We interrupt your ongoing abuse of presidential power for drug-sniffing dogs

I’ve been meaning to write a post on this since, oh, well, the article is dated February of this year, and haven’t.  But I just got an email yesterday from a student who wrote a great paper for me years ago on just what a bad job drug-sniffing dogs do, but, alas, our criminal justice system pretends like they are highly accurate.  Radley Balko, of course, is all over this:

Last week, I wrote a post looking at how the criminal justice system operates in an alternate reality, one in which truth isn’t dictated by facts or data, but by precedent and case law. Today, I want to look at a case pending before the Supreme Court that is a great example of the problem. [emphases mine]

At issue in Edstrom v. Minnesota is whether a drug dog’s sniff outside an apartment door constitutes a lawful search under the Fourth Amendment. If it does not, the police would be required to obtain a warrant before using a narcotics-detecting dog in that manner. If it does, then the police could take their dogs up and down apartment complexes the way they sometimes do with school lockers. Over at the legal analysis site Verdict, Cornell University professor Sherry Colb runs through what’s at stake, and offers some informed speculation on what the court may do.

For the purpose of this post, though, I want to focus on what’s missing from Colb’s analysis and, should the Supreme Court decide to hear the case, will almost certainly also be missing from oral arguments, the court’s ruling and most discussion of the case: that narcotics-detecting dogs and their handlers aren’t very good at discerning the presence of illegal drugs. Multiple analyses of drug-dog alerts have consistently shown alarmingly high error rates — with some close to and exceeding 50 percent. In effect, some of these K-9 units are worse than a coin flip…

While dogs are indeed capable of sniffing out illicit drugs, we’ve bred into them another overriding trait: the desire to please. Even drug dogs with conscientious handlers will read their handlers’ unintentional body language and alert accordingly. A 2010 study found that packages designed to trick handlers into thinking there were drugs inside them were much more likely to trigger false alerts than packages designed to trick the dogs. (Police-dog handlers and trainers responded to that study by refusing to cooperate with further research.) Many drug dogs, then, are not alerting to the presence of drugs, but to their handlers’ suspicions about the presence of drugs. And searches based on little more than law enforcement’s suspicions are exactly what the Fourth Amendment is supposed to prevent…

If the Fourth Amendment rights of drug suspects hinge on drug dogs, one would think the accuracy of those dogs would be something the Supreme Court might want to investigate. You’d be wrong

The Harris ruling made these dogs’ real-world accuracy irrelevant. In the alternate reality of the criminal justice system, from 2013 on, any police dog that is “certified” is accurate and reliable — because the Supreme Court says they are.

Two years later, a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit stretched the dimensions of this new reality. In United States v. Bentley, the defendant was searched after an alert by a drug dog that had alerted 93 out of every 100 times it sniffed. Why did it alert so often? Perhaps because the drug dog’s handler admitted that he rewarded the dog with a treat only when it alerted. The dog was confirming its owner’s hunches, and getting a treat each time it did. It also had a false positive error rate of 41 percent — 4 out of every 10 drivers searched because of a dog’s alert turned out to be innocent…

And, yet, in our criminal justice system, those searches would not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of the people inside. Because in this reality, the Supreme Court determines what is and isn’t true. And the Supreme Court has said that so long as they’re certified, drug dogs only alert when someone is guilty.

It really is astounding how little science and fact count for in our criminal justice system when weighed against past precedent and a bias towards finality.  And this comes from the very highest levels that the Supreme Court honestly just doesn’t care that drug-sniffing dogs are a horribly blunt and failure-prone instrument.  It’s like if we somehow let police regularly pull over people for speeding with radar guns that had a +/- 20mph error rate and just didn’t care.  But hey, drugs are bad!  Ugh.

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Quick hits (part II)

1) Not sure if I’ll get around to watching Netflix’s “Unbelievable” though it sure sounds like I should.  That said, this review reminded me of the terrific Pro Publica story that I hope I was wise enough to recommend back in 2015.  So compelling.

2) Stuart Rothenberg analyzes the state of the presidential election and quite rightly admonishes to beware confirmation bias and that it’s not a three-person race:

“The next debate is do or die for many Democratic hopefuls.”

Andrew Yang “is on fire.”

Elizabeth Warren is “surging.”

“It’s a three-way race.”

I’m betting you can think of a long list of other things you’ve heard on television or read in print to explain what is going on in the presidential race. Many of them will need to be revised eventually.

I’ve written often over the years — and even this cycle — that you shouldn’t believe the hype, so I don’t need to warn you about that again, right?

Just remember that people in the media covering elections invariably (with important exceptions) have an interest in showing “movement” and “change” — and they want to be the first to identify a trend and offer predictions — so tone down most of what they say…

It’s simply too early to know, but Biden will be put to the test many more times in debates and on the stump.

The former vice president’s reliance on the support of the African American community is a red flag, given the presence of two well-credentialed black candidates in the race in Harris and Booker.

Should Biden lose a chunk of that support, his campaign would be in serious trouble. Hillary Clinton had excellent support in the black community until Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, for instance…

A majority of Americans seem to have decided they don’t like Trump and they don’t like what he has done to the country.

That’s disastrous for a president who was elected almost three years ago and who dominates the news almost daily.

Trump will need to demonize the eventual Democratic nominee, making him or her unacceptable — which guarantees a scorched earth reelection campaign by the GOP and additional risk of an anti-Trump backlash…

Do we really need another national poll that shows how unpopular the president is or that the national Democratic race is stagnant?

What we should be getting from the major media are high-quality surveys in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia. What we have seen from those key states is very limited polling that shows Biden (and normally Sanders) significantly ahead of Trump — again, not where an incumbent would want to be at this point in the election cycle.

However, the one truth we can count on is that we don’t know what lies ahead — not in the Democratic contest and not in the general election.

3) The documentary “13th” draws a necessary throughline from our racial history to today’s mass incarceration.  But it’s not actually all about race.  One part that really annoyed me was bringing on “experts” to somehow argue that the Willie Horton ads are what did in Michael Dukakis in 1988.  I don’t think a single serious political scientist would agree with this.  John Sides had a great Monkey Cage on the matter back in 2016, “It’s time to stop the endless hype of the ‘Willie Horton’ ad.”

