Lesser Known Elections and the Mere Exposure Effect

Our local, highly contested, primary campaigns are in full swing right now.  Every street corner is packed with signs, and every commercial break is packed with attack ads.  The races cover broad contests; from high profile races to the governor’s mansion and a federal congressional seat to little known seats on the school board and county council. 

So, when I looked over the sample ballot, there were a number of names that I didn’t know much about.  But, as I looked at those names, I realized that something grabbed me about some of them.  I recognized the name, and my mind told me to pick that person.  Then, I thought for a second.  Why did I recognize that name?  I had seen signs for the candidate, which told me nothing more than that they were running and had enough money in their coffers to afford laminated cardboard with their name.  What did I actually know about the candidate, other than a name?  Absolutely nothing. 

With this in mind, I did some research on some, and decided not to decide on a few others.  But the urge to vote for the familiar ones had been there, and it had been strong.  If I hadn’t bothered to look at the sample ballot, I can completely see how I could have just marked the ballot for them without thinking (and I believe that I have done this in the past). 

Turns out, psychologists have studied this phenomenon.  The “mere exposure effect” is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when people feel an affinity for people or things merely because they have seen them before.  It is completely illogical, and not based on any actual experience, positive or negative, only on the sense of familiarity that occurs. 

In the 1960’s, a researcher named Robert Zajonc exposed subjects to various stimuli, which should have other been neutral, and then tested their reactions to these stimuli compared to unfamilar ones.  The subjects rated the stimuli they had seen before more positively.  Researchers have found the effect to hold for a variety of different designs, words, symbols, and photographs.  It even works when the subject is exposed to the stimulus so quickly he or she does not conciously perceive it. 

Think you’re too smart for this?  Try it yourself here.  Or just think about it next time you go to vote, and you’re considering those “lesser known” elections.

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What’s the liberal spin on the New Black Panthers Voter Intimidation Case?

I”ve been trying to figure that out most of the day, since I noted that former Dept. of Justice employee J. Christian Adams would be testifying before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights today.  That is, I noted it on Fox News’ website.  I regularly check CNN, then Fox (hate their site, plus I want to get as much as I can), during the workday.  CNN had no mention of the case, and a check in their archives indicated that it had not been mentioned at all this year. 

Is what Adams had to say important?  What do you think? 

J. Christian Adams, testifying Tuesday before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said that “over and over and over again,” the department showed “hostility” toward those cases. He described the Black Panther case as one example of that — he defended the legitimacy of the suit and said his “blood boiled” when he heard a Justice official claim the case wasn’t solid. 

“It is false,” Adams said of the claim. 

“We abetted wrongdoing and abandoned law-abiding citizens,” he later testified. 

The department abandoned the New Black Panther case last year. It stemmed from an incident on Election Day in 2008 in Philadelphia, where members of the party were videotaped in front of a polling place, dressed in military-style uniforms and allegedly hurling racial slurs while one brandished a night stick. 

The Bush Justice Department brought the first case against three members of the group, accusing them in a civil complaint of violating the Voter Rights Act. The Obama administration initially pursued the case, winning a default judgment in federal court in April 2009 when the Black Panther members did not appear in court. But then the administration moved to dismiss the charges the following month after getting one of the New Black Panther members to agree to not carry a “deadly weapon” near a polling place until 2012. 

In a statement Tuesday, a Justice spokesman said the civil rights division determined “the facts and the law did not support pursuing claims” against the two other defendants and denied Adams’ allegations. 

“The department makes enforcement decisions based on the merits, not the race, gender or ethnicity of any party involved. We are committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of the federal laws that prohibit voter intimidation,” the spokesman said. 

The Civil Rights Commission, which subpoenaed Adams, has been probing the incident since last year. Adams said he ignored department directives not to testify and eventually quit after he heard Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez testify that there were concerns the Black Panther case was not supported by the facts.  

Adams has described the case as open-and-shut and said Tuesday that it was a “very low moment” to hear Perez make that claim. 

But he described the department’s hostility toward that and other cases involving black defendants as “pervasive.” Adams cited hostility in the department toward a 2007 voting rights case against a black official in Mississippi who was accused of trying to intimidate voters. Adams said that when the Black Panther case came up, he heard officials in the department say it was “no big deal” and “media-generated” and point to “Fox News ” as the source.  

