New Year’s Eve quick hits

1) Eric Schlosser (who wrote a terrific book about the history of our nuclear arsenal) on the risks of global catastrophe by mistake.

2) Life remains tough for an Oklahoma newspaper that had the temerity to endorse Hillary Clinton.

3) All earth’s species mapped into a single circle of life.  So cool.

4) Really interesting piece on how Rogue One brought back deceased actors to reprise their roles (no, not Weekend at Bernie’s style).

5) In this post-fact world, snopes.com has become more important than ever.  Apparently, now it is the target of those who would prefer we do not traffic in facts.

6) Time to admit email will never be 100% secure:

Dear reader: It’s time to admit it. We’ve lost this battle. We should accept that data breaches aren’t shocking aberrations anymore—they’re the new normal. The age of reliable security is gone. We need to adjust our thinking. E-mail will never be completely secure for everybody. Go ahead, get started on the stages of grasping this new reality: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Actually e-mail was never intended to be secure. Most messages are sent as plain, easily readable, unencrypted text from your sending device to your e-mail service (Gmail or whatever), to your recipients’ e-mail services, and from there to their devices. Encryption is a rare, partial and inconvenient solution.

7) Pretty cool set of maps of where tv shows are most and least popular.

8) Things are looking up financially for the Washington Post.  That’s great news.  Of course, plenty of local papers are still hemorrhaging money.

9) Bob Hall with an Op-Ed about a point I must have made in at least a half-dozen HB2 interviews– this really does have it’s roots in gerrymandering:

The inability to repeal HB2 is a symptom of what is a grave threat to our democracy: partisan gerrymandering.

When the majority party, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, gets to draw its own districts for its own advantage, our whole elective system becomes unfair. The proof is in the legislative maps – illogically shaped districts creating a jigsaw puzzle covering our state, making lawmakers virtually unaccountable to voters.

Consider our incoming legislature that will be sworn in this January. More than 90 percent of them ran uncontested in November or won their election by a comfortable double-digit margin. Largely because of gerrymandering, citizens have no choice and no voice in our elections.

Lawmakers from these heavily gerrymandered districts are far more concerned with fending off potential primary opponents than facing a substantial general election challenge. As such, they arrive in Raleigh with no incentive to ever reach across the aisle and compromise.

That inability to conduct a civil discussion and reach an overall agreement was on full display in the special session called to repeal HB2, but failed to do just that.

10) The biggest reason I tell my students not to watch Fox News is not the ideology, but the lies and the stupidity.  Kevin Drum with a great case-in-point on how they get it totally wrong on Food Stamp fraud.

11) Using IBM’s Watson not just to win Jeopardy, but to fight cybercrime.

12) Personally, I don’t think Steve Martin’s Carrie Fisher tweet was sexist.  Is it sexist to admit you were first attracted to them for physical appearance, but then realized they were so much more?  Enough with the social justice warriors.

13) Can’t say I find it surprising, but it is oh so depressing to read of the racist, rogue, police in Louisiana.  This was stopped by Obama’s DOJ.  Any confidence that would happen under Trump.  Racist local cops must be ecstatic.

For a shocking glimpse of what’s been happening in the name of criminal justice in America, look no further than a Justice Department report last week on police behavior in Louisiana. Officers there have routinely arrested hundreds of citizens annually without probable cause, strip-searching them and denying them contact with their family and lawyers for days — all in an unconstitutional attempt to force cooperation with detectives who finally admitted they were operating on a mere “hunch” or “feeling.”

This wholesale violation of the Constitution’s protection against unlawful search and seizure by the police in Evangeline Parish, including in its largest city, Ville Platte, was standard procedure for putting pressure on citizens who the police thought might have information about crimes, according to the findings of a 20-month federal investigation. The report described as “staggering” the number of people who were “commonly detained for 72 hours or more” with no opportunity to contest their arrest, in what the police euphemistically termed “investigative holds.” …

Reforms have since begun, a tribute to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section, which carried out the investigation and demanded wholesale changes. This bureau has done notable work during the Obama administration, investigating 25 law enforcement agencies and requiring and overseeing major reforms. To fully secure national justice, its work must continue. One big question in Washington now is whether President-elect Donald Trump and his choice for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, might ever commit themselves to this cause.

