Quick hits (part I)

1) I’m not a huge fan of Bill Maher, but I generally think he’s pretty funny and almost always enjoy his “new rules” when I watch his show.  Yes, it was pretty stupid of him to use the N-word recently in a weak attempt at humor, but that seems like a pretty weak last straw, as it was for this writer.

2) The myth of the kindly, non-white-supremacist, Robert E. Lee.

3) How Democrats are increasingly moving in favor of supporting single-payer health care.

4) Given the Lego-loving kids in my house, I really loved this Guardian story on how Lego went from a company on it’s deathbed in 2013 to one of the most globally powerful brands:

In 2015, the still privately owned, family controlled Lego Group overtook Ferrari to become the world’s most powerful brand. It announced profits of £660m, making it the number one toy company in Europe and Asia, and number three in North America, where sales topped $1bn for the first time. From 2008 to 2010 its profits quadrupled, outstripping Apple’s. Indeed, it has been called the Apple of toys: a profit-generating, design-driven miracle built around premium, intuitive, covetable hardware that fans can’t get enough of. Last year Lego sold 75bn bricks. Lego people – “Minifigures” – the 4cm-tall yellow characters with dotty eyes, permanent grins, hooks for hands and pegs for legs – outnumber humans. The British Toy Retailers Association voted Lego the toy of the century.

5) Nice deconstruction from Drum on NYT reporting on how Trump is now lying to his key National Security Staff.  Ugh.

6) Very cool article on the secret micro-dots your printer is probably printing that make leaking documents a precarious proposition.

7) The reality of how Planned Parenthood helps people— in this case, Paul Ryan’s constituents.  Not that he cares in the least.

8) I’m always reading about what’s wrong with the French economy is how it’s too hard to fire workers, but finally an excellent explanation from Catherine Rampell about what’s going on (and how Macron wants to fix it):

So what exactly is wrong with the job market in France?

The problem isn’t generous health-care benefits or onerous environmental protections or the usual “job-killing” regulations that American politicians so often vilify — and that the French love.

It’s that it’s virtually impossible, or at the very least prohibitively expensive, to fire employees. Which makes hiring employees unattractive, too.

In France, firings and layoffs can generally happen under very limited circumstances, including gross negligence and “economic reasons.” Laid-off employees can then challenge their dismissals in court, where judges are seen as somewhat hostile to employers.

Judges, for example, have wide latitude in deciding what counts as a justifiable “economic reason” for a layoff. They may decide that multinational firms that are losing money in France are not allowed to pare back their French workforce if they are collectively profitable in other countries, according to Jean-Charles Simon, an economist and former manager of the country’s main employer organization, Mouvement des Entreprises de France, or MEDEF.

A layoff in such a case could be deemed unfair. Furthermore, there is no cap on the damages that judges can award for unfair dismissal, meaning employers’ potential risks are essentially limitless. The whole process can take years to resolve, too.

9) Seems to me that my school system’s administrators are being needless hard-hearted and cruel in not letting a kid actually celebrate graduation because he didn’t know about the rehearsal:

All Wake County seniors are expected to attend graduation rehearsal, said schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten.

“Graduation is a production,” she said. “The students have to walk in a certain order, they have to sit in a certain row. There are a lot of moving pieces.”

A certain row!!  Oh, my, soooo complicated.  I’m sure allowing some kids to attend who had missed the rehearsals would just be mass chaos.

10) The fact that Eric Trump has basically been fraudulently and illegally stealing from children with cancer should be huge news.  But, increasingly, it seems our capacity for bad Trump news (Comey!!) is a zero-sum game.  And that is so to Trump’s benefit.

11) Derek Thompson on Trump’s policies:

The secret of the Trump infrastructure plan is: There is no infrastructure plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no White House health care plan. More than 120 days into Trump’s term in a unified Republican government, Trump’s policy accomplishments have been more in the subtraction category (e.g., stripping away environmental regulations) than addition. The president has signed no major legislation and left significant portions of federal agencies unstaffed, as U.S. courts have blocked what would be his most significant policy achievement, the legally dubious immigration ban.

The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four words long: There is no policy.

12) Speaking of zero-sum political coverage.  Brian Beutler on how Republicans are trying to dismantle the ACA completely hidden from the light of day and nobody’s paying attention (Comey!).

13) Headline says it all, “How Russian Propaganda Spread From a Parody Website to Fox News.”  Let’s be honest, Fox is hardly a “news” organization.

