Photo of the day

Who knew Indiana could be so scenic?  I guess Alan Taylor did with this Hoosier-themed gallery.  I do love the lead photo:

Three sandhill cranes fly together over a wetland area in Indiana. Every fall, thousands of migrating sandhill cranes visit the state’s marshes and wetlands, such as Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area. 

Marcia Straub / Getty

Americans are horrible judges of electability

The responses to this HuffPo poll, nicely written up by Ariel Edwards-Levy, are just nuts.  Yes, primary voters take electability into account when supporting candidates, but, apparently, they have no idea of actually assessing electability.  It seems to largely be a shortcut for “have I heard of this person.”  And, beyond that, I’m not even sure what.  The key chart:

Majorities of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters see Biden, Sanders and Warren as capable of defeating Trump in this No

This is ridiculous.  For starters, every single one of these people is electable if they get the Democratic nomination.  Every one (okay, maybe not Gabbard, but, maybe yes).  Yes, some are more or less electable than others, but the question is “capable of winning the general election.”  The idea that most of these people fail that test is beyond preposterous.  You may not know Deval Patrick, but I guarantee you if he had the Democratic nomination, he’s have a great shot at winning the general.  Same for John Delaney and same for Michael Bennet.  And, Andrew Yang for that matter.  And, there’s a pretty reasonable case that, given the nomination, all those names are more electable (by virtue of being able to win over the actual swing voters that exist) than Sanders.

The thing is, for virtually anybody, being the Democratic nominee gets you 90% of the way there.  Now, it is better to be Bernie and really excite the left but miss some disaffected Republicans?  Better to be Klobuchar and disappoint the left, but win over more people in the middle and maybe lose some votes for being a woman?  We don’t know.  I’d say based on existing evidence, there’s a much better case for Klobuchar, but it’s far from a certainty.  What I can say for certain is that, at least judging by polls like this, voters are horrible at judging who can win a general election.

On a very much related matter, I love this column from Paul Waldman for leaning into the uncertainty:

If you talk to the most passionate advocates for any Democratic presidential contender, they’ll tell you that their candidate will not just beat Donald Trump in the presidential election, he or she will destroy him. They each have their own theory about exactly why this will happen — Joe Biden will win working-class whites, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will energize young people, etc. — but they’re convinced that their candidate is the only one who doesn’t represent a huge risk of Trump winning reelection.

But it’s not too early to accept a fact about the general election, one that will not change no matter who the Democratic nominee is: Not only will this election be extremely close, it’s going to be nearly impossible to tell what will happen until Election Day.

That’s because the real uncertainty lies in this question: Who is the electorate actually going to be? We won’t know until they show up, or don’t, at the polls…

The more liberal Democrats believe they can expand the electorate by organizing and motivating young voters, single women, minorities and anyone else inclined to vote Democratic but who doesn’t always vote. Moderates like Biden and Klobuchar might pay some lip service to that idea, but their core strategy is to accept the composition of the electorate pretty much as it is but hope to convert some Trump voters and win a higher proportion of the small population of independents…

While polling can circle around questions of the electorate’s composition by asking people things like how certain they are to vote or whether they know where their polling place is, it’s extremely difficult to do with precision, not least because people routinely lie to pollsters to make themselves seem civically engaged. We just won’t know whether the efforts the parties have undertaken will work until Election Day.

Don’t like political uncertainty?  Get used to it till November 3.


President = dictator?

Hyperbolic?  A little.  But, sadly, only a little based on the absolutely preposterous arguments Republicans have been making in support of their hopelessly corrupt president.  I’m sure there’s lots of really good takes on this, but for now, Jonathan Bernstein is handy and his take is really good:

The president’s lawyers moved closer than ever to simply embracing the idea that the president can do whatever he wants. Alan Dershowitz even went so far as to argue that since presidents always think that their re-election is in the national interest, they cannot be legitimately impeached for any use of their powers of office to aid that re-election. This would have been good news for President Richard Nixon. And surprising news to pretty much everyone throughout U.S. history. [emphases mine]

It appears more and more that even if the House managers serving as the impeachment prosecutors are eventually allowed to call one or more witnesses, the trial will end after establishing the principles that the president may use the powers of the office any way he or she wishes to without constraint, and that presidents will no longer have any legal obligation to submit to congressional oversight. 

That said, future Congresses will still have plenty of weapons to use to fight back against presidential misbehavior. And it’s true that impeachment has never been a particularly strong congressional weapon. But now it will be weaker. Presidents will be emboldened, and the norm that the president’s party will exercise absolute fealty to the Oval Office, which has been building since the 1980s, will be even further strengthened.

The Republican Party, meanwhile, has fully surrendered to its least responsible members; not just Trump, but the worst of the House Freedom Caucus and its allies in the Republican-aligned media. There was a defense of the president available that involved accepting the overwhelming evidence that he had tried to use the powers of his office to force the government of Ukraine to help his 2020 re-election campaign, and declaring it not quite up to the level of impeachment and removal. Instead, the president’s team, with the support of most Republican senators and the apparent willingness of the rest to go along, staked out wild constitutional positions, used their time to throw mud (including flat-out falsehoods) at former Vice President Joe Biden and anyone else who gets in their way, and generally disgrace themselves. 

Believe me, I get the power of partisanship.  I get the power of power.  I get the power of electoral incentives.  But, damn, I have to admit I have nonetheless been surprised at Republicans’ willingness to utterly trash our constitutional system in support of this petty, incompetent tyrant.  Okay, I think that also means I don’t get the power of those things after all.  Or I just underestimate humans ability to debase themselves.  Ugh.

Questions Democrats should have

Frank Bruni’s got questions in his latest newsletter.  I certainly hope Democrats ask versions of these:

If I were a Democratic senator, I’d ask Trump’s lawyers:

Can you point me to a few other countries — to one other country — where the president and his immediate aides have shown such direct and intense interest in corruption as they did in Ukraine?

Can you talk me through why, apart from that country’s appearance in conspiracy theories related to the 2016 election and its potential to smear Joe Biden unfairly, the president was so focused on corruption there?

Can you show me where in the Constitution it says that presidential impeachment proceedings should be reserved for years in which there’s no presidential election? (My column last weekend took aim at the argument that a Senate conviction of Trump and his removal from office would usurp voters’ rights.) If you can’t, please tell me why Republicans are such strict interpreters of the Constitution on some matters and, suddenly, such liberal interpreters here?

Can you explain Rudy Giuliani? Can anyone explain Rudy Giuliani?

You or other allies of the president’s have alternately argued that there’s no persuasive evidence that he conditioned vital aid to Ukraine on a political favor and that such a transaction doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Which is it? Pick a horse. Just so we can accurately understand, once the president’s foreordained acquittal comes, the judgment the Senate made, the precedent it set and the message it sent. History deserves this.

Can you explain Ken Starr? Can anyone explain Ken Starr?

Bolton = smoking gun

Honestly, if we didn’t already have a smoking gun, we had hot shell casings, ballistics evidence, fingerprints on the gun, etc.  Greg Sargent on how Bolton’s account pretty much demolishes all the remaining Republican defenses (not they were more than a transparent shower curtain in the place of dry wall, anyway):

But now we have Bolton prepared to testify that Trump himself directly confirmed this link to him, wrecking the “hearsay” defense. If Bolton were lying, you’d think Trump would want him to testify under oath, since Bolton’s account is set to appear in a book. Unless the game is to prevent his testimony to the Senate before the vote on Trump’s fate.

Separately, the transcript just does show Trump using the power of his office to pressure Zelensky. Trump cannot make this disappear through disinformation. And so, his actual claim is that there’s nothing wrong with having done this.

“The White House counsel has tremendous reach inside any White House, especially this one,” Price told me. “It’s within the purview of the White House counsel to review records in the possession of the executive office of the president. It’s almost certain he would have sought the manuscript.”

Jack Goldsmith, a White House lawyer under former president George W. Bush, adds that such manuscripts generally are internally circulated “widely.”

