Well, it took me almost two months, but I just finished Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War.”  Brilliant.  So good.  Easily my favorite documentary series ever.  I only wish it had been there for me to watch 20 years ago.  It looks like it’s not exactly easy to stream now (I had it all saved on my DVR) but presumably it will be easier to watch in the future.  And if you haven’t watched it.  Watch it.  So eye-opening in so many ways and so moving.  Just great stuff.


Lies, damn lies, and Republicans on taxes

Hard not to just paste the whole Krugman column (so good and so on target), but here’s some extensive portions:

One thing you can count on in 21st-century U.S. politics is that Republicans will lie about taxes. They did it under George W. Bush, they did it under Barack Obama and they’re still doing it under Donald Trump…

So what’s different this time? As in the Bush years, Republicans are claiming to be offering a middle-class tax cut. But where Bush truly was cutting taxes on the middle class, just much less than he was on the wealthy, current Republican plans would raise those taxes on many lower- and middle-income families, even as they go down for the wealthy. [emphases mine] (Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, claims that only “million-dollar earners”would see tax increases. This is the opposite of the truth.)…

Oh, and a memo to journalists: If you play it safe by reporting this as “Democrats say” that middle-class taxes will go up, you’re misleading your readers: Those estimates come from the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s own nonpartisan scorekeeper…

Not long ago, leading Republicans claimed to be deeply concerned about budget deficits. Only fools and centrists took the Republicans seriously. Still, the abrupt shift to nonchalance about adding trillions to the debt in order to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy is causing a bit of whiplash even among cynics. How do they justify the shift?

Well, they don’t seem to have settled on a story. Mnuchin keeps asserting that tax cuts will pay for themselves, going so far as to claim (falsely) that Treasury has released a study showing this. Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, cheerfully acknowledges that they’re using gimmicks to pass a bill that permanently cuts taxes on corporations, and not to worry. Whatever works, it seems

Sorry, but this isn’t the righteous anger of a man falsely accused of wrongdoing [Orrin Hatch]. It’s the rage con men always exhibit when caught out in their con.

But what’s the con about? The very incoherence of the arguments Republicans are making for their plans shows that it’s not about helping the economy, let alone ordinary families. It really is about making the rich richer, at everyone else’s expense. If this be bull crap, make the most of it.

Paul Waldman also lets loose:

Orrin Hatch is sick and tired, and so am I. Hatch, however, has the benefit of knowing that his illness and fatigue will soon be relieved by the soothing balm of victory, as the Republican Party fulfills its most profound and deeply revered purpose and delivers a tax cut to corporations and wealthy people…

A logician might counter that Hatch’s experience of poverty during the Depression is proof of precisely nothing when the question is what’s in the GOP tax bill. But all the same, he’s sick and tired of hearing that Republicans favor the rich. How dare Democrats keep repeating that foul calumny?

It might surprise Hatch to learn that as a liberal, I’m also sick and tired of the charge that the Republican tax plan is a gift to those who need it least. But I’m sick and tired of being forced to say it over and over again, with little apparent effect. I’m sick and tired of pointing out the impossibly audacious falsehoods Republicans tell about taxes. I’m sick and tired of having what so often feels like an endlessly repeating debate that ends the way everyone knows it will. Let’s lay out the steps:

  1. Republicans lie about their tax cut plan.
  2. Republicans pass their plan.
  3. Their plan contains exactly what liberals and Democrats say it does.
  4. Their plan has none of the glorious trickle-down effects Republicans claimed it would.
  5. The next time Republicans take power, we repeat this whole cycle again.

If that’s not enough to make you sick and tired, what would be? …

But what really makes me sick and tired is that it won’t matter. One way or another they’ll assemble the votes, both because this is what they live for and because they’ve convinced themselves that if they don’t pass this bill then their base will abandon them and they’ll be wiped out in the 2018 elections. Then no matter what happens—an economic boom, another recession, or anything in between they’ll say that it proves that what we need is yet more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. And we’ll have to keep having this argument for the rest of our lives. 

Yep.  Still looking for any evidence that the preeminent policy concern of Republicans is anything other than tax cuts for rich people.  They just make it too easy.

Photo of the day

How have I never heard of the Eshima Ohashi bridge?!  I literally have nightmares exactly about bridges like this.  A common nightmare theme for me is a bridge so steep the car flips over backwards.  Don’t use that against me.

That said, it looks a lot less scary from some other angles.

