Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Internet doesn't serve enough crow

If you've been online in the past week or so, have checked out any online news sites, social media sites, or messageboards of any sort, you are no doubt aware of the the name Patrick McLaw. The name is that of a Maryland teacher who also happens to be a self-published author. About ten days ago, this teacher--who had been at Mace's Lane Middle School for a year--was apparently spirited away by armed men in black helicopters in the middle of the night. Why? Apparently for writing a book about a school shooting. That's it, nothing more.

Think I'm overstating things? Well, go back and check your Twitter feed from a few days ago. Look at some of the comments about this incident on Facebook or Google+. Hell, look at the coverage of it in the media. Here's the original story--from WBOC16 in Delmarva--that seems to have ignited the firestorm. From it:
Early last week the school board was alerted that one of its eighth grade language arts teachers at Mace's Lane Middle School had several aliases. Police said that under those names, he wrote two fictional books about the largest school shooting in the country's history set in the future. Now, Patrick McLaw is placed on leave.

Dr. K.S. Voltaer is better known by some in Dorchester County as Patrick McLaw, or even Patrick Beale. Not only was he a teacher at Mace's Lane Middle School in Cambridge, but according to Dorchester Sheriff James Phillips, McLaw is also the author of two books: "The Insurrectionist" and its sequel, "Lillith's Heir."

Those books are what caught the attention of police and school board officials in Dorchester County. "The Insurrectionist" is about two school shootings set in the future, the largest in the country's history.

Phillips said McLaw was taken in for an emergency medical evaluation. The sheriff would not disclose where McLaw is now, but he did say that he is not on the Eastern Shore. The same day that McLaw was taken in for an evaluation, police swept Mace's Lane Middle School for bombs and guns, coming up empty.
The accusation--that the authorities (or "the Man") took this teacher into custody and were holding him at some undisclosed location for simply writing stories, works of fiction, struck a chord. Big time. The tale spread like wildfire through the 'net, passed on breathlessly by all sorts of people from the far left to the far right, many of whom summoned up terms like "thought crime" and "thought police" to describe this horrible situation, this shameful example of the government putting its jackboot down on the neck of Freedom. Hard.

And make no mistake, the tale worked it's way up the food chain, even finding purchase in the upper echelon of thought-provoking journalism. Here it is at The Atlantic. In this piece of questionable journalism, Jeffrey Goldberg (that's right, I'm not redacting all of the names in this tale) opens with the following:
From the Dept. of Insane and Dangerous Overreactions to Fictional Threats:

A 23-year-old teacher at a Cambridge, Maryland, middle school has been placed on leave and—in the words of a local news report—"taken in for an emergency medical evaluation" for publishing, under a pseudonym, a novel about a school shooting.
The title of the piece even compares the actions of the authorities here to the Soviets of the not-so-distant-past. And based on what? Well, the same assumption that was presented as fact in the WBOC piece (which Goldberg actually calls "law enforcement-friendly"), that the teacher was taken in to custody because of what was in a novel he wrote (by the way, that novel was published in 2011).

And of course, the story also found its way to Change.org, that bastion of dimwitted activism, in the form of a petition demanding a "full and public apology" to the teacher for the way he was treated. As of now, the petition has 1,963 supporters. Here is the description of the incident given there:
Patrick McLaw, a Maryland teacher recently nominated for First Class Teacher of the Year, has been suspended and banned from school property, has had his home searched, and has been prohibited from traveling, simply because he wrote a science fiction story set 900 years in the future in which there happens to be a school shooting.

