Quick hits (part I)

1) Jamelle Bouie makes the case for Democratic court-packing in response to the Republicans:

President Trump bragged on Twitter recently about his success filling up the federal judiciary. “I want to congratulate” Senate majority leader “Mitch McConnell and all Republicans,” Trump wrote: “Today I signed the 160th Federal Judge to the Bench. Within a short period of time we will be at over 200 Federal Judges, including many in the Appellate Courts & two great new U.S. Supreme Court Justices!”

This is just a slight exaggeration. After 32 months in office, Trump has made 209 nominations to the federal judiciary, with 152 judges confirmed by the Senate, including two Supreme Court justices. That’s nearly half the total confirmed during President Barack Obama’s eight years in office.

His picks fit a mold. They’re overwhelmingly white (87 percent, compared with 64 percent of Obama’s), overwhelmingly male (78 percent, compared with 58 percent of Obama’s), staunchly conservative and fairly young — the average age of judges confirmed under Trump is 50. His youngest confirmed nominee, Allison Rushing of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, is 36…

So what should Democrats do? They should play hardball back. Congress, according to the Judiciary Act of 1789, decides the number of judges. It’s been 150 years since it changed the size of the Supreme Court. I think it’s time to revisit the issue. Should Democrats win that trifecta, they should expand and yes, pack, the Supreme Court. Add two additional seats to account for the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh nominations. Likewise, expand and pack the entire federal judiciary to neutralize Trump and McConnell’s attempt to cement Republican ideological preferences into the constitutional order.

The reasoning underpinning this proposal isn’t just about the future; it’s about the past. We have had two rounds of minority government in under two decades — two occasions where executive power went to the popular-vote loser. Rather than moderate their aims and ambitions, both presidents have empowered ideologues and aggressively spread their influence. We are due for a course correction.

2) My daughter loves Raina Telgemaier books.  I did not realize what a phenomenon she is.

3) Really enjoyed Edward Snowden’s interview on Fresh Air.  I thought this part was particularly noteworthy:

On deciding to share classified material with journalists and setting conditions for the publication of the material

I tried to reconstruct the system of checks and balances by using myself to provide documents to the journalists, but never to publish them myself. People don’t realize this, but I never made public a single document. I trusted that role to the journalists to decide whatthe public did and did not need to know. Before the journalists published these stories, they had to go to the government, and this was a condition that I required them to do, and tell the government, warn them they’re about to run this story about this program and the government could argue against publication and say, “You’ve got it wrong,” or “You’ve got it right.” But if you publish this is going to hurt somebody. In every case I’m aware of, that process was followed, and that’s why in 2019 we’ve never seen any evidence at all presented by the government that someone’s been harmed as a result of these stories.

4) George Conway and Neal Katyal, “Trump has done plenty to warrant impeachment. But the Ukraine allegations are over the top.”

The current whistleblowing allegations, however, are even worse. Unlike the allegations of conspiracy with Russia before the 2016 election, these concern Trump’s actions as president, not as a private citizen, and his exercise of presidential powers over foreign policy with Ukraine. Moreover, with Russia, at least there was an attempt to get the facts through the Mueller investigation; here the White House is trying to shut down the entire inquiry from the start — depriving not just the American people, but even congressional intelligence committees, of necessary information.

It is high time for Congress to do its duty, in the manner the framers intended. Given how Trump seems ever bent on putting himself above the law, something like what might have happened between him and Ukraine — abusing presidential authority for personal benefit — was almost inevitable. Yet if that is what occurred, part of the responsibility lies with Congress, which has failed to act on the blatant obstruction that Mueller detailed months ago.

Congressional procrastination has probably emboldened Trump, and it risks emboldening future presidents who might turn out to be of his sorry ilk. To borrow John Dean’s haunting Watergate-era metaphor once again, there is a cancer on the presidency, and cancers, if not removed, only grow. Congress bears the duty to use the tools provided by the Constitution to remove that cancer now, before it’s too late. As Elbridge Gerry put it at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” By now, Congress should know which one Trump is.

