Quick hits

1) Lee Drutman reviews Rick Hasen’s new book on campaign finance.  Good stuff (both the review and the book).  Really, it’s a great essay on how we should think about campaign finance in terms of equality instead of corruption.

2) Latest research to show that Voter ID laws disproportionately affect minorities.

3) On how South Dakota’s mandatory abstinence program (from alcohol, not sex) had a positive impact.  The secret?  Actually following the most basic criminology.  Rather than focusing on severity, punishments are swift and certain, but not harsh.

4) Jedediah Purdy pushes back on people the likes of Krugman and me (because, of course Krugman and I go together) dissing on poor Bernie.

5) Good piece on the long struggle against lead poisoning.

6) With all the campaign drama it is easy to overlook that the Republican campaign has taken a disgusting pro-torture pose (thanks to Trump, of course).

7) How fundraising turns Congress into a part-time legislature:

This presidential race has featured a lot of conversation about the effects of money on politics, with both a billionaire and a socialist claiming that donations induce politicians to change their views. The vast social science literature on this topic is inconclusive (so far), but two conclusions are warranted:

  • If legislators spend most of lives in a bubble of fellow politicians, staff, and donors, they will probably become less familiar with the problems and preferences of most of their constituents. This can help explain why legislators are much more responsive towealthy constituents and organized interests.
  • Fundraising crowds out time for legislators to do the hard work of legislating: drafting proposals and reaching compromise with other legislators. Sure, many legislators seem averse to “compromise” anyway, but they may be more willing to try if they saw legislating as a full-time job with measurable results, the way they now view their FEC filings.

8) Vox’s Timothy Lee says everyone is under-estimating Ted Cruz.  He didn’t ask me; I’m not.

9) The Senate may be getting rid of the most essential part of criminal justice reform in it’s bill:

If true, the Politico report would essentially mean that the Senate is axing the best, most promising part of its bill.

You simply can’t fix mass incarceration in America if you’re unwilling to shorten the prison sentences of anyone who could be considered a “violent” criminal. That’s especially true in state prisons, where the vast majority of US prisoners are held and where half of them are serving sentences for violent crimes.

When politicians talk about criminal justice reform, they tend to leave out this inconvenient fact. They prefer to talk about “nonviolent drug offenders” — even when they’re talking about state prisoners. [emphasis mine]

The original Senate bill went beyond this. It didn’t do anything too risky — the laws it proposed to change around firearms and “career criminals” are so bad that federal judges routinely complain about them.

But on an issue where states have usually led and the federal government has followed, the original Senate bill could have made a statement that states needed to dig deeper and reform sentencing for “violent offenders.” Instead, it’s sending the message that helping violent offenders is politically radioactive.

10) Hooray, the FBI finally arrested Cliven Bundy.  David Graham on the FBI’s patience.

11) On the scientists who defend toxic chemicals for a paycheck.

12) Hillary Clinton would probably be doing better among younger voters if more of them had reproduced and had daughters.  Seriously.  Data.

13) How your neanderthal DNA may be affecting your tendency towards certain illnesses.

14) Mark Schmitt asks if big programs liberalism is over.

15) Krugman on the Groundhog Day-ness of the Republican Party:

The truth is that the whole G.O.P. seems stuck in a time loop, saying and doing the same things over and over. And unlike Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Groundhog Day,” Republicans show no sign of learning anything from experience.

Think about the doctrines every Republican politician now needs to endorse, on pain of excommunication.

First, there’s the ritual denunciation of Obamacare as a terrible, very bad, no good, job-killing law. Did I mention that it kills jobs? Strange to say, this line hasn’t changed at all despite the fact that we’ve gained 5.7 millionprivate-sector jobs since January 2014, which is when the Affordable Care Act went into full effect.

Then there’s the assertion that taxing the rich has terrible effects on economic growth, and conversely that tax cuts at the top can be counted on to produce an economic miracle.

This doctrine was tested more than two decades ago, when Bill Clinton raised tax rates on high incomes; Republicans predicted disaster, but what we got was the economy’s best run since the 1960s. It was tested again when George W. Bush cut taxes on the wealthy; Republicans predicted a “Bush boom,” but actually got a lackluster expansion followed by the worst slump since the Great Depression. And it got tested a third time after President Obama won re-election, and tax rates at the top went up substantially; since then we’ve gained eight million private-sector jobs.

Oh, and there’s also the spectacular failure of the Kansas experiment, where huge tax cuts have created a budget crisis without delivering any hint of the promised economic miracle.

16) Among the more important social science of parenting things I learned is that your kids lie to you all the time.  This is a look from a teacher’s perspective.  I was disappointed last year when I found out one of my kids had been lying to me about not doing homework, but now the research on how incredibly prevalent this type of behavior is really helped me keep it in perspective.

