PowerLine -> Get Ready for the Next Installment in the War on Cops – From Fake News to Fake Polls

PowerLine -> Get Ready for the Next Installment in the War on Cops – From Fake News to Fake Polls

Daily Digest


  • Get Ready for the Next Installment in the War on Cops
  • The view from GA-6
  • From Fake News to Fake Polls
  • Today in Times treachery
  • Trump’s tweets and the travel ban case
Get Ready for the Next Installment in the War on Cops

Posted: 06 Jun 2017 03:53 PM PDT

(Steven Hayward)

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has published a study based on the content analysis of body cam footage from Oakland police that shows racial disparities in the “respect” and “formality” police officers show to citizens they interact with. Hoo boy—you can guess right away where this is heading.

Here’s the abstract of the study, “Language from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect”:

Using footage from body-worn cameras, we analyze the respectfulness of police officer language toward white and black community members during routine traffic stops. We develop computational linguistic methods that extract levels of respect automatically from transcripts, informed by a thin-slicing study of participant ratings of officer utterances. We find that officers speak with consistently less respect toward black versus white community members, even after controlling for the race of the officer, the severity of the infraction, the location of the stop, and the outcome of the stop. Such disparities in common, everyday interactions between police and the communities they serve have important implications for procedural justice and the building of police–community trust. (Emphasis added.)

You can bet that this study is going to be abused by Black Lives Matter and other race demagogues as proof that the police are systemically racist, though, to their credit, the authors of this study (a team of nine Stanford academics drawn from linguistics, psychology, and computer science) do not assert any claim of proof of racism.

It is worth getting into the internals of the complete text to flesh this out and make some observations, starting with this clause in the abstract: “even after controlling for the race of the officer . . .” This is a very important passage, as it clearly implies that black officers exhibit the same statistical disparity as white officers. I’ll come back to this point.

The two main variables the analysis tested for were “respect” and “formality” (though there are several more attributes they measure), and you can dive into the whole study if you want to see how they defined and quantified these variables.

The first thing I wondered was whether there were any statistical differences between officer demeanor to older citizens and to women. Sure enough, there on pages 3-4:

Officer utterances were also higher in Respect when spoken to older community members and when a citation was issued. [Data coefficients omitted here.]

Ditto for “formality”:

[W]e found that race was not associated with the formality of officers’ utterances. Instead, utterances were higher in Formality in interactions with older and female community members.

Now, why might police officers be more respectful and formal with the elderly and women? Once upon a time, we could rely on common sense to provide a range of answers, but now it is apparently a puzzle for social science. A puzzle the authors of this study have no hypothesis to offer.

Let’s move on to race, where the study says:

Officer race did not contribute a significant effect. Furthermore, in an additional model on 965 stops for which geographic information was available, neither the crime rate nor density of businesses in the area of the stop were significant, although a higher crime rate was indicative of increased Formality. (Emphasis added.)

The authors offer no comment or analysis about that last clause about higher crime rates being associated with high degrees of formality. Once again, common sense might supply an answer. Police have been turned into bureaucrats too much these days in my opinion, but they still tend to be rather street smart, and size up a situation based on what some social scientists otherwise call “pattern recognition.” Maybe Dan Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow comes into play in explaining how police officers talk depending on how they assess the circumstances.

The authors concede that while “racial disparities in officer respect are clear and consistent, the causes of these disparities are less clear.”

It is certainly possible that some of these disparities are prompted by the language and behavior of the community members themselves [Comment: the authors offer no data or references for this possibility—isn’t this stereotyping?], particularly as historical tensions in Oakland and preexisting beliefs about the legitimacy of the police may induce fear, anger, or stereotype threat. However, community member speech cannot be the sole cause of these disparities. Study 1 found racial disparities in police language even when annotators judged that language in the context of the community member’s utterances. We observe racial disparities in officer respect even in police utterances from the initial 5% of an interaction, suggesting that officers speak differently to community members of different races even before the driver has had the opportunity to say much at all.

Again, is this necessarily indicative of latent, systemic racism, or does it reflect the collective experience of police professionals? It would be interesting if the authors could run their analysis on just rookie police officers versus grizzled veterans. That might reveal something significant.

The study concludes with the categorical imperative of all social science research:

Future research could expand body camera analysis beyond text to include information from the audio such as speech intonation and emotional prosody, and video, such as the citizen’s facial expressions and body movement, offering even more insight into how interactions progress and can sometimes go awry. In addition, footage analysis could help us better understand what linguistic acts lead interactions to go well, which can inform police training and quantify its impacts over time.

Yes, and it would be nice to send another hundred astronauts to the moon to scoop up more soil samples to understand cosmic geology. Are we really proposing to require police academy training now to include advanced linguistics? Or how about a study that connects electrodes to officers on the beat to measure their stress levels when they’re on a stop? This study is yet another example of finely sliced social science that provides a data-rich description of an unsurprising phenomenon, but little understanding of causation or remedy.

