Friday, March 24, 2017

Rushdie,Reality, Symbols, Stories, Truth, , and ACA

Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights seems to have understood the 'strangeness' that we are going through.  His novel suggests jinns are reeking havoc, but as I've been struggling to bring some sense to this post on ACA, this snippet from page 111, seems to focus on the underlying story of the battle over ACA (and everything else.)
"We were all trapped in stories, she said, just as he used to say, his wavy hair, his naughty smile, his beautiful mind, each us the prisoners of our own solipsistic narrative, each family the captive of the family story, each community locked within its own tale of itself, each people the victims of their own versions of history, and there were parts of the world where the narratives collided and went to war, where there were two or more incompatible stories fighting for space on, to speak, the same page."
The ACA seems to be where the Republican and Democratic narratives collided and went to war.  There were other things that raised hackles, but this was where pride and power broke out into full scale war.

And now repealing ACA is the Confederate flag of the right, a symbol of what holds them all together, and also reveals the myth of that togetherness.  

The Republican narrative on Obamacare has mostly been symbolic:
Obamacare symbolized a number of things to their narratives.
  • Republican power slipping away
  • Runaway government intrusion and spending
  • The loss of personal responsibility - the concern that the socialist state would strip people's work ethic, and the mandate forcing people to buy something they might not want
  • A black president getting his way
  • A rallying cry to their base
It didn't matter that Obamacare was based on Republican ideas for health care that Romney had put in place in Massachusetts.

But Congress is now . . . I wanted to say  "a fact free zone."  But that's not quite true.  There are lots of 'facts' (something that can be proven true or false*) floating around.  Then I wanted to say "a truth free zone."  But there is plenty of truth floating around too.  It's more accurate to say that there just aren't any trusted referees in congress who have the authority to  analyze and determine what is and is not true.  Each person's sees and validates what confirms his narrative.  There's no one arbiter to examine the various narratives and test them for how closely they reflect how the world actually works.

By January 2014, Politico reports the Republicans made 48 attempts to repeal Obamacare.

"It's [repealing Obamacare] pretty high on our agenda as you know," the Kentucky Republican said on Wednesday. "I would be shocked if we didn't move forward and keep our commitment to the American people."

Is Obamacare perfect?   Far from it.  Some states are down to a single insurer.  But Republicans wouldn't allow there to be competition from public insurance providers.  Because of this and other issues (like each state being a separate market) costs for some are prohibitively expensive for policies that are insurance in name only.

On the other hand, tens of millions of people are now insured who weren't insured before.  People with prior conditions can get insurance.  Children in college stay on their parents' plans until they are 26.  Mental health and addiction care is available.

Republicans complain about mandates, but nearly every state requires car insurance.  The exceptions, from Wikipedia:
"States that do not require the vehicle owner to carry car insurance include Virginia, where an uninsured motor vehicle fee may be paid to the state; New Hampshire, and Mississippi which offers vehicle owners the option to post cash bonds (see below)."
But car insurancecom notes in 2016:
"Every state requires that you meet financial responsibility requirements through insurance, a bond or some other approved means that show you are able to pay if you cause damages to another person or property in an automobile accident.
Each state renews its laws annually, so some states that had no insurance requirements in the past now do. New Hampshire probably has the least amount of requirements -- and it still requires that you immediately show proof of financial responsibility if you've been involved in a car accident."
I'd note that Republicans dominate state legislatures and governorships.   They could end mandatory car insurance in most states if they are as opposed to mandatory insurance as they claim.  They would argue that in a car you could hurt others, whereas lack of health insurance just hurts you.  But that neglects the health hazards of infectious diseases, not to mention the long term costs to everyone of not taking care of health issues early on.  Or the fact that some people could not buy insurance even if they could afford it.

So now enough Republicans have heeded their constituents who are saying that this or that part of Obamacare needs to be kept, that before abolishing Obamacare, a Republican replacement health care law needs to be in place.

But the Freedom Caucus in the House is calling that replacement plan for what it is - Obamacare lite.

So the vote to repeal Obamacare is really just symbolic.  It is necessary, as some Republican legislators have said, to keep their promise.

I recall when I was about four years old, a dinner table dispute resulted in my threatening to throw my milk on my mother.  "Don't threaten me,"  my mother said.  To my four year old way of thinking, a threat was something you didn't carry out, like a bad promise. To avoid it being a mere threat, I had no choice but to follow through on what I had said I would do.  Even though I knew it would end badly for all involved.

