Lost secrets of happiness or at least avoiding depression

Tim Harford reviewed a new book, The Origins of Happiness, which argues that happiness should guide government policy. Richard Layard has long argued that depression is an avoidable disease which should be one of the top health priorities of government. Unfortunately, Americans have spent $11.3 billion on anti-depressants per year in the 2010s, but it hasn’t worked. Rates of depression have not decreased relative to where they were before we started medicating everyone. That is partly because anti-depressants don’t work long term for the vast majority of people. Traditional societies don’t have such high levels of depression like in the US. For example, the Amish have less trouble with depression than mainstream America and Costa Rica is happier than the US.

Johann Hari wrote a new book, Lost Connections, which explains that there are actually three causes of depression and America has almost exclusively focused on treating the biological cause with drugs which hasn’t worked out well. He wrote a fascinating article to make his case:

Derek Summerfield happened to be in Cambodia conducting some research on the psychological effects of unexploded land mines — at a time when chemical antidepressants were first being marketed in the country.

The local doctors didn’t know much about these drugs, so they asked Summerfield to explain them. When he finished, they explained that they didn’t need these new chemicals — because they already had antidepressants. Puzzled, Summerfield asked them to explain, expecting that they were going to tell him about some local herbal remedy. Instead, they told him about something quite different.

The doctors told Summerfield a story about a farmer they had treated. He worked in the water-logged rice fields, and one day he stepped on a land mine and his leg was blasted off. He was fitted with an artificial limb, and in time he went back to work. But it’s very painful to work when your artificial limb is underwater, and returning to the scene of his trauma must have made him highly anxious. The farmer became deeply depressed.

So the doctors and his neighbors sat with this man and talked through his life and his troubles. They realized that even with his new artificial limb, his old job — working in the paddies — was just too difficult, that he was constantly stressed and in physical pain, and that these things combined to make him want to just stop living. His interlocutors had an idea.

They suggested that he work as a dairy farmer, a job that would place less painful stress on his false leg and produce fewer disturbing memories. They believed he was perfectly capable of making the switch. So they bought him a cow. In the months and years that followed, his life changed. His depression, once profound, lifted. The Cambodian doctors told Summerfield: “You see, doctor, the cow was an analgesic, and antidepressant.”

…[There are three causes of depression]: biological (like your genes), psychological (how you think about yourself), and social (the wider ways in which we live together). Very few people dispute this. But when it comes to communicating with the public, and offering help, psychological solutions have been increasingly neglected, and environmental solutions have been almost totally ignored….

…Irving Kirsch, a professor of psychology who now teaches at Harvard Medical School, was initially a supporter of chemical antidepressants – but then he began to analyze this data, especially the data the drug companies had tried to keep hidden from the public. His research concluded that chemical antidepressants give you a boost, above the placebo effect, of 1.8 points on average on the Hamilton scale. This is less than a third of the boost that you get, by some estimates, from improving your sleep patterns… Although antidepressant prescriptions have increased 500 percent since the 1980s, there has been no discernible decrease in society-wide depression rates.

… But the scientists who study the social and psychological causes of these problems tend to see them differently. Far from being a malfunction, they see depression as partly or even largely a function, a necessary signal that our needs are not being met.

Everyone knows that human beings have innate physical needs — for food, water, shelter, clean air. There is equally clear evidence that human beings have innate psychological needs: to belong, to have meaning and purpose in our lives, to feel we are valued, to feel we have a secure future. Our culture is getting less good at meeting those underlying needs for a large number of people — and this is one of the key drivers of the current epidemic of despair.

… Using [standard medical] guidelines, every person who has lost a loved one — every grieving person — should be classed as mentally ill. The symptoms of depression and the symptoms of grief were identical.

Embarrassed, the psychiatric authorities came up with an awkward solution. They created something called “the grief exception.” They told doctors to keep using the checklist unless somebody the patient loved had recently died, in which case it didn’t count. But this led to a debate that they didn’t know how to respond to. Doctors were supposed to tell their patients that depression was a brain disease to be identified on a checklist — but now there was, uniquely, one life situation where that explanation didn’t hold.

