The U.S. Capitol Building

The U.S. Capitol Building

Friday, January 27, 2017

Crowd Size

One of my aims in writing this blog is to look at the psychological and logical aspects of topics. Here I want to look at the logic of saying the 2017 inaugural crowd was larger than the 2009 crowd.

According to internet articles, the largest inaugural crowd prior to 2009 was for LBJ in 1965 at 1.3 million. Obama’s 2009 crowd was 1.8 million. Recall photo I took of the 2009 crowd at the Washington Monument (See the January 14, 2017, posting in this blog).

One would not expect the 2017 crowd to be larger than that of 2009 given the following:

1. The inauguration of the first African-American president was an astounding event for the black community. I attended the 2009 inauguration and it appeared that more than 80% of the crowd was African-American.

2. Barrack Obama’s popularity numbers were at least double those of Donald Trump during the transition.

3. Barrack Obama at 69,498,516 received 10% more popular votes than Donald Trump at 62,985,105.

4. The region around DC is primarily liberal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Voter Fraud

I have wanted to speak to this topic so now that it is back in the news seems like a good time.

I will provide a “Thought Experiment” shortly but first let me ask this question: Does it pass the basic common sense test to think that 3 million undocumented folks, who already face deportation, would all risk imprisonment and deportation to cast one illegal vote? These people usually keep a low profile and stay away from unnecessary contact with governmental units.

Thought Experiment

Suppose you wish to swing an election by 1% and the total number of people voting is 1 million. That makes 10,000 people you need to hire.

You will need a good sized organization to do this. You need to contact all these people and get their agreement. Then you need to give them the name of a deceased voter or former voter that has moved away all coordinated with the correct precinct number. And you need to pay them.

How much do you need to pay someone to risk imprisonment for an illegal vote? Let’s say $10 would do it. So you need to have $100,000 for this project.

What is your measure of success since there is no way to tell if they voted for the designated candidate or if they voted at all? If a few take your money and do not vote as directed, you do not achieve the 1% effect.

{Thanks to Tom Johnson for informing me on this subject.}

For more on this subject, here is Josh Marshall's take including a number of links to other background material.

Real Election Fraud

The above discussion regards “voter fraud by impersonation”, the usual crime that is meant to be curbed by the various state laws that we hear about. Real election fraud, that which can be effective in swinging an election, is that where major behind-the-scenes cheating can occur. In this case poll workers permit ballot box stuffing or other means to manipulate the election results.

State and local laws that pretend to curb impersonation fraud are undemocratic and clearly are intended to limit voter participation. It is not possible to have any significant effect on an election by the few cases that may occur.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

OK, Let’s Get This Out of the Way

Like at least 65 million of us, I was totally devastated by the November 8, 2016, election results. Understanding the Democratic Party policies will face obliteration was certainly part of it but most of my great visceral discomfort went well beyond politics.

Having listened to Donald Trump for months it was clear that we turned the American Experiment over to—and I am being polite here—a rank amateur with a volatile personality. We are performing the Great American Stress Test “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure”, to borrow a phrase from A. Lincoln. Our government will take generations to recover if that is even possible. One might say I am alarmist. I dearly hope I am and that everything will be just fine.

But I am afraid. I will not make predictions but here is a list of possible events if Mr. Trump follows through on much of his campaign rhetoric (I will not even mention conflict of interest and corruption because that is a given).
  1. The stability of world order that Americans of both parties has nurtured for 70 years (The Pax Americana) could quickly come undone. Execution of foreign policy is a delicate choreography; it may not fare well with a provocateur in charge.
  2. We could blunder into a war (if we back out of the Iran nuclear deal, armed conflict is guaranteed from us or from Israel).
  3. There could be an accidental or deliberate use of nuclear weapons.
  4. There could be a global depression.
  5. We could see a collapse of the individual health insurance system.
  6. With Republican control of all branches of government and 68% of state legislatures, unwise constitutional amendments may be passed.
  7. We will likely see an increase in hate crimes. Also physical attacks on Trump critics may occur.

When I said that much of my concern went beyond politics, note that many prominent conservatives are highly critical of Trump’s behavior as well. I follow Bret Stephens (WSJ) and David Frum on Twitter. I read Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post and David Brooks & Ross Douthat at The New York Times. These writers are very critical of Trump’s behavior and I follow them to get me out of my liberal bubble. Recently I have seen critical tweets from Laura Ingraham and Michael Gerson. It goes beyond politics for many.

My fervent hope is that serious denigration of media will be minimal so that whatever happens will be reported to the country. I want everyone to understand the events that are to come. My nightmare scenario is that Trump’s base will grow and sustain him. Many of them will not trust news reports.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Word about Obamacare

           "Save our Healthcare" Rally in Warren, MI, on January 15, 2017 (Photo: J.J. Uicker)

Republicans coined the term “Obamacare” feeling they were pinning an unpopular law—at least in their eyes—to President Obama. It was a pejorative term. Amusingly, President Obama eventually adopted it. There may be some unexpected negative aspects to that adoption today since some opponents of Obamacare may not know it is the same as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They may hate Obamacare but not ACA or many of the benefits of it.

