Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Swiftboating Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton should have been ready for the sort of targeted, coordinated smear campaign that sunk John Kerry's presidential aspirations in 2004. But it's not clear she was fully prepared for the barrage of mud that unlimited political money could sling. "Swiftboating" has never been so fully funded and carefully crafted as it is today in the project to bring down the Democratic Party's leading contender for the 2016 Presidential nomination.

To put it simply, "swiftboating" is turning some one's positives into negatives through a coordinated campaign of rumor and innuendo. The political technique was honed in the 2004 election pitting John Kerry, a decorated war veteran, against George W. Bush, who used his father's connections as a congressman to get an appointment to the National Guard, and avoid duty in Vietnam. Kerry's campaign hoped to use this disparity in the two men's military service to Kerry's advantage in the election.

The so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), a 527 group funded by by Sam Fox, a billionaire and hardline rightwinger, denigrated Kerry's military service record and questioned the circumstances relating to the award of Kerry's combat medals. Their campaign of rumor and innuendo against Kerry received widespread publicity due to his presidential bid. Defenders of John Kerry's service record, including nearly all of his former crewmates, stated that SBVT's allegations were false. The SBVT campaign against Kerry was later discredited and gave rise to the neologism "swiftboating" to describe an unfair or untrue political attack. Of course by then, the damage had been done.

Swiftboating is not about the truth. It's a coordinated smear campaign waged on uncorroborated allegations so damning and ostensibly widespread the public is disinclined to give the target the benefit of the doubt. It includes posting unflattering photos of Mrs Clinton, like the altered photo to the right created by the radical right wing organization, "shtfplan.com." The swiftboat attack on Hillary Clinton aims at discrediting the key things Republicans think could boost her chances in 2016:
  • Her remarkable educational accomplishments at Wellesley College and Yale Law School
  • Her experience with the Rose Law Firm, where she became the first female full partner
  • Experience as First Lady of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992
  • Experience as First Lady during her husband's presidency from 1993 to 2001
  • Experience in government as Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009 
  • Her foreign policy experience, including her tenure as the 67th Secretary of State, 2009 to 2013
  • Her part in founding and her work with the Clinton Foundation international programs
Hillary Rodham Clinton's Official Senate Portrait
It would take a few volumes to detail all the charges leveled at Hillary Clinton over her political lifetime. She is a remarkably intelligent woman, who has dedicated her life to public service. She is outspoken in asserting her beliefs and promoting her many causes. She can be blunt, gives as good as she gets, and can be demanding when the path forward is clear and people are not stepping up. In all this, she acts a lot like a man -- a smart man. Only she isn't a man, so one of the many charges about her character is that she's a "bitch." Well, Hillary can't hold a candle to Donald Trump when it comes to being rude and nasty, but she does have an edge. Whether she's a "bitch" or not is all in the eye of the person who's eye she spit in, but as Tina Fey said, "She is [a bitch]. And so am I. Bitches get stuff done."

The latest "bitch" charge against Hillary Clinton is that she was rude to her Secret Service detail. The charges seem to have their genesis in a "tell all" book by Ronald Kessler detailing the lives of various occupants of the White House. Parts of the book about Hillary Clinton have taken on a life of their own and become part of Internet Urban myth, even forcing Kessler to say the viral email's descriptions of Obama and Hillary Clinton, "are completely wrong."

Nevertheless, the swiftboat is trying to speed Hillary Clinton's character down the river, with poorly-sourced negative quotes and opinions being repeated in one right-wing outlet after another, and "contributors" to conservative media wielding their "journalistic" cudgels. Some of the many media outlets being used to disseminate the smear campaign include: Fox Nation, New York Post, Breitbart.com, Newsmax.com, and the always extreme right-wing reliable Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Michael Savage, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

The "bitch" charge against Hillary Clinton is a key thrust for the swiftboat campaign because it goes to neutralize her appeal as a woman, and possibly the first American woman president. But this attempt at character assassination is small potatoes compared to the coordinated attacks being carried out by the Republican Congress itself.

