Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ll be honest, I’m pretty much shamefully ignorant of politics in India.  But I’m so glad that I read this terrific New Yorker piece on the rise of Hindu nationalism, Modi, and the backslide of democracy.  Powerful stuff.

A feeling of despair has settled in among many Indians who remain committed to the secular, inclusive vision of the country’s founders. “Gandhi and Nehru were great, historic figures, but I think they were an aberration,” Prasad, the former Outlook editor, told me. “It’s very different now. The institutions have crumbled—universities, investigative agencies, the courts, the media, the administrative agencies, public services. And I think there is no rational answer for what has happened, except that we pretended to be what we were for fifty, sixty years. But we are now reverting to what we always wanted to be, which is to pummel minorities, to push them into a corner, to show them their places, to conquer Kashmir, to ruin the media, and to make corporations servants of the state. And all of this under a heavy resurgence of Hinduism. India is becoming the country it has always wanted to be.”

2) Good stuff in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the decline of reading.  As I was at it, I kicked my kids off the computer to tell them to read.  I need to do that more.

3) Finland has got this capitalism with robust social welfare protections thing very well figured out.  Nice Op-Ed in the NYT:

We’ve now been living in Finland for more than a year. The difference between our lives here and in the States has been tremendous, but perhaps not in the way many Americans might imagine. What we’ve experienced is an increase in personal freedom. Our lives are just much more manageable. To be sure, our days are still full of challenges — raising a child, helping elderly parents, juggling the demands of daily logistics and work.

But in Finland, we are automatically covered, no matter what, by taxpayer-funded universal health care that equals the United States’ in quality (despite the misleading claims you hear to the contrary), all without piles of confusing paperwork or haggling over huge bills. Our child attends a fabulous, highly professional and ethnically diverse public day-care center that amazes us with its enrichment activities and professionalism.The price? About $300 a month — the maximum for public day care, because in Finland day-care fees are subsidized for all families.

And if we stay here, our daughter will be able to attend one of the world’s best K-12 education systems at no cost to us, regardless of the neighborhood we live in. College would also be tuition free. If we have another child, we will automatically get paid parental leave, funded largely through taxes, for nearly a year, which can be shared between parents. Annual paid vacations here of four, five or even six weeks are also the norm.

Compared with our life in the United States, this is fantastic. Nevertheless, to many people in America, the Finnish system may still conjure impressions of dysfunction and authoritarianism. Yet Finnish citizens report extraordinarily high levels of life satisfaction; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked them highest in the world, followed by Norwegians, Danes, Swiss and Icelanders. This year, the World Happiness Report also announced Finland to be the happiest country on earth, for the second year in a row.

But surely, many in the United States will conclude, Finnish citizens and businesses must be paying a steep price in lost freedoms, opportunity and wealth. Yes, Finland faces its own economic challenges, and Finns are notorious complainers whenever anything goes wrong. But under its current system, Finland has become one of the world’s wealthiest societies, and like the other Nordic countries, it is home to many hugely successful global companies…

In fact, a recent report by the chairman of market and investment strategy for J.P. Morgan Asset Management came to a surprising conclusion: The Nordic region is not only “just as business-friendly as the U.S.” but also better on key free-market indexes, including greater protection of private property, less impact on competition from government controls and more openness to trade and capital flows. According to the World Bank, doing business in Denmark and Norway is actually easier overall than it is in the United States.

Short version: a way better/happier capitalism is not at all at odds with the social welfare spending that makes life better.  It is just at odds with a Republican ideology of tax cuts for rich people as the sine qua non.

4) Really interesting Columbia Journalism Review feature on how to think about political information.  It is far more like pollution that we need to address pervasively and systematically than by a just replying with facts and truth.

5) Great twitter thread from Michael Herriot in response to Nikki Haley’s absurd defense of the Confederate flag.

6) Really enjoyed this Vox interview with former GOP Congressman David Jolly about impeachment.  Very thoughtful guy– enjoyed meeting him at an NCSU event last year.

Sean Illing

It seems like the only way to flourish in a party defined by Trump, and propped up by conservative media, is to do what Jordan or Nunes or Stefanik are doing. And because of conservative media and what Trumpism has unleashed in the base, the dynamics won’t change that much after Trump leaves office.

David Jolly

I think this is what the party is. I don’t think we will see a reversal the day Trump leaves office. I’m curious who follows Trump because the politics aren’t going to change so dramatically. I don’t think it’s Mike Pence’s party when Trump’s gone. Anyone who wants to win in this party will have to appease the Trumpist base one way or the other.

And this whole impeachment saga is showing us that it’s not just Trump and Trumpism, it’s also Congress. I mean, Republicans in Congress right now are tearing at the fabric of the Constitution every bit as much as Donald Trump’s actions, because this is now their responsibility. It’s not their responsibility to defend Trump, but that’s what they’re prioritizing. And they’re undermining the institution of Congress every bit as much as Trump.

7) I was really intrigued to learn about how electric cars are much less efficient in cold weather.  Physics!

8) This was really cool (and fun to watch), “The ant-bite video that changed my approach to science communication.”

9) Been hearing multiple really good interviews with the Fusion GPS guys.  Good column from Michele Goldberg on how all roads lead to Russia, “Collusion wasn’t a hoax and Trump wasn’t exonerated.”

The second big lie is that Russia didn’t help elect Trump, and that the president has been absolved of collusion. It’s true that the report by Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, did not find enough evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russian state actors. But the Mueller report found abundant evidence that the campaign sought Russian help, benefited from that help and obstructed the F.B.I. investigation into Russian actions. His investigation resulted in felony convictions for Trump’s former campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, personal lawyer, first national security adviser, and longtime political adviser, among others.

Had public life in America not been completely deformed by blizzards of official lies, right-wing propaganda and the immovable wall of Republican bad faith, the Mueller report would have ended Trump’s minoritarian presidency. Instead, something utterly perverse happened. Democrats, deflated by the Mueller report’s anticlimactic rollout, decided to move on rather than keep the focus on Trump’s world-historic treachery. Republicans, meanwhile, started screaming about a “Russia hoax” ostensibly perpetrated on their dear leader. Among them was the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, who in 2016 was surreptitiously recorded telling his congressional colleagues that he thinks President Vladimir Putin of Russia pays Trump. “Swear to God,” he said at the time…

Because Republicans have been so successful in shrouding the origins of the Russia investigation in a miasma of misinformation, I hope some talented filmmaker makes a movie out of the new book by Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, “Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump.” Simpson and Fritsch are the co-founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that investigated Trump during the 2016 campaign, first for the conservative Washington Free Beacon, and then for a lawyer for the Hillary Clinton campaign. It was Fusion GPS that hired the British ex-spy Christopher Steele to look into Trump’s Russia connections, and it sits at the center of countless pro-Trump conspiracy theories. When Republicans controlled the House, Fritsch told me on Monday, “The only bank records that were subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee were ours.”

“Crime in Progress” is the best procedural yet written about the discovery of Trump’s Russia ties. It demolishes a number of right-wing talking points, including the claim that the Steele dossier formed the basis of the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence inquiry into Trump. (The Justice Department inspector general’s report on the origins of the Russia investigation will reportedly disprove this canard once and for all.) But it also makes plain what many Republicans knew before the 2016 election, even if they’ve now pretended to forget it. For years, Trump was financially entangled with organized crime as well as with Kremlin-friendly oligarchs, and by keeping those entanglements secret, he gave Putin leverage over him from the moment he took office.

Write Simpson and Fritsch, “In the end, the Mueller probe sidestepped the question that so unnerved Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele in the summer of 2016: Was the president of the United States under the influence of a foreign adversary?” Republicans have used all the power at their command to defame people who’ve asked this question. Perhaps that’s because otherwise they’d have to take seriously all the evidence that the answer is yes.

10) Our criminal “justice” system is so corrupted.  “Prison Guards Forced an 8-Year-Old Girl To Strip Before She Could Visit Her Father.”  Seriously, just how bad is the institutional rot for anybody to think this is okay.

11) And in depressing education news, the latest PISA scores,  “‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts: An international exam shows that American 15-year-olds are stagnant in reading and math even though the country has spent billions to close gaps with the rest of the world.”

12) Pain, it’s all in your head.  Kind of.  “If ‘Pain Is an Opinion,’ There Are Ways to Change Your Mind
All pain is real, but it’s also true that it’s “made by the brain” and that we can exert some control over it.”  Austin Frakt:

One thing we tend to believe about pain, but is wrong, is that it always stems from a single, fixable source. Another is that pain is communicated from that source to our brains by “pain nerves.” That’s so wrong it’s called “the naïve view” by neuroscientists.

