Quick hits (part I)

Now coming to you at 6:00am sharp, by special request of DJC…

1) I still love my Diet Coke (and so does JP, if he’s reading this), but not so much the rest of America.  And, of course, Diet Dr Pepper is the greatest drink known to humans.

2) Of course Trump has an unqualified 24-year old running the Office of National Drug Control Policy during our opioid crisis.

3) I’m feeling safer already.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/01/16/too-old-for-daca-a-michigan-father-is-deported-after-three-decades-in-the-u-s/?utm_term=.afe95d8e0d15

4) Fake news!

All those media-trust studies have a tendency toward the rote. Yes, we already knew that the public had little trust in the country’s journalistic organs. Yes, we knew that finding credible sources could be a harrowing pursuit for the public. Yes, we knew that an increasing portion of the U.S. public felt that the news was biased.

Yet this nugget from a new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey just about knocked the Erik Wemple Blog out of a decade-long media-research torpor:

Four in 10 [or 42 percent of] Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be “fake news.” [The corresponding figure for Democrats is 17 percent.]

5) Jennifer Rubin on those who demean themselves for Trump:

For the sake of argument, let’s say she doesn’t personally recall the president’s statements. By now, she is aware that both Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) know what was said. She now has to consider — not from a legal sense, but from an ethical one — whether she wants to serve a president who plainly prefers white Europeans to black and brown people, and is prepared to lie to the public about his statements and views. Public service is honorable, but not when you are enabling elected officials to lie and to pursue racist ends.

In a nutshell, this is why you cannot serve a president who is racist, dishonest or personally corrupt. You inevitably wind up enabling racism, dishonesty and corruption. If you thought you could remain untainted, you were wrong. And now, you need to either quit or face the legal and personal consequences.

6) We keep talking about the importance of investing in pre-school, but meanwhile, we don’t seem to be willing to invest in preschool teachers.

7) I learned about the developmental milestone of your kids lying to you way back when I first read Nurtureshock.  So, yes, you should be happy when your kids start lying to you.  And it’s also worth noting that teenagers lie to their parents all the time and it’s perfectly normal (you almost surely did it way more than you would admit to your kids).  That said, I may be related to a certain teenager who could at least limit his lying to parents about non-school-related topics.

8) Amy Davidson Sorkin on Trump’s willing liars:

Among others present, John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, has not commented; Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security Secretary, said on Fox News on Sunday that she didn’t “recall him saying that exact phrase.” (On Tuesday, in sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she said that she didn’t “hear” the word, but acknowledged that the President had used “tough language.”) They all need to speak more clearly, about shitholes or shithouses, if nothing else so that the public has a good gauge of who is willing to lie, and how blatantly, for the President.

Trump seems to be curious about that question, too. According to the Post, members of his Administration at first thought that the controversy could be settled in the shady realm of “do not recall,” since the President had, again, reportedly talked to others about using derogatory language. They were caught by surprise when he started tweeting about how the accounts of his language were outright false. Indeed, he has said that they were proof that “Dicky Durbin” and other Democrats didn’t care about a deal on Dreamers, and were willing to blow up the negotiations by lying about him. Why the change? It is hard to know what is in the President’s mind. Perhaps he was struck by the vehemence of the backlash. But perhaps he also listened to what the other Republicans were saying, and had an insight that they would, indeed, back him up. It was a bully’s triple play: first, he got to slur whole nations. Then he got his guys to gang up on anyone who called him out for it, which produced the final prize: the acknowledgement that the Republican lawmakers were his guys, subordinate and willing to humiliate themselves on his behalf.

What is notable is that, at first, Cotton and Perdue had tried, in a joint statement, to hedge by saying that they did “not recall the President saying these comments specifically.” But, as his lies escalated, so did theirs, to the point where they were backing up the idea that the media was involved in a fake-news conspiracy. They didn’t need to do so—after their Sunday appearances, Lindsey Graham said, according to the Post and Courier, “My memory hasn’t evolved. I know what was said and I know what I said”—yet they chose that route. But it is, apparently, hard to lie halfway for Trump; he won’t let you. Maybe it’s time for the Republicans to stop lying to themselves about that, too.

