Why Republicans should want a carbon tax

Because it’s getting hot as hell in here and this is one policy lever that could really help a lot.  As Wired puts it, “The Climate Apocalypse Is Now, and It’s Happening to You”

WHAT PEOPLE SAY they know about climate change is a roller coaster of human ignorance—wait, everyone knows that but no one knows that? It’s striking to learn (according to Yale’s climate survey program) that 74 percent of women and 70 percent of men believe climate change will harm future generations of humans, but just 48 and 42 percent, respectively, think it’s harming them personally.

It is, of course, in lots of ways. Yet fewer than half of Americans think climate change is a right-here, right-now problem. So it’s critical that a new report on the impact of climate change is about the present as much as the future. The topline results: 157 million more people experienced a heat wave in 2016 than in 2000—12.3 million Americans. That heat and the injuries that can come from it cost the world 153 billion hours of labor—1.1 billion in the US. The geographic range of the mosquitoes that carry dengue fever, Zika, malaria, and chikungunya is spreading. So is the range of the bacterium that causes cholera. Global crop yield is going down.

You’re like, old news! But you might be thinking of last week’s apocalyptic climate-is-broken report. That was volume 2 of the fourth National Climate Assessment. Today’s red alert is the 2018 Lancet Countdown, a British medical journal’s annual accounting of how climate change affects public health.

There are no magic bullets and a carbon tax is no magic bullet, but it sure might help us innovate some better bullets.  Catherine Rampell on the Republican idiocy on this due to their “no taxes ever!” approach and their lip service at best to the reality of global warming:

Yet, as expected, Republicans instead offered multiple, sometimes contradictory cop-outs for why they plan to do nothing. (None of their excuses are related to the fact that the fossil-fuel industry donates big money to the GOP, of course.)..

Alternatively, some Republicans suggest that, yes, the planet may be warming and, yes, humans may be the reason, but it’s too darn expensive to do much more than we are…

Which brings me to Republicans’ final, most confused excuse yet for ducking the most critical policy challenge of our time: The private sector will fix the problem for us, if only we leave markets alone to innovate.

“I think it’s clear that [the climate is] changing and it’s clear that humans are a contributing factor,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think the real question, though, becomes what do you do about it?  Because you can’t legislate or regulate your way into the past. We have to innovate our way into the future.”…

Here’s the thing. Taxing carbon is exactly how you get faster innovation. That’s kinda the point.

carbon tax prices in, upfront, the hidden costs of burning fossil fuels, including pollution and the warming of the planet. In the near-term, a carbon tax disincentivizes the purchase of carbon-intensive products, of course. But over the longer-term, it also increases demand for — and thereby incentivizes the development of — cleaner, less-carbon-intensive technologies. If you want to accelerate innovation in batteries, electric cars, solar, wind, etc., a carbon tax is a no-brainer.

Additionally, if Republicans truly want to walk the walk on reducing “excessive government regulation,” there’s plenty for them to do. There are tons of regulations and subsidies that  encourage use of fossil fuels — and slow down innovation in greener technologies… [emphasis mine]

All of which is to say that prioritizing innovation and the cutting of red tape are not actually an excuse for inaction on climate change. In fact, they’re key to the solution.

A carbon tax should absolutely be a bipartisan solution to beginning to seriously address climate change.  The fact that Republicans are so wholeheartedly opposed, unfortunately, tells us just how intellectually bankrupt they are on public policy right now.

Surely the best political solution is right in the middle

Or not.  This great tweet I saw yesterday

reminded me of this recent Paul Waldman column on the intellectual bankruptcy of “centrists:

Though Penn’s actual role in No Labels is a matter of some dispute, as a nominal Democrat apparently determined to help the GOP whenever he can, he is an exemplar of the kind of cynical politics the group seems to embody.

But that’s a characteristic of centrism more broadly, since it can fairly be characterized as an ideology free of its own ideas. Centrism only exists in relation to the right and the left; if both of them moved in one direction, centrists would have to move as well. Unlike, say, a libertarian, a centrist has no fixed ideas; it’s not until you tell him what the right and left believe that he can tell you where he stands.

And in Congress, centrist Democrats in particular often seem to see as their purpose as less solving problems than making sure the solutions aren’t too progressive. You may recall how when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, centrist senators such as Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson seemed to luxuriate in having everyone beg for their vote, and would only release it once they acquired enough concessions to infuriate liberals. Lieberman in particular was centrist to the core; a few years before he had advocatedletting people over 55 buy in to Medicare, but when he realized liberals liked the idea, he said that if it were included in the ACA he’d join the Republican filibuster and kill the entire bill…

That kind of thing is why being a centrist is different from being a moderate. A moderate may agree with liberals at some times and with conservatives at others; a centrist is more committed to the fantasy that our problems have easy solutions if we’ll just put aside our party labels and get together to “solve problems.” But the idea that there are non-ideological solutions to our problems, solutions everyone will embrace if only they can throw off their team colors, is just wrong. Not in every case, but in most of them. When we decide how our economy should work or how our health-care system should be set up or whether we should pollute the air and water, we have to make not just practical judgments but value judgments too. [emphasis mine]

And there’s a reason why liberals like me find centrists far more exasperating than conservatives do. Not only does the centrist position usually seem to be four parts conservatism to one part liberalism (look at the No Labels policy agenda if you doubt), but centrists take Republicans at their word when they’re plainly operating in bad faith. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a centrist organization whose goals usually just happen to dovetail with the Republican desire to cut entitlement spending, once gave Paul Ryan an award for his commitment to fiscal responsibility, despite his regular advocacy for deficit-increasing tax cuts for the wealthy. It was the budgetary equivalent of Henry Kissinger getting the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2016, No Labels thanked Donald Trump (along with a few other candidates) for taking its Problem Solvers Promise and proving how committed he was to solving problems.

Sure, sometimes the best solution really is between the two parties, but what’s nuts is that the “centrist” take is to pretty much always assume it’s there.  For example, if Democrats said lead in the water is bad and Republicans said it was fine, you’d have centrists arguing for modest amounts of lead in the water.  That’s still not good!  And, oh, those people (especially journalists) who claim, “well, both sides get mad at me so I must be right.”  Sometimes, but maybe they are just really really wrong on multiple dimensions.

