Is the Supreme Court dooming us to climate change?

No. Congress is.  The reason the EPA is regulating CO2 is because our dysfunctional congress has failed to.  I don’t think Roberts is wrong in saying that if Congress wanted the EPA to do this, it very well could have made it clear.  It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think this goes sufficiently beyond the scope of what Congress intended.

Now, I’m no Constitutional law scholar nor an expert on “major questions doctrine” etc., and the dissent may well have the better argument here.  And this majority opinion may well go too far in constraining bureaucracies.  I’m actually genuinely concerned about the majority basically making up “Constitutional” principles to strike down regulations it doesn’t like.  But, damn, if almost all the takes I’ve seen today don’t amount to some version of “but climate change!!”  I care about climate change, too, but, “but climate change” is hardly an argument for a Supreme Court decision.  Milhiser’s piece makes a good case for why this is a made-up and scary doctrine:

The West Virginia decision confirms something that has been implicit in the Supreme Court’s recent decisions governing federal agencies’ power to issue binding regulations under authority granted by Congress: When a majority of the Supreme Court disagrees with a regulation pushed out by a federal agency, the Court has given itself the power to veto that regulation — and it will do so by invoking something known as the “major questions doctrine.”

Under this doctrine, the Court explained in a 2014 opinion, “we expect Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast ‘economic and political significance.’” Thus, if a majority of the Court deems a regulation to be too significant, it will strike it down unless Congress very explicitly authorized that particular regulation.

This doctrine comes from nowhere. Last week, the Court said that abortion is unprotected by the Constitution — leaning heavily on the fact that abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution. But the the major questions doctrine is also mentioned nowhere in the Constitution. Nor can it be found in any statute. The justices made it up. And, at least during President Joe Biden’s administration, the Court has wielded it quite aggressively to veto regulations that the Court’s conservative majority finds objectionable.

Roberts’s majority opinion in West Virginia does put some flesh on the fairly bare bones the justices have previously used to describe when they will declare something to be a “major question.” Roberts faults the EPA for issuing a novel kind of regulation pursuant to a “long-extant” statute that had not previously been used to justify similar actions. He claims that the EPA relied on an “ancillary provision” of the Clean Air Act, rather than a more central provision of that law. And he criticizes the EPA for issuing a regulation which resembles bills that Congress previously considered but did not enact.

But these judgments are divorced from the text of the Clean Air Act itself. And Roberts admits that the major questions doctrine can nuke a regulation even when there is a “colorable textual basis” supporting that regulation — that is, when the actual words of a federal law could support the action taken by a federal agency…

Again, this is a policy judgment. The text of the Clean Air Act instructs the EPA to determine the “best system of emission reduction.” It does not say that the “best system” cannot involve shifting the energy industry away from coal and toward cleaner power.

But, in inventing the major questions doctrine out of thin air, the Supreme Court gave itself the power to make these kinds of policy judgements.

Anyway, this robust “major questions” doctrine seems decidedly not great, but this particular case seems less than compelling that the Supreme Court will overturn any regulations it doesn’t like.  And, in truth, Obama’s Clean Power Plan exists because they couldn’t get anything through Congress on this.  It should be really clear that liberals need to win more elections and not count on the bureaucracy (and definitely not the courts to save us).  And, yeah, I know, the system is more stacked against winning those elections than ever.  So, damnit, do whatever it takes (within democratic norms, of course) to win elections.  

More on abortion and mother’s life/health

Jennifer Gunter just shared this great op-ed of her’s from 2019.  Read it all (heck, gift link):

Over the past few weeks, Georgia, Alabama and several other states have passed restrictive, medically illiterate abortion laws that allow the procedure if the mother’s life is at risk.

I am an obstetrician and gynecologist trained to do abortions. I do not know how to translate these laws into clinical practice because often the language is preposterously vague and they include terms with no medical meaning.

In Alabama, for example, a doctor can “deliver the unborn child prematurely to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.”

The legislation does not define what constitutes a “serious” maternal medical condition nor how “serious” it must be to prompt intervention. The language about how to terminate the pregnancy is similarly problematic. Does the vague word “deliver” mean an induction of labor, or does it also apply to a surgical abortion?

Consider this untenable scenario from 1998 that sadly may become more common if these laws stand.

I was asked to perform an abortion for a very sick pregnant woman in her first trimester. She had a medical condition that was deteriorating much more rapidly than expected because of her pregnancy. She was not seconds away from dying, but her medical specialists were concerned that, in the next day or two, she would be likely to develop kidney failure.

While kidney failure can be managed with dialysis, preventing that from happening is the best medical course. Not only in the short term, but saving my patient’s kidneys also would prevent a cascade of medical events that could end her life prematurely in the long term. After all, life expectancy is shorter on dialysis. That’s why we do renal transplants.

My patient’s specialists believed that, if she were not pregnant, they might be able to avoid dialysis. Ending her pregnancy would not save her life that day, but it might next week or next month or in five years. We don’t have crystal balls in medicine, so we often can’t say with certainty who will deteriorate with a given medical condition or precisely when.

But that year, the Kansas legislature had passed a law banning abortions on state property, which included the medical center where I worked. But under the law, an abortion would be allowed to save the life of the pregnant woman.

So when I received a call asking whether I could help this patient, my next phone call was not to the operating room to make arrangements — instead I called the hospital’s attorneys. They did not know how to interpret the law either. Unless my patient was actively dying — for example, we were running a code for a cardiac arrest — an abortion would most likely be illegal. If I did the procedure, I would be fired.

To reconcile our disagreement, the hospital’s attorneys felt the only course of action was to get the opinion of the legislator who wrote the law. An attorney set up a conference call with this man so that I could plead my patient’s case.

And this tweet captures the dynamic perfectly:

 

Abortion and “the life of the mother”

I’ve been thinking a lot about “life of the mother” exceptions in abortion statutes because pregnancy can be really dangerous!  I think it is almost a certainty that some of the harsher laws in many states will literally lead to the deaths of pregnant women. And that, of course, is awful.  Where these draconian laws exist, the only reasonable course is to have exceptions for not just “the life of the mother” but also the “health of the mother.”  You don’t have to be a physician to recognize that there’s a huge number of medical conditions where a threat to health gone wrong can become a threat to life.  It’s also obvious that in so many cases there is a health/life gray area.  What if there was a condition affecting a pregnant woman with a 95% likelihood she would pull through and be fine without an abortion?  I don’t know about you, but I would not be interested in taking the 5% chance at the death of a loved one.  Similarly, what if there were a condition with a 99% chance of survival, but a 50/50 chance of some sort of permanent disability?  Should a pregnant women have to undertake that risk?  And, yes, these are hypotheticals, but if you’ve been around the medical world at all, you know that situations like this come up all the time.  The idea that we can just allow the “emergency abortion now!” (as many state legislatures would have it) when the mother’s life is at imminent risk elides so many very serious issues potentially affecting a woman’s health during pregnancy.  

So, even states that have an exemption to protect the mother’s life will almost surely cause situations that lead to the mother’s death.  The only way to do that is to have a robust exemption for life and health (obviously, we need more than that, but we’re talking laws we’ll see in Mississippi, Texas, etc.).  A great article on just this problem in the Catholic Jesuit publication, America:

Meanwhile, many pro-life Catholic thinkers have insisted that none of these laws endanger women in any way: They argue that these laws can be written in ways that will restrict abortion while allowing exceptions to handle miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and dangers to women’s lives in reasonable, commonsense ways.

But it is not at all obvious that this is true. Nor is it at all obvious that there is consensus about how to handle these situations in reasonable, commonsense ways, even within the church.

Take S.B. 8, the Texas law, which creates an exemption from liability for abortions “necessary due to a medical emergency.” What does that “necessary” mean? The law does not say. Is an abortion that would avert a 5 percent chance of death “necessary,” or must a doctor wait until the risk increases to a 25 percent chance? Is it enough to know that a mother will have a high chance of death tomorrow if the pregnancy continues?

And what if the medical emergency she is facing is not death but some permanent impairment or disability? What is the threshold then? Who determines and adjudicates these thresholds? How much deference do we ask juries and judges to accord to a doctor’s judgment in the moment of pressure?

Under both the Texas and Oklahoma laws, medical professionals who are fully confident in their diagnosis of a medical emergency and whose decisions would stand up to anyone’s moral scrutiny can still face legal liability. [emphases mine] Because these laws allow plaintiffs, but not defendants, to recover legal costs, doctors and hospitals may be exposed to exorbitant costs defending their medical judgment against bad-faith lawsuits. It may even risk their freedom and livelihoods. Come September, if all goes according to the state’s plan, doctors in Oklahoma who are accused of performing an abortion that wasn’t sufficiently medically warranted might not just face a lawsuit but also a homicide charge…

Hospital legal teams will balance these liabilities and weigh the costs against the benefits…

How long after abortion is criminalized in Oklahoma will it take before a situation arises in which not a single doctor is available to perform a necessary, life-saving abortion for a woman who is too sick, or too poor, to travel elsewhere for it?

We cannot write laws that incentivize doctors to err on the side of allowing the woman to die and ignore the outcome that will result. If there are steep penalties for performing abortions that are later determined to have been unnecessary without strong mandates for doctors and hospitals to perform necessary abortions—which the church surely wants to avoid for religious liberty reasons—women will die. 

This is the post-Roe reality that Americans are not ready for.  It’s not so much about the botched coat-hangar abortions of the old days.  It’s about pregnant women dying because they could not obtain a needed abortion. There’s your modern “pro-life.”  

p.s. Just after I queued this up, I saw this tweet:

 

The abortion battles ahead

I’ve been saying for a while that overturning Roe would unleash at least two major areas of policy battles– medical abortions and considerations of what happens when crossing state lines.  Thus, I was quite pleased to see a nice article on exactly this in the Post:

The Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade is expected to trigger new battles between states over abortion access, as women and advocates try to get around newly enacted bans by seeking the procedure out of state and using hard-to-trace medications.

The fights promise to raise tensions between states in ways not seen since the era of slavery, experts say.

Multiple states, including Arizona, Arkansas and Texas, have sought to stem the flow of abortion-inducing pills by making their shipment through the mail illegal. Republican lawmakers in Missouri are considering a bill that would prohibit Missouri residents from getting an abortion out of state as well as penalize out-of-state medical professionals. Model legislation recently released by the antiabortion Right to Life organization would make it a felony offense to help a minor obtain an abortion across state lines.

