Hillary Clinton, email, and media bias

This Yglesias post on the “big” AP story about Hillary Clinton’s email was so good.  I didn’t pay that much attention to this story because the first thing I saw about it was a reference like this:

Ummm, something about that denominator should seem more than a little off for somebody who spent four years serving as secretary of state.  Right there it is telling you that AP is coming into this story with very much of an agenda.  And Yglesias gets into and it’s even worse:

The basic allegation here, that the majority of the people Clinton met with as secretary of state were Clinton Foundation donors, is remarkable. And the implication that the investigation that unearthed this striking fact has also revealed “ethics challenges” is important. The many Americans who already have a negative view of Clinton will see these facts ricocheting through their feeds and appearing on Fox chyrons and will further entrench their negative views.

Only a relatively small handful of people will actually read the story from beginning to end and see that there’s no there there…

the AP’s social media claims are simply false — ignoring well over 1,000 official meetings with foreign leaders and an unknown number of meetings with domestic US officials…

As the AP puts it: “[T]he frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Clinton.”

With that lead-in, one is naturally primed to read some scandalous material — a case of someone with a legitimately crucial need to sit down with the secretary of state whose meeting is held up until he can produce cash, or a person with no business getting face time with the secretary nevertheless receiving privileged access in exchange for money. Instead, the most extensively discussed case the AP could come up with is this:

Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering low-interest “microcredit” for poor business owners, met with Clinton three times and talked with her by phone during a period when Bangladeshi government authorities investigated his oversight of a nonprofit bank and ultimately pressured him to resign from the bank’s board. Throughout the process, he pleaded for help in messages routed to Clinton, and she ordered aides to find ways to assist him.

I have no particular knowledge of Yunus, Grameen Bank, or the general prospects of microcredit as a philanthropic venture. I can tell you, however, that Yunus not only won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize but has also been honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal. In 2008 he was No. 2 on Foreign Policy’s list of the “top 100 global thinkers,” and Ted Turner put him on the board of the UN Foundation. He’s received the World Food Prize, the International Simon Bolivar Prize, and thePrince of Asturias Award for Concord

The State Department doing its job seems to clearly be the story of the time [emphases mine] “Clinton also met in June 2011 with Nancy Mahon of the MAC AIDS, the charitable arm of MAC Cosmetics, which is owned by Estee Lauder.” Was the meeting about Mahon trying to swing a plumb internship for a family member? Nope! As the story concedes, “the meeting occurred before an announcement about a State Department partnership to raise money to finance AIDS education and prevention.”

Meeting with the head of a charity as part of an effort to raise charitable money is just the system working properly. Read the meat of the article, and the most shocking revelation is what’s not in it — a genuinely interesting example of influence peddling…

The State Department is a big operation. So is the Clinton Foundation. The AP put a lot of work into this project. And it couldn’t come up with anything that looks worse than helping a Nobel Prize winner, raising money to finance AIDS education, and doing an introduction for the chair of the Kennedy Center. It’s kind of surprising…

Publication bias is the name of a well-known but hard to solve problem in academic research. A paper with a striking new finding is much more likely to be accepted at a top journal than a paper that says, “I investigated an interesting hypothesis, but it turned out to be wrong.” This means that spurious findings — statistical coincidences and such — make it into the published literature, while boring null results don’t. This gives a distorted picture of reality simply because everyone is trying to be interesting.

Similarly, the AP’s basic reporting project here seems like it was worth a shot and probably also fairly time-consuming. But it did not come up with anything. Clinton tried to help a Nobel Prize winner. She went to the Kennedy Center Honors. She had a meeting with the head of the charitable arm of MAC Cosmetics about a State Department charitable initiative.

There’s just nothing here. That’s the story. Braun and Sullivan looked into it, and as best they can tell, she’s clean.

Unfortunately, there’s a financial incentive to lean in the other direction…

The real news here ought to be just the opposite: Donors to the Clinton Foundation may believe they are buying Hillary Clinton’s political allegiance, but the reality is that they are not. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is someone, somewhere whom Clinton met with whom she wouldn’t have met with had that person not been a Clinton donor of some kind. But what we know is that despite very intensive media scrutiny of the Clinton Foundation, we don’t have hard evidence of any kind of corrupt activity. That’s the story.