Anyway, yes, sometimes the solution really is between what Democrats and Republicans are proposing, but assuming that splitting the difference is the best policy is just the most facile of political thinking.


The thing about Cohen’s revelations

Serious legal analysis over at Lawfare.  If you want to get into the weeds of what this all means, I suspect you could not do better.  That said, this nugget near the beginning is the key as far as I’m concerned:

In effect, Cohen admitted in court on Thursday that even as Russian operatives were hacking Democratic emails and getting ready to dump emails through Wikileaks, even as Trump was publicly praising Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, even as the Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr. took place in the summer of 2016, the Trump Organization—with Trump and his family very much in the know—was negotiating to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The Trump Organization was negotiating—or, at least, trying to negotiate—this deal with the Kremlin itself. And Cohen has admitted that he lied to Congress about this history to protect Trump politically. [emphases mine]

Before we dive into the weeds, let’s pause a moment over this. Because in important respects, the legalities—or illegalities—at issue here are secondary points. The primary point is that this is all utterly unacceptable. That a large swath of the public, and the legislative branch, has chosen to accept it does not make it more reasonable that a man seeking to be president of the United States would at the same time publicly cozy up to a foreign dictator and negotiate with his regime over a potential business opportunity—and then cover it all up. The story is likely to get worse.

Damn.  This should be a very big deal.  But, at this point, it seems like Republicans are ready to excuse pretty much anything short of Trump being a serial killer (and heck, if he was killing homeless people, who knows).

Also really enjoyed this analysis from former federal prosecutor, Ken White, at the Atlantic:

The third remarkable thing about Cohen’s plea was its substance. The president of the United States’ personal lawyer admitted to lying to Congress about the president’s business activities with a hostile foreign power, in order to support the president’s story. [emphasis in original] In any rational era, that would be earthshaking. Now it’s barely a blip. Over the past two years, we’ve become accustomed to headlines like “President’s Campaign Manager Convicted of Fraud” and “President’s Personal Lawyer Paid for Adult Actress’s Silence.” We’re numb to it all. But these are the sorts of developments that would, under normal circumstances, end a presidency…

And that’s not all. Cohen’s plea is only one shoe dropping in a boot warehouse. Who else lied to Congress about the pursuit of a hotel deal in Russia? Donald Trump Jr.? Did the president himself lie about it in his recent written answers to Mueller’s questions? (His lawyers claim that his answers matched Cohen’s.) Even if the pursuit of the hotel deal wasn’t criminal (and there’s no evidence that it was), everyone in Trump’s orbit who made statements about it—whether under oath or in interviews with the FBI—is in jeopardy today.

They’re not just in danger from Mueller, either. In just weeks, a Democratic majority will take over the House of Representatives. Control of committees will shift, and subpoenas will fly like arrows at Agincourt. Each hearing will present new terrible choices: Take the Fifth, tell uncomfortable truths, or lie and court perjury charges? Each subpoena is a new chance for frightened Trump associates to make new bad decisions like the ones that have felled Cohen and Manafort and Gates and Flynn and Papadopoulos.

What happens from all this?  Who knows.  But I think Matt Glassman’s take is pretty compelling:


How well do political ads work?

Tough to say.  Next post.

Seriously, though, I love this innovative experiment using on-line conducted by my friend Alexander Theodoridis along with John Henderson.  They write up their research and results nicely here:

But, what types of political ads are voters most likely to watch or avoid? And how do two core features of campaign advertisements – negativity and partisan source – factor into the choices of viewers?

In an article appearing in the current issue of Political Behavior, we answer these questions with results from a novel survey experiment. Our study exploits the fact that many on-demand video platforms (such as YouTube) give viewers the option to skip an advertisement after a few seconds. Knowing that many online survey respondents are likely familiar with this feature, we replicated it during the 2012 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a nationally representative internet survey fielded by YouGov. Subjects were randomly shown a negative or positive campaign ad from either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney and were allowed to skip after 5 seconds. We recorded the length of time each respondent watched the ad and then provided an opportunity to replay it, share it with friends on social media, or request a link to similar ads.

Our most consistent and striking finding is that the propensity to watch ads depends predominantly on their party source. Both sides seem to be more willing to skip ads from the other party, but Republicans do so much more consistently. Republican respondents were far less likely to watch any Obama ads, while Democrats behaved more heterogeneously. We also see that partisan screening is more pronounced for behaviors that require more effort, such as requesting to share ads on social media. Rather surprisingly, given the conventional wisdom that negative advertising attracts eyeballs, we find that advertising tone does not meaningfully influence watching, skipping, or sharing behaviors. [emphasis mine]

Of course, imagine how much we could learn from looking at the actual behavior of people watching YouTube ads.  Anyway, pretty cool stuff.  And an interesting knock on the idea that negative ads are the most potent.

Monopoly world

David Leonhardt on the “monopolization” of America.  This is not good.

Of course, monopolies and other corporate giants have fought back against these assaults on their power, and sometimes succeeded for years or decades at a time. It happened during the age of Rockefeller and Morgan. Over the past 40 years, it has happened again.

The federal government, under presidents of both parties, has largely surrendered to monopoly power. “The ‘anti’ in ‘antitrust’ has been discarded,” as the legal scholar Tim Wu puts it in his new book, “The Curse of Bigness.” Washington allows most megamergers to proceed either straight up or with only fig-leaf changes. The government has also done nothing to prevent the emergence of dominant new technology companies that mimic the old AT&T monopoly.

This meekness has made possible the consolidation of one industry after another. For a long time, though, it’s been hard to figure out precisely how much consolidation. The available statistics just aren’t very good, which isn’t an accident. In 1981 — around the time that the Reagan administration was launching the modern pro-monopoly era — the Federal Trade Commission suspended a program that collected data on industry concentration.

Fortunately, researchers in the private sector have recently begun filling in the gaps. On Monday, the Open Markets Institute — an anti-monopoly think tank — is releasing the first part of a data set showing the market share that the largest companies have in each industry. You can see the main theme in the charts here: Big companies are much more dominant than they were even 15 years ago.