4) Oh my the overly-woke sure really do take this “privilege” thing too far (and, yes, I do appreciate the benefits I get as a heterosexual white man).  Terrific example of the disgusting extremes from Conor Friedersdorf:

That brings us back to The Guardian, which went even further in twisting a concept intended to increase compassion and empathy to achieve the opposite.

The occasion was the publication of former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s memoirs. Many Americans will be unaware of the conservative politician’s family life. His first child, Ivan Reginald Ian, was born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy. The little boy required intense medical care for his entire life. He died at 6.

What ordeal could be more harrowing for a parent than watching a child suffer all his life before dying prematurely? Yet The Guardian, a left-wing newspaper, diminished the gravity of this event:

Mr. Cameron has known pain and failure in his life, but it has always been limited failure and privileged pain. The miseries of boarding school at seven are entirely real and for some people emotionally crippling but they come with an assurance that only important people can suffer that way. Even his experience of the NHS, which looked after his severely disabled son, has been that of the better functioning and better funded parts of the system.

That no parent of a dead child would be comforted at all by this “privilege” clarifies the editorial’s absurdity.

To its credit, the newspaper quickly apologized and amended the editorial. Its editors are usually more careful, and I do not write to pile on. But it’s worth considering what led to the error, so that others might avoid repeating it.

The Guardian editorial illustrates how the privilege framework, or rather its perversion, can cause people to lose sight of their shared humanity. Suffering and grief are universal––and that awful burden can unite us. But like any framework that divides people into different categories, especially along fraught lines such as race, gender, ideology, and class, the concept of privilege is vulnerable to tribal power-seeking and othering. Sadism and cruelty inevitably follow.

Those who invoke the privilege framework need not abandon it entirely due to such abuses, but they should better understand its perils and how to guard against them.

5) Lots of otherwise liberals were piling on Felicity Huffman’s sentence on twitter.  Those who actually get what’s wrong with criminal justice were on top of this.  Nice column:

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani sentenced award-winning actress Felicity Huffman to two weeks in prison, a $30,000 fine and 250 hours of community service for paying to inflate her daughter’s college entrance exam score. That punishment, the first to result from the Justice Department’s indictments in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, sparked comparisons to the fate of Tanya McDowell, a black woman who received a five-year sentence in part for using a false address to register her son in a better school district.

I’m intimately familiar with McDowell’s case: I was incarcerated with her. But as a white Princeton University graduate, I got a sentence of similar length for 13 felony convictions (they remain under post-conviction review). And while I understand the frustration about these disparities, I’m glad Huffman got a lenient sentence. When leveraged properly, it could set a precedent that could free a lot of people and get others more humane and appropriate sentences in the first place.

One response to these numbers is to seek harsher punishment for people blessed by judicial forbearance; in this case, that would mean a harsher sentence for Huffman. But when we try to cure disparities by simply incarcerating more white, or wealthier , defendants, the entire population ends up getting punished more severely. Astudy conducted by the sentencing commission found that a decline in racial disparities in sentencing has been driven not by shorter sentences for everyone but by more people being sentenced to longer periods under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. If our sole goal is to reduce disparities, we can lock up the Huffmans of the world more often and for longer. But that doesn’t provide any relief to a poor, black inmate whose freedom was felled by structural racism.

Instead, we need to start using sentences such as Huffman’s to get less-privileged people the same justice.

6) I love that #MoscowMitch actually seems to have worked and McConnell is now actually allowing the election security we need.

7) Garrett Epps, “The Electoral College Was Terrible From the Start.”

When Trump won the electoral contest, the republic was in danger. Would it have been saved by an Electoral College that sabotaged or reversed the result? Citizens should support such an electoral démarche, I think, only if they would also support a military coup to block Trump. Either alternative would inflict near-mortal damage on our system of elections.

Meanwhile, the residue of the Hamilton idea is a system more, not less, prone to misfiring. In the event of a near-tie next year, I can imagine that a losing candidate, or powerful forces backing him or her, would use bribery, threats, violence, and blackmail to try to flip one or two electors. The Constitution should not be read to empower such corruption, or to open the door to such chaos.

The electoral system is a disaster; those concerned with its dangers would do better to support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, under which states bind their electors to vote for the popular-vote winner. That has its own risks—a rogue legislature might try to violate its pledge. But they pale beside the Hamilton alternative.

8) Very much enjoying Gladwell’s new book (as with everything Gladwell writes).  You know what I really hate?  All the Gladwell haters.  No, he’s not perfect, but he writes brilliantly and engagingly about social science while tying disparate research into larger themes that aim to change our perspective on the world.

9) Drum on cigarettes and vaping:

There’s no question that vaping is less harmful than cigarette smoking. No one debates that. It’s also true that vaping can help smokers quit cigarettes. No one debates that either.

As usual, though, the question is: how much? No one can tell you for sure, but here’s a chart that provides a hint:

Cigarette smoking has been steadily declining in the US since the ’60s. Vaping products started to take off in the US in 2013 and have increased their popularity every year since then. So if vaping were really making a serious dent in cigarette smoking, you’d expect to see the trendline for smoking bend downward starting a few years ago.

But you don’t. That doesn’t mean vaping has had no effect on adult cigarette smoking, but it does mean that the effect has probably been tiny at best. Now compare that to the rise in teen vaping:

For many years the big question about vaping was its net health impact. On the one hand, it helps smokers quit cigarettes. On the other hand, it gets teens hooked on nicotine. The net impact depends on which effect is bigger.

There’s no serious question about that anymore: vaping overwhelmingly acts as a way of getting teens addicted to nicotine and has only a tiny impact on cigarette smoking. This doesn’t automatically mean that vaping should be outlawed, but it’s the factual background for making a decision about what to do. If it were up to me, I’d make vaping capsules available via prescription only. That’s unquestionably a smallish inconvenience for some, but worth it if it stops the huge rise in teens developing lifelong nicotine addictions for the benefit of corporate profits.

10) Though, I also agree with Megan McArdle on a vaping ban, “A vaping ban would be hysteria masquerading as prudence.”

At this point, the best information suggests that a recent spate of deaths from a vaping-related lung disease — six at last report — had little or nothing to do with legal e-cigarettes. Rather, the deaths, and more than 300 confirmed cases of the disease in dozens of states, seem to be linked to illegal cartridges, mostly using marijuana derivatives that had been emulsified with vitamin E acetate, according to Food and Drug Administration investigators. The FDA has warned against using it for inhalation, and it isn’t used in legally manufactured e-cigarettes.