Repealing Obamacare (a.k.a. ACA) seems to be in the Republican DNA and they may blunder ahead and kill it. They really, really want to kill it. There are three members of my extended family that would be badly hurt by repeal. Preexisting conditions prevent future insurability in the pre-2010 health insurance world.

The reasons for such a visceral hatred of the ACA probably stems from the need desire to give tax cuts to the 1 percenters who do not need it. Also the individual mandate is unpopular.

The talk of replacement is silly. It is not possible to save the pieces you like and jettison everything else. The elements are like the guy wires on a radio tower. Break one and it all falls down. They should know this since an ACA look-alike was promoted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and, famously, by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.

Here is a prediction: If the tax provisions of the ACA (the tax on high income individuals) are rescinded, no replacement for the ACA will ever happen.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Barrack Obama

In 2006 I read “The Audacity of Hope” by Barrack Obama. Upon finishing the book, I thought, “I want to see this man in the White House”. The cause for my enthusiasm was his focus on being open to both sides of any issue. Each time he presented the liberal side of an issue, he also presented the conservative side. He came to office really wanting to be open to both sides but the door was shut in his face. The Republicans blocked any move on any issue. They even refused invitations to state dinners at the White House.

Only time will tell how his presidency will be regarded by history. If all his programs are killed by the succeeding administration, how will he be judged?

I attended his 2009 inauguration. I did not have a ticket I just showed up with 1.8 million other admirers. Prior to his first inauguration, the previous attendance record was Lyndon Johnson in 1965 at 1.3 million people. Due to a subway accident, I had to walk miles further than expected and when I finally got onto the National Mall, it was way back by the Washington Monument. Here is a photo I took that day.

It was a pleasure to see him in office for eight years. A scandal-free eight years with an attractive young family.

I do have a few disappointments. Everyone talks about the failure to respond after Assad crossed the “red line”. Here history will again decide his wisdom or lack of it. The other thing I wish could have been different is his communication with the nation. He should have made a sales pitch for healthcare reform and the stimulus. I think he found this necessary part of a good presidency a pain. He didn’t want to play the game.

He is very young and I hope he continues serving the country like Jimmy Carter. I understand he may work with Eric Holder on pushing back against the undemocratic practice of gerrymandering.

Thanks, President Obama, and the best of luck to you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Trumpublican Chaos Theory

Definition: Trumpublican. A republican in the age of Trump and typically a Trump supporter. (No offense intended. It just makes a nice portmanteau).

Politics may be defined in a number of ways. I have heard “the art of the possible” for one but it also should be “the art of persuasion”. Persuade me with your argument. Whatever our political leanings we should be aware and beware of tricks. Just in the first week of the 115th congress we have seen middle of the night sessions to push through unpopular measures. Also tomorrow, January 11, the Trumpublicans have scheduled a flurry of confirmation hearings. Coincidentally, Donald Trump has scheduled his first news conference since his election. Is this like a shell game: move things around real fast so we lose track of events?

But the main thing I wanted to point out in this post is Mr. Trump’s habit of distracting the media (who are eager to follow ‘shiny objects’) with Tweets. Whenever a real Trump news nugget occurs, there seems to be some outrageous Tweets about something else that follow, dominate the news cycle and get the conversation off the more important story. Clever but let’s keep our eye on the important stuff.

I am reminded of a funny trick some guys played when I was a teenager. A guy would come toward me dancing like a boxer saying “Watch my right. Watch my right” and then he would whack me with his left.

Another trick we should be aware of is Mr. Trump’s habit of saying or doing provocative things and then denying it when called out on it. This also is coupled somewhat with the phenomenon of disbelieving the news. More on this in later posts. But the denial of obvious events brings to mind another old memory that has stayed with me over the years.

In the 1967 movie “A Guide for the Married Man”, the wife comes into the bedroom to find her husband in bed with some hot babe. The woman leaves quickly, he casually gets out of bed, gets dressed and goes into the living room and begins to read the newspaper. His wife screams, “Who was that woman?” He calmly replies incredulously, “What woman?”

{Update: I have heard a new term used to describe the attempt to confuse and disorient by means of distraction. "Gaslight" refers to a 1944 movie where a man tries to drive his wife insane by continually lowering the gas lights incrementally and saying there is nothing wrong when she asks about it.}

{Update: I forgot to include this video of a military aircraft throwing out "shiny objects" to distract any incoming heat-seeking missiles. A pretty fancy distraction trick}

Friday, January 6, 2017

Master of the Medium

Whatever one thinks of DJT one thing is clear: he is a master of the art of TV. That can have both a positive and negative side.

I once heard that President Reagan would make some public pronouncement once or twice a week. This kept him in the public consciousness and instilled a sense of him being on top of things. And, of course, the fireside chats of FDR are legendary. When DJT was campaigning he was constantly in the news. I believe that was a wise thing for one to do if one wants to increase ones popularity. President Obama did not care to do that sort of thing, which likely reduced his potential popularity.

The negative side is that this constant TV presence can be used as a smokescreen (think “voter fraud”, “flag burning”) to distract the public from other gaffes, scandals, & corrupt practices. More on this topic in my next post.