17) I got in an absurdly long FB argument with a friend and reader of this blog who implicitly argued that this video means Hillary is no better than Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.  Drum puts the video in proper perspective.

18) Of course animals have empathy, damn it.  Strikes me as hubris to think otherwise.  Vox on the debate over animal emotions:

De Waal thinks it’s wrongheaded for some scientists to dismiss observations of empathy in animals. After all, it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. If human empathy is so robust and adaptive, it must have evolved from more primitive forms.

“It is hard to imagine that empathy — a characteristic so basic to the human species — came into existence only when our lineage split off from that of the apes,” says de Waal. “It must be far older than that.”

19) Terrific goal.  Absolutely amazing first touch.  And shared far less than deserved, I expect, because it’s a woman.

20) Whenever friends see my computer with Chrome open, they are astounded by all my open browser tabs (they won’t get it if I just say, “they’re all for quick hits… some day!”).  How David Roberts handles the browser tab issue.

21) How to change someone’s mind according to science.  Short version: Numbers, longer arguments, high-quality examples, other stuff.

22) Enjoyed this David Roberts‘ piece on how to think about Clinton versus Sanders and the meaning of ideology.

23) Finally decided to close this open tab and add to quick hits– Tom Edsall’s take on the political science research on how Democrats and Republicans are increasingly negative towards each other.

The Republican party in one sentence

Chait has an interesting post on why liberals shouldn’t actually fear a Trump presidency so much.  He has a nice analogy with Trump as Schwarzenegger, who ended up being a pretty moderate governor who worked with Democrats.  I think he makes some good points, but I’m still with Ezra on this one.   That said, mostly I just wanted to share Chait’s one sentence summary of the modern Republican party:

The GOP is a machine that harnesses ethno-nationalistic fear — of communists, criminals, matrimonial gays, terrorists, snooty cultural elites — to win elections and then, once in office, caters to its wealthy donor base.

Over-simplified?  Of course.  Pretty spot-on?  Unfortunately, yes.

Photo of the day

In honor of my previous post, a baby bunny photo from an old Telegraph animal photos of the week.  Now, do you really want to shoot that with a Glock?

A fine arts photographer from Bangladesh has taken the most adorable photos of his baby rabbits.   Ashraful Arefin, from Dhaka, decided to document the first 30 days of these baby rabbits lives.

A fine arts photographer from Bangladesh has taken the most adorable photos of his baby rabbits. Ashraful Arefin, from Dhaka, decided to document the first 30 days of these baby rabbits lives.Picture: Rex

What happens when we put businessmen in charge of universities

In case you had not heard the details from Mount Saint Mary’s:

The president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland on Monday fired two faculty members without any faculty review of his action or advance notice. One was a tenured professor who had recently criticized some of the president’s policies. The other was the adviser to the student newspaper that revealed the president recently told faculty members concerned about his retention plans that they needed to change the way they view struggling students. “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads,” the president said… [emphases mine]

Monday’s firings follow the dismissal on Friday of Provost David Rehm, who also raised questions about President Simon Newman’s retention plans. (Rehm held on to his faculty position.)

Newman’s letter firing the tenured professor — Thane M. Naberhaus of the philosophy department — accused him of disloyalty…

Mount St. Mary’s is a small Roman Catholic university, with a strong emphasis on a rigorous and traditional liberal arts education.

Much of the debate follows the appointment of Newman as president last year. His prior career was not in higher education but in private equity and business. His biographysays he founded or co-founded four businesses and worked at various times for Bain & Co., JP Capital Partners and Cornerstone Management Group.

Why “drown the bunnies.”  Rankings.  That’s it.  Bill Ayers:

Talking about students as bunnies to be drowned is no way to win faculty favor either. Behind the unfortunate choice of words was an apparently concrete goal the president had established, which was to have 20-25 freshmen leave the college before Sept. 25. After that point, they would have to be reported as “dropouts” and would count in the retention data. Before that, they would disappear off the books.

Now, this is a terrible thing – admitting students and then, within the first few weeks of the semester, trying to get some of them to leave. The president and the Board, which is apparently backing him, have been roundly criticized for such a plan. What I haven’t seen, however, is anyone asking why? Why would any college want to do such a thing?

There’s the key, right in the middle of the paragraph. All of this – the unfortunate metaphor of “drowning bunnies”, the angst and drama about a student survey and various strategies for freshmen retention, the subsequent firing of a provost and two faculty members – all of it is in the service of propping up Mount St. Mary’s position on a US News list.

Okay, just maybe a faculty member who had become president would have acted like this (or like the tone-deaf president at University of Missouri), but I highly doubt it.  Firing a tenured professor for “disloyalty?”  WTF!  Certainly, there’s many skills and experiences from the business world that are useful in leading a university, but there’s many that are not.  A college is not a hedge fund.  Time to stop putting the type of people who see struggling students as drowning bunnies to be shot in charge of higher education.