So it’s very likely the White House knows exactly how Bolton would further incriminate Trump — and that this is exactly why Trump doesn’t want him to testify….

At this point, of course, this really is the position of many Trump defenders. But there is no longer any denying that any GOP senator who goes along with this is willfully and knowingly carrying Trump’s coverup to completion.

When it comes to hearing new witnesses and evidence, GOP senators have no arguments left. And no one is obliged to pretend there’s a shred of legitimacy to whatever excuses they do offer.

And Jonathan Bernstein on how the greatest political impact may be on the fact that Trump has so clearly hung Republican senators out to dry:

And then, Sunday night, it fell apart. The New York Times reported that former National Security Adviser John Bolton has written in his upcoming book that Trump made explicit the quid pro quo that his lawyers are denying: that Trump told him directly that he wanted to keep the military aid frozen until the Ukrainian government agreed to help with investigations of Democrats. Not only that, but apparently the White House has had Bolton’s manuscript all month. Trump’s team knew this was coming.

While I certainly don’t expect the president’s support in Congress to collapse, it’s impossible not to see close parallels to the “smoking gun” tape that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency in 1974. That tape, proving that Nixon ordered his staff to have the Central Intelligence Agency block the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry into the Watergate scandal and released to Congress and the public after the House Judiciary Committee had passed articles of impeachment, was so devastating for Nixon not so much because it was proof of his crimes; plenty of proof of plenty of crimes had long since been placed in the record. Instead, it became the moment when conservative Republicans realized that Nixon had deliberately set them up with false arguments even though Nixon knew that the evidence, if released, would undermine those arguments and make them look like liars and fools. [emphases mine]

That is exactly what appears to have happened with the Bolton book. Trump knew that Bolton’s testimony and supporting notes, if they ever surfaced, would undermine the claims of his supporters. In some ways, it’s not quite as strong as Nixon’s smoking gun, since there’s no tape (as far as we know!) furnishing absolute proof of what Trump said to Bolton. But in some ways, it’s worse. Nixon knew what was on the tapes, but until the Supreme Court ruled against him he might at least have hoped that he could keep them secret. Apparently in the Trump case, at least some people in the White House have known for weeks that Bolton was going to release this book, and yet they still encouraged their allies to say things that were about to be shown to be false.

So far, it appears that Republican politicians would rather look like liars and fools — following ever-less-plausible White House lines, perhaps hoping that no one notices — than dare to oppose Trump and his still-loyal allies in the Republican-aligned media. Maybe they’ll all stay on message, even after this episode. Some of them, I’m sure, are either such blind partisans or so far inside the conservative information feedback loop that they may not even notice. But I have to believe that, whatever they do about it, a lot of Republican politicians are feeling more uncomfortable than ever.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Interesting new research, “Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t”

It has become common wisdom that too much time spent on smartphones and social media is responsible for a recent spike in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, especially among teenagers.

But a growing number of academic researchers have produced studies that suggest the common wisdom is wrong.

The latest research, published on Friday by two psychology professors, combs through about 40 studies that have examined the link between social media use and both depression and anxiety among adolescents. That link, according to the professors, is small and inconsistent.

2) Hell, yeah, there’s a good case for sticking with bail reform.  Especially because the opponents are pretty much just fearmongering:

Judges can also still set bail on almost all violent felony offenses, any case involving sexual abuse or misconduct, all felony and some misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, and witness intimidation and tampering cases. The most common charges for which release must now be allowed are drug possession, theft and unlicensed driving.

The best evidence for the success of bail reform comes from Brooklyn. Prosecutors there stopped demanding bail for almost all misdemeanors in April 2017. Over the next year, the number of people held on bail in Brooklyn declined by 43 percent, and Brooklyn has also experienced a decline in crime, with fewer shootings and the lowest number of murders in the borough’s history in 2019, according to the district attorney’s office.

3) Philip Bump actually goes to the trouble to assess six key points of Trump’s impeachment defense.  Of course, the whole defense is based on well-established historical and legal principles.  Kidding!

4) Meanwhile, in a great example of “NYT commenters are smarter than the Op-Ed writer” a law professor argues that Trump did nothing wrong, because of course politicians consider personal political benefit in their public policy actions.  I will leave you to puncture his arguments yourself if you are so inclined.

5) Of course, for people paying attention, it’s been pretty damn clear that Trump is not responsible for a good economy (and, of course, we give all presidents too much credit and blame for the economy).  Nice column from Joseph Stiglitz:

Again, the low employment rate is not a surprise, not least because unhealthy people can’t work. Moreover, those on disability benefits, in prison – the US incarceration rate has increased more than sixfold since 1970, with some two million people currently behind bars – or so discouraged that they are not actively seeking jobs are not counted as “unemployed.” But, of course, they are not employed. Nor is it a surprise that a country that doesn’t provide affordable childcare or guarantee family leave would have lower female employment – adjusted for population, more than ten percentage points lower – than other developed countries.

Even judging by GDP, the Trump economy falls short. Last quarter’s growth was just 2.1%, far less than the 4%, 5%, or even 6% Trump promised to deliver, and even less than the 2.4% average of Obama’s second term. That is a remarkably poor performance considering the stimulus provided by the $1 trillion deficit and ultra-low interest rates. This is not an accident, or just a matter of bad luck: Trump’s brand is uncertainty, volatility, and prevarication, whereas trust, stability, and confidence are essential for growth. So is equality, according to the International Monetary Fund.

So, Trump deserves failing grades not just on essential tasks like upholding democracy and preserving our planet. He should not get a pass on the economy, either.

6) So, I was intrigued by this headline in the NYT Opinion section, “In Defense of Donald Trump: Legal experts examine the strongest and weakest points of his case.”  But, unsurprisingly, it’s not much of a defense, as even the strongest points are pretty weak.

7) I definitely know some people who apologize too much.  And they are invariably women.  But if somebody says “I’m sorry” in the generic sense of “I’m sorry that that happened to you” and a person says “oh, it’s not your fault” that latter person has a serious lack of social skills.  Like many words, sorry means many different things depending on context.

By definition, an apology is an acknowledgment of offense or failure, but words don’t always mean their dictionary definition: Context matters, Dr. Tannen said. Words are defined in how they’re used and an apology is used in many different ways, so it serves many different functions. Some apologies are meant to repair a relationship, like when you forget to pick up your friend at the airport. Some apologies show respect, like when you submit a report to your boss and it’s a day or two late. And some apologies are simply meant to smooth out a conversation, Dr. Tannen added. Gender and culture influence the way we use apologies, and sometimes what we say gets lost in translation.

“A typical thing for women is that people think they’re being overly accommodating when they apologize, even if they’re not using the apology that way,” Dr. Tannen said. Sounds like that’s what the woman in the wet jacket was thinking.

8) Snake anti-venom is complicated to make and expensive and saves lives.  But to make it happen you have to milk a real live snake for venom.  But with cool technology, maybe not for too much longer.

9) Ruy Teixera sums up the latest political science on 2016 that’s all the rage.  According to this, it was not racial resentment that was key to Trump’s election.  Longish summary:

No, “Racial Resentment” Didn’t Elect Donald Trump

I don’t suppose I’ve succeeded in getting many of you to actually read the Grimmer and Marble paper I linked to the other day. That’s too bad because it really is a very important paper. The paper is basically an accounting exercise–and I love accounting exercises!–which establishes very cleanly and clearly, using straightforward mathematics that is not really arguable, that “racial resentment” (itself a vexed term–see the famous Ryan Enos/Riley Carney paper) and similar attitudes simply cannot explain where Trump got the votes to be elected. And if that theory–to this day, the dominant theory in political science and general discourse–cannot explain where Trump got the votes, then what good is it since it doesn’t, you know, explain anything.

But if I can’t get you to read the Grimmer and Marble paper, admittedly a bit of an academic political science slog, perhaps I can get you to read Policy Tensor’s crisp summary and explanation of the findings. And, yes, I do think the findings have political implications–important ones.

