A war on sex?

The truth is, when you look past abortion to the anti-contraception sentiments of many Republicans, it really is hard not to conclude that Republicans really just don’t want women having casual sex.  Amanda Marcotte:

Despite all the hand-waving about fetal tissue, Tuesday’s hearings were a confirmation that the attacks on Planned Parenthood are a proxy for the largerreligious-right movement to reverse the sexual revolution brought to Americans by feminism and reliable contraception. Recreational sex, however, continues to be wildly popular among the public. Deluging people with bloody fetus pictures isn’t dissuading them from their enthusiasm for affordable contraception that makes stress-free recreational sex possible.

How to lie with statistics: pro-life version

Take a look at the numbers in this chart (provided in a great Vox post breaking it down):

Wow.  There’s lying with numbers and there’s really lying with numbers.  Here’s what the chart should actually look like:


And two charts is enough, but suffice it to say other non-cancer screening services went up considerably.

So it’s not true, as the chart implies, that Planned Parenthood has been performing more abortions while drastically cutting back the provision of other services. The overall number of non-abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood barely changed at all, going from 10.29 million in 2006 to 10.26 million in 2013.

That’s a lot of services to take away from people to (probably not even) prevent 300,000 abortions.

Photo of the day

From Telegraph’s animal photos of the week:

A swan enjoys the early morning light at Golden Acre park in Leeds on the first day of astronomical Autumn which happens with the Equinox of September the 22/23

A swan enjoys the early morning light at Golden Acre park in Leeds on the first day of astronomical Autumn which happens with the Equinox of September the 22/23Picture: LNP

Can we blame the media for Donald Trump?

John Sides says yes.  Here’s the key chart from his latest post:

The correlation between those lines is 0.93 (the maximum possible is 1.0).

So why is Trump’s coverage declining? At least partially responsible is a series of events that have brought other candidates into the spotlight. For example, Fiorina’s share jumped on Sept. 10 when Trump criticized her appearance, and again after the Sept. 16 debate. Rick Perry’s and Scott Walker’s shares jumped when they each dropped out of the race. Carson’s share of coverage increased after his controversial remarks about Muslims. Rubio’s share of coverage shot up when he took on Trump

Just as news coverage helped create Trump’s surge in the polls, it appears to be helping create his decline. We’ll see if that continues.

I hope not!  Donald Trump is too much fun.

Donald Trump really does want to be president

How do I know?  Because after all sorts of populist rhetoric on taxes he’s come out with a tax plan, that dare I say, out-Trumps, other Republican tax plans.  That is, it is based even more on unicorns and rainbows than your typical Republican tax plan.  Poor hedge fund managers have to be the rich fall guys and pay some more tax, whereas pretty much all the other rich guys get a huge tax cut.  And the deficit?  Well, that explodes.  I really like Catherine Rampell’s take: Trump as Santa Claus:

The Two Santa Claus Theory was coined by Republican strategist Jude Wanniski in 1976. He argued that if Democrats were going to offer generous spending programs — that is, anoint themselves the “Santa Claus” of spending — Republicans needed to proffer their own gifts as well. Republican insistence on deficit-conscious spending reductions certainly seemed Scrooge-like, after all, and was turning off voters. Wanniski proposed that the GOP boost its popularity by becoming the “Santa Claus of Tax Reduction.”

Trump has taken the Two Santa Claus Theory a step further. For a man who so unabashedly celebrates his own greed, he is proving himself quite generous to the general public (with other people’s money, of course). Rather than choosing between spending and tax cuts, he’s giving voters pretty much everything they want, price tags and deficits be damned.

Take the tax plan he announced Monday. It’s gonna be the greatest, most un-loser-like tax giveaway, ever. Especially if you’re rich…

Trump’s giant tax cuts look a lot like Jeb Bush’s previously announced, wealthy-tilted plan, except with even lower rates. Trump promises to reduce personal income-tax rates across the board, cutting the top marginal rate to just 25 percent from the current 39.6 percent. Trump would cut the top capital gains rate to 20 percent, from today’s 23.8 percent.

He would also reduce corporate taxes to 15 percent from their top current statutory rate of 35 percent and eliminate the estate tax.

Trump’s oft-repeated (but false) claim that he’d raise taxes on the wealthy seems based solely on his willingness to close the carried interest loophole

While denigrating Obamacare’s largesse, he has also promised more generous health care, among other goodies.

