The future is not so bright for revanchist white people

I think is is pretty well known that, on average, white Americans are older than Americans.  But, wow, does this from Pew really put it in perspective, “The most common age among whites in U.S. is 58 – more than double that of racial and ethnic minorities.”

In U.S., most common age for whites is much older than for minorities

I think we all know what this means for the future of American politics.  And why white Republicans are fighting so damn hard against it.  Just doubling-down on white racial anxiety/animus and trying to rig electoral rules may yet still be successful for the short term.  But, longer term… not so much.

Racial appeals is all Trump’s got left

Really good stuff from Greg Sargent:

Once again, we are in the midst of that spin cycle, in which Trump and Republicans insist that this attack on Cummings is brilliant politics.

[Note– there’s not actually any intentional strategy here.  It’s pretty clear that Trump largely just tweets about whatever racialized stuff he sees on Fox News any given morning]

And so, when Republicans and pundits — and Trump himself — say his attacks on nonwhite lawmakers constitute good politics, we all know they’re really saying Trump’s racist attacks will galvanize white voters, in particular the blue-collar whites in Trump’s base.

Putting aside the dim view of those voters this embodies, here’s a follow-up question: Why does Trump need to do this to win reelection, given his own constant suggestion that America is winning everywhere and the Trump economy is the greatest in U.S. history?

Republicans give away Trump’s game

Some new reporting in The Post offers a clue: Republican officials privately say this is a winner, because Trump is “harnessing the anger of those who continue to feel left behind despite the strong economy,” and channeling it by casting Democrats as socialists.

But note the implicit suggestion here that, despite the stupendous Trump economy, non-college-educated white voters are not energized to the degree Trump needs for his reelection campaign. Why?…

Meanwhile, his ineffectual trade wars are causing his own constituencies real pain, requiring a taxpayer-funded bailout. There won’t be any big infrastructure package, and Trump and Republicans oppose the minimum-wage hike that House Democrats just passed.

Trump loyalist Newt Gingrich recently confirmed what those Republican officials say privately, by basically conceding that Trump is far more interested in trying to win reelection by depicting Democrats as radical than he is in working on the populist pro-worker agenda he campaigned on. The former is the substitute for the latter.

Not unrelated, non-college white women seem to be turning on Trump (leaving non-college white men as Trump’s only true supporters).  Sargent:

Brownstein’s thesis, boiled down, is that Trump’s racist attacks on “the Squad” of four nonwhite congresswomen, which have now been followed by more racist attacks on another nonwhite lawmaker, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), could backfire on Trump, if his goal is to use such attacks to galvanize his non-college-educated white base.

That’s because, Brownstein argued, such attacks might prove alienating to non-college-educated white women. Brownstein marshaled extensive polling data that shows Trump’s approval cooling among that demographic, relative to how Trump previously performed among them.

The data provided to me by Quinnipiac does appear to suggest the possibility that this demographic is getting driven away from Trump.

The poll finds that among overall registered voters, 54 percent say they will “definitely not” vote for Trump in 2020, vs. 32 percent who definitely will, and 12 percent who will consider voting for him. Among non-college-educated whites, 45 percent said they will definitely vote for him, vs. 41 percent who say they will definitely not vote for him.

That last number seemed like a large percentage of non-college-educated whites who definitely won’t vote for Trump. So I asked Quinnipiac for a further breakdown, and here it is:


That’s striking: A bare plurality of non-college-educated white women say they will definitely not vote for Trump. (It’s also worth noting the extreme depth of alienation from Trump among college-educated white women: More than 6 in 10 say they definitely won’t vote for him.)

So, as much as Republicans insist that the racism is a winning strategy, it sure doesn’t seem like it.  It’s a strategy for keeping angry, less-educated white men on Trump’s side.  But that’s about it.  To everybody else, he is (deservedly) toxic.

Of course, an interesting research question is why non-college white women seem to be more turned off by Trump’s racism than the non-college white men.

Big picture, though, the racism is about all Trump’s got left.  So, surely plenty more to come.


Race > Party > Jesus

So, listened to a couple of great NPR podcasts this past week that were both frustrating and fascinating.  First, this terrific “Throughline” episode that looks at the history of Evangelical Christianity in America.  You should so listen to this.  What was most interesting was the emphasis on relatively recent history on the role of race and abortion.  Short version: it was racial attitudes and backlash to the Civil Rights movement that brought Evangelicals thoroughly into the Republican Party.  Not abortion.  And the history is very clear on this.  It was only until later into the 1970’s– well after Roe was decided in 1973– that some very smart right-wing political actors decided that they could use abortion as a wedge issue to bring Evangelicals more completely into the GOP.  It was definitely racial attitudes that started the process.

So, really short version: racial attitudes (i.e., race) > partisanship.  Lots of white Southern Democrats, as is extremely well-documented, ultimately moved into the Republican party over matters of race.

Okay, so onto the second part of the inequality… Also a great podcast on Evangelicals via NPR’s “Rough Translation.”  This one focused on how Evangelicals have largely come to oppose the science behind climate change and environmentalism more broadly.  Why would “religious” people have such disdain for care of God’s earth?  Well, that’s easy… GOP > Jesus.  Seriously.  Liberals and Democrats are for protecting the environment and fighting climate change, so it must be bad.  It was kind of amazing listening to some of the audio clips of “Christians” decrying the horror of protecting the environment.  There’s been a few brave Evangelicals who actually believed that their faith means they should be careful stewards of God’s creation, but, of course, they have been marginalized and kicked out.

And, let’s not even start on the fact that it is the “Christians” in the Republican Party who continue to stand behind Trump’s cruel and inhumane policies at the border.  I’m sure Jesus would have said “which part of illegal do you not understand?”

