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supreme court game theory

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Right now, Senate Democrats have a choice, they can vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch or reject. This choice is complex:

  • How desirable is this individual nominee?
  • How desirable is it to filibuster this individual nominee, even if he is desirable?
  • How desirable is it to punish Republicans for not holding a vote on Merrick Garland?

I think these issues are subtle and interdependent. For example, it is unclear whether Trump would nominate another Scalia type jurist, who is very conservative but does show some degree of independence. Thus, this may be “as good as it gets.”

However, voting in favor of Gorsuch, or simply not filibustering, raises a number of issues for Democrats. First, it essentially confirms a new norm in the Senate. If the President and Senate are from different parties, the Senate can deny the President the power to appoint any Supreme Court justices. This is a real shift. Technically, the power granted by the Constitution is “advise and consent,” not complete denial. Second, allowing the Gorsuch nomination to proceed without a major fight will probably inflame the base. The Democratic base could reasonably ask why Republicans are happy to filibuster and Democrats not so much.

My prediction is that Senate Democrats will allow Gorsuch to be nominated without much fuss because Democratic primary voters won’t punish them. The Democratic base seems to be very ineffective when it comes to punishing deviant behavior. Thus, the marginal Senate Democrat will probably focus more on general election voters in swing states.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 13, 2017 at 12:01 am

conspiracy theory, donald trump, and birtherism: a new article by joe digrazia

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Joe DiGrazia, a recent IU PhD and post-doc at Dartmouth, has a really great article in Socious, the ASA’s new online open access journal. The article, The Social Determinants of Conspiratorial Ideation, investigates the rise in conspiratorial thinking on the Internet. He looks at state level Google searches for Obama birtherism and then compares to non political types of conspiracy theory, like Illuminati.

The findings? Not surprisingly, people search for conspiracy related terms in places with a great deal of social change, such as unemployment, changes in government, and demographic shift. This is especially important research given that Donald Trump first rose to political prominence as a birther. This research is indispensable for anyone trying to understand the forces that are shaping American politics today.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

February 8, 2017 at 12:22 am

the muslim registry is next, so it is time to prepare

Scatter Plot also has a post about political activism and the anti-refugee ban

Only seven days into his presidency, Donald Trump has issued cruel executive orders aimed at immigrants and refugees. One recent executive order banned the re-entry of any individual who was a citizen of Iran, Yemen, Syria and other countries. The order was especially cruel in that it applies to travelers who had already secured visas, green cards, and other paper work. Observers noted that the order applied to newborn infants, the elderly, and the disabled, none of whom present risk.

In response, lawsuits were filed and protests erupted. Thankfully, at least two federal court judges believed that the executive order was likely invalid and ordered a stay. However, this is a short term victory. It will not be hard for the Trump administration to rewrite executive orders and propose legislation that comply with American law. This is because courts time and time again have agreed that people do not have the freedom of movement.

As time passes, the Trump White House will learn how to write policy in ways that pass judicial review and that are approved by Congress. This is deeply problematic on two levels. First, restrictions on migrations are irrational and cruel, no matter who is president. But also, the successful imposition of anti-immigration policy will embolden the White House to follow through on one of Trump’s most repulsive proposals, a religious registry.

What do to? I think the strategy is obvious. Simply, resist these anti-immigration proposals now so that future proposals are harder pass. How? There are simple ways: simply say to your friends and family that immigration is ok; call your local representatives; donate to groups that litigate on behalf of immigrants; and, for the brave, their will be plenty of chances of non-violent civil disobedience.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

January 30, 2017 at 12:16 am

let’s panic thoughtfully

Since we’re both here, my social media bubble probably looks a lot like your social media bubble. And in my social media bubble, people are freaking out about the Trump presidency. There are false voter fraud claims, ugly attacks on the media, chilling of speech at government agencies, and a whole host of policy actions many find disastrous. I am also disturbed and fear that the U.S. is making an irreversible turn toward authoritarianism.

At the same time, I’m disheartened by how quickly academics and others who should know better unreflectively buy into the latest outrage on social media. This has negative consequences independent of Trump’s actions. Catastrophizing the bits that aren’t catastrophic undermines our authority to speak up about the things that actually are. And further politicization of the media and, now, the federal bureaucracy will continue to erode the very things that protect us from Trump’s worst.

I do not mean to create a false equivalence here. What Trump has the power to do vastly outweighs the chattering of academics or journalists on Twitter or Facebook. But I have no direct influence over Trump’s administration. I can, however, exhort my academic colleagues to do better.

In that spirit, here’s two things to consider before you decide to share the latest outrage.

1) Is this an important bill? Or just another bill?

