Kevin Drum

Radical Transparency is the Latest Hot Trend in Online Journalism

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 9:47 PM EDT

The latest hot trend in online journalism is transparency in the editing process. For example, there's this from the New Republic:

The secret is that this is from my RSS feed. You won't see it if you click the link and go directly to the TNR site. Then there's this from Vox:

This one, however, turned out not to be a secret RSS bug. Vox just posted the wrong version on their site, and then removed it a few minutes later. Spoilsports. Personally, though, I applaud this trend. I think everyone should publish both initial drafts and final edits, along with all editor queries. Or, maybe some clever anarchist should hack into the New York Times content management system and download a few years' worth of initial drafts and editor comments. Wouldn't that be interesting?

NOTE: Do not target me. Someone else, please. Besides, no one edits my blog posts, so there are no fun editor queries. All the mistakes, idiotic opinions, and transparently anti-Bernie/anti-Hillary propaganda is my fault alone.

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Chuck Grassley Is Making Sense

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 2:21 PM EDT

Sen. Chuck Grassley, who heads up the Judiciary Committee, took to the floor yesterday to criticize Chief Justice John Roberts, who says that politicized confirmation hearings have caused the public to believe the court itself is politicized. Now, Roberts made those comments two months ago, so I'm not quite sure what prompted Grassley to suddenly get worked up about them. Nonetheless, Grassley is taking a lot of heat for his crazy talk. Let's listen in:

The Chief Justice has it exactly backwards. The confirmation process doesn't make the Justices appear political. The confirmation process has gotten political precisely because the court has drifted from the constitutional text, and rendered decisions based instead on policy preferences....In fact, many of my constituents believe, with all due respect, that the Chief Justice is part of this problem.

....As the Chief Justice remarked, although many of the Supreme Court's decisions are unanimous or nearly so, the Justices tend to disagree on what the Chief Justice called the 'hot button issues.' We all know what kinds of cases he had in mind. Freedom of religion, abortion, affirmative action, gun control, free speech, the death penalty, and others.

The Chief Justice was very revealing when he acknowledged that the lesser known cases are often unanimous and the 'hot button' cases are frequently 5-4.

But why is that? The law is no more or less likely to be clear in a 'hot button' case than in other cases. For those Justices committed to the rule of law, it shouldn't be any harder to keep personal preferences out of politically charged cases than others....The explanation for these 5-4 rulings must be that in the 'hot button' cases, some of the Justices are deciding based on their political preferences and not the law.

That sounds...surprisingly reasonable. It was anger at Supreme Court rulings that turned confirmation hearings political, not the other way around. And Grassley is right that for truly impartial justices, the law shouldn't be any harder to interpret in hot button cases than in more obscure cases. And yet, hot button cases are very often split along partisan lines.

Now, it's worth noting a couple of things. First, Grassley's beef with Roberts is precisely that he didn't vote on partisan lines when he upheld Obamacare. So he's not exactly on the moral high ground here. Second, the court has always been political. But for most of its history it was politically conservative and mostly confirmed Republican positions. That changed after World War II, and what conservatives are really upset about is that the Supreme Court now hands down both liberal and conservative rulings. They want it to go back to being an arm of the Republican Party.

So Grassley is hardly presenting a balanced picture here. But he's a Republican partisan, so why would he? More generally, though, I'd say his view of the Supreme Court is pretty defensible, and certainly more accurate than Roberts' view. I see no particular crazy talk here.

The Chief Justice was very revealing when he acknowledged that the lesser known cases are often unanimous and the 'hot button' cases are frequently 5-4.

But why is that?

The law is no more or less likely to be clear in a 'hot button' case than in other cases.

For those Justices committed to the rule of law, it shouldn't be any harder to keep personal preferences out of politically charged cases than others.

In some cases, the Justices are all willing to follow the law. But in others, where they are deeply invested in the policy implications of the ruling, they are 5-4.

The explanation for these 5-4 rulings must be that in the 'hot button' cases, some of the Justices are deciding based on their political preferences and not the law.

- See more at: http://www.publicnow.com/view/F2FDFB07EA2C3F7479ECA11B451EC03E32E4545E?2016-04-06-02:30:30+01:00-xxx6292#sthash.7tuZH0HM.dpuf

As the Chief Justice remarked, although many of the Supreme Court's decisions are unanimous or nearly so, the Justices tend to disagree on what the Chief Justice called the 'hot button issues.' We all know what kinds of cases he had in mind. Freedom of religion, abortion, affirmative action, gun control, free speech, the death penalty, and others.

