#Metoo and due process and free speech

Damn is this piece from Harvard Law Professor and New Yorker writer, Jeannie Suk Gersen so good.  You should totally read all of it.  Excerpts anyway:

t was decidedly unfunny, last month, to see the words “Down w Sullivan!” spray-painted on the doors of Winthrop House, the residence of Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., the first African-American faculty dean of an undergraduate house at Harvard. (Sullivan is also a colleague of mine at Harvard Law School and a renowned defense attorney.) In January, he announced that he had decided to represent Harvey Weinstein as defense counsel in Weinstein’s upcoming trial for rape. In an open letter to the Winthrop House community, Sullivan explained that it was a defense lawyer’s duty to insure that the most hated individuals in society receive the fair legal process that is due to anyone against whom the state’s punitive power is arrayed. Student groups, including the editorial board of the Harvard Crimson, condemned his choice, and some students demanded that Sullivan be removed from his position as dean because his decision to be Weinstein’s lawyer made them feel unsafe and posed a conflict with his leadership role in the Winthrop House community…

Well into the second year of the #MeToo movement, as allegations ripen into legal cases, people want and expect the courts to deliver decisions that will truly address the scope of sexual violence in our society. But, as any lawyer knows, many #MeToo cases will not end in legal vindication. Why not? Because the alleged behavior doesn’t match legal definitions, or because of statutes of limitations, or insufficient evidence, or questionable witnesses, or police misconduct, or prosecutorial overreach, or doubtful juries—in short, for all the reasons that cases can fall apart when subjected to scrutiny in court. When defense lawyers do their job, one effect is to make it harder for the government to impose suffering on their clients, whether innocent or guilty. This is a notion that most liberal Americans like, when we talk about mass incarceration or the war on drugs. It is often less comfortable in the context of #MeToo… [emphases mine]

Lawyers have always been vilified for taking on unpopular clients, but, in the #MeToo era, defense lawyers endanger their good standing even in the most liberal communities, Harvard being only one example.

At first blush, #MeToo supporters might consider this a good thing. Why shouldn’t the movement include censure of lawyers for defending monstrous people who stand as symbols of harm to women? In our constitutional system, lawyers are considered essential to due process. As a matter of constitutional law, denying someone a defense lawyer is depriving that person of their rights, especially if the risk of punishment is involved. Just as crucially, a world in which lawyers are afraid to defend people against a certain kind of accusation is a world in which those accusations can never really be tested or verified, where guilty verdicts bear the whiff of a sham. When I was a prosecutor, I represented the state. Now, as an academic, I teach my students to be proud of their work whether they are prosecuting or defending those accused of crime, whatever the crime may be. Punishment is only legitimate if it is grounded in due process, I tell them

Whether the #MeToo process will be due process depends upon the principled work of lawyers, especially defense lawyers. But Sullivan’s experience suggests that the price of doing that work, in liberal communities, may be not only harassment and threats but also official inquiries and penalties…

A chill has descended on our intellectual lives—on the positions we feel free to question and express. If it is implicitly understood that statements running counter to #MeToo orthodoxy, including defense of the accused, may provoke reprisal, then surely those statements are less likely to be made and heard. Why risk the loss of acceptance, reputation, or even employment, merely to explore an idea?

The lesson is not difficult to grasp. It is not about lawyers, nor is it about the men accused of sexual misconduct in court or convicted in the court of public opinion. In this moment, the real lesson is about free expression and free minds. When the views of thinking people, whether lawyers, teachers, editors, or writers, are determined by our self-assessed risk of losing jobs or social standing, it doesn’t take a totalitarian government to repress our thoughts. We have done it to ourselves.

Damn, that’s good stuff.  Last time I taught Gender & Politics #metoo was literally just getting under way and we kind of dealt with it on the fly.  Pretty sure this Gersen article is going into my syllabus for next time and should make for some interesting discussion.

The failed promise of college and mobility

I’ve been meaning to do a post on this for a long time, but recent events have, obviously, inspired me to finally get around to it.

Anyway, we might think colleges are there to help people move up the socio-economic ladder, but so much of what they do is serve the progeny of the most-advantaged Americans.  As the Upshot headline puts it, “Some Colleges Have More Students From the Top 1 Percent.  Than the Bottom 60. Find Yours.”

Students at elite colleges are even richer than experts realized, according to a new study based on millions of anonymous tax filings and tuition records.

At 38 colleges in America, including five in the Ivy League – DartmouthPrincetonYalePenn and Brown – more students came from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent…

Roughly one in four of the richest students attend an elite college – universities that typically cluster toward the top of annual rankings (you can find more on our definition of “elite” at the bottom).

In contrast, less than one-half of 1 percent of children from the bottom fifth of American families attend an elite college; less than half attend any college at all…

Colleges often promote their role in helping poorer students rise in life, and their commitments to affordability. But some elite colleges have focused more on being affordable to low-income families than on expanding access. “Free tuition only helps if you can get in,” said Danny Yagan, an assistant professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the authors of the study…

These patterns are important because previous research has found that there are many highly qualified lower-income students who do not attend selective colleges – and because the low- and middle-income students who do attend top colleges fare almost as well as rich students.

Even though they face challenges that other students do not, lower-income students end up earning almost as much on average as affluent students who attend the same college.

And here’s the cool Upshot tool to find your college.  Obviously, I took a look at NC State and Duke:

Easily the most striking statistic to me in all of this is that the median family income of NC State students is $112,000.  And NC State in no way has a reputation as a place for the socio-economic elite (that’s definitely UNC’s in-state reputation).  I’ve been using this statistics to shock my students (most guess way lower) ever since I learned of it.

And, as for my alma mater.  Not exactly surprised, but, my goodness what a bastion of elitism.  I wonder how much this has changed (probably not all that much) from my time in the early 1990s.

And, while we’re at it, Fred Hiatt writes, “We’re still paying for rich people to go to college. Why?”

Republicans these days are full of tender concern that government welfare programs may weaken the moral fiber of their recipients. That is why they insist that benefits go only to those who prove their fitness of character through employment or job training.

Unless the benefits are going to the rich and middle class, that is, in which case all concern evaporates. When it comes to in-state tuition rates, for example, which constitute one of government’s most generous handouts, no one seems to worry about a breakdown of family values or the debilitating loss of pride in self-sufficiency.

