Quick hits (part II)

1) Kind of fascinating to see NYT run a health column about sodium and high blood pressure and get so much wrong.  Unlike most on-line comments (which are a cesspit), NYT readers are an impressive lot and these comments are actually far more informative than the article.  Including linking to this earlier NYT piece which is far more accurate on the matter.

2) It seems crazy that we should need an Op-Ed to argue that we should not be criminally charging sexual assault victims with lying.  But we do.

3) Yes, it is overblown in conservative media, but, damn, sometime PC liberalism really does run amok at universities.

4) Jeffrey Toobin on the cultural legacy of Charles Manson:

Manson died on Sunday—remarkably, he was eighty-three years old. His era had long passed by the time of his death, but his legacy was surprisingly durable. In media, in criminal law, and in popular culture, Manson created a template that, for better or worse, is still familiar today.

5) Honestly, the case for Lena Dunham as a racist is the reason that conservatives think liberals are way too ready to cry racism.

6) Jon Bernstein on the case for superdelegates:

So why keep them? Supers have several practical functions. Their votes for the winner of the primaries and caucuses extends the delegate lead, adding both legitimacy and certainty to the nominee. That’s something they’ve done in close contests, such as the 2008 cycle. 2 But they’re also a fail-safe if something goes wrong. The proportional system of delegate allocation makes it possible that the winning candidate will fall just short of a delegate majority if one or more spoiler candidates hang on and accumulate delegates even after they no longer have a chance to win. Supers, if that happens, would presumably put the plurality winner over the top, avoiding an ugly and counterproductive deadlocked convention.

Both of those possibilities are more likely than usual in 2020, a year without any obviously strong Democratic frontrunners (Sorry, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders: Party actors and voters are not rushing in large enough numbers towards either of you to clear the field). It’s likely the Democratic field will wind up more similar to those of 1976, 1988, or 2004, with no clear early leader and at least a possibility that multiple candidates will remain viable well into the primaries and caucuses.

7) So, we know that lots of mass murderers have a red flag of domestic abuse.  What’s really interesting is that offenders who choke and strangle their victims are basically waving a bright red flag that we really ought to be paying attention to.

8) For some reason, I always find the subject of how sporting events (in this case NFL games) are assigned to different regional affiliates to be really interesting.

9) This big NYT feature on the problems with the NYC subway system is pretty amazing.  And not in a good way.

None of this happened on its own. It was the result of a series of decisions by both Republican and Democratic politicians — governors from George E. Pataki to Mr. Cuomo and mayors from Rudolph W. Giuliani to Bill de Blasio. Each of them cut the subway’s budget or co-opted it for their own priorities.

They stripped a combined $1.5 billion from the M.T.A. by repeatedly diverting tax revenues earmarked for the subways and also by demanding large payments for financial advice, I.T. help and other services that transit leaders say the authority could have done without.

They pressured the M.T.A. to spend billions of dollars on opulent station makeovers and other projects that did nothing to boost service or reliability, while leaving the actual movement of trains to rely on a 1930s-era signal system with fraying, cloth-covered cables.

They saddled the M.T.A. with debt and engineered a deal with creditors that brought in quick cash but locked the authority into paying $5 billion in interest that it otherwise never would have had to pay.

In one particularly egregious example, Mr. Cuomo’s administration forced the M.T.A. to send $5 million to bail out three state-run ski resorts that were struggling after a warm winter.

And, my God, the pay!

Subway workers now make an average of $170,000 annually in salary, overtime and benefits, according to a Times analysis of data compiled by the federal Department of Transportation. That is far more than in any other American transit system; the average in cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington is about $100,000 in total compensation annually.

The pay for managers is even more extraordinary. The nearly 2,500 people who work in New York subway administration make, on average, $280,000 in salary, overtime and benefits. The average elsewhere is $115,000.

New York is more expensive than most other cities, but not by that much. The latest estimate from the federal Department of Commerce said the region’s cost of living was 22 percent higher than the national average and 10 percent higher than the average for other areas with subways.

Mr. Samuelsen rejected the idea that subway workers were overpaid, arguing that it is a dangerous job in which assault is common. “We earn every penny that we make,” he said. “This is New York City. This isn’t Mayberry. It costs $700,000 to buy a house in Brooklyn. What do you want us to make? Fifteen dollars an hour?”

10) Dave Leonhardt on how America is an outlier in driving deaths:

But it’s not just speed. Seatbelt use is also more common elsewhere: One in seven American drivers still don’t use one, according to the researchers Juha Luoma and Michael Sivak. In other countries, 16-year-olds often aren’t allowed to drive. And “buzzed driving” tends to be considered drunken driving. Here, only heavily Mormon Utah has moved toward a sensible threshold, and the liquor and restaurant lobbies are trying to stop it.

