Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Results of Massachusetts special election primary

Well I was pretty close for my prediction of the Democratic party primary. Ed Markey won with 57% of the vote and Stephen Lynch received 43%, compared to my prediction of 55-45.

Gabriel Gomez won the Republican primary with 51% of the vote. Mike Sullivan got 36% of the vote and Dan Winslow got 13%. My guess based on the limited polling we had was Gomez at 45%, Sullivan 40%, and Winslow at 15%. I thought Sullivan would do a bit better but I underestimated Gomez's appeal.

I think Markey wins fairly handily in June based on the polls it should be by about the same margin he won the primary by.

Mile High Polls

Public Policy Polling did a poll in Colorado. Let's take a look at what we can learn.


Colorado is going to be a busy place for 2014 elections. They have a Senate election and a gubernatorial election. The incumbent Senator is Mark Udall (favorability is 50/33). Udall is running against a potentially weak Republican bench. Public Policy Polling did its usual hypothetical matchups with Udall against various Republican candidates. Udall leads in all of them and is at 50% or higher in most of them. I'll highlight the three where he is not at 50%. The closest challenger to him is former Congressman Bob Beauprez (15/34). Udall leads Beauprez 48-41. This doesn't look all too promising for Udall. Look at those favorability numbers and especially the disparity, somehow Beauprez is keeping it somewhat close. Senator Udall has more breathing room against Congressman Cory Gardner (18/29). Senator Udall leads 49-39. Former Lieutenant Governor and failed Senate Republican Jane Norton (20/32). Norton trails Udall by 11 points (49-38). While Senator Udall currently has a fairly commanding lead in the head to head matchups, I would hesitate to call him a heavy favorite for re-election. The favorability numbers for the other candidates are very low and quite volatile with a plurality of voters not sure how they feel about each of these candidates. If the right candidate gets nominated, Udall could be in some trouble. But I think Udall is the favorite for now because of the lead he is holding now.

Governor John Hickenlooper (53/44) is also up for re-election in 2014. Public Policy Polling notes in their blog that his unfavorability numbers have spiked recently, going from 26 in November to 44 now. Despite this, Governor Hickenlooper hits the 50% mark in all but two of his match-ups. In the matchup against State Treasurer Walker Stapleton (10/24), Hickenlooper leads 49-38. Governor Hickenlooper has a similar lead against Attorney General John Suthers (15/21) at 49-39. While Hickenlooper has a commanding lead right now, the fact that his unfavorability numbers are spiking doesn't look too good for him. With an unpopular and largely unknown people facing a well-known politician like Hickenlooper, you would want to see slightly higher numbers in the match-ups. Governor Hickenlooper is probably fine as long as his favorability numbers stay above 50%. I think that Governor Hickenlooper ultimately wins re-election but the right candidate and the right approach could upset the incumbent. A situation worth monitoring but Hickenlooper is still the favorite at this point.

Also on the ballot will be a choice for the Secretary of State, where Republican incumbent Scott Gessler leads a hypothetical matchup against Democrat Ken Gordon 42-38 with 19% not sure. That could be an interesting race. Sadly, I don't think many people even care about it, though.


Senator Michael Bennet who got elected in 2010 is up for re-election in 2016. It could be another close race for the Senator as his favorability is 34/35 with 31% not sure.

Colorado is going to be a swing state in 2016. Even with the immense national popularity of Hillary Clinton, she only leads potential Republicans Rand Paul (48-45) and Marco Rubio (48-44) by slim margins. 65% of Coloradians do not think Governor John Hickenlooper should run for President in 2016. Public Policy Polling likes to do this with popular statewide politicians. Potentially, though, they could find someone who wasn't on anyone's radar, as the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee is fairly wide open.


Colorado has tried to pass several gun control laws after the Sandy Hook shooting and the Aurora massacre. Some indicate that this is why Hickenlooper is losing popularity in Colorado. 49% of Coloradoites support banning assault weapons while 45% oppose it. You find basically the same when the question was asked if they would support/oppose passing stricter gun laws (49/44). There is a tiniest of percentages that seem to indicate that there are other gun control laws that they might support. This might include background checks or what have you. There's boring cross tabs on this one. Sorry. As you expect Democrats overwhelmingly support an assault weapons ban and stricter gun laws while Republicans oppose them by the same numbers, basically. Independents somewhat oppose the assault weapons ban (51%) and oppose stricter gun laws (49%).

In 1992, Colorado passed Amendment 2 which prohibited laws from protecting gays from discrimination. The Supreme Court overruled this Amendment in 1996 with Anthony Kennedy writing the majority opinion. This year, Colorado approved civil unions for same sex couples. 50% of Coloradians support the bill with 38% opposing it. 45% of people in Colorado say that gay couples should be allowed to marry, 31% say gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not marry, 23% say there should be no legal recognition of gay couples relationships. 51% think that same sex marriage should be allowed while 43% say it should not. Public Policy Polling has found that people who say not sure or don't answer this question overwhelmingly oppose it. So the split isn't too large, but that 51% is important. So, there's that.

Since everyone is obsessed with how Hispanics will vote in the future, let's look at what they think in Colorado. 52% of Hispanics support an assault weapons ban. 59% of Hispanics support stricter gun laws passed by Congress. 58% of Hispanics support the Civil Unions bill. 68% of Hispanics support same sex marriage. When broken down even further, 49% of Hispanics say gay couples should be allowed to marry and 32% of Hispanics say they should be allowed to form civil unions but not allowed to marry and only 19% say there should be no legal recognition of a gay couples relationship.  I think it's a faulty heuristic that immigration reform is going to get the Hispanic vote for Republicans.  There are bigger issues.
Note: I hate titling pieces

Monday, April 29, 2013

Prediction for the primary tomorrow

This is my guess as to about how it will turn out tomorrow in Massachusetts.
% of vote
Stephen Lynch
Ed Markey

% of vote
Gabriel Gomez
Mike Sullivan
Dan Winslow

It definitely will not come out that evenly.  I simplified my guess to make the numbers round and thus more memorable.  This will bite me in the ass if I am horribly wrong.
On the Democratic side, I expect Ed Markey to beat Stephen Lynch by anywhere from 10-15 points.  Lynch's best shot of making it closer is to really "get out the vote" in working class neighborhoods and areas.  As it stands, Markey should be considered the heavy favorite.  That being said, candidates who have to rely on a get out the vote campaign do better in primaries/special elections because it is a lower overall turnout.  This could shorten the lead from Markey, but I don't expect it to be so much that Lynch wins.
As for the Republicans, there have only been two polls out there that looked at the Republican primary.  The latest poll has Gomez up 33-27 over Mike Sullivan, with Dan Winslow receiving 8% of the votes.  That means about 40% of the primary electorate had not decided who to vote for yet.  Gomez had been doing better as we got closer to the election and I expect it to carry over to the primary.  I would not be that surprised if Sullivan ends up winning the nomination.  In my effort to round the numbers, I may have exaggerated the lead.  I think it is likely that Gomez wins the nomination because of his more impressive favorability numbers (relative to Sullivan and Winslow) and seems to be gaining steam as we approach the primary.
I'll update with a new post tomorrow as we get results from the election.

Replacing John Kerry

There is a special election primary in Massachusetts tomorrow to fill  John Kerry’s Senate seat.  I’ve focused most of my attention of special elections on South Carolina’s first Congressional District but maybe we should talk about this special election primary, too.  The primary is for both the Democratic and Republican party.  Being that this is Massachusetts and there’s not a real strong Republican bench behind Scott Brown, the winner of the Democratic Party primary will most likely be the next Senator from Massachusetts.  Of course, they’ll have to run again in 2014, if they want to keep the seat, but oh well.
The two vying for the Democratic nomination are both current members of the House of Representatives.  They are Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch.  Markey is one of the most liberal members of the House and Lynch is the opposite, being a Conservative Democrat who is pro-life.  Markey is currently leading, according to polls, RealClearPolitics averages the lead to about 17 points.  There was a leak from the Lynch campaign that showed that he was trailing Markey by only 6 points.  That’s probably not a good sign. 
Meanwhile on the Republican side, there are three people trying to win the Republican nomination.  They are businessman Gabriel Gomez, former U.S. Attorney Mike Sullivan, and state Representative Dan Winslow.  Gomez looks to be the favorite for the nomination as he is a moderate Republican and the story surrounding him is quite perfect.  Additionally, as a political outsider, he will generate more appeal.  Gomez leads by about 6 points, according to RealClearPolitics.
In a head to head match-up pitting Markey against Gomez, Markey is currently leading by about 18 points.  This is consistent with how well Markey is doing against all of the various Republican candidates.   