14) More TV shows should just say no to season 2.

15) I never did a post on the latest important work on inequality.  I really should have.  But, it’s the end of the year and time to clear out tabs.  Yglesias with a really good summary of the work:

A child born in 1940 had an extremely good chance of growing up to earn more money than his parents did. Due to regression to the mean, children of the very, very wealthy were somewhat less likely to out-earn their parents (if your dad is Jeff Bezos, it’s hard to beat that no matter how many advantages you have in life). But from the bottom of the income distribution all the way up to the 95th percentile or so, families were extremely likely to experience upward mobility.

For kids born in 1980, that’s much less true. The very most disadvantaged kids are, fortunately, pretty likely to grow up to be somewhat less disadvantaged than their parents. But for people born into the broad middle 60 percent or so of the income distribution, experiencing upward mobility relative to your parents has become a crapshoot.

Raj Chetty et. al.

16) Speaking of clearing out tabs, I still haven’t read this NYT Magazine piece on “The Great AI Awakening.”  It looks good, but, I just haven’t.  Please tell me if I need to.

16) Frum on how Trump made Russia’s hacking more effective:

The content of the Russian-hacked emails was actually remarkably unexplosive. Probably the biggest news was that Hillary Clinton had expressed herself in favor of a hemispheric common market in speeches to Wall Street executives. Otherwise, we learned from them that some people at the Democratic National Committee favored a lifelong Democrat for their party’s nomination over a socialist interloper who had joined the party for his own convenience. We learned that many Democrats, including Chelsea Clinton, disapproved of the ethical shortcomings of some of the people in Bill Clinton’s inner circle. We learned that Hillary Clinton acknowledged differences between her “public and private” positions on some issues. None of this even remotely corroborated Donald Trump’s wild characterizations of the Russian-hacked, Wikileaks-published material.

These Wikileaks emails confirm what those of us here today have known all along: Hillary Clinton is the vessel for a corrupt global establishment that is raiding our country and surrendering our sovereignty. This criminal government cartel doesn’t recognize borders, but believes in global governance, unlimited immigration, and rule by corporations.

Or:

The more emails WikiLeaks releases, the more lines between the Clinton Foundation, the secretary of state’s office and the Clintons’ personal finances—they all get blurred … I mean, at what point—at what point do we say it? Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to seek the office of the presidency.

Without Trump’s own willingness to make false claims and misuse Russian-provided information, the Wikileaks material would have deflated of its own boringness. The Russian-hacked material did damage because, and only because, Russia found a willing accomplice in the person of Donald J. Trump.

17) Time for my annual last-day-of-the-year large-scale charitable giving.  I’ll be using Givewell.org as my guide.

Super-late quick hits (part II)

1) Great stuff from Bill Ayers on the stupidity on business as a metaphor for government:

I think I’ll take my Prius drag racing.

It makes perfect sense, right? After all, a Prius is just like those cars you see tearing down the track at drag races. It has four wheels, each with an inflated rubber tire. It has an engine powered by oil-based fuel. It’s got a seat for a driver, with a steering wheel. It’s got a transmission system, and a bunch of electrical support stuff. I mean, they’re practically the same thing.

Of course, this is crazy. A Prius, despite some superficial similarities, is not a drag racer. Attempting to run mine on a drag strip is likely to fail, and cause a fair amount of damage in the process. A drag racer is built for speed. A Prius (unless you heavily modify it!) is built for gas mileage.

Along similar lines, why do so many people insist on arguing that “government should be run like a business”? …

The fact that “business” and “government” both belong to the broader category called “human organization” tells you very little about how to run the latter. The differences between them are far more important than the similarities. And like the comparison between Prius and drag racer, what is most important is the purpose for which each was built.

A business is an organization designed to produce some product or service for the wider world, usually (though not always) at a profit. A business creates what it creates. It is primarily concerned with two groups of people: the owners (who control the business, and in whose interest it presumably operates) and the customers. A business can define its own customer base, to a substantial degree, and doesn’t need to concern itself with anybody else in society. Businesses don’t even have to be all that concerned about their employees, except as these are necessary to produce the product or service.

