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Macro Moneyball: countering GOP gerrymandering

by Eric Ferguson on April 20, 2015 · 3 comments

baseball and cash in baseball gloveGerrymandering isn’t the only thing giving Republicans a guaranteed majority in the US House and a bunch of state legislatures, but it is most of it. Clearly, what Democrats have been doing to counter that isn’t working. Time for a rethink, and here’s what I thought: we don’t need to win seats gerrymandered to be unwinnable, nor do we need to win complete control of state governments so we can do the gerrymandering (many Democrats have an ethical problem with gerrymandering anyway, so there’s a bonus). We just need enough control in the right states to block Republicans from gerrymandering.
This is a follow-up to Applying Moneyball to political campaigns, which I posted a few days ago. I explained the concept of moneyball in politics at length there, but since it’s unreasonable to require anyone to read that other post before continuing with this one, pardon the recap. I suppose if you read the prior post, you get to skip the next couple paragraphs.
Moneyball is a book by Michael Lewis that could be about politics — though it’s actually about baseball. Broadly though, it’s about a contest where money is important, and the contestants have greatly varying amounts of it. That means the party with less money either loses, or finds the inefficiencies everyone else is missing. In baseball, that’s what the Oakland Athletics did while Lewis followed them during the 2002 season. They were willing to ask if they were measuring and valuing the right things. They challenged their experience and conventional wisdom with data. They used what statistics said were the best strategies. In the running argument between baseball insiders on one side, and outsiders who happened to be huge fans of both baseball and statistics of which baseball has many, Oakland was the first team to let the statisticians win the debates, and they found good players who were undervalued enough to be affordable. To see Democrats’ problem, replace “baseball” with “politics”, “Oakland A’s” with “Democrats”, and “New York Yankees” with “Republicans”. Basically, Republicans have a collection of crank billionaires who can engage in unlimited spending, and we don’t. They can throw money at problems and we can’t. So we need to find the inefficiencies.
So Democrats need to ask the same questions. Are we measuring and valuing the right things? Are we putting data ahead of experience and conventional wisdom? Are we acting on assumptions rather than knowledge and thereby pursing suboptimal strategies? To answer those questions, I asked what we value, and what we could value instead. The answers were coming on two levels, a macro level like taking back Congress, and a micro level, meaning the groundgame where I spend much of my volunteer time. The first post was plenty long explaining the concepts without diving into the weeds of details, so I’m making separate macro and micro posts for detailed weediness. This is the macro post.
What have we been valuing? Votes. Seems obvious enough when trying to win elections. Somehow though, there are times when getting the most votes isn’t getting us the most seats. Apparently, instead of valuing votes, we should be valuing seats. Seats are the real goal. Votes are just the main way of getting them, but not the only way. The other factors I mentioned were gerrymandering, voter suppression, partisan election officials, partisan judges, and election rules. Don’t take the following focus on gerrymandering to mean I’m blowing off the rest. Of course they’re important, or else we can’t understand Florida 2000 where Al Gore won the election but George Bush become president. I’m focusing on gerrymandering because we’re not making progress on that, which I suspect is partly because we have the wrong strategy, while Democrats generally understand the other problems. We don’t always have the solutions, but at least we seem to be going in the right direction. I can think of opposing arguments to that last statement, but I’ve written about them before, and maybe again in a future post.
So when we comfort ourselves with having gotten the most votes, we’re overvaluing votes, and undervaluing seats. What are these strategies for countering Republican gerrymandering that aren’t working? Essentially there are three: 1. Rack up all the votes we can wherever we get them and hope they result in the most seats; 2. Make a big effort to win in districts gerrymandered to be safely Republican; 3. Try to win control of state governments so we can do our own gerrymandering. Strategy one turns out to have too inefficient a distribution of votes to work. Strategy two is very costly because of the money we have to pour in to move these districts the opposite of the way they’re made to go, and maybe no amount of money would be enough, assuming we even have enough money to move enough districts, which is a questionable assumption. Strategy three is also expensive, and the Republicans need thwart us in only one house of the legislature, or just the governor in many states, to block a Democratic gerrymander.
Thus why I said at the top that we don’t need to gain the ability to control redistricting, nor do we need to pound our heads against the wall of unwinnable seats. We just need to block the Republicans from being able to gerrymander, thereby forcing a non-partisan redistricting. That alone would make a whole bunch of seats winnable. Moreover, we don’t need to do this in all states, but just enough big states.


