A few more

Didn’t quite get to finish last night due to attending a soccer game (local minor league team versus a Premier League team– Swansea City– pretty cool) and then watching UMNT vs. Costa Rica.  Got to use my new Canon SX 730 super-zoom at the soccer game.

And nothing super-zoomy about this, but certainly capture the sunset well.

Anyway…

1) Jack Shafer on Spicey:

The White House attracts all manner of toadies, suckups and flatterers seeking the president’s favor, but never did any staffer demean, degrade and humble himself to the chief executive the way outgoing press secretary Sean Spicer did. Abandoning the arts of both persuasion and elision that have served previous prevaricating press secretaries so well, Spicer flung barb-tongued lies in the service of President Donald Trump…

Reviewing Spicer’s tenure as press secretary, we find no Trump transgression so foul that Spicer would not grovel before it. When Trump praised North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and invited thuggish Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House, Spicer dispensed sympathy and understanding upon the despots. No Trump mistake was too mundane for him to correct: He insisted that the word “covfefe,” which appeared in a late-night Trump tweet, wasn’t a typo. When Trump alluded to secret Trump-Comey audio recordings, Spicer dodged all questions about their existence. After the president claimed Obama had tapped his phones at Trump Tower, Spicer created a diplomatic incident by falsely accusing British intelligence of doing the snooping.

Shall I continue? When Trump made the baseless allegation that millions voted illegally in the presidential election, Spicer defended him. He slammed the media in general for a “default narrative“ that was “always negative” and slammed CNN in specific for calling March for Life demonstrators “demonstrators.” He accused the TV press of working harder to create alluring YouTube clips than “getting factual news,” attempted to marginalize the nonprofit investigative outlet ProPublica as a “left-wing blog,” and berated reporter April Ryan for shaking her head at his evasions during a briefing. “Even Hitler” wasn’t as bad as Syrian tyrant Bashar Assad, because he “didn’t sink to using chemical weapons.” Campaign chairman Paul Manafort, he said, had “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” Hillary Clinton’s Russia ties were more troubling than Trump’s. And so on.

2) The genes that makes dogs so sociable may be related to the gene that causes Williams-Beuren Syndrome in humans.

3) Nine-year old boy discovers million year old fossil in the desert.  My 11-year old is pretty jealous.

4) Pretty interesting take on how modern-day economics bears a disturbing similarity Imperial Chinese astrology.  Seriously.

5) NYT Editorial on the bogus voter fraud commission:

The truth can’t be repeated often enough: The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which held its first meeting last week, is a sham and a scam.

It was born out of a marriage of convenience between conservative anti-voter-fraud crusaders, who refuse to accept actual data, and a president who refuses to accept that he lost the popular vote fair and square.

It is run by some of the nation’s most determined vote suppressors, the kind who try to throw out voter registrations for being printed on insufficiently thick paper or who release reports on noncitizen voting that are titled “Alien Invasion” and illustrated with images of U.F.O.s.

Its purpose is not to restore integrity to elections but to undermine the public’s confidence enough to push through policies and practices that make registration and voting harder, if not impossible, for certain groups of people who tend to vote Democratic.

6) Here’s an idea that strikes me as pretty damn obvious, but now science has clearly demonstrated– babies born addicted to opioids fare a whole lot better (and save the government a bunch of money) when they are actually left with their mothers.  Of course, not so long as people like Jeff Sessions make our drug policy.

7) Kristoff on the absurdity of Kushner still having a security clearance:

For all that we don’t know about President Trump’s dealings with Russia, one thing should now be clear: Jared Kushner should not be working in the White House, and he should not have a security clearance.

True, no proof has been presented that Kushner broke the law or plotted with Russia to interfere in the U.S. election. But he’s under investigation, and a series of revelations have bolstered suspicions — and credible doubts mean that he must be viewed as a security risk.