Yep, yep, yep.  And for the right-wingers, this will just further confirm that opinion of Clinton as an evil, malicious, liar.  And for the rest of America without a particular axe to grind, they are probably not paying all that much attention, in which case all they get is a further sense– completely false, insofar as this story goes– that Hillary Clinton is unethical and cannot be trusted.

Ticket splitting in 2016

There’s a number of very vulnerable Republican Senators in blue/purple states who are hoping to run well ahead of Donald Trump to keep their seats.  That, of course, requires many voters to split their tickets.  My friends from grad school, David Kimball and Barry Burden literally wrote the book on ticket-splitting, so I’m been wondering their take on the matter.  Well, they were both interviewed for this nice Vox piece on the matter, so…

As the parties have gotten more and more polarized, voters have grown less and less likely to vote for both a Democrat and a Republican in the same trip to the polls. In 2012, after years of continual decline, we hit a low point — fewer than 10 percent of voters cast split ballots in the last election, Kimball says.

“The amount of ticket splitting in 2012 was lower than any previous election to the 1920s,” he says.

That was true for both the House and Senate. In 2012, the same party that won a congressional district at the presidential level also lost its House seat in just 6 percent of 435 races — breaking another record going back to the 1920s, according to Kimball.

Over the past few election cycles, in other words, the fates of a party’s presidential candidates and its congressional candidates have become increasingly inseparable. If that holds true in 2016, and if Trump’s polling numbers continue to sink, House and Senate Republicans look to be in terrible shape this November…

“Republicans will need lots of ticket splitting to hold on to the House and Senate — and right now the polling is showing a surprising amount of it,” says Barry Burden, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin.

Republicans have a ton of vulnerable seats to try to defend in 2016, so they’re likely to lose the Senate even if their congressional candidates do significantly better than Trump. But the extent of Republicans’ Senate losses — and, possibly, their control of the House — may depend on the extent to which candidates like Portman and Ayotte can reverse a decades-long decline in ticket splitting.

“This year, the relationship that’s been developing with greater strength over the past decades is getting a direct challenge,” Jacobson says. “In recent elections, ticket splitting has been going away. But in recent elections, we didn’t have Donald Trump.”

Short version: we’ll see in November.  Slightly longer version: Donald Trump has been blowing up lots of recent historical patterns.  We’ll have to see if ticket splitting is another of these.

 

Hillary Clinton’s “weakness” is what Trump anonymous Trump associates say it is

So, pretty ridiculous article in the Post today about how Trump is going to convince voters he’s not actually racist by hanging out with Ben Carson and actually speaking to Black audiences for the first time.  I’m sure that will carry far more weight than when he refused to disavow the Klan.  Anyway, this part of the article struck me as absolutely horrible journalism:

Trump’s team also hopes to exploit what the campaign’s internal poll of black voters nationally shows to be a potential vulnerability for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton once voters are informed of the crime policy record of former president Bill Clinton, according to two Trump associates.

One, this is simply not credible.  Bernie Sanders tried this.  Hillary crushed Bernie among Black voters.  Not to mention, ummm, Trump is, you know, actually racist.  Secondly, since when does anonymous “associates” of a campaign making an assertion get to be treated at face value like this?  Can Clinton aides simply assert they are “confident of victory because internal polls show at least 51% of Americans detest Trump and will never vote for him”?

That said, the article was pretty clear that his appeal is actually to convince whites he’s not actually racist.  That may work on some Republicans who want to believe it.  But actual non-whites, not influenced by partisanship to want to support Trump, sure as hell know better.

Oh, no, more emails!

So, the lead story in the Times today was about the release of 15,000 or so new emails from Hillary Clinton’s server.  And, surely, the contents of these will rock the political world like that first 30,000 did.  Oh, right, there was literally nothing remotely illegal or surprising in those emails.  And this new batch teaches us that, get ready for it… political players try to use contacts and donations to get their way.  Okay, you can get up off the floor now.   But, the Times case this as a scary, dark shadow looming over Clinton’s remaining campaign.  Oh, please.  Drum:

The way Washington works—in fact, the way everything works—is that people socialize; they develop relationships; and they often try to leverage those relationships to call in favors. We have laws and institutions to try to put boundaries on this kind of thing,
but it’s still ubiquitous. This is just the way homo sapiens is wired.