These steps by emboldened conservatives are raising concerns that cross-border investigations targeting abortion will test traditional law-enforcement cooperation among states…

The divergent approaches threaten to deepen regional divisions over abortion that had been somewhat muted by Supreme Court precedents that established abortion as a constitutional right.

“We haven’t seen this kind of battle about … the reach of the jurisdiction of one state over another in a very long time,” said Wendy Parmet, director of Northeastern University’s Center for Health Policy and Law. “Nothing of this magnitude have we seen since the Civil War.”

Republican-controlled states also are setting up potential constitutional showdowns by banning abortion pills, which directly conflicts with U.S. Food and Drug Administration approvals of the medications…

“Over the next few months it’s going to be total chaos. Every state has different laws at this point,” said Greer Donley, an assistant professor of law at University of Pittsburgh and co-author of a deep analysis of post-Roe legal issues. “Patients are going to be totally confused trying to figure out where to go. Clinics that remain open will be inundated by out of state travelers. It’s going to be a total, total mess.”

The relative ease of use of abortion pills and the ability to send them through the mail is making them a key focal point in the emerging legal battles.

A gray market in abortion pills is expected to expand, as advocates and patients arrange for hard-to-detect shipments to be sent via mail to states with abortion bans. More than half of abortions in the United States already are performed with the medications mifepristone and misoprostol, which are together referred to as the abortion pill. They must be used within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. The pills can be obtained at abortion clinics but they have increasingly been sent through the U.S. Postal Service, especially as Republican states have passed legislation that have forced abortion clinics to close…

Still, even using telehealth links, physicians are limited to prescribing medicine in states where they are licensed to practice. That is prompting activists and patients to set up elaborate workarounds, where pills are first mailed by the provider to an address in an abortion-friendly state and then forwarded to the patient in an antiabortion state by a friend or relative.

Under emerging laws in states with abortion bans, such maneuvers could expose everyone in the supply chain to lawsuits, investigations and possible prosecution. Even providing information to patients on how to obtain the pills out of state could soon be illegal in some states, experts say.

Some states could treat abortion pills as contraband, banning their possession and considering them dangerous substances.

Where this all goes, nobody knows.  But I will fairly confidently predict that a number of very conservative state legislators will overplay their hand, pass some truly draconian laws that lead to some very bad, but sympathetic and media-friendly stories and that this will, in fact, set back the pro-life movement.  The problem is, there’s also going to be a fair amount of human suffering involved in that as well.

But, how these conservative states approach drugs through the mail and traveling across state lines for abortion are very much shaping up to be huge political battles.  

What should Democrats do about Abortion?

Josh Barro with some good ideas for a start.  I think Barro is exactly right that there’s the opportunity for a substantial political win here for Democrats, but they have to play it right!

In calling for total bans on abortion, and in dusting off the trigger laws, Republicans are signaling they are willing to pay a political price for the unpopular policy they’re seeking to impose, but it’s not automatic that they’ll actually pay it. This is where Democrats need to focus. To obtain that political price from Republicans— and to win the elections they will need to win to protect and restore abortion rights — Democrats will need to make a counter-offer: set up favorable comparisons, where voters see a broadly popular policy offering from Democrats compared to the extreme, unpopular one from Republicans. [emphasis mine]

If Democrats offer proposals and rhetoric that are easily framed as similarly extreme, that’s tantamount to allowing Republicans to win the policy fight and suffer few consequences at the ballot box along the way…

As I’ve written before, Democrats should use the floor of Congress while they still hold both houses. Now. Not in November.1

After the draft decision leaked, Democrats brought a wish-list bill to the floor of both chambers that even pro-choice Republicans — even Sen. Susan Collins — were able to comfortably vote against on the grounds that it was too extreme, more expansive than Casey. Democrats need to break the agenda into pieces. As soon as possible, force Republicans to vote on matters like:

  • a federal right to abortion in the first trimester,

  • a federal right to abortion in cases of rape and incest,

  • a federal prohibition on criminal penalties for women who seek or obtain abortions, and

  • a federal prohibition on criminal penalties for non-providers who assist women in seeking or obtaining abortions.

This is not anywhere close to an exhaustive list. Unlike a catch-all bill, there are many individual ideas about protecting abortion rights that are very broadly popular — bringing them to the floor puts Republicans in the position of either voting for policies to protect abortion rights, or going home to defend votes that are actually hard to defend in election campaigns

I’m frankly concerned that the abortion rights advocacy apparatus in the US is not up to this task — it’s too used to advancing a maximalist position aimed at the minority of voters who believe abortion access should be unrestricted and even government-financed through at least the first two trimesters of pregnancy, with significant availability in the third trimester. It’s too used to lecturing people about how the term “choice” is “harmful.” It’s too used to talking to an audience of gender studies majors:

I suspect that, as speaking to the whole public becomes the key to winning protection for abortion rights, Democrats will re-learn how to do it. It’s important enough, and they’ll find a way, even if it requires shoving The Groups aside.

The reason I think there’s so much uncertainty as to how this will affect elections is because it’s a very open question as to whether Democrats will play this electorally smart– where they have a huge advantage– or make the mistake of pushing maximalist policies, where they do not.  The recipe for the former, as Barro has laid out, seems pretty clear.  Here’s hoping Democrats are indeed, smart enough to do this. 

Undead Constitutionalism

This was such a damn good piece from Adam Serwer last week that gets to the core of what is wrong with so much right-wing jurisprudence, “The Constitution Is Whatever the Right Wing Says It Is”

Setting aside the record of insincerity from Alito himself and the other conservative justices, the reason not to trust his disclaimer is that the Supreme Court has become an institution whose primary role is to force a right-wing vision of American society on the rest of the country. The conservative majority’s main vehicle for this imposition is a presentist historical analysis that takes whatever stances define right-wing cultural and political identity at a given moment and asserts them as essential aspects of American law since the Founding, and therefore obligatory. Conservatives have long attacked the left for supporting a “living constitutionalism,” which they say renders the law arbitrary and meaningless. But the current majority’s approach is itself a kind of undead constitutionalism—one in which the dictates of the Constitution retrospectively shift with whatever Fox News happens to be furious about. Legal outcomes preferred by today’s American right conveniently turn out to be what the Founding Fathers wanted all along…

The 6–3 majority has removed any appetite for caution or restraint, and the justices’ lifetime appointments mean they will never have to face an angry electorate that could deprive them of their power. It has also rendered their approach to the law lazy, clumsy, and malicious, and made the right-wing justices’ undead constitutionalism all the more apparent.

Many of the Court’s recent decisions, even before Dobbs, have demonstrated this…

Shortly after the Court’s decision in the gun-rights case, Neal Katyal, the former Obama-administration acting solicitor general, wrote, ”Gonna be very weird if Supreme Court ends a constitutional right to obtain an abortion next week, saying it should be left to the States to decide, right after it just imposed a constitutional right to concealed carry of firearms, saying it cannot be left to the States to decide.”

Well, no, that’s only weird if you assume that the right-wing majority’s intention is to consistently apply legal principles rather than to translate right-wing cultural identity into law. This is the purpose of the right-wing justices’ skewed historical analysis: to present discrepancies in which rights they uphold as inherent to the Constitution rather than as the product of their own undead constitutionalism…

I am not arguing that these positions are insincere. Rather, the purpose of this undead constitutionalism is to present contemporary right-wing positions on consequential matters as eternal and constant, and therefore the only legitimate interpretations, when they are entirely malleable and dependent on changes in conservative political identity. The majority’s supposed originalism is a means to affirm novel legal interpretations grounded in present-day right-wing grudges as what the Constitution demanded all along. Every time those grievances shift, the interpretations will shift with them, even as the justices scour history anew for confirmation of ideological conclusions they would never question even if they failed to find it. That is ultimately why no rights that Americans currently possess are safe from this Court. Decisions about which rights survive and which do not are highly dependent on what it means to be a conservative at that time. There will always be new right-wing grievances to ameliorate by judicial fiat, justified by new abuses of constitutional history.

So good.  And, of course, today’s decision dramatically undermining the separation of church and state fits right in with this.  Obviously, liberals are not perfect on this, either, but the degree to which Supreme Court opinions of the conservative majority now almost perfectly mirror whatever the majority of Republicans believe on any issue is, indeed, a serious problem for the legitimacy of the court, and, quite arguably, democratic governance.  The truth is, if you have decent Constitutional Law skills, you can craft a decent-enough sounding justification for any policy preference you have, regardless of fundamental principles of liberty and a reasonable Constitutional order.  And here we are. 

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is really good, “Roe’s Death Will Change American Democracy”

The dissolution of Roe will not make the tensions that preceded it disappear. Several states have already issued sweeping laws criminalizing abortion, while others have declared an intention to become sanctuaries for people seeking abortions. State leaders seem intent on influencing what happens outside their borders, encouraging or punishing travel for abortion. Anti-abortion leaders hope to ban abortion across the country through federal legislation or yet another Supreme Court decision, while abortion-rights groups are seeking to ensure access, circumvent criminal laws and wage battle in state courts.

 

But more fundamentally, the story the Supreme Court tells is dangerously incomplete. The decades-long fight to reverse Roewas not an effort to restore democracy but instead an attempt to change the way American democracy works — one that, now realized, will touch areas of life well removed from reproduction.

The leaders of the anti-abortion movement have long seen their cause as a fight for human rights in which compromise was a betrayal of principle. Their stance was clear in the 1960s, as they fought the loosening of criminal abortion laws, and it was obvious after Roe was decided, when the movement agreed on the need for a constitutional amendment recognizing fetal personhood and thus banning abortion nationwide.

American party politics as we know them today were, in time, shaped by those efforts…

After Casey, some anti-abortion groups expanded their focus:To gain even more control over Supreme Court nominations, they sought to overhaul the Republican Party and the rules of campaign spending. Anti-abortion lawyers waged war on campaign finance limits, which they believed hamstrung social conservatives, disempowered small-dollar donors and violated the First Amendment. They joined other groups working to unleash a torrent of spending from nonparty outside groups, fought for donor anonymity and played an instrumental role in the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down certain limits on corporate election expenditures.

With new money and influence in the G.O.P., anti-abortion groups were able to do something new: weaken the traditional leadership of the Republican Party, which had not made the fight against Roe as much a priority as business-friendly attacks on regulations and taxes…

It is appealing to believe that judges can rise above politics, interpreting the law and nothing more, and remain indifferent to the consequences of their decisions. But it’s clear that over the years the Supreme Court has become yet another partisan institution — and one that’s unaccountable to the American people. In that light, it’s hard to see the court’s aggressive moves to remake American constitutional law as anything but anti-democratic.