Why Trump is the favorite

Nice piece from Ryan Lizza that goes point-by-point through the remaining contenders and comes to the pretty much unavoidable conclusion that Trump has to be considered a clear favorite for the Republican nomination:

New Hampshire usually acts as an accelerant to this winnowing process, instantly transforming large fields into two- or three-person races. But this time it didn’t, and New Hampshire’s failure to sweep away the also-rans dramatically increases the odds that the Republican nomination process will end with Trump as the G.O.P. nominee.

To understand why the winnowing process has stalled, you have to look at the remaining candidates and understand their incentives for staying in the race. Start with Trump, now the likeliest person to win the nomination. He has effectively unlimited funds. He has a lead in delegates. He has solid leads in national polls and in the next state with a Republican primary, South Carolina. He came in a close second in Iowa and won New Hampshire with thirty-five per cent of the vote, more than doubling his nearest competitor’s total. No Republican candidate who has won a gold and a silver in the first two states has ever lost the G.O.P. nomination. What Trump lacks is any support among the ranks of the Republican Party’s elected officials, a circumstance that seemed to matter more than most everything else in recent G.O.P. nomination fights but that he has turned into a badge of honor. He is likely to stay in the race for the long haul.

Kasich did well enough that he now stays in until at least Ohio, March 15.  As for Cruz:

He can attract a sizable base of evangelicals and very conservative Republicans in South Carolina and likely continue his streak of meeting or exceeding expectations. He is well positioned for the so-called S.E.C. primary, on March 1st, when seven Southern and border states, with large percentages of evangelicals, vote. His fund-raising has been excellent, and he has wealthy donors willing to support an array of super PACs. His weakness is the opposite of Kasich’s and was apparent in the Iowa and New Hampshire results: he will have trouble expanding outside his very conservative base and winning over mainstream conservatives. But he is a good bet to end up as the last man standing against Trump in a long primary campaign…

Jeb!, of course, still has a ton of money and actually beat Rubio in NH.  As for Rubio:

Rubio’s story is similar. His fifth-place finish was bad enough to severely damage his campaign, but not so bad that it will force him out of the race before the next contests. He has money and the endorsements from important Party leaders. He won a close third place in Iowa by appealing to anti-Trump, anti-Cruz conservatives, who are also plentiful in South Carolina. Like Bush, he seems unlikely to give up the race until he makes a stand in his home state of Florida.

So, yeah, that leaves Trump.  An appropriately cautious conclusion:

Many analysts, including me, were too quick to dismiss Trump earlier in the 2016 campaign. We might now be overestimating his strength. It’s possible that South Carolina will do the job that New Hampshire has historically performed and winnow the race to three main candidates. Maybe New Hampshire’s misfire just delayed the culling. But for now there is still no clear candidate to whom anti-Trump voters, who still represent a majority of the Republican electorate, can flock.

Yep.  All that.  Again, not at all to say Trump will be the nominee, but at this point, I do think a realistic assessment concludes that it is more likely to be him than anyone else.

Photo of the day

From an Atlantic photos of the week.  Volcano and lightning together?  Too cool:

Volcanic lightning is seen at an eruption of Mount Sakurajima, in this photo taken from Tarumizu, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, on February 5, 2016. The volcano, located about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from a nuclear plant, erupted on Friday, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said, sending fountains of lava into the night sky.

Kyodo / Reuters

Why you should be scared of a Trump presidency

Terrific post from Ezra Klein today.  Ezra lays out the non-policy case for why Trump would be a horrible president and is truly a scary figure in American politics.  Damn good stuff.  Read it.  The excerpt is just so you get a taste, not an excuse not to read the whole thing (I’m looking at you DJC!):

Trump’s other gift — the one that gets less attention but is perhaps more important — is his complete lack of shame. It’s easy to underestimate how important shame is in American politics. But shame is our most powerful restraint on politicians who would find success through demagoguery. Most people feel shame when they’re exposed as liars, when they’re seen as uninformed, when their behavior is thought cruel, when respected figures in their party condemn their actions, when experts dismiss their proposals, when they are mocked and booed and protested.

Trump doesn’t. [emphases mine] He has the reality television star’s ability to operate entirely without shame, and that permits him to operate entirely without restraint. It is the single scariest facet of his personality. It is the one that allows him to go where others won’t, to say what others can’t, to do what others wouldn’t…

This, more than his ideology, is why Trump genuinely scares me. There are places where I think his instincts are an improvement on the Republican field. He seems more dovish than neoconservatives like Marco Rubio, and less dismissive of the social safety net than libertarians like Rand Paul. But those candidates are checked by institutions and incentives that hold no sway over Trump; his temperament is so immature, his narcissism so clear, his political base so unique, his reactions so strange, that I honestly have no idea what he would do — or what he wouldn’t do.

The whole piece is that spot-on.  Read it.


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