The state of the Democratic race

Sean Trende wrote this just before the Democratic debate, but I don’t think that really changed too much.  I agree with most all his major points in this “buy, sell, hold” formulation:

Joe Biden: Sell. I’ve been of the view for quite some time that Joe Biden’s first day as a declared candidate would likely be his best, and the trend lines seem to validate this viewpoint. Since popping up to 40% in the polls shortly after declaring, he’s been in a holding pattern around 30%, with some polling showing him trailing other candidates.  More distressing news for his candidacy is found in the early states, where his lead in Iowa is just 10 points (even this is, in some respects, a quirk of averaging a multi-candidate field, as no recent poll has his lead in double digits) while his advantage in New Hampshire is less than a point.

Yes, his lead in later states is more robust, especially South Carolina where his strength among African American voters is keeping his candidacy afloat.  But losing the first two early states, or even splitting them, will likely cause voters elsewhere to give a second look to other candidates. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

Elizabeth Warren: Buy. If I had to name a front-runner, it would probably be Warren.  She seems to have captured the zeitgeist of the Democratic Party these days, as it shifts steadily leftward.  She’s obviously very smart, has a host of wonkish plans, and is in many ways the candidate that many hoped Hillary Clinton would be. Probably the biggest question is whether she can expand her support past a base of very liberal, college-educated whites…

Kamala Harris: Buy. This may seem counterintuitive given her precipitous drop in the polls, but Harris is probably undervalued.  She’s the most natural political athlete of the bunch, and the Democratic electorate has already showed a willingness to consider her.  A good debate and a Biden collapse might be enough to give her a second bounce. In any event, she seems undervalued for now.

Everyone else: Hold.  There is a cluster of Democrats polling in the low single digits who are nevertheless within a few points of a fourth-place finish in Iowa or New Hampshire. In other words, it doesn’t take much to go from 2% in the polls to “legitimate contender.”  This is magnified by the fact that we don’t know where the supporters of the candidates drawing 1% in the polls will go as they begin to drop out (these voters have to go somewhere). The problem is we don’t have a good way of knowing *which* candidate could play the basic role assumed by John Kasich in the 2016 Republican primary.  But don’t count out all of the candidates getting 2% just yet. [emphasis mine]

For the record, I left out his Bernie hold and Beto sell.

Anyway, I obviously agree that I think it unlikely Biden actually captures the nomination.  I also agree that Harris is currently under-valued.  But, most notably, I think there is a better than 50-50 chance that somebody currently considered an also-ran emerges as a very serious contender.  For the record, my money is on Booker on that, but it really could be anybody.  The fun thing about primaries is that what actually happens out there in the world matters.

 

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Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting video on the “Rat apocalypse” in New Zealand and the promise and peril of using Crispr plus gene drive to combat the problem.  Perhaps I’m too much of techno-optimist, but I say go for it.

2) Not all that long ago I think I had somewhat overly brought into the promise of STEM education as the best path to a future job.  I’m still a big fan of STEM, but definitely somewhat more skeptical now.  Caitlyn Zaloom, “STEM Is Overrated: College is not just job prep, and the job market changes constantly.”

At any rate, the rise of temporary work means that college graduates can expect to face spikes and dips in income as they lose or finish one job and worry about when the next will come and from where. On top of this volatility, they also have to contend with the rapid transition to automation in white-collar work. Although media discussions tend to pit robots directly against humans in the quest for jobs, today human abilities are more often complemented by automated tasks. Still, together the temporary nature of work and automation undermine arguments for educations that prepare students for specific skills and jobs. If students accept the argument that their college years should be dedicated to job preparation, graduates cannot be certain that the lucrative jobs they envision will still be available, let alone secure…

Dewey’s argument is sharply relevant today. Rather than impressing on college students that they should commit to particular jobs and the direction of corporate executives, colleges and universities ought to enhance students’ ability to experiment and prepare them for an open future, even one in which automation may play a significant role. When universities can broaden “their reach to become engines of lifelong learning,” Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun has argued, they will also “robot proof” education.