But as the investigation unfolded, he said he discovered “indications” that the Black Panther Party was doing the “same thing” to supporters of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary season in early 2008. He urged the commission to pursue testimony from other Justice officials to corroborate his story. 

It’s unclear how far the commission will get. The commissioners want to hear from Christopher Coates, the former chief of the Justice Department’s voting section, but the commission claims the Justice Department is blocking Coates from testifying about why the case was dropped. 

The Bush Justice Department brought the first case against three members of the group, accusing them in a civil complaint of violating the Voter Rights Act. The Obama administration initially pursued the case, winning a default judgment in federal court in April 2009 when the Black Panther members did not appear in court. But then the administration moved to dismiss the charges the following month after getting one of the New Black Panther members to agree to not carry a “deadly weapon” near a polling place until 2012. 

In a statement Tuesday, a Justice spokesman said the civil rights division determined “the facts and the law did not support pursuing claims” against the two other defendants and denied Adams’ allegations. 

“The department makes enforcement decisions based on the merits, not the race, gender or ethnicity of any party involved. We are committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of the federal laws that prohibit voter intimidation,” the spokesman said. 

The Civil Rights Commission, which subpoenaed Adams, has been probing the incident since last year. Adams said he ignored department directives not to testify and eventually quit after he heard Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez testify that there were concerns the Black Panther case was not supported by the facts. 

 

Adams has described the case as open-and-shut and said Tuesday that it was a “very low moment” to hear Perez make that claim. 

But he described the department’s hostility toward that and other cases involving black defendants as “pervasive.” Adams cited hostility in the department toward a 2007 voting rights case against a black official in Mississippi who was accused of trying to intimidate voters. Adams said that when the Black Panther case came up, he heard officials in the department say it was “no big deal” and “media-generated” and point to “Fox News ” as the source. 

 

But as the investigation unfolded, he said he discovered “indications” that the Black Panther Party was doing the “same thing” to supporters of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary season in early 2008. He urged the commission to pursue testimony from other Justice officials to corroborate his story. 

It’s unclear how far the commission will get. The commissioners want to hear from Christopher Coates, the former chief of the Justice Department’s voting section, but the commission claims the Justice Department is blocking Coates from testifying about why the case was dropped.

I’ve got a few problems with this: First, I make a it a rule to be extremely sceptical when people speak out against former employers.  They almost always have a bias and unresolved issues against the employer.  That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, necessarily; they’re likely to be the only ones who can show problems where they exist, but it means that I’m looking for other support.  Second, I don’t trust Fox News.  Or rather, I’m not any more willing to put my full trust in Fox News any more than I would any other news network.  “Trust, but verify” as Reagan would say.  I know what some people think when they hear “Fox News,” so I want to be sure that I’ve gotten independent support.  I’ve never had a problem before.  Third, I simply don’t think I believe that the Justice Department in my own country could be so blatantly, unabashedly, corrupt and racist.  I realize that Holder hasn’t exactly been politically correct about race in the past, but I still can’t believe that things are this bad.  The voter intimidation case was air tight; the man was video-taped brandishing a weapon.  Why does the Justice Department think that this is OK? 

And yet, I have not heard any explanation from the DOJ.  Adams’ accusations, if there is even a chance they are true, are surely more important than whatever the hell Lindsay Lohan is doing these days (which got three stories today, as well as a breaking news alert) or a basketball player’s Twitter account.  I’d say it’s a lot more important than the World Cup, which has been front paged most of the day.  And yet, nothing, no explanation, no cover up, no counter-story.  I could not find anything about this story on any other non-conservative media sites as well.  I’m willing to consider an explanation, if only one is offered. 

Sticks to the Facts, and Shows Loyalties Towards Dictators

A disturbing review of the Oliver Stone film “South of the Border.”

Here, Stone sticks to the facts, and makes it quite clear where his loyalties lie, namely, with Chavez in Venezuela, with Castro in Cuba, with Morales in Bolivia and with other South American leaders of populist movements. Why? Because he ostensibly admires how these freedom fighters have somehow managed to break the cycle of exploitation of their countries’ people and natural resources for the benefit of white Western nations.

