Impeachment for Slovaks

Sorry for the lack of blogging.  Busy, busy week.  I blame my students :-).  Anyway, my latest thoughts for my Slovakian journalist correspondent:

How do you assess an impeachment process so far, do you think that the Democrats are making a strong case for a impeachment or maybe not so much, and why?
I have been very impressed by how the Democrats have conducted the process so far.  By all objective accounts, they have accumulated a substantial amount of truly damning testimony that well exceeds the historical bar for impeachment and shows very clear abuse of the office and undermining of American national security for President Trump’s perceived personal gain.  The testimony of officials approved of and appointed to their roles by the Trump administration such as Ambassador Taylor and Lt Col Vindman show clearly impeachable acts and thoroughly undermine all substantive defenses of the president’s misconduct.  The fact that Republicans are not even really offering a substantive defense, but instead offer little more than bad faith arguments about “process” is very telling.  The Democrats have collected all this strong evidence in closed door sessions (at which Republicans were fully included, despite their protestations to the contrary) and will now presumably be ready to present the evidence in public in a most compelling and censorious.  Ultimately, impeachment is a political, not criminal, judgment and now Republicans may be starting to argue that what the president has done does not rise to the level of impeachment plus removal from office, but by any fair reading of the history of impeachment, a president abusing his office and undermining national security for personal benefit most clearly does.

Quick hits (part II)

Sorry to be so late… Duke basketball on Saturday night and NC State Fair today.

1) Career diplomat on how Trump has devastated US Diplomacy.

2) Missouri Senator Josh Hawley is just the worst.  Basically, Trump, but not stupid.  Recently he attacked non-elitist Greg Sargent for being a coastal elitist.  Ed Kilgore cuts Hawley down to size:

Beyond hypocrisy, Hawley, who is not a stupid man, is engaging in the kind of crude geographical and cultural stereotypes that ought to make him ashamed. A very wise man who represented a state adjoining Hawley’s in the U.S. Senate had this to say about that unfortunate and divisive tendency:

The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States.

All kinds of people live and work in all kinds of places, and demagogues who try to convince their constituents that Greg Sargent hates them and can’t understand them because of where he lives and works are deeply cynical. Josh Hawley isn’t what he superficially appears to be at this moment. Neither are most of us.

3) Not a big fan of Latinx.  I think I usually stick with Hispanic.  Here’s a Vox comic that I think is supposed to make the case, kind of, for Latinx, but ends up making the point that trying to use language for ideological purposes instead of clear communication is ultimately a fool’s errand.

4) Good stuff on Trump’s overwhelming corruption:

In other words, the president is unique in his corruption in American history. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has regularly compiled a tally of Trump’s conflicts of interest and violations of the emoluments clauses. The latest numbers are stark: 1,493 trips to Trump properties by government officials, usually spending taxpayer money that will enrich the president; 292 promotions of Trump properties by White House officials; 63 foreign trademarks awarded to Trump brands, mostly from China and Brazil, while he has been president.

The president himself had made 387 trips to his properties, 240 of them to play golf. He regularly does semi-official infomercials for his properties, and he’s told couples considering staging a wedding reception at Mar-a-Lago in Florida or the Trump country club in Bedminster, N.H., that, if they do, he might be available for a photo op. He famously doubled the initiation fee at Mar-a-Lago, to $200,000, when he became president, enabling foreign figures (and others) to gain entrée to the president for a price his businesses collect.

The message has been received: Foreign governments, including Romania, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, moved events from other venues to Trump properties, and foreign countries or other foreign-connected entities have held 13 events at his properties, surely enriching him along the way. (He claims profits from foreigners are repaid to the Treasury; without his tax records, this can’t be checked). One hundred and twenty-one foreign officials from 71 foreign governments have visited his properties; lobbyists of all stripes have scheduled events there. Trump has openly talked about his ventures in places like Saudi Arabia and Turkey even as he has bent American foreign policy in ways that benefit those countries’ autocrats.

The president likes to pretend that there is no such thing as a conflict of interest, that his actions are ”perfect” and “innocent.” But we should not let his lies obscure what are ongoing, direct and outrageous abuses of the Constitution for financial gain by the president and his cronies. The House impeachment hearings are concentrating on other abuses of power, but there is no doubt our Framers would see the emoluments violations as a long series of impeachable and unconscionable offenses.

5) Yes, you can be addicted to video games.  Fair to say my oldest son once suffered from such an addiction.  As for my third son, he’s at least addiction adjacent at this point.

6) Dan Drezner on Trump’s 3rd and 4th rate people:

One of the amusing aspects of Mulvaney’s witless incompetence as a Trump shill is learning of Jared Kushner’s disenchantment with his performance. When Kushner seems like the more competent person in a staff, that is a sign that the staff has scraped the absolute bottom of the barrel.

Politico’s Daniel Lippman had a story over the weekend that bolsters my “it’s the staff, stupid” hypothesis:

Trump has never felt shackled by traditional ways of running a government. But earlier in his administration, “there was enough guardrails around Trump or enough caution on his part that when he did things that were more impulsive, they had less significance and fewer external ramifications,” a former White House official said….
Trying to constrain Trump is “a pipe dream,” one current White House official said. “Everyone who has tried had eventually failed in some way.”
“It’s just looking like everything is coming apart,” a former White House official said. Another former senior West Wing aide agreed that the White House seemed to be “a little bit unraveling” in recent days.
Some current White House officials say they are exhausted amid the constant fighting and lack the energy to constrain a willful president bent on having his way. It’s normal for officials to return to the private sector after a few years of pressure-cooker public service, but the Trump administration has seen extraordinary levels of turnover, and the administration’s ranks are thin and getting thinner. A White House official described a “Who cares?” attitude creeping through the building under Mulvaney’s hands-off management style.