Governments look nothing like this. They are not meant to operate at a profit, and those that do are generally regarded as corrupt and illegitimate. Governments do not produce individual goods or services, but provide public goods to a broad group of people known as citizens. Except at the margins, governments have very little ability to define who they serve, and governments that decide to serve only one segment of the population usually find themselves losing legitimacy. Legitimate governments can’t pick their “customer base”…

But the chief purpose of the government is not to be a business, but to provide a safe, secure, and fair environment in which everybody can pursue their own individual business. If businesses are like sports teams competing, government is like the referee enforcing the rules of the game.

Ultimately, the purpose of a business is to advance the interests of its owners, usually a small group of people. The purpose of a government is to advance the interests of everybody. A business is partial to itself. A good government is impartial towards all.

2) Trump’s OMB pick Mick Mulvaney thinks it’s a good idea to blow up the debt ceiling.  Ugh.  And he doesn’t think the government should fund scientific research.  Double-ugh.  And he’s part of a larger trend of Trump surrounding himself with Tea Partiers.  Triple-ugh.

3) Recently finished Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot to my 10-year old.  Perhaps the favorite book I have read my kids not written by EB White or Roald Dahl.  So good.

4) The Republican approach to health care policy?  Maybe wait before going to the ER when your kid breaks his arm.  Seriously.

5) Bipartisan Op-Ed arguing that we need nuclear power to slow global warming.  I firmly agree.  And there’s amazing technological advances in contemporary reactors.

6) Also, global warming really sucks for polar bears.  Great photo essay in the NYT.

7) So clear that we all benefit by waiting longer to merge with a lane closure and do a zipper merge.  The problem is that so many drivers are not aware and act counter-productively.  Doesn’t seem that a public service campaign on the matter would be all that hard.

8) A review of the year in cool quantum physics stuff.

9) Nicholas Kristof has a conversation with an Evangelical pastor on whether you can be Christian without believing in the virgin birth or the Resurrection.  Whether those beliefs make you a “Christian” or not, you could do a lot worse than following Jesus’ teachings in the gospels, regardless of whether you believe the other stuff.

10) John Cassidy on Trump’s challenge to democracy:

The big unknown isn’t what Trump will do: his pattern of behavior is clear. It is whether the American political system will be able to deal with the unprecedented challenge his election presents, and rein him in. Especially with a single party controlling the executive and the legislative branches, there is no immediately reassuring answer to this question.

11) I never did watch “Making of a Murderer” (mostly because it struck me as way too much of a time investment), but this really interesting New Yorker article on true-crime as entertainment from back in January (just came across it as promoted as among their most popular articles of the year) makes me glad I did not invest the time.

12) Studies less unfavorable to sugar that are funded by the sugar industry should undoubtedly draw great scrutiny.  That said, these conclusions seem reasonable:

But the scientists behind the paper said more scrutiny of sugar guidelines was needed. The researchers reviewed guidelines issued by the W.H.O. and eight other agencies around the world and said the case against sugar was based on “low-quality” evidence.

“The conclusion of our paper is a very simple one,” said Bradley C. Johnston, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Toronto and McMaster University and the lead author of the new paper. “We hope that the results from this review can be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake.”

Dr. Johnston said he recognized that his paper would be criticized because of its ties to industry funding. But he said he hoped people would not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” by dismissing the conclusion that sugar guidelines should be developed with greater rigor. He also emphasized that he was not suggesting that people eat more sugar. The review article, he said, questions specific recommendations about sugar but “should not be used to justify higher intake of sugary foods and beverages.”

13) Excellent, thorough, Nate Cohn piece looking at how the Obama coalition fell apart for HRC.  Make sure you read this one.

14) Not surprisingly, the relationship between the political attitudes of elite donors and the Democratic party is far more complex than the simplistic portrayals we commonly get.

15) The way in which we basically let police departments steal money from people in this country is just disgusting.  Drum is not having it and either am I.

16) Greg Sargent on why we should be terrified of Trump’s decision-making process.

17) Ezra Klein asks whether Republicans are more addicted to power or ideas.  It’s cute that he even pretends it’s a question:

We are about to learn whether Republicans are more addicted to power or to ideas. This is, it’s worth noting, a live debate. In the Bush years, the GOP cut taxes, expanded Medicare, and started two wars without paying for a dime of it. Then after Barack Obama took office, Republicans became very worried about budget discipline.

