Quick hits (part II)

1) Though I only dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons as a teenager, fair to say it has changed by firstborn’s life and I enjoy learning about it vicariously through him.  The Post with an article on how the game is really booming these days.  It only gets a sentence or so in the article, but I think it is quite interesting the degree to which the boom is substantially due to some really smart revisions with the latest (5th) edition of the game, in contrast to the very-much-panned 4th edition.

2) Given the chance, the dingo really will eat your baby.  Harrowing tale of parents saving their toddler from dingos.  And, no way can I resist including this:

3) Interestingly, Mr. “I have the best memory” doesn’t seem to have such a great one when he’s in legal jeopardy:

Mr. Trump rarely lacks for certainty in his public statements on camera, but has shown more caution when under oath.

He said, “I don’t remember” 24 times during a 2012 deposition in a lawsuit involving his now-defunct Trump University and 35 times during another deposition related to the university suit three years later, not counting 10 more times in the two interviews that he said, “I don’t recall” or “Can’t remember.” (He eventually settled the legal claims for $25 million.)

Prosecutors said such selective memory tended to make them suspicious.

“It’s always a red flag when a witness appears to selectively forget the events most likely to be damning,” said Dwight C. Holton, who spent 14 years as a prosecutor, most recently as United States attorney in Oregon.

“And when you have a witness who repeatedly and publicly thumps his chest about how great his memory is, then all of a sudden he has sudden massive memory loss — well, let’s just say that’s a target I’d like to cross-examine in front of a jury.”

4) Sarah Sanders is almost as odious a figure as her boss.

After admitting to investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, that she delivered a false statement from the White House podium, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, defended herself in Trumpian fashion on Friday morning. She counterattacked.

The Mueller report revealed that Ms. Sanders had acknowledged that her repeated claim in 2017 that she had personally communicated with “countless” F.B.I. officials who told her they were happy with President Trump’s decision to fire James B. Comey as the agency’s director was a “slip of the tongue” and not founded on any facts.

Asked on “Good Morning America” if the report had damaged her credibility, Ms. Sanders responded that she had made the statement in the heat of the moment, and that it was not “a scripted talking point.”

But then she added, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t a robot like the Democrat Party that went out for two and a half years and repeated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign.”

Apparently complete and total fabrications are just fine in the heat of the moment.  Good to know.

4) I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to deem it evil, what Mick Mulvaney has done in undermining the CFPB’s ability to help Americans who have been cheated by the financial industry.

5) Asha Rangappa is great on the Mueller report, “How Barr and Trump Use a Russian Disinformation Tactic: They were able to define “collusion” to benefit themselves.  Don’t let them twist meanings again with their “spying” investigation.”

The Trump administration seized on this legal ambiguity early on, with the refrain that “collusion is not a crime.” The standard set here is that anything falling below criminally chargeable behavior is acceptable. When it comes to the presidency, this is not true. The Constitution lays out the procedure for removing an unfit president from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Nevertheless, we took the bait: Collusion may not be a crime, lawyers and pundits responded, but conspiracy is. This “reflexive” response adopted criminality as the bar to be met.

But as we found in the report, conspiracy is very narrowly defined: It requires proof of an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, and an “overt act” in furtherance of that agreement. Unlike collusion, moreover, conspiracy requires that a party have a specific state of mind — knowledge — of the criminal nature of his or her actions. As a former F.B.I. special agent who conducted counterintelligence investigations, I can attest that foreign intelligence services do not operate on the basis of explicit agreements or even actions that, standing alone, constitute criminal activity.

Foreign intelligence services rely on manipulating vulnerabilities over time — like greed, or fear of exposure of a secret — to puppeteer those under their influence into acting in their interests without saying a word. Our adversaries also want to make sure they have plausible deniability, so it would be impossible to uncover an agreement made directly with a foreign government itself: As detailed in Mr. Mueller’s report, most of Russia’s overtures were made through cutouts and intermediaries, seeking to capitalize on the ambition of members of the Trump campaign to push along their efforts. Counterintelligence is, in effect, chasing ghosts, which is why the tools used to investigate foreign intelligence activity are secret, like human sources or electronic surveillance. It is not the stuff of which criminal prosecutions are made, and it is partly for this reason that operativesrarely see the inside of a courtroom.

Nevertheless, we reached an informal agreement with the White House over the last two years: The test of Mr. Trump’s fitness for office rested on Mr. Mueller’s findings that the president committed a crime, namely, conspiracy with the Russian government to influence the election.

6) Joseph Stiglitz on progressive capitalism:

America arrived at this sorry state of affairs because we forgot that the true source of the wealth of a nation is the creativity and innovation of its people. One can get rich either by adding to the nation’s economic pie or by grabbing a larger share of the pie by exploiting others — abusing, for instance, market power or informational advantages. We confused the hard work of wealth creation with wealth-grabbing (or, as economists call it, rent-seeking), and too many of our talented young people followed the siren call of getting rich quickly.

Beginning with the Reagan era, economic policy played a key role in this dystopia: Just as forces of globalization and technological change were contributing to growing inequality, we adopted policies that worsened societal inequities. Even as economic theories like information economics (dealing with the ever-present situation where information is imperfect), behavioral economics and game theory arose to explain why markets on their own are often not efficient, fair, stable or seemingly rational, we relied more on markets and scaled back social protections.