I have a better suggestion: How about all nine Stanford academics who worked on this study go on a nighttime ride-along with Oakland police, where they’d learn a lot real fast about how real officers size up situations. I’d be willing to bet that none of them have ever done so.

Bonus: Female Philadelphia reporter goes off on the police. Film at 11!

The view from GA-6

Posted: 06 Jun 2017 02:41 PM PDT

(Scott Johnson)

Atlanta attorney Craig Bertschi writes from Georgia’s Sixth District with a report on the pending special election to replace HHS Secretary Tom Price in the House. The great Harvey Klehr — historian extraordinaire of American Communism and now emeritus of Emory University — makes a cameo appearance in Craig’s report. After that, the highlights are few and far between. Consider Craig’s report a plea to Republicans in the district to turn out and vote:

I’m a long-time fan of Power Line and a resident of Georgia’s 6th District. The big Handel-Ossoff Debate is tonight at 8:00 pm EDT. In advance of the debate, I thought I’d give you some local color. So, here goes:

I’m a lifelong Republican, casting my first vote for President Reagan in 1984. I went to Emory University here in Atlanta (back when you could still find a conservative or two on campus). Harvey Klehr was my favorite professor and one of my advisors. With the exception of three years in Athens, attending UGA for law school, I’ve lived in GA-6 most of my adult life. I know this District and its voters very well. We aren’t accustomed to the national political spotlight and particularly the non-stop political ads.

Karen Handel wasn’t my first choice, but I will go to the polls and vote for her. Most of the Republicans I know are doing likewise, not with any sense of enthusiasm, but out of duty and certain knowledge that Ossoff is a robotic vote for gun control, abortion, illegal immigration and the rest of the progressive agenda. Handel’s grassroots and canvassing efforts seem weak. With the exception of this ad, her TV spots have been lackluster.

The enthusiasm for Ossoff is unprecedented in this district. In my normally quiet and conservative neighborhood, Ossoff signs have proliferated like lawn weeds. He’s got a good spin team, plenty of money and hasn’t made any unforced errors. He’s avoiding the controversial issues, even going so far as to call out both parties “for spending too much money.” Yeah, right.

It’s tempting to compare this race to the Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter races of several years ago. Nunn and Carter were stronger candidates than Ossoff for a host of reasons, including the obvious name recognition advantages. Those races also generated a lot of buzz, national money, and base excitement. Yet in those races both Democrat candidates lost, scoring in the mid-40s, which seems to be the high-water mark for Democrats in statewide races in Georgia over the past 20 years.

I don’t see Ossoff suffering the same fate as Nunn and Carter. I think he wins in a very close race. Trump seems to have moved the partisanship needle, making the moderately left-of-center crowd much more likely to vote.

This is all a terrible shame because Ossoff is a very weak candidate. He spent his formative years at The Paideia School, one of Atlanta’s famously liberal in-town private schools, where he marinated in this. He’s only been out of high school for 12 years. As best I can tell, he has never had a real private sector job. He worked as a staffer for Rep. Hank Johnson. He’s currently the CEO of a film company that appears to be financed by his father’s charitable foundation (see here).

It’s a safe bet that every paycheck Ossoff has drawn in his lifetime has been underwritten by Daddy or Uncle Sam. It would be interesting indeed to see his tax returns. To his credit, Ossoff has managed to move out of his parents’ basement. He’s currently shacked up with this girlfriend, who is attending Emory Medical School. In short, this kid is vapor.

From Fake News to Fake Polls

Posted: 06 Jun 2017 01:39 PM PDT

(Steven Hayward)

The media blob is making much of a Washington Post/ABC News poll that finds the public by a 2 to 1 margin opposes President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord:

Most Americans oppose President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, with a majority saying the move will damage the United States’ global leadership, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Opposition to Trump’s decision outpaces support for it by a roughly 2-to-1 margin, with 59 percent opposing the move and 28 percent in support.

Gee: I wonder where anyone might have got the idea that the move would “damage America’s global leadership.” Maybe from relentless news reports last week that all omitted to mention the salient fact that the U.S. has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions more than any other nation?

You need to click through to the actual poll questions to see what a crappy poll it is. The poll only asked five questions. This is the headline question:

Q: Do you support or oppose Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the main international agreement that tries to address climate change?

Talk about virtue signaling! Let’s try this for a poll question:

Q: Do you support grand sweeping gestures in favor of sugar and spice and everything nice?

Conspicuously missing are any questions about whether people support appropriations for wealth transfers from the U.S to developing nations that the Paris Accord included (and into which Obama tossed $1 billion)?  No questions, also, about whether people are willing to pay higher energy costs for an agreement that will make no difference to the planet’s temperature 80 years from now, according to the EPA’s own models.