The Chief Justice was very revealing when he acknowledged that the lesser known cases are often unanimous and the 'hot button' cases are frequently 5-4.

But why is that?

The law is no more or less likely to be clear in a 'hot button' case than in other cases.

For those Justices committed to the rule of law, it shouldn't be any harder to keep personal preferences out of politically charged cases than others.

In some cases, the Justices are all willing to follow the law. But in others, where they are deeply invested in the policy implications of the ruling, they are 5-4.

The explanation for these 5-4 rulings must be that in the 'hot button' cases, some of the Justices are deciding based on their political preferences and not the law.

- See more at: http://www.publicnow.com/view/F2FDFB07EA2C3F7479ECA11B451EC03E32E4545E?2016-04-06-02:30:30+01:00-xxx6292#sthash.7tuZH0HM.dpuf

As the Chief Justice remarked, although many of the Supreme Court's decisions are unanimous or nearly so, the Justices tend to disagree on what the Chief Justice called the 'hot button issues.' We all know what kinds of cases he had in mind. Freedom of religion, abortion, affirmative action, gun control, free speech, the death penalty, and others.

The Chief Justice was very revealing when he acknowledged that the lesser known cases are often unanimous and the 'hot button' cases are frequently 5-4.

But why is that?

The law is no more or less likely to be clear in a 'hot button' case than in other cases.

For those Justices committed to the rule of law, it shouldn't be any harder to keep personal preferences out of politically charged cases than others.

In some cases, the Justices are all willing to follow the law. But in others, where they are deeply invested in the policy implications of the ruling, they are 5-4.

The explanation for these 5-4 rulings must be that in the 'hot button' cases, some of the Justices are deciding based on their political preferences and not the law.

- See more at: http://www.publicnow.com/view/F2FDFB07EA2C3F7479ECA11B451EC03E32E4545E?2016-04-06-02:30:30+01:00-xxx6292#sthash.7tuZH0HM.dpuf

Bernie Sanders' Path to Victory All Hinges on This One Chart

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 12:35 PM EDT

For those of you wondering how well Bernie Sanders did last night, here's a table that you might want to keep handy. It's from Nate Silver, and it shows how big a margin Bernie needs in the remaining states to catch up with Hillary and get a majority of pledged delegates. In Wisconsin, for example, he needed to win by 16 points, but he won by only 13 14 points and picked up 47 48 delegates instead of the 50 he needed:

Roughly speaking, Bernie broke even yesterday. He'll need to do this well or better in every future election. In any case, this is a good table to keep at hand for upcoming primaries. It gives you an idea of how big a victory Bernie needs in order to catch up with Hillary. Anything less is basically a setback; anything more is a victory.

NOTE: I excerpted the table to include only the states with more than 50 delegates. The full table is at the link.

Quote of the Day: Photo ID Will Help Republicans Beat Hillary

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 12:02 PM EDT

From Wisconsin Rep. Glenn Grothman on how Republicans can win his state this November:

I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up. And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.

Shhh! You're not supposed to admit publicly that this is the point of photo ID laws. But Grothman is a freshman, so I guess he can be excused. He'll learn.

Brokers No Longer Allowed to Scam You on Your IRA Investments

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 10:59 AM EDT

After six years, a new rule requiring brokers to act in their clients' best interests has finally gone into effect:

The fiduciary rule is aimed at curbing billions of dollars in fees paid annually by small savers who transfer money out of 401(k)s, which are required to operate in their best interests—and into individual retirement accounts, which aren’t currently bound by such protections. There, savers may be working with financial-product salespeople who earn more selling certain products and don’t have to put their clients’ interests before their own.

Administration officials intend it as a direct attack on what they consider “a business model [that] rests on bilking hard-working Americans out of their retirement money,” Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters Tuesday.

....“Unless we see fundamental changes, this rule will remain unworkable, and we will consider every approach to address our concerns,” David Hirschmann, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s capital-markets division, said in a statement Tuesday. The chamber has said it was considering a lawsuit to block the regulation.

