Quick hits

1) It’s kind of amazing that there’s so much awful news about Trump that we’ve kind of largely ignored the new evidence that he’s almost surely guilty of bank fraud and tax fraud.  Seriously.  What a crazy world we’re in.  Paul Waldman:

Donald Trump labored for years to create an image as the embodiment of success (which also just happens to be the name of his cologne; you can get a bottle on Amazon for $19.49). For a time, that image was undercut by his eagerness to slap his name on any second-rate product he could find, whether it was ties or steaks or water.

But when he ran for president and journalists began looking deeper into his financial life, it became clear that Trump was in all probability the most corrupt major business figure in America.

Did he leave a string of jilted associates behind? Of course. Did he stiff small businesses? Indeed. Did he create scams such as Trump University that stole people’s life savings? You betcha. Did he run a fake “foundation”? Sure. Did he employ undocumented workers? Naturally.

In many of those cases, however, Trump may have done corrupt and morally repugnant things without literally breaking the law. But ask yourself this: When it comes to his financial life, what do you think the chances are that Trump hasn’t committed crimes?

I ask because of this extraordinary investigation from ProPublica, which obtained documentation on just a couple of Trump projects that show how he does business:

Documents obtained by ProPublica show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.
For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street. […]
A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are “versions of fraud,” said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”

Not only is it not okay, if Trump was lying on both ends, to the bank and to tax authorities — and does anyone doubt he would? — it also could mean that he committed both bank fraud and tax fraud.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress that this is a pattern with Trump. “It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes,” Cohen said, “and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.” We have lots of evidence of Trump buying a property, then contesting his tax assessment by having his lawyers argue that, in fact, it is worth next to nothing.

2) Some good news on exercise and cancer:

And they concluded that there was more than enough evidence to start suggesting that exercise should be a part of standard treatment for most people with cancer. They also found that exercise should be considered a means to substantially drop the risk of developing cancer in the first place.

Specifically, the scientists, in separate reviews being published today in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, report that physically active people have as much as 69 percent less risk of being diagnosed with certain cancers than sedentary people. Exercise seems to be especially potent at lessening the likelihood of developing seven common malignancies, the new recommendations add: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, bladder, esophageal and stomach cancers.

The recommendations also point out that, in multiple recent studies, exercise changed the trajectory of cancer once it began. In animal experiments cited in the new reviews, exercise altered the molecular environment around some tumors, stalling or even halting their growth. And in people, exercising during and after cancer treatment was associated with longer subsequent life spans, the reviews found.

3) Interesting new book on cancer treatment.  Henry Marsh (a neurosurgeon who’s book I quite liked), with the review:

There’s an old joke in medical circles: “Why should you never give an oncologist a screwdriver?” The answer: “Because they will open the coffin and carry on treating the patient.”

Azra Raza, an oncologist at Columbia University, vividly illustrates this tug-of-war in her book “The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last.” It is, in many ways, a cry of protest against the disease that killed her husband (also an oncologist) and, over time, most of her patients. When it comes to cancer, Raza knows firsthand how hard it is to reconcile compassion with science and hope with realism.

She asks hard questions: “Why are we so afraid to tell the stories of the majority who die? Why keep promoting the positive anecdote? Why all this mollycoddling?” She says the time has come to think about the “ghastly toxicities of therapies” that often achieve so little. And she intersperses an impassioned argument about the ineffectiveness of current cancer medicine — at least for most patients with metastatic disease — with descriptions of the suffering of her husband and some of her patients (who are identified by first name, with photographs). By describing this suffering, Raza says, she hopes to jolt people into looking for a new paradigm in the so-called war on cancer.

Raza documents the failure of chemotherapy to help the great majority of patients with metastatic disease, and the immense cost and suffering involved. She castigates pharmaceutical companies (as have many others) for concentrating on drugs that often fail and at best achieve, on average, a few extra months of life. She quotes research that in the United States, over 14 years, “42.4 percent of the 9.5 million cancer cases had lost all of their life savings within two-plus years.”

4) Common drug tests cannot distinguish illegal THC from perfectly legal CBD.  Not okay!  But, hey, war on drugs and all that.

5) Jon Bernstein with good stuff on Trump, Watergate, and presidents and bureaucracies:

As more details emerge about President Donald Trump’s plot to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponent, it’s becoming clear that this scandal has something very much in common with both Watergate and Iran-Contra. All three episodes involved a president attempting to bypass the regular executive-branch bureaucracy to get something done. And all three episodes resulted in a fiasco of ineptitude.

