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Today in the Left as Bernie Sanders Personality Cult

[ 397 ] May 9, 2017 |

In my post yesterday about the “Obamacare was worthless neoliberal crap, and the Democrats are monsters for not using unspecified magic powers available to the House minority from stopping it” thing, my original draft had a line about how Jacobin would be publishing pieces about how Kirsten Gillbrand — who has not only been steadfast in resisting Trump and co-sponsored every bill proposed by Sanders since the election but supported Medicare For All running for a purple House district in 2006 — as a neoliberal sellout, but decided to take it out because I wasn’t sure it was fair. What I couldn’t know is that Jacobin had a piece in the pipeline…smearing Kirsten Gillibrand as a neoliberal sellout. Apparently, in Trump’s America everything gravitates towards self-parody.

The piece starts out acknowledging the obvious:

She racked up the best record on Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, opposed Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, railed against Trump’s immigration executive order, and grilled his appointees in widely shared videos. She was even singled out by the Trump team — along with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and, of all people, New Jersey senator Cory Booker — as one of the “radical liberals” blocking his anti-Muslim travel ban.

Now her name is being floated as a progressive presidential candidate in 2020.

Gillibrand — who has consciously positioned herself as an elite face of “the Resistance” in the wake of Trump’s election — has some good spots on her record. She led efforts to curb sexual assault in the military, pushed to get the 9/11 first responders bill passed, campaigned to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, and has been advancing a paid family leave bill for years.

Sounds good! So why is Gillibrand a “suspect tribune for anti-Trump resistance”? Well:

  • She interned for Al D’Amato, rather than…moving to another state that had better senators? I swear this is the opening argument. (I hope someone is also doing an investigation into her voting record in junior high student council elections.)
  • Rather than moving to another state and running for office there, she worked with Chuck Schumer and — worst of all! — the neoliberalist neoliberal produced by neoliberalism since Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton.
  • She has been responsive to pressure from the left, which is bad. (“…this shows that Gillibrand isn’t implacably opposed to taking more progressive stands” OK.) She was also considerably more left-wing as a statewide representative than when she represented a relatively conservative House district which, if you don’t really get how politics works, is highly disturbing. (Also, as a House member she somehow supported the tax cuts passed under Bush in 2001 and 2003 although she wasn’t elected until 2007. Her actual votes against extending the Bush tax cuts, of course, aren’t mentioned.)
  • Rather than moving to another state and running for office there, she has completely orthodox Democratic positions on Israel.
  • Rather than moving to another state and running for office there or refusing to raise money, she accepted money from local interests. This once caused her to put forward an amendment weakening a minor element of Dodd-Frank and then withdrawing it. And surely absolutely consistent support for the Lincoln Amendment has always been far more important to the left than trivia like, say, universal healthcare.

In addition to how ludicrously tendentious this hatchet job is, the theory of politics underlying it — that responding to pressure from the left is bad, making you “a garden variety ladder-climber” — is transparently wrong. It is, indeed, anti-politics. Responding to local interests is what all politicians — including Bernie — do. You can’t build an anti-Trump resistance solely out of people who have always agreed with you about everything. If I may be permitted to quote myself:

But worse than that is that the conception of politics here is absolutely ridiculous. Of course Hillary Clinton is in part “motivated by political concerns.” That’s what politics is. Trying to get people in positions of power to move in your direction is why ordinary people engage in politics. Drawing sharp distinctions between “principle” and “politics” when dealing with leaders of large brokerage parties is making a category error. Hillary Clinton will nominate judges who will restore Roe v. Wade, and she will veto any bad abortion regulations a Republican Congress would put on her desk. What mixture of principle and prudence motivates her is completely irrelevant.

Three presidents can be plausibly said to have greater records of progressive accomplishment than Barack Obama: LBJ, FDR, and Lincoln. Were these men, as deBoer suggests they must be, consistent left-wing ideologues, men who were committed to consistent left principles who did not concern themselves with practical politics and never had to be “pushed” from the left? Er, no. Good God, no. They were practical men. They were not ideologically consistent. They had progressive records in large part because of the organized pressures from the left placed on them. Lyndon Johnson had a voting record in the Senate that makes Hillary Clinton look like a Wobbly. Did civil rights and labor groups follow deBoer’s advice, refuse to work with him and support him, and seek to throw the election to Goldwater in the hopes that a REAL ally could eventually control the White House? No, they did not, because they understand politics as deBoer does not. And the result was arguably the most progressive domestic policy presidency ever. The Emancipation Proclamation was a compromise motivated in large measure by political expediency. So what? Who wants political leaders who disdain politics, who aren’t responsive to their constituents?

