Go long popcorn, go long butter

The Senate Intelligence Committee will be hearing testimony by fired former FBI Director after Memorial Day.

Remember, the White House is not disputing that they believe that firing Comey would make their lives easier regarding the Russia investigation.

So go long on popcorn, go long on butter… things are getting real



Shame as a limiting constraint

It is always worthwhile to read through the back archives of the now defunct Kung Fu Monkey.

Today’s relevant post is on shame as a constraint. It was written in 2007 responding to the US Attorney firing scandal as they weren’t willing to railroad people for non-existent voter fraud. I think it is a relevant structural analysis today as well:

This just hammers home my realization of what the Cheney Administration — and yes, damn you this is the first time I’ve indulged in that neologism, and the first time I think it perfectly appropriate — what the Cheney Administration has discovered. They have found the “exploit” within the United States Government. As I watched Congressmen and Senators stumble and fumble and thrash, unable to bring to heel men and women who were plainly lying to them under oath, unable to eject from public office toadies of a boot-licking expertise unseen since Versailles, it struck me. The sheer, simple elegance of it. The “exploit”.

The exploit is shame.

Our representatives — and to a great degree we as a culture — are completely buffaloed by shamelessness. You reveal a man’s corrupt, or lying, or incompetent, and what does he do? He resigns. He attempts to escape attention, often to aid in his escape of legal pursuit. Public shame has up to now been the silver bullet of American political life. But people who are willing to just do the wrong thing and wait you out, to be publicly guilty … dammmnnnn.

We are faced with utterly shameless men. Cheney and the rest are looking our representatives right in the eye and saying “You don’t have the balls to take down a government. You don’t have the sheer testicular fortitude to call us lying sonuvabitches when we lie, to stop us from kicking the rule of law and the Constitution in the ass. You just don’t. What’s beyond that abyss — what that would do to our government and our identity as a nation — terrifies you too much. So get the fuck out of our way.”



Must Have Been The Brown Acid…

ETA: Given Betty’s post immediately below, this should settle any last doubts that this blog is not a member of any organized political party…(a gazillion quatloos to all those (many here) who nod to the illustrious forebear who put that opening to such good use).  I’ll leave this one up for the Rose-Mary Woods photo, which is worth the price of admission. But Betty got there first in all the relevant detail, so that’s where I’m heading for the fun of the discussion.)

———————————–

…the flashbacks seem so real.

At 8:32 this morning, the usurper occupying the Oval Office tweeted this:

I have several reactions.

First, this:

(For all you kids out there, that’s Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, demonstrating how she managed to “accidentally” create an eighteen minute gap in the Oval Office tapes, perfectly placed to eliminate some very interesting discussion of Watergate matters.)*

Second: A question for the legal minds here:  Bob Bauer has an interesting piece over at the Lawfare Blog assessing where Trump has reached on the obstruction of justice spectrum, clearly written before the shitgibbon released the tweet at the top of this post.  He argues (as I, a non-lawyer, read him) that there is an emerging fact pattern consistent with obstruction, but further focused inquiry would be needed to generate an actual case.  So, does this new tweet, explicitly threatening a potential witness in such an obstruction, advance the argument that the president is engaged in an actual, legally-jeopardizing attempt at obstruction?

Third: “Subpoena” has such a lovely ring to it, doesn’t it.  I shouldn’t still be surprised, but I am: how dumb do you have to be to announce the possibility of evidence that one had no prior reason to suspect might exist?  This tweet from Garry Kasparov is so spot on:

And with that, it’s back to the 18th century for me! (Isaac Newton, musing on the virtues of government debt…)  Have at it, y’all.

*Ancient tech nerd that I am, I am totally grooving on the IBM Selectric there. What fabulous machines… ETA: So — you can retire my tech-nerd creds. That’s not a Selectric. Ahh well….

 



The Great Vote Fraud Data Mistake…A Cautionary Tale

Just in time for the latest, greatest Shitgibbon pursuit of all those not-good-people who got to vote for his opponent, Maggie Koerth-Baker brings the hammer down.  She’s written an excellent long-read over at Five Thirty Eight on what went wrong in the ur-paper that has fed the right wing fantasy that a gazillion undocumented brown people threw the election to the popular-vote winner, but somehow failed to actually turn the result.

The nub of the problem lies with a common error in data-driven research, a failure to come to grips with the statistical properties — the weaknesses — of the underlying sample or set.  As Koerth-Baker emphasizes this is both hardly unusual, and usually not quite as consequential as it was when and undergraduate, working with her professor, used  found that, apparently, large numbers of non-citizens 14% of them — were registered to vote.