In truth, pain is in our brain. Or as the author and University of California, San Diego, neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran put it, “Pain is an opinion.” We feel it because of how our brain interprets input transmitted to it from all our senses, not necessarily because of the inherent properties of the input itself. There are no nerves dedicated to sensing and transmitting pain…

ccording to his work and that of others, the degree of pain is not a reliable indicator of the severity of injury. And sometimes there is pain without any tissue damage at all.

An extreme example came from a 1995 report in the British Medical Journal. A builder jumped onto a nearly six-inch nail, which penetrated his boot’s sole, the tip visibly protruding from its top. To relieve his excruciating pain, doctors administered fentanyl and a sedative. But, when they removed the boot, the doctors discovered that the nail had passed between his toes, leaving his foot unharmed. There are many studies that find that the fear or catastrophizing of pain contributes to a greater feeling of pain.

13) I am totally for comprehensive sex education for teens that teaches extensively about contraception, consent, healthy sexual behaviors, etc., but I do think the California program may go too far.

14) You know I am fascinated by all things apple (the fruit, that is).  Lots of good stuff here about how changing farming practices and global warming are affecting apple harvests, but I was most intrigued about how apples are actually grown now:

Many modern commercial apple trees are planted in what’s called a high density trellis system. They top out at about six to eight feet and are narrow, like a sapling. Yet, fertilizers can push this waifish modern tree to grow about 50 full-size apples, compared to as many as 300 or so on the old-style trees. But instead of some 300 trees to an acre spaced about 10 feet apart, trees are planted 18 to 24 inches apart and there are 1,500 or so trees to an acre.

The trellis-style orchard increases product and profit. Many more premium apples are produced in the new-style orchard, some experts say. A few decades ago, apple growers harvested 200 to 300 bushels of apples to the acre and about 25 bushels were the highest grade. The goal now is 2,000 bushels an acre of premium apples, Dr. Cox said.

15) I did not know that about 700 million years ago, earth was basically a giant snowball.

An artist’s concept of the Earth frozen in snow, during one of the planet’s most severe ice ages.

Credit…Chris Butler/Science Source

16) Good work from Sides and Vavreck on the lack of ideological lanes among the primary electorate:

To many observers, the Democratic presidential primary has highlighted the “profound ideological divides between the Democratic Party’s moderate and progressive wings,” as an Associated Press article put it — two wings locked in a bitter fight for control. The division supposedly shapes the race in profound ways. The New York Times has written that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg “are running in different ideological lanes,” for instance, and suggested that if voters sour on former vice president Joe Biden, they would mostly turn to Buttigieg, a fellow moderate.

Perhaps that’s how Democratic leaders and activists see the primary. But there’s just one problem: Someone forgot to tell Democratic voters.

In a large-scale project called Nationscape that we’re conducting with our colleague Chris Tausanovitch at the University of California at Los Angeles, we have queried more than 6,000 voters weekly since July. Using these data, we find a surprising amount of agreement among Democrats on major policy issues. Contradicting the conventional wisdom, clearly defined ideological “lanes” don’t seem to exist in the minds of most voters…

In general, voters appear to be focused not on “lanes” but on the candidates who are getting news coverage and who thus appear viable contenders for the nomination. So when asked their second choice, supporters of each front-runner — Biden, Warren or Sanders — default to other front-runners, ideology aside…

The tendency to overstate the ideological differences among supporters of Democratic candidates is not new. It happened in the 2016 Democratic primary — as we showed in our book “Identity Crisis.” Although Sanders supporters were more likely than Clinton supporters to describe themselves as liberal, the two groups didn’t differ that much on key issues, including raising the minimum wage, increasing taxes on the wealthy and whether the government should do more to provide health care and child care.

17) Police in Miami shoot a hostage and innocent bystander while using civilian automobiles for cover.  Some people shoot end up in prison for this.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I don’t know that we should abolish, ICE, but damn is that one problematic government bureaucracy.  “How a worker who survived a catastrophic building collapse ended up in ICE detention: Delmer Palma’s looming deportation has had a chilling effect in New Orleans, hampering a federal investigation of the Hard Rock site disaster, lawyers say.”

Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma was in bad shape.

The 38-year-old metal worker survived the collapse of a building he had been working on near the French Quarter in New Orleans, jumping between floors as the 18-story structure crumbled around him. But he suffered from headaches, extreme back pain, sleeplessness and signs of shock, his family says.

Doctors said he needed to take a few weeks to heal.

So his wife, Tania Bueso, was surprised when he called her and said federal immigration agents were arresting him for deportation. The collapse had occurred just two days before.

The spectacular wreck had brought a circus of unwanted attention to New Orleans. Three workers had died, dozens of others were injured, and speculation was growing that the site, an $85 million development slated to become a Hard Rock hotel, had been a mess of dangerous working conditions. A federal investigation was moving quickly. Lawsuits against the developers were piling up. (William Kearney, a spokesman for 1031 Canal Development, the LLC behind the development, did not respond to requests for comment.)

But Palma’s arrest sent a secondary shock wave through New Orleans, where the Latino population has more than doubled in the past 20 years. Activists and lawyers said they think it has had a chilling effect, discouraging workers without permanent legal status from coming forward to cooperate with investigators and reminding more of the federal government’s power to deport them at any moment.

This is one of the unseen consequences of the Trump administration’s aggressive crackdown on undocumented immigrants in the United States — 8 million of whom are in the workforce. Not only do these arrests break apart families, like Palma’s, but they send a message that immigrants are not protected, even if they have witnessed misconduct at work, advocates say. And that means that people who would exploit them — on construction sites, in kitchens, on farms and in factories — are more empowered.

2) Adam Serwer, always good on Trump:

All of these arguments, ranging from the weak to the false, obscure the core reason for the impeachment inquiry, which is that the Trump administration was engaged in a conspiracy against American democracy. Fearing that the 2016 election was a fluke in which Trump prevailed only because of a successful Russian hacking and disinformation campaign, and a last-minute intervention on Trump’s behalf by the very national-security state Trump defenders supposedly loathe, Trump and his advisers sought to rig the 2020 election by forcing a foreign country to implicate the then-Democratic front-runner in a crime that did not take place. If the American people could not be trusted to choose Trump on their own, Trump would use his official powers to make the choice for them.

It was, in short, a conspiracy by Trump and his advisers to keep themselves in power, the exact scenario for which the Framers of the Constitution devised the impeachment clause. This scheme was carried out by Trump-appointed officials, and by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, running a corrupt back channel aimed at, in his words, “meddling in an investigation.” And it came very close to succeeding. As Brian Beutler writes, “Had the whole scheme not come to light in a whistleblower complaint, and Trump not released his hold on aid to Ukraine, we might have awaken [sic] one morning to a blaring CNN exclusive about international corruption allegations against the Democratic presidential frontrunner and his party.”

3) Book review of The Meritocracy Trap

On the surface, meritocracy seems fair, but in reality, Markovits writes, what we call merit is “a pretense, constructed to rationalize an unjust distribution of advantage.” If you know what you’re doing and if you have enough money to spend on expensive tutors and prep schools, the meritocracy is easily gamed — which basically ensures that people who are rich because they went to a fancy school will have kids who will also go to fancy schools and thus also become rich. In this way and over the years, meritocracy has become the opposite of what it purports to be: It is “a mechanism for the concentration and dynastic transmission of wealth, privilege and caste across generations.”

The results are ugly but undeniable. At two Ivy League colleges, the author tells us, data collected by students suggests that “the share of students from households in the top quintile of the income distribution exceeds the share from the bottom two quintiles combined by a ratio of about three and a half to one.” At other elite schools, “more students come from families in the top 1 percent of the income distribution than from the entire bottom half.”…

The middle class, broadly defined, is of course an outcast in the meritocracy, left behind in what Markovits calls “a stagnant, depleted and shrinking world.” Once, perhaps, America’s elite professional class served the general public, but today its members figure out how to replace local bankers through mortgage securitization and come up with clever ways to de-skill retail supply chains. With just about every recent meritocratic “innovation” Markovits studies, the winners turn out to be — surprise! — people already at the top of the meritocratic heap.

4) Great story on the hidden costs of medical school for low-income students was really good.  We need to to better:

David Velasquez learned his first clinical lesson early on: The health care system wasn’t made to care for people like him. Mr. Velasquez, 24, never had a primary care physician, because his parents, immigrants from Nicaragua, couldn’t afford the bills. When he was 12, his undocumented godmother died of cancer, having avoided hospitals until it was too late. Mr. Velasquez, the only college-bound member of his family, knew he needed to become a doctor.

