Trump blames self for fires

Around here, the big news is that everything is on fire!

Well, the fire is a bit too far away for me to personally to be in danger.  Nonetheless, it’s impossible to ignore.  See, the air quality took a sharp downturn.  You can smell it in the air, see it in the sky, and people roam the streets with N95 masks.  Businesses are all proceeding as usual, but personally, as an asthmatic, I’ve been trying to avoid going outside.  My partner and I decamped from our bedroom because something about the ventilation is allowing dust particles into that room.

I don’t know what to say.  People died, and cities were burnt to the ground.  Not much entertainment to squeeze out of that, except maybe a few sad puns about Paradise lost.

Oh I know, we could look at what horrible thing Trump has said.  Maybe that will brighten things up.

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What does a DW-NOMINATE score of zero mean?

In an earlier post, I talked about the asymmetrical polarization of US congress, and how DW-NOMINATE is used to quantify it. In this post, I’m going to discuss more technical details.  I’ll explain why I was initially skeptical, and why I came to accept the argument.

But before I get into the math, I should first emphasize that there are many arguments demonstrating that the US congress has become more polarized, and that the Republican party in particular is more extreme. I think those arguments stand on their own, with or without using any evidence from DW-NOMINATE. You can read some of those arguments here, or watch the Vox video I linked last time. It’s not just liberals who are saying this–one of the big proponents of asymmetrical polarization theory is Norman Ornstein, member of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute;

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The math behind political polarization

The asymmetry of US politics

Vox recently had a good video talking about “asymmetrical polarization”. Basically, this means that the two political parties in the US are moving further apart, and this is mostly driven by the Republican party, rather than the Democrats.

There are many aspects to this argument. Republicans have been more obstructionist than democrats, less likely to negotiate or compromise, and more likely to use filibusters. Their agenda has become more extreme over time. Democrats have also moved further left (despite complaints hereabouts that Democrats are too moderate), but in a way that trails the motion of the Republican party.

These many arguments stand on their own. But I want to address the very first argument that Vox presents, which comes from the following graph:

A plot showing the ideology of congress over time, on a scale from liberal to conservative. The two major parties are color coded, it is clear that the parties have moved further apart since the 50s.

Image credit: Voteview. I abridged the graph to only show history after 1900. Red dots represent Republicans, blue dots represent Democrats, and the solid lines represent party medians.

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California 2018 election positions

If you live in the US, please vote! It’s okay if you feel a bit under-informed–that’s true of most voters. You can spend just a little time to look up each issue in the local newspapers.  If you can’t figure an issue out, or if you just get tired of doing all that research, it’s still better to vote in part of the election than to avoid it entirely.

If nothing else, you should at least vote on members of congress (US Senate and US Representative). Trump makes it fairly easy, because even if you don’t follow politics that closely, you probably already have a stance on the Trump administration. Members of congress tend to vote along party lines these days, so it’s generally a good strategy to base your votes entirely on party affiliation. In principle I’m open to voting across party lines for lower offices, although I still tend not to.

I’m voting in the California election, and here I’m sharing how I plan to vote, and why.  I don’t provide citations, I expect readers to independently verify my claims.

State propositions

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History education

I Have Forgiven Jesus has a post discussing the legacy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I’ve only ever read part of the book, and I remember none of it, but it turns out I have feelings about it.

The thing is, I read APHUS as part of a high school class, where it was the only book. So it’s strange to read the responses to Chait’s tweet, where everybody is saying that they don’t believe Chait, and that this is a meme made up by right-wingers. And it may well be a meme made up by right-wingers; I have no reason to believe there is any widespread use of APHUS as a main textbook. In any case, my personal experience doesn’t support the conspiracy theory about liberals spreading propaganda by teaching Zinn.

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Trumps: Biggest tax frauds in history?

I’m trying to figure out, are the Trumps the perpetrators of the biggest tax fraud in US history?

The NYT reports that Donald Trump, rather than being a self-made man, received $413 million in wealth from his father. If we look at Donald and his 4 siblings together, they received $1 billion. When you transfer that much wealth, you’re supposed to pay taxes on it, but they engaged in legally dubious schemes in order to pay $500 million less than they should have.

The tax schemes were so extensive, The NYT spent 14,000 words describing it. I read a bit of it, and it was clear that Donald himself took a significant active role. But it’s seriously TL;DR, maybe you want to read the short version on WaPo or Vox or something. (ETA: NYT also has some highlights.)

$500 million is of course larger than the amount of money I will see in my life, so to get a sense for how large, I went and looked up the biggest tax frauds in history. I couldn’t find a definitive list, but here’s a page that lists some of the most famous cases. Most of them are for only a few million, or less than a million. By far the largest was Walter Anderson, who owed $141k in taxes (including penalties and interest, he paid over $200 million). I also found another article referring to a $11 million dollar scam as one of the biggest tax frauds in US history.

We don’t know exactly how many of these tax schemes are illegal tax evasion vs legal tax avoidance, but even if only a fraction of it was illegal, Donald Trump and his siblings stand to be among the biggest tax frauds in US history.

Video game censorship and feminist criticism

Last week, the white house held a meeting to talk about violence in video games, and their potential connection to gun violence. This has many gamers worried that the government will do something to censor video games, or pressure the games industry to self-regulate.  My opinions on the matter: 1) this is an obvious ploy to “address” gun violence without addressing gun violence, 2) I defer to the research that says video games do not cause gun violence, and 3) the second amendment shouldn’t exist. If you disagree with any of these propositions, you are welcome to yell at me in the comments, as one does.

But I’m not really here to talk about gun violence, I’m here to talk about feminism. See, I did a forbidden thing, I read some internet comments. And I found that some people think that Trump’s talk of censoring video games is similar or analogous to feminists/SJWs talking about problematic or sexist aspects of video games. As a feminist/SJW myself, my reaction is, “uh no.”

But it also raises the interesting question, what do I want?

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