“I am going to take care of everybody,” he said on “60 Minutes,” …

So how does Trump reconcile his giveaways on both sides of the fiscal ledger with his party’s alleged commitment to fiscal conservatism? Oddly, he’s not citing the usual supply-sider nonsense that tax cuts magically increase tax revenue. Instead, Trump just promises he’ll get us a really good deal — typically by getting someone else to pay for it. Maybe it’s Mexico, maybe China; either way, someone else. How he’ll strong-arm these sovereign nations into paying our bills, he doesn’t quite bother explaining.

But no matter. Merry Christmas, everyone!

And Danny Vinik.  After a nice run-through of the various numbers, the conclusion:

Add it all up and you have—approximately—$4-5 trillion in tax cuts with less than $2 trillion in new revenue. The total cost? $2-3 trillion. That’s an enormous gap.

Even if you use “dynamic scoring”—taking into account that lower taxes are likely to boost economic growth and thus bring in additional revenue—it’s impossible to see how this plan would break even.

Who would be the winners of the Trump tax plan? The rich. [emphasis mine]

And Jordan Weissman:

On Monday, a left-leaning think tank analyzed Donald Trump’s new tax plan and found it would cost roughly $10.8 trillion over a decade, more or less cratering the government’s finances into fiery rubble while largely benefiting the rich. That estimate, however, did not account for any salubrious effects the proposal might have on economic growth. What happens when you do?

Today, the conservative Tax Foundation offered an answer.Without factoring in growth, it found that Trump’s plan would actually add $11.98 trillion to the 10-year deficit. Once the boost to growth that would result from slashing taxes is factored in, it would only cost $10.14 trillion … more or less cratering the government’s finances into fiery rubble

Theoretically, this should be problematic for Trump, who claims his proposal wouldn’t add to the debt or deficit. But the funny thing is, I actually think he’ll run with this. Because his cuts are so, so huge, the Tax Foundation—which has great faith in the ability of tax reductions to spur the economy—says the plan will create 5.3 million extra jobs over 10 years. Jeb Bush’s own deficit-ballooning tax proposal—which Trump seems to have more or less grabbed, then doctored a bit by slashing rates further—would add a mere 2.7 million jobs, according to the think tank’s math. Marco Rubio’s preferred tax cuts, which once seemed completely laughable in their own right but appear almost quaint compared with the Donald’s, would add just 2.6 million. Thus, Trump can get on stage (or heck, run a TV ad) and brag that an established right-leaning think tank believes his tax policy proposals will create twice as many jobs as his competitors’.

So, there’s plenty of serious analyses showing that Trump’s plan is a fantasy and a joke.  The important question is how will the political journalists cover this?  As the joke embarrassment as it is or just one more Republican tax plan.  I fear the latter, but the reality is certainly the former.

Just how much sexual assault on campus

As always, disclaimer: sexual assault on campus is a real problem and we should certainly do all we can within reason to minimize it.  Of course, “within reason” does not include violating all standards of due process for the accused or using wildly inflated statistics to make a point.  I meant to write about the latest study responsible for plenty more “1 in 5 college women are raped” etc., headlines.  Of course, that’s not what the study showed.  Of course, nobody wants to be kissed against their will either, but only one of these things is actually a felony.

Anyway, since I never did write anything critiquing the survey, my procrastination has paid off as the Post recently published a really interesting critique from Brookings scholar and National Journal senior editor, Stuart Taylor  (i.e., this is no anti-feminist with an ax to grind).  Here’s some of the more compelling points that are left out of most discussions of the issue:

Below are three ways in which the 288-page AAU survey report is grossly misleading, as are others like it and the credulous media coverage of them all.

First, the extraordinarily low response rate of students asked to participate in the AAU survey — 19.3 percent — virtually guaranteed a vast exaggeration of the number of campus sexual assaults.

Even the AAU acknowledged that the 150,000 students who responded to the electronic questionnaire were more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the 650,000 who ignored it because “non-victims may have been less likely to participate.”

Start with the fact that 60 percent of the 150,000 students who responded were female, even though half of all students at the surveyed schools were male. Then ask yourself whether you would be more likely to take the time to respond to such a survey if you were a sexual assault victim or if you were not.

Yep.  Huge potential problem with non-response bias.  There is every reasonable reason to believe that those who did respond to the survey are systematically different than those that did not.  I find this next bit particular damning (all emphases in original):

These tables indicate that about 2.2 percent of female respondents said they had reported to their schools that they had been penetrated without consent (including rape) since entering college. If extrapolated to the roughly 10 million female college student population nationwide, this  would come to about 220,000 student reports to universities alleging forced sex over (to be conservative) five years, or about 44,000 reports per year.