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The swiftboat campaign against Hillary Clinton is far more pervasive and insidious than the 2004 campaign against John Kerry, which was funded by wealthy Republican donors and carried out by a tax-exempt 527 group. But the U.S. Congress wasn't directly involved in the swiftboat campaign against Kerry, as it is against Hillary Clinton (although Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida, personally thanked the 527 group for "standing up against" Kerry). Republicans in congress have taken up their oar in the swiftboat attack by attempting to impugn Hillary Clinton's performance as America's 67th Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013.
Congressman Trey Gowdy, Chair of the House Benghazi Committee
The House Select Committee on Benghazi is the 8th congressional investigation of the September 11, 2012, attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four people, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Unlike the amusing TV comedy series, Eight is Enough, the Republican 'made-for-TV' production is neither amusing (okay, sometimes it's amusing), nor any longer interesting -- all the questions (2780 to date) have long ago been asked and answered.

In addition to the 8 congressional investigations, there have been 32 congressional hearings, plus another 50 hearings, briefings, and/or interviews by the Department of Defense, and 11 published reports. This incident has been investigated more than the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the 1996 Khobar Tower bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and even the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Benghazi clusterfuck has gone on longer than the investigation of the Watergate scandal.
Despite its best efforts, including plowing through all of Hillary Clinton's emails, the Republicans have come up with nothing substantive to pin on the former Secretary of State, or for that matter, the Administration. The best they can do is to complain that in the immediate aftermath of the attacks National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, implied the motivation for the attackers was an anti-Muslim video. Her information was based on an assessment provided by the Intelligence Community that also went to congress. Despite this, Republican Jim Jordan (R-OH), who chairs the far right, House 'Freedom Caucus,' said, "You could live with a protest about a video, that won't hurt you, but a terror attack...Americans could accept, reluctantly, compatriots being killed abroad, but what they can't live with is when their government is not square with them." The irony of this petulantly delivered statement seemed to escape Congressman Jordan.

Republicans believe the confusion over who did what to whom for what reason at Benghazi was not due to the fog of war, but rather was a deliberate misinformation campaign designed to protect President Obama's reelection chances. The reasoning behind this charge is somewhat convoluted, but not for Republicans hellbent on finding something, anything, to hang on Clinton and Obama. Were it not for the fact that Republicans leaders in congress urged the Obama Administration to support the overthrow of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, they'd have laid the disintegration of the Libyan State solely at Clinton's feet.

If Republican Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Richard Hanna hadn't accidentally made it clear that the Benghazi investigation was designed to hurt Hillary Clinton politically — at a cost of nearly $5 million to American taxpayers -- rather than reveal anything new about the attack, then the debacle of Republican members of the so-called, 'Select Committee' on Benghazi grilling Clinton for some eleven hours has revealed it for what it is, a partisan attack on a person Republicans fear and hate. Their pontificating, long-winded statements in the place of questions, their petulance and aimless meandering were evidence of a hatchet job attempted with a wet noodle.

So, now that Benghazi has turned sour for Republican hit men, what's there next target? Ever heard of the Clinton Foundation?

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The Clinton Foundation is an international charitable organization established by former President of the United States Bill Clinton in 2001. Its mission is to "strengthen the capacity of people throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence."

The Foundation focuses on improving global health and wellness, increasing opportunity for women and girls, reducing childhood obesity and preventable diseases, creating economic opportunity and growth, and helping communities address the effects of climate change.

The Foundation is chartered as a nonprofit under 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code. As such, it is not required to report its donors. However, in the interests of transparency, and unlike the hoard of right-wing “social welfare” organizations, who thrive on “dark money,”  it does. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Republicans have attacked the organization and Hillary Clinton for conflicts of interest, and for using the Foundation as a “slush fund” for her political aspirations. No hard evidence exists to support such charges.

Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina has charged that only 6% of the Foundation’s donations go to support charitable works. That’s patently false; 89% of donations support a wide array of charitable projects that have demonstrably improved the quality of life of some of the world’s poorest communities.

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Hillary Clinton is smart, very smart, and her intelligence and the fact that she’s self-assured and speaks her mind was and is a thorn in the side of conservatives who believe a woman’s place is in the home -- and they didn’t mean the White House!

