Quick hits (part I)

1) Eating on an empty stomach may help you burn more fat.

2) It really is kind of amazing how we let narrow, organized interests ruin public policy in all sorts of ways that doesn’t seem to happen in Europe.  For example, the “great American eye exam scam.”  In Europe, you can simply purchase new glasses/contacts whether you’ve had an official prescription in the past year or not.  And if you need a simple vision exam you can get that free of charge where you buy your glasses.  Soo, not the case in America.

3) Really solid, thorough, historically-based rebuttal of most all the claims people make in favor of the electoral college.  Send this to anybody you know who makes a historical argument for the electoral college.  Really, it should be so, so gone.

4) Part of the real progress our society has made in pulling back on mass incarceration is electing a new generation of prosecutors who understand their role in a more fair and just system.  Alas, all the “tough on crime” (more commonly “needlessly harsh, inhumane, and inefficient on crime” types) are engaging in a major backlash.

5) Love this from John McWhorter on recent Buttigieg and race controversy.  As with so many things, this starts with someone looking for an excuse to take offense, rather than read  comments more charitably:

A beautiful illustration of the difference between Twitter and the real world is the viral status of Michael Harriot’s attack on Mayor Pete Buttigieg in The Root as a “lying MF.” [emphases mine]

Buttigieg’s sin was to state, in 2011, that inner-city black kids are hobbled from getting the education they need because they lack role models who attest to the benefits of education. “And there are a lot of kids—especially [in] the lower-income, minority neighborhoods—who literally just haven’t seen it work. There isn’t someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.”

Many will already wonder what was wrong here: After all, is it not a mantra of enlightened thought about race to bemoan the absence of role models for various beneficial behaviors? However, to Harriot, Buttigieg’s reference to this truism was “lying.” The nut of the issue is that there are other reasons inner-city kids fail to graduate or go to college, such as funding disparities, unequal curriculum resources, and violence.

All of those things are real. Unreal, however, is Harriot’s leap of logic: that in not mentioning those things, Buttigieg was inherently denying their existence, and that in noting the lack of role models, he was blaming black people for their own problems. Buttigieg’s transgression seems to have been that he did not mention all of the reasons black kids have trouble accessing education in underserved neighborhoods. A more elaborate answer would have been more sophisticated. But why would anyone read him as an “MF” for not ticking off the whole list?

Civil-rights leaders of the recent past would be baffled by the pique here, as, I’m sure, would Americans who don’t spend most of their waking hours on social media. It’s been widely noted of late that “woke” white people are “woker” than most black people. It is also true that “woke” black people in academia and media are “woker” than a great many black people who don’t have the privilege of a byline. Harriot is assuming that Buttigieg must have meant that the lack of role models is due simply to some pathology among black people, when actually, almost anyone who publicly talks of role models in this way intends, via implication, that the lack of role models is due to larger societal factors.

Harriot and those who agree with him are reading Buttigieg as having simply preached that black people don’t care about school. But sheer psychological plausibility rules out that this is what he meant. Let’s suppose that for some reason, this is what thoughtful, Millennial Buttigieg, who at the time was running for mayor of a mostly black town, actually thought. Let’s just suppose that. But: Would a sober, ambitious figure like Buttigieg sit in public casually assailing black America as too lazy, stupid, or unfocused to present role models to its kids?

Buttigieg was speaking out of informed sympathy, as anyone familiar with American sociopolitical discussion should have noticed. Our antennae must go up when notions of what an insult is become this strained. We must heed our inner blip of confusion instead of suspending logic when we grapple with race issues.

6) The latest research to show that sugar-sweetened soda and diet soda will both kill you.   This strikes me as more of the same correlational evidence without sufficient controls which leaves me entirely unconvinced that I need to change my Diet Dr Pepper habit.

7) Love this story of how Martin O’Malley lit into horrible human being, certified xenophobe, and Trump administration lackey, Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general who is acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on the basis of their shared Jesuit education:

O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor who was Maryland governor from 2007 to 2015, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. He said that when he spotted Cuccinelli, he unloaded his frustration at the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents and detention of immigrants in chain-link enclosures at the southern U.S. border.

“We all let him know how we felt about him putting refugee immigrant kids in cages — certainly not what we were taught by the Jesuits at Gonzaga,” O’Malley said in a text.

8) On our Thanksgiving road trip, I was amused to learn just how paranoid and ill-informed most of my family is about just how addictive most illegal drugs are.  The simple truth is that just one use of even the most addictive substances will not lead to addiction.  I told them I was quite confident I could take any drug once and not get addicted.  They were afraid I was going to head out on a binge of marijuana gummies and heroin.  Anyway, here’s the key chart and quote from an old post of mine.

drugs

Among other things in the chart, I found the concept of “capture” to be key in how we typically think about just how addictive a drug is.  That is, if you keep using a drug for a while, what is the likelihood you will develop a dependency.  As you see, nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and meth are the highest for capture, with nicotine in a class by itself.   The relapse rate shows that nicotine and heroin are the hardest to kick.  As the authors point out, though, even drugs with a high capture rate grab only about 1/4 of continuing users.  Surely much lower than we’ve generally been led to believe.