Maybe you haven’t thought of in-state tuition as a welfare program. But an upper-class family can send a child to a flagship school like, say, the University of Maryland for about $10,000 a year. That student is receiving an education that the College Park campus has determined is worth more than $32,000 a year — and plenty of out-of-state students are willing to pay as much. So by the time the student graduates, the family will have gotten a government handout to the tune of $88,000 — and no one will have asked the parents for proof that they’re employed… [emphases mine]

After I made this argument once before, four years ago, a paper published by the Brookings Institution took issue with me. The authors of the 2016 paper, Jason Delisle and Kim Dancy, calculated that the benefits of in-state tuition don’t flow disproportionately to the wealthy, and therefore there is no problem.

“Low-income students account for 37.4 percent of students enrolled in public universities and receive 38.8 percent of all indirect subsidies,” they wrote. “High-income students, who the conventional wisdom says receive a larger share of the subsidies, actually receive a slightly smaller share (19.5 percent) than their enrollment (21.1 percent).”

Well, one answer would be: In the 21st century, college is as essential as high school was in the 20th, and so public college today should be as free as public high school became then. This argument makes a lot of sense. But its proponents generally don’t explain where they will find the money to make it happen, so wouldn’t it be logical to begin by helping the youths who most need the help?

A second answer is that state taxpayers are willing to support state university systems on the understanding that their children, if qualified, will be given affordable access. Break the bargain, and you will lose any sense of community buy-in.

I don’t know what to make of all of this except one clear thing– we need to do better.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ve been guilty of blaming robots/automation for a lot of our problems (like lots of other liberals).  Krugman with a strong corrective:

The other day I found myself, as I often do, at a conference discussing lagging wages and soaring inequality. There was a lot of interesting discussion. But one thing that struck me was how many of the participants just assumed that robots are a big part of the problem — that machines are taking away the good jobs, or even jobs in general. For the most part this wasn’t even presented as a hypothesis, just as part of what everyone knows.

And this assumption has real implications for policy discussion. For example, a lot of the agitation for a universal basic income comes from the belief that jobs will become ever scarcer as the robot apocalypse overtakes the economy.

So it seems like a good idea to point out that in this case what everyone knows isn’t true. Predictions are hard, especially about the future, and maybe the robots really will come for all our jobs one of these days. But automation just isn’t a big part of the story of what happened to American workers over the past 40 years.

We do have a big problem — but it has very little to do with technology, and a lot to do with politics and power…

Technological disruption, then, isn’t a new phenomenon. Still, is it accelerating? Not according to the data. If robots really were replacing workers en masse, we’d expect to see the amount of stuff produced by each remaining worker — labor productivity — soaring. In fact, productivity grew a lot faster from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s than it has since.

So technological change is an old story. What’s new is the failure of workers to share in the fruits of that technological change.

I’m not saying that coping with change was ever easy. The decline of coal employment had devastating effects on many families, and much of what used to be coal country has never recovered. The loss of manual jobs in port cities surely contributed to the urban social crisisof the ’70s and ’80s.

But while there have always been some victims of technological progress, until the 1970s rising productivity translated into rising wages for a great majority of workers. Then the connection was broken. And it wasn’t the robots that did it.

What did? There is a growing though incomplete consensus among economists that a key factor in wage stagnation has been workers’ declining bargaining power — a decline whose roots are ultimately political.

2) Oh my is the “gun sanctuary” movement just insanely stupid.  Only in America.  These people should just be flat-out embarrassed.  I love that these people are so frighteningly isolated that they are somehow unaware that most modern nations all over the world have pretty strict gun control and are not exactly tyrannies.

3) John Cassidy, “No, The Republican Party is not Turning on Donald Trump.”

Pause, for a moment, over the pitiful spectacle presented by Thom Tillis and Cory Gardner. In the past few weeks, Tillis, the first-term North Carolina senator, has emerged as a vocal critic of the national-emergency order, and until Thursday afternoon he was indicating that he would support the Democratic resolution. Then, faced with threats of a possible primary challenge, he did a U-turn and voted against the bill. Colorado’s Gardner, another critic of the executive order, also voted against the resolution—prompting the Denver Postto print an editorial saying its endorsement of him in 2014 was a mistake.

Of the twelve Republican senators who defied Trump, just one—Susan Collins, of Maine—is up for reëlection next year. Alexander is retiring. The other ten—Roy Blunt, Mike Lee, Jerry Moran, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, and Roger Wicker—aren’t up until 2022 or 2024. By then, Trump might well be out of office. Even if he isn’t, the dissidents will have had plenty of time to grovel their way back into his good graces.

4) MDG knew I would love these art deco style space tourism posters.  E.g.,

Europa - JPL Travel Poster

5) This LA Times article on the 737 Max is easily the best I’ve read on the matter.

6) Someone might want to tell NC Republicans that harsher opioid sentences is not going to get us out of this problem.

7) I’ve had to use an asthma inhaler at one point or another with all three of my boys.  And I always had them follow the instructions here.  Apparently, a lot of people don’t.

8) Legacy admissions have absolutely got to go.  I was one (based on other classmates at Duke from my high school, pretty sure I would’ve made it anyway), but all they do is perpetuate privilege.  If any of my kids can get into Duke on their own, more power to them (not that I’m paying for it), but I sure wouldn’t want them getting in just because their parents went there.

9) Only in America.  Olga Khazan, “Americans Are Going Bankrupt From Getting Sick: Doctors’ bills play a role in 60 percent of personal-bankruptcy filings.”

10) How eating crickets can save the lemurs.  Though I’m really picky, I’m all for getting more insect protein into people’s diets as it is such an efficient way to get animal protein.  Turn it into a powder mixed in with other stuff and I’m fine with it.

11) This article on climate change and the Moose Tick in New England is a truly fascinating look at the complex interplay of climate, ecosystems, and species health.  Read the article to find out how, incredibly, shooting more moose may be a key part of the solution.

12) The Little Ice Age is really interesting.  Here’s a new book on it.

13) This is fun, “Oops! Famously Scathing Reviews of Classic Books From The Times’s Archive.”

