Quick hits (part I)

1) I must say, my Wired subscription has been a great investment.  My 13-year old loves reading the hardcopy every month (reminds me of my love for Discover when I was his age) and I get unlimited online access to all their great articles.  Really enjoyed this on the technical and logistical challenges facing the power grid by dramatically ramping up renewable energy:

The fundamental challenge with integrating solar and wind energy into the US electric grid is that the areas that are best for generating these types of clean energy are usually very remote. The Great Plains is the place to harvest wind energy, and the Mojave Desert gets sun 360 days a year, but these locations are hundreds—if not thousands—of miles away from America’s biggest cities, where clean energy is needed most. Piping this energy from wind and solar farms means building more interstate high-voltage transmission lines, which are expensive, ugly, and loud. Unsurprisingly, most people don’t want transmission lines near their homes, so new builds often face stiff political resistance from locals.

The design and management of the US electric grid itself doesn’t help. The national grid comprises three main regions—the Eastern, Western, and Texas interconnections—and each of these regional grids operates independently of the others. Within the three interconnections, there are a number of regional transmission organizations and independent system operators, which are nonprofit entities that manage the transmission and generation of electricity by utilities in their region. The Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency within the DOE, are responsible for identifying when and where new transmission is needed, but it’s up to the states to pick the patch of dirt where the transmission lines are built, while the utilities within the states decide who will pay for them.

Even in the complex world of energy policy, placing new transmission lines is a gordian knot. “The transmission issue is a hybrid of a federal issue and a state issue, which makes it challenging from the standpoint of policy, because you have different jurisdictions for different things,” says David Hurlbut, a policy and economic researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Furthermore, he says, transmission lines spanning several states raise complex questions about cost allocation, which requires determining who benefits most from the new infrastructure.

2) This was a pretty good fact check on US men’s versus women’s soccer team and what they earn.  The women certainly should be earning more, but there’s a lot of bad arguments out there.  My favorite take is Mike Pesca’s, starting at about 25:40 here.

3) This is great from Brendan Nyhan, “Trump Lost the Citizenship Debate, but He’s Still Corroding Our Politics”

An even more worrying example concerns the president’s relationship with the Department of Justice. Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly called for investigations into his political opponents and simultaneously demanded that investigations into his own administration be curtailed. These statements call for actions that would violate long-standing norms and policies at the DOJ that have helped to preserve its independence under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Luckily, Trump’s pleas have been largely ignored by his appointees at the DOJ, which allowed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to finish his investigation and issue a public report. Again, bureaucratic and legal resistance has protected the stability of the political system; Trump’s anti-democratic rhetoric has not yet politicized the rule of law in the way that liberals feared.

However, Trump’s statements have again expanded the scope of what is possible. Since taking office, Attorney General Bill Barr has not defended the independence of the DOJ and federal law enforcement. Instead, he has launched his own inquiry into the Russia investigation and the public servants who were investigating the Trump–Russia connections, a frequent target of Trump’s ire. In this way, it may chill future inquiries into potential administration wrongdoing, preventing future Mueller reports from seeing the light of day.

This recurring cycle of challenge, resistance, and accommodation is more complex than our political discourse can accommodate — it’s neither the end of democracy in America nor is it politics as usual. Trump’s challenges to our norms will continue to meet stiff resistance, but even his defeats can sow the seeds for future democratic erosion. [emphasis mine]

4) You know I can’t get enough moon landing.  Love this NYT interactive photo feature of the first walk on the moon.

5) Great stuff from David Brooks:

In Trump’s version, “American” is defined by three propositions. First, to be American is to be xenophobic. The basic narrative he tells is that the good people of the heartland are under assault from aliens, elitists and outsiders. Second, to be American is to be nostalgic. America’s values were better during some golden past. Third, a true American is white. White Protestants created this country; everybody else is here on their sufferance.

When you look at Trump’s American idea you realize that it contradicts the traditional American idea in every particular. In fact, Trump’s national story is much closer to the Russian national story than it is toward our own. It’s an alien ideology he’s trying to plant on our soil.

Trump’s vision is radically anti-American.

The real American idea is not xenophobic, nostalgic or racist; it is pluralistic, future-oriented and universal. America is exceptional precisely because it is the only nation on earth that defines itself by its future, not its past. America is exceptional because from the first its citizens saw themselves in a project that would have implications for all humankind. America is exceptional because it was launched with a dream to take the diverse many and make them one — e pluribus unum.

6) David Graham, “Trump Goes All In on Racism: The president’s tweets are an invitation to a racial conflict that pits citizen against citizen, under the calculation that racism itself is a winning political strategy.”

Yet Trump’s racist Twitter attacks on Democratic congresswomen over the weekend still managed to shock, even in this benumbed age, because of his willingness and eagerness to place racism at the center of his political platform in a run for reelection to the presidency. It is not simply the employment of racist ideas for political advantage—that has been a staple of campaigns in both parties for some time. It is the invitation to a racial conflict that pits citizen against citizen, under the calculation that racism itself is a winning strategy, that astonishes.