Unworkable! Sure, brokers have been following this rule for years with 401(k) plans, but extending that to IRAs will bring Wall Street to its knees. That's despite a wide range of concessions from the administration after it received comments on the proposed rule:

Mr. Perez said, for example, that an employee of MetLife Inc. wouldn’t be obligated to advise clients about offerings from a competitor, like New York Life....To cut down on paperwork that industry officials said would be too burdensome, the new version of the rule only requires that firms sign one “best interest contract” with clients when they open an account.

....The latest rule also clarifies that brokers and others can continue offering a wide range of guidance without having to clear the “fiduciary” bar for “advice.” It specifies that investor education isn’t considered advice, allowing companies to continue providing general education on retirement savings. Also excluded from the advice category are general circulation newsletters, media talk shows and commentaries as well as general marketing materials.

Hmmm. "General education." I have a feeling these are going to be boom times for general education. Stay tuned.

The Guy Behind the Planned Parenthood Sting Videos Is Now In Trouble With a Second State

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 1:26 AM EDT

Y'all remember David Daleiden, the guy behind the attack videos against Planned Parenthood, don't you? Well, his videos generated a bunch of state investigations that turned up no evidence at all of any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. But how about wrongdoing by Daleiden? That's a whole different kettle of fish. A second state is now going after him:

Investigators with the California Department of Justice on Tuesday raided the home of David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind a series of undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood, the activist said. Authorities seized a laptop and multiple hard drives from his Orange County apartment, Daleiden said in an email. The equipment contained all of the video Daleiden had filmed as part of his 30-month project, “including some very damning footage that has yet to be released to the public,” he said.

Daleiden is now in trouble with both Texas and California. But I suppose it's all good PR as long as they spell his name right. At this point, Daleiden can probably do better as a martyr for the cause than he can as a straightforward activist. After all, his activism produced squat—except for lots of death threats against abortion providers. But maybe that was the whole plan.

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Obama Is Still Trying to Keep Markets Competitive

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 1:04 AM EDT

Can an activist government do something about huge corporate mergers that reduce competition to dangerously low levels? Why yes!

Pfizer Inc. has decided to kill its planned $150 billion takeover of Allergan PLC, after the Obama administration took aim at a deal that would have moved the biggest drug company in the U.S. to Ireland to lower its taxes, according to people familiar with the matter....The companies are expected to announce the deal’s termination as early as Wednesday morning, after Pfizer’s board voted Tuesday to halt the combination and the New York-based pharmaceutical company then notified Dublin-based Allergan, the people said.

This happened after the Treasury Department unveiled new rules that would have eliminated the tax advantages of the deal. There's also this:

The Justice Department is preparing to file a lawsuit to block a proposed merger between Halliburton Co. and Baker Hughes Inc., the most recent sign that a takeover boom is meeting resistance from U.S. regulators and antitrust enforcers....It would mark the department’s most notable flexing of its enforcement muscles since Comcast Corp. abandoned its planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable Inc. a year ago in the face of opposition by the department and the Federal Communications Commission.

These periodic interventions aren't much, but they demonstrate what can be done even in the absence of new legislation. An administration that wants to keep markets competitive has plenty of arrows in its quiver if it chooses to use them.

Publication Bias Is Boring. You Should Care About It Anyway.

| Wed Apr. 6, 2016 12:41 AM EDT

You all know about publication bias, don't you? Sure you do. It's the tendency to publish research that has bold, affirmative results and ignore research that concludes there's nothing going on. This can happen two ways. First, it can be the researchers themselves who do it. In some cases that's fine: the data just doesn't amount to anything, so there's nothing to write up. In other cases, it's less fine: the data contradicts previous results, so you decide not to write it up.

The second way it can happen is via journal editors. Generally speaking, they prefer papers with exciting new results. This, of course, makes things even worse for researchers. They're not much interested in writing up negative results in the first place, and they're even less interested if they know there's virtually no chance of getting them published in a good journal.

Why bring this up? Because yesterday Brian Resnick wrote about a truly remarkable case of publication bias. It revolves around research showing that the hormone oxytocin increases trust between humans. At first, multiple lines of research suggested it could. But then Anthony Lane, one of the primary researchers in the field, began getting negative results:

After 2010, fewer and fewer of their lab's experiments yielded data that confirmed the oxytocin could reliably increase levels of trust....The doubts crested in 2014 when Lane and his colleagues couldn't replicate their own envelope study....The lab was able to publish this negative finding, but Lane felt a larger problem was lurking. Labs are judged on the strength of their published work. And Lane's published portfolio on oxytocin just wasn't representative of their work anymore. They still had five papers showing promise for oxytocin, and only one casting doubt.

