory equal in number to the number of Representatives to which said State may be entitled, no one district electing more than one Representative.”  Over the ensuing century, Congress repeatedly revisited its election laws in connection with the decennial House reapportionment mandated by Article I, section 2.  Most of the time, Congress re-enacted the 1842 statute or some close cousin, but occasionally Congress allowed the single-member-district law to lapse, only to revive the law in a later reapportionment cycle.  Since 1967, the single-member-district statute has been a fixed feature of the U.S. election code, a politically entrenched and politically entrenching provision cementing in place the current two-party system about as effectively and enduringly as any explicit constitutional text could ever hope to do.

Akhil Reed Amar, America's Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By

General Comments / Will our opinions change by May 2017?
« on: April 07, 2016, 11:29:37 PM »
Here's a political question for all of us. If you generally support Democrats, can you name any tactics that President Obama has used while in office that you believe are unfair? If you support the Republicans, can you name any tactics that Republicans used in Congress to oppose Obama thst you believe are unfair?

This should be a good test of where the balance of partisanship vs. principle is for all of us, and particularly interesting a year from now when party control may be different from the status quo/

General Comments / My AIPAC experience
« on: April 07, 2016, 10:35:08 AM »
    I paid $1500 including travel and hotel to experience AIPAC for the first time this year.  I have had considerable concern about public positions taken by AIPAC, most noticably with respect to the debate over the Iran Deal last summer. So when our synagogue posted flyers inviting people to join our congregational delegation to AIPAC, I was concerned. I spoke to several AIPAC staff members prior to attending, and they encouraged me to come and make up my mind based on experiencing the event. What I found at AIPAC was far more disturbing than just a speech given by Donald Trump; in fact, his views seemed to be in the mainstream of those I heard expressed by others at AIPAC.

    Let me be as honest and accurate about the positives as I will about the negatives. I found my first AIPAC conference this year to be a wonderfully well-run program with many emotionally compelling stories about Israel and its supporters in the US (I cried multiple times). However, I also left convinced that participation in AIPAC is a political action that I cannot support. I applaud the bi-partisan focus of AIPAC, but bi-partisan does not mean apolitical, it just means some from both parties support AIPAC’s policy positions. AIPAC represents a limited range of political views rather than all pro-Israel Americans (for example, attendees almost all oppose the Iran Deal; in contrast most American Jews supported it). This is entirely appropriate to a political organization, but it is not consistent with how AIPAC represents itself in lobbying Congress. 

    AIPAC uses language to imply political consent that has not been given. Attendees are called “delegates”, congregations are referred to as “Synagogue Delegations”, but there is no formal process of delegation (and AIPAC cites the number of participating congregations as part of their advocacy). In fact, delegates are not even told the lobbying positions prior to arriving at the Policy Conference, have no input, and any dissenting views are not welcome when lobbying. This makes AIPAC political; a right of all individuals, but problematic for synagogues unless they have an explicit process as a community to take such a political action.

    While much was made of the cheering for Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kascich got even stronger applause for remarks that were no less extreme than those by Trump. I still believe that right-wing Americans have a right to lobby Congress, but we must all recognize that AIPAC is a narrowly defined group that does not accurately reflect the full set of views of the Jewish community.

    The political ideology that I found to dominate AIPAC was exemplified by assertions made by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Senator Menendez: Iran is committed to Israeli genocide and will never change, and Palestinians are inculcated in a culture of death. There are many such as myself in the pro-Israel community who believe that such over-simplification produces a flawed view of threats to Israel, which increases exposure to actual risks. But if you accept these simple kinds of assumptions as truth, then it makes sense that diplomacy is weakness, and only force can be strength. And while there were many different sessions at AIPAC, a very selective set of information was shared to keep the audience within this simple narrative. Let me illustrate using the example of Iran:

    • No session I attended mentioned that Iran is at war with ISIS (inferences in three sessions suggested that Iran was supporting ISIS, and the presence of 2,000 Iranian troops in Syria was presented as a sign that Iran was fomenting terrorism rather than fighting ISIS).
    • While those in attendance understand the emotional impact even today of the roughly 25,000 Israelis who have been killed in all the wars since the founding of Israel, in assessing Iranian motivations no one mentioned that in the 1980’s over 1,000,000 Iranians were killed in wars started by Iraq that had now-acknowledged US support. The most serious US support was providing satellite data that Iraq used, without our foreknowledge, to target chemical weapons that killed about 100,000 Iranians (documented in the 8/26/13 issue of Foreign Policy). This experience does not provide any moral excuses for specific evil acts committed by Iranians, but it does provide insight on why an adversary might have concerns about giving international inspectors immediate access to every location in the country. Regardless of your position, ignorance of this history while recommending policy and interpreting Iranian responses introduces high and unnecessary risks.
    • Eleven times I heard references to the Iran Deal lasting only 10-15 years – no one mentioned the provisions in effect for 20 and 25 years (monitoring of Iran’s production of centrifuges, strict accounting of all of Iran’s enriched uranium from the mines through processing at the Isfahan conversion facility). AIPAC’s leading expert in the session on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, when questioned in front of hundreds of people, finally acknowledged that there were such provisions but he was unable to name them (I was asking, politely, and I gave him two chances — he finally acknowledged that there were some provisions that lasted longer than 15 years but they were too technical for him to explain).

