Friday, June 30, 2017

The Firehose of Fake News

Alex Jones, with the presidential stamp of approval, peddles fake news of the most uproarious kind:

He’s at it again. Conspiracy theorist and human gopher Alex Jones announced his latest revelation and it’s out of this world. On Infowars, his radio talk show, which is beamed across 118 stations in the US, his guest on Thursday was Robert David Steele, who, according to the latter’s Wikipedia page and website, is a former clandestine services case officer at the Central Intelligence Agency (you know how much spies love publicity) and author of several books. He was also, briefly, the Reform Party candidate for the US Presidential Elections in 2012. Which is a shame when you imagine the missed TV gold opportunity of him in debate with Donald Trump in this last election cycle.

But never mind all that. While on Jones’ show, Steele mentioned how NASA established a colony on Mars to which they shipped kidnapped children over a 20-year space ride.
The fact that, in that case, they wouldn’t be kids anymore wasn’t touched upon. Once there, the “kids” have no alternative but to become slaves at the colony, because that’s just how NASA rolls apparently.

The current mainstreaming of that crap looks a lot like the firehosing mechanism a Rand Corporation study attributes to Russian propaganda:  Just keep on spewing enormous amounts of stuff, never mind if any of it's true, never mind if the stories contradict each other, because at least the critics must address every one of them, and the audience becomes so fatigued by that firehose of fakeness that it simply stops believing anything.  And that's what the powers that be want:  A world where all evidence is a matter of opinion.

I was musing on the above when I laboriously put the finishing touches on my previous dry post about the Blair study on modern sexism.

And then I asked myself why I bother.  It would be much better for me had I invented a story about incredibly gorgeous space aliens kidnapping strapping young Democrats for fertility-related investigations, having to do with silk whips, whipped cream and fishnet stockings.

"Modern Sexism" in the 2016 Presidential Elections.


A poll was carried out right after the 2016 presidential general election by the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas.  The poll sampled 3,668 individuals, and we are told that the sample is representative.

Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields used the data from that poll to study the effect of "modern sexism" on the presidential election results, both those from the primaries and from the general election.  The short findings from that study:

...sexism absolutely did matter. Trump’s voters were more sexist than Clinton’s (and Ted Cruz voters were even more sexist than Trump voters). Republicans were far more sexist than Democrats. White respondents were more sexist than black Americans and Latinos. Female respondents, not to be outdone, were also quite sexist! And Bernie primary voters who didn’t vote for Clinton in the general were more sexist than those who did.

What Is Modern Sexism?

Before we look more closely at those findings, it's necessary to understand what this study means by "modern sexism:"

Most people who have sexist or racist beliefs will not answer poll questions about those honestly, for obvious reasons.  Researchers have tried to get around that problem by using proxy questions or assertions, the kinds which correlate with negative beliefs about people of color and/or about women (1).  For the sexism part, the Blair Center poll used the following assertions, asking, for each of them, whether a respondent agreed or disagreed with them and how strongly (2):

  • Many women are actually seeking special favors, such as hiring policies that favor them over men, under the guise of asking for “equality.”
  • Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist.
  • Feminists are seeking for women to have more power than men.
  • When women lose to men in a fair competition, they typically complain about being discriminated against.
  • Discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the United States.

In what sense could those assertions be seen as sexist?  Note that the first, the second and the fourth contain those little words "many," "most" and "typically."  Taken together, those three assertions spell out a dismal view of women, especially of women in the labor force, in education and in the public sphere.  The third turns feminism into a search for a matriarchy, not for equality,  and the last assertion argues that women already are equal in the United States, which makes any further feminist activism an attempt to dominate over men.

My first reaction to that list of assertions was to notice how much it shared with the MRA sites where women ("all" women or "many" women) are "typically" seen as vile creatures not deserving of any kind of equality and where feminism is certainly viewed as a plot for enslaving men.

It's only the last assertion you won't often find on those sites, because at least the more vicious sites don't see anything wrong with women having fewer rights, given that women are viewed as lesser human beings.  It's not really possible to discriminate against women when women deserve less than men.

My second reaction was to remember that the famous Alt Right site (the home of our Dear Leader's companion, Stephen Bannon) often publishes stories with those very messages about the perfidy of women in general and of feminists in particular.

Finally, my third reaction was to recall all the biased conservative articles I have read (and dissected here) which argue that, say, the earnings gap between men and women is a totally imaginary one, that women earn less because they choose to earn less and so on.