New Hampshire polls

I'm behind on a lot of polls. I'm hoping to correct that, this week. The most recent poll that Public Policy Polling has done is in New Hampshire. So, let's start there.


There is a gubernatorial election in 2014. According to this poll, first term Democratic governor Maggie Hassan looks like an early favorite for re-election if she decides to run. Hassan's favorability is 50/31. She leads the potential Republican challengers by 14-20 points. It's not really that exciting. The closest challenger to her is former Congressman Jeb Bradley, she leads Jeb 52-38, though. The only thing that potentially would stop Hassan from winning re-election at this point is her decision not to run.


Senator Kelly Ayotte has been mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2016. She was also mentioned as a potential vice-president nominee for Mitt Romney. Ayotte is a Tea Party favorite who won her Senate seat in 2010 during the wave of the Tea Party during the mid-term election. Her favorability has fallen in recent months, it now stands at 44/46. In a hypothetical match-up of a 2016 ballot between Ayotte and Governor Hassan, Ayotte trails ever so slightly 46-44 with 10% unsure.

The reason for this drop is, most likely, explained in this poll, too. 75% of New Hampshirians support requiring background checks on individuals who purchase guns at gun shows. When asked how Senator Ayotte's vote against the Manchin-Toomey amendment, affected their potential votes for Ayotte, 23% said they were more likely to vote for Ayotte than before, while 50% said they were less likely to vote for, and 25% said that it would make no difference. 39% of Republicans said they were more likely to vote for her, while 41% said it doesn't make a difference. With Democrats, 10% said they were more likely to vote for her now, compared to 79% who said it was less likely. With the important Independent voters, 23% said that they were more likely to vote for her because of the vote on Manchin-Toomey, 50% said they were less likely to vote for her. While 2016 is a few years away, this is certainly a situation worth monitoring.

2016 Presidential Election

Hillary Clinton is the heavy favorite in New Hampshire to be the Democratic nominee in the 2016 presidential election. 68% of Democratic primary voters selected Hillary Clinton as the nominee in a nine-way choice. If Clinton decided not to run, the next choice would be Joe Biden. When asked who would you like to see as the Democratic Presidential nominee if Clinton did not run, 44% of Democratic primary voters selected Biden. If Clinton and Biden both decided not to run, Democratic primary voters are not sold on any candidate, really. 30% selected an option of not sure/someone else. But the names to monitor if New Hampshire is any indication is Andrew Cuomo (23%), Elizabeth Warren (22%), and Deval Patrick (17%). Cuomo and Patrick are doing better with the moderate to conservative part of the Democratic primary voters while Warren appeals to the more liberal members.

Meanwhile with Republican primary voters, Rand Paul (28%) and Marco Rubio (25%) are the two favorites to run for president in 2016, with Chris Christie (14%) a distant third. No other candidate garners more than 7% of the votes by Republican primary voters. Public Policy Polling notes in their blog that Christie has actually fallen in New Hampshire while Paul and Rubio have gained steam. Not surprisingly among those who vote in the Republican primary who classify themselves as Independent/Other, Paul is the favorite. Both ends of the spectrum, both very liberal (65%) and very conservative (35%) Republican primary voters favor Paul. Rubio stands his ground with very conservative (30%) but the somewhat conservatives (31%) is what is driving his popularity. Christie (32%) gets a plurality of the moderate Republican primary voters, which doesn't bode well for Christie's primary chances.

But Hillary Clinton is so popular in New Hampshire, that it likely doesn't matter who the Republican nominee is. Clinton leads Paul 52-41 and Rubio 52-38.


In 2009, New Hampshire signed a bill that legalized same sex marriage in the state. There has been some talk about repealing said law. It doesn't look, at least according to this bill, that it's going to happen. 56% of New Hampshirians think that same sex marriage should be allowed compared to 34% who say it should not be allowed. 17% of New Hampshirians have said that the legalization of same sex marriage has made a positive impact on their life while 16% have said that it has impacted their life negatively. 67% of people say that it has not impacted them, at all.

Crosstab fun

Since there isn't any racial demographics, really, in New Hampshire or much fun with the cross tabs of the poll. I'll look at one more thing from the poll.  Sometimes political pundits will talk about how a female candidate appeals to women voters.  So, in New Hampshire Barack Obama has a favorability of 61/38.  Democratic governor Maggie Hassan has a 57/23 favorability among women.  Senator Kelly Ayotte has a 38/50 favorability among women in New Hampshire.  How do Republican males do?  Well, Jeb Bradley has a 22/40 favorability, Ted Gastas (10/28), Frank Guinta (27/49), Kevin Smith (10/22), and Chris Sununu (31/45) all have negative net favorability, most higher than Ayotte although Smith and Sununu are essentially the same.  What does this mean?  Probably nothing other than New Hampshire women tend to be more liberal.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Will Mark Sanford trespass into Congress?

Public Policy Polling did another poll on South Carolina's 1st Congressional District's special election.  Sanford who had previously been the governor of South Carolina before famously "hike the Appalachian Trail", was charged by his ex-wife with trespassing on her property during the Super Bowl.  Sanford took a full page ad in the Charleston's Post & Courier trying to rebut the charges.  He blamed politics in his advertisment questioning why his supposedly sealed court documents came out two weeks before the special election.  After the allegations became public, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced it would not be supporting Sanford's campaign.  Sanford's favorability in the district has fallen to 38/56.  51% of voters say that the trespassing charges gave them doubts about his fitness for a political office.  Not surprisingly, Sanford's rebuttal came off very well with Republicans.  Blaming politics and the liberal media (well, sort of) is very popular.  65% of Republicans say that the trespassing charges give them NO doubt about his fitness in political office.  Even further, Public Policy Polling found that Sanford's favorability among Republicans has improved over the last month from 55/39 to 61/31, now.  Sanford's ex-wife, Jenny, who was once more popular than Sanford for this Congressional election and still is if looking at favorability numbers, has seen her favorability among Republicans decline since the allegations of trespassing have become public.  Last month, her favorability among Republicans was 57/15 and now it is 47/27.  This suggests that Republicans place blame of the trespassing incident on Jenny rather than Mark.  Obviously, there can be other factors involved with her decrease in favorability but Occam's razor would suggest the concept of "blaming the victim." I could write a whole essay on blaming the victim but I wanted to look at the Congressional race.

Sanford is running against Stephen Colbert's sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch.  That's actually her full name, Stephen Colbert's sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch.  That's how I always see it written or talked about, at least.  Colbert Busch is leading Sanford 50/41 with Green Party candidate Eugene Platt at 3%.  Colbert Busch has strong favorability numbers at 56/31.  This, coupled with her stong head to head numbers suggest she is a strong candidate.  With all the negative news headed in Sanford's direction right now, I feel fairly confident in saying Colbert Busch will win this special election.  It probably won't be as wide as this poll suggests but it should be a victory for the Democrats by a comfortable margin.

Bonus: There might be some backlash towards Republicans because of the background check law vote last week.  86% of voters support background checks while 12% oppose them.  45% of voters said that the GOP's opposition to background checks makes it less likely they'll support the GOP in the next election compared to 21% of voters who said it was a positive thing.  Barack Obama's favorability numbers in the district are only 41/51.  This might suggest trouble in the future for the GOP because of the background checks vote, despite what Nate Silver suggests. I'm not prepared to disagree with Nate Silver, yet.  But as more data comes in, maybe I can challenge his thesis from a recent piece.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Paul Ryan: The Republican nominee for 2016?

