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Stanley Cup Finals And Other Sports Links

[ 22 ] May 29, 2017 |

Should be a fun series. I’ll pick the Penguins in 7, but I certainly think the Preds have a solid chance and I’ll be rooting for them. Some other stuff to discuss:


Great Moments in Self-Refutation

[ 360 ] May 29, 2017 |

There’s a lot to discuss in Rebecca Traister’s brilliantly written Clinton postmortem, but let’s start with the farce:

Clinton and her team understand that she will be excoriated for whatever she writes. “There’s never going to be enough self-blame for the people who demand it,” says Schwerin of the book. The appetite for the abasement of Hillary Clinton has long been insatiable. Over the course of 25 years, stories about whether Clinton should apologize, about how she apologized, or about her unwillingness to apologize — for everything from dissing Tammy Wynette to voting for the Iraq War — have been frequent and fetishistic. In November, Clinton became the first person to lose a presidential race to say “I’m sorry” for the loss in her concession speech. A press release for a new collection of her emails and speeches to Goldman Sachs, entitled How I Lost and with a foreword by Julian Assange, reads as an apology from Clinton for being “incapable of beating even a sexist dumbass,” as if sexist dumbasses were easy to defeat in America.

Here’s the quickie exploitation in question, which, wow:

  • We have a “book” annotating Clinton’s anodyne speeches and EMAILS!, being blurbed by two of America’s most prominent socialist intellectuals, with the theory that Americans pay too little attention to the characteristics of individual candidates and should ignore things like “pernicious Russian leaks, unwarranted FBI investigations and a skewed electoral college.” Whatever this is, it’s not in any meaningful sense a “left” analysis — it owes rather more to Halperin and Dowd than Marx and Engels. (The left should ignore the anti-democratic design and effect of the Electoral College?  Are you shitting me?) This playing and/or being dumb about legislative and electoral politics has become depressingly common.
  • Equally remarkable, it advances the thesis — again, purportedly from a perspective that is most certainly leftier than thou! — that in the United States of America it’s highly unusual for a “sexist dumbass” to get a position over a more competent woman, and if it happens it must be the latter’s fault.
  • And to back up these utterly preposterous positions, the author enlists…Julian Assange, a pro-Trump libertarian whose ratfucking materially impacted the election* and who is currently residing in the Ecuadorian embassy in London because he refused to face credible sexual assault  accusations in Sweden. This is almost sublimely clueless.

*Whatever one wants to say about the candidate or her campaign, I guarantee that Clinton’s analysis of the effect Assange had on the campaign is more astute than anything in this “book”:

Piecing together what happened, with six months of perspective, Clinton says she thinks she “underestimated WikiLeaks and the impact that had, because I thought it was so silly.” Those hacked emails, dripped out over weeks, says Clinton, “were innocuous, boring, inconsequential. And each one was played like it was some breathless flash. And so you got Trump, in the last month of the campaign, talking about WikiLeaks something like 164 times; you’ve got all his minions out there, you’ve got the right-wing media just blowing it up. You’ve got Google searches off the charts.”

Clinton has been looking at where some of the Google searches for WikiLeaks were coming from. “They were from a lot of places where people were trying to make up their minds,” she says. “Like, ‘Oh my God, I kinda like her, I don’t like him, but she might go to jail. And then what about all this other stuff?’ It was just such a dump of cognitive dissonance …” Clinton trails off and then smiles and nods to herself. “I have a lot of sympathy for voters in a lot of places I didn’t win,” she says. “Because I can see how hard it was.”

Hey, Harvard Doesn’t Sell Its Degrees to Just Anyone!

[ 38 ] May 29, 2017 |

Truly, the reincarnation of Machiavelli walks among us:

“My job is to put him in a good place,” Mr. Kushner told another person he spoke to before embarking on the Middle East leg of Mr. Trump’s trip, which he planned.

Often, that entails soothing Mr. Trump. Other times, he serves as a goad, as he did in urging Mr. Comey’s ouster and assuring Mr. Trump that it would be a political “win” that would neutralize protesting Democrats because they had called for Mr. Comey’s ouster over his handling of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, according to six West Wing aides.

And if only everybody in the Democratic Party was Michael Kinsley, it would have worked!

Still, he’s totally a SUPERGENIUS — just ask him!

He is intensely proud of his accomplishments in the private sector and has repeatedly suggested his tenure in Washington will hurt, not help, his brand and bottom line.

That unfailing self-regard has not endeared him to the rest of the staff. Resentful Trump staff members have long talked about “Jared Island” to describe the special status occupied by Mr. Kushner, who, in their view, is given license to exercise power and take on a vague portfolio — “Middle East peace” and “innovation” are its central components — without suffering the consequences of failure visited by the president on mere hirelings.

