Dangerous sofas and public policy

Back in November, I read this Kristof column that referenced the documentary, “Toxic Hot Seat.”  I put it on the DVR and finally watched it last week.  Really good stuff (though, as film-making, a little bloated at 90 minutes).  Here’s the summary from Kristof:

RESEARCHERS this summer purchased 42 children’s chairs, sofas and other furniture from major retailers and tested them for toxic flame retardants that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, diminished I.Q.’s and other problems.

In a study released a few days ago,the Center for Environmental Health reported the results: the toxins were found in all but four of the products tested…

These flame retardants represent a dizzying corporate scandal. It’s a story of corporate greed, deceit and skulduggery, powerfully told in a new HBO documentary, “Toxic Hot Seat,” that is scheduled to air on Monday evening.

This is a televised window into political intrigue and duplicity that makes “House of Cards” or “Breaking Bad” seem like a Sunday school picnic.

The story goes back to the 1970s, when the tobacco industry was under pressure to make self-extinguishing cigarettes because so many people were dying in fires caused by careless smokers. The tobacco industry didn’t want to tinker with cigarettes, so it lobbied instead for requiring flame retardants in mattresses and couches.

This became a multibillion-dollar boondoggle for the chemical industry, but studies showed that flame retardants as actually used in sofas don’t prevent fires. This is easy to test: Just set a cushion on fire. The documentary shows that it will burn right up.

More than anything, this was a documentary about how those with money and strong financial incentive manipulate our political process not just to their financial gain, but literally to the death of others (it’s pretty clear that exposure to all these chemicals is responsible for at least some rare cancers in firefighters):

As the evidence grew about the danger of flame retardants, legislation was proposed in California, Maine and elsewhere to curb these chemicals. That’s when a mysterious organization called Citizens for Fire Safety Institute began running commercials defending the chemicals.

“The California Legislature is considering a bill that will endanger our children,” the group warned in one commercial. Another cautioned that without flame retardants, household furniture would spread fire through a home.

“Say no to laws that put our children in danger,” the group warned.

So who are these Citizens for Fire Safety? Their website once showed an image of children in front of a fire station and described the group as “a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders.”

“Toxic Hot Seat” follows a group of Chicago Tribune reporters as they dig into Citizens for Fire Safety. Their excavation of public records revealed that this “coalition” has just three members — a trio of giant companies manufacturing flame retardants. The organization was a lie, meant to deceive politicians and voters.

Just a powerful indictment of the chemical industry and the callowness of our politicians, who should be protecting us.  I was pretty curious to see the response from the chemical industry.  It’s here.  And it’s a masterclass in how to mislead with carefully-chosen language.  My favorite part:

“The docudrama also paints an incomplete and distorted picture of current regulation. The fact is that more than a dozen federal laws govern the safe manufacture and use of flame retardants, and all new flame retardants must be rigorously evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency before manufacture.

The key issue in the documentary is the California law, not national laws, which actually ends up setting a de facto national standard.  Furthermore, notice that all new flame retardants must be rigorously evaluated.  They are free to slowly poison us with the old ones.  The makers of the documentary are clearly making a piece of advocay, but that is certainly not the case with the reporters at the Chicago Tribune.  You can check out their great reporting, featured prominently in the film, here.

More on the criminalization of parenthood

Terrific column from Ross Douthat.  Just going with a long excerpt I love:

But the pattern — a “criminalization of parenthood,” in the words of The Washington Post’s Radley Balko — still looks slightly nightmarish, and there are forces at work here that we should recognize, name and resist.

First is the upper-class, competition-driven vision of childhood as a rigorously supervised period in which unattended play is abnormal, risky, weird. This perspective hasn’t just led to “the erosion of child culture,” to borrow a quote from Hanna Rosin’s depressing Atlantic essay on “The Overprotected Kid”; it has encouraged bystanders and public servants to regard a deviation from constant supervision as a sign of parental neglect.  [all the emphases are mine]

Second is the disproportionate anxiety over child safety, fed by media coverage of every abduction, every murdered child, every tragic “hot car” death. Such horrors are real, of course, but the danger is wildly overstated: Crime rates are down, abductions and car deaths are both rare, and most of the parents leaving children (especially non-infants) in cars briefly or letting them roam a little are behaving perfectly responsibly.