Short version: this is not good for anybody, but the damn monopolists.  Also, this is not some inevitably, but the result of policy choices (the wrong ones).  Time to make the right ones:

The beginnings of this movement are now visible. Top Democrats believe that anti-monopolism can be a political winner for their party. It’s a way to address voters’ anxiety over high drug prices, digital privacy and more. “The control of business over certain segments of the economy,” says Senator Amy Klobuchur of Minnesota, a potential presidential candidate, “I think it will be a much bigger thing going into 2020.”

Klobuchar has offered a good bill that would raise the legal standards for merger approval. But preventing future mergers won’t be enough. Eventually, the government will probably need to break up existing giants, as it did to the old AT&T and Standard Oil. One obvious candidate is Facebook, which has gobbled up Instagram, WhatsApp and other businesses.

And corporate bigness doesn’t need to be a partisan issue. Senator Mike Lee of Utah is among the Republicans who have expressed concern about it. Conservatives, after all, are supposed to care about the ideals that monopolies undermine — like market competition, economic dynamism and individual freedom. Ultimately, monopolies aren’t only an economic problem. They are also a political one.

“We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few,” Louis Brandeis, the Supreme Court justice and anti-monopoly crusader, said a century ago, “but we can’t have both.”

I think this is, potentially, a winning issue for Democrats and they should really push it.  Alas, I suspect Mike Lee is a bit of an outlier.  If there is one thing that has become quite clear about the majority of Republican politicians in recent years is that they are not “pro market” in any meaningful sense, but overwhelmingly “pro big corporation.”

Quick hits (part II)

1) So, I was never a big fan of “The Breakfast Club,” but my son actually had to watch it for a college class and it’s currently free on Netflix, so…  Still not a big fan.  I enjoyed this piece which states the basic premise of the film is “all parents suck.” That’s probably a big reason it never did much for me, or for my son, yesterday, for that matter.  And OMG is Judd Nelson’s character so absurdly annoying and unsympathetic.  Also, this Molly Ringwald piece about her looking back on her movies in the #metoo era is pretty awesome.

2) “Do more cops in schools make them safer? New study looking at NC schools says no.”

3) Peter Beinart on Nancy Pelosi’s excellent leadership skills.  Yes, Democrats need a new generation of leaders, but for now, we sure can’t do anywhere near as good as Pelosi from someone else.

4) The Psychology replication crisis grows ever worse.

5) Many for-profit universities are basically a giant scam and the Obama administration tried to do something about that.  Alas, Betsy DeVos is undoing all that.

6) Oh man, the new climate report is dire.  Interesting that the Trump administration wanted it released on one of the days of the year when Americans pay the least attention to news.

7) I’ve hated the electoral college for pretty much my whole life as a political scientist (largely, because in practice it leaves determining our president to a small fraction of Americans in swing states).  I had no idea that an amendment to end it actually passed the House in 1979 before failing in the Senate.  Anyway, really great look at the history of efforts to end the electoral college. 

8) The Department of Education has new rules to give more rights to the accused in matters of sexual misconduct on campus and restore a semblance of due process.  Somehow, the ACLU has totally lost its way and is actually against due process in these matters.  Conor Friedersdorf:

The ACLU doesn’t object to any of those due-process protections when a person faces criminal charges. Indeed, it favors an even higher burden of proof, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” to find an individual guilty.

But the ACLU opposes the new rules for campuses. “Today Secretary DeVos proposed a rule that would tip the scales against those who raise their voices. We strongly oppose it,” the organization stated on Twitter. “The proposed rule would make schools less safe for survivors of sexual assault and harassment, when there is already alarmingly high rates of campus sexual assaults and harassment that go unreported. It promotes an unfair process, inappropriately favoring the accused and letting schools ignore their responsibility under Title IX to respond promptly and fairly to complaints of sexual violence. We will continue to support survivors.”

One line in particular was shocking to civil libertarians: It promotes an unfair process, inappropriately favoring the accused. Since when does the ACLU believe a process that favors the accused is inappropriate or unfair?

Not when a prosecutor believes she has identified a serial rapist, or a mass murderer, or a terrorist. In those instances, it is the ACLU’s enemies who declare that crime is alarmingly high and reason that strong due-process rights therefore make the world unacceptably unsafe. It is the ACLU’s enemies who conflate supporting survivors of violent crime with weakening protections that guard against punishing innocents. Those enemies now have the ACLU’s own words to use against it.

9) When the government basically says, “don’t go to that island at all, the isolated indigenous people will probably try to kill you.”  You probably shouldn’t, even if you think they really need to learn about Jesus.  Fascinating story about a misguided missionary and a remote, isolated tribe on an island near India.

10) So glad our previous governor, Pat McCrory, is no longer in office.  In a recent interview he falsely claimed that NC college students were breaking the law in voting where they go to school.  Good on the N&O for calling this out in the headline.  This is how you do it, “Former Gov. Pat McCrory falsely says many college students are committing voter fraud.”

11) Just finished “Big Mouth” season 2.  So profane and so funny.

12) Drum asks, “When Will Conservatives Admit That Racism Exists?”

13) My colleague Jim Zink on the need to amend North Carolina’s amendment process:

North Carolinians just approved four of the six proposed amendments on this year’s ballot. Now, they will have to wait and see exactly what some of those amendments do. This is because, unlike almost all amendments on the ballot over the last 30 years, this year’s amendment proposals were not accompanied by any implementing legislation. Most of the important details about how the amendments work will be hashed-out during the lame-duck legislative session after Thanksgiving.

But what if voters who supported the amendments don’t like how they are implemented?

This scenario highlights a weakness in North Carolina’s amendment process. As things currently stand under the North Carolina Constitution, all amendment proposals are referred to voters by the General Assembly; it acts as the gatekeeper to the amendment process. North Carolinians who don’t like how these amendments are implemented or are otherwise troubled by unintended consequences, therefore, would have to convince their representatives, many of whom were responsible for approving and implementing the amendments in the first place, to adjust or repeal the measures. It would be a real challenge to persuade enough legislators to reconsider: proposals to repeal the amendments or to alter them in order to guide the legislature’s implementation of them would have to first gain the support of three-fifths of all members in each house of the General Assembly before being submitted to voters for approval.