Why Democrats should emphasize economics in 2018

Well the horrible Republican tax plan is a good start.  But it’s also a political winner, based on Lee Drutman’s analysis.  Lots of cool stuff in here– charts, etc.,– but I’ll skip to the takeaway:

Their best bet will be to offer a sharper economic message, which offers at least some possibility of gain among Obama-Trump voters and Obama-Other voters, with little risk of alienating Romney-Clinton voters. [emphasis mine]

The Virginia results suggest Democrats still might also be able to expand their base without attempting to reach these voters with a new economic populism — results that will certainly give comfort to the donor class of the party that gets nervous every time Bernie Sanders begins talking. The inevitable pendulum swing against the Republican Party, Mr. Trump’s deep unpopularity, an energized electorate and the wave of Republican congressional retirements — and the slow but steady demographic shift toward a younger, more diverse electorate — will all give Democrats an advantage that they can ride mostly just by being Democrats and not doing stupid things.

Project this trend forward, and perhaps a just-out-of-reach suburban Atlanta House district that a Democratic nominee, Jon Ossoff, narrowly lost this year becomes a narrow Democratic pickup in 2018.

Still, the better bet for Democrats would be to present a sharper economic message, which offers at least some possibility of gain among Obama-Trump voters and Obama-Other voters, with little risk of alienating Romney-Clinton voters.

It’s also better for our politics. The more Democrats rely simply on upscale voters’ cosmopolitan cultural values and corresponding revulsion to Mr. Trump, the more our political system becomes organized around zero-sum culture issues and locked in increasingly no-compromise polarization. Economics, after all, you can bargain over. Identity and culture, not so much. The good news for Democrats is that running on a stronger economic vision is not only good for the country, it’s also good for the Democrats’ long-term fortunes.

No, that doesn’t mean throw gays, Blacks, and women under the bus.  It doesn’t mean changing values here at all.  Nor does it mean that these social issues are unconnected to economic issues.  It does, however, suggest that a winning national strategy will be far more effective by placing an emphasis on clear-cut economic issues, such as the Republicans desire to make the rich richer at the expense of everybody else.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This Dana Priest piece on Russian election meddling as a failure of US intelligence is really good.

2) Seth Masket on how liberals and conservatives respond differently to sexual harassment claims.

3) Nice NYT editorial on Trump’s embrace of authoritarian leaders:

Authoritarian leaders exercise a strange and powerful attraction for President Trump. As his trip to Asia reminds us, a man who loves to bully people turns to mush — fawning smiles, effusive rhetoric — in the company of strongmen like Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

Perhaps he sees in them a reflection of the person he would like to be. Whatever the reason, there’s been nothing quite like Mr. Trump’s love affair with one-man rule since Spiro Agnew returned from a world tour in 1971singing the praises of thuggish dictators like Lee Kuan Yew, Haile Selassie, Jomo Kenyatta, Mobutu Sese Seko and Gen. Francisco Franco.

Mr. Trump’s obsessive investment in personal relations may work for a real estate dealmaker. But the degree to which he has chosen to curry favor with some of the world’s most unsavory leaders, while lavishing far less attention on America’s democratic allies, hurts America’s credibility and, in the long run, may have dangerous repercussions.

4) Kate Harding with a very pragmatic case behind, “I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign.”

5) How conference divisions (among other things) are ruining college football.

6) Catherine Rampell nails it, “If the tax bill is so great, why does the GOP keep lying about it?”

7) How to stop bullying?  Kids need to put their reputations on the line and be willing to embrace their low-status peers.

As a result, a child at the bottom of the social ladder becomes “untouchable.” Even if that child has a delightful personality and loads of friends elsewhere, in a social system in which she lacks social capital, she is not likely to acquire friends. Befriending an untouchable doesn’t earn the higher status child any social capital, and the idea is so overwhelmingly unattractive that it is generally not even considered. Science writer Amy Alkon coined the term “social greed” to describe the unwillingness to risk social capital without an anticipated return on investment.

Children with status erroneously believe that the reason untouchables have no social status is because they are repulsive, but in truth, it is precisely the reverse. The lack of social status is what makes an untouchable appear repulsive. This is why the single most effective peer intervention for eliminating bullying is for children to befriend those who are targets. But out of fear that associating with an untouchable could result in their own fall down the social ladder, children manufacture reasons to dislike low-status children, and justify their refusal to spend social capital to help them.

8) Somehow I missed this when it came out in September, but Siddhartha Mukherjee’s New Yorker article on re-thinking cancer is so good.  Short version: cancer is the seed are bodies are the soil.  The soil matters a ton, but we’ve been concentrating almost exclusively on the seeds.

9) Hans Noel’s take on the important role for party leaders in primaries, ” Party leaders should lead, not get out of the way.”