9) This is from 2014 (friend recently shared on-line), but this article about the human factor in airline crashes is so good.  Reminds me of one of my favorite podcasts ever (listen, David Greene!), 99% Invisible on the Automation Paradox.

10) Thought this on disappearing hotel “do not disturb” signs and what’s driving it was pretty interesting.

11) Every 1990’s TV commercial ever.  Pretty much.

12) Ezra Klein’s 12 thoughts on the “shithole shutdown.”

2.  Republicans have a natural advantage in a shutdown because they care less how well the federal government works, and the parts of government they care most about — like the military and immigration enforcement — are exempted….

12. Taken in its entirety, the “shithole shutdown” is the perfect encapsulation of governance in the Trump era: dysfunction and chaos driven by anger and fear toward America’s changing demographics, and the congressional GOP’s cowardly acquiescence to Trump’s ever-shifting demands.

13) Naturally, Trump’s appointee to oversee government service programs is an absolutely atrocious human being.

14) Alas, also naturally, prosecutors in New Orleans repeatedly kept on prosecuting people even when it was clear they had the wrong guy.

15) Michael Tomasky on Trump’s shithole enablers.

16) It’s the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive.  Julian Zelizer on how it undermined faith in government. Coincidentally, I r-watched Platoon this week (streaming on HBO Go, for you fellow subscribers) for the first time since 1986 (I think).  Thought it held up pretty well.  David certainly liked it and led to some great discussion about the Vietnam War.

Besides the damage that Tet imposed on Johnson, the surprise attack and the revelation that the administration had vastly oversold the prospects for success were a severe blow to public confidence in American government leaders to tell the truth and to do the right thing.

The right also took its own lessons from Tet and other parts of the increasingly critical wartime coverage, namely that the media could not be trusted. As reporters focused on Tet as evidence of failure, hawkish Democrats and Republicans were quick to note, rightly so, that the U.S. counter-offensive had been successful. Johnson felt this way and tried to hammer away on the point that the media was misrepresenting what happened. For decades, coverage of Tet would remain to conservatives a symbol of why the “liberal establishment” could not be trusted to give the public a realistic assessment of national security issues.

17) Loved this Edutopia piece about how making an extra effort to really get to know students in a Nevada school district is paying dividends.

18) Army National Guard officer analyzes the repeated tactical failures of the Resistance in the Star Wars movies.

19) Sam “I’ll eat a bug” Wang and Brian Remlinger with a great explainer on gerrymanders.

20) How are we not talking at all about the fact that a presidential campaign paid hush money to a porn star during the campaign??!!  This, more than about anything, is a testament to how Trump continuous and shocking bad behavior has inured us to his awfulness.  Michelle Goldberg:

In any other administration, evidence that the president paid hush money to the star of “Good Will Humping” during the election would be a scandal. In this one it has, so far, elicited a collective shrug.

Liberals, in general, can’t work up much outrage, because the encounter between Trump and Daniels was by all accounts consensual. And few social conservatives are interested in criticizing the president, since they’ve talked themselves into a posture of hardheaded moral realism in order to justify their support for him. In 2016, for example, Bennett himself condemned “Never Trump” conservatives for their “terrible case of moral superiority.”

If there’s a significant scandal, it will lie in the origins of the $130,000, or in other encounters Trump has covered up. There’s a sentence in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It comes toward the end, when Steve Bannon is praising Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz: “Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them.”

If it turns out there were payoffs to hide non-consensual behavior, there may be an uproar. But sleeping with a porn star while your wife has a new baby, then paying the porn star to be quiet? That’s what everyone expects of this president. [emphasis mine]

 

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The mainstream media failed me; Drum didn’t

I’ll admit to not reading in detail every last article on the looming government shutdown, but nowhere did I come across any explanation for why the 60 votes were needed in the Senate.  I couldn’t remember this in the past, but, this type of parliamentary procedure in Congress stuff is where my attention from politics flags at times.  Anyway, nice simple explanation from Drum today that seems like I should have come across in all the articles I read in the Post and the Times:

Probably never. But it’s worth pointing out why it’s happening now. It’s because budgets are normally handled via reconciliation, which allows the majority party to pass a budget with only 51 votes. This year, however, Republicans decided to use the 2017 reconciliation bill for repealing Obamacare and the 2018 reconciliation bill for passing their tax bill. So there’s nothing left, and that means they need 60 votes in the Senate.