In a new paper published March in the journal Neuroendocrinology, Lane and his colleagues go through their "file drawer" of studies, and conclude the whole of their work yields an inconclusive result on the power of oxytocin spray to change behavior. They looked at 25 different tests their lab conducted. Only six of the 25 tests yielded significant results. In aggregate, the difference between the oxytocin sniffers in their studies and placebo groups "was not reliably different than zero," the paper found.

When they tried to submit their null findings, they "were rejected time and time again," the paper reports.

So there you go. Not just a boring "no result" study from an unknown researcher. Nor a trivial correction to previous work. This is a well-known researcher evaluating his entire output on a subject and concluding that he's been wrong for years. And yet he couldn't get it published.

Lots of null results don't deserve to be published. But lots of them do: otherwise readers are left with an impression that the evidence is far more positive than it really is. That's the case here: the overall impression Lane and others had left is that oxytocin works. It increases trust levels. Without a corrective, that's what people would go on believing.

Everyone knows about this problem. Everyone agrees—in theory—that it needs to be addressed. And yet nothing ever seems to happen. Science deserves better.

Quiz of the Day: Match the Questions With Bernie's Answers

| Tue Apr. 5, 2016 9:25 PM EDT

How closely have you been following the Democratic presidential campaign? Can you match up the topics on the left with the answers Bernie Sanders gave to the Daily News editorial board on the right?

  1. Whether Wall Street executives could be prosecuted over their actions during the financial crisis.
  2. How far he wants Israel to pull back its illegal settlements.
  3. What the Supreme Court's recent decision on Metropolitan Life means.
  4. How Israel should have handled its 2014 conflict in Gaza.
  5. President Obama's policy of giving the military authority over drone attacks.
  6. How he would handle the detention and interrogation of an ISIS commander.
  7. The Palestinian leadership's decision to litigate Israeli war crimes in the International Criminal Court.
  8. What big banks would look like after he's broken them up.
  1. I don’t know the answer to that.
  2. Do I have them in front of me, now, legal statutes? No, I don’t.
  3. I'm not running JP Morgan Chase or Citibank.
  4. I don’t quite think I’m qualified to make decisions.
  5. It’s something I have not studied, honestly.
  6. Look, why don’t I support a million things in the world?
  7. You’re asking me a very fair question, and if I had some paper in front of me, I would give you a better answer.
  8. Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.

Answer key: 1-B, 2-G, 3-E, 4-D, 5-A, 6-H, 7-F, 8-C

White Teachers Think Pretty Poorly of Their Black Students

| Tue Apr. 5, 2016 2:46 PM EDT

Bob Somerby draws my attention to a new study about the effect of race on teacher evaluations of students. The authors took advantage of a large dataset that included evaluations of students from two teachers each. They then compared the teacher evaluations of each student based on differences in the teachers' races.

The chart on the right tells the story. White students didn't suffer from having a teacher of another race. Expectations of dropping out were the same and expectations of getting a college degree were actually higher. Hispanic students were modestly affected. Teachers of other races thought Hispanic students had a slightly higher chance of dropping out and the same chance of completing college.

But black students were enormously affected. Compared to black teachers, teachers of other races thought their black students had a far higher chance of dropping out and a far lower chance of completing college. Since the baseline expectation of dropping out was 31 percent for black students, a change of 12 percentage points represents a whopping 39 percent increase. Likewise, the baseline expectation of a college degree was 37 percent for black students, so a change of 9 percentage points represents 24 percent decrease.

The authors conclude with this:

The general finding of systematic biases in teachers’ expectations for student attainment indicates that the topic of teacher expectations is ripe for future research. Particularly policy relevant areas for future inquiry include how teachers form expectations, what types of interventions can eliminate biases from teacher expectations, and how teacher expectations affect the long-run student outcomes of ultimate import. To the extent that teacher expectations affect student outcomes, the results presented in the current study provide additional support for the hiring of a more diverse and representative teaching force, as nonwhite teachers are underrepresented in U.S. public schools.

Let's ask all our presidential candidate what, if anything, they think we should do about this.