January 28, 2017

Trump vs. GOP, the law, the courts, whomever, or facts vs. #alternativefacts

An executive order from President Trump aside, the Congressional GOP is no closer to replacing Obamacare with anything else, or still even deciding to do that instead of a repeal only.

An executive order from President Trump aside, sanctuary cities (whatever the term means), per Supreme Court rulings, are likely on safe ground.

An executive order from President Trump aside, he's pulling in his horns, at least for public consumption, on the use of torture.

An executive order, followed by executive statement, from President Trump aside, there's no way Mexico is paying for a border wall, and, if businesses in Texas and elsewhere have any say, no way that a 20 percent tariff is going to be enacted.

Besides, putting a wall in along much of the Rio Grande would be difficult.

An executive statement from President Trump aside, there's still no real proof of voter fraud.

That's just off the top of his first week in office.

The executive orders may in part be flash to try to make it look like he's fulfilling campaign promises. What happens when they're blocked in court, delayed by international response, or in the case of Obamacare, made reality with a crappy replacement if any?

How long before the #TrumpTrain faces reality?

Possibly at least a full year, if even then. Cognitive dissonance is a real thing.

Unfortunately, during that time, we still have yet to fully see Trump vs. Congressional Democrats:

No idea how long that will take to change, too.

I've already predicted more Dems in the Senate will support Trump's first SCROTUS nominee than did Clarence Thomas'.

January 27, 2017

The real national tragedy? The #duopoly

The real United States of America’s national tragedy of Nov. 8, 2016, is NOT the election of Donald J. Trump as president.

The national tragedy is ultimately the American electoral system, and above all, the American presidential election system, that pushes America more than any other democracy in the world toward a two-party system. The two mainstream parties then foist on us a craptacular, but inspiring in some ways, candidate in Trump, and a weak, and uninspiring, candidate in Clinton.

Were I to try to amend the body of the US Constitution, which BADLY needs it, if not being thrown out, it would be:

1. Increasing the size of the House by 50 percent, with the additional members elected off a national list (I would also, outside the constitutional issue, increase single-member districts to 500, then the 50 percent addition);
2. Ditto for the Senate, and I believe using a national list would survive the constitutional issue of not depriving a state of its equal vote without its consent;
3. Banning the Senate from amending money bills (this was actually in earlier versions of the Constitution);
4. Changing terms to three years for House members and one-half the Senate every three years rather than one-third every two years, to get us away from the permanent campaign.
5. Changing the presidency to a three-year term with three terms, not two. This “alignment” would move us toward semi-parliamentary government;
6. Placing term limits on judges. A total of 30 years of service, and no more than 18 at one level (ie, district, appellate or Supreme Court).

For more on what’s wrong with the Constitution, and why it’s wrong, I strongly recommend “The Frozen Republic,” per my Goodreads review.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A must-read laundry list of how anachronistic the US Constitution really is, and why, with Lazare making a strong argument for junking the whole thing (not counting the amendments that give us our rights) and starting over ... with an eye to a non checks-and-balances gridlock parliamentary government instead of our current nonsense.

This is a book I have re-read more than once.

And, in what is arguably a bit of serendipitous timing, Lazare starts the book with a threat of secession by the state of California, in conjunction with the 2020 election.

Beyond this, readers should look for other books about the realities of the Constitutional Convention. Sheldon Wolin is one good one.

January 26, 2017

Does "implicit bias" exist? If so, how measurable is it?

The idea that people might have implicit, unconscious racist, sexist, or ageist biases is one that’s gotten a lot of traction in the last decade or so. With the rise of movements like Black Lives Matter, the racial portion of possible implicit bias — setting aside, of course, explicit bias, has gotten even more traction.

Project Implicit, grounded at Harvard but which also has itsown website, is the biggest, and original, tester for such attitudes, looking at not only the three above, but possible implicit bias against sexual orientation and more.

That said, the question is, how well can we test for this?