One reform that could mitigate some of these issues is to incorporate a citizen initiative process into North Carolina’s amendment procedures. The details of the process vary from state to state, but generally the 18 states that provide for citizen-initiated amendments require initiative-backers to obtain support (usually in the form of signatures) from a specified percentage of the general population or voters.

14) Really interesting NYT feature on how China is defying the standard model by still manufacturing really cheap consumer goods while also moving into high-end, sophisticated production:

China wants to build homegrown champions in cutting-edge industries that rival Western giants like Apple and Qualcomm. While China has a long way to go, the Communist Party is bringing the full financial weight of the state and forcing other countries to play defense.

In doing so, China is staking out a new manufacturing model.

Economic textbooks lay out a common trajectory for developing nations. First they make shoes, then steel. Next they move into cars, computers and cellphones. Eventually the most advanced economies tackle semiconductors and automation. As they climb up the manufacturing ladder, they abandon some cheaper goods along the way.

That’s what the United States, Japan and South Korea did. But China is defying the economic odds by trying to do all of them.

Look at the evolution of what China sells to the rest of the world. As it ramped up its manufacturing engine in 2000, China was pretty good at making basic products like toys and umbrellas.



Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting experience this week.  Posted an “action shot” of me teaching on social media and was informed by a FB friend and former student that one of the students in the photo was possibly making a white power symbol.  Whoa.  Had no idea this was a thing.  For the record, the student says it was the circle game.  Anyway, interesting experience and I certainly learned some things.

2) Yglesias makes a good case.  Sure, a few years ago we would all say Beto for President is ridiculous, but in 2018 America, why the hell not?

It didn’t really make sense, in a traditional analysis, for a little-known House member from El Paso to run for Senate in Texas, and it certainly didn’t make sense for small donors to pour huge sums of money into a long-shot Senate campaign.

But pour the money they did, and while O’Rourke lost, the Texas Democratic Party made enough gains down the ballot that most of the people who pitched in seem to feel pretty good about themselves. And they feel good about Beto, a candidate who inspires an unusual degree of enthusiasm among the Democratic Party faithful.

The template would, obviously, be Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, in which a young, good-looking, charismatic politician known for his compelling speeches and pretty blah normal Democratic Party ideology set aside questions about what he’d actually accomplished as a senator and set his sights on the White House. Except O’Rourke doesn’t even have modest senatorial achievements to inflate because he’s not a senator at all. Which makes the whole thing vaguely ridiculous.

Except, again, the fact that it doesn’t quite seem totally ridiculous tells us a lot about the state of politics as we enter the 2020 presidential cycle. It’s a moment when it seems like anything is possible, but where Democrats are frustrated by the simultaneous emergence of a huge field of potential candidates and the absence of a true political superstar.

3) I don’t know that Student Evaluations have no value in assessing college teaching, but as currently used, probably pretty close and they need to be fairly dramatically re-imagined:

Review of syllabi and classroom observation by peers are both more “useful means of evaluating,” he said. “And I think asking students how engaged they were in the class — and especially if they also ask why — gets “better input from them than the standard questionnaire.”

Ken Ryalls, president of The IDEA Center for learning analytics and a publisher of SETs, told Inside Higher Edearlier this year that not all evaluations are created equal.

“Our advice: Find a good SET that is well designed and low in bias; use the data carefully, watching for patterns over time, adjusting for any proven bias, and ignoring irrelevant data; and use multiple sources of data, such as peer evaluations, administrative evaluations, course artifacts and self-evaluations, along with the student perspective from SETs,” he said via email.

4) This compilation of “offensive” phrases not to use at work (shared by a friend on social media) is the sort of thing that gives liberals a bad name.  Sorry, I will keep saying “peanut gallery,” “no can do,” and “rule of thumb.”

5) In light of Ivanka’s emails, Yglesias reminds us of how Hillary’s emails really did dominate the 2016 campaign:

If that sounds far too boring and unimportant to have conceivably dominated the 2016 presidential campaign, then it is difficult to disagree with you. And yet the facts are what they are. Indeed, by September 2015 — more than a year before the voting — Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza had already written at least 50 items about the email controversy.

Email fever reached its peak on two separate major occasions. One was when Comey closed the investigation. Instead of simply saying “we looked into it and there was no crime,” Comey sought to immunize himself from Clinton critics by breaking with standard procedure to offer extended negative commentary on Clinton’s behavior. He said she was “extremely careless.”

Comey then brought the email story back to the center of the campaign in late October by writing a letter to Congress indicating that the email case had been reopened due to new discoveries on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. It turned out that the new discoveries were an awfully flimsy basis for a subpoena, and the subpoena turned up nothing.

This all still sounds unimportant, but it was not at the time:

Critically, one useful function of email-based criticism of Hillary Clinton was to pull together the Trumpian and establishment wings of the Republican Party. That’s why it served as the central theme of the 2016 Republican convention, allowing the likes of Scott Walker and Rick Perry to deliver on-message speeches rather than clashing with Trump’s message.

6) Really solid Pro Publica feature (here in the N&O) on the history of hog farm lagoons in NC and efforts at finding a better way.  Honestly, it’s really pretty simple– pay just a little bit more for pork and dispose of the waste in a more environmentally responsible way.

7) Interesting column from Frank Bruni about the fact that, of course, physical attractiveness matters for political candidates, but we rarely talk about it.

Etcoff’s research suggests that people read such positive characteristics as competence, trustworthiness and vigor into someone’s attractiveness, and she told me that this might have special political relevance in our present age of saturation imagery.

8) Interesting Vox interview, “The biggest lie we still teach in American history classes”

Sean Illing

According to your book, the biggest lie we are taught in US history class is that the country started out great and we’ve just been getting better ever since.

But on a long enough timeline, isn’t this partially true?

James Loewen

It’s true enough. My problem is the implication that progress is automatic, which it most certainly isn’t. Second, the idea that we’re always getting better keeps us from seeing those times when we’re getting worse.

Consider the period of 1890-1940, when race relations got systematically worse every year. America actually got more racist in its ideology than at any other time in history. After slavery, white people convinced themselves that there were equal opportunities, which was a lie. They told themselves that black people were criminals and incompetent and unable to succeed.