After the 2012 election happened and it finally dawned on most Republicans that Barack Obama would win re-election, two things happened, first it was fun to say that Barack Obama won with the help of voter fraud and second it was fun to say that Paul Ryan would run for the presidency in 2016. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Taking STOCK of some changes

In case you were unaware, there was a big outcry of protest when part of the STOCK Act was changed/repealed.  The law that's being changed required federal officials to fill out financial disclosure forms online.  The president, vice president, members of Congress, Cabinet officers, other officials appointed by the President and candidates for president and Congress.   Who is even affected by this?

Well, by and large those people are going to be staffers for Congress.  The public records for congressional staffers is located in Washington, D.C., National Public Radio reports. You can search the database after typing in your name and address; you can search only by the name of the staffer.  If he or she has filed out a financial disclosure form, it will appear as a PDF which you can print for 10 cents a page.  The original STOCK Act was hoping to make it easier to search the database, basically.  By requiring the forms to be put online, people could search for everything online and it would make for a more transparent government.

The White House and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor are actually in somewhat agreement of this issue.  This should strike you as odd.  Press Secretary for the White House Jay Carney mentioned that they were following the advice of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) and the Office of Government Ethics.  NAPA warned that there might be breaches of security, national and international, as well as personal security.  There were concerns about law enforcement issues, too. 

The STOCK Act when it was originally signed into law had a lot of fanfare and showed up in the media quite often.  60 Minutes did a special on it, as did the Daily Show.  But when part of it was repealed, it was quickly and quietly handled.  But the larger parts of the bill remain in place, insider trading is still illegal for members of Congress and executive branch members.  The new version definitely hurts chances of a more transparent government.

This is still a problem.  Like most things in politics, if you already have a certain worldview, the repeal or change of the law is going to reinforce your initial worldview.  If you believe that government is corrupt, then this law is just more proof of such an idea.  If you believed that the government and government officials are, essentially, people prone to mistakes and lapses of judgment among other things, this proves it. 

The most amazing part of this is how quickly both sides of the aisle embraced a study.  Obviously, Congress can get stuff done when they want to.  Let's make them focus on real issues that affect all of us instead of the ones that only affect government workers.

Note: The STOCK Act was not perfect and probably has not resulted in the curbing of insider trading.  There are enough loopholes to make yourself dizzy.  For instance, members of Congress are prohibited from using information related to pending legislation to influence their stock trades.  Inside information gleaned from a regulatory hearing, for instance, would not be covered in the law.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rue the day

President Barack Obama chastised the Senate today after failing to go forward with the bipartisan background check amendment offered by Joe Manchin (D) and Pat Toomey (R).  He said that overall it was a pretty shameful day in the Senate.

First, what did the law have in it?  This is a pretty decent summary of the positives of the bill. Basically, it requires criminal background checks for commercial sales conducted at gun shows or over the internet.  It does not require background checks for private sales, say from a neighbor to a neighbor, or a father to a son.  It does not create a gun registry.  It relies on the same recordkeeping that is already used by 59,000 licensed gun dealers around the country.  If you misuse the paper receipts or illegally hold on to the receipts, you might receive a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in jail. Most things that are endorsed by the gun lobby.  In fact, one prominent gun rights lobbying group supported the bill before retracting that support today.   They cited the advancements in the bill for gun rights, "interstate sales of handguns, veteran gun rights restoration, travel with firearms protection, civil and criminal immunity lawsuit protection, and most important of all, the guarantee that people, including federal officers, will go to federal prison for up to 15 years if they attempt to use any gun sales records to set up a gun registry.”  Oh well.

If gun control activists are serious about dethroning the gun rights lobby on capitol hill, they'll definitely have to spend more money on the elections in 2014.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already started funneling money into elections that he feels are important.  I expect that trend to continue in 2014.  Possibly to great success.

If you are in favor of common sense gun control, you might be encouraged by some other news.  Only 24% of voters are more likely to vote for an NRA endorsed candidate in an election while 39% are less likely to vote for an NRA endorsed candidate.  Or you might be encouraged from this news from Project New America:

David Winkler, PNA’s Research Director, said: “Looking to 2014 and beyond, the GOP leadership should note that key voters they need to win strongly support [stronger background checks] – especially women, independents and even gun owners.”

“There is no grey area here. Voters in these states overwhelmingly support strengthening background checks at gun shows and want their senators to vote to expand them. Regardless of party, or whether they own a gun or not, these voters support expanding background checks,” said pollster John Anzalone. 

Among the Senate seats up for grabs in 2014, voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports background checks at gun shows.  These states are Arkansas, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Ohio.

An influx of cash and the already strong support of the voters there will make it more likely for stronger background checks to pass in 2014 and beyond.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Conspiring against you: Sandy Hook and the attributes of a conspiracy theory

So people really bought into this Sandy Hook conspiracy, didn't they?  They like to say things like Barack Obama staged this as a false flag operation to take away our guns.  There are obviously a lot of things wrong with this.

I don't want to repeat the fine work from The Blaze debunking most of these things.  They do a nice job of talking about the major points of the conspiracy theory video that went viral and to a certain extent, affected people who never saw the video.  The most obvious debunking of them all is when people claim the AR-15 was not used in the attack.  A lot of the people who claim this don't buy into the whole conspiracy theory just which guns were used. The Connecticut State Police Department realized this and posted this release. But I guess if you decide that you can't trust the government, you could decide for yourself based on the fact that a fucking shotgun gets pulled out of the trunk. I don't understand how people who say they're so nuts about guns don't realize what type of gun is being pulled out of a trunk.  Oh well. Not my problem.

So, which of the attributes of a conspiracy theory does this one have?  Obviously, historical precedent. Try to suffer through and read through a comments section after you google "debunking Sandy Hook conspiracy theory."  If a commenter doesn't try to mention how tragedies were all staged by the government, how Obama faked/forged his birth certificate, how the media is so terrible that they're covering things up, how the government is complicit in these type of attacks, etc. then they're not doing their job as commenters.  But Sandy Hook looks tame in comparison to 9/11. You know?

Skeptics and sheeple, another obvious one.  Questioning the official story makes you an enlightened individual but accepting what the media says, you're a sheep.   Just asking questions, the people who made the conspiracy theory video claim that they're just asking questions that people want to know.  The comments sections get ridiculous.  They ask things like why aren't we questioning the story when Sandy Hook was mentioned in Batman? Or where are the wounded children, I'm not saying I believe in the conspiracy theory, but where are they?!?!  Convenientinconvenient truths, once you point out that the AR-15 was used in the shooting, the conspiracy theory shifts from just Adam Lanza being the perpetrator to another shooter being involved.  It's typical of people to shift an argument once they realize that they lost.  It doesn't matter if the AR15 was used anymore, they'll say, when another shooter was involved. Eventually the shifts for almost all of them boil down to gun control. Connecticut had relatively strict gun control before the Sandy Hook shooting.  Because there was this school shooting, gun control doesn't work.  That's the eventual shift.

