Quick hits (part I)

1) Nicholas Kristoff on woke idiocy in policing language:

The flap over the French underscores the ongoing project to revise terminology in ways that are meant to be more inclusive — but which I fear are counterproductive and end up inviting mockery and empowering the right.

Latino to Latinx. Women to people with uterusesHomeless to houseless. L.G.B.T. to LGBTQIA2S+. Breastfeeding to chestfeeding. Asian American to A.A.P.I. Ex-felon to returning citizen. Pro-choice to pro-decision. I inhabit the world of words, and even I’m a bit dizzy.

As for my friends who are homeless, what they yearn for isn’t to be called houseless; they want housing.

Representative Ritchie Torres, a New York Democrat who identifies as Afro-Latino, noted that a Pew survey found that only 3 percent of Hispanics themselves use the term Latinx.

“I have no personal objection to the term ‘Latinx’ and will use the term myself before an audience that prefers it,” Torres told me. “But it’s worth asking if the widespread use of the term ‘Latinx’ in both government and corporate America reflects the agenda-setting power of white leftists rather than the actual preferences of working-class Latinos.” …

The aim is to avoid dehumanizing anyone. But some women feel dehumanized when referred to as “birthing people,” or when The Lancet had a cover about “bodies with vaginas.”

The American Medical Association put out a 54-page guide on language as a way to address social problems — oops, it suggests instead using the “equity-focused” term “social injustice.” The A.M.A. objects to referring to “vulnerable” groups and “underrepresented minority” and instead advises alternatives such as “oppressed” and “historically minoritized.”

Hmm. If the A.M.A. actually cared about “equity-focused” outcomes in the United States, it could simply end its opposition to single-payer health care.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, president emeritus of the Children’s Health Fund and a lifelong champion of vulnerable children, told me that the linguistic efforts reflect “liberals going overboard to create definitions and divisions” — and he, like me, is a liberal.

“It actually exacerbates divisions rather than accomplishing something useful,” Redlener said, and I think he’s right..

First, much of this effort seems to me performative rather than substantive. Instead of a spur to action, it seems a substitute for it.

After all, it’s the blue cities on the West Coast, where those on the streets are often sensitively described as “people experiencing homelessness,” that have some of the highest rates of unsheltered homelessness. How about worrying less about jargon and more about zoning and other evidence-based policies that actually get people into housing? …

So I fear that our linguistic contortions, however well-meant, aren’t actually addressing our country’s desperate inequities or achieving progressive dreams, but rather are creating fuel for right-wing leaders aiming to take the country in the opposite direction.

2) This piece on the shifting demographics of the Democratic party from Tom Edsall is excellent.  You should just read it (gift link). 

Over the past four decades, the percentage of white Democrats who identify themselves as liberal has more than doubled, growing at a much faster pace than Black or Hispanic Democrats.

In 1984, according to American National Election Studies data, 29.8 percent of white Democrats identified as liberal; by 2020, that percentage grew to 68.5 percent. Over the same period, the percentage of liberals among Black Democrats grew from 19.1 percent to 27.8 percent and among Hispanic Democrats from 18 percent to 41 percent.

This shift raises once again a question that people have been asking since the advent of Reagan Democrats in the 1980s: What does it mean for a party that was once the home of the white working class to become a coalition of relatively comfortable white liberals and less-well-off minority constituencies?

I posed this and other questions to a range of scholars and political strategists, including William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings, who recently cited similar (though not identical) trends in Gallup data. In an essay last month, “The Polarization Paradox: Elected Officials and Voters Have Shifted in Opposite Directions,” Galston wrote:

In 1994, white, Black and Hispanic Democrats were equally likely to think of themselves as liberal. But during the next three decades, the share of white Democrats who identify as liberal rose by 37 points, from 26 percent to 63 percent, while Black and Hispanic Democrats rose by less than half as much, to 39 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

Galston argued in an email that Black Democrats have assumed an unanticipated role in the party:

African Americans are now a moderating force within the party. It was no accident that they rallied around the most moderate candidate with a serious chance of winning the nomination in 2020, or that the leader of the pro-Biden forces took the lead in rejecting the “defund the police” slogan.

The coalition of upper-middle-class liberals and minority voters, Galston wrote, “has been sustainable because the former believe in the active use of government to fight disadvantage of various kinds and are willing, within limits, to vote against their economic self-interest.” …

There are those who argue, however, that the contemporary Democratic coalition is more fragile than Wronski suggests. Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, emailed to say, “If you’re a Democrat, you might worry that the coalition is not stable.”