9) From the annals of absurd over-reaction.  A local suburb has canceled their Christmas parade because people are objecting to the Confederate float:

The Town of Garner has canceled this year’s Christmas parade after online chatter about inclusion of a float sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans led town officials to conclude “the event could be targeted for disruption.”

The posts on Facebook and Twitter did not include any threats to disrupt the parade, nor did anyone directly contact the town other than through social media, said spokesman Rick Mercier. But given the protests around Confederate monuments and symbols in the Triangle in recent years, town officials decided to cancel the event, Mercier said.

“We just absolutely had to err on the side of public safety and what we thought was best and what we could realistically prepare for and not put the public and staff in any kind of a bad situation,” he said in an interview.

So, cancel a Christmas parade because some people will maybe non-violently protest.

10) This is one of those things that is kind of esoteric, but actually super-important.  The Supreme Court conservatives now seem poised to make it very difficult for federal bureaucracies to make policy (under Congressional statutory authority) and this is how a helluva lot of policy is made.  And Vox with the even scarier take on this.

11) I liked Drum’s “middle class agenda” for Democrats:

As progressives, we have a natural tendency to focus our policies on the poorest and weakest among us. This is, needless to say, admirable, but it’s also politically dangerous if it’s taken too far and leads the middle classes to believe they’ve been abandoned.

This is where we find ourselves today. We spend about a trillion dollars a year on social welfare programs for the poor, an expansion of 300 percent since 1980. In inflation-adjusted terms, this represents an increase from $3,000 per poor person to $12,000 per poor person. This chart from the Congressional Budget Office shows what this means:

Thanks to the demise of unions and the nature of our economy, the affluent have done very well. Thanks to the big increase in social welfare programs, the poor have done well too in relative terms. It’s the working and middle classes that have done the worst—and it’s not close. What’s more, the rate at which they’ve lost ground to the top and bottom has accelerated since 2000.

Is it any wonder they feel left behind even if they make more in absolute terms than the poor? The best example of this is the bitter observation from many of them that they wish they were poorer so they’d qualify for Medicaid instead of having to pay for an Obamacare policy with big deductibles and out-of-pocket maxes in the thousands of dollars.

So what if we decided to focus our attention tightly on the working and middle classes? What would a Democratic agenda look like? Something like this:

  • Instead of Medicare for All, double the subsidies for Obamacare and reduce the maximum allowable deductible and OOP expenses at the silver level. The new subsidy levels should be set so that families with incomes all the way up to the high double-figures would have to pay no more than about 5 percent of their income for premiums. This would cover virtually the entire middle class and would be affordable by nothing more complicated than repealing the Republican tax cut for the rich.
  • Propose a serious and aggressive pro-union plan. This would cost nothing, and it would primarily benefit the working class and the lower middle class. Figure out how to sell this in terms that make sense to ordinary workers, and if you don’t know how then ask Sherrod Brown.
  • Put forward a massive and detailed plan to build green infrastructure—solar, wind, grid upgrades, etc. This would address climate change and provide hundreds of thousands of middle-class construction jobs for every state in the country. Finance it with taxes on the rich.
  • Stay honest about hot-button social issues, but do your best not to talk about them a lot. In most cases it’s a lose-lose proposition.

You get the idea. These are things with limited costs that can be sold to the middle class as real, concrete benefits.

12) EJ Dionne, “What unites Trump’s apologists? Minority rule.”

Two questions are asked again and again: How can white evangelical Christians continue to support a man as manifestly immoral as President Trump? And how can congressional Republicans refuse to condemn Trump’s thuggish effort to use taxpayer money to intimidate a foreign leader into helping his reelection campaign?

The answer to both relates to power — not just the power Trump now enjoys but also to the president’s faithfulness to a deal aimed at controlling American political life for a generation or more. Both evangelicals and Republican politicians want to lock in their current policy preferences, no matter how much the country changes or how sharply public opinion swings against them. As a party, the GOP now depends on empowering a minority over the nation’s majority.

This is reflected in its eagerness to enact laws restricting access to the ballot in states it controls. Rationalized as ways to fight mythical “voter fraud,” voter-ID statutes and the purging of voter rolls are designed to make it harder for African Americans, Latinos and young people to vote. The new electorate is a lot less Republican than the old one. The GOP much prefers the old one…

Still, voter suppression and the electoral college (along with partisan gerrymandering) are not foolproof. There is, however, one part of government entirely immune from the results of any particular election: the lifetime appointees to federal judgeships, beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court. And here is where Trump has delivered big time for those willing to let him do just about anything else.