“An extraordinary new paper by Justin Grimmer and William Marble at Stanford has totally and irretrievably debunked the racial resentment thesis that traced the catastrophe of 2016 to white racial prejudice. But the paper, “Who Put Trump in the White House? Explaining the Contribution of Voting Blocs to Trump’s Victory,” does much more than that. It explains why the vast bulk of the literature that has emerged got it so very wrong. And it does so by mathematically demonstrating the limitations and biases of previous analyses in a straightforward manner that is a model of simplicity and elegance. This is easily the most significant work to appear on the question. In many ways, it is as much a theoretical intervention as an argument over 2016; one that has all the hallmarks of a seminal work — that creates a before and after. And it has the potential to irrevocably change the conversation in both academic political science and sophisticated political consulting. So what have Grimmer and Marble shown?

They begin by noting that, in order to understand 2016, or any other election, it is not enough to show that voters with such and such attribute (denoted by x, eg racial resentment) voted for this candidate at higher rates. This is so because the effect may be swamped by compositional effects (ie, the share of people with that attitude in the population may have fallen) and turnout rates (ie, the people with that attitude may have turned out at lower rates). In order to understand how a candidate won, we must pay careful attention to all three factors at once: composition, turnout, and vote choice.

The number of votes that Trump received from voting bloc (ie, whatever attribute) x is given by the product of (1) the share of the electorate in voting bloc x, (2) the turnout rate conditional on voting bloc x, and (3) the rate at which they voted for Trump conditional on turnout and bloc. This a mathematical fact, there is no arguing with it:

The problem with the vast bulk of the literature is that it pays no attention to these confounding effects and pays near-exclusive attention to the vote choice of various blocs (“authoritarians” &c). In a survey of 83 papers analyzing 2016, they found a mere 5 that had paid attention to all three. The vast majority of reported results, 94 percent, are suspect because they fail to take into account these mathematical facts. This includes the entirety of the vast literature supporting the racial resentment thesis.

Once you start adding up the correct way, the racial resentment thesis turns out to be flat out wrong.”

Read the Policy Tensor piece for charts from the paper and clear explanations of what they mean.…/rkcarney/files/carneyenos.pdf

10) Nice review/summary of the Very Stable Genius book.  Also a good Fresh Air interview.

11) Good policy is important.  But so is how policy interacts with culture.  Atlantic, “Why Icelandic Dads Take Parental Leave and Japanese Dads Don’t: A generous policy is of little use when work culture heavily discourages men from taking time off.”

The hype around Koizumi’s minimal leave reflects the disconnect between his country’s official parental-leave allowances and how things work in practice: Japan offers one of the most generous paternity-leave packages in the world (a full year), yet the rate at which eligible fathers working in the private sector take leave is quite low (about 6 percent).For a host of reasons, Japan’s government would like that rate to be much higher. Research indicates that dads who take leave are more involved as their kids grow up, which improves both the kids’ and the dads’ physical and mental health (and moms’ too, no doubt). And in Japan in particular, where low birth rates have led to a scarcity of workers, if more fathers took parental leave and picked up more child-care responsibilities, mothers might have an easier time entering, or staying in, the workforce (and, in the longer run, Japanese families might be encouraged to have more children.

What’s more, a 2017 Japanese government-commissioned study found that just over a third of new fathers wanted to take paternity leave, but didn’t. What’s stopping Japanese dads from taking time off?Policy and cultural norms each play a role when it comes to who takes parental leave and how much, and in Japan, culture has been the more powerful force. According to Machiko Osawa, the director of the Research Institute for Women and Careers at Japan Women’s University, the country’s work culture strongly discourages dads from taking time away from the office. “Taking paternity leave is more likely to reduce promotion possibilities in the future, since this is a signal that a man values his private life,” she wrote to me in an email. “In Japan, those who put work as a priority and work long hours receive high evaluations and are more likely to be promoted.”

Also, I’m glad I don’t live in Japan.

12) Did I ever do a post on this great David Leonhardt column, “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You”?  I really should have.

13) Yeah, yeah, I’m good with not stigmatizing people for being overweight and for recognizing just how complicated this is.  Just don’t go around telling me that we cannot even say that some foods are healthier than others:

A central aim of the antidiet project is to divest the language of bodies and food of all its moral content. That’s why the critics focus so hard on language. Harrison just won’t let the words “healthy” or “unhealthy” (or for that matter “wellness,” “overweight,” or “clean eating”) slip the bonds of her pointed quotation marks. And to hear her take her rapier punctuation to the truisms around food, bodies, and exertion is to feel the wires loosen in your head. Quote-unquote overeat. How could these slippy-slidey phonemes about diet culture and the body ever have had any moral sway over me?

Sorry, that handful of raspberries and an apple I had this afternoon definitely healthier than the part of the 100 Grand Bar I had after dinner.

14) I missed this from 2017, but you know I always love reading about the rise of quality board games.

15) Law professor Julian Davis Mortensen argues that we’ve been way over-interpreting “executive power” in the Constitution.  I think he’s quite likely right:

After years of research into an enormous array of colonial, revolutionary, and founding-era sources, I’m here to tell you that—as a historical matter—this president-as-king claim is utterly and totally wrong. I’ve reviewed more than a thousand publications from the 17th and 18th centuries for each instance of the word root exec-, and have read most of those texts from cover to cover with the topic of presidential power squarely in mind. I’ve read every discussion of executive power and presidential authority that appears in the gigantic compilation of archival materials known as the Documentary History of the Ratification of the United States Constitution. And with the help of a team of research assistants, I’m most of the way through flyspecking the full records of the Continental Congress—including committee reports, floor debates, and delegate correspondence—with the same question in mind.

All this work has left me with both the confidence to share this conclusion and the sense of obligation to do so as bluntly as possible. It’s just not a close call: The historical record categorically refutes the idea that the American revolutionaries gave their new president an unspecified array of royal prerogatives. To the contrary, the presidency that leaps off the pages of the Founders’ debates, diaries, speeches, letters, poems, and essays was an instrument of the law of the land, subject to the law of the land, and both morally and legally obliged to obey the law of the land.

If you had the same third-grade history class I did, you might think this all goes without saying. But in the realm of constitutional law, these findings represent a tectonic shift.

For more than two centuries, jurists and statesmen have intoned that “ours is a government of limited powers.” That proposition is the foundational principle of federal power. The Constitution did not grant Congress open-ended authority to regulate in the public interest. Instead, the Founders wrote a laundry list of highly specific legislative authorities. This enumeration strategy, the Supreme Court has explained, is why courts must carefully consider the national government’s legislative limits: “If no enumerated power authorizes Congress to pass a certain law, that law may not be enacted.” From this starting point comes the endless constitutional sparring over the scope of the powers to regulate commerce, to tax, to spend, and to enter into treaties—just to name a few. Almost everyone agrees that unless legislators can point to an affirmative grant of constitutional authority, Congress simply can’t act.

A funny thing happens, though, when it comes to the presidency. Suddenly you see hand-waving that would be laughed out of the room just about anywhere else…

The constitutional text doesn’t actually authorize the president to do very much. It enumerates the veto, appointments, and pardon powers. It grants the president “the executive power” and the office of commander in chief. It authorizes the president to receive foreign ambassadors, demand reports from his subordinates, and deliver a State of the Union address. But aside from a few miscellaneous process authorities, that’s just about it.

The way president-as-king theorists see it, this fact is more than just inconvenient; it’s downright dangerous.

What’s particularly noteworthy is that so many of the idolaters of the Constitution pretty much ignore all this and go all-in on extreme executive power.  At least when the executive is a Republican.

16)There’s been some interesting recent controversy over whether it was the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs, or widespread volcanic activity.  Latest research– pretty sure it’s the meteor.

17) This is cool– some wolf pups will play fetch.

