Is Roy Moore guilty beyond reasonable doubt?

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Leigh Corfman says that she was fourteen years old and waiting with her mother outside a courtroom before a custody hearing when Roy Moore, then thirty-two and an assistant district attorney, offered to stay with Corfman while her mother went into court. Corfman says Moore used that opportunity to get her phone number, and subsequently took her out on several dates. On one of those occasions, he took her to his home, undressed her down to her underwear, undressed himself to the same extent, fondled her through her bra and panties, and attempted to put her hand on his genitals.

If what Corfman says is true, Moore committed a felony under Alabama law (which hasn’t changed in the meantime). Moore says that none of it happened: “I never knew this woman. I never met this woman.”

Moore’s defenders say that he ought to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that a “mere accusation” (as Donald Trump called it) shouldn’t block Moore’s election to the U.S. Senate. “It’s just he-said, she-said” is the favored phrase. (Moore and his friends also want to ignore the three other juvenile but barely legal girls who say he took them out and kissed them.)

As Mitt Romney among others has pointed out, this is absurdly confused; it’s an attempt to apply courtroom standards outside their proper realm. No one thinks an ordinary political charge needs to be proven beyond reasonable doubt before voters take it into account, and there’s no reason why a charge that happens also to be felony should be any different. (Moore’s attempt, and that of his supporters, to blame the Washington Post for concocting “fake news,” while it might be effective political rhetoric, lost all of its logical force when the Wall Street Journal re-interviewed the Post‘s sources and found that all of them confirmed that the Post had accurately reported their statements.)

Even if this were a criminal trial, Moore might well be convicted. Leigh Corfman’s sworn testimony would be sufficient to establish a prima facie case. It would then be up to the jury to weigh the credibility of the accusation against the credibility of the denial and decide whether they were convinced, beyond reasonable doubt, that the Moore was guilty. Sometimes the jurors decide that they are so convinced, even if it’s simply the bare word of the accuser against the bare word of the complainant: in a mugging, for example, there may be no other witness or physical evidence. If the victim has no apparent motive to lie – while the accused has the strongest of motives, the desire to escape a felony conviction – it may not be unreasonable for a jury to decide that the accusation is convincing enough to convict.

But Moore’s position is actually much worse than that of our hypothetical robbery suspect. Continue reading “Is Roy Moore guilty beyond reasonable doubt?”

Type K Error

What statisticians call Type 1 errors (incorrectly rejecting the null hypothesis) and Type 2 errors (incorrectly accepting the null hypothesis) initially arose from signal detection theory: is that blip on the radar screen a signal or just noise? The two errors were known to us engineers (my former life) as either a false alarm or a missed detection.

But these are not the only statistical errors that can occur. Andrew Gelman proposed two additional statistical errors, Type S (confidently stating that a value is positive when it is negative, or vice versa) and Type M (confidently stating that a value is small in magnitude when it is large, or vice versa). They have less to do with the actual statistics than with interpretation of those statistics.

In furtherance of Gelman’s extension of statistical errors, I’d like to propose a new one, the Type K error. This is in recognition of the attempt by Kris Kobach (Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of a federal voter fraud commission) to deny the vote to (at least)  tens of thousands of US citizens in order to prevent the two or three improper votes (out of millions cast) from occurring. [My numbers may be off, but you get my meaning.]

There have been other manifestations of this “error” in recent days. A report detailing the economic consequences of admitting refugees did not include the overwhelming financial benefits they provide over the long haul. In other words, the Type K error might be defined as “the deliberate and wrongful act associated with a statistical evaluation of the effect of only one side of a policy.”

We thought it could never happen. That’s what happened.

I’m listening to Hillary Clinton’s book on my commute. Its publication brings back the usual debates about how Donald Trump was able to win the Presidency, given his obvious, comprehensive unfitness for the position.