Clinton was an outstanding student in high school, where she was a National Honor Society member. She was Senior Class president at Wellesley College, where she served as president of Wellesley Republican club, and where she was the first student speaker to address the graduating class. At Yale Law School she was a member of the board of editors, Yale Review of Law and Social Action, and graduated with honors. She did a year of post-graduate work at the Yale Child Study Center.

Early on, Clinton was active in young Republican groups and campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. She was inspired to work in some form of public service after hearing a speech in Chicago by Reverend Martin Luther King, and she found that her values were more in line with the Democratic Party. Subsequently, Republicans charged her with everything from communist sympathies to not being in tune with “family values.” The latter charge is especially ironic, since Hillary Clinton has been a champion of children and families her entire working life.

As First Lady of Arkansas for twelve years, Hillary Clinton chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and served on the boards of the Arkansas Children's Hospital, Legal Services, and the Children's Defense Fund.


As First Lady of the United States after her husband’s election, Hillary Clinton led the Task Force on Health Care Reform, overseeing research, investigatory trips, financial reports, numerous committees composed of medical and insurance professionals, lawmakers and other government officials, public service leaders, and consumer rights advocates. Conservatives, libertarians, and the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries successfully attacked the resulting healthcare plan, the “Health Security Act,” calling it "Hillarycare," and claiming it constituted government overreach, and/or socialized medicine. The act never came to a vote in the Senate or House. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton was seen by congressional Republicans and Democrats alike as “extremely knowledgable” about healthcare and a leader on the issue.

Hillary Clinton's resume reads like a prescription for president. In addition to her legal chops, she was engaged in substantive policy formulation as First Lady of Arkansas and the U.S., she was the first female senator from the state of New York, and she was U.S. Secretary of State, where according to the magazine, 'Foreign Affairs,' she "helped undo the damage that the habitual unilateralism of the George W. Bush administration had done to the global image of the United States."

Republicans have attacked her on every front, while sallying forth a bevy of candidates that are at best inferior and at worst, dangerous fools. A political party with even a modicum of self-awareness would be embarrassed.
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The money that funds a swiftboating campaign is almost always "dark money." The group doing the swiftboating is usually a 527, a tax-exempt organization that can raise unlimited amounts of soft money. These organizations may also be 501(c) organizations, including the infamous, "social welfare organizations" that the IRS went after recently for their too obvious relationship to the Tea Party and other "patriot" and "we the people" conservative causes.

Monday, November 2, 2015

ASA Statement on Climate Change

Adopted 11-30-07 by the ASA Board of Directors

The American Statistical Association (ASA) convened a workshop of leading atmospheric scientists and statisticians involved in climate change research. The goal of this workshop was to identify a consensus on the role of statistical science in current assessments of global warming and its impacts.

Of particular interest to this workshop was the Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), endorsed by more than 100 governments and drawing on the expertise of a large portion of the climate science community.

Through a series of meetings spanning several years, IPCC drew in leading experts and assessed the relevant literature in the geosciences and related disciplines as it relates to climate change. The Fourth Assessment Report finds that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising mean sea level. … Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. … Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes, and wind patterns.

The ASA endorses the IPCC conclusions.

Over the course of four assessment reports, a small number of statisticians have served as authors or reviewers. Although this involvement is encouraging, it does not represent the full range of statistical expertise available. ASA recommends that more statisticians should become part of the IPCC process. Such participation would be mutually beneficial to the assessment of climate change and its impacts and also to the statistical community.

The US government’s Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) is in the process of producing a set of 21 Synthesis and Assessment reports on many different aspects of climate change. Some statisticians have been appointed members of CCSP committees or reviewers through the National Research Council.

ASA recommends that there should be greater involvement by statisticians in future reviews of the state of climate science conducted by the CCSP. Although there are numerous opportunities for increasing the participation of the statistical community in the IPCC, CCSP, and other assessment processes, the ASA notes that there is already extensive and healthy collaboration between statisticians and climate scientists in basic research on climate change. Furthermore, climate science continues to offer many statistical challenges that are currently not being tackled and many opportunities for collaboration with geoscientists.