But a popular attribute used now is the academic credibility attribute.  "[An] example of this misuse of the mainstream media is the ascripiton of final, almost biblical authority, to immediate and necessarily provisional news reports of an incident if they happen to demonstrate the inconsistencies that the conspiracists are seeking."  Oh. You mean like showing the MSNBC clip where they talk about handguns being used.  Or the media reports of multiple shooters.  Chaos! Inconsistency! It must be a false flag operation! Oh. Another part of this attribute is to use technical jargon.  False flag is defined as follows:

false flag is any act of deception designed to make your opponent think you’re someone else. The term “false flag” originated with naval warfare, when a ship would run up a flag other than its designated battle ensign for the purposes of drawing an enemy ship closer. When the target got close enough, the deceiving ship would run up the real battle flag and open fire. This tactic has long been recognized as an acceptable use of deception, and has been used in numerous forms, by both naval and ground forces, for centuries. Both World Wars feature numerous uses of false flag strategies, from ships disguising themselves as other ships to soldiers wearing enemy uniforms.
It's misused by conspiracy theorists who like to claim things are false flags which hurts when real false flag operations are happening.  Some examples of real false flag operations include Operation Himmler, the Mukden Incident, and Operation Northwoods which never officially occurred. 
Is it misused this time? Well. There's no real debate over who caused the incident or how they did it.  The supposed measures that were supposed to be in place because of the shooting haven't happened or haven't been as strong as one would imagine.  In the incident of Sandy Hook, weren't we supposed to repeal the 2nd Amendment or have a strong gun ban by now?  Instead Barack Obama issued his executive orders which weren't that strong or invasive really.  I mean, does funding the CDC to research gun violence infringe on your 2nd Amendment rights?  Or fully funding the NICS?  Or gun safes?  Are these really taking away your 2nd Amendment rights?  Oh well. I guess they are. But the Senate bill about the Assault Weapons Ban is likely to be tamed according to almost all political reporters.  The Assault Weapons Ban was passed in 1994.  Was there a Sandy Hookesque tragedy then?  I certainly don't remember it.  The Assault Weapons Ban ended in 2004 because of the sunset provision.  The Assault Weapons Ban was attempted to be revived in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2008.  Barack Obama pledged to make the Assault Weapons Ban permanent in 2008.  But clearly, Barack Obama was waiting to be re-elected in 2012 to have such a tragedy occur instead of during 2008-2010 when Democrats controlled the House and Senate.  Too bad Obamacare and trying to fix the economy, among other things were happening to complicate the issue of killing children or faking the tragic deaths of children to accomplish significant gun legislation. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Conspiring against you: Framework of a discussion

In the book Voodoo Histories, author David Aaronovitch lays out a convincing argument against many of the conspiracy theories that we find so prevalent today.  He also lists the attributes as he sees them of conspiracy theories and gives a definition.  I'm using his book as a framework for the discussion I will have on conspiracy theories.

Conspiracy theory: the attribution of deliberate agency to something that is more likely to be accidental or unintended.


the attribution of secret action to one party that might far more reasonably be explained as the less covert and less complicated action of another.

Occam's Razor: Other things being equal, one hypothesis is more plausible than another if it involves fewer number of new assumptions

Attributes of a conspiracy theory

1. Historical precedent: Aaronovitch writes, "conspiracists work hard to convince people that conspiracy is everywhere.  An individual theory will seem less improbable if an entire history of similar cases can be cited (p. 17)."  In my experience, if someone believes in one conspiracy theory, they will cite other conspiracy theories as part of the evidence.  It's rare, as far as I can tell, for a conspiracy theorist to believe in just one theory.  Rather they like to assume that there is a world full of conspiracies and it happens frequently.

2. Skeptics and sheeple: a conspiracy theory is generally a populist notion, that there is a small power elite exerting its inordinant power over the people.  "Belief in the conspiracy theory makes you party of a genuinely heroic elite group who can see past the official version duplicated for the benefit of the lazy or inert mass of people by the powers that be.  There will usually be an emphasis on the special quality of thought required to appreciate the existence of the conspiracy...Those who cannot or will not see the truth are variously described as robots, or, laterally, as sheeple...(ibid).  This is my favorite one.  I see it constantly.  I get called all sorts of things when I post on the internets about the claims of 9-11 truthers, eventually resorting to ad hominem attacks calling me a sheep for not believing their version. I sad.

3. Just asking questions: "The theorist is just asking certain disturbing questions because of a desire to seek out truth, and the reader is supposedly left to make up his or her mind.  The questions asked, of course, only make sense if the questioner really believes that there is indeed a secret conspiracy" (p. 18).  Usually the questions are of the why would this happen if this happened variety.

4. Expert witnesses: "The conspiracists draw upon the endorsement of celebritites and 'experts' to validate their theories, yet a constant feature of modern conspiracy theories is the exaggeration of the status of experts" (ibid).  This became especially true with 9-11 conspiracies, a lot of the professors and so-called experts making claims about engineering, thermodynamics, and physics were not in fact professors or experts in that field but rather other fields of academia philosophy, theology, and the like.  Another popular feature, according to Aaronovitch is that conspiracists like to quote each other as if they are giving credibility to their argument by quoting the same people.

5. Academic credibility: "The conspiracists work hard to give their written evidence the veneer of scholarship...Often the theory is also supported by non-conspiracist sources that almost invariably turn out to be misleading and selective...Another exampole of this misuse of the mainstream media is the ascripiton of final, almost biblical authority, to immediate and necessarily provisional news reports of an incident if they happen to demonstrate the inconsistencies that the conspiracists are seeking."  I love this little trick. Conflicting breaking news reports are ALWAYS quoted.  Watch the Sandy Hook video that was popular, notice how many times they talk about conflicting reports for the day, I only sat through about 10 minutes of it before getting angry.  But these quotes are almost always shown to conflict the later report once all the facts are actually in.  But who cares about facts if it distorts your world view? "A final polish is given to the conspiracists' illusion of authority by what is imagined to be secret service or technical jargon, as though the authors had been in recent communication with spies or scientists.  Interesting words phrases include 'psyops' (short for psychological operations), 'false flag', and more recently, 'wet disposal'."  I would add a new phrase, "crisis actors."  But I love when people casually drop these phrases.

6. ConvenientInconvenient Truths: "Conspiracists are always winners.  Their arguments have a determined flexibility, whereby any new and inconvenient truth can be acoomodated within the theory itself."  If you start stating facts, all of a sudden these facts are accomodated into a new hybrid theory or just dismissed as if these facts are irrelevant, since they're almost always planted.  Aaronovitch quoted Korey Rowe, the producer of Loose Change "we know there are errors in the documentary, and we've actually left them in there so that people discredit us and do the research themselves."  Amazing, really.

7. Under surveillance: "Conspiracists are inclined to suggest that those involved in spreading the theory are, even in the 'safest' of countries, somehow endangered" (p. 20).  This one is fun , too.  After conspiracy theories are beginning to spread, they like to suggest that they are in danger.  After the election, Republicans on Facebook began to complain about Obama getting re-elected and saying I don't care if it's deleted.  Why would it be?  But more ominously, people like to keep track of people who were killed by the government's regime.  These include those who still think Bill Clinton killed people in order to maintain his presidency and cover up scandals.  Apparently, people who are spreading theories about President Obama wanting to take their guns are dying of mysterious accidents like car crashes and heart attacks.  As a side note, Bill Clinton would much rather seduce you with his saxophone and allow you to blow him instead of killing you. He's seductive.

But next time you read about a conspiracy theory, I imagine you'll start seeing these attributes if you weren't aware of them already.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Conspiring against you: Public opinion, conspiracy theories, and conspiracy theorists

Public Policy Polling just concluded a poll on conspiracy theories.  I was really excited about it, obviously. But we'll look at the numbers of the poll to see if there's anything interesting or potentially useful.

Public Policy Polling asked 20 total questions that they deemed were about conspiracy theories.  A couple of them are not quite what I would consider a conspiracy theory, at least as a pejorative.  But to save time and not to bore you, I'll be looking at 10 of their questions.  I'll put the question first and in parantheses, I'll put what I'll call the question for the rest of the post.