The Results:  Modern Sexism Levels For Various Voter Groups in the 2016 Elections 

Given my reactions, the actual findings of the study came as a bit of a shock: Though the plurality of the 3,668 respondents gave, on average,  nonsexist answers to those five assertions (47.1%), more than one third (36.2%) had answers which gave them an average sexist score.

The following three tables summarize the results about the degree of modern sexism in the poll. The first shows them for everyone, the second for men and the third for women.  The orange color refers to the percentage of nonsexist answers, the green to the percentage of sexist answers and the yellow to neutral answers:

A few comments are worth making about the tables:

First, the majority of women in the poll (52.5%) gave, on average, nonsexist answers, while only 41.2% of the men in the poll did, and women scored somewhat higher on the nonsexist scale than men in all the demographic, regional and political groupings. 

Second, Democrats (65.2%) were much more likely to come across as nonsexist than Independents (38.4%) or, especially, Republicans (30.8%).

Third, African-Americans (both men and women) (59.0%) gave less sexist answers than Whites (46.1%) or Latinx (42.3%).

Fourth, the most sexist demographic group among men consists of Whites (44.2%), whereas the most sexist demographic group among women consists of Latinas (36.3%) (3).

Fifth, the highest percentages of sexist answer averages came from those who identified as Republican, both among men (56.3%) and among women (49.9%).

These results further clarify the finding that Donald Trump's pussy-grabbing comments didn't bother a sufficient number of Republican women for most of them not to vote for him. Erin C. Cassese, who has also studied modern sexism, notes (on the basis of a different data source):

Republican women score significantly higher on modern sexism than both male and female Democrats, though they score lower than male Republicans. This finding is instructive in light of Trump’s alleged “women problem,” in that Republican women may have been less likely than Democrats to situate his comments in terms of a broader systems of discrimination. While modern sexism influences policy attitudes for Republican women, they are just as ideologically extreme as Republican men and just at likely to demonstrate partisan loyalty at the polls.

Indeed, in the Blair Center poll Republican women come across as more sexist than either Democratic or Independent men.  That finding teaches us not to assume that women cannot be sexist against their own gender (4).

So far the results I have addressed apply to the general election.  The results from the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries are also of interest:

Note the very large differences between those scores.  The United States indeed appears to consist of two countries with very different values.

Bernie Sanders' primary voters have the lowest average modern sexism score, but the small minority of Sanders primary voters who went for Trump in the general elections do have a fairly high average sexism score:

The Take-Home Lessons From This Study?

Are there any? 

The large differences in the average measures of modern sexism between Republicans, Democrats and Independents are worth keeping in mind: 

No, the Democrats are not every bit as bad on this issue as the Republicans, and  when participating in debates about the various reasons why a slight majority of white women voted for Trump despite his pussy-grabbing comments it's good to remember that those would be Republican white women and an openly sexist president doesn't look that outrageous to almost half of them.

One caveat about that finding:  This particular poll was carried out right after the general elections where the Democrats ran the (first) female candidate and the Republicans ran the (first) gloatingly sexist male candidate.  The allegiance to one's party may have (subconsciously) affected the answers to the modern sexism assertions.  If the race had been between a Republican woman and a Democratic man the party gap in the modern sexism measures could have been smaller.

It's also worth thinking about how party affiliation and modern sexism (as well as modern sexism) end up correlated with each other.  For example, sexists are more likely to join the Republican Party, because its platform includes the control of women's sexuality and opposition to any measures which might counteract sex discrimination against women in education and labor markets.

But it's equally possible that those who have joined the Republican Party will then become more sexist, given today's political information bubbles.  Anyone who gets his or her news mostly from Fox News (with its Barbie-rules about female broadcasters) or or Rush Limbaugh or other right-wing sources gets frequent updates on the horrors of feminism, on fake rape claims and on other weaknesses of the female sex.

Finally, lest one lose all belief in humanity, note that the majority of people do come across as nonsexist in that study.


(1)  The modern racism measures are constructed in a parallel way by creating assertions with which the respondents are asked to agree or disagree.  Two examples:

"It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites."


"Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.