Lots of people will suffer if the government shuts down because Trump is insisting on a huge increase in the military budget and a wholesale change to immigration laws. But it will mostly be the poor who suffer, and the rich already have their tax cut. So I guess it’s all good.

Russia hacking and the weakness in American democracy

This piece from political scientist Henry Farrell is really, really good:

It is not surprising that Russia is trying to use social media against the United States. The real puzzle is why these operations are succeeding so well.

As soon as Russian leaders figured out a decade ago how to counteract online agitating and organizing in their own country by, to quote the New Yorker’s Adrian Chen, “seeding doubt and paranoia, and destroying the possibility of using the Internet as a democratic space,” they began to weaponize these techniques for use against populations abroad, spreading confusion in Ukraine, the Baltic republics, the Nordic democracies, France, Germany, and, eventually, the United States. The evidence suggests, however, that Russia’s operations have always been poorly organized and opportunistic. Sometimes, they are laughably inept. Fake posts developed for use in the United States, for instance, are often written in bad English. Russia’s reported spendingon Facebook advertising was a pitiful trickle compared to the torrents of cash spent by both the Trump and Clinton campaigns to influence voters.

Russian online influence operations nonetheless seem to be working better against the United States than other countries. Research suggests that Russia’s “MacronLeaks” operation was far more successful in attracting the attention of English-speaking alt-right activists than French voters. Germany, too, seems to have been better able than the United States to shrug off efforts to shape its political conversation.

Russia’s relative success in the United States is not thanks to the unique strategic insight of Putin. It is because Russian operatives have chanced upon real weaknesses in U.S. democracy, and American elites are unintentionally giving them a helping hand. While France and Germany have their own social divisions, they do not face the specific problems that America faces.

In America, more than in most other Western countries, there is a basic failure of democratic knowledge. In a well-functioning democracy, citizens agree broadly on facts and have some trust in the democratic system, allowing democracy to harness different perspectives and put them to good use. In America, in contrast, distrust and profound disagreements over facts have led to a kind of crisis of democratic knowledge that leaves democracy open to outside manipulation.

Over the last two decades, the common knowledge of American democracy has been undermined. As Alexis de Tocqueville warned could happen, the structures of shared knowledge are being weakened by democratic politics itself. Politicians — especially on the right — have cast doubt on sources of authority such as science and government, telling their supporters that they shouldn’t trust experts… [emphasis mine]

Yet when people with different perspectives stop sharing a common basis of knowledge, democracy is liable to pull itself apart. Parties become enemies rather than competitors. When people stop trusting any institutions, they are likely instead to start thinking that the democratic process is rigged, and to pin their hopes instead on cranks and conspiracy mongers.

And, of course, social media makes this all so much worse.  Very thought-provoking read.

 

On Aziz and consent

Insofar as, among other things, there seems to be a real generation gap on responses to the whole Aziz Ansari imbroglio, you’ll not be surprised to find that I’m more sympathetic to the arguments of Aziz’s older female defenders, like Caitlin Flanagan.  I actually found out about Flanagan’s take as she was a trending topic on twitter from all the Millennial feminist pushback, arguing that Flanagan was a defender of sexual assault.  Now, I think it is pretty clear that Azari did not act in the way you would want someone to in a sexual encounter, but that certainly doesn’t make it sexual assault. Anyway, I did like this part of Flanagan’s post:

Was Grace frozen, terrified, stuck? No. She tells us that she wanted something from Ansari and that she was trying to figure out how to get it. She wanted affection, kindness, attention. Perhaps she hoped to maybe even become the famous man’s girlfriend. He wasn’t interested. What she felt afterward—rejected yet another time, by yet another man—was regret. And what she and the writer who told her story created was 3,000 words of revenge porn. The clinical detail in which the story is told is intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari. Together, the two women may have destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.