The fight to undo Roe, then, has been a fight to remake our country — and it has succeeded. That fight seems even more ominous when one looks around the globe: Other countries that have recently undone abortion rights are backsliding democracies.

We live in a post-Roe America now, and we are just beginning to understand what that means.

2) Just because conservatives are not interested in meaningful criminal justice reform or try and scare people with crime, doesn’t mean rising crime isn’t a real problem, “The Liberals Who Won’t Acknowledge the Crime Problem: Refusing to admit the gravity of the problem won’t make it go away.”

Anecdata, of course, are not the same as data. And in cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, progressive district attorneys have insisted that their critics have gotten the facts wrong. As The New York Times recently reported, the now-recalled San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin routinely “confront[ed] voters with data that shows overall crime has not increased meaningfully while he has been in office.” Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s cantankerous district attorney, has developed a habit of browbeating critics in town-hall meetings with appeals to “the science.” His in-house criminologist, Krasner has insisted, can give people the real numbers if they really want them. Ordinary residents are being told that what they perceive to be true is not, in fact, true.

The problem here is that humans understand and interact with the world based on perception and feeling. Politics is about policy, but it is also about human nature—which, however one wishes to characterize it, is a constant to contend with. You can try to transcend human nature by appealing to people’s better angels or through education and enlightenment—but only up to a point. Information and education dont necessarily serve the purpose liberals assume they will. Very few of us will read a detailed academic journal article about trends in crime reporting before deciding how to feel about crime. Your assessment also depends on which facts you pay attention to. Any self-respecting political scientist will be aware of how the data can be manipulated to confirm one’s prior beliefs. A criminologist—considering how politicized debates over crime are—is likely to have ideological biases that inform his or her research. Are you looking at “overall crime” or certain subcategories—and who’s to say which subcategories matter more than others? The notion of neutrality may be comforting, but no one, in the end, is a disinterested observer…

Being forthright with the public when certain categories of crime are increasing is important, but debates over numbers obscure a more fundamental objection. The data miners, the journalists, and the otherwise well-intentioned people who believe—as one might believe in a religion—that all we need to come to the right conclusion is the right information seem unable to grasp that crime isn’t just crime…

To be a liberal is to take care to balance one’s individual need for basic security with a benefit of the doubt for the least fortunate and compassion for the victims of an uncaring society. The good liberal knows that poverty, substance abuse, and untreated mental illness fuel criminal activity. These are root causes. But the root causes haven’t been addressed, even by the very progressives who say that they should be. This, too, reflects a debate about moral claims and starting assumptions, and fact-checking can’t quite address those. Are the least fortunate necessarily morally superior simply by virtue of their victimhood? Is crime simply a matter of addressing grievances—or is it also true that there is bad and even evil in a fallen world and that it can’t always be resolved through social policy? Sometimes, particularly when it comes to actual criminals, crime must be punished.

3) Greg Sargent, “Texas’s new secessionist platform exposes a big GOP scam”

Of all the lies that Republicans have told about the 2020 election, one of the most insulting is the “election integrity” ruse. In this telling, GOP state legislatures passed restrictions on voting across the country not to make it harder for the opposition’s voters to cast ballots, but rather to restore GOP voters’ “confidence” in elections going forward.

The Texas GOP has adopted a new platform that’s generating headlines for its open discussion of secession from the union. But the platform also exposes how that “election integrity” scam really functions. In so doing, it lays bare some ugly truths about how radical the abandonment of democracy among some Republicans has truly become.

The new platform, which thousands of GOP activists in Texas agreed to at the state party convention over the weekend, is a veritable piñata bursting with far-right extremist fantasies. It states that Texas retains the right to secede from the United States and urges the Texas legislature to reaffirm this…

But the document might be most revealing in its treatment of voting and democracy. It declares President Biden was “not legitimately elected” in 2020. It says Biden’s win was tainted by voting in swing-state cities, furthering a GOP trend toward more explicitly declaring votes in urban centers illegitimate.

It urgently warns that Republicans must vote in high numbers in November 2022 to “overwhelm any possible fraud.” And notably, it calls for repeal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

4) Catherine Rampell, “Here’s what voters will get if they cast their ballots based on gas prices”

Americans are mad about inflation. They’re especially outraged that gasoline averages $5 per gallon nationwide. And history suggests they may act on that furor by voting the bums out.

But voters should think carefully about what they’ll get if they cast their ballot based on gas prices.

Unexpected inflation tends to cause voters to punish incumbents at the polls. The cost of gasoline looms especially large in public consciousness; it also weighs heavily on presidential approval ratings. The president does not have some super-secret special dial on his desk that can adjust gas prices, but many voters believe otherwise.

Republicans hope this widespread confusion will turn the midterms into a referendum on painful economic conditions and, by extension, Democratic leadership. They’re counting on voters to project their hopes and dreams — including their wildest fantasies about cheaper gas — onto Republican challengers.

But here’s the thing.

There are relatively few tools that the president and Congress can deploy to help boost oil production or moderate overall inflation. They probably won’t make a huge dent in price growth, but they could help a little on the margin. Unfortunately, these are not the things that either party is proposing right now. Democrats are grandstanding about “greed” and considering silly stuff such as export bans and price controls;meanwhile, Republicans demagogue about President Biden’s supposed “war on fossil fuels” and socialism.

Neither party has a serious plan for dealing with inflation overall or gas prices specifically.

Assuming that Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to disrupt energy markets, then voters realistically face a choice between high gas prices and the rest of the Democratic agenda; or, high gas prices and the rest of the Republican agenda. So it’s worth considering what that “rest of” the agenda for each party actually entails…

So what do Republicans stand for?

Their national leaders won’t say, even when asked directly; their state-level rising stars are mostly focused on fighting with Mickey Mouse and drag queens. But if you look at GOP actions taken over the past several years, including when they had unified control of the federal government, you get a sense of what Republicans are likely to prioritize.

Mostly, Republicans seem to care about tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. They want to find ways to repeal Obamacare, or otherwise reduce access to health care by (for example) slashingMedicaid.

5) Nice piece in Science on trying to understand long Covid:

For each of these researchers—and many others exploring the causes of Long Covid—untangling the complex syndrome, with a still-evolving definition, is a laborious, step-wise process. First, they must show that a possible contributor—such as minuscule clots, lingering virus, or immune abnormalities—crops up disproportionately in people with Long Covid. Then comes the hard part: proving that each of these traits, alone or in combination, explains why the coronavirus has rendered millions of people shadows of their former selves.

All agree that solo operators are unlikely. Lingering virus, for example, could attack the circulatory system, triggering blood clots or chronic inflammation. “I see this as a triangle,” Buonsenso says, with each trigger potentially explaining, or even amplifying, the others.

6) Chait, “They Will Do It Again Republicans have not been chastened by the revelations of the January 6 committee.”

The January 6 hearings are about the events of a single day, but they implicate a much broader phenomenon: the Republican Party’s faltering commitment to democracy. The mob attack on Congress a year and a half ago was merely the most grotesque manifestation of Donald Trump’s rejection of democracy, and Trump himself merely the most grotesque manifestation of his party’s authoritarian impulses.

“Parties that are committed to democracy must, at minimum, do two things: accept defeat and reject violence,” wrote the political scientists Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way earlier this year. Trump has built a movement that does neither. And while he is justifiably known for his petty egocentrism, he has finally and genuinely infused this movement with beliefs that are greater than his self-interest and whose power will outlast him…

Well over 100 Republican nominees for national or statewide office explicitly endorse Trump’s fantasy that the election was plagued by large-scale fraud. A much greater number of Republicans simply refuse to say one way or another if Joe Biden won the election fairly. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, asked recently about Barr’s confession that Trump had no grounds to dispute the election results, first asserted that something fishy did occur (“You saw some states not follow their state-passed legislation”) before pivoting to his desire not to “keep relitigating 2020.”

The party is split between those Republicans who refuse to take a stance on Trump’s coup and those who actively endorse it, with the latter faction rapidly gaining ground. The Republican nominee for Nevada secretary of state, a job that would oversee elections, has asserted, “Your vote hasn’t counted for decades. You haven’t elected anybody. The people that are in office have been selected.” Pennsylvania’s Republican candidate for governor not only supports Trump’s election-fraud lie but was present at the storming of the Capitol on January 6.

7) This is very good from Cathy Young.  Yes, Republicans are absolutely demonizing trans people, especially athletes, for cheap political points.  But, damn some of the crazy, hysterical response from the left is just so ridiculous, “Do Ohio Republicans Really Want to Use Genital Exams to Ban Trans Athletes?”

Earlier this month, news of the latest outrageous move from a GOP-dominated state legislature spread on some news sites and on social media: The Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill that not only excluded transgender students from school sports but reportedly also required genital checks—and even internal pelvic exams—for female athletes to ensure they were not trans. Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg characterized the proposed law as a “new nadir,” because it “gives anyone . . . the standing to challenge an athlete’s gender, and provides no disincentives for making false reports.” A viral thread on Twitter, with nearly 200,000 likes and nearly 80,000 retweets and quote-tweets, asserted that under this law, any girl in Ohio would have to submit to a medicalized sexual assault to play middle school or high school sports:

In fact, the genital-exam panic is almost certainly a nothingburger, the joint product of Republican clumsiness and Democratic alarmism. It is also a diversion from the underlying problem of sports (particularly school sports), sex, and gender identity—a genuinely complicated issue where reactionary culture-war politics intersect with good-faith concerns about equity for girls and women.

First, let’s get the Ohio dystopia out of the way: A close look at the story shows that the chances of mandatory genital exams for female athletes actually happening are practically nil. For starters, House Bill 151, the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” has yet to be approved by the Ohio Senate, let alone signed into law. What’s more, it’s not clear that the bill’s language actually calls for genital checks. What it says (after mandating single-sex teams, permitting the simultaneous availability of mixed-sex teams, and prohibiting schools and scholastic sports bodies from allowing “individuals of the male sex” to participate in female-only teams or events) is this:

If a participant’s sex is disputed, the participant shall establish the participant’s sex by presenting a signed physician’s statement indicating the participant’s sex based upon only the following:

(1) The participant’s internal and external reproductive anatomy;

(2) The participant’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone;

(3) An analysis of the participant’s genetic makeup.

This language—added to the bill on June 1 by Republican state representative Jena Powell, who first cosponsored a bill with this same language in early 2020—is hardly a sterling example of legislative draftsmanship. It is vague in several ways. One, it’s not clear whether the physician’s statement would have to be based on all three criteria, or just one or two would be enough. Two, it is not clear whether the physician would be required to actually perform an exam on the student; a similar provision in an Idaho bill was clarified to state that no new physical exam was required as long as the attestation came from a doctor who knew the individual to be a biological female. Leave it to Republican legislators to make a hot mess of any culture-war-related bill.

