Quick hits (part II)

1) Janet Napolitano with Karen Breslau, “Americans Are Seeing Threats in the Wrong Places
Security means teaching the public which dangers are real and which are not. Trump’s rhetoric isn’t helping.”

In the four years I led the Department of Homeland Security, I learned from the inside that the greatest threats to our safety play out differently from how political speeches and news reports might have us believe. True security means educating the public about which dangers are real and likely and which are not. Hours after a man killed more than four dozen people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, President Donald Trump downplayed the threat of violence by white-supremacist groups—and went on to contend that the United States is under “invasion” from the south. In fact, mass shootings are genuine security problems. Natural disasters and cyberattacks are genuine security problems. Undocumented immigrants supposedly running over an open border by the millions and attacking Americans on the streets are not.

In a huge and open nation, there will never be enough money, gates, guns, or guards to run down every potential threat. Homeland security works when we adhere to proven principles of law enforcement, national security, and disaster management, and when we integrate those principles with the best data science and other technological innovations available and update them constantly. We get into trouble when political ideology is thrown into the mix. A stubborn or willful misreading of the threat environment leads to poor management of resources and results in failure. And in this regard, I regret to say, we are backsliding terribly.

2) Liked this from a recent Crooked newsletter:

But in cracking open the door to endorsing filibuster abolition down the line, Booker joins Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), and others who, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, have accepted that filibuster reform may be necessary if Democrats hope to enact the varied, bold policies the candidates are running on.

This recognition is critical because it shows that Democratic politicians increasingly grasp that Republican leaders, if not Republican voters themselves, remain committed to not negotiating with Democrats in good faith, and are poised to revive the strategy they adopted during the Obama administration of opposing and filibustering Democratic priorities in lockstep.

It’s also important because it comes as the Democratic Party has oriented itself toward defending democracy from conservative forces at all levels—from opposing voter suppression to ending partisan gerrymandering to curbing the influence of money in politics to reforming the electoral college. That project isn’t compatible with a rule that allows a minority of senators, representing an even smaller minority of the population a silent veto over policies that command overwhelming popular support.

3) This is interesting, “Purdue blocking Netflix, Hulu, gaming sites in all classrooms after spring break.”

4) And this, via the Upshot, is pretty wild, “Women With a Twin Brother Are More Likely to Face Penalties at School and Work: Research shows they might act more like boys when they’re young, struggling in school, but then face sexism when they’re grown.”

Women with a twin brother do worse in school and make less money than those with a twin sister, a large new study has found. In their 30s, the women wound up earning 9 percent less. They were also less likely to graduate from school, marry and have children.

The researchers said the effects were because the women were naturally exposed to their brothers’ testosterone in the womb. The study, which was published Monday, included all births in Norway for 11 years.

The findings might also help explain a paradox — over all, girls are doing better than boys in school, but men are doing better than women in the work force. There are other potential explanations involving cultural expectations. Girls seem to be encouraged to be competent, while boys are encouraged to be confident, research shows, and school today requires a lot of self-control, which most boys develop later. Once people start working, women face sexism and a host of other inequalities (many related to motherhood).

Testosterone, which all females are exposed to in utero, might be another contributor. The hormone is associated with certain behaviors— including aggression, competition and risk taking — that might contribute to boys’ underperformance in school, but that are often rewarded in the workplace. Females exposed to an elevated level oftestosterone might act more like boys when they’re young, but then face sexism at work when they’re older. Women are penalized, research shows, when they show many of the same behaviors that benefit men in the workplace.

5) Meanwhile, I find it depressing that our oppressive standards of women’s appearance means that an increasing number of preteen girls feel the need to resort to professional hair removal.

6) Trump’s America: “How a flight attendant from Texas ended up in an ICE detention center for six weeks.”  Also, she’s “from Texas” but a DACA beneficiary.

7) Really like this “defense of eco-hypocrisy.”

Contrary to popular belief, fossil fuel companies are actually all too happy to talk about the environment. They just want to keep the conversation around individual responsibility, not systemic change or corporate culpability.

Sadly, these efforts at distraction have been wildly effective.

Ask your average citizen what they can do to stop global warming, and they will say “go vegetarian”, or “turn off the lights”, long before they talk about lobbying their elected officials. And this framing has been used as an extremely effective cudgel against those speaking out.

Perhaps nobody embodies this more than former Vice President Al Gore, whose Inconvenient Truth documentary catapulted the climate crisis back into the US political discourse. Rather than grapple with the complex, often terrifying facts presented in the film, critics were quick to change the subject.

A report — released simultaneously with the documentary, and authored by a “free market” think tank — claimed that Mr. Gore’s house used 20 times more energy than the average American home. And while Gore’s spokespeople responded with statistics about his energy efficient retrofits, the damage was already done:

“Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth: a $30,000 Energy Bill”cried one particularly snarky headline,from Jake Tapper for ABC News.