Naturally, the government wants to ban legally manufactured e-cigarettes.

President Trump is proposing to ban flavored cartridges, apparently endorsing the theory — common among people who neither smoke nor vape — that these products appeal only to children. In fact, the majority of adult vapers select flavors other than tobacco because — and I speak as a former smoker — tobacco tastes kind of gross. Most smokers merely endured it for that divine rush of nicotine.

11) Heather Hurlburt on Trump’s new NSA:

But what I see in Trump’s choice and the dance that led up to it is a GOP foreign-policy establishment that thinks it has no options other than Trump and little future beyond him. O’Brien and his peers — men in their 40s, 50s, and 60s — could choose to wait Trump out, or depart, in the expectation of serving more honorably in a future Republican administration. They look to the GOP national-security leadership in the Senate and see little inclination to challenge either Trump’s policies or his ethics. And the GOP leadership in turn looks back at the willingness of respectable men to serve (yes, I am intentionally using “men” here) and uses that as a data point to tell each other that everything is fine.

12) Some pretty cool ideas on how to “disagree better.”

13) This is interesting, “Scientific research on how to teach critical thinking contradicts education trends”

Critical thinking is all the rage in education. Schools brag that they teach it on their websites and in open houses to impress parents. Some argue that critical thinking should be the primary purpose of education and one of the most important skills to have in the 21st century, with advanced machines and algorithms replacing manual and repetitive labor.

But a fascinating review of the scientific research on how to teach critical thinking concludes that teaching generic critical thinking skills, such as logical reasoning, might be a big waste of time. Critical thinking exercises and games haven’t produced long-lasting improvements for students. And the research literature shows that it’s very difficult for students to apply critical thinking skills learned in one subject to another, even between different fields of science.

“Wanting students to be able to ‘analyse, synthesise and evaluate’ information sounds like a reasonable goal,” writes Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “But analysis, synthesis, and evaluation mean different things in different disciplines.”

Willingham’s reading of the research literature concludes that scientists are united in their belief that content knowledge is crucial to effective critical thinking. And he argues that the best approach is to explicitly teach very specific small skills of analysis for each subject. For example, in history, students need to interpret documents in light of their sources, seek corroboration and put them in their historical context. That kind of analysis isn’t relevant in science, where the source of a document isn’t as important as following the scientific method.

Willingham wrote a paper, “How to Teach Critical Thinking,” in May 2019 for the Department of Education of New South Wales in Australia. But it is entirely applicable to the American context.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Jamelle Bouie makes the case for Democratic court-packing in response to the Republicans:

President Trump bragged on Twitter recently about his success filling up the federal judiciary. “I want to congratulate” Senate majority leader “Mitch McConnell and all Republicans,” Trump wrote: “Today I signed the 160th Federal Judge to the Bench. Within a short period of time we will be at over 200 Federal Judges, including many in the Appellate Courts & two great new U.S. Supreme Court Justices!”

This is just a slight exaggeration. After 32 months in office, Trump has made 209 nominations to the federal judiciary, with 152 judges confirmed by the Senate, including two Supreme Court justices. That’s nearly half the total confirmed during President Barack Obama’s eight years in office.

His picks fit a mold. They’re overwhelmingly white (87 percent, compared with 64 percent of Obama’s), overwhelmingly male (78 percent, compared with 58 percent of Obama’s), staunchly conservative and fairly young — the average age of judges confirmed under Trump is 50. His youngest confirmed nominee, Allison Rushing of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, is 36…

So what should Democrats do? They should play hardball back. Congress, according to the Judiciary Act of 1789, decides the number of judges. It’s been 150 years since it changed the size of the Supreme Court. I think it’s time to revisit the issue. Should Democrats win that trifecta, they should expand and yes, pack, the Supreme Court. Add two additional seats to account for the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh nominations. Likewise, expand and pack the entire federal judiciary to neutralize Trump and McConnell’s attempt to cement Republican ideological preferences into the constitutional order.

The reasoning underpinning this proposal isn’t just about the future; it’s about the past. We have had two rounds of minority government in under two decades — two occasions where executive power went to the popular-vote loser. Rather than moderate their aims and ambitions, both presidents have empowered ideologues and aggressively spread their influence. We are due for a course correction.

2) My daughter loves Raina Telgemaier books.  I did not realize what a phenomenon she is.

3) Really enjoyed Edward Snowden’s interview on Fresh Air.  I thought this part was particularly noteworthy:

On deciding to share classified material with journalists and setting conditions for the publication of the material

I tried to reconstruct the system of checks and balances by using myself to provide documents to the journalists, but never to publish them myself. People don’t realize this, but I never made public a single document. I trusted that role to the journalists to decide whatthe public did and did not need to know. Before the journalists published these stories, they had to go to the government, and this was a condition that I required them to do, and tell the government, warn them they’re about to run this story about this program and the government could argue against publication and say, “You’ve got it wrong,” or “You’ve got it right.” But if you publish this is going to hurt somebody. In every case I’m aware of, that process was followed, and that’s why in 2019 we’ve never seen any evidence at all presented by the government that someone’s been harmed as a result of these stories.

4) George Conway and Neal Katyal, “Trump has done plenty to warrant impeachment. But the Ukraine allegations are over the top.”

The current whistleblowing allegations, however, are even worse. Unlike the allegations of conspiracy with Russia before the 2016 election, these concern Trump’s actions as president, not as a private citizen, and his exercise of presidential powers over foreign policy with Ukraine. Moreover, with Russia, at least there was an attempt to get the facts through the Mueller investigation; here the White House is trying to shut down the entire inquiry from the start — depriving not just the American people, but even congressional intelligence committees, of necessary information.

It is high time for Congress to do its duty, in the manner the framers intended. Given how Trump seems ever bent on putting himself above the law, something like what might have happened between him and Ukraine — abusing presidential authority for personal benefit — was almost inevitable. Yet if that is what occurred, part of the responsibility lies with Congress, which has failed to act on the blatant obstruction that Mueller detailed months ago.

Congressional procrastination has probably emboldened Trump, and it risks emboldening future presidents who might turn out to be of his sorry ilk. To borrow John Dean’s haunting Watergate-era metaphor once again, there is a cancer on the presidency, and cancers, if not removed, only grow. Congress bears the duty to use the tools provided by the Constitution to remove that cancer now, before it’s too late. As Elbridge Gerry put it at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” By now, Congress should know which one Trump is.