Well, if you work in the White House you’ve already agreed to work for an idiot heir who is convinced he’s brilliant, so what’s another one?

“Trump Was A Woman With A Serious Email Server Problem, And the Dems Still Couldn’t Beat Him!”

[ 241 ] May 28, 2017 |

Above: the Democratic Candidate for MT-AL

You will shocked to know that Matt Taibbi has a column arguing that the Democrats are DOOMED and need better MESSAGING. I’m not saying it’s phoned in, but:

Gianforte is a loon with a questionable mustache who body-slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for asking a question about the Republican health care bill.

Clearly, this is not a rote re-write of the same column Taibbi has already written roughly 10,000 times, but was based on very careful attention to the details of this particular race!

Obviously, inferring that Democrats are DOOMED from a race in which they overachieved the lean of the district by roughly 15 points is silly, but analyzing election outcomes is not really the point of the “every winning candidate has good messaging and every losing candidate has bad messaging, and Democrats suck” genre.

Why Seth Rich Conspiracy Theories Were Useful to a Variety of Terrible People

[ 79 ] May 28, 2017 |

Anna Merlan has an op-ed adding some valuable context to the Seth Rich Conspiracy Factory, including the prominent role of everyone’s favorite pro-Trump libertarian ratfucker:

But the Rich theories wouldn’t have gone beyond and Reddit without the help of prominent backers. In August, Julian Assange insinuated that Mr. Rich could have been the source of the D.N.C. emails put out by WikiLeaks and offered a $20,000 reward for information on Mr. Rich’s death, despite the fact that a hacking persona going by Guccifer 2.0 claimed responsibility. Mr. Assange says that WikiLeaks doesn’t reveal its sources, but if Mr. Rich leaked the emails, he would be able to distance himself from accusations that he’d acted as a funnel for a Russian intelligence operation.

This is how the modern conspiracy ecosystem works. Theories are hijacked by the self-interested. Mr. Assange was trying to protect his reputation. For others, the motive is financial. Alex Jones, the founder of Infowars, claims fluoride is put in the water supply to control people — and then sells a Fluoride Shield supplement. Often the motives are partisan: Both Pizzagate and Spirit Cooking — wild theories that accused Democratic insiders of engaging in satanic rituals and child sex abuse — were shared by right-wing outlets like Drudge Report and The Washington Times to discredit Democrats.

Mr. Assange’s insinuations broke a dam: Before long, private “investigators” emerged, offering their dubious help to the Rich family. A Republican lobbyist named Jack Burkman offered more reward money, walking through Washington neighborhoods with posters reading, “Do you know who murdered Seth Rich?”

That pattern of attention-seekers attaching themselves to the case repeated itself again and again. Robbin Young, a former Playboy model who’s claimed to be in contact with Guccifer 2.0, has implied that she fears being killed as a result of her own “investigating.” Mike Cernovich, a far-right blogger, has also gotten involved. Even the Russian embassy in London tweeted “#WikiLeaks informer Seth Rich murdered in US but MSM was so busy accusing Russian hackers to take notice.”

The biggest fish in this foul pond, though, is Sean Hannity of Fox News, who recently latched onto the Rich story, promoting it on his popular prime-time show and on social media. Mr. Hannity, a fierce Trump partisan, seemed aware that his speculation about Mr. Rich’s death could deflect attention away from the multitude of disasters dogging the White House and at his own scandal-plagued network. And he surely knew that the story would play well with his audience, which was eager to see the news about the Trump team’s Russia connections as a mainstream media smoke screen and Mr. Rich’s murder as the real fire.

I’m looking forward to Merlan’s book on the subject — understanding what conspiracy theories gain traction and why seems pretty critical to understanding the 2016 election.

Even Murderous Nazi Crackpots Have to Maintain Some Standards

[ 85 ] May 28, 2017 |

Jeremy Christian’s background is pretty much what you would expect. With one exception: he couldn’t quite bring himself to vote for Donald Trump. I mean, President Trump — that would be ridiculous!

How Your Beat Gets Sweetened

[ 68 ] May 27, 2017 |

As a follow-up to my post earlier today, I’d say this is checkmate for the Post:


Haberman does produce some useful stories because of her access and if she wants to present Kushner’s viewpoint in a story to sweeten the beat that’s probably a tradeoff worth making. But putting implausible, self-serving explanations from the Kushner camp up top and implying that they’re established fact (and explicitly presenting them as established fact when promoting the story) is another matter.

Nothing to See Here!

[ 62 ] May 27, 2017 |

After the blockbuster Washington Post scoop about Kushner landed last night, the New York Times followed up to tell it like it is — that everything is just fine:

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues, according to three people with knowledge of the discussion.

As Yglesias observes, the spin Haberman et al. are accepting uncritically here is…not very plausible:

Documentary evidence or sworn testimony may emerge some day to confirm this characterization of events, but on its own terms it seems hard to believe for three reasons.