This superstitious demonizing of literature strikes at the heart of our most fundamental liberties - the freedom to exercise our imaginations to explore the very things we fear.
Now maybe some of you--reading this--are out of the loop, are wondering why I am mocking these stories and the people who shared them. Well, it turns out that these stories are all wrong, wholly and completely. The teacher was not put on leave and taken into custody for what was in his book at all. Rather, there were other specific issues that lead to these actions. From the LA Times yesterday:
Concerns about McLaw were raised after he sent a four-page letter to officials in Dorchester County. Those concerns brought together authorities from multiple jurisdictions, including health authorities. 
McLaw's attorney, David Moore, tells The Times that his client was taken in for a mental health evaluation. "He is receiving treatment," Moore said.
From MyEasternShoreMD:
The prosecutor explained the sequence of events that led to the Aug. 19 meeting: 
Officials received a harassment complaint Aug. 15 from a teacher in the Delmar school district; two days later, an administrator informed the Delmar police chief of a possible inappropriate relationship between McLaw and a minor, who was not McLaw’s student, Maciarello said. Both complaints remain under investigation; in the latter case, police are trying to determine if the minor was 15 or 16 years old when the relationship began (the age of consent is 16). A subsequent report that McLaw was building models of Wicomico County school buildings also was received, the prosecutor said, and McLaw sent a letter to a Dorchester County school administrator that raised concerns. As a result, Maciarello brought the law enforcement and health officials together to share information and discuss the case. 
Health officials were brought in because of concerns that it was more a “mental health matter,” Maciarello said. “Nobody was overreacting,” the prosecutor said of that meeting. “Everyone was acting calmly,” with safety and due process for McLaw the primary concerns.
Oops. A big oops, in fact. The actions of authorities here were based on a number of things. And some of those things--like an harassment complaint and the potential inappropriate relationship with a student--don't make the teacher look so good. Yet, the authorities in Cambridge clearly believed there was a mental health issue to consider and rather than going public with accusations, they acted in what can only be seen as the best interests of the teacher, a point that the teacher's lawyer seems to recognize and agree with in full. The teacher's secondary career as a novelist is ultimately insignificant here, as is the content of the novels he has published.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A unanimous SCOTUS smackdown on Presidential power-grabbing...or is it?

Back in January of 2013, the DC Circuit (the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia) ruled against the Obama Administration with regard to the question of whether or not the President had the authority to make three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The Administration had argued that these were properly made recess appointments, but the DC Circuit's ruling held that they were not, as the Senate was technically still in session--what is termed a "pro forma" session--thereby preventing any recess appointments (as there was no actual recess).

The fundamental issue here is when recess appointments should be allowed, with respect to the status of the Senate. In this regard, there are two kinds of Senate recesses: intrasession periods and intersession periods. After the DC Circuit's ruling, I explored and explained these concepts, what they mean and the history behind the general understanding of what they mean. What the DC Circuit essentially said in that ruling was that only intersession recess appointments were constitutional; intrasession recess appointments couldn't be because the language in the Constitution proper is clear: the power to make recess appointments is one that can only be exercised between full sessions of Congress (intersession periods), not during breaks of a single session (intrasession periods).

And such an understanding was nothing new under the Sun. As I explained, everyone in the halls of power understood the issue. What had happened occasionally in the past is that some Presidents had taken a few liberties here, had made recess appointments in unusually long intrasession periods. Of course, when you give people an inch, they tend to take a mile. So, the length of this intrasession period kept getting shorter and shorter. Various Administrations--including this one--commissioned legal opinions on the matter, in hopes of justifying their very clear unconstitutional actions (in making intrasession recess appointments). Of course, there was always pushback from the other side, pushback that culminated with Senator's Reid's use of pro-forma sessions to prevent the Bush Administration from making intrasession recess appointments, a practice repeated by Republicans under the current Administration.

The big difference, the reason why this case went to the DC Circuit? The Obama Administration decided it would simply ignore the pro-forma sessions and go ahead with recess appointments anyway. And for that very clear overreach of assumed executive power, the DC Circuit brought the hammer down, not only invalidating appointments made during pro-forma sessions--like Obama's--but also declaring all intrasession recess appointments to be unconstitutional.