Why, some doctors began to ask, should grief be the only situation in which deep despair is not a sign of a mental disorder that should be treated with drugs? What if you have lost your job? Your house? Your community? Once you entertain the idea that depression might be a reasonable response to some life circumstances …our theories about depression require “an entire system overhaul.”

Rather than do this, the psychiatric authorities simply got rid of the grief exception. Now grieving people can be diagnosed as mentally ill at once. Cacciatore’s research has found that about a third …of parents who lose a child are drugged with antidepressants or sedatives in the first 48 hours after the death.

…To those doctors in Cambodia, the concept of an “antidepressant” didn’t entail changing your brain chemistry, an idea alien to their culture. It was about the community empowering the depressed person to change his life.

Posted in Health

If #Pence2018, then is Trump Guilty? Does Trump deserve impeachment?

We already know that Trump deserves impeachment. He has admitted to obstruction of justice involving a known Russian crime that his top advisors and family members are guilty of being accessories to. Done. That is worse than the stain on the blue dress that got Clinton impeached. There is hard evidence for this already. Furthermore, there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence that much worse is to come. Why else would Trump spend so much political capital trying to help Russia and stop the investigation.

We know that the Russians have been spending millions of dollars on a multi-pronged effort to support Trump’s presidency. We know that the Russians illegally broke into Democratic Party computers and stole emails which they published through Wikileaks with strategic timing to help Trump win the presidency. We know that high-level members of the Trump campaign including Trump’s family members met with the Russians about getting illegal help with the campaign. We don’t know what help they got (maybe none), but Trump’s son-in-law was secretly trying to set up a backchannel communication with the Russians for Trump that could be hidden from Americans intelligence. Then Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and admitted that his motivation was obstructing Comey’s investigation into Russian collusion. Trump has also been repeatedly pressuring the FBI and Justice Department leaders to let go of the investigation. Plus, Trump’s Republican allies in the House and Senate have been attacking the Justice Department, the FBI (which has never had a Democrat at its head), and the Mueller probe to try to delegitimize them. Why would they be so afraid of the investigation if there were nothing more there? Why has Trump spent so much effort denying the evidence that Russians have been trying to subvert American democracy?

[Trump] thinks that a good relationship with Putin would be “an asset, not a liability” for the United States. And he was more than willing to discount intelligence reports to the contrary even before he won the Republican nomination.

When news broke in June 2016 that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked and opposition research on Donald Trump leaked, most likely by Russian hackersworking with members of the Russian intelligence establishment, Trump’s first response was to accuse the DNC of hacking itself. He said in a statement, “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader.”

He would repeat that sentiment on RT America (a Kremlin-backed television station) in September 2016, saying “I think it’s probably unlikely” that Russia was behind the DNC hack. “I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows? But I think that it’s pretty unlikely. But, you know, who knows?” And during the second and third presidential debates, he would again argue that “maybe there was no hacking” and even if there was, “our country has no idea” who is behind it.

In an interview with Time magazine on November 28 following the election, Trump said again that he didn’t believe Russia interfered in the election in any way. “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say, ‘Oh, Russia interfered.'”

When the Washington Post reported on December 9 that the CIA concluded Russia intervened in the election to support Trump, Trump responded with a statement saying, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”

The denials continued into 2017. In February 2017, Trump said in a press conference, “The whole Russian thing, that’s a ruse. That’s a ruse.” After firing FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, Trump told NBC News’s Lester Holt, “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

In November 2017, Trump said he believed Putin’s assertions that his government did not meddle in the 2016 election, telling reporters aboard Air Force One, “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

 Why has Trump spent so much effort pushing a pro-Russia agenda that is politically costly and was unpopular in both parties? Jane Coaston explains:

Trump’s attitudes on Russia have made him an enemy of his own party

In office, Trump’s stance on Russia and Russian electoral interference has stalled the government’s ability to react to it.

His administration still refuses to put in place major sanctions against the Russian government, despite the fact that they passed Congress nearly unanimously last year as a direct response to Russia’s actions in the 2016 presidential race, with broad support from conservative lawmakers.