One is that it’s not clear why a Syria backchannel the Times is positing would require access to the Russian government’s secure diplomatic communication channels.
The other is that it’s not clear from the Times’ account why the backchannel was never established. In the Post’s story, Russia rejected the use of diplomatic channels as unworkable and then Kushner dropped the matter since the ability to evade US government surveillance was evidently key to whatever he wanted.
Last, the Trump White House simply lies very frequently. Sometimes they lie about obvious, easily checkable facts like how many people attended Trump’s inauguration or whether or NATO members owe a financial debt to the United States. When a group of people lie frequently, it seems sensible to discount their future self-serving but unverifiable claims.

The third point is particularly crucial. There’s nothing wrong with reporters printing the administration line, per se, but given that these people lie about everything unless a claim can be corroborated it really needs to be approached with a great deal of skepticism, skepticism that is notably lacking in the story. Davies is again relevant here:

Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless. Case after miserable case after bloody case we went through, I tell you, all of which had this moral. Not only that people who want a project will tend to make innacurate projections about the possible outcomes of that project, but about the futility of attempts to “shade” downward a fundamentally dishonest set of predictions. If you have doubts about the integrity of a forecaster, you can’t use their forecasts at all. Not even as a “starting point”. By the way, I would just love to get hold of a few of the quantitative numbers from documents prepared to support the war and give them a quick run through Benford’s Law.

Application to Iraq This was how I decided that it was worth staking a bit of credibility on the strong claim that absolutely no material WMD capacity would be found, rather than “some” or “some but not enough to justify a war” or even “some derisory but not immaterial capacity, like a few mobile biological weapons labs”. My reasoning was that Powell, Bush, Straw, etc, were clearly making false claims and therefore ought to be discounted completely, and that there were actually very few people who knew a bit about Iraq but were not fatally compromised in this manner who were making the WMD claim. Meanwhile, there were people like Scott Ritter and Andrew Wilkie who, whatever other faults they might or might not have had, did not appear to have told any provable lies on this subject and were therefore not compromised.

The Vital Importance of Audit. Emphasised over and over again. Brealey and Myers has a section on this, in which they remind callow students that like backing-up one’s computer files, this is a lesson that everyone seems to have to learn the hard way. Basically, it’s been shown time and again and again; companies which do not audit completed projects in order to see how accurate the original projections were, tend to get exactly the forecasts and projects that they deserve. Companies which have a culture where there are no consequences for making dishonest forecasts, get the projects they deserve. Companies which allocate blank cheques to management teams with a proven record of failure and mendacity, get what they deserve.

I hope I don’t have to spell out the implications of this one for Iraq. Krugman has gone on and on about this, seemingly with some small effect these days. The raspberry road that led to Abu Ghraib was paved with bland assumptions that people who had repeatedly proved their untrustworthiness, could be trusted. There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of “argumentum ad hominem”. There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. Audit is meant to protect us from this, which is why audit is so important.

Having said that, it’s hard to imagine the Times breaking from its saturation EMAILS! coverage running a false “nothing to see here” story about Russia and Trump less than two weeks before the election or something:

Oh. And, again, let me note that the reporter who got spun like a top by the alt-right faction of the FBI also published one of the most egregious Clinton Rules “TROUBLING QUESTIONS CAST SHADOWS RAISED TROUBINGLY [lede] no wrongdoing whatsoever by anyone [graf 32]” stories of the campaign. Comparing the Clinton Foundation stories with this spinning for Trump and Kushner is a clear indication of real and ongoing problems at the NYT political desk.


[ 119 ] May 27, 2017 |

Looking through the Labour Manifesto, I noticed this passage:

Our manifesto is fully costed, with all current spending paid for out of taxation or redirected revenue streams. Our public services must rest on the foundation of sound finances. Labour will therefore set the target of eliminating the government’s deficit on day-to-day spending within five years.


Seriously, whether this is good politics in the British context, I have no idea. But I will observe that plenty of successful left politicians — most notably in the American context, FDR in 1932 — have used the language of fiscal responsibility. If it makes higher taxes and an expanded welfare state an easier sell politically, I’m fine with it.

I would also urge taking a look at the Manifesto (summarized here.) There are a lot of good ideas in it — I especially like the various measures directed at taxing very high, essentially cartel-rigged salaries. I don’t know to what extent (if any) role it’s playing in the tightening polls, but while Corbyn is not the ideal messenger and while too many Blarities are failing to back the leader of the party, I see no reason to think it’s an agenda that can’t be the basis for a governing majority in the future.

“These Are Not Very Bright Guys”

[ 113 ] May 26, 2017 |

Your major WaPo evening scoop of the day:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

Hiring your notably unaccomplished son-in-law for a critical government job seemed like a great idea, what went wrong?