Third is an erosion of community and social trust, which has made ordinary neighborliness seem somehow unnatural or archaic, and given us instead what Gracy Olmstead’s article in The American Conservative dubs the “bad Samaritan” phenomenon — the passer-by who passes the buck to law enforcement as expeditiously as possible. (Technology accentuates this problem: Why speak to a parent when you can just snap a smartphone picture for the cops?)

And then finally there’s a policy element — the way these trends interact not only with the rise of single parenthood, but also with a welfare system whose work requirements can put a single mother behind a fast-food counter while her kid is out of school.

This last issue presents a distinctive challenge to conservatives like me, who believe such work requirements are essential. If we want women like Debra Harrell to take jobs instead of welfare, we have to also find a way to defend their liberty as parents, instead of expecting them to hover like helicopters and then literally arresting them if they don’t.

Otherwise we’ll be throwing up defenses against big government, while ignoring a police state growing in our midst.

Quick hits (part II)

1) My favorite use for “big data”?  Baby name analysis.  Here’s a cool analysis of trendy baby names, i.e., names that burned bright, but for a short period.  Here’s to you Ashley, Linda, Jason, and Mark.

2) I did not know that almond milk has become a thing among hipsters.  I am a regular soy milk drinker because I simply like it’s taste better than low-fat milk and it has a similar health profile.  I’ve never used almond milk because, despite almonds being full of protein, almond milk is strangely devoid of it.

A single ounce (28 grams) of almonds—nutrition info here—contains six grams of protein (about an egg’s worth), along with three grams of fiber (a medium banana) and 12 grams of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (half an avocado). According to its label, an eight-ounce serving of Califia almond milk offers just one gram each of protein and fiber, and five grams of fat. A bottle of Califia delivers six eight-ounce servings, meaning that a handful of almonds contains as much protein as the mighty jug of this hot-selling beverage.

What this tells you is that the almond-milk industry is selling you a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds.

3) Very thorough look at what the research on bed-sharing with you baby does and does not tell us.  I think a very telling point is that the research groups together those who do it haphazardly with those who do it on purpose and these are very different groups.  All of our children slept in our bed some as infants because when you are breast feeding in the middle of the night, that’s just way easier.

4) Nice to see Weird Al getting so much love with his new videos.  This post makes a case for “Smells like Nirvana” as his finest work.  Nice post  I’m pretty partial to Amish Paradise, myself:

5) I hate tipping.  I’m a reasonable tipper, but I totally object to the concept of it for most all cases.  And I am right to, writes Brandon Ambrosino in Vox.  There was also a nice Freakonomics podcast last year on just how foolish the practice really is.

6) I love Yahoo Tech (formerly NYT) Technology writer David Pogue.  It’s pretty amusing the silly question people write to him with, as he explains in this video.  The best part is I found out about Let Me Google that for You.  So need to use this site with my students.

7) Loved this video on how dark matter forms the invisible structure of the universe.

8) I kind of like how Vox has taken to debunking popular myths/misconceptions about social science and such.  Here, they render the Myers-Briggs (i.e,. I’m an ESTJ) harmless.  Not new, though– Gladwell wrote about these same problems a decade ago.  In a similar vein, they nicely summarize the long-existing evidence that sugar does not make kids hyper.

9) How becoming a father changes your brain.

10) I think the idea of “bandwith poverty” is really important.  Excellent NPR story on the matter.  It is really cognitively demanding to be poor.

11) Want to learn better?  Test, test, test (or quiz, quiz, quiz).

12) No, it will never become law, but I love the idea of this legislation that simply says that abortion clinics should simply be regulated in the same way as all other clinics that provide outpatient medical services.

13) 50 state-themed lego dioramas.  Awesome.

14) The secret of effective motivation.