To be sure, Trump’s national security apparatus has taken a stance on Russia that some conservatives have deemed to be far stronger and tougher than Obama’s. That’s because, as Rolling Stone’s Zach Dorfman has noted, Trump’s friendly perspective on Russia is not shared by either his Cabinet or Republican members of Congress. As a result, his administration has ordered the Pentagon to be far more aggressive in its efforts to deter Russia from using nuclear weapons in Europe.

And in August 2017, the Trump administration closed the Russian Consulate in San Francisco, a major Russian diplomatic facility (and allegedly also a base for spying). And it was Trump who approved the sale of $41 million worth of arms to Ukraine’s government in December as it continues to fight pro-Russian rebels in the country’s east.

Trump’s national security adviser says “the evidence” of Russian involvement in the 2016 election “is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain,” and other members of the administration have talked tough on nuclear weapons proliferation and closing consulates. Still, Trump himself has taken Putin’s word over those of his own intelligence agencies, his hand-picked national security officers, and his own government.

Matthew Yglesias noted that Trump has been quick to defend Russian atrocities even to the point of implying that America is just as bad (not “innocent” of a lot of killing) and Trump has consistently defended Russia despite constant pushback from the press, other Republicans, and even his own cabinet.

For years Trump bragged about his relationship with Putin. Lately Trump has claimed they never even met.

Trump spent a good deal of time acting as a Putin spokesperson in the American press:

  • In an October 13, 2015, interview with the Guardian, Trump defended Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war, arguing that Putin is “going to want to bomb ISIS because he doesn’t want ISIS going into Russia and so he’s going to want to bomb ISIS.”
  • When Joe Scarborough asked about Putin’s habit of murdering critical journalists on December 18, 2015, Trump replied with a weird form of whataboutism: “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing going on, a lot of stupidity.”
  • “I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters,” Trump said in a December 20 interview with The Week on ABC.
  • “Have they found him guilty?” Trump asked rhetorically when Fox Business News’ Maria Bartiromo pressed him about Litvinenko’s murder in a January 26, 2016, interview. “I don’t think they’ve found him guilty.”
  • “There are a lot of killers,” Trump said during a Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly in February 2016. “Do you think our country is so innocent? Do you think our country is so innocent?…

“There’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly,” he said in a July 27, 2016, news conference…

Later that day at a campaign rally, Trump said, “wouldn’t it be a great thing if we could get along with Putin?” During the October 9 presidential debate, Trump returned to the theme that “I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example.”

Shortly before Inauguration Day, on January 11, 2017, Trump said, “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia. Russia can help us fight ISIS.”

Trump’s early personnel and policy moves matched up with this desire.

He quickly tapped retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, known as an outlier among American military and intelligence professionals for his pro-Russian views, to serve as his national security adviser. And he bypassed the entire range of conventionally qualified candidates to serve as secretary of state in favor of Exxon executive Rex Tillerson, a former recipient of Russia’s Order of Friendship award. Early in his administration, Trump aimed to relax sanctions on Russia, only to back down in the face of congressional opposition….

Perhaps most shockingly, Trump’s own team of advisers had to drag him kicking and screaming into affirming America’s commitment to upholding [NATO]. …It was a bizarre thing to do, it clearly benefitted Russian foreign policy objectives, and it offered nothing but political downside for Trump.

…the big picture here is that Trump remains stubbornly unwilling to break with Putin and the Kremlin. The president used to regularly brag about his contacts with the leaders of the Russian government. The president won the election with the helping hand of the Russian government. The president repeatedly expressed his desire to change US foreign policy in a more pro-Russian direction. And though the president has, so far, been largely stymied in his efforts to do this seems to be straining against constraints imposed by the leadership of his own party and his own foreign policy team.

Trump’s efforts have been scarily effective at getting the Republican base to flip its opinion away from it’s nearly century-long tradition of thinking Russia is America’s adversary and an authoritarian enemy of freedom, to thinking that Russia is an ally in the struggle to make America great again.

Matt Yglesias also argues that the Trump’s administration has been amazingly successful at keeping secrets. For example, no administration since well before Nixon has succeeded at keep income tax records secret.  Nixon tried to keep his taxes secret, but we all know how that worked out for him.

