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Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category



Why Biden’s “Record Player” Goof Was No Gaffe

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

bidenlaughJoe Biden’s tossed word-salad response in the last Democratic debate on the question of how government or society ought to respond to the legacy of slavery – in which he encouraged parents to talk more to their kids, citing a famous 1995 study finding a 30-million word deficit among children from low-income families – was mostly scoffed at because Biden urged parents to keep the “record player” on more.

The truth is, Biden was correct on the underlying point: There is a staggering gap in the number and content of words spoken to children in various economic strata that is highly correlated to later performance.

Almost immediately, Biden was denounced as a bigoted old white guy telling black parents how to raise their kids and arguing that the study he cited had been “debunked.” Neither critique is true. (Although it did prompt us to suggest a new retro slogan for Biden: “A chicken in every pot and a record player in every home.”)

The first complaint stems from the fact that the question was aimed at seeking social policy responses to the legacy of slavery – a distinctly racial problem,  when the study — B. Hart and T.R. Risley (1995). “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children,” Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing) — actually investigated class or income disparities.

Given that 33% of black children live in poverty compared to 10% of white children, it’s not unreasonable for Biden to assume that the study’s findings apply to some black families – even if a white person’s citation of the study risked sounding like a paternalistic critique of black-family upbringing, a charge to which Biden left himself open via his characteristic foggy verbosity.

academicdebateEgghead combat. In a summary from “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3,” published in the American Educator in 2003, Hart and Risley wrote:

“The finding that children living in poverty hear fewer than a third of the words heard by children from higher-income families has significant implications in the long run. When extrapolated to the words heard by a child within the first four years of their life these results reveal a 30-million word difference. That is, a child from a high-income family will experience 30 million more words within the first four years of life than a child from a low-income family.

“This gap does nothing but grow as the years progress, ensuring slow growth for children who are economically disadvantaged and accelerated growth for those from more privileged backgrounds. In addition to a lack of exposure to these 30 million words, the words a child from a low-income family has typically mastered are often negative directives, meaning words of discouragement. The ratios of encouraging versus discouraging feedback found within the study, when extrapolated, evidences that by age four, the average child from a family on welfare will hear 125,000 more words of discouragement than encouragement. When compared to the 560,000 more words of praise as opposed to discouragement that a child from a high-income family will receive, this disparity is extraordinarily vast.”

Although some researchers took issue with the study,  it was never “debunked,” despite common belief among those offended by it that it was disproved. According to Robert Pondiscio,  senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute:

“The study has drawn fire virtually from the day it was published, but a significant new reconsideration gathered steam with a “failed replication” published last Spring in Child Development by Douglas Sperry, Linda Sperry, and Peggy Miller, which claimed that low-income children hear far more spoken language than Hart and Risley captured and accounted for, finding “substantial variation” within various socioeconomic groups and criticizing as too narrow Hart and Risley’s definitions of children’s verbal environments, which “exclude multiple caregivers and bystander talk disproportionately [and] underestimate the number of words to which low‐income children are exposed.”

“Recently a reader of Tim Shanahan’s [Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chi­cago and Founding Di­rector of the UIC Center for Literacy] excellent blog chided him for citing the 30-million-word gap “canard.”

Despite its limitations, “environmental differences (as opposed to genetic ones) still seems to be the best explanation of why poverty kids are underprepared when they start to receive reading instruction,” he replied. The Hart and Risley study is far from perfect, he concluded. “Nevertheless, the results of this body of research continue to suggest that what parents do in the home with their children matters educationally…and that they (and we) ought to be doing more to support their children’s early language learning.” That’s the right answer, and a far cry from “debunked.”

gramophoneWhat Mr. Biden meant to say… All this by way of saying that Biden – despite his nebulous language – was right. There is a huge gap in the number and content of words spoken to children that is highly correlated to later performance. Kids who get lots of encouragement in the context of lots of talk do far better later on than children who get lots of discouragement amid sparse communications.

It’s logical and it’s been observed in scientific studies that had no pre-conceived agendas.

“Since Hart and Risley’s study, other researchers have confirmed that the word gap exists. A recent study at Stanford found that by 18 months old, children in different socio-economic groups show dramatic differences in their vocabularies,”  Adizah Eghan, a Bay Area writer and radio producer who happens to be African-American, wrote in an excellent piece for greatschools.org.