So now we have some more emails related to Hillary Clinton, and what have we learned? The crown prince of Bahrain wanted to meet with the Secretary of State, and in addition to making a request through normal channels he also talked to someone at the Clinton Foundation, who then called Huma Abedin. The meeting took place, which is entirely unexceptional since meeting with people like this is the Secretary of State’s job. There’s no indication that the extra push by the Foundation had any particular effect.

Another time, someone at the Foundation called Abedin to see if she could expedite a visa. She said this made her nervous, and the Foundation guy backed off…

We might yet find a smoking gun in all these emails. But so far, the trend is clear: lots of people talked to Huma Abedin to try to set up meetings with Hillary Clinton. Generally speaking, Abedin treated them politely but told them to get lost. That’s about it.

If some of these efforts had succeeded, that would hardly be noteworthy. It’s the kind of thing that happens all the time. [emphasis mine]

So, basically, nothing to see here.  Does this mean the press hates Hillary Clinton?  Of course not.  No more than they hate Trump because they went wild over Manafort stepping down on Friday.  There’s plenty of media bias– but it’s toward negativity, conflict, and (even the hint of) personal scandal.  Concern about whether the politician is liberal or conservative is about 28th on the list.

Parenting and risk

This explanation of some new research and interview with the authors is so, so good.  I so love the experiment they did, so I’m going to paste the whole summary:

To get at this question experimentally, Thomas and her collaborators created a series of vignettes in which a parent left a child unattended for some period of time, and participants indicated the risk of harm to the child during that period. For example, in one vignette, a 10-month-old was left alone for 15 minutes, asleep in the car in a cool, underground parking garage. In another vignette, an 8-year-old was left for an hour at a Starbucks, one block away from her parent’s location.

To experimentally manipulate participants’ moral attitude toward the parent, the experimenters varied the reason the child was left unattended across a set of six experiments with over 1,300 online participants. In some cases, the child was left alone unintentionally (for example, in one case, a mother is hit by a car and knocked unconscious after buckling her child into her car seat, thereby leaving the child unattended in the car seat). In other cases, the child was left unattended so the parent could go to work, do some volunteering, relax or meet a lover.

Not surprisingly, the parent’s reason for leaving a child unattended affected participants’ judgments of whether the parent had done something immoral: Ratings were over 3 on a 10-point scale even when the child was left unattended unintentionally, but they skyrocketed to nearly 8 when the parent left to meet a lover. Ratings for the other cases fell in between.

The more surprising result was that perceptions of risk followed precisely the same pattern. Although the details of the cases were otherwise the same — that is, the age of the child, the duration and location of the unattended period, and so on — participants thought children were in significantly greater danger when the parent left to meet a lover than when the child was left alone unintentionally. The ratings for the other cases, once again, fell in between. In other words, participants’ factual judgments of how much danger the child was in while the parent was away varied according to the extent of their moral outrage concerning the parent’s reason for leaving.  [bold is mine; italics in original]

Additional analyses suggested that it was indeed participants’ judgment of the parent’s immorality that drove up their assessments of risk. The authors sum up their findings like this: “People don’t only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous.”

Whoa.  Take a second and think about that.  Also, a great interview with the authors:

Barbara: I guess what I would like people to start thinking about is how this new legal standard of paranoid parenting enshrines a kind of class privilege. Besides the fact that it is irrational, the idea that you must watch your child every single second until they turn 18 is deeply classist. It’s not something you can even aim for unless you have a whole lot of money, and probably not a lot of children. For parents who are working, who have more than one child, who need to get something else done during the day — to say nothing of single parents — that model of parenting is absurd. If you think about Debra Harrell’s situation, she’s raising a child while working a minimum-wage job. Suddenly, we as a society have decided (without any rational basis) that she is negligent for allowing her 9-year-old to play in a public park. This is very, very disturbing to me. It is basically criminalizing poverty and single parenthood.