We don’t know why Trump decided to fire Flynn (the stated reason that he “lied to Mike Pence” doesn’t pass the laugh test), whether he was told of the domestic abuse allegations against then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, what’s on the Apprentice outtake footage that producer Mark Burnett is keeping locked up, why exactly Trump handed some choice Israeli intelligence to the Russian foreign minister, who financed the hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, or any of a dozen other major questions about Trump.

The reality is that Trump was the least transparent candidate of all time and is running one of the least transparent administrations on record. It’s a White House where even whether the president is golfing on any given weekend is the subject of dissembling and fabrication.

Plus, Trump has kept past scandals from catching up with him like how he got “himself out of bankruptcy [to]make his big Atlantic City comeback” and how he “for years, used lawyer Michael Cohen and a relationship with a major tabloid conglomerate to keep affairs hushed up and manipulate the public’s image of him.”

Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux posted an infogram showing that “the Russia investigation is moving really freaking fast.”

In contrast, one year into Nixon’s administration, he seemed like a fairly honest president except that, like Trump, he kept his income tax returns secret. They were finally leaked just before Watergate blew up and in defense against Nixon’s obvious reasons for hiding his tax returns, Nixon made the famous quote, “I am not a crook.” It took six years before Nixon’s scandals took him down and that is about average length of the above investigations. Several of the above investigations even continued after the president left office!

You’ll note that this chart of investigations left off numerous Obama-administration investigations like Benghazi-gate, Solyndra-gate, I.R.S.-gate, Fast and Furious, but that is probably because they wrapped up relatively rapidly without indicting anyone, much less implicating the president.

Trump’s administration has a historic number of extremely high-level indictments after only one year and the momentum is only increasing so far.  And this is only looking at one facet of possible corruption, the Russia connections.  Trump has an unprecedented lack of transparency in his finances despite much more obvious conflicts of interest than any other president in living memory.  And then there is the parade of Trump’s sexual scandals and hush money.

At this point the choice is already clear. It is either three more years of more corruption and risks with Trump or we turn to President Pence in 2018.

Posted in Pence2018

#Pence2018: Staying where things are cool and clean while Trump burns down the White House

Pence is diplomatic enough to be able to meet with enemy leaders and mentally stable enough to be able to avoid rash diplomatic accidents.

[Pence] agreed to a secret meeting with North Korean officials while in South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. But on Saturday Feb. 10, less than two hours before Pence and his team were set to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, the regime’s nominal head of state, the North Koreans pulled out of the scheduled meeting, according to Pence’s office.

Can you imagine Trump being willing to meet with enemy leaders? Can you imagine how badly it could go if he did? Can you imagine Trump not blowing up on Twitter if he were snubbed by a foreign leader? Pence said nothing about it for ten days. Pence is much better at foreign policy and would be a much better president.

Meanwhile, the Mueller investigation has made 24 indictments so far, several defendants have already pleaded guilty including two top advisors, Flynn and Papadopoulos, who admitted repeatedly lying to cover up meeting with the Russians. The indictments also allude to “co-conspirators” who are yet to be named, so rather than clearing Trump as he and his supporters claim, they are clearly signaling that more indictments are to come.

Pence is wisely staying away from the White House to avoid being burned by being too close to the Trump bonfire of corruption. Abigail Tracy reports

Pence, who has demonstrated an uncanny ability to avoid the pitfalls that have jeopardized the president. Republicans, too, seem to understand that Pence is safer the less he is seen. “No one, it seems, has the heart to go after Pence in force, because somebody has to be around to take over if the boss makes an early exit,” …T.A. Frank noted last week. Whether Pence can maintain that squeaky-clean facade, as he steps more frequently into the spotlight, is a balancing act that may augur his own presidential ambitions. Coming off his trip to lead the Olympic delegation in Pyeongchang, Pence will embark on a three-month cross-country tour to stump for Republican candidates and raise funds as part of a broader G.O.P. effort to hold onto its majorities in both houses of Congress. If Pence’s mission fails, the threat of impeachment proceedings may become all too real. But at the very least, the Republican Party can be comforted by the fact that the vice president will be far away from the scandal-plagued West Wing for the next several months and, arguably, better positioned to ascend to the Oval Office.