The response from the Administration and much of the Left to the DC Circuit's very correct ruling was predictable: outrage and hyperbole, ludicrous claims about judicial activism and a judiciary overstepping its authority. But as I noted in the previous piece, such a response required the legal geniuses on the Left--and the constitutional scholar in the White House--to ignore past opinions on the matter from people like Ted Kennedy and Lawrence Tribe, who very much understood the reality of all of this, who recognized the simple fact that recess appointments are far mote limited in their potential application than various denizens of the White House would like us to believe.

Though I have to say, I think most of the people--including the President--on the left who aren't card-carrying morons get this: they know the DC Circuit was completely correct (as was Ted Kennedy), but they are unwilling to admit this in the moment for purely political reasons. Rest assured, if this ruling had come down during the previous Administration, most of those supposedly outraged by it would be applauding it, while most of those now applauding it would be feigning outrage. So it goes.

But the DC Circuit's ruling was appealed, and the case--National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning--moved on to the Supreme Court of the United States. And today, that body issued a ruling on the case. That ruling addressed four issues related to recess apppintments: 1) whether or not they can be made during intrasession periods, 2) if so, whether or not there a limit in this regard based on the length of the intrasession period, 4) whether or not such appointments can be made for positions that were not vacated during the recess (the Constitution indicates they cannot, in my opinion), and 3) whether or not pro-forma sessions serve to block the ability of the President to make recess appointments.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's still June 27th, 1914

Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, 1914
On June 28th, 1914 in Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand the Archduke of Austria-Este and his wife Sophie the Duchess of Hohenburg were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a member of Young Bosnia (a youth movement affiliated with the Serbian Black Hand). Despite the relative unpopularity of Archduke Ferdinand in Austria proper--he was still the heir presumptive to the throne on Austria-Hungary and would have taken the throne in 1916 had he not been killed--the assassination became a huge international incident, involving a number of countries aside from Austria and Serbia. It is widely viewed as the touchstone for World War I, as Austria-Hungary used it as a pretext for declaring war with Serbia. Russia immediately responded by mobilizing its forces in preparation of supporting its ally Serbia, a move which led Germany to do the same, then simply declare war on Russia outright.

It can be argued that larger political events were at play, that the assassination itself was not so critical, that war was in fact imminent. But history is as it was; the death of Ferdinand at the hand of a Serbian assassin clearly set the table, leading to World War I occurring as it occurred, not at some other moment for some other reason.

The larger picture here is that of European powers trying to establish, maintain, or expand their empires, their spheres of influence. That and the impact of liberalism--classical liberalism--against the ideologies of the aristocratic and authoritarian old guard who still controlled many European states, an impact that was not only political but also social and economic. Within this general paradigm--which included a matter-of-fact distinction between the "civilized" and the "uncivilized"--atrocities were committed around the world before the death of Franz Ferdinand. People died in war and other conflicts--many, many, many people--in the time before 1914. And horrible things were done after the assassin struck in Sarajevo; millions more died in the course of the Great War and the basic foundations were laid to both define the borders of nation-states and to usher in both World War II (and of course the Holocaust) and the Cold War in the decades ahead.

On June 28th, 1914 the world was a dangerous place, not just in obscure backwater regions that had not succumbed to the "civilizing" influence of Western Europe, but in European--and American--cities and countrysides, towns and villages. In short, everywhere there was danger or potential danger. This was because the status quo, the current "world order" was not so stable and steadfast as people believed in the moment. Violent change, or just widespread violence, was far more likely in some regions than others, it is true, but risk existed for all, everywhere.