The result is an economy with more exploitation — whether it’s abusive practices in the financial sector or the technology sector using our own data to take advantage of us at the cost of our privacy. The weakening of antitrust enforcement, and the failure of regulation to keep up with changes in our economy and the innovations in creating and leveraging market power, meant that markets became more concentrated and less competitive.

Politics has played a big role in the increase in corporate rent-seeking and the accompanying inequality. Markets don’t exist in a vacuum; they have to be structured by rules and regulations, and those rules and regulations must be enforced. Deregulation of the financial sector allowed bankers to engage in both excessively risky activities and more exploitive ones. Many economists understood that trade with developing countries would drive down American wages, especially for those with limited skills, and destroy jobs. We could and should have provided more assistance to affected workers (just as we should provide assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of technological change), but corporate interests opposed it. A weaker labor market conveniently meant lower labor costs at home to complement the cheap labor businesses employed abroad.

We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.

7) I’ve got a student doing an honor’s thesis on felon enfranchisement.  Jamelle Bouie on an idea, apparently, gaining some momentum:

But the growing tide against felon disenfranchisement raises a related question: Why disenfranchise felons at all? Why not let prisoners vote — and give the franchise to the roughly 1.5 million people sitting in federal and state prisons? Why must supposedly universal adult suffrage exclude people convicted of crimes?

There is precedent for this idea. California allows voting for those in county jails (with limited exceptions). Colorado does too. New York recently allowed those on parole or probation to vote. And two states, Maine and Vermont, already let prisoners vote. In fact, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont affirmed his support for voting rights in prison the same week Warren backed automatic enfranchisement for former felons.

“In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad,” Sanders said, responding to a question at a town hall. “But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”…

We ought to have that conversation now. Americans may see it as common sense that you lose your right to vote when you’re imprisoned, but in many democracies prisoners retain the right to vote. When that right is revoked, it’s only for particular crimes (in Germany, it’s for “targeting” the “democratic order”), and often there is a good deal of judicial discretion. Mandatory disenfranchisement is unusual, and permanent disenfranchisement is even rarer.

7) I have noticed that the plethora of new apartment buildings near NC State campus look similar.  Apparently, it’s not restricted to Raleigh and there’s a reason for this.  “Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same: Cheap stick framing has led to a proliferation of blocky, forgettable mid-rises—and more than a few construction fires.”

8) Enjoyed this shared by a female reporter friend, “Journalist Jana Shortal is breaking the unspoken dress code for on-air reporters.”

9) Some groundbreaking new research on all the world’s “missing” women.

And yet, for as long as people have been keeping records, nature shows a different, dependable pattern: For every 100 babies born biologically female, 105 come out biologically male. Scientists have speculated this mysteriously male-biased sex ratio is evolution’s way of evening things out, since females consistently outlive their XY-counterparts—for every man that reaches the age of 100, four women have also joined the Century Club.

This biological maxim has been so drilled into the heads of demographers—the researchers responsible for keeping tabs on how many people there are on the planet—that most don’t think twice before plugging it into any projections they’re making about how populations will change in the future. But a massive effort to catalog the sex ratios at birth, for the first time, for every country, shows that’s not such a smart strategy after all.

“For so long people just took that number for granted,” says Fengqing Chao, a public health researcher at the Institute of Policy Studies in Singapore. “But no one had ever gone to the trouble of pulling all this information together to get accurate estimates of this fundamental metric.” Chao led the five-year project, combing through decades of census data, national survey responses, and birth records to build models that could estimate national sex ratios across time. In doing so, she and her collaborators at the United Nations discovered that in most regions of the world, sex ratios diverge significantly from the historical norm. Across a dozen countries, the chasm amounts to 23.1 million missing female births since 1970. The results, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide an unprecedented look at how societal values can skew the laws of nature.

“It’s an incredibly important contribution,” says Darrell Bricker, a Canadian political scientist. “If the only part of the population who can produce new kids are women under the age of 45, and a whole bunch of them are missing, it’s going to have an obvious impact on the fertility of a population.” In his recently published book, Empty Planet, Bricker proposes the radical idea that contrary to a population explosion apocalypse scenario, the data suggests the world is actually more likely to run out of people. If current models are mistakenly counting women that aren’t there, that only makes his predictions that much more plausible, he adds.

10) We need to be so much tougher, policy-wise, on the anti-vaxxers.  You don’t want to vaccinate for vague, anti-scientific reasons.  Fine, lose your rights to schools, malls, public places, etc.  Our current exemption policies are way too lax in many states:

But over the last 10 years, many states have made it easier for parents to get personal exemptions for vaccinations. Recent analyses have shown that since 2009, the number of nonmedical exemptions rose in 12 of the 17 states that relaxed their laws to allow for philosophical objections as well as religious ones. In some anti-vaccine hot spots, exemption rates are nearing double digits. “It’s been a pretty recent phenomenon that people are now saying their concerns about vaccination outweigh their concerns about infectious diseases,” Silverman says. “And it’s starting to test the balancing act most states are trying to pull off.”

At least in some places, the threat of bigger outbreaks appears to be tipping the scales toward more restrictive policies. At least eight states, including some that experienced measles spikes this year, are now taking a harder look at their lax personal-exemption laws. When you add up the costs of an outbreak, it’s not hard to see why. A single five-month outbreak in Minnesota in 2017 that infected 79 people ran the state a tab of $2.3 million.