18) Is rationality overrated?  Maybe.  At least if aim to be reasonable instead of rational:

New research says there’s another way to look at it. What if people often choose to be irrational in cases where doing the rational thing would violate something they value more — like socially conscious behavior? And if that’s the case, should we actually embrace some instances of irrationality rather than discounting it as an embarrassing nuisance?

That’s one of the possibilities raised in an interesting psychology study published last week in Science Advances. Researchers based at the University of Waterloo in Canada wanted to understand what prompts people to use rationality — or deviate from it — in their decision-making. To get at this, they first analyzed reams of text to see what people generally take rationality to mean. Then they conducted 12 experiments, recruiting people from Amazon Mechanical Turk to play classic economic games like the Dictator Game online and answer questions about their behavior.

The study starts by distinguishing between two terms: there’s rationality, where you focus on maximizing the chance of getting what you want, and there’s reasonableness, where you strike a balance between what you want and social norms.

Although we might sometimes use rational and reasonable interchangeably, the study shows that people generally associate the former with the cold hard logic of self-interest and the latter with socially conscious traits like kindness or cooperativeness. A computerized analysis of billions of words — drawn from soap operas, Supreme Court opinions, and Google Books — showed that these associations hold true across several countries…

Let’s get clear on something: Nobody is arguing that rationality is a bad thing. It’s more that our understanding of rationality has, over the past few decades, become impoverished.

“What philosophers since the Enlightenment meant by rationality is much more complex than what economists talk about now,” Grossmann told me. “If you look at Immanuel Kant or Adam Smith, their notion of rationality is much more nuanced and it does include social norms. Yet behavioral economists have this very narrow notion of rationality: abstract, formal, self-interested, and not at all about social norms.”

In other words, rationality used to be this capacious concept that included reasonableness. By ripping reasonableness out of it, we ended up with a standard of judgment that the average person won’t see fit to apply in all situations — and then we assumed that indicates there’s something wrong with them.

According to Grossman, we’ve lost the more useful notion of rationality, but “the reasonableness standard can help to recover it.”




Starting today is the real test for the media

In general, I felt like the media coverage of impeachment so far has been decidedly not great, but certainly not horrible.  Sure, too much “both sides!” but, generally, if you actually bother to read the stories, a real sense that, yeah, Trump has clearly done some bad stuff here.”

But, I think a much tougher test starts today.  Sure, Democrats may have been hyperbolic at times, but the entire presentation has been fundamentally truthful.  Beginning today, what the media hears will be 90% lies, misinformation, and misdirection.  And, as we’ve seen, they are not particularly well equipped for that beyond saying “Democrats say Republicans are lying” which dramatically weakens the reality of “Republicans are lying” as we know they will be.  I’m not all optimistic, but maybe, just maybe sitting through the Democratic presentation the last few days will lead journalists to be a little more honest and a little less “both sides!” in covering a Republican case which will surely be very short on actual truth.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Scientists have figured out the best way to board an aircraft.  Presumably, this will save less money than monetizing boarding order– as currently happens– so, I suspect it will rarely be utilized.

2) The extreme lack of empathy that so many people display (and, honestly, an extreme ignorance of the very real vicissitudes of fate) is so frustrating.  Kristoff:

When my wife and I wrote about my old schoolmates who had died from “deaths of despair,” the reaction was sometimes ugly.

“They killed themselves,” scoffed Jonathan from St. Louis, Mo., in the reader comments. “It was self-inflicted.”

Ajax in Georgia was even harsher: “Natural selection weeding out those less fit for survival.”

Our essay, drawn from our new book, “Tightrope,” explored the disintegration of America’s working class through the kids on my old No. 6 school bus in Yamhill, Ore., particularly my neighbors the Knapps. The five Knapp kids were smart and talented, but Farlan died after years of drug and alcohol abuse, Zealan died in a house fire while passed out drunk, Nathan blew himself up cooking meth, Rogena died of hepatitis after drug use, and Keylan survived partly because he had spent 13 years in the Oregon State Penitentiary.

Working-class men and women like them, of every shade, increasingly are dying of “deaths of despair” — from drugs, alcohol and suicide. That’s why life expectancy in the United States, for the first time in a century, has declined for three years in a row.

Plenty of readers responded with compassion. But there was a prickly scorn from some that deserves a response because it reflects an ideology that underlies so many failed policies. It arises from the myth that we live in a land of limitless opportunity and that those who struggle have simply made “bad choices” and failed to muster “personal responsibility.” Dr. Ben Carson, who grew up poor and black in Detroit and is now the nation’s housing secretary, has described poverty as “more of a choice than anything else.” [emphasis mine]

This “personal responsibility” narrative animated some reader critics of the Knapps. “This article describes ruined, pitiful people,” one reader commented. “The main problem they have is weakness of character.”

Over the last half-century, this narrative has gained ground in America; it’s an echo of the “social Darwinism” that circulated a century ago. I’ve come to think that the biggest impediment to strengthening America isn’t a shortage of resources but this personal responsibility obsession.

3) How to keep social media from being a negative in your life?  Short version: use the tools and settings in the various platforms smartly so that they aren’t actually causing you aggravation.  It’s not exactly rocket science.

4) I appreciate Lisa Baldez explaining just how little would actually change if the ERA really does become an amendment (it well may, but big court challenge):

My research suggests the impact would be less dramatic. First, the ERA would probably affect Supreme Court decisions indirectly, by raising sex equality to the status of a fundamental right and increasing the standard that the Supreme Court would apply in determining whether a law that discriminates on the basis of sex violates the Constitution. That would make it more likely that courts would favor those who sought gender equality. Second, the ERA would not constitutionally protect women in most cases of violence against women. I’ll explain below…

In short, though advocates and opponents alike are energized — or agitated — by the possibility of a ratified ERA, it wouldn’t change as much as many expect. Look instead for a significant — but limited — effect on legal protections for women’s rights.

5) Now that New York has largely done away with cash bail, police and prosecutors are doing their best to scare the bejesus out of people.  NYT helps with this headline, “He Was Charged With 4 Bank Heists, and Freed. Then He Struck Again, Police Say.  A man accused of robbing banks in New York City had been released under a Jan. 1 law that ended bail for most nonviolent charges.”  Meanwhile, way down in the article where most people won’t read, we actually get:

Mr. Woodberry, who is from Walterboro, S.C., appeared in handcuffs on Sunday in federal court, and was ordered held pending a bail hearing. If convicted of bank robbery, a federal crime, he faces 20 years in prison.

His lawyer, Samuel I. Jacobson, said the argument that Mr. Woodberry’s initial release was an example of flaws in the new law was not only unfounded, but also constituted “egregious ethical violations” by federal prosecutors that were grounds for the case to be dismissed.

“The United States attorney has said that no sane or rational system would release Mr. Woodberry, but that’s not the question,” Mr. Jacobson, of the Federal Defenders of New York, said in a statement after court.

“The question is whether a sane or rational system locks people presumed innocent in cages simply because they are too poor to post bail.”

Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said that under the newly adopted law, if Mr. Woodberry had been rearrested on a state felony charge related to bank robbery, the judge would have had full authority to set bail to keep him in custody.

“The assertion that bail cannot be set is a lie,” Ms. Schreibersdorf said in an interview. “They’re going out of their way to interpret it in a way to scare the public.”

6) I’m pretty fascinated by the academic debate over the 1619 project.  Sean Wilentz raises some good points about NHJ pushing her arguments too far.  But, damn, if he doesn’t go and then push his rebuttal too far.  Especially on Lincoln’s views of race (which was the partial subject of my 2nd best undergraduate paper).  Historian Nicholas Guyatt with a good take on all this:

7) Interesting look at how personality tests are “biased” because they are normed on gender, rather, than all adults.  But the really interesting upshot of this is that women are just way more agreeable than men!

The sexist feedback isn’t due to an inherent flaw in the personality test, nor malicious intent. It’s because of how the psychologists behind the inventories present the results. Rather than giving an absolute score in each of the Big Five categories, they tell you your percentile in comparison to others within your gender.