This is no small point to grasp. For if we could go back to 1914 or a few years earlier, we would find a mindset seemingly incapable of seeing beyond the immediate horizon, especially in those nations with the most power and wealth. I noted some of this previously in a piece last August in a discussion on the various periods of extended (apparent) peace in history, the Pax Romana (and Pax Sinica), the Pax Britannica, and the (current) Pax Americana. But as I made clear then, these periods of peace were still filled with violence, violent conflicts and violent people. Yet again, a typical man-on-the-street in London, New York, Paris, or other "civilized" region did not live in fear of war in the first decade or so of the twentieth century, of the worldwide sort or otherwise. For him (or her), daily life was the whole ball of wax and there just were no siginificant threats to this day-to-day existence.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Angry Birds and Dreamers

The Oath of Office for members of Congress, taken by all newly elected members in an open session of each House:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
The Oath of Office for the President of the United States, taken by the President-elect, before he or she can officially take office:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
At tonight's State of the Union Address, there will be a number of guests in attendance--as there always are--invited by various politicians for various reasons, from simple friendship to political patronage to making a statement of one sort or another. And with regard to the last, the guest list will include at least two undocumented immigrants, people who are here illegally, who are in violation of the law, criminals as a matter of definition.

Our elected leaders in Washington, D.C, all of them, have sworn to defend the Constitution, that fundamental document establishing our government and defining how our laws are made. It's really no great leap to allow that our elected leaders, in defending the Constitution, should not be openly defying federal law, nor should they be assisting in or otherwise sanctioning such defiance. That's really not too much to ask, is it?

At the same time, new information has surfaced indicating that the NSA has been using smartphone apps--like the ever-popular Angry Birds--to track people and to compile personal information about them, information like sex, age, buddy lists, address book entries, and, of course, phone call logs. And our elected officials aren't really doing anything about the NSA's transgressions. Oh sure, some are spouting off on cable news about these things, calling the NSA's actions "outrageous" and the like. But it's just bluster, just talk. Similarly, the President promised change, but basically left things exactly as they are now, left it up to the NSA to police themselves, to decide what they can and can't do.

And make no mistake here, on the issue of NSA overreach: this is not a Democrat/Republican thing at all. The previous Administration was no better then the current one. Indeed, it set many of these things in motion. Still, it's a Democrat in charge right now. And its Democrats who are showing total disdain for the law by inviting criminals to accompany them to the State of the Union Address.

On the one hand, they--led by the President--are willing to ignore the law in the supposed name of justice and humanity. On the other, they--again, led by the President--pretend that the law really matters, that they are actually concerned about government agencies being properly limited in their power, even as they actually do nothing in this regard, allow the continued abuse of power to the detriment of actual U.S. citizens. Who do they work for, again?

But I don't mean to sound unduly harsh, with regard to undocumented immigrants. In fact, I recognize that many--probably most--would be happy to just be citizens themselves, are trying to just live their lives, support themselves and their families, and are not engaged in criminal activity, per se. Apart from the fact that they are in this country illegally, of course. And let's be clear on this, too: their status as illegals is a consequence of an overt criminal act on their part (or their parents' or relatives' in the case of minors). So while I do sympathize with their plight, I'm not going to pretend they are not what they are, unlike our elected leaders, who apparently think they can personally choose which laws they get to follow, which laws they are supposed to defend and uphold.

Of course, we're often told--by those in charge--that there are just far too many undocumented immigrants now, that the government doesn't have the resources to identify all of them, much less take any kind of specific action against them. Yet, there are apparently enough resources to track the people who play Angry Birds, to compile information on them. At last count, that number was in excess of 40 million.

So again, our elected leaders ignore their duties, ignore the oath they took when they assumed office, in order to allow a massive illegal surveillance program of U.S. citizens and to score some political points by glad-handing people in open violation of the law. And tonight, they'll all get together and hear how the last is important, how it matters, while the first is really no big deal. Sure.

The State of the Union is, itself, a Constitutionally mandated event. It's a solemn occasion, or at least it used to be. Now it's apparently just a big show. With far too many clowns.

Cheers, all.