Applying Moneyball to political campaigns

by Eric Ferguson on April 17, 2015 · 4 comments

baseball and cash in baseball gloveI recently read Moneyball, the Michael Lewis book that is ostensibly about baseball, but really is about politics. OK, it’s really about baseball, specifically about the Oakland Athletics during the 2002 season. Broadly speaking however, it’s about a contest where money is important, and the different parties in this contest have drastically different amounts to work with, forcing the side with much less money to either lose badly, or find the inefficiencies everyone else is missing. Oakland did the latter. If you’re uninterested in baseball, I still suggest reading the beginning, and in your head replace “baseball” with “politics”, “Oakland A’s” with “Democrats”, and “New York Yankees” with “Republicans”, and some questions should come up. In a matchup of unequal financial resources, where the other side can just throw money at things and we can’t, are we using our resources efficiently? Democrats actually tend to match Republicans in spending by party units, by candidates, and even by independent groups who have to report their spending and donations. The difference is in dark money, though we can’t know by how much, which is the point of dark money. We simply don’t have the Republicans’ ample supply of crank billionaires willing to spend unlimited funds on their favored candidates and ideological crusades. They throw money at campaigns. We can’t afford to.
Lewis said he started out looking into how a team that was consistently near the bottom in payroll was consistently contending. He coined the term “moneyball” to describe Oakland’s approach to competing by finding players they could afford who were still good enough, and doing that required finding what other teams were missing. After the 2001 season, they were pushed hard when three star players signed big contracts with other teams including, of course, the Yankees. The Athletics’ management did this by being willing to question what they believed, differentiate between knowledge and assumptions, trust data over experience, and ask if they were measuring and valuing the right things. If you think I’m leading up to a suggestion that our political campaigns are measuring and valuing the wrong things, yes. Though at least on Team Blue, it seems we value and use research more than baseball did. Just my impression, which is ironic since I’m suggesting less reliance on impressions. Anyway, we can do better, and it’s not like I, and probably most readers, are unable to cite instances of people in campaigns stubbornly refusing to reconsider conventional wisdom and change established habits.

So yes, I’m thinking of ways we campaign where I suspect we value and measure the wrong things, so sometimes we lack data and sometimes use less than optimal strategies.


Congress has its own email problem

by Eric Ferguson on March 18, 2015 · 0 comments

An AP reporter did some digging and found out Congress doesn’t have any rules for saving official email.

Members of Congress who are demanding Hillary Rodham Clinton’s emails are largely exempt from such scrutiny themselves.
Congress makes its own rules. It never has subjected itself to open records laws that force agencies such as the State Department to maintain records and turn them over to the public when asked.
There’s also no requirement for members of Congress to use official email accounts, or to retain, archive or store their emails, while in office or after.
That’s in contrast to the White House and the rest of the executive branch. Official emails there are supposed to be retained, though the controversy over Clinton’s use of a personal email account while secretary of state has exposed vague and inconsistent requirements from one agency to another.
But if the rules at federal agencies are unclear, at least there are rules. On Capitol Hill, there are almost none.
So the same House Republicans who are subpoenaing Clinton’s emails as part of their inquiry into the Benghazi, Libya, attacks are not required to retain emails of their own for future inspection by anyone.



The Evil That Men Do

by Invenium Viam on June 19, 2014 · 1 comment

mass murder in syria

Mass murder in Syria

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.” Julius Caesar; Act 3, Scene 2.


In his WSJ opinion piece of June 17 (The Collapsing Obama Doctrine), Cheney lays blame for the internecine conflict now occurring in Iraq to President Obama’s allegedly failing policies with regard to mid-east terrorism.