Over the course of the film, Stone not only narrates, but interviews 7 democratically-elected presidents in order to highlight how they ascended to power as a consequence of a mandate from the majority. Ad infinitum, he drives home the point that we aren’t dealing with dictators or strongmen as is often suggested by the mainstream media so fond of vilifying these working-class heroes.

Hugo Chavez jails judges that make decisions he dislikes, prosecutes dissenters, and controls broadcasters.  He’s being sued for “terrorism, torture, violation of human rights, and crimes against humanity”  by a man who tried to counter the state-approved media and expose corruption, and was forced to flee and rely on the U.S. for asylum.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reports:

In the report, the IACHR identifies a series of issues that restrict the full enjoyment of human rights. Among other issues, the IACHR analyzes a series of conditions that indicate the absence of an effective separation and independence of the public branches of power in Venezuela. The report finds that not all individuals are ensured full enjoyment of their rights irrespective of their positions on government policies. The Commission also finds that the punitive power of the State is being used to intimidate or punish people on account of their political opinions. The Commission believes that conditions do not exist for human rights defenders and journalists to be able to freely carry out their work. The IACHR also detects the existence of a pattern of impunity in cases of violence, which particularly affects media workers, human rights defenders, trade unionists, participants in public demonstrations, people held in custody, campesinos (small-scale and subsistence farmers), indigenous people, and women. 

And so on. 

As for Castro, here’s what Human Rights Watch said upon Fidel’s resignation:

For almost five decades, Cuba has restricted nearly all avenues of political dissent. Cuban citizens have been systematically deprived of their fundamental rights to free expression, privacy, association, assembly, movement, and due process of law. Tactics for enforcing political conformity have included police warnings, surveillance, short-term detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and politically motivated dismissals from employment.

Cuba’s legal and institutional structures have been at the root of its rights violations. The rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and the press are strictly limited under Cuban law. By criminalizing enemy propaganda, the spreading of “unauthorized news,” and insult to patriotic symbols, the government curbs freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. The courts are not independent; they undermine the right to fair trial by restricting the right to a defense, and frequently fail to observe the few due process rights available to defendants under domestic law.

“Since Fidel Castro first turned power over to his brother, the Cuban government has occasionally indicated a willingness to reconsider its approach to human rights,” said Vivanco. “But so far it hasn’t taken any of the steps needed to end its abusive practices.”

Wikipedia has an entire page, with sources, devoted to “Censorship in Cuba,” in addition to its page on “Human Rights in Cuba.”  (Wiki’s not a good primary source, of course, but if you check the links, they provide a wealth of sources that are generally accepted as reliable.) 

I’ll admit that I don’t know much about Bolivia or Morales, and my research suggests that he doesn’t belong with the other two.  But he’s only been president for a few years, and hasn’t had time to amass the totalitarian power of Chavez and Castro, so perhaps time will tell.  But I am not criticizing Stone for liking Morales. 

Per the review, Stone’s love for these enemies of freedom is based on the fact that they were “democratically elected.”  Even if that is really true (This Wikipedia page has a number of links that question the legitimacy of Chavez’s election, and it is well known that Cuban elections are largely meaningless), an election is certainly not free and democratic when media and information is controlled with an iron fist.  Saddam Hussein was “democratically elected,” too.  That didn’t stop him from being a dictator of immense evil.  Ask an actual Cuban who has escaped to America about life under Castro-  it’s not pretty.  (Miami has plans to throw a rockin’ party when Fidel finally kicks it; real mandate from the people there.)

Oliver Stone is a very accomplished filmmaker.  He is not a dumb man, so I can only assume that he knows of the human rights abuses under Castro and Chavez and simply doesn’t care.  Perhaps he believes that artists of his prestige would be rewarded under such a system (provided they toe the government’s line), perhaps these men fawn over his work in such a way that strokes his ego in just the way he needs, perhaps he is as bloodthirsty and totalitarian as the men he admires.  Either way, the way that Stone thinks is not in line with American values, nor are they compatible with freedom.  Stone’s work has been influential; it is important to know what he values when we consider it.

See, why do people have to put these things into my head

I know that this will never happen, but now, I want it to.  A couple of Above the Law writers are advocating Clarence Thomas for president. 