Photo of the day

Wow is this an awesome eclipse photo.  And good story behind at the Wired link:

Reuben Wu spent nearly two years putting together the sponsorship deals that would enable him and a small team to travel to northern Chile to shoot this solar eclipse on July 2, 2019.  Reuben Wu

Quick hits (part II)

1) Great NYT investigation into the Boeing 737 Max.  Can you say regulatory capture?

The regulator’s hands-off approach was pivotal. At crucial moments in the Max’s development, the agency operated in the background, mainly monitoring Boeing’s progress and checking paperwork. The nation’s largest aerospace manufacturer, Boeing was treated as a client, with F.A.A. officials making decisions based on the company’s deadlines and budget.

It has long been a cozy relationship. Top agency officials have shuffled between the government and the industry. [emphasis mine]

During the Max certification, senior leaders at the F.A.A. sometimes overruled their own staff members’ recommendations after Boeing pushed back. For safety reasons, many agency engineers wanted Boeing to redesign a pair of cables, part of a major system unrelated to MCAS. The company resisted, and F.A.A. managers took Boeing’s side, according to internal agency documents.

2) I’m a medium fan of Spoon.  Not huge, but I do like they’re stuff.  Loved this article about the fact that they are releasing a “greatest hits” compilation and how nobody does that anymore.  Some of my favorite albums back in the day were Beatles and Eagles greatest hits.

If your formative years as a music listener fall somewhere between the moon landing and 9/11, the odds are pretty good that a lot of the earliest records you fell in love with weren’t albums at all, but rather greatest hits collections. There’s a good chance they weren’t records you sought out yourself, but were in rotation in your family’s cars — maybe the color-coded Beatles singles collections, or Stevie Wonder’s Song Review, or The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, which happens to be the best-selling album of all time, just ahead of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The golden age of the greatest hits record may be in the past, but its functions — to introduce a veteran act to new listeners and to allow an artist to make a case for their own legacy — are arguably more necessary than ever given the sheer volume of music that is available to young listeners.

Unlike proper albums, which typically have some measure of artistic pretense about them, a greatest hits compilation exists purely as a commercial proposition: all the hits in one place, perfect for casual listeners and newbies. The worst of them feel like hastily tossed-together cash grabs, but the best are so well curated in presenting a fertile period of a career that they are arguably an artist’s definitive work — Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Legend, Squeeze’s Singles 45’s & Under, ABBA’s Gold and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits all immediately come to mind. The format is a gift to artists who are better at producing singles than coherent album statements, and for cash-strapped consumers who can’t go from zero to completist for any given pop star who sparks their interest.

3) Drum on the budget deficit.  It’s about the taxes; not the spending.

Yesterday I put up a chart showing the level of discretionary federal spending over the past 40 years. I did this because the news hook for it was the budget deal that Congress and President Trump agreed to, which was solely about discretionary spending levels for the next two years.But naturally a lot of people thought this was just some kind of trick. What about all federal spending, including stuff like Medicare and Social Security, which we all know is spiraling out of control? Here it is:

The trendline is still slightly down. Roughly speaking, the federal government spent about 21 percent of GDP during the Reagan era, less than that during the Clinton era, and then stabilized at about 20 percent during the Obama era. There is simply nothing here that is out of control.

4) I still have not got myself an Impossible Burger, but, as you know, I’m a huge fan of “fake” meat.  So not a fan of agricultural interests and the politicians who do their bidding pretending that consumers aren’t smart enough to know the difference between a hamburger and a veggie burger:

It’s a case of animal versus vegetable — and the steaks are high.

A growing number of states have been passing laws saying that only foods made of animal flesh should be allowed to carry labels like “meat,” “sausage,” “jerky,” “burger” or “hot dog.”

Who has a beefwith this deal? Makers of plant-based foods, of course — like Tofurky. But also the American Civil Liberties Union. Both are in a coalition that this week sued Arkansas, arguing that thestate’s new label restrictions — set to go into effect this week — censor speech and play favorites with industries. Similar lawsuits are pending against Missouri and Mississippi.

Those are just three of the states that have passed laws restricting meatlike labels for vegan and vegetarian alternatives made of plants, as well as for lab-grown meat from animal cells. Others include MontanaSouth Dakota and Wyoming.In addition to the meat labels, Arkansas also decreed that “rice” made of plants like cauliflower or broccoli can’t be called “rice.” And Louisiana has added protections for crawfish, shrimp and sugar…

Proponents of such measures tend to argue that they want to protect consumers from being misled — for example, by rushing into a store to grab a bag of hot dogs and accidentally buying “vegan sticks.”…

But can meat companies now claim to be the only non-misleading purveyors of labels like “hot dog” (which includes no dog) or “hamburger” (which includes no ham) or “chicken fingers” (which, ideally, include no fingers)?

“If [plant-based makers] can’t say that it’s a black bean burger by using ‘burger,’ how are they to describe to the consumer what the product is?” said Holly Dickson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. Her group — alongside Tofurky, the Good Food Institute and the Animal Legal Defense Fund — argues that the new Arkansas law restricting meat- and rice-related terms violates the First Amendment’s freedom of speech.

“This is not a law to protect consumers. Arkansans aren’t confused about what a black bean or veggie burger or tofu dog are,” Dickson said. “The law is really designed to allow the government to censor truthful speech and give an advantage to animal-based manufacturers … and disadvantage to plant-based manufacturers.”

5) In trying to find some new article for my upcoming gender and politics class, I found a great piece in Vox that I had never seen about how polls do not such a great job measuring attitudes on abortion:

Is the public really divided on abortion? It’s surprisingly hard to know.

I’ve studied public opinion toward abortion on and off for about a decade as a researcher. Recently I was conducting focus groups where we specifically recruited people who had told us abortion should only be legal in cases of rape or abuse, or if the mother’s health is at risk. But once the conversation started, the issue quickly got more complex. Participants would say things like, “The government should stay out of the decision. It is up to the woman.”

As a pollster, I find this perplexing: these are people who say abortion should only be legal in rare cases, but also want the government out of the decision?