Stricter laws should help boost vaccine rates, but it’s not always enough. In 2015, California ditched its personal-belief exemptions, making it only the third state—along with West Virginia and Mississippi—to have such rigid requirements. As a result, fewer students skipped shots, and by 2018 immunization rates statewide were once again above the 94 percent threshold. But researchers discovered that over the same time period, medical exemptions grew. It turned out that many parents were getting around the new law by convincing doctors to grant them medical exemptions. That’s why California is now considering a bill that would crack down on the medical exempting process, to ensure they’re reserved only for people who really need them—kids who’ve 1undergone chemotherapy or organ transplants or who suffer from immune disorders.

11) Somehow, just yesterday discovered this Bad Lip Reading “Empire Strikes Back” edition.  Oh man did my kids and I love this

12) Honestly, probably better if Netflix had never made any new “Arrested Development” episodes, but it’s still got a great legacy:

Depressing is a word fans who fell in love with Arrested Development in its original form might call its current state: now that the show’s conclusion to season five has landed, it’s doubtful many will be praying for another renewal. It’s worth remembering though, if this is indeed its last hurrah, how good the show once was. That once there was no touching its hurricane-of-blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gags, surprises and syrupy moments of heartwarming family drama. Our pop culture landscape today would be drastically different without it: TV comedy in 2019 owes a godzilla-sized debt to the show. There may never have been BoJack Horseman or Archer, both of which feature stars from Arrested Development as well as generous servings of its manic, wild-eyed humour. It kicked open the door for the black comic barrage and selfish, shouting protagonists of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and blazed a trail for single cam successes like The OfficeParks and Recreation and Modern Family.

13) Happy Easter!

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Quick hits (part I)

1) Jamelle Bouie, “Why Trump Won’t Stop Talking About Ilhan Omar”

The way Representative Omar’s address made its way to President Trump is emblematic of how inflammatory ideas and rhetoric are transmitted from individual lawmakers and conservative media to the national stage. Omar spoke in public — Fox News even streamed it for its audience. But it wasn’t a controversy until it reached the ears of Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a Republican who took the snippet on 9/11 and framed it as something disrespectful. “First Member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something,’” Crenshaw said on Twitter. “Unbelievable.”

With that, the wider world of conservative media pounced. “You have to wonder if she’s an American first,” declared Brian Kilmeade, one of the hosts of “Fox & Friends” on Fox News. The Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post took it a step further with a Thursday front page showing a photo from 9/11 — the moment the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center — with the headline, “Here’s Your Something.”…

It is easy to tie these attacks to Trump’s history of anti-Muslim rhetoric. But anti-Muslim prejudice was common in Republican politics before he stepped on the political stage with his “birther” charges against President Barack Obama.

It was an important force among Republican voters — in one 2004 poll, for example, about 40 percent of self-identified Republicans said that Muslim Americans should be required to register with the government and 41 percent said that Muslim-American civic groups should be infiltrated by the government. Well before Obama was a household name and Trump a political figure, a 2006 Gallup poll found wide anti-Muslim prejudice “with Republicans ascribing more negative political and religious qualities to Muslims, and being more opposed to having Muslims as neighbors than are Democrats and independents.”

It was an important force in conservative media. Conservative radio and television hosts frequently conflated all Muslims with the actions of extremists. In one 2006 segment on his radio show, Glenn Beck warned that if “good Muslims” aren’t “the first ones in the recruitment office lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head,” then “human beings” might be forced into “putting up razor wire and putting you on one side of it.”

2) Loved this Atlantic article how unlike most medicine, much of dentistry is not currently evidence-based medicine.  Also, pretty sure that my dentist is actually one of the good guys.  The dentist in the article?  Whoa!

3) I love hockey, but I’ll never forget my first hockey game being amazed and appalled at how many of the fans seemed to really revel in the fights and violence.  I love the amazing speed and skill.  And, yes, I appreciate a good clean hit where nobody gets injured.  But the fact that fighting is still essentially allowed (just a minor penalty) puts it at odds with every other serious sport.  Also, it can be bad for your brain.

4) Krugman on Republicans’ crazy obsession with AOC and Omar:

The attack on Democrats has largely involved demonizing two new members of Congress, Representative Ilhan Omar and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Omar is Muslim, and the usual suspects have gone all-out in using an out-of-context quotation to portray her, completely falsely, as sympathetic to terrorists. AOC, who calls herself a democratic socialist — although she’s really just a social democrat — has been the subject of obsessive coverage on the right. Over a six-week period, Fox News and Fox Business mentioned her more than 3,000 times, invariably portraying her as ignorant, radical, or both.

It’s surely not an accident that these two principal targets are both women of color; there’s a sense in which supposed concerns about extremism are just a cover for sexism and white nationalism. But it’s still worth pointing out that while both Omar and AOC are on the left of the Democratic Party, neither is staking out policy positions that are extreme compared with either expert views or public opinion.

5) Yes, Sylvia Hatchell made some inappropriate racially-charged remarks, but, damn did she sure deserve to get fired for the complete disregard for her players’ health.

6) Good stuff in Wired on sleep:

He ran down all the ways in which sleep deprivation hurts people: it makes you dumber, more forgetful, unable to learn new things, more vulnerable to dementia, more likely to die of a heart attack, less able to fend off sickness with a strong immune system, more likely to get cancer, and it makes your body literally hurt more. Lack of sleep distorts your genes, and increases your risk of death generally, he said. It disrupts the creation of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and leads to premature aging. Apparently, men who only sleep five hours a night have markedly smaller testicles than men who sleep more than seven.