The point isn’t that life was better for people under slavery; it’s that the story of moral and political progress isn’t so clear. And when we pretend that it is neat and clear, we cause teachers to teach and students to think that progress happens automatically, and that destroys the impulse to change things — to become an activist.

9) Honestly, I love most biscuits.  Sure, some are better than others, but it’s rare biscuit that I don’t enjoy.  Anyway, apparently, southern biscuits really are better and it is about White Lily flour, only available in the South.

10) This was a really interesting story about the decline of Victoria’s Secret since it’s business model is based on women’s underwear that appeals to men, rather than to the actual women that wear them.  A lot harder to pull off in modern America.

11) Enjoyed learning about “explosive odor-pursuit dogs” and how they were deployed in NYC for Thanksgiving.

12) The Chicago hospital shooting and our domestic violence problem:

The story, unfortunately, is a familiar one. Fifty-four percent of shootings with four or more victims are related to domestic or family violence, according to the group Everytown for Gun Safety. And many shooters, from Ian David Long, who killed 12 people and himself at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, on November 7, to Scott Beierle, who killed two women and himself at a Florida yoga studio less than a week prior, have a history of domestic disputes, domestic violence, or hateful rhetoric toward women.

Domestic violence, unfortunately, is common throughout the world. But ready access to guns in the United States makes it more likely that abuse will turn into mass murder. “The prevalence of guns in this country coupled with the prevalence of domestic violence leads to fatalities,” said Jennifer Payne, an attorney with Chicago’s Legal Assistance Foundation, which offers free legal aid to people in poverty, including domestic violence survivors.

Federal law prohibits people convicted of domestic violence from buying guns. But because of loopholes and inconsistent laws at the state level, many abusers own guns anyway. Closing those loopholes would go a long way to breaking the connection between domestic violence and gun homicide.

“We know this is an incredibly common form of intimate partner violence, and we know how to stop it,” said Phoebe Kilgour, a spokesperson for Everytown. All that’s needed is the political will to actually do so.

13) Love this from McSweeney’s, “If people talked to other professionals like they talked to teachers.”

“I’d love to just play with actuary statistics all day. That would be so fun! I bet you don’t even feel like you’re at work!”

– – –

“You’re a sanitation worker, huh? I hated my garbage collectors when I was growing up. One of them once yelled at me when I stood directly in front of their truck and kept it from completing its appointed rounds, and ever since then I’ve just loathed all of them, everywhere.”

14) Nate Cohn takes a look at how well the polls fared in 2018.  Some pretty interesting conclusions:

It was a good year for polls. This time, they got the basic story of the election right: a Democratic House and a Republican Senate. And on average, the final polls were closer to the results than any election in a decade. Best of all, the polls were relatively unbiased, meaning that one party didn’t systematically overperform or underperform its final poll results.

But while the big picture is much better than in 2016, when the polls systematically underestimated Donald J. Trump in the battleground states, some details are eerily similar. The geographic distribution of polling error was much like in 2016, even though the average poll wasn’t particularly biased at all…

Even though the polls were pretty accurate in the aggregate, there were points during election night — as the Republicans beat the polls in Indiana, Missouri, Florida, Tennessee and Ohio — that briefly felt like 2016 all over again.

The geographic distribution was similar; so was the party that did better than expected. Less significant, but still notable, is that the polls underestimated Democrats in several states where they also underestimated Democrats in 2016, like California, New York and Nevada.

15) I like this take on over-thinking identity politics in the Democrats’ 2020 choice:

Enter CNN’s latest power ranking. Kamala Harris has been deemed “the new Democratic front-runner.” Why? As a “nonwhite woman, Harris looks like the Democratic Party base these days.” The list is full of hot takes that dangerously revolve around identity and not much else. Golden boy Beto O’Rourke, arguably the most exciting figure in the Democratic Party, is ranked a lowly 10th, because he’s “a man running in a party becoming dominated by women.” Julián Castro is ranked seventh, in part because of “the rising influence of Hispanic voters within the Democratic coalition.” Joe Biden “is a white male.” Sorry, Joe! Elizabeth Warren is “a woman in a party that was nominating women at a record pace in 2018.” And Mike Bloomberg’s biggest vulnerability seems to be that he’s “a white guy from N.Y.C.”—not the more glaring political handicap that he’s Mike Bloomberg and it’s the year 2018.

Make no mistake: thanks to Trump, the issue of race matters more in political campaigns than at any time since the 60s. This is especially true among younger voters who are coming of age when cultural combat feels like the dominant vocabulary of our time. Race also matters in a Democratic primary. A Democrat cannot win the nomination without establishing a durable connection with African-American voters, as Bernie Sanderslearned painfully in 2016. Race is an inescapable riptide as we look ahead to the presidential race. But as the term “identity” creeps more and more into our elite political conversation, the complexities of race and gender risk being sanded down into glib pundit-speak, power ranking-style, with little correlation to real-world behavior. People might have a tendency to vote according to their identity in general elections, but the idea that blacks vote for blacks and whites for whites and women for women cannot possibly be mapped onto a Democratic primary that will be historic in its size, diversity, and unpredictability. Moreover, it’s an idea that ignores how voters actually behaved at the polls just more than one week ago.

This is what creeping authoritarianism looks like

Front of NYT right now:

Good God!  And thank goodness we are going to have Democrats in control of the House.  Republicans have done almost nothing to stand up to this awfulness.  You want to know what a president eroding the rule of law looks like?  Look no further.

To impeach or not to impeach?

Interesting debate been going on about this.  My current take: 1) Trump probably does deserve to be impeached based on information we already know about how he’s conducted his presidency.  2) The fact that he deserves to be impeached doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.  3) I’m open-minded on this point, but as of right now, it should not be an emphasis of the Democratic party.  That could and may well change.  4) I suspect many have over-learned the impeachment lessons of Bill Clinton.  Clinton lied about having sex.  Trump is clearly abusing the powers of his office.  Big difference.