It seems safe to say that girls who play sports in Ohio schools will not be undergoing genital checks or pelvic exams—if only because any legislators who mandated such a thing would get clobbered by their own conservative constituents. The most likely scenarios are that the bill will either fail to pass the Ohio Senate or will be amended to alter this language. And if somehow the bill were to pass both houses of the legislature, Gov. Mike DeWine indicated last year that he would veto it…

Of course there’s some cynical weaponizing going on. If the only time you mention women’s sports in a non-transgender context is to make lame jokes about how no one watches the WNBA, you’ll forgive me if I don’t take your concern about the trans menace to female athletes very seriously. (Chances are, it’s more about the “trans” part than the “female athletes” part.)

But it is also true that the nominally “conservative” camp on this issue includes many people who can hardly be suspected of fake concern for women’s sports, or of anti-LGBT bias. They include tennis great Martina Navratilova, the first professional athlete to publicly and voluntarily come out as gay—back in 1981, when it cost her a lot of money in endorsements from skittish corporations…

Since the debate has often been framed as one between fairness and inclusiveness, the question of what’s “fair” inevitably comes up. In a recent video examining the issue of trans athletes, German physicist and science commentator Sabine Hossenfelder concludes that “it seems clear from the data that trans women keep an advantage over cis women, even after several years of hormonal therapy” and that “no amount of training that cis women can do is going to make up for male puberty.” In that sense, Hossenfelder admits, trans inclusion “isn’t fair”—but then she pivots to the position that “athletic competition has never been fair in that sense”: Superior athletes, male or female, have genetic advantages over other people, whether it’s the runner’s long legs, the swimmer’s lung capacity, or the basketball player’s height. Others say that the “fairness” question is further diluted by the indisputable fact that young people from affluent families have vastly greater opportunities to benefit from training and coaching.

Such arguments, I suspect, are unlikely to persuade. Most people find it self-evident that the advantage Lia Thomas’s natal sex gives her over biological females is a fundamentally different kind of “unfair” than the advantage Michael Jordan’s genes give him over other males—just as, for instance, they instinctively feel that the advantage conferred by doping is a fundamentally different kind of “unfair” than the advantage conferred by having more time and resources to train. Social justice activists would likely argue that such assumptions arise from precisely the sort of deeply ingrained, culturally constructed biases that we should be encouraged to question: If we feel that the trans advantage is different, they suggest, it’s because, deep down, we don’t believe that transgender women are women. And yet, without getting into the thorny “What is a woman?” question, it is entirely possible to believe that trans identities are real and should be respected and that, in some areas including sports, biological sex matters—especially post-puberty. It’s possible to question cultural biases and still come away with that conclusion.

8) Relatedly, completely hyperbolic twitter threads like this are so popular. 

Somehow, “hmmm, should Lia Thomas really be competing against women?” is not the road to complete totalitarian fascism.  Who knew?

9) How the social justice left is destroying environmental advocacy organizations from the inside-out.  And, of course, those responsible are entirely morally convinced of their rightness:

Yet most environmental activists who spoke with POLITICO saw these types of convulsions as necessary for creating a more effective pressure movement.

“They understand that you cannot win on major pieces of environmental or climate legislation without Black and brown and indigenous and other folks who come from vulnerable communities,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization with the National Wildlife Federation.

Because you know what, of course we should pay attention to their concerns, but this assertion is just not true.

But Henn said it’s important to distinguish the grunt work of organizing from “performative solidarity.” He observed too many organizations distracted by “having internal debates about messaging and identity and your positions on different issues.”

Indeed, in this new phase of environmentalism, Big Green organizations are extending themselves into labor rights, immigration, housing and democracy reform. Some groups are aiming to stir millions of latent Democratic voters across the country; to defeat state-level voter suppression initiatives; to make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico states; to end the Senate filibuster and erode structural imbalances favoring red-leaning states.

“Do you end up taking on so much that you become paralyzed?” Henn added. “Can you actually do the longer, deeper work to build a base that will turn out for climate? That is a challenge.”

Call me crazy, but… want to improve the environment? Focus on environmental policy.

10) Sure seems like twitter’s favorite liberal historian is guilty of some pretty serious plagiarism. From what I can tell, not many people seem to care because he’s twitter’s favorite historian.  But what he’s done seems… not okay. 

11) Fascinating in National Geographic, “The microbe behind the baby formula recall can be benign—or deadly: Cronobacter sakazakii, a little-known microbe, has evolved traits that make it difficult to destroy, posing a threat to our food safety.”

The bacterium behind the baby formula recall, Cronobacter sakazakii, is less well-known than other food-borne pathogens like E. coli or Salmonella, but itcan wreak havoc in vulnerable populations like newborns or people with compromised immune systems…

Part of the Enterobacteriaceae family, these bacteria are rod-shaped organisms with whiplike appendages that help them move towards nutrients and other targets.

Not only is this bacterium mobile, C. sakazakii is also exceptionally hardy; viable bacteria have been discovered in powdered formula left on the shelf for up to two years. “The fact that it survives in arid environments for a long time is really special,” Chapman says. This trait renders traditional food safety strategies like drying food to inhibit bacterial growth useless against C. sakazakii.

The bacterium’s secret lies in its genome, according to Roy Sleater, a molecular biologist at Munster Technological University in Ireland. Sleater and his team found that C. sakazakii contains seven copies of an osmotolerane gene—which encodes a protein that helps protect the bacteria in low moisture environments—while other bacteria have just one. This enables C. sakazakii to produce much more of this protective protein compared to their less desiccation-resistant peers. And “this protection extends to other forms of stress such as high temperatures and high pressure,” Sleater says, referring to previous research that found bacteria that can survive low moisture also become more resistant to heat.

C. sakazakii is also capable of forming a biofilm, a community of bacteria that live together in a sugary matrix its members produce, Claud says. This biofilm can adhere to surfaces like countertops or hospital equipment as well as organic matter like a baby’s intestinal cells. And in a case of “together we stand and divided we fall,” a biofilm is much more than the sum of its parts—the bacteria within it communicate with one another and adapt to changes in the environment. This flexibility makes biofilms especially tough to destroy.

12) I have The Men out from the library, but haven’t started reading it yet.  As to the basis of it’s “transphobia“? Give me a break:

Some early readers have called “The Men” transphobic, because transgender women disappear along with the cisgender men. I see what they mean. The novel states that an unexplained force “had removed every human with a Y chromosome, everyone who’d ever been potentially capable of producing sperm.” Given that this is an imaginary landscape that Newman could have organized any way she chose, she’s effectively made a strong statement about where transgender people “belong”: Transgender men remain on Earth with the cisgender women. Some readers will — very reasonably — want to avoid this book because of it.

13) I really need to rewatch Flight of the Conchords.  Enjoyed a trip down memory lane with this, “Every (Full) Flight of the Conchords Song, Ranked”

14) And much further back down memory lane, I really enjoyed this on Quora, “What 1980s movies were huge at the time but are now almost forgotten?”

15) Loved this Planet Money story on mandatory employee lunch away from the workplace in France.  Turns out the origins are actually based on ventilation– using lunchtime to clean out the air. 

16) And a great Planet Money newsletter on the history of the racial wealth gap:

his new study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that, despite ostensible progress made since the civil rights movement, when it comes to the most important, bread-and-butter economic issues of income, wealth, and mobility, progress in ending racial inequality is stalling — or even reversing. The study brings into focus the simple math of why — absent radical measures — America won’t be seeing true racial equality anytime soon…

Describing the data pattern as a “hockey-stick shape” (with the hockey stick lying on its handle), Derenoncourt showed that the degree of wealth inequality between white and Black people was extremely high in 1860 and then rapidly plunged through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1950 onward, however, it has remained pretty flat. That is, there’s been virtually no progress in closing the wealth gap. In fact, the study finds, since the 1980s, the gap has been widening. 

Let’s start back in 1860. This was before Emancipation, when about 4 million of the 4.4 million Black people in America were enslaved. Slavery robbed the vast majority of Black Americans of the ability amass wealth and pass it on to their children. They themselves were a form of wealth — other people’s wealth. In this barbaric world, the ratio of white-to-Black wealth was 56 to 1. Said in a different way, for every dollar the average white person had, the average Black person had only about 2 cents.

Despite President Johnson rescinding the 40-acres-and-a-mule order, Black Americans made huge progress reducing the wealth gap in the first years after Emancipation. By 1870, just five years after passage of the slavery-abolishing 13th Amendment, the white-to-Black wealth gap dropped to 23 to 1, less than half what it was.

Why did the racial wealth gap fall so quickly? One reason is the effect the Civil War and abolition had on white slaveowners. Enslaved people had been a huge form of wealth — about 15% of the total wealth of white America in 1860. Hence, their liberation reduced the average wealth of white America, thereby shrinking the racial wealth gap. 

However, Derenoncourt and her colleagues calculate that only about 25% of the drop in the racial wealth gap can be explained by white slaveowners’ losses. Instead, they find, most of the reduction was the result of newly freed people being able to earn, save, invest, and amass wealth for the first time. 

As inspiring as the story is of an oppressed people embracing freedom and working hard to build a better life for themselves against all odds, it’s also important to note that a large part of the reason for the steep decline in the racial wealth gap in these early years reflects some simple math. When one group starts off with basically zero wealth, even tiny gains in wealth look huge. When the denominator (the bottom part of the fraction) of the white-to-Black ratio goes from nothing to something, wealth inequality falls sharply.

It’s largely for this reason that the economists find that, despite the failure of Reconstruction, the imposition of Jim Crow apartheid, and the countless other stomach-churning injustices perpetuated against Black Americans in this era, the first 50 years after Emancipation saw the greatest progress in narrowing the racial wealth gap in American history. What had been a 56-to-1 wealth gap fell to a 10-to-1 gap by 1920. That is, by 1920, for every dollar the average White American had, Black Americans had about ten cents.

A hundred years ago, it might have looked like Black Americans were on the fast-track to closing the wealth gap with white Americans. However, progress has slowed since then, and starting in the 1980s, the gap began widening.