The Ongoing Adventures of James Comey, Man of Integritude(TM)

[ 75 ] May 26, 2017 |

The latest revelations about the fake Russian intel that influenced Comey’s decision to tamper with the election make him, amazingly, look even worse than the initial story:

Then-FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of information relating to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email was fake — created by Russian intelligence — but he feared that if it became public it would undermine the probe and the Justice Department itself, according to multiple officials with knowledge of the process.

As a result, Comey acted unilaterally last summer to publicly declare the investigation over — without consulting then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch — while at the same time stating that Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information. His press conference caused a firestorm of controversy and drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
Comey’s actions based on what he knew was Russian disinformation offer a stark example of the way Russian interference impacted the decisions of the highest-level US officials during the 2016 campaign.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that this Russian intelligence was unreliable. US officials now tell CNN that Comey and FBI officials actually knew early on that this intelligence was indeed false.

So, to summarize:

  • Comey knew no later than June that Russian officials were trying to ratfuck the election on behalf of Trump.
  • At no point during the campaign did Comey inform the public about what Russia was doing.
  • He also knew that the “scandal” surrounding Clinton’s email server was the Trump line of attack that was getting the most traction in the media.
  • His response was…to violate norms and/or departmental rules to issue multiple prejudicial statements about Clinton’s email server. The last of these statements was a letter prematurely informing Congress about an investigation that had virtually no chance of revealing material information about Clinton less than two weeks before the election. We can perhaps call this response “the Russians can’t ratfuck the election if we ratfuck it first!”
  • Conversely, he sat on his hands while FBI sources got a crucial “nothing to see here” story about Russia and Trump planted in the New York Times, at the same time an unprecedented cascade of negative coverage resulting from Comey’s letter was hitting Clinton.

The charitable interpretation is that these indefensible decisions were made solely to Protect the Integrity of the Bureau. A major problem with this defense is that “acting to minimize [Republican] criticism, even if it means violating critical rules and norms and presenting a very misleading picture to the public” is pretty much the antithesis of integrity. Acting with integrity would be “I’m going to follow the rules and I don’t give a shit what Jason Chaffetz has to say about it, and I’m certainly not going to be manipulated by Russian propaganda, let alone advance exactly the narrative they’re trying to push.” As CP says, like Colin Powell Comey is an excellent illustration that people who successfully cultivate a reputation as Men of Great Integrity can be the most dangerously self-serving hacks of all.

Winning MT-AL By 7 Points Is Excellent News For John McCain, And Other Fallacies

[ 131 ] May 26, 2017 |

As we’ve discussed before, the most determined nothing-matters-Democrats-are-always-doomed Eeyores like to cite Sam Brownback winning re-election after destroying the state. The obvious problem with this is that he was re-elected with 25 points less of a margin than he was elected with, so this just shows that Republicans are largely insulated from blowback in states where they have a 20-point inherent advantage. But, of course, their margin in the House is much less than this, and their Electoral College “advantage” is “less than 100,000 votes assuming the director of the FBI implies that the Democratic candidate is a crook less than two weeks before the election.”

The regrettable loss in MT-AL is, I’m sure, being met with a wave of “Democrats are DOOMED” and/or “Democrats are DOOMED unless they adopt precisely my policy views and run on them in every jurisdiction” takes on Twitter as we speak. But the results are in fact encouraging:

Greg Gianforte’s 7 percentage point win in the Montana special election keeps a seat in Republican hands but fundamentally represents bad news for the GOP. The basic issue, as David Wasserman breaks down for the Cook Political Report, is that for prognostication purposes you don’t only want to know who wins or loses a special election — you want to know the margin.

Montana is considerably redder than the average congressional district. According to Wasserman’s calculations, in an election where Democrats got 50 percent of the two-party vote nationwide, you’d expect them to get just 39 percent in Montana. Quist scored 44 percent, and with the Libertarian pulling in 6 percent, his share of the two-party vote is more like 46.

Things aren’t as simple as saying that Rob Quist outperformed the 39 percent benchmark and therefore Democrats are on track to win — geography means Republicans can hold their majority with less than 50 percent of the vote. But the GOP underperformed badly in Montana, after a similar underperformance in the special election for Kansas’s Fourth Congressional District.

There are 120 Republican-held House seats that are more GOP-friendly than Montana’s at-large district. If Republicans are winning in places like Montana by just 7 percentage points, then they are in extreme peril of losing their House majority in November 2018.

In addition, as Yglesias goes on to observe, the marginal districts that are the path to the next Democratic House majority are almost certainly the Sun Belt suburbs (and, I would add, some Republican seats in blue states like New York and California), not red state rural districts. If Ossoff loses, then I think there’s real reason for concern. Yesterday’s result, conversely, indicates that the House is very much in play in 2018 to the extent that it indicates anything.

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