The political problem with all of these steps, of course, is that they restrict freedom, and we Americans like freedom. To me, the freedom to have a third beer before getting behind the wheel — or to drive 15 miles an hour above the limit — is not worth 30 lives a day. But I recognize that not everyone sees it this way. [emphasis mine]

Which is part of the reason I’m so excited about driverless technology. It will let us overcome self-destructive behavior, without having to change a lot of laws. A few years from now, sophisticated crash-avoidance systemswill probably be the norm. Cars will use computers and cameras to avoid other objects. And the United States will stand to benefit much more than the rest of the industrialized world.

Until then, be careful out there.

11) And the six main causes of automobile accidents in Slate.

12) On how to raise girls and boys to counter-act gender stereotypes.  I especially liked the part about parenting boys:

What could make a big difference is raising boys more like our girls — fostering kindness and caretaking, not just by telling them to respect women, but by modeling egalitarianism and male affection and emotional aptitude at home. While parents and other adults teach girls to protect themselves against the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, that doesn’t do much to stem the tide of Weinsteins. Raising our boys differently would.[emphasis mine]

Parents should also shift the ways they teach girls to protect themselves. When we’re young, many of us were told to tell Mom and Dad if anyone ever touched us in a way that felt icky; as we grow up, we are armed with pepper spray and rape whistles, with instructions to always carry cab fare, not leave our drinks unattended at a bar, that no should mean no.

This is an understandable impulse, and some of the advice is good. But what girls don’t learn is how to be the solo aviators of their own perfect, powerful bodies — to happily inhabit their own skin instead of seeing their physical selves as objects to be assessed and hopefully affirmed by others; to feel entitled to sex they actively desire themselves, instead of positioned to either accept or reject men’s advances. Nor are we allowed full expressions of rage or other unfeminine emotions when we are mistreated. No wonder we try to politely excuse ourselves from predatory men instead of responding with the ire that predation merits.

One of the most important ways to move forward at this moment is to simply be aware that these assumptions and prejudices exist, and to deal with them head-on instead of pretending they aren’t there. Here, daughters of conservative men are at a particular disadvantage: Three-quarters of Republican men say that sexism is mostly a thing of the past.


Photo of the day

Had an amazing time visiting Catawba Falls near Asheville yesterday.  Soooo cool.  My photos cannot come close to doing it justice.  I do love using slow shutter on waterfalls, though.  So…

Quick hits (part I)

1) Apparently, not only does Portugal provide a nice lesson in drug legalization it also provides an object lesson in what happens when you don’t have net neutrality.

2) Farhad Manjoo says it’s time for twitter to radically re-think its rules to make the service better and get rid off all the trolls, Russian bots, etc.:

It ought to consider a radical, top-to-bottom change like this: Instead of awarding blue checks to people who achieve some arbitrary level of real-world renown, the company should issue badges of status or of shame based on signals about how people actually use, or abuse, Twitter. In other words, Twitter should begin to think of itself, and its users, as a community, and it should look to the community for determining the rights of people on the platform.

Is someone making a positive contribution to the service, for example by posting well-liked content and engaging in meaningful conversations? Is an account repeatedly spreading misinformation? Is it promoting or participating in online mobs, especially mobs directed at people with fewer followers? Did it just sign up two days ago? Is it acting more like a bot than a human? Are most of its tweets anti-Semitic memes? Can the account be validated with other markers of online reputation — a Facebook account or a LinkedIn profile, for instance? And on and on.

Twitter should not just embrace such reputational guidelines, it should make them transparent and meaningful. If you’re new to Twitter, or if you’ve repeatedly flouted its community rules, your rights on the platform would be circumscribed.

3) I gotta say, these four “well-being workouts” sound pretty good to me.  Already onto the gratitude thing.  And totally used the “respond constructively” when talking with my wife today.  Really going to work on that one.

4) SACS, the organization that accredits colleges and universities in the Southeast (including my own), has shown itself to be almost as much of a joke as the NCAA, when it comes to the fake classes at UNC scandal.  I honestly waste countless hours every year due to NC State jumping through hoops for SACS (my job to jump through the hoops for the PS department).  I’m so bringing up this article next time accreditation comes up at our college meeting.

5) I really need to read this book by a Political Scientist on the origins of human civilization (or, at least, DJC needs to read it and let me know if I need to).

James Scott

I’d say two things. The first is that once we had sedentary agriculture, we then had investment in land and therefore property that could be taxed. We then had the basis for inherited property and thus the basis for passing wealth from one generation to another.

Now, all that matters because it led to these embedded inequalities that were enforced by the state protection of property. This wasn’t true for hunter and gatherer societies, which regarded all property as common property to which everyone in the tribe had equal access. So the early agricultural societies created the basis for systematic class distinctions that could be perpetuated between generations, and that’s how you get the kinds of massive hierarchies and inequalities we see today.