Kyle: I think these findings have clear policy implications. At the moment, we are simply relying on the intuitions of neighbors, police officers, DAs, judges, etc., to decide what constitutes negligence or endangerment, and we’ve shown that those intuitions are systematically influenced by their moral approval or disapproval of the parent’s conduct. Of course we should not allow parents to leave children in situations that are objectively dangerous, but unless there is clear evidence that something poses a significant risk, it should be parents who decide whether and when their child is mature enough to walk to school, wait in the car, to be home alone, etc. Right now, in many situations, if a social worker or police officer thinks the child is in danger, they can intervene and take the child, arrest the parents, etc. But what our data suggest is that when people think they are judging danger to a child, much of what they are actually doing is imposing a moral judgment on the child’s parents. The relevant “danger” should be legally defined in terms of actual, immediate, demonstrable risk, rather than left up to the unexamined intuitions of bystanders, social workers, police officers or other individuals who may think something must be dangerous when it is actually quite safe. For example, eight times more children are killed in parking lots than in parked cars. But when a parent with a child in tow runs into the grocery store for a few minutes, he or she has to choose between allowing the child to wait in the car, which is safer but might get her arrested or jailed and/or her child taken away — and the more dangerous option of bringing the child with her because this is socially approved.

What do you think developmental psychology can contribute to the debate over free-range parenting?

Ashley: I think that developmental psychologists need to start talking about the costsof never allowing children to take a risk. People seem to make this calculation where they say: “Well, even though the chances of anything bad happening are small, there’s no harm in keeping an eye on the kids.” I think what developmental psychologists can say is: That’s mistaken — there is real harm in keeping an eye on the kids, if you’re keeping an eye on them every minute of every day. You know, psychologists study this thing called “self-efficacy” — it refers to a person’s confidence in their own ability to handle whatever comes up and succeed in a variety of situations, and it’s really important. But if kids are never allowed to take any risks or have any independence at all, they can’t develop self-efficacy. They can’t become adults who are ready to deal with problems and navigate the world.

Great stuff!  And lots more about changing cultural norms, the role of legal liability, etc.  And, okay, one like more clip because I expect I’m going to be using this particular analogy for years to come:

Here’s an analogy: Imagine that parents suddenly have a phobia that their children are going to fall down and hit their heads and die while walking, running, climbing or playing sports. When such an injury or death happens anywhere in the country, it is covered 24/7 by the media; shows such as CSI: Head Injury Unit and Law and Order: Running and Falling Down draw big audiences. Some parents decide that just to be on the safe side, they’re going to require their kid to stay in a wheelchair all the time. Gradually this practice becomes so widespread that it becomes standard, and schools and camps start requiring all children to be in wheelchairs at all times for safety reasons. Eventually, it becomes so unusual to see a child not in a wheelchair that people start calling the police when they see a child walking around, and parents are charged with criminal negligence for allowing their child to take such risks.

Reading this, you’re probably thinking that eliminating the risk of these injuries does not justify the sacrifice of kids’ mobility and independence and healthy development. We understand that kids need to walk and run and climb and jump and play in order to grow up healthy and strong, even though all of those activities involve some physical risk. Developmental psychologists need to do a better job of explaining to policymakers and parents that healthy psychological development, just like healthy physical development, involves some amount of risk.

Now, I don’t expect us to go back to how things were during my childhood when my mom let 4-year old me wander around my neighborhood unattended, but it is clear the pendulum has gone to far and hopefully research like this can help us nudge it back– at least a little bit– in the right direction.

Trumpism

Is there anybody doing a better job providing insights on Trump this year than Josh Marshall?  Ezra has some great columns, but here’s another terrific one from Marshall on the meaning of Trumpism.  Of course, you should read it in its entirety, but this wouldn’t be Fully Myelinated if I didn’t post my favorite parts:

I don’t want to attempt some grand overarching theory of Trumpism. But, broad brush, I continue to believe that it is best understood as a reaction to the erosion of white privilege, supremacy and centrality in American life. [emphases mine]

That brings us to the second key point: Trumpism is about loss. And that loss is real. It’s not just about being haters or uneducated or stupid. The fact that what’s being lost is in most respects something that wasn’t legitimate to have in the first place – status, centrality and racial privilege – should not blind us to the fact that the loss is real and that it will have political consequences. As I mentioned when I wrote up that mortality study last December, I think this demographic and actuarial marker – an almost unprecedented reversal of a particular group’s mortality statistics – is hugely significant to understanding our contemporary politics. It almost unquestionably points to some acute socio-cultural stress. It’s just a matter of discovering what it is.