Over the long haul, Enos wrote:

College-educated whites, especially those with higher incomes, are not clear coalitional partners for anyone — they don’t favor economic policies, such as increasing housing supply or even higher taxes on the rich, that are beneficial to the working class, of any race. And many college-educated whites are motivated by social issues that are also not largely supported by the working class, of any race. It’s not clear that, with their current ideological positions, socially liberal and economically centrist or rightist college-educated whites are natural coalition partners with anybody but themselves.

Enos went so far as to challenge the depth of elite support for a liberal agenda:

My sense is that much of the college-educated liberal political rhetoric is focused on social signaling to satisfy their own psychological needs and improve their social standing with other college-educated liberals, rather than policies that would actually reduce racial gaps in economic well-being, civil rights protections and other quality of life issues.

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, is an explicit critic of the left wing of the party. “It is plain to me that the Democrats’ greatest challenge is the progressive left,” Begala wrote in an email:

Pew Research shows they are the most liberal, most educated and most white subgroup in the Democratic coalition. They constitute 12 percent of Democrats and those who lean Democrat — which means 88 percent of us are not on their ideological team.

In contrast, Begala continued:

Black voters are both the most loyal Democrats and the most sensible, practical, strategic and moderate voters. This is why it was important, politically and even morally, for President Biden to move the African-American-rich South Carolina primary ahead of overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire.

In the November 2021 study of the composition of the Democratic Party that Begala referred to, Pew Research reported:

The progressive left makes up a relatively small share of the party, 12 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. However, this group is the most politically engaged segment of the coalition, extremely liberal in every policy domain and, notably, 68 percent white non-Hispanic. In contrast, the three other Democratic-oriented groups are no more than about half white non-Hispanic.

3) Fascinating New Yorker article about a new book about the modern surveillance state and long-haul trucking:

The use of electronic logging devices in trucks, Levy argues, represents an example of how “we impose apparent order to the detriment of actual order.” From the perspective of apparent order, the problem of trucking safety—the job ranks eighth on the list of occupational fatality rates—is driver fatigue. Truckers are tired because they drive too many hours. They drive too many hours because they were not only permitted but effectively encouraged to falsify their logbooks. If the problem is compliance, the solution is to take accountability out of the discretionary sphere of human activity and rely instead on mechanism. You use technology to force truckers to tell the truth…

All of this, Levy maintains, was predictable insofar as the mandate was designed to solve the apparent problem rather than the actual one. The problem was not that truckers lied. The problem is the industry’s economic structure. Truckers are paid on a per-mile basis—“If the wheel ain’t turnin’, you ain’t earnin’ ”—which means that all of the time they spend resting, or refuelling, or looking for scarce parking, or being detained by slow shippers at their destination is uncompensated. Truckers are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, so they’re not paid overtime. Beginning in the late nineteen-seventies, the trucking industry underwent rapid deregulation. Shipping costs fell dramatically, but so did wages. In 1980, the median income for a trucker was a hundred and ten thousand dollars in today’s dollars; today, the average trucker brings home less than half of that. Solidarity has proved elusive. The Teamsters were once powerful, but the percentage of truckers with union membership has declined to the low single digits.

As Levy puts it, “By using digital surveillance to enforce rules, we focus our attention on an apparent order that allows us to ignore the real problems in the industry, as well as their deeper economic, social, and political causes. Under the apparent order envisioned by the ELD, the fundamental problem in trucking is that truckers cannot be trusted to reliably report how much they work, and the solution to that problem is to make it more difficult for them to fudge the numbers. But under the actual order, the problem in trucking is that drivers are incentivized to work themselves well beyond healthy limits—sometimes to death. The ELD doesn’t solve this problem, or even attempt to do so.”

4) Pretty cool to read about AI technology in speech recognition/transcription. 

5) I really hope they figure out how and why in the world somebody stole emperor tamarin monkeys from a Dallas Zoo and left them in an abandoned house!

6) Apparently this video is from 8 years ago or so, but a friend just posted on FB and it was the first time I’ve seen it. So much fun.

7) Nate Cohn on what to make of Trump and the polls:

At the onset of the Republican campaign, the polls are exceptionally divided on Mr. Trump’s support among Republican primary voters.

In national surveys since last November’s midterm election, different pollsters have shown him with anywhere between 25 percent and 55 percent of the vote in a multicandidate field.