6) The war we have on the poor is one of the most disgusting aspects of modern America.  Now, we’re even making it harder for poor people to vote.  Ugh.

7) Pretty much every single survey of actual economists finds almost perfect consensus that the Republican tax cut plan is bad for the economy.  Not that they care.

8) Tim Wu on how the courts will need to save net neutrality.

9) Derek Thompson on the Republican war on college, “For the cost of cutting corporate income taxes, the U.S. could provide universal pre-K and make tuition free at public colleges for nonaffluent students.”

10) Really enjoyed this essay on the “politicization of junk” (though, I quite like Papa John’s pizza and it’s sweet sauce and chewy crust):

By Monday, after Keurig’s executives had seen the plastic bits of their machines strewn across social media, the company’s C.E.O. circulated a memo to employees, which was leaked to the Washington Post, in which he wrote that “the decision to publicly communicate our programming decision via our Twitter account . . . gave the appearance of ‘taking sides’ in an emotionally charged debate.” In other words, someone at Keurig had messed up by telling the world that the company felt some concern about running ads between segments in which a TV host appeared to be coming to the defense of an alleged sexual predator.

You could smell the brand fear in the statement, that special tang that a company gives off as it watches some evocative skirmish in the culture war dice up its demographic and carve off a portion of its customer base. Yet, with this statement, in which Keurig seemed to lament its temporary display of empathy and humanity, the company executed what has lately become a common corporate double blunder: enraging a very vocal handful of social-media users on one end of the political spectrum; then, mistaking that cohort for a larger subsection of its customers, rushing to placate the extremists, and, in so doing, alienating a group far larger than the one it initially offended.

Before Keurig, it was the pizza company Papa John’s that, by its own doing, managed a version of the identity-politics double screwup. The company’s founder and C.E.O., John Schnatter, attempting to justify a bad quarterly earnings report, blamed decreased Papa John’s sales on the poor ratings performance of the N.F.L., with which it advertises, specifically criticizing the league commissioner for allowing the player protests during the national anthem to continue…

Trump, meanwhile, that brazen purveyor of American crapola—of mail-order steaks and lousy wine and bullshit diplomas—has recognized this as well, managing the Presidency as an extension of the Trump brand, in which all attention is good attention, and rallying his supporters to demonstrate their affection for him by patronizing certain companies, and their disdain for his detractors by boycotting Starbucks, or boycotting Nordstrom, or boycotting the N.F.L. In his Keurig video, Snoop Bailey is selling something, too. Before he busts up his coffeemaker, he touts the qualities of the golf club he’s using, and then later instructs his viewers to buy a competing brand of coffee, one that’s owned by military veterans. What looks at first like a strange act of suburban rage is really just another commercial.

11) This article on trying to take on the problem of sexual harassment is really good.  It is hindered by the fact that the French see Anglo culture as too prudish.  They are right.  Alas, that has led them to be wrong about sexual harassment.


Well, it took me almost two months, but I just finished Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War.”  Brilliant.  So good.  Easily my favorite documentary series ever.  I only wish it had been there for me to watch 20 years ago.  It looks like it’s not exactly easy to stream now (I had it all saved on my DVR) but presumably it will be easier to watch in the future.  And if you haven’t watched it.  Watch it.  So eye-opening in so many ways and so moving.  Just great stuff.

Lies, damn lies, and Republicans on taxes

Hard not to just paste the whole Krugman column (so good and so on target), but here’s some extensive portions:

One thing you can count on in 21st-century U.S. politics is that Republicans will lie about taxes. They did it under George W. Bush, they did it under Barack Obama and they’re still doing it under Donald Trump…

So what’s different this time? As in the Bush years, Republicans are claiming to be offering a middle-class tax cut. But where Bush truly was cutting taxes on the middle class, just much less than he was on the wealthy, current Republican plans would raise those taxes on many lower- and middle-income families, even as they go down for the wealthy. [emphases mine] (Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, claims that only “million-dollar earners”would see tax increases. This is the opposite of the truth.)…

Oh, and a memo to journalists: If you play it safe by reporting this as “Democrats say” that middle-class taxes will go up, you’re misleading your readers: Those estimates come from the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s own nonpartisan scorekeeper…

Not long ago, leading Republicans claimed to be deeply concerned about budget deficits. Only fools and centrists took the Republicans seriously. Still, the abrupt shift to nonchalance about adding trillions to the debt in order to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy is causing a bit of whiplash even among cynics. How do they justify the shift?