5) Dahlia Lithwick argues that Lewandoski hearings this week– conducted by an able attorney instead of grandstanding politicians– show the potential of impeachment hearings.

6) Love this fro Paul Waldman, “Trump finally realizes being president is hard”

You might think this idea — that we could quickly end the war in Afghanistan by killing everyone in the country — would never even occur to a sane person. But Trump keeps bringing it up. Back in July, he said, “If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.” The point is always how easy it could be, compared with what he has to do now.

I think what underlies these repeated statements is a genuine frustration on his part with how complicated being president has turned out to be. This was something Trump was plainly unprepared for. A few months in, he told Reuters, “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Yes, Trump actually believed that being president of the United States, the most important job on the planet, would be easier than running a midsize brand-licensing firm.

This was probably because he figured that being president was mostly giving speeches and throwing out a few ceremonial first pitches (though he is the first president since William Howard Taft not to do the latter, most likely because he’s afraid of being booed). How hard could it be? He saw presidents on TV and thought they were all idiots; obviously he could run circles around them.

Then he got to the White House and learned that everything was more complicated than he thought, especially legislating. You’ll remember him lamenting, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” when in fact everyone except for him was quite aware. Which is why the only major piece of legislation he passed was a tax cut, and it isn’t exactly hard to get a Republican Congress to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

7) This is a helluva story:

Rizzo’s children, ages 7 and 6, were at the center of one of the most ethically complex legal cases in the modern-day fertility industry. Three years ago, while researching treatment options for her sons, Rizzo says she made an extraordinary discovery: The boys are part of an autism cluster involving at least a dozen children scattered across the United States, Canada and Europe, all conceived with sperm from the same donor. Many of the children have secondary diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, mood disorders, epilepsy and other developmental and learning disabilities.

8) This NYT Magazine feature, “What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max? Malfunctions caused two deadly crashes. But an industry that puts unprepared pilots in the cockpit is just as guilty” was soooo good.  And, honestly, pretty much anything I’ve ever read by William Langewiesche is so good.

The paradox is that the failures of the 737 Max were really the product of an incredible success: a decades-long transformation of the whole business of flying, in which airplanes became so automated and accidents so rare that a cheap air-travel boom was able to take root around the world. Along the way, though, this system never managed to fully account for the unexpected: for the moment when technology fails and humans — a growing population of more than 300,000 airline pilots of variable and largely unpredictable skills — are required to intervene. In the drama of the 737 Max, it was the decisions made by four of those pilots, more than the failure of a single obscure component, that led to 346 deaths and the worldwide grounding of the entire fleet.

If you were to choose a location in the developing world in which to witness the challenges facing airline safety — the ossification of regulations and in many places their creeping irrelevance to operations; the corruption of government inspectors; the corruption of political leaders and the press; the pressure on mechanics, dispatchers and flight crews to keep unsafe airplanes in the air; the discouragement, fatigue and low wages of many airline employees; the willingness of bankers and insurers to underwrite bare-bones operations at whatever risk to the public; the cynicism of investors who insist on treating air travel as just another business opportunity; and finally the eagerness of the manufacturers to sell their airplanes to any airline without restraint — you would be hard pressed to find a more significant place than Indonesia.

9) I thought I had a pretty good handle on 19th century U.S. History.  But not this and this is still so important.  Historian Heather Cox Richardson, “When Adding New States Helped the Republicans
Putting new stars on the U.S. flag has always been political. But D.C. statehood is a modest partisan ploy compared with the mass admission of underpopulated western territories—which boosts the GOP even 130 years later.”