Income Inequality drivers: the trends being ignored

With the next State of the Union Address scheduled for this evening, we already know what some of the major themes will be. Consistent with Administration and Democrat talking points that have been permeating punditry land since the New Year, one of these themes will be the issue of income inequality. Many of you have probably read some of the articles out there on this, seen talking heads going on and on about it, and may quite possibly feel like the issue is actually very important, is actually something about which we--as a nation--should be concerned.

And that's more than fair, in my opinion. It is an important issue that requires attention from everyone, because it's not right, at all. There is too much wealth at the top of the pyramid right now and too little at the bottom.

Of course, this has always been the case. The people at the tippy-top have always had far more than those at the bottom, in any sufficiently large society during any period of history. It was true for the "Robber Baron" period in U.S. History, the "Warring States" period in Chinese history, the periods of Ancient Rome, both Empire and Republic, Medieval Europe, the Mayan Empire, the European eras of "Exploration" and "Colonization," Ancient Egypt, the apogee of the Kingdom of Mali, Feudal Japan, and pretty much any other example one might think of. It was even true--hold on to your hats--for the Soviet Union and for pre-European North America, among large societies like the Iroquois League.

The issue is how much is too much, in terms of both the relative disparity in income between top and bottom, and the numbers of people in the bottom group. To this end, there are a lot of studies, statistics, and charts out there being used to demonstrate how this disparity has grown (exponentially, usually) in the past several generations, the past forty to fifty years. The argument being made by most people who are focused on the issue is simple: there is more disparity now than ever before between the top and the bottom. Here's a very typical piece making the argument, complete with handy charts, at Mother Jones. Note that one of these charts--"Average CEO Pay vs. Average Worker Pay"--is pretty much nonsense, because it's really not using average CEO pay at all, something I've addressed in detail previously.

Still, many of the other charts--not all of them--are fair representations of reality. Look at the first one, the "big reveal," as it were:


In this chart, the numbers are staggering. The top tier has an average income in excess of $23 million dollars per year, while 90% of the population has an average household income of less than $30 grand per year. Of course, that "top tier" is only .01% of all households. In 2010, there were just under 150 million households in the U.S., so that means that about 15,000 households make up that top .01%. Are they all making $23 million? Not even close. That number is the average, and just as overall incomes are skewed by huge numbers at the top, so too are the numbers in just this group. Because if one were to look at the top .001% or the top .0001% (1,500 households and 150 households, respectively), there would be an even bigger gap. The last group would be pushing the $100 million mark or more in average income without a doubt.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Processing Schumer's Tea Party ignorance

On Friday, Senator Charles "Chuck" Schumer went after the Tea Party in a big way; he devoted an entire speech to the subject, and an op-ed at HuffPo, as well. Before digging in to the meat of Schumer's remarks, I think it interesting to note how, supposedly, the Tea Party was more or less "over." Pundits on the left have been proclaiming it's death, or at least its move to irrelevance, for years. Seriously. The Occupy Movement was--according to many of these pundits--some sort of death blow. Yet here we are, two years removed from Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement is today about as significant as Thomas E. Dewey is...today!

But the pundits--and the Democrats, and the Administration--were not deterred. Since then, the Tea Party has been declared dead or over again and again and again. Polls have been cited by those on the Left to show how no one cares about the Tea Party anymore or--even better--how most people disapprove of the movement.

Given all of this, one has to ask the question: what the hell is Chuck Schumer doing, why is he targeting the Tea Party when it's supposedly on decline, especially given that Schumer is running for reelection in New York, hardly a Tea Party stronghold? He's gotten a little press from the speech, but hardly anything particularly significant.

The truth is, Schumer understands something that many of his fellow Democrats--and a good chunk of the punditry, on the Left and the Right--do not, something that they, in fact, have never understood. And this is partly because Schumer, whatever else he may be, is not stupid. Far from it, in fact. I personally think he's right up there with former Representative Barney Frank and former Senator Chris Dodd, when it comes to cagey, clever politicians. Of course, I also think this triumvirate should be in jail, that they should have gone there following the financial collapse of 2007/2008, because they were more responsible for that mess than any other people on the planet. But I digress.