That focus group reminded me of a survey I conducted a few years ago. Some of the respondents who said abortion should only be legal in those rare cases also opposed some restrictions on abortion.

These are just a few of the contradictions I’ve seen, having surveyed thousands of people across the country on the topic. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is this: the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.

6) And I also liked David Leonhardt’s summary of public opinion on the issue:

The accurate picture is not as simple as either side claims. It is instead of a country that’s closely divided, with clear majorities supporting both some abortion rights and some restrictions. Large numbers of people fall somewhere in the middle — favoring both unfettered access to abortion in some circumstances but significant restrictions in others.

And unlike on many other issues, abortion does not produce huge differences in opinion between men and women; among whites, blacks and Hispanics; or across different generations. Which is another reason to doubt this debate will have an easy solution.

7) Some pretty depressing research from Cass Sunstein— don’t apologize:

Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a service that allows for rapid surveys, I recently presented four distinct scenarios to four different groups, each demographically diverse and having about 300 people. Here they are:

  • Suppose a nominee for attorney general said a few years ago: “Gays and lesbians are violating God’s will. Marriage should be between Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

  • Suppose a presidential candidate said a few years ago, “People who want to ban abortion just don’t care about women.”

  • Suppose a nominee for secretary of state said a few years ago, “I think the United States should apologize for the many terrible things that it has done in the world.”

  • Suppose a presidential candidate has been accused by a number of women of inappropriate touching — of getting too close to them, of hugging them too much, of hugging them too long. Some of the women said they felt violated.

In all four cases, participants were asked to suppose that the public figure apologized for the statement or behavior in question, and were asked whether the apology would make them more likely to support him or her, less likely to do so, or neither less nor more inclined to support the public figure.

In each and every scenario, the percentage of people who became less inclined to support the offender was larger than the percentage who became more inclined to do so. Stunningly, the patterns were broadly similar in all four cases — even though different groups of people responded to each of them and the statements or actions would offend people of different convictions.

In the case of the hypothetical nominee who disparaged same-sex marriage, 37 percent said that they would be less inclined to support the apologizing nominee; 22 percent said that they would be more inclined; 41 percent said neither.

In the abortion case, 36.5 percent said that they would be less inclined to support the apologizing candidate; 20 percent said that they would be more inclined; 43.5 percent said neither.

In the case of the would-be secretary of state, 41.5 percent said that they would be less inclined to support the apologizing nominee; 23 percent said that they would be more inclined; 35.5 percent said neither.

In the case of inappropriate touching, 29 percent said that they would be less inclined to support the apologizing candidate; 25 percent said that they would be more inclined; 46 percent saidneither.

In a diverse set of contexts, then, an apology tended to decrease rather than to increase overall support for those who said or did things that many people consider offensive. These findings are in line with earlier work by Richard Hanania, a research fellow at Columbia University, who found that apologies by public figures do not help and can even backfire.

Why is that? It’s hard to say for sure, but one reason may be that an apology is like a confession. It makes wrongdoing more salient. It can lead people to think: “We thought he was a jerk; now we know he is. He admits it!”

8) Good piece from Will Saletan on how William Barr won the Mueller report:

Mueller’s integrity makes him a sterling investigator but a lousy political combatant. On March 22, he submitted his 448-page report to Barr, laying out evidence that Trump had obstructed justice but declining to state that conclusion. Barr responded by hijacking the report. Instead of digesting it or releasing the summaries Mueller had drafted for public release, the attorney general issued a letter on March 24 declaring, without explanation, that the evidence was “not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

Mueller and his team were taken aback. On March 27, the special counsel sent Barr a notepointing out that the attorney general’s letter “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.” Mueller asked Barr to release the summaries drafted by the special counsel’s office. Barr refused. Mueller didn’t tell the press about this dispute, and Barr exploited his silence. When the attorney general was asked on April 9 whether members of Mueller’s team were unhappy with Barr’s March 24 letter, he falsely testified that he knew nothing about it.

By dismissing the case against Trump three weeks before he released the report, Barr allowed Republicans to frame the report as a victory. And on April 18, when Barr unveiled the document, he misrepresented it. “The Special Counsel’s report did not find any evidence that members of the Trump campaign or anyone associated with the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its hacking operations,” Barr declared. “In other words, there was no evidence of Trump campaign ‘collusion’ with the Russian government’s hacking.”

That wasn’t true. The report said that there wasevidence—for example, Trump’s explicit appeal to Russia during a July 2016 press conference to “find the 30,000 emails” Hillary Clinton had deleted—but that it wasn’t enough. Barr was twisting the report to fit Republican spin that the investigation was baseless…

And what is Mueller’s reward for these scruples? During his testimony, Republicans accused him of bias against Trump. Then, at a press conference afterward, they crowed that Mueller had trashed the Democrats’ talking points against the president. In the hearings, Democrats had “laid out every possibility they could for obstruction,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “And Mr. Mueller looked at ’em and said … ‘I don’t agree with your theory.’ That should tell you a lot right there.”

It certainly does. It explains, to a large extent, why Trump is off the hook. Barr is playing politics, and Mueller isn’t. Even a Bronze Star Marine can be fragged.

8) Totally unsurprising, but, we should take note.  Jordan  Weissman, “Donald Trump’s Entire Story About the Economy Fell Apart This Week”

Again, this could just be a blip, and it’s possible that as the data get revised, last quarter’s business investment might start to look stronger. But if it doesn’t, it won’t just be a strike against Trump’s story about the economy. It will also undercut years of conservative, supply-side orthodoxy. After all, when Republicans passed their massive corporate tax cut in 2017, their entire argument rested on the idea that it would lead to a surge in investment that would eventually lead to higher wages. Again, there’s no sign that has taken place. If the economy is reaping any benefit from the tax bill, it doesn’t seem to be strong enough to overcome the headwind of Donald Trump’s other rash decisions. Instead, what really appears to be driving the economy is a combination of consumer spending, perhaps plumped up by the tax cut, and federal deficits. The real story of the Trump economy, it seems, is about the power of stimulus spending—the sort of thing Republicans once claimed to hate.