Whether Biden’s inelegant citing of the word gap and his clumsy advice on how to address it will hurt him depends in large measure on whether the media suggest the word gap gas been debunked (it hasn’t) and whether media suggest he was talking down to black families (which he wasn’t).

What Biden was suggesting is, in fact, good advice to all low-income families, white, brown, Asian and black, although we stipulate that keeping the record player running may not be the best solution (although our Millennial Spawn assure us Vinyl is Back!).

Of course, as the terrific urban issues reporter Emily Badger wrote in the Washington Post, while there are myriad programs seeking to address the word gap:

None of these programs will change the circumstances low-income parents face that contribute to the word gap. They won’t solve for the single mother who doesn’t have time to read at night because she works two jobs, or the father too preoccupied by the heating bill to play a game of peek-a-boo.

But to the extent that government can help parents find time to talk to and read to their children, it would advance the cause of equalizing outcomes of children of all races.

Why Biden is, and Should Be, the Dem Frontrunner

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

joebiden2020As the Democratic candidates for president gather Thursday night in Houston for another “debate” – the first in which the top three contenders will share the stage – the race still hinges on one key question: Who among the candidates can defeat President Donald Trump in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania?

This is the pivotal issue whether you look at it from Trump’s point of view – he cannot win unless he can carry these states again – or from the Democrats’ outlook – re-taking these blue-leaning states that Hillary Clinton lost by 76,00 votes combined is the easiest path to victory for a Democrat.

You could throw in Florida as a potential key state, as our friend Dan Balz of the Washington Post did recently, but you don’t have to. Forget expanding the electorate (except for bringing back black voters in those three states), forget pie-in-the-sky issue agendas (that can’t pass Congress anyway), forget ideology and vision, hopes and dreams. It’s about defeating Trump. Period.

Which is why the estimable E.J. Dionne of the Post wrote the other day:

Like it or not, the most important watchers of the Democratic debate on Thursday will be electability voters, who happen to constitute a majority of the party. And they are right to believe that the priority in 2020 is defeating President Trump. A man who invents the trajectory of a hurricane is not exactly someone whom we should entrust with four more years of power.

Which leaves the race almost exactly where it’s been for months – with former Vice President Joe Biden holding about a third of the Democratic electorate, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren split about another third and the remaining candidates divvy up the final third. In round numbers.

Why is Biden – with all his stupid verbal gaffes and stumbles – still in such strong shape? Because, as polling has consistently shown and as Calbuzz has argued for months, black voters in particular, older voters (the most reliable), moderates and independents and even some liberal whites actually prefer Biden to the rest of the field AND believe he’s the most likely Democrat to defeat Trump.

Which is the point really, as  Lanae Erickson argued in Politico: “Mobilizing progressives alone isn’t enough to actually win. And in 2020, Democrats need to win. Concentrating on anything else right now will hand the White House to the worst president in history—again.”

Can Joe screw it up? Of course he can. He’s done it before and his synapses aren’t always sharp. But all that seems to have been factored in by most Democrats, the overwhelming majority of whom just want to get Trump out of the damn White House.

So, unless Biden makes an idiot of himself or fails to defend himself against an assault from one or more of the other candidates in an irretrievable way, we expect Thursday’s “debate” won’t change the fundamental dynamics of the race. Wherein Biden is the favorite. And rightly so.

No, Mr. Trump, There is No ‘Invasion’ from the South

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

goebbelsPresident Trump continually uses the word “invasion” to describe the immigration issue on the U.S. Southern border not just for its inflammatory, provocative and incendiary usefulness to his cause, but because it would lay the foundation for his dictatorial seizure of the National Guard.

Despite the fact that illegal border crossing into the U.S. has been declining steadily in the past decade and a half, if Trump can successfully implement the lesson of his mentor Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Reich Minister of Propaganda —  “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” – he could create a popular perception that, unless legally challenged, would give him authority to use U.S. military forces for domestic purposes, like controlling the border by repelling the “invasion.”

trumpheadshotAlways Believe Calbuzz  As we wrote in February of 2017, a year before Trump tried (and was thwarted by Gov. Jerry Brown) to use California National Guard troops for border patrol:

In the normal course of events (how fondly and wistfully we remember such bygone days) National Guard troops are under the command of the governor of each state.

At the same time, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prevents the use of federal armed forces (except the Coast Guard) for peacetime law enforcement within the United States. And under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, the president can only call up the National Guard for active duty for a congressionally sanctioned national emergency or war….

