Quick hits (part I)

1) What to make of Mueller report being submitted even though we don’t know what’s in it?  Just ask Benjamin Wittes.

2) Krugman on the importance of not using “Medicare for all” as a Democratic purity test.  He’s also a fan of Medicare for America:

But even if optimistic claims about Medicare for All are true, will people believe them? And even if most people do, if a significant minority of voters doesn’t trust the promises of single-payer advocates, that could easily either doom Democrats in the general election or at least make it impossible to get their plan through Congress.

To me, then, Medicare for America — which lets people keep employment-based insurance — looks like a much better bet for actually getting universal coverage than Medicare for All. But I could be wrong! And it’s fine to spend the next few months arguing the issue.

3) Yglesias makes the case for 2020 as the year of the woman:

Regardless of what exact role you think misogyny played in the coverage Clinton received and the reactions people had to her, the outcome of the 2016 campaign should not make you think a woman can’t beat Trump. Clinton would’ve won if she’d had slightly better luck. She would’ve won if the state boundaries were drawn slightly differently. She would’ve won if she’d made a couple of smarter decisions in the past. And most important, she would’ve won if the underlying fundamentals were narrowly in her favor rather than narrowly against her.

Nobody knows how promising the fundamentals will be for Democrats in 2020. But if they’re favorable, there’s every reason to think a woman nominee will win, and if they’re not, there’s every reason to think a man will lose.

Women have a good track-record overall

Only one woman has ever been a major-party nominee for president, and that exact same woman is also the only one who (back in 2008) managed to come close to the nomination before falling short. Consequently, it’s inherently difficult to distinguish the misfortunes Hillary Clinton has faced in presidential politics from the misfortunes women have faced.

What we do know from Jennifer Lawless’s 2016 book surveying women who run for Congress is that on average they do just fine. People who run for office get attacked, of course. And when women get attacked, they tend to get attacked in misogynist terms. But on average, women who obtain major-party nominations for Congress do just as well as men. Women were badly outnumbered in Congress itself not because they performed poorly in elections, but because they were much less likely to run in the first place.

4) Max Boot is so fun to read now:

You can debate when the GOP’s road to ruin began. I believe it was more than a half century ago, when Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon showed their willingness to pander to racists to wrest the segregationist South from the Democrats. The party’s descent accelerated with the emergence of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Fox News in the 1990s, of Sarah Palin in the 2000s, and of Ted Cruz and the tea party in the 2010s. There were still figures of integrity and decency such as John McCain, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. But the GOP evinced no more enthusiasm for any of them than it had for George H.W. Bush. With the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the party’s plunge into purgatory picked up momentum.

Republicans now found themselves making excuses for a boorish, ignorant demagogue who had no respect for the fundamental norms of democracy and no adherence to conservative principles. The party of fiscal conservatism excused a profligate president who added $2 trillion in debt and counting. The party of family values became cheerleaders for what Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has witheringly and accurately called the “porn star presidency.” The party of law and order became accomplices to the president’s obstruction of justice. The party of free trade did nothing to stop the president from launching trade wars. The party of moral clarity barely uttered a peep at the president’s sickening sycophancy toward the worst dictators on the planet — or his equally nauseating attacks on America’s closest allies. The party that once championed immigration eagerly joined in the president’s xenophobic attacks on refugee caravans. And the party that long castigated Democrats for dividing Americans by race pretended not to notice — or even cheered — when the president made openly racist appeals to white voters.

Faster and faster went the GOP’s descent into oblivion. Now its bankruptcy is complete. It has no more moral capital left.

5) David Leonhardt, “It Isn’t Complicated: Trump Encourages Violence: He doesn’t deserve blame for any specific attack. He does deserve blame for the increase in white-nationalist violence.

To Trump, the incident was part of a larger problem: “You know, the left plays a tougher game. It’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. O.K.? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

This wasn’t the first time Trump had mused about violence, of course. He has talked about “Second Amendment people” preventing the appointment of liberal judges. He’s encouraged police officers to bang suspects’ heads against car roofs. He has suggested his supporters “knock the hell” out of hecklers. At a rally shortly before 2018 Election Day, he went on a similar riff about Bikers for Trump and the military.