Here’s the bottom line: Kushner attended a meeting in June 2016 whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin initiative to interfere in the U.S. election; he failed to disclose the meeting on government forms (a felony if intentional); he was apparently complicit in a cover-up in which the Trump team denied at least 20 times that there had been any contacts with Russians to influence the election; and he also sought to set up a secret communications channel with the Kremlin during the presidential transition.

Until the situation is clarified, such a person simply should not work in the White House and have access to America’s most important secrets.

8) OMG am I glad my tenure-track position does not depend upon obtaining grants.  It’s damn hard out there for the “real” scientists.

9) Good NYT feature on why there are so few women CEO’s.  It’s pretty subtle, but hell yeah there’s still lots of bias:

The parallels with politics are striking. Research in both fields, including some conducted after Mrs. Clinton’s loss, has shown it’s harder for assertive, ambitious women to be seen as likable, and easier to conclude they lack some intangible, ill-defined quality of leadership.

In a Korn Ferry survey in April of 786 male and female senior executives, 43 percent said they thought that continued bias against women as chief executives was the primary reason more women did not make it to the top in their own companies — and 33 percent thought women in their firms were not given sufficient opportunities to become leaders.

At DuPont, Ms. Kullman said, she found that men were being promoted within two years, women in three. “It wasn’t as overt as, ‘She’s too aggressive,’ ” she said. “It came down more to, ‘We’re not sure she’s ready for that job.’ ”

As Wendy Cai-Lee, a banker now running her own investment firm, put it, if she wrote a book about women in business, the title would be “Dependable Back-Up.”

The Lean In survey shows a pervasive sense among women that they face structural disadvantages: They are less likely than men to believe they will be able to participate in meetings, receive challenging assignments or find their contributions valued. The bleakest perceptions are from minority women; only 29 percent of black women think the best opportunities at their companies go to the most deserving employees, compared with 47 percent of white women.

10) This is awesome– North Dakota is embracing Norway’s far more humane, far smarter approach to incarceration:

Warden James Sayler and Joey Joyce, his deputy, were quick to embrace the Norway philosophy. They immediately began devising ways for inmates to earn more freedom—shopping excursions, day passes home, and even the right to wear civilian clothes on-site. They also scaled up an existing work-release program so more men could take real jobs. “Everybody down here is going to be out of here in a short amount of time,” Sayler says. “So how do you want ’em?” This is the crux of Norway’s approach: Once you accept that these people will one day be your neighbors, you might feel more invested in making sure they have the skills to get by on the outside.

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Quick hits

1) Excellent piece from Dahlia Lithwick— the lawyers and judges are not going to save us:

The Framers erected an edifice of law intended to constrain power, and the president believes that framework is made of spun sugar and cobwebs. The United States is a nation built upon, as John Adams told us, “a government of laws and not of men.” The Trump administration adheres to no law, and whatever men or women keep faith with the law rather than him are discredited as biased against the president. This only goes one way: Norms are for losers, and laws are for poor people. And now Trump has his dream team of mob lawyers and mad dogs hard at work proving that the only lawyer without a disabling conflict of interest is the one pledging fealty to him.

Don’t expect congressional Republicans to squawk. They will fight for the rule of law and the norms of good governance at precisely the moment when their jobs are on the line. The promise of a raft of newly minted blogger-judges and tax cuts will always win out over fealty to the Constitution. [emphasis mine] This is a problem that requires our focused long-term attention to money in politics, partisan gerrymandering, and voter suppression. And this is, in the end, a problem only because Americans—myself included—are prey to a form of magical thinking about law and the Constitution. The Framers believed the law would fix it, and that makes it easy to hope that the lawyers will fix it. The lawyers became the wizards, and the Constitution became a book of spells, and the best thing a citizen could hope to do is make a donation to a group of lawyers who could perform the right incantations, fondle the correct talisman, and save democracy.

2) I was trying to explain to my kids the other day about a horse-sized duck vs 100 duck-sized horses.  Found this nice Atlantic piece investigating the origins.

3) Really enjoyed the NYT story on the radically different approaches to Catholicism of the bishops of NYC and Newark, NJ.  I’ll definitely take the latter.