15) Yet more evidence that if you really want less teen pregnancy and less abortion, you should want more free/low-priced IUD’s.

 

 

The Republicans’ women problem

The real problem for Republicans with women voters is that women are simply more liberal than men on most all the key role of government issues that define so much modern political debate.  And it has been this way since at least the 1980′s.  This is very well established ground within political science.  In fact, Laurel and I were actually just working on studying “just” the gender gap before we somewhat accidentally studies across the impact of children, which has shaped our research ever since.

Earlier this week, I wrote about GOP Congresswoman Renee Ellmer’s inane comments about how pie charts are just too tough for women voters.   A number of nice blog posts, etc., on the issue around, but I particularly enjoyed Amy Davidson’s.  It also featured this excerpt from Ellmer’s that I had not previously noticed:

Ellmers’s comments reflect a certain Republican school of thought: women love the G.O.P; they just don’t realize it. (Their lack of self-awareness is such that, as a G.O.P. postmortem on the 2012 election noted, Obama’s margin with women was eleven per cent.) This, Ellmers said, is a matter of “tone”: “Women, by and large, agree with us on all of the issues. If you go through each issue, they agree. [emphasis mine]It’s how we are able to articulate ourselves—make sure that we’re getting the point across that we care, before we do anything else.”

This just could not be further from the truth!  Where is Ellmers getting this misinformation?  Fox news, I suppose.  Regardless, how can their be any hope of Republican legislators effectively addressing the needs of women citizens if they are so sadly misinformed about women (on average, of course) really think!  For a little context, here’s some charts from a Pew 2012 poll that looked at the gender gap on various key issues:

Yet, somehow Ellmers believes that women actually agree more with Republicans?!  Also noteworthy (and I hope I’ve mentioned this before), the gap is definitely not about abortion (as clearly seen in the last chart).

I also enjoyed Amanda Marcotte’s take, to a degree:

Women are likelier than men to make minimum wage or less.Women are more likely to fall into one of the eligibility categories for Medicaid.Women still make lower wages because of gender discrimination. Women like having contraception coverage and a social safety net. If anything, making the impact of policy easier to understand would drive even more women away from Republicans and toward Democrats.

But, alas, she’s got to go and ruin it by making it also about abortion when the data just don’t support that.

Regardless, insofar as Ellmers’ take is indicative of that of Republican politicians, don’t expect to see this pronounced gender gap narrowing much any time soon.

Quick hits (part I)

Lots this week.  More tomorrow. Here we go…

1) This security system tested at the World Cup seems pretty great.  Would love to see it in airports soon.

2) Krugman’s nice column on the failure of Obamacare to fail.

3) This NYT piece on the utter mis-handling of a rape and a college is truly a must-read.

4) Heck, not just marijuana, the case for decriminalizing all legal drugs.  This Vox piece presents a very even-handed analysis.

5) As if I could somehow ignore an article entitled “We are our Bacteria.”

6) NC Republicans have argued that cutting unemployment benefits has helped get more people working.  The evidence (and Dean Baker) suggest otherwise.

7) Former Obama Budget Director Peter Orzag with a nice column on political polarization.

8) I’ve actually said some nice things about Politico here.  Charles Pierce takes on an article that shows all that is wrong with them.  Remind me never to get on Pierce’s bad side.

9) Fascinating NYT column on just how hard it is to learn a foreign language as an older adult.  And how good it may be for your brain.

10) Sweden has totally embraced vouchers and school choice.  The result?  Declining student performance.

11) Loved this Mark Bittman column on the true cost of a hamburger.  If there’s one concept from public policy, I wish more people understood, it’s externalities.  And hamburgers are all about externalities.

12) I had the same thought as the person Sam McDougle upon seeing the trailer for Lucy.  As if humans only use 10% of their brain.  Sadly, aparently a lot of people still belief this total malarkey.

13) Apparently nitrous oxide, yes, laughing gas, is quite an effective anesthestic for child birth.  It is widely used in Europe, yet hardly in America.  In part, because of a turf battle between anestheloiogists and nurses.