I’m well aware of the various see-no-evil attempts to excuse this behavior: That’s just how he talks. Don’t take him literally. Other Republicans are keeping him in check. His speeches and tweets don’t really matter.

But they do matter. The president’s continued encouragement of violence — and of white nationalism — is part of the reason that white-nationalist violence is increasing. Funny how that works.

After Trump’s latest threat, I reached out to several experts in democracy and authoritarianism to ask what they made of it. Their answers were consistent: No, the United States does not appear at risk of widespread political violence anytime soon. But Trump’s words are still corroding democracy and public safety.

6) I love that New Zealand is making an effort not to use the name of the mass shooter.  Of course, this NYT story about that names him, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

7) Really enjoyed the Theranos/Elizabeth Holmes documentary on HBO.  I really could not get past her absurdly fake deep voice.  I honestly found myself wondering how so many people were taken in by her.

8) The over-priced insulin so wonderfully/awfully symbolizes the rot in health care policy in America:

This month, Eli Lilly and Company announced with some fanfare that it was manufacturing a generic version of its own best-selling insulin brand, Humalog, which it would sell for half off — $137.35 versus about $275.

David Ricks, the chief executive of Lilly, said the company was making this seemingly beneficent gesture because “many patients are struggling to afford their insulin.”

But they’re struggling, in large part, because since 2001 Lilly has raised the price of a vial of Humalog to about $275, from $35. Other insulin makers have raised prices similarly.

In Germany, the list price of a vial of Humalog is about $55 — or $45 if you buy five at a time — and that includes some taxes and markup fees. Why not just reduce the price in the United States to address said suffering?…

Instead, Lilly decided to come out with a new offering, a so-called authorized generic. This type of product is made by or under an agreement from the brand manufacturer. The medicines are exactly the same as the brand-name drug — often made in the same factory with the same equipment to the same formula. Only the name and the packaging are different.

It is perhaps, a sign of how desperate Americans are for something — anything — to counteract the escalating price of drugs that Lilly’s move was greeted with praise rather than a collective “Huh?”

Imagine if Apple sold a $500 iPhone for $250 if it was called, say, a yPhone, and simply lacked the elaborate white box and the little Apple on back. That would be patently absurd. An iPhone in a brown paper bag is still an iPhone. And Humalog with a new name isn’t a generic — except according to the bizarre logic of the pharmaceutical industry. Like so many parts of our health care system, its existence has more to do with convoluted business arrangements than health.

9) Enterprise Rental Car’s take on a college degree is interesting.  Chronicle of Higher Ed, “Why Thousands of College Grads Start Their Careers at a Rental-Car Company.”

To the company, a college degree matters mostly because it suggests that a candidate has acquired the right mix of skills to succeed in an entry-level job — and to move up the ladder from there. Its hiring philosophy and practices — which have been in place for decades — can tell us something important about what a B.A. truly signals.

But the company doesn’t see higher education the way higher education sees itself. Enterprise doesn’t pay much attention to where prospective trainees went to college, what they studied, or their grades. The company does care, though, that they finished college: Trainees are required to have a bachelor’s degree.

Why? The big benefit of a bachelor’s degree is soft skills, says Marie Artim, Enterprise’s vice president for talent acquisition. She ticks off some of the ones that employers often mention: critical thinking, communication, problem-solving. By earning a degree, she says, college graduates have shown that they can juggle different responsibilities by, say, holding down a job or playing a sport while keeping up with their classes.

Graduates have also demonstrated “cognitive ability,” Artim adds: “the ability to learn, and to take on more responsibility, and to lead or manage others.”

To a critic, the idea that a bachelor’s degree is needed to work the front desk of a car-rental office may sound like credential creep. But Enterprise overwhelmingly promotes from within. Its managers and even executives almost always get their start as trainees. Hiring happens at the entry level, and getting it right is really important.

10) The recycling situation in this country is so depressing now.  I’m still recycling everything at home, but sometimes when I’m out and it would be less convenient to recycle, I think “pretty sure this plastic is ending up in a landfill wherever I put it.” Also, the situation is so bad because Americans are pathetic at properly separating their recycling.

