Open Thread: Everything’s Bolder in This (Mal)Administration…

In a terse letter to Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — leaders of the House oversight committee — President Donald Trump’s congressional liaison Marc Short declined to indicate whether any administration officials had used personal email accounts or messaging services, despite reports suggesting such communications were common in the West Wing.

“The White House and covered employees endeavor to comply with all relevant laws,” Short wrote in a two-page reply delivered late last week and obtained Monday by POLITICO.

Short’s statement comes despite recent revelations that several senior aides to President Donald Trump routinely used private email addresses and personal devices for government business. Among the current and former aides who POLITICO found at least occasionally relied on private email addresses were Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Gary Cohn and Reince Priebus.

In a similarly brief letter, Short also declined to provide records in response to a separate inquiry by Gowdy and Cummings into the use of costly private air travel by top administration officials.

The White House’s limited responses set up a potential confrontation with Gowdy, a hard-nosed prosecutor with subpoena power and a track record that includes sharp criticism of Hillary Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state. Cummings said last week that he hoped the committee would subpoena any information that the White House declined to provide, as have other Democrats…

Anybody want to bet that Witchfinder Gowdy will take more than a token interest in Lawyer Short’s curt dismissal of his mighty prosecutorial powers?

At least now we know why so many high-ranking Repubs have suddenly started wringing their pale plump hands over the reckless, out-of-control Trump cartel’s totally unprecedented “takeover” of the GOP — suddenly it’s in the Party’s interests to pretend they had nothing to do with this gang of thieves and con artists. Shocked! they are shocked! that there might be gambling going on in their personal branded casino!…



Degrading the public sphere (data edition)

Hannah Recht is one hell of a data visualizer and story teller on healthcare. She is assembling the bare county maps for Bloomberg and then she tweeted the following on Wednesday:

She goes on to explain how and why the government map is fundamentally wrong. It is a combination of people not being familiar with the data and an intent to deceive through malice or laziness.

American public data resources are an incredible asset. They are being degraded as we speak. This is why everyone who could yank a file from November 9-January 20, 2017 yanked files. We feared that there would be massive data degradation. And the solution of archiving public resource files on non-government servers is a reasonable solution to the feared problem of forgetting the past. It does nothing for the ongoing fear that current files will not be collected, corrupted or hideously and deliberately mis-interpreted.

This is just one small example in a domain where I have knowledge and passion. We know it is happening elsewhere such as the EPA and voting rights too. I think the safe assumption is that it is happening everywhere.



Let’s get cynical with CSR and the midterms

I spent too much of my weekend on a highway so I had time to get cynical about Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies and rate filings.

Charles Gaba at ACA Signups notes the increasing attribution of increased individual market premiums due to policy uncertainty.

And finally, you have this press release from the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, which applies to all 5 carriers collectively: 8.8% increase if not for Trump/GOP sabotage, up to 36.3% with it added. That means that the worst-case scenario would mean a “Trump Tax” of 27.5%…or 3/4 of the overall rate increases.

I noted in March that all of the incentives were set up for high rate filings.

So how do the incentives align?
Filing actuaries hate being wrong. They hate being wrong the most when it costs their employers money and them their jobs. They have every reason to file high. The reviewing actuaries don’t want to be wrong but they have a public trust component to their job where they need to make sure that the filing entity will be an ongoing viable business while not taking too much advantage of the public.
Republicans want high rates to be filed. It gives them a good headline when they’ll need one to keep their base in line. Insurance company executives won’t mind giving them a good headline as it is a low cost favor…
State insurance commissioners of either party won’t mind high filings. They will be able to issue press releases and have interviews where they can clearly, cleanly and honestly state that due to their work, the initial rates came down by 50% before Open Enrollment.
The players with the ability to influence rates all have a shared incentive to have initially hideous numbers filed in June and then see hideous shaved down to merely bad for the first day of Open Enrollment in November.

I was not thinking the scenario through far enough.

With the assumption that the 2019 individual market will be an exchange based market of some sort, what are the headlines in October 2018 if there is a bill that fully funds CSR subsidies that is signed in March 2018?

“What a great deal, insurance premiums go down 8%”

There is a strong incentive for CSR to be funded with 100% certainty before the 2019 rate filing process is even started at the carriers that may be offering plans on any exchanges. The absence of a potential demolition charge will drop rates significantly. And since those rates will drop a week before the election, the incentive is for Republicans, who are worried about their seats, to pass a bill that will give them a great headline as everyone gets ready to go to the polls.








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.”



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



Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight

When the WaPo alert about Comey’s firing hit my phone, my first response was to laugh. Here was a guy with the ultimate sinecure – he was a Republican appointed by a Democrat, who played a pivotal role in keeping bad, bad Hillary Clinton from becoming President. The “credibility” he won from his pre-election actions, as well as his party affiliation, should have insulated him from Trump’s itchy trigger finger as the FBI slowly unraveled the Russian ties.

Instead, he was so fixated on justifying his unjustifiable actions towards Clinton that he went in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and told a big fat fucking lie. Here’s a guy who is so far up his own ass that he doesn’t get that Trump is looking for any good excuse to fire him – and the only excuse that would work could not center around the Russia investigation.

Shouldn’t we at least allow ourselves a small, bitter laugh over the dumbshit way that Comey exited the stage before we buckle down waiting for the brownshirts to kick in the doors?








Two reminders for future candidates

1) Remember who the current President is and his level of qualification

2)

If you’re thinking of running don’t disqualify yourself by giving into the imposter syndrome. Look at the case examples around you.

Open thread…