When he registered for the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, his junior year, he called the Princeton Review to ask for a discount on a $1,200 preparation package. He felt that, coming from a poor Los Angeles community without connections, he would need an especially strong test score to compete for admission.

“I thought maybe they’d hear I was desperate and put me on a payment plan,” said Mr. Velasquez, now in his third year at Harvard Medical School. The company refused his pleas for a discount, so he worked overtime to scrounge up the money. After purchasing the package, he checked his bank account to see what remained: $4.80.

American medical schools are the training grounds for a white-collar, high-income industry, but they select their students from predominantly high-income, and typically white, households. Ten years ago, a national study found that over 75 percent of medical school students came from the top 40 percent of family income in the United States, representing an annual income above $75,000. A study last year from the Association of American Medical Colleges re-examined medical school demographics and found that the numbers had barely budged. Between 1988 and 2017, more than three-quarters of American medical school students came from affluent households.

5) Interesting new research, “The Key to a Long Life Has Little to Do With ‘Good Genes’”

In 2015, the companies inked a research partnership to investigate the human heredity of lifespan, with Ruby leading the charge to sift through Ancestry’s vast forest of family trees. What he found by analyzing the pedigrees of more than 400 million people who lived and died in Europe and America going back to 1800 was that although longevity tends to run in families, your DNA has far less influence on how long you live than previously thought. The results, published Tuesday in the journal Genetics, is the first research to be made public from the collaboration, which ended quietly in July and whose terms remain confidential.

“The true heritability of human longevity for that cohort is likely no more than seven percent,” says Ruby. Previous estimates for how much genes explain variations in lifespan have ranged from around 15 to 30 percent. So what did Ruby uncover that previous studies had missed? Just how often amorous humans go against the old adage that “opposites attract.”

It turns out that through every generation, people are much more likely to select mates with similar lifespans than random chance would predict. The phenomenon, called “assortative mating,” could be based on genetics, or sociocultural traits, or both. For example, you might choose a partner who also has curly hair, and if the curly-haired trait winds up being somehow associated with long lifespans, this would inflate estimates of lifespan heritability passed on to your kids. Same thing for non-genetic traits like wealth, education, and access to good health care. People tend to choose partners in their same income bracket with the same terminal degree, both of which are associated with living longer, healthier lives…

But when Ruby looked at in-laws, things started to get weird. Logic suggests you shouldn’t share significant chunks of DNA with your siblings’ spouse—say your brother’s wife or your sister’s husband. But in Ruby’s analysis, people connected through a close relative’s marriage were almost as likely to have similar lifespans as people connected through blood. “I sort of kick myself for being surprised by this,” says Ruby. “Even though no one has shown the impact of assortative mating to such an extent before, it aligns well with how we know human societies are structured.”

6) Thought-provoking essay on how our society has been slow to adapt to much longer lifespans, but I think it insufficiently addresses persistent realities of human biology.

It’s time to get serious about a major redesign of life. Thirty years were added to average life expectancy in the 20th century, and rather than imagine the scores of ways we could use these years to improve quality of life, we tacked them all on at the end. Only old age got longer.

As a result, most people are anxious about the prospect of living for a century. Asked about aspirations for living to 100, typical responses are “I hope I don’t outlive my money” or “I hope I don’t get dementia.” If we do not begin to envision what satisfying, engaged and meaningful century-long lives can look like, we will certainly fail to build worlds that can take us there.

In my view, the tension surrounding aging is due largely to the speed with which life expectancy increased. Each generation is born into a world prepared by its ancestors with knowledge, infrastructure and social norms. The human capacity to benefit from this inherited culture afforded us such extraordinary advantages that premature death was dramatically reduced in a matter of decades. Yet as longevity surged, culture didn’t keep up.

Long lives are not the problem. The problem is living in cultures designed for lives half as long as the ones we have.

Retirements that span four decades are unattainable for most individuals and governments; education that ends in the early 20s is ill-suited for longer working lives; and social norms that dictate intergenerational responsibilities between parents and young children fail to address families that include four or five living generations.

7) This is kind of perfect for fans of both The Terminator and GOT (like me):

8) Really, really good discussion between some really smart political scientists on the role of early primary states in choosing the nominee.  Short version: maybe their role is not all it’s cracked up to be.

9) Sean Trende argues that the party politics of the 1870’s have important lessons for us now.

10) I really think the idea of charging people with murder for sharing drugs with a fellow addict is truly appalling and speaks to how incredibly stupid we are about facing the problem of drug addiction.

We gathered along the banks of the Columbia River at sunset. In front of the assembled crowd, a volunteer read the names of more than 40 people in our Oregon community who had died from overdoses. Four of those names belonged to people I loved, including my mom and my best friend, Justin DeLong. I attended this vigil with Justin’s mother, Ember. She had watched us struggle with addiction throughout our young adulthood. Now she and I stood arm in arm. We lit candles and thought of Justin, who in 2014 fatally overdosed from heroin I had sold to him — an act that resulted in my conviction and imprisonment for five years.

Increasingly, prosecutors are treating accidental overdoses as homicides and charging the people who provided the drugs with manslaughter or murder. “Homicide-by-overdose” laws, which have been enacted by the federal government and 25 states, date back to the 1980s. Until recently, prosecutions were relatively rare. But they’ve soared over the past decade, with drastic year-over-year increases, according to researchers at the Northeastern University School of Law. In Minnesota, the New York Times found that they quadrupled.

These laws are growing in popularity and severity: In 2017 (the most recent year in which this data was collected), 13 states introduced bills to strengthen their drug-induced-homicide laws or create new ones, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Last year, Rhode Island passed a drug-induced-homicide law that allows for sentences of life without parole. In July, North Carolina passed a “death by distribution” law that treats an overdose as second-degree homicide and carries a sentence of up to 40 years. These are draconian punishments for low-level offenses — and there is no evidence that prosecutions deter drug use or sales.

Quick hits

1) Great stuff from Adam Serwer:

All of these arguments, ranging from the weak to the false, obscure the core reason for the impeachment inquiry, which is that the Trump administration was engaged in a conspiracy against American democracy. [emphasis mine] Fearing that the 2016 election was a fluke in which Trump prevailed only because of a successful Russian hacking and disinformation campaign, and a last-minute intervention on Trump’s behalf by the very national-security state Trump defenders supposedly loathe, Trump and his advisers sought to rig the 2020 election by forcing a foreign country to implicate the then-Democratic front-runner in a crime that did not take place. If the American people could not be trusted to choose Trump on their own, Trump would use his official powers to make the choice for them.

It was, in short, a conspiracy by Trump and his advisers to keep themselves in power, the exact scenario for which the Framers of the Constitution devised the impeachment clause. This scheme was carried out by Trump-appointed officials, and by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, running a corrupt back channel aimed at, in his words, “meddling in an investigation.” And it came very close to succeeding. As Brian Beutler writes, “Had the whole scheme not come to light in a whistleblower complaint, and Trump not released his hold on aid to Ukraine, we might have awaken [sic] one morning to a blaring CNN exclusive about international corruption allegations against the Democratic presidential frontrunner and his party.”

2) New Yorker’s Susan Glaser:

For hours afterward, Republicans on the panel dismissed Hill. Some of them yelled at her. Some of them refused to ask her any direct questions. Some made false equivalences between Russia’s massive state-sanctioned campaign in 2016 and Ukrainian expressions of dismay that Trump publicly backed the country with which they are at war and employed as his campaign chair a man who had worked for their ousted corrupt Russian-backed leader. Confronted after the hearing with Hill’s unequivocal statement that Ukraine had not interfered in the U.S. election, the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, a man who once mocked Trump for being in the pocket of Vladimir Putin, simply refused to accept it. “I think they did,” he told reporters. On Friday morning, Trump called into “Fox & Friends” and repeated the Russian conspiracy theory about Ukraine all over again on live TV.

The denial was telling. If Republicans were now willing to disavow a fact they had previously acknowledged, it seemed more and more apparent that they could not be swayed by any of the actual evidence against Trump. On Wednesday, Sondland told the committee that Trump had personally directed him to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to force Ukraine’s hand on the investigations, leveraging a White House meeting sought by Ukraine’s new President. “Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland testified. “The answer is yes.” But many committee Republicans simply twisted that statement around, repeating Trump’s misleading words to Sondland that there had been “no quid pro,” as if the President’s denial were the only proof needed of his innocence. As Thursday’s hearing wound down, Will Hurd, a retiring Texas representative who was once seen as a possible Republican vote for impeachment, used his questioning time not to engage with Hill but to announce that he saw “no evidence” of impeachable offenses. There was no one left to persuade, at least in the House of Representatives. It was a surprisingly definitive moment.