“Sleep loss will leak down into every nook and cranny of your physiology,” he said. “Sleep, unfortunately, is not an optional lifestyle luxury. Sleep is a nonnegotiable biological necessity. It is your life support system.”…

His message came across as a rebuke of the idea that sleep deprivation and success somehow go hand in hand. Tim Cook reportedly wakes up at 3:45 am to start work. Barack Obama said he only sleeps about 5 hours. He’s a “night guy.” Donald Trump and Elon Musk both have said they sleep only a few hours a night. But Musk has also admitted to The New York Times that his work schedule was taking a toll on his mental health and whole life. Walker argued that it’s time to stop thinking that needing sleep is a sign of weakness or laziness. In fact, it’s the opposite.

7) Enjoyed this interview with Melinda Gates:

In terms of the work you’re doing right now — as a person, a human being — what keeps you up at night? Contraceptives. Reproductive health. Any time I see anything in the United States that looks like we’re rolling back women’s health, I’m thinking, What communities does that affect in the United States, and whom does it affect disproportionately? Then I worry even more, to be honest, about what the repercussions are going to be on foreign aid in the dollars that we spend in other countries. Because, boy, do I see the difference contraceptives make there.

You’re not thinking about more microlevel stuff late at night? No. I’m thinking about contraceptives, where we’re helping lead internationally. In the United States, when something changes, people are going to stand up. But my role is to make sure that I’m advocating on behalf of, for example, women in Kenya. United States funding of reproductive health rights affects those women. So I have to think macro. I have to.

8) No, not cable pundits, but assuming “mainstream media” = good newspaper journalism, then the Mueller report means three cheers for the mainstream media.  Paul Farhi, “Mueller report suggests the ‘fake news’ came from Trump, not the news media.”

9) ICE departs widower of KIA soldier.  Than reverses course in face of media firestorm.  I wish the latter wasn’t necessary for ICE to do the right thing.  Right now, ICE is an absolute embarrassment of a government agency.

10) Yglesias with a good take on Buttigieg meteoric rise:

As personalities and political thinkers, Buttigieg and Donald Trump are very different. But Buttigieg seems to have assimilated a key lesson of Trump’s 2016 campaign — in a crowded field, attention is the scarcest commodity, and it’s worth seeking wherever it can be found. Trump didn’t have traditional political experience or a traditional campaign operation, but he was willing and eager to be omnipresent on television in unscripted situations…

There’s a cliché in American politics that opposition parties like to select a nominee who is in some sense the opposite of the hated incumbent. And Buttigieg — a young, gay, and extremely earnest Midwestern intellectual who’s also a combat veteran — certainly fits one version of that bill. But he’s also very much a beneficiary of the extent to which Trump’s election has lowered the bar for qualification for high office.

As Olivia Nuzzi, the author of a big new Buttigieg profile in New York magazine, pointed out over the weekend, he’s very much followed the model of obtaining coverage by making himself fun to cover.

11) Drum with a skeptical take on that encouraging Lebron-sponsored public school:

If you read between the lines, here’s what you get:

If:

  • You refuse to take students in the bottom ten percent . . .
  • And you choose students whose parents have affirmatively shown an interest in getting their kids into a better school . . .
  • And you increase the school’s budget by 50 percent to hire lots of tutors and extra aides . . .
  • And you extend both the school day and the school year . . .

Then:

  • You can expect a modest improvement in performance during the students’ first year.

Believe me when I say that I know how cynical this sounds. I’m sorry about that. But I don’t think anyone should be surprised about getting results like this from a program with this framework. Programs similar to this one have been started up before and have often shown promise, just as you’d expect. The problem is getting them to scale; getting them to work when you have to take all comers; and getting them to continue working over the long term. We have very few success stories like that.

12) America making some nice progress on offshore wind power and the technological developments behind it.

13) This NYT interactive graphic on the Notre Dame fire is pretty awesome.

Obligatory Mueller post

Mostly, so that it doesn’t take up all of quick hits.  I’m supposed to be relaxing on spring break, not spending all my time reading about the Mueller report and various reactions ;-).  So, lots of different stuff.

1) I like what Drum does in emphasizing Trump’s repeated instances of “corrupt intent.”

It’s hard to read the report in its entirety without coming to the clear conclusion that Mueller believed Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice on many, many occasions. In multiple cases, all three parts of his three-part test are present: the obstructive acts are there, the “nexus” to official proceedings is there, and corrupt intent is there.

However, he decided not to recommend charges because he knows the Attorney General disagrees with him about whether the law and the Constitution allow a sitting president to be indicted. [emphases mine] Based on the evidence he lays out, this appears to be the sole reason he balked at recommending charges.¹ If this case had been about any other person on the planet—or if the AG didn’t have such strong protective instincts—Mueller would have recommended charges.

In the end, Mueller appears to have backed off because he didn’t want to be involved in a big political fight. This does not speak very well for his willingness to do what’s right regardless of how it might affect him personally.

2) Chait:

The Mueller report is the story of a crime that succeeded and a cover-up that quite possibly did too.

Trump has repeatedly claimed, and his attorney general has repeated, that the Mueller report proved (as William Barr put it Thursday morning) “there was in fact no collusion.” Mueller’s report shows this claim of exoneration is at best highly misleading and at worst outright false.

The standard of proof used by Mueller is “establish,” which essentially means “to prove.” Mueller established both that Russia set out to help Trump’s campaign, in part by breaking American laws, and that the campaign expected to benefit from those actions, criminal and otherwise. The report states that it failed to establish “coordination,” which it defines as “more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.”

