New Year’s Day Quick Hits

Well, I guess I’m back from real-life and blog vacation.  Here goes…

1) Who knows whether Trump made nasty, racist comments about Haitians.  The point is that it is utterly believable, despite White House denials, in a way that it would not be believable from any president in 100 years.

2) Another nice defense of the TV episode from Alan Sepinwall.  I agree heartily.  I enjoyed Stranger Things 2 significantly more than the original, and I think a series of coherent episodes is part of the reason why.

3) I was oddly intrigued by this Washington Post story about a traffic nightmare surrounding a Wendy’s in a triangle in Washington, DC.

4) A call for a new Christian “right to life movement.”  Nice, but honestly, pretty disingenuous.  It’s pretty clear that many Christians are far more interested in condemning the sexual behavior of others than in living the radical ethic of service to others, especially the poor and oppressed, that Jesus so clearly called for:

What Christians need is a new right-to-life movement, one in which we agree to disagree about contentious issues of sexuality and focus instead on what we share, on what we allbelieve. Jesus had nothing to say about birth control or abortion or homosexuality. He did have quite a lot to say about the poor and the vulnerable, and maybe that’s a good place to start.

Surely Christians across the political spectrum believe we’re called to feed the hungry, heal the sick, protect the weak and welcome the stranger. If we can agree on that much, and if we can keep our shrieking differences from wrecking the quiet conviction of shared belief, we could create a culture of life that has a chance of transcending the sex wars. I find myself hoping for a day when conservative Christian voters can elect conservative representatives for whom feeding the hungry and caring for the sick and welcoming refugees aren’t political issues at all.

5) This Orthodox Jewish family’s response to a person marrying outside their faith is pretty much a case study in how religion goes wrong.

6) Matthew Glassman uses the classic political science of Richard Neustadt to explain how Trump is a “dangerously weak” president.

As Neustadt would undoubtedly note, there’s now an amateur in the White House. And through the framework he developed, Trump has had a disastrous first year. His professional reputation is awful. Major figures from his own party routinely criticize his impulsive rhetoric and chaotic management, belittle his intelligence, mock his political ideas, and bemoan his lack of policy knowledge. The White House issues talking points, and high-ranking Republicans simply ignore them. Multiple Republican-led congressional committees are investigating his administration on topics ranging from ethics violations to foreign electoral collusion.

Similarly, the president’s public prestige, measured by approval ratings, is among the worst in the polling age. He entered office with record-low approval, 45 percent, and it has steadily declined into the 30s. No other president has had an approval lower than 49 percent in December of his first year; the average is 63 percent. Such numbers sap Trump’s power to leverage popularity into persuasion. They also depress party loyalists concerned about 2018 and embolden potential primary challengers for 2020.

Some of this presidential weakness is an unavoidable byproduct of a bitter campaign and an election victory in which he lost the popular vote. But Trump has also failed to heed Neustadt’s strategic advice. He’s made simple errors that have damaged his professional reputation and public prestige — and ultimately his power.

7) Watched many movies over my vacation.  Honestly, “The Boss Baby” was one of my favorites.

8) I think DJC (and perhaps others) would be interested in these new books about woolly mammoths.

9) Drum’s sad, but true, headline, “Nursing Homes Violate the Rules a Lot. Trump’s Answer: Get Rid of the Rules.”

10) Somehow missed this back in April, “Escaping Poverty Requires Almost 20 Years With Nearly Nothing Going Wrong.”

And how is one to move up from the lower group to the higher one? Education is key, Temin writes, but notes that this means plotting, starting in early childhood, a successful path to, and through, college. That’s a 16-year (or longer) plan that, as Temin compellingly observes, can be easily upended. For minorities especially, this means contending with the racially fraught trends Temin identifies earlier in his book, such as mass incarceration and institutional disinvestment in students, for example. Many cities, which house a disproportionate portion of the black (and increasingly, Latino) population, lack adequate funding for schools. And decrepit infrastructure and lackluster public transit can make it difficult for residents to get out of their communities to places with better educational or work opportunities. Temin argues that these impediments exist by design.