I think that's sort of where we are with health care.  The Republicans have been telling us how evil it was for so long and how it had to be repealed, that now, with majorities in the House, Senate, and a Republican president, they feel they have to repeal it.  Even if they aren't really repealing it, they have to symbolically do something that they can at least say repeals it.  Except the Freedom Caucus.

The Freedom Caucus' narrative is hard to figure out.  Jim Jordan spelled out the mission statement in 2015:
 "The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans."
That's not exactly a narrative.  It's a set of goals.  But we don't know the underlying stories that make these goals critical for the Freedom Caucus.  This matters because, I would argue, that except for the 'limited government,' most of Bernie Sanders' supporters could wholeheartedly embrace these goals.

We aren't going to get past this conflict until people from warring narratives sit down together, preferably over a meal (or series of meals) and listen to each others' personal narratives.  Until they find out how much they (we) have in common as human beings, how much of their (our) narrative is myth, how much overlaps with their mortal enemies' narratives.   Until they see how their (our) macho conflict myths prevent any of those goals from happening.

Those people who took the trouble to vote in November were fairly evenly divided.  The president, despite his rhetoric, did not get a mandate.  He presides over a nation of people with different narratives and that has been focusing more and more on the differences between their narratives  than the similarities.  To the extent that we focus on the conflicts and on the symbols of our differences, there will be no peace for anyone.  Just temporary Pyrrhic victories.  People on both sides of this symbolic divide would do well to be curious about how their 'enemies' come to believe what they believe.

In the world that Rushdie (remember him, whose words started this post?) created, the chaos is caused by jinns, mischievous spirits from another world.  Best I can tell, our jinns, most of whose names are hidden by Citizens United, are people like the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer, and Putin, who  invest a small portion of their billions to disrupt honest debate with fake news, adding to the difficulty of sorting out what is and what is not true.



*Yes, I know truth is squishy.  Let's just use 'true' as a surrogate for 'as best we can tell that something is true, after looking at at all the evidence.'

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bohemian Waxwings Collecting Mountain Ash Berries

The Mountain Ash tree in front of our house is part of the Anchorage Bohemian Waxwing community's pantry and yesterday many dropped by to get some provisions.

There's such beautiful birds with their soft, smooth grey feathers, with a dash of cinnamon, some white, and a bit of brilliant yellow and red, highlighted with black.
















I said they had red, but up to now, the only red has been the berries, but on this last shot you can see the red on the wing.




Wednesday, March 22, 2017

It's Called, "From Here to the Future: Transforming Anchorage/Mat-Su Transportation"

This guy will talk tonight (Wednesday, March 21) in Anchorage.
Technology + Demographics + TransportationRollin Stanley, General Manager Urban Strategy, City of CalgaryWednesday, March 22nd, 7-8:30 pmAnchorage Museum Auditorium, 625 C St, Anchorage
Suggested $10 donation




This talk is about demographic trends, the importance of empowering women to help economies, and the future of cities.  I expect tonight's talk will be a little different.  This the beginning of a series on Transportation that Alaska Common Ground is sponsoring.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Homeland Security Supporting Book Industry By Banning Electronic Devices On Planes

The title, of course, is the glass half full interpretation.

Al Jazeera, among others, reports:
"The United States is barring passengers on flights originating in eight Muslim-majority countries from carrying any electronic device bigger than a mobile phone, the Department of Homeland Security said.  . .
Laptops, e-readers, cameras, tablets, printers, electronic games and portable DVD players are affected by the ban - which applies to direct flights to the US - but they may still be stowed in the hold in checked baggage."

But I'd also expect luggage is going to take much longer to be ready to be picked up on arrival in the US as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can now look at people's computers without having to take them directly from the owners.  I'm sure Homeland Security has ways to open and copy the contents of people's devices without knowing the passwords.

So people will need to find ways to detect if their computers have been played with while they are separated from them, just to know whether their data has been diddled while their devices were out of their grasp. Here's a four year old post talking about how 'pros' protect their laptops. (Not very well it seems.)

Will this spawn a new industry that provided secure lockboxes to put computers in that would make it a little harder for agents to open them?

This Guardian article questions the logic of the rules.  If they can be used as explosive devices, then they would still be dangerous in cargo areas.  If it's about hacking, well, the article points out that cell phones are computers.  It offers another possibility
"US airlines have been lobbying the Trump administration to intervene in the Persian Gulf, where they have contended for years that the investments in three rapidly expanding airlines in the area – Etihad Airways, Qatar, and Emirates – constitute unfair government subsidies with which Delta, American and United cannot compete. All three Middle Eastern airlines are among the carriers affected by the electronics ban."
I guess when you are as unpredictable as our president, people will believe he would meddle with anything in any way he pleases.