There was nothing wrong the calculations they used on the raw numbers in their data set — drawn from a large survey of voters called the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The problem, though, was that they failed fully to handle the implications of the fact that the people they were interested in, non-citizens, were too small a fraction of the total sample to eliminate the impact of what are called measurement errors. Koerth-Baker writes:

Non-citizens who vote represent a tiny subpopulation of both non-citizens in general and of the larger community of American voters. Studying them means zeroing in on a very small percentage of a much larger sample. That massive imbalance in sample size makes it easier for something called measurement error to contaminate the data. Measurement error is simple: It’s what happens when people answer a survey or a poll incorrectly.1 If you’ve ever checked the wrong box on a form, you know how easy it can be to screw this stuff up. Scientists are certainly aware this happens. And they know that, most of the time, those errors aren’t big enough to have much impact on the outcome of a study. But what constitutes “big enough” will change when you’re focusing on a small segment of a bigger group. Suddenly, a few wrongly placed check marks that would otherwise be no big deal can matter a lot.

This is what critics of the original paper say happened to the claim that non-citizens are voting in election-shaping numbers:

Of the 32,800 people surveyed by CCES in 2008 and the 55,400 surveyed in 2010, 339 people and 489 people, respectively, identified themselves as non-citizens.2 Of those, Chattha found 38 people in 2008 who either reported voting or who could be verified through other sources as having voted. In 2010, there were just 13 of these people, all self-reported. It was a very small sample within a much, much larger one. If some of those people were misclassified, the results would run into trouble fast. Chattha and Richman tried to account for the measurement error on its own, but, like the rest of their field, they weren’t prepared for the way imbalanced sample ratios could make those errors more powerful. Stephen Ansolabehere and Brian Schaffner, the Harvard and University of Massachusetts Amherst professors who manage the CCES, would later say Chattha and Richman underestimated the importance of measurement error — and that mistake would challenge the validity of the paper.

Koerth-Baker argues that Chatta (the undergraduate) and Richman, the authors of the original paper are not really to blame for what came next — the appropriation of this result as a partisan weapon in the voter-suppression wars.  She writes, likely correctly in my view, that political science and related fields are more prone to problems of methodology, and especially in handling the relatively  new (to these disciplines) pitfalls of big, or even medium-data research. The piece goes on to look at how and why this kind of not-great research can have such potent political impact, long after professionals within the field have recognized problems and moved on.  A sample of that analysis:

This isn’t the only time a single problematic research paper has had this kind of public afterlife, shambling about the internet and political talk shows long after its authors have tried to correct a public misinterpretation and its critics would have preferred it peacefully buried altogether. Even retracted papers — research effectively unpublished because of egregious mistakes, misconduct or major inaccuracies — sometimes continue to spread through the public consciousness, creating believers who use them to influence others and drive political discussion, said Daren Brabham, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California who studies the interactions between online communities, media and policymaking. “It’s something scientists know,” he said, “but we don’t really talk about.”

These papers — I think of them as “zombie research” — can lead people to believe things that aren’t true, or, at least, that don’t line up with the preponderance of scientific evidence. When that happens — either because someone stumbled across a paper that felt deeply true and created a belief, or because someone went looking for a paper that would back up beliefs they already had — the undead are hard to kill.

There’s lots more at the link.  Highly recommended.  At the least, it will arm you for battle w. Facebook natterers screaming about non-existent voter fraud “emergency.”

Image: William Hogarth, The Humours of an Election: The Polling, 1754-55



Excellent Read: “Inside Trump’s anger and impatience — and his sudden decision to fire Comey”

Kudos to the Washington Post, which of course has been down these twisty little paths before:

Every time FBI Director James B. Comey appeared in public, an ever-watchful President Trump grew increasingly agitated that the topic was the one that he was most desperate to avoid: Russia.

Trump had long questioned Comey’s loyalty and judgment, and was infuriated by what he viewed as the director’s lack of action in recent weeks on leaks from within the federal government. By last weekend, he had made up his mind: Comey had to go.

At his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., Trump groused over Comey’s latest congressional testimony, which he thought was “strange,” and grew impatient with what he viewed as his sanctimony, according to White House officials. Comey, Trump figured, was using the Russia probe to become a martyr.

Back at work Monday morning in Washington, Trump told Vice President Pence and several senior aides — Reince Priebus, Stephen K. Bannon and Donald McGahn, among others — that he was ready to move on Comey. First, though, he wanted to talk with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his trusted confidant, and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, to whom Comey reported directly. Trump summoned the two of them to the White House for a meeting, according to a person close to the White House.

The president already had decided to fire Comey, according to this person. But in the meeting, several White House officials said Trump gave Sessions and Rosenstein a directive: to explain in writing the case against Comey.

The pair quickly fulfilled the boss’s orders, and the next day Trump fired Comey — a breathtaking move that thrust a White House already accustomed to chaos into a new level of tumult, one that has legal as well as political consequences…

The known actions that led to Comey’s dismissal raise as many questions as answers. Why was Sessions involved in discussions about the fate of the man leading the FBI’s Russia investigation, after having recused himself from the probe because he had falsely denied under oath his own past communications with the Russian ambassador?
 