1. Do you believe global warming is a hoax? (global warming conspiracy)
2. Do you believe a UFO crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 and the US government covered it up, or not? (Roswell conspiracy)
3. Do you believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order, or not? (New World Order conspiracy)
4. Do you believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, or not? (autism conspiracy)
5. Do you believe President Barack Obama is the anti-Christ or not? (anti-Christ conspiracy)
6. Do you believe that the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to promote the Iraq war or not? (WMD conspiracy)
7. Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining poliltical power to manipulate our societies, or not? (Lizard people conspiracy)
8. Do you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy, or was there a larger conspiracy at work? (JFK Conspiracy)
9. Do you believe the media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to television broadcast signals, or not? (TV conspiracy)
10. Do you believe the United States government knowingly allowed the attacks on September 11, 2001 to happen, or not? (9-11 conspiracy)

Global warming conspiracy: 37% believe it is a hoax while 51% think it is not.  This is not that interesting to look at, but I'm a little shocked that ONLY 37% believe it is a hoax.  Take a look at my Facebook feed sometime, you'll assume it's a lot higher.  It's not interesting because it's largely along party lines.  61% of Mitt Romney supporters think it's a hoax while only 12% of Barack Obama supporters think it is.  Or basically as you go from left to right on the political spectrum, it increases (very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, very conservative) it goes 14% to 12% to 22% to 52% to 71% believing it's a hoax, respectively.  Men tend to believe a little more than women that global warming is a hoax (39-35%) but not so much that it's really significant.  11% of Democrats, 58% of Republicans, and 41% of independents believe it is a hoax.  Whites (41%) tend to believe that it is a hoax more than other races, followed by Hispanics (34%), Other (32%), and African-Americans (19%).  The age group that most believes it's a hoax are 30-45 year olds (41%) and 65+ (40%) followed by 46-65 year olds (36%) and 18-29 year olds (31%).
What does your conspiracy theorist look like? Probably a white male, who considers himself very conservative and Republican, aged 30-45 who voted for Mitt Romney. 

Roswell conspiracy: 21% believe in the conspiracy and 47% do not.  A high amount, about a third (32%) are not sure.  This one is a bit more interesting, hopefully.  Mitt Romney supporters believe the conspiracy the most (27%) followed by someone else/don't remember (22%) and Barack Obama (16%).  This one is spread very evenly across the political spectrum, from left-to-right 20, 21, 23, 19, 22.  50% of moderates do not believe the conspiracy.  Men are more likely to believe in the Roswell crash (24%) than women (19%).  Men are also more sure of an answer than women.  Over a third of women (35%) are not sure while 29% of men are not sure.  Republicans (27%) believe in the Roswell crash more than Democrats (18%) or Independents.  Side note: Public Policy Polling asked if people believed aliens exist, 27% of Democrats believe they do, 28% of Republicans believe they do, and 32% of Independents think they do.  What does that tell us with regards to the Roswell conspiracy?  Republicans trust government less than others, I guess. Oh well. Democrats (36%) are less sure than Republicans (31%) and Independents (29%) of their answer.  Other races (35%) believe in the Roswell conspiracy more than Hispanics (27%), Whites (22%), and African-Americans (6%).  Side note #2: 22% of Hispanics and African-Americans believe aliens exist.  I don't think Hispanics think that the UFO was an alien.  Or maybe they're confused. Maybe they're trolling Public Policy Polling. I don't know.  Back to the post, 46% of African-Americans are not sure of the Roswell conspiracy.  The age groups stay about the same.  The age groups are 18-29, 30-45, 46 to 65, and 65+, they are (in order) 22%, 21%, 23%, 19%.  Interestingly, 18-29 year olds and 65+ are both fairly unsure of their answers 41% of 18-29 year olds and 42% of seniors.  But I understand, those are confusing times.
What does your conspiracy theorist look like? This one doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  Most likely, they're male  Mitt Romney supporters who consider themselves a Republican, who are not white, black, or hispanic and is 46-65 years old.  I would assume Asian or something else.  Now that sounds racist. Let's move on.

New World Order Conspiracy: I'm actually excited to go through this one with you.  28% of voters believe in the New World Order while 46% do not.  They most likely voted for a third party or they don't remember (40%) or Mitt Romney (38%).  Only 16% of Barack Obama supporters believe in the New World Order Conspiracy.  61% do not believe in it.  This is one that completely increases across the political spectrum, going 12%, 20%, 23%, 33%, 45%.  But more moderates (56%) do not believe in it than somewhat liberals (51%).  Men (35%) are more likely than women (21%) to believe the New World Order conspiracy.  Side note #3: Women are less sure of their answer than men for every single question in the poll.  Independents/other parties (35%) are slightly more likely than Republicans (34%) to believe in the New World Order Conspiracy.  Democrats (15%) are way behind.  Independents/other parties are way more in their answers (do/don't) than Democrats or Republicans.  Other races (36%) are a bit more likely than whites (32%) and way more likely than African-Americans (21%) and Hispanics (10%) to believe in this conspiracy. As we go across the ages, we have 29%, 25%, 30%, and 28%.  So again, it's basically the same thing across the board, but oh well.
What does the conspiracy theorist look like? Well, the conspiracy theorist is most likely a male, very conservative voter who either voted for Mitt Romney or an Independent/3rd party candidate is between 46-65 and is not white/black/hispanic.

Autism conspiracy: 20% of voters believe this conspiracy theory (which is way too high and is probably the reason for a measles outbreak but I digress. This conspiracy theory bothers me more than the rest, really) and 46% of voters do not.  This one has the highest not sure answer out of ALL of the questions.  Damnit Jim Carrey and others! Well, Mitt Romney supporters (22%) are slightly more likely than Barack Obama supporters (19%) to believe there is a link while only 12% of voters who voted for someone else believe it.  This one is interesting on the political spectrum, 12%, 18%, 23%, 19%, 22%.  As you move right, it slightly increases but there's not a significant difference between 22% and 18% in this case.  But moderates are most likely to believe it, albeit ever so slightly.  Men and women believe there is a link at the exact same rate (20%) but men (50%) believe there is not a link more than women (42%).  Republicans (26%)  believe there is a link more than Independents (18%) and Democrats (16%).  Other races (31%), again, believe in this conspiracy theory more than Whites (20%), African-Americans (18%), and Hispanics (16%).  Side note #4: People sometimes talk about how African-Americans don't trust doctors and you can see it in this poll. While only 18% believe there is a link, 52% are not sure.  No other race has more than 40%, Hispanics are at 38%, Whites at 31%, and Other 25%.  I'd imagine if someone asked do you trust doctors, it would reflect what is found with this question.  This one across the ages, goes 22%, 23%, 19%, 18% .  It's close the whole way across but what's interesting is that seniors aren't the ones believing this link.
What does the conspiracy theorist look like? It's more than likely a woman, who voted for Mitt Romney, considers herself a moderate Republican is between 30-45 and is non-white/black/hispanic.

Anti-Christ Conspiracy: Well, I'd imagine that this one will be fairly obvious who the conspiracy theorist would be. 13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ while 73% do not.  15% are not sure.  Which is just what the anti-Christ wants.  Mitt Romney supporters (no shit) think he is the anti-Christ more than Barack Obama or Someone else/don't remember supporters (22% to 5% to 6%).  Side note #5: I want to meet those who voted for Barack Obama and actually think he's the anti-Christ. The political spectrum is what you'd expect, increasing as it goes across, 8%, 9%, 9%, 17%, 21%.  Men (16%) are more likely than women (10%) to think this.  Republicans (20%) are more likely than Independents/Others (13%) and Democrats (6%) to think he is the anti-Christ.  Whites (15%) think he's the anti-Christ more than African-Americans (9%), Hispanics (9%), and other races (8%).  As we go across the ages, we see 19%, 11%, 11%, 17%.  I was surprised to see that the 18-29 year olds would be most likely to believe it, even if there's no real difference between 19% and 17%.  Either 18-29 year olds are trolling or I guess they actually believe Obama is the anti-Christ.  That statement is hard to make without sounding sarcastic.
What does the conspiracy theorist look like? A white male aged 18-29 who considers himself very conservative and voted for Mitt Romney.