So, Schumer doen in fact understand something important here, which is this: the simple idea of the Tea Party, a loose coalition of like-minded citizens who refuse to respect government agents as a matter of course, is and always has been a huge danger to people who hold the reigns of power. This is or was every bit as true of the Occupy Movement. And this reality gives politicians like Schumer--who are more interested in their personal power than in anything else--two options: pretend to sympathize with the movement or demonize it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Climate Change waves

It seems like there's something of a cycle to climate change. I don't mean actual climate change; rather, I'm referring to the appearance of climate change as a major topic of discussion. It cycles. It's all anyone can talk about for a while, then it kind of recedes into the background until it's suddenly, once again, front page news.

I find this to be an interesting pattern, particularly in context of what is so often said about climate change, how it's the Biggest Threat mankind has ever faced, how we are all doomed unless we do something about it Right Now, and how there is no room for discussion on the issue because its Settled Science. In this regard, we've been in a trough for a while now; climate change hasn't been a driving issue perhaps because more important things--like Kanye West's latest exploits, "Bridgegate," and the Obamacare fiasco--have been on center stage.

But looking just at the last--Obamacare--isn't it interesting how health insurance has been presented as such a critical issue, even in the face of climate change? I mean, what does it matter if one has health insurance, if mankind is on the verge of extinction because of climate change?

Getting back to the cycle, though, one might possibly note that climate change falters as an issue when it falters as a theory. After being all the rage some years ago, it fell off the front page following the East Anglia email scandal (the use of a "trick" to hide declining temperatures that didn't fit the narrative). Prior to that, there was the collapse of the hockey stick graph, after a period of pronounced "global warming" fanboy-ism in the wake of An Inconvenient Truth. More recently, the lack of a warming across the past fifteen or so years brought the climate change alarmists to heel for a time, at least until someone figured out a new way to "interpret" the data. With such clever "science" in hand, the climate change crowd is suddenly reinvigorated and--once again--editorials and "news" pieces on climate change are commonplace. Robert Tracincki noted just how deceptive all of this is, how un-scientific it is:
This is an obvious shifting of the goalposts. The measure of warming that they all thought was fine and dandy when temperatures seemed to be rising now doesn't show rising temperatures. So they have to reinterpret the data to get the result that fits their theory.

When someone posted my article on Facebook, commenter Jordan Phillips named the basic pattern of global warming arguments: "In a real scientific theory, you have to make some kind of blind prediction that makes you vulnerable and accountable, so that if later observations contradict the prediction then your theory has no squirm room to avoid its fate. But catastrophic manmade global warming theory is the opposite: it's based on waiting for a weather event to happen, then rationalizing how that event was caused by global warming."

So global warming science is not just ad hoc but post hoc.
Looking at the cyclical pattern of climate change through this kind of lens, wherein reality is manipulated to serve the agenda, works very well. But there's another way to see the pattern. Climate change returns to the newscycle when it's convenient for those pimping it, when it serves as a distraction from other things, other issues that are doing damage to the same side of the ideological divide that is all gung-ho about climate change.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

McDonnell: burn him down, too

Today, the Feds officially filed an indictment against former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen McDonnell. The charges, as laid out in the document (filed in the U.D. District Court for Eastern Virginia):
  • 1 count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud 
  • 3 Counts of Honest-services Wire Fraud 
  • 1 Count of Conspiracy to Obtain Property Under Color of Official Right 
  • 6 Counts of Obtaining Property Under Color of Official Right 
  • 1 Count of Making False Statements to a Federal Credit Union
The Richmond Times-Dispatch has the details. Basically, the bulk of the charges stem from interactions between McDonnell (and his wife) and former CEO of Star Scientific Jonnie Williams, Sr. According to the document, the McDonnells improperly accepted all kinds of gifts, monetary and otherwise, from Williams in exchange for help promoting his company.