14) Love, this, “I embraced screen time with my daughter– and I love it.”  Like most anything else, screen time can be great or harmful, it’s all in how you use it.

15) Jennifer Rubin brings the love to Pete Buttigieg.  He really is impressive.

16) Perry Bacon Jr with the six wings of the Democratic Party.  I think I’d but myself with the Progressive New Guard.

17) Okay, looks like now we have “snowplow parents,” too.

Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.

Taken to its criminal extreme, that means bribing SAT proctors and paying off college coaches to get children in to elite colleges — and then going to great lengths to make sure they never face the humiliation of knowing how they got there…

The bribery scandal has “just highlighted an incredibly dark side of what has become normative, which is making sure that your kid has the best, is exposed to the best, has every advantage — without understanding how disabling that can be,” said Madeline Levine, a psychologist and the author of “Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or ‘Fat Envelopes.’”

“They’ve cleared everything out of their kids’ way,” she said.

In her practice, Dr. Levine said, she regularly sees college freshmen who “have had to come home from Emory or Brown because they don’t have the minimal kinds of adult skills that one needs to be in college.”

One came home because there was a rat in the dorm room. Some didn’t like their roommates. Others said it was too much work, and they had never learned independent study skills. One didn’t like to eat food with sauce. Her whole life, her parents had helped her avoid sauce, calling friends before going to their houses for dinner. At college, she didn’t know how to cope with the cafeteria options — covered in sauce.

“Here are parents who have spent 18 years grooming their kids with what they perceive as advantages, but they’re not,” Dr. Levine said.

Yes, it’s a parent’s job to support the children, and to use their adult wisdom to prepare for the future when their children aren’t mature enough to do so. That’s why parents hide certain toys from toddlers to avoid temper tantrums or take away a teenager’s car keys until he finishes his college applications.

If children have never faced an obstacle, what happens when they get into the real world?

18) Love this story of a really successful college basketball player who owes it all, not to dad, but to mom.

19) Really enjoyed this on why this winter’s polar vortex canceled so many flights– the humans:

“When you get below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, everything starts slowing down,” Kohlman says. You may need to start deicing planes, for one thing, which starts to create delays. And while baggage handlers may be able to do their jobs wearing thick gloves, maintenance workers changing out lightbulbs and getting wrenches onto bolts must choose between warmth and dexterity. If temperatures drop to the point where it’s dangerous for workers to stay outside for very long, operations slow down even further. (Airlines have set up temporary heated shelters and doled out hot chocolate and hand warmers at O’Hare, according to theChicago Sun Times.)

Eventually, those delays pile up into cancellations. Remember that the airline system is tightly connected, so problems at one node quickly spread. Passengers start missing their connecting flights in large numbers. Combine them with the folks in the coldest places who may stay home instead of braving the elements, and you can end up flying a half-empty plane. “It might not be the best business decision to do that,” Kohlman says. And airlines only get to make that decision if the crew makes it to the airport.

So, planes—like polar bears and robots—may not mind the cold. But airport workers—like zookeepers and roboticists—do. And they’re the folks who make them fly.

20) Rachel Riederer on the other kind of climate denialism is really good:

In 2008 and 2009, the American Psychological Association put together a task force to examine the relationship between psychology and climate change. It found that, although people said that climate change was important, they did not “feel a sense of urgency.” The task force identified several mental barriers that contributed to this blasé stance. People were uncertain about climate change, mistrustful of the science, or denied that it was related to human activity. They tended to minimize the risks and believe that there was plenty of time to make changes before the real impacts were felt. Just ten years later, these attitudes about climate feel like ancient relics. But two key factors, which the task force identified as keeping people from taking action, have stood the test of time: one was habit, and the other was lack of control. “Ingrained behaviors are extremely resistant to permanent change,” the group stated. “People believe their actions would be too small to make a difference and choose to do nothing.”

Wallace-Wells hits this note in his book, too, writing, “We seem most comfortable adopting a learned posture of powerlessness.” As uncertainty and denial about climate have diminished, they have been replaced by similarly paralyzing feelings of panic, anxiety, and resignation. As we begin to live through the massive dangers imparted by climate change, as one psychologist put it to me, “We are in psychological terrain, whether we like it or not.”

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this from Chait, “he Most Unrealistic Promise Democrats Are Making Is to Restore Bipartisanship.”

The Obama presidency was an eight-year experiment in the possibility of obtaining Republican support for major initiatives. It is impossible to imagine a more conclusive result. Despite having jacked up the deficit during the entirety of the presidencies both before and after Obama’s, Republicans spent the entire time insisting on massive fiscal austerity despite facing objectively the most favorable conditions for stimulus spending since World War II. Obama’s offer to support John McCain’s cap-and-trade plan and Mitt Romney’s health-care plan drew almost zero Democratic and zero Republican votes, respectively. Republicans wouldn’t even accept a deal to trim Medicare spending in return for tax reform.

McConnell publicly stated his logic at the time: putting the bipartisan imprimatur on Obama’s policies would make the policies popular. More than mere strategy was at work. By waging partisan war against any of Obama’s initiatives, Republicans helped persuade their voters that his ideas — even those with a solid moderate Republican pedigree — were dangerous socialism. And the more fearful Republican voters became, the harder it was for Republicans to negotiate anything with Obama. Republicans were afraideven to be seen talking to the president. At times, when negotiations could not be avoided for bills whose passage was required to avert disaster, Obama would let Biden close the deal just to create the appearance that he hadn’t been part of it…

Democrats are going to have to choose between making real changes that can help their constituents and keeping a supermajority requirement in the Senate. There is no more cruelly unrealistic promise than the magical thinking being peddled by the Democratic party’s self-styled realists.

I’ve been a fan of Cory Booker for his honest talk on criminal justice issues.  But, I will say, his totally unrealistic take on bipartisanship has definitely lowered my opinion of him.

2) Good interview on how parents buy college admissions:

Is there anything you think your book got wrong or understated?