Well, they don’t seem to have settled on a story. Mnuchin keeps asserting that tax cuts will pay for themselves, going so far as to claim (falsely) that Treasury has released a study showing this. Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, cheerfully acknowledges that they’re using gimmicks to pass a bill that permanently cuts taxes on corporations, and not to worry. Whatever works, it seems

Sorry, but this isn’t the righteous anger of a man falsely accused of wrongdoing [Orrin Hatch]. It’s the rage con men always exhibit when caught out in their con.

But what’s the con about? The very incoherence of the arguments Republicans are making for their plans shows that it’s not about helping the economy, let alone ordinary families. It really is about making the rich richer, at everyone else’s expense. If this be bull crap, make the most of it.

Paul Waldman also lets loose:

Orrin Hatch is sick and tired, and so am I. Hatch, however, has the benefit of knowing that his illness and fatigue will soon be relieved by the soothing balm of victory, as the Republican Party fulfills its most profound and deeply revered purpose and delivers a tax cut to corporations and wealthy people…

A logician might counter that Hatch’s experience of poverty during the Depression is proof of precisely nothing when the question is what’s in the GOP tax bill. But all the same, he’s sick and tired of hearing that Republicans favor the rich. How dare Democrats keep repeating that foul calumny?

It might surprise Hatch to learn that as a liberal, I’m also sick and tired of the charge that the Republican tax plan is a gift to those who need it least. But I’m sick and tired of being forced to say it over and over again, with little apparent effect. I’m sick and tired of pointing out the impossibly audacious falsehoods Republicans tell about taxes. I’m sick and tired of having what so often feels like an endlessly repeating debate that ends the way everyone knows it will. Let’s lay out the steps:

  1. Republicans lie about their tax cut plan.
  2. Republicans pass their plan.
  3. Their plan contains exactly what liberals and Democrats say it does.
  4. Their plan has none of the glorious trickle-down effects Republicans claimed it would.
  5. The next time Republicans take power, we repeat this whole cycle again.

If that’s not enough to make you sick and tired, what would be? …

But what really makes me sick and tired is that it won’t matter. One way or another they’ll assemble the votes, both because this is what they live for and because they’ve convinced themselves that if they don’t pass this bill then their base will abandon them and they’ll be wiped out in the 2018 elections. Then no matter what happens—an economic boom, another recession, or anything in between they’ll say that it proves that what we need is yet more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. And we’ll have to keep having this argument for the rest of our lives. 

Yep.  Still looking for any evidence that the preeminent policy concern of Republicans is anything other than tax cuts for rich people.  They just make it too easy.

Photo of the day

How have I never heard of the Eshima Ohashi bridge?!  I literally have nightmares exactly about bridges like this.  A common nightmare theme for me is a bridge so steep the car flips over backwards.  Don’t use that against me.

That said, it looks a lot less scary from some other angles.

Why Democrats should emphasize economics in 2018

Well the horrible Republican tax plan is a good start.  But it’s also a political winner, based on Lee Drutman’s analysis.  Lots of cool stuff in here– charts, etc.,– but I’ll skip to the takeaway:

Their best bet will be to offer a sharper economic message, which offers at least some possibility of gain among Obama-Trump voters and Obama-Other voters, with little risk of alienating Romney-Clinton voters. [emphasis mine]

The Virginia results suggest Democrats still might also be able to expand their base without attempting to reach these voters with a new economic populism — results that will certainly give comfort to the donor class of the party that gets nervous every time Bernie Sanders begins talking. The inevitable pendulum swing against the Republican Party, Mr. Trump’s deep unpopularity, an energized electorate and the wave of Republican congressional retirements — and the slow but steady demographic shift toward a younger, more diverse electorate — will all give Democrats an advantage that they can ride mostly just by being Democrats and not doing stupid things.

Project this trend forward, and perhaps a just-out-of-reach suburban Atlanta House district that a Democratic nominee, Jon Ossoff, narrowly lost this year becomes a narrow Democratic pickup in 2018.

Still, the better bet for Democrats would be to present a sharper economic message, which offers at least some possibility of gain among Obama-Trump voters and Obama-Other voters, with little risk of alienating Romney-Clinton voters.

It’s also better for our politics. The more Democrats rely simply on upscale voters’ cosmopolitan cultural values and corresponding revulsion to Mr. Trump, the more our political system becomes organized around zero-sum culture issues and locked in increasingly no-compromise polarization. Economics, after all, you can bargain over. Identity and culture, not so much. The good news for Democrats is that running on a stronger economic vision is not only good for the country, it’s also good for the Democrats’ long-term fortunes.

No, that doesn’t mean throw gays, Blacks, and women under the bus.  It doesn’t mean changing values here at all.  Nor does it mean that these social issues are unconnected to economic issues.  It does, however, suggest that a winning national strategy will be far more effective by placing an emphasis on clear-cut economic issues, such as the Republicans desire to make the rich richer at the expense of everybody else.

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