5) Dahlia Lithwick argues that Lewandoski hearings this week– conducted by an able attorney instead of grandstanding politicians– show the potential of impeachment hearings.

6) Love this fro Paul Waldman, “Trump finally realizes being president is hard”

You might think this idea — that we could quickly end the war in Afghanistan by killing everyone in the country — would never even occur to a sane person. But Trump keeps bringing it up. Back in July, he said, “If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.” The point is always how easy it could be, compared with what he has to do now.

I think what underlies these repeated statements is a genuine frustration on his part with how complicated being president has turned out to be. This was something Trump was plainly unprepared for. A few months in, he told Reuters, “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Yes, Trump actually believed that being president of the United States, the most important job on the planet, would be easier than running a midsize brand-licensing firm.

This was probably because he figured that being president was mostly giving speeches and throwing out a few ceremonial first pitches (though he is the first president since William Howard Taft not to do the latter, most likely because he’s afraid of being booed). How hard could it be? He saw presidents on TV and thought they were all idiots; obviously he could run circles around them.

Then he got to the White House and learned that everything was more complicated than he thought, especially legislating. You’ll remember him lamenting, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” when in fact everyone except for him was quite aware. Which is why the only major piece of legislation he passed was a tax cut, and it isn’t exactly hard to get a Republican Congress to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

7) This is a helluva story:

Rizzo’s children, ages 7 and 6, were at the center of one of the most ethically complex legal cases in the modern-day fertility industry. Three years ago, while researching treatment options for her sons, Rizzo says she made an extraordinary discovery: The boys are part of an autism cluster involving at least a dozen children scattered across the United States, Canada and Europe, all conceived with sperm from the same donor. Many of the children have secondary diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, mood disorders, epilepsy and other developmental and learning disabilities.

8) This NYT Magazine feature, “What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max? Malfunctions caused two deadly crashes. But an industry that puts unprepared pilots in the cockpit is just as guilty” was soooo good.  And, honestly, pretty much anything I’ve ever read by William Langewiesche is so good.

The paradox is that the failures of the 737 Max were really the product of an incredible success: a decades-long transformation of the whole business of flying, in which airplanes became so automated and accidents so rare that a cheap air-travel boom was able to take root around the world. Along the way, though, this system never managed to fully account for the unexpected: for the moment when technology fails and humans — a growing population of more than 300,000 airline pilots of variable and largely unpredictable skills — are required to intervene. In the drama of the 737 Max, it was the decisions made by four of those pilots, more than the failure of a single obscure component, that led to 346 deaths and the worldwide grounding of the entire fleet.

If you were to choose a location in the developing world in which to witness the challenges facing airline safety — the ossification of regulations and in many places their creeping irrelevance to operations; the corruption of government inspectors; the corruption of political leaders and the press; the pressure on mechanics, dispatchers and flight crews to keep unsafe airplanes in the air; the discouragement, fatigue and low wages of many airline employees; the willingness of bankers and insurers to underwrite bare-bones operations at whatever risk to the public; the cynicism of investors who insist on treating air travel as just another business opportunity; and finally the eagerness of the manufacturers to sell their airplanes to any airline without restraint — you would be hard pressed to find a more significant place than Indonesia.

9) I thought I had a pretty good handle on 19th century U.S. History.  But not this and this is still so important.  Historian Heather Cox Richardson, “When Adding New States Helped the Republicans
Putting new stars on the U.S. flag has always been political. But D.C. statehood is a modest partisan ploy compared with the mass admission of underpopulated western territories—which boosts the GOP even 130 years later.”

In the face of an emerging Democratic majority, Republicans set out to cement their power. [emphases mine] The parties had scuffled for years over admission of new states, with Democrats now demanding New Mexico and Montana, and Republicans hoping for Washington and Dakota (which had not yet been divided in two). Before the election, Congress had discussed bringing in all four states together, but as soon as the Republican victory was clear, Democrats realized they had to get the best deal they could or Republicans would simply admit the Republican states and ignore the Democratic ones, as they had done in 1876. So on February 22, 1889, outgoing President Cleveland signed an act dividing the Dakota Territory in half, and permitting the two new territories, along with Montana and Washington, to write constitutions before admission to the union the following year. They passed over New Mexico, which had twice the population of any of the proposed states.

Republicans did not hide their intentions. In the popular Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, President Harrison’s son crowed that the Republicans would win all the new states and gain eight more senators, while the states’ new electors meant that Cleveland’s New York would no longer dominate the Electoral College. When the Republicans’ popularity continued to fall nationally, in 1890 Congress added Wyoming and Idaho—whose populations in 1880 were fewer than 21,000 and 33,000 respectively—organizing them so quickly that they bypassed normal procedures and permitted volunteers instead of elected delegates to write Idaho’s constitution.

Democrats objected that Wyoming and Idaho would have four senators and two representatives even though there were fewer people in both together than in some of Massachusetts’s congressional districts, but Harrison’s men insisted that they were statesmen rather than partisans. They accused Democrats of refusing to admit any states that did not support their party—a reversal of the actual record—and claimed Republicans supported “the prosperous and growing communities of the great West.” But moderate Republicans sided with the Democrats, pointing out that the Harrison administration had badly undercut the political power of voters from populous regions, attacking America’s fundamental principle of equal representation.

Harrison’s men didn’t care. “The difference between the parties is as the difference between the light and darkness, day and night,” one supporter argued in Frank Leslie’s. The Republican Party, he insisted, must stay in power to protect Big Business. If that meant shutting more populous territories out of statehood and admitting a few underpopulated western states to enable a minority to exercise political control over the majority of Americans, so be it. Today, the District of Columbia has more residents than at least two other states; Puerto Rico has more than 20. With numbers like that, admitting either or both to the union is less a political power play on the Democrats’ part than the late-19th-century partisan move that still warps American politics.