    The simplistic force-over-diplomacy ideology was also a key driver of the 2003 Iraq War (which, by the way, Prime Minister Prime Minister Netanyahu guaranteed to Congress in 2002 would have enormous positive reverberations on the region). We cannot forget the moral obligations of the 2003 Iraq War (which was literally unmentioned in my entire time at AIPAC) where the US took actions that led to the deaths of 50,000-100,000 innocent civilians in the initial phase of the war (and arguably shaped a scenario of Sunni-Shiite civil war over the last 12 years that is now nearing a million deaths). Force is not always wrong, but the simplistic view of force at AIPAC is more likely lead to terrible consequences from both a pragmatic and moral perspective.[/li]

My view is that there is factional politics even where regimes commit evil actions, and “national” actions are often the result of conflict between extremists and moderates within a given regime. There was actually a small, insightful session on Iranian factional politics (the conflict between the Supreme Leader, the President, and the Revolutionary Guards), but none of those insights escaped the walls of that conference room. But without insight, the greater AIPAC population was left with cartoon version of the Iranian threat. Sometimes terrorist attacks are used by extremists not because they hope to defeat their enemy in one blow, but because they wish to incite a backlash that will help their cause (9/11 fits this category). Conflict and escalation sometimes occur because they bring domestic political benefits to some factions on both sides of a conflict. This can apply to Iran, to Israel, and even to the United States.

I wrote to my Representative and Senators, those whose lobbying sessions that I could not attend because dissenting views were not welcome. I spoke to several others who are staff at AIPAC after the conference about my experience as described above, but they requested that those conversations be off -the-record. Based on considerable deliberation, my conclusion is that I disagree with AIPAC’s ideological view of the world. I might be wrong. But for now I need to stand for my beliefs, and that means I cannot stand with AIPAC.

General Comments / A question about unfair taxes
« on: March 11, 2016, 02:47:56 PM »
Let's take a hypothetical case for income/payroll taxes
  • Federal (including social security) = 28.4%
  • California (state and local) = 8.3%
Total tax burden is 36.7%

Add property taxes into the total and burden goes to 37.7%

Assume itemized deductions, but 4/5ths of that is state income/property taxes; 2% of income in charitable donations, minor mortgage interest deductions. 99.9% of their income is reported as normal income on W-2s, less than 0.1% of the income is from interest/dividends/ownership. Married couple with one dependent child - no other special considerations affecting tax burden.

Here is my question:

How high would the income have to be for you to consider that the relative tax burden on this couple is unfairly low compared to Americans with lower income?

If they had half a billion dollars in 2015 income, anyone who believes in some level of progressive taxation would probably find this unfair. How about half a million dollars in 2015 income - would that be unfair?  How about $100K? Where would you set the level?


General Comments / My changing (more conservative?) view on immigration
« on: January 23, 2016, 05:49:27 PM »
I just finished reading Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario; she's an LA Times reporter who retraced the journey of a teenage illegal immigrant (spending months riding on the roofs of trains from Central America, etc.).  The book was originally published in 2006; it includes updates and some overall reporting on immigration, and based on the book and related material, I am rethinking my position on immigration. Here's where I am right now:

  • I disagree with the racist and xenophobia regarding the threat from immigrants that animates part of the intensity of the Republican opposition (both legal and illegal immigrants)
  • The immigrants are fleeing conditions that are so horrific (and living in the US is so lucrative) that there is no credible way for the US to disincentivize them by threats
  • Overall, illegal immigrants may be a net cost to society when they first arrive. Nazario cites statistics that services consumed exceeds taxes paid, and as a disproportionately poor and youthful population, they are currently using an above average level of services. Where they do provide an economic benefit due to lowering labor costs, much of that benefit goes to wealthier people who can afford gardeners, nannies, and even a higher proportion of fresh produce. By the way, there is nothing new with the US paying a cost for first generation immigrants. When I was young, there was still a derogatory term used for those of Italian ancestry (WOP - or "with out papers"), and in reality the Mafia was nothing more than a form of criminality brought into the country by immigrants. But no one now is looking for those of Italian descent to pay reparations, and I will have to say that in fields like mine of aerospace, 2nd and 3rd generation Italians are over-represented relative to the population, so immigration may be an investment with a strong return over time. But while the long term investment may be worth it for the country, a disproportionate burden is placed on lower income Americans
  • Immigration, both legal and illegal, depresses the wages of Americans.  Essentially, for many immigrants from Mexico and Central America, the benefits of living in the United States are a valuable part of their compensation, and so companies can take advantage of this and acquire their services without having to pay for that big part of their compensation. Because companies can get immigrant labor cheaply, that drives down the cost of competing American labor. Nazario asserts that primarily African American janitors in Los Angeles had compensation cut in half and benefits eliminated in response to the influx of immigrant labor. For those who say that immigrants will do jobs that Americans won't (like agricultural work), the way the free market is supposed to work is that wages rise where there is demand for labor. We should triple or quadruple wages for agricultural work if that is what is required for labor supply to meet demand, not give agricultural companies access to cheap labor 
  • The number of illegal immigrants exacerbates the problem because their lack of papers enables employers to depress their wages even further, and it makes them more likely to be victims of (and engaged in) crime because they have no access to law enforcement
  • The most logical path towards a solution will be to sanction employers, not illegal immigrants. Big fines to prevent noncompliance being a buiness decision, followed by and prison forrepeated offenses. Rationalize the illegal immigrants who are in the country today, whether through guest worker program or a path to citizenship.  But stop the status quo