Let me be perfectly clear: Trump is his own worst enemy. His governing impulses, to the extent that they exist, are awful. But he has not suddenly gotten worse. His staff, on the other hand, has devolved.

7) Never-Trumper David French with his latest Trump takedown, “If You Didn’t Already Think Trump Was Unfit for Office, Syria and Ukraine Should Change Your Mind.”

8) And Greg Sargent on Josh Hawley:

That great middle has no apparent room for the tens and tens of millions of Americans who believe we have expansive moral obligations to some of those outside our borders (majorities favor allowing Central American refugees to try for asylum), or to future generations who will suffer from climate change (majorities see it as a crisis and see the need for sacrifices to combat it, and favor rejoining the Paris climate deal).

Where in this great middle is there room for the popular majorities who believe we should sacrifice some of our sovereignty to act in international concert to solve such problems, and thus actually align with the supposedly “elite” positions claimed by Hawley?

Hawley can reach for the “elitist” charge so easily because it’s largely performative. It’s centered on a conception of middle class virtue that lives or dies on being from “the heartland” — rural and exurban Red America — and on holding the suite of conservative nationalist values that are actually being rejected by a vast swath of the real American mainstream.

9) Dahlia Lithwick on Trump and “quid pro quo.”

The truth about that quid pro quo talk? It’s the new “no collusion.” It’s a way in which the White House uses a fake legal test—like insisting that if Mueller finds no collusion then Trump is exculpated—to both define away the misconduct using made-up legal concepts and also to raise the bar far beyond what is being sought. By parroting “no collusion,” Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr (oh, and Graham) deployed a pretend crime Trump didn’t commit to distract from the actual crimes of conspiracy and obstruction that were under investigation.

By insisting there be a criminal quid pro quo in Trump’s dealing with Ukraine—a move the White House has been relying on for weeks now—Trump defenders are pretending to cede ground when, in fact, they are inventing imaginary legal baselines for misconduct and raising meaningless impeachment bars to rest somewhere above the ozone layer. Part of the reason Mulvaney’s comments last week were so damaging was that admitting Trump engaged in, and routinely trades in, quid pro quos crosses these imaginary lines, sky-high though they may be.

There is no criminality requirement for impeachment. There isn’t a quid pro quo requirement, either. Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of University of California–Berkeley told me the same thing in an email, “The Constitution does not require that there be a crime in order for it to be an impeachable offense. ‘High crimes and misdemeanors’ is thought to refer to serious abuses of power. No quid pro quo is needed for it to be deemed an abuse of power.” It’s been amply demonstrated by scholars that nobody needs to prove that Trump committed a crime under any statutory definition of criminality, to have committed the kinds of abuse of power offenses that formed the spine of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.

To be sure, the debate over whether or not there was a quid pro quo on offer is useful, and it’s even useful for proving noncriminal abuse of power claims. But while we can argue about quid pro quos to establish misconduct for public opinion purposes, it remains a tiny piece of the puzzle. If it turns out that a quid pro quo around aid to Ukraine can be proved, that’s outstanding news for House Democrats. But it is not necessary for a criminal impeachment conviction, and Senate Republicans should not be permitted to hide behind claims that it is. Graham’s statements should be recognized for exactly what they are—a line of defense for Trump, and a distortion of the constitutional floor for impeachment, and nothing close to a crack in the wall of protection for the president.

10) Ron Brownstein, “Trump Has No Room for Error in 2020: Changes in the electorate are putting the squeeze on the president.”

The risk in Donald Trump’s base-first electoral strategy is only rising—because the size of his base is shrinking.

Working-class whites are on track to continue declining as a share of eligible voters in 2020, according to a study released today by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. In turn, two groups much more resistant to Trump will keep growing: Nonwhite voters will swell substantially, while college-educated white voters will modestly increase.

These shifts in the electorate’s composition may seem small, but they could have big implications next year. The report projects that these demographic changes alone could provide Democrats a slim Electoral College majority by reversing Trump’s narrow victories in the three blue-wall states that keyed his 2016 victory: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Indeed, the shifts could be enough to narrowly tip these states back toward the Democrats even if college- and non-college-educated whites and minorities behave exactly as they did in 2016—if their turnout rates stay the same and if they split their votes between Trump and the Democratic nominee in exactly the same proportions as they did then.

And, if all other voting patterns hold equal, these changes alone could add another percentage point to the Democratic nominee’s margin of victory in the national popular vote, giving that candidate an advantage over Trump of more than 3 points. All told, the study, provided exclusively to The Atlantic, underscores how narrow a pathway the president is following headed into 2020.

11) Jonathan Rauch with a thoughtful essay on “Rethinking Polarization.”

12) Wired on the California wildfires, “Kincade Fire: The Age of Flames Is Consuming California: Yet another massive wildfire is ravaging Northern California. Welcome to the Pyrocene—think of it like the Ice Age, but with fire.”