A politics founded on refusing to take yes for an answer isn’t a politics at all. It’s a pose from people more interested in congratulating themselves for being too good for politics than accomplishing anything.

…and, yes, wjts was a prophet:

If she runs in 2020, I expect the True Leftist Clinton Critique to be amended to, “Any political position that Gillibrand has ever taken that I disagree with is her real position. Any political position that I can imagine Gillibrand taking that I disagree with is her secret real position. Any political position that Gillibrand has taken that I agree with is insincere pandering.”


Be Very Afraid

[ 95 ] May 9, 2017 |


Matt Fuller’s lay of the land on TrumpCare is really good, if terrifying:

After the House passed its health care bill last week, Senators looked apt to take that dramatically conservative plan, stick it in a filing cabinet, and start over with a more moderate bill ― one that may never be able to pass the House on the way back.

But Democrats may overestimate the level of disagreement between the two chambers. And if the last two months have proved anything, it’s that we’re underestimating the ability of Republicans to accept a flawed bill in the name of winning.

We may also be surprised by what House conservatives could accept from the Senate.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) has already been working with Senate Republicans on what changes House conservatives could live with, knowing that the Senate bill will probably undo some cuts to Medicaid and perhaps a key amendment that brought conservatives onboard in the first place.

I hope the Freedom Caucus will play some heighten-the-contradictions, but I worry that they won’t. As for “moderates” in the Senate…I’d be shocked if they didn’t roll. This is a real crisis. I just wish legislation revolved around the president half as much as most people think it does.

A Pro-Trump Libertarian Ratfucker Says What?

[ 33 ] May 9, 2017 |

Putin Visits Olympics

Apparently, Julian Assange is tired of the Michael Traceys of the world horning in on his “libertarians whose leftier-than-thou posturing hilariously gets taken seriously by leftier-than-thous” racket and wants some attention:


I’m afraid there’s no way I can top this more pungent response:

It’s Like Ron Fournier, From the Ostensible Left

[ 409 ] May 8, 2017 |


It’s not easy to turn a Republican bill that would strip 24 million people of their health insurance and use the money for a massive upper-class tax cut into a “Both Sides Do It, But Democrats Are Worse” story. But inexplicably — or perhaps too explicably — Jacobin commissioned someone to do it. And…it’s even worse than this sounds!

The Democratic leadership looks hardly different than it has for my entire adult life, a grim and aging collection of Clinton apparatchiks totally secure in their sinecures — all the more so because the only time the party ever does use what power it has, it’s to quash any discontent from its base or its leftward flank.

Sure, the ARRA, the ACA, Dodd-Frank — all just symbolic attacks on the Democratic base, which FYI consists solely of affluent white guys in Brooklyn who delcared themselves to be socialists starting in 2014.

The ACA, which may or may not die in the Senate, only ever made sense as an intermediate step toward a universal provision of health care. It was a big, ugly, ungainly, cobbled-together thing that, for all the partisan paeans to its wonderfulness and indispensability, never really worked very well.

“A statute that dramatically redistributed wealth downward, providing access to health care to 24 million people — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” — Paul Ryan, and people who are most definitely Leftier Than Thou.

The part that did work was Medicaid expansion.

Okay, the ACA did contain a health care program for the poor that was vastly superior to the one that passed under much more favorable political circumstances in 1965. Surely, this is central to Bacharach’s point that the Democratic party is composed of useless neoliberal shills who never accomplish anything! It also would have helped even more people had the Supreme Court not re-written it, but once we start down the road discussing the institutional barriers to reform efforts we might actually learn something, and that doesn’t really work for this genre.

In other words, the part that worked was the single-payer program that the Democrats so ardently refused — continue to refuse — to endorse. Supposedly the party of incremental progress, they seem to view each increment as the final end state of civilization and history. America Is Already Great, and all that.