I think the general themes were right on point, and I don’t think it’s because I was so brilliant. I think it’s because this was a system that was hidden in plain view and was in front of your nose if only you looked, and also because it was so offensive to most people’s idea of what America is about. The fundamental ethos of America is equal opportunity and upward mobility and everybody gets a chance. The people who perform the best are supposed to rise to the top, and college education is supposed to be the driving force in upward mobility. So the idea that the wealthy can perpetuate their own privileged status through college admissions, that it’s not an equal gateway for everybody but a way to perpetuate American aristocracy, is a real affront to people. And that’s the resonance a case like this has.

3) Looking forward to reading Frans de Waal’s book on animal emotions:

Of course, we recognize ourselves in such stories. This is why they are powerful: They evoke our empathy, perhaps our most cherished emotional ability (one that we share with animals, as anyone who has lived with a dog well knows). But, to our detriment, researchers who study animal behavior have been methodically warned against exploring empathy as a means of understanding. Too many illuminating observations have gone unpublished because suggesting that humans share traits with other animals invites accusations of anthropomorphism.

To avoid such charges, researchers have invented a glossary of contorted terms: Animals don’t have friends but “favorite affiliation partners”; chimps don’t laugh when tickled, but make “vocalized panting” sounds.

This isn’t just silly; it’s dangerous. Instead of worrying about anthropomorphizing animals, we should fear making a far worse mistake, what de Waal calls “anthropodenial.” When we deny the facts of evolution, when we pretend that only humans think, feel and know, “it stands in the way of a frank assessment of who we are as a species,” he writes. An understanding of evolution demands that we recognize continuity across life-forms. And even more important, achieving realistic and compassionate relationships with the rest of the animate world requires that we honor these connections, which extend far and deep.

4) Top takeaways from Trump’s absurd budget:

4. The biggest losers: Under Trump’s budget proposal, 10 major departments and agencies would see their budgets slashed by 10 percent (or more) in the next year alone: Agriculture, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation, Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Trump administration likes to refer to a 5 percent cut in nondefense spending, but some agencies get far bigger chops than others. The EPA and Corps of Engineers would lose almost a third of their current funding.

5) The revolution will be fought over fabric softener (demand #3).

6) Interesting stuff from James Fallows on the 737 Max.

7) Chait on the fundamental lie of conservative populism:

The populist promises that set Trump apart during both the primary and the general election have simply failed to materialize. Trump’s budget, which proposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that he had famously pledged to oppose, is the latest evidence that he has simply defaulted to traditional movement conservatism.

Conservative populism has followed the same course in the United Kingdom and the United States. Right-wing politicians attached expansive promises to retrograde cultural panic to gain power, and once given a chance to follow through, have managed to deliver only the latter. These movements justified themselves as an authentic rebellion against the experts. The experts warned the promises were impossible. It turns out they knew what they were talking about.

8) Good stuff from Brian Schaffner and Samantha Luks:

The public’s party-driven misinformation and misperceptions about politics has drawn a great deal of attention from scholars over the past decade. While much of this research assumes that the misinformation documented by survey researchers is an accurate reflection of what individuals truly believe, other scholars have suggested that individuals intentionally and knowingly provide misinformation to survey researchers as a way of showing support for their political side. To date, it has been difficult to adjudicate between these two contrasting explanations for misperceptions. However, in this note, we provide such a test. We take advantage of a controversy regarding the relative sizes of crowds at the presidential inaugurations of Donald Trump in 2017 and Barack Obama in 2009 to ask a question where the answer is so clear and obvious to the respondents that nobody providing an honest response should answer incorrectly. Yet, at the same time, the question taps into a salient political controversy that provides incentives for Trump supporters to engage in expressive responding. We find clear evidence of expressive responding; moreover, this behavior is especially prevalent among partisans with higher levels of political interest. Our findings provide support for the notion that at least some of the misinformation reported in surveys is the result of partisan cheerleading rather than genuinely held misperceptions.

9) Ed Yong, “A New Discovery Upends What We Know About Viruses.”

10) The latest YA twitter mob could not be more karmically perfect or happen to a more-deserving target:

What Jackson’s case really demonstrates is just how narrow and untenable the rules for writing Y.A. literature are. In a tweet last May, Jackson himself more or less articulated them: “Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people. Stories of suffrage should be written by women. Ergo, stories about boys during life-changing times, like the AIDS epidemic, should be written by gay men. Why is this so hard to get?”

In a live Q. and A. for an online children’s literature conference in January, Jackson explained that he was at one point tempted to write tangentially about immigration,but his Latino friends talked him out of it: He’d be encroaching on their turf, poaching their spot on the shelves.

11) OMG Thom Tillis is the absolute worst.  There are important constitutional principles at stake.  Until Donald Trump convinces him otherwise.  This is beyond embarrassing:

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis voted Thursday to support President Donald Trump’s Poor Thom Tillis. For a few shining days the Republican senator from North Carolina had a backbone. Then, in one crumbling moment Thursday afternoon, it went away…

The why, according to North Carolina’s junior senator, was that he’s heard “serious discussion” about changing the National Emergency Act so no “future left-wing president” can do what he was voting to allow the current right-wing president to do. The prospect of a change in the law was the fig leaf with which Tillis tried to cover his capitulation.

In a whopper worthy of the president himself, Tillis said he did not change his position out of concern that a vote against Trump would bring on a primary challenge when he stands for re-election in 2020.

Fear of the president’s disapproval and the wrath of his base clearly caused Tillis’ humiliating flip-flop. After his op-ed, North Carolina Republicans let him know that not being in lockstep with Trump left him out of step with them.

So, it’s okay to ignore Constitutional principles as long as you make it harder for a future “left wing president” to ignore the Constitution.  Riiiiiight.

12) With white Democrats ever-more secular, more candidates are ignoring the “and God bless America” platitudes.  This Christian says “hooray” because boy do I hate that crap.

While white progressives once described religion as something that brought Americans together, they’re now more likely to describe it as something that drives them apart.

It’s not hard to understand why. For starters, the percentage of white Democrats who express no religious affiliation has skyrocketed. According to unpublished data tabulated for me last year by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), 8 percent of white Democrats expressed no religious affiliation in 1990. By 2016, the figure was 33 percent. In 1990, white self-described liberals were 39 points more likely to describe themselves as Protestant than as religiously unaffiliated. By 2016, religiously unaffiliated beat Protestant by nine points.