In the face of an emerging Democratic majority, Republicans set out to cement their power. [emphases mine] The parties had scuffled for years over admission of new states, with Democrats now demanding New Mexico and Montana, and Republicans hoping for Washington and Dakota (which had not yet been divided in two). Before the election, Congress had discussed bringing in all four states together, but as soon as the Republican victory was clear, Democrats realized they had to get the best deal they could or Republicans would simply admit the Republican states and ignore the Democratic ones, as they had done in 1876. So on February 22, 1889, outgoing President Cleveland signed an act dividing the Dakota Territory in half, and permitting the two new territories, along with Montana and Washington, to write constitutions before admission to the union the following year. They passed over New Mexico, which had twice the population of any of the proposed states.

Republicans did not hide their intentions. In the popular Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, President Harrison’s son crowed that the Republicans would win all the new states and gain eight more senators, while the states’ new electors meant that Cleveland’s New York would no longer dominate the Electoral College. When the Republicans’ popularity continued to fall nationally, in 1890 Congress added Wyoming and Idaho—whose populations in 1880 were fewer than 21,000 and 33,000 respectively—organizing them so quickly that they bypassed normal procedures and permitted volunteers instead of elected delegates to write Idaho’s constitution.

Democrats objected that Wyoming and Idaho would have four senators and two representatives even though there were fewer people in both together than in some of Massachusetts’s congressional districts, but Harrison’s men insisted that they were statesmen rather than partisans. They accused Democrats of refusing to admit any states that did not support their party—a reversal of the actual record—and claimed Republicans supported “the prosperous and growing communities of the great West.” But moderate Republicans sided with the Democrats, pointing out that the Harrison administration had badly undercut the political power of voters from populous regions, attacking America’s fundamental principle of equal representation.

Harrison’s men didn’t care. “The difference between the parties is as the difference between the light and darkness, day and night,” one supporter argued in Frank Leslie’s. The Republican Party, he insisted, must stay in power to protect Big Business. If that meant shutting more populous territories out of statehood and admitting a few underpopulated western states to enable a minority to exercise political control over the majority of Americans, so be it. Today, the District of Columbia has more residents than at least two other states; Puerto Rico has more than 20. With numbers like that, admitting either or both to the union is less a political power play on the Democrats’ part than the late-19th-century partisan move that still warps American politics.

10) You know I am a big fan of Elizabeth Warren.  But, especially because I like her and have great respect for her intellect and policy chops, stuff like being fundamentally dishonest about Michael Brown really bugs me.  It shouldn’t be impossible to say that Ferguson police were horrible and completely abused their police and that Michael Brown was not murdered.  Yet.  Fred Kaplan:

Several of the current Democratic candidates have accused the officer who shot Brown of murder. Brown’s death was a tragedy, but it wasn’t a murder. When Democrats claim it was, and when they refuse to correct that mistake, they cast doubt on their commitment to truth. And they undermine the cause of criminal justice reform. [emphasis mine]

Brown became an icon of the Black Lives Matter movement for understandable reasons. He was unarmed, and the man who shot him, former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, is white. Racial bias in law enforcement was and is a pervasive problem. Ferguson’s police force has a history of discrimination. That history, the well-earned distrust it fostered in the black community, and the indignity of Brown’s body lying in the street for hours after the shooting ignited outrage. Ferguson became a flashpoint for protests and riots, and police responded with military gear and excessive force. The whole episode was a disaster. It awakened many white Americans to the mistreatment that black Americans had long felt at the hands of police.

But at the core of the story, there was a problem: The original account of Brown’s death, that he had been shot in the back or while raising his hands in surrender, was false. The shooting was thoroughly investigated, first by a grand jury and then by the Obama Justice Department. The investigations found that Brown assaulted Wilson, tried to grab his gun, and was shot dead while advancing toward Wilson again.