7) I’m with Jeet Heer, though.  It’s not a winning strategy.  Given our present economy, his approval would surely be over 50% if he was not a braggadocios bigot.  Sure, the deplorable base really loves it, but there truly are a good number of right-leaning Americans who are turned off.

Many analysts believe that Trump’s strategic racism is a shrewd play. Amy Walter, national editor of Cook Political Report, tweeted, “This fight w/ the squad is exactly where Trump wants 2020 fought. The more media/Dems engage him, the better for him. All this fight does is re-polarize the partisans and leaves the up-for-grabs voters (who want to hear about bread-butter issues) tuned out.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper retweeted Walter and added in a quote from Steve Bannon, “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

This diagnosis misreads the role racism plays in Trump’s politics. While it’s true that racism has been crucial for allowing Trump to take over the Republican party and remains key to his strength among GOP partisans, there’s little evidence that racism is actually a winning gambit in national elections. A close look at recent elections shows that if Democrats stay united, they can crush Trumpian racism…

Ramping up xenophobia might not help Republicans win elections, but it does serve Trump’s purpose by keeping the GOP in line. Even Republicans who say they don’t like Trump’s overt expressions of prejudice tend to rally behind the president when he’s being attacked by outsiders.

8) I’ll be honest, Nate Cohn yesterday was scary, “Trump’s Electoral College Edge Could Grow in 2020, Rewarding Polarizing Campaign: Re-election looks plausible even with a bigger loss in the national popular vote.”

9) Though Tom Jensen makes a pretty good case for the Southern route to a Democratic win.

10) Ahhh, Chait: “Republicans Baffled Why Trump Keeps Saying Racist Things”

Republicans usually avoid acknowledging Trump’s long history of discriminatory actions (it’s the past!) or private racist comments (hearsay!) But because Trump is not clever enough to gauge the point at which his racist insinuations cross the line into the kind of overt racism that will discomfit his party, he sometimes does it in public, too. Famous examples include his insistence that a Mexican-American judge is inherently biased, the Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville included “very fine people,” and his recent attribution of foreignness to nonwhite Democrats in Congress.

Representative Mike Turner has gone further than almost any other Republican by using the word “racist” to describe the president’s comments. But even here, he holds out the phantasmal prospect of repentance. Trump’s “tweets from this weekend,” he scolds, “were racist and he should apologize.”

But Trump is not going to apologize. So what happens then? The answer is that they will continue to support him, perhaps disapprove of his next public racist outburst, and the one after that, repeating the ritual as many times as necessary, until he has finally passed from the public stage. Their ability to identify patterns in his rhetoric and actions, and to cast judgment on his character, ended when he won the election. Trump used to be a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot. Now he is president of the United States.

11) Took George Conway a while to see what was in front of his eyes, but he does now:

And how naive an adult could be. The birther imaginings about Barack Obama? Just a silly conspiracy theory, latched onto by an attention seeker who has a peculiar penchant for them. The “Mexican” Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel incident? Asinine, inappropriate, a terrible attack on the judiciary by an egocentric man who imagined that the judge didn’t like him. The white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville? The president’s comments were absolutely idiotic, but he couldn’t possibly have been referring to those self-described Nazis as “good people”; in his sloppy, inarticulate way, he was referring to both sides of the debate over Civil War statues, and venting his anger about being criticized.

No, I thought, President Trump was boorish, dim-witted, inarticulate, incoherent, narcissistic and insensitive. He’s a pathetic bully but an equal-opportunity bully — in his uniquely crass and crude manner, he’ll attack anyone he thinks is critical of him. No matter how much I found him ultimately unfit, I still gave him the benefit of the doubt about being a racist. No matter how much I came to dislike him, I didn’t want to think that the president of the United States is a racial bigot.

But Sunday left no doubt. Naivete, resentment and outright racism, roiled in a toxic mix, have given us a racist president. Trump could have used vile slurs, including the vilest of them all, and the intent and effect would have been no less clear. Telling four non-white members of Congress — American citizens all, three natural-born — to “go back” to the “countries” they “originally came from”? That’s racist to the core. It doesn’t matter what these representatives are for or against — and there’s plenty to criticize them for — it’s beyond the bounds of human decency. For anyone, not least a president.

12) And Elaina Plott makes a good point, “Trump Supporters Don’t Make Chants About Men”

13) Nice to see most mainstream media organizations properly on the “racism” train now (if they have any doubt, they should read Conway).  Good piece from Margaret Sullivan:

Now the question is the word “racist.”

Were Trump’s tweets portraying Democratic legislators of color as foreigners merely “racially tinged”? Were they just sprinkled with racially tinted pixie dust?

And should descriptions of what Trump stands for be put only in the mouths of his critics — a step removed from the journalists themselves?

Or should stronger language and sharper focus be used?

It depends on only one thing: whether journalists want to be clear about saying what’s right there in front of everyone’s eyes and ears…

Former New York Times reporter and columnist Clyde Haberman, in a Sunday tweet, put it simply and well, describing his own transition:

“Despite decades of evidence that Trump is a racist, I’ve resisted calling him one because it’s polarizing language that’s rarely helpful. But his go-back-where-you-came-from harangue tears it for me. He’s a bigot, and if GOPers don’t call him out, they’re complicit.”