13) This was really interesting, “Dogs Can’t Help Falling in Love: One researcher argues that a dog’s ability to bond has more to do with forming emotional attachments than being smart about what humans want.”

Dr. Wynne’s book runs counter to Dr. Hare’s when it comes to the importance of dog’s thinking ability, which Dr. Hare sees as central to their bond with humans. By using the L word, Dr. Wynne may well appeal to the many besotted dog owners. But he may also disappoint. The reason dogs are such “an amazing success story” is because of their ability to bond with other species, he said. Not just humans.

Raise a dog with sheep and it will love sheep. Raise a dog with goats and it will love goats. Raise a dog with people … you know the rest…

The second part of Dr. Wynne’s argument has to do with how social dogs are. There is no question that they bond with people in a way that other canines do not. Dr. Wynne recounted an experiment showing that as long as puppies spend 90 minutes a day, for one week, with a human any time before they are 14 weeks old, they will become socialized and comfortable with humans.

Interestingly, the experiment found no genetic absolutism about the connection between dogs and humans. Without contact with humans when they are young, dogs can become as wary of humans as wild animals. Wolves are not so easily socialized. They require 24-hour-a-day involvement with humans for many weeks when they are puppies to become more tolerant of human beings. They never turn into Xephos.

Admittedly, Xephos is at the tail-wagging, face-licking, cozy-cuddling end of dog friendliness. Anyone who knows dogs can call to mind some that are not friendly at all, or are friendly to only one person. But in general there is no comparison in friendliness between dogs and wolves…

By looking at the lemon-sized dog brain, he has shown, for instance, that, based on how the reward center lights up, a dog likes praise as much as it likes hot dogs. In testing outside of the M.R.I., Dr. Berns has also found that, given a choice, some dogs prefer their owners to food.

He agreed that the hypersociality of dogs is what makes them special rather than particular cognitive abilities. “It’s hard to demonstrate any cognitive task that dogs are superior in,” he said. But he pointed out that “ultimately the difficulty is in saying what is a cognitive function and an emotional function.”

14) David Ignatius on the firing of the Navy Secretary:

President Trump’s attempt to manipulate military justice had a sorry outcome Sunday with the firing of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer. For the past nine months, Spencer had tried to dissuade Trump from dictating special treatment for Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher — but in the end Spencer was sacked for his efforts to protect his service.

​With Spencer’s firing, Trump has recklessly crossed a line he had generally observed before, which had exempted the military from his belligerent, government-by-tweet interference. But the Gallagher case illustrates how an irascible, vengeful commander in chief is ready to override traditional limits to aid political allies in foreign policy, law enforcement and now military matters…

Spencer’s letter Sunday to Trump, acknowledging his “termination,” echoed that of former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned in December because of similar concerns about Trump’s unwise intervention in military and national-security decisions.

“As Secretary of the Navy, one of the most important responsibilities I have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline, throughout the ranks. I regard this as deadly serious business,” Spencer wrote. “The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries.” In a paraphrase of what Mattis wrote 11 months ago, Spencer wrote that Trump should have a Navy secretary “who is aligned with his vision.”

For Navy commanders who have worried about eroding discipline in a SEAL force that’s lionized in movies and television, and protected by presidential diktat, Spencer’s most ominous line was: “I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline.”

15) And how about some encouraging news…  An Israeli startup is having great success at turning ordinary trash into recyclable material:

KIBBUTZ TZE’ELIM, Israel — Eight tons of trash are piled high at the entrance of a small factory in this tree-lined kibbutz — rotting food mixed with plastic bags, dirty paper, castoff bottles and containers, even broken toys. But nothing is headed for a landfill. Instead, what’s next is a process that could revolutionize recycling.

Within hours, the mound will be sorted, ground, chopped, shredded, cleaned and heated into a sort of garbage caramel, then resurrected as tiny pseudo-plastic pellets that can be made into everyday items like trays and packing crates.

“The magic that we’re doing is we’re taking everything — the chicken bones, the banana peels,” says Jack “Tato” Bigio, the chief executive at UBQ Materials. “We take this waste, and we convert it.”

Such upcycling is desperately needed by a world seeking solutions to the environmental challenges caused by the 2 billion tons of waste generated annually. Turning that trash into treasure has long held allure. Yet attempts have fallen short, and cynics abound.

UBQ says it has succeeded where others have failed, creating a radical technology that transforms garbage into the raw materials for plastics manufacturers and earns them a profit in the end.