Consider this chart.

I looked this up when I started looking at the polls showing Hillary Clinton competitive or even in some polls ahead of Donald Trump in Georgia. There’s a powerful story here. If you were a 25 year old white man in Georgia in 1980, you lived in a state that was almost literally black and white. And whites were the overwhelming majority of the population. A mere thirty six years later the picture is dramatically different. According to the 2015 US Census estimate, non-Hispanic whites make up only 53.9% of the population. The African-American population makes a up slightly larger percentage of the population – I assume descendants of the early 20th Great Migrationreturning to the state. The same year Hispanics made up 9.4% of the population, Asian-Americans made up 4% and the remainder is made up of citizens who identified as being of multiple races or ‘other’. If you identify politically and culturally with your whiteness this is a profound and profoundly unsettling change…

But if you look at the language of Trumpism we see repeated references to getting stuff back, reclamation, anger. This is a politics of loss and grievance. The appeal of an extreme dominance politics is particularly to those who feel they’ve lost power and who feel increasingly marginal to the direction of the country as a whole…

You don’t need to hate non-whites to be attached to the dominant position whites have historically had in American life. But if you identify with your whiteness, simple majorities mean security. Losing that dominance, if you don’t feel able or ready or willing to relinquish it almost inevitably generates hatred and a desire for revenge.

What is that quality, that politics? In any other country, we’d easily know what to call it: ethnic nationalism. In this case, white nationalism. For very good reason, those two words are extremely charged in American political and cultural life. They seem synonymous with ‘white supremacist’, with folks like David Duke, neo-nazis and all the other list of horribles. It’s not quite the same thing. But at its heart, simply as a matter of definitional clarity, that’s what Trumpism is: the politics of white nationalism.

Yep.  Though, that does strike me as just too loaded.  I have taken to unashamedly referring to Trump’s “white ethnocentric” appeal in interviews.  But, hey, whatever, you call it, that is clearly what is going on here and it sure is hell not a healthy direction for our country.

And, yes, this post is already long enough, but I may as well put it here instead of quick hits, but there’s also a very good Jamelle Bouie piece about how Trump’s supposed appeal to Black voters is completely part of his appeal to white voters (in this case, college-educated white voters):

But as with his rhetorical moves on immigration, the content of Trump’s message is less important and less interesting than the audience he’s trying to reach. Hint: He’s not trying to win over black voters. If that were true, Trump would have made this pitch at a black church or any other space where black Americans are in wide attendance. And while Trump has an uncanny ability to convince himself of virtually anything, he must know that he stands little chance of winning even a sliver of the black vote, which has turned decisively against his candidacy.

No, the point here—and the overall goal of this latest “pivot”—is to salvage Trump’s standing with college-educated whites, who have turned decisively against the alleged billionaire for his outright bigotry and general buffoonery…

The goal is straightforward: If Trump seems more normal and less erratic, then he could begin to win those white college-educated voters who are critical to victory in states like Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. For Team Trump, it’s a simple equation. If those voters are turned off by his racist rhetoric, then he could address their fears by loudly reaching out to black voters. It’s an old strategy, meant to assure a critical set of Republican-leaning voters that they aren’t backing a bigot.

Conway [Trump’s new campaign manager] herself gave away the game in a Sunday interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “I live in a white community. I’m white. I was very moved by his comment,”

And Bouie’s conclusion is spot-on:

Yes, Trump is aiming some rhetoric at the center of American politics. Yes, he’s doing “outreach.” But don’t mistake this for some kind of “pivot.” There is no pivot. Trump has one move for this election, and he is going to keep playing it and playing it until he loses.

As for that “move,” well let’s just say it’s not about economic anxiety.

Photo of the day

So many incredible images in this Reuters gallery of best of Rio.  Something about this one particularly appealed to me.

Jennifer Oeser of Germany watches as athletes compete in 10,000m final. REUTERS/David Gray

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