But this would be almost nine times the total number of students (just over 5,000) who reported sexual assaults of any kind to their universities in 2013, the most recent data available, according to the reports that universities must submit to the federal government under the Clery Act.

Some other issues:

Worse, the AAU also tallied as victims all respondents who said yes when asked whether anyone had sexually touched them “without your active, ongoing voluntary agreement” — for example, attempting more intimate contact “while you were still deciding.”

No criminal law in America requires such “affirmative consent” to make sex lawful, although some (not all) universities have recently moved in that direction…

Third, a red flag should go up for any reporter or other reader who notices the AAU’s acknowledgment that — for the vast majorities of poll respondents who said they had not reported to campus authorities the events that the AAU classified as sexual assaults — “the dominant reason was it was not considered serious enough,” (emphasis added)…

More astonishing still, 75 percent of respondents who told researchers that they had been “penetrated using physical force” said they had never reported this to authorities — and 58.6 percent of that 75 percent said they “did not consider it serious enough” to report. [emphasis mine]

This most plausible explanation is that most of those classified by the survey as “victims” of sexual assault or rape did not really think that they had been sexually assaulted.

Wow.  Quite the critique.  And again, sexual assault on campus (and not on campus) is a real problem that we should definitely work to reduce.  But scaring people and influencing policy with super-dubious statistics is never a good thing.

(Also, a great take from Emily Yoffe).

Christianity and politics

To recent pieces on the topic that I really enjoyed.  First, non-Christian Fareed Zakaria seems to get the essence of Christianity far better than those on the religious right:

When I came to the United States in the 1980s, I remember being surprised to see what “Christian values” had come to mean in American culture and politics — heated debates over abortion, abstinence, contraception and gays. In 13 years of reading, reciting and studying the Bible, I didn’t recall seeing much about these topics…

That’s because there is very little in there about them. As Garry Wills points out in his perceptive new book, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis,” “Many of the most prominent and contested stands taken by Catholic authorities (most of them dealing with sex) have nothing to do with the Gospel.” …

If you want to understand the main message of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to search the Scriptures. He says it again and again. “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.” [emphasis mine]

Jesus has specific advice on how to handle the poor. Treat them as you would Christ himself, sell your possessions and give to the poor. When you hold a banquet, Jesus says, do not invite the wealthy and powerful, because you do so in the hope that they will return the favor and reward you. Instead, invite the dispossessed — and you will be rewarded by God. It is because he expects so much from the rich that he said that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.

We live in a meritocratic age and believe that people who are successful are more admirable in some way than the rest of us. But the Bible notes that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise . . . but time and chance happeneth to them all.” In the Kingdom of Heaven, it warns, “the last shall be first, and the first last.” In other words, be thankful for your success, but don’t think it makes you superior in any deep sense…

He [Pope Francis] is simply reminding each of us that we have a moral obligation to be kind and generous to the poor and disadvantaged — especially if we have been fortunate. If you have a problem with this message, you have a problem not with Pope Francis, but with Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, last week I really enjoyed Gregg Easterbrook’s smackdown of Kim Davis’ (Kentucky anti-homosexual clerk) Old Testament brand of Christianity:

But here’s the thing. Christian theology says the New Testament amends the Old: what happened in the days of the apostles amends what came long before. Acts 13:39: “By this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts is the founding text of Pentecostalism.) Jesus overturned existing law about sin, the Sabbath, the afterlife and many other matters. His ministry proclaimed “a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (II Corinthians 3:6.) “Letter” in this context means archaic law—that is, the law Davis, Cruz, and Huckabee want applied today.

When conservative Christians justify opposition to gay relations by citing ancient scripture, by the most amazing coincidence they don’t mention the other stuff there. The ancient passages that denounce same-sex relations also denounce eating shellfish and trimming one’s beard. The Christian who says God forbids homosexuality – then shaves before going out for dinner at Red Lobster – is speaking from both sides of his mouth.

In Leviticus, the Old Testament book that calls homosexuality an abomination, God not only sanctions but encourages slavery. Leviticus 25:44–46 , spells out rules for seizing, holding, and selling slaves. And there’s no estate tax: slaves may be kept “as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property.” In Deuteronomy 21:18–21, near the passages on the abomination of same-sex relations, ancient scripture directs that a disobedient child be taken by his parents to the city gate and stoned to death.