How did that happen? When I was asked to give odds before Election Day, I always quoted Nate Silver’s estimates. I said there was a one in six chance Trump could win.*** In my bones, I never really believed the risk was that great. Most people I knew–with the notable exception of Keith Humphreys–felt the same way. That’s how it happened.

The biggest single factor in President Trump’s upset election victory was the collective sense that Hillary Clinton couldn’t possibly lose. That conviction in our bones–that the unthinkable outcome was really impossible–freed everyone, across the political spectrum from doing their part to prevent the national catastrophe that actually ensued.

That complacency freed unenthusiastic voters who despised Trump to stay home or cast protest votes. It freed Clinton and her team to run a less-urgent, less-effective campaign than they might have been. It freed Bernie Sanders not to do everything he might have done to rally his supporters on Clinton’s behalf.

It freed the media to cover her as the presumptive President, to ridiculously over-hype the email scandal, to treat Trump as a clownish and entertaining side-show, to give him free air time, to hire dishonest Trump spokesmen as cable news talent, to take refuge in bromides about the two-party duopoly and both-siderism. Hillary Clinton deserved criticism and scrutiny on many fronts, particularly her decisions regarding the lucrative speeches. She is absolutely, absolutely correct to lambaste the New York Times, Matt Lauer, and other media outlets for terrible and consequentially biased campaign reporting.

That same complacency freed folk on the left to snipe at her without worrying that this would influence the contest. It freed many in the political right and center to avoid mobilizing around Hillary although they knew perfectly well that Trump was a threat to the nation. It freed President Obama to be less aggressive than he might have been in addressing Russian interference in the election. It freed FBI Director Comey to behave as he did, excessively upbraiding Hillary Clinton even as he (perhaps appropriately) shielded much more serious investigations of the Trump team from public view. It freed all of us to be more passive and not to do as much as we might have done to help her when things got close.

As it turned out, most of us overestimated the impact of Trump’s comprehensive unworthiness to impeach him among key Republican-leaning voters. We underestimated the impact of Trump’s racism, sexism, and other bigotries to specifically validate him within another key group of Republican-leaning voters that was larger than many of us expected.

That left a hole, not as deep as a well nor so wide as a church-door, but enough.

***Dina Pomerantz reminds me over Twitter that Nate Silver on Election Day had given Donald Trump an almost-thirty-percent chance of winning. Indeed Silver and the Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein anticipated with great insight precisely the dangers Clinton faced in the battleground states. I would tell people one-sixth because I believed the hype that Clinton’s campaign possessed superior analytics and a better ground-game. Ah, those were the days. 

The absolute norm of nonviolence in American politics

As details emerge regarding today’s awful shooting, the incident provides a timely reminder. There are many unbalanced people out there, in every faction across the country. Especially in this awful and contentious time, we need to reinforce the absolute norm of nonviolence on all sides in American politics. We yell. We hold up obnoxious signs. Maybe we engage in civil disobedience. But we never put an unkind hand on any political adversary. We never incite violence. We don’t promote stupid memes that blur the lines like the punch-a-Nazi thing.

The fact that President Trump and others violate these norms does not weaken our own obligation. Indeed it strengthens it.

Montana mess

The compounded misbehavior in Bozeman yesterday has to appall any decent observer, a complete breakdown of order and decency.  We should note first the only participant who comes out of it with his reputation intact, Greg Gianforte, a Trump soldier who knows how to stay on message and follow his orders both specific (“Beat the s__t out of them!”) and general: hurt the weak [GG appears to have about a foot and twenty pounds on Jacobs], beat the press, and so on. If he gets to Washington he can surely be trusted to bravely smite the sick and the poor when the time comes.

Everything goes to pieces after that, though. A Fox News crew was present and truculently went completely insubordinate, telling the truth both in their dispatches and to the authorities with no consideration of the damage it would do to a notable Republican. With minions like this, Fox’s whole mission is at risk.