9) You know, it really is a problem that Black transwomen are murdered at a disporportionately high rate.  But I’m still going to say that given 2019 America, this is probably not in the top 100 problems that should be concerning Democratic presidential candidates.  Especially when their supposed sin is voting for a law who’s intent was to limit sex trafficking.

10) I’ve really loved the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.  I watched PBS’ “Chasing the Moon” this week and absolutely loved it.  One of my favorite thins to do is watch the launch of a Saturn V rocket.  I think I could have that on a loop for an hour and be happy.

11) Also, totally loving “Dark” on Netflix.  I’m enjoying the German with English subtitles to see how much I recognize from my four years in high school and college.


Really good essay on Nancy Pelosi and impeachment from Elizageth Spears in TNR:

This reflexive tendency to dress up a posture of inattention as inscrutable cunning applies even more so to people who are smart and capable, or at least have a record of behaving as if they are. What I now think of as The Alan Greenspan Fallacy is pervasive among elites who believe intelligence is synonymous with inevitable progress, realism, and pragmatism. So when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, an effective and often groundbreaking career politician, refuses to articulate a rationale for failing to hold Trump accountable, she gets the benefit of the doubt, and quite a bit more. When she says something that provokes Trump, or forces him to be defensive, this is read as active management of Trump and not Trump behaving in the reactionary fashion he always does. (This particular brand of savvy being the ability to get “into Trump’s head” as Maureen Dowd put it in her now-notorious interview with Pelosi earlier this month—as though there’s some concrete political victory associated with this cranial burrowing, or, more to the point, as if there’s anything in the big broad world that doesn’t get into Trump’s head.)…

To put things mildly, it’s a very big stretch to assume that voters who are generally not inclined to begin impeachment proceedings feel so strongly about the issue that the actual conduct of impeachment proceedings would provoke an actively hostile response. And it’s a still bigger stretch to deduce from that hypothetical scenario that a still larger turned-off segment of the electorate simply won’t show up to the polls if House Democrats proceed. Democrats don’t really have single-issue voting blocs as a matter of course, and it’s exceedingly difficult to imagine that they’re going to organically develop an anti-impeachment one. Republican support of Trump is at a high in at least one poll after his racist comments about the The Squad—but it’s still well below the historical average of Republican presidents in the last few decades. And head-to-head polls indicate that Trump’s beatable by every one of the top six Democratic candidates. This is not a reason to become overconfident, but it is good cause for realistically evaluating the costs of undue caution on the issue. If Trump can be defeated by virtually any Democrat who runs and maybe an actual ham sandwich, why sacrifice the entirety of checks and balances for the potential slight erosion of a fairly significant starting advantage?

It also strains credulity that after a long stretch of public hearings outlining Trump’s bottomless malfeasance in minute detail that, with the possible exception of his shrinking base, Republican voters would be more motivated to show up and vote for him, and that Democrats would be demoralized. Historical precedent indeed supports the opposite view: A slim minority—just 19 percent—of polled opinion supported Richard Nixon’s impeachment at the outset of the Watergate scandal, and by the end of the House Judiciary Committee’s televised impeachment hearings, a strong majority supported it. And that shift in opinion translated into a massive wave of Democratic gains in the 1974 midterm balloting.

Pelosi has never produced any evidence that her mind-boggling scenario is likely. If House leadership has polling somewhere indicating that impeachment proceedings would dampen turnout as a direct result of the proceedings themselves, they have not produced it. That is to say, such polls don’t, and really can’t, show how impeachment might suppress turnout or reflect a hypothetical future level of frustration with the process that would harm broader Democratic messaging efforts. It’s arguably at least as great a risk that a brewing loss of confidence in Democratic leadership’s ability to effectively utilize the power it already has might depress turnout and block effective outreach to voters. Yet there are no intra-party polls on that scenario—or if there are, they’re not getting promoted with the same eagerness that party officials have championed an entirely unscientific poll purporting to show how members of The Squad are massively unpopular with working-class white voters. And needless to say, Pelosi effectively pushes aside any suggestion that there could be actual negative campaign fallout from her chosen course of inaction on impeachment.

I suspect that this particular gambit is actually a hedge—one designed to insulate Pelosi and leadership from responsibility for any potential losses in 2020 generally. If leadership does nothing, 2020 losses are more easily pinned on 2020 candidates. But if leadership acts, any postmortems will invariably point to action as an instigating factor, regardless of whether that actually proves to be the case. Sins of commission are always regarded as more egregious than sins of omission—and that seems to be the simplest explanation of why Pelosi is abdicating responsibility now in order to avoid accusations of culpability in the future.

Compare this incredible passivity with the offensive maneuvers frequently adopted by the Republican Party and its leaders, who have always taken it for granted that the only way to win is to run roughshod over any Democrat who hesitates to use the power they have.

Quick hits

1) This is kind of too perfect.  The NC Republican party’s “expert” witness has had his testimony thrown out in a big gerrymandering case because he used totally made up figures about the gerrymandered districts.

2) NC State’s Class of 2022 Park Scholars (and me!) are going to DC in October for a “learning lab” on mass incarceration.  I helped them put together this great list of pre-trip reading and viewing.  Want to understand mass incarceration in America?  You could do a lot worse than this list.

3) Sometime longform journalism is just too long.  That said, I did enjoy skimming this feature in The Cut, “The Most Gullible Man in Cambridge A Harvard Law professor who teaches a class on judgment wouldn’t seem like an obvious mark, would he?”

4) Good chance you saw this headline, “Emmett Till Sign Photo Leads Ole Miss Fraternity to Suspend Members.”  I will say this little bit pulled me up short:

But the Ole Miss chapter of Kappa Alpha, which the three students are members of, said in a statement on Thursday that it took swift action after it learned of the photo on Tuesday.