11) This is really good.  Who won the culture war?  Corporate America (with a giant assist from culturally-resentful Republicans):

The contemporary geographic coalitions of the parties primarily reflect the nation’s roiling cultural conflicts, but the representatives chosen via today’s electoral map are equally polarized over economic policies — and it is pocketbook issues, not social matters, that dominate the business of Congress. Increasingly unfettered by a declining bloc of dissident party moderates from the Northeast and Pacific Coast, ascendant red-state Republicans have prioritized an ambitious conservative economic agenda encompassing regulatory rollbacks, repeal of the Affordable Care Act and substantial cuts to federal taxes — like the tax bill passed last week — and entitlement programs. Departures from this small-government approach, such as the No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D programs enacted during the George W. Bush presidency, have fallen out of fashion among post-Tea Party Republican leaders increasingly devoted to the pursuit of ideological purity.

12) Max Boot’s essay, “2017 Was the Year I Learned About My White Privilege” is fantastic.  Read it!

13) While people were obsessed with Betsy DeVos and K-12, her real potential damage all along was higher education.  One of her passions is making it easier for for-profit Higher Ed to defraud their students.  Seriously.

14) Republican Senator Pat Toomey has been very influential with his tax cuts for rich are always good theology (evidence, of course, strongly suggests otherwise).  Though, I’m unconvinced that his colleagues really needed all that much convincing.

15) Is the problem with the US “the Donald Trump in all of us”?  Not in me, damnit.  Good essay, though, from James Traub:

Perhaps in a democracy the distinctive feature of decadence is not debauchery but terminal self-absorption— the loss of the capacity for collective action, the belief in common purpose, even the acceptance of a common form of reasoning. We listen to necromancers who prophesy great things while they lead us into disaster. We sneer at the idea of a “public” and hold our fellow citizens in contempt. We think anyone who doesn’t pursue self-interest is a fool.

We cannot blame everything on Donald Trump, much though we might want to. In the decadent stage of the Roman Empire, or of Louis XVI’s France, or the dying days of the Habsburg Empire so brilliantly captured in Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, decadence seeped downward from the rulers to the ruled. But in a democracy, the process operates reciprocally. A decadent elite licenses degraded behavior, and a debased public chooses its worst leaders. Then our Nero panders to our worst attributes — and we reward him for doing so.

16) Of course Jeff Sessions wants to put more poor people in jail for being poor.

17) German Lopez on why we should have minimum prices for alcohol.

18) Yglesias on the political lessons of 2017– resistance works:

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act guarantees that the Trump administration will not go down in history as a Carter-esque figure with no policy achievements. And between the large tax cut, the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, and the filling of many lower court vacancies that Mitch McConnell deliberately held open during Barack Obama’s final two years in office, conservative activists can feel that they legitimately got their 30 pieces of silver for lining up behind Trump.

But fundamentally, this is policymaking on easy mode.

Trump has signed fewer bills than any of his recent predecessors, and has gotten nothing at all done that requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. That’s despite the numerous Democratic senators holding down seats in red states who might be persuaded to back a nominally bipartisan bill.

The Affordable Care Act has not been repealed, nor has the Obama administration’s financial regulation overhaul. The Clean Air Act remains on the books, and the Supreme Court decision ruling that the EPA is obligated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions remains the law.

Last winter, the door appeared to be open to Paul Ryan’s vision for comprehensive disemboweling of programs that support low-income Americans, and though Trump’s budget requests indicate that he shares this vision, he’s yet to make any headway in implementing it.

19) Global cities grow in prosperity as smaller cities are being left out.

20) The challenge of two approaches to school desegregation in Dallas.  How much effort should be made to draw in richer white kids?

21) Forget self-confidence, self-compassion is the key.  Though, I wonder if I have an over-abundance of self -compassion.

We live in a culture that reveres self-confidence and self-assuredness, but as it turns out, there may be a better approach to success and personal development: self-compassion. While self-confidence makes you feel better about your abilities, it can also lead you to vastly overestimate those abilities.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, allowing you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view. Both have merits, but many experts believe that self-compassion includes the advantages of self-confidence without the drawbacks.

22) And to wrap things up, the way to keep your New Year’s resolutions is not willpower, but gratitude and compassion:

What these findings show is that pride, gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves. Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use.

If using willpower causes stress, using these emotions actually heals: They slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. By making us value the future more, they ease the way to patience and perseverance.

On that note… I am truly grateful you find my blog worth reading and engaging with the ideas I share here.  And, if you have somehow deluded yourself into thinking Trump is a good president, I have compassion for you :-).  Genuinely wishing the best to all my readers in 2018.

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