And it emphasizes repeatedly that it brought charges only when prosecutors could meet that forbidding standard of proof:

As the report explains, “a statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.” The failure to establish these crimes does not mean investigators proved the negative or even that they found no evidence for them…

It is famously difficult to prosecute the leaders of tight-knit criminal syndicates, which is why known mob bosses can walk the streets as celebrities for years or decades. This is the case even though there are specific laws designed to target the Mafia. Now imagine a mob boss who commands the loyalty of a national party and can hand out get-out-of-jail-free cards to his underlings when they get pinched, and you’re beginning to see the difficulty of establishing the kinds of criminal-conspiracy charges Mueller was after.

Trump’s defenders have muddled the distinction between the standard of proof required to convict a defendant in court — the standard Mueller was operating under — and the standard of proof in the court of public opinion. When you’re charged with a murder, you might beat the rap if the key witnesses recant or mysteriously die right before the trial. You would then be legally entitled to walk free, but your fellow citizens are not required to accept your boasts of exoneration.

Trump beat the rap. But Mueller’s report shows in excruciating detail the moral culpability that oozed out of the candidate and covered everybody beneath him.

3) Ezra: “The best defense of Trump is still a damning indictment: The Mueller report’s defense of Trump: exculpatory incompetence, misplaced rage.”

The story the report tells is that a foreign government illegally interfered in America’s presidential election on Trump’s behalf, and rather than treating that incursion as an attack on America’s political institutions, Trump treated it transactionally, as a gift to him personally.

And so, rather than defend America from Russia’s attacks, he defended himself from the investigations into Russia’s attacks. Rather than see Russia’s hacks as a threat to the legitimacy of America’s elections, he saw the investigation as a threat to the legitimacy of his own election. So rather than defend the rule of law, Trump subverted it.

The irony is that if Trump’s defenders are right, then it was Trump himself who delegitimized his presidency. He did it through specific acts of obstruction, like firing James Comey and trying to fire Jeff Sessions and lying to the public, but he also did it by failing to understand that being president of the United States means putting America, well, first.

4) I’m really intrigued by the impeachment angle.  I think Brian Beutler makes a really strong case:

This is not principally an argument about what constitutes sound political strategy—about what approach will galvanize whose base more. My biases tell me that impeaching Trump would inspire Democratic voters, and bog Republicans down with endless recitations of their party’s hideous corruption. My biases tells me that running scared from the impeachment question would deflate many Democratic activists, by signaling to them that the party doesn’t really consider Trump’s presidency to be an emergency after all, and will refuse to hold his regime accountable for its crimes even if the next election goes well. But that could be wrong.

The real importance of impeachment at this point is to shelter the country from what Trump and his allies will do if Democrats remain aimless. Democrats aren’t really buying time for themselves. They are buying time for Trump to get the GOP back on its horribly dishonest but unified message that he has been exonerated and that the investigation itself was criminal. If Democrats don’t pull the country into a debate about impeachment, we won’t get a draw. We will get a debate about investigating the investigators and jailing Trump’s critics. Cowardice creates a void that Trump will fill with autocratic ambition, and his crooked attorney general will be there to help.

5) Jennifer Rubin:

Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me, “Volume II provides a perfect roadmap for impeaching this president for obstruction of justice if the House opts to pursue that path.” He continues, “Although Attorney General Barr did his darnedest to get in the way, and may have succeeded in creating a narrative that will protect the president, he had no way to erase or scrub that roadmap into oblivion.” Tribe points out that “it’s not just that the Mueller Report on p. 8 of the second volume says the Special Counsel’s Office is ‘unable to reach [the] judgment’ that ‘the President clearly did not commit [the crime of] obstruction of justice’ but that the Report elaborates numerous shocking instances of what any objective observer would have to describe as such obstruction.” And he concludes, “In a word, if we could imagine the Constitution’s framers reading this report on what President Trump had personally done to interfere with and undermine lawful inquiries into Russia’s role in helping him win the presidency, we would have to conclude that they would have regarded him as guilty of many high crimes and misdemeanors worthy of impeachment and removal from office.”

6) Greg Sargent, “Democratic equivocation over impeachment is a moral and political disaster.”

7) George Conway lets loose.  Seriously, how do they stay married: “Trump is a cancer on the presidency. Congress should remove him.”

So it turns out that, indeed, President Trump was not exonerated at all, and certainly not “totally” or “completely,” as he claimed. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III didn’t reach a conclusion about whether Trump committed crimes of obstruction of justice — in part because, while a sitting president, Trump can’t be prosecuted under long-standing Justice Department directives, and in part because of “difficult issues” raised by “the President’s actions and intent.” Those difficult issues involve, among other things, the potentially tricky interplay between the criminal obstruction laws and the president’s constitutional authority, and the difficulty in proving criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

Still, the special counsel’s report is damning. Mueller couldn’t say, with any “confidence,” that the president of the United States is not a criminal. He said, stunningly, that “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” Mueller did not so state.

That’s especially damning because the ultimate issue shouldn’t be — and isn’t — whether the president committed a criminal act. As I wrote not long ago, Americans should expect far more than merely that their president not be provably a criminal. In fact, the Constitution demands it.

8) OMG Barr is just the worst.  Former federal prosecutor Renatto Mariotti:

Now that we have seen almost the entire report of more than 400 pages, we know Barr intentionally misled the American people about Mueller’s findings and his legal reasoning. As a former federal prosecutor, when I look at Mueller’s work, I don’t see a murky set of facts. I see a case meticulously laid out by a prosecutor who knew he was not allowed to bring it.