Presidents are tempted to bypass the bureaucracy because departments and agencies, in the U.S. system, are empowered in many cases to refuse presidential requests — and in other cases, they can create so many delays that they might as well be refusing. That’s not because of some nefarious “deep state.” It’s because these agencies have masters both in the White House and on Capitol Hill (and in many cases in the courts as well), and because their ultimate allegiance is to the law, not to elected officials. This can be immensely frustrating even to well-intentioned presidents trying to do perfectly legal things. It’s no less frustrating when what the president wants is of dubious legality or if an agency simply isn’t authorized to do it.

Good presidents recognize the signal the system is sending them and either pull back from their plan or increase the resources devoted to overriding bureaucratic resistance. But as the Executive Office of the President has expanded, with more and more staffers reporting directly to the commander in chief, there’s been a strong temptation to simply find someone at the White House, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, or even outside of government altogether to just do whatever it is the president wants.

The result is predictable, so much so that I was writing about the phenomenon back when Trump was still a reality TV star. It turns out that the bureaucracy isn’t just a check on the president’s ability to get what he wants; it’s a critical source of expertise on the difficult tasks of governing a country of more than 300 million people that also happens to be the most powerful in the world. When a president decides to spy on his domestic opponents even after the agencies that normally do such things turn him down, you get the “plumbers” and the Watergate criminals and the clownish cover-up. When a president decides (or passively allows) the National Security Council staff to carry out an arms-for-hostages swap with the profits diverted elsewhere, despite congressional prohibitions and executive-branch reluctance, you get Oliver North sending a cake and a bible to Iran.

6) It should really not be all that hard to believe that both 1) Glyphosate (Roundup) really isn’t that harmful; and 2) Monsanto really is a problematic company.  Alas, it seems that so many people are convinced of #2 that they cannot approach #1 rationally.

7) This led me to a fun email conversation with DJC, that made me think of this really nice summary of key critical thinking components from clearerthinking.org.  I think this part here is especially relevant:

Truth-Seeking Traits are personal characteristics that make it easier to get an accurate picture of the world as it is. For another perspective on this concept, check out these 12 rationality virtues.

  • (i) Skepticism – to be skeptical is to be distrustful of information and vet it carefully, with the awareness that people are often misinformed, misled, or motivated to bend the truth. Skepticism requires being willing to reflect frequently on what you’ve heard and actively check information. It also requires some autonomy from the thoughts of others. Skepticism is essential for critical thinking because, without it, we adopt new beliefs without engaging our critical thinking skills.. If you want to practice this useful skill, check our our Belief Challenger program, where we teach some basic yet powerful techniques for skepticism.

The fundamental question to ask yourself here is: do you want to carefully vet information to help make sure it’s true, recognizing that false information is really common, instead of assuming that all of what your standard sources say is true?

  • (ii) Seekingness – to be seeking is to see the value of new perspectives that challenge your own, and to search out a variety of worldviews and ways of thinking. If you won’t deeply consider outside ideas that contradict yours, you will have trouble overturning your existing beliefs. Finding and then listening to other perspectives that disagree with your own is a great way to critically evaluate your assumptions. This seekingness trait of being curious and open to different ideas is especially powerful when combined with skepticism, because it means you will assess the accuracy and relevance of the new perspectives you seek out, rather than being unduly credulous of questionable ideas. We’ve developed a short test that measures these “skepticism” and “seekingness” traits, which will be available on ClearerThinking.org soon!

    • (iii) Impartiality – to evaluate information without self-interested bias requires resisting the temptations of your own social needs, incentives, and preferences when you form beliefs. If your attempts to reach a truthful, logical conclusion are tainted by the desire to get something that you want, it will hinder your ability to see the world clearly. Evaluating evidence and counter-evidence objectively becomes difficult when you aren’t being fair to all sides of the argument. Remember to examine your intentions, and whether your biased towards a particular outcome. You may have an incentive to find out that X is true, but that doesn’t make X any truer (though it certainly makes you more likely to succumb to bias when considering X).

      The fundamental question to ask yourself here is: do you want to seek out the beliefs of those very different from you, and really consider whether they might be true, instead of mainly considering the beliefs you already have?

8) Supposedly, William Barr was a decent man as a young fellow.  He’s sure not now.

9) It’s really pretty horrible just how awful some of Trump’s judicial appointments are.