(2)  The researchers turned the agreement or disagreement levels to these assertions into numbers, added up those numbers and then averaged the result over the five assertions.  The resulting measure is used in the tables I look at later in this post:

Responses were measured on a 5-point Likert scale from “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “neither/neutral,” “agree,” or “strongly agree.” Depending on their answers, respondents held a cumulative Modern Sexism score ranging from 5 to 25. Giving a “strongly disagree” answer to all five statements resulted in the minimum score of 5, whereas a “strongly agree” answer on all five questions resulted in the maximum score of 25. Answering “neutral” to all five statements resulted in a score of 15. Thus, any score over 15 indicates that the respondent holds some cumulative level of Modern Sexism, while any cumulative score under 15 indicates a general lack of Modern Sexism.
(3)  I have no hypothesis about the reason for that last finding, given that Latinas are more likely to vote for Democrats.  It could have something to do with the impact of the Catholic Church?  Or more recent entry into the country from perhaps a more patriarchal society? 

(4)  The above quote also reminded me of a conversation I had with a very elderly American white working-class Republican-voting woman about a decade ago.  She told me how she had been sexually harassed at work when she was young, and she even mentioned a boss who had tried to rape her, but she did not connect those events to anything wider (e.g. broader systems of discrimination).  They were just "how things are."  She saw no need to change anything, probably, because of that lack of wider consciousness.  Without it, each experience remains purely personal.

(5)  Maxwell and Shields also construct logit equations for predicting how an otherwise average voter of a certain type might vote if his or her level of modern sexism varied.  I'm not discussing that part of the study in this post.  The reasons are statistical and model-specific: I believe too many of the independent variables (party affiliation, modern sexism, modern racism, ideology, biblical beliefs) are correlated with each other for the interpretation of a specific coefficient to be very meaningful.  But your mileage might vary. The full equations are downloadable as the Appendix from the study site.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

This is Wonderful. Michelle Goldberg on Trump's Raw Sexism

I laughed aloud a few times while reading her:

But Trump appears to be feeling a lot of strain. He’s obsessed with the Russia probe, and a recent Washington Post story reported that his friends “privately worry about his health, noting that he appears to have gained weight in recent months and that the darkness around his eyes reveals his stress.” When you’re under pressure, it can be harder to hide your true self. And Trump’s true self is a pig.

Do read Goldberg's whole take on this morning's Trump tweets about nasty women.  I strongly agree with this, by the way:

I’m not sure that even well-intentioned men understand how relentlessly degrading this presidency is for many women. Having a man who does not recognize the humanity of more than half the population in a position of such power is a daily insult; it never really goes away.
For a nice collation of Trump's views on women, check out this Media Matters post, and for a refreshingly different Republican take, check out Ana Navarro's comments.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What Is It All About Then?* The True Reasons for the BCRA.

Only seventeen percent of Americans approve of the Senate health care proposal, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA).  So why did a group of Republican older white guys craft it and why do many Republican pundits still push for it?  Note that the BCRA decimates the ACA (Obamacare), whereas the same poll which found its support to be 17 % also found that

In fact, while many Americans want changes to the ACA, also known as Obamacare, they want it to be more far-reaching. A 46 percent plurality say they want to see the ACA do more, while just 7 percent want it to do less. Keeping the ACA and having it do less is essentially what GOP congressional plans are doing.
It's that seven percent who are the hidden powers of the Republican Party, the ones who like the idea of 22 million more uninsured, the ones who believe that we are all going to die anyway, sooner or later, so why not sooner?

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Weird Free Market Religion of the Conservatives: Three Recent Examples.

The free market religion of many conservative politicians bears little resemblance to what markets mean in economics.  I wasn't aware of that until I became obsessed with politics.  But now there are days when I read conservative market-focused opinions which make my eyes try to look in opposite directions. 

Take three recent examples:

First, the nightmarish fire at the Grenfell Tower in London was made more devastating by inadequate fire safety.  The New York Times:

The fire that destroyed a London apartment building, killing at least 79 people, provides a grim warning about the dangers of a regulatory approach President Trump has made official policy in Washington.
One of the safety failures under investigation in the fire is the lack of sprinklers in the 24-story Grenfell Tower. High-rises built in England since 2007 must have sprinklers, but older ones, like Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, do not have to be retrofitted with them.
And why don't they have to be retrofitted?  The answer has to do with the Demon of Regulations.  If you are a believer in the Free-Market God, you also believe in demanding that two or three old regulations must be abolished for every new one that is created.  Here's the UK take on that:

Speaking in February 2014 during Fire Sprinkler Week, some of the members of the British House of Commons were all for sprinklers, but not for regulations to require them.
“We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation,” Brandon Lewis, who would later become housing minister for the Conservative government, said after praising the one-in, two-out formula then in use.