Mueller’s report detailed extraordinary efforts by Trump to abuse his power as president to undermine Mueller’s investigation. The case is so detailed that it is hard to escape the conclusion that Mueller could have indicted and convicted Trump for obstruction of justice—if he were permitted to do so. And the reason he is not permitted to do so is very clear: Department of Justice policy prohibits the indictment of a sitting president…

Moreover, Mueller’s team “found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations.”

But Barr hid these inconvenient facts.

9) And, yes, put me on team impeachment even if Republicans will never remove Trump.  That should be an obvious moral shame on them, not just a political calculation on the part of Democrats.  Truly, if our constitutional system means anything, it means that a president who has provably acted as Trump has should be held as accountable as we can do so (which, is presumably, impeachment without removal.

But, Ezra argues makes a good case against, so, rare disagreement with Ezra:

The idea that “we shouldn’t impeach because the Senate won’t convict,’” Bouie writes, “is an instrumentalist vision of politics that treats it primarily as a tool for removal.”

I agree that it’s an instrumentalist vision of politics, but politics is often instrumental! And when it comes to the underlying question here — protecting American democracy — I’m an instrumentalist. Whatever its motivations, if an impeachment drive is certain to fail and likely to strengthen Trump and congressional Republicans going into the 2020 election — thereby rewarding the very behaviors it’s meant to curb — then I have trouble understanding the point of it…

Absent public support for impeachment, and amid a strong economy, it would give the White House an opportunity to run the playbook Bill Clinton ran so successfully in the 1990s: Here’s Trump, focusing on economic growth, and there are the Democrats, focusing on their doomed vendetta against the president.

This is a strategy that would unite Republicans and split Democrats, and if Trump won using it, then the harm to American democracy would be incalculable. I think it’s a mistake for liberals to wave that prospect away.

I’m not at all sold on the idea that this would strengthen Republicans, but it is a possibility, and I think a decent case that the worst possible outcome is: impeachment, non-removal, Trump re-election and that should be avoided at all costs.  Still, I think impeachment is the right call.

Personality and politics

When I can find the right book for the class, I love to have “book club” where we spend a week discussing a single book, primarily in small groups.  Almost always has worked great.  Last semester, we used Identity Crisis for PS 302 Campaigns & Elections and it was excellent.  This semester for PS 411 Public Opinion & Media was another big winner, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler’s Prius or Pickup.

Image result for prius or pickup hetherington

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned their work a few times in quick hits, but never given the book a post.  This was a book that was written for a general audience and is surprisingly well-written for being by two political science professors.  My 13-year old son actually enjoyed reading the first 50 pages or so.  Anyway, Ezra Klein just had a great post where he discusses this work, and some other really good related work on personality/worldview and politics, so I would be remiss if I did not recommend it.  Here’s some highlights from Ezra’s take:

In their book Open Versus Closed, Christopher Johnston, Christopher Federico, and Howard Lavine write that “Democrats and Republicans are now sharply distinguished by a set of basic psychological dispositions related to experiential openness — a general dimension of personality tapping tolerance for threat and uncertainty in one’s environment.”

A similar argument, using slightly different data, can be found in Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler’s Prius or Pickup:

Of the many factors that make up your worldview, one is more fundamental than any other in determining which side of the divide you gravitate toward: your perception of how dangerous the world is. Fear is perhaps our most primal instinct, after all, so it’s only logical that people’s level of fearfulness informs their outlook on life.

In Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political DifferencesJohn Alford, John Hibbing, and Kevin Smith write:

Numerous studies have linked these personality dimensions to differences in the mix of tastes and preferences that seem to reliably separate liberals and conservatives. People who score high on openness, for example, tend to like envelope-pushing music and abstract art. People who score high on conscientiousness are more likely to be organized, faithful, and loyal. One review of this large research literature finds these sorts of differences consistently cropping up across nearly 70 years of studies on personality research. The punch line, of course, is that this same literature also reports a consistent relationship between these dimensions of personality and political temperament. Those open to new experiences are not just hanging Jackson Pollock prints in disorganized bedrooms while listening to techno-pop reinterpretations of Bach by experimental jazz bands. They are also more likely to identify themselves as liberals.

These differences show up in surveys, in experiments, and in lifestyle choices. People high in openness are more likely to enjoy trying new foods, traveling to new places, living in diverse cities, keeping a messy desk. They’re less sensitive to threatening photos and disgusting images, even when measuring physical indicators like skin connectivity, eye tracking, and saliva.

At the core of this worldview divide is hope, in its most basic, literal form. Are you hopeful about new things, new people, new places? Does change excite you? Does difference? If it does, you are more likely to be liberal. If you look at the new, the different, and feel a spike of fear, you’re more likely to be a conservative.

Not every liberal is high in this kind of openness, and not every conservative is low in it. But these associations are present and strong across huge numbers of studies spanning dozens of countries. In one meta-analysis of the literature, John Jost, Chadly Stern, Nicholas Rule, and Joanna Sterling looked at 134 surveys in 16 countries and found “a significant association between subjective perceptions of threat and conservatism.”

Over the past 50 years, America’s political parties have increasingly sorted themselves into ideologically and demographically distinct coalitions, and part of that sorting has been psychological. As the Democratic Party has diversified, it’s become particularly attractive to people who see difference as strength and who are excited by the idea of a changing country. The Republican Party has experienced the same process in reverse…

All this has supercharged America’s psychological sorting. Johnston, Federico, and Lavine find that the more politically engaged someone is now, the more intensely correlated their psychology and their voting behavior becomes. Hetherington and Weiler, who measure a related basket of traits they call “fixed” and “fluid,” find that now, “among the fixed, 84 percent of those who chose one of these two labels chose conservative,” while “among the fluid, 80 percent of those who chose one of them chose liberal.”