“Your results are based on comparing you to all the other humans who have taken the test,” wrote Maggie Koerth-Baker in the FiveThirtyEight article. That seems to be true for the site on which Koerth-Baker took her test, which uses the BFI and is run by Christopher Soto, a psychology professor at Colby College. (I took the test as a man and a woman on this site, and got the same results each time.)

But the other tests taken by Quartz compared women to other women, and men to other men. As women tend to be more agreeable than men, this means that a slightly disagreeable woman will be relatively more disagreeable when compared only to other women. Women’s agreeable nature is not inherently biological: Social conditions pressure women to behave in this way. And this sexist trope is neatly reinforced in how the results from these personality tests are presented.

8) Hey, look at this, #8 before I even get to impeachment.  Among other things, Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow is just embarrassingly stupid:

Appearing shortly after 6 p.m. on the Senate floor, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Jay Sekulow offered an indignant rebuke of the Democrats’ impeachment managers. What he was so incensed about: that they had allegedly referred to “lawyer lawsuits” in prosecuting the case against Trump.

“And by the way — lawyer lawsuits?” Sekulow began. “Lawyer lawsuits? We’re talking about the impeachment of a president of the United States, duly elected, and the members — the managers are complaining about lawyer lawsuits? The Constitution allows lawyer lawsuits. It’s disrespecting the Constitution of the United States to even say that in this chamber — lawyer lawsuits.”

Sekulow added that it was “a dangerous moment for America when an impeachment of a president of the United States is being rushed through because of lawyer lawsuits. The Constitution allows it, if necessary. The Constitution demands it, if necessary.”

There was one problem: Sekulow was referring to a quote that doesn’t appear to exist. He appeared to have badly misunderstood what one of the Democratic impeachment managers said.

Shortly prior, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) laid out her case against Trump. In the course of it, she referred to “FOIA lawsuits” — not “lawyer lawsuits” — referring to the Freedom of Information Act.

And it wasn’t just one wayward acronym that could explain the misunderstanding; Demings’s remarks repeatedly referenced the law.

9) Whenever I express concerns about democracy to my friend MY he always likes to remind me just how lawless the GWB administration was when it came to the “war on terror,” torture, etc.  He’s got a point.  Especially on the torture.  Conor Friedersforf:

How does Mitchell remember those events? In testimony at Guantánamo yesterday, he said the CIA demanded that he and Bruce Jessen, another psychologist, keep using the torture techniques that they had helped to develop. The Los Angeles Times recounted:

After Abu Zubaydah started cooperating with interrogators at a secret prison in Thailand in 2002, Mitchell and Jessen sought to stop using the waterboard. Officers at CIA headquarters in Virginia accused the two of having lost their nerve. “They said that we were pussies, that we had lost our spine,” Mitchell testified. The CIA officers said that if another attack by Al Qaeda occurred, Mitchell and Jessen “would have the blood of dead Americans on their hands.” Mitchell told the officers he would continue only if they came and witnessed application of the waterboard, to “bring their rubber boots and come on down.”

Which they did. They assembled in Abu Zubaydah’s cell, which Mitchell described as small with an unpleasant, musky odor. The psychologists performed what Mitchell said was a dialed-back version of the technique. “I don’t want to use the word ‘perfunctory’ for something that horrible, but, yeah,” he said. It didn’t seem perfunctory to the visitors, many of whom began to cry. “Their decision after witnessing this is that we don’t need to do this,” he said.

In this account, a prisoner was cooperating with interrogators, yet CIA officers at headquarters still ordered the psychologists who designed America’s torture program to keep terrorizing him by filling his lungs with water. The psychologists refused to needlessly terrorize another human being—unless the people at CIA headquarters who called them spineless pussies came to watch.

Then the CIA folks came, and the psychologists terrorized the prisoner as a demonstration, knowing it was wrong. And it was so brutal that multiple CIA observers cried. That’s according to Mitchell, one of the torture program’s staunchest defenders!

Because the CIA is cloaked in so much secrecy, Americans don’t even know if the people at headquarters who demanded that the torture continue still work for the spy agency. Their actions are a moral stain on the nation, as is the failure to hold them accountable.

10) Among other really, really stupid things Republicans are saying in defense of Trump is this.  Chait:

Of the 51 state attorneys general, 26 are Republican. And of those, 21 have signed a new letter denouncing impeachment as an offense to the Constitution. President Trump has tweeted excitedly in all-caps about the letter (or, more precisely, mentions of the letter he has seen on Fox News), and the Wall Street Journal editorial page lavishes the note with favorable attention.

Amusingly, the letter is premised on a clear error of fact. In keeping with the claims of Trump’s legal team, it asserts that he did not violate the law, and proceeds to argue that a president cannot be impeached “for acting in a legal manner.” In fact, Trump did violate the law. During the summer of 2019, numerous officials expressed their belief that Trump’s refusal to disperse the military aid to Ukraine that Congress had passed into law was illegal. Last week, the Government Accountability Office confirmed the truth of this rather obvious suspicion…

Proceeding from its debunked claim, the Republican letter argues that, since Trump’s actions were supposedly legal, the only basis for impeaching him is his allegedly corrupt motives. And motives are nothing more than thoughts! “Article I is based upon a constitutionally-flawed theory that the President can be impeached for exercising concededly lawful constitutional authority ‘motivated’ by thoughts a House majority unilaterally deems ‘corrupt,’” it reasons. Therefore, Trump “is being impeached for a political thought crime.”

As these are attorneys general, you’d like to think they’d actually be familiar with the legal concept of mens rea.  But, hey, Trump before the law.

11) Seth Masket does a nice job summarizing all the political science scholarship on how term limits are bad.  And there’s a lot of it.  Refer to this next time somebody you know makes a term limits argument.

12) Of course the government is shedding scientists under Trump:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dozens of government computers sit in a nondescript building here, able to connect to a data model that could help farmers manage the impact of a changing climate on their crops.

But no one in this federal agency would know how to access the model, or, if they did, what to do with the data.

That’s because the ambitious federal researcher who created it in Washington quit rather than move when the Agriculture Department relocated his agency to an office park here last fall.

He is one of hundreds of scientists across the federal government who have been forced out, sidelined or muted since President Trump took office.

The exodus has been fueled broadly by administration policies that have diminished the role of science as well as more specific steps, such as the relocation of agencies away from the nation’s capital.

While the administration has come under fire for prioritizing the concerns of industry at the expense of science in government decisions, the cumulative effects are just beginning to appear after three years of Trump in the White House.

13) George Packer wrote a tribute to the late Christopher Hitchens, but what I really liked is what he had to say about groups and identity:

First, there’s belonging. I know it sounds perverse to count belonging as an enemy of writing. After all, it’s a famously lonely life—the work only gets done in comfortless isolation, face-to-face with yourself—and the life is made tolerable and meaningful by a sense of connection with other people. And it can be immensely helpful to have models and mentors, especially for a young person who sets out from a place where being a writer might be unthinkable. But this solidarity isn’t what I mean by belonging. I mean that writers are now expected to identify with a community and to write as its representatives. In a way, this is the opposite of writing to reach other people. When we open a book or click on an article, the first thing we want to know is which group the writer belongs to. The group might be a political faction, an ethnicity or a sexuality, a literary clique. The answer makes reading a lot simpler. It tells us what to expect from the writer’s work, and even what to think of it. Groups save us a lot of trouble by doing our thinking for us.