Secular Democrats haven’t only grown more numerous. They’ve also become some of the party’s most motivated activists. As The Atlantic’s Emma Green has noted, a PRRI poll taken last August and September found that Democrats who shun organized religion were more than twice as likely to have attended a political rally in the previous year than Democrats who identify with a religious group. Today’s Democratic candidates cannot simply assert, as Obama did in 2004, that “we worship an awesome God in the blue states,” because so many active Democrats do not.

The other reason liberal candidates more often describe religion as a source of division is the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Before Donald Trump, Republican religious discourse was more ecumenical.

13) Paul Waldman on white identity politics and the future of the Republican Party:

It’s no accident that the members of Congress who have these folks so worried are a Latina and a Muslim woman, because what is coming to define a good portion of the Republican Party is a sense that white people are not just losing something today but are under the threat of cultural, political and even physical annihilation.

In its extreme form, it’s defined as “white genocide,” a term common among white supremacists who believe that the white race is literally in danger of being wiped out. In a less extreme form, it manifests in people being increasingly drawn to white identity politics.

We have to be clear what we mean when we say that. In her upcoming book, “White Identity Politics,” political scientist Ashley Jardina clarifies that the term should be understood to refer not just to straightforward racism but to something more particular. White identity politics is about whiteness becoming an organizing political factor, a group identity that leads people to seek certain things and favor certain policies because of how they will affect white people.

he presidency of Barack Obama had a great deal to do with the current white identity politics, and in hindsight we might see it as inevitable that a racist demagogue would emerge to exploit the backlash Obama produced. That’s why Ta-Nehisi Coates referred to Trump as “the first white president,” arguing that his 2016 campaign should be understood as an assertion that whites had to retake power and restore (as they saw it) their rightful place atop the hierarchy.

What motivates it isn’t just hostility to minorities but fear that whites will be overrun, oppressed and eventually eliminated, and the solution is in turn to banish minorities from wherever white people are feeling this threat, whether it’s the United States, Europe or New Zealand…

Many Republicans would protest that their party affiliation is based not on racial fears of extinction but on things such as support for small government and tax cuts, or opposition to abortion rights and marriage equality. And they aren’t lying. But it’s also undeniable that with Trump in charge — and with the party having given itself over to him so completely, at least for now — white identity politics now defines the GOP. But what will they do as it drags them down? [emphasis mine]

15) Never heard of “curling parents” before.  Enjoyed this in Chronicle of Higher Ed.

‘Curling’ Parents

People used to talk about helicopter parents, said Jump, the college counselor. These days, he said, the term is “curling parents,” a reference to the Olympic sport. Parenting, in other words, is no longer about hovering over one’s children. It’s about sweeping problems out of their way.

The desire to insulate children from problems also emerged in Calarco’s research. She interviewed a mother who said, “I just don’t want my kids to suffer.” That’s a nearly universal sentiment. But in this particular example, Calarco said, it was the mother’s explanation for why she would run her children’s homework to school if they forgot it at home.

If that’s your definition of suffering, then not getting into your top-choice college is a real hardship.

16) Leonhardt is right, “The Admissions Scandal Is Really a Sports Scandal.”

The researchers were given access to anonymous admissions records at 19 elite colleges and then analyzed how admissions offices treated different groups of students. Low-income students, for example, were no more likely to be admitted than otherwise similar students with virtually identical academic records. So-called legacy students — those whose parents attended the same schools — received substantial boosts. So did underrepresented minorities.

But the biggest boost went to recruited athletes: An athlete was about 30 percentage points more likely to be admitted than a nonathlete with the same academic record…

If the accusations are true, they’re outrageous. But they also highlight a larger problem that has somehow become acceptable: A scam like this could exist only because competitive sports occupy a ridiculously large place in the admissions process.

The situation is different for other extracurricular activities. Great musicians are more likely to be admitted to a college than similar students who don’t play an instrument — as is only fair, because musicians deserve credit for their accomplishments. But the musicians don’t generally receive a 30-percentage-point boost on their admissions chances. Stage managers for the high school theater don’t, either. Nor do student body presidents, debaters, yearbook editors or robotics competitors.

Athletes do. Their extracurricular activities are not treated merely as an important part of a college application, but as a defining part. [emphasis mine]

17) OMG this is crazy!  Sort-of-identical twins. 75% genetically related and boy girl.  Whoa.

One boy. One girl.

Sharing a single placenta.

“It doesn’t add up,” Dr. Fisk recalled thinking.

As it turned out, the twins were neither fraternal nor identical. They fell into a third rare category known as semi-identical or sesquizygotic twins. Although it would take several years to prove, he was looking at the first set of semi-identical twins to be identified during pregnancy, according to a paper published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

18) I used to really enjoy Frances Scott on the local news.  Horrible to read how an artificial hip replacement that should have never happened (there was already evidence that the replacements causes metal poisoning) basically ruined her life.  Ugh.

19) Apollo 11 is amazing!  Go see it on a big screen if you can.

Beto

So, lots of not particularly strong thoughts on the matter, but I thought I’d share some anyone.

1) I’d really like someone with some more political experience.  Especially executive experience.  But, hey, almost everybody here is lacking executive experience, but Beto is short political experience, period.  And that matters!  There’s real skills to be an effective legislation and many of them actually come from experience working as a politician.

2) That said, of course I’m happy to support pretty much any Democrat with a solid shot of beating Trump– and that’s definitely Beto.

3a) Real tired of the “privileged white man thinks he can run for president” takes.

3b) He clearly gets people excited about politics– especially young people- -and that matters.  Part of political skills are the skills of exciting people and running an effective campaign.  Beto’s got that.  I’ve seen my students respond to him like I haven’t seen since the way they responded to Obama in 2008 (though, definitely not to the same degree).