14) Loved this Guardian column on Manuel Neuer’s goalkeeping, especially this part:

 On a football pitch you are looking to gain any advantage you can. Like the opposition, you only have access to 11 players so you must use these players as efficiently as possible. If one of them has no role other than babysitting the net, then you’re already at a disadvantage.

Football is a lot like chess. You have the same number of pieces as your opponent, you face-off on the same playing surface and you both have the same aim. The great chess players know they need to get the most out of each of their pieces to win. This gives rise to the maxim: “The King is a fighting piece – use it.” …

By using your goalkeeper not just to protect your own goals but to actually participate in defending, building attacks and keeping the ball, you are utilising your 11th man. If your opposition are not doing this, you immediately have a man advantage.

Putin and the plane

Some really, really good takes on this.  First David Remnick who is easily one of the smartest and most knowledgeable people on Russia:

What’s far more certain is that Vladimir Putin, acting out of resentment and fury toward the West and the leaders in Kiev, has fanned a kind of prolonged political frenzy, both in Russia and among his confederates in Ukraine, that serves his immediate political needs but that he can no longer easily calibrate and control. Putin’s defiant annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of eastern Ukraine inflated his popularity at home. Despite a flaccid economy, his approval rating approaches levels rarely seen beyond North Korea. But the tactically clever and deeply cynical maneuvers of propaganda and military improvisation that have taken him this far, one of his former advisers told me in Moscow earlier this month, are bound to risk unanticipated disasters. Western economic and political sanctions may be the least of it…

Since returning to the Presidency, Pavlovsky said, Putin has “created an artificial situation in which a ‘pathological minority’—the protesters on Bolotnaya Square [two years ago], then Pussy Riot, then the liberal ‘pedophiles’—is held up in contrast to a ‘healthy majority.’ Every time this happens, his ratings go up.” The nightly television broadcasts from Ukraine, so full of wild exaggeration about Ukrainian “fascists” and mass carnage, are a Kremlin-produced “spectacle,” he said, expertly crafted by the heads of the main state networks.

“Now this has become a problem for Putin, because this system cannot be wholly managed,” Pavlovsky said. The news programs have “overheated” public opinion and the collective political imagination.

“How can Putin really manage this?” Pavlovsky went on. “You’d need to be an amazing conductor. Stalin was an amazing conductor in this way. Putin can’t quite pull off this trick. The audience is warmed up and ready to go; it is wound up and waiting for more and more conflict. You can’t just say, ‘Calm down.’ It’s a dangerous moment. Today, forty per cent of Russia wants real war with Ukraine. Putin himself doesn’t want war with Ukraine. But people are responding to this media machine. Putin needs to lower the temperature.”…

If it turns out that men like Strelkov and his fellow soldier-fantasists were responsible for the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and all the people on board, the fever in Russia and Ukraine may intensify beyond anything that Vladimir Putin could have predicted or desired. It is long past time that Putin ended both the inflammatory information war in Russia and the military proxy war in eastern Ukraine that he has done so much to conceive, fund, organize, and fuel. There are hundreds of corpses strewn across a field today in eastern Ukraine. What is Vladimir Putin’s next move?

Josh Marshall:

Find extremists and hot-heads of the lowest common denominator variety, seed them with weaponry only a few militaries in the world possess – and, well, just see what happens. What could go wrong? …

In a paradoxical way, I think the future ramifications of this are almost greater because it is about Russia’s recklessness and bumbling than it would be if it were more clearly a matter of intent. This is a f’-up on Putin’s part of almost mind-boggling proportions. Yes, a tragedy. Yes, perhaps an atrocity. But almost more threatening, a screw up. Malign intent is one thing. So is aggression. But goofs of this magnitude by someone who controls a massive military arsenal and nuclear weapons are in a way more threatening.