3) Had no idea college paper mills and plagiarism software were now in an odd symbiosis.

4) Great stuff from Norm Ornstein on the “fantasy world” of Democratic debates:

Yet while polls show that health care is a top priority for voters, and while the policy differences among the slew of Democratic presidential candidates are meaningful, the moderators posing highly specific questions about the issue at past debates have ignored something important: However coherent, complete, fiscally sustainable, or popular the positions the candidates are taking on health reform—and on other issues such as immigration, education, taxes, and more—presidents do not get to wave magic wands and make their policies happen. They are thrown into a governing process in which a president’s plan is almost never enacted into law fully, if it is enacted at all. The legislative process, in recent decades, has become even more toxic. But questions that press the candidates on how they would navigate through this environment—and what they would do to reduce its toxicity—have been conspicuously absent in every debate so far. [emphasis mine]

5) Terrific column from Krugman:

No, what we’re actually witnessing is a test of the depths to which the Republican Party will sink. How much corruption, how much collusion with foreign powers and betrayal of the national interest will that party’s elected representatives stand for?

And the result of that test seems increasingly clear: There is no bottom. The inquiry hasn’t found a smoking gun; it has found what amounts to a smoking battery of artillery. Yet almost no partisan Republicans have turned on Trump and his high-crimes-and-misdemeanors collaborators. Why not?

The answer gets to the heart of what’s wrong with modern American politics: The G.O.P. is now a thoroughly corrupt party. Trump is a symptom, not the disease, and our democracy will remain under dire threat even if and when he’s gone.

6) Really interesting stuff on male/female speech patterns and politics:

Women and men tend to have different speech patterns, linguists will tell you. Women, especially young women, tend to have more versatile intonation. They place more emphasis on certain words; they are playful with language and have shorter and thinner vocal cords, which produce a higher pitch. That isn’t absolute, nor is it necessarily a bad thing — unless, of course, you are a person with a higher pitch trying to present yourself with some kind of authority. This basic contradiction has kept speech coaches in business for decades…

In a course called “Sounding American,” at the University of California at Berkeley, Tom McEnaney, a professor of comparative literature and Portuguese and Spanish, teaches that there is in fact a sound that people associate with authority in this country — and, while it is constantly evolving, it has its roots in many things, one of which is early broadcast technology. Dating back to the phonograph, he said, engineers had created a device that was designed for the male voice — newscasters, presidents, public figures — to the extent that if a woman spoke into it, her voice would sound distorted, thin or scrambled.

“The mic wouldn’t pick up certain ranges of voice,” Professor McEnaney said. “If a woman wanted to speak and get her voice recorded, she had to produce more volume and more energy to make the same marks. She could try to speak lower, or she could shout. But she’d have to change her voice.”

Over time, that technology improved — but he thinks the deep-rooted association between female voices and sonic distortion leads to the seemingly strong (albeit frequently subconscious) reaction that many people have to the higher pitch.

“So there was a bias in the engineering. That bias in the engineering produced distortion, which was mistakenly associated with women’s voices, and then listeners, even after that correction, used that association as the justification for their ongoing prejudice against women’s voices,” Professor McEnaney said. “And those carry up to the present day.”

Indeed, a 2012 study published in PLoS ONE found that both men and women prefer male and female leaders who have lower-pitched voices, while a 2015 report in a journal called Political Psychology determined, in a sample of U.S. adults, that Americans prefer political candidates with lower voices as well.

7) Dana Milbank:

At its core, President Trump’s defense in these impeachment proceedings is not a dispute over the facts of the case, the credibility of the witnesses or the motives of Democrats.

It is a bid to discredit the truth itself.

The Ukraine escapade began, in large part, because Trump pursued a conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election to bring about his defeat, a false notion spread by Vladimir ­Putin and ultimately — with the help of Rudy Giuliani and others — embraced by the president himself.

But to defend Trump, a number of Republicans have concluded that they must establish that he had good reason to believe Ukraine was, in fact, out to get him. They must defend the Putin-planted conspiracy theory.

8) Catherine Rampell, as usual, is right, “Democrats already have a popular, progressive agenda. They just need to amplify it.”

Americans who watched the presidential primary debate this week might have learned something surprising: Despite GOP accusations of Bolshevism, nearly all the Democratic contenders share a pretty mainstream policy platform.

 In fact, as exemplified on Wednesday night, most of their core policy principles are quite popular among voters who identify as Democrats and voters who identify as Republicans.

Consider a few issues that came up during the debate.

For instance, we heard about how the candidates broadly agree on the need for paid family leave. They differ on precisely how many months of leave should be offered and how such a program should be financed. But, according to a Post questionnaire recently sent to each candidate, every single politician still in the race supports some amount of guaranteed paid leave.

This view is squarely within the political mainstream, as you might expect from a policy that already exists in some form in nearly every other country on Earth. In fact, 90 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans support paid maternity leave, according to a Pew Research Center survey. For paid paternity leave, the shares are 79 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

Democratic candidates also showed significant overlap on other popular policies as well, such as the need for a more progressive tax code.

Yes, they differ on exactly how to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, but basically all propose doing so. In espousing those ideas, they contrast sharply with their Republican politician counterparts, who advocate flatter tax rates and more cuts specifically for the rich. But in espousing these ideas, the Democratic candidates find common ground with Americans writ large, most of whom believe that both high-income people and corporations have not been paying their fair share.

9) This in Wired is quite interesting, “The 8-Hour Workday Is a Counterproductive Lie: What was once a socialist dream has become every knowledge worker’s nightmare. It’s time to unmake the modern myth of productivity.”

10) So sad and so true, “How the Collapse of Local News Is Causing a ‘National Crisis’
The loss of local news coverage in much of the United States has frayed communities and left many Americans woefully uninformed, according to a new report.”  Subscribe to your local newspaper, damnit!  Yes, I mean you.

11) I never did quite figure why people thought Nikki Haley was anything other than a typical moral compass-less Republican opportunist.  John Cassidy: “Nikki Haley embodies what’s wrong with the Republican Party.”

12) Trump’s most recent pardons of American war criminals are pretty damn appalling.  But, that’s only the 10th worst thing about Trump this week.

13) Good stuff from Robert Griffin in the Monkey Cage, “Who’s most electable? Don’t trust polls that match Democratic candidates against Trump.  They’re measuring who’s most well known, not who’s most likely to win.”

14) I get that Democrats are going with “bribery”‘ because that’s the term in the constitution.  But, what’s going on here is obviously blackmail/extortion.  Thus I appreciated Benjamin Wittes piece that explains that, in legal parlance, blackmail is bribery.

That said, the bribery statute offers a reasonable working definition of what it means to bribe a public official: “Whoever … directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official … to influence any official act” has committed the offense.

What’s more, the statute also offers a reasonable working definition of what it means for a public official to demand a bribe: “Whoever … being a public official … directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally … in return for … being influenced in the performance of any official act” also has committed the offense.

15) More exercise ==> less depression.

16) A student informed this week that Joe Biden is the “architect of the war on drugs.”  Whoa.  Somehow I missed that.  No doubt, he was absolutely prominent among Democrats who pushed for and helped pass tougher drug policies.  But architect?  Please.  I guess if you consider, like this article I presume my student read, that even co-sponsoring a bill is being an “architect” than sure.

17) I really wish the ACLU would go back to ensuring free speech and fighting against unjust and unfair mass incarceration policies.

18) Really interesting idea for saving the rhino… flood the market for rhino horns with really good fake horns.  Probably wouldn’t work, but, lots of interesting stuff to think about here.

19) Given that Soledad O’Brien is about the best media critic this side of Jay Rosen, now, really enjoyed reading this, “How Soledad O’Brien Became CNN and the Mainstream Media’s Most Outspoken Critic.”

20) And, another way of re-thinking how we structure our time, “Our Schools Can’t Solve the Problems of Our Rigid Workweek: Parents need better options for after-school care, but longer school days may not be the answer.”

21) Novelty is over-rated.  Really, science says so.  And I agree when I am eating a lunch of pepperoni pizza and drinking Diet Dr Pepper for the 4th or 5th time in a given week.