Under federal law, whenever :

(1) the United States, or any of the Commonwealths or possessions, is invaded or is in danger of invasion by a foreign nation;

(2) there is a rebellion or danger of a rebellion against the authority of the Government of the United States; or

(3) the President is unable with the regular forces to execute the laws of the United States;

the President may call into Federal service members and units of the National Guard of any State in such numbers as he considers necessary to repel the invasion, suppress the rebellion, or execute those laws. Orders for these purposes shall be issued through the governors of the States or, in the case of the District of Columbia, through the commanding general of the National Guard of the District of Columbia.

howardbealeDon’t Take Any More In short, by declaring the United States under invasion, [see (1) above] Trump could assert that he has the legal authority to seize command of the California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona national guards and their battlefield assets and use them to control the southern border.

Which it is why it’s vital for the news media and political leaders to debunk the notion of an “invasion” every time Trump utters the word. There is no invasion. Our national security is not under attack. The flow of illegal immigrants has slowed, not surged, over decades. And right-thinking people will not allow the president to frame the issue in a way that could enhance his dictatorial power.

Perils of Polling: Does Kamala Really Lead Joe?

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

bidenharrisFans of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris rejoiced last week when the well-known Quinnipiac University Poll found her leading former Vice President Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in California. They don’t seem to be touting the result much, however — maybe because the survey also found that self-identified Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters overwhelmingly said Biden would be the best leader and the strongest candidate against Donald Trump.

At least half of us are former academic pollsters, and we’ve always thought that Quinnipiac polling was pretty reliable. But maybe not.

pollsterBig error margin. For starters, we were taken aback to discover that the survey in question relied on respondents themselves to declare whether they’re registered to vote — without more sophisticated questioning or voting histories to substantiate their responses. There was no attempt to winnow likely voters. And the margin of error — +/- 5.7% — was relatively large, suggesting that some hefty weights must have been applied to the findings in order to state results from 519 Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters.  (With a random sample, we would have expected a MOE of +/- 4.3%.)

After some nagging, Quinnipiac supplied us with distributions from their sample that we requested. The survey included 47% men and 53% women – a reasonable division for California. But the sample was just 41% white and an unlikely 31% Latino and the distribution by age was heavy toward young voters and light toward older voters, given actual state voting history.

So, whether Harris has actually slightly eclipsed Biden among Democrats and independents who are likely to vote in the California primary, presumably in part because of how she smacked him around in the first debate, is less than clear. Very likely she moved up and Biden moved down, but by how much, we don’t really know.

Asked who they would vote for in the primary, 23% of self-identified Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents chose Harris, compared to 21% who selected Biden — a statistical tie, given the MOE. That’s a 6-point increase for Harris from the 17% she had in the same poll in April and an 8-point drop from the 29% Biden had then, two weeks before he announced his candidacy.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders pulled 18% in the survey and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren got 16%. The next closest competitor was South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 3%.

bidensmirkTake me to your leader. Obviously, in the aftermath of the first Democratic debate, in which Biden was pathetically unprepared, Harris wounded the former vice president among California voters. But if the issue is electability nationwide – Biden’s strongest argument – he still crushes the field, including the junior senator, among Californians. By that measure it’s Biden 45%, Sanders 12%, Harris 11% and Warren 8%.

And on the issue of who would be the best leader, it’s Biden 26%, Harris 18%, Sanders 17% and Warren 14%. When results are that disparate, as they are on the electability and leadership questions, margin of error is not really an issue.

Harris clearly has scored points against Biden and the rest of the field. But she’s got a long way to go to convince even her own supporters that she’s the strongest candidate to go up against Trump.

“California Democrats catch the national wave as native daughter Kamala Harris leaps from promising contender to prominent player putting her neck and neck with former Vice President Joseph Biden,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll said in the release.

“But who do California Democrats pick as the best candidate to take on President Donald Trump?

Hands down, it’s Biden,” he said.

If Harris were to get the nomination, however, 68% of California Democrats say they would be excited, compared to 65% who say they’d be excited by a Warren candidacy, 58% excited by Biden and 55% excited by Sanders.