And I particularly enjoyed how Big Steve put this in the principal-agent context:

The basics are this: whenever someone (the principal) hires someone else (the agent) to do something, the agent ends up knowing more about the details of the matter than the principal, including how the agent is behaving as it is doing the work (or not doing the work).  So, principals need to figure out how to get the results they want–by hiring people with similar outlooks, by managing discretion, by oversight and by providing incentives…

But what we do know is this: Russia has organized, facilitated, equipped, and staffed the separatist movements in Ukraine.  They may not be entirely of Russia’s creation and they are not entirely staffed by Russia, but it is clear that Russia’s politicians have seen these separatists as their agents–their employees–to do their bidding…

The P-A problem is particularly problematic whenever a country relies on proxies rather than their own military.  If one is relying on one’s own military, you can promote/demote/fire poorly behaving agents.  You can more easily control the assets they have, expanding or shrinking their authority and their capability.  But with proxies such as rebel groups?  Even ones which have members of your own military within them?  Not so easy.

If you among the more internationally-interested of my readers, you should definitely read all of these in their entirety.

 

Poet Laureates and Elitism

I couldn’t decide if I was going to blog about the fact that our governor named someone who’s entire poetry resume consisted of two self-published volumes to be the state poet laureate.   Sure, it’s small potatoes but it is indicative of McCrory’s overall cluelessness.  Apparently, there was nothing “written on the walls” for McCrory to consult:

“We were not aware of the traditional process that was in place, it wasn’t written down anywhere on the walls,” McCrory said, surprising reporters who told him it was online last week.

Might I suggest that next time something is not written down, the governor and his staff might consult google or bing.  There, they would quickly discover that the position of laureate is expected to have some eminence and esteem.  Nothing against the poor women who has already resigned.  Alas, the governor was far more concerned with knee-jerk anti-elitism:

“One of my objectives is to open up the availability of all appointments to people that typically aren’t inside the organized groups,” McCrory said. “We’ve got to open up opportunities for people that aren’t always a part of the standard or even elite groups that have been in place for a long time. And it’s good to welcome new voices and new ideas.”

Those stupid elitists!!  Like college professors who think they know more than other people on an topic just because they’ve devoted their life to studying it.  Raleigh’s Scott Huler has a brilliant response:

You have to give Gov. Pat McCrory credit: He’s doing everything he can to stamp out elitism in our state. Given how many years we’ve spent having people do jobs they were educated and trained for – ending up with nothing but one of the fastest-growing economies and best places to live in the nation – it seems like a worthy experiment.

His most recent attack on the “elite” came when he appointed to the position of poet laureate someone who apparently has never published a poem she didn’t pay for. He said one of his goals is to “open up opportunities for people that aren’t always a part of the standard or even elite groups that have been in place for a long time.”

And you can’t disagree; he has demonstrated that time and again since his inauguration. Sure, you can point out that a good thing for inexperienced poets to do is practice writing poems, but that would be like suggesting that inexperienced, say, actors should, oh, I don’t know, practice acting. When of course commonsensical anti-elitism says that what you should do is give them Academy Awards rather than keep giving the prizes to the same old Meryl Streeps and Daniel Day-Lewises who have been clogging up the ranks for so long.

Same, obviously, with physics and chemistry. McCrory has shown himself world class at ignoring scientists on topics like climate change, but that just shows what a maverick iconoclast he is. Do you want all these so-called scientists to keep getting all the Nobel Prizes and Fulbrights? Pshaw. We should be giving them to people who like to think they have something to say about those subjects. Waiting until people have in some way proven themselves is exactly the opposite of good old-fashioned American anti-elitism.

Right indeed.  I think Huler quite nicely makes the point that this self-evidently foolish choice of a poet laureate speaks to a larger, anti-intellectual “anti-elitism” that characterizes McCrory’s approach and does a huge dis-service to the state.