Massimo Pigliucci has raised this issue, per one of the links on a Friday roundup. Two different meta-analyses within that piece both look at the racial bias test. (And yes, both of them focus on that, the first citing only race-based testing as explicit examples and the second specifically saying it was only about racial bias testing. The idea that the first is also about race only is reinforced by a pieceI posted on Massimo’s site last week, meta-analyzers, while having bits of problems with the other tests, don’t see the same testing issues in the same degree with them.)

That all said, let’s dig into this issue, both of implicit bias in general, and why racial implicit bias (presuming it exists, as I shall shortly show we have good reason to believe) may be hard to test accurately, and again, that problem being most difficult with racial bias.

First, my idea of consciousness, as should be known to long-term visitors to Massimo’s sites, is broadly similar to that of Dan Dennett — subselves poking up from the subconsciousness, multiple drafts of consciousness, etc. I have no problem with the idea of implicit biases. In fact, I’d be shocked if humans did NOT have such biases. Shocked. (For more on that, see the last two links at the bottom.)

Second, let’s look at the main such biases in modern America, as most commonly tested for by implicit association tests, whether crafted by Project Implicit or not — racism, sexism, ageism, sexual orientation. Sexism and ageism appear to be largely culturally driven. In pre-literate societies, the elders were valued for their wisdom, doubly so in pre-agricultural societies. In “neutral” societies, let alone matrilineal ones, women were valued for inheritance, clan/tribe structure and more, sociologically; and especially contra a myth of Ev Psychers, weren’t denigrated for doing non-hunting work, etc.

Racism, though, is different. Vis-à-vis human xenophobia and outgroups, it appears to be more biologically embedded. Please don’t reference Hume at this point; I know well that is ≠ ought. BUT … until a desirable “ought” of cultural evolution fully trumps an “is” of biological evolution, the “is” is still in play. That’s reality, folks; we’re still blobs of protoplasm, not Platonic Ideals.

OK, that’s our background.

(Sexual orientation bias is probably the second-hottest button issue. And, it may have a moderate degree of biological background, if connected to generalized feelings of disgust. But, in turn, it’s wrapped up with yet other issues, and that would be too distracting.)

Third, with the above said, can racism-based implicit bias be tested? I say yes. The critiquers of IAT don’t say no; they just say that IAT is overstating what it has found, as far as degree of bias and potential conscious-level effects of that. And, they do focus on race-based bias.

Fourth, why is such testing problematic? Well, racism is the hot-button issue in America, beyond the biological background, versus ageism or sexism. The United States is quite arguably the most racially diverse nation in history, with minorities becoming an ever-greater portion of that. And, America has nearly 250 years not just of slavery, but of race-based and race-justified slavery, behind that.

Ergo, it’s understandable that “social justice warriors” or “special snowflakes” in places like modern American academia might over-critique themselves to ferret out actual, would-be, or feared-to-be, bits of such bias. That’s doubly true with the conformist nature of academia in many cases.

That still doesn’t mean that such bias is nonexistent.

What it does mean is that we have:
1.     Low accuracy in testing for it;
2.     Low accuracy in determining any explicit results of it (this applying to the other IATs, not just race.

Or, as noted by Wikipedia at the third link above (additional pull quotes also from there):
A recent meta-analysis[30] has concluded that the IAT has predictive validity independent of the predictive validity of explicit measures. However, a follow-up meta-analysis[31] questioned some of these results, finding that implicit measures were only weakly predictive of behaviors and no better than explicit measures. Some research has found that the IAT tends to be a better predictor of behavior in socially sensitive contexts (e.g. discrimination and suicidal behaviour)[32] than traditional 'explicit' self-report methods,[33] whereas explicit measures tend to be better predictors of behavior in less socially sensitive contexts (e.g. political preferences).
That seems to sum up the main issues pretty well.

First sidebar:
The IAT has also demonstrated a reasonable amount of resistance to social-desirability bias. Individuals asked to fake their responses on the IAT have demonstrated difficulty in doing so in some studies. … Distinct from faking (the deliberate obscuring of a true association), some studies have shown that heightening awareness about the nature of the test can change the outcome, potentially by activating different fluencies and associations. 
In other words, whatever the IAT is measuring, regardless of the accuracy of measurement as correlated to an alleged specific implicit bias, it's measuring something "real."