WMD Conspiracy: Finally a conspiracy theory that won't assume I'm biasing these results to make Republicans look bad.  Or whatever.  This one is kind of split.  44% believe he misled the public, 45% do not.  This one cuts along party lines 69% of Barack Obama supporters believe it, 60% of those who voted for a 3rd party or don't remember believe it, while only 18% of Mitt Romney supporters believe it.  This one completely declines as we move across the political spectrum, 79%, 71%, 53%, 23%, 18%.  So if you ask someone this question, you might be able to determine where they fall politically.  At least as a general barometer.  Women (46%) more than men (42%) believe Bush misled about WMD's.  Not surprisingly, more Democrats (72%) believe he misled than any other party, Independents (48%) and Republicans (13%).  Other races (55%) believe he misled, followed by African Americans (54%), Hispanics (45%), Whites (41%).  If you ask to define yourself on a political spectrum, I think it's fairly similar.  18 to 29 year olds (48%) believe Bush misled, followed by 46-65 year olds (47%), 65+ (41%), and 30-45 year olds ( 35%). 
What does the conspiracy theorist look like? It would be a female, who considers herself very liberal, voted for Barack Obama, aged 18-29 and is non-white/black/hispanic.

Lizard people conspiracy: I had never heard of this conspiracy until a few months or maybe weeks ago.  4% of voter believe in it while 88% do not.  Supporters of 3rd party candidates/don't remember were more likely to believe in this conspiracy (18%) than Mitt Romney supporters (5%) and Barack Obama (2%).  Presumably because both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are lizard people.  The two edges of the spectrum are the only ones who believe in it, it looks like, from left-to-right, 10%, 0%, 3%, 3%, 11%.  Men (5%) are ever so slightly more likely than women (4%) to believe in lizard people.  Women (11%) are not completely sure one way or another, though.  Independents/other parties are fractionally more likely to believe this conspiracy (6%) than Republicans (5%) or Democrats (3%).  Other races (21%) are more likely than any other race to believe in lizard people, followed by Hispanics (9%) and Whites (3%).  0% of African-Americans believe in lizard people, although 19% are not sure, almost double anyone else's not sure tally.  As we go across the ages, it declines.  13%, 6%, 3%, 1%.  So, there's that.  Lizard people are scary.
What does the conspiracy theorist look like? A male, either very conservative or very liberal who voted for a 3rd party candidate, registered independent or 3rd party, and is non-white/black/hispanic.

JFK conspiracy: 25% believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone while 51% believe there is a larger conspiracy at work.  I am mildly surprised it is only 51% who believe there is a larger conspiracy at work.  Mitt Romney supporters are more likely to believe there is a larger conspiracy (54%) than those who voted for someone else or can't remember (48%) or Barack Obama (47%).  As we move to the political spectrum, it's all over the place.  42%, 63%, 44%, 45%, 66%.  So the very conservative appear to believe there is a larger conspiracy at work.  I think they just don't trust the government, but oh well.  More men (53%) than women (48%) believe (random synonymic phrase for there's a larger conspiracy at work).  Republicans (55%) believe more than Democrats (52%) and Independents/other parties (44%) this conspiracy theory.  African-Americans are the most likely race to believe this conspiracy theory (66%) followed by other races (59%), Hispanics (51%), and Whites (48%).  Those aged 46-65 (56%) believe the conspiracy the most, followed by 65+ and  30-45 year olds at 53% a piece.  Very surprising is that only 26% of 18-29 year olds believe this conspiracy theory.
What does the conspiracy theorist look like? The theorist most likely is an African-American male aged 46-65, who views himself as very conservative, is registered as a Republican and voted for Mitt Romney.  I can feel my Black American Culture teacher judging me for typing that last part.

TV conspiracy: 15% believe it, 70% do not.  18% of Mitt Romney supporters and those who voted for 3rd party/don't remember believe it while 12% of Barack Obama supporters believe it.  The political spectrum goes 14%, 15%, 16%, 9%, 23%.  Men and women (15% each) believe that they do.  Women are less sure (22% compared to 9%) so I'll say they're more likely to believe it.  Republicans (17%) are slightly more likely than Democrats (15%) and Independents/3rd Party (13%) to believe it.  Other races believe it the most (33%!) while Hispanics (18%), Whites (14%), and African-Americans (7%) trail.  The ages are basically the same, 17%, 17%, 13%, 16%. 
What does the conspiracy theorist look like? The theorist is a female who considers herself a very conservative Republican who either voted for Mitt Romney or a 3rd party/doesn't remember.  She's aged 18-45 and is non-white/black/hispanic.

9-11 conspiracy: Finally.  11% believe it.  78% do not.  3rd party/don't remember (17%) got most of the votes, followed by Barack Obama (13%) and Mitt Romney (8%).  The political spectrum is weird looking, it goes 14%, 15%,  8%, 11%, 11%.  Men (11%) are ever so slightly more than women (10%) to believe it.  Democrats (14%) are more likely than Independents/Other parties (12%) or Republicans (8%) to believe it.  Other races (16%) are the most likely to believe it followed by Hispanics (14%), Whites (10%), and African-Americans (8%) to believe it.  Basically it decreases as we go across the ages, 18%, 10%, 11%, 7%.  Younger people are more likely to believe it, who would have thunk it?
What does the conspiracy theorist look like? The conspiracy theorist is more than likely a male aged 18-29, who is non-white/hispanic/black, considers himself slightly liberal is a Democrat and voted for a 3rd party or doesn't remember who he voted for. 

Conspiring against you: Introduction

There are so many things that we, ourselves, do not control.  Some of these events become tragedies of enormous magnitude.  Because we cannot control them, we often look to find a reason behind these events.  We look at things after the event and we try to cobble together a reason.  It's the reason why so many people say that Nostradamus predicted an event, even though they were silent before the event occurred. 

Conspiracy theories are popular with a lot of people who want to believe that organizations or people are more powerful than they really are.  This idea that there are these all-powerful organizations is somewhat comforting.  Why haven't you succeeded?  Well, because the Illuminati doesn't want me too.  Or why didn't the person I support get elected?  The lizard people are the only ones who can get elected.  Why did September 11 happen?  Well, it's because of the government. 

As you can tell by my tone, I am not partial to believe in conspiracy theories.  I believe the internet has inspired way too many people to believe in things they normally wouldn't have considered.  Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?  I'm not sure of the exact answer but I thinnk a lot of it has to do with the comfort of believing something that can explain everything.  A conspiracy theory ultimately wants to explain the unexplicable and make the claims seem plausible enough that you would be crazy not to believe them. 

We'll look at a few things over the next couple of days/posts about conspiracy theories so that maybe you will be able to speak about them if they come up. 

Assorted thoughts for a Friday

  •  Some people claim that taxes are higher than they've EVER been.  Of course, this is simply untrue.  Without even straining myself too much, I found a website that shows the highest tax rates since 1913.  Let's compare 2013 to a year under Ronald Reagan.  Say 1985.  Which would be the first year of Reagan's 2nd term.  Let's look at the data. Federal income taxes aren't everything, of course. But it's still interesting.  Another interesting note.  The highest tax rate from 1951-1964 was 91%.  So there's that.  The highest rate on regular income went above 50% the first time in 1932.  It was 50% or higher from 1932-1986. 
  • Senator James Inhofe argues that climate change is a hoax fueled by Al Gore, the United Nations, the Hollywood Elite, George Soros, Michael Moore, MoveOn.org, and others.
  • Rand Paul's fillibuster may have improved his chances of running for President in 2016. Hillary Clinton is still heavily favored to win in 2016 if she wants to run.  Despite the usual complaints that the Republican party is full of old angry white men, there is a handful of youngish presidential candidates on the Republican side.  If Clinton doesn't run, the next choice is Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Cuomo, and Kirsten Gillibrand. 
  • Mitch McConnell is one of the most unpopular Senators in the country.  He might have a primary challenge.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The vagueness of leadership: Paul Ryan

"[Paul Ryan] keeps all of the Obamacare taxes and spending cuts that paid for Obamacare, but cuts all of the benefits."
Representative Bobby Scott criticizing the federal budget proposal presented to the House of Representatives and its principle author Paul Ryan.