14) David Leonhardt on Trump’s L’état, c’est moi presidency:

Democracy isn’t possible without the rule of law — the idea that consistent principles, rather than a ruler’s whims, govern society.

You can read Aristotle, Montesquieu, John Locke or the Declaration of Independence on this point. You can also look at decades of American history. Even amid bitter fights over what the law should say, both Democrats and Republicans have generally accepted the rule of law.

President Trump does not. His rejection of it distinguishes him from any other modern American leader. He has instead flirted with Louis XIV’s notion of “L’état, c’est moi”: The state is me — and I’ll decide which laws to follow.

This attitude returns to the fore this week, with James Comey scheduled to testify on Thursday about Trump’s attempts to stifle an F.B.I. investigation. I realize that many people are exhausted by Trump outrages, some of which resemble mere buffoonery. But I think it’s important to step back and connect the dots among his many rejections of the rule of law.

15) Tiny jumping spiders can see the moon at night.  That also means you can get them to follow laser pointers (cool videos at the article).

16) I wanted to give Lee Drutman’s post on Trump exploiting the flaws of our two-party system it’s own post.  Oh well:

In this piece, I want to explore how much this “unlikely” conclusion flows from the zero-sum logic of our two-party system. The short answer: a lot.

Because of the two-party system, Republicans are stuck with Donald Trump. If he goes down, they go down with him. There’s now no way for Republicans to advance conservative policy goals without also advancing Trump. And In this era of bipolar two-party tribal politics, no matter what Trump does, there’s always one thing worse for Republicans. Something even more unthinkable, something even more existentially frightening than Trump with his hand on the nuclear codes: Democrats having power.

In two-party politics, a “pathological liar” is always better than a Democrat

Most congressional Republicans never wanted Trump as their standard-bearer. They still don’t. But their fates are now tied to him. If Trump goes down in a dramatic impeachment (is there any other kind?), Republicans almost certainly lose their House majority in the 2018 midterms, and probably continue to suffer the repercussions in 2020. And there’s a real risk that if Trump goes down, he tries to take all the furniture with him, fracturing the Republican Party.

So Republican congressional leaders are stuck. The only thing worse than having Trump as their unpopular standard-bearer is losing power and popularity because they tried to remove him as their standard-bearer…

For Republicans, the challenge will be to keep their troops feeling certain that however imperfect Trump might be, Democrats would by definition be worse — that it really might be the end of the republic if Republicans lose the house. This likely means doubling down on all the aggressive us-against-them white Christian identity politics and apocalyptic narratives they can find to make sure their base shows up.

And so deeper into the widening gyre we go. This is the logic of our two-party system right now. And Donald Trump is still our president, leading us into deeper tribalism as he takes advantage of our two-party system’s fatal flaw.

17) Pretty cool infographic on the scale of D-day.

18) On the secret social media lives of teenagers.  Damn are their some super-sneaky apps out there.  My teenager just prefers to lie (“sure I did all my homework”) to my face.

19) Nice NYT feature on how to raise a feminist son.  On it.  Great role model for this in my mom.

20) The lies from Trump and his people are pretty amazing.  This one on coal may take the cake.  Also, some nice context.  Chait:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, appearing on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, casually asserted that the Trump administration has presided over a staggering increase in coal-industry employment. “We’ve had over 50,000 jobs since last quarter — coal jobs, mining jobs — created in this country. We had almost 7,000 mining and coal jobs created in the month of May alone,” boasted Pruitt.

How false are these statistics? Extremely false.

Last month, the coal industry added 400 jobs, not 7,000. Since October, it has added just 1,700 jobs. The industry as a whole now employs 51,000 people — total. (No, there were not merely 1,000 people working in coal before the election.)

It is bizarre to design your country’s energy policy — which, even if you disregard climate science, has important implications for public health and international diplomacy — around the goal of maximizing jobs in an industry that employs fewer people than Arby’s.

21) Happy to learn the Texas teacher who awarded her students “superlatives” such as “most likely to be a terrorist” is out of a job.

22) A friend just recently posted a portion of this 2012 Michael Lewis speech to Princeton students on FB.  It’s awesome!

I now live in Berkeley, California. A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

23) Happy 15th birthday to my pretty amazing son, Alex.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

3 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. samhbrewer says:

    #3 also links to the Robert LEE article. Interested to know what the healthcare article is.

  2. Mika says:

    Once again picture of Alex made me smile! (I’m searching one particular blog entry)

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