13) I was thinking the other day about hearing the notable decline in religious adherents that it’s gotta be that so many people are turned off by the rank hypocrisy of so many so-called “Christians.”  Well, Kristoff has a column on that:

The decline in religion is particularly evident among young people. Those born between 1928 and 1945 are only two percentage points less likely to identify as Christian than they were a decade ago, while millennials are 16 percentage points less likely to call themselves Christians.

“Adults coming of age today are far less religious than their parents and grandparents before them,” said Gregory Smith of the Pew Research Center.

Smith noted that the data seem consistent with the argument made by leading scholars that young adults have turned away from organized religion because they are repulsed by its entanglements with conservative politics. “Nones,” for example, are solidly Democratic…

The central issue is that faith is supposed to provide moral guidance — and many moralizing figures on the evangelical right don’t impress young people as moral at all. Senator Jesse Helms said in 1995 that AIDS funding should be cut because gay men get the disease. The Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson initially suggested that God organized the 9/11 terror attacks to punish feminists, gays and lesbians.

God should have sued Falwell and Robertson for defamation. But, in some sign of karma, a survey found that gays and lesbians have higher public approval than evangelicals do.

14) The Whistleblower’s work is done here.  Nice NYT Op-Ed:

“Where is the Whistleblower, and why did he or she write such a fictitious and incorrect account of my phone call with the Ukrainian President?” President Trump tweeted Thursday night. “Why did the IG allow this to happen? Who is the so-called Informant (Schiff?) who was so inaccurate? A giant Scam!”

The thing is, Mr. Trump, virtually every piece of information that the public first learned from the whistle-blower’s complaint has been corroborated by the White House’s reconstructed transcript of your call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine or by the congressional testimony and documents provided by current and former administration officials. In the few remaining cases, save one, journalists have backed up his assertions through reporting.

15) Another Raina Telgemeier quick hit (my daughter reads her books like nobody elses)– how the author turned her own fears and anxieties into her super-successful graphic novels.

16) The loudest bird in the world.  This is cool.

17) Much to enjoy here, “The 20 defining comedy sketches of the past 20 years.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Stupid and petty sum up so much of the Trump administration.  In this case, what they’ve done to the USDA, “The White House didn’t like my agency’s research. So it sent us to Missouri.: The administration claimed the move would cut costs. Now, two-thirds of our desks sit empty.”

I joined the Economic Research Service (ERS) in 2016. I wanted to use my academic training to do something in the public interest — I didn’t really expect to get involved in agriculture. Then I got absorbed in the subject: Humanity’s dependence on the environment is made explicit through our food systems; without the right combination of weather, soil and labor, nobody eats.

Most people don’t need to think frequently, or ever, about the economics of honeybee pollination routes or the cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program. But if they eat almonds (which are pollinated by bees) or pay taxes (which subsidize farm insurance), they need experts to make sure that food systems work efficiently and public funds are spent effectively. At ERS, we studied all aspects of food production, occupying an obscure but important niche: Many of our research topics wouldn’t make for an exciting academic tenure file, but had huge implications for policy.

Out of the blue, in August 2018, agriculture secretary George “Sonny” Perdue announced that my agency and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture would relocate from Washington, D.C., to some yet-to-be-determined location. He claimed that this would lower costs and bring us closer to “stakeholders.” That stated justification was a fig leaf for the administration’s true intentions. We didn’t need to sit next to a corn field to analyze agricultural policy, and Perdue knew that. He wanted researchers to quit their jobs…

All the people who study genetically modified organisms left. The team that studies patent law and innovation is gone. Experts on trade and international development, farm finance and taxes all left. Many people transferred to other agencies in USDA, where they’ll help implement programs, but will no longer have a mandate to produce the essential research that’s needed for sound policymaking. Because the publishing staff all left, dozens of reports on subjects from veterans’ diets to organic foods are delayed. Projects that have been years in the making, studying issues from honeybees to potentially harmful herbicides, will never see the light of day…

The agency never has a perfectly smooth relationship with any White House: Its studies have contradicted rationales for policy ideas ranging from like biofuels to farm subsidies. But the Trump administration seems singularly, openly opposed to our basic existence. They can’t tolerate it when scientists present hard truths they don’t like. And now, if lawmakers want to know about, say, the effects of tariffs on the broiler chicken industry, or the impact of farm conservation payments on the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico — something obscure, but which can mean millions of dollars and thousands of jobs — they’ll be operating in the dark.

This is so stupid.  And harmful.  And Trumpian.

2) Meanwhile, when it comes to Russia and our elections, ”

Nearly six months later, and to almost no fanfare last week while Congress was in recess, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the second of two installments of its own bipartisan investigation into roughly the same topic. The slim, 85-page report reads like a Russian spy novel crossed with a sequel to Orwell’s most dystopian version of the future — right down to an interview with a paid Russian troll who said his experience in 2016, pitting American voters against each other with social media platforms of their own making, was like being “a character in the book ‘1984’ by George Orwell — a place where you have to write that white is black and black is white.”

Unlike Mueller, who seemed to take great pains not to point fingers and softened his recommendations, the Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Richard Burr and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, put its warnings in the starkest possible terms. First, the Russians deliberately attacked American voters with an active measures campaign in 2016 to benefit Donald Trump and destroy Hillary Clinton. On the morning after Election Day, a former troll told the committee, exhausted hackers in St. Petersburg, Russia, uncorked tiny of champagne. They looked into each other’s eyes. “We uttered almost in unison: ‘We made America great.’”