The ASA strongly urges statisticians to collaborate with other scientists in order to advance our understanding of the nature, causes, and impacts of climate change.

The workshop convened by ASA identified several specific areas where statistical science can make a contribution. Besides the obvious benefit to the geosciences these topics may well push the boundaries of statistics and suggest new methods, algorithms, and theory.

Interpreting and synthesizing climate observations

Observational data from different measurement platforms and sensors, such as satellites, weather balloons, surface stations, or ocean drifter buoys often represent climate processes at very different spatial or temporal scales. Moreover, observational records from earlier parts of the 20th century are sparse, particularly in southern oceans and in the developing parts of the world. Even in the satellite era – the best observed period in Earth’s climate history – there are significant uncertainties in key observational datasets. Reduction of these uncertainties will be crucial for evaluating and better constraining climate models. Statisticians can advise on how best to combine data from different sources, how to identify and adjust for biases in different measurement systems, and how to deal with changes in the spatial and temporal coverage of measurements.

The climate science community often requires regular fields of geophysical variables, such as surface temperature, which must be derived from irregular and heterogeneous observations. Evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of different interpolation approaches (referred to as infilling in climate applications) could be very helpful. This research area contains many opportunities for the development and fitting of sophisticated space-time models to sparse data.

Climate models

Complex computer models based on physical laws are used to simulate the dynamics of the Earth’s atmosphere, ocean, and sea ice. These models provide a basis for exploring the physical relationship among different components of the climate system and also for making projections of future climate states. The design and analysis of computer experiments is an area of statistics that is appropriate for aiding the development and use of climate models. Statistically based experimental designs, not currently used in this field, could be more powerful. It is also important to understand how to combine the results of experiments performed with different climate models. Despite their sophistication, climate models remain approximations of a very complex system and systematic model errors must be identified and characterized. Model evaluation is an area of active research, with many opportunities for informed statistical input. Finally, assessing the many sources of uncertainty in climate projections requires innovative techniques for better quantifying and, where possible, reducing these uncertainties. Quantifying uncertainty and formal assessment of confidence intervals on observations and model projections are core activities of statistical science, and become particularly appropriate when climate models are used to identify human effects on climate or to estimate climate-change impacts.

Regional and local effects of climate change

There is great need for taking coarse-resolution projections from global and regional climate models down to estimates for small areas. Indeed, translating the large scale understanding of climate processes to changes at a local level is a grand challenge in climate research. Statisticians can provide valuable input to this problem of downscaling climate-model results to the much finer levels of detail required for policy makers.

High dimensional data analysis

The results of climate models and current observational data sets are extremely multi-dimensional and difficult to visualize and analyze. A commonly-used technique is principal components analysis (often known as empirical orthogonal functions analysis in the geophysical sciences). This standard method can miss the nonlinear and non-Gaussian attributes often associated with geophysical processes. Statisticians have the opportunity to contribute improved analytic techniques for interpreting geophysical data. It is very difficult to present all of the information concisely in a manner that can be understood by decision makers. Dimension reduction and data presentation techniques are needed for comparing spatial maps, explaining what is being presented, and determining how to describe the confidence levels associated with projections obtained from noisy and spatially incomplete data.

Human health effects of climate change

The available evidence suggests that certain extreme events with the potential to impact human health may be increasing in frequency as a result of global warming. For example, the IPCC concluded that there have been more intense and longer droughts, and an increase in the frequency of hot days, hot nights, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events. Climate change can also impact human health through its effects on the vectors carrying diseases, or through the complex interplay between large-scale warming and local air pollution. Links between local air pollution and human mortality are already well-established. One issue that has emerged in recent research is the extent to which individual extreme events, such as the 2003 European heat wave, can be attributed to global warming as opposed to other possible explanations, including natural causes. A fruitful line of research is to explore how concepts borrowed from epidemiology, such as relative risk, are potentially valuable in this context. Papers along these lines have started to appear in the climate literature, but there is much scope for further development.

ASA Statement on Climate Change