11) I loved Netflix’s “Russian Doll.  Binge it!  But, stuff like this in Todd VanDerwerff’s otherwise vary positive review, get me so frustrated with Vox:

A necessary caveat: One of Russian Doll’s executive producers — the fourth name listed in the closing credits, even — is Dave Becky, who used to be Louis C.K.’s manager and who has apologized for his role in the comedian’s cover-up of his sexual misconduct. Becky is still Poehler’s manager and one of Lyonne’s managers, and his company, 3 Arts Entertainment, is still a major force in TV comedy. This does not dampen my enthusiasm for Russian Doll or Lyonne’s performance in it, and I know Becky’s name appearing in the credits is almost certainly the result of some sort of contractual obligation. (That said, his name has been erased from the fifth and final season of Broad City.) But seeing his name did make my gut churn a bit at the end of every episode. You may feel differently!

No, not a necessary caveat!!  This is a terrific show.  The fact that one of four producers used to be Louis CK’s manager?!  Please.  Also, I still listen to Michael Jackson.  It’s really not complicated art ≠ the artist.

12) I could go for this insect bread in Finland.  Probably a little expensive to have Mika send me some, though :-).

13) Like any good Republican, Nikki Haley is pretty clueless on health care.  When she argued that Americans would not like health care in Finland, damn did she get dunked on by all quarters.

14) I love linguistics.  I had one class in college and this is a subject I always enjoy learning about.  This is pretty wild, “How ‘F’ Sounds Might Break a Fundamental Rule of Linguistics: If farming helped introduce f’s and v’s 12,000 years ago, it would challenge the principle that humans’ language abilities haven’t significantly changed since we first learned to speak.”

At least, that’s according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Science. The authors argue that sounds like f and v weren’t part of human language until farming appeared during the Neolithic age. Agriculture, they say, allowed humans to eat soft foods, which changed the way their jaws developed throughout life, which shaped the kinds of sounds their mouths were capable of making.

This shift would be an exception to a core rule of linguistics, called the uniformitarian principle, which posits that humans’ ability to use language has not significantly changed since language itself first appeared. “Basically, the uniformitarian principle is necessary to do historical linguistics,” Anthony Yates, a linguist at UCLA, told me. It’s hard to say when exactly humans started speaking, but most estimates place the date at least 50,000 years ago. Agriculture, meanwhile, sprung up during the Neolithic, some 12,000 years ago. The idea that humans weren’t using f’s and v’s for the first 38,000 years of our linguistic history is a striking rebuke to uniformitarianism.

14) Are we in a podcast bubble?  Maybe.  But so many good podcasts out there.

15) This is a great story about the coaches and players trying to make the most of their opportunities playing basketball at my son’s community college, Wake Tech.

16) Pretty sure Zion Williamson is my favorite college basketball player since I was in college.  Watching Duke play last night, I was thinking more than anything I want Duke to go to the final so I can see Zion play in college five more times.  And, of course, like all great players in any sport, it’s not just physical ability, but the mental ability to read the game at a different level:

A screwy thing to consider is that Zion Williamson might be underrated. He might just be a victim of his own clamorous dunks. His appeal to a thrill-seeking general public might have smothered his appeal to hopeless basketball geeks.

“How he reads the game,” his teammate, Duke junior Jack White, said last weekend during the ACC tournament in Charlotte, when Williamson’s reading stood out. In addition to all the things that caused the points to amass, the rebounds to mount and the highlight editors to coo, Williamson left strewn across the floor what people sometimes call “basketball plays.”

In addition to dunks and rebound-dunks and other dunks, Williamson seems to fill the game with little things that alter its course, with taps and alterations and bright ideas about where to turn up. The least he could do for opponents is care a tad less, yet his care seems also outsized, turning up in all the otherworldly ways but also in those both pedestrian and crucial.

17) Nice piece in the NYT on how our clean environments are not so great for our immune systems and the history of the “hygiene hypothesis”:

Our ancestors evolved over millions of years to survive in their environments. For most of human existence, that environment was characterized by extreme challenges, like scarcity of food, or food that could carry disease, as well as unsanitary conditions and unclean water, withering weather, and so on. It was a dangerous environment, a heck of a thing to survive.

At the center of our defenses was our immune system, our most elegant defense. The system is the product of centuries of evolution, as a river stone is shaped by water rushing over it and the tumbles it experiences on its journey downstream.

Late in the process, humans learned to take steps to bolster our defenses, developing all manner of customs and habits to support our survival. In this way, think of the brain — the organ that helps us develop habits and customs — as another facet of the immune system.