Despite lots of conservative media attention identifying California's business climate as one of the worst, California is leading the country in job growth (with twice as many jobs created in California as Texas over the past year).  In 2011, a number of people here made claims that the liberal nature of California government was destined to make economic conditions worse. This is just an update on the error in that assertion

And here is a summary comment:

But the point here isn’t that Texas sucks and California (or New York) is better. The point is that as much as conservatives claim California is a dysfunctional communist dystopia, the reality is that it continues to be the global driving force in entertainment and technology, is one of the world’s premier agricultural producers, and there is no slowing this juggernaut. Heck, if Detroit doesn’t evolve quickly, California will be the future of the auto industry as well (Apple, Google, Tesla, Future Faraday, and Uber)!

And it accomplishes all that despite its high cost of living, taxes, and regulations. Apparently, there is more to a positive “business climate” than low taxes. Otherwise, that unemployment map above would look a heck of a lot different.

Link to the old thread at

General Comments / Who do you trust with the nuclear launch codes?
« on: December 26, 2015, 10:22:44 PM »
The President of the United States has it within his or her power to take actions that can literally destroy all of humanity. For example, all it would take is a series of ego-based escalations of conflict with Russia or China and the person we elect as President could start a nuclear war (or goad an adversary until they do). Just because that has never happened doesn't mean it never will. We have had 10 men with the power to start (or forestall) global nuclear warfare, and so far they have all handled that ultimate responsibility wisely. Who do you trust with this power?

I don't think Trump will be the nominee, but of the current candidates I believe he poses too much of a risk (and even a small risk on this question is too much of a risk). I suspect others will disagree, but I am interested in where you stand on this.

General Comments / OSC's latest book Gatefather & theological fantasy
« on: December 24, 2015, 03:59:17 PM »
I am a little more than mid-way through OSC's 3rd book in the Mithermage cycle.  Without any spoilers, this book strikes me as a uniquely theological fantasy more than anything else (is that a new genre?).

Forgive my ignorance, but with the discussion of planets and souls, can anyone who has read this book tell me if there is any overlap with Mormon theology? Is this a Mormon version of midrash, the Jewish practice of storytelling to illuninate a percerived theologival truth. Or are the theological foundations a completely unrelated creation of the author himself? 

General Comments / Fear trumps facts
« on: December 19, 2015, 12:00:25 PM »
Testing this line of thought - comments, anyone?

In the battle of narratives, history shows that fear is a powerful motivator. Donald Trump is tapping into fear and converting it in to anger, and reaping the appreciation of voters who prefer to be angry over being scared.  This narrative cannot be countered by facts, because ultimately it is an emotional transaction. The counter-argument is an emotional truth: Trump's support is driven largely by fear, or more bluntly, by cowardice. Cowards value talk of "winners' because they feel like losers. For them, fear trumps facts. And so the right response is not fact-checking, it is calling them out for what they are.

General Comments / Serial Season #2: Bowe Bergdahl
« on: December 13, 2015, 08:20:51 PM »
I was wondering what the podcast Serial would do to come up with a sequel to their remarkable investigation of an ambiguous high school murder in the late 1990's. What I found particularly compelling about the first season was the lack of certainty, the ability to fully investigate the situation from many perspectives and to follow, cautiously, where the evidence led (and if you are going to assume that the outcome of the show was foretold from the beginning because NPR is a crypto-liberal something-or-other, I suggest you listen because that is neither the tone nor the outcome).  If you haven't listened, I won't give you a spoiler about the case of Adnan Sayed, but I do recommend the 10 part podcast highly.

Season #2 is about Bergdahl. Going in, I believe that the salient fact is that he committed an act of desertion. There are conflicting claims as to his motives and the impacts of his desertion. I am not sure what else there is to say, and I can't really see anything else that could possibly be exculpatory. But based on Season #1, I have some confidence that those producing the show have found something that makes rehashing this case relevant, but I can't imagine what. Episode #1 presented the story of his desertion and capture from Bergdahl's perspective (they got a hold of 12 hours of his discussion on tape); Episode #2 will be from the perspective of the Taliban.

If possible, I'd like to keep this thread about Bergdahl's case itself (and the information brought to light by Serial) and if someone wants to to talk about the Obama Administration's action to bring about the prisoner exchange, please start an additional thread. 


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