10) Lifting the ban on elephant trophies would actually probably help elephants.  I hate that there are horrible people out there that want to hunt elephants, but this can indirectly lead to protecting them.

11) Here’s an awesome idea– tax companies for using our personal data.

12) Totally agree with Frank Bruni, “Their Pledges Die. So Should Fraternities.”

“Imagine a world,” she said, “in which everything was the same about higher education except there have never been Greek organizations. An 18-year-old waltzes into a dean’s office and says, ‘I want to start an exclusive club on campus that doesn’t allow women and serves mostly white and privileged students and we’re going to throw parties all the time that are illegal, and at these parties, all the bad stuff that happens on campus is going to happen disproportionately. What do you think?’ ”

Wade’s hypothetical 18-year-old leaves out the part where undertakers cart the casualties away. Even so I think the dean turns his proposal down.

13) Conor Friedersdorf on how occupational licensing is way out of control.

Too often, occupational-licensing laws are less about protecting workers or consumers as a class than they are about protecting the interests of incumbents. Want to compete with me? Good luck, now that I’ve lobbied for a law that requires you to shell out cash and work toward a certificate before you can begin.

14) I had no idea there was a fun little game to play with Chrome when your internet connection is out.

15) Ryan Lizza on the “boil the frog” strategy to save Trump:

Boiling the frog works in politics, too. On Monday, Julia Ioffe reported, in The Atlantic, that WikiLeaks, which the American intelligence community sayscollaborated with the Russian government to distribute Democratic Party e-mails and try to help elect Donald Trump, regularly sent private messages from its verified Twitter account to Donald Trump, Jr., from September, 2016, until July, 2017. Last October, in the heat of the Presidential campaign, when top Trump campaign officials indignantly denied having any communication with WikiLeaks, such a disclosure would have been politically earth-shattering. But, after a year of incremental Trump-Russia revelations, the press and public’s capacity to be shocked by the details of the Russia scandal may be diminishing…

It helps to take a step back and remember how politically explosive it would have been, a year ago, to know that the Trump campaign was colluding with WikiLeaks.

Quick hits (part I)

Sorry for the delay.  Enjoy.

1) Fear of data to drive the conservative agenda:

Yet the Trump administration is running in the other direction. Any data that has even the faintest whiff of potential contradiction goes right out the window. Of course, these folks aren’t the first people in power to succumb to a fear of data. They do, however, seem to have found a profound expertise in the practice of eliminating it. Dataphobia chills them to the bone, I suspect because they hope to undermine not only some truths but all truth. David Roberts at Vox has written about what he calls an epistemic crisis in America, the idea that certain rulers and rich people hope to take away the basic idea of knowledge. If nobody can know anything, why bother to try to regulate anything? It’s government-by-ignorance—a shrugocracy.

Assaults on data have come before. “It’s the same reason an oil company doesn’t want research on climate change or a tobacco company doesn’t want research on the relationship between tobacco and cancer,” Vernick says. “Maybe they argue those researchers have an agenda and that’ll allow them to cook the books, but that’s an absurd argument. The worst thing you can do is cook the books. That is the way to guarantee the science is not used as part of policymaking.”

Throw in the way the automotive industry resisted safety regulations and the sugar industry in the 1960s shifted blame for health problems onto fats instead of sweets, ensorcelling nutrition research for half a century, and you have a pretty good accounting of the ways business interests have twisted, biased, and otherwise hammered science into behaving like a corporate drone instead of a defender of truth.

2) A serious effort to map the human microbiome.  This is a really, really good idea.

3) No need for the Percocet or other opioids for acute pain, stick with an Advil/Tylenol combo.

4) 8000 year old carved images of dogs— cool!

5) Damn.  This Bloomberg article about the coming retail apocalypse is scary

6) In theory, CRISPR with gene drive to stop invasive species is a pretty cool idea.  In practice, still far too risky.

7) Really nice interview with Emily Yoffe about her sexual assault on campus series.

8) Yglesias argues that Bill Clinton should have resigned.

To this line of argument, Republicans offered what was fundamentally the wrong countercharge. They argued that in the effort to spare himself from the personal and marital embarrassment entailed by having the affair exposed, Clinton committed perjury when testifying about the matter in a deposition related to Paula Jones’s lawsuit against him.

What they should have argued was something simpler: A president who uses the power of the Oval Office to seduce a 20-something subordinate is morally bankrupt and contributing, in a meaningful way, to a serious social problem that disadvantages millions of women throughout their lives.