16) This is really good from David Farenthold, “Trump’s legal strategy: If you can’t beat the case, beat the system”

Donald Trump’s friend, lawyer and mentor Roy Cohn had an adage: “F— the law,” he liked to say, according to a new book by attorney James D. Zirin. “Who’s the judge?” He meant that, although idealists might imagine that the courts were august and impartial, the judiciary was in fact made up of people who could be bullied or bamboozled or bought off. To Cohn, politics was a brutal and unfair game, and the law was just an extension of politics, with extra paperwork. If you understood that, he believed, you could get a huge head start on the idealists.

For a young Trump, this was a foundational lesson, according to Zirin. In his book “Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits,” Zirin argues that Trump learned to see the law as Cohn did: “not as a system of rules to be obeyed . . . but as a potent weapon to be used against his adversaries.” Trump sued often but rarely won big. Winning in court wasn’t always the point: The lawsuit itself was the thing, a tool of intimidation cloaked in legalese, an outgoing missile that left your enemies buried in costs and hassle. That approach had costs for Trump, too. But he could bear them. He lost friends, wives, lawyers and business partners — but always found new ones, who thought their fate would be different.

Zirin has good timing: His book arrives as Trump faces the legal fight of his career, using all the tools he honed in a lifetime of lawsuits. So far this year, Trump has sued those investigating him, including House committees and the Manhattan district attorney, to stop them from obtaining his financial documents. He has also attacked those pursuers out of court, trying to tar his enemies as partisans seeking “a coup” to overturn the 2016 election. Instead of submitting to precedent, he has ignored it — and posited a theory that, in the eyes of the law, a president is like a temporary emperor. In a recent appeals court hearing, a judge asked Trump’s attorney what would happen if the president shot somebody on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

“Local authorities couldn’t investigate? They couldn’t do anything about it?” Judge Denny Chin asked, adding, “Nothing could be done? That is your position?”

“That is correct,” said Trump’s private attorney.

17) My son recently asked me about how accurate the origin story of Thanksgiving is.  Without knowing much I told him I presumed that there was some kernel of truth, but it was likely far more of an origin myth created much later.  I was very much right.  Good NYT story about the reality and the mythology.

18) If you’ve had a kid in high school math, you know about “big calculator.”  Good piece on how TI’s dominance came to be.  Still don’t quite get why Walmart or somebody doesn’t sell a generic version for half-price and make a killing.

 

Impeachment, politics, and the rule of law

Good stuff from Adam Gopnik (and I need to read his book once DJC remembers to give me his copy) on impeachment:

One of the things often heard about impeachment is that it is essentially a political process. This seeming truth is said with a kind of sleepy sapience, as though only the naïve or the self-deluded would imagine anything otherwise. So, this vein of argument usually goes, if the Democrats fail at the politics of the impeachment of Donald Trump—if they don’t produce enough sexy sound bites, or if, despite the evidence, they can’t persuade Republicans of Trump’s guilt in trying to use the State Department as a shakedown office for his reëlection campaign—then they will have failed utterly, and the blame will lie squarely with them.

Certainly, there’s a sense in which impeachment is a political process, in the same sense that any legal prosecution is partly political. Judges and juries are people with political opinions, and courtrooms are filled with people who share the sentiments and the prejudices of the moment. A prosecutor’s decision to undertake a case is always made with an eye to whether, given a typical jury and the evidence at hand, a conviction can be obtained. The evidence may be good but not good enough to convict. Or the evidence may be good enough but, given the public passions at the time and place of the trial, may not result in a conviction…

When the Founders were writing the Constitution, an impeachment that seems to have loomed large in their minds was that of Warren Hastings, the first British Governor General of India. In a trial that ran, intermittently, from 1788 to 1795, in the British Parliament, Hastings was charged with a series of high crimes and misdemeanors that included corruption and what we would now call war crimes. Edmund Burke, a Whig member of the House of Commons—who was once a hero of the American right, though not usually because he was passionate about the well-being of colonized people against their colonizers—led the fight against him…

Executive power, being his, was his to use. Hastings claimed that right by appointment, although Trump does so by election. But both men claim arbitrary power to act without any system of law or procedure to constrain them.

This, for Burke, was a mortal sin in government. No one could act by “whim” or desire outside a framework of fixed and transparent law. “Law and arbitrary power are in eternal enmity,” he told the Lords. “Name me a magistrate, and I will name property; name me power, and I will name protection. It is a contradiction in terms, it is blasphemy in religion, it is wickedness in politics, to say that any man can have arbitrary power. In every patent of office, the [idea of] duty is included.” All power is bound by duty; no magistrate—or President—can act badly and then just say that they do so by right. Impeachment is not a substitute for politics; it appeals to the principles of law and duty that make politics possible.