Butbutbut:  The customer in this particular case would have been the local government, because Grenfell Tower was council housing, that is public housing operated by the local council!  (This is why my eyes attempt to look at opposite directions while reading.)

Is the government supposed to act like a reluctantly-persuadable consumer in such markets, expecting the suppliers to talk it into buying sprinkler systems?   And if so, how do we model the fact that the people who are going to be housed in that building are not the people in the government who make those choices?  The incentives the latter have are very different from those the former would have.

Second,  the most recent health care proposal by the US Republican Senators seems to assume that markets are run the way an imaginary Santa Claus runs the Christmas presents industry:  If you work hard enough, you get good insurance for yourself and your family from your employer.   Here's Mike Pence, or Dear Vice President, with that market-based message:

So.  There's little need for Medicaid, the program which pays for health care for certain groups of the poor and for the majority of the elderly in long-term nursing home care, because it's interpreted as largely used by gormless and lazy able-bodied adults, who could buy their own health care coverage if they only bothered getting a job and showing some personal responsibility!

The truth is quite a bit different:

In reality, those who benefit from this $545-billion-a-year program are not so easily typecast. More than 70 million Americans, or 1 in 5, use this government program. And they come from all walks of life—including people you know.
It could be your grandmother—one-quarter of Medicaid enrollees are elderly people or disabled adults.
It could be the child next door. About half of Medicaid enrollees are children, many of them with special needs.
The rest are adults without disabilities who earn too little to afford health insurance otherwise. Many of them are working: Six in 10 able-bodied adults on Medicaid have a job. And 78 percent of Medicaid recipients are part of a household with at least one person working full time. Many of those who don't work are caregivers for other people.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, 14 million Medicaid recipients could lose their coverage if GOP plans to overhaul the Affordable Care Act (ACA) become law.

And sixty-four percent of the elderly in nursing homes are covered by Medicaid.  Many of those elderly come from the middle class, by the way, and many probably voted for Republicans.  The reason for such a high dependency on Medicaid to pay for nursing homes is the cost of long-term care (which Medicare does not cover).  Few families can afford, say,  $ 6,000 per month to keep grandpa or grandma in the nursing home, and few families can afford to do without at least one full-time earned income to give that care at home.*

The conservative view, reflected in the " Health Wealth Care" proposal (crafted by a small group of very wealthy white men), is firmly based on unquestioning faith in the God of Markets:

All employers are assumed to provide good health insurance without any regulations demanding them to do so, and health care markets are assumed to compete in price and to automatically result in the most efficient care bundles**.  Neither of those assumptions hold in reality.

But then, of course, the Wealth Care proposal is exactly that:  A device to move billions into the pockets the Republicans see as belonging to the rightful owners of that money.

Third,  have you noticed how comfortable we all now seem to be with the increasing market concentration in many industries?  That Amazon might purchase Whole Foods is perfectly fine.  That we might end up getting all our news from media owned by Rupert Murdoch or someone equally rich is just how things are.

There was a time when market competition meant the very opposite of one or few large firms taking over a market, because the latter situation is bad news for consumers, resulting in higher prices and less choice. We even used to have something called the Federal Trade Commission, to regulate the tendencies toward market concentration by enforcing the anti-trust laws of the nation.

Well, we still have the FTC and those laws, but it's not the American consumers they now seem to protect.


*  Anyone glibly assuming, as a money-saving proposal,  that a patient with dementia, say, could easily be cared for at home (probably by women and without pay) needs to be fed into a wood chipper, feet first, so as to maximize the pain of the experience. 

I understand that some voluntarily choose to do that care, out of love, but the sacrifice required is enormous and should never be just expected, especially by those who are never planning to do it themselves.  Besides, few families can provide 24-hour care which is needed for dementia patients.

**  The markets for health care are the textbook example of how and why markets fail.  If we used medical technology for those failings the list of diseases of health care markets would be almost endless.

This doesn't mean that markets cannot be used at all.  But it does mean that the ability of the markets to result in high-quality-low-price combinations is pretty limited outside the kinds of services people buy fairly routinely, and it does mean that the markets need regulation.