“The photo is inappropriate, insensitive, and unacceptable,” the fraternity chapter said. “It does not represent our chapter.”

Of course they said that, but, the reality is KA is a fraternity that celebrates the confederacy and this is the U of Mississippi chapter, so…

5) I’ve long known the “felony murder” rule is abominable.  I guess I should’ve not been surprised that we’re about the only country systematically unjust enough to regularly use it:

The origins of the felony murder rule are murky. Generations of law students have been taught that it is a relic of British common law.

But Guyora Binder, a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law and a leading expert on felony murder, said he had found otherwise. He traced modern felony murder doctrine to the 1820s, when state legislatures in the United States codified criminal offenses.

England abolished its version of felony murder in 1957, followed by India, Canada and other common law countries, and the United States remains the only country where the felony murder doctrine still exists. A Michigan Supreme Court ruling that did away with it in that state nearly four decades ago called it “a historic survivor for which there is no logical or practical basis for existence in modern law.”

6) This is titled, “Barr’s talking points on the death penalty are misleading.”  To be fair, what does Barr say that’s not misleading.  Still, good stuff:

The worst. It’s a tired talking point – frequently amplified to “worst of the worst” – employed by death penalty proponents who know they can’t argue the merits of the system and instead must rely on fear-mongering and vague stereotypes to rally what little public support is still available to them on this issue.

The reality is that the “worst of the worst” is a subjective classification to begin with – what line one draws in the sand for throwing away the sanctity of human life will vary from the lines of others. But even if we could come to a consensus on what crimes constitute this indistinct classification, a quick look at the facts shows clearly that the severity of the crime rarely determines who gets a death sentence.

In actuality, the leading determinates for who receives the death penalty and who does not have little to do with the nature of the crime at all. In both state and federal systems, it is the location where the crime is committed that is the leading factor in a capital sentence. Just 2 percent of counties bring the majority of death penalty cases. All executions since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s have come from a mere 16 percent of the nation’s counties. At the federal level, three states – Texas, Missouri, and Virginia – are responsible for the majority of the cases, and all of the cases have come from 31 of the nation’s 94 federal judicial districts.

7) If you’ve read this blog for a while, or been in my Public Policy or Criminal Justice Policy classes, you know I’ve been a huge fan of criminology scholar, Mark Kleiman.  He has done as much to influence my own thinking on criminal justice as any scholar has influenced me on any subject.  I will still be assigning When Brute Force Fails for many years to come. Alas, he passed away this week.  I’ll link Kevin Drum’s remembrance, as I’m pretty sure its Drum who introduced me to his scholarship.  Also a nice appreciation from German Lopez.

8) I unapologetically use plastic straws, but I actually quite like paper straws, too, and would happily transition if that’s all that were available.  They last plenty long enough for me to finish a drink and refills.  But, now that Trump is against them, all the more reason.

9) RIP Rutger Hauer.  Bet you didn’t know he was the one to come up with the indelible, “tears in the rain” line.

10) I’ve got David Epstein’s Range sitting on the table 10 feet from me (thanks, DJC), but think I’m going to finish my Chernobyl book first.  Here’s Epstein, “Chances are, you’re not as open-minded as you think.”  But, what if I actually am? 🙂

Do you think of yourself as open-minded? For a 2017 study, scientists asked 2,400 well-educated adults to consider arguments on politically controversial issues — same-sex marriage, gun control, marijuana legalization — that ran counter to their beliefs. Both liberals and conservatives, they found, were similarly adamant about avoiding contrary opinions.

When it came to same-sex marriage, for example, two-thirds of those surveyed passed on a chance to pocket money if, in exchange, they took some time to just look at counterarguments, never mind seriously entertain them.

The lesson is clear enough: Most of us are probably not as open-minded as we think. That is unfortunate and something we can change. A hallmark of teams that make good predictions about the world around them is something psychologists call “active open mindedness.” People who exhibit this trait do something, alone or together, as a matter of routine that rarely occurs to most of us: They imagine their own views as hypotheses in need of testing.

11) In a related vein, nice Vox piece from Robert Peal, “The science of regrettable decisions: A doctor explains how our brains can trick us into making bad choices — and how to fight back.”

In the scientific literature, George and I noticed an interesting pattern: Under the right circumstances, a subconscious neurobiological sequence in our brains causes us to perceive the world around us in ways that contradict objective reality, distorting what we see and hear. This powerful shift in perception is unrelated to our intelligence, morals, or past behaviors. In fact, we don’t even know it’s happening, nor can we control it.

George and I named this phenomenon “brainshift” and found that it happens in two distinct situations: those involving high anxiety and those associated with major reward.

Under these conditions, all of us would do something just as regrettable as the headline-grabbing stories above, contrary to what we tell ourselves. Phrased differently, we don’t consciously decide to act a fool. Rather, once our perception is distorted, we act in ways that seem reasonable to us but foolish to observers.

12) “Fast track” deportation is just so wrong:

The Trump administration’s expansion of the use of fast-track deportations through “expedited removal” will create a “show me your papers” regime nationwide in which people — including citizens — may be forced to quickly prove they should not be deported. This policy allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to quickly deport someone without going before an immigration judge, undermining American principles of fundamental fairness and putting United States citizens, permanent residents and asylum-seekers at risk of wrongful deportation.

For 15 years, the government has been applying expedited removal in a limited way to those within 100 miles of the Canadian or Mexican border who have been in the United States for less than two weeks. The entire process consists of an interview with an immigration officer during which the burden is on the individual to prove a legal right to remain in the United States. One could be questioned, detained and deported very swiftly with little time to consult a lawyer or to gather evidence to prevent deportation. The extremely short timeline of the expedited-removal process increases the chances that a person who is legally entitled to stay in the United States can end up being removed anyway. The government now says it will apply it across the country for many people who cannot prove they have been present in the United States for two years or more. The expansion could affect thousands of people nationwide.