The political consequences of impeachment are no longer the primary or even the secondary issue at stake; more important is the survival of the principle of the rule of law against the unashamed assertion of arbitrary power. Postponing a reckoning until the next election implies that what is at issue in Trump’s attempted extorting of the Ukrainian government are a series of policy choices, which voters may or may not endorse. According to this reasoning, if Watergate had happened during Nixon’s first term, and he had been reëlected anyway, attempted political burglary and obstruction of justice would have become acceptable practice. By invoking law against arbitrary power, the Democrats may not “win,” and who knows what the political outcome will be, but, as Pelosi says, there is no longer a choice. Law and arbitrary power remain in eternal enmity. You pick your side. [emphasis mine]

Politics right now is not about left or right, conservative or liberal, taxes, the environment, or regulation.  It is about whether we are going to be a nation bound and governed by the rule of law.  Or not.  Alas, one of our two major parties has chosen “or not.”

So that’s why Cory Booker has not caught on

Peter Beinart (like the previous article that inspired me to write about Booker) likewise takes to the virtual pages of the Atlantic, but, in this case, offers a compelling argument for why Booker has failed to catch on.  I don’t know that Beinart is 100% right, but Beinart is a super-smart political observer and this take strikes me as pretty persuasive.  On to it:

The answer has a lot to do with Booker’s unwillingness to stand up for what he once believed. Since early this year, Democratic moderates who are uneasy about Joe Biden have been casting about for a candidate. But Booker, by refusing to challenge his party’s left in the early debates, took himself out of contention. And now it may be too late.

In his early political career, Booker embodied the market-friendly, fiscally conservative ethos of Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party. In 2002, when he ran for mayor of Newark as a darling of Wall Street who supported school vouchersNew York magazine called him “essentially a Clinton Democrat.” Jesse Jackson dubbed him “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” In 2011, Booker enraged New Jersey’s public-employee unions by backing Governor Chris Christie’s effort to cut health and retirement benefits for teachers and other state workers. And the following year, Booker—who during the 2012 election cycle received more than one-third of his campaign contributions from the finance industry—famously called on Barack Obama’s campaign to “stop attacking private equity” in an interview on Meet the Press.

Booker’s defining decision as a presidential candidate has been his refusal to defend this centrist, pro-business record…

It’s easy to see why Booker adopted this tack. Conventional wisdom holds that candidates who go negative hurt themselves even when they draw blood. Moreover, during the summer and early fall, Warren rose from the pack to draw even with Biden nationally and surpass him in Iowa, thus confirming the widespread perception that Democratic voters were hungering for an ambitious, unapologetic progressive.

But as Warren rose, so did a backlash among Democratic donors and officials who saw her economic policies as dangerously radical and feared that she could not defeat Trump. As Biden careened from poor performance to poor performance, they began searching in earnest for an alternative. Booker might have been it. He was better known to party and financial elites than centrists such as Klobuchar, Bennet, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock; possessed more star power; and offered a greater chance of putting together the coalition of black and relatively moderate white voters that usually powers successful Democratic presidential campaigns. Unlike Kamala Harris, another African American senator who is more moderate than Sanders and Warren, Booker also had a long record of making the very arguments for a pro-business, deficit-conscious liberalism that the Democratic elites who feared Warren and Sanders craved.

Yet Booker refused to play that role.

I still like Booker, and just maybe it’s not too late, but now I think I’ve finally seen a good explanation for Booker is languishing at the back of the pack.

They are all Putin’s puppets, damnit

Meant to write this post in frustration before Thanksgiving, but, you know… life.  Anyway, it’s bad enough that Trump is so clearly Putin’s puppet, but, in embracing Russian propaganda in their absurd and bad-faith defenses of them, the whole damn party has turned themselves into Putin’s puppets.

 

60 Minutes had a great feature on the Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.

And Fresh Air had a great interview with the founders of Fusion GPS, who were very concerned about Trump’s connections with Russians well before he was elected.

It truly is hard not to see the actions of people like Pompeo, listen to the 60 Minutes report and Fresh Air interview and not reasonably conclude that the Russians have basically succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in not only helping install an American president to serve their interests, but in corrupting his whole damn political party to that end.  It really seems more like the stuff of cold war fiction, but, alas, is seemingly America’s reality.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

And one more chart to help rule

Really, really, really good piece from Ezra today on how the changing demographics of race combined with religion is shaping American politics.  You really should read all of it.  Here’s the key graph:

And Ezra’s summary:

In 2018, Americans who claim no religion passed Catholics and evangelicals as the most popular response on the General Social Survey. That arguably overstates the trend: The GSS breaks Protestants into subcategories, and if you group them together, they remain the most populous religious group, at least for now. But the age cohorts here are stark. “If you look at seniors, only about one in 10 seniors today claim no religious affiliation,” Jones told me. “But if you look at Americans under the age of 30, it’s 40 percent.”