That goes for the news media, too.

Journalists don’t need to see themselves as political advocates when they say obvious things in plain terms. And doing so doesn’t make them Democratic operatives as their pro-Trump critics are sure to charge.

It just means they are doing the most fundamental job they have: telling the truth as plainly and directly as possible.

14) I don’t watch a lot of tennis any more, but really enjoyed Federer-Djokovich the other day.  And I really enjoyed Josh Levin on how Federer has re-tooled his game.

15) I’ve long seen far too many Evangelical Christians as driven by a constricted, sex-obsessed, un-empathetic view of Christian morality.  But damn has their embrace of Trump down more than anything to put the lie to their “Christian” faith.  Pete Wehner:

There’s a very high cost to our politics for celebrating the Trump style, but what is most personally painful to me as a person of the Christian faith is the cost to the Christian witness. Nonchalantly jettisoning the ethic of Jesus in favor of a political leader who embraces the ethic of Thrasymachus and Nietzsche—might makes right, the strong should rule over the weak, justice has no intrinsic worth, moral values are socially constructed and subjective—is troubling enough.

But there is also the undeniable hypocrisy of people who once made moral character, and especially sexual fidelity, central to their political calculus and who are now embracing a man of boundless corruptions. Don’t forget: Trump was essentially named an unindicted co-conspirator (“Individual 1”) in a scheme to make hush-money payments to a porn star who alleged she’d had an affair with him while he was married to his third wife, who had just given birth to their son.

16) Linda Greenhouse: “A ‘Train Wreck’ Was Averted at the Supreme Court, but for How Long?
While the rule of law prevailed in the census case, it still hangs by a thread.”

There’s a strong temptation to extract a triumphalist narrative from the president’s grim-faced and rant-filled surrender last Thursday. After all, didn’t the rule of law prevail — and perhaps even emerge stronger for having been so sorely tested? Didn’t the country dodge a “constitutional train wreck,” as Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official in the Clinton administration, wrote in The Washington Post the next day?

Well, maybe. But it was way too close for comfort. And given the Trump administration’s undimmed determination to lock the Supreme Court into a permanent if uneasy partnership, it’s important to realize that the train is still hurtling down the track, destination highly uncertain.

So as the census saga fades from view, it should be remembered, in all its bizarre aspects, not as outlier but as exemplar. Why should we have been shocked that a president would countermand his lawyers’ judgment with a tweet, requiring them to inform a flabbergasted federal district judge that no, the case was not over, and plunging the Justice Department into chaos over a holiday weekend? This is, after all, a president who makes foreign policy via Twitter...

Think of how many contingencies had to fall into place for the census story to end the way it did. Only Chief Justice John Roberts knows whether the revelations from the hard drive of a dead Republican operative, fortuitously brought to light weeks after the Supreme Court heard oral argument, influenced his conclusion that “the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the secretary gave for his decision.” There was already ample evidence to that effect, evidence that had led a federal district judge in New York, Jesse Furman, to invalidate the addition of the citizenship question.

17) Krugman:

And since we’re having this moment of clarity, there are several other points we should address.

First, this isn’t just about Trump; it’s about his whole party.

I don’t just mean the almost complete absence of condemnation of Trump’s racism on the part of prominent Republicans, although this cowardice was utterly predictable. I mean that Trump isn’t alone in deciding that this is a good time to bring raw racism out of the closet.

Last week Bill Lee, the Republican governor of Tennessee, signed a proclamation ordering a day to honor the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, whom he described as a “recognized military figure.” Indeed, Forrest was a talented military commander. He was also a traitor, a war criminal who massacred African-American prisoners, and a terrorist who helped found the Ku Klux Klan.

Put it this way: The Nazis had some very good generals, too. But the world would be horrified if Germany announced plans to start celebrating Erich von Manstein Day. There are, no doubt, some Germans who would like to honor Nazi heroes. But they aren’t in positions of power; their American counterparts are…

Second, although most of the commentary focuses on Trump’s demand that native-born Americans “go back” to their home countries, his description of their imaginary homelands as “crime infested” deserves some attention, too. For his fixation on crime is another manifestation of his racism…

It’s tempting to say that Republican claims to support racial equality were always hypocritical; it’s even tempting to welcome the move from dog whistles to open racism. But if hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, what we’re seeing now is a party that no longer feels the need to pay that tribute. And that’s deeply frightening.

18) How cool is this?  Footage of a giant squid.  Via Wired.

You’re looking at what has been called the “holy grail of natural cinematography.” This is the first-ever footage of a live giant squid in U.S. waters. Pretty much everything scientists know about giant squids comes from ones that been caught in nets or have died and floated ashore. Until now.

Here, we can see they are active, visual predators. This one watches its prey (the camera) for a while before deciding to strike. It’s most likely a juvenile, measuring about 12 feet long with its tentacles unextended. For context, a full adult can get as tall as a four-story building.

Oh, and shortly after capturing this historic footage, the ship the researchers were on was struck by lightning. Here’s the story of how they filmed this mysterious creature: https://wired.trib.al/nCiScrH

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

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