I'm sticking with the idea that DHS (or some other security agency) wants access to what's on people's computers.   Is anyone going to keep track of how long it takes for luggage to get through before and after this policy goes into effect?

Will the cloud enable people to take essentially empty computers through customs and other governmental checkpoints?  But then who's protecting the cloud?

When do we declare privacy officially extinct?

And here's a Washington Post article asking similar questions.

Monday, March 20, 2017

As Neil Gorsuch Takes Center Stage, What Exactly Is Originalism About?

With the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the issue of whether originalism is a more valid way of interpreting the constitution than the alternative, called the  'living constitution' approach is back before us.  I'm afraid I've oversold what you'll get here a bit.

After Scalia's death I spent a fair amount of time researching this and wrote a post that tried to outline the arguments as best as I could find them. You can see that post here, titled "I Think Scalia's Originalism Is Like the Intelligent Design of Constitutional Theories."

In fact, I recommend that you do look at the previous post and consider this attempt at a follow up to it, as more of a timely reintroduction to the topic and an easy way to get to the original post.


Basically, originalists argue that they are sticking to what the writers of the constitution actually wrote.  But then some, like Scalia, acknowledge you can't do it completely literally, it needs some interpretation.  Originalists themselves debate over how to interpret the constitution.  From  James E. Fleming's Living Originalism and Living Constitutionalism as Moral Readings of the American Constitution (pp.1174-1175):
There are numerous varieties of originalism, and the only thing they agree upon is their rejection of moral readings. Some of the varieties include the following. It all began with conventional “intention of the Framers” originalism.17 Then it became “intention of the ratifiers” originalism.18 Of course, we also have “original expectations and applications” originalism (what I elsewhere have called “narrow” or “concrete” originalism).19 Then came “original meaning” originalism, which was refined as “original public meaning” originalism (officially, this is now the position of Scalia and Barnett).20 Scalia himself distinguished “strong medicine” or “bitter pill” originalism from “fainthearted” originalism.21 Then came “broad” originalism (advocated by Lawrence Lessig and many others).22 Now comes “the new originalism” (so characterized by Whittington) as distinguished from “the old originalism.”23 Finally, we add “abstract” originalism (which some, including Whittington, have attributed to Dworkin).24 And we must not forget Balkin’s “method of text and principle,” a form of abstract originalism.25 Indeed, Mitchell Berman has distinguished seventy-two varieties of originalism in his tour de force, Originalism is Bunk.26
Originalists argue that originalism is more pure than the living constitution approach because it is based on the words of the constitution or the intent of the drafters, etc..  The critics of originalism challenge that assertion. The words, they say, are sometimes specific and sometimes general and those words are not clear when it comes to applying them to twentieth (and twenty-first) century dilemmas.  They beg for more guidance.  

The originalists argue that the living constitutionalists simply insert their own values to interpret the Constitution.  Living constitutionalists dispute that, saying they use the tradition of case law which considers past decisions.  There is a lively debate in the literature on the basis, say, for overturning old decisions.  

The living constitutionalists argue that even the first justices didn't simply read the text of the constitution.  Stephen M. Feldman writes in  this 2014 BYU Journal of Public Law article :
"Early judicial opinions and legal treatises reveal an eclectic or pluralist approach to constitutional interpretation; no single interpretive method dominated. Early judges and scholars invoked not only reason, but also the text, constitutional structure, framers’ intentions, original public meaning, and so on. Yet, no judge or scholar maintained that constitutional meaning should be ascertained pursuant to a reasonable-man standard."

The living constitutionalists argue that they have a long evolved set of rules about how to interpret the constitution.  I've given up trying to sum those up here, but you can look at this law review article on how that is supposedly done.  It's fascinating, but if you read it, you'll see why I decided not to try to summarize it.  Each thread seems to lead off into more and more explanations.  

The living constitutionalists even cite comments from Thomas Jefferson, in a letter, that argues that every generation should write its own constitution, that one generation cannot lock all future generations to their constitution.   They call this the Jefferson problem when they challenge the originalists.  I've got more on this in the original post.

One of the arguments living constitutionalists make is that the constitution includes both very specific language and abstract, more aspirational language.  I'm taking this a little out of context, but this quote gets to this point:
First, Balkin’s method of text and principle conceives the Constitution as embodying not only rules but also general standards and abstract principles.32 He, like Dworkin and I, rejects efforts by originalists to recast abstract principles as if they were rules (or terms of art) by interpreting them as being exhausted by their original expected applications.33 In interpreting these general standards and abstract principles, we have to make moral and political judgments concerning the best understanding of our commitments; history alone does not make these judgments for us in rule-like fashion.