17) Enjoyed this story of a woman playing minor league baseball

18) This was interesting from Gallup, “Americans Say Government Should Address Slavery Effects”

Two-thirds (65%) of those who say the government has a responsibility to address the effects of slavery believe all Black Americans should benefit from these efforts, while 32% say only descendants of slaves should. These attitudes are generally similar by racial and ethnic group; between 63% and 69% of Black, Hispanic and White respondents who view the government as responsible say all Black people should benefit.

Even as the public thinks the government is responsible for addressing the effects of slavery, they are divided as to whether it should issue an official apology for the nation’s history of slavery. Forty-seven percent of U.S. adults say the government should apologize, and 52% say it should not. Most Black adults, 73%, say the government should apologize, as do 55% of Hispanic adults. White adults are more likely to believe the government should not apologize (62%) than to say it should (38%)…

As Americans commemorate the Juneteenth holiday, most believe the history of slavery still reverberates in the lives of Black people in the U.S. today, with four in 10 saying it affects Black people “a lot.” The public believes the government is responsible for addressing those effects but does not favor issuing an apology for the history of slavery. The first step may involve passing legislation, or the president issuing an executive order, to set up a committee to study reparations for slavery, something that appears to have support in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives, if not the Senate. The state of California set up its own commission to study the issue and recently released its report. Other state or local governments have set up similar commissions or are considering doing so.

19) Great summary of PS research from Edsall.  This is definitely going into a syllabus, “

Scholars in the field of politics and heritability are generally in agreement about the partial heritability of political ideology.

In the specific case of the United States, Christopher Dawes and Aaron C. Weinschenk, political scientists at N.Y.U. and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, write in their paper “On the genetic basis of political orientation,” “Twin studies show that political ideology is about 40 percent heritable.” …

Given the contentious nature of these studies, McDermott, in a thoughtful email to me, described the thinking of those who are pursuing these lines of inquiry. For that reason I am going to quote her at length:

Genes influence those characteristics that would have made a difference in survival over long swaths of human history. Maybe not even a huge difference but even tiny differences add up to huge effects when multiplied by millions of people over millennia. That means that those characteristics that were most likely to make a difference in survival get preserved in genetic terms. Ideologically, what we have found over many years and many populations tends to fall into a few basic categories: sex and reproduction; in-group defense and out-group discrimination; and resource allocation.

These underlying problems tend to affect all people over time in all situations. The specific issue might look different in a given time and place: in England in the 1840s, it might have looked like debates on pornography, prostitution and slavery or whatnot. In the U.S. now it may look like abortion, transgender bathrooms, immigration, war and welfare. But the underlying political and psychological issues they tap into are exactly the same. They get expressed differently but the underlying challenge to survival is the same…

In “Integrating Genetics into the Study of Electoral Behavior,” Carisa L. Bergner and Peter K. Hatemi, political scientists at Penn State, make the case that contemporary political issues can mirror prompts or situations encountered by human beings in the distant past:

Political traits, orientations, and ideologies, including those participatory acts such as voting, donating, and volunteering, encompass fundamentally the same issues of cooperation, reproduction and survival surrounding group life that confronted our ancestors.

Modern-day ideological issues, Bergner and Hatemi continue,

surrounding sexual freedoms, mores and parenting are reflected in the prehistoric need for access to mates and to ensure the survival of offspring; policy views on immigration are little different than the primal need to recognize and protect against unknown, unlike and potentially “dangerous” others; codified laws, policing and punishment are akin to dealing with mores violators in hunter-gatherer societies; taxes and social welfare programs essentially revolve around questions of the best way to share resources for group living; foreign policy and military are matters of protecting one’s in-group and defending against potential out-groups.

Bergner and Hatemi add:

While the labels and often meanings of issues change across time and cultures, and the medium through which preferences are communicated have changed from direct, immediate and interpersonal (e.g., person to person, group sanction, etc.) to indirect, latent and impersonal (e.g., internet, voting for someone you never met, etc.), the underlying connection between the core issues that are important to humans, revolving around cooperation, defense, reproduction, resources, and survival remain.

19) The story everybody was talking about before the Supreme Court took over, “Teenage Justice A list of boys “to look out for” appeared on a high-school bathroom wall last fall. The story of one of them.”

20) This is concerning and medically/sociologically interesting. “Uterine Cancer Is on the Rise, Especially Among Black Women”

Black women represented just under 10 percent of the 208,587 uterine cancer cases diagnosed in the United States between 2000 and 2017, but they made up almost 18 percent of the nearly 16,797 uterine cancer deaths during that period, Dr. Clarke’s study found.

The uterine cancer death rate for Black women is 31.4 per 100,000 women ages 40 and up, compared with 15.2 per 100,000 for white women in the same age group, Dr. Clarke reported. (Comparable death rates for Asian American women were nine per 100,000, and for Hispanic Americans, 12.3 per 100,000.)

That makes uterine cancer an outlier, since progress has been made toward narrowing the racial gap in death rates from most cancers over the past two decades. Another National Cancer Institute report, published in JAMA Oncology in May, found that overall, death rates from cancer have declined steadily among Black Americans between 1999 and 2019, though they continue to be higher than those of other racial and ethnic groups.

The reasons for the increase in uterine cancer cases are not well understood. The most common form, endometrioid cancer, is associated with estrogen exposure, which is higher when obesity is present, and obesity rates have been rising in the United States.

But non-endometrioid cancer has increased in prevalence, too, and it is not linked to excess weight. Dr. Clarke’s study found that Black women are more likely to have this aggressive form of uterine cancer. They are less likely to be diagnosed early in the course of the illness, and their survival rates are worse no matter when they are diagnosed and what subtype of the cancer they have.

“At every stage of diagnosis, there are different outcomes,” said Dr. Karen Knudsen, chief executive of the American Cancer Society. “Are they getting access to the same quality of cancer care?” She has called for more research into the factors driving the trends.

21) You definitely want to check this one out for the photos, “When Antlers Tangle, Sometimes Both Animals Lose: Antlers, the headgear of deer, moose and elk, are more useful for display than combat. But that does not stop deadly lockups from occurring.”

22) And this story is fascinating on both the rabbit front and the virus front.  So just read it (free link). “Think All Viruses Get Milder With Time? Not This Rabbit-Killer.”

Quick hits (part I)

Friday night travel means a truncated quick hits. Sorry.  And to be clear, this is an entirely pre-Dobbs quick hits.  Still, some good stuff here.  Enjoy…

1) Yglesias on pipelines and structural racism:

Lots of people, of course, just don’t care about diversity. But today if you are a manager and you have stakeholders who do care about diversity and you tell them that there is a pipeline problem, members of the care-about-diversity community will get mad at you. And in fact experienced managers know that this is the wrong thing to say, so they won’t say it.

The problem, though, is twofold. One is that if every organization simultaneously stops making excuses and diversifies, organizations do run up against a pipeline problem after all. The other is that accepting failure to meet diversity goals as evidence of an internal culture of white supremacy sets organizations up for the kind of destabilization Grim details.

There is a large population-level educational skew

In its most generic form, the “pipeline problem” in all kinds of white-collar occupations stems from the fact that educational attainment varies significantly by race. So whether it’s a tech company or a media outlet or a progressive nonprofit, white-collar workplaces typically have a larger percentage of Asian employees than the population at large but a smaller percentage of Black and Hispanic employees…

Structural racism is structural

In a different context, the people who publish articles about how the pipeline problem is a myth would probably agree that it is harder to grow up in a poor household than in a middle-class household. They would note that Black families with middle-class incomes tend to have dramatically less wealth than similar-earning white families. They would say that residential segregation has negative impacts on children’s lives. They might note large racial disparities in exposure to air pollutionnoise pollutionwater contamination, and violence, all of which are associated with worse life outcomes.

The way a lot of public school systems operate exacerbates this.

If a school is full of poor kids with single parents who don’t have much education themselves, the teachers have a more difficult job. The teachers are also less likely to be supported by an active and well financed parent-teacher organization. So the teaching staff is more likely to have high turnover. And the vacancies are more likely to be filled by assignment from the central office with the teachers who the principals in the nice neighborhoods didn’t want to hire. So you have an objectively more difficult job being done by a mix of teachers, a significant number of whom are below average in experience or ability.

The thing about all these structural problems that progressives like to draw attention to is that they are real problems that are genuinely structural. They don’t just go away if managers at some organization chant the right incantations or if elite universities add enough staff to their diversity and inclusion offices.

And they’re also not going to go away if the issue advocacy groups who work on relevant problems are in a constant state of meltdown and infighting or if they compromise their efficacy by merging into a totalizing leftist borg that alienates everyone.

2) When I wrote Tuesday’s piece on trans issues, I had forgotten how much it was David Roberts (an excellent journalist on energy policy– unreadable when it comes to anything else) who perfectly symbolized the problem.  Jesse Singal with an epic takedown in only the way good satire can:

Overall, I believed Bazelon’s piece to be a highly competent, well-executed treatment of an impossibly fraught subject.

Believed

I don’t believe Roberts has ever written anything about youth gender dysphoria, if Google is any indication — this doesn’t appear to be an area of particular interest for him. And yet he issued a searing public condemnation of Bazelon. “The wild thing about this is that @emilybazelon is a great journalist on other topics,” he tweeted in response to Michael Hobbes (who we shan’t be discussing today), making sure to tag her. “Something about this just absolutely breaks people’s brains.” (Note that right around when I was finishing up this piece, a bunch of the tweets I’m going to be referencing disappeared, apparently deleted by Roberts. They were all live earlier today. I tried to archive them beforehand using archiv.ph but ran into some technical difficulties. Either way, I have screenshots of them — apologies if the archived links don’t work. It doesn’t look like Roberts offered any explanation for why he deleted the tweets, which had been up for almost a week, but if he does say anything I’ll update the piece here.)…

What I’d failed to account for in my old path toward understanding this issue, which had involved antique methods like “talking to people” and “reading research” and “accepting that not every question is going to have a clear, easily summarized answer,” is that the world isn’t nearly so complicated. I’d been seduced by the siren call of Nuance, that incorrigible bitch, and she had led me down a slimy rabbit hole to a very bad place, fraught with bigotry. How the hell had I become the sort of journalist who raises questions? It’s disgraceful behavior.

I decided to lash myself to the mast of Twitter certitude — a much firmer option, in these troubled times, than “curiosity” or “critical thinking” (you know who else was curious and “just asked questions”?). Once I did, I realized that I was completely wrong; I had misjudged David Roberts.