The idea that “Democrats” view the health care compromise that emerged from James Madison’s sausage factory as the End Point of History is an almost comically ludicrous lie. Why, even Hillary Clinton, the neoliberalist neoliberal to emerge from neoliberalism since Margaret Thatcher, ran on a public option and expanding Medicare. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is arguably the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 2020, endorsed single-payer running for a purple House district in 2006. Virtually nobody thinks that “the best bill Joe Lieberman would agree to vote ‘yea’ on” is optimal health care policy. The ACA is no more the end of history than the deeply compromised programs of the New Deal. And like the programs of the New Deal, it provided valuable benefits to many people.

Anyway, the thing about the health care debate, such as it is, is that while every Democrat voted “no,” no one bothered to articulate a compelling alternate vision. Republicans want to kill you! Yes, yes — look, life is a conspiracy against itself; we’re all gonna die. You become inured to this sort of thing after a while.

I dunno — personally, I find “we shouldn’t kill 30,000 people a year to pay for upper-class tax cuts” pretty compelling. So, apparently, does the public in general. But, yes, the most urgent political priority we face today is to issue self-congratulatory tweets about how if you were elected Prime Minister of the United States in 2008 we would totally have had single payer.

The specter of Democrats literally singing in the halls of Congress because they imagine that more than a year from now they’ll reap some reward from the GOP’s pettiness and failure to construct any real alternative system is just despicable. Who are these people? Even if the bill dies in the Senate, even if they take the House in 2018 . . . Liberals accuse the GOP of forgetting about people, of sacrificing public good to the cruel idols of their idées fixes, but it’s the ostensibly liberal party that is actually abstracted from the human mass; it’s Nancy Pelosi for whom this whole thing is just a career.

Look, I think the “na-na-hey-hey” singalong was misguided — as long as this can pass the Senate Republicans inflicting political wounds on themselves is nothing to celebrate. But Bacharach omits some crucial context — this is what Republicans did after Clinton’s tax increase passed in 1993. You will be shocked to learn that this did not stop Republicans from successfully pursuing an obstructionist strategy on health care or sweeping the 1994 midterms.

Anyway, using a single spontaneous event that involved a handful of frustrated legislators to stand as the sum total of Democratic opposition to TrumpCare is mind-numblingly stupid. Like, Mark Halperin stupid. To accuse Pelosi, who whatever her faults was instrumental to getting comprehensive health care passed where Truman and Clinton failed and LBJ didn’t. even. try., of not caring about the people who would be devastated by its repeal and helped organize steadfast opposition to it, is disgusting. And it’s particularly rich coming from someone doing the patented “Obamacare was worthless neoliberal crap, and the Democrats are monsters for not using unspecified magic powers available to the House minority from stopping it” two-step.

And this, at bottom, is what’s so irritating about people who think that Bernie Sanders is the first American public official to understand that other liberal democracies have better health care systems. They don’t seem to know anything about the New Deal or Great Society, and they don’t know or care about the formidable institutional barriers that protect the status quo in American politics. Anybody who actually cared about getting truly universal health care in the United States would be very attentive to these basic points. But these articles aren’t actually about single payer — “The Democrat Party are perfidious neoliberals who never accomplish anything” is the end, not just the means. What these empty, glib, know-nothing hot takes are supposed to accomplish for the American left remains beyond me.

Lying Liars Lie Shamelessly About Unimaginably Horrible Legislation

[ 49 ] May 8, 2017 |


It’s truly shocking that Tom Price would lack integrity:

Price appeared on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday morning, sitting for an interview with Jake Tapper. There, he faced a question about the fact that the Republican plan cuts more than $800 billion from Medicaid.

“Are you actually saying that $880 billion in cuts, according to CBO… that that is not going to result in millions of Americans not getting Medicaid?” Tapper asked.

“Absolutely not,” Price responded. “We believe the Medicaid population will be cared for in a better way under our program because it will be more responsive to them.”

Price’s statement is at odds with everything we know about the American Health Care Act. As Tapper notes, the Congressional Budget Office evaluated a previous version of the bill and estimated that it would cut $880 billion from the Medicaid program.

CBO also estimates that AHCA would cause 14 million people to lose their Medicaid coverage by 2026. This would mostly be a result of AHCA ended the Medicaid expansion in 2020, a program estimated to cover 12 million low-income Americans.