There's no way this is the truth, right?  Paul Ryan's budget does call for a repeal of Obamacare.  The revenues are based off of numbers provided by the Congressional Budget Office doing a 10 year projection.  They're required to assume that the current tax laws will stay the whole time.  Obamacare has been enacted since 2010.  Obamacare has a number of ways to raise the revenue.  Remember the whole controversy if the penalty was a tax?  The CBO and Joint Committee on Taxation have estimated that if Obamacare is repealed, they would lose $1 trillion in revenues.

So how do we make up that loss in revenue?  Well, Paul Ryan and other Republicans have stated that they want to cut Obamacare taxes and do a revenue-neutral tax code overhaul. They would like to cut top rates (big surprise), reduce the number of individual tax brackets, eliminate the alternative minimum tax, and getting rid of many loopholes and deductions.  But much like during the presidential campaign, the Ryan budget does not name a single loophole or deduction that he would like to eliminate, presumably because he doesn't have the time to go through all of the math with you.  That work of actually naming the loopholes and deductions would be the work of the House Ways and Means Committee. 

So, Paul Ryan leaves the $1 trillion in revenue that Obamacare will bring in but eliminates Obamacare by basically saying we'll find the $1 trillion by cutting loopholes and eliminating deductions.  Ryan has critics on both sides of the political aisle about leaving in the $1 trillion in revenues, including the Heritage Foundation and Republican Congressman Paul Broun. 

How is Paul Ryan so certain he can find the $1 trillion in revenue without naming any loophole or deduction he wants to get rid of?  My guess is that the reason he doesn't want to name them publicly is that they are very popular loopholes/deductions. 

Or maybe he doesn't know any loophole or deduction that he wants to eliminate.  I'm not sure which of those two situations are worse.

Talking about guns

I wanted to post this awhile ago when I was working on posts about guns but it seemed incomplete without mentioning how the NRA and the gun lobby has changed our views, too. The post, I think is relevant because it affects how we frame arguments, today.

Note: I use the group the National Rifle Association as a catch-all for gun rights lobby groups.  I understand that there are a lot of other gun rights lobby groups out there. 

Nate Silver on his brilliant blog Five Thirty-Eight, wrote a piece detailing how we talk about guns.  There is really one acceptable reason not to read his blog and that is that you've used up your 10 free articles from The New York Times already. 

Anyway, how do we talk about guns?  Well, Nate Silver went through to look at what phrases were used to describe gun violence in the news, via www.newslibrary.com. He found that the phrase "gun control" was used about 3 times per 1,000 articles during the 1993-1994 discussion of the assault weapons ban.  The phrase "gun control peaked in 1999 after the Columbine shootings at about 3.7 mentions per 1,000 articles.  The low point was in 2010, when the phrase "gun control" was used 0.3 times per 1,000 articles.  In 2012, it looks like the it is around 0.7 mentions per 1,000 articles.  Another phrase that gun control advocates use is "gun violence."  By using the phrase "gun violence", the argument is focused on the consequences of guns and the destruction that they could potentially bring.  Not surprisingly, that phrase peaked in 1999, as well, at just over 0.5 mentions per 1,000 articles.  Since 2010, Silver notes, that the phrase has been used about 0.33 times per 1,000 articles.  In the 1980s, the phrase "gun violence" was used about 0.02 times per 1000 articles.

Now for the phrases that people like the NRA use.  Frequently, they use a phrase invoking the 2nd Amendment, framing the argument around Constitutional rights.  The phrase or term 2nd Amendment was rarely used in the 1980s, based on the chart it looks like it is below 0.2 mentions per 1000 articles.  Now it's the most popular phrase in the guns debate.  Since 2008, 2nd Amendment has been mentioned more frequently than the phrase "gun control."  Another popular phrase is "gun rights", The phrase "gun rights" which was barely used in the 1980s, at all, around 0.02 mentions per 1,000 articles is now used as frequently as gun violence, about 0.33 mentions per 1,000 articles. 

What does it mean?  There are problems with drawing too many conclusions based on data like this.  There are a lot of problems.  For instance, the phrase "gun violence" could be used in an article or speaking about the need for more guns.  Conversely, people could use the term "gun rights" derisively.  But as you can see, we have a society now that mentions 2nd Amendment more than gun control.  We also talk about gun rights more than gun violence.  Why have we had this shift?

The increased use of the phrase of the 2nd Amendment began to peak in 1999 but not reaching its peak until 2001-2002.  Unlike the phrases used for gun control, there is not an easy explanation for why the phrase got more popular during that time.  It declined slowly until the election of Barack Obama.  After the election of Barack Obama, the use of the phrase greatly increased and was its all-time high as 2011 concluded.  There's a farily easy explanation for that.  The NRA and other gun rights lobbies, amped up their rhetoric before the election of Barack Obama and during the presidency of him.  Meanwhile, the phrase "gun rights" has been steadily increasing since 1985, hitting its previous high mark 2002-2004.  There was a slight decline, again, until the election of Barack Obama and has been at an all-time high since.  I'll mention for balance, that during the early 2000s there was a sharp decline from the use of the phrase of "gun control" and has actually been decreasing in use since 1999.  "Gun violence" has been declining in use since 2003. 

It's pretty widely known that the NRA's membership spikes during times when citizens think their 2nd Amendment rights will be infringed upon.  After Columbine, the membership greatly increased, when Barack Obama got elected, it spiked, when he got re-elected it spiked, again.  People tend to buy more guns when they think that their guns will be taken away, go to any gun show presently, you'll hear the same thing.  By focusing on these issues of 2nd Amendment Rights and gun rights, they are framing the argument away from potentially negative consequences and focusing on rights and liberty. 

Is it fair to assign blame to the NRA?  I'm sure at this point, if you've read any posts by me about gus and the NRA, you assume that I am vehemently anti-NRA, I suppose that I will have to write a pro-NRA post at some point.  Mother Jones published an article highlighting some ads for the NRA over the years.  So, what can we learn from these ads and how has it affected how we talk about guns in America? 

In 1920, the National Rifle Association published an ad that asked for people to join a rifle club highlighting that it was a sporting organization.  This is not a surprise, the NRA was primarily a sporting organization for much of its beginning.  I would link to a post, I wrote, about the history of the NRA but that's tacky.  In 1957, the ad highlighted again that it was a sportsman's organization.  After the assasination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr, there was a public outcry for gun reform legislation to be passed.  The NRA decided to become a more political organization at that point.  But even then, they were not as psychopathic about it as they are now.  A 1970 ad highlighted the needs for people to protect their "hunting rights".  The ad specifically states,"if there was ever a time when you needed NRA to help protect your present and future hunting rights..."  The 2nd Amendment is not mentioned in the ad but hunting rights are all over the place. 

In 1973, the ad stated, "only you can save hunting..." Again, there is no mention of the 2nd Amendment but focuses on the rights of hunters.  It even goes so far as to say "it's time you stood up for the hunting and shooting heritage, you as an American believe in." 

1982 began a campaign of "I am the NRA."  It had a picutre of a kid talking about gun safety.  No mention of the 2nd Amendment.  The late 1980s finally began the fear-mongering and the claims of the 2nd Amendment.  The ad was titled "why can't a policeman be there when you need him."  This type of ad, as far as I can tell, began the claims central to the NRA today that armed citizens can defend themselves, routinely, against criminals.The ad states "defend your right to defend yourself."  There's also a picture of what looks like Rasputin involved. Click on the link I provided above and decide for yourself.

The late 1980s also had Charlton Heston installed as the spokesperson.  So that was fun. There was an ad when Charlton Heston walked up and down the streets of DC saying it was the most dangerous streets in America.  I imagine this ad was critical when people talk about how a gun ban doesn't work.  I also wrote a post that explored that claim, too.

1993 had an ad that asked "what's the 1st step to a police state?"  and also featured goose-stepping Nazis.  Is this a precursor to the posts about how Hitler took our guns away, too?  Sort of talks about how we have to take back government and save our guns.

1993 also had a laughing criminal who watched the news waiting until guns were outlawed and then could do whatever he wants.  A precursor to posts we see today, too.