 Fiscal conservatism, liberals complained, seemed to mean Republicans could rack up debt for any reason while Democrats couldn’t even borrow to save the economy during a financial collapse (which is, for the record, exactly the time you would want to debt finance).

But the GOP swore otherwise. The Tea Party, they said, was a correction to the regrettable excesses of the aughts. Bush-era Republicans had gone Washington and become addicted to power rather than conservatism. They had betrayed their own ideas and were now being punished by their own voters. It wouldn’t happen again. The opposition to Obama’s debt financing was the principled stand of a chastened GOP, not a cynical ploy to trip up a Democratic president.

If House Republicans — and particularly the House Freedom Caucus, the most debt-obsessed of all House Republicans — decide that Trump only needs to pay half the cost of his plans, then there’ll be no more mystery. Partisanship and power, not ideas and ideology, will have proven the GOP’s real addiction.

18) Poland for a very, very disturbing case study of what can happen when populists come to power in a democracy:

The Law and Justice Party rode to power on a pledge to drain the swamp of Polish politics and roll back the legacy of the previous administration. One year later, its patriotic revolution, the party proclaims, has cleaned house and brought God and country back to Poland.

Opponents, however, see the birth of a neo-Dark Age — one that, as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to move into the White House, is a harbinger of the power of populism to upend a Western society. In merely a year, critics say, the nationalists have transformed Poland into a surreal and insular place — one where state-sponsored conspiracy theories and de facto propaganda distract the public as democracy erodes.

In the land of Law and Justice, anti-intellectualism is king. Polish scientists are aghast at proposed curriculum changes in a new education bill that would downplay evolution theory and climate change and add hours for “patriotic” history lessons. In a Facebook chat, a top equal rights official mused that Polish hotels should not be forced to provide service to black or gay customers. After the official stepped down for unrelated reasons, his successor rejected an international convention to combat violence against women because it appeared to argue against traditional gender roles.

Over the weekend, Warsaw convulsed in street protests amid allegations that the Law and Justice party had illegally forced through a budget bill even as it sought to restrict media access to Parliament.

 

18) David Leonhardt suggests maybe Democrats have been bringing knives to a gun fight.  I think he might be right, but it’ll be a helluva mess if bullets just start flying everywhere.

If he were merely a rogue politician, this story would be a local one. But too many Republicans elsewhere have begun to ignore political traditions, and even laws, to exert power. While Democrats continue to play by more genteel rules, Republicans have subscribed to the Capone school of politics (as Sean Connery fans can recite): “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

 

19) Must-read NYT piece on Steve Kerr and how we was shaped by his father, who was assassinated as president of American University in Beirut in 1984.

[Super-late] Quick hits (part I)

What can I say, I’ve been enjoying hanging with family, watching movies, reading, and taking time off from blogging.  But, I should be able to knock this off during a Boxing Day American Ninja Warrior marathon 🙂

1) Dan Hopkins on an important part of the election story– late deciders really did break for Trump in large numbers.

2) Maria Konnikova on the concept of time travel as a cultural invention.

3) Running as a thinking-person’s sport:

Running seems to require a greater amount of high-level thinking than most of us might imagine. The sport seems to change how the brain works in surprising ways, according to a new report.

The study, published this month in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that the brains of competitive distance runners had different connections in areas known to aid in sophisticated cognition than the brains of healthy but sedentary people. The discovery suggests that there is more to running than mindlessly placing one foot in front of another.

4) The ideal parent for many teenagers– the potted plant parent.  Fortunately, my teenager wants more out of me.

5) Drum on Trump’s mafia approach to government:

On a more serious note: Are you fucking kidding me? The Trump Organization is going to poach business away by “encouraging” foreign governments to see the benefits of holding their events at a Trump property? And Newt Gingrich thinks we should just go ahead and change the law to allow this kind of thing? And if nobody salutes when that gets run up the old flagpole, then Trump should just go ahead and issue pardons to anyone who gets harassed by overzealous prosecutors.

What country do I live in, anyway?

6) Tim Wu on how the airlines collude on their absurd ticket change fees.

7) NC Capitol reporter extraordinaire, Mark Binker, with a long-piece on “who killed the HB2 repeal.”