We used our collective brains to figure out effective behaviors. We started washing our hands and took care to avoid certain foods that experience showed could be dangerous or deadly. In some cultures, people came to avoid pork, which we now know is highly susceptible to trichinosis; in others, people banned meats, which we later learned may carry toxic loads of E. coli and other bacteria.

Ritual washing is mentioned in Exodus, one of the earliest books in the Bible: “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not.”

Our ideas evolved, but for the most part, the immune system did not. This is not to say that it didn’t change. The immune system responds to our environment. When we encounter various threats, our defenses learn and then are much more able to deal with that threat in the future. In that way, we adapt to our environment.

We survived over tens of thousands of years. Eventually, we washed our hands, swept our floors, cooked our food, avoided certain foods altogether. We improved the hygiene of the animals we raised and slaughtered for food.

Particularly in the wealthier areas of the world, we purified our water, and developed plumbing and waste treatment plants; we isolated and killed bacteria and other germs.

The immune system’s enemies list was attenuated, largely for the good. Now, though, our bodies are proving that they cannot keep up with this change. We have created a mismatch between the immune system — one of the longest surviving and most refined balancing acts in the world — and our environment.

Thanks to all the powerful learning we’ve done as a species, we have minimized the regular interaction not just with parasites but even with friendly bacteria and parasites that helped to teach and hone the immune system — that “trained” it. It doesn’t encounter as many bugs when we are babies. This is not just because our homes are cleaner, but also because our families are smaller (fewer older children are bringing home the germs), our foods and water cleaner, our milk sterilized. Some refer to the lack of interaction with all kinds of microbes we used to meet in nature as the “old friends mechanism.”

What does the immune system do when it’s not properly trained?

It can overreact. It becomes aggrieved by things like dust mites or pollen. It develops what we called allergies, chronic immune system attacks — inflammation — in a way that is counterproductive, irritating, even dangerous.

18) Doris Meissner in the Post, “The real border problem is the U.S. is trying to stop the wrong kind of migrants.”

he whole approach the U.S. government takes at the border is geared to yesterday’s problem: Our border security system was designed to keep single, young Mexican men from crossing into the United States to work. Every day, more evidence mounts that it’s not set up to deal with the families and unaccompanied children now arriving from Central America — in search not just of jobs, but also of refuge. The mismatch is creating intolerable humanitarian conditions and undermining the effectiveness of border enforcement.

From the 1960s to the early 2000s, the reality of illegal immigration at the southwest border was overwhelmingly economic migration from Mexico. The U.S. responded, especially once the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted tighter security everywhere, by building up a well-resourced, modernized, hardened border enforcement infrastructure, with more staff and more sophisticated strategies. Successive Congresses and administrations under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans have supported major investments in border security as an urgent national priority. About $14 billion was allocated in fiscal year 2017 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a steep rise from $9.5 billion a decade earlier.

From a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in fiscal 2000 — with 98 percent of those apprehended Mexicans — border apprehensions have fallen by about three-quarters, to 397,000 last year. More Mexicans now return to Mexico annually than enter the United States. The turnaround has been dramatic and is due to the combined effects of economic growth, falling fertility rates and improved education and job prospects in Mexico; job losses in the United States surrounding the 2008-2009 recession; and significant border enforcement successes.

At the same time, an entirely different type of migration became more common. Beginning in 2012, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America — principally El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — crossing the border illegally jumped sharply. Modest numbers of such migrants had been arriving for many years. However, by 2014, the arrival of unaccompanied children spiked to more than 67,000 and, for the first time, the number of non-Mexican apprehensions exceeded those of Mexicans.

By 2016, the Central American flows became predominantly families with young children. Some were fleeing their countries in search of economic opportunity, but many were seeking safety and protection from widespread violence and gang activity that especially targets young people approaching or already in their teens…

he whole approach the U.S. government takes at the border is geared to yesterday’s problem: Our border security system was designed to keep single, young Mexican men from crossing into the United States to work. Every day, more evidence mounts that it’s not set up to deal with the families and unaccompanied children now arriving from Central America — in search not just of jobs, but also of refuge. The mismatch is creating intolerable humanitarian conditions and undermining the effectiveness of border enforcement.