Elsewhere, on NBC’s Meet the Press, Price argued that one big problem with the Affordable Care Act is that too few people have coverage:

No, what we’re trying to do is to make certain that every single person has health coverage. Remember, there are 20 million people right now in this country who have said to the federal government, said to the previous administration, “Nonsense, I’m not going to participate in your plan. I’ll either pay a fine through the I.R.S. or I’ll get a waiver.” That’s 20 million individuals who don’t have coverage, and we ought to say, “Why don’t they have coverage?” And try to fix that.

This would be a good argument if Price were talking about a bill that would increase the number of Americans with insurance coverage.

The Republican plan, however, is not that bill. The most recent CBO estimate predicts that 24 million Americans would lose coverage under AHCA. The majority of those would be people losing coverage would be Medicaid enrollees but also that 2 million Americans would lose individual plans. An additional 7 million Americans would lose coverage, as CBO expects the Republican plan would encourage some workplaces to drop their offerings.

Hey, lying their ass off about their healthcare plans while the media wanked on about EMAILS! helped Republicans get here, so why stop now?

Your Weekend Arbitrary List to Argue About

[ 199 ] May 7, 2017 |

The latest Vulture “every track ranked” list does the Stones. It’s not the worst of these (which is the Led Zep list that basically ranks the songs by AOR airplay, which works particularly badly for that band), but of course there’s plenty to agree with or complain about.   A reader asked for my alternative top 5, which I played around with before deciding that 1)there’s too much competition and 2)I have trouble divorcing songs from their best period from their albums. So while you can feel free to do so I’ll just add some random comments:

  • The fact that the author doesn’t know that the excerpt from “Key To The Highway” was a tribute to the recently deceased Ian Stewart doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his judgment.
  • I agree with the implicit augment that Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed are their greatest albums, although “Wild Horses” belongs more towards the end than the front of the former’s songs. Any track-by-track rather than album-qua-album list will disadvantage Exile, though.
  • The rankings of songs on Goat’s Head Soup and especially Some Girls strike me as bizarre. (“Respectable” ranking behind “Lies,” “Imagination,” and a bonus cut?) I agree that the title track of the otherwise-excellent Some Girls sucks, though.
  • I do appreciate him standing up for the best material on Satanic Majesties, especially “2000 Man.”
  • I agree, FWIW, that Dirty Work is a little underrated and their second-best album of the 80s. I don’t get the idea that their 80s albums, are, in general, better than the 3 subsequent non-covers albums, all of which are as good or better than Dirty Work and way better than Steel Wheels or Undercover. Any 80s-over-90s argument would have to lean heavily on Tattoo You, which since it’s mostly polished outtakes from the 70s doesn’t really count.
  • Speaking of which, I’m guessing a lot of criticism will focus on the relatively high ranking of “Start Me Up.” While it’s too high I will out myself as an apologist for this anthem of sports arenas everywhere, for two reasons: 1)”Brown Sugar”‘s riff without its lyric is a valuable public service; 2)Charlie’s fills, especially in the second chorus.
  • I suppose it’s pointless contrarianism to complain about “Satisfaction” in the top 10. It’s a very good song, of course, but even among singles from roughly that era, if we’re talking aesthetic quality rather than influence there are a number I prefer, including “Get Off My Cloud,” “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Long, Long While” (which is obscenely low at 203.)
  • “The Worst,” which is at 202, also belongs a lot further up from the likes of “Where The Boys Go” and Exile-outtakes-for-good-reason, as does “Saint of Me” (one of their strongest post-Tattoo You tracks, with Ronnie doing an excellent Keith impersonation and Waddy Watchell doing a good Mick Taylor impression, and unusually committed vocals from late-period Mick.)

Anyway, I open the floor to the parlor game.

“It was a garbage goal. It was a GARBAGE WIN.”

[ 28 ] May 7, 2017 |


As also reflected in our comments, the tying goal in last night’s Anaheim/Edmonton game was extremely controversial, because Ryan Kesler appeared to be holding Cam Talbot’s pad as Rakell’s shot was going in. And, certainly, Oilers fans are 1)right to be frustrated with the call, and 2)right that Kesler is a massive douche. Combined with a non-call in Game 4, this has caused many Oilers fans (including some paid ones) to conclude that the superior team is down in the series only because it’s getting hosed by the refs. This is silly, as I’ll come back to in a second, but first NFL fans might be interested to know that we would seem to have a tuck rule (i.e. correct or at least plausible interpretation of a dumb rule) situation rather than an outright bad call:

We totally know what goalie interference is.