Star Scientific is "a technology-oriented company with a mission to promote maintenance of a healthy metabolism and lifestyle." It manufactures dietary supplements, initially aimed at curbing the desire to smoke tobacco, but now also including an ant-inflammatory supplement--AnatablocTM--designed to help the body fight inflammation without using additional drugs. Currently, Star Scientific stock is trading at around $1, after having been as high as almost $5 in mid-2012.

The "scheme" as specified in the indictment:
As set forth in greater detail below, from in or about April 2011 through in or about March 2013, the defendants participated in a scheme to use ROBERT MCDONNELL'S official position as the Governor of Virginia to enrich the defendants and their family members by soliciting and obtaining payments, loans, gifts, and other things of value from JW and Star Scientific in exchange for ROBERT MCDONNELL and the OGV performing official actions on an as-needed basis, as opportunities arose, to legitimize, promote, and obtain research studies for StarScientific's products, including Anatabloc®. And asalso detailed below, the defendants took steps throughout that time to conceal the scheme.
The indictment goes on to detail specific instances wherein the McDonnells not only received payments from Williams, but also solicited them:
On or about May 2, 2011, JW had a private meeting with MAUREEN MCDONNELL at the Governor's Mansion. During the meeting, MAUREEN MCDONNELL informed JW that she and ROBERT MCDONNELL were having severe financial difficulties. MAUREEN MCDONNELL asked JW for a $50,000 loan. MAUREEN MCDONNELL also told JW that she could help Star Scientific but that she needed JW's financial assistance.
There is a lot more, all of it of a similar nature. This is--to put it mildly--hugely damaging stuff. There's not a whole lot of room in here for the McDonnells to wiggle free. Taken together, the charges will likely lead to prison time for both, if they are convicted. Note also that the indictment contains a forfeiture notice, as well, putting all of the McDonnells property in jeopardy.

McDonnell's response to the filing of the charges:
"I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment for which I take full responsibility. However, I repeat emphatically that I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship.  
"I never promised – and Mr. Williams and his company never received – any government benefit of any kind from me or my administration. We did not violate the law, and I will use every available resource and advocate I have for as long as it takes to fight these false allegations, and to prevail against this unjust overreach of the federal government."
I'd like to believe him, but it all smells pretty bad to me. Moreover, it's interesting that--according to the above statement--the McDonnells' money problems seem to have disappeared jn a rather short period of time, though it's beyond me how a sitting governor could end up in such dire straits to begin with (which of course suggests the "financial difficulties" angle was something of a ruse).

But we'll have to wait and see how things play out.

Cheers, all.

Every one's a bootstrapper...at least in their own minds

There are things people often refer to as certainties, like death and taxes, things that are always present or eventually occur no matter what we do, how we live, or where we live. And the things cited run the gamut, from natural occurrences like death, changing weather, and rising suns, to societal ones, like taxes, lawsuits, and political arguments. When it comes to politicians, proper, there are some things we come to expect from our elected leaders as a matter of course: we expect them to tell us what we want to hear, to make promises, to project themselves as caring, honest citizens just like us.

When it comes to the last, which we all know to be something of a game, there is one common tool used to this end by most politicians: a bootstrapping narrative of their origins.

The idea of bootstrapping is essentially that of succeeding--in life or a particular task--without the help of anyone else. The term itself has been around for a long time, since the the nineteenth century, at least. Specifically, its meaning is to pull oneself up by the straps of one's boots. Such straps still exist on most boots today, usually in the form of loops on either side of the boot to allow the insertion of hooks which one would then pull to help get the boot properly on the foot. Many sneakers have such straps, too, a single loop directly on the top of the back edge.