The liberal/conservative in your DNA

While I was on vacation last week, Tom Edsall had a nice column summarizing the political science research on the impact of genes.  Some recent research provides compelling evidence for our DNA influencing the social traditionalism aspect of political ideology:

In “Obedience to Traditional Authority: A heritable factor underlying authoritarianism, conservatism and religiousness,” published by the journal Personality and Individual Differences in 2013, three psychologists write that “authoritarianism, religiousness and conservatism,” which they call the “traditional moral values triad,” are “substantially influenced by genetic factors.” According to the authors — Steven Ludeke of Colgate, Thomas J. Bouchard of the University of Minnesota, and Wendy Johnson of the University of Edinburgh — all three traits are reflections of “a single, underlying tendency,” previously described in one word by Bouchard in a 2006 paper as “traditionalism.” Traditionalists in this sense are defined as “having strict moral standards and child-rearing practices, valuing conventional propriety and reputation, opposing rebelliousness and selfish disregard of others, and valuing religious institutions and practices.”

Working along a parallel path, Amanda Friesen, a political scientist at Indiana University, and Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz, a graduate student in political science at Rice University, concluded from their study comparing identical and fraternal twins that “the correlation between religious importance and conservatism” is “driven primarily, but usually not exclusively, by genetic factors.” The substantial “genetic component in these relationships suggests that there may be a common underlying predisposition that leads individuals to adopt conservative bedrock social principles and political ideologies while simultaneously feeling the need for religious experiences.”

Edsall follows with a deep dive into the research along with a nice discussion of why it matters:

In an email, Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of “The Blank Slate,” makes the case for continued research in the broader field of evolutionary psychology and in the sub-field of politics and heritable temperamental traits.

“To the extent that my political opinions can be predicted by my genome, or by an identical twin separated from me at birth who grew up halfway across the world,” Pinker writes, “I have reason to question whether those opinions are justifiable by reason or evidence rather than a reflection of my temperament.”

Pinker contends that “an acknowledgment of the possibility of genetic differences is a game-changer for countless specific issues. If people differ genetically in conscientiousness, intelligence, and other psychological traits, then not all differences among people in social and economic outcomes are automatically consequences of a rigged system.”

This means, according to Pinker, that “the discovery that political ideologies are partly heritable points our attention to what the common psychological threads of competing ideologies are – namely temperamental differences such as authoritarianism, conscientiousness, and openness to experience, together with intellectual differences such as intelligence. These could help pinpoint some of the common denominators beneath competing ideologies which cut across the particular hot buttons of the particular era.”

Perhaps the most important rationale for research into the heritability of temperamental and personality traits as they apply to political decision making is that such research can enhance our understanding of the larger framework within which public discourse and debate shape key outcomes.

This research has a lot of critics, but I find it both persuasive and compelling.  Of course, maybe that’s just because of my genes.

Prosecutors want to prosecute

Really good NPR story about how a number of states are looking to overhaul their prison sentencing– especially unduly harsh drug sentencing– but prosecutors and jailers are pushing back.  Why?   First, because for some people, more prisoners equals more jobs and more money for law enforcement– forget considerations of justice and unnecessary human misery:

Liz Mangham, a lobbyist, has represented the conservative sentencing reformers in Baton Rouge. While they’ve made progress, she says they appeared to cross a red line this spring with a bill to step down Louisiana’s stiff penalties for possession of marijuana.

Under current law, possession is a felony on the second offense. A third may get you as much as 20 years in prison. Mangham recalls the scene when the bill came up for a crucial hearing…

“The Judiciary Committee room was full. The anteroom across the hall, which is twice the size, was full, and the halls were full … of [district attorneys] and sheriffs coming down to oppose the bill,” she says.

The bill died on the spot. In Louisiana and other parts of the South, district attorneys and sheriffs — who Mangham calls “the courthouse crowd” — have a lot of political clout at the state level. She says it’s understandable why most sheriffs opposed the bill, because they house state prisoners in parish jails and every prisoner represents a payment from the state.

“So when you’re making money to warehouse prisoners, why on earth would you be in favor of sentencing reform?” Mangham says.

Depressing.  And as for the DA’s, they are opposed because they like to extort/blackmail accused criminals with the harsh sentences:

The vast majority of criminal cases in America are resolved through plea bargains. Defendants plead guilty out of fear of getting a worse sentence if they don’t. Plea bargains jumped above 90 percent in the 1980s and ’90s, in part because a wave of harsh new sentences for drug offenses strengthened prosecutors’ hands when bargaining with defendants.