It’s right there, in Rule 69 (nice):

If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

As McLellan said, Kesler was shoved into Talbot. According to the current rules, that’s it. Full stop.

The rule doesn’t address when a player needs to leave the crease after having been pushed into it, or what the call is if that player holds down the goalie’s pad after he’s shoved on top of him. The current rulebook doesn’t address it. For all we know, Kesler could have taken out a shank and rapid-fire stabbed Talbot in the crease, and it wouldn’t be goalie interference. Although we imagine that’s a misconduct. Probably, like, for slashing.

(And frankly, that’s more of a Corey Perry move than Kesler.)

Indeed, this is worse than the tuck rule, because at least the NFL came up with a fairly clear if stupid rule as applied to the apparent Brady fumble. The NHL rulebook just doesn’t address what is a not-terribly-unusual situation at all. But the call is not obviously wrong. It certainly shouldn’t have counted, but the ineptitude is more the NHL GMs rather than the refs of last night’s game.

Anyway, whether it’s a bad call or a bad rule, Oilers fans aren’t wrong to be pissed off at the play. But — and I know I consider the Ducks the marginally lesser evil in this series, but I said the same thing to my fellow Seahawks fans after Super Bowl XL — the idea that a team loses a game because of a single call is always bullshit. This game is an excellent illustration of this. After all, had the refs not missed a blatant Maroon high stick Edmonton wouldn’t have had a 3-goal lead in the first place. And had the Oilers been able to execute a simple breakout play right before the Rakell goal we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Indeed, the Oilers are vulnerable to this kind of comeback because while they have enough speed and skill up front to be terrifying when their transition game is going, in part because they have a decent second pairing defenseman miscast as a top-paring guy (Larsson) and a seventh defenseman miscast as a second-pairing guy (Russell), they’re prone to getting pinned in their own zone, especially by a good forechecking team like Anaheim.

Still, I might have more sympathy if Edmonton was clearly the better team yesterday. This…was not the case:


You can look up the data yourself, but Anaheim has controlled play for most of the series, although only by similar margins in Game 2. Only luck and Talbot have kept the series alive. The teams are a lot closer in quality than they looked last night, and I expect Edmonton to be a lot better Sunday. But the idea that Edmonton has been kicking Anaheim’s ass and are down 3-2 only because of the officials is about as credible as Donald Trump’s claim that he really won the popular vote.

Court Overturns Vote Suppression Done on Behalf of Enthusiastic Vote Suppressor

[ 41 ] May 6, 2017 |


Excellent news:

But a federal court granted a preliminary injunction yesterday against the state’s 90-day registration cutoff, finding it violates the National Voter Registration Act, which prohibits setting voter-registration deadlines more than 30 days before an election. Civil-rights groups, led by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, filed suit against the law. “If a preliminary injunction is not granted requiring Defendants to process voter-registration applications received after the previous deadline of March 20, numerous voters who would otherwise be eligible to vote in the runoff will be denied that right,” wrote District Court Judge Timothy Batten, a George W. Bush appointee.

Now Myers and thousands of others will be able to register until May 21, which could have a big impact in an election that could be decided by the narrowest of margins. “This just felt like a real prohibition of our rights as citizens,” Myers said after the ruling.

Voter registration is surging in Georgia—464,000 more people have registered this year than during the last non-presidential-election year (559,000 voter-registration applications this year compared with 95,000 in 2015). Ossoff’s campaign said it is registering more than a hundred new voters a day. “Voting rights are constitutional rights,” Ossoff said after the decision. “I encourage all eligible voters to ensure that they are registered and make their voices heard on June 20th and in all elections, regardless of their party or political persuasion.”

Voter suppression is not an incidental issue in the special election. As Georgia secretary of state from 2006 to 2009, Karen Handel had a long record of making it harder to vote, supporting Georgia’s strict voter-ID law, trying to purge thousands of eligible voters from the rolls before the 2008 election, and repeatedly challenging the residency of qualified Democratic candidates. Handel has bragged about these issues, saying in a TV ad: “As secretary of state, I fought President Obama to implement photo ID and won,” even though Georgia’s voter-ID law was passed in 2005 and took effect in 2007, well before President Obama assumed office.