Counter to previous research, Mr. O’Brien found that across the board, repeat experiences were far more enjoyable than participants predicted.

“Doing something once may engender an inflated sense that one has now seen ‘it,’ leaving people naïve to the missed nuances remaining to enjoy,” he wrote in the study.

In other words: You’re far more likely to enjoy something the second time around than you think.

Given that participants experienced the exact situation they imagined repeating, their predictions should’ve been relatively accurate, Mr. O’Brien explains. In reality, participants who repeated experiences found the second time around just as enjoyable as the first.

“Novel experiences are definitely great for enjoyment, and our studies don’t go against this idea,” he said. “In many cases, the novel option is better. But what our studies emphasize is that repeat options also might have high hedonic value and might also come with less costs to acquire than a purely novel option, and people might sometimes overlook this.”

22) Yes, recent gubernatorial elections can be somewhat telling.  But these elections really are different, “Why Governors Are the Only Candidates Voters Will Break Party Ranks to Support
Unlike other federal and state offices, there’s still ‘wiggle room’ for ticket-splitting in contests for governor. Tuesday’s result in Kentucky means there will be a dozen governors whose party lost the last presidential election in their state.”

23) Blues Clues is coming back!  This brings back very happy memories of early parenthood.  When my oldest (hi, David) was a toddler he was tough.  But the one thing that could get him to just be calm for a while?  Blues Clues.  Hooray for Steve.  Also, loved the chapter on it in Gladwell’s Tipping Point, way back when.

Marijuana will be fully legal before long

There’s really only so long older Republicans can push back against a tide of public opinion that looks like this– the latest from Pew:

And, you break it down by party and generation.  And, it really is pretty much just older Republicans still opposed:

Republicans in Silent Generation least likely to favor legalizing marijuana use

Finally, what I found noteworthy, is the strong support for “recreational” use.  A lot of polling doesn’t necessarily break this out, just reporting topline “make legal” numbers, but support for recreational use has actually been well under 50% for most all this time.  Not anymore:

Now, there are real potential harms from marijuana, so we should actually try and be smart about how we legalize it (hey, I’ve got an idea, learn from the laboratory of federalism), but it’s hard to look at public opinion data like this and think anything other than that marijuana will be widely legal before all that long.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Really loved this on how police need to rethink going to their gun as a first reaction when confronted with a knife.  Shared it with a former student currently in a police academy and he really liked it, too.

Few things are more harrowing than watching a video of a police officer confront a person in emotional crisis armed with a knife or other similar object. The officer almost always points a gun at that person and yells, “Drop it!” If staring down the barrel of a gun isn’t enough to give a person pause, yelling at him or her is unlikely to make a difference.

If that person advances on the police officer, gunfire often results. Each year, American police officers shoot and kill well over 125 people armed with knives, many of them in this manner.

The public has grown impatient with seeing the same approach produce a predictably tragic result. In response, Chuck Wexler, the director of the Police Executive Research Forum, has released a guide to reducing the frequency of such incidents. At a national conference for chiefs of police in Chicago recently, he showed three videos to drive the point home: desperate people with knives met by officers who pointed guns and yelled in return.

In each case, the person grew more distressed, advanced out of a desire to be shot and was shot. Everyone suffers when this happens: the person in crisis who gets shot and may well die; the officer who will experience lifelong trauma and doubt, and his or her family and loved ones; and a community that feels it failed to help a person in need.

One of the problems is that we teach our police officers to lead with the gun. We tell officers that a knife or a shard of glass is always a lethal threat and that they should aggressively meet it with a lethal threat in return. But doing so forecloses all of the better ways to communicate with a person in crisis. There are alternatives.

2) More great stuff from Frank Bruni:

The impeachment inquiry and the events that led to it tell many stories. One, obviously, is about the abuse of power. Another illuminates the foul mash of mendacity and paranoia at the core of Donald Trump.

But this week, as several longtime civil servants testify at the inquiry’s first public hearings, a third narrative demands notice, because it explains the entire tragedy of the Trump administration: the larger scandals, the lesser disgraces and the current moment of reckoning.

That story is the collision of a president who has absolutely no regard for professionalism and those who try to embody it, the battle between an arrogant, unscrupulous yahoo and his humble, principled opposites.

Right now the opposites have the microphone.

I mean William Taylor, America’s top diplomat in Ukraine, who is, tellingly, the first impeachment witness to testify on live television. Stephanie Grisham, the White House’s peerlessly nasty press secretary, has sought to discredit Taylor’s account of the pressure on Ukraine’s new president by saying that he belonged to a cabal of “radical unelected bureaucrats.”…

Trump’s disregard — no, contempt — for professionalism is in some ways an anagram of his aversion to norms, to tradition, to simple courtesy. Or at least these attitudes exist as a Venn diagram with enormous overlap. They’re hostile to any set of values that places personal glory below other ideals.

But Trump’s war on professionalism and professionals is also its own distinct theme in his business career, which is rife with cheating, and his political life, which is greased with lies.

3) Margaret Sullivan, “Media beware: Impeachment hearings will be the trickiest test of covering Trump”

4) My daughter is 8 so it won’t be that long until inevitable issues over how she dresses as a teenager.  Enjoyed this NYT Q&A on the matter:

So how do parents alert our daughter that her outfit might invite a response that she may not see coming and may not want? First, let’s pause for a moment over a common misstep: blurting out, “I can’t let you leave this house looking like a tramp.” Unable to fully understand what’s driving such comments, girls often take remarks like this personally and feel deeply hurt by the perceived critique of their developing body, emerging sexuality or effort to look sophisticated. Indeed, your uncertainty comes from the best possible place: empathic awareness of how an unguarded reaction to her outfit might leave her feeling self-conscious or ashamed.

The same reflex can be channeled more usefully by saying, “I know that you’re wearing what a lot of girls wear these days, but I’m struggling a bit. This style that looks cute to you and your friends can have a pretty sexualized meaning to others. Clothing sends a message and you want to be aware of the messages you’re sending.”

4) Love this headline (and great story on changing cultural conceptions of motherhood, “Early Motherhood Has Always Been Miserable”

5) Really good stuff from Yglesias on the importance of weighting for education in state polls.  See a state poll that looks really good for Democrats?  They probably didn’t weight for education:

There’s nothing wrong with weighting your sample based on race, age, and sex to match the demographics of the state. That’s standard practice in the industry. The problem is what the poll didn’t weight on — educational attainment. Many state-level polls omitted this factor in 2016, leading them to underestimate Trump’s strength in key swing states. The most responsible pollsters responded to 2016 by making sure to improve their weighting. But many pollsters — especially those doing state-level polling — continue not to weight by education.

This failure to weight not only leads to errors (which could be compensated for by averaging), it leads to systematic bias against Trump and the GOP, meaning everyone who publishes or disseminates unweighted polls ends up contributing to misinformation about the real state of American politics…

For somewhat mysterious reasons, a huge gap has opened up in the demographics of who is willing to answer pollsters’ questions with better-educated people much more likely to take surveys. At the same time, the partisan affiliation of white voters has come to be sharply stratified along the lines of educational attainment. These two facts in combination mean that any state poll that does not explicitly weight by education ends up over-counting college graduates and thus over-counting Democrats…

Given that failure to weight by education leads to very predictable problems, it’s unfortunate that so many outlets don’t do it.

One reason may simply be apathy — all else being equal, it’s easier not to change procedures. Another reason is that precisely because non-college people are less likely to answer pollsters, it’s annoying and expensive to get enough of them in your sample to have a reliable survey. Since response rates are falling in general, thus bringing up costs, there’s an understandable reluctance to change methodologies in ways that raise costs even more.

Last but by no means least, the reality is that the people doing this kind of polling have only weak incentives to actually get things right. Unfortunately, bad polling can have a significant impact on the real world.

6) A Vox cartoon to summarize the relationship between empathy and politics.  The key is not having or lacking empathy, but in who we think deserves our empathy.

7) Chait on how Repubicans have embraced the Sideshow Bob defense.  I haven’t watched the Simpsons in literally decades, but the Sideshow Bob episodes in the earlier days were great stuff. Chait:

The Wall Street Journal editorial page seizes on Trump’s inability to fully carry off his extortion scheme as reason to let him off. “Many people in the Administration opposed the Giuliani effort, including some in senior positions at the White House,” it argues. “This matters because it may turn out that while Mr. Trump wanted a quid-pro-quo policy ultimatum toward Ukraine, he was too inept to execute it. Impeachment for incompetence would disqualify most of the government, and most Presidents at some point or another in office.”