10) You know I am a big fan of Elizabeth Warren.  But, especially because I like her and have great respect for her intellect and policy chops, stuff like being fundamentally dishonest about Michael Brown really bugs me.  It shouldn’t be impossible to say that Ferguson police were horrible and completely abused their police and that Michael Brown was not murdered.  Yet.  Fred Kaplan:

Several of the current Democratic candidates have accused the officer who shot Brown of murder. Brown’s death was a tragedy, but it wasn’t a murder. When Democrats claim it was, and when they refuse to correct that mistake, they cast doubt on their commitment to truth. And they undermine the cause of criminal justice reform. [emphasis mine]

Brown became an icon of the Black Lives Matter movement for understandable reasons. He was unarmed, and the man who shot him, former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, is white. Racial bias in law enforcement was and is a pervasive problem. Ferguson’s police force has a history of discrimination. That history, the well-earned distrust it fostered in the black community, and the indignity of Brown’s body lying in the street for hours after the shooting ignited outrage. Ferguson became a flashpoint for protests and riots, and police responded with military gear and excessive force. The whole episode was a disaster. It awakened many white Americans to the mistreatment that black Americans had long felt at the hands of police.

But at the core of the story, there was a problem: The original account of Brown’s death, that he had been shot in the back or while raising his hands in surrender, was false. The shooting was thoroughly investigated, first by a grand jury and then by the Obama Justice Department. The investigations found that Brown assaulted Wilson, tried to grab his gun, and was shot dead while advancing toward Wilson again.

Despite these findings, three Democratic presidential candidates—Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, and billionaire Tom Steyer—said last month that Brown was murdered. These candidates haven’t backed down in the face of press queries and fact checks. Warren even dismissed a face-to-face question about the DOJ report that cleared Wilson…

Warren’s answer compounded her initial falsehood by adding a second myth. As awful as it was that Brown’s body lay in the street for four hours—an affront that even Ferguson’s police chief acknowledged and regretted—it isn’t true that Brown was left to die. (According to the DOJ report on Brown’s death, Wilson’s final shot killed him “where he stood.”) But what’s most concerning is Warren’s failure to admit error, particularly when the error is an accusation of murder. Does she respect facts that don’t fit her narrative? If she becomes the Democratic nominee, will voters see her as a truth teller in the face of Donald Trump’s lies, or as an ideologue? If she becomes president, will she listen to information that complicates her plans? Or will she plow ahead?

Candidates should talk about police bias. They should honor the memory of those whose lives have been taken. There’s no need to rely on a false narrative to tell the truth that black lives matter

11) Drum on the inanity of a “confess your climate sins” website:

Congratulations, NBC. This is probably the most efficient possible way to ensure that nothing gets done about climate change. In one stroke it:

  • Perpetuates the myth that voluntary individual action makes much of a difference.
  • Makes people feel guilty about ordinary, everyday activities.
  • And then turns the whole thing into a game where we absolve ourselves with a public confession.

Climate change isn’t a game, and trying to make people feel bad about living their lives isn’t going to increase support for the kinds of things that really make a difference. It just gives people a reason to put climate change out of their minds in order to avoid having to feel guilty about it. Knock it off.

12) This essay was really, really good, “Women Poop. Sometimes At Work. Get Over It.”

We may be living in an age where certain pockets of the corporate world are breathlessly adapting to women’s needs — company-subsidized tampons, salary workshops, lactation rooms. But even in the world’s most progressive workplace, it’s not a stretch to think that you might have an empowered female executive leading a meeting at one moment and then sneaking off to another floor to relieve herself, the next.

Poop shame is real — and it disproportionately affects women, who suffer from higher rates of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. In other words, the patriarchy has seeped into women’s intestinal tracts. Let’s call it the pootriarchy.

Girls aren’t born with poo shame — it’s something they’re taught.

In “Psychology in the Bathroom,” the psychologist Nicholas Haslam writes that girls tend to be toilet trained earlier than boys, learning at a young age to neatly keep their bodily functions contained (our words, not his).

When those girls get a bit older, they learn to pass gas silently — while boys do it loudly, and think it’s hilarious. (Yes, there is a kind of Kinsey scale to gas-passing and it goes like this: According to a study called “Fecal Matters” that was published in a journal called “Social Problems,” adult heterosexual men are far more likely to engage in scatological humor than heterosexual women and are more likely to report intentionally passing gas. Gay men are less likely to intentionally pass gas than heterosexual women, and lesbian women are somewhere in between.)

“If a boy farts, everyone laughs, including the boy,” said Sarah Albee, the author of “Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up.” “If a girl farts, she is mortified.”…

“The bathroom is saturated with gender in fascinating ways,” said Mr. Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, who noted that women’s aversion, particularly at work, is not entirely unfounded: One unpublished study he mentions in his book found that a woman who excused herself to go to the bathroom was evaluated more negatively than one who excused herself to tend to “paperwork” — while there was no difference in the way participants viewed the men.

“At one level it’s an association of women with purity,” said Mr. Haslam, referring to the double standard. “At another it’s a double standard applied to hygiene and civility, where the weight falls disproportionately on women to be clean, odorless and groomed.”

13) As a long-time Netflix subscriber who shuns Hulu and a Seinfeld lover, I’m actually quite excited about Seinfeld coming on over next year.  But I have to agree with this Wired column that it does not actually seem like a cost-effective strategy to attract subscribers.

14) So, this was really interesting… how a shift towards electric cars helped contribute to the strike against GM:

UAW membership has ticked upward in recent years, recovering from its post-financial-crisis nadir. Now it faces a new threat from the next great shift for the auto industry. The electric car may be great for the planet and glorious for drivers, but it’s no good for jobs…

It has balanced that withdrawal with plans to introduce 20 new, all-electric models by 2023, its first big step in an $8 billion bid to (someday) stop building gas- and diesel-powered rides altogether.

That change comes with a worrisome footnote for auto workers around the world. Last year, a study by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO found that by 2030, a moderate shift to electric propulsion could leave 75,000 Germans out of work—even accounting for the creation of 25,000 new jobs. That’s because batteries and motors are far simpler machines than internal combustion engines, and require a few hundred parts instead of a few thousand. That’s the same reason maintenance costs for EVs are so low—a problem for dealerships that rely on servicing cars for profits. Fewer parts mean fewer people. [emphasis mine]

15) Really enjoyed this video on Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury and the use of idiolect by actors in biographical roles.

16) Really enjoyed this backstory on one of the most iconic song/video’s of the 80’s, “Take on me.”