From the 1960s to the early 2000s, the reality of illegal immigration at the southwest border was overwhelmingly economic migration from Mexico. The U.S. responded, especially once the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted tighter security everywhere, by building up a well-resourced, modernized, hardened border enforcement infrastructure, with more staff and more sophisticated strategies. Successive Congresses and administrations under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans have supported major investments in border security as an urgent national priority. About $14 billion was allocated in fiscal year 2017 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a steep rise from $9.5 billion a decade earlier.

From a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in fiscal 2000 — with 98 percent of those apprehended Mexicans — border apprehensions have fallen by about three-quarters, to 397,000 last year. More Mexicans now return to Mexico annually than enter the United States. The turnaround has been dramatic and is due to the combined effects of economic growth, falling fertility rates and improved education and job prospects in Mexico; job losses in the United States surrounding the 2008-2009 recession; and significant border enforcement successes.

At the same time, an entirely different type of migration became more common. Beginning in 2012, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America — principally El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — crossing the border illegally jumped sharply. Modest numbers of such migrants had been arriving for many years. However, by 2014, the arrival of unaccompanied children spiked to more than 67,000 and, for the first time, the number of non-Mexican apprehensions exceeded those of Mexicans.

By 2016, the Central American flows became predominantly families with young children. Some were fleeing their countries in search of economic opportunity, but many were seeking safety and protection from widespread violence and gang activity that especially targets young people approaching or already in their teens.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

5 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. Mika says:

    #6 I love the New Zealand Prime Minister’s accent!

    #12 Thinking about the customs officers.
    – “It says here that this parcel contains insect bread. Really?”
    – “Yeah right call the bomb squad.”

    #13 Here’s a nice collection of tweets: https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/finns_hit_back_at_health_care_criticism_from_trumps_ex-un_ambassador/10701537

    Our daughter was born with SGA (small for gestational age) and pulmonary stenosis. SGA is not very common condition so there wasn’t much information available in Finnish. Search and found US discussion forums for parents. What struck me most was that about every second topic was about insurance. “What procedures does your incurance cover?” “Is that procedure really medically necessary if our insurance doesn’t cover it?” And so on. It was almost like the parents were making medical decisions about their children’s care based on what they could afford. That’s cruel.

    Our daughter stayed at the hospital’s observation / intensive care unit for three weeks. After that we had monthly appointments at the maternity clinic because they wanted to check her growth systematically. Free of charge of course like all maternity clinic visits are. Got her needed balloon dilation done to her pulmonary valve when she was five weeks old. Cardiologists did ultrasound to her heart twice later that year.

    If I remember correctly her medical bills for the first whole year were something like $150. The exact number isn’t important. The important point is that we didn’t have think and worry about it. Thank God – the situation was already stressful enough.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Ummm, yeah. That’s health care in America. *Always* wondering if your insurance will give you and your children need to be healthy. My son, Alex, has needed a ton and our plan has always come through, but we have nonetheless had to always worry.

  2. jeffbc94 says:

    I don’t always leave comments, so here’s a few:
    #10 – as someone who manages a public venue, I don’t disagree with you that it’s harder to recycle there than at home. Too many variables in the number of guests and their mindset, as well as in staff who may or may not pull trash and recycling consistently. I see a fair amound of cross-contamination in our bins, and if there are non-recyclables in recycling, the whole load is considered tainted and ends up in landfill. It’s sad.

    #11 – so if CK’s manager is also Amy Poehler’s, is she guilty by association too? Give me a break. That would make any of us complicit for watching and/or laughing at his shows and routines, before we knew about his creepy actions off camera.

    #14 in the “what is a group of owls/crows/pugs called” line, a group of white (bearded) men is often called a podcast.

  3. Nicole K. says:

    7) It took me a lot of effort, practice, and time to start speaking in a higher pitched voice, but the vocal cords are extremely trainable if you work on it. When I’m tired or stressed (or I’m around my parents for some reason) I have noticed that my voice drops to a lower pitch, but it’s still a significantly higher pitch than the one I used to use. I have to actually try pretty hard to speak in my old voice. I realized I had gotten it about right when I stopped getting called ‘sir’ on the phone.

    I wonder what benefit she thought having a deeper voice added to the persona she created for herself.

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