Some Republican officials have echoed this defense. “Name me one thing that Ukraine did to release the money. Nothing,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, “To have a quid pro quo, you have to exchange, both sides, for another thing.” Representative John Ratcliffe says, “You can’t have a quid pro quo with no quo.”

This is the defense originally made famous by Sideshow Bob: “Attempted murder,” now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize for “attempted chemistry”?

There are two problems here. First, Trump used not one but two points of diplomatic leverage: He withheld both military aid and a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky, which the latter hoped would serve as a signal of support to Russia. The meeting still has not taken place.

It is true that, after Trump’s extortion scheme was exposed, despite his attempt to cover it up, he had to release the aid. But contrary to Sideshow Bob, attempting to commit a crime — whether murder, bribery, or other things — is still very much a crime.

8) I’m super-intrigued by this Economist article, but now they don’t let you read their articles in Incognito mode anymore.  “Why Obama-Trump swing voters like heavy metal: Americans’ musical tastes mirror their political divides.”

9) As scientific concepts go, I do find the idea of ultra-black, really cool:

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — On a laboratory bench at the National Institute of Standards and Technology was a square tray with two black disks inside, each about the width of the top of a Dixie cup. Both disks were undeniably black, yet they didn’t look quite the same.

Solomon Woods, 49, a trim, dark-haired, soft-spoken physicist, was about to demonstrate how different they were, and how serenely voracious a black could be.

“The human eye is extraordinarily sensitive to light,” Dr. Woods said. Throw a few dozen photons its way, a few dozen quantum-sized packets of light, and the eye can readily track them.

Dr. Woods pulled a laser pointer from his pocket. “This pointer,” he said, “puts out 100 trillion photons per second.” He switched on the laser and began slowly sweeping its bright beam across the surface of the tray.

On hitting the white background, the light bounced back almost unimpeded, as rude as a glaring headlight in a rearview mirror.

The beam moved to the first black disk, a rondel of engineered carbon now more than a decade old. The light dimmed significantly, as a sizable tranche of the incident photons were absorbed by the black pigment, yet the glow remained surprisingly strong.

Finally Dr. Woods trained his pointer on the second black disk, and suddenly the laser’s brilliant beam, its brash photonic probe, simply — disappeared. Trillions of light particles were striking the black disk, and virtually none were winking back up again. It was like watching a circus performer swallow a sword, or a husband “share” your plate of French fries: Hey, where did it all go?

N.I.S.T. disk number two was an example of advanced ultra-black technology: elaborately engineered arrays of tiny carbon cylinders, or nanotubes, designed to capture and muzzle any light they encounter. Blacker is the new black, and researchers here and abroad are working to create ever more efficient light traps, which means fabricating materials that look ever darker, ever flatter, ever more ripped from the void.

The N.I.S.T. ultra-black absorbs at least 99.99 percent of the light that stumbles into its nanotube forest. But scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported in September the creation of a carbon nanotube coating that they claim captures better than 99.995 of the incident light.

10) This is really good from Nate Cohn, “Five Polling Results That May Change the Way You Think About Electability.”  A few of them include:

11) Interesting take from Peter Beinart, “When the Staff Can’t Tell the Candidate What’s Wrong: Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton differ in many ways. But beneath each candidate’s marquee scandal lies the same core defect: insularity.”

The reasons Clinton’s aides didn’t challenge her private-email use may not be the same as the reasons Biden’s aides didn’t challenge him over Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma. There’s no suggestion in the reporting that Clinton’s staff feared her anger or viewed her as too brittle to hear upsetting news. But Clinton watchers have long noted her habit of walling herself off from contrary points of view. In his 2007 biography, A Woman in Charge, Carl Bernstein quotes Mark Fabiani, who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House, as suggesting that “the kind of people that were around her were yes people. She had never surrounded herself with people who could stand up to her, who were of a different mind.” In her 2007 book, For Love of Politics: Inside the Clinton White House, Sally Bedell Smith notes, “Her subordinates were all true believers, so she seldom heard a dissenting view.”

One possibility is that Biden’s and Clinton’s stature—as older, long-serving, world-famous politicians—left their younger aides too intimidated to challenge them on sensitive topics. In June, an unnamed Biden campaign staffer complained to the Washington Examiner that, as the publication put it, the former vice president “lacks senior figures inside his campaign who have the authority to tell him what to do.”

This insularity doesn’t make Biden and Clinton corrupt or criminal. But each has paid a heavy political price for failing to create a culture where aides could challenge their blind spots. And while Republicans have inflated that price by exaggerating how dastardly the email and Burisma scandals are, nonpartisan career government officials found them disturbing enough.

Biden’s staffers have spent recent months berating journalists for digging into the Burisma story. That’s a mistake. His aides don’t need to prove that they can stand up to the press. They need to prove that they can stand up to their boss.

12) NYT Editorial gets it right, “Banning E-Cigarettes Could Do More Harm Than Good.”

Because these black market products are a leading suspect in the lung-injury outbreak, product bans are more likely to exacerbate this crisis than to mitigate it.

The better, if more complicated, option would be to build a public health system that’s strong enough to combat all nicotine addiction in the long term. That, in turn, could help drive a cultural shift for e-cigarettes akin to the shift that took place for traditional cigarettes. Policy changes and growing public awareness — not product bans — helped turn what was considered a chic, stress-relieving diet tool into what is now more commonly viewed as a smelly, overpriced cancer stick.

With sustained and careful investment, e-cigarettes might become nothing more than a harm-reduction option for adult smokers — no more appealing to teenagers than a nicotine patch or a piece of nicotine gum. Here are some ideas for making that vision a reality…

Learn from Britain. So far, the country has managed to make e-cigarettes available for adults who want to quit using regular cigarettes without triggering an epidemic of nicotine dependence among its youth. Public health experts say at least part of that success is due to the way these products are regulated in Britain. Packaging and advertising are tightly restricted — no bright, colorful labels or kid-friendly media campaigns allowed. And the nicotine content is capped. In America, where there are no such limits, e-cigarettes often contain more than twice as much nicotine as they do in Britain and are still being sold in ways designed to appeal to young children.

13) Pretty sure I’ve been ranting about the stupidity of the extreme focus on the Iowa Caucus for as long as I’ve been teaching.  Just maybe Democrats will change that, “Why Almost Nobody Will Defend the Iowa Caucuses: As leading Democrats fight for ballot access, voting rights and diverse representation, their marquee presidential contest is hard to participate in and takes place in a state that is 90 percent white.”

After touching off the latest round of Iowa pearl-clutching with a vigorous denunciation, Mr. Castro has continued to speak out against the primary schedule. It has become one of the few avenues for his struggling campaign to receive attention.

“We can’t as a Democratic Party continually and justifiably complain about Republicans who suppress the votes of people of color and then turn around and start our nominating contest in two states that, even though they take their role seriously, hardly have any people of color,” he said.

14) Drum, “What Happens When the Republican Bubble Bursts?”

I think this [the inevitable demographic tide against the Republicans and their fear of losing power] is pretty much true, and that it explains the seeming terror that has taken hold of so many conservatives. It explains why Mitch McConnell doesn’t care much about legislation of any kind but grimly continues to confirm federal judges: it’s his only bulwark against a future in which Republicans lose power completely for a decade or two. It explains why a formerly mainstream party not only voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries, but voted overwhelmingly for him even though they had a perfectly normal field of competitors to choose from. It explains a multi-decade effort at voter suppression that has consumed the party even though it’s unlikely to put off the inevitable by more than a year or three.

In 2012 I thought that the Republican Party had gone as far as it could to get votes from the white working class. There was just no more blood to be squeezed from that particular turnip. But I was wrong—barely. In 2016 they did what no one could have predicted by nominating a guy who was an all but open racist. And it worked, buying them just a few more votes than it lost them. Once again, they gained a few years.

But it can’t last forever. The Republican Party has already gone much further down the road of lashing itself to the cause of white racial resentment than I would have guessed possible. How much longer can it last? Like most bubbles, longer than you think. But someday the bubble will burst. The big question is, what will happen next?

15) Nothing says America like a plane crash during a gender reveal.

16) One of my socialist students was disappointed in me for sharing “propaganda” about Bolivia, but I always enjoy reading Yashca Mounk on democracy.

17) I also learned from my students this week that reference to “spirit animals” is culture appropriation (and “extremely harmful“).  Apparently I would’ve known that if I spent time on the right parts of woke twitter.

18) And, on a happy note, by kids introduced me to this video last night.  I love it!