Meanwhile, Trump’s official advisor is double-dipping as part-time top-level government employee and part-time Trump Business manager and he does fundraising in India charging a $38,000 booking fee for “conversation and dinner” with Trump’s most trusted advisor and son-in-law. This is the very definition of nepotistic corruption.

Pence is too ethical to try to pull this kind of thing.  Pence for President in 2018.

Posted in Pence2018

#Pence2018, Because Trump is badness of historic proportions

The New York Times surveyed 170 members of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section to rank all American presidents and they placed Trump dead last. Of course, if we just look at the scholars who are Republicans, their rankings are different from the rankings of Democrats and independents, but they too ranked Trump near the bottom. They put him at the fifth worst president in history. That is despite the fact that scholars have a tendency to rank recent presidents much higher than presidents from long ago. For example, Six out of 14 postwar presidents make their top 10. Note that list shown here is just the Republican ranking which just includes three postwar presidents (highlighted in bold) in their top ten.

Abigail Tracy wrote an article that tried to claim that Pence would be a worse president than Trump, but I sincerely doubt her conclusion based upon her own sources. Tracy’s only two sources that actually make the claim are former Trump White House advisors, Omarosa Manigault Newman and Steve Bannon who have reason to be more loyal to Trump than to Pence. I’d hardly trust them to be objective. Tracy also quotes two Democratic Party loyalists who don’t like Pence, but they are Democrats, so it isn’t surprising. Of course they don’t like Pence, but they say nothing about whether he would actually be worse for America than Trump. That is a much harder claim to make.

Based upon the reviews of Trump by presidential scholars, it would require a truly historically bad president to be worse than him and I don’t see any reason to think that Pence would worse than the middle of the pack of the presidents of history. That really isn’t too high a bar to clear. Pence has to be better than Nixon at least and scholars from all parties agree that Nixon was far better than Trump.

Pence for President in 2018.

Posted in Pence2018

If not #Pence2018, we are likely to get Pelosi in 2019 and that would be undemocratic.

Trump’s record-breaking historic unpopularity is dragging down the Republican Party and it is undoubtedly too late to stop his effect on the coming midterm election. If Trump stays, he energizes and mobilizes Democrats and demoralizes moderate Republicans with his incompetence, corruption, and steady stream of embarrassing, dishonorable problems. If Trump goes and Pence becomes president, the Republican party will demoralize the large fraction of the GOP that are Trump fanatics who believe that Trump is God’s choice for president and all the embarrassing stuff he does is being organized by a Deep State conspiracy centered on our own FBI (which is managed by Trump!) and the Mueller investigation (which was set up by Republicans and is led by a Republican) to create fake news. Plus, the Republican Party elites will have to admit that the party made a mistake nominating Trump which is extremely difficult for elites to do.

So far, Republican Party elites are calculating that they are better off keeping Trump than going through the big short-run hassle of switching out for Pence, but this is short sighted. It doesn’t staunch the steady bleeding that will only get worse and it risks a major problem next year. The Republican Party is likely to lose control of the House which means that Trump flunkie Devin Nunes will no longer be in charge of the House’s investigations of Trump corruption and putting control of the investigation into less sympathetic hands will make the bleeding worse. Under Speaker Pelosi, the House is not going to be shy about impeaching Trump. It would be better for the party and the nation if a sympathetic Paul Ryan is leading the impeachment. Furthermore, there is a distinct possibility that Pence has done something criminal due to working for a corrupt President that will taint him and then the next in line for presidential succession is the Speaker of the House. It would be better for the nation if Trump were replaced with Ryan rather than Pelosi.

A president Pelosi in 2019 risks a bigger constitutional crisis than a President Pence or President Ryan in 2018 because Republicans will mostly rally around Pence or Ryan just like the have rallied around Trump. Even most of the millions of Republicans who thought he was unqualified for the presidency before the election ended up supporting Trump and the party will do the same for Pence or Ryan. They won’t rally around a President Pelosi. Similarly, although Democrats aren’t thrilled about a President Pence (and my liberal friends have been much more against the idea than my conservative friends) they will give more support to any competent president who isn’t corrupt than to Trump. They just think they will win bigger in the long run with Trump. But that is dangerous too. Trump is helping the Democrats win by harming America. Nobody should want to get ahead by taking advantage of the harm their opponent is doing if there is a chance to stop the harm.