Politicians and activists are representatives. Writers are individuals whose job is to find language that can cross the unfathomable gap separating us from one another. They don’t write as anyone beyond themselves. But today, writers have every incentive to do their work as easily identifiable, fully paid-up members of a community. Belonging is numerically codified by social media, with its likes, retweets, friends, and followers. Writers learn to avoid expressing thoughts or associating with undesirables that might be controversial with the group and hurt their numbers. In the most successful cases, the cultivation of followers becomes an end in itself and takes the place of actual writing…

Among the enemies of writing, belonging is closely related to fear. It’s strange to say this, but a kind of fear pervades the literary and journalistic worlds I’m familiar with. I don’t mean that editors and writers live in terror of being sent to prison. It’s true that the president calls journalists “enemies of the American people,” and it’s not an easy time to be one, but we’re still free to investigate him. Michael Moore and Robert De Niro can fantasize aloud about punching Donald Trump in the face or hitting him with a bag of excrement, and the only consequence is an online fuss. Nor are Islamist jihadists or white nationalists sticking knives in the backs of poets and philosophers on American city streets. The fear is more subtle and, in a way, more crippling. It’s the fear of moral judgment, public shaming, social ridicule, and ostracism. It’s the fear of landing on the wrong side of whatever group matters to you. An orthodoxy enforced by social pressure can be more powerful than official ideology, because popular outrage has more weight than the party line.

A friend of mine once heard from a New York publisher that his manuscript was unacceptable because it went against a “consensus” on the subject of race. The idea that publishers exist exactly to shatter a consensus, to provoke new thoughts, to make readers uncomfortable and even unhappy—this idea seemed to have gone dormant at the many houses where my friend’s manuscript was running into trouble. Fortunately, one editor remembered why he had gotten into publishing and summoned the courage to sign the book, which found its way to many readers. But the prevailing winds are blowing cold in the opposite direction. Incidents like this, minor but chilling, happen regularly in institutions whose core purpose is to say things well and truly. If an editorial assistant points out that a line in a draft article will probably detonate an explosion on social media, what is her supervisor going to do—risk the blowup, or kill the sentence? Probably the latter. The notion of keeping the sentence because of the risk, to defy the risk, to push the boundaries of free expression just a few millimeters further out—that notion now seems quaint. So the mob has the final edit…

Last year I taught a journalism course at Yale. My students were talented and hardworking, but I kept running into a problem: They always wanted to write from a position of moral certainty. This was where they felt strongest and safest. I assigned them to read writers who demonstrated the power of inner conflict and moral weakness—Baldwin, Orwell, Naipaul, Didion. I told my students that good writing never comes from the display of virtue. But I could see that they were skeptical, as if I were encouraging them deliberately to botch a job interview. They were attracted to subjects about which they’d already made up their minds.

My students have come of age during a decade when public discourse means taking a position and sticking with it. The most influential writers are those who create a dazzling moral clarity. Its light is meant to overpower subjects, not illuminate them. The glare is so strong that readers stop seeing the little flaws and contradictions of actual life, and stop wanting to—they have only to bask in the warmth of a blinding glow. The attraction of moral clarity is obvious, never more so than in the Trump years, when everything of value—honesty, kindness, tolerance, loyalty, courage—is daily trashed by the most powerful people in America. The Trump presidency is tremendously clarifying, and the duty of a citizen is also clear—to uphold those values in every way possible.

14) This also inspired a great rant from Drum, who went off on “cultural appropriation” that also gets at the American Dirt “controversy” that I find ridiculous.

There’s not much question that Packer is right about this. Certainly among liberals there’s an orthodoxy on certain subjects that everyone feels nervous about questioning. Is it, for example, completely nuts that we are currently discussing whether a white author is entitled to write a novel—American Dirt, for those of you who are blissfully ignorant of this foofaraw—which features Hispanic characters fleeing to America? Of course it is. It’s insane. And yet, not only are we discussing it, we are giving a solemn and respectful hearing to the tiny group of zealots who have suddenly decided that this topic is literally the property of one particular ethnic group.

But uh oh. Should I have written that? What will my editor think? Will I get pilloried once Twitter learns what I just said? Should I have called these folks zealots? And most important, do I really care enough about this to bother? I don’t, really. It’s not in my wheelhouse and there’s not much point in risking even a small backlash for it.

Then again, the whole subject of cultural appropriation strikes me as nuts. That is to say, the very existence of the phrase is nuts. Is cultural appropriation bad? Of course not. Not only is it not bad, it’s the very source of our country’s cultural creativity and dynamism. Name practically any art form—food, writing, movies, cars, etc.—and we have all been gleefully stealing from each other for centuries. I for one hope we continue for centuries more, rather than falling into a stultifying miasma of political correctness in which only certain people are allowed to write/paint/cook in certain ways.

15) I liked this a lot from Heather Cox Richardson on impeachment and To Kill a Mockingbird:

Taken together, the Democrats’ case has been overwhelming. Even Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News Channel senior judicial analyst, said the evidence was “ample and uncontradicted.”

But all I could think of was Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book To Kill A Mockingbird, and lawyer Atticus Finch’s masterful defense of the moral, kind, hardworking African American man Tom Robinson, whom everyone in Macomb knew had not committed the rape poor white girl Mayella Ewell had accused him of. Atticus proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mayella’s own no-good father Bob had raped her, and that she had flirted with Tom out of a desperate need for affection, then accused Tom to save herself from her father’s violent wrath. Atticus hammered the facts home, proving that Tom, with his withered arm, could not possibly have assaulted Mayella, and that she and Bob were lying. But in the end, nothing mattered but power. Not facts, not truth, not right. An all-white jury, wedded to white supremacy, pretended to believe the white Bob Ewell, and convicted Tom of the crime.

Tonight, as if on cue, CBS reported that a confidante of the president told CBS News that GOP senators were warned “vote against the president & your head will be on a pike.” Republican senators, who have previously suggested they would entertain the idea of witnesses—a proxy for the idea they might actually listen to evidence—began to coalesce around the idea that they cannot subpoena witnesses because Trump is threatening to invoke executive privilege, the right of the president to keep certain communications private. (For all the chatter about executive privilege, he has not invoked it yet; his people have simply said they would not answer certain questions in case it might intrude on his future invocation of the privilege.) That, they say, would drag out the trial unnecessarily. And so, it looks as if the hope that a few of the Republican senators would break ranks will not play out.

The jury convicted Tom Robinson.

This letter is late tonight because I couldn’t imagine what I could say in it. “Schiff and Co are off the charts brilliant,” I wrote to a colleague, “and it doesn’t matter.”

16) Okay, a mini impeachment run.  Of  course “Trump’s lawyers don’t understand how foreign aid works”

Jay Sekulow, in defending Trump’s secret hold on military aid for Ukraine last summer, argued that holding foreign aid is a routine action that other presidents, including Barack Obama, have engaged in. Other Trump allies have been parroting this line in recent days. The most obvious problem with this reasoning is that, as others have pointed out, Trump is accused of withholding foreign military aid for corrupt, personal and political purposes. The simple truth is that there aren’t any other examples that match that definition.

But the examples he gave on the Senate floor are also wrong for several other reasons. First, Sekulow compared Trump’s Ukraine aid actions with Obama’s secret delay of Egyptian military aid in 2013…

There’s no doubt Trump is skeptical of all foreign aid and would like to cut it wherever possible. (Cutting aid to struggling Latin American countries will likely increase migration, not decrease it, but that’s a separate issue.) Regardless, in none of these examples has there been any hint that the aid is connected to political favors.

17) This is really, really good from Paul Waldman, “Why every vulnerable GOP senator will stick by Trump”

Here’s Gardner’s problem, the same one faced by other senators from swing states. If he goes along with McConnell and votes to refuse any more evidence to be admitted, Democrats will rightly charge him with complicity in not only covering up Trump’s misdeeds but in validating those misdeeds themselves, confirming that there’s nothing wrong with the president coercing a foreign government to help his reelection campaign. That will alienate Democratic voters. But if Gardner votes to allow new evidence, Republicans will call him a traitor.

Those are his only choices. There isn’t some clever way to satisfy everyone. Given how McConnell has constructed this trial — and how Trump has built his whole presidency — you’re either with Trump or you’re against him.