4) Among other things, nepotism is just bad business.  What is the chance that your offspring is actually the best person to run the company, etc.  Tales from Trump Inc.

5) Jeff Sessions pretty much never ceases to amaze me with his awfulness.  One of the absolute worst policies in America is civil forfeiture.  Of course, Sessions wants to expand it.

6) What’s most concerning about this health care take is that it’s from Norm Ornstein

Republicans don’t fear the backlash from a bill that will hurt lots of people, including their own voters.

Some think the simple fact of acting, and getting a policy victory, will help. Others may actually believe that the bill will work—hard as that is to believe. But the ideological view that cutting government magically brings freedom and prosperity and good health is strong among many Republicans in Congress. Nonetheless, the more rational or pragmatic ones know that this bill will hurt a lot of people, with a heavier concentration among the white working-class voters that are a mainstay of the current GOP. So why no fear? For one thing, the large tax cuts for the ultra-rich may guarantee that the web of billionaires contributing huge sums to 501(c)4s and other entities to help elect Republicans will double down. In the special election in Georgia’s sixth district, Democrat Jon Ossoff collected a mind-boggling sum for his campaign from small donors; if Karen Handel had not been able to match that with a flood of independent ads financed by big money, we might have seen a different outcome.

For another, with Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court instead of Merrick Garland, states under GOP control and possibly even Congress will pass more and more draconian voter suppression laws (New Hampshire just joined the ranks) that will get a much more favorable treatment down the road. They will be aided by Trump’s outrageous new commission on voting, co-chaired by the king of voter suppression, Kris Kobach and including an all-star list of other voter suppressors, which is already intimidating voters. Money and voter suppression laws could well enable Republicans, even if this disaster of a bill passes, to keep control of both houses at least until 2020—and during that time, they can do even more to tilt the campaign finance system and narrow the electorate to their advantage.

7) John Cassidy’s health care debacle take:

The larger lesson of this sorry episode is that nobody—not McConnell, or Trump, or House Speaker Paul Ryan—can resolve the contradictions of today’s Republican Party. Once the political arm of the Rotary Club and the affluent suburbs, the Party is increasingly one of middle-class and working-class voters, many of whom are big beneficiaries of federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Obamacare subsidies for the purchase of private insurance. But the G.O.P. remains beholden to its richest, most conservative donors, many of whom espouse a doctrine of rolling back the government and cutting taxes, especially taxes applicable to themselves and other very rich people. It was the donors and ideologues, with Ryan as their front man, who led the assault on the Affordable Care Act.

8) Chait #1 on health care:

Republicans have spent eight years assuring the public that they, too, shared the goal of protecting people with preexisting conditions from price discrimination. Sunday, Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price tore down the tattered façade. Asked why insurers called the Republican health-care plan, which allows them to charge higher premiums to the sick than the healthy, unworkable, Price insisted they would just go back to the way things worked before Obamacare. “It’s really perplexing, especially from the insurance companies, because all they have to do is dust off how they did business before Obamacare,” he said on ABC. “A single risk pool, which is what they’re objecting to, is exactly the kind of process that was — that has been utilized for decades.”

Republican policy elites consider such an admission obvious, even banal. To the great mass of the voting public it would come as a shock…

It is true that Democrats have spent several decades accusing Republicans of trying to deny health insurance to the poor and sick. That is because Republicans have indeed spent several decades trying to deny health insurance to the poor and sick. [emphasis mine] As Paul Ryan said earlier this year, he has been dreaming of deep cuts to Medicaid since his kegger days. It is not a popular position by any means. But fanatical hatred of the welfare state does have a constituency among the major institutions of the conservative movement, many of which are well-funded and important to rallying base voters.