Despite these findings, three Democratic presidential candidates—Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and billionaire Tom Steyer—said last month that Brown was murdered. These candidates haven’t backed down in the face of press queries and fact checks. Warren even dismissed a face-to-face question about the DOJ report that cleared Wilson…

Warren’s answer compounded her initial falsehood by adding a second myth. As awful as it was that Brown’s body lay in the street for four hours—an affront that even Ferguson’s police chief acknowledged and regretted—it isn’t true that Brown was left to die. (According to the DOJ report on Brown’s death, Wilson’s final shot killed him “where he stood.”) But what’s most concerning is Warren’s failure to admit error, particularly when the error is an accusation of murder. Does she respect facts that don’t fit her narrative? If she becomes the Democratic nominee, will voters see her as a truth teller in the face of Donald Trump’s lies, or as an ideologue? If she becomes president, will she listen to information that complicates her plans? Or will she plow ahead?

Candidates should talk about police bias. They should honor the memory of those whose lives have been taken. There’s no need to rely on a false narrative to tell the truth that black lives matter

11) Drum on the inanity of a “confess your climate sins” website:

Congratulations, NBC. This is probably the most efficient possible way to ensure that nothing gets done about climate change. In one stroke it:

  • Perpetuates the myth that voluntary individual action makes much of a difference.
  • Makes people feel guilty about ordinary, everyday activities.
  • And then turns the whole thing into a game where we absolve ourselves with a public confession.

Climate change isn’t a game, and trying to make people feel bad about living their lives isn’t going to increase support for the kinds of things that really make a difference. It just gives people a reason to put climate change out of their minds in order to avoid having to feel guilty about it. Knock it off.

12) This essay was really, really good, “Women Poop. Sometimes At Work. Get Over It.”

We may be living in an age where certain pockets of the corporate world are breathlessly adapting to women’s needs — company-subsidized tampons, salary workshops, lactation rooms. But even in the world’s most progressive workplace, it’s not a stretch to think that you might have an empowered female executive leading a meeting at one moment and then sneaking off to another floor to relieve herself, the next.

Poop shame is real — and it disproportionately affects women, who suffer from higher rates of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. In other words, the patriarchy has seeped into women’s intestinal tracts. Let’s call it the pootriarchy.

Girls aren’t born with poo shame — it’s something they’re taught.

In “Psychology in the Bathroom,” the psychologist Nicholas Haslam writes that girls tend to be toilet trained earlier than boys, learning at a young age to neatly keep their bodily functions contained (our words, not his).

When those girls get a bit older, they learn to pass gas silently — while boys do it loudly, and think it’s hilarious. (Yes, there is a kind of Kinsey scale to gas-passing and it goes like this: According to a study called “Fecal Matters” that was published in a journal called “Social Problems,” adult heterosexual men are far more likely to engage in scatological humor than heterosexual women and are more likely to report intentionally passing gas. Gay men are less likely to intentionally pass gas than heterosexual women, and lesbian women are somewhere in between.)

“If a boy farts, everyone laughs, including the boy,” said Sarah Albee, the author of “Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up.” “If a girl farts, she is mortified.”…

“The bathroom is saturated with gender in fascinating ways,” said Mr. Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, who noted that women’s aversion, particularly at work, is not entirely unfounded: One unpublished study he mentions in his book found that a woman who excused herself to go to the bathroom was evaluated more negatively than one who excused herself to tend to “paperwork” — while there was no difference in the way participants viewed the men.

“At one level it’s an association of women with purity,” said Mr. Haslam, referring to the double standard. “At another it’s a double standard applied to hygiene and civility, where the weight falls disproportionately on women to be clean, odorless and groomed.”

13) As a long-time Netflix subscriber who shuns Hulu and a Seinfeld lover, I’m actually quite excited about Seinfeld coming on over next year.  But I have to agree with this Wired column that it does not actually seem like a cost-effective strategy to attract subscribers.