These are big, dramatic changes, and they’re leading Christians — particularly older, white, conservative Christians — to experience America’s changing demographics as a form of siege. In some cases, that experience is almost literal.

There’s extensive excerpts from Bill Barr’s recent speeches and a lot of other embedded tweets for context, but here’s the summary:

The Flight 93 election, forever

The irony of all this is that Christian conservatives are likely hastening the future they most fear. In our conversation, Jones told me about a 2006 survey of 16- to 29-year-olds by the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, that asked 16- to 29-year-olds for their top three associations with present-day Christianity. Being “antigay” was first, with 91 percent, followed by “judgmental,” with 87 percent, and “hypocritical,” with 85 percent. Christianity, the Barna Group concluded, has “a branding problem.”

It seems unlikely that that branding problem will be fixed by a tighter alliance with Trump, who polls at 31 percent among millennials and 29 percent among Generation Z. If young people are abandoning Christianity because it seems intolerant, judgmental, and hypocritical — well, intolerant, judgmental, and hypocritical is the core of Trump’s personal brand.

That said, I take William Barr at his word. I believe he looks out at the landscape of contemporary America and sees a country changing into something he doesn’t recognize, that he believes Christianity is under an assault from which it may not recover and Trump, whatever his faults, is their last, best hope. And it’s the support of Republicans like Barr that ensures Trump’s survival.

This form of Flight 93ism is more widespread on the right than liberals recognize, and it both authentically motivates some establishment Republicans to enthusiastically embrace Trump, and creates coalitional dynamics by which other Republicans feel they have no choice but to defend Trump against the left. Some protect Trump on the merits, others protect Trump as a form of anti-anti-Trumpism, and others protect Trump as a way of protecting their future careers. But all of them protect Trump as a way of protecting themselves, and a future they feel slipping away.

The fundamental question raised by the impeachment hearings isn’t: What did Trump do? The hearings have added details and witnesses to the account first offered by the whistleblower and later confirmed by the White House call record, but the narrative stands largely unchanged.

Instead, the question raised is: Why is the Republican Party accepting, and even defending, what Trump did?

Barr’s speeches, and the worldview they describe, are a big part of the answer.

One graph to rule them all

Okay, not quite (mostly, I just love the “to rule them all” phrase) but you could do a lot worse than this graph for understanding core features of American politics today.

It’s in a nice NYT story about the changing demographics of Yakima, WA and how that’s affecting it’s politics.  Short-version: the future belongs to the non-white and and a lot of the white folks are not too happen about it.

Actually ties in very well with an EJ Dionne column from today:

Two questions are asked again and again: How can white evangelical Christians continue to support a man as manifestly immoral as President Trump? And how can congressional Republicans refuse to condemn Trump’s thuggish effort to use taxpayer money to intimidate a foreign leader into helping his reelection campaign?

The answer to both relates to power — not just the power Trump now enjoys but also to the president’s faithfulness to a deal aimed at controlling American political life for a generation or more. Both evangelicals and Republican politicians want to lock in their current policy preferences, no matter how much the country changes or how sharply public opinion swings against them. As a party, the GOP now depends on empowering a minority over the nation’s majority.

This is reflected in its eagerness to enact laws restricting access to the ballot in states it controls. Rationalized as ways to fight mythical “voter fraud,” voter-ID statutes and the purging of voter rolls are designed to make it harder for African Americans, Latinos and young people to vote. The new electorate is a lot less Republican than the old one. The GOP much prefers the old one… [emphasis mine]

They know they are losing ground in public opinion on issues such as same-sex marriage. An older group than the country as a whole, they are also in demographic decline as our nation grows more ethnically, racially and religiously diverse.

So, yeah, you could do a lot worse than that graph in explaining what’s going on with the Republican party today.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really good piece in the Times about how the streaming revolution really is fundamentally changing both TV and movies now.

Streaming services, of course, have been challenging the Hollywood status quo for years. Netflix began streaming movies and television shows in 2007 and has grown into a giant, spending $12 billion on programming this year to entertain more than 158 million subscribers worldwide. There are 271 online video services available in the United States, according to the research firm Parks Associates, one for seemingly every predilection — Pongalo for telenovelas, AeroCinema for aviation documentaries, Shudder for horror movies, Horse Lifestyle for equine-themed content. (Offerings include a series called “Marvin the Tap Dancing Horse.”)

While all this was happening, however, the three biggest old-line media companies — Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia — largely stayed on the sidelines. Charging into the streaming fray would mean putting billions of dollars in profit from existing cable networks like USA, Disney Channel and TBS at risk. Building video platforms of the size needed to compete with Netflix and Amazon would be frightfully expensive. And mastering the underlying technology would require a sharp learning curve. Better to bide their time. When it became clear that protecting their existing business model was more perilous than embracing the future, no matter now disruptive in the near term, they would act.