Here's a book review of  David Strauss' The Living Constitution.  Strauss is one of the authors that Fleming is addressing in his article.  The review tries to outline the arguments in somewhat simpler terms.

As you can tell, I'm a little overwhelmed by trying to sum this up.  I think the previous post on originalism does a better job of giving a holistic view of originalism.  Living constitutionalism is touched on, necessarily, in that post.  I was hoping to give a better look at and critique of the living constitution model here, but that just isn't going to happen.  Too much going on to get it done.  And given that Gorsuch is in the spotlight now, this seems a good time to post this and point you to the original post.

This all fascinates me as it fits neatly into this blog's underlying theme - how do you know what you know?  How do supreme court justices know what the constitution means and how to apply it to specific cases.  That's precisely what this debate between originalism and living constitutionalism is all about.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Notes On Assembly Candidate Debate And Some Voter Election Prep

The AFACT (Anchorage Faith & Action Congregations Together) Assembly Candidates' forum Sunday March 12, 2017 was very well organized and gave the audience a sense of the candidates running for the Assembly in the April 4, 2017 election.

click to enlarge and focus a bit
They made it easier for everyone by providing a chart with all the RSVP'd candidates' names and the three topics of the questions - Budget, Public Safety, Bike & Pedestrian Safety.

You can see from my lack of notes (since I can hardly read them, I decided not to try to blur them out) that some candidates weren't there.  Also, there's a back side for the rest of the districts.


For everyone who is alarmed by encourage by the November election result, voting April 4 and getting others out too, is an important step for two reasons.  You can make sure our Assembly stands up for your values and you can send a message that Americans are paying more attention to all elections.

Anchorage Municipal elections tend to be attract fewer than 20% of registered voters.  Races can be won or lost by a handful of voters.  So your vote has much more weight in these elections.

Surely, each election is a public demonstration of values.

I did notice some things as I listened to how the candidates responded to the questions.  Below are my observations.  These notes are not intended to give details of each candidate's remarks, or  guide your vote, but to start you thinking about the issues as you prepare to do your election homework.


Preparation and Organization
It's hard to focus on the key points in the one minute candidates were given to respond to each question.  But some candidates had done their homework and were able to speak to the questions with specifics while also showing their understanding of how many things were interrelated.  David Dunsmore (District 1), for instance,  linked safety issues to schools, jobs, and general community prosperity.  Chris Constant (District 1) talked about how Fairview property values are being kept low by the uncertainty of DOT's plans to connect the Seward and Glenn highways through the Fairview neighborhood.  This has also led to Fairview having none of the trail infrastructure that other parts of the city has, even though it has the highest density of pedestrians.   Suzanne LaFrance  (District 6) had prepared notes that allowed her to get a lot of content into the minute she had to answer.

Gretchen Wehmoff (District 2), when asked about public safety, pointed out that the Department of Corrections was the largest provider of mental health care.  She suggested getting people the care they need early would cut down the prison population and those heavy costs.

Other candidates seemed to talk off the top of their heads, filling in with anecdotes, or repeating the same theme with each questions.  David Nees (District 3) for instance enlightened us on the bike question by saying that no biker had been killed by a car while riding on the bike trail.


Cut the Budget
A few candidates - particularly Don Smith (District 4) and Chris Cox (District 1) - made cutting the budget their basic theme.  Smith told the group he was Mr. Tax Cap and complained about the luxurious apartments being given out to 'street drunks.'  Cox's wrap up message was that people in favor of men using women's restrooms and who like taxing and spending need to vote for someone else.  

Be A Community That Cares For Its Members
I think most acknowledged that keeping track of finances was important, but added that we needed to be a community that cares about the others in our city, which seemed to get approval from this church sponsored event audience.  They pointed out that cutting in one place, often raised costs somewhere else.

Underlying Narratives
Two competing narratives seemed to underlie many candidates' remarks.
Narrative 1:  Individuals need to be responsible for themselves, not the public.
Narrative 2:  As a community we have make sure we have physical and social infrastructures - public transportation, schools, health services - so that individuals can take responsibility for themselves.

Having grown up in a family where personal responsibility was always stressed, I agree that individuals need to learn how to be responsible.  But I recognize that  kids whose parents are substance abusers, absent, unemployed, or otherwise struggling, aren't going to learn that value without a good school system and other support systems that can help the families.  So I tend to lean toward the second narrative.

Your Homework
It doesn't require too much time to get yourself up to speed on the candidates in your district.  After the forum, I put up posts for each Assembly district with a district map, a list of each district's candidates, and links to their websites.