13) Tamar Haspel on why ultra-processed food makes us fat:

“There are several potential hypotheses,” Hall told me. Top of his list? Calorie density. “There were about two calories per gram in the processed food,” excluding drinks, “and in the unprocessed it was closer to one.” People also ate the ultra-processed meals a lot faster. “It might be softer, easier to chew and swallow,” Hall said. And that could mean that satiety signals, which take time, don’t get to your brain until after you’ve overeaten.

This is not a new idea. Penn State nutrition professor Barbara Rolls has been studying it for a couple of decades and wrote the “Volumetrics” series of diet books based on the idea of calorie-density. According to her, diets based on decreasing calorie density — which comes down to eating foods that have more water and less fat — are more effective than any of the diets that manipulate macronutrients.

They have a different mechanism, she explains. “It’s behavioral. It’s visual.” You’re responding to cues about the amount of food you’re eating. So, for example, if you give research subjects the same cereal in two different forms — flaky (higher volume) and crushed (lower volume) — they eat a third more of the crushed version. On average, people tend to decide how much to eat by gauging the amount of food; the more there is available, the more they eat, and volume and weight both play a role, Rolls says. Visual cues matter…

In a nutshell: The root of obesity is palatability and calorie density, combined with ubiquity and convenience. Satiety hormones and other metabolic machinations have much less to do with it. We’re responding to cues from without, not from within. One new study doesn’t prove it, of course, but it’s the hypothesis that best fits the preponderance of the evidence. [emphasis mine]

14) An argument that I should strongly consider not grading my students because it hinders learning.  Hmmm.

That is the kind of growth Blum wants students to experience in her courses. But her research and personal experience have persuaded her that it’s difficult to achieve when students are graded. Blum has come to the conclusion that grades are meaningless, even harmful. Grades, Blum is now convinced, are a barrier: between students and professors, between students and learning.

So Blum has stopped grading. She has joined the ranks of college professors and schoolteachers experimenting with “ungrading,” a set of practices meant to redirect time and attention to more important things. Like most professors, Blum can’t discard grades completely — she still has to hand them in at the end of the term. But that leaves the rest of the semester to help students question the premise of those grades and encourage them to focus instead on their learning.


A little more Mueller

Good take from Dave Leonhardt on what Mueller got wrong:

I can’t escape the feeling that Robert Mueller ultimately failed to do his job. [emphases mine]

Yes, he conducted a thorough, fair investigation of President Trump and Trump’s 2016 campaign. But when that investigation was over, Mueller ducked the tough decisions. He refused to clear Trump in the areas where no evidence implicated him in a crime, and Mueller refused to conclude that Trump had broken the law when the evidence clearly indicated he had.

Instead, Mueller tossed the hard decisions to Congress — a Congress rived by partisanship, where fact-based, widely accepted conclusions are all but impossible…

Based on his report and testimony, I think he should have said that he found no evidence of several of the accusations that Trump’s critics have made: that Russia has salacious compromising material on him; that an aide held a secret meeting in Prague; that Trump was a Russian intelligence asset.

At the same time, Mueller should have stated that the evidence strongly suggested that Trump committed obstruction of justice and campaign-finance crimes. Because Justice Department policy holds that sitting presidents can’t be indicted, Mueller could have explained that the right place to hear these cases was Congress. In the congressional proceeding, Trump could have defended himself, and the members could have made a decision about his guilt and the appropriate sanction, it any.

That approach would have been consistent with Mueller’s role as a prosecutor in this case. It would have been fair to Trump, and it would have been fair to the country.

Mueller chose an easier path, though.

And John Cassidy on the horribleness of today’s GOP:

The wanton disrespect that these elected Republicans showed Mueller was perhaps the most alarming testament yet to Trump’s total conquest of the Party. In today’s G.O.P., as in Stalin’s Russia, evidently, decades of loyal public service count for nothing when the leader and his henchmen decide someone represents a threat and the apparatchiks have been ordered to take that person down. All that matters is carrying out the order and staying in the leader’s good graces. That isn’t congressional oversight. It is scorched-earth politics of a kind that is entirely antithetical to the notion of checks and balances enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Diet soda is a free lunch

OMG did I love this recent column from Washington Post food columnist, Tamar Haspel, “The case for diet soda: It gets a bad rap, but the research tells a different story.”

It’s great stuff, but first it had me searching my archives for my “people hate diet soda because it’s a free lunch” post, only to discover that despite making this argument to many people, I (apparently, unless my blog search totally failed), never actually made that argument here.

So, here’s my theory.  Diet soda is basically a “free lunch.”  That is it almost all benefit, with pretty much no cost.  Tastes almost as good as regular soda and really no downside.  People don’t like that.  They want there to be a clear downside.  It’s amazing the arguments I’ve had with people where every time I tell them that science rebuts their concerns, they, go to, “but what about.”  I swear, so many people are very clearly motivated to believe diet soda just has to be bad for you.  Interestingly, you don’t really come across this with caffeine, which is a great free lunch for most people (terrific stimulant, no real downside for most people if not consumed in the evening).  Anyway, it is amusing to always hear about “chemicals!!”  Maybe I should tell them dihyrodgen monoxide is a chemical.

Anyway, onto Haspel’s excellent column on the matter:

The nutrition community doesn’t like diet soda. Of all the groups that make dietary recommendations, I can’t find one that lends full-throated support. “Limit low-calorie sodas,” says the American Heart Association, and “stick to water.” The Center for Science in the Public Interest says it’s “best to avoid” artificial sweeteners. The Canadian dietary guidelines discourage them. The U.S. dietary guidelines are decidedly meh. Although added sugar is a top public health concern, diet soda is consistently met with something between distrust and hostility.

Dig into the research, though, and you don’t find a lot of substance. The hostility-to-evidence ratio is way out of whack. [emphases mine]What gives?