Quinnipiac surveyed 1,125 self-identified registered voters in English and Spanish depending on the respondent’s preference. To determine a respondent’s party, the survey asked an identification question – not a registration question: “Generally speaking, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat, an independent or what?” The results were Republican, 25% (compared to 24% in the California voter file), Democrat 37% (compared to 43% in actual fact) and independent 24% (compared to the Secretary of State’s 28%).

dumbvoterWho’s really a voter? Some random digit dial (RDD) surveys of adult households ask the respondent a better question that is intentionally loaded to encourage respondents not to lie about whether they are actual voters such as: “Are you registered to vote in your precinct or have you moved or haven’t you had time to get around to registering to vote?” The idea is to give a respondent an out to say he or she is not actually registered to vote without feeling like a civic slacker.

Having asked party ID and not registration, Quinnipiac weighted the survey to U.S. Census data, not to the actual voter file (hence the disparity with the Secretary of State’s numbers). That’s a standard practice by national pollsters (since registration data are not available in every state), but as one top California pollster told us, voter ID “has nothing to do with registration.” Which is why credible California pollsters either work from the state’s voter list or ask more sophisticated questions in an RDD survey to determine who is an actual voter and what party they’re registered in.

Bottom line: We’re convinced Harris is stronger and Biden is weaker in California. But also that Californians still consider Biden the better candidate against Trump. At least until the next debate.

Why It’s Way Too Soon to Celebrate Kamala Harris

Sunday, June 30th, 2019

kamalajoeAmid the Kamala Harris triumph- alism now reverb- erating through the Beltway echo chamber, Calbuzz interrupts this program to bring Democrats this public service reminder:

The 2020 presidential election is about three states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

And for every lefty hipster lighting up the Twitterverse with joyful, if thoroughly ageist, denunciations of Joe Biden, it’s worth remembering yet again that the campaign is not a national popular vote but 50 state elections – and asking a crucial question raised by NBC’s First Read:

“Can a private-insurance-eliminating, decriminalizing-border-crossings Democrat win outside of California and New York?”

williehortonTruancy and death penalty To which, we also wonder, how would Harris fare if Donald Trump attacks her (accurately) for proposing to punish parents of truant school children while opposing the death penalty for a cop killer?

If you thought Willie Horton was hard for Michael Dukakis to handle, wait until you see how Trump reminds voters of Harris’s actual position on sentencing for David Hill, who gunned down San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza with an AK-47 in 2004.

And at some point, her handling of sexual abuses cases by Catholic priests will also become fodder because it is so well documented by first-rate reporters like Mike Rezendes. She says she knows how to go after sexual predators (like Trump) except she didn’t when she was San Francisco DA and California AG.

Her refusal, when running for Attorney General, to support ordering the FBI to break into a terrorist’s I-Phone (or to oppose it on privacy or free speech grounds) is just another area where she has yet to be attacked because she’s never faced a slash-and-burn candidate from the law-and-order right,

Donald-Trump-as-Julius-CaesarFor what people? And as for “prosecuting” the case against Trump – which seems such a fashionable concept – what makes anyone believe that Trump would agree to debate anyone? There’s nothing that can force him into a debate and if he doesn’t think it’s to his advantage, why would he?

For Harris, going forward, the key will be whether she makes inroads with blacks (especially black women), whose votes are critical in winning the Democratic nomination and bolstering the base vote in the general. Beyond that measure, however, it’s not necessarily the third deck home run it looks like at first glance because:

– Older voters may be uncomfortable with her personal attack – and ambivalent about how they felt about busing 50 years ago too.

– Twitter Democrats are different than mainstream Democrats.

– Kamala still can’t get her story straight about health care.

gertrudesteinIs there there there? That she can perform well in a debate now is quite clear. But after watching Harris in action for more than a decade, as we’ve said before, we still can’t say she has a clear set of principles and convictions. And we wonder about the wisdom of her attacking Biden on the issue of school busing which was never popular among whites or blacks.

In fact, re-litigating school busing from the 1960s and ‘70s is a dangerous game for Democrats. Forcing candidates to support open borders and gun confiscation is madness. None of the pie-in-the-sky proposals Democrats would like to accomplish will be possible unless they first defeat Trump and take the US Senate.

As our old friend Steve Twomey put it on Facebook the other day: “After hearing from 20 Democrats, who somehow think this election is about ending private health insurance, more liberal borders, registering guns and school busing, I’d say the 45th president is closer than ever to a second term.”

We don’t know if Joe Biden can run a vigorous and smart campaign. We know Barack Obama chose him, vetted him and kept him on for two full terms. That’s not chopped liver. But Biden is certainly capable of rendering it so.