Now, that probably goes too far in defending Ansari who seems to have not simply failed to provide affection and kindness, but also seems to have acted some level of inappropriate in the whole matter.  But, I don’t think acting like a jerk should result in this kind of public shaming (and I’d agree with Jon Ronson that we way over-use public shaming).

Also liked this take from NYT’s Bari Weiss:

If you are wondering what about this evening constituted the “worst night” of this woman’s life, or why it is being framed as a #MeToo story by a feminist website, you probably feel as confused as Mr. Ansari did the next day. “It was fun meeting you last night,” he texted.

“Last night might’ve been fun for you, but it wasn’t for me,” she responded. “You ignored clear nonverbal cues; you kept going with advances. You had to have noticed I was uncomfortable.” He replied with an apology.

Read her text message again.

Put in other words: I am angry that you weren’t able to read my mind.

It is worth carefully studying this story. Encoded in it are new yet deeply retrograde ideas about what constitutes consent — and what constitutes sexual violence.

We are told by the reporter that the woman “says she used verbal and nonverbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was.” She adds that “whether Ansari didn’t notice Grace’s reticence or knowingly ignored it is impossible for her to say.” We are told that “he wouldn’t let hermove away from him,” in the encounter…

I am a proud feminist, and this is what I thought while reading the article:

If you are hanging out naked with a man, it’s safe to assume he is going to try to have sex with you…

Aziz Ansari sounds as if he were aggressive and selfish and obnoxious that night. Isn’t it heartbreaking and depressing that men — especially ones who present themselves publicly as feminists — so often act this way in private? Shouldn’t we try to change our broken sexual culture? And isn’t it enraging that women are socialized to be docile and accommodating and to put men’s desires before their own? Yes. Yes. Yes.

But the solution to these problems does not begin with women torching men for failing to understand their “nonverbal cues.” It is for women to be more verbal. It’s to say, “This is what turns me on.” It’s to say, “I don’t want to do that.” And, yes, sometimes it means saying goodbye.

The single most distressing thing to me about this story is that the only person with any agency in the story seems to be Aziz Ansari. The woman is merely acted upon…

The article in Babe was met with digital hosannas by young feminists who insisted that consent is consent only if it is affirmative, active, continuous and — and this is the word most used — enthusiastic. [emphasis mine] Consent isn’t the only thing they are radically redefining. A recent survey by The Economist/YouGov found that approximately 25 percent of millennial-age American men think asking someone for a drink is harassment. More than a third of millennial men and women say that if a man compliments a woman’s looks it is harassment.

To judge from social media reaction, they also see a flagrant abuse of power in this sexual encounter. Yes, Mr. Ansari is a wealthy celebrity with a Netflix show. But he had no actual power over the woman — professionally or otherwise. And lumping him in with the same movement that brought down men who ran movie studios and forced themselves on actresses, or the factory-floor supervisors who demanded sex from female workers, trivializes what #MeToo first stood for.

I think it is this whole idea of what is consent that is really bothering me.  Is “enthusiastic consent” ideal for a sexual encounter?  Sure.  We should aim for that as a society– especially in the ambiguous and fraught situations in today’s hook-up culture.  But humans consent to things all the time unenthusiastically, begrudgingly, or tacitly, among other adjectives.  Those types are not ideal for a sexual encounter, but they are still consent.  So, as a cultural matter, sure we should aim for the ideal that sexual consent should be clear and enthusiastic.  On a totally realistic level, though, human behavior is complicated and people will consent to sex without enthusiasm or clear verbal assent for a variety of reasons.  And to argue that those encounters constitute sexual assault is to diminish genuine, non-consensual, sexual assault.

The right way to do Voter ID?

A lot to like in this proposal by voter turnout expert, Michael McDonald.  And, as with so many things, the rest of the modern world has already pretty much figured out how to make this work:

I propose a national identification card to be issued by the government to all citizens of the United States when they turn 16. This identification would serve not only as required voter identification when someone reaches voting age, it would also serve as their voter registration. There are many benefits to this proposal, including one that should appeal to Trump: reinforcing a virtual wall to better track who is and is not an American citizen.