Today’s students need universities and colleges that will help them navigate a world where constant changes are the norm and where learning how to adapt is the central problem of living and of citizenship. The idea that the college years should be primarily about potential is not idealistic or naive; it is prescient.

3) You know what’s always struck me as dumb?  Painting all “processed foods” with an extremely broad brush.  The Kashi Go Lean I have for breakfast is chock full of whole grains, protein, and fiber.  Sorry, but that’s good– processed or not.  It’s not exactly oreos.  And, sure my vanilla greek yogurt has added sugar, but it sure beats tortilla chips.  Anyway, really liked this in Wired,”Let’s All Just Chill About Processed Foods”

But it’s time to get real about processed foods. For one, processed doesn’t have to mean unhealthy, and indeed it’s only because of certain processed foods that people around the world get the nutrition they need. Two, processed foods keep better, cutting down on food waste. And three, if we expect to feed a growing population on a planet with finite arable land, we have to engineer new sources of food, protein in particular.

The core of the confusion around processed foods is definitional. According to the Institute of Food Technologists, processing is—and get ready for this—“one or more of a range of operations, including washing, grinding, mixing, cooling, storing, heating, freezing, filtering, fermenting, extracting, extruding, centrifuging, frying, drying, concentrating, pressurizing, irradiating, microwaving, and packaging.”

So … virtually everything you put in your mouth is processed. “Highly refined foods like yogurt, olive oil, and bread have many, many processing steps, and they don’t look anything like the original product they started with,” says Connie Weaver, a nutrition scientist at Purdue University…

What people likely mean when they invoke processing has more to do with ingredients. Any bread will involve grinding, mixing, fermenting, and heating. But white bread goes through an extra step to bleach the flour, which removes some natural nutrients, which are later added back in to make it fortified. And something like a Twinkie takes processing to a whole new level, with added corn syrup and, for good measure, high fructose corn syrup thrown in as well.

It’s the added ingredients that have given processed foods a bad name, because while not all processed foods are junk foods, all junk foods are processed. Supercharging taste with saturated fat, sugar, or salt can be easy, but they’re unhealthy hacks when taken too far. [emphasis mine]

4) It’s been a while since I’ve seen “American Beauty” and I recognize that certain elements don’t hold up all that well 20 years later, but I still think it’s a damn entertaining movie, as opposed to the “worst best picture winner of the modern era.”

5) In the totally unsurprising headline, but it still important to mention category, “Trump’s trade war has killed 300,000 jobs.”  So much winning!

6) Okay, apparently I’m five years late to this, but I’m blown away by how good Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast is.  I thought no way would I listen to a whole 3+ hour podcast on just the prelude to WWI, but damn is Carlin good.  I’m not on episode two devoted entirely to August 1914.

7) Hurricane forecasts are pretty amazing now.  I really enjoyed this “tale of two hurricane forecasts” comparing Dorian to Cleo in 1964.

8) Speaking of hurricanes, a little old, but Philip Bump placing Trump and Hurricane Dorian directly into the 1984 Orwellian context was the best thing I read the matter.  Also, if you haven’t, you really, really need to read 1984.  

9) Nicholas Kristof on Seattle’s experiment with Raj Chetty’s insights on social mobility to improve outcomes, “A Better Address Can Change a Child’s Future: A low-cost experiment in Seattle is breaking the cycle of poverty.”

One insight of the study is that although the United States spends $44 billion a year on affordable housing, that money perversely concentrates poverty in blighted neighborhoods. The counterproductive result is that children are sentenced to grow up in areas rife with crime, teenage pregnancy and educational failure.

In contrast, with small tweaks, it turns out to be possible to administer housing vouchers so that families like Rath’s move to neighborhoods that aren’t more expensive but are where children stand a much better chance of thriving.