8) And Rob Schofield with “three simple truths”

#3 – Conservatives never really wanted repeal. This is the ultimate truth about HB2, of course. As soon as rumors of a repeal (even Berger and Moore’s lame proposal of a quasi-repeal that would have taken effect in 6 or 8 months) emerged, the religious right turned apoplectic and used all of its powers within GOP circles to save their treasured monument to discrimination. That’s why Berger couldn’t even pass his disingenuous “cooling off period” proposal: conservatives in his own ranks wouldn’t support it. And when Democrats rightfully balked at what they saw as a clear double-cross, the whole thing fell apart.

The bottom line: HB2 was, is and always will be a terrible stain on North Carolina’s national and international reputation. It has damaged thousands of lives and cost billions of dollars. Tragically, however, the conservative powers that be in this state do not see it this way. And as long as these people retain complete control over the levers of political power and adhere to their backward and bigoted views, things are unlikely to improve.

9) If you have access to the Chronicle of Higher Ed (they put most of their stuff behind a paywall, but I read this off a link from their FB page), this story on how little the pursuit of college athletic scholarships pay off for most athletes is really, really good.

10) Betsy DeVos and the failure of school choice in Detroit.

11) I’ve always been annoyed by my fellow political scientist/political pundit, Steffen Schmidt, for referring to himself as Dr. Politics.  Anyway, it turns out that he’s been telling reporters about his “focus group.”  The reality?  That focus group is just the people he talks to.

12) Yglesias with the emails again.  And he’s right again:

More broadly, the further the email issue receded into the past the less credible it seemed that a major historical turning point could really have hinged on something so trivial.

And certainly one can imagine a variety of scenarios in which Clinton might have won the election despite her email woes. More successful economic policymaking from the Obama administration could have done the trick. So could a better campaign message or better targeting of resources. It was, after all, a very close election.

The crucial point, however, is that in broad ideological terms, the 2016 election happened at a time when the incumbent president was popular and the insurgent demagogue promising dramatic change was not popular. The unpopular insurgent managed to win, despite accumulating fewer voters than the popular incumbent’s designated successor, largely because she had become personally unpopular thanks to a massive onslaught of criticism largely focused on her email server.

Even at the time, some of us found it hardly credible that a decision as weighty as who should be president was being decided on the basis of something as trivial as which email address the secretary of state used. Future generations must find it even harder to believe. But the facts are what they are — email server management, rather than any deeper or more profound root cause, was the dominant issue in Donald Trump’s successful rise to power.

13) What parents of early-teen boys need to know.  Short version, gender-wise, there’s a language gap, empathy gap, and attention gap.

14) Republican legislators in Wisconsin trying to micromanage the classes at UW.  How dare they teach a course called “The Problem of Whiteness.”

15) This is cool– how numeracy can combat motivated political reasoning:

Numeric political appeals represent a prevalent but overlooked domain of public opinion research. When can quantitative information change political attitudes, and is this change trumped by partisan effects? We analyze how numeracy—or individual differences in citizens’ ability to process and apply numeric policy information—moderates the effectiveness of numeric political appeals on a moderately salient policy issue. Results show that those low in numeracy exhibit a strong party-cue effect, treating numeric information in a superficial and heuristic fashion. Conversely, those high in numeracy are persuaded by numeric information, even when it is sponsored by the opposing party, overcoming the party-cue effect. Our results make clear that overlooking numeric ability when analyzing quantitative political appeals can mask significant persuasion effects, and we build on recent work advancing the understanding of individual differences in public opinion.

16) NC makes the NYT editorial page again for all the wrong reasons.

17) Really love the Christian Science Monitor’s Patrick Jonsson.  We have super-interesting conversations when he interviews me; he’s thorough; and he uses some of my more interesting quotes.

To Professor Greene, it is about more than partisan politics.

“People call this blatant partisanship, but that’s an insult to partisanship,” he says. “This is blatant undermining of democratic norms.”

18) Among the vacation reading, loved Megan Abbot’s You Will Know Me.

19) Charles Pierce on drug companies pumping opiates into West Virginia:

I guarantee you that, somewhere in the inter-office correspondence files of the various drug companies, there is a memo identifying these places as target-rich environments for legalized dope peddling. I guarantee you that, somewhere, somebody got a big old Christmas bonus for dropping nine million doses of oxy into a town with 392 inhabitants. The average American corporation doesn’t have the moral conscience with which god endowed the sea slug.