District 1 (Downtown) has the most candidates for Assembly anyone needs to check on -  six.
District 2 (Chugiak/Eagle River) and District 4 (Midtown) each have four candidates.
All the others,
District 3 (West Anchorage)
District 5 (East Anchorage)
District 6 (South Anchorage)  have just two candidates you need to check.

The links will get you to maps of the district, names of the candidates, and links to their websites.

You have a little more work to do - School Board seats and Propositions - and I'll get you more information on that over the next week or so.

Note:  I've added a tab on top that is indexing all these posts on the Anchorage Municipal election.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sublimation





From the US Geological Survey:
"Sublimation is the conversion between the solid and the gaseous phases of matter, with no intermediate liquid stage. . . 
Sublimation occurs more readily when certain weather conditions are present, such as low relative humidity and dry winds. Sublimation also occurs more at higher altitudes, where the air pressure is less than at lower altitudes. Energy, such as strong sunlight, is also needed. If I was to pick one place on Earth where sublimation happens a lot, I might choose the south face of Mt. Everest. Low temperatures, strong winds, intense sunlight, very low air pressure—just the recipe for sublimation to occur."
Since we got back to Anchorage March 1, we've had low temperatures, not much higher than 25˚F (-4˚C) during the day and sometimes down to -2˚F (-19˚C) at night.  Wind.  and lots of intense sunlight.  Wikipedia says that average air pressure at sea level is 1013.25 mbar.  The National Weather Service charts for the several days in Anchorage show air pressure gradually rising from a low 998.2 on the 15th up to 1014.9 early this morning (3/17/17) and dropping this evening down to 1008.4. So I'm guessing we have a lot of relatively low air pressure for the last two weeks as well.

Again from the USGS:
"In summary, energy is needed for the sublimation of ice to vapor to occur, and most of the energy is needed in the vaporization phase. A cubic centimeter (1 gram) of water in ice form requires 80 calories to melt, 100 calories to rise to boiling point, and another 540 calories to vaporize, a total of 720 calories. Sublimation requires the same energy input, but bypasses the liquid phase."

Here's what that snow berm looked like a week ago, after the snow plows went through.



It's hard not to see everything as a metaphor these days.  Sublimation might well describe what would happen to many US government science programs - like those agencies that provided the weather data in this post and the definition of sublimation - if Trump's budget were to pass.  Many of the programs would pass from a solid to a gas, skipping the liquid stage.  And the top picture of the ragged wall of snow might serve as a good metaphor for what many agencies would look like.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Shadows

Today's news, probably more starkly than usually, is about what people see and and how they interpret it.   When we see what's real, who do we interpret it?  When we see shadows of what's real, how do we interpret it?  

I'm a bit overwhelmed by the interpretation of shadows of shadows (can shadows have shadows?) coming out of the US administration these days.  There is so much focus on shadows rather than on the thing itself, and shadows of things that aren't that important.   Wiretaps?  Budget cuts?  Everyone acting as if the shadow in the white house is an actual president.

So I thought it might be best to just focus today on shadows and their interpretations.



Some thoughts from others on shadows:
“What men call the shadow of the body is not the shadow of the body, but is the body of the soul.”
― Oscar Wilde, A House of Pomegranates
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”
― C.G. Jung 
“It's part of what we call the Shadow, all the dark parts of us we can't face. It's the thing that, if we don't deal with it, eventually poisons our lives.”
― Michael Gruber, The Good Son  
“Shadow is ever besieged, for that is its nature. Whilst darkness devours, and light steals. And so one sees shadow ever retreat to hidden places, only to return in the wake of the war between dark and light.”
― Steven Erikson, House of Chains 
“One realized all sorts of things. The value of an illusion, for instance, and that the shadow can be more important than the substance. All sorts of things.”
― Jean Rhys, Quartet 
“I consider a dream like I consider a shadow,” answered Caeiro, with his usual divine, unexpected promptitude. “A shadow is real, but it’s less real than a rock. A dream is real — if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be a dream — but less real than a thing. That’s what being real is like.”
― Álvaro de Campos

“Facts are delusion," he said. "They are a delusion of truth as a mirage is a delusion of sight. The real facts lie in people's minds and not in fingerprints and books and photographs and all the other physical things which are only the accidents that occur as a result of what lies in the mind. Truth is a matter of the mind and all else is only a blurred shadow to reconstruct the original image. Bit it is the image we are searching for.”
― Leonard Holton, Out of the Depths

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Anchorage Assembly Race, District 6 (South Anchorage) Candidates

Sunday's (March 12, 2017) AFACT Assembly Candidates Forum was well run, well attended and gave me a good introduction to most of the assembly candidates.  As I started a post on this, it quickly became clear I ought to break this up into several different posts - starting with an intro page for each assembly district.  This is the last of the districts.  I'll try to get another post up about the forum next.