“For a DA to have the ability to dangle over someone’s head 10, 20 years in jail, that provides them with tremendous leverage to pretty much get whatever they want,” says Louisiana State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans and former public defender.

Morrell was one of the sponsors of the marijuana sentencing reform bill that failed in Baton Rouge. He says one of the benefits of that reform would have been a reduction in the power of prosecutors to, as Louisiana courthouse slang puts it, “bitch” a defendant. A reference to Louisiana’s habitual offender law, it refers to a DA threatening to use past convictions — often for marijuana possession — to multiply the length of a defendant’s potential sentence…

John de Rosier, the district attorney of Calcasieu Parish, La., says “we have people all the time that we know have been involved in robberies, rapes and murders. We haven’t been able to prove our cases, but we’re in court with them for second-offense possession of marijuana. What do you think we’re going to do?”

That’s commonly referred to as “prosecutorial discretion,” and it’s an argument that alarms sentencing reformers like Morrell.

“That level of discretion ought to be terrifying to people,” Morrell says. “If you cannot convict someone of a murder, of a robbery, whatever, the fact that you have a disproportionate backup charge to convict them anyway kind of defeats the purpose of due process.” [emphasis mine]

Morrell gets this exactly right.  Prosecutors don’t get to decide on their own somebody is guilty and they’ll make sure somebody gets way-too-many years in prison for a drug possession charge because they don’t actuallyo have enough evidence for the crime they think the accused is guilty of.  That’s a complete violation of basic standards of justice.

It is great to see conservatives and liberals coming together to reform our absurd sentencing laws when it comes to drugs.  But frustrating to see the attachments to injustice that stand in the way.

Less testosterone = better government?

Quite honestly, probably so.  There’s plenty of good research that women legislators are better at compromise and working with colleagues.  And boy do we see the effects of a testosterone-fueled pissing match in NC’s current intra-party budget debate.  Rob Christensen:

Having covered North Carolina legislatures since the 1970s, I have come to the conclusion that budget negotiations could be resolved much more quickly with one simple solution.

No one should be allowed to participate in the budget negotiations unless they are wearing makeup and heels. That is, men should be barred from budget negotiations and replaced by women.

I come to this conclusion after following the House-Senate budget negotiations last week in which the Senate walked out and in which there were threats made to stay until Christmas.

This is the sort of mau mauing/so’s-your-mama/I’m-prepared-to-wait-till-hell-freezes-over posturing that is the norm in budget negotiations in Raleigh, no matter whether Republicans or Democrats are in control. And it is relatively mild when compared to the government shutdown shenanigans of Washington.

Much of this is being fueled by testosterone – the natural male drive to prevail, to show off, to engage in competition, to heckle or even humiliate the opponent and to never back down. It is sometimes said that sports and politics are male substitutes for battle. It is no wonder that one of the fastest growing sales of drugs is testosterone creams…

But exasperating the policy differences are male egos and questions about political power and will. House Speaker Thom Tillis wants to make his points in his U.S. Senate bid. Gov. Pat McCrory wants to show that he is his own man. And Senate leader Phil Berger doesn’t want to give up control of the conservative revolution. Last year they were arguing over who was the baddest, toughest conservative hombre in town.This year, they are arguing over who can give teachers the biggest raise.

Women, of course, have egos. But they are much more likely to set aside their differences and sensibly work out a compromise – which is what will eventually happen anyway when everybody gets tired of the posturing.

Now, this is Christensten’s non-empirical impression, but the truth is nobody knows NC politics better and, like I said, it is actually backed up in the abstract by PS research.  This article was also shared on FB by a female reporter I know who has commented time and time again abut just what a poisonous, frat-boy atmosphere, has existed in the legislature under both parties.  Though, it should be noted that Republicans re-districted out a bunch of Democratic women and that Republican leadership is especially noteworthy for a paucity of prominent women (and not just in NC).