Chait with the don’t impeach, but investigate like hell approach:

While we can’t predict the future with any certainty, we can assume a Nixonian end to the Trump presidency is an extremely remote possibility. The House can impeach by a majority vote, but removing the president from office requires 67 senators, which means at least 20 Republicans. Trump’s influence over the party’s elected officials is growing, and its center of gravity is moving asymptotically toward Trump’s candid observation that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue without losing any support. Democrats largely recognize the near-impossibility of removal and have internalized the pointlessness of impeaching the president to no effect. We can likewise assume with reasonable confidence that, as many lawyers have argued, the president cannot be indicted while in office.

So what’s the point of all the investigation? The point is to establish legal accountability for the president. Well-functioning democracies don’t have criminal oligarchies running the country with legal impunity. The kind of deep systemic corruption Trump is implementing, in which establishing a political alliance with a ruling family is a key step in amassing and protecting wealth, depends on selective legal enforcement. More to the point, it requires business partners. Maybe Donald Trump can’t be hauled off to prison, but his partners can. And that prospect can scare off the collaborators Trump needs.

Second, and more to the point, even if Robert Mueller can’t kick Trump out of the White House directly and the Senate won’t, there’s a body of people who can: the 2020 electorate. And the Trump investigations are building a powerful case that will be brought to bear on that election…

The public has not absorbed the reality that Trump has surrounded himself with criminals and continued to use his position for personal profit. Democrats will have the opportunity to undermine his pseudo-populism and portray him as a creature of the swamp, and the parade of convictions and indictments will be a convincing backdrop to this theme. [emphasis mine]

Most of this information has been filtered through the prism of impeachment, and thus turned into a story about Democrats potentially overreaching or following a quixotic strategy. It should be viewed more realistically as the shaping of a dismal news environment for Trump. The already-unpopular president is looking at two years of perp walks, incriminating testimony and — at best! — a series of suspicious presidential pardons. He barely managed to win the presidency as a brash, controversial novelty. He will have to win it a second time as a known crook.

Brian Beutler says, impeach:

There’s a reason this isn’t happening, though, and it isn’t because Democrats have played coy about impeachment. Democrats have been at pains to convey their misgivings about it. Their protestations have done nothing to waft away the pall of impeachment because the country’s political elite, and large swaths of its general population, know that Trump is historically corrupt, and has committed a variety of impeachable offenses—that he deserves to be impeached, even if the political will to impeach him and remove him from office hasn’t materialized on its own.

It is foolish and potentially dangerous for Democrats to imagine they can avoid the impeachment question in perpetuity, particularly if they intend to do the kind of vigorous oversight they’ve promised. What we’ve already learned about Trump through non-oversight channels is incredibly damning and leaves little doubt that Democrats will unearth misconduct that makes Richard Nixon look clean and cautious by comparison. It’s actually hard to imagine that Democrats won’t eventually reach a crossroads where they must choose between forging ahead with impeachment unilaterally and explaining why Trump’s impeachable offenses will go unpunished.

They should not fear this or get mind-gamed into assuming that impeachment can’t be anything but a trap for them. It’s easy if ahistorical to assume the public will view impeaching Trump as overreach, and punish Democrats if they go down that path alone. It’s just as easy to imagine that impeaching Trump in the House—with or without Republican support, or any hope of convicting him in the Senate—will become a no-brainer…

Democrats’ plain reluctance to treat impeachment as a viable remedy to this profound corruption has already emboldened Trump. During the campaign, he raised the specter of impeachment gleefully, imagining it would both motivate his supporters to vote, and cow Democrats into pushing the threat of impeachment further to the margin…

Why wouldn’t he do these things, particularly if he’s guided by the sense that Democrats will refuse to impeach him so long as Republicans refuse to convict and remove him?

There is a better alternative to letting Republicans dictate the terms of House Democrats’ power, but it would require Democrats not to over-learn the lessons of the 1990s…

The broader point is that nothing’s written. Trump isn’t Bill Clinton, House Democrats aren’t House Republicans, Robert Mueller isn’t Ken Starr, and the Russia conspiracy isn’t the Lewinsky affair. There is no iron rule of politics that says impeachment without removal is always pointless or politically damaging, so there’s no reason to forget or assume anything. The politics of the 2010s and the 1990s are similar in some ways, but not in most. Things might play out much the same way, and yet completely differently, this time around.

Good points all around.  I say, wait and see, but, sure, do not take impeachment off the table.


Should you double major?

Probably not says David Leonhardt.  Hmmm, I was pretty happy with my double major in PS and History and I rarely advise against it with my students, so what’s the story?

I understand why many students are tempted to double-major. They have more than one academic interest. When I was in college, I briefly thought about double-majoring in my two favorite subjects, math and history. (Instead, I spent much of my time at the college newspaper and barely completed one major — applied math.)

But the reality is that many students who double-major aren’t doing it out of intellectual curiosity. The number of double majors has soared in recent years mostly because students see it as a way to add one more credential to their résumé. What’s even better than one major? Two majors!

A-ha!  I double-majored out of intellectual curiosity and that’s what I see out of the students I know who do this.  As for the others?

Except that it’s not. Most students would learn more by creatively mastering a single major — and leaving themselves time to take classes in multiple other fields. “Double majoring,” as Jacqueline Sanchez, a Wellesley College student, wrote in a recent op-ed for her campus paper, “ultimately prevents students from exploring many different disciplines.”

Hmmmmm, again.  Normally with Leonhardt I expect some data or takes from genuine experts.  Not op-eds from college students.  My take: if even one of your majors is liberal arts, you are going to experience a wide array of fields.  No matter the institution, liberals arts degrees pretty much always require that.  So, if you add an Economics major to your PS major, sure, you may not get as much chance to take Sociology or French literature, but you’ll still be required to take History, English, Science, Math, etc.

I actually found the non-double major portion of Leonhardt a lot more interesting:

Yesterday afternoon in Dallas, David Coleman — the president of the College Board, which administers the SAT, A.P.’s and other tests — gave a speech in which he took on the credentials arms race. I want to turn the rest of today’s newsletter over to an excerpt from that speech:

“We should also reframe extracurricular activities. Applications for college have as many as 10 spaces for students to fill out with activities outside of class. How about three? Let’s say to students: ‘Share 1 to 3 things you are devoted to outside your classwork. If you want to do more than three things outside of class, that’s great, but not to get into college.’