Because of Russia’s success, the committee also warned that China, North Korea, Iran and other malicious actors are activiely studying what Americans fell for (nearly everything) in order to use even more sophisticated techniques in 2020 — including at this very moment. And finally, the committee made clear that Americans themselves need to both wake up and smarten up. Only by being more sophisticated and intelligent social media users will voters truly protect themselves and our elections in the years to come.

3) From a Canadian, this is good, “Democracy is threatened by the dictatorship of geography.”

There are two paths to political power in a democracy. You can go for demography – that is, appeal to the interests and beliefs of the largest group of people, and win their votes. Or you can win through geography – that is, by ignoring most of the population by focusing on securing the many constituencies that have hardly anyone living in them. If your ideas are offensive to the majority, you can still stake your victory on the swaths of land between the places where most people live.

At the moment, across large parts of the democratic world, the politics of geography are triumphing over the politics of demography.

This is happening most infamously in the United States, where both the presidency and the Senate can be won by securing a majority of the tracts of land rather than a majority of the people – a fact that the faction of the Republican Party now associated with U.S. President Donald Trump has manipulated like nobody before. A strong majority of the American people hold liberal, racially tolerant and international-minded views; this majority’s interests and voices have been silenced by the dictatorship of geography…

This is not just an American problem. In Europe, fringe parties of intolerance have gained a strong foothold – and in some cases a parliamentary majority – by turning into parties of geography. The strong showing in October’s national election by the extreme-right Alternative for Germany was largely a result of its appeal to the sparse and depopulated regions of former communist East Germany. Poland’s Law and Justice Party governs with a parliamentary majority after it turned nationalist and xenophobic in order to appeal more to rural areas. France’s National Front made it to the first round of presidential elections by working the politics of geography.

4) The Softbank/Wework stuff is really just crazy.  Softbank literally blew billions on this house of cards.  Just goes to show that even super-rich people with billions of dollars at their disposal can be really stupid.

5) “The long fight over using student IDs to vote in North Carolina.”

6) Marty Lederman and Ben Wittes on Trump and impeachment:

The boundaries of acceptable presidential behavior are defined by which actions the political system tolerates or condemns. Impeachment by the House and conviction in the Senate would be the most powerful congressional rejection of Trump’s conduct. Even if the House impeaches, however, the number of senators who are prepared to convict Trump is almost certainly fewer than 67—the number required to remove him from office. Rightly or wrongly, a good number of senators (and some House members, too) will likely argue that, with the campaign season already upon us, Trump’s fate should be left to the electorate.

That’s all the more reason to recognize that impeachment and removal aren’t the only momentous choices Congress now confronts. If a substantial group of members of Congress signals not merely that the president’s conduct does not warrant impeachment and removal but also that it does not even warrant branding as intolerable, such conduct will become normalized—at a great cost to previously unquestioned first principles of constitutional governance—even if the House impeaches Trump.

At a very minimum, the president of the United States urged the president of Ukraine to investigate whether Joe Biden—the person he believed most likely to be his opponent in next year’s election—engaged in misconduct when Biden engaged in diplomatic efforts on behalf of the United States during the Obama administration.

That single, uncontroverted fact—that the president exploited his power as the nation’s chief diplomat to enlist a foreign ally to help advance his own electoral prospects by developing potentially compromising information about a U.S. national—is straightforward, unequivocal, and stunning. In that alone, Trump deviated wildly from his constitutional role and abused his office…

his litany demonstrates beyond any doubt that, as David Kris has written, Trump “used the carrots and sticks of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy, and at least attempted to use certain counterintelligence and law enforcement tools, to damage a political opponent. This represents a profoundly corrupt misuse of the machinery of government for personal gain.”

It’s important to stress, however, that even without these surrounding circumstances (or even if some of them depend on contested facts), what’s within the four corners of the White House account of the July 25 call, standing alone, reflects a gross abuse of office.

It also easily satisfies the constitutional standards for impeachment. Recent debates about whether Trump violated federal election law are misplaced and trivialize what’s really at stake here. The president’s derelictions are far more profound and more fundamental to the constitutional order than a mere violation of the criminal code.

7) Good stuff from Adam Jentleson, “Why Political Pundits Are Obsessed with Hidden Moderates”

It’s risky to conclude too much from a few polls, but a similar pattern occurred after the last debate. Joe Biden “delivered the kind of performance his supporters have been waiting for,” Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote. “Moderates strike back on health care,” another analysis concluded. But after that debate, too, the FiveThirtyEight panel showed Warren the clear winner, and then events bore it out: Biden slid in the Economist’s average of polls while Warren surged and Bernie held steady. Biden’s fundraising collapsed, while Warren and Bernie posted massive hauls. Beyond Biden, no other moderates showed any meaningful upward trajectory in polls or fundraising.

So what are the pundits missing? And why do they keep trying to make moderates happen?

The answer has two parts. First, many pundits have incorrectly convinced themselves that Democratic voters harbor a secret passion for a moderate nominee—let’s call it the Hidden Moderates Theory. Second, many are missing that the real distinction in the race is between candidates who are comfortable with wealth and its influence on politics, and those who are not. Those who oppose the influence of wealth on politics are much closer to both public opinion and the American historical mainstream.

8) Greg Sargent:

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the temporary closed-door nature of the hearings actually works in favor of Republicans, not against them. It’s the only thing they have left to cast doubt, however absurdly, on the damning information that’s already right there on the record.

And it allows them to convey to the Audience of One — and his followers — that they are fighting the good fight on his behalf, without their self-ascribed effectiveness actually being subject to outside scrutiny.