9) More Chait:

In truth, it was never possible to reconcile public standards for a humane health-care system with conservative ideology. In a pure market system, access to medical care will be unaffordable for a huge share of the public. Giving them access to quality care means mobilizing government power to redistribute resources, either through direct tax and transfers or through regulations that raise costs for the healthy and lower them for the sick. Obamacare uses both methods, and both are utterly repugnant and unacceptable to movement conservatives. That commitment to abstract anti-government dogma, without any concern for the practical impact, is the quality that makes the Republican Party unlike right-of-center governing parties in any other democracy. In no other country would a conservative party develop a plan for health care that every major industry stakeholder calls completely unworkable.[emphasis mine]

10) Meanwhile, Senate Parliamentarian actually did her job and eviscerated the Senate plan as largely inconsistent with the 50-vote reconciliation rules.  Nice summary from Drum.

11) Universal college admissions tests are of particular benefit to low-income students.  Wake County has all students take the ACT.  Good evidence that every school system should have universal SAT or ACT.

12) Are you a carbaholic?  Survey says yes.  That said, all carbs are not created equal and you can do quite well sticking with the healthier ones.

13) Really depressing developments in Poland.  Democracies are not self-perpetuating.  You’ve got to work to keep them going.

14) My beach read this past week was American War El Akkad’s years working as a reporter in war zones and refugee camps by Omar El Akkad.  Terrific book that really sticks with you.   clearly pay off in the realistic portrayals of a future American civil war.

15) I think Josh Barro has a lot right about liberal/cosmopolitanism values creating a cultural alienation with a lot of voters who might otherwise be open to the Democratic party.  I also think Drum’s critique of Barro is pretty accurate and that there is genuine contempt for those in “flyover country” that presents a real political problem.

16) Loved Todd VanDerWerff’s take on what makes the storytelling in “Mad Men” so good.  He also points out that “Bojack Horseman” uses a similar storytelling technique.  No wonder I love them both.

17) Nick Hanauer’s essay in Politico is simply fabulous.  Read it.

It simply isn’t true that reasonable wages, decent labor protections and higher taxes on the rich would destroy the economy. Such were the norms back in the 1950s and 1960s when America’s growth rates were much higher—and there’s no empirical evidence to suggest that we couldn’t support similar norms today. The truth is that when economic elites like us say “We can’t afford to adopt these higher standards,” what we really mean is, “We’d prefer not to.” We like to frame our claims as objective truths, like the so-called “law” of supply and demand, but what we’re really asserting is a moral preference. We are simply defending the status quo.

In my circles, few seem to want to confront the reality that our political environment won’t improve until the actual economic circumstances of our fellow Americans improve. We rich folks crave the variety and stimulation of progressive blue cities, yet we’re often not willing to fight for basic progressive policies like higher wages and the right to organize. We pound the table, ranting about diversity and inclusion without recognizing that the 43.7 percent of Americans earning less than $15 an hour, mostly white and rural, simply cannot afford to be included in our pricey, progressive, pluralistic enclaves. We smugly #resist when an airline beats a passenger bloody, but we do so from the safety and comfort of our own private planes, literally looking down on the shuttered factories and struggling small towns of middle America as we luxuriously jet from coast to coast.

Today in America, tens of millions of lower- and middle-class workers are routinely subject to poverty wagesunpaid overtimewage theftdehumanizing scheduling practices and the constant threat of automation or off-shoring. But the plight of these workers rarely comes up in conversations with my peers. Maybe the problem isn’t sexy enough. Maybe it seems too big. Maybe it requires the uncomfortable admission that some of our outsized profits are coming at their expense. But whatever the reason, we’ve let the problem grow too large to ignore.

Many of my peers prefer to hide behind the enduring myth that today’s crisis of economic inequality and insecurity is the result of forces unleashed by unstoppable trends in technology and globalization. “It’s not my fault I have so much while others have so little,” we comfort ourselves, “it’s the economy.” That is nonsense. There’s no intrinsic reason why the social and political changes delivered by technological advances and globalization have to massively concentrate wealth in the hands of the few. We simply exploited changing circumstances to take advantage of people with less power than us. [emphasis mine]

 

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