In a parliamentary democracy, the Prime Minister serves the executive role like a President in a presidential system. For political parties to win an election and then decide that they have the wrong leader and switch to another Prime Minister who had been elected in the same party is a normal, uncontroversial practice.

in parliamentary systems, the legislature has the right to dismiss a Prime Minister at any time if they feel that he or she is not doing the job as well as expected. This is called a “motion of no confidence,” and is not as much of a drawn out process. In the US, impeachment is an extensive, formal process in which an official is accused of doing something illegal.

Because Americans elected the Republican Party to control both houses of the legislature, it should be uncontroversial if they use their constitutional power to switch presidents to another elected member of the same party who can do the job better for matters of corruption and temperament. A major weakness of presidential democracies like America is that it we lack an effective mechanism for replacing the executive (the President) in case of mental decline, insanity, health problems, or creeping authoritarianism. In fact, presidential systems are more prone to devolve into dictatorship than parliamentary systems for this reason and the problems of excessive gridlock among others. This is why the US has not imposed our system of government on other nations that we have taken over in war like Germany, Japan, and Iraq.

Even when a president is criminally corrupt, it is very difficult in the US system to replace him because the impeachment system is far too partisan and too full of veto points. Parliamentary systems are more robust to problems of corruption because it is easier and less dangerous for a party to quickly make a motion of no confidence and switch leaders to always keep the best possible person in the party as the leader. In the US system, both parties have to agree on impeachment in both houses of the legislature. That is very hard to do because both parties have incentives to keep a bad president. For the opposition party, a bad leader like Trump taints his whole party look and makes the next election much easier for the challengers. For the incumbent party, a bad leader like Trump is also hard to deal with (even in a Parliamentary system) because the leader has so much power to resists a challenge just as Trump is fighting the legitimacy of the FBI and the Republican-led investigations and that makes it difficult to oppose the most powerful person in a nation. Plus, it is always embarrassing and damaging for the party to have to admit a mistake about something as important as the leader that they chose.

However, it will get much more embarrassing for the Republicans when the Democrats take control of the House in 2019 and begin using their subpoena power to reveal Trump’s tax forms, his business dealings, more affairs, involvement in some abortions. Think about what the Starr investigation was able to dig up on Bill Clinton under the direction of a Republican-controlled house after five years of investigations and hearings. Starr didn’t find anything that he was originally supposed to look for, but he did find an unrelated sexual affair that was bad enough that the House impeached Clinton. And Starr steadily created leaks and news releases that constantly embarrassed and distracted Clinton for five years. Imagine what a more partisan investigation could do to Trump? Oh the tweets we will see. Also, there are thousands of hours of video footage of Trump engaging in more “locker-room talk” on the set of The Apprentice that reputably contain some horrifying quotes that have yet to come to light. It is only going to get worse for Trump and the Republican Party and it is time to put an end to it. He has already clearly done more than Nixon did to get impeached. He has admitted to obstructing the investigation into the Russian crime of tampering in the Presidential election to get him elected and we know that top members of his campaign and close members of his family knew about this crime. Instead of reporting it to the FBI or the CIA, or the press, or anyone legitimate that could have thwart the crime, they sought out meetings with shady Russians to talk about collaboration on… something or other. It is treasonous to aid foreign criminals who have committed felonies in order to subvert an American election by not reporting knowledge of the crime.

It will just get more embarrassing for Republicans to have a Democratic-controlled branch of government investigating Trump because they will be even more aggressive, and it will be more painful for everyone than having Republicans take care of their own problem by themselves. Look at the history of the mess of the House impeachment of Bill Clinton. It was reversed by the Senate despite Republican control because the vast majority of American felt like it was too partisan and unjustified. A ‘witch hunt’ was a common description by opponents and enough Republican senators agreed to acquit Clinton.