At the same time, per the second half of that second pull quote, it does seem moderately susceptible to "priming," which itself an issue that still gets some degree of debate.

Fifth, that said, what’s the answer?

The answer is to replace so-so science (not “bad science,” in this case, I say, but “so-so science,” viewing it on a continuum rather than two polarities) with better science. This is not bad science, and it’s certainly not pseudoscience. (That said, if Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji keep digging in their heels, it's going to become semi-bad science soon enough, then bad science after that.)

So, IAT’s founders need to admit their shortcomings, as well as admitting what seems to be a primary reason for their shortcomings.

Then, social scientists in general need to work on better testing. They also need to ask the self-reflective question of: “How much better can we make this testing?”

I would guess “moderately better.” Science can’t know everything, nor can it get everything 100 percent right. (Sorry, British astronomers.)

Sixth, the same applies to asking how much we can improve our knowledge as to how much implicit biases have explicit results. “Moderately better” is likely the best we can do.

With that all said, we should support better science in this instance. The answer to not-good science that’s nonetheless science is always better science, not rejection of existing science.

And, given the existence of both implicit attitudesimplicit cognition, and (outside of the IAT and Project Implicit), implicit stereotypes, again, while their work is somewhat problematic, Greenwald and Banaji aren't all wet, either.

And, since this is my blog, per one commenter on Massimo’s site?

Maybe we could substitute “Israeli” and “Palestinian” for “black” and “white.”

And, yes, I went there. And, in that specific order, stating that specific version of the parallelism.

Speaking of, I also don't get how someone so in love with depth psychology can resist the idea of implicit biases, when, especially with Freud's theories, the idea of implicit bias fits like a T.

To pivot this to politics ...

We leftists and left-liberals must not let conservaDems, classical liberals, or whomever claim that the Democratic Party caved into identity politics at the expense of the working class.

Democratic Party local leaders stress that's a false dichotomy. And they're right.

And, we who vote outside the duopoly box must insist on this even more.

January 25, 2017

Will Trump be a national disaster?

I put up the poll at right (both right on the blog until taken down and right within this post) just after election day, with it expiring on inauguration day. It's not totally scientific, but with more than 50 participants, it's not totally ignorable, either.

It's almost a perfect inverse bell curve, with more than 40 percent seeing him as sui generis evil and 20 percent, on the other hand, seeing him as just another Republican.

I voted first, to seed the poll, as I normally do. I can't remember my exact number, but it was somewhere in the 2-5 range.

I worry about him above the 1 level as much, maybe a touch more, for his mercuriality rather than actual politics.

As for them?

Obamacare — I expect him to keep the allowance for kids to stay on parents' insurance until age 26. I more expect than not him to keep the bar on denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions. I expect him to can the Medicaid expansion, which will hurt many working poor or lower middle-class. I expect him to kill, or at least reduce the penalty on, the individual mandate. That will lead more insurance companies to drop out of the system, which perversely will drive more people to government exchanges — single-payer lite via a back door.

Russia — No, Trump is not blind to Putin. He does, though, seem to have more a Realpolitik attitude than both his Democratic and Republican predecessors, though. I applaud that. To the degree this connects with him not buying into our current national security state lock, stock and barrel, I applaud that too.

Israel — Moving the embassy to East Jerusalem would be a disaster.

Other foreign policy — Trump isn't the first presidential candidate to want NATO allies to pony up more. But, he's going to be the first president who's serious about pushing this. Combined with a Realpolitik stance toward Russia, I applaud this.

Beyond that, other foreign policy issues will be tied to his stances on trade. See that below.

Tax and fiscal policy — This will be a set of giveaways to the rich, etc. A doubled-down version of Bushism.

Regulatory policy gutting — This could be even worse than Bushism.

Environmentalism, climate change — Almost certainly worse than Bushism.

Voting rights — Certainly as bad as Bushism and possibly worse.

Supreme Court — As bad as Bushism, but not worse. And "Oh the SCOTUS" as a primary argument to vote Dem rather than Rethug never impressed me.