In just the last two weeks, an Emerson College poll found Mr. Trump leading Mr. DeSantis by 26 points, 55 percent to 29 percent, in a multicandidate field, while a Bulwark/North Star/Dynata poll over a similar period found Mr. DeSantis leading by 11 points, 39 percent to 28 percent.

This is not normal. It’s also a recent development. In the three months before the midterm election, 10 polling firms showed a much more typical 12-point spread in Mr. Trump’s share of support, between 45 percent and 57 percent.

Whether Mr. Trump is at 25 percent or 55 percent is no small matter. Believe it or not, early polling is fairly predictive of the eventual outcome in presidential primaries. It also has real-world consequences. It affects the decision-making of potential candidates, operatives and activists, many of whom have adopted a wait-and-see approach in part because there are so many conflicting signs of Mr. Trump’s strength.

And the existence of such a wide split betrays that the survey research industry may be in far worse shape than one might have otherwise guessed. While the exact reason for the vast spread in survey results is hard to ascertain, the likeliest explanation is that many well-known pollsters are collecting profoundly unrepresentative data.

Although there’s not a clear picture, a rough pattern in the data might hint at the actual state of the race. Higher-quality surveys havetended to show far less support for Mr. Trump…

Whatever the explanation for the variance among the nonprobability shops, the consensus among probability polls suggests that the polls showing a relatively weak Mr. Trump are closer to the truth.

Second, the state polling is almost entirely consistent with a weak or relatively weak Trump.

Nearly every nonpartisan state poll shows him running a few points worse than his performance in the same state in the 2016 primary. Most of those state primaries were held at a time when Mr. Trump’s national support was in the mid-30s, suggesting he sits in that range or a little lower today.

If we exclude the unusual cases of Florida and Utah (Florida because Mr. DeSantis is its governor; Utah because Mr. Trump had such vanishingly low support there in the 2016 caucus), Mr. Trump is underperforming his 2016 vote share by an average of four points in polls with a one-on-one matchup with Mr. DeSantis and by 10 points in multicandidate state polls.

Lots of good technical stuff in there for poll lovers, too.

8) A must read from Radley Balko, “Tyre Nichols’s Death Proves Yet Again That ‘Elite’ Police Units Are a Disaster”

The SCORPION program has all the markings of similar “elite” police teams around the country, assembled for the broad purpose of fighting crime, which operate with far more leeway and less oversight than do regular police officers. Some of these units have touted impressive records of arrests and gun confiscations, though those statistics don’t always correlate with a decrease in crime. But they all rest on the idea that to be effective, police officers need less oversight. That is a fundamental misconception. In city after city, these units have proven that putting officers in street clothes and unmarked cars‌, then giving them less supervision, an open mandate and an intimidating name shatters the community trust that police forces require to keep people safe…

Programs like SCORPION are a big part of the problem.

These units are typically touted as the best of the best — teams of highly experienced, carefully selected officers with stable temperaments, who have earned the right to work with less supervision. It isn’t difficult to see the dangers of telling police officers again and again that they are “elite,” but what’s really remarkable is how far that ideal is from the reality. As Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles deputy police chief and former SWAT officer, once told me, “The guys who really want to be on the SWAT team are the last people you should be putting on the SWAT team.” These units tend to attract aggressive, rules-skirting officers who then bring in like-minded colleagues to join them.

One former Memphis officer told CBS News that ‌SCORPION hired young and inexperienced officers with a propensity for aggression. Their “training” consisted of “three days of PowerPoint presentations, one day of criminal apprehension instruction and one day at the firing range.” One of the five officers indicted in Nichols’s murder had a prior complaint against him, and the civil rights attorney Ben Crump said he has already heard from other people who say they were abused by the unit.

The name of the team gives the game away. You call a unit SCORPION or Strike Force because you want to instill fear and because you want to attract police officers who enjoy being feared…

Scandals involving elite police units have also hit IndianapolisAtlantaPhiladelphiaNewarkPomonaMilwaukeeGreensboro and Fresno, among others. Most recently, eight officers from a unit in Baltimore were convicted and imprisoned after allegations that they robbed city residents, stole from local businesses, sold drugs and carried BB guns to plant on people.

The evidence is overwhelming: Giving roving teams of police officers added authority, elite status, a long leash and a vague mandate is a formula for abuse.

9) Sorry, that’s all you get for now. Maybe more later.  Gotta get to bed early (I queue these up Friday night) for the Krispy Kreme Challenge (no, I don’t eat all the donuts, but it’s super-fun) in the morning).



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

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