The only successful impeachment in history happened when a majority of BOTH parties wanted to impeach Nixon. Nothing happened until a majority of Republicans wanted to impeach their own president and even then, Nixon was never actually impeached. He resigned because he had some shame about what he had done and loyalty to his party. Trump has no shame nor loyalty to his party and Republicans know that if he falls, he will try to take as many people with him as possible. He has previously threatened to try to destroy the Republican Party if they oppose him. This is a dangerous situation for America. Our constitutional system is completely untested in its ability to remove a bad president who will use all his power to resist being replaced.  And the president has incredible power in America.  The president is the head of his party and controls the Justice Department, FBI, CIA, military, and the vast regulatory apparatus of the federal government from the IRS to the EPA to the Treasury.

That is why Democrats need to put the interests of the country in front of the interests of the Democratic Party and join forces with the few Republicans who are already calling for Pence for President in 2018.

Posted in Pence2018

Artificial intelligence will dominate more and more of society. Will it be racist and sexist?

Brian Resnick explains research that our systems of artificial intelligence have learned to perpetuate racism and sexism just like people do.

“Many people think machines are not biased,” Princeton computer scientist Aylin Caliskan says. “But machines are trained on human data. And humans are biased.”

Computers learn how to be racist, sexist, and prejudiced in a similar way that a child does, Caliskan explains: from their creators…

Nearly all new consumer technologies use machine learning in some way. Like Google Translate: No person instructed the software to learn how to translate Greek to French and then to English. It combed through countless reams of text and learned on its own…

And it’s increasingly clear these programs can develop biases and stereotypes without us noticing.

Last May, ProPublica published an investigation on a machine learning program that courts use to predict who is likely to commit another crime… The reporters found that the software rated black people at a higher risk than whites.

“Scores like this — known as risk assessments — are increasingly common in courtrooms across the nation,” ProPublica explained. “They are used to inform decisions about who can be set free at every stage of the criminal justice system, from assigning bond amounts … to even more fundamental decisions about defendants’ freedom.”

The program learned about who is most likely to end up in jail from real-world incarceration data. And historically, the real-world criminal justice system has been unfair to black Americans.

This story reveals a deep irony about machine learning. The appeal of these systems is they can make impartial decisions, free of human bias… But what happened was that machine learning programs perpetuated our biases on a large scale. So instead of a judge being prejudiced against African Americans, it was a robot…

Caliskan has seen bias creep into machine learning in often subtle ways — for instance, in Google Translate.

Turkish, one of her native languages, has no gender pronouns. But when she uses Google Translate on Turkish phrases, it “always ends up as ‘he’s a doctor’ in a gendered language.” The Turkish sentence didn’t say whether the doctor was male or female. The computer just assumed if you’re talking about a doctor, it’s a man…

Presumably, if you were talking about a nurse the computer would assume it is a woman, but both of these stereotypes are harmful if they constrain people’s thinking and perpetuate inequities. Resnick continues:

Recently, Caliskan and colleagues published a paper in Science, that finds as a computer teaches itself English, it becomes prejudiced against black Americans and women.

Basically, they used a common machine learning program to crawl through the internet, look at 840 billion words, and teach itself the definitions of those words. The program accomplishes this by looking for how often certain words appear in the same sentence. Take the word “bottle.” The computer begins to understand what the word means by noticing it occurs more frequently alongside the word “container,” and also near words that connote liquids like “water” or “milk.”…

How frequently two words appear together is the first clue we get to deciphering their meaning.

Once the computer amassed its vocabulary, Caliskan ran it through a version of the implicit association test.

In humans, the IAT is meant to undercover subtle biases in the brain by seeing how long it takes people to associate words. A person might quickly connect the words “male” and “engineer.” But if a person lags on associating “woman” and “engineer,” it’s a demonstration that those two terms are not closely associated in the mind, implying bias. (There are some reliability issues with the IAT in humans, which you can read about here.)

Here, instead at looking at the lag time, Caliskan looked at how closely the computer thought two terms were related. She found that African-American names in the program were less associated with the word “pleasant” than white names. And female names were more associated with words relating to family than male names.

