Quick hits (part II)

1) I don’t usually agree with Brett Stephens, but I profoundly agree with his central point in his column about Northam:

He may have done something ugly and dumb many years ago, when he was a young man and prevailing notions of socially permissible behavior were uglier and dumber than they are today. In the face of a political and reputational disaster he has stumbled badly in explaining himself. If he weathers the scandal, it will mainly be because all of his potential successors have grave compromises of their own.

In the 35 years between those two points he has, by all appearances, lived an upstanding life without a hint of racial bias. If we are going to embrace a politics where that’s not enough to save a sitting governor accused of no crime, we’re headed toward a dark place.

That’s because we believe that our worst moments and dumbest utterances shouldn’t define us. That our youthful behavior is more of a reflection of what is around us than a representation of what’s inside. That we deserve to be judged by the decency of our intentions and the totality of our deeds. That we are entitled to a presumption of innocence, a measure of forgiveness, a sense for our times, and multiple opportunities for redemption. [emphasis mine]

2) It’s really kind of amazing the way the Supreme Court’s conservatives are so willing to blatantly and transparently ignore the first amendment’s admonition against favoring a religion when that religion is Christianity.

3) Interesting take on Northam– he’s the first actual Southerner Virginia has had for governor in over two decades.

4) Shockingly to nobody but Susan Collins, Brett Kavanaugh believes in neither precedent, Roe v. Wade, (or honestly the need for logic in Supreme Court opinions).

5) Great piece on media bias from Peter Hamby, “The ultimate bias in journalism is not political. It’s toward controversy, gaffes, and scandal—shiny new things that get ratings and shares and downloads. There’s a rather obvious lesson here for Democrats seeking the White House—and for media elites who are tragically out of touch with how Americans actually consume the news.”

6) As I have to keep telling my students, money is far from the most important thing in interest group influence.  Of course, the NRA is super-influential, but even lots of spending does not necessarily get them what they want, “NRA Spent Record Amount Lobbying Congress, With Little to Show.”

7) Jonathan Rauch and Peter Wehner, “Republicans Got Us Into This Mess, and They Have to Get Us Out of It”

The most troubling — and from our point of view the most disappointing — development of the Trump era is not the president’s own election and subsequent behavior; it is the institutional corruption, weakness and self-betrayal of the Republican Party. The party has abandoned its core commitments to constitutional norms, to conservative principles and even to basic decency. It has allowed itself to be hijacked by a reality television star who is a pathological liar, emotionally unsteady and accountable only to himself. And Republicans have embraced presidential conduct that, had it been engaged in by a Democrat, they would have denounced as corrupt, incompetent and even treasonous.

We disagree with those who think that Mr. Trump’s removal by his own party would weaken democratic accountability; if anything, the opposite is true. The United States has only two major political parties, and it needs both to be healthy, rational and small-d democratic. They are our system’s most durable and accountable political institutions and they comprise its first and most important line of defense against political demagogues and conscience-free charlatans. By reasserting its institutional prerogatives — by setting limits to the depredations and recklessness it will accept — the Republican Party would be acting to deter hijackers in the future. In doing so, it would defend our democracy, not weaken it.

8) Late-term abortions back in the news these days.  It’s important to remember that the vast majority of these abortions (which are a tiny fraction of the overall number) are due to horrible birth defects and genuine threats to the mother.  My mom had a friend who was had two pregnancies with anencephaly (do the Greek on that) and it was a pretty horrible experience.

9) Lamar Alexander sounds like he’s making sense on college student loans.  Maybe I’m missing something.

10) Even with the polar vortex January was unusually warm.

11) If you want to talk about “bad faith” when it comes to Republicans and budget deficits, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than Mick Mulvaney.

12) Jelani Cobb on Northam:

Yet there were other reasons that warranted taking a pause before calling for Northam’s resignation. The governor ran on a progressive platform that included free community college, greater access to health care, criminal-justice reform, a fifteen-dollar-an-hour minimum wage, and a rollback of voter-suppression laws in the state. Every one of those things would have disproportionately benefitted the black residents of Virginia. The yearbook photograph is indisputably terrible. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a monument that commemorates the victims of lynching and racial terrorism in America, lists more than four thousand black people who lost their lives to recreational murder in the South. No person who has even the dimmest recognition of what happened to those victims could find humor in a Klansman’s robes. Yet the more salient question, one that could not be answered in the clamor for Northam’s immediate ejection, was how his moral sensibilities had evolved in the intervening three decades.

The odds are high that a fifty-nine-year-old white Southerner would have grown up in a climate of ambient racism. The odds are also high that such a person might never find reason to publicly renounce that past. There is, however, an important tradition of white Southerners—Lillian SmithHarper LeeHowell RainesDiane McWhorter, and, more recently, Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans—publicly grappling with the racist legacy of the region and their own efforts to move beyond it to discover a broader recognition of humanity. (The late Robert Byrd, who served for more than fifty years as a senator from West Virginia, spoke openly about the wrongheadedness of his youthful membership in the Klan.) The example of Landrieu, a possible Presidential candidate in 2020, is particularly instructive. In 2017, he delivered a widely praised speech in which he not only called for the removal of racist monuments from city property in New Orleans but also explained the need to reject the warped view of history that had led to their erection in the first place. Northam’s situation was far more self-interested, but he nonetheless had, for a moment, space to address his prior actions in a way that might have at least been thought-provoking. But no.

13) I’m familiar with dynamic range in photography, but had never really thought about it in popular music.  Turns out the music of today is just plain louder with a much more limited dynamic range (and lots of cool charts here to prove it).