Why had Trump discussed the Russia probe with the FBI director three times, as he claimed in his letter dismissing Comey, which could have been a violation of Justice Department policies that ongoing investigations generally are not to be discussed with White House officials?

And how much was the timing of Trump’s decision shaped by events spiraling out of his control — such as Monday’s testimony about Russian interference by former acting attorney general Sally Yates, or the fact that Comey last week requested more resources from the Justice Department to expand the FBI’s Russia probe?…

Dating to the campaign, several men personally close to Trump deeply distrusted Comey and helped feed the candidate-turned-president’s suspicions of the FBI director, who declined to recommend charges against Clinton for what they all agreed was a criminal offense, according to several people familiar with the dynamic.

The men influencing Trump include Roger J. Stone, a self-proclaimed dirty trickster and longtime Trump confidant who himself has been linked to the FBI’s Russia investigation; former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Comey critic who has been known to kibbitz about the ousted FBI director with like-minded law enforcement figures; and Keith Schiller, a former New York police officer who functioned as Trump’s chief bodyguard and works in the West Wing as director of Oval Office operations…

Well worth clicking over to read the whole thing; there’s video, graphics, surprise twists, ham-handed henchmen, and a capper with Sean Spicer trying to hide in the bushes.



Wednesday Evening Open Thread: Even Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used to Be

Donald J. Trump, shambling zombie of the Nixonian Revanchists. Let’s hope this time comes to a more just and permanent solution — also, faster.



Long Read: No Tears for Mr. Comey

(Jeff Danziger’s website)

Like you hadn’t sold it no later than the Great Clenis Hunt, you sanctimonious fraud. Politico on “The Political Isolation of Jim Comey“:

Jim Comey learned Tuesday afternoon the difference between being independent and being out on a limb. After years of charting his own course in a city that prides itself on loyalty, after marching to the beat of his own drum in a political culture that’s increasingly divided into teams, after making up the rules as he went along in a Justice Department that prides itself on precedent and tradition, the FBI director found this week that he had run out of time and run out of friends.

In becoming just the second FBI director ever to be removed from office for cause—with more than six years remaining on his 10-year term—Comey leaves just as ignominiously as William Sessions did when he was fired by the newly arrived President Bill Clinton in 1993. Sessions, under fire due to scandals involving his wife and improper spending, had stubbornly refused to leave until Clinton summarily threw him out of the Hoover Building.

Yet Comey leaves behind an even more troubling legacy: The FBI soon forgot the Sessions years, but it will be years before its public reputation recovers from the intense political firestorm that Comey plunged it into last summer with a fateful news conference. On July 5, 2016, Comey announced the FBI would not recommend charges against Hillary Clinton for using a personal email server to conduct the government’s business as secretary of state—and then, after making that already unprecedented announcement, proceeded to expound at length upon his own interpretation of the law and Clinton’s mind-set. It was a moment that left jaws wide open across the street at Main Justice, as well as up Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House—the original sin that begat months of turmoil and ultimately cost Comey the job he’d long dreamed of having.

Comey’s firing deservedly shocked official Washington on Tuesday afternoon, but to those who know the bureau well, the idea of Jim Comey and Donald Trump coexisting in Washington has never made much sense—and that was even before recent weeks have made clear the depth and scope of the FBI’s still-widening investigations into Trump’s own campaign and its ties to Russia. It wasn’t all that long ago that Trump was embracing Comey in the East Room of the White House. Two days after his inauguration, Trump greeted his new top cop by joking with observers, “He’s become more famous than me.” In the end, perhaps that will be remembered as Comey’s greatest sin. He forgot the most important lesson of his post: In Washington, FBI directors should be like children—seen but not heard…

Comey has spent his career in Washington biting the hand that feeds him—and for years, that was precisely what led his career to advance…

The STELLAR WIND showdown turned into the Jim Comey Creation Myth, the moment that made clear that he was as independent as they came and would pursue investigations and enforce justice without fear or favor. Whereas deputy attorneys general like Comey come and go nearly routinely and anonymously, that showdown—and Comey’s decision to kiss and tell—made him a person of stature and standing who could lead the nation’s most famous and storied law enforcement agency. It also set up a pattern of behavior that would ultimately lead to his downfall—always willing to speak out, controversial and unafraid of attempts to silence him. As one senior official told me, “He’s rapturous of his own righteousness.”

It was that righteousness, too, that led Barack Obama to appoint Comey to head the FBI in 2013, in part because his iconoclastic reputation ensured Republicans could be assured of his independence—the fact that he’d donated to Mitt Romney and to John McCain didn’t hurt, either. And in his early days as director, Comey worked hard to separate the bureau from the ugliest moments of its history…

“Jim Comey always has to be positioned oppositional to those in power,” one former Justice Department official told me. “He’s done huge, lasting damage to the FBI brand, but he’s done good protection of Brand Comey.”…