Thus in theory, to pull oneself up by one's own bootstraps would be an impossible task. Linguist Ben Zimmer discussed the origins of the term, noting the following:
Cites from the 19th century are easy enough to find on the databases, though the original sense was not simply "to raise or better oneself by one's own unaided efforts", but to try to do so in a ludicrously far-fetched or quixotic manner. The 1834 cite below, for instance, is ridiculing a person who claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine...

The shift in the metaphor's sense to suggest a *possible* task doesn't seem to have occurred until the early 20th century. Even in the 1927 article I cited in a previous post ("The Bootstrapper", reprinted from the Times of London), the headstrong American belief in self-improvement is presented as rather preposterous.
Portrait of Baron von Münchhausen, 
by G. Bruckner, 1740
He also talks about the idea of the term originating in the stories of Baron von Münchhausen, the 18th century German nobleman known for telling outlandish stories about his adventures. In one of these stories, he recounted how he had saved himself from drowning in a swamp by pulling himself--and his horse--out of the swamp using his own hair, an obvious impossibility. Even though there is no evidence to support the idea the the term "bootstrapping" had ever been a part of this tale--it was always the hair--the gist of it was the same, an outrageous act of self-betterment.

But again, in current parlance "bootstrapping" has lost this quixotic aspect; it is recognized as a valid thing, a descriptive term that can be fairly applied to many, many people. And--as a group--politicians generally seem to believe it should be applied to them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The curious silence on Rasmussen's supposed bias

During the last two major election cycles--the 2010 Presidential Election and the 2012 Mid Term Elections--one would have been hard-pressed to enter any discussion relating to current polling data and not be smacked in the face with the "Rasmussen is biased in favor of Republicans" canard. Indeed, this idea was given seemingly eternal justification (in the minds of those who spread it) by none other than Nate Silver in a 2010 article where he argued that Rasmussen's bias could be explicitly measured and that it stood--in that election cycle--at around 3.9 percentage points (meaning Rasmussen polls wrongly leaned almost four points towards Republican candidates, by and large):
Moreover, Rasmussen’s polls were quite biased, overestimating the standing of the Republican candidate by almost 4 points on average. In just 12 cases, Rasmussen’s polls overestimated the margin for the Democrat by 3 or more points. But it did so for the Republican candidate in 55 cases — that is, in more than half of the polls that it issued.

If one focused solely on the final poll issued by Rasmussen Reports or Pulse Opinion Research in each state — rather than including all polls within the three-week interval — it would not have made much difference. Their average error would be 5.7 points rather than 5.8, and their average bias 3.8 points rather than 3.9.

Nor did it make much difference whether the polls were branded as Rasmussen Reports surveys, or instead, were commissioned for Fox News by its subsidiary Pulse Opinion Research. (Both sets of surveys used an essentially identical methodology.) Polls branded as Rasmussen Reports missed by an average of 5.9 points and had a 3.9 point bias. The polls it commissioned on behalf of Fox News had a 5.1 point error, and a 3.6 point bias.
Now I respect Silver as a thinker, as a person with an exceedingly strong grasp on numbers and their manipulation, when it comes to polling data and other things. But the idea that there is a firm basis for establishing bias, as distinct from error, is laughable in my opinion. Note how, in this same article, Silver singles out CNN for a high error rate--comparable to that of Rasmussen--yet says nothing about bias:
Other polling firms that joined Rasmussen toward the bottom of the chart were Marist College, whose polls also had a notable Republican bias, and CNN/Opinion Research, whose polls missed by almost 5 points on average. Their scores are less statistically meaningful than that for Rasmussen Reports, however, because they had only released surveys in 14 and 17 races, respectively, as compared to Rasmussen’s 105 polls.
Polling is, of course, far from an exact science. And sometimes, polls do err badly, because of the way they are built or because of pollster assumptions. Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog has been dedicated to analyzing all of the available polling data in order to supposedly get a better picture of things. And in that regard, his predictions on political races have never really been all that impressive. It's not that they're bad, it's just that they're nothing special, in my humble opinion.