The Republican Party is in disarray, with no clear message — as shown in last week’s primaries — and with no obvious candidate to challenge President Obama in 2012. Thomas could be the GOP’s new standard-bearer. He has enviable name recognition, both as a long-serving justice and as the author of the bestselling 2007 autobiography “My Grandfather’s Son.” And he has already survived the nasty political attacks that marked his 1991 confirmation hearings.

A Thomas candidacy would bring racial diversity and a moving personal story to the Republican ticket. Thomas was born into poverty in Pin Point, Ga. He didn’t have indoor plumbing until he moved to Savannah to live with his grandparents at age 7.

“[My grandfather] told us that if we learned how to work, we would be able to live as well as he and Aunt Tina did when we grew up,” Thomas wrote in his memoir. “. . . Our first task was to get a good education, so that we could hold down a ‘coat-and-tie-job,’ and he wouldn’t listen to any excuses for failure.” Through hard work and a dedication to education, including degrees from Holy Cross College and Yale Law School, Thomas became a distinguished lawyer and public servant.

Thomas is well suited for political office. On the nation’s highest court, he has had to reflect and rule on the country’s most divisive issues. He also has political experience predating the court. He worked as an assistant attorney general in Missouri and then for the Reagan administration in the Department of Education and as head of the EEOC.

I’d be terrible if he risked it and lost (although, as Glenn Reynolds points out– who says he has to step down to run?)- we just couldn’t allow Obama to appoint his replacement.  And he would lose- as I’ve said before, as a minority who isn’t liberal, he represents something that the liberals know they must destroy.   But, oh! the justices that a president Thomas would appoint. 

Ilya Somin doesn’t think it’s a good idea for mostly the same reasons I don’t. (No real discussion of how he would actually be as president, though).

How tremendously terrible are the Democratic nominees in Shelby County, TN?

So bad, they’re not even pretending they’re not.  And they expect voters to just deal with it. 

It is understandable — if a tad abrupt — that a spokesperson for one of the two major parties in Shelby County should dismiss the other party’s freshly minted nominees for county offices as “duds.”

That’s what Shelby County Republican chairman Lang Wiseman, extolling his own “great candidates,” had to say at a post-election GOP rally concerning the Democratic victors in May 4 primary voting.

What is less customary is that such a spokesperson’s opposite number — in this case, Gale Jones Carson, one of two campaign co-chairs (the other is Dave Cambron) for the August 5 general election — should be advising Democratic cadres at a post-election rally to “hold your nose” and vote for all her party’s nominees “whether you like them or not.”

What are you going to do, Memphis, vote Republican?

Judged not by the color of you skin, but by the content of your . . . Oh, just forget it

Race was the only important factor in the recent Atlanta mayoral election, which could have resulted in the city’s first white mayor in 40 years:

“Atlanta is a black city, a symbol to the world,” [political strategist Tom] Houck said. “Putting [white candidate] Mary’s face on that picture would be hard for a lot of people to stomach.”

Funny, I’ve always thought that most blacks were emotionally mature enough to allow a person of a different color to represent them. 

Personally, I’d be most interested in a mayor who can clear up Atlanta’s many problems (and quit trying to steal our water), regardless of color.  But maybe that’s just me. 

Via Amy Alkon, who adds:

If I voted [in the presidential election] based on skin color, I would have voted for Obama. I think that, in such a short time after Jim Crow Laws and separate drinking fountains, that it’s really cool that we have a black president.

Me, too.

“Even a fake district needs real leadership.”

Why don’t I ever think up stunts like this?

Republican activist and free market think-tanker Grant Bosse formally declared his candidacy today in New Hampshire’s 00th Congressional District after news that the Obama administration has attributed a majority of the state’s stimulus jobs to that non-existent district.

New Hampshire has only two congressional districts, neither of which are numbered “00.”

“Even a fake district needs real leadership,” said Bosse while appearing on WGIR’s Charlie Sherman show on Friday morning.

“The people overseeing the stimulus actually found more fake congressional districts than there are real congressional districts. So if we run in all 440 phantom congressional seats we can take over Congress,” Bosse said as the radio host chuckled along.

I’m sure that ACORN can scrounge up more than a few voters for him.