Lots more good stuff in Ezra’s piece.  You really should read the whole thing.  And, yes, I’m thinking of you who doesn’t read the links you know you should.  (Also, here’s two excellent Thomas Edsall pieces that address it significantly that I’m pretty sure I’ve linked before.  But I particularly enjoyed how much I’ve been thinking about the basic fluid/fixed, open/closed concept in my daily life recently.  It really does seem to explain so much.  And everybody (i.e., my social circle) to whom I’ve given Hetherington and Weiler’s four questions to has turned out fully “fluid.”  My wife was all like, “seriously, do you really have to go to the trouble of asking.”

A real lasting question I have on all this is the nature/nurture element of it, though.  I feel pretty confident that 30 years ago I would have been mixed, and quite possibly leaning fixed.  Now, I am thoroughly in the fluid camp.  I cannot but think an entire adult life in large metro areas and universities, i.e., areas where fluid people self-select to live their lives, has contributed to me becoming more fluid.  The whole concept is also a great example of selection bias.  We all know which type of people choose to stay in the small town and which choose to live in and embrace the big city.

Anyway, really interesting stuff.  Would love to know your thoughts on it and if you are somehow a “fixed” liberal or “fluid” conservative (I highly doubt it, though).

We are so not full

I’m a little behind on this post, but it needs to be written.  Last week, of all the dumb things Donald Trump has said, he claimed that America is “full.”  Has he been to Nebraska?  Or anywhere in the plains?  Or heck, even large parts of my home of North Carolina? Not only is this completely delusional, it is completely at odds with the fact that our country’s economic future depends on having more immigrants.  There was a great Upshot on this:

To the degree the president is addressing something broader than the recent strains on the asylum-seeking process, the line suggests the nation can’t accommodate higher immigration levels because it is already bursting at the seams. But it runs counter to the consensus among demographers and economists.

They see ample evidence of a country that is not remotely “full” — but one where an aging population and declining birthrates among the native-born population are creating underpopulated cities and towns, vacant housing and troubled public finances.

Local officials in many of those places view a shrinking population and work force as an existential problem with few obvious solutions [emphases mine]

This consensus is visible in official government projections. The Congressional Budget Office foresees the American labor force rising by only 0.5 percent a year over the coming decade, about one-third as fast as from 1950 to 2007. That is a crucial reason that economic growth is forecast to remain well below its late 20th-century levels…

And that, in turn, is reflected in the national fiscal outlook. There are now 2.8 workers for every recipient of Social Security benefits, a rate on track to fall to 2.2 by 2035, according to the program’s trustees. Many state pension plans face even greater demography-induced strains.

In smaller cities and rural areas, demographic decline is a fundamental fact of life. A recent study by the Economic Innovation Group found that 80 percent of American counties, with a combined population of 149 million, saw a decline in their number of prime working-age adults from 2007 to 2017…

Many parts of the country that are growing in population and that are more economically dynamic have depended on the arrival of immigrants for that success.

Sun Belt metros like Dallas and Phoenix have been built on the logic of rapid expansion — of quickly built homes, of poached employers, of new highways paved to ever-newer subdivisions. Their economic development strategy is growth. Their chief input is people — the more, the better…

America’s metropolitan areas remain among the least dense in the world, said Sonia Hirt, a professor of landscape architecture and planning at the University of Georgia. Nationwide, the United States has less than one-third of the population density of the European Union, and a quarter of the density of China…

Economists, too, argue that countries, or even cities, can’t really fill up. Rather, communities choose not to make the political choices necessary to accommodate more people. At the local level, that means neighbors may be unwilling to allow taller buildings or to invest in more schools or improved infrastructure. At the national level, it means that politicians may be unwilling to take up immigration reform, or to address workers who fear unemployment. The president’s comments echo such local fights.

“We’re full” has often been a motto for people to keep out poorer renters, minority households or apartment buildings, among both conservatives and liberals. The claim can be a way of disguising exclusion as practicality. It’s not that we’re unwelcoming; it’s just that we’re full.

And plenty more good stuff.  Ezra Klein also hits the same themes:

As you’d expect, low-growth places struggle across a host of economic measures. If you compare employment rates between the fastest-growing and fastest-shrinking counties, “the 12 percentage point gap between these two groups of counties is significantly larger than the 7 percentage point increase in non-employment the United States experienced during the Great Recession.”.

These communities also see weaker housing markets, higher borrowing costs, and more vacant properties. And because these communities were larger in the past, they find themselves struggling to support infrastructure built for a bigger tax base than they now have.

All of this can create a cycle of exit, in which the residents most able to find jobs elsewhere flee, leaving the economy even weaker, which drives out the next tranche of residents with the best opportunities elsewhere, and so on.

America’s political system is structured to advantage sparsely populated areas over densely populated ones. To the extent that more areas are seeing populations stagnate and even decline, and more economic growth is concentrated in the fastest-growing zip codes, turbulence is to be expected. Arguably, it’s already here…

Much of the immigration debate is about values. It’s about the kind of country you want America to be, the kind of people you’re comfortable seeing in it. Those feelings run deep, and they’re rarely changeable through political argument. But sometimes the debate is, or pretends to be, about more tangible questions. No matter what Trump says, America isn’t full. In fact, the problem facing many, many communities is that they’re emptying, with devastating consequences for the residents left behind.