Cheney claims the “… fall of the Iraqi cities of Fallujah, Tikrit, Mosul and Tel Afar, and the establishment of terrorist safe havens across a large swath of the Arab world, present a strategic threat to the security of the United States.”


He doesn’t bother to explain how that threat is manifest, or even how he links the fall of those cities to “the establishment of terrorist safe havens across the Arab world.”


Moreover, he alludes to “… black-clad ISIS jihadists …” as if it were a reliable, foregone conclusion that they are a group of terrorists allied with al Qaeda and he deliberately conflates the two groups in his opening salvo against the president by saying “… it is worth recalling a few of President Obama’s past statements about ISIS and al Qaeda …” when the President never specifically mentioned ISIS in any of the public addresses Cheney cites. He neglects to mention that ISIS and al Qaeda are to some degree antagonistic towards one another due to conflicting goals and that, between the two, only al Qaeda has a global agenda.


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A week ago, Sharon Sund was endorsed by acclimation during the early part of the DFL 3rd Congressional District  Party’s convention in Maple Grove.  Party activist and former CD3 Chair, George Greene nominated Sund.  The seconding and the voice vote took a few additional seconds putting Sund in the ring with G.O.P.  incumbent Eric Paulsen.

Sund photo


Two years ago, Brian Barnes won the DFL  CD3 Party endorsement over Sund.  Barnes went on to lose to the conservative Eden Prairie Republican.

Sund’s early endorsements include Congressman Keith Ellison, MN 2020 founder and former State Rep Matt Entenza, Carver County Commissioner Randy Maluchnik, former State Rep. Betty Folliard, State Rep. Mike Nelson (40A), and Democracy for America.   I have assembled video that I had lensed of Sharon’s endorsement and post-endorsement speech into a segment for the next edition of Democratic Visions.  The segment contains only a portion of Sharon Sund’s speech.

Sharon Sund’s campaign website is here.

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An Open Letter to Sharon Sund

by gregladen on February 3, 2014 · 14 comments

Sharon Sund

Sharon Sund

This is an open letter to potential CD3 congressional candidate Sharon Sund. There is no declared candidate in this district at this time, but there is an increasing interest in recruiting Sharon to run against Erik Paulsen.

UPDATE: There is a petition to recruit Sharon to run: “Ready for Sharon!”