So, here's the District 6 (South Anchorage) map with a photo of the candidate who was there. (In this district, one of two.)

click on image to enlarge and focus
 

Albert Fogle (generic image) 
The other candidate, , was not at the forum so I have used this generic candidate photo.


Here are links for the two candidate websites:



Here's my posts for:
District 1 (downtown) candidates.
District 2 (Chugiak-Eagle River)
District 3 (West Anchorage)
District 4 (Midtown)
District 5 (East Anchorage)
District 6 (South Anchorage)

[Update 3/21/17:  Here's the sample ballot for District 6 voters.  Well, actually, some District 6 voters have two voters.  
If you live in Rainbow, Indian, Bird Creek, a section north of Girdwood outside the GVSA, and Portage, you also vote on adding Anchorage police service. Here's that ballot.
If you live in Girdwood, you have another ballot to annex some nearby parcels that are not in the GVSA.]

When I finish the posts for the other districts, then I'll do a post about the Sunday AFACT forum.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Anchorage Assembly Race, District 5 (East Anchorage) Candidates

Sunday's (March 12, 2017) AFACT Assembly Candidates Forum was well run, well attended and gave me a good introduction to most of the assembly candidates.  As I started a post on this, it quickly became clear I ought to break this up into several different posts - starting with an intro page for each assembly district.

So, here's the District 5 (East Anchorage) map with a photo of the candidate who was there. (In this district, one of two.)

click on image to enlarge and focus
    

Don Jones 
The other candidate, Don Jones, was not at the forum so I have used this generic candidate photo.


Here are links for the two candidate websites:


Here's my posts for:
District 1 (downtown) candidates.
District 2 (Chugiak-Eagle River)
District 3 (West Anchorage)
District 4 (Midtown)
District 5 (East Anchorage)
District 6 (South Anchorage)

[Update 3/21/17:  Here's the sample ballot for District 5 voters.]

When I finish the posts for the other districts, then I'll do a post about the Sunday AFACT forum.

Maddow Tax Show Twitter Feed Thoughts

MSNBC wanted me to sign in to listen to the Maddow tax reveal live.

So I found the Twitter feed and watched that.  Someone put a link to a live Youtube feed, but somehow I lost it during a break, so I went back to the Twitter feed.  What was interesting was the high level of troll like comments - especially the same kind of comment over and over.

I haven't figured out how to easily collect all the tweets and then analyze them, but I've taken clumps of them and then looked for patterns.

Question 1: The role of organized trollers on Twitter

We know that there are organized robot tweeters and Politico says that Trump used them heavily in the campaign,  (Also that Clinton did to some extent.)
"The accounts pumping out the tweets created the appearance of authentic outrage but had all the hallmarks of fakes, according to researchers who specialize in “bot” networks — short for robot — that shower social media with phony messages appearing to spring up from the grass roots.
The pro-Trump networks tweet incessantly, but only to praise Trump and bash Clinton and the media, constantly retweeting Trump staff, pro-Trump pundits and other fake accounts, thousands of which recently added “deplorable” to their usernames. . ."
“The bot nets usually turn whatever the issue is back on Hillary,” said Phil Howard, a professor at Oxford University’s Internet Institute and the principal investigator at the Computational Propaganda Project, which has closely tracked the networks. Howard has noted the same pattern in response to stories about Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, with bots alleging that Clinton is keeping even bigger secrets from the public. “They tend to be used to confused or muddy,” he said."
So, I'd raise some questions about how the comments on Twitter actually reflected how the public reacted to the Maddow revelations.

I couldn't keep track - things move fast on Twitter - and there were so many tweets that going through them all was a much bigger task than I have time for.  I'd say during the broadcast, the negative tweets outnumbered the positive, but I wouldn't dare to put any numbers out there.  Some of the negatives were not necessarily just from pro-Trumpers.  I'm sure a number of those complaining about how Maddow was dragging out the reveal were from real, individual tweeters.

But after the broadcast, things went strongly pro-Trump.  At 7:30pm (Alaska Daylight Savings Time, or 11:30pm ET), I went through the latest 100 tweets, and all but about three or four were anti-Maddow tweets.



2.  What were the themes of the tweets?

I saw nothing that challenged the facts of what Maddow said.  Basically they challenged how she said it, the importance of it, and her personally.  There were clear memes that got repeated over and over, sometimes identically, sometimes with slight variations.  Here are some of the memes with tweet examples.


