Video of the day

What it takes to be able to dunk when you are 5’5″.  Pretty cool little short film.  More here.  

The Republican mis-calculation

Really liked this post by Chait from last week that looks at how the Tea Party Republicans fundamentally mis-understand the issue and why the Democrats absolutely, positively, cannot compromise.  It’s because it’s not compromise.  It’s simply giving your lunch money to a bully.  Or releasing a bunch of terrorist prisoners due to a terrorist threat.  Or giving the bankrobbers a helicopter to get away with their hostages.  Give in once, and you just invite more trouble-making.  It’s about the process, not the actual issues.  Chait:

Obama’s view, which I share, is that the debt ceiling fight is far more important not only than the specific policies on the table, or even the catastrophic economic consequences of a debt breach. It’s a fight to preserve the Constitutional order.

And conservatives have resolutely refused to grapple with that fact. They have floated a few half-hearted, and easily refuted, claims that Congress has previously used the debt ceiling as a threat to extract concessions. Mostly, they have just treated the debt-ceiling crisis like an ordinary budget standoff.

Now, maybe they simply have no principled objection to this method. I’ve seen no conservatives, anywhere, actually question the morality of debt-limit extortion. (Apparently, if Democrats in 2007 had held the debt ceiling hostage unless President Bush rescinded his tax cuts, the entire conservative world would have objected to their policy goals but defended their methods. Who knew?)

But the bigger problem here is that conservatives are not acknowledging the Democrats’ belief. It’s not a pose. They genuinely think, regardless of the merits of the ransom demand, they can’t give in, both for the national long-term interest and on moral principle.[emphasis mine]  Conservatives are acting like the problem here is that they asked for a bit too much to begin with, and want to start haggling down the price. The price isn’t the issue. If the conservative goal is to create the illusion of winning something for the debt ceiling, then they’ll come back next time to win more, and Democrats can’t allow that.

Yep.  What Republicans and their apologists keep willfully failing to see is that government by hostage taking is simply no way to run a government.  It’s fine to have huge policy disagreements.  What is absolutely positively not fine is threatening to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States to get your way (and for that matter, I would argue the less damaging, but nonetheless very much harmful to America, government shutdown).


As reporters stumble all over themselves to pretend that this is a “both sides” issue and that Democrats just need to “negotiate” (those same reporters never argue that we should negotiate with terrorists), I love this handy little analogy from Steve Benen to frame the issue:

Maybe it’s time to flip the script to better illustrate the point. After all, when it comes to funding the government and protecting the integrity of the full faith and credit of the United States, we’re describing an inherently cooperative process — the White House needs Congress to pass legislation, the Congress needs a president to sign the legislation. One without the other doesn’t work.

With this mind, imagine a hypothetical.

Let’s say President Obama, feeling good after winning re-election fairly easily, adopted an overly confident posture with lawmakers. He started boasting about the fact that his approval rating is four times higher than Congress’ approval rating; his policy agenda enjoys broader public support than Republicans’ policy agenda; and he decided it’s time they start rewarding him before he considered engaging in basic governance.

“Sure,” Obama said to Republicans in this imaginary scenario, “I’ll sign the spending measures to prevent a government shutdown, but first you have to raise taxes on the wealthy. And end the sequestration policy. And pass comprehensive immigration reform. And approve universal background checks. The American people are with me, so I expect you to compromise and negotiate with me on these matters.”

The president then said to GOP lawmakers, “And sure, I’ll sign a bill to raise the debt limit, paying the bills you already piled up, but I’m not ready to sign a ‘clean’ bill. Instead, I also expect Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill, a public option for the health care system, universal pre-K, and billions in infrastructure investments. If you refuse, I’ll have no choice but to tell the public you refuse to compromise and negotiate.”

Much of the political establishment has come to accept a certain frame: the White House is going to have to accept some concessions to make congressional Republicans happy. Obama won’t like it, but voters did elect a House GOP majority.

What I’m suggesting is that this assumption is incomplete. No one seems to question, or even consider in passing, what Republicans will be asked to do to make the White House happy. Boehner & Co. won’t like it, but voters did elect a Democratic president…

This notion that Obama “refuses to compromise or even negotiate” isn’t just deliberately misleading; it’s demonstrably silly. If the president was making extravagant demands, threatening to veto every bill lacking liberal treats, Republicans and their pundits would have a point.

But until then, can we at least try to recognize reality as it exists?

Well, some of us can.  Most reporters (and certainly not most Republicans), not so much.

Photo of the day

Via National Geographic:

Last month’s Your Shot assignment, “The Night,” was meant to draw out fresh pictures. I asked for 2013 images, but also considered older photos that were submitted before this guideline was made clear.

While combing through the 8,800 submissions, I spotted a photograph by James Speed Hensinger that was well outside of the 2013-only guideline—it actually dates back to 1970:


“I know that photos from 2013 were requested, but sometimes you have to break the rules. I took a series of these in April 1970 near Phu Tai, Vietnam in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Company A Admin Compound. We were attempting to suppress a sniper. 15 sec to 1 min exposures.”

Jim Hensinger was drafted for the Vietnam War. He served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam for twelve months, and photographed in his spare moments using 35mm cameras bought at the PX.

Partisanship and math

Somehow, I had not heard about this amazing set of experiments that shows that partisanship makes you bad at math.   Marty Kaplan has a nice summary, which also summarizes other pitfalls of partisanship on our ability to think rationally.

Yale law school professor Dan Kahan’s new research paper is called “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government,” but for me a better title is the headline on science writer Chris Mooney’s  piece about it in Grist:  “Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.”

Kahan conducted some ingenious experiments about the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly.  His conclusion, in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.”

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe…

The bleakest finding was that the more advanced that people’s math skills were, the more likely it was that their political views, whether liberal or conservative, made them less able to solve the math problem.

I hate what this implies – not only about gun control, but also about other contentious issues, like climate change.  I’m not completely ready to give up on the idea that disputes over facts can be resolved by evidence, but you have to admit that things aren’t looking so good for a reason.  I keep hoping that one more photo of an iceberg the size of Manhattan calving off of Greenland, one more stretch of record-breaking heat and drought and fires, one more graph of how atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen in the past century, will do the trick.  But what these studies of how our minds work suggest is that the political judgments we’ve already made are impervious to facts that contradict us…

Denial is business-as-usual for our brains.  More and better facts don’t turn low-information voters into well-equipped citizens.  It just makes them more committed to their misperceptions.  In the entire history of the universe, no Fox News viewers ever changed their minds because some new data upended their thinking.  When there’s a conflict between partisan beliefs and plain evidence, it’s the beliefs that win.  The power of emotion over reason isn’t a bug in our human operating systems, it’s a feature.

Yep.  Distressing indeed.  What I would love to know, however, is if there’s any hope of inoculating– at least to some degree– against this type of thinking.  Truth is, I try with my students (and will actually be lecturing on partisanship 30 minutes from now) and I’d like to think it can make some small iota of difference.   I don’t think anybody has ever studied whether people who have been taught about these types of information processing biases are still just as likely to fall prey to them.  I’m pretty sure that myself and my colleagues are not.  Then again, maybe I’m deluding myself.

Also, definitely check out the Mooney post which features the actual political math problem.  I’m 99% confident I would have gotten the correct answer in any condition (I am a trained social scientist who knows how to approach a problem like this, damn it), but it is definitely interesting to see just what people were getting wrong.

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