Dear Sharon,
Three years ago I decided to get involved in the Minnesota Third Congressional District election. I had been involved in previous races, supporting various DFL candidates through the caucus, primary, and election process. But this time I decided to explicitly seek out a candidate who was science oriented, who would make issues like climate change a campaign priority and not just an add-on, and volunteer my time. I was pleasantly shocked and amazed to quickly discover that you were seeking the DFL nomination and that you were explicitly pro science, and that you had a degree in an area of science and had worked as a scientist yourself.
You may remember that I contacted you to find out more, to verify what it said on your web site, and that we chatted. Not only did it become clear that you really were a science oriented candidate, but that you were also a progressive with experience organizing progressive campaigns (such as support of the Affordable Care Act) and an experienced fund raiser. In short order I volunteered for your campaign, and eventually became staff on that campaign, and at the same time, we became friends.
Working on that campaign was a great pleasure for me. One of the things I remember most is the internal policy of that campaign to always be honest, always play fair, always respect other members of the DFL. The idea was to win the nomination, but if not, to remember — and these words were often said by staffers, volunteers, and by you — that we are all Democrats. We did not gain the nomination at the convention, but the very first thing (after a bit of crying and hugging and such) after that was to concede gracefully, to shake the hands of the winner and his team, and to wish them well.
Now it is time to consider the next Congressional election. I am asking you to run again, to declare candidacy for Congress of the United States for Minnesota’s Third District. Here are some of the reasons I think you should do this.
1) Pragmatically speaking, you’ve run before so running again will not be easier but it will be done with important experience under your belt.
2) The support you gained during the last run has not diminished, and in fact, may have increased. I’ve spoken with many members of the old team, including volunteers and other supporters, and it is my impression that they stand ready to help again. In fact, I would say that as a group we are eagerly chomping at the bit.
3) It need not be said that the need for a science oriented and savvy member of Congress is urgent, but what should be noted is that increasingly science policy, especially as it relates to climate change and green energy, is now a key campaign issue nationally. During the last election there were a handful of races where these issues figured as large as any other issue, and this promises to be more true this coming November. As has been pointed out by my friend Shawn Otto, the number of scientists or science-experienced members of Congress can be counted on one or two hands, but the number of science related issues that are critical to our nation is myriad. In fact, most of the key economic, security, and infrastructure issues we face are science related. Congress needs you.
4) As much as we all respect any elected official who represents us, our current member of Congress, Erik Paulsen, is not a science supporter. This is odd because he seems to have proclivities in that direction. But he is a cookie cutter member of the conservative wing of the GOP, and as such, votes against good science policy and supports the War on Science faithfully. The Third District is a science district. Our local industries are mostly science and technology related (including food, fertilizer, medical device, high tech, and so on). I am very proud that my wife, Amanda, who is a science teacher, coached the Wayzata Science Bowl team this year, and they are going to the National Competition in Washington, DC to seek a win for their school. You need to go to Washington DC to pursue a win for our environment and economy.
5) You have abundantly and clearly demonstrated that you are a person of integrity and good will. What you tell people — voters and potential constituents — is what you feel and know to be true, and you speak with clarity and sincere honesty. You are also a careful and thoughtful listener.
6) Your own personal experiences have gained you wisdom in all of the important policy areas. You worked in green energy, you worked as a manager, you have been an activist supporting important core-DFL social causes. If you go to Congress in Januraly 2015, you will hit the ground running.
7) You are respected by your peers and colleagues, and by the grassroots volunteers, officers, and others in the district’s DFL party.
8) You will be an all inclusive and fair minded representative of the entire Third District. One gets the impression that our current representative is rather selective in who he listens to. I see you as doing nothing less than welcoming all opinions, hearing all voices, and doing your best to represent all of our people.
9) You understand nuance and complexity in the issues of the day. Even Third District Democrats, who tend to be well informed and are often highly educated, may sometimes have canned opinions of many issues, especially the issues that they are not directly involved in. But all issues have multiple aspects, and have to be addressed with attention to detail, internal conflict, uncertainties, and with thoughtful consideration. This is one of the things you are good at. Only the best of the best in Congress now seem to understand this. Your going to Washington will improve the quality of our government, and its ability to make good policy.
10) In many ways you are the Third District. Your lived experience, professionally, in education, as a member of a wonderful family, and as one who has put so much of herself behind important issues, touches on almost every one of the diverse lifeways we represent.
11) Not so much about you, but about the election: Over the last several months it has become increasingly apparent that this is a “winnable” district for the DFL. Another thing I remember about the last campaign (and previous campaigns) is something that rather annoyed me at the time. So often I would hear people recite the same exact set of phrases and numbers about how the Third District is not winnable. It never has been. People have always done this and have never done that. Bla bla bla. But this year, most of those factors have given way to a strong sense that change is needed. Recent elections have shown a shift in the district that foreshadows a DFL win if the right candidate is put forward. You are the right candidate, and this is the right time for you to run.
I’ve written recently about why Erik Paulsen needs to be replaced. Now, I’m suggesting that you should be our Congresswoman. These can be thought of as two separate things. But together, they signal an opportunity that should be grasped. You need to run for Congress, Sharon.
And now, a side not to everyone else: No matter whom you support or which issues are most important to you, get out to your caucus on Tuesday!
Your Friend
Greg Laden


bachmann18Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) appeared on Fox News yesterday. She’s joined up with several other Republicans to push a bill that would prevent taxpayer funded bailouts of health insurance companies.
Why would they be going under? Let’s let her explain:

Congress should pass the anti-bailout bills currently in Congress to prevent health insurance companies from profiting at the expense of taxpayers, says U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Appearing on Fox News Channel’s “Your World with Neil Cavuto” on Wednesday, Bachmann, R-Minn., said Americans don’t want to see “bailout fever” in Washington.
Bills by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., call for the government not to aid the insurance industry in the event that its profits fall below projections because too few young, healthy people sign up for heath coverage.