4) He’s pretty thin on policy.  As you know, all else being equal, I strongly prefer candidates who are serious and thoughtful about policy (e.g., Warren).  But all else is not equal.  I thought this tweet from Lee Drutman was particularly interesting:

5) Following up on that, I found this Edward-Isaac Dovere take pretty interesting:

He gave no specifics on how he’d do anything he wants to do, or even exactly what that might be, in his announcement, other than a long pledge to uplift people and bring the country together, instead of tearing it part, as Trump has. Nor did he give specifics at his first event, in Iowa later in the morning and carried live on cable—he talked about health care but didn’t mention “Medicare for all” or any alternative. He was asked about the Green New Deal but talked generally about the climate as he addressed “the spirit of the question.” There are T-shirts and hats for sale online, with just his first name. It’s not up on hotels or towers anywhere, but no other Democrat running is famous enough to be quite such a brand…

Some Democrats are impressed. “You can make a strong argument that Beto is the only candidate in the race so far who has demonstrated the ability to tell a story and command media oxygen in a way that could rival Trump’s,” said one top Democratic operative, eager to discuss O’Rourke but wary of singling him out for praise…

Most of all, O’Rourke is a challenge to how Democrats go back and think about Obama. Thanks to Trump, Obama has never been more beloved by his party. He was calm, and he was collected, and not every day felt like a constant crisis. What people now remember was the guy who’d gone gray by the end of eight years, signed health-care legislation, presided over the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, restored good relations with people around the world, and pushed for the Paris climate accords, all while telling dad jokes, filling out his March Madness bracket, and doing interviews with book authors.

A long time ago already, Obama became a celebrity himself, propelled to run for president mostly because of one amazing convention speech, and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize without seeming to have done all that much to earn it other than win the Electoral College and not be George W. Bush. Hillary Clinton and John McCain agreed that Obama was pitching aimless dreams, propped up by a gushing media that was obsessed with every little thing he’d do. But in the meantime, Obama built a movement, and he beat both of them, and Mitt Romney four years later even with the economy still in trouble…

Neera Tanden, the Center for American Progress president who worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign, worked on health-care policy for Obama, and then backed Clinton’s 2016 run, sounded out a thought on Twitter on Thursday morning as she watched the early criticism of his lack of experience unfold.

“I know another person folks could have said the precise same things about in 2007. And he turned out to be a pretty excellent president,” Tanden wrote. “They are two different people of course. And it’s a different time. But still.”

So, I won’t be donating to the Beto campaign any time soon.  But if he proves himself a strong candidate, then more power to him.  And, if not, still time for a 2020 Texas Senate race.

 

The secret history of the Electoral College

Okay, it’s no secret, it’s entirely public.  But in all my ranting against the electoral college (since I first taught Intro to American Government in 1998) I somehow never came across this history that makes me all the stronger in my opposition.

The New York Times’ Jesse Wegman is writing a book about efforts to undo the electoral college and uses the occasion of Birch Bayh’s death to look at the relevant history:

Between 1966 and 1970, Senator Bayh led a vigorous national campaign to abolish the Electoral College and elect the president by a direct popular vote.

He was far from the first to try. Our system of presidential electors — an antidemocratic relic of the late 18th century — has been targeted for reform or abolition roughly 700 times, more than any other part of the Constitution. No one has ever come as close to eliminating it as Mr. Bayh.

In a remarkable speech on May 18, 1966, Mr. Bayh said the hearings had convinced him that the Electoral College was no longer compatible with the values of American democracy, if it had ever been. The founders who created it excluded everyone other than landowning white men from voting. But virtually every development in the two centuries since — giving the vote to African-Americans and women, switching to popular elections of senators and the establishment of the one-person-one-vote principle, to name a few — had moved the country in the opposite direction.

Adopting a direct vote for president was the “logical, realistic and proper continuation of this nation’s tradition and history — a tradition of continuous expansion of the franchise and equality in voting,” he said.

He then explained how the Electoral College was continuing to harm the country. The winner-take-all method of allocating electors — used by every state at the time, and by all but two today — doesn’t simply risk putting the popular-vote loser in the White House. It also encourages candidates to concentrate their campaigns in a small number of battleground states and ignore a vast majority of Americans. It was no way to run a modern democracy… [emphases mine]

In September 1969, the House voted overwhelmingly to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with a direct popular vote. President Richard Nixon got onboard, and polls of state legislatures suggested strong support throughout the country. All signs pointed to another successful amendment for Mr. Bayh and a radical change in the way Americans chose their presidents. All signs but one.

As soon as the amendment reached the Senate, it was blocked by Southern segregationists, led by Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who were well aware that the Electoral College had been created to appease the slaveholding states. They were also aware that it continued to warp the nation’s politics in their favor, since millions of black voters throughout the South were effectively disenfranchised by restrictive registration and voting laws. Even those who were able to vote rarely saw their preferences reflected by a single elector. A popular vote would make their voices equal and their votes matter — and would encourage them to turn out at higher rates.

The Southerners delayed and filibustered the amendment until it died, finally, on Sept. 29, 1970. The last attempt to end the filibuster failed by five votes.

Whoa.  I had no idea that we had actually had an amendment passed in the House amid widespread public support only to see it killed (don’t get me started on the filibuster) by segregationists (read “racists”) in the Senate.  Ugh.  That is sure going to be a major part of all my future rants against the electoral college.  Imagine the alternate history of this country had that amendment passed.

The internet lives under the ocean

Oh, man, this NYT photo-essay of how the internet lives under the ocean is so cool.  Here’s a still of the growth of cables over time.  And the story also talks about the shipboard work of laying the ocean cables.

Preview Changes (opens in a new tab)

 

Raise your kids without anger– Inuit style

One of the most interesting things about being a parent is how you realize that your kids can make you angrier than anybody’s ever made you in your life.  Somehow few things in life are ever as infuriating as your own kids.  But, your the parent and you’ve got to control it.  Amazingly, the Inuit have a whole culture of parenting and raising children that largely avoids anger.  It’s pretty damn fascinating.  Really great NPR story on it:

Briggs quickly realized something remarkable was going on in these families: The adults had an extraordinary ability to control their anger.

“They never acted in anger toward me, although they were angry with me an awful lot,” Briggs told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview…

For instance, one time someone knocked a boiling pot of tea across the igloo, damaging the ice floor. No one changed their expression. “Too bad,” the offender said calmly and went to refill the teapot.

In another instance, a fishing line — which had taken days to braid — immediately broke on the first use. No one flinched in anger. “Sew it together,” someone said quietly…

Across the board, all the moms mention one golden rule: Don’t shout or yell at small children.