When it comes down to it, there are Good People and Bad People. David Roberts is, unlike me, a Good Person. Being a Good Person, he not only possesses moral clarity (which I sorely lack), but a moral clarity so clear it’s practically invisible. And if you have a gift like this — an ability to see the truth without doing any of the legwork usually required to get to that point — why on God’s green earth would you withhold it from others? Wouldn’t it be unethical to do so? Like not administering penicillin to a patient dying from an infection? So whereas I initially criticized Roberts for his harsh treatment of Bazelon — whereas I previously, but definitely no longer, considered his behavior to be what would happen if a mad scientist conducted a freak genetics experiment mating a gadfly with an asshole — I now have to thank him. 

I have to thank him for showing me how wrong I was to think that things can be complicated, and for teaching Emily Bazelon the same invaluable lesson.

3) Loved this Atlantic discussion on marriages:

Havrilesky: I think people want to keep marriage in a very clear binary where there are good marriages and bad marriages. And if your marriage is good, everything should be easy. And if your marriage is bad, it’s doomed and you should get divorced right now. A lot of married people understood, and a lot of married people were like, That’s not how I run my marriage. My marriage is perfect, and I never have feelings of anger or rage. I’m never disappointed in my wonderful, perfect, glorious spouse.

Maybe some people really do have really effective rose-colored glasses that they always use with their spouse, and that’s what works, you know, and they have the best sex in the world because they’re always looking through these filtered lenses at this beautiful person. I mean, in some ways, they’re basically saying the same thing, which is: “I prefer this filter. It helps me to love my spouse more when I reject the idea that there is any hatred in any marriage, except a bad one.”

Khazan: I take Heather’s point: I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing there’s one perfect person out there for you. A soul mate, if you will. Psychological research suggests that this belief in soul mates can actually impact whether we think our relationship is capable of change or if it’s doomed.

Spike W.S. Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, spoke with me about the concept of “love frames” and how different perspectives of love can determine how well your relationship can weather conflict. Specifically, people who see love as a “journey” tend to take the good with the bad.

Spike W.S. Lee: In a journey frame, conflicts become more meaningful. They are part of the growth process. In love fiction, “happily ever after” really appears only at the end of the novel. It doesn’t appear in the middle, because after the happily ever after—there’s not much of a story to tell, right? Before happily ever after is all the twists and turns to conflict that make the story interesting.

People who think of love as a perfect fit—well, when conflicts arise, I start questioning: Are we really such a good fit? Did I choose the right partner? They’re more likely to think about alternatives.

4) I enjoy women’s sports, but an effort to completely overhaul American’s relationship to sports (and ignore the simple and pervasive biological advantages men have) seems misguided:

What would this look like? I propose a New Deal for women’s sports — with a women-first approach. This must go beyond creating entitlements and enforcing parity, as Title IX does. We must dismantle the grandfathered-in systemic advantages that male athletes and male-dominated sports infrastructures continue to enjoy. We must cultivate tastes for other sports, the ones that women excel in and even dominate. And we must broaden our definition of what athletic prowess looks like.

A New Deal for women’s sports would bring more women into leadership roles — in coaching, management and media. It would expand investment in women’s sports categorically. It would increase athletic and other brand endorsement opportunities. It would transform the broadcasting and coverage of women’s sports, elevating female sports journalists and improving the quantity and quality of reporting on women’s sports.Women’s sports would be built for women, with athletic feats that suit our bodies.

Men’s bodies are different from women’s; men are generally bigger, faster and stronger. And currently, the sports that make the most money and see the largest audiences in the United States are suited to a male body’s physical strengths: football tackles, basketball dunks. Sports built for women’s bodies would be different. Compared with men, women have superior flexibility and resilience. Women excel at enduring.

Endurance sports are boring– there’s a reason we don’t watch them.  Yeah, give me a dunk or a 60-yard TD pass.

5) Rick Hasen on prosecuting Trump:

There’s no denying that prosecuting Mr. Trump is fraught with legal difficulties. To the extent that charges like obstructing an official proceeding or conspiring to defraud the United States turn on Mr. Trump’s state of mind — an issue on which there is significant debate — it may be tough to get to the bottom of what he actually believed, given his history of lying and doubling down when confronted with contrary facts. And Mr. Trump could try to shift blame by claiming that he was relying on his lawyers — including John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani — who amplified the phony claims of fraud and who concocted faulty legal arguments to overturn the results of the election. Mr. Trump could avoid conviction if there’s even one juror who believes his repeated lies about the 2020 election.

And yes, there are political difficulties too. The “Lock her up!” chants against Hillary Clinton at 2016 Trump rallies for her use of a personal email server while she was secretary of state were so pernicious because threatening to jail political enemies can lead to a deterioration of democratic values. If each presidential administration is investigating and prosecuting the last, respect for both the electoral process and the legal process may be undermined.

That concern is real, but if there has ever been a case extreme enough to warrant indicting a president, then this is the case, and Mr. Trump is the person. This is not just because of what he will do if he is elected again after not being indicted (and after not being convicted following a pair of impeachments, one for the very conduct under discussion), but also because of the message it sends for the future.

Leaving Mr. Trump unprosecuted would be saying it was fine to call federal, state and local officials, including many who have sworn constitutional oaths, and ask or even demand of them that they do his personal and political bidding…

What Mr. Trump did in its totality and in many individual instances was criminal. If Mr. Garland fails to act, it will only embolden Mr. Trump or someone like him to try again if he loses, this time aided by a brainwashed and cowed army of elected and election officials who stand ready to steal the election next time.

Mr. Trump was the 45th president, not the first American king, but if we don’t deter conduct like this, the next head of state may come closer to claiming the kind of absolute power that is antithetical to everything the United States stands for.

6) Some good friends of mine in here: “Why Conspiracy Theories Flourish in Trump’s America”

Joanne Miller, a political scientist at the University of Delaware, wrote by email that she and two colleagues, Christina Farhart and Kyle Saunders, are about to publish a research paper, “Losers’ Conspiracy: Elections and Conspiratorial Thinking.” They found that “Democrats scored higher in conspiratorial thinking than Republicans after the 2016 election, and Republicans scored higher in conspiratorial thinking after the 2020 election.”

One factor contributing to the persistent Republican embrace of conspiracy thinking, Miller continued, is that Trump loyalists in 2020 — who had suddenly become political losers — abruptly understood themselves to be on “a downward trajectory.” Miller writes that “perceiving oneself to be ‘losing’ (culturally, politically, economically, etc.) is likely one of the reasons people are susceptible to belief in conspiracy theories.”

Also, love the way that Jon Jost is always out there doing solid social science that makes Republicans look bad:

Haidt added another dimension to Miller’s argument:

I don’t think there’s anything about the conservative mind that makes it more prone to conspiracies. But in the world we live in, the elites who run our cultural, medical and epistemic institutions — and particularly journalism and the universities — are overwhelmingly on the left, so of course Democrats are going to be more trusting of elite pronouncements, while Republicans are more likely to begin from a position of distrust.

Are there partisan differences in connection with conspiracy thinking?

Uscinski argues that in his view there is little difference in the susceptibility of Democrats and Republicans to conspiracy thinking, but:

The issue here isn’t about conspiracy theories so much. These ideas are always out there. The issue is about Donald Trump. The numbers are so high because Trump and his allies inside and outside of government endorsed these election fraud conspiracy theories. Trump, his many advisers and staff, Republican members of Congress, Republican governors and state legislators, conservative media outlets, and right-wing opinion leaders asserted repeatedly that the 2020 election would be and then had been stolen.

This has a lot more to do, Uscinski contended, “with the power of political and media elites to affect their followers’ beliefs than anything else.”

 

John Jost, a professor of psychology, politics and data science at N.Y.U., strongly disagrees with Uscinski, arguing that there are major differences between Democrats and Republicans on measures of conspiratorial thinking.

Jost wrote by email:

My colleagues and I found, in a nationally representative sample of Americans, that there was a .27 correlation (which is quite sizable by the standards of social science) between conservative identification and scores on a scale of generalized conspiratorial mentality.

In a separate study, Jost continued:

We observed a smaller but clearly significant correlation of .11 between conservative identification and a clinical measure of paranoid ideation, which includes items such as “I often feel that strangers are looking at me critically.” Furthermore, we found that paranoid ideation was a significant mediator of the association between conservative identification and general conspiratorial mind-sets.

Jost pointed to a January 2022 article — “Conspiracy Mentality and Political Orientation Across 26 Countries,” by Roland Imhoff, a professor of psychology at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, and 39 co-authors — that examined the strength of the “conspiracy mentality” at the extremes of left and right based on a sample of 104,253 people in 26 countries, not including the United States.

7) The libertarian in me really doesn’t like the FDA saying “no Juul vapes.”  But, Drum brings some valuable context here:

But I think the data is in on this:

Most teen vaping (roughly 80%) is nicotine vaping, and it’s obviously bad to get kids hooked on nicotine. On the other hand, vaping is better than cigarette smoking, so if more vaping leads to lower cigarette use then it might be a net positive.

But as the chart shows, that’s not the case. Teen cigarette smoking has been declining steadily for the past couple of decades and doesn’t appear to be influenced even a tiny bit by vaping. This means that vaping has gotten more teens hooked on nicotine with no corresponding drop anywhere else to make up for it.

This doesn’t mean you have to support a ban on vaping, or even a ban on non-prescription nicotine vaping. But as you think about it, this is the factual background to consider.

8) Of course, I’ve always taken any opportunity to rant against originalism.  Certainly one of the biggest intellectual frauds ever perpetrated against the American people.  But, damn, I had missed this nice piece that makes a compelling case for the literal racist roots of it.  

9) Adam Winkler interview on guns and the Supreme Court. This part is the best!

In terms of the decision itself, what was notable about how the Court presented the history of the Second Amendment and guns?

Most notable is that the Court says it is going to look to history and tradition, but then ignores history and tradition. The Court says that only gun laws which have historical precedent are constitutionally permissible, and then the Court dismisses all of the historical precedents for heavy restrictions on concealed-carry laws as outliers. The Court says that it is going to look to history, but dismisses early English common law as too old. The Court says that it is going to look to history, but dismisses any laws that were adopted after the mid-eighteen-hundreds as too young. The Court says that it is looking to history, but also says that shall-issue permitting is constitutional, even though shall-issue permitting is a twentieth-century invention. So the Court says that it is doing history and tradition analysis, but conveniently ignores any history it doesn’t like…

This is singular. The Court says that history and tradition analysis is the way that constitutional rights should be analyzed. But all you have to do is go back to Tuesday’s decision on the funding of religious schools. The Court didn’t do any history and tradition analysis to show that there is a First Amendment requirement that states finance religious schools. [In the gun case,] the Court rejects the kind of interest-balancing that is commonplace in constitutional law more generally…

Look, this ruling is going to have its biggest impact on blue states, such as California and New York, that have relatively restrictive gun regulations. Those states will still try to regulate guns. The political movement in those states is still very strong. I think this ruling will not only lead to a lot of litigation but lead to a lot of litigation on the concealed-carry issue in particular. This is not the final word but the beginning of a long battle over it. States such as New York are going to pass laws that broadly define “sensitive places,” to make it very hard to carry a gun in New York City. Those laws will be subject to constitutional challenge. States might impose burdens on licensing requirements.