This is a victory for democracy. And this will be one of the first battles in the war to keep the Senate from passing TrumpCare, and the decision makes the chances of winning it better.

Preventing Hacking Is Not an Easy Problem

[ 249 ] May 6, 2017 |


Particularly in light of the fact that one flaming hot take about the DNC hack is that it’s John Podesta’s fault for not knowing that his IT staff was giving him bad information, this comment by Abigail Nussbaum is worth highlighting:

I work at a tech company employing slightly less than a thousand employees, most of whom are reasonably tech-savvy, in their thirties or fourties, and work fixed hours in a fixed location while managing their lives on their personal devices. Your suggestions would be tough-to-impossible to implement in that environment, much less in one where there are tens, if not thousands of employees, with huge turnover, long and irregular hours, lots of travel, high pressure, and where almost all employees will be, at best, skilled but ignorant end-users, and at worst, tech-illiterate. Take getting rid of email, for example. When the people who answer to you can be in six different cities over the course of a week and have to communicate large amounts of information across different time zones, how exactly do you suggest they do that except using email? For too long, the InfoSec community’s answer to users’ needs has been “suffer”, but even that isn’t enough in this situation.

Or take switching operating systems. Switch to what? Do we think that tens of thousands of mostly non-techie users are going to switch to Linux, a system that is famously opaque and unfriendly to new users? Or do we think they’ll do what users always do when IT forces them to go out of their comfort zone and there’s work to be done – find workarounds that actually decrease the overall level of security in the organization?

Which brings us to the whole issue of IT in political organizations, and I agree that there’s work to be done there. The DNC and organizations like it need to hire a CTO who will formulate best practices for security, and be in charge of setting up on the ground infrastructure and hiring local people to support it (though that’s assuming there isn’t already someone like that, which I would find surprising). But that ignores the fact that most IT tends to treat users, not hackers, as the enemy, has little or no sense of how to design a system so that users will want to use it correctly, and frequently mistakes making a system unusuable for making it secure (which, again, leads only to insecure workarounds). Not to mention that “we need to hire the best” is not actually a viable strategy, especially when you need so many people to do the work under not-great conditions, and especially in tech, where there are a lot of people who will tell you that they’re geniuses at something when really they’re only adequate at it (and which the person doing the hiring has no way of distinguishing). As a solution to problems of organizational security, “get a genius IT guy” is not a viable alternative to “come up with systemic solutions that even an OK IT guy can implement well”.

The fact is, as far as end-user solutions are concerned, the InfoSec community has been sitting on its hands for twenty years – literally the biggest things they’ve come up with in all that time is two-factor identification. And because until a few years ago, hacking was mainly a retail business – this person’s accounts drained, that person’s nudes leaked – they were able to get away with that, along with a hefty dose of victim-blaming. But now that hacking is being used a major geopolitical weapon, that approach simply won’t cut it anymore, and the community needs to come up with actual tools that will still leave the internet usable for everyone, no matter their age or level of tech-savviness. That’s not an easy problem, and it may be insurmountable, but continuing to approach it as if the solution is “get better users” is not going to work.

…I’ll do a separate post on it later, but on a related point Zeynep Tufekci’s piece on the Macron hack is really good.

East Coast Fan, West Coast Playoff Games

[ 42 ] May 6, 2017 |

Even if you are (like me) a night person, deciding whether to stick with late night NHL or NBA playoff games is a tricky question. Sometimes you stay up for games that appear to be over and..nothing interesting happens. And then sometimes you see something good:

I feel dirty cheering for a Corey Perry overtime winner, but hey sometimes you have to ally with Stalin to beat Hitler. Among recent playoff collapses it can’t top the Leafs/Bruins in 2013 because that was an elimination game, but it was still stunning to watch.

And now, the punchline:



[ 124 ] May 5, 2017 |


What an amazing coinky-dink:

Leading French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign said on Friday it had been the target of a “massive” computer hack that dumped its campaign emails online 1-1/2 days before voters choose between the centrist and his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen.

Macron, who is seen as the frontrunner in an election billed as the most important in France in decades, extended his lead over Le Pen in polls on Friday.

As much as 9 gigabytes of data were posted on a profile called EMLEAKS to Pastebin, a site that allows anonymous document sharing. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for posting the data or if any of it was genuine.