  • Geraldo and Al Capone's safe  - there were lots of these which seem to have come from somewhere other than the show itself
 In reply to 
Biggest TV debacle since Geraldo opened Al Capone's vault. Rachel Maddow looked like a fool.

  • Maddow's going to jail for illegally revealing income tax form     
 1 hour ago1 hour agoMore : "Why is Rachel Maddow not in police custody. She illegally obtained private documents & published the info. This is a CRIME!"

  • No news here
More

Rachel Maddow you have just broken the biggest story in History!!!! Trump paid his taxes!!! Omg!! How illegal!! #rachelmaddow #trump


  • Personal attacks on Maddow - including gender related ones
Neil Messer @NeilMesser 29m
@maddow So Rachel Maddow .... what hurt worse, this #TrumpTaxReturn fail, or getting your dick caught in your zipper?


  • This is Fake News   - Actually, it does appear that the tax reform and the figures were real, not fake news.  Even the White House confirmed it.  
 1 hour ago1 hour agoMoreMarosa Lopez Retweeted The Phoenix
Rachel Maddow is awful Change the CH 👎🏽
👎🏽👎🏽

  • He paid his taxes, joke's on Maddow 
  Retweeted
Rachel Maddow just revealed that show he paid $38,000,000 taxes in 2005. She just got Mr. Trump re-elected in 2020!


  • Maddow credibility ruined

Mikey Mileos @mikeymileos 31m31 minutes agoMore
Watch Rachel Maddow's brilliant take down of.. her own credibility. Only on MSNBC.



  • Thanks for proving Trump paid more than other presidential candidates.

These came later in the game and clearly stemmed from this Truthfeed post (lots of copies of the poster on Twitter) and this Data Debunk chart:

pastedGraphic.png
Data Debunk @data_debunk 2h
More
Tax rates paid:
Trump 2005: 25%
Obama 2014: 19.6%
Romney 2011: 14.1%
Sanders 2014: 13.5%
NY Times 2014: 0%




Truthfeed is a conservative site that gets high bias ratings and the Data Debunk feed only 'debunked' things that made conservatives look bad.

You'll note that they didn't select the same years to compare.  Obama actually paid 33% in 2005.
I couldn't find Romney or Sanders returns for 2005.  I only could find 2014 for Sanders and 2011 for Romney.  The numbers appear accurate.  Romney's is really low.  And he lost the election.  Sanders paid $26,000 on a total of $200,000 gross.
I'd note that there's no comparison with the Clintons. I'd guess that's because  they paid an average of 31% over eight years including 2005.  From  2001-2015 they paid between 25% (2007) and 38.2% (2002).   Only three times were they under 30%.

If you want to peruse the tax returns of old presidential candidates, you can find them here.

3.  Did Maddow accomplish anything?

Having watched this through the lens of Twitter, I'm not sure about what loose ends might have been tied.  But she did two things for sure:
David Cay Johnston
  • gave the public a couple of pages of a Trump tax return, something Trump has refused to do, and no one else has done
  • showed that lots of people are interested in the tax returns by the frenzy her tweet that she had it caused
  • there will be more questions about the returns we haven't seen and pressure to publish them

4.  Was Maddow played by the Trump administration?

Given that the return showed that Trump paid $34 million in taxes that year is the first hint of this.  Then there were all the Tweeters ready to go with a lot of memes basically aimed at discrediting Maddow.  
Another clue was what wasn't tweeted.  Although people clamored for Maddow to be jailed for 'illegally leaking' the information about Trump,  I saw nothing from anyone about getting the person who leaked the information to Maddow.  Even the White House statement only mentioned that 
"it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns."
With all the complaints about the leaks coming out of this administration, attacking the leaker should have been a key issue for Trump.  Except this was a leak, that at first glance (which is all most people will take), makes it look like Trump paid a lot of taxes.  Was this an attempt to 
  • take the pressure of the demands for Trump taxes?
  • take attention off the Russia ties and other issues?
  • make MSNBC and Maddow look ridiculous?
The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, David Cay Johnston, who got the pages anonymously in the mail, says it's very possible they were sent by the Trump administration.  He also pointed out that if it weren't for the Alternative Minimum Tax, which Trump wants to eliminate, Trump would have only owed $7 million.  I didn't see that mentioned in the Twitter feed.  


Another odd Note

The other Trump tax return (1995) that was made public was mailed anonymously to a New York Times reporter, Susanne Craig, and came in an envelope with a Trump organization return address.  That one didn't show Trump in such a (relatively) good light.  That was last September.