14) So, this was really interesting… how a shift towards electric cars helped contribute to the strike against GM:

UAW membership has ticked upward in recent years, recovering from its post-financial-crisis nadir. Now it faces a new threat from the next great shift for the auto industry. The electric car may be great for the planet and glorious for drivers, but it’s no good for jobs…

It has balanced that withdrawal with plans to introduce 20 new, all-electric models by 2023, its first big step in an $8 billion bid to (someday) stop building gas- and diesel-powered rides altogether.

That change comes with a worrisome footnote for auto workers around the world. Last year, a study by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO found that by 2030, a moderate shift to electric propulsion could leave 75,000 Germans out of work—even accounting for the creation of 25,000 new jobs. That’s because batteries and motors are far simpler machines than internal combustion engines, and require a few hundred parts instead of a few thousand. That’s the same reason maintenance costs for EVs are so low—a problem for dealerships that rely on servicing cars for profits. Fewer parts mean fewer people. [emphasis mine]

15) Really enjoyed this video on Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury and the use of idiolect by actors in biographical roles.

16) Really enjoyed this backstory on one of the most iconic song/video’s of the 80’s, “Take on me.”

17) Another great NYT magazine feature, “an the N.F.L. Turn a 360-Pound Rugby Player Into a Football Star? Jordan Mailata had never played football before the Eagles drafted him last year. Now he has to prove himself in one of the sport’s most technically demanding positions”

18) I hate those new point-of-sale touchscreen terminals that ask you for a tip when you use a credit card.  Y’all already know how I feel about tipping as a general rule and the last thing we need is to be pushing it for transactions that don’t even involve employees relying on tips for wages (which, in a better world, would be none).  Among other things, when confronted with these I am more likely to pay in cash.  Good NYT article on how the systems are confounding customers on what to do worldwide.

19) I’ve seen some of those horrible ads that are clearly intended to get you to pay more for health care but dupe you into thinking that the people running the ads are the good guys.  I meant to do some research and write a post.  Good thing I waited because Drum is on the case:

One of the most outrageous aspects of American health care is surprise out-of-network billing. Most people, if they go to a hospital that’s “in-network,” quite reasonably assume that this means “the hospital’s doctors are in-network.” But that’s not the case. Sometimes hospitals contract with doctors who aren’t part of your insurance network, and these doctors can charge whatever they feel like. Your insurer won’t cover this—that’s what out-of-network means—which means that when you get home you’re likely to be greeted by a $40,000 anesthesiology bill.

This is obviously bad, and both Democrats and President Trump favor legislation to end it. However, there’s one group that thinks out-of-network billing is just fine: the private equity firms that own the medical groups that specialize in out-of-network care.

But this presents a problem: how do you make it sound bad to prohibit surprise out-of-network billing? Hmmm.

Here’s the answer: Attack the ban as “rate setting” by “big insurance companies.” Then add some scary stuff about not being able to see your doctor anymore and “profiting from patients’ pain” and you’re all set. Who wants to involved with anything like that?

But the best part of this particular attack ad comes at the very end: “Put Patients Before Profits.” How Trumpian! The whole point of out-of-network billing is to allow doctors to make lots of money at the expense of their patients. But who cares? You just say the opposite and then get huffy if anyone suggests you’re being a wee bit untruthful.

Out-of-network billing is hardly limited to medical groups owned by private equity firms. Still, they’re the only ones with the organized greed that’s required to mount an advertising campaign telling us that up is down and black is white. I wonder if it will work?

Just evil.

20) Perhaps you heard about the “Obama Netflix?” tweet.   I watched “American Factory” this week.  So good.  Trust me and watch it.

 

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

2 Responses to Quick hits (part I)

  1. Andrew Oh-Willeke says:

    Hulu and Amazon Prime both have great offerings, while a lot of Netflix is more of a B grade collection. Expand your horizons.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Netflix has a bunch of great original series, e.g., Bojack, Dark. I’ve really enjoyed Fleabag on Amazon but did not find anything else compelling there. And I’ll watch Handmaid’s Tale someday, but not getting Hulu just for that.

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