But by and large, they didn’t. So Clinton countered with the now-famous defense: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Ultimately, most Americans embraced the larger argument that perjury in a civil lawsuit unrelated to the president’s official duties did not constitute high crimes and misdemeanors.

But looking back through today’s lens, this whole argument was miscast. The wrongdoing at issue was never just a private matter for the Clinton family; it was a high-profile exemplar of a widespread social problem: men’s abuse of workplace power for sexual gain. It was and is a striking example of a genre of misconduct that society has a strong interest in stamping out. That alone should have been enough to have pressured Clinton out of office.

9) And Chait so, no he shouldn’t have.  Or, somewhat differently, he should not have been impeached:

If the two parties agreed that Clinton’s behavior with Monica Lewinsky was very, very bad, what was the dispute about, anyway? It centered on the legal process. Special Counsel Kenneth Starr was appointed in 1994 to investigate Whitewater, a land deal that predated the Clinton presidency. Having failed to produce any evidence of criminality, Starr expanded his investigation and set a trap in which he could ask Clinton under oath if he had conducted an extramarital affair. When Clinton denied it, as adulterers tend to do, Starr nailed him for perjury.

At that point, Republicans concluded that it was not only proper but utterly essential to impeach and remove Clinton from office. It is impossible to capture the fervency with which the conservative movement made the case that the rule of law itself hung in the balance, and that allowing Clinton to remain in office after he had concealed his affair from Starr would render the Republic a lawless autarchy….

I wish we liberals had done more to take seriously the episodes of alleged rape and sexual assault that were not the basis for a national impeachment trauma. For better or worse, though, those episodes were not at issue. It’s hard to change the subject when Congress is conducting proceedings to impeach and remove the president. At issue was the procedural extremism of a Republican Party that was transforming before our eyes into the uncompromising fanatic faction whose character is fully manifest in the party of Donald Trump and Roy Moore. I don’t think we got that wrong at all.

10) Nice Vox essay from Zephyr Teachout on how the Supreme Court has made a real mess of political bribery.

11) Peter Beinart on the subtle, pro-rich-educated-white-guy affirmative action he benefited from at TNR.

12) Why we are not doing a good job teaching writing anymore.  Short version– we don’t test it.  Longer version– teaching writing actually helps with the reading comprehension we do test.  That said, whatever they are doing in the Wake County writing curriculum for 6th grade is amazing– has made a huge difference with my son.

13) Did you think you are free from high blood pressure?  Not so fast.  Under new guidelines, many more Americans should be treated for high blood pressure.  So far I’m good– been doing around 117/75 or so lately.

The nation’s leading heart experts on Monday issued new guidelines for high blood pressure that mean tens of millions more Americans will meet the criteria for the condition, and will need to change their lifestyles or take medicines to treat it.

Under the guidelines, formulated by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, the number of men under age 45 with a diagnosis of high blood pressure will triple, and the prevalence among women under age 45 will double.

“Those numbers are scary,” said Dr. Robert M. Carey, professor of medicine at the University of Virginia and co-chair of the committee that wrote the new guidelines.

The number of adults with high blood pressure, or hypertension, will rise to 103 million from 72 million under the previous standard. But the number of people who are new candidates for drug treatment will rise only by an estimated 4.2 million people, he said. To reach the goals others may have to take more drugs or increase the dosages.

Few risk factors are as important to health. High blood pressure is second only to smoking as a preventable cause of heart attacks and strokes, and heart disease remains the leading killer of Americans…

According to the new guidelines, anyone with at least a 10 percent risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next decade should aim for blood pressure below 130/80.

14) Rebecca Traister on our post-Weinstein reckoning.

15) And a good question from Ruth Marcus,”If Republicans believe Roy Moore’s accusers, why not Trump’s?”

16) And credit to Mitch McConnell where it’s actually do.  Good for him for saying he believes the women.


17) Children learn to undervalue women from their parents– even their progressive parents:

Study after study shows that, among heterosexual parents, fathers — even the youngest and most theoretically progressive among them — do not partake generously of the workload at home. Employed women partnered with employed men carry 65 percent of the family’s child-care responsibilities, a figure that has held steady since the turn of the century. Women with babies enjoy half as much leisure time on weekends as their husbands. Working mothers with preschool-age children are 2 1/2 times as likely to performmiddle-of-the-night care as their husbands. And in hours not so easily tallied, mothers remain almost solely in charge of the endless managerial care that comes with raising children: securing babysitters, filling out school forms, sorting through hand-me-downs…