I’ll try to answer that, but we have to begin with what is arguably the most important thing to know about low-calorie sweeteners: You consume them in teeny tiny quantities…

That doesn’t mean it’s harmless. “There are things where tiny amounts will kill you,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Public Health and co-author of the American Heart Association’s position on low-calorie sweeteners, “but we figure it out pretty quickly.”

Of course, things can hurt you without killing you, and we certainly can’t rule out harm from chronic, low-dose exposure. But one of the things that makes that less likely is the fact that we eat a mix of low-calorie sweeteners (LCSs) with different risks. “Chemically, they’re totally different,” Lichtenstein says, but when we talk about them, “the whole class of compounds get lumped together.”…

The recent literature is filled with laundry lists of hazards that look like this one , from Stanford professor of medicine Christopher Gardner, and also a co-author of the American Heart Association position: “fostering a taste preference for sweet foods and beverages, making naturally sweetened foods less appealing, adversely altering feelings of hunger and fullness, reducing awareness of calorie intake, adversely altering gut microbiota, increasing glucose intolerance, substituting for healthier beverages, contributing to the perception that individuals can consume more calories from other foods, and contributing to the possible intake of other ingredients in LCS beverages that could be of concern such as caffeine and artificial colors.”

Yikes! I asked him about those dangers, and the first thing he said was “none of them are proven.” Then he added, “it’s all plausible.” When I told him my read is that the evidence was practically nonexistent, he nodded vigorously.

Gardner was particularly dismissive of the idea that tiny quantities of anything could mess with your gut microbiome. “We pummel people with fiber to try and move the microbiome, with limited success,” he said. It’s not easy, and the research on probiotics, which are intended to change your gut bacteria, indicates that it’s hard to do even when you’re trying.

Nevertheless, the gut microbiome has become the conspiracy theory of nutrition: It’s where people go to prove something’s dangerous when there’s really no evidence that it is…

Nevertheless, Gardner is in favor of LCSs “only as a gateway drug to water.” But if there’s some evidence that they can help at least a little with weight loss, and evidence for harm is practically nonexistent, why oppose them? “Because they’re only in crap.”

In a nutshell, this explains the hostility. Low-calorie sweeteners represent just about everything that’s wrong with our diet. They’re mostly synthetic. They play to the human preference for sweetness, which manufacturers leverage to sell us more, and then more again. A good chunk of the research is industry-sponsored. And they’re mostly in highly processed foods — or, as Gardner puts it, “crap.”

I still like my theory, but this one is pretty good, too.  I love Haspel’s take on this:

That’s what we’re not supposed to eat. We’re supposed to eat food, not too much, mostly plants. We’re supposed to turn it into home-cooked meals, with which we drink water. I’m on board! I’m squarely in the processed-food-causes-obesity camp. But given how far Americans are from these goals, should we let perfect be the enemy of perfectly okay?

People don’t want to drink water. They want to drink soda. But the attitude in the nutrition community isn’t just that you shouldn’t drink soda — regular or diet — it’s that you shouldn’t even want to drink soda. It’s puritanical, holier-than-thou and breathtakingly condescending…

Take the most recent meta-analysis, published in the British Medical Journal. “There was no compelling evidence” for benefits, the article concludes, but “potential harms . . . could not be excluded.” Why not the other way around? If there’s no compelling evidence for harms, and benefits can’t be excluded, pass the diet root beer.

“It’s like caffeine,” Lichtenstein says. “Everyone wants to find something wrong with it.”

And, how about that, people do want caffeine to be bad, too!  Personally, I never really run into this, but, oh my, the holier than though crap I take over my love of Diet Dr Pepper!

When we look at population research on LCS users, they tend to weigh more and have generally worse health outcomes, so this is no panacea. (The fact that responsible authorities have been discouraging LCS use could also mean that people who are generally health-minded, and have good habits, don’t use them.) But when we look at clinical trials, people tend to consume fewer calories overall when they’re given an LCS instead of sugar, and over time they lose some weight. Not much, but name another obesity intervention that’s even moderately successful. If the nutrition community embraced low-calorie sweeteners, encouraged people who want to lose weight to make the switch, and cautioned against compensating with, say, Chunky Monkey, it’s hard to see the downside.

Diet soda is a tool and it can be properly used or misused, like any other tool (like this internet thing you are on now).  Used properly, to substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages, the evidence is pretty clear it is a good thing.  Used improperly– as an excuse to eat poorly by “saving” calories in the soda, it’s a bad thing.  But, used properly, it really is a good thing.  And a “free lunch.”  So just deal.

One of these days, I really need to find a social-science-minded nutritionist with whom to study the psychology of this issue.

Today’s lesson: the liars win

So, I followed Mueller by checking in on twitter periodically during the day.  Of course, we didn’t actually learn anything, but we already knew we weren’t going to.  What we know about the president is incredibly damning.  But, if a report is damning and only one party cares, the other chooses to deny, lie, and obfuscate, does it really matter?  Answer is pretty much “no” given how our “so-called” liberal media work.

The conservatives may think NPR, NYT, etc., are the “liberal media” but the reality is that their real ideology is a journalistic norm of formal objectivity pretty much no matter what.  This was all really clear during my drive home listening to NPR.

First, an interview with GOP Congressman Tom McClintock who just lied his ass off and spread ridiculous conspiracy theories.  Did the interviewer check him on this?  Of course not.  After hearing Mueller’s true testimony it’s only “fair” to allow a response from the other side.  Even if the response is lies.  But, hey, there’s your media objectivity.