17) Another great NYT magazine feature, “an the N.F.L. Turn a 360-Pound Rugby Player Into a Football Star? Jordan Mailata had never played football before the Eagles drafted him last year. Now he has to prove himself in one of the sport’s most technically demanding positions”

18) I hate those new point-of-sale touchscreen terminals that ask you for a tip when you use a credit card.  Y’all already know how I feel about tipping as a general rule and the last thing we need is to be pushing it for transactions that don’t even involve employees relying on tips for wages (which, in a better world, would be none).  Among other things, when confronted with these I am more likely to pay in cash.  Good NYT article on how the systems are confounding customers on what to do worldwide.

19) I’ve seen some of those horrible ads that are clearly intended to get you to pay more for health care but dupe you into thinking that the people running the ads are the good guys.  I meant to do some research and write a post.  Good thing I waited because Drum is on the case:

One of the most outrageous aspects of American health care is surprise out-of-network billing. Most people, if they go to a hospital that’s “in-network,” quite reasonably assume that this means “the hospital’s doctors are in-network.” But that’s not the case. Sometimes hospitals contract with doctors who aren’t part of your insurance network, and these doctors can charge whatever they feel like. Your insurer won’t cover this—that’s what out-of-network means—which means that when you get home you’re likely to be greeted by a $40,000 anesthesiology bill.

This is obviously bad, and both Democrats and President Trump favor legislation to end it. However, there’s one group that thinks out-of-network billing is just fine: the private equity firms that own the medical groups that specialize in out-of-network care.

But this presents a problem: how do you make it sound bad to prohibit surprise out-of-network billing? Hmmm.

Here’s the answer: Attack the ban as “rate setting” by “big insurance companies.” Then add some scary stuff about not being able to see your doctor anymore and “profiting from patients’ pain” and you’re all set. Who wants to involved with anything like that?

But the best part of this particular attack ad comes at the very end: “Put Patients Before Profits.” How Trumpian! The whole point of out-of-network billing is to allow doctors to make lots of money at the expense of their patients. But who cares? You just say the opposite and then get huffy if anyone suggests you’re being a wee bit untruthful.

Out-of-network billing is hardly limited to medical groups owned by private equity firms. Still, they’re the only ones with the organized greed that’s required to mount an advertising campaign telling us that up is down and black is white. I wonder if it will work?

Just evil.

20) Perhaps you heard about the “Obama Netflix?” tweet.   I watched “American Factory” this week.  So good.  Trust me and watch it.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) I meant to give this Chait post on #sharpiegate last week it’s own post.  It’s really good:

Increasingly, Republicans are dispensing with the fig leaf and flaunting their complicity. Putting money in Trump’s pocket by booking his properties has become a symbol of partisan solidarity. It is a signal of support both to the president and to fellow Republicans or business clients that you are on the ins with the boss. [emphases mine] “President Trump has really been on the side of the Evangelicals and we want to do everything we can to make him successful,” one Evangelical leader tells the Times. “And if that means having dinner or staying in his hotel, we are going to do so.” Aggressive lack of curiosity has given way to open boasting of the quid pro quo arrangement.

None of these stories by itself has the singular drama of a Teapot Dome or a Watergate. Indeed, the mere fact that there is so much corruption prevents any single episode from capturing the imagination of the media and the public. But it is the totality of dynamic that matters. A corrupt miasma has slowly enveloped Washington. For generations, both parties generally upheld an assumption that the government would abide rules and norms dividing its proper functioning from the president’s personal and political interests.

The norm of bureaucratic professionalism and fairness is a pillar of the political legitimacy and economic strength of the American system, the thing that separates countries like the U.S. from countries like Russia. The decay of that culture is difficult to quantify, but the signs are everywhere. Trump’s stench is slowly seeping into every corner of government.

2) This is a really interesting analyses if the substantial and under-appreciated differences within Black voters.  But the headline, “No One Should Take Black Voters for Granted” is misleading.  So long as Republicans are unequivocally the white people’s party, the overwhelming majority of Blacks will vote Democratic regardless of their precise ideological dispositions.

3) Vox’s Josh Godelman convinced me to pony-up for TSA pre-check.  I didn’t realize your $80 is amortized over 3 years.  Even though I don’t fly a lot, would I pay $20 per flight to avoid regular security?  Hell yeah.  Also, this is wrong.  “It absolutely shouldn’t exist, and is absolutely an incredible value.”

4) Good stuff from Jesse Singal on the very limited eliteness (especially on twitter) of super-wokeness:

What should we think about Dave Chappelle’s most recent Netflix special, “Sticks & Stones”? We should be disappointed in it, if not outraged by it, according to some culture critics. After all, Chappelle spends a chunk of the hourlong set making defiantly offensive jokes about both his own prior travails being criticized for transphobia, as well as important contemporary social-justice battles more broadly — trans rights and #MeToo and the reckoning over Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of children. This, say the critics, is just plain wrong, and a frustrating departure from his earlier, meatier work…

What should we think about Dave Chappelle’s most recent Netflix special, “Sticks & Stones”? We should be disappointed in it, if not outraged by it, according to some culture critics. After all, Chappelle spends a chunk of the hourlong set making defiantly offensive jokes about both his own prior travails being criticized for transphobia, as well as important contemporary social-justice battles more broadly — trans rights and #MeToo and the reckoning over Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of children. This, say the critics, is just plain wrong, and a frustrating departure from his earlier, meatier work.

In both cases, critics of the comedians in questions tried to portray their most recent work as a sudden, jarring shift from what they had produced before. Suddenly, Louis C.K. was “punching down.” Suddenly, he was using his comedic powers for evil, not for good. This argument, which popped up everywhere, made no sense if you were at all familiar with C.K.’s past work. This was a guy who, before and during the time he was garnering glowing coverage as a hero of humanistic, progressive comedywas making jokes about how it’s okay to use the word ‘faggot’ as long as the target is sufficiently mockable, and how sad it was he couldn’t say it anymore, and who once said, during a hilarious segment on his irrational hatred of deer, “I would happily blow 20 guys in an alley with bleeding dicks so I could get AIDS and then fuck a deer and kill it with my AIDS.” During that same segment, he referred to a “faggot cunt n*gger deer.” But now he’s an offensive crank! Here’s Slate, about a full decade later, responding to C.K.’s use of the phrase “Jewish faggot” in a characteristically over-the-top part of the leaked set: “Whatever you think about C.K.’s past use of slurs in his act, his old material at least made some attempt to think about what they meant.” Ah, yes, that thoughtful critique of deer.