In Rath’s new “high-opportunity neighborhood” in Renton, a suburb, a low-income 2-year-old like Amina will on average earn $260,000 more over a lifetime than growing up in her old neighborhood, Chetty calculates. Such a girl will also be 8 percent less likely to have a baby as a teenager.

The Seattle program is an outgrowth of a national initiative called Moving to Opportunity, which in the 1990s provided vouchers for low-income families to move to better neighborhoods. Early evaluations suggested it had failed: Adults who received the vouchers didn’t earn more money.

Then in 2015, a follow-up study shook the policy world. While the moves hadn’t helped the adults, those who moved as toddlers were more likely to go to college, to marry, to earn more money and to pay more taxes — enough to pay for the program with interest.

Subsequent research has backed this finding: Neighborhood matters enormously, for young children. That’s the reason for the focus on Amina: Older siblings will also benefit, but the impact is greatest on those who move young and grow up entirely in a high-opportunity neighborhood.

Chetty has developed an online “Opportunity Atlas” that shows how some neighborhoods around the country, without being more expensive, consistently help children get ahead. It’s still unclear what the secret sauce is, although it apparently has something to do with decent schools, less poverty, lots of dads present in families and positive social norms.

10) I’m confident that JDW (and hopefully others) will enjoy this New Yorker article and video in appreciation of the forehand in tennis.

11) NPR’s Greg Rosalsky with “the case for summer vacation.”  Count me in!

12) This Heather Havrilesky provocatively asks “is marriage obsolete?” but the answer is definitely no.  As with summer vacation, also a big fan of marriage:

It’s hard enough just to live peacefully with someone by your side making noises, emitting smells, undoing what you’ve just done, interrupting, undercutting, begging to differ. Once you throw in Tinder, internet porn, and our scrolling, tl;dr attention spans, marriage seems not just antiquated but utterly absurd. So why do I love this torturous state of affairs so much? The daily companionship, the shared household costs, and the tax breaks are not enough. Maybe I’m the sort of weak bird who would rather wait for her very flawed mate to come home than go out preening and showboating just to wind up with another flawed mate in the end.

And yet there’s something distinctly reassuring about breaking down, falling into disrepair, losing your charms, misplacing your keys, when you have an equally inept and irritating human tolerating it all, in spite of a million and one very good reasons to put on his walking boots and take his love to town. If marriage is irrational, in other words, as with child-rearing and ambition and art, that’s also part of its appeal. Even when my husband and I go through a rough time, bickering more than usual over how many tantrums a 12-year-old should throw per day or how long a particularly fussy loaf of bread should be left to rise, after we’ve spent a few weeks staring at our phones at night instead of enjoying each other’s company, I can always trust that we’ll enter an equal and opposite period of humble satisfaction and connection. The other day, in the wake of such a market correction, we began our morning walk with the dogs (who are too neurotic to be walked by one person alone), and my husband announced, “The first thing I thought when I woke up this morning was, You don’t have what it takes. You never did and you never will.” This made us both laugh loudly for a solid block.

Marriage can’t simply be about living your best lives in sync. Because some of the peak moments of a marriage are when you share in your anxieties, your fears, your longing, and even your horrors. That commitment, the one that can withstand and even revel in the darkest corridors of a life, grows and evolves and eventually transcends a contract or a ceremony the way an ocean overflows and subsumes a thimble of water…

But by unearthing our most discouraged moments together without turning away, by screeching at the moon side by side, admitting “This is all our fault,” we don’t just reaffirm our love, we reaffirm our shared and separate ability to face the unknown from this point forward. That’s why sickness and death are key to marriage vows. Because there is nothing more divine than being able to say, out loud, “Today, I am really, truly at my worst,” knowing that it won’t make your spouse run for the hills. My husband has seen my worst before. We both know that our worst is likely to get worse from here. Somehow that feels like grace.

 

 

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