In California, if you want to get a cosmetology license that gives you the ability to put chemicals in someone’s hair, you have to go through a thousand hours of training. You could imagine California saying that, if you want to carry a gun, you have to do extensive training and go to a certain kind of class before you have the ability to carry firearms. So I think we are going to see states continue to try to regulate firearms, but this opinion will make it much easier for Second Amendment advocates to go to court and strike these laws down.

10) Really liked Yglesias on AI, “We’re asking the wrong question about AI sentience”

Max Read points out that all these science fiction stories about human encounters with sentient AI are in the LaMDA corpus. And it’s certainly cool and impressive that when Lemoine started acting like a sci-fi protagonist who’s interested in exploring the depths of the AI’s humanity, LaMDA was able to match the pattern and generate an appropriate sci-fi response.

That said, you could do an improv scene with someone where they pretend to be an experimental pattern-matching AI trained on a vast corpus of human texts. Depending on who your partner was, it might be convincing or it might not. And how convincing it is would be a function of the partner’s skills as an improv actor. Some people, probably most people, would be terrible at it because improv is hard. But if you ranked 10,000 people based on the convincingness of their performance in this scenario, you wouldn’t call this a rank-ordering of the performers’ level of sentience. Only some humans are good at improv and only some humans are familiar with the functioning of Transformer-derived language models, so the people in the intersection of those circles would do well.

By the same token, Gary Marcus, who knows far more about AI than I ever will, offers this deflationary account:

Neither LaMDA nor any of its cousins (GPT-3) are remotely intelligent. All they do is match patterns, draw from massive statistical databases of human language. The patterns might be cool, but the language these systems utter doesn’t actually mean anything at all. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean that these systems are sentient.

As a description of how these systems work, that seems great. But the assertion that GPT-3’s utterances are meaningless seems untenable to me.

Nobody thinks Siri is sentient after. But if you ask Siri what tomorrow’s weather forecast is, she will tell you. And the words she utters mean things; the program wouldn’t be useful if the words weren’t meaningful and the words clearly are meaningful. There’s a longstanding debate in philosophy over internalism versus externalism about semantics: do words mean things separate from intentions or does meaning essentially rely on communicative intent? I think that AI systems, including ones that nobody is making grandiose claims about, are basically just a counterexample to semantic internalism.

GPT-3 is not trained to mimic the real rhythms of a human conversation, so I always find chatting with it somewhat frustrating. But the language it utters clearly has meaning.

The claim that the reason Goodfellas is better than the Departed because Goodfellas is more closely based on real-life events is absurd as film criticism1, but it’s absurd precisely because it’s perfectly cogent — it’s just dumb.

The face in the clouds

 

The very next paragraph from Marcus offers what I think is a much more tenable claim — not that language models’ utterances are meaningless but that humans’ tendency to anthropomorphize them is a bug in our own software:

Which doesn’t mean that human beings can’t be taken in. In our book Rebooting AI, Ernie Davis and I called this human tendency to be suckered by The Gullibility Gap — a pernicious, modern version of pareidolia, the anthropomorphic bias that allows humans to see Mother Theresa in an image of a cinnamon bun.

That is clearly correct. Humans notoriously perceive order in things that are actually random, looking to the sky and seeing crabs and bears and all sorts of things in the stars.

We are hyperactive pattern-matchers, seeing patterns that aren’t there. Certain animals like dogs and cats have evolved to manipulate us into feeding them, in part through mannerisms that we tend to interpret as expressing a wide range of human-like thoughts and emotions, even though scientists tell us that these are not particularly intelligent animals.

And since we anthropomorphize everything, we will of course anthropomorphize chat bots, too.

And while corporations have a range of motives that will shape their chatbot design decisions, to the extent that they want the people who interact with the chatbot to anthropomorphize it, they can select for one that has prone-to-anthropomorphization qualities. That appears to be the story with LaMDA which, much more so than GPT-3, is designed to “seem like” you’re talking to a real person.

11) I love getting free Jesse Singal posts.  If you were a “Reply All” fan you should read this. “No One Can Explain Exactly What PJ Vogt Did Wrong, But The Point Is We Should Now Judge Him Guilty Forever”

If you’re new to my newsletter or to this controversy, you might have to read this first (unlocked version here). I’ll give the tl;dr, but I can’t promise it’ll be enough:

-Vogt co-created and co-hosted Reply All, a Gimlet Media podcast about internet culture that was one of my favorites (if you’re new to it, start here)

Reply All, as (I would argue) part of the racial reckoning, launched a reported series on the climate of alleged racial insensitivity at Bon Appetit called “Test Kitchen” that was hosted by Sruthi Pinnamaneni

-Halfway through that series’ planned run, a former Gimlet staffer named Eric Eddings posted a tweetstorm calling out Vogt and Pinnamaneni for ignoring the fact that Gimlet has similar issues with racial insensitivity, mostly centered around the pair’s initial opposition to a unionization drive at Gimlet (though by the time of Eddings’ tweetstorm, they had both changed their minds and supported it)

-The tweetstorm was circulated far and wide by journalists outraged at the injustice Vogt and Pinnamaneni had supposedly perpetrated against their vulnerable colleagues at Gimlet; both quickly apologized and went on leave before departing Gimlet entirely, with Vogt reemerging with Crypto Island

[-editorializing on my part:] Reply All has been basically unlistenable since Vogt left, though I can’t give a truly fair account of its output over the last year because I stopped listening and because so few episodes are released these days (Unnecessary update: A couple people have told me the show’s been solid lately. I will check it out! I have not listened for quite some time, because there were some real duds in there)

[-further editorializing on my part:] As I wrote here, no one anywhere provided solid evidence Vogt or Pinnamaneni had done anything remotely bad enough to warrant being run out of their professional community amidst a carnival-like explosion of seething online rage and gleeful unpersoning (more of it directed at Vogt, I think, perhaps because he’s more famous and/or because he’s a white guy and therefore a bit easier of a target in this type of situation)

Okay, you’re all caught up! Sort of.

After Nicholas Quah praises Crypto Island in his review, he continues:

On the other hand, there remains the “Test Kitchen” of it all. It isn’t hard to plug Crypto Island into the ongoing question about what should happen after someone gets so publicly taken to task for a wrong. In Vogt’s case, it was a situation in which he had placed his professional needs in front of those of others, a stance that resulted in him opposing an effort within Gimlet to unionize and improve conditions for co-workers who did not have the same power, privileges, and security that he did. It was the hypocrisy of subsequently trying to make a journalistic work dissecting similar injustices in another workplace, seemingly before having accounted for his own actions, that sparked the brouhaha which ultimately led to Vogt’s departure.

There are layers, of course, to the question of what happens to the ousted after something like this, and we rarely get good opportunities to process this question with the appropriate sense of proportion or nuance. Now that we have one such opportunity, I’m struggling with the tension. I don’t think someone in Vogt’s position should necessarily be side-eyed from making things or working again. At the same time, the straightforwardness of his return gives me pause.

Again: No one has explained exactly what Vogt did wrong that could possibly justify the shitstorm he faced. Quah accuses Vogt of “plac[ing] his professional needs in front of those of others, a stance that resulted in him opposing an effort within Gimlet to unionize and improve conditions for co-workers who did not have the same power, privileges, and security that he did.” If you actually unpack this, there’s almost nothing there: Who doesn’t “place their professional needs in front of others,” at least part of the time? That should be enough to ruin your reputation? As for the hypocrisy charge, wouldn’t that apply only if Vogt engaged in the same sort of behavior Bon Appetit staffers claimed took place there — that is, acts of explicit and implicit racial discrimination? Where’s the evidence for those acts?

12) This is good and important, “How Houston Moved 25,000 People From the Streets Into Homes of Their Own”

Houston has gotten this far by teaming with county agencies and persuading scores of local service providers, corporations and charitable nonprofits — organizations that often bicker and compete with one another — to row in unison. Together, they’ve gone all in on “housing first,” a practice, supported by decades of research, that moves the most vulnerable people straight from the streets into apartments, not into shelters, and without first requiring them to wean themselves off drugs or complete a 12-step program or find God or a job.

There are addiction recovery and religious conversion programs that succeed in getting people off the street. But housing first involves a different logic: When you’re drowning, it doesn’t help if your rescuer insists you learn to swim before returning you to shore. You can address your issues once you’re on land. Or not. Either way, you join the wider population of people battling demons behind closed doors.

“Before I leave office, I want Houston to be the first big city to end chronic homelessness,” Sylvester Turner told me. In late January, Mr. Turner, who is serving his final term as mayor, joined Harris County leaders in unveiling a $100 million plan that would use a mix of federal, state, county and city funds to cut the local homeless count in half again by 2025.

Mr. Turner chose his words with care, and it’s important to parse his phrasing. “Chronic homelessness” is a term of art. It refers to those people, like many in the Houston encampment, who have been living on the streets for more than a year or who have been homeless repeatedly, and who have a mental or physical disability. Nationwide, most of those who experience homelessness do not fall into that narrow category. They are homeless for six weeks or fewer; 40 percent have a job. For them, homelessness is an agonizing but temporary condition that they manage to resolve, maybe by doubling up with relatives or friends.
 
 
 
 

There are at the same time many thousands of mothers and children, as well as couch-surfing teenagers and young adults who are ill-housed and at risk. These people are also poor and desperate. Finding a place to sleep may be a daily struggle for them. They might be one broken transmission or emergency room visit away from the streets. They’re in the pipeline to homelessness. But they are not homeless according to the bureaucratic definition. They are not sleeping on a sidewalk or in their cars or in shelters. Houston can offer these people a hand, but Mr. Turner is not promising to end the precariousness of their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Really short Dobbs for Slovaks

So, so much to say.  But, mostly, just taking it all in today.  That said, since I cannot disappoint the Slovaks depending on my American politics takes, I’ll at least share that here for now:

My questions are as follows:

As the Supreme Court strikes down Roe vs Wade, what kind of affect it might have on the political landscape in the US? And, BTW, I don’t know if you wanna address this, but how do you assess this verdict? As a legal one or perhaps more as a political one?