There’s another layer of absurdity here. Once the transcripts are released or once we get public hearings, it is highly likely that they will not actually show that Republicans have lacerated Taylor’s case.

But for Trump’s most ardent loyalists, this simply won’t matter. If and when publicly revealed testimony does not exonerate Trump, they’ll simply lie to the contrary, and treat the fact of public release as the hook to claim that the Democratic coverup has been exposed, counting on their massive propaganda apparatus to amplify that story line. This is exactly what happened with the Nunes memo — it was a total fiasco, yet Republicans widely pretended it was deeply revelatory.

The story we’ve seen in this whole scandal is that one after another, Trump’s levees are collapsing in the face of successive waves of factual revelations.

9) So, this was quite interesting (thanks EMG): “Most U.S. Dairy Cows Are Descended From Just 2 Bulls. That’s Not Good”

10) David Hopkins on the current impeachment politics:

Unsurprisingly, Republicans would rather discuss the behavior of the Democratic opposition. On Wednesday, a bloc of House conservatives led by Matt Gaetz of Florida disrupted the closed-door witness interviews organized by Democratic commitee chairs by crashing one of the meetings and occupying the hearing room for about five hours. This protest proceeded with the apparent approval of the president and the House Republican leadership; minority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana was one of the participants. The following day, McConnell and Graham introduced a resolution co-sponsored by most Republican senators accusing House Democrats of violating Trump’s due process rights and granting House Republicans insufficient procedural privileges.

Shifting the subject of debate from Donald Trump to Adam Schiff solves some problems for Republicans. Rather than struggling to justify Trump’s Ukraine policy or to explain away the well-documented concerns of credible witnesses like Fiona Hill and Bill Taylor, Republican members can return to the safer ground of partisan grievance. It also promotes party unity: Republicans may differ considerably among themselves over what they think of Trump, but none of them is predisposed to sympathize with Schiff. And it’s simply more fun to be on offense than on defense, to be firing charges at others rather than trying to swat them away.

Yet there are costs as well. Some of the most common current complaints about the Democrats’ handling of impeachment might become moot as events move along. The two major lines of attack at the moment are that access to witness depositions is restricted to the membership of the relevant House committees and that the House has not voted to authorize an impeachment inquiry. But today’s private sessions will be succeeded by tomorrow’s public hearings, and the House may well vote eventually to formalize the inquiry. By the time that House members actually consider articles of impeachment weeks or months from now, these objections will have lost much of their potency.

And when Republicans focus their energies on making the procedural case against Schiff, they risk failing to invest in disputing the substantive case against Trump—which potentially surrenders a lot of valuable ground to the pro-impeachment side. As one Republican source told CNN, “We can’t defend the substance [so] all we do is talk about process.” But Americans usually don’t care much about process disputes, whatever the merits of these disputes might be. Trump is right to worry that if many of his fellow Republicans are unwilling to confidently assure the public of his innocence, the public may draw the natural conclusion that he must have done something seriously wrong.

11) Really interesting stuff from Yashca Mounk on Boris Johson and Brexit:

Now, Johnson is very much a product of the British establishment that has fallen out of favor. But like Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland and Donald Trump in the United States, he has made a name for himself in politics by assailing the pieties of left-liberal orthodoxy. And while the deal he presented to Parliament was little more than May’s hard-won package with copious lipstick smeared on top, the rhetoric he has employed since taking office has been radically different. By unabashedly leaning into populist language and loudly denouncing traditional institutions from Parliament to the Supreme Court, he has shown that he sees Brexit as the beginning, rather than the end, of Britain’s cultural revolution.

Johnson has remade himself—as well as the Conservatives, the oldest political party in the world—in the image of populism.

He depicts the country’s politics as being defined by a clash between two basic forces: On the one hand is an out-of-touch elite that is so beholden to its left-liberal values that it would gladly override the will of British voters. On the other hand are the pure people, who have voted for Brexit in a heroic attempt to put a stop to the elite’s domination of the country. Johnson’s core promise is to help the pure people triumph over the corrupt elite.

12) I cannot remember who, but somebody I respect on twitter just raved about this piece, “This Experiment Has Some Great News for Our Democracy: The idea that our divisions are entrenched and unbridgeable is overstated.”  Consider me skeptical.  Yes, we could do so much better if citizens came together in an open-minded spirit of civil political discussion.  But that’s just not the real world.

The project America in One Room was a national experiment to find out. Over a long weekend in September, we had a scientific sample of 523 registered voters from around the country gather in Dallas. (The event was organized by Helena, a nonpartisan problem-solving institution, By the People Productions and the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, and participants were recruited by NORC at the University of Chicago.)

The experiment produced some shocking results. After several days of diverse small group discussions facilitated by moderators and sessions featuring experts and presidential candidates from both parties who answered questions from participants, the percentage saying the system of American democracy w

13) Jonathan Cohn: What Medicare for All would actually mean for the middle class is complicated.

14) So, twice in the past few weeks I learned that Killer Whales are one of the few species other than humans to have menopause.  I cannot remember what podcast I heard this on, but this Smithsonian article from 2015 just popped up in my feed the other day, “After Menopause, Killer Whale Moms Become Pod Leaders: When their reproductive years are done, females take on new roles as wise survival guides.”