In the case of Chappelle, too, critics have been squinting really hard and ignoring a great deal of the man’s previous output in order to draw a stark line between his old and new material. Back when he was celebrated almost unanimously among progressive culture critics, he had a recurring slapstick character named Tyrone Biggums whose entire shtick was… being a crackhead…

So the claim that both these comedians have taken some dark thematic and political turn is mostly off-base. Rather, what’s going on is that their output is now being judged in a very different light because they have been ‘cancelled’ (C.K. more so than Chappelle, of course). It is a weird sort of retconning that makes the narrative more tidy: These guys were Good, and now they’re Bad. Their comedy tells the story; it traces a neat and satisfying arc…

Those who view any critique of cancel culture or political correctness as inherently bankrupt often derail conversations about it by claiming that PC is simply a synonym for “Being a decent person” — if you’re a decent person, in other words, you won’t get in trouble, and you’ll have nothing to worry about. But this isn’t how most of the country sees things, and it doesn’t accurately capture how the rules over who can get away with saying what are made, revised, and enforced.

The best data we have suggest that the vast majority of Americans view political correctness as a problem, and that, contra the claim of many progressives, this is not a battlefield consisting of resentful ranting whites on one side and oppressed people on the other, the latter simply asking to be treated and spoken of with decency. In fact, the people most enthusiastic about intense forms of language-policing tend to be more privileged and more white, according to a national political-correctness survey conducted by the firm More in Common that made headlines last year. As Yascha Mounk wrote in his writeup in The Atlantic, “While 83 percent of respondents who make less than $50,000 dislike political correctness, just 70 percent of those who make more than $100,000 are skeptical about it. And while 87 percent who have never attended college think that political correctness has grown to be a problem, only 66 percent of those with a postgraduate degree share that sentiment.” Moreover, “Whites are ever so slightly less likely than average to believe that political correctness is a problem in the country: 79 percent of them share this sentiment. Instead, it is Asians (82 percent), Hispanics (87 percent), and American Indians (88 percent) who are most likely to oppose political correctness.”

5) Eric Foner is an amazing historian.  I really don’t remember too many books I read as an undergraduate, but Foner’s Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men that still influences how I think about our history and politics.  Great interview with Isaac Chotiner on how to think about Reconstruction:

You say early in the book that, in one sense, “Reconstruction never ended.” What exactly do you mean?

I defined Reconstruction in two ways. One, it’s a particular time period of American history. You can debate the dates. It starts in 1865, when the Civil War ends, or maybe it starts in 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation is issued, and it ends sometime in the eighteen-seventies, although there’s debate about that also.

But, I think, more importantly, Reconstruction is a historical process. And the process is, How does the United States come to terms with the results of the Civil War? The unity of the nation we seem to have come to terms with. But the other matter is the destruction of slavery. How does the United States deal with the fact that four million people who were slaves became free? What role would they have? What rights would they have? How would they be treated? And those debates are still going on. Pick up today’s newspaper, and you’ll find things which relate back to the legacy of slavery. So in that sense, the reckoning has never happened, or we’re still grappling with the consequences of two hundred and fifty years of slavery…

Your book gestures at the fact that we’re still dealing with these issues today. I don’t want to turn this interview into a thing about Trump, but has anything about the last few years, with Trump’s rise, changed the way you view the work you do or the period you study?

You know, that’s an interesting question. It may be too soon to tell. I think a lot will depend on whether Trump is reëlected. Is Trump an aberration? Is this just a crazy thing that happened in some countries— that’s happening in England right now? If Trump is reëlected, I think we have to then sit and say, “You know, maybe some of our assumptions about how deeply rooted democratic values are in our country, how deeply rooted notions of equality are in America, maybe we need to rethink that.”

There was a sort of Cold War view of America as the exemplar of liberalism, of democracy, of equality, you know—never quite complete, but always striving in that direction and improving in that direction. Maybe that’s not correct. Maybe that’s one strand of American history, but maybe what we need to do is emphasize other strands, equally powerful. The strand of nativism, the strand of racism, the strand of, you know, hostility and hatred of the other. Maybe we need to rewrite American history to highlight those. Not to throw away everything else, but to say maybe we’ve been a little bit Pollyanna-ish about what American culture really is.

6) How many damn headlines like this are there in American criminal “justice”? She Was Convicted of Killing Her Mother. Prosecutors Withheld the Evidence That Would Have Freed Her: By the time Noura Jackson’s conviction was overturned, she had spent nine years in prison. This type of prosecutorial error is almost never punished.”  Ugh.  And the key is that last sentence.  So long as prosecutors can ruin people’s lives with impunity, they will ruin people’s lives with impunity.  It’s almost as if incentives matter.

7) This is interesting, “Slavery and the Holocaust: How Americans and Germans Cope With Past Evils”

For two decades after World War II, Germany — East and West – practiced “moral myopia.” Communist East Germany claimed that since it was a postwar antifascist state and all the former Nazis were in West Germany (they were not), it bore no responsibility for genocide. West Germans, in Neiman’s words, “from dogcatcher to diplomat,” falsely insisted that only the Third Reich’s leadership knew of the mass murder. “Our men were gallant fighters, not criminals,” one German told her. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer appointed former Nazis to some of the government’s highest jobs, thus telegraphing the message that, on a personal level, all was forgiven. Even the reparation process, Neiman says, was “meanspirited and arduous.” Auschwitz survivors received a smaller pension than former SS guards and their widows. Simply put, Germans, East and West, refused to articulate the words: I was guilty.

What changed? In the late 1960s West German children and grandchildren of Nazis began to struggle with their families’ crimes. Having watched the televised Eichmann and Auschwitz trials, and inspired by student protests sweeping Europe, young Germans demanded an honest account of past wrongs. That confrontation with history, while hardly complete and now under attack from right-wing forces, remains far more extensive and honest, Neiman says, than anything that occurred in the United States regarding slavery and discrimination…

Neiman notes that while Germany’s past no longer immunizes it against resurgent nationalism and anti-Semitism, there is in the heart of Berlin a memorial to the six million Jews murdered by Germans. “A nation that erects a monument of shame for the evils of its history in its most prominent space is a nation that is not afraid to confront its own failures.” While a museum dedicated to the African-American experience has opened in the heart of Washington, recent expressions of racism not just from the highest office in this land but also from many politicians, pundits and ordinary people suggest that America’s confrontation with its legacy of slavery and racial hatred is far from complete.