If banning homosexuality is “God’s authority” to a modern Christian, ritual murder of children ought to be as well. So why don’t today’s Judeo-Christians believe in slavery and filicide? …

Republican candidates thumping their chests about how admirably Christian they are skip the fact that Christ banned exactly such puffery. (Matthew 6:1 reads, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”)…

In the eight hundred thousand words of the Bible, one can find a verse to support just about anything. Even so, it’s disturbing that contemporary Christian conservatives lash out against homosexuality by calling on ancient divine pronouncements of anger, rather than upon the serene divinity who offered the world unconditional forgiveness.

Voicing the thoughts of the serene God in John 15:12, Jesus summed up Christian theology in one sentence: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Once, God was full of anger; ultimately, the Maker cared solely about love. Why don’t today’s Christian conservatives understand that the second part amends the first part? [emphasis mine]

Good points throughout both.  I really like Easterbrook’s point that you can find a bible verse to justify almost anything.  That said, it is abundantly clear that Jesus’ central message was on love of others, especially the poor and downtrodden.  Its a shame that this message seems to be at the periphery of so many Christians take on how their religion meets politics.

Don’t be a sheep

I’ve currently got my son reading Influence.  One of the most influential books on me I’ve ever read.  The part that made the biggest impact is the section on social proof.  Short version– we are sheep.  We look to see what everybody else is doing and do the same.  And usually in a situation that requires action, the result ends up being no action because we all see a bunch of other people standing around doing nothing.

So, my understanding of this book changed my life as I have since made a conscientious effort to not be a sheep where most people are one.  It pays off.  Two recent examples come to mind (though they may stretch the concept just a bit).

They are currently renovating the locker rooms at NCSU.  For long time locker room users, e.g., me, the situation is a giant pain in the ass.  Among other issues, you had to walk through active showers just to get to your locker and there was water everywhere.  I emailed the folks in charge of the renovation and within a few days, the troublesome showers had been closed and there were additional mats put down to deal with the excess water issue (the whole thing still sucks, but it’s not as bad now).  Hundreds of locker room uses, but apparently nobody bothered to bring this up until I did. And the people in charge of the renovation probably don’t use the locker room.  Or if they do, they aren’t thinking too hard about how to improve the experience.

Example number 2.  I drop my oldest off at  high school every other day (I take turns with my wife– we do it so he can get more sleep– you know how I feel about HS start times).  Anyway, upon the return home there’s a left turn that can back up a bit.  This year, the backup has gotten crazy and is potentially very problematic as it is in a middle turn lane that– if the backup is too great– can effect a different set of cars wanting to make left turns 1/4 away.  So, how many hundreds of cars where waiting in this horrible line every day and just taking it?  I don’t know, but the Town of Cary had no idea about this problem until I contacted the head Traffic Engineer.  Since the Town of Cary is awesome, he called me up and we spoke on the phone about the problem.  The light timing has already been adjusted (though, the situation is still not so great– I think due to knock-on effects from nearby construction).  Anyway, it’s better, because I spoke up.

This post is not meant to be self-congratulatory.  And heck, plenty of times I speak up and nothing happens.  But a lot of times something does happen.  And changes are made.  But that never happens if we all stand around like sheep.  So, break the cycle.

Chart of the day

I’m sure I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions that violence against police is actually at historic lows, despite the overblown claims from many.  So, why do so many people think we’ve got an epidemic of violence against police?  Great piece in Pacific Standard that says we can pretty clearly blame the media for this one.  Here’s the key chart:

And, just to refresh on the reality:

Photo of the day

I was so jealous to be on Facebook last night and see all the great photos of the supermoon eclipse while we were buried under miles and miles of clouds in North Carolina.  At least I could check out the Telegraph’s gallery today.

The supermoon rises behind Glastonbury Tor

The supermoon rises behind Glastonbury TorPicture: Matt Cardy/Getty

Trump in historical context

Love this piece from Jamelle Bouie.  Just going to quote at length:

the truth is that Trump comes out of a long tradition of American illiberalism, from the 19th-century “Know-Nothings” who raged against the influx of Irish and Catholic immigrants, to the Reconstruction-era vigilantes and “redeemers” who terrorized black and white voters and overturned elected governments in the postwar South.