15) So this was interesting from Ross Douthat, “‘Watership Down’ and the Crisis of Liberalism.”  I watched the first episode of the Netflix series with my kids, but never felt strong enough about watching the subsequent ones.  Loved the animated film as a kid.  The book… not bad, not as great as many think.

16) Lee Drutman and friends, “Progressive Economic Agenda? Democrats Have Less to Fear on This Front Than They Think.”

Our analysis of data from the 2019 VOTER Survey (Views of the Electorate Research Survey) suggests that when it comes to voter preferences on economic policy, an intra-party debate might miss the point. Why? A progressive economic agenda is broadly popular across parties. This is the key takeaway from our Democracy Fund Voter Study Group Report, On the Money: How Americans’ economic views define — and defy — party lines.

The progressive policies with widespread support across parties include requiring employers to provide paid leave for parents and caretakers (64 percent support, 15 percent oppose); raising the minimum wage (61 percent support, 25 percent oppose); and raising taxes on families with incomes over $200,000 (59 percent support, 30 percent oppose).

Democratic voters’ support for these policies is consistently around 80 percent, regardless of income. In fact, Democrats making over $80,000 want to increase taxes on top-income earners even more so than those making under $40,000.

Perhaps more remarkable, we see that about one in five Republicans hold attitudes toward economic policy that more closely align with those of the average Democrat than Republican.

17) John McWhorter with the linguistic case against emoluments:

Impeachment is no nursery rhyme, and with a matter so pressing, it qualifies as a needless burden that a central term like emolument is so opaque to all but a sliver of us. A caller on Rush Limbaugh’s show asked, “Could you explain this emoluments thing? It sounds like a toothpaste.” No one would ask that if legal experts referred to a constitutional ban on the president accepting any kind of compensation or side benefit from a foreign power; it would seem less a “thing” than a simple concept.

Emolument is a kind of word that should be considered about as relevant to modern life as a flashcube. What matters is what it refers to, and for that discussion we have plenty of readily understandable words—that is, real language.

18) Yeah, I know I’m a white dude and I know there’s still a ton of racism out there, but it also quite possible that a community over-reacted to what was probably one stupid teenager painting a racial epithet on a rock.

19) Relatedly, I strongly agree with this law professor that it is pretty crazy to charge people for a crime for using racial epithets (short of obviously intentionally provocative actions).  “Those College Students Who Used the N-Word Shouldn’t Have Been Arrested: They were guilty of vulgarity and ignorance, but “ridicule” is not a crime.”

20) Somehow, I’m really late to the Schitt’s Creek game, but with Season 5 just coming out, I realized I’d heard enough the last few years that I really need to check it out.  Nine episodes in and so glad I have.  So funny.  Just love that each episode is a 21 minute comedic gem.

About all this

Sometimes there’s so much to say about what’s going on that it’s, honestly, almost paralyzing.  I feel like any one angle I take doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the totality of threat Republicans are currently placing our democracy under.  And, it’s a busy week and I really can’t spend 30 minutes writing a post.  But, I gotta say something.  So, semi-coherent thoughts (and tweets).

1) Ambassador Taylor’s testimony was sooooo damning.  David Graham with a great summary:

Though Taylor’s account aligned closely with what was already known, he offered more damning detail than had been available in any previous publicly revealed testimony. Taylor, whom Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appointed as America’s top diplomat in Kiev earlier this year, offered an account of how the administration held up military aid while pressuring Ukraine’s president to mount investigations of a natural-gas company on whose board Vice President Joe Biden’s son sat, and of alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

With that, Trump’s defenses have failed on every side. Though the president was reportedly adamant that the exchange not be called a quid pro quo, it doesn’t matter what it was labeled, since it apparently was, in fact, a quid pro quo. Nor does the excuse that Trump was simply trying to use American leverage to fight corruption stand up. The president was seeking to aid his own personal reelection prospects using American statecraft as leverage—a clear abuse of power. (It’s also still possible that the administration broke the law by trying to hold up the funds.) Nor can the president claim ignorance of the scheme, since multiple witnesses have attested to his personal involvement.

“The president used the machinery of government to advance his private interests instead of his own administration’s public policy,” Daniel Fried, a former State Department official in Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote in an email. “Taylor’s statement outlines in devastating detail that there was indeed a presidential-mandated ‘quid pro quo,’ that the substance of the U.S.-Ukrainian relationship was to be made conditional on the Ukrainians acting on behalf of the president’s partisan interests.” [emphases mine]

Love this twitter thread from Judd Legum:

2) Also, needs to be emphasized that the defense that Trump is just looking to fight corruption is just a complete and total sham (obviously).  The Post, “Trump administration sought billions of dollars in cuts to programs aimed at fighting corruption in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

Also, Taylor’s testimony makes clear that Trump was far more interested in a public statement, than in an actual investigation of corruption.

3) OMG, I’ve written before that Republicans are totally abandoning the rule of law, but it has truly reached epidemic proportions as they contort themselves to extreme degrees to defend the indefensible.  Aaron Blake:

It’s hardly breaking news that President Trump has an uneasy relationship with the rule of law. He campaigned on putting his unindicted opponent in jail. He has attacked judges individually and the judiciary as an institution. He allegedly asked his FBI director for loyalty and to lay off a top aide. He tried to get his first attorney general to launch politically expedient investigations. Robert S. Mueller III laid out five instances in which there was significant evidence that he obstructed justice. He’s declining to cooperate with his own impeachment inquiry. And he even criticized his Justice Department for indicting two Republican congressman.