There’s a common misconception about swing states such as Colorado that explains how stark the choice faced by senators like Gardner will be. The misconception is that those states are populated by moderate voters who want their representatives to take positions somewhere between the two parties. But that’s not true. Instead, swing states are just as partisan as heavily Republican or heavily Democratic states. It’s just that they contain roughly equal numbers of Democratic partisans and Republican partisans…

So Gardner is stuck in two ways: The trial has been built by McConnell and the White House to permit no middle ground between supporting Trump absolutely and opposing him absolutely, and Gardner’s constituents aren’t really looking for him to find that middle ground anyway.

So far he’s been keeping quiet, but the universal assumption is that in the end he’ll just go along with his party. If he voted against Trump, his Republican constituents would abandon him, but he wouldn’t win many converts among his Democratic constituents, and he’d lose. At least if he sticks with Trump he has a chance…

So if you’re looking for those vulnerable Republicans to signal their open-mindedness by voting to allow new evidence in Trump’s trial, don’t get your hopes up. It’s just too much of a risk for them to take.

18) And Waldman also ties torture and impeachment together nicely, “From torture to Trump, Republicans no longer even pretend they have principles”

President Trump is on trial in the Senate, but so is the entire Republican Party. And 1,300 miles away in Guantanamo there’s another trial taking place, one that implicates the GOP just as much.

In these two trials we can see the complete moral wreckage of their party, and how they’ve carried the country down with them.

What does the trial of a group of alleged terrorists have to do with impeachment? When seen from the perspective not of one president but of what Republicans ask all of us to accept and how they frame their own moral culpability, they are waypoints on the same devolutionary road…

The truth of what went on was utterly horrific. Among the methods of torture to which prisoners were subjected were waterboarding, beatings, extreme cold, sleep deprivation, nudity as a means of humiliation, stress positions (which are designed to induce excruciating pain), and even mock executions (a favorite of the Iranian regime, it should be noted)…

The use of torture was a clear violation of both U.S. law and international treaties to which the country is a signatory. So the Bush administration’s lawyers drew up legal opinions with new and bizarre ideas to justify their actions; one such document claimed that if the torture wasn’t so unbearable that the victim went into organ failure, then it wasn’t technically torture…

So what does this have to do with the Trump impeachment? In the early 2000s, a Republican administration and nearly the entirety of the Republican Party discarded what we assumed was an almost-universal moral position, that torture is wrong. But when they did so, they felt it necessary to clothe their ethical abdication in a combination of euphemism, bogus legal justifications, and fear-mongering.

Consider where we are today. The Republican Party is in a loosely analogous situation: The president of the United States did something awful, and they are attempting to defend it. But this time around, they can barely muster the energy to dress up what he did in a covering of moral argument.

Their defenses of Trump’s behavior are halfhearted at best. Instead, they’re finding the safest harbor in arguing that sure, Trump did what he was accused of, and if you don’t like it you can shove it. Or as Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, “Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.” Abuse of power, they say, is not technically a crime and therefore he can’t be impeached for it.

19) Gotta say, I really love Ayanna Pressley’s courage in coming forward about her alopecia and resulting baldness.  That’s got to be so hard, especially for a woman.

20) Lets end with some good news, at least if you are exercising, “Here’s how exercise reduces anxiety and makes you feel more connected”

People who are physically active are happier and more satisfied with their lives. They have a stronger sense of purpose, feel more gratitude, are more connected to their communities, and are less likely to be lonely or anxious.

Why? A big part has to do with how being active affects the brain. Here are five surprising ways exercise is good for your mind.

The exercise “high” primes you to connect with others

While typically described as a runner’s high, an exercise-induced mood boost is not exclusive to running. Similar good feelings can be found in any sustained physical activity, such as yoga, swimming and dancing.

Scientists long speculated that endorphins are behind the high, but research shows the high is linked to another class of brain chemicals: endocannabinoids (the same chemicals mimicked by cannabis) — what neuroscientists describe as the “don’t worry, be happy” chemical. Endocannabinoids reduce anxiety and induce a state of contentment. These brain chemicals also increase dopamine in the brain’s reward system, which fuels feelings of optimism.

Because endocannabinoids also increase the pleasure we derive from being around others, the exercise high primes us to connect. This makes exercise an excellent way to strengthen relationships. Among married couples, when spouses exercise together, both partners report more closeness later that day, studies show, including feeling loved and supported.

Another study shows that on days when people exercise, they experience more positive interactions with friends and family. As one runner said to me, “My family will sometimes send me out running, as they know that I will come back a much better person.”




Trump, Biden, and projection

So, this is one of those weeks where I have so much to say, I end up saying nothing at all.  Sorry.  And, if I start thinking I want to write about something else besides impeachment (e.g., the really distressing position the Supreme Court seems to be taking on religion and schools) I start thinking how can I write about that with impeachment going on.  Sad result– nothing.  The good news is I’ve made some good progress on revision research for publication.

But, here’s one thought on impeachment that is surely not original to me, but just occurred to me for the first time today driving home and listening to the hearings on NPR…

I think to a significant degree the whole mess is driven by the fact that Trump actually cannot believe somebody would be in Biden’s position and not take advantage of the situation to help his child.  We have overwhelming evidence that Trump care not a wit for moral, ethical, and legal guidelines where he thinks he can get away with things.  We also have overwhelming evidence that Trump time and time again accuses his political opponents of what he is actually guilty of (I found Peter Beinart writing about this back in 2017).  Actually, just google “Trump there’s a tweet for that” and you’ll find example after example of him accusing others of what is now his own malfeasance.

Honestly, Trump is a man of limited imagination and limited empathy so it really is hard for him to conceive of Joe Biden being in the position he was in and not abusing it for corrupt purposes.  So, he’s surely convinced himself that, no matter what else, he was right in pursuing Biden’s “corruption.”  As Lindsey Graham just put it,

All I can tell you is from the president’s point of view, he did nothing wrong in his mind

And that’s probably true.  Thing is, I actually expect you can say the same thing for Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy (not to truly compare the president to a serial killer– point being even the most heinous criminals don’t see themselves that way).  So, sorry Senator Graham, but being innocent in your own mind is not much of a defense.

If I was going to say more, I would probably mention that somehow, I actually manage to keep being somewhat surprised by how much the Republican senators are willing to debase themselves in service to Trump.  Clearly, I’m not cynical enough.  And if you really want to know what I haven’t been writing about, I have been retweeting the best takes plenty this week (i.e., Steve Greene, mucking through twitter so you don’t have to).

The problem with Bernie?

Bernie’s supporters.  Not all of them, mind you, but too many of them are basically a Tea Party of the left.  One thing I like to emphasize is that American political parties are currently asymmetric.  But human psychology is symmetrical.  And when you get to ideological extremes– either right or left– you almost assuredly going to get some problematic psychology going along with it.  The reality seems to be that too many Bernie supporters believe in using unfair and unfounded attacks on political opponents.  The problem with Bernie is that he does not seem to be willing to sufficiently tamp down this problem.  Krugman:

While the news media has been focused on the “spat” between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, something much more serious has been taking place between the Sanders campaign and Joe Biden. Not to sugarcoat it: The Sanders campaign has flat-out lied about things Biden said in 2018 about Social Security, and it has refused to admit the falsehood.

This is bad; it is, indeed, almost Trumpian. The last thing we need is another president who demonizes and lies about anyone who disagrees with him, and can’t admit ever being wrong. Biden deserves an apology, now, and Sanders probably needs to find better aides…

However, a Sanders adviser recently circulated a snippet from the video of the event that made it appear that Biden was actually supporting Ryan’s position and calling for Social Security cuts. A few days later a newsletter from the Sanders campaign quoted Biden out of context and made the same claim.

If you want a parallel, it’s as if I were to say, “Some white nationalists claim that Jews are responsible for all our problems,” and a political campaign put out a release saying, “Krugman says ‘Jews are responsible for all our problems.’” …

None of this, however, justifies the Sanders campaign’s lying about recent statements by a man who, after all, may well be the Democratic presidential nominee — and who would, whatever his centrist history, be infinitely more progressive than the current occupant of the White House. And the smearing of Biden reinforces the concerns some of us have about Sanders.