And my response…

1) This is a massive effect on the U.S. political landscape.  Now, I cannot say exactly how, but I can say this will substantially re-orient American politics around abortion and reproductive rights in ways heretofore unknown.  We will have policy debates in state after state over… banning abortion, codifying abortion protection, 6 week bans, 15 week bans, and everything in between.  We will have some states attempt to prosecute citizens for going to neighboring states to obtain an abortion where it is legal.  We will have states try and prevent its residents from important abortion drugs through the mail.  We will have federal and state election campaigns emphasize abortion and related issues in ways never before.  How this all turns out, nobody really knows, but this truly is an earthquake to American politics.
 
2) I will save the legal/constitutional analysis for such scholars, though I do think it is nevertheless fair game to say it is a big deal to overturn a 50-year old Constitutional precedent.  That’s not to say it should never be done, but it should certainly be done so judiciously.  Another important issue is just what this decision may portend for future decision on similar constitutional issues like the right to privacy (specifically, whether adults can obtain birth control of their choice) and laws around same-sex marriage and relationships.  

Republicans really just don’t believe in democracy any more

God this is depressing!  David Graham:

Finding signs to worry about the future of American democracy is not hard, but few are quite so painful and acute as the cognitive dissonance displayed by Rusty Bowers this week.

Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona State House, was the star witness during yesterday’s hearing of the U.S. House’s January 6 committee. Bowers calls himself a conservative Republican, and he has the record to back that claim up. Like most Republicans, he supported Donald Trump in the 2020 election, but when Trump and Rudy Giuliani tried to pressure him to assist in their scheme to overturn the results of the election in Arizona, where Joe Biden narrowly won, Bowers refused…

Bowers’s testimony was powerful because it was somber, serious, and clearly heartfelt. This is also why it was threatening to Trump, who issued a statement before the hearing even began, attacking Bowers and claiming he’d agreed with Trump that the election was rigged. Under oath, Bowers said flatly that Trump’s account was false.

And yet in an interview with the Associated Press published yesterday, Bowers also said he would back Trump if he runs for president in 2024. “If he is the nominee, if he was up against Biden, I’d vote for him again,” Bowers said. “Simply because what he did the first time, before COVID, was so good for the country. In my view it was great.”…

But Bowers’s ambivalence is more disturbing and perhaps more frightening because his words and actions suggest a greater integrity and seriousness. This is a man who testified that Trump pressured him to break the law and his own religious views in service of an agenda that included, Giuliani told him, “lots of theories,” but “we just don’t have the evidence.” A man who was subject to threats and intimidation by armed protesters even as his daughter lay dying in his home, and who was falsely labeled a pedophile. A man about whom Trump had lied on the very day of his testimony…

I can hear the objections already: Aren’t you really just asking conservative Republicans to back Joe Biden for president? Isn’t that an absurd and unrealistic ask? It is true that I find Bowers’s claim that what Trump “did the first time, before COVID, was so good for the country” to be badly misguided…

These are, however, policy disagreements. They are worth debating, and I wish Bowers (and everyone else) agreed with me that the facts show Trump was in most respects a disastrous president, but that we expect voters will disagree in a democracy.

And that last phrase—in a democracy—is the problem here. Trump tried to subvert America’s system of elections in 2020 and 2021, a wide-ranging and elaborate, if not especially sophisticated, coup attempt. As my colleagues Bart Gellman and Jennifer Senior have reported, Trump and his allies have already begun laying the groundwork for another coup attempt in 2024.

And, this final paragraph perfectly captures the very disturbing dynamic:

Once you’ve decided that your specific policy planks are more important than ensuring that the fundamental system survives, however, the result sooner or later is a government that has no interest in the will of the people. Imagining this doesn’t take much creativity: After the 2020 election, Trump tried to ignore the will of the people and remain in power. He was stopped only by the courage of people such as Rusty Bowers. If even Bowers is willing to back Trump again, despite his eloquent condemnations, the outlook for popular democracy is very bleak.

What is a “woman” anyway?

This is really good from Matt Lutz.  I gotta say I love the analytical rigor he brings to the issue as a philosopher:

As a starting point, it’s important to remember that words often have multiple definitions. Sometimes a word can have several meanings that are closely related. (Linguists and philosophers of language refer to this phenomenon as “polysemy.”) For instance, the word “hands” can refer to either the body part or to people who do physical labor (typically with their hands). So a better question is not what the definition of the word “woman” is. It’s how many coherent definitions there are.


There is at least one coherent definition: a woman is an adult human female. That’s the definition you’ll find in almost every dictionary. This is a biological definition—“adult,” “human,” and “female” are all terms that refer to biology. Some have attempted to dispute the idea that “female” picks out a coherent biological kind by pointing to intersex individuals who have some but not all of the biological features associated with being female. But this does not change the fact that 99.98% of the human population has either all or none of the biological features associated with being female—specifically: XX chromosomes, female genitalia, and gonads that produce eggs rather than sperm. The few indeterminate cases which show that biological sex is not strictly a binary don’t render the biological definition of “woman” incoherent.

Although the biological definition of a woman is coherent, some philosophers have argued that the biological definition is bad in other ways. The biological definition of woman is “trans-exclusive” in that it counts trans women as men and trans men as women. Many find this morally and politically unacceptable. Their response is to engage in what is known as “ameliorative analysis.” This means finding or creating another definition for the word “woman” that is “trans-inclusive,” not to have that definition stand alongside the biological definition but to replace the biological definition. Ameliorative analysis doesn’t aim to say what a term does mean; it aims to say what a term should be…

Fortunately, there is a trans-inclusive definition of “woman” that avoids these difficulties. The preceding accounts of what it takes to be a woman have all been proposed in the service of ameliorative analysis—a project which, in this context, usually aims to eliminate the biological definition of “woman” and replace it with something better. But we can make progress if we simply allow the biological definition of a woman to exist alongside the trans-inclusive definition, and even to define a trans woman in terms of a biological woman. This is what Sophie Grace Chappell, a feminist philosopher and trans woman, has suggested. Chappell doesn’t think that we can give any of these terms neat definitions, but has suggested that being transgender involves wanting to transition from one sex to another. In short: Biological men who want to be biological women are transgender women…

So these, then, are our two coherent definitions of the term “woman.” The first is a biological definition: a woman(1) is someone who has the homeostatic cluster of biological properties that are characteristic of adult human females. With this definition in hand, we can define a trans woman as a man(1) who wants to be a woman(1) or wants to be thought of and treated the way that women(1) are treated. And now we can give our second definition of “woman:” a woman(2) is anyone who is either a woman(1) or a trans woman. Adopting two definitions for the term “woman” means that everyone wins. Those who insist that “woman” refers to a biological category are correct. Those who insist that “woman” can be defined in social terms, and that trans women are women, are also correct. [emphasis mine]

This isn’t linguistic prescriptivism: the terms “man” and “woman” clearly are used in multiple coherent ways. We should recognize that this is the case without fighting over the definition of gendered terminology. There’s nothing to fight over; these words are just being used in two different ways. People can use them however they want, and context will usually determine what is intended.

I love this.  Of course words have multiple meanings that we use differently in different contexts.  Man and Woman are no different.  And, this should not have to be an italicized thing, but… context matters.  Sometimes we are talking about adult human females. Sometimes we are talking about people who prefer to move through the world as a “woman.”  Most of the time these are the same thing.  Some of the time they are not– and that’s okay! 

My backward state legislature– marijuana edition

The NC State Senate recently passed a bill legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.  And excluding chronic pain and anxiety.  In other words, the lowest of low bars on marijuana policy reform.  And to their credit, most of the Republicans went with common sense as the bill passed 35-10.

Alas, even this incredibly modest effort will go by the wayside as the Republicans in the state house are there to protect our morals from being undone by reefer madness:

In a closed-door meeting Wednesday, North Carolina House Republicans all but sealed the fate of a proposed medical marijuana bill, giving it a slim chance of becoming law this year.

What happened: Republicans in the chamber internally voted not to advance the legislation in that meeting, multiple sources told Axios. Sources were unwilling to speak on the record because caucus — where all of the members of a given party discuss and debate issues — is confidential.

The big picture: The move is somewhat expected, given that House leaders have repeatedly indicated Republicans in their chamber have little interest in taking up the legislation before the session is slated to end in the coming weeks.

  • House Republicans were the main obstacle standing in the way of legalizing medical marijuana in North Carolina this legislative session.

Where does that leave NC on marijuana:

North Carolina is one of six states where all uses of marijuana are illegal, along with Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, South Carolina and Wyoming. That includes prohibiting the use of medical marijuana.

Oh come on, that’s just embarrassing.  Almost as embarrassing as the quality of the arguments against it:

House Speaker Tim Moore (R) told WRAL last week that “there are a lot of concerns with this bill right now.”

“I think it’s something that’s going to really require further study,” he said, echoing comments he has made in recent weeks about not wanting to take up the measure until next session. “The Senate brought this bill quickly to the floor. This is one of the more controversial subjects  [emphasis mine] in our in our state and in our nation.”

The comment about the expediency of the Senate’s approach to this legislation is questionable, as it received ample committee consideration going back to July 2021.

“I, like many, do recognize there are some medical conditions where, you know, the data is out there and this can be helpful in certain limited instances,” Moore said, citing the passage of a bill providing limited access to CBD for patients with conditions such as epilepsy.

“But I think when you take that next leap into actual medical marijuana, there are a host of other issues there,” he continued. “The biggest concern is the abuse of it, how easy is it for someone to get ‘diagnosed and prescribed’ this as a medication, and I think that there needs to be a lot of precautions in place.”

Riiiight.  Because there’s not 44 other states where we can see that laws like this simply do not lead to widespread abuse. Or, you know what’s actually not a “more controversial subject”?  Medical marijuana:

 A WRAL News online survey of registered voters in the state found strong bipartisan support for the legalization of medical marijuana. Seventy-two percent of respondents said marijuana for medical use should be legalized, including 64% of Republicans, 75% of Democrats and 78% of unaffiliated voters. The poll was conducted in April.

Clearly, Tim Moore and friends are still living in Reefer Madness world and completely disconnected from reality (heck, even the majority of NC Republicans in the state Senate get it) and damn it the whole state pays for them being hopeless backward.  To be clear I would not argue medical marijuana is some amazing panacea as its advocates do, but on any fair-minded cost/benefit analysis this is just such a no-brainer and frustratingly brainless from the state House Republicans.

Reefer Madness - Wikipedia

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