These authoritarian currents are always strongest at times of disadvantage, tremendous social change, or both. The America of the 1920s, marked by incredible inequality and a new influx of truly “foreign” immigrants, produced a proto-fascist mass movement of alienated whites, in the form of a new Ku Klux Klan, which claimed 2 million members (including a U.S. senator) at its height in 1924. Trump isn’t a herald for a new nativist fraternity, but his xenophobia, racism, nationalism, and clear disdain for democratic cooperation mark him as a fascistic figure.

But even more than that, he is a classic American scaremonger tapping into recurrent white American anxieties. And while Trump has borrowed his “silent majority” rhetoric from Richard Nixon, the man he most resembles is that era’s id, a demagogue who fed on the fear and anxiety of the 1960s and ’70s—George Wallace.

[great extended analogy between Wallace and Trump]

Which brings us back to Donald Trump. Everyone’s assumption, including my own, is that Trump will fade before voting begins. It’s a strong case. Trump’s popularity rests on his novelty as much as anything. He plays to the cameras, aware that politics loves a sideshow. But if the media goes away—if Trump can no longer titillate—then his appeal goes too, and he’ll leave the presidential race like every other vanity candidate.

The Wallace analogy, however, suggests a different path. What if Trump is more than just a clown? What if he’s unleashed a real constituency for nativist, authoritarian politics? Then it’s not hard to imagine how Trump, riding on his own wealth, keeps the show going into Iowa, New Hampshire, and beyond. And while our political system is fractured enough to deny him an ultimate victory, that doesn’t mean this wouldn’t matter. For the GOP—much like the Democratic Party in the 1960s—a successful Trump would force a reckoning. Either Republicans cut him out of the party, even at the risk of losing in a three-way race, or they follow Nixon’s example and co-opt his basic message for the party’s use, shrinking his base enough to win if he runs an independent campaign.

In which case, by leaving the mark of white nationalism on the Republican Party, Trump wins regardless of his ultimate fate.

Either way, we can’t just dismiss Trump as entertainment. Like Wallace, he is an eruption of the ugliest forces in American life, at turns authoritarian, like the Louisiana populist Huey Long, or outright fascistic, like the Second Ku Klux Klan. And like all of the above, he’s brought the background prejudice of American life to the forefront of our politics, and opened the door to even worse rhetoric and action.

Everybody is always looking for historical analogies for Trump.  While Wallace isn’t perfect, of course, I think Bouie’s case for Wallace is the best I have read so far.

Hilary reality

The media has long loved hating on Hilary.  Additionally, could there be a more boring story for a journalist than a super-heavy favorite cruising to victory.  Nope.  Add those two things together and the “Hilary is in trouble” narrative is just too hard for many to resist.  Joe Trippi (Howard Dean’s former campaign manager) has a nice Op-Ed pushing back on the nonsense.

In a year in which every other supposed front-runner and establishment candidate has collapsed to single digits or has already withdrawn from the race — yes, I am talking about you, Jeb Bush, and you, Scott Walker — Hillary Rodham Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field with more than 40% of the vote. Can Bernie Sanders, who is 15 points behind her in recent polling, represent a real threat to her nomination? No. Hell no. Not a chance. But pundits keep asking the question without pointing out the obvious answer.

And given the fact that no vice president who has sought his party’s nomination has ever been denied it, you would think Clinton’s 20-point lead over Joe Biden would be seen as a remarkable sign of strength. Instead, when pundits mention Clinton’s lead over the vice president, they always follow up with the fact that Biden has yet to enter officially — and rarely caution that he may never enter it and that even if he does, he’ll start 20 points behind.

When has anyone been so strong that he or she led a sitting vice president by 20 points? Does the punditry really think it’s because he hasn’t announced yet?

Was the private server a mistake? Yes. Have questions about Clinton’s emails hurt her? Of course. Has her campaign been clumsy and mishandled the situation? No doubt about it. But there should also be no doubt that Clinton remains a formidable front-runner who will be tough to beat even if Biden enters the race. And she’ll be formidable in the general election too. [emphasis mine]

Yup, yup, yup.  I’m no huge fan of Hilary.  Nor a hater.  I love that she is such a genuine policy wonk.  I love that she cares about the same issues I do.  I’m frustrated by her need for secrecy and her self-inflicted wounds.  But the whole “Hilary is in trouble!” is really little more than a media and pundits who just can’t handle what is a fundamentally pretty boring story.  Look for Hilary to cruise to the nomination and look for her to be a skilled and competitive general election candidate.

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