14) I do like that Democrats are pushing hard and bold on environmental policy.  But, I’d like it even better if the plans they pushed were more carefully thought through.  Chait on the Green New Deal:

Enacting an aggressive climate-change policy faces two large obstacles. The first is that every aspect of the policy contains a multitude of knotty technocratic challenges. It entails developing programs to wring carbon emissions out of the power sector, buildings, transportation, agriculture, and changing laws at the federal, state, and local levels. The difficulties faced by the long-developing bullet train in California, a state entirely controlled by Democrats, show how challenging it can be to carry out reforms that require buy-in from lots of stakeholders.

The second problem is political. Any national-level response quickly runs into the fact that, even if Democrats gain full control of government in 2021, and even if they abolish the filibuster or find a way to design a bill that can get around it, they will need the votes of moderate or conservative Democrats from fossil-fuel-producing states. The overrepresentation of oil, gas, and coal-producing areas in the Senate helped kill a modest energy tax under Bill Clinton, and a more ambitious cap and trade program under Barack Obama.

Also, adding in the part about paying for people unable or unwilling to work has the potential to be pilloried by Republicans for ages.

15) I also found this twitter thread on the matter to be a super-interesting way of looking at the underlying issues.

16) If we really believe in rehabilitation and redemption, than even former murderers should be able to work as attorneys.  I’d hire him.

17) Found this 538 feature on young, influential, anti-capitalist Democrats to be pretty interesting.  Personally, like Elizabeth Warren, I just think we need to do capitalism a lot better.

18) And speaking of Warren, I enjoyed Krugman’s take on the seriousness of her ideas:

Which brings me to the case of Elizabeth Warren, who is probably today’s closest equivalent to Moynihan in his prime.

Like Moynihan, she’s a serious intellectual turned influential politician. Her scholarly work on bankruptcy and its relationship to rising inequality made her a major player in policy debate long before she entered politics herself. Like many others, I found one of her key insights — that rising bankruptcy rates weren’t caused by profligate consumerism, that they largely reflected the desperate attempts of middle-class families to buy homes in good school districts — revelatory.

She has also proved herself able to translate scholarly insights into practical policy. Full disclosure: I was skeptical about her brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I didn’t think it was a bad idea, but I had doubts about how much difference a federal agency tasked with policing financial fraud would make. But I was wrong: Deceptive financial practices aimed at poorly informed consumers do a lot of harm, and until President Trump sabotaged it, the bureau was by all accounts having a hugely salutary effect on families’ finances.

And Warren’s continuing to throw out unorthodox policy ideas, like her proposal that the federal government be allowed to get into the business of producing some generic drugs. This is the sort of thing that brings howls of derision from the right, but that actual policy experts consider a valuable contribution to the discussion.

Is there anyone like Warren on the other side of the aisle? No. Not only aren’t there any G.O.P. politicians with comparable intellectual heft, there aren’t even halfway competent intellectuals with any influence in the party. The G.O.P. doesn’t want people who think hard and look at evidence; it wants people like, say, the “economist” Stephen Moore, who slavishly reaffirm the party’s dogma, even if they can’t get basic facts straight.

19) Josh Marshall throws some cold water on the Medicare-for-all cheerleaders:

Much of the debate is being carried on on the basis of polling and claims about public opinion that are highly misleading and in some cases intentionally so.

The point is simple. When you poll “Medicare for All” or “a national universal coverage plan” you get anywhere from clear to overwhelming majorities of public support – numbers ranging sometimes into the 60s or even 70s percentages. But when you add a range of the most obvious counters or negatives of such a plan, support drops dramatically.

For instance, if you ask about support for Medicare for All if respondents heard it would “eliminate health insurance premiums and reduce out-of-pocket health care costs for most Americans” you get 67% support and 30% opposition. But if you say it would “eliminate private health insurance companies” support drops to 37%. If you say that it would “require most Americans to pay more in taxes” that also pulls support down to 37%. (These numbers are all from this poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation from last month.)

Now there are good and clear rejoinders to both these criticisms, especially the second. Yes, it would lead to higher taxes. But certainly for the average American those new taxes would be less than the amount of money they currently pay in health insurance premiums. But this gets to a bigger point about politics. You never get to manage a political fight by defining the question entirely on your own terms or un-rebutted. Your opponents get to do the same. Some of those counter arguments will just be baseless or false and they need to be countered as such. With Medicare for All you will almost certainly hear Republicans talking about rationing, death panels, socialism and the like. Medicare for All would probably still include private health insurance providers offering supplementary plans as they currently do with Medicare for seniors. Some version of that exists in most countries with a national health care system. But it would almost certainly eliminate, either in practice or in law, health care plans as we currently know them, plans that provide a single source of reimbursement or coverage for all medical care…

My point here isn’t to throw cold water on the whole effort or demoralize people who see Medicare for All moving to the center of the national debate. But it is a mistake to pretend it’s wildly popular or will be wildly popular in an actual political or legislative debate. Because that’s deeply misleading. It also leads to other confusions. Are Democratic leaders resisting the push for Medicare for All because they’re neo-liberal shills or corrupt weaklings? Or is it because they realize it’s much more political challenging than supporters claim. It may be a bit of each. But people are substantially understating the latter possibility.

20) Chait makes a nice case for an inheritance tax, “An Inheritance Tax Is Democrats’ Best Weapon Against Trump’s Oligarchy.”

21) Flipping channels the other night and “Out of Sight” was on.   Ended up watching the whole thing for the first time in the 20 years since it came out.  Damn that’s a good movie.

22) And, of the newer variety, loved the documentary Three identical strangers.”

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