Traditional Inuit parenting is incredibly nurturing and tender. If you took all the parenting styles around the world and ranked them by their gentleness, the Inuit approach would likely rank near the top.(They even have a special kiss for babies, where you put your nose against the cheek and sniff the skin.)

The culture views scolding — or even speaking to children in an angry voice — as inappropriate, says Lisa Ipeelie, a radio producer and mom who grew up with 12 siblings. “When they’re little, it doesn’t help to raise your voice,” she says. “It will just make your own heart rate go up.”

Even if the child hits you or bites you, there’s no raising your voice?

“No,” Ipeelie says with a giggle that seems to emphasize how silly my question is. “With little kids, you often think they’re pushing your buttons, but that’s not what’s going on. They’re upset about something, and you have to figure out what it is.”…

Traditionally, the Inuit saw yelling at a small child as demeaning. It’s as if the adult is having a tantrum; it’s basically stooping to the level of the child, Briggs documented.

Elders I spoke with say intense colonization over the past century is damaging these traditions. And, so, the community is working hard to keep the parenting approach intact…

Now at some level, all moms and dads know they shouldn’t yell at kids. But if you don’t scold or talk in an angry tone, how do you discipline? How do you keep your 3-year-old from running into the road? Or punching her big brother?

For thousands of years, the Inuit have relied on an ancient tool with an ingenious twist: “We use storytelling to discipline,” Jaw says.

How America increasingly accepts corruption

This, from Franklin Foer is great, “We’re Losing the War on Corruption: Paul Manafort and Felicity Huffman are twin avatars of an elite that still acts with impunity.”

In fact, the lawyers had a point. Manafort is being sent to prison for crimes that are systemic, hardly hidden, and usually elicit little more than a yawn or shrug. [bold is mine; italics in original] According to a Justice Department report in 2016, there had been seven prosecutions for failure to comply with FARA since 1966. What makes this figure so galling is how many eminent ex-government officials have served as “strategic advisers” to dictatorial governments.

They might represent foreign governments, but technically do not lobbyCongress on their behalf; they make millions, while never subjecting their work to public scrutiny—or themselves to personal embarrassment…

Or take the more rampant problem of tax evasion. While Manafort will serve time for failing to pay his bills to the government, armies of lawyers and accountants are feverishly devising novel methods of enabling the rich to cheat the IRS, depriving the U.S. of nearly $200 billion in revenue each year. As one old joke holds, the difference between tax avoidance (which is legal) and tax evasion (which is not) is the wall of a prison.

This is the same pattern made visible by the college admissions scandal. The public gets inflamed over a supposedly outrageous piece of behavior that is really not so far from the standard elite procedure. When a wealthy donor contributes $10 million to a university, imagining that their child will someday attend, administrators call it a “gift” and applaud the gesture of philanthropy. But it is, in effect, institutionalized bribery, and it creates new templates of moral behavior. It makes recognizing as wrong under-the-table payments to college coaches harder for parents, when these payment so resemble the gift-giving they see officially sanctioned.

America never had an edenic period, when the country resided in a state of pristine civic virtue. But the past half century has ushered in an era of rank indifference to the perils of corruption and bribery. Not so long ago, the United States had a far more robust definition of what counted as a bribe. That broad definition constrained the growth of the American lobbying industry. Back in the 1960s, lobbying hardly existed in Washington—at least not in the form and on the scale that we now know it. The ledger of officially registered lobbyists extended into the high double digits. By the 1990s, the population of lobbyists had swelled to well over 10,000.

If Americans are more comfortable living in a world of bribery, perhaps it’s because American jurisprudence has legalized so much of it…

Paul Manafort also helped invent this world. He pioneered the structure and practices of the modern K Street lobbying firm. At each step in his career as a lobbyist and consultant, he kept pushing the boundaries of the acceptable, because his experience had shown that he would always get away it. Until Robert Mueller came along, Manafort had every reason to believe that he would never pay a price for his malfeasance. The fact that he will now serve time is a victory in the war against corruption; that he will encounter so few of his own kind in prison is a testament to the fact that we are still losing the war.

Meanwhile in a remotely normal political world

It would be an ongoing and huge scandal that access to the president was being sold off by the owner of some highly-questionable “massage parlors.”  Alas, we live in the present one where our system is clearly so overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of Trump’s malfeasance that it literally cannot cope.  Seriously, ask yourself for moment not just what Fox News would have looked like, but also the network broadcasts and the cover of the NYT if Obama or Clinton (or Bush) had been wrapped up in something like this.  Michelle Goldberg, at least, is on the case:

Even if you’re an avid follower of the news, it’s hard to keep track of Donald Trump’s scandals. The president’s singular governing innovation has been to engage in grift so baroque, so galactically expansive, that trying to comprehend it all at once tests the limit of the human mind. Revelations that would have been shocking in the world we all lived in a few years ago — for example, news that the president overruled his staff to insist on security clearances for his fashion designer daughter and her husband — now take up half a news cycle, at most.

Still, it’s worth trying to summon whatever is left of our pre-Trump sensibilities and pause to consider the epic sleaze of the unfolding story of Li Yang, also known as Cindy Yang.

Yang, in case you haven’t heard of her yet, is a Florida businesswoman whose family owns a chain of massage parlors that, as The Miami Herald put it, “have gained a reputation for offering sexual services.” Last month, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and a close friend of and donor to Trump, was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution at a spa Yang founded, Orchids of Asia. (She reportedly sold it around 2013, but online reviews indicate it was known as a place to buy sex before that.)…

According to Mother Jones, she claimed to have gotten her clients into the most recent New Year’s Eve party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. The Herald reported that Yang arranged for a group of Chinese businessmen to attend a Trump fund-raising event in 2017 in Manhattan at which tickets, which foreigners can’t legally pay for, started at $2,700. Her Chinese-language website, which appears to have been taken down, said she was hosting a conference at Mar-a-Lago later this month; Trump’s sister was listed as the guest speaker.

News that the owner of a chain of dubious massage parlors was brokering foreign access to the president of the United States should be a big deal. It has the potential to be a sex scandal, an intelligence scandal and a financial scandal all at once.