The College Board needs to say a similar thing about taking A.P. courses. We have data that taking up to five A.P. courses over the course of high school helps students complete college on time. But there is no evidence that excessively cramming your schedule with A.P. classes advances you. Let us say to students, ‘If you would like to take more than 5 A.P. courses because you love the class, do so, but not to get into college.’

“We all need to be careful when we say to students take as many rigorous courses as possible. May I say instead, please don’t. Take the time to focus and do a few things well — and enjoy the golden time of high school. [emphasis mine]

“It is better for all students to make the path to college simpler and shorter. When applying to college becomes an endless list, it hurts low income students most.”

Yes!!  Now that, I whole-heartedly endorse.  Would love to see actual changes in the college admissions process that backed this up.

All the other stuff we need to fix

So, in class last week I was lucky enough to have DJC as a guest speaker.  We talked a lot about the fact that there’s plenty we need to fix with our elections besides gerrymandering.  The truth is that we massivelyPost under-invest in election administration and equipment and this is a real problem.  Great piece in the last week, “What’s the matter with Florida?” where the point is that what’s the matter with Florida is the matter with most states.  Good stuff.  And really, just pathetic that we cannot find the political will (and, yes, one side is more to blame) to invest in, literally, a proper-functioning democracy:

First, we allow interested parties — not neutral officials — to oversee the electoral process. It may seem absurd that Florida’s chief law enforcement officer, Gov. Rick Scott, who is also the Republican nominee in the Senate recount, is in a position to allege crimes by election officials, attempt to seize voting machines and dispatch state troopers to try to intervene in the post-election dispute. But a similar spectacle has been unfolding for months next door in Georgia…

Second, we claim to revere democracy, but too often we entrust the conduct of elections to amateurs and incompetents, with dated technology and far too little quality control. In Florida, the machine recount struggled in Palm Beach County, not because of underhanded maneuvers but because old machines overheated from processing so many ballots. The greatest question in the Senate election dispute between Scott and the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson, is almost 30,000 ballots in Broward County that recorded a vote for the state agriculture commissioner but no vote for the Senate. This improbable scenario is explained either by misprogrammed tabulation machines or a poorly designed ballot. The Senate race’s outcome may depend on which option turns out to be true. The fact that either is possible is an indictment of how the election was administered…

But again, that’s not just in Florida. While some election misadministration (such as inadequate numbers of voting machines in targeted areas) appears to be a deliberate effort to suppress the vote in minority communities, much Election Day mayhem is caused by systems that are poorly run and underfunded. No matter how much we hail democracy on the Fourth of July, come November, elections are just another government service: In communities where thin budgets and lax leadership produce scant bus service, slow ambulance response times and unkempt parks, we should not be surprised to find confusing ballots, bad instructions at the polls and slow vote tabulation. [emphasis mine]

Finally, the democracy-undermining rhetoric coming from Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) in Florida — equating vote counting with voter fraud — is by no means unique to Florida. Republicans fearing recounts launched similar attacks last week in Arizona, California and Georgia. There was at least one bright spot in Arizona: Martha McSally, the Senate GOP candidate, graciously conceded defeat in a close election, becoming a minor hero for doing what had been, until recently, the electoral norm.

It’s a depressing litany.  On the bright side, at least one party is beginning to take the issue seriously.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Andrew Gelman on why the blue wave was bluer than you think.

2) What happened when the Dominican Republic ended birthright citizenship.

3) Great profile of a Ohio Democratic candidate and the difficulty of turning working-class Ohio, back to blue.

4) This Economist piece on how polygamy leads to civil wars was fascinating:

 Wherever polygamy is widely practised (in South Sudan, perhaps 40% of marriages involve multiple wives) turmoil tends to follow. The 20 most fragile states in the world are all somewhat or very polygamous. Polygamous nations are more likely to invade their neighbours. The polygamous regions of Haiti and Indonesia are the most turbulent. One London School of Economics study found a strong link between plural marriage and civil war. How come?

Polygamy nearly always means rich men taking multiple wives. And if the top 10% of men marry four women each, then the bottom 30% cannot marry at all. This often leaves them not only sexually frustrated but also socially marginalised. In many traditional societies, a man is not considered an adult until he has found a wife and sired children. To get a wife, he must typically pay a “brideprice” to her father. When polygamy creates a shortage of brides, it massively inflates this brideprice. In South Sudan, it can be anything from 30 to 300 cattle, far more wealth than an ill-educated young man can plausibly accumulate by legal means.

In desperation, many single men resort to extreme measures to secure a mate. In South Sudan, they pick up guns and steal cattle from the tribe next door. Many people are killed in such raids; many bloody feuds spring from them. Young bachelors who cannot afford to marry also make easy recruits for rebel armies. If they fight, they can loot, and with loot, they can wed. In a paper published last year, Valerie Hudson of Texas A&M University and Hilary Matfess of Yale found that a high brideprice is a “critical” factor “predisposing young men to become involved in organised group violence for political purposes”. Jihadist groups exploit this, too. One member of Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the attack on Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people, said he joined the organisation because it promised to pay for his siblings to get married. During its heyday the so-called Islamic State offered foreign recruits honeymoons in Raqqa, its former capital. In northern Nigeria, where polygamy is rife, Boko Haram still arranges cheap marriages for its recruits.

5) A friend sent me this link, “Why Do White Women Keep Voting for the GOP and Against Their Own Interests?”

6) But I prefer Conor Friedersdorf on the folly of this conceptual approach.

The conversation that chart provoked captures the distortions of identity politics, as its presently practiced by an influential faction of progressives. Overall, white women in 2018 split their votes evenly between Republicans and Democrats. That Ted Cruz improved substantially on national partisan voting patterns is explained by the composition of the Texas electorate—not by any generalized trait of white womanhood in America…

The votes of white women varied widely by region, religious identity, and educational background, among other salient variables.

To lash out at “white women” based on the CNN chart is to express hostility to the 39 percent of white women in Texas who voted for the Democrat yet get stereotyped with the rest of their cohort, while ignoring the 71 percent of white men, 39 percent of Latino men, 34 percent of Latino women, 16 percent of black men, and 4 percent of black women who voted for the Republican.