Up next a story on Mueller’s damning testimony on Russian interference in elections.  All well and good, but it concludes with Mitch McConnell’s “philosophical” opposition to more election security.  Ugh.  There should literally be a photo of McConnell next to any explanation of “bad faith argument,” but there’s NPR accepting McConnell totally as having fair and philosophical objections to election security.  Not a newsflash to any journalist who’s knows anything about McConnell– he’s lying!!  And yet, media norms seem to require that they treat McConnell’s arguments as they are actually in good faith.  The reality is literally the only “philosophical” principle McConnell holds to is that Republicans win.  Again, that is the only fair reading of the evidence of his statements and public career.  But you will never hear a journalist even implicitly admit that in a news report.  And, yet, everybody at NPR knows McConnell is a brazen, self-serving liar– they’ve got a great podcast series on it.  

And, just to add insult to injury, the final NPR story I heard on the matter was essentially addressing the Mueller testimony as theater criticism.  Ehhhh, who needs democracy anyway.

So, short version: because of journalistic norms and practices of so-called “liberal” journalists, the liars and obfuscaters pretty much always win.  And Republicans have very much taken this lesson to heart.

How come only Democrats have to always agree with the public

Good column from Frank Bruni yesterday.  And I largely agree with him because he uses data to make his points :-).  The gist: Democrats need to be careful how far left they move:

But, you say, his racism must be called out. A demagogue must be branded as such. Not to condemn incipient fascism is to play midwife to the real thing.

That’s a virtuous take, but is there really any reason to believe that it’s the recipe for Trump’s demise?

We used all those words in 2016 — racist, demagogue, fascist — and he won. Voters saw indelible examples of this same behavior, and he won. The Wednesday rally wasn’t a new Trump, just a bloated one. And the coming election isn’t a referendum on his character, which voters have or haven’t made their peace with. Pointing at him and shouting the direst words from the darkest thesaurus will do limited if any good.

Stop talking so much about the America that he’s destroying and save that oxygen for the America that Democrats want to create…

It [2018 midterms] may have minted young progressive superstars like the congresswomen in the squad, but they aren’t especially popular beyond their progressive fan clubs. More important, their victories had zilch to do with why or how Democrats regained control of Congress and have dubious relevance to how Democrats can do the same with the White House in 2020. The House members they replaced were Democrats, not Republicans, so their campaigns weren’t lessons in how to move voters from one party’s column to the other.

Other first-term House candidates’ bids did offersuch lessons, so look harder at that crew. Lauren Underwood in the exurbs of Chicago, Xochitl Torres Small in southern New Mexico, Abigail Spanberger in the suburbs of Richmond, Va., and Antonio Delgado in upstate New York — these four defeated Republicans in districts where Trump had prevailed by four to 10 percentage points just two years earlier. None of them ran on the Green New Deal, single-payer health insurance, reparations or the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency…

Of the roughly 90 candidates on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of 2018 challengers with some hope of turning a red House district blue, just two made a big pitch for single-payer health care. Both lost. While first-time candidates endorsed by the progressive groups Justice Democrats or Our Revolution certainly won House elections last year, not one flipped a seat. The party did pick up 40 seats overall — just not with the most progressive candidates…

But that hasn’t stopped the leftward lunge of leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, several of whom want “Medicare for all” and many of whom support the decriminalization of illegal border crossings.

That puts them on shaky ground. Polling has shown that when voters are told that Medicare for all would mean an end to private insurance or an increase in taxes, support for it drops below 40 percent.

And according to a Politico/Morning Consult survey published a few days ago, 51 percent of voters support the sweeping raids by ICE that the president trumpets, while just 35 percent oppose them. That suggests that anything that smacks of open borders — which is how President Barack Obama’s secretary for homeland security, Jeh Johnson, described Democratic presidential candidates’ positions in a recent op-ed essay in The Washington Post — puts those candidates at odds with public opinion. Voters see them answering Trump’s extremism with extremism of a different kind.

I think (though I’m far from sure) that Bruni is basically right.  It is so damn important to defeat Trump that if moving too far left weakens those chances, we have to be really cautious against moving too far left.  We’ve just got to get Trump out to save our democracy.

That said, you know what political party is vastly out-of-step with Americans on a range of issues?  The Republican party, damnit.  From abortion, to taxes, to gay marriage, to environmental protection, the GOP keeps taking extreme, minority positions, and keeps winning office.  Can’t Democrats be out-of-step to the left on an issue or two?  I think maybe they can.  But, I don’t know if I want to risk a Trump reelection on that.  And, to be clear, I still think we need more evidence before we can definitively say that.

Trump and the challenge to the media

Great piece from Brian Beutler on how Trump’s racism presents a particularly difficult problem for American media given journalistic norms.

This attack was unprompted—not that a racist outburst would be a forgivable response to anything, but it was a response to nothing. The four congresswomen weren’t feuding with Donald Trump. They were at odds with members of their own party. The Fox segment was about Democratic infighting. Trump simply saw some black and brown members of Congress challenging their leaders, and tweeted the first smears about them that came to mind. Lo and behold, what occurred to him was foul bigotry…

Republican officialdom now exists to lie about the value system Trump and his feral supporters proudly espouse—that non-white citizens who don’t wear MAGA hats should be defamed and deported—and if you challenge the lie, these Republicans will exploit the suffering of Jews (who overwhelmingly reject Republican politics) to stifle dissent. This is the 2020 campaign they intend to inflict on us… [emphasie mine]

From the moment Trump launched his candidacy, reporters have asserted without qualification that Trump has contempt for norms and institutions, and in important ways, it’s true. All politicians spin but normally they try to avoid lying outright. Thus the fact that Trump lies pathologically can be expressed as a matter of abnormality rather than as a matter of moral deficiency. Modern presidents relinquish control of their assets and place them in blind trust, so Trump’s decision to run a real-estate and branding organization from inside the White House is easily framed as an example of his contempt for norms, rather than as evidence of graft, theft, and other crimes. Trump doesn’t appreciate the values of free speech, rule of law, or free and fair elections, and his unwillingness to conceal those authoritarian predilections is indeed abnormal. But the concept of normalcy fails to capture either the ubiquity or the moral horror of white supremacy. In this realm, it’s not that Trump is abnormal. It’s that he’s bad.


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