“There are profound national security implications to this kind of relationship,” Jeffrey Prescott, a senior director on the National Security Council under Barack Obama, told me. “It goes to the obvious opportunities that foreign governments and interests are going to see to have influence over this president because of the way that he’s arranged his business practices.”

Of course, given that Trump as president is already a sex scandal, intelligence scandal, and financial scandal all at once, we are largely out of additional outrage.  But we shouldn’t be.

Trump’s budget

No, it won’t become law.  But a lot of politics is symbols and a budget is a big giant symbol of what the Trump administration believes is and is not important.  John Cassidy:

I’ve noted before that Donald Trump lives by a famous dictum from Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist: “When one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it.” (Goebbels attributed this tactic to the English.) And the President has outdone himself with his Administration’s new budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which is entitled “A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First.”

“Promises kept” has a particularly nice ring to it. Almost as nice as what Trump said on that fateful day, June 16, 2015, when he descended the escalator at Trump Tower. “Save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts,” he declared. “Have to do it.” Throughout the Republican primary campaign, Trump repeated this pledge many times and also accused his G.O.P. opponents of wanting to slash the three big entitlement programs. In the general-election campaign, he stuck to the same mantra. A few days before Election Day, he suggested that Hillary Clinton wanted to “destroy” Medicare, the public health-care system for the elderly, which she had vowed to expand, and claimed that he alone would “protect” it.

So how does the “Budget for a Better America” treat Medicare and the other programs that Trump vowed to safeguard at all costs? By calling for even larger cuts to them than the White House proposed this time last year, when it formally abandoned Trump’s campaign pledges. The budget for the 2019 fiscal year called for five hundred and fifty billion dollars in cuts to Medicare over ten years. With the budget deficit skyrocketing as a consequence of the Trump-G.O.P. tax bill, the 2020 budget would reduce spending on Medicare by eight hundred and forty-five billion dollars over the next decade. Even in Washington, that’s a lot of money.

The cuts to Medicare would be imposed as the budget allots billions of dollars a year in extra spending to the Pentagon and another $8.6 billion for Trump’s wall along the southern border…

The budget treats Medicaid, the federal health program for poor people and children, in even more draconian fashion. Reflecting a long-standing priority of the Republican Party, the budget would convert Medicaid into a decentralized system administered by the states and financed by federal block grants. By indexing these grants to the consumer price inflation, which rises more slowly than inflation in the health-care sector, the budget would substantially reduce the federal-spending commitment going forward. In addition, it would eliminate funding that the Affordable Care Act provided for individual states to expand Medicaid to more recipients—funding that more than thirty states have taken advantage of in recent years…

It is true that, these days, White House budgets often don’t amount to much. Effectively, they are extended wish lists, which the spending authorities on Capitol Hill often set aside, especially when the government is divided, as it is now. But even a White House wish list is a significant document, because it expresses the spending priorities of the Administration and the President. In this instance, those priorities run directly counter to the message that Trump conveyed on the campaign trail.

No surprise there, you might say. It’s been clear from the beginning that Trump was selling snake oil and that his pledge to protect the safety net was about as valuable as a certificate from Trump University. But it is instructive, nonetheless, to see his mendacity expressed in cold numbers

When a bill won’t become a law

I really love this article in the N&O.  It’s a pretty regular feature of political news to read a variation of, “a bill to do this horrible thing has been filed!”  I don’t know about the statistics for state legislatures, but only 5% of bills filed in Congress every do anything at all.  Most bills are filed and never heard from again.  So, any sorts of “oh, my, look what this bill will do” is great for clicks, but not for too much else.  So, love that this N&O article works to put all this in perspective for readers (even if they are as guilty as anyone of clickbait “teachers with guns!!” headlines):

Watching news reports, you might think that handing out guns to teachers is this year’s top priority. A Charlotte TV newscast recently featured the eye-popping headline that “we are one step closer to allowing teachers to carry guns in North Carolina schools” because a bill “passed its first reading” in the House.

But the headline was false because “first reading” is a meaningless procedural step. First reading is when a bill’s title is read aloud on the floor of the legislature, and it gets assigned to committees. Nearly every bill ever filed has “passed its first reading.”

Second reading and third reading are where lawmakers actually vote, and previous proposals to arm teachers haven’t made it to that step. In the off-chance the gun proposals get through the House and Senate, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will veto them, and Republicans no longer have enough votes to override his vetoes.

House leaders know this, and last week, that chamber unanimously approved a package of school safety measures that deliberately avoided anything gun-related: No armed teachers, but no gun control either.

Browsing the legislature’s website from Charlotte in search of outlandish bills is a recipe for misleading or downright inaccurate news stories — or at least an excessive focus on bills that are going nowhere.

Last session, nearly 2,000 bills were filed, but only 360 actually became law. [emphases mine] Some of those that fell short were unpopular, but others simply lacked the legislative muscle to get through the process. “There are more than 1,000 bills that are probably the right policy for the state of North Carolina that are going to die in the General Assembly this session,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, at a recent NC Insider panel discussion.

But how can you tell which bills have a real shot — and are therefore worth advocating for or against? Here’s what to look for if you do your own research:

Who’s sponsoring it? If the bill sponsor is a member of the GOP leadership team or the chair of a relevant committee, odds are good that the bill will pass at least one chamber. Committee chairs are powerful because once a bill is directed to their committee, they get to decide if and when it gets a vote — or if it’s dead on arrival.

If the bill is a partisan proposal sponsored only by Democrats, or if it’s sponsored by a fringe figure on the right, the proposal is likely already dead.

Is the proposal a re-run? Many persistent legislators file the same bills every session. While the political climate does occasionally shift, bills that went nowhere last session will likely suffer the same fate this year. Examples include repealing permit requirements for guns and reinstating the earned income tax credit.

Did it go straight to the Rules Committee? All bills eventually make a stop in the powerful House and Senate Rules committees, but the committees also often serve as leadership’s dumpster for unpopular proposals. This year, bills to arm teachers and “nullify” the federal legalization of gay marriage went directly to House Rules without other committee assignments. Odds are that they’ll die there.

Of course, these are nice NC-specific explanations, but the same goes for other states in terms of looking who is sponsoring the bill (party, leadership, etc.), procedural hurdles, past bills, etc.

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