In an exclusive interview with Lawyers, Guns & Money, FBI Director James Comey assured us that there’s no reason to think that the hackers are favoring any particular candidate.

Seriously, this shouldn’t matter — Macron is way ahead and in this case the hacking may actually be a net negative for Le Pen. But the general trend is worrisome.

The Evidence That the Comey Letter Threw the Election Is Overwhelming

[ 274 ] May 5, 2017 |


Nate Silver’s essay about the Comey effect is very rich, and there are multiple points worth discussing. But let’s start with the bottom line evaluation, which is definitive:

Clinton’s standing in the polls fell sharply. She’d led Trump by 5.9 percentage points in FiveThirtyEight’s popular vote projection at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 28. A week later — after polls had time to fully reflect the letter — her lead had declined to 2.9 percentage points. That is to say, there was a shift of about 3 percentage points against Clinton. And it was an especially pernicious shift for Clinton because (at least according to the FiveThirtyEight model) Clinton was underperforming in swing states as compared to the country overall. In the average swing state,3 Clinton’s lead declined from 4.5 percentage points at the start of Oct. 28 to just 1.7 percentage points on Nov. 4. If the polls were off even slightly, Trump could be headed to the White House.

Is it possible this was all just a coincidence — that Clinton’s numbers went into decline for reasons other than Comey’s letter? I think there’s a decent case (which we’ll take up in a moment) that some of the decline in Clinton’s numbers reflected reversion to the mean and was bound to happen anyway.

But it’s not credible to claim that the Comey letter had no effect at all. It was the dominant story of the last 10 days of the campaign. According to the news aggregation site Memeorandum, which algorithmically tracks which stories are gaining the most traction in the mainstream media, the Comey letter was the lead story on six out of seven mornings from Oct. 29 to Nov. 4, pausing only for a half-day stretch when Mother Jones and Slate published stories alleging ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.


We also have a lot of other evidence of shifting preferences among voters in the waning days of the campaign. Exit polls showed that undecided and late-deciding voters broke toward Trump, especially in the Midwest. A panel survey conducted by FiveThirtyEight contributor Dan Hopkins and other researchers also found shifts between mid-October and the end of the campaign — an effect that would amount to a swing of about 4 percentage points against Clinton.5 And we know that previous email-related stories had caused trouble for Clinton in the polls. In July, when Comey said he wouldn’t recommend charges against Clinton but rebuked her handling of classified information, she lost about 2 percentage points in the polls. Periods of intense coverage of her email server had also been associated with polling declines during the Democratic primary.


So while one can debate the magnitude of the effect, there’s a reasonably clear consensus of the evidence that the Comey letter mattered6 — probably by enough to swing the election. This ought not be one of the more controversial facts about the 2016 campaign; the data is pretty straightforward. Why the media covered the story as it did and how to weigh the Comey letter against the other causes for Clinton’s defeat are the more complicated parts of the story.

As Silver goes on to say, the data is consistent with both a little (1-2 point) and big (3-4) Comey effect, and I agree with him that it’s prudent to assume the low end. But that was enough, so it’s not important. And given both the amount and steepness of the decline, the idea that regression to the mean explains all of it is massively implausible.

But, to me, the real kill shot is the data about the extraordinary amount of negative media coverage — without recent precedent in an election campaign — about Clinton that the letter demonstrably generated. As with arguments that the bully pulpit moves public opinion, it’s not just that the theory is inconsistent with the data, but that the theory is weak even on its face. To believe that the Comey letter didn’t change the outcome you have to believe that:

  • The director of the FBI implied that one candidate was a crook
  • Generating a massive wave of negative media coverage, one that wouldn’t just reach a few high-information voters
  • At a time when an unusually large number of undecided voters who didn’t like either candidate were making up their minds
  • But this had essentially no effect
  • Even though there was a steep decline in her poll numbers in the immediate aftermath of the letter

And remember, the election was decided by less than 100,000 votes, so to conclude that the letter didn’t affect the outcome you essentially have to be saying that the coverage of the letter didn’t matter at all. This is extraordinarily implausible. You’re never going to see stronger evidence for a campaign counterfactual than this.

As we’ll get to in another post, this doesn’t mean that the Comey letter was necessarily the most important factor. It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some choices Clinton could have made that would have overcome it. But it is nearly certain that all things being equal the coverage of the letter put Trump in the White House.

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