What hasn’t been chewed over quite as thoroughly is how much this attitude has infected those around him — many of them in the Republican Party, which prides itself as the party of the rule of law.

And the past 24 hours have been full of activity on that front.

They began Tuesday night with Matthew G. Whitaker, Trump’s former acting attorney general, taking to the airwaves of Fox News to declare that a president abusing power not only isn’t a crime, but also isn’t even impeachable.

“Abuse of power is not a crime,” Whitaker said. “Let’s fundamentally boil it down. The Constitution’s very clear that this has to be some pretty egregious behavior.”

Even for a team of supporters accustomed to moving the goal posts for Trump, taking “abuse of power” and suggesting it would not clear the bar was something.

Then came Wednesday morning, when a throng of Republican congressmen, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), decided to storm the proceedings of the House impeachment inquiry to highlight concerns about its process. They effectively shut it down for five hours and caused the testimony of Defense Department aide Laura Cooper to be delayed…

And when a judge asked him whether that would also be the case if Trump, as he so famously intoned, shot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City, Consovoy responded in the affirmative.

“Local authorities couldn’t investigate? They couldn’t do anything about it?” U.S. Appeals Court Judge Denny Chin asked. “Nothing could be done? That is your position?”

“That is correct,” Consovoy said, noting that any crimes could be handled once the president was out of office.

4) And that political stunt with the SCIF room was a gross violation of national security concerns that would put most people who tried it in jail.

5) And, oh my, Republicans with “the process!” as they have no actual defense.  Nice piece by Jim Newell on this.  But there complaints are like the complaints of an alleged murdered saying he didn’t get to cross-examine witnesses at the grand jury.  That’s not how grand juries work!  Or impeachment inquiries.  And Republicans know this.  Truly epic levels of bad faith.

6) And lastly, just because we’re on impeachment and this would’ve gone in quick hits later this week anyway, a great historical analysis of “high crimes and misdemeanors” from a law professor.  Do not let anybody tell you there needs to be a crime to be an impeachment (it’s designed for gross abuses of power).  This is exactly the scenario the Founders envisioned.

In the end, the best argument against the claim that impeachment requires criminality is not the overwhelming weight of contrary history and precedent, but the sheer dangerous absurdity of the proposition.

The British Parliament invented impeachment and the American Framers poached the institution as a means of saving their respective constitutions from tyranny or catastrophic mismanagement by hereditary, appointed, or elected rulers. It would be daft—and the Framers were not daft—to hobble this “indispensable remedy” by confining it within the idiosyncratic limits of the statutory criminal law available at any given point in time.

Both action and inaction by the chief magistrate, if sufficiently dangerous to the republic, must be impeachable if impeachment is to serve its intended purpose. Even conduct motivated by a sincere and deeply held principle can be a constitutional “high Crime.”

Or suppose that a president were to announce one morning that henceforth he would take no account of congressional statutes or administrative regulations and would instead rule by decree. That is, so far as I know, no crime. But does anyone doubt that such a decree would be impeachable?

Or suppose, to bring the case still closer to home, a president were to subordinate himself and the interests of his own country to a foreign power because he or his family could make money by doing so. Or because the foreign country agreed to help him secure reelection. Does anyone seriously suggest that the question of whether such behavior is impeachable turns on the niceties of ethics rules or campaign-finance laws?

Impeachment is not an antique legalism, but an essential tool for securing the safety of the American constitutional order against those who would corrupt or destroy it. An Englishman once said, “Impeachment ought to be, like Goliath’s sword, kept in the temple, and not used but on great occasions.” This aphorism is often cited as a caution against the frivolous unsheathing of impeachment’s blade, but it is also a reminder of the breadth and power of the weapon in times of need. This is such a time.

7) I just want to finish by saying how saddened and disturbed I am by the obscene amount of anti-democratic, unconstitutional, bad-faith response from Republican politicians.  It truly demonstrates how fragile our democracy actually is and causes real concern for how they may react in November 2020.

If California can let teenagers sleep, everybody can, damnit

Damnit for emphasis because this issue frustrates me so much.  One of those cases where the science is so clear, but status quo bias, entrenched interests, and plain old “well, we’ve always done it that way” combine to conspire against the obviously far more sensible of not having teenagers wake up absurdly early for high school.  Some forward-thinking school districts around the country have been slowly catching on.  And, now, the whole damn state of California is– hooray!

California students can look forward to extra sleep in the morning once a new law takes effect.

The law, signed on Sunday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, pushes back the start times at most public middle and high schools, making California the first state to order such a shift.

Classes for high schools, including those operated as charter schools, will start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. under the law, and classes for middle schools will start no earlier than 8 a.m.

The law, which came amid rising worries about the effects of sleep deprivation on young people, is intended to improve attendance rates and reduce tardiness, said Anthony J. Portantino, a Democratic state senator who wrote the bill.

“Everybody is looking for a magic bullet with education, one that cuts across all demographics, all ethnicities and that actually has a positive, measurable increase in test scores, attendance and graduation rates without costing money,” he said in a telephone interview. “And this is it.”…

Sleep experts also hailed the move. Dr. Sumit Bhargava, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and specialist in pediatric sleep medicine at Stanford Children’s Health, called the law a “triumph,” noting that adolescents’ brains are still developing and that chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of diseases later in life.