When you actually put such measures to a vote, rather than a treacly poll question, the results turn out rather differently. Take Washington state, a deep blue state these days, which voted down a carbon tax ballot initiative last fall by 58-42 margin. Everybody’s for “saving the planet” if it doesn’t cost them anything, and stupid polls will find that out every time. Maybe the Post/ABC News pollsters should include just one question about how much they’re willing to pay next time. Jeff Bezos wasted a lot of money on this one. The Post should stick with straight fake news. It’s cheaper.

Today in Times treachery

Posted: 06 Jun 2017 11:44 AM PDT

(Scott Johnson)

Last week the New York Times blew the cover of the CIA officer running operations against Iran. Consistent with the Times’s casual malice toward American national security, it did so for absolutely no bona fide public purpose. We noted the Times story by Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman last week in “With a little help, the Times strikes again.”

Today in Times treachery we have “Aid coordinator in Yemen had secret job overseeing U.S. commando shipments” by Adam Goldman and Eric Schmitt. With a little help from “six former and current United States officials,” Goldman and Schmitt expose NGOs and Special Operators as well as another named individual. A reader comments regarding the Times reporters: “They seem intent on damaging directly the very difficult and dangerous means and methods employed against the worst of the worst in this counterterror war.”

Who are the “former and current government officials”? Goldman and Schmitt helpfully add, as usual, that they spoke to the Times “only on the condition of anonymity because the details are highly classified.” As always, thanks for clearing that up.

Trump’s tweets and the travel ban case

Posted: 06 Jun 2017 09:09 AM PDT

(Paul Mirengoff)

I agree with Scott that President Trump’s tweet attacking his Justice Department was disheartening. It shows Trump at his worst — trashing his own team and refusing to accept responsibility for his actions. He was the one who signed the “watered down, politically correct” executive order.

From a lawyers’ perspective, Trump is the client from hell — a point made, though not in these words, by Alan Dershowitz and David Rivkin in this New York Times article. He’s not just the client who trashes his lawyers after a bad, but not decisive, day in court. He’s the client who wants a private meeting with the judge to “explain” things. This tendency may well have been on display in his encounters with former FBI director James Comey. (We’ll know more when Comey testifies on Thursday).

I don’t believe, however, that Trump’s tweeting undermines the case for upholding the travel ban. We know that judges — including, I suspect, Supreme Court Justices — will seize on anything to resist this president. So it’s quite possible that several Justices will seize on his latest tweets. Nor can I rule out the possibility that Justice Kennedy, whose vote will likely be decisive, might do so (if the case is decided on the merits).

But nothing in the president’s tweets justifies striking down the order. The tweets call the order a “travel ban.” That’s what it is. It bans entry into the United States from six countries.

The ban is temporary, to be sure. But Trump’s tweets don’t say otherwise. Nor could a characterization in a tweet change the ban contained in the executive order from temporary to permanent.

Trump also said “the Justice Department should have stayed with the original,” broader ban “not the watered down, the politically correct version they submitted to Supreme Court.” This shows that Trump believes the original ban was better policy and legally sustainable. But the original ban is not before the Supreme Court. Trump’s beliefs about it are not relevant to the case.

Trump’s tweets show that he backed away, against his better judgment, from a comparatively draconian ban in favor of a milder one. In a properly functioning legal system, this would not be a cognizable argument against the milder ban. In a legal system that entertains such an argument, this president doesn’t stand much of a chance, tweet or no tweet.

This story, in which the Washington Post claims that “Trump’s latest tweets will probably hurt the effort to restore travel ban” is full of snarky, triumphal quotes from opponents of the ban in support of the Post’s thesis. But it is lacking in legal analysis.

The Post quotes an ACLU lawyer who says “this stuff seems relevant” because it amounts to a promise “let me do this and I’ll take it as a license to do even worse.” This theory has never, to my knowledge, formed the basis for striking down the executive action. Moreover, one could just as easily infer that upholding the “politically correct” ban would encourage Trump to listen to his lawyers when they urge restraint.

Post reporter Matt Zapotosky suggests that Trump’s tweets will strengthen the case that the new travel ban has the same purpose as the original. It does: to protect America from terrorism. Nothing in the tweets suggests that either the original or the revised ban has a discriminatory purpose. As was the case pre-tweets, opponents must rely on campaign rhetoric to make the discrimination case.

This Wall Street Journal editorial claims that the president’s tweets “sabotage the legitimate legal basis for the travel ban.” It says the president “has given liberal judges Twitter evidence to conclude that his motives may be suspect.”

The Twitter evidence is that Trump would like to go further than he did to limit travel. The Twitter evidence is that Department of Justice lawyers reined him in.

It would be unprecedented, I think, for the Supreme Court to strike down an act of the president (or of Congress) because in his heart of hearts he would like to have gone further than he did. And, as I suggested above, a Court that would act in such an unprecedented way doesn’t need Twitter evidence.

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