In the 114th Congress, more than 12,000 bills were introduced. You know how many became law? 329. 86% never even make it out of committee. There are a bunch of extremists in Congress. Some of them introduce the same bills over and over that are never going to see the light of day. This has been going on for decades.

A few days ago, an Alabama Republican introduced a bill that would pull the U.S. out of the United Nations. Twitter went nuts, quoting the bill with captions like “WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. HELL.” It spread like crazy.

Problem is, this is nothing new. This representative has been introducing this bill into each Congress for the last two decades. It has nothing to do with Trump, nor are there any indications it was treated differently this time. There are lots of things to get worked up about. This bill is not one.

2) Is this politics as usual? Or something truly new and dangerous?

There has also been a lot of freaking out in the last couple of days about the silencing of federal agencies. EPA, NIH, and USDA have all had reports about communications restrictions, including cancellation of a planned climate change conference and a halt on all “public-facing documents” at USDA.

A lot of Trump’s political agenda will play out—or not—through the executive agencies. It is very likely that his appointees will attempt to undercut what many see as their basic missions. By all means, oppose this with great intensity.

But when administrations change, they are going to point agencies in new political directions. I don’t have firsthand experience working in federal agencies. But I have spent a lot of time reading documents from just these types of agencies in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Putting a pause on public communication during a transition doesn’t seem that radical to me.

I keep looking for a quote from an actual agency employee that says, “This is wildly different from what happened when George W. Bush took office.” The closest I can find is ProPublica saying an EPA employee “had never seen anything like it in nearly a decade with the agency.” But that only covers the Obama transition, which aligned with the mission of the EPA. It’s not clear that this is not politics-as-usual. Could it transition into something new and dangerous? Absolutely. But that ship has not yet sailed.

Why commitment to critical thinking matters in the face of a Trump administration

I can already hear people yelling that I’m not taking Trump seriously enough. “This isn’t ordinary times! This is an emergency. Real lives are at stake!”

But it’s precisely because I don’t think this is ordinary times—because I think we’re in a uniquely dangerous moment—that it is especially important that we retain the ability to think clearly, for two big reasons.

First, treating every single action of the administration as dangerous and disastrous, without any larger context, further politicizes our fragile institutions. It may be too late for the media. But it is not good for democracy if our bureaucracies go rogue.

People are delighted that the Badlands National Park gave the administration a big old middle finger yesterday with its climate change tweets. But to the extent that federal government functions at all, it functions because of all the unelected, unappointed people who do their jobs, regardless of administration. If ordinary government employees become seen as actively in the bag for the left, we are one step closer to having our government stop functioning entirely.

Is there a time to say “no”, and openly rebel or quit? Absolutely. And if you haven’t already, you should probably write down your own personal lines in the sand, before our sense of “normal” further erodes. If you’re at the EPA, maybe it’s active suppression of climate change evidence. If you’re at NSF, maybe it’s meddling with individual grants. Maybe your lines have already been crossed.

But if they haven’t, as a civil servant you serve democracy better by doing your job—even if that’s carrying out decisions made by someone you hate—than by throwing shade from a government Twitter account.

Second, assuming everything is catastrophic limits our ability to focus on the real catastrophes. The single most dangerous thing Trump has done in the last few days (and I know, it’s been a busy few days) is double down on his claims about massive voter fraud. Because if people don’t believe that our elections are basically honest and agree to respect the results of those elections, our democracy is truly toast.

The good news is that, according to the Washington Post, “Trump has virtually no elected allies in this assault on the election system.” Not even Sean Spicer will say Trump’s claims are actually true.

If we cry wolf about every change that is not in fact catastrophe—if we suddenly scream “fascism” about changes that are part of the normal workings of democracy, we undermine our ability to fight the things that matter most.

And if we don’t have a democratic government, all this other stuff we care so much about—healthcare, immigration policy, racial justice, science, foreign policy, whatever your personal biggest concerns are—will be irrelevant. A fully authoritarian government can do what ever it wants, and we’ll have no say. Defending democracy has to be priority #1. And defending democracy means commitment to reason.

Written by epopp

January 25, 2017 at 5:10 pm

the polls did better than you expected in the 2016 election, but not state polls, they sucked

Remember when everybody said that the polls completely got the 2016 presidential election wrong? Now we have final numbers on the popular vote count, and guess what? The national polls were on target:

However, the state polls sucked. Not too hard, but they did suck a little bit, except Wisconsin and Minnesota, which totally sucked:

This is consistent with conventional wisdom about state polls, which is that they are less reliable because it is hard to pinpoint people in states, hard to identify likely voters, and have smaller electorates that can fluctuate (e.g., voter registration laws or bad weather).