Lodestar for state GOPs — How much of what GOP-controlled state legislatures are proposing is worse than they did in Bush years? Not a lot, but there's a lot more states where the GOP controls both houses and the governor's mansion.

Why? #IBlameObama and you should too. Despite his protests otherwise, he ran a horrible 2010 midterm effort for Congressional candidates, as a kind of spinoff of singing Kumbaya to the Congressional GOP too much. His failure to sell Obamacare better, as well as bailing out the banksters, were primary contributory factors.

Trade — He's going to fight China. How much, for how long, and with what result, I don't know. China, with make-work jobs at zombie factories owned by municipal governments and Communist Party locals, can't afford to surrender too much — but may not be able to afford too long a fight, either, especially if other Western nations join in backing Trump. To the degree his administration handles this fight sensibly, I applaud it.

That said, note that China is not part of the TPP. There's probably only so much he can do.

I don't know how much his BMW comments are bluster and how much they reflect reality vis-a-vis other Western nations. I suspect a small degree of reality is there.

Between his trade issues, his tax and fiscal issues, and the normal business cycle issues, I say there's a 60 percent chance or more of a recession by or around 2018 midterm elections.

Will Democrats nominate same-old, same-old candidates, and even argue in favor of trade deals as part of this? Even more, will their 2020 prez candidates be same-old, same-old? For 2018, how aggressive can we get the Green Party to be on recruiting Congressional candidates for the midterms?

Nutgraf and summary, per my header: Trump will be a national conundrum, but he will not be a national disaster. He can only become a national disaster if Democrats don't change course and other people don't change parties to Green, or Socialist, or whatever.

January 24, 2017

Political kabuki theater, cabinet confirmation hearings division

I have argued over and over in this space for the desirability of moving the United States at least somewhat in the direction of parliamentary government. (A relatively simple way, with a couple of constitutional amendments, would be, 500 single-member-district House members, 250 national list House members selected proportionally to the presidential vote, 50 national list Senate members on top of current 100, a three-year term for the president with allowance for three terms, not two, and concurrent election of House members to three year terms, and half the Senate every three years rather than one-third every two years.)

And, then, get rid of the stupidity of cabinet confirmation hearings. Everybody up there who's a highly controversial nominee lies anyway. It's all kabuki theater, per the heading.

So, let the likes of a Prez Trump nominate these people, without confirmation hearings, and, without off-year elections, the GOP House would have to face the music. (Getting rid of midterm elections in general is part of the genius of my idea.)

And, that would be that.


Sidebar: I can tell Barack Obama one more time to go to hell. I didn't expect any pardons or commutation enlightenment from him. Then, he commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence.

That raised my hopes.

Which he dashed by leaving Leonard Peltier to rot in jail.

January 23, 2017

TX Progressives are ready to #resist

The Texas Progressive Alliance marches with the resistance as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff stays on the bathroom beat.

Libby Shaw at Daily Kos attended the womenís march in Houston yesterday. Meanwhile, in that spirit, she recalls the old Republican healthcare plan.  Remember the GOP healthcare plan? ìDonít get sickî.

Socratic Gadfly looks at the most recent Back the Blue support tool, and decries its flag desecration hypocrisy.

Neil at All People Have Value visited the segment of the Berlin Wall at Rice University that was defaced by graffiti supporting Donald Trump. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

The Irish bookmaker Paddy Power laid odds on Trump's shade of orange at the inauguration, but PDiddie at Brains and Eggs took some of their easier money.

Easter Lemming Liberal News, now on Facebook and Twitter reports Pat Van Houte is running for mayor of Pasadena, Texas. She opposed the redistricting just ruled illegal.


And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Robin Paoli and Aimee Mobley Turney explain why they marched on Saturday.

G. W. Schulz shares the lessons he has learned from hustling in the new gig economy.

Luis Hestres wonders what Trump's election will mean for digital freedom of speech.

Equality Texas is tracking the pro- and anti-LGBT bills in the Legislature.

The Texas Election Law Blog analyzes the Pasadena redistricting decision.

The Lunch Tray says goodbye to Michelle Obama.

The Bloggess did what she could to help you get through last week.

Colin Strother advises us all to hold on tight.