Marty Lederman takes a look at the dissent from a Trump-appointed judge in today’s DC circuit decision finding that Congress has a right to subpoena Donald Trump’s financial records, and discovers that it has no basis in what could broadly be described as “law:”

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

I’ve just begun perusing the D.C. Circuit opinion in Mazars, but at first glance it sure appears as if Judge Rao’s dissent would conclude that the Ervin Committee Watergate investigation–and, e.g., the Iran/Contra and Whitewater investigations–were unconstitutional.

505 people are talking about this

There’s nothing in the text or legislative history of the relevant statute, or in SCOTUS precedent, or in constitutional law, that supports the Trump administration’s position in this case. Yet somehow, a Trump-appointed judge ruled in Trump’s favor. What could explain this apparently inexplicable development?

Lederman emphasizes that one possible explanation should be considered out of bounds:

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

Would *anyone* write a constitution that imposed such a requirement?

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

P.S. For those of you who’ve been responding that Rao’s opinion is unsurprising because Trump appointed her, please stop: There’s plenty to criticize on the merits; no need to emulate Trump by insinuating that judges won’t call things straight w/r/t the POTUS who appointed them.

215 people are talking about this

I would hate to insinuate anything like that, so instead I’ll say it straight out: Rao is dissenting despite the absence of any quarter-way plausible legal basis for her dissent, because she is Federalist Society hack, who was put on the federal judiciary to rule in favor of Republicans and against Democrats in any case of political significance.

Lederman’s fervent institutionalist faith is a symptom of what is essentially just another form of American exceptionalism. Suppose a Putin-appointed judge ruled in Putin’s favor in a case that was crucial to Putin’s political interests, despite the absence of any non-frivolous legal argument for doing so. Would Lederman think that was because the judge was making a good-faith mistake, as opposed to ruling the way Putin wanted because that’s what a Putin-appointed judge has been appointed to do?

10) Jordan Weissman takes on Yang and automation:

Yang’s schtick about techno doom may be well-intentioned, but it is largely premised on BS, and is adding to the widespread confusion about the impact of automation on the economy.

Yang is not pulling his ideas out of thin air. Economists have been debating whether automation or trade is more responsible for the long-term decline of U.S. factory work for a while, and it’s possible to find experts on both sides of the issue. After remaining steady for years, the total number of U.S. manufacturing jobs suddenly plummeted in the early 2000s—from more than 17 million in 2000 to under 14 million in 2007. (The Great Recession saw about 2.2 million more vanish, though they’ve bounced back a bit since.) This all coincided with China’s entry into the World Trade Organization and rapid transformation into an industrial powerhouse, which led many to assume that offshoring had caused America’s rapid industrial decline. But some economists disagreed. They pointed out that while the number of manufacturing workers had crashed, factory output was still rising, which suggested that technological advances like industrial robots were just making things much more productive and efficient. In 2015, economists from Ball State University suggested that around 87 percent of manufacturing job losses between 2000 and 2010 were due to improved productivity from automation, and just 13 percent were due to trade, claims that later appeared in the New York TimesSo when Yang says that the “reason Donald Trump was elected was that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” he’s just echoing stuff that’s been printed in the paper of record.

The problem is that the Ball State team’s findings have basically been eviscerated by other researchers. In a 2018 paper, Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research showed that the rise in manufacturing productivity after the late 1990s was largely an illusion driven by how the government measures output in the computer and semiconductor industry. Within other manufacturing sectors, productivity grew slowly, which meant industrial robots probably couldn’t explain job losses…

And therein lies the real problem with Yang’s outlook. It’s not just unrealistic. It’s lazy. When you buy the sci-fi notion that technology is simply a disembodied force making humanity obsolete and that there’s little that can be done about it, you stop thinking about ideas that will actually prevent workers from being screwed over by the forces of globalization or new tech. By prophesying imaginary problems, you ignore the real ones.

11) Put Krugman in the Yang-skeptic category, too:

Which makes you wonder what Andrew Yang is talking about. Yang has based his whole campaign on the premise that automation is destroying jobs en masse and that the answer is to give everyone a stipend — one that would fall far short of what decent jobs pay. As far as I can tell, he’s offering an inadequate solution to an imaginary problem, which is in a way kind of impressive…

So what’s with the fixation on automation? It may be inevitable that many tech guys like Yang believe that what they and their friends are doing is epochal, unprecedented and changes everything, even if history begs to differ. But more broadly, as I’ve argued in the past, for a significant part of the political and media establishment, robot-talk — i.e., technological determinism — is in effect a diversionary tactic.

That is, blaming robots for our problems is both an easy way to sound trendy and forward-looking (hence Biden talking about the fourth industrial revolution) and an excuse for not supporting policies that would address the real causes of weak growth and soaring inequality.