Although it might not seem like much, he said, “the effects of that one hour is something they will be feeling as 40-year-old adults,” adding that students would feel less anxious and less depressed and perform better academically. “When you give them the gift of increased sleep time, it is the biggest bang for buck that you can think about,” he said.

Downsides?  Sure.  But not near enough to outweigh these clear benefits.  So, my hope that California will show clear results soon enough that, just maybe, North Carolina, or at least Wake County, will suck it up and make this same change by the time my 3rd grader heads to high school.

The diet soda myth

You didn’t think I was going to let an Aaron Carroll Upshot post on “Five Reasons the Diet Soda Myth Won’t Die” go by without a post, did you?

There’s a decent chance you’ll be reading about diet soda studies until the day you die. (The odds are exceedingly good it won’t be the soda that kills you.)

The latest batch of news reports came last month, based on another study linking diet soda to an increased risk of early death.

As usual, the study (and some of the stories) lacked some important context and caused more worry than was warranted. There are specific reasons that this cycle is unlikely to end.

1. If it’s artificial, it must be bad.

People suspect, and not always incorrectly, that putting things created in a lab into their bodies cannot be good. People worry about genetically modified organisms, and monosodium glutamate and, yes, artificial sweeteners because they sound scary.

But everything is a chemical, [emphases mine] including dihydrogen monoxide (that’s another way of saying water). These are just words we use to describe ingredients. Some ingredients occur naturally, and some are coaxed into existence. That doesn’t inherently make one better than another. In fact, I’ve argued that research supports consuming artificial sweeteners over added sugars. (The latest study concludes the opposite.)…

5. We still don’t understand the limitations of observational studies

No matter how many times you stress the difference between correlation and causation, people still look at “increased risk” and determine that the risk is causing the bad outcome. For reporting on hundreds of thousands of people, observational studies are generally the only realistic option. With very few exceptions, they can tell us only if two things are related, not whether one is to blame for the other (as opposed to randomized control trials).

With respect to diet sodas, it’s plausible that the people who tend to drink them also tend to be worried about their weight or health; it could be a recent heart attack or other health setback that is causing the consumption rather than the other way around. But you shouldn’t assume that diet sodas cause better health either; it could be that more health-conscious people avoid added sugars.

Many of these new observational studies add little to our understanding. At some point, a study with 200,000 participants isn’t “better” than one with 100,000 participants, because almost all have limitations — often the same ones — that we can’t fix.

Dr. John Ioannidis wrote in a seminal editorial: “Individuals consume thousands of chemicals in millions of possible daily combinations. For instance, there are more than 250,000 different foods and even more potentially edible items, with 300,000 edible plants alone.”

And yet, he added, “much of the literature silently assumes disease risk” is governed by the “most abundant substances; for example, carbohydrates or fats.” We don’t know what else is at play, and using observational studies, we never will.

Okay, now back to my Diet Dr Pepper.

Why is our health care so expensive? It’s the hospitals.

Sure, its fun and easy to villainize insurance companies, but those in the know on the pathologies of America’s absurdly expensive recognize that it is the health care providers– hospitals and doctors’ practices– that are the real drivers of our outrageous costs.

Great piece on the matter from Planet Money.  I especially like how they point out that non-profits can be as money-hungry as any corporation.  I used to have no idea on this until I discussed this with my friend/colleague who does research on Non-Profits.  Anyway…

Last year, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was battling to win the Democratic primary, his campaign solicited a donation from the Greater New York Hospital Association, according to a recent report from The New York Times. The hospital lobbying group gave over $1 million to the New York State Democratic Party. And not long after, according to the Times, “the state quietly authorized an across-the-board increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates.” The increase is expected to cost taxpayers around $140 million a year.

The hospital lobby is a juggernaut in New York, as it is in other states. Over the last year, hospital lobbyists have fought reforms for billing transparency in Ohio, minimum nurse staffing levels in Illinois, and cheaper payment rates in North Carolina. [emphases mine] Last month, a leaked email from the Kentucky Hospital Association showed that it was urging members to donate to gubernatorial candidates to “assure access.”

In Washington, D.C., the hospital lobby is battling Medicare for All as well as efforts to end surprise billing, which is when Americans go to in-network providers but then — surprise! — end up getting billed for more expensive, out-of-network services. Three-quarters of Americans say they oppose the practice, and leaders from both political parties have been working to end it. Yet, hospital lobbyists are making reform really difficult. Which is weird, because most hospitals are nonprofits…

“Hospitals are the largest individual contributor to health care costs in the U.S,” Cooper says. Americans spend over a trillion dollars a year at hospitals. That’s about a third of national health spending, which now consumes almost 20% of U.S. GDP. Cooper’s research shows that, after a long period of consolidation, the cost of hospital services has been exploding. Between 2007 and 2014, hospital prices grew 42 percent.

The irony is most hospitals are “nonprofit,” a status that makes them tax exempt. Many (but not all) do enough charity work to justify tax benefits, yet it’s clear nonprofit hospitals are very profitable. They funnel much of the profits into cushy salaries, shiny equipment, new buildings, and, of course, lobbying. In 2018, hospitals and nursing homes spent over $100 million on lobbying activities. And they spent about $30 million on campaign contributions. Health industries have also been funneling hefty sums into dark money groups. But their political power isn’t just the result of lobbying or electioneering. Hospitals are often the biggest employers in states and cities across America.

Forget the insurance companies, this is why meaningful health care reform will be so damn hard (also, plus the insurance companies).  But hospitals are so not the “non-profit” good guys in all this.

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