1995, finally we talk about the 2nd Amendment.  The NRA claimed that "the 2nd Amendment is not about duck hunting."  The picture was of Bill Clinton with a gun and a duck.  Remember that 20 years prior to this, the NRA was all about how hunting rights needed to be protected and that the gun laws would take away your hunting rights but no mention of the 2nd Amendment or actual gun rights.  Now almost everyone says that the 2nd Amendment is not about hunting but protecting from tyranny of the government.  Do you see the shift?

1997: Charlton Heston talked about how we needed to restore the 2nd Amendment as America's 1st freedom.  He said that it is the one right  protects all the others.  I know people spew that drivel out, too. He goes on to talk about how it is the one right that allows rights to exist at all.

Mother Jones did not include ads until 2013, again.  Although there was a fairly famous ad that was out there in the 2004 presidential election against John Kerry.  Kerry had a poodle and the NRA stated that the dog don't hunt. 

The next ad included is the ad that calls Obama another elitist hypocrite for having his children attend schools with armed guards.  The ad was factually incorrect.  The NRA also was against the United Nations treaty which some see as an attack on our 2nd Amendment righs. 

Look through those ads again.  How many of those ads are used by gun right advocates today?  Notice that the 2nd Amendment rights didn't come up until the late 1980s, but not specifically until 1995.

I'm leaving the conclusion of the post as ambiguous as possible. But it's certainly interesting how much of an effect the NRA has had on our conversation about guns.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Plan B

On Thursday, April 4, a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York ruled that the morning-after pill must be made available over the counter to girls 16 and under. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had decided in 2011 that Plan B One Step should be allowed for sale without a prescription and without age requirements. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius overruled the decision citing that abolishing the age requirements and the necessity for a prescription that children as young as 11 could get the morning after pill. President Barack Obama defended Secretary Sebelius's decision citing his responsibility as a father of two daughters. Side note: That was a glorious press conference where he said "ask Osama bin Laden" about his being too soft in foreign policy.

The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) reviewed the application to allow Plan B to be sold over the counter. They considered whether younger females were able to understand how to use Plan B. "Based on the information submitted to the agency, CDER determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females, that adolescent females understood the product was not for routine use, and that the product would not protect them against sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, the data supported a finding that adolescent females could use Plan B One-Step properly without the intervention of a healthcare provider."

According to Susan Wood, associate professor at George Washington University's Scool of Public Health, "doctors and researchers have repeatedly stated, ample research shows Plan B to be safe for women of all ages and appropriate for over-the-counter access."

Allowing Plan B to be able to be purchased over the counter or without a prescription decreases the stigma of purchasing emergency contraception. It is likely to be purchased by younger females (<17) but also older females who no longer have to ask the pharmacist for the emergency contraception. I am not a female, so I've never had to purchase birth control outside of condoms. Besides the condom dance, of standing around the condoms and debating which ones to purchase and carefully not making eye contact with anyone who is walking by, and when they walk by pretend you're buying whatever is on the shelf next to them (usually heartburn medicine), there was no requirement. I never had to show any identification to purchase them nor was I required to talk to anybody about it. So why is it that when females want birth control that it requires you to be a certain age or to have a prescription?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists argues that oral contraceptives for women should be allowed for women over the counter. Their short paper on the issue explains it in a much better way than I could.

As noted by a Facebook friend, there is concern about the hormones in oral contraceptives that could potentially be dangerous. The ACOG does not address this issue in their paper. This could potentially be a major sticking point. If it is a major concern, the question should be addressed by the ACOG as to if the hormones are actually potentially dangerous or if those risks outweigh the benefits outlined in the paper linked above. Yes, the answer my friend supplied is something that I would say is a good answer to my question about why women should be required to have a prescription. Strangely, it is the first time I've seen it brought up. I've read politicians talk about how our values are declining if we allow Plan B to be purchased over the counter, when you have to be a certain age to get Sudafed. All sorts of arguments like that.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Testing those who need help

In 2011, Florida introduced a law that would require those who request Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), more commonly referred to as welfare to first pass a drug test.  As part of the federal welfare reform in 1996, the federal government told states that they could use drug testing as part of the eligibility requirements for TANF.  Florida’s law requires applicants to pay for their tests and if they pass then they receive the drug test refund as part of their benefits.  Florida wasn’t the 1st state to do this.  In 1999, Michigan required all welfare recipients to take a drug test regardless of any suspicions.  The law was struck down in 2003 in a Michigan appeals court.  This ruling discouraged some states from passing similar laws.
There has been some popularity in passing these types of laws in recent years, though.  According to the National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL) more than 20 states proposed similar laws in 2009 and 12 more in 2010.  Florida’s law is the only that does suspicionless drug testing and is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The ACLU argues that the suspicionless drug testing is a violation of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution.  Critics of the ACLU make an assumption that welfare recipients are moochers who are pocketing the assistance from the government and using it to finance a drug fueled lifestyle.  Frequently, these criticisms are followed by anecdotal evidence of friends or relatives who do abuse the system.  I’m not going to argue that people might abuse the system, which is certainly true, but I will look at some of the claims made by people.
Florida’s law which required drug testing for all recipients or applicants of TANF ran for four months.  In that four month period, there were 108 negative tests according to the Department of Children and Families.  The pass rate was 96.3% which left the state to pay more than $100,000 to the individuals who paid for the tests and passed.  Proponents of the bill like to mention that this does not include numerous people who decided not to apply because of the drug test.  Florida had initiated a drug-testing program in 1998 for those receiving cash assistance, about 3.8% failed the test.  This program cost Florida $2.7 million ($90 per test).
What other data is out there?  In 1996, the National Institutes of Health published findings in 1996 based on data collected in 1992 that drug use of welfare recipients ranged from 1.3-3.6% compared to 1.5% of non-welfare recipients.  So, it looks like they’re a little more likely based on that data.  How about Michigan?  They had suspicionless drug testing of welfare or TANF recipients, they found that 10% of recipients tested positive for drugs compared to 8.95% of all Michiganders who said they used illicit drugs in the past month, according to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health.  The federal government’s National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that a little over half of full-time and unemployed workers reported trying marijuana.  The survey indicates that 23% of unemployed workers reported trying cocaine, compared to 19% of full-time employees, and 15% of part-time employees.  But what about substance abuse problems?  According to the same survey, nearly 2% of unemployed people reported more than 100 days of cocaine use compared to 0.4% of full-time workers who said the same.  More than 10% of unemployed people reported more than 100 days of marijuana use compared to about 4% of full-time workers.  Or we can look at it another way.  9.6% of families who received some form of government assistance reported recent drug use, compared to 6.8% among people in families receiving no assistance.  According to a research paper published in the Journal of Health and Social Policy, only 5% of welfare recipients showed evidence of drug abuse.  What’s more is that those 5% are still able to compete for jobs, which means that their drug abuse isn’t forcing their reliance on welfare.  If your drug testing system relies on the recipient paying for the test up front and then being reimbursed after passing it, the state will lose money.  There’s just not enough evidence that the majority of welfare recipients are actually on drugs or are stupid enough to fail a drug test that they will likely see coming. 
Why are these laws popular?  Well, a lot of people think that welfare recipients are mooching off of the government to live a lifestyle that we, hardworking Americans are jealous of.  It’s a lot easier assuming that they are using this assistance to buy drugs or alcohol and are merely not hard-working enough to make it.  Additionally, when you’re not on these programs or do not need the programs to help out, it’s easy to see the difference between you and the recipients, if they’re on drugs.  You can say to yourself, well I’m not on drugs so I don’t need to get welfare.  Or only those drug addicts need cash assistance.  No matter how you look at it, these laws are popular because it’s becoming easier and easier to demonize the social safety net and its recipients instead of looking at the root cause of why people need this type of assistance in the first place.

Note: People occasionally talk about how you have to get drug tested, in order to get a job, I have had 3 jobs now, where I have not had to take a drug test. Even if I did, if I was doing drugs, I would simply not do drugs during my job search or find other ways to pass, which makes the argument even more ridiculous to me.