20) Lee Drutman on how Trump could be a popular president and how to stop that from happening.

21) New York’s Jesse Singal lays out the clear case for Trump’s impeachability.

22) Interesting thoughts on the photos of the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey.

23) Really good piece from Yochi Dreazen on Putin, Russia, Trump and the emails.

24) Used to love reading Nietzche back when I was in college.  Interesting in interview in Vox on how Nietzche can inform us today:

Sean Illing

And these grand “isms” that dominated the 20th century — communism and fascism in particular — are very much the kind of political religions Nietzsche anticipated, right?

Hugo Drochon

That’s right. These are attempted answers at this question of what mankind ought to become, but they’re still stuck in the shadow of God for Nietzsche, and that’s because they’re still founded in these unchallengeable dogmas — about history, about human nature, about the future.

These are all mistaken insofar as they claim their vision of morality or politics is the only one possible, the only true one. What the death of God made clear, or should have made clear, is that there are no absolutes.

What he wanted to say is that there can be many different ways of existing, and societies should be organized in such a way that they allow for the possibility of many types of existences and not insist that there must be one answer, one truth, one morality.

25) One of my longest ever open tabs– Aaron Carroll on how to measure a medical treatment’s potential for harm (number needed to harm) versus potential benefit (number needed to treat):

In other words, for about every 1,500 women assigned to get screening for 10 years, one might be spared a death from breast cancer (though she’d most likely die of some other cause). But about five more women would undergo surgery and about four more would undergo radiation, both of which can have dangerous, even life-threatening, side effects.

Thus, N.N.H., paired with N.N.T., can be very useful in discussing the relative potential benefits and harms of treatments. As another example, let’s consider antibiotics for ear infections in children. There are many reasons that parents and pediatricians might consider treatment. One commonly cited reason is that we want to prevent serious complication from untreated infections. Unfortunately, antibiotics don’t do that, and the N.N.T. is effectively infinite. Antibiotics also won’t reduce pain within 24 hours. Antibiotics have, however, been shown to reduce pain within two to seven days. Not all children will see that benefit, though. The N.N.T. is about 20 for that outcome.

Antibiotics can cause side effects, however, including vomiting, diarrhea or a bad rash. The N.N.H. for side effects in this population is 14.

This means that when a child is prescribed antibiotics for an ear infection, it’s more likely that he will develop vomiting, diarrhea or a rash than get a benefit. When patients are presented with treatment options in this manner, they are sometimes more likely to agree to watchful waiting to see if the ear infection resolves on its own. For most children with ear infections, observation with close follow-up is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

 

Public opinion on GMO

Pew recently published a report about the American public’s views on food and science.  Not surprisingly, I was particularly interested in the part dealing with GMO food.  On the bright side, a plurlality of the public recognizes that GMO foods are not inherently better or worse for health.  On the downside, a disturbingly large minority (and surely a more intense one) believes GMO food is bad for you:

And as the chart shows, not just unhealthy, but most see “high” risks.

Meanwhile, I find this chart concerning as young people are the most misinformed, and of course, young people are the future of politics:

And the demographics/politics chart is interesting, as it shows how modest the divisions are– especially politically.  The biggest gap is gender– which I hope to have something to say about in print before too long.

And, I guess, on the bright side, those with high science knowledge are more likely to see the real potential benefits:

Of course, it’s not like Americans are known for their high science knowledge.

It’s getting better

So, this is really cool, an Economics professor with a look at all the ways the world has been dramatically improving in terms of health, freedom, literacy, etc.  There’s lots of cool interactive charts, but here’s the nickel summary in chart form:

He concludes with a powerful argument for understanding this data and the case for optimism:

The successful transformation of our living conditions was possible only because of collaboration. Such a transformation would be impossible for a single person to accomplish.
It is our collective brains and our collaborative effort that are needed for such an improvement.

There are big problems that remain. None of the above should give us reason to become complacent. On the contrary, it shows us that a lot of work still needs to be done – accomplishing the fastest reduction of poverty is a tremendous achievement, but the fact that 1 out of 10 lives in extreme poverty today is unacceptable. We also must not accept the restrictions of our liberty that remain and that are put in place. And it is also clear that humanity’s impact on the environment is at a level that is not sustainable and is endangering the biosphere and climate on which we depend. We urgently need to reduce our impact.