That time is now. And everything is changing.

“I get asked all the time, ‘Where does this stop? When does it stop?’” said Brett Sappington, a senior Parks Associates analyst and researcher. “The truth is that it is only getting started.”

2) I found Frozen 2 enjoyable enough yesterday.  Probably would have enjoyed more without too many overactive 3rd graders there for my daughter’s birthday party.  But, I mostly agree with this review, mostly, because the plot was really not great.

3) I was especially intrigued by this story of U of Florida way over-paying Donald Trump Jr because I do know how crazy speaker fees at universities can be.  It’s kind of like an arms race and the rich universities need to stop absurdly over-paying (not that that is the point of the article at all).

4) I might have mentioned that I’m pretty much done with baseball and I have not attended a game of any sort in years, but I still have very, very fond memories of attending minor league games and agree that MLB’s abandonment of many minor league teams seems really bad.

5) This is interesting from Rolling Stone, “The Unsolved Case of the Most Mysterious Song on the Internet”

Twelve years ago, a catchy New Wave anthem appeared on the internet with no information about who wrote or recorded it. Amateur detectives have spent thousands of hours since trying to figure out where it came from — with little luck. Inside the question that’s been driving the internet crazy for years

6) Seems to be the evidence is pretty clear that apes do have a theory of mind and those arguing that the evidence does not lead to this conclusion are really being quite tendentious.

7) Really liked this from Leonhardt, “Mueller and Comey Failed Their Tests. She Passed Hers.”

Three years later, Robert Mueller faced his own uncomfortable choice. As special counsel, he helped uncover evidence that President Trump had repeatedly broken the law, including paying hush money to two women and interfering in the Russia investigation. But Mueller understood that clearly laying out his conclusions would subject him to vicious criticism as a partisan. Like Comey, he prized his reputation for floating above partisan politics. [emphases mine]

Conveniently, he found a solution that protected his reputation. Mueller’s final report included a detailed recitation of facts, but its conclusions were deliberately obtuse, which meant they changed almost nobody’s mind. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller cryptically said. Making matters worse, he then allowed the Trump administration to control — and spin — the report’s release.

Mueller, to be fair, has a stronger defense than Comey. Throughout, Mueller interpreted Justice Department guidelines in narrow ways: Those guidelines didn’t compel him to present clear conclusions — as Kenneth Starr had two decades earlier — and so Mueller didn’t do so. It’s possible that Mueller’s mistakes had more to do with naïveté than pride.

Yet the outcome was the same. Both Mueller and Comey preserved their nonpartisan images (only temporarily in Comey’s case, because he later engaged in a full-on fight with Trump), while the country suffered.

Comey’s unprecedented insertion of the F.B.I. into the final stages of a presidential campaign may have decided the outcome. And Mueller’s convoluted report was a gift to Trump. Mueller’s long investigation uncovered extensive evidence of a president who had broken the law and abused his power, but Mueller did almost nothing to hold the president accountable.

8) William Barr is definitely the worst.  But I think Mike Pompeo might be a close second.  Thomas Friedman, “Mike Pompeo: Last in His Class at West Point in Integrity: The secretary of state’s behavior has been cowardly and self-serving.”

It seems like every story you read about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo always includes the sentence that he graduated “first in his class” from West Point. That is not a small achievement. But it is even more impressive in Pompeo’s case when you consider that he finished No. 1 even though he must have flunked all his courses on ethics and leadership. I guess he was really good in math.

I say that because Pompeo has just violated one of the cardinal rules of American military ethics and command: You look out for your soldiers, you don’t leave your wounded on the battlefield and you certainly don’t stand mute when you know a junior officer is being railroaded by a more senior commander, if not outright shot in her back.

The classes on ethics and leadership at West Point would have taught all of that. I can only assume Pompeo failed or skipped them all when you observe his cowardly, slimy behavior as the leader of the State Department. I would never, ever, ever want to be in a trench with that man. Attention all U.S. diplomats: Watch your own backs, because Pompeo won’t.

9) This piece on how Quakers shifted our pronouns is really fascinating.  You know how it’s annoying that we have the same word for 2nd person singular and plural, i.e., “you.”  Wasn’t always that way.  We also, like many other languages, used to have formal and informal versions.  The Quakers changed that.