Don’t worry your pretty little head with charts

Republican men have quite a history of saying really stupid things about women.  Interesting that NC’s own Renee Ellmers should say something right up there with the dumbest of them.  This is good stuff:

How are Republicans planning to fight the “war on women” narrative so rampant among Democrats and the left?

In a word, “messaging,” but it appears that’s as far as their strategy goes.

A group of conservative women, mostly members of the Republican Study Committee, met Friday to discuss issues facing women today and how the GOP can better explain how its policies could help…

Then came the bashing of both genders, courtesy of Ellmers.

“Men do tend to talk about things on a much higher level,” Ellmers said. “Many of my male colleagues, when they go to the House floor, you know, they’ve got some pie chart or graph behind them and they’re talking about trillions of dollars and how, you know, the debt is awful and, you know, we all agree with that.

First she’s saying that men (perhaps only Republican men) don’t know how to connect with people. Second, she’s saying people are too stupid to understand pie charts.

Ellmers then said that women mainly want more time in their lives (don’t men as well?) and the first example she gave was that women wanted “more time in the morning to get ready.”

As for connecting to women specifically, Ellmers drove it home with a line that, had there been liberals in the audience, would have made the news.

“We need our male colleagues to understand that if you can bring it down to a woman’s level [emphasis in original] and what everything that she is balancing in her life — that’s the way to go,” Ellmers said.

I’ll let that speak for itself.  Okay, in fairness, Ellmers was arguing for more of personal connection rather than abstract information.  But that’s good for all voters, not just women.  Somehow, I think women can grasp pie charts just as well as men.

Republicans want government to fail

Seriously.  How can their be any doubt about this from an objective observer.  I was listening to last week’s Slate political gabfest yesterday and David Plotz was making the point that Republicans are actively sabotaging government so they can make the claim that government doesn’t work and thereby undermine the Democratic agenda to effectively use government for the common good.  Sadly, to a considerable degree, this project is working.  I was about to simply link to a Drum post that highlights how Republicans are refusing to properly fund the federal bureacucacies that handle immigration— all the better to foment a “crisis.”

Obama has tried to get funding for more judges as part of the annual budgeting process. No luck. He’s tried to pass comprehensive immigration reform that included funding for more judges. No luck. Now he’s trying to get emergency funding for the border crisis that would include money for more judges. So far, no luck.

There are, obviously, multiple causes of the current border crisis. As usual, though, Congress is one of them—and, in particular, obstructive congressional Republicans who aren’t really much interested in doing something that would fix an ongoing border crisis that provides them with useful political attack ads. If Congress needs someone to point the finger of blame at, all they have to do is look in a mirror.

Okay, good enough post.  But then just before I was going to post this, I came upon this Wonkblog post actually titled, “One political party is actively working to make government fail (guess which one!)”  And this is not just some blogger musing, the post is based on a study by esteemed Political Scientist, Paul Light.  Here’s the key:

Republican contributions to government failure, on the other hand, have been “very deliberate.” Here Light minces no words, and its worth quoting him at length:

Republicans exploited the Democratic cowardice by doing everything in their power to undermine performance. They stonewalled needed policy changes, and made implementation of new programs as difficult as possible; they cut budgets, staffs, and collateral capacity to a minimum, proving the adage that the logical extension of doing more with less is doing everything with nothing; they used the presidential appointments process to decapitate key agencies, and appointed more than their share of unqualified executives; and they muddied mission, tolerated unethical conduct, and gamed the performance measure process to guarantee failing scores for as many government policies as possible.  [emphasis mine]

Again, Paul Light is not exactly Daily Kos.  This comes from a fair, reasoned analysis.  And, honestly, this is truly shameful.  Republicans are actively working to make things worse for the American people.  Sure, they convince themselves that this is just collateral damage for a greater good of a smaller government led by Republicans.  But honestly, this is just truly deplorable.  And sadly, quite effective as most Americans just don’t pay enough attention to realize what’s going on and who to blame.  They just know government is not working.  Are Democrats partially at fault?  Of course.  But let’s be clear, there’s only one party in America that is actively undermining attempts to make government work for the American people.

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