Quick hits (part I)

1) Stupid and petty sum up so much of the Trump administration.  In this case, what they’ve done to the USDA, “The White House didn’t like my agency’s research. So it sent us to Missouri.: The administration claimed the move would cut costs. Now, two-thirds of our desks sit empty.”

I joined the Economic Research Service (ERS) in 2016. I wanted to use my academic training to do something in the public interest — I didn’t really expect to get involved in agriculture. Then I got absorbed in the subject: Humanity’s dependence on the environment is made explicit through our food systems; without the right combination of weather, soil and labor, nobody eats.

Most people don’t need to think frequently, or ever, about the economics of honeybee pollination routes or the cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program. But if they eat almonds (which are pollinated by bees) or pay taxes (which subsidize farm insurance), they need experts to make sure that food systems work efficiently and public funds are spent effectively. At ERS, we studied all aspects of food production, occupying an obscure but important niche: Many of our research topics wouldn’t make for an exciting academic tenure file, but had huge implications for policy.

Out of the blue, in August 2018, agriculture secretary George “Sonny” Perdue announced that my agency and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture would relocate from Washington, D.C., to some yet-to-be-determined location. He claimed that this would lower costs and bring us closer to “stakeholders.” That stated justification was a fig leaf for the administration’s true intentions. We didn’t need to sit next to a corn field to analyze agricultural policy, and Perdue knew that. He wanted researchers to quit their jobs…

All the people who study genetically modified organisms left. The team that studies patent law and innovation is gone. Experts on trade and international development, farm finance and taxes all left. Many people transferred to other agencies in USDA, where they’ll help implement programs, but will no longer have a mandate to produce the essential research that’s needed for sound policymaking. Because the publishing staff all left, dozens of reports on subjects from veterans’ diets to organic foods are delayed. Projects that have been years in the making, studying issues from honeybees to potentially harmful herbicides, will never see the light of day…

The agency never has a perfectly smooth relationship with any White House: Its studies have contradicted rationales for policy ideas ranging from like biofuels to farm subsidies. But the Trump administration seems singularly, openly opposed to our basic existence. They can’t tolerate it when scientists present hard truths they don’t like. And now, if lawmakers want to know about, say, the effects of tariffs on the broiler chicken industry, or the impact of farm conservation payments on the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico — something obscure, but which can mean millions of dollars and thousands of jobs — they’ll be operating in the dark.

This is so stupid.  And harmful.  And Trumpian.

2) Meanwhile, when it comes to Russia and our elections, ”

Nearly six months later, and to almost no fanfare last week while Congress was in recess, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the second of two installments of its own bipartisan investigation into roughly the same topic. The slim, 85-page report reads like a Russian spy novel crossed with a sequel to Orwell’s most dystopian version of the future — right down to an interview with a paid Russian troll who said his experience in 2016, pitting American voters against each other with social media platforms of their own making, was like being “a character in the book ‘1984’ by George Orwell — a place where you have to write that white is black and black is white.”

Unlike Mueller, who seemed to take great pains not to point fingers and softened his recommendations, the Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Richard Burr and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, put its warnings in the starkest possible terms. First, the Russians deliberately attacked American voters with an active measures campaign in 2016 to benefit Donald Trump and destroy Hillary Clinton. On the morning after Election Day, a former troll told the committee, exhausted hackers in St. Petersburg, Russia, uncorked tiny of champagne. They looked into each other’s eyes. “We uttered almost in unison: ‘We made America great.’”

Because of Russia’s success, the committee also warned that China, North Korea, Iran and other malicious actors are activiely studying what Americans fell for (nearly everything) in order to use even more sophisticated techniques in 2020 — including at this very moment. And finally, the committee made clear that Americans themselves need to both wake up and smarten up. Only by being more sophisticated and intelligent social media users will voters truly protect themselves and our elections in the years to come.

3) From a Canadian, this is good, “Democracy is threatened by the dictatorship of geography.”

There are two paths to political power in a democracy. You can go for demography – that is, appeal to the interests and beliefs of the largest group of people, and win their votes. Or you can win through geography – that is, by ignoring most of the population by focusing on securing the many constituencies that have hardly anyone living in them. If your ideas are offensive to the majority, you can still stake your victory on the swaths of land between the places where most people live.

At the moment, across large parts of the democratic world, the politics of geography are triumphing over the politics of demography.

This is happening most infamously in the United States, where both the presidency and the Senate can be won by securing a majority of the tracts of land rather than a majority of the people – a fact that the faction of the Republican Party now associated with U.S. President Donald Trump has manipulated like nobody before. A strong majority of the American people hold liberal, racially tolerant and international-minded views; this majority’s interests and voices have been silenced by the dictatorship of geography…

This is not just an American problem. In Europe, fringe parties of intolerance have gained a strong foothold – and in some cases a parliamentary majority – by turning into parties of geography. The strong showing in October’s national election by the extreme-right Alternative for Germany was largely a result of its appeal to the sparse and depopulated regions of former communist East Germany. Poland’s Law and Justice Party governs with a parliamentary majority after it turned nationalist and xenophobic in order to appeal more to rural areas. France’s National Front made it to the first round of presidential elections by working the politics of geography.

4) The Softbank/Wework stuff is really just crazy.  Softbank literally blew billions on this house of cards.  Just goes to show that even super-rich people with billions of dollars at their disposal can be really stupid.

5) “The long fight over using student IDs to vote in North Carolina.”

6) Marty Lederman and Ben Wittes on Trump and impeachment:

The boundaries of acceptable presidential behavior are defined by which actions the political system tolerates or condemns. Impeachment by the House and conviction in the Senate would be the most powerful congressional rejection of Trump’s conduct. Even if the House impeaches, however, the number of senators who are prepared to convict Trump is almost certainly fewer than 67—the number required to remove him from office. Rightly or wrongly, a good number of senators (and some House members, too) will likely argue that, with the campaign season already upon us, Trump’s fate should be left to the electorate.

That’s all the more reason to recognize that impeachment and removal aren’t the only momentous choices Congress now confronts. If a substantial group of members of Congress signals not merely that the president’s conduct does not warrant impeachment and removal but also that it does not even warrant branding as intolerable, such conduct will become normalized—at a great cost to previously unquestioned first principles of constitutional governance—even if the House impeaches Trump.

At a very minimum, the president of the United States urged the president of Ukraine to investigate whether Joe Biden—the person he believed most likely to be his opponent in next year’s election—engaged in misconduct when Biden engaged in diplomatic efforts on behalf of the United States during the Obama administration.

That single, uncontroverted fact—that the president exploited his power as the nation’s chief diplomat to enlist a foreign ally to help advance his own electoral prospects by developing potentially compromising information about a U.S. national—is straightforward, unequivocal, and stunning. In that alone, Trump deviated wildly from his constitutional role and abused his office…

his litany demonstrates beyond any doubt that, as David Kris has written, Trump “used the carrots and sticks of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy, and at least attempted to use certain counterintelligence and law enforcement tools, to damage a political opponent. This represents a profoundly corrupt misuse of the machinery of government for personal gain.”

It’s important to stress, however, that even without these surrounding circumstances (or even if some of them depend on contested facts), what’s within the four corners of the White House account of the July 25 call, standing alone, reflects a gross abuse of office.

It also easily satisfies the constitutional standards for impeachment. Recent debates about whether Trump violated federal election law are misplaced and trivialize what’s really at stake here. The president’s derelictions are far more profound and more fundamental to the constitutional order than a mere violation of the criminal code.

7) Good stuff from Adam Jentleson, “Why Political Pundits Are Obsessed with Hidden Moderates”

It’s risky to conclude too much from a few polls, but a similar pattern occurred after the last debate. Joe Biden “delivered the kind of performance his supporters have been waiting for,” Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote. “Moderates strike back on health care,” another analysis concluded. But after that debate, too, the FiveThirtyEight panel showed Warren the clear winner, and then events bore it out: Biden slid in the Economist’s average of polls while Warren surged and Bernie held steady. Biden’s fundraising collapsed, while Warren and Bernie posted massive hauls. Beyond Biden, no other moderates showed any meaningful upward trajectory in polls or fundraising.

So what are the pundits missing? And why do they keep trying to make moderates happen?

The answer has two parts. First, many pundits have incorrectly convinced themselves that Democratic voters harbor a secret passion for a moderate nominee—let’s call it the Hidden Moderates Theory. Second, many are missing that the real distinction in the race is between candidates who are comfortable with wealth and its influence on politics, and those who are not. Those who oppose the influence of wealth on politics are much closer to both public opinion and the American historical mainstream.