So harping on the dangers of automation, while it may sound tough-minded, is in practice a sort of escapist fantasy for centrists who don’t want to confront truly hard questions. And progressives like Warren and Sanders who reject technological determinism and face up to the political roots of our problems are, on this issue at least, the actual hardheaded realists in the room. emphasis mine]

Other Democrats should follow their lead. They should focus on the real issues, and not get sidetracked by the pseudo-issue of automation.

12) Drum makes the case that Democrats should move slowly on impeachment:

Should Democrats move fast or slow on impeachment? I say slow. For one thing, new evidence is pouring out like a fire hose right now, and we should keep the investigation going until we have as good a picture as we can get of what really happened. Politically, it’s also the best thing to do. Republicans want a fast impeachment so they can brush it off as a partisan stunt and get on with business. Democrats should want just the opposite. They need to treat it seriously, and they need time to build up public support as new revelations are unearthed. Until we get to the point where a third or so of Republicans support impeachment, there’s not much point in voting on articles in the House.

Will this interfere with campaigning? I doubt it. Will it prevent the House from working on other things? Nope. They’ve produced plenty of legislation and all of it goes straight into Mitch McConnell’s round file. So no worries there.

Keep up the committee work until there’s a rock-solid case with good public support. That’s when to stop, and not a moment before.

13) I’m a big fan of “real” cameras and not just phone cameras because the physics of light and the small sensors in phone cameras mean you just can’t do the same things in sub-optimal conditions.  But, it seems like, the software in phone cameras is so good now that you basically can.  Pretty amazing what the Google Pixel 4 can do.

13) Charles Pierce, “The Washington Post’s Story on George Kent and Hunter Biden Shows Desperation to Play Both Sides.”

14) Sadly, I think Paul Waldman is right bout this, “There Will Be No Justice for Trump’s Enablers.”

Sure, one sees the occasional story about something like young Trump staffers complaining that no one wants to date them. But there will be no truth and reconciliation commission, no universal condemnation, no shunning of even the worst offenders.

The reason is that the entire Republican Party will make sure it doesn’t happen, because nearly all of them are implicated.

Consider someone like Stephen Miller, probably the most villainous figure in the administration. The latest revelation about Miller is that he tried for some time to find a way to get states to bar undocumented immigrant children from going to school; he was thwarted not because other officials said, “My god, what kind of monster are you?” (they didn’t) but because the scheme was obviously illegal.

Now try to imagine the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute saying to Miller in 2021, “We’re sorry, but we cannot offer you a senior fellow position, because your actions during the last four years were so morally abhorrent that we do not wish to associate ourselves with you.” The very idea is ridiculous. We know what will happen: Heritage, AEI, and any number of other prominent conservative organizations will fall all over themselves to offer Miller a comfortable sinecure from which he can continue to advocate a whiter future for America.

In fact, they’ll undertake a massive project of historical revisionism to convince the country that what we just lived through was all a figment of our imagination. “Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Trump said last year, and this project will attempt to convince us that what we saw, read, and experienced never actually happened. Donald Trump was a fine and responsible president, they’ll say, and even if he might have gotten a little silly on Twitter from time to time, anyone who supported him should take pride in their service to the GOP and to America.

And since the entire Republican Party will repeat this line again and again and again, it will become, if not conventional wisdom, at the very least a respectable position to hold. At worst, if Trump leaves office in disgrace Republicans will say what they did when George W. Bush slinked off in 2009 with the two wars he started still dragging on and the country experiencing the worst economic crisis in 80 years: I never liked him anyway. He wasn’t a real conservative. And of course I didn’t figure that out until it was all over, so don’t blame me.

By and large, they won’t be blamed. Their party may pay a price at the polls, but the men and women who signed up to aid Donald Trump will not get what they deserve. There may be a political reversal, but if you’re waiting for justice, you might not want to get your hopes up.

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

2 Responses to Quick hits

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    #5 “All three episodes involved a president attempting to bypass the regular executive-branch bureaucracy to get something done. And all three episodes resulted in a fiasco of ineptitude.”

    Must be some sort of coincidence that all three happened under Republican administrations.

  2. Jim Danielson says:

    CBD may be legal but I believe it shows rather poor judgement to give it to a child without compelling reasons. There are still too many unknowns.
    That aside I’ve always been skeptical of drug testing, the veracity of the tests (quick or road side are notoriously unreliable) and the veracity of the stated goals.

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