Immigration is the most powerful tool we have to help those communities. The question is whether we want to use it.

Ezra is also good enough to recommend David Frum as the most reasonable case for limiting immigration.  I think Frum raises some important points, but overall I’m far from persuaded.  More importantly in this debate, I think he also presents a good-faith effort for his case.

But large-scale immigration also comes with considerable social and political costs, and those must be accounted for. In November 2018, Hillary Clinton delivered a warning to Europeans that mass immigration was weakening democracy. “I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration, because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said, referring to the upsurge of far-right populism destabilizing countries such as France and Hungary. “I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken, particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message—‘We are not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support’—because if we don’t deal with the migration issue, it will continue to roil the body politic.”…

Demagogues don’t rise by talking about irrelevant issues. Demagogues rise by talking about issues that matter to people, and that more conventional leaders appear unwilling or unable to address: unemployment in the 1930s, crime in the 1960s, mass immigration now. Voters get to decide what the country’s problems are. Political elites have to devise solutions to those problems. If difficult issues go unaddressed by responsible leaders, they will be exploited by irresponsible ones.

Frum is right, we do need better and more clear political solutions for how we currently address immigration.  But, we undoubtedly also need more immigration.  We are not full.

How to learn

Love this from James Lang which pretty succinctly sums up the best approach to learning new information that you actually want to retain (here, for the purposes of good college grades, but, this is universally applicable stuff):

Practice Testing.  Memory researchers have learned in recent decades that our brains have enormous storage capacity.  The challenge for our memories is not so much cramming stuff in there; it’s being able to retrieve information or ideas from our memories when we need them (i.e., when you’re sitting down in front of a test).  It turns out that the more times you practice retrieving something from your memory, the better you get at it.  Highlighting and re-reading do not require you to use your memory at all; practice testing does.  So if you want your memory to go to work for you in the exam, give it lots of practice when you study. Close your book and test yourself.  You can use flashcards; you can take practice quizzes online; or you can even just practice writing and re-writing the key ideas or information that you want to remember.

Spaced Study.  You probably know this one already, so I won’t belabor it.  But the evidence for it is irrefutable.  You will have a much greater long-term grasp of your learning if you space out your study over multiple sessions instead of cramming it all into one.  In one very simple experiment that demonstrated this, students who studied foreign language vocabulary for ten minutes three days in a row outperformed their peers who studied the same vocabulary words in a single thirty-minute session.  Your parents and all of your previous teachers were right: spacing out your study sessions over time beats cramming—by a lot.

 Making Connections.  When we learn something deeply, we relate it to other aspects of our lives and our existing knowledge. We have thick networks of connections between what we know already—or what we experience outside of school—and what we are learning.  As you are studying, try to make connections between what you are learning and other things you have learned or experienced.  Ask yourself connection-making questions: Have I ever encountered this before?  Have I learned anything similar in another course?  In what real-world contexts would this concept or skill operate?  Why is it significant?  This strategy will work best if you write these ideas down; fill out your notebook or your texts with new connections, rather than with highlighting or underlining

All three of these strategies require more work than highlighting or re-reading.  Learning isn’t always easy.  In fact, some learning researchers suggest that struggle in learning is beneficial.  When we grasp things easily and quickly, we also forget them easily and quickly. [emphasis mine]

Social media life complements real life

I have no doubt that used improperly (like anything) social media can be a real net negative in some people’s lives.  That said, I totally disagree with this Op-Ed arguing to post less good news on social media:

My kids have had some good news lately. Academic triumphs, hockey tournament wins, even a little college admissions excitement. They’ve had rough moments too, and bittersweet ones. There have been last games and disappointments and unwashed dishes galore. If you’re a friend, or even somebody who knows my mom and struck up a friendly conversation in line at the grocery store, I’d love to talk to you about any of it. I might even show you pictures.

But I’m not going to post them on social media. Because I tried that for a while, and I came to a simple conclusion about getting the reactions of friends, family and acquaintances via emojis and exclamations points rather than hugs and actual exclamations.

It’s no fun. And I don’t want to do it any more.

I get so many great interactions in-person precisely because I post a lot on FB.  Instead of a casual “how’s it going Steve?” to which I typically do not answer, “oh, good, Alex’s brain tumor is shrinking,” friends that I would not necessarily think to just share that with in a quick hall-way hello, say, “I saw about Alex’s shrinking tumor— that’s awesome!  Tell me more.”  Or, “wow, your soccer team is kicking butt– what’s the secret.”  Or, “I saw Evan’s science award– that’s awesome.”  And so many others.  And these lead to great conversations.  We end up talking about Evan’s love of science, or how David is doing at Wake Tech, or Alex’s health, or Sarah’s soccer team, etc.  And it’s great.  All because I post pictures, etc.  When I see a friend in the hallway at work and they say “how’s it going?” I don’t say, “great, Sarah had a really nice dance recital on Saturday.”  But, it’s awesome when that same friend says, “loved the photos at Sarah’s dance recital.”

I could go on.  But, the short version is that social media leads to me sharing so much more of my life than I otherwise would in most spontaneous interactions and that has absolutely enhanced my real-world relationships.

Oh, and I didn’t go to my Duke 25th reunion this weekend, but had a great time seeing a couple of Duke friends at brunch yesterday.

 

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