Then there’s the sheriff, who had everything he needed to arrest Jacobs for armed [a recording device attested by all witnesses, and a direct question to a candidate] assault with intent to cause great political harm.  Gianforte’s flack Scanlon spelled it out for him right away, with the magic words “liberal reporter.” But does he? He does not; he treacherously cites Gianforte, to whose campaign he had donated! No, it doesn’t redeem him that he smoothed out felony assault and battery into a misdemeanor.

Poor Gianforte; three Montana papers have unendorsed him. He followed the code of the West (“do unto others before they can do unto you“) and everyone walked away from him, just like the  craven citizens in High Noon. 

A long-overdue letter to the editors of the New York Times

I wrote this today in response to an editorial decrying “Two Presidential Candidates Stuck in the Past.”

Thank you so much for continuing the Times’s pattern of false equivalence between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton which did so much to elect the former and besmirch the latter. Trump’s pathological need to tell whoppers at campaign rallies instead of governing is not at all the same as Clinton’s factual answers to a reporter’s questions. There is no doubt that James Comey’s October surprise re-opening of the e-mail investigation damaged her election prospects, nor is there any doubt that Russia interfered on her opponent’s behalf, though direct complicity by the Trump campaign has yet to be proven.

The editors’ instruction to Clinton to stop talking about the election sounds a lot like, “Women should be seen and not heard.” I look forward to your issuing a similarly stern warning to Bernie Sanders, who continues to peddle his fraudulent claim that Clinton “stole” the primaries by defeating him. Until you do, I’d be grateful if you’d stop pretending that Clinton’s telling the truth is somehow the same as Trump’s lying.

Wish I’d Written This

A post from a friend, John Watters:

Imagine this scenario:

Hillary Clinton is president. It’s learned that she has deep ties to Putin and the Russian spy agency. She puts unqualified billionaires in cabinet posts. She pursues public policies that benefit her and her billionaire friends. She puts her daughter Chelsea in a position of influence in the West Wing, gives her her own office and allows her to use that position to forward her own business interests. And Chelsea’s husband is her chief advisor. The private business trips taken by Chelsea and her husband are paid for by the taxpayers.

She refuses to release any tax returns, she blocks access to the visitor logs in the White House and Bill refuses to live in the White House so our tax dollars are spent keeping him safe in Chappaqua. Hillary spends almost every weekend lounging in her own, privately-held resort. Her private resort gets reimbursed for any and all “official” government functions (including security) because she chooses to conduct all her “business” and personal functions there. She and her family live in three White Houses at the same time.

In an interview, she names the wrong country she bombed while bragging about the chocolate cake she was eating while she ordered said bombing. I could go on and on. The point is that the outrage, the outcries, the screaming by Republicans would be heard around the world and impeachment proceedings would already be underway.

By the way, this is not about political party affiliation. Let’s face it, if Hillary – or any woman or minority candidate – had five children from three partners s/he would never have survived the primary.

And I [MM] would add: this is not just about party affiliation, which it certainly is. This description is the embodiment of white male privilege.

“What do you think—our country’s so innocent?”

Some things speak for themselves.

O’Reilly: “Putin’s a killer”

Trump: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think—our country’s so innocent?”


Here’s what these things are they saying: President Trump’s odd comments and behavior regarding Russia merit a rigorous, bipartisan investigation of the President’s personal finances and his links to Russia.

Cold war liberals at the Chicago Women’s March

Continue reading ““What do you think—our country’s so innocent?””

Obamacare is not “Toast.”

“Obamacare is toast,” read one tweet, reflecting the hive-mind-consensus election night. Two months later, the Affordable Care Act may indeed be headed for destruction. I’m betting not.

This is an odd political moment. The range of plausible outcomes ranges from 20 million people losing their health insurance all the way to ACA surviving surprisingly intact. The only solid prediction I will give is that there will be a $346 billion tax-cut for Americans with incomes exceeding $200,000 per year….

More here, by me at

We’re on a scary walk over thin ice.

Continue reading “Obamacare is not “Toast.””