Just to bring a little reality to the situation. The health insurance industry wants Obamacare. The health insurance industry is going to make vast profits from Obamacare.
Young people currently make up 25% of enrollees. The industry would like to see 40%. Sane people anticipate that the percentage will rise.

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Here is what will happen in 2014

by Eric Ferguson on January 10, 2014 · 10 comments

Yes, we’re already into the second week of 2014. Too late for predictions? Why, because that first week gives away the game? I suppose it’s a bit of a game, because making predictions is hard. Actually, predicting is easy. Being right is hard. But hey, it’s a community blog, so feel free to join in.


So here is what will happen in 2014, judged by this grading system:
100% correct: Hello Nate Silver!
75%: Somebody’s been paying attention.
50%: Coin flipper.
25%: Should have stuck with the coin.
0%: Professional psychic. (if you’re a psychic, you might not find that humorous, but you should have seen it coming)


These will be predictions of a political bent, not much in the way of predicting which celebrity marriages will end. Hopefully that’s not too dismaying on a political blog, though I predict my marriage will get through the year just fine. That means that I just gave myself an extra incentive to make it work, and I have a poor grasp of the meaning of “celebrity”.


OK, first serious prediction: the legalization of marijuana will result in only a small increase in the percentage of people who use it. By small, I mean a percentage increase in the single digits. My thinking is few people wanting to try it have been deterred by illegality, and most non-users have other reasons for declining to use, like thinking legal marijuana still stinks, it tastes foul, or has unacceptable health risks. Of course, if the statistics on usage aren’t all that reliable, then maybe we’ll never know for sure, so I’ll just plan on claiming I was right.




Bachmann17Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) took the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson declaring a ‘War on Poverty’ to attack it. Unlike much of what Bachmann says and does, this attack lacked the insanity and utter disregard for the truth most of her statements contain. This was just merely disingenuous.

Sadly, the War on Poverty did not accomplish these goals. What followed was five decades of government expansion and spending on new programs that have largely been ineffective. Today, the poverty rate is only slightly below where it was in 1964, and it came with a $20 trillion price tag. What’s more, a record 47 million Americans are now receiving food stamps, which is about 13 million more than when the President Obama took office.
One of the saddest results of these last fifty years has been the decay of the American family, as the percentage of children born out of wedlock has risen from 6% to 41%. When government has policies that induce people to either not get married or to bear a child out of wedlock, poverty persists.
America has always been a nation where hard work and creativity pay off, where upward mobility was the aspired goal. Yet the War on Poverty has created new generations of Americans who look to the government itself as a parent, while hope of living the American Dream has been smothered in the process.
Let’s use the lessons of the past fifty years and start working to reassert the importance of family and the work ethic —not government programs and dependency —as a solution to lift more people out of poverty

Bachmann and her ilk have been working tirelessly for the last 50 years to weaken and destroy the social safety net FDR and LBJ tried to build.

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9231e_bachman-dollar.gi__tp3-feature-threeRep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is very concerned about the Republicans slim chances of retaining a majority in the House or ever winning a national election ever again. In a moronic-logic sort of way, she understands that national demographics are shifting. She gets it that the US will have a majority of minority voters. At some level, she understands that the GOP is screwed because of that.
However, Bachmann always comes up with whack-a-doodle solutions that never involve the GOP stopping their racist language and policy positions.
So check out Bachmann’s fiscal hawk stylings on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News:

“We also believe very strongly in kids – the power of kids. And we want kids to have a fabulous, first-class education. One of the best ways you could do that is give every parent in the United States a check for $10,000 and say: you love your child the most – choose where you want your child to go.”

Crazy, no? Even BillO thought so…

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