There has always been an ugly edge to some of Sanders’s support, a faction of followers who denounce anyone raising questions about his positions — even Warren! — as a corrupt capitalist shill. Until now, however, you could argue that Sanders himself wasn’t responsible for the bad behavior of some of his supporters.

You can’t make that argument now. The dishonest smears and the doubling down on those smears are coming from the top of the Sanders campaign; even if they aren’t coming directly out of Sanders’s mouth, he could and should have stopped them. The fact that Sanders isn’t apologizing to Biden and replacing the people responsible says uncomfortable things about his character. [emphasis mine]

I don’t want to go overboard here. While there is a Trumpian feel to some of what we’re seeing from the Sanders campaign, Bernie Sanders is no Donald Trump…

But right now, Sanders and his campaign are behaving badly, and they need to be called on it.

I know plenty of really good people who support Sanders who would never engage in any of this type of behavior.  And, obviously, Sanders would be a huge improvement over Donald Trump.  But, to my mind the problem with Sanders is that his position on the far left of American politics seems to disproportionately draw out some of the worst of the left and that he has been unwilling to the right thing and risk alienating these supporters.

Trump’s “defense”

I just finished reading another news report on Trump’s “defense.”  Ugh.  Talk about “he said, she said.”  Sure journalists are not expected to be constitutional scholars or historians.  But, if they talked to pretty much any one of them who was not paid by Trump or Fox News, they would find his legal claims to be completely risible.  Alas, to say so would violate all the norms of “objective” journalism.  There has to be both sides, even when one side is a complete joke of an argument.  You really don’t have to be that much of a historian or Constitutional scholar to know that if impeachment is for anything it is for abusing the powers of office for personal gain.  Whether there’s an actual crime is beside this point (and in this case, there actually was).

In a better world, more news reports would be like this piece from Qunita Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes:

Over the weekend, as the Senate prepared for the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, the newly appointed House impeachment managers and the president’s newly appointed legal team both filed their initial legal briefs.

At least, one of them was a legal brief. The other read more like the scream of a wounded animal.

The House managers’ brief is an organized legal document. It starts with the law, the nature and purposes of Congress’s impeachment power, then walks through the evidence regarding the first article of impeachment, which alleges abuse of power, and seeks to show how the evidence establishes the House’s claim that President Trump is guilty of this offense. It then proceeds to argue that the offense requires his removal from office…

By contrast, the White House’s “Answer of President Donald J. Trump” to the articles of impeachment, filed by the president’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow and the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, does not read like a traditional legal argument at all. [emphases mine] It begins with a series of rhetorical flourishes—all of them, to one degree or another, false. The articles of impeachment are “a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their President,” the president’s lawyers write—as though the impeachment power were not a constitutional reality every bit as enshrined in the founding document as the quadrennial election of the president. The articles are “a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election,” and are “constitutionally invalid on their face,” they write, as though the president’s right to extort foreign leaders for political services were so beyond reasonable question, it is outrageous that anyone might object to it…

But the message is unchanged. It’s not a legal argument. It’s a howl of rage...

The document produced by the White House this weekend is a little more organized, but the arguments and the angry tone are the same. Read together, Cipollone’s October letter and this new document written with Sekulow set expectations for the president’s defense: barely contained, and barely coherent, rage—a middle finger stuck at the impeachment process, rather than any kind of organized effort to convince senators or the public that the president’s conviction would be unmerited, imprudent, or unjust.

Consciously or not, Trump’s pick of defense counsel for the Senate trial sends the same message. 

Very good stuff from Paul Waldman, too, “The White House doubles down on its dumbest impeachment defense”

Trump’s attorneys responded with a six-page document that would have been shocking were it not just the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from this White House.

Indeed, it reads as though it was written by a ninth-grader who saw an episode of “Law & Order” and learned just enough legal terms to throw them around incorrectly. It makes no attempt to contest the facts, instead just asserting over and over that the president is innocent and the entire impeachment is illegitimate, calling it “unlawful” and “constitutionally invalid,” with no apparent understanding of what those terms mean. The articles of impeachment, Trump’s lawyers say, “fail to allege any crime or violation of law whatsoever, let alone ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ as required by the Constitution.” They then repeat this argument multiple times throughout a screed seemingly pitched to the Fox News hosts who will spend the coming days repeating its absurd claims.

The trouble, as any historian or constitutional scholar will tell you, is that just as there are crimes the president could commit that would not be impeachable (say, shoplifting a candy bar), there has never been any requirement that impeachment can only be used for violations of criminal law. Not only were the Framers deeply concerned about the potential of the president abusing his office, at the time the Constitution was written, there was no such thing as a federal criminal code…

To illustrate how foolish the White House’s argument is, let me suggest a few things the president could do that would not violate any criminal statute but that pretty much everyone in both parties would consider grounds for impeachment:

  • The president states in a news conference that if Russia wants to invade Alaska, that would be fine with him. Taking the opportunity, Vladimir Putin sends a force across the Bering Sea to occupy the state; the president refuses to deploy U.S. forces to repel them, then says, “To be honest, if anyone’s got their eye on Hawaii, I’m not going to stand in your way.”
  • With a legal advisory in hand from the Department of Justice saying that anti-nepotism laws do not apply to the White House staff, the president fires every last member of that staff and replaces them with members of his extended family, including making his 18-year-old nephew, whose only work experience is manning the soft-serve machine at a Dairy Queen, the national security adviser.
  • The president declares that his job has become tedious and says he’ll be spending the rest of his term in the White House residence getting drunk and playing “Grand Theft Auto.”

So why is the White House falling back on this argument when it’s so plainly wrong as a matter of both law and logic? There are a number of explanations. The most obvious is that they know the president is guilty of the central charge driving the impeachment, that he abused his power by trying to coerce a foreign government to help his reelection campaign by discrediting a potential opponent. So the last thing they want to do is argue about the facts of the case, except in the most perfunctory way (“I JUST GOT IMPEACHED FOR MAKING A PERFECT PHONE CALL!” the president tweeted last week)

You get the point.  The most shameful part of all of this is that they know whatever argument– nobody how absurd– they come up with, Republican Senators will just go with it.  And as long as Senators and Fox News can throwing around words like illegitimate and constitutionally invalid, that will sound plenty good to the Republican base supporting Dear Leaders at all costs and enabling this national nightmare to continue.

Photo of the day

This is a really cool gallery of photos from Wired of what our solar system actually looks like.  As so many space photos are super-enhanced.  Still pretty, pretty cool.

PHOTOS OF SPACE are everywhere online. Their beauty is dazzling, showing a universe awash in color and light. But if you’re a skeptic, you’ve likely wondered whether it all truly looks like that in real life.

Michael Benson tries his best to show you in his exhibition Otherworlds: Visions of Our Solar System. The artist took data from NASA and ESA missions to make 77 images of everything from Pluto to Europa that approximate true color as much as humanly possible. The work spans five decades of space exploration, and presents a realistic, flyby tour of the universe. “I feel like if these places are so alien to our direct experiences anyway, then they should be colored the way they would be seen,” he says.

Benson, 53, was fascinated with space while growing up, but became truly obsessed when the Internet came along. In the late 1990s, he logged onto an early modem and spent hours perusing pictures of Jupiter that Galileo sent down. By the early 2000s he started making composite space photos, and is now renowned for his work—director Terrence Malick even enlisted his help for the space scenes in Tree of Life. In Otherworlds, Benson tries his best to create images that represent what a moon or planet might actually look like if you could peer at it out a spaceship window.

Jupiter and Ganymede, the planet’s largest moon. Cassini, January 10, 2001. NASA/JPL/Michael Benson, Kinetikon Pictures, courtesy of Flowers Gallery

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