More recently, Green New Deal advocate and freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has faced similar attacks, based on her apparent shocking use of cars. This time, however, there are promising signs that the lessons of past battles have been learned. Rather than defend herself with receipts for carbon offsets, AOC rightly and forcefully steered the conversation back to the only scale that truly matters…

Still, the purity tests persist. And while some come from our opponents, many of them are actually coming from inside the movement too.

George Monbiot, a British environmentalist and journalist, has written beautifully about climate change for years. While much of his focus has been on the structural underpinnings of the problem, Monbiot is also not above directing his fire at the environmentally aware. Society’s addiction to cheap flights is a regular target for his ire:

“If we want to stop the planet from cooking, we will simply have to stop traveling at the kind of speeds that planes permit. This is now broadly understood by almost everyone I meet. But it has had no impact whatever on their behavior. When I challenge my friends about their planned weekend in Rome or their holiday in Florida, they respond with a strange, distant smile and avert their eyes. […] The moral dissonance is deafening.”

For those of us who believe that personal lifestyle change has largely been used as a distraction, it’s tempting to argue that Monbiot’s dinner party conversations are not just awkward or ineffective — they are actively counterproductive. If we’re going to grow a movement that can challenge our fossil fuel dependent economic order, we’re going to need as many people as possible on board—pushing folks away because they participate in that economic order is going to leave us with a pretty small pool of recruits.

8) John Cassidy asks, How did the FAA allow the 737 Max to fly?”  I don’t think it is actually so crazy to have aircraft manufacturers play a major role in deciding whether their products are safe.  They have so much to lose, if they are not, that it seems the financial incentives actually are to have your aircraft as safe as possible.  That said, this seems to have gone wrong in the case of the 737 Max.

9) On what we actually need to do about college:

No change in whom the most selective colleges admit would have a fraction of the good effect on the country that increasing the proportion of college graduates would have.

What’s the barrier to this? It isn’t that we don’t have a big enough higher-education system. These days, about ninety per cent of young people have some interaction with college. The problem is that not enough of them graduate, and so they cannot reap the copious benefits that a degree provides. A commission of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which I was a member, reported that only about sixty per cent of students at four-year colleges graduate within six years. Only thirty per cent of community-college students, who are supposed to get their degrees in two years, graduate within six. There are a number of reasons for this, including students being underprepared, higher education’s long-running undervaluation of the intense personal attention that makes all the difference for students who are struggling, and years of funding cuts by state legislatures. That should not give rise to fatalism, though: a few places have shown that dedicated effort can raise graduation rates dramatically. In the majority-minority, majority-poor Georgia State University system, the graduation rate has increased by twenty percentage points in fifteen years, thanks to the advent of a new system of customized advising and tutoring.

Busting the admissions cheaters is the right thing to do, in addition to being emotionally satisfying. But it won’t change America much for the better. Anyone who wants to do that through higher education, and who focusses on élite schools, is looking in the wrong place. The right place to look is the great majority of colleges where getting in isn’t a problem. The right cause to take up is raising graduation rates. Who wins the glittering prizes gets our attention; how well the system works for most people matters a great deal more.

10) The electoral college is almost entirely unjustified.  Jamelle Bouie is on the case:

In February, I wrote about the Electoral College, its origins and its problems. Whatever its potential merits, it is a plainly undemocratic institution. It undermines the principle of “one person, one vote,” affirmed in 1964 by the Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims — a key part of the civil and voting rights revolution of that decade. It produces recurring political crises. And it threatens to delegitimize the entire political system by creating larger and larger splits between who wins the public and who wins the states.

Many readers disagreed, making arguments similar to those used by the president and his allies. But those claims — that the Electoral College ensures rural representation, that its counter-majoritarian outcomes reflect the intentions of the framers and that it keeps large states from dominating small ones — don’t follow from the facts and are rooted more in folk civics than in how the system plays out in reality.

Take rural representation. If you conceive of rural America as a set of states, the Electoral College does give voters in Iowa or Montana or Wyoming a sizable say in the selection of the president. If you conceive of it as a population of voters, on the other hand, the picture is different. Roughly 60 million Americans live in rural counties, and they aren’t all concentrated in “rural” states. Millions live in large and midsize states like California, New York, Illinois, Alabama and South Carolina.

With a national popular vote for president, you could imagine a Republican campaign that links rural voters in California — where five million people live in rural counties — to those in New York, where roughly 1.4 million people live in rural counties. In other words, rural interests would be represented from coast to coast, as opposed to a system that only weights those who live in swing states.

11) How not to be a snowplow parent:

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

From the moment they are born, our kids study our faces for signs that the world is safe or scary. When they learn to walk, teetering and tumbling to the ground, the first thing they do is look up at us. If we gasp or panic, they do, too. If we react with a mix of empathy and encouragement, they keep going.