It is far from certain that we will make progress against these problems – there is no iron law that would ensure that the world continues this trend of improving living conditions. But what is clear from the long-term perspective is that the last 200 years brought us to a better position than ever before to solve these problems. Solving problems – big problems – is always a collaborative undertaking. And the group of people that is able to work together today is a much, much stronger group than there ever was on this planet. We have just seen the change over time; the world today is healthier, richer, and better educated.

For our history to be a source of encouragement we have to know our history. The story that we tell ourselves about our history and our time matters. Because our hopes and efforts for building a better future are inextricably linked to our perception of the past it is important to understand and communicate the global development up to now. A positive lookout on the efforts of ourselves and our fellow men area are a vital condition to the fruitfulness of our endeavors. Knowing that we have come a long way in improving living conditions and the notion that our work is worthwhile is to us all what self-respect is to individuals. It is a necessary condition for self-improvement.

Freedom is impossible without faith in free people. And if we are not aware of our history and falsely believe the opposite of what is true we risk losing faith in each other.

NC democracy = Cuba democracy?

A UNC Political Science professor who studies democracy, Andrew Reynolds, has written (an already viral in my world Op-Ed) arguing that on key metrics North Carolina is hardly a democracy:

When we evolved the project I could never imagine that as we enter 2017, my state, North Carolina, would perform so badly on this, and other, measures that we are no longer considered to be a fully functioning democracy.

In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.

Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.

That North Carolina can no longer call its elections democratic is shocking enough, but our democratic decline goes beyond what happens at election time. The most respected measures of democracy — Freedom House, POLITY and the Varieties of Democracy project — all assess the degree to which the exercise of power depends on the will of the people: That is, governance is not arbitrary, it follows established rules and is based on popular legitimacy.

The extent to which North Carolina now breaches these principles means our state government can no longer be classified as a full democracy.

First, legislative power does not depend on the votes of the people. One party wins just half the votes but 100 percent of the power. The GOP has a huge legislative majority giving it absolute veto-proof control with that tiny advantage in the popular vote. The other party wins just a handful of votes less and 0 percent of the legislative power. This is above and beyond the way in which state legislators are detached from democratic accountability as a result of the rigged district boundaries. They are beholden to their party bosses, not the voters. Seventy-six of the 170 (45 percent) incumbent state legislators were not even opposed by the other party in the general election.

Second, democracies do not limit their citizens’ rights on the basis of their born identities. However, this is exactly what the North Carolina legislature did through House Bill 2 (there are an estimated 38,000 transgender Tar Heels), targeted attempts to reduce African-American and Latino access to the vote and pernicious laws to constrain the ability of women to act as autonomous citizens.

Third, government in North Carolina has become arbitrary and detached from popular will. When, in response to losing the governorship, one party uses its legislative dominance to take away significant executive power, it is a direct attack upon the separation of powers that defines American democracy. When a wounded legislative leadership,  and a lame-duck executive, force through draconian changes with no time for robust review and debate it leaves Carolina no better than the authoritarian regimes we look down upon…

Respect for democracy is not a partisan issue. In America true Republicans are as loyal to democratic principles as are Democrats.

1) Whoa– in that case, there are perilously few “true Republicans” as the response to Trump has made eminently clear.

2) Lots of good points here, but honestly, any metric that places North Carolina’s democracy ranked alongside Cuba and Indonesia is a seriously flawed metric.  We did just manage to elect a governor from the out-party while having all sorts of election administration questions settled in a fair manner.  Yeah, I’m not big fan of the guys running the legislature, but we are far from being an authoritarian state or pseudo democracy.  That said, Reynolds is right that we can and should do a hell of a lot better.

Photo of the day

When non-photo-lover DJC recommends a photo gallery I listen.  This National Geographic adventure photo gallery is amazing.  And, since DJC recommended, I’m going with the surfing photo:

SURFING AT NIGHT IN SUMATRA

“I clicked the shutter and boom! I caught a wave to my head, and then another one right after that,” says photographer Fred Pompermayer about this image of surfer Adriano De Souza riding a wave in the early morning darkness of Mentawai, Sumatra. “It took all of my energy just to get back to the boat after that.”

PHOTOGRAPH BY FRED POMPERMAYER

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