The principle at work: Let us judge them not on the content of their votes, but by the candidate who was backed by a majority of the people who share their skin color. In this way, Democrats turn on their own allies.

7) Data analysis of nativist attitudes and the 2018 midterms.

8) I’m not big fan of vaping, but it certainly strikes me as a smart “harm reduction” approach as compared to tobacco cigarettes.  Nice piece in Slate argues that the FDA is over-reacting to a vaping “epidemic.”

9) Christopher Ingraham on what happened when Pennsylvania fixed it’s gerrymander and NC did not.  I think you know the results.

10) Excellent analysis from Yglesias on the implications of Trump’s failure to expand his appeal beyond his base:

Democrats spent the two years since the [2016] election doing what parties that lose do — recruiting a different crop of candidates, opening themselves up to some new activists and internal turmoil, and changing their messaging focus (2018 ads were all about health care, none about Trump being mean).

Trump, meanwhile, spent two years acting as if winning 46 percent of the vote was the greatest achievement in the history of American politics, when in reality, Mitt Romney and John Kerry did better than that and Michael Dukakis did nearly as well. He broke his promise to divest from his business interests, broke his promise to promulgate a health care plan that would cover everybody, and went wildly over the top in breaking his promise to lay off the tweets and behave in a more presidential manner.

Through it all, the press would stop from time to time to remark on how attuned Trump was to his base, and how perfect he was at picking various fights — with the media, with the nation of Canada, with immigrants, with the FBI’s counterintelligence division — that played to his base’s sensibilities.

This was all probably true. (Though, again, wet-noodle Romney got a higher share of the vote.) But it was also somewhat bizarre. Winning the presidency while losing the popular vote 46-48 is within the rules of the game, but it left Trump with a negative margin of error. The math was plain as day that all Democrats had to do was consolidate the people who didn’t like Trump and they’d blow the Republicans out.

But the House GOP seemed confident that their gerrymanders would hold. And then when polling in September and October suggested clearly that it wouldn’t, Trump started ranting about the caravan. The political goal here, we were told, was to rally Trump’s base to come back home, which more or less happened. Except 46 percent of the population just isn’t that many people.

11) I’m already not a big fan of marathons because of the opportunity cost (so much time commitment) and the compelling argument that you should just focus on getting faster at shorter races.  But, fine, I’ll give you your marathon.  Obviously, it means a lot to people who do it.  But the new multi-marathon craze?  Please.

12) I hate how Marco Rubio is such a hack.  Jennifer Rubin, “Two GOP senators: Flake defends democracy, Rubio undermines it.”

13) The Conservative lawyers who are, in theory, sticking up for the rule of law against Trump.

14) I’ve decided that Facebook is basically an evil company, but, I love their product so I’m sticking with it.

15) Derek Thompson on how income inequality explains the decline in youth sports.

The state of youth sports in America is either booming or suffering, depending on which box score you’re checking.

You could follow the money. Kids’ sports is a nearly $17 billion industry, which makes it larger than the business of professional baseball and approximately the same size as the National Football League. Or you could follow the kids. The share of children ages 6 to 12 who play a team sport on a regular basis declined from 41.5 percent in 2011 to 37 percent in 2017, according to a recent report from the Aspen Institute. Going back to 2008, participation is lower across categories, including baseball, basketball, flag football, and soccer, in some cases by a lot: Baseball is down about 20 percent…

But dig into the numbers, and a more complex, two-track story emerges. Among richer families, youth sports participation is actually rising. Among the poorest households, it’s trending down. Just 34 percent of children from families earning less than $25,000 played a team sport at least one day in 2017, versus 69 percent from homes earning more than $100,000. In 2011, those numbers were roughly 42 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

This isn’t a story about American childhood; it’s about American inequality.

16) Pretty interesting case study on how journalists went with a misleading press release instead of the actual science (don’t bother with the fish oil and vitamin D supplements).

17) A new study on low-carb diets says they help you burn more calories.  But, in the end, Ezra’s tweet-length take is exactly right:

Tons of interesting science, findings, and questions in here. But as always, what study after study shows is the best diet is the one you can stick to, not the one that would be best if only you could get yourself to follow it.

18) Loved this Chronicle of Higher Ed interview with Jill Lepore.

Q. America’s founding marked not only a new era of politics, but also a new way of thinking.

When people talk about the decline of the humanities, they are actually talking about the rise and fall of the fact.

A. I call the book These Truths to invoke those truths in the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson describes, with the revision provided by Franklin, as “self-evident” — political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people. But I’m also talking about an unstated fourth truth, which is inquiry itself. Anyone who has spent time with the founding documents and the political and intellectual history in which they were written understands that the United States was founded quite explicitly as a political experiment, an experiment in the science of politics. It was always going to be subject to scrutiny. That scrutiny is done not from above by some commission, but by the citizenry itself.

Q. For democracy to work, of course, the people must be well informed. Yet we live in an age of epistemological mayhem. How did the relationship between truth and fact come unwound?

A. I spend a lot of time in the book getting it wound, to be fair. There’s an incredibly rich scholarship on the history of evidence, which traces its rise in the Middle Ages in the world of law, its migration into historical writing, and then finally into the realm that we’re most familiar with, journalism. That’s a centuries-long migration of an idea that begins in a very particular time and place, basically the rise of trial by jury starting in 1215. We have a much better vantage on the tenuousness of our own grasp of facts when we understand where facts come from.

The larger epistemological shift is how the elemental unit of knowledge has changed. Facts have been devalued for a long time. The rise of the fact was centuries ago. Facts were replaced by numbers in the 18th and 19th centuries as the higher-status unit of knowledge. That’s the moment at which the United States is founded as a demographic democracy. Now what’s considered to be most prestigious is data. The bigger the data, the better.

That transformation, from facts to numbers to data, traces something else: the shifting prestige placed on different ways of knowing. Facts come from the realm of the humanities, numbers represent the social sciences, and data the natural sciences. When people talk about the decline of the humanities, they are actually talking about the rise and fall of the fact, as well as other factors. When people try to re-establish the prestige of the humanities with the digital humanities and large data sets, that is no longer the humanities. What humanists do comes from a different epistemological scale of a unit of knowledge.

19) Interesting essay, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Liberalism.”

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