8) Greg Sargent:

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the temporary closed-door nature of the hearings actually works in favor of Republicans, not against them. It’s the only thing they have left to cast doubt, however absurdly, on the damning information that’s already right there on the record.

And it allows them to convey to the Audience of One — and his followers — that they are fighting the good fight on his behalf, without their self-ascribed effectiveness actually being subject to outside scrutiny.

There’s another layer of absurdity here. Once the transcripts are released or once we get public hearings, it is highly likely that they will not actually show that Republicans have lacerated Taylor’s case.

But for Trump’s most ardent loyalists, this simply won’t matter. If and when publicly revealed testimony does not exonerate Trump, they’ll simply lie to the contrary, and treat the fact of public release as the hook to claim that the Democratic coverup has been exposed, counting on their massive propaganda apparatus to amplify that story line. This is exactly what happened with the Nunes memo — it was a total fiasco, yet Republicans widely pretended it was deeply revelatory.

The story we’ve seen in this whole scandal is that one after another, Trump’s levees are collapsing in the face of successive waves of factual revelations.

9) So, this was quite interesting (thanks EMG): “Most U.S. Dairy Cows Are Descended From Just 2 Bulls. That’s Not Good”

10) David Hopkins on the current impeachment politics:

Unsurprisingly, Republicans would rather discuss the behavior of the Democratic opposition. On Wednesday, a bloc of House conservatives led by Matt Gaetz of Florida disrupted the closed-door witness interviews organized by Democratic commitee chairs by crashing one of the meetings and occupying the hearing room for about five hours. This protest proceeded with the apparent approval of the president and the House Republican leadership; minority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana was one of the participants. The following day, McConnell and Graham introduced a resolution co-sponsored by most Republican senators accusing House Democrats of violating Trump’s due process rights and granting House Republicans insufficient procedural privileges.

Shifting the subject of debate from Donald Trump to Adam Schiff solves some problems for Republicans. Rather than struggling to justify Trump’s Ukraine policy or to explain away the well-documented concerns of credible witnesses like Fiona Hill and Bill Taylor, Republican members can return to the safer ground of partisan grievance. It also promotes party unity: Republicans may differ considerably among themselves over what they think of Trump, but none of them is predisposed to sympathize with Schiff. And it’s simply more fun to be on offense than on defense, to be firing charges at others rather than trying to swat them away.

Yet there are costs as well. Some of the most common current complaints about the Democrats’ handling of impeachment might become moot as events move along. The two major lines of attack at the moment are that access to witness depositions is restricted to the membership of the relevant House committees and that the House has not voted to authorize an impeachment inquiry. But today’s private sessions will be succeeded by tomorrow’s public hearings, and the House may well vote eventually to formalize the inquiry. By the time that House members actually consider articles of impeachment weeks or months from now, these objections will have lost much of their potency.

And when Republicans focus their energies on making the procedural case against Schiff, they risk failing to invest in disputing the substantive case against Trump—which potentially surrenders a lot of valuable ground to the pro-impeachment side. As one Republican source told CNN, “We can’t defend the substance [so] all we do is talk about process.” But Americans usually don’t care much about process disputes, whatever the merits of these disputes might be. Trump is right to worry that if many of his fellow Republicans are unwilling to confidently assure the public of his innocence, the public may draw the natural conclusion that he must have done something seriously wrong.

11) Really interesting stuff from Yashca Mounk on Boris Johson and Brexit:

Now, Johnson is very much a product of the British establishment that has fallen out of favor. But like Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland and Donald Trump in the United States, he has made a name for himself in politics by assailing the pieties of left-liberal orthodoxy. And while the deal he presented to Parliament was little more than May’s hard-won package with copious lipstick smeared on top, the rhetoric he has employed since taking office has been radically different. By unabashedly leaning into populist language and loudly denouncing traditional institutions from Parliament to the Supreme Court, he has shown that he sees Brexit as the beginning, rather than the end, of Britain’s cultural revolution.

Johnson has remade himself—as well as the Conservatives, the oldest political party in the world—in the image of populism.

He depicts the country’s politics as being defined by a clash between two basic forces: On the one hand is an out-of-touch elite that is so beholden to its left-liberal values that it would gladly override the will of British voters. On the other hand are the pure people, who have voted for Brexit in a heroic attempt to put a stop to the elite’s domination of the country. Johnson’s core promise is to help the pure people triumph over the corrupt elite.

12) I cannot remember who, but somebody I respect on twitter just raved about this piece, “This Experiment Has Some Great News for Our Democracy: The idea that our divisions are entrenched and unbridgeable is overstated.”  Consider me skeptical.  Yes, we could do so much better if citizens came together in an open-minded spirit of civil political discussion.  But that’s just not the real world.

The project America in One Room was a national experiment to find out. Over a long weekend in September, we had a scientific sample of 523 registered voters from around the country gather in Dallas. (The event was organized by Helena, a nonpartisan problem-solving institution, By the People Productions and the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, and participants were recruited by NORC at the University of Chicago.)

The experiment produced some shocking results. After several days of diverse small group discussions facilitated by moderators and sessions featuring experts and presidential candidates from both parties who answered questions from participants, the percentage saying the system of American democracy w

13) Jonathan Cohn: What Medicare for All would actually mean for the middle class is complicated.

14) So, twice in the past few weeks I learned that Killer Whales are one of the few species other than humans to have menopause.  I cannot remember what podcast I heard this on, but this Smithsonian article from 2015 just popped up in my feed the other day, “After Menopause, Killer Whale Moms Become Pod Leaders: When their reproductive years are done, females take on new roles as wise survival guides.”

15) So this was interesting from Ross Douthat, “‘Watership Down’ and the Crisis of Liberalism.”  I watched the first episode of the Netflix series with my kids, but never felt strong enough about watching the subsequent ones.  Loved the animated film as a kid.  The book… not bad, not as great as many think.

16) Lee Drutman and friends, “Progressive Economic Agenda? Democrats Have Less to Fear on This Front Than They Think.”

Our analysis of data from the 2019 VOTER Survey (Views of the Electorate Research Survey) suggests that when it comes to voter preferences on economic policy, an intra-party debate might miss the point. Why? A progressive economic agenda is broadly popular across parties. This is the key takeaway from our Democracy Fund Voter Study Group Report, On the Money: How Americans’ economic views define — and defy — party lines.

The progressive policies with widespread support across parties include requiring employers to provide paid leave for parents and caretakers (64 percent support, 15 percent oppose); raising the minimum wage (61 percent support, 25 percent oppose); and raising taxes on families with incomes over $200,000 (59 percent support, 30 percent oppose).

Democratic voters’ support for these policies is consistently around 80 percent, regardless of income. In fact, Democrats making over $80,000 want to increase taxes on top-income earners even more so than those making under $40,000.

Perhaps more remarkable, we see that about one in five Republicans hold attitudes toward economic policy that more closely align with those of the average Democrat than Republican.

17) John McWhorter with the linguistic case against emoluments:

Impeachment is no nursery rhyme, and with a matter so pressing, it qualifies as a needless burden that a central term like emolument is so opaque to all but a sliver of us. A caller on Rush Limbaugh’s show asked, “Could you explain this emoluments thing? It sounds like a toothpaste.” No one would ask that if legal experts referred to a constitutional ban on the president accepting any kind of compensation or side benefit from a foreign power; it would seem less a “thing” than a simple concept.

Emolument is a kind of word that should be considered about as relevant to modern life as a flashcube. What matters is what it refers to, and for that discussion we have plenty of readily understandable words—that is, real language.

18) Yeah, I know I’m a white dude and I know there’s still a ton of racism out there, but it also quite possible that a community over-reacted to what was probably one stupid teenager painting a racial epithet on a rock.

19) Relatedly, I strongly agree with this law professor that it is pretty crazy to charge people for a crime for using racial epithets (short of obviously intentionally provocative actions).  “Those College Students Who Used the N-Word Shouldn’t Have Been Arrested: They were guilty of vulgarity and ignorance, but “ridicule” is not a crime.”

20) Somehow, I’m really late to the Schitt’s Creek game, but with Season 5 just coming out, I realized I’d heard enough the last few years that I really need to check it out.  Nine episodes in and so glad I have.  So funny.  Just love that each episode is a 21 minute comedic gem.

Quick hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Some good news on exercise and cancer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

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

505 people are talking about this

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

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

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

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

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

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

215 people are talking about this

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

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

10) Jordan Weissman takes on Yang and automation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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