Our children never stop scanning our faces for direction on how upset to get, whether they’re bringing home a bad grade or facing a college rejection. That’s why I coach parents to ask themselves a single question when they are faced with an upset child and feel anxiety begin to tighten its grip: How would I parent if I were not afraid? That is, if you knew that despite whatever was happening with your children, they would turn out just fine, what would you say and do differently in this moment?

The question lets us pull back from the catastrophic thinking that often makes us say and do things we later regret, and makes room for openness and optimism. Once we are calm, we can stay in the moment with our children instead of being hijacked by our own fear.

12) Krugman on the reality of rural America:

Rural lives matter — we’re all Americans, and deserve to share in the nation’s wealth. Rural votes matter even more; like it or not, our political system gives hugely disproportionate weight to less populous states, which are also generally states with relatively rural populations.

But it’s also important to get real. There are powerful forces behind the relative and in some cases absolute economic decline of rural America — and the truth is that nobody knows how to reverse those forces.

Put it this way: Many of the problems facing America have easy technical solutions; all we lack is the political will. Every other advanced country provides universal health care. Affordable child careis within easy reach. Rebuilding our fraying infrastructure would be expensive, but we can afford it — and it might well pay for itself.

But reviving declining regions is really hard. Many countries have tried, but it’s difficult to find any convincing success stories.

Southern Italy remains backward after generations of effort. Despite vast sums spent on reconstruction, the former East Germany is still depressed three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Maybe we could do better, but history is not on our side.

What’s the matter with rural America? Major urban centers have always been magnets for economic growth. They offer large markets, ready availability of specialized suppliers, large pools of workers with specialized skills, and the invisible exchange of information that comes from face-to-face contact. As the Victorian economist Alfred Marshall put it, “The mysteries of the trade become no mysteries; but are as it were in the air.”

But the gravitational pull of big cities used to be counteracted by the need to locate farming where the good land was. In 1950 U.S. agriculture directly employed more than six million people; these farmers supported a network of small towns providing local services, and some of these small towns served as seeds around which various specialized industries grew.

Nor was farming the only activity giving people a reason to live far from major metropolitan areas. There were, for example, almost half a million coal miners.

13) What they are trying to do with the restored felon voting rights in Florida is just unconscionable.  An a poll tax.

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

4 Responses to Quick hits (part II)

  1. Mika says:

    #5 This is nuts.
    #11 This is hard.

  2. Nicole K. says:

    Yeah, I have had about 8 laser hair removal treatments on my face, and they really hurt, especially the first few treatments. They are also $180 each. Seems crazy to me to spend that kind of money and inflict that amount of pain on a kid.

    This is a result of the current belief that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. In fact, the opposite is true. A bit of childhood teasing and bullying helps you later in life when you have to deal with assholes and mom isn’t there to intervene. My parents never felt the need to intervene when I was bullied as a kid, and I didn’t want them to either. Instead, I learned how to either handle it myself or let it go.

    • Mika says:

      I’m not sure about the bullying stuff. I have a hunch that between boys the methods of bullying are more physical and verbally abusive. Between girls the bullying is more about leaving one of the girls alone, not playing with her, not talking to her, and so on. It’s very hard to intervene to that kind of stuff. How to handle loneliness?

      The latter part happens to boys also of course. Our daughter had a classmate, a boy who has a Turkish father. She was invited to his birthday and when she came back she said that there was almost nobody there. Later his mother talked to us that “Yeah, nobody comes to his birthday parties and his never invited to anybody’s birthday”. Hate to think that so many of my daughter’s classmate’s parents are racists but I can’t think of any other reason. Btw. he is one the well-behaved boys I’ve ever met.

      • Nicole K. says:

        There were boys I knew of that didn’t have any friends when I was in elementary school. However, there were about half a dozen or so of us whose moms made us go to their birthday party if we were invited. And I remember talking to my friends about it. Almost all of our parents had explained to us why we were going to go and why we would do our best to be nice and have a good time. And since I knew a bunch of my friends were going too, I usually ended up having fun. That’s the only time I can recall my parents intervening in the social aspect of my life when I was a kid.

        Later in junior high and high school the kids who didn’t fit in usually formed their own group. In junior high, I was a new kid in a new school and and new state and city. I was not very nice to those kids because I was desperate to be accepted. In my high school, most of the hazing and physical stuff wasn’t done to the kids who didn’t fit in. It was older boys doing it to younger boys who they later became friends with. But that was at prep school. The semester I spent in public school (after I got kicked out of prep school temporarily) I was in a place I didn’t want to be, and I purposely kept to myself and didn’t try to make any friends. It didn’t really bother me that much because I knew it was temporary and I was going back to prep school for the rest of high school.

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