Empirical research shows that no domestic arrangement, not even one in which the mother works full time and the father is unemployed, results in child-care parity between heterosexual spouses. The story we tell ourselves, the one about great leaps toward the achievement of gender equality between parents, is a glass-half-full kind of interpretation. But the reality is a half-empty glass: While modern men and women espouse egalitarian ideals and report that their decisions are mutual, outcomes tend to favor fathers’ needs and goals much more than mothers’…

Ideals are no substitute for behavior. What are kids to make of their father sitting on his phone reading Facebook while their mother scrambles to prepare them for the day? It’s not hard to predict which parent’s personhood those offspring will conclude is more valuable. Children are gender detectives, distinguishing between the sexes from as early as 18 months and using that information to guide their behavior, for example by choosing strongly stereotyped toys. And family research shows that men’s attitudes about marital roles, not women’s, are ultimately internalized by both their daughters and their sons. This finding is a testament to kids’ ability to identify implicit power, to parse whose beliefs are more important and therefore worth adopting as their own.

18) Masha Gessen on Russian interference in 2016 “A Cacophony, Not a Conspiracy.”

19) Aarron Carroll on not giving into all the food scares.  Looking forward to reading his new book.

Too often, we fail to think critically about scientific evidence. Genetically modified organisms are perhaps the best example of this.

G.M.O.s are, in theory, one of our best bets for feeding the planet’s growing population. When a 2015 Pew poll asked Americans whether they thought it was generally safe or unsafe to eat modified foods, almost 60 percent said it was unsafe. The same poll asked scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science the same question. Only 11 percent of them thought G.M.O.s were unsafe.

Most Americans, at least according to this poll, don’t seem to care what scientists think. In fact, Americans disagree with scientists on this issue more than just about any other, including a host of contentious topics such as vaccines, evolution and even global warming.

If people want to avoid foods, even if there’s no reason to, is that really a problem?

The answer is: yes. Because it makes food scary. And being afraid of food with no real reason is unscientific — part of the dangerous trend of anti-intellectualism that we confront in many places today.

Food should be a cause for pleasure, not panic. For most people, it’s entirely possible to eat more healthfully without living in terror or struggling to avoid certain foods altogether. If there’s one thing you should cut from your diet, it’s fear.

20) Ezra on the “rigging” of the Democratic primaries.

21) Drum on the absurdity of the uranium “scandal.”

Everyone knows this is all that happened, and everyone knows that Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong when the State Department joined eight other agencies in approving the deal. But this is no longer about Clinton anyway. The whole thing is a last-ditch attempt to smear special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who headed the FBI when the Uranium One deal went through and is now causing Republicans a lot of heartburn over his investigation of Trump-Russia ties.² Blow enough smoke over this, and maybe he’ll be forced to resign—and a new, less aggressive special prosecutor can be appointed. It’s all pretty transparent, and every reporter writing about this knows exactly what’s going on.

22) News photographer denied access gets revenge on Trump with this photo:


The no good, awful, horrible, Republican tax bill

Nice post from Dylan Matthews outlining what incredibly bad policy this is– even if you were actually trying to meet conservative policy goals:

I don’t know what’s in the hearts of Orrin Hatch or Kevin Brady or Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell. I don’t like to assume malign motives of politicians, even ones I vehemently disagree with. But the details of this tax bill are less consistent with an honest desire to achieve certain principled changes to the tax code — to make it simpler, or more pro-investment, or more tilted at taxing consumption rather than income — than with a desire to get the tax deal done fast, a desire to help important constituencies, and a desire to thumb the eyes of perceived ideological enemies. [emphasis mine]

That explains why, rather than paying for corporate cuts by offsetting an appropriate number of corporate tax breaks, the Senate wants to cut Medicaid and Obamacare. It sticks it to programs that are important to Democrats, furthers the GOP’s long-running interest in undermining Obamacare, and avoids making hard decisions about corporate benefits that might delay passage.

It explains a variety of anti-university provisions inserted into the bill. If you care about lowering tax rates on savings and investment, you do not insert a random excise tax on the earnings of big university endowments. But if you care about sticking it to coastal elite universities that are full of liberals, that provision makes sense. So does treating tuition waivers for PhD students as taxable income. This will hurt the economy dramatically in the long run by undermining human capital developments and creating a less educated workforce. It might even cost lives by impeding biomedical research. But it’s a good way to own the libs.

Republicans had years to put together this tax bill. They had the whole Obama administration, even the last two years of the Bush administration when they were in the minority. They could’ve done better. They had the tools and resources to do better. Other politicians and policy analysts had come up with ideas to help them do better.

That they didn’t do better is a massive failure.

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