Many democracies around the world have national identity cards, while experiencing no ill tendencies towards authoritarianism. Indeed, my proposal echoes one made by former president Jimmy Carter. Following the 2000 election, the Carter-Baker commission issued a number of recommendations, including voter identification if — and this is an important condition — all persons are given identification.

Having the government take responsibility for voter registration is actually a very old idea. It is how elections were run during America’s first century as a country. Local governments created lists of the people who owned property or paid taxes, which defined the eligible voters.

Making the government responsible for registering voters again would solve many election administration problems. True universal registration would obliterate the burden on individuals to register, and to re-register whenever they move. Numerous studies find reducing voter registration costs increases voter turnout. Democracy works best when its citizenry is engaged.

As much as anything, national ID cards tend to freak out privacy advocates.  But, unsurprisingly, I’m very much in agreement with McDonald on this:

With many competing entrenched interests, introducing a national identification card is a controversial proposition. And yet in our modern technological world of big data and connectivity, the government and corporations already have a detailed profile of you unless you live in a hut and grow your own food. A national identification card would not impinge on people’s privacy and it could do a lot of good — by reducing election costs, increasing voter turnout and improving the integrity of our elections. [emphasis mine]

Not perfect, and yes there would be some downsides, but arguably far better than what we’re currently doing.  If those voter ID types were really about something other than voter suppression, they would get on board with a proposal like this.  I’m not holding my breath.

You can be a moron, and not demented

Chait with the best take I’ve seen on Trump’s mental status:

Trump is not actually suffering a severe mental impairment. White House doctor Ronny Jackson, who has served in the post since 2013, informed reporters on Wednesday that the president is in fine physical and mental health. The report comes as the national media has discussed whether Trump’s functional near-illiteracy, minuscule attention span, and narcissistic pathos are the symptoms of dementia or some other kind of cognitive incapacitation. We should take Jackson’s diagnosis at face value. Trump is just an idiot.

The evidence of this appears almost daily, primarily from Trump’s own allies (who, in the main, have access to him). It is impossible to report accurately on the state of immigration talks without accounting for the fact that literally nobody believes Trump holds a clear understanding of the issue, and therefore lawmakers share a belief that he can be manipulated by anybody he speaks with…

Trump’s supporters have taken the news of his successful physical examination with a reputable doctor as vindication. Never has a president won such frenzied praise for being declared dementia-free…

But while Trump’s behavior may not be medical symptoms of a debilitating mental disease, it is clear evidence of a mind that’s totally unfit for the presidency. What excuse does he have for his behavior?

Indeed.  Honestly, given that Trump really did some to have far greater fluency with the English language decades ago, it was not unreasonable at all to wonder if he’s not in early-stage dementia.  This test would seem to indicate he’s not.  But he is still transparently, observable, stupid.  You don’t have to be a physician to see in his every-day behavior that this man has sub-optimal cognitive ability.  You can have an IQ of 80, presumably, and still get an 80 on a test intended to measure dementia.

And, of course, to add further evidence of his plain old lack of intelligence, he does not even seem to really understand what the cognitive assessment actually showed.  Josh Marshall:

“I guess they all realized they were going to have to leave it to a President that scored the highest on tests,” he told Reuters in an interview.

 He was presumably referring to his doctor telling White House reporters Tuesday that Trump had aced the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which includes tasks like naming animals underneath pictures of them, identifying one’s current location and drawing clock hands.

The test is useful in assessing dementia patients or stroke victims, Vox reported.

It measures cognitive function and is not a psychiatric or psychological exam,Trump’s doctor specified.

Of course, if Trump actually were smart, he would get that not demented ≠ high IQ.

Now, we don’t need a president to be brilliant or even significantly above average.  That said, it sure would be nice to have a president seemingly intelligent enough to understand his own policies and able to handle briefings of more than one bullet-pointed page.

Photo of the day

Am I the only one who cannot resist a good fox photo?  Another from the Atlantic photos of the week gallery:

A fox walks through a cemetery at dusk on January 10, 2018, in Bath, England. Although the number of foxes in the UK is actually on the decline, according to a recent study the number of urban foxes in England has quadrupled over the past 20 years with an estimated 150,000 foxes in England, or about one for every 300 urban residents. 

Matt Cardy / Getty
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