Autocorrect replaces Maddow with Maddox if you aren't being careful.  So in any Maddoxes slipped in, blame it on autocorrect.  I've already changed a few, including in the title.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Some Investigations I'd Like Congress To Undertake Without Evidence

Kellyanne Conway:  "I have no evidence, but that's why there is an investigation in Congress."



Who needs evidence to start an investigation?  I'd like some investigations and I have no evidence (actually for some, I'm sure I could come up with a reasonable amount of evidence).  Here's my quick, off the top of my head list of congressional investigations I'd like to see:


  1. Why do so many Republican members of congress claim that climate change isn't human related?
  2. How much income tax has Donald Trump paid over the last 20 years and who has leverage over Trump because he owes them significant amounts of money or favors?
  3. Who do the Supreme Court justices talk to off the bench and how do those conversations affect their decisions?
  4. What is Sen. Dan Sullivan's (R-Koch) obligations to large oil interests and other funders?
  5. How do members of congress who knowingly vote against their constituents' best interests sleep at  night?  Is it true the pharmaceutical companies provide them with all the sleeping drugs they need?  How does this affect their clarity and ability to make good decisions?
  6. How many officially pro-life legislators (federal, state, and local) have wives and/or girlfriends, mistresses who have had abortions?  Who?  
  7. How is it that members of congress do not object to Viagra being covered by health insurance, but they fight to keep birth control and abortions from being covered?

I'm afraid, I'm not too good at this.  I've only asked questions, unlike Trump who made accusations.
Plus, these are all investigations which, I believe, if carried out honestly and effectively, would provide the US population with important information about how our representatives operate.  And I'm sure a day of googling would give me lots of evidence that there is reason to investigate each of them.


The point here, is that investigations cost money.  From what I can tell at that link about the costs of the Benghazi investigation, most of the money goes to pay for staff.   What doesn't get factored are the opportunity costs of so many people spending their time on, say Benghazi or whether Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.  What might they have spent their time on instead?  Like coming to resolutions of issues so that the US is a stronger and safer and more democratic nation.

Try asking your local police department to do an investigation on something without providing them any evidence.  Or your company to investigate something without evidence.  It doesn't happen, because it costs money and takes people away from more pressing issues.  And that seems to be the point of Trump's allegations, to divert attention from more pressing issues.  But that's part of his standard operating procedure - Attack, Counterattack, Never Apologize.  [I try not to be too repetitive, but I don't think I can refer to often to this Attack line of thinking.  It truly appears to be how Trump thinks and everyone should understand it.]

Monday, March 13, 2017

Anchorage Assembly Race, District 4 (Midtown Anchorage) Candidates

Yesterday's (March 12, 2017) AFACT Assembly Candidates Forum was well run, well attended and gave me a good introduction to most of the assembly candidates.  As I started a post on this, it quickly became clear I ought to break this up into several different posts - starting with an intro page for each assembly district.

So, here's District 4 (Midtown Anchorage)  Here's a map of the district with photos of the candidates who were there. (In this district, all of them.)

    

Here are links for the four candidate websites:

Ron Alleva
Felix Rivera
Marcus Sanders
Don Smith

Here's my posts for:
District 1 (downtown) candidates.
District 2 (Chugiak-Eagle River)
District 3 (West Anchorage)
District 4 (Midtown)
District 5 (East Anchorage)
District 6 (South Anchorage)

[Update 3/21/17:  Here's the sample ballot for District 4 voters.]

When I finish the posts for the other districts, then I'll do a post about the Sunday AFACT forum.  

Anchorage Assembly Race, District 3 (West Anchorage) Candidates

Yesterday's (March 13, 2017) AFACT Assembly Candidates Forum was well run, well attended and gave me a good introduction to most of the assembly candidates.  As I started a post on this, it quickly became clear I ought to break this up into several different posts - starting with an intro page for each assembly district.


So, here's District 3 (West Anchorage)  Here's a map of the district with photos of the candidates who were there. 
click image to enlarge and focus

Placeholder for Tim Steele


The other District 3 candidate - incumbent Tim Steele - was not there.   Here's a generic candidate picture, based on pure imagination.


Here are links for the candidate websites:

Dave Nees
Tim Steele

Here are my posts for:
District 2 (Chugiak-Eagle River)
District 3 (West Anchorage)
District 4 (Midtown)
District 5 (East Anchorage)
District 6 (South Anchorage)

[Update 3/21/17:  Here's the sample ballot for District 3 voters.]

When I finish the posts for the other districts, then I'll do a post about the Sunday AFACT forum.