10) This, I had no idea about, “Replacing Coal with Gas or Renewables Saves Billions of Gallons of Water. The ongoing transition from coal to natural gas and renewables in the U.S. electricity sector is dramatically reducing the industry’s water use, a new Duke University study finds”

11) Charles Pierce on Barr and the GOP:

If this really is Attorney General William Barr’s final go-round as a servant to radical conservative power, and we can only pray to god that it is, he’s certainly going out with a bang. In the past two weeks, he’s given two speeches that are so stunningly detached from political reality, and so basically and fundamentally un-American, that they were probably best given from atop a milk crate in Washington Square, and not from respectable rostrums provided by powerful and influential institutions. In short, Barr has become something of a raving maniac…

Again, two specific points: one, this is being done in defense of the most lawless president* in American history and, two, and much more important, these are theories of government that Barr developed while working for Republican presidents since 1989. They are the theories by which he helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal. They are the theories that underpinned what Dick Cheney did in making this country a country that tortured, and what he did to lie this country into a catastrophic war. (Barr even cited the Cheney and the “unitary executive” theory in his speech, ridiculing the notion that the unitary executive posed any threat to the balance of power.) In both speeches we see not Trumpism, but modern conservative Republicanism in its clearest and most extreme form.

It didn’t start with this president*. And my money’s on the proposition that, sadly, it won’t end with him, either.

12) I really liked this NYT Op-Ed on if we are going to kill animals, we should at least do it far more humanely.

NASHVILLE — Last week, Walden’s Puddle, a nonprofit wildlife rescue organization in a rural area of Nashville, posted a set of photos of a barred owl caught in the jaws of a leg-hold trap. The first photo, which featured the owl on the ground, its wings spread wide and its eyes cast down, was emblazoned with the words “Graphic images ahead.” I didn’t click through to see the rest of the pictures. The sight of that magnificent creature of the air tethered to the ground was graphic enough to break my heart. I didn’t need to see what the rest of the images would inevitably reveal: sinews torn, bones splintered, flesh bloody and swollen, great yellow claws mangled beyond repair.

Walden’s Puddle rehabilitates and releases orphaned and injured animals, and its Instagram account is normally a feel-good feed of squirrels, songbirds, turtles, deer, raccoons, opossums, snakes, rabbits, foxes, skunks, groundhogs, bobcats — pretty much everything that flies or crawls or walks or swims — and all of them on the mend. The caption to the post about the barred owl, which had to be euthanized, was uncharacteristically fierce:

These traps are cruel, evil, disgusting and should be illegal, causing unimaginable suffering to any creature who gets caught in its unforgiving jaws. While it is illegal to harm protected bird species such as this one (though these situations rarely result in criminal charges), these types of traps are sadly still legal to use in the state of Tennessee and in many other places, though they’ve been outlawed for many years in other parts of the world. Because the law requires they only be checked every 36 hours, any animal stuck in its grip will experience unimaginable pain and fear, possibly for hours or days.

Although their use has been banned or severely curtailed in more than 120 countries, leg-hold traps are indeed legal in Tennessee and in most other states in this country. Traps are sometimes used by farmers and ranchers to catch livestock predators, but the primary use for leg-hold traps is to catch an animal in a way that preserves the value of its pelt. Fur-edged down parkas, a fashion trend kick-started by a 2013 Sports Illustrated cover featuring the model Kate Upton wearing a bikini and a fur-trimmed Canada Goose parka, are now so prevalent among the affluent that they have caused a boom in backwoods trapping.

Trappers still use leg-hold traps illegally in states where they have been banned, but the problem isn’t generally a matter of legality. The problem is that these traps, and every other kind of trap on the market, are indiscriminate. They mangle pets and people. They mutilate “trash animals” whose pelts are worth nothing to the fur industry. They destroy songbirds and raptors, all of whom are federally protected. And in every one of those creatures, they cause unimaginable suffering…

The word “humane” refers to qualities we believe are part of human nature: tenderness, compassion, mercy. We rarely live up to our own etymology, but in this matter it poses no great trouble for us to do so. We don’t need to agree on whether it’s morally permissible to kill animals to agree that this is not the way to do it. It’s time to ban glue strips. It’s time to ban rat poison. It’s time to ban lead ammunition. It’s time to ban traps that injure but do not kill. There is no good reason not to. [emphasis mine]

13) I saw a comedian live last night for the first time since I saw Jerry Seinfeld in 2002.  I really enjoyed HBO’s Crashing and Pete Holmes was in Cary, so I went.  Good stuff.  I was explaining to my son just how much care and craft goes into a comedy routine and found this great article about Holmes‘ craft.

14) Really interesting essay, “I was an astrologer – here’s how it really works, and why I had to stop”

15) This comic on motivated reasoning and identity-protective cognition is pretty good.  Also, I just really don’t get emotional when learning a fact that goes against my identity, because my identity is as a person who always wants to learn new things.

16) This was interesting and disturbing, “I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb
While searching for the person who grifted me in Chicago, I discovered just how easy it is for users of the short-term rental platform to get exploited.”

 

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