Still, in retrospect, looking at state polls did suggest that a popular vote/electoral vote split was possible. A Trump victory was within the margin of error of the polling average in a number of states such as New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. This observation about state polls is also consistent with the finding that the HRC lead was due to urban centers.

Bottom line: The conventional social science about polls held up. National polls do decently, states polls a bit worse and in some cases badly. However, they was plenty of evidence that Trump might get an electoral college victory, but you had to really read the state polls carefully.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 16, 2017 at 12:11 am

the core ideology of the gop: a response to seth masket

Over at Pacific Standard, Seth Masket expresses surprise at the fact that many in the Republican party have abandoned traditional GOP policy goals and ideological beliefs:

Most recently, this has been apparent in Trump’s responses to reports by American intelligence agencies that Russia and WikiLeaks hacked Democratic National Committee servers and worked to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign… Most recently, this has been apparent in Trump’s responses to reports by American intelligence agencies that Russia and WikiLeaks hacked Democratic National Committee servers and worked to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

And it doesn’t stop with the GOP’s new Russophilia:

Another core tenet of modern Republicanism, of course, is free-market capitalism. The best economic system, the party maintains, is one in which businesses can operate with minimal regulation and thus produce wealth and innovation that benefit everyone. Trump’s approach has literally been the opposite of that. To use the tax code and other tools to selectively bully and punish companies that exhibit undesirable but legal behavior, such as building plants in other countries, is many things, but it’s not free-market capitalism. But many Republican leaders have nonetheless enthusiastically backed Trump’s approach.

I have a different view. My opinion is that GOP talking points are cheap talk and did not express true ideological commitment. For example, Republicans talk free trade, but they feel free to restrict labor through migration restrictions, they were always willing to give breaks to specific firms, and hand out subsidies to specific groups (remember the faith based initiatives?). A strict libertarian approach to trade in the GOP has really been a minority view. In other words, “free trade” is fun to say but in practice, they don’t follow it. It’s yet another example of “libertarian chic” among conservatives.

So what’s my theory? Like all parties, the GOP is a pragmatic coalition. Ideology is secondary in most cases. It’s about getting a sufficiently large block of people together so you can win elections. If you believe this theory of political parties, ideology is really not that important and, in most cases, it can be dropped at any time. In American history, for example, the Democrats and Republican parties switched positions on Black rights as part of an attempt to win the South.

This theory – that ideology is only as good as its ability to maintain a coalition – best explains the GOP policy points that Trump has rigidly stuck to: anti-immigration and abortion. And it makes sense, the two most steadfast groups in the GOP are social conservatives/evangelicals and working class whites in the South and Midwest. These groups don’t care much about foreign relations or free trade. What Trump has shown is that populism will melt away every thing except your most cherished beliefs.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 11, 2017 at 12:13 am

thinking carefully about the dangers of a trump administration

There have been a few responses to Donald Trump’s surprise victory last month. On the left, many immediately jump to the conclusion that he’s a new sort of Hitler.  On the right, there’s been a sort of sigh of relief. The dreaded Clinton machine is now banished. I am not happy with Trump, but on the other hand I was not happy with Obama either.

For example, on a lot of issues, Trump will simply continue the policies of Obama, and Bush, that I thought were bad. The main example is immigration. Obama has now deported more people than any other president. Another example is war and conflict. The Obama administration has been involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Even though Trump said that Iraq was a mistake, he’s appointing a lot of hawks. I expect Trump and Obama to have similar policies.

At the same time, I do not pretend that Trump and Obama are identical or that Trump is a typical Republican. Trump acts like an authoritarian. He demonizes out groups, he threatens harm, and openly flouts norms concerning conflicts of interest. My sense is that a Trump administration will combine two things: Latin American style populism and 1910/1920s style social relations. The first claim is straight forward: the Tea Party, and Trump, are populists and admittedly so.

The second claim needs more explanation. In the 1910s and 1920s, you had a period when race relations were horrible. I am not claiming that the US will bring back massive racial violence, but Trump’s win makes it possible for various branches of the state, such as local police or the federal immigration bureaucracy or the NSA, to become harsher and to focus on certain groups with more intensity. My conjecture is that Trump will be similar to Woodrow Wilson, who used the Federal Government to harass opponents and enforce sergegation.

Trump will not resegregate America. But he will make it even easier for various groups to “tighten the screws” in their domain. This might happen by stopping all immigration from majority Islamic nations, or by having the FBI suspend all enforcement of civil rights in police abuse cases, or by making it a little easier to put immigrants in prisons.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 14, 2016 at 12:55 am