…Like a child, a computer builds its vocabulary through how often terms appear together. On the internet, African-American names are more likely to be surrounded by words that connote unpleasantness. That’s not because African Americans are unpleasant. It’s because people on the internet say awful things. And it leaves an impression on our young AI…

Increasingly, Caliskan says, job recruiters are relying on machine learning programs to take a first pass at résumés. And if left unchecked, the programs can learn and act upon gender stereotypes in their decision-making.

“Let’s say a man is applying for a nurse position; he might be found less fit for that position if the machine is just making its own decisions,” she says. “And this might be the same for a women applying for a software developer or programmer position. … Almost all of these programs are not open source, and we’re not able to see what’s exactly going on. So we have a big responsibility about trying to uncover if they are being unfair or biased.”

…Already AI is making its way into the health care system, helping doctors find the right course of treatment for their patients. …But health data, too, is filled with historical bias. It’s long been known that women get surgery at lower rates than men. (One reason is that women, as primary caregivers, have fewer people to take care of them post-surgery.)

Might AI then recommend surgery at a lower rate for women?

…the people who use these programs should be aware of these problems, and not take for granted that a computer can produce a less biased result than a human.

…AI learns about how the world has been. …It doesn’t know how the world ought to be. That’s up to humans to decide.

Similarly, when Microsoft unleashed an AI chatbot onto Twitter, within 24 hours it had learned a lot of the ugly misogynistic, racist side of Twitter and Microsoft had to manually delete a lot of offensive tweets to avoid embarrassment.   Facebook has over 100,000 AI bots and has had problems with its sales bots learning to lie to make sales. The bots were successful in most regards. Most of the humans interacting with the bots thought that they were interacting with real humans.

Posted in Discrimination, Labor

#Pence2018: Because Donald Trump is toxically unpopular already, and more bad stuff is on the horizon.

The Center for Politics and Ipsos surveyed Americans and asked them to rate all the presidents who have served since the 1950s. They confirm all the other polls showing that Trump is historically unpopular, particularly given that he has only just left what is usually the “honeymoon period”. Unfortunately, they didn’t ask about favorability of Pence which would have made the survey much more useful. Nobody has a choice about bringing back any of these presidents but the Republican Party has set investigations in motion that will force them to decide if we should get Pence (or even Ryan) as president instead of Trump. That choice is why they instigated the Muller investigation, Senate investigation, and the House investigation into unavoidable evidence of Trump’s corruption. The results below help show how much Trump is weighing down the Republican Party by making it toxic for most Americans.

Obama, Reagan, and Kennedy received the most support from respondents when asked which recent president they wish was serving in the White House right now.

The online poll sampled 1,004 adults on Feb. 7-8, 2018. …On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being terrible and 10 being excellent, Kennedy had the highest average rating, 6.56, of any post-World War II president (going back to Dwight Eisenhower).

Trump earned the third-lowest overall mark among respondents, 4.20, and his 3.77 average among independents was the second worst, just above Nixon’s 3.70. Compounding Trump’s weak performance among independents was his exceptionally low rating among Democrats, 2.14, the worst mark for any president among any partisan cohort. For comparison, Republicans gave Obama an average rating of 3.47.

That Democrats give the lowest ratings to Trump — lower even than Nixon — is remarkable, but so is the high evaluation of Trump among Republicans. This may be further evidence that the Trump brand and the Republican Party are increasingly synonymous… Republicans, meanwhile, still strongly preferred Reagan (44%) to the current Republican president, Trump (24%).

Trump’s unpopularity is why Democrats are forecast to retake the House of Representatives and why they are fundraising more than Republicans. As Matthew Yglesias explains:

According to an extremely useful comprehensive spreadsheet compiled by Daily Kos, across 70 special elections in 2017, Democrats ran 10 points ahead of Clinton and 7 points ahead of Obama’s 2012 results. Those numbers have accelerated into 2018. Across 12 races, Democrats are running 23 points ahead of Clinton and 8 points ahead of Obama. Historically speaking, special election results usually are somewhat predictive of midterm general election outcomes

It is probably too late for the Republican Party to turn around their brand before the midterm elections, but the longer they wait, the harder it will be.

Posted in Pence2018

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