Many Americans, in the South and the North, insist that Confederate monuments are historical artifacts that simply honor the region’s history and its loyal defenders. They ignore the fact that most were built 50 years after the war, when the children of the Confederacy were creating the myth of a noble lost cause. Others were erected during the 1960s in protest of the civil rights movement. [emphasis mine]

8) Obviously I really appreciated this Washington Post piece on the “war” between animal and plant-based alternatives for the future of meat:

But as plant-based meat goes from an afterthought to a financial juggernaut that aims to change how most people eat, the opposition has suddenly awakened: Many of the country’s 800,000 cattle ranchers have declared war on newcomers Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, which use technology to make products that hew closely to the taste and texture of meat, and now “first-generation” veggie burgers and similar products are caught in the crossfire.

In 2019, officials in nearly 30 states have proposed bills to prohibit companies from using words such as meat, burger, sausage, jerky or hot dog unless the product came from an animal that was born, raised and slaughtered in a traditional way. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming have already enacted such laws. In Missouri, the first state where the ban took effect, violators incur a $1,000 fine and as much as a year in prison. Mississippi’s new law is sweeping: “Any food product containing cell-cultured animal tissue or plant-based or insect-based food shall not be labeled meat or as a meat product.”

The states, in most cases backed by cattlemen’s associations, claim consumer confusion as the driving force for the laws. The newest offerings, they say, cross a line when they make unsubstantiated health claims (many have long lists of processed ingredients and are high in sodium) and when the packaging is unclear.

“Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles has a picture of a cow on the front and says ‘plant-based’ in very small lettering at the bottom,” said Mike Deering, a cattle rancher and the executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. “I’m a dad and I’m going through the grocery store before one of my boys has a meltdown, and [if] I pick up that package that says beef with a picture of a cow on it, I’m going to buy it.”

This isn’t quite a David vs. Goliath fight. The cattle associations have enormous political power, and several of the top veggie brands such as Morningstar Farms and Boca are owned by food giants such as Kellogg and Kraft Heinz. Notably, the major meat processors — Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods, for instance — aren’t taking sides, relying on the ranchers for traditional meat but also investing heavily in these new alternatives they believe consumers increasingly desire.

Two things.  1) OMG it is so annoying and pathetic when industries argue– in obviously bad faith– that they are just looking to protect us oh-so-ignorant consumers who cannot tell the difference between hamburger and soy protein.  2) I love that this is such a perfect example of “interest group politics” where powerful organized interests face-off to determine policy.  Perfect for PS 310 :-).

9) Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed was an absolutely terrific book, whether or not you have children.  Really looking forward to his new book on college.  Here’s an except on college admissions, “What College Admissions Offices Really Want: Elite schools say they’re looking for academic excellence and diversity. But their thirst for tuition revenue means that wealth trumps all.”

The dictates of financial-aid optimization and the algorithms of modern enrollment management have made the process of college admissions more opaque and unbalanced than ever. They have empowered affluent students, allowing them to be more choosy about where they go and how much they pay to go there. They have created brand-new obstacles for working-class and low-income students trying to rise above their family’s economic situation.

10) Some good political science in the Monkey Cage, “No, Trump isn’t Teflon. Scandals lower his approval among Republicans — if they see the news.”

11) Apparently, some white people don’t like to learn about the legacy of slavery when they visit historic sites that were, among other things, slave plantations:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — A Monticello tour guide was explaining earlier this summer how enslaved people built, planted and tended a terrace of vegetables at Thomas Jefferson’s estate when a woman interrupted to share her annoyance.

“Why are you talking about that?” she demanded, according to Gary Sandling, vice president of Monticello’s visitor programs and services. “You should be talking about the plants.”

At Monticello, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and other plantations across the South, an effort is underway to deal more honestly with the brutal institution that the Founding Fathers relied on to build their homes and their wealth: slavery.

Four hundred years after the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia, some sites are also connecting that ugly past to modern-day racism and inequality.

The changes have begun to draw people long alienated by the sites’ whitewashing of the past and to satisfy what staff call a hunger for real history, as plantations add slavery-focused tours, rebuild cabins and reconstruct the lives of the enslaved with help from their descendants. But some visitors, who remain overwhelmingly white, are pushing back, and the very mention of slavery and its impacts on the United States can bring accusations of playing politics.

“We’re at a very polarized, partisan political moment in our country, and not surprisingly, when we are in those moments, history becomes equally polarized,” Sandling said.

The backlash is reflected in some online reviews of plantations, including McLeod in Charleston, S.C., where one visitor complained earlier this summer that she “didn’t come to hear a lecture on how the white people treated slaves.”

Quick hits (part II)

Look at this, your first double quick hits, on-time, weekend in forever :-).

1) Truly, the everyday corruption of the Trump administration is just astounding.  And the politicization of the Department of Justice is among the worst parts.  NYT:

President Trump’s Justice Department — for it is increasingly clear that the department has been reduced to an arm of the White House — has opened an antitrust investigation of four auto companies that had the temerity to defy the president by voluntarily agreeing to reduce auto emissions below the level required by current federal law.

The investigation is an act of bullying, plain and simple: a nakedly political abuse of authority.

The department is supposed to prevent companies from acting in their own interest at the expense of the public. The four automakers, by contrast, are acting in the public interest.

That the government of the United States would fight to loosen emissions standards in the face of the growing threat posed by climate change also boggles the mind. Not content to fiddle while the planet burns, Mr. Trump is fanning the flames…

If the Justice Department wants to get serious about antitrust enforcement, there are plenty of places to get started. This investigation is an embarrassment. It might as well wheel out the statue of Lady Justice and replace it with a bronze marionette.

2) Oh, and why we’re at it, how about making immigrant kids go hungry.  Seriously, of course.  My friend and colleague, Sarah Bowen, in the NYT:

Between 2012 and 2017, as part of a study of how low-income mothers feed their children, we talked with women who had moved from Mexico and Central America to the United States. They came here because they wanted to be able to offer their children more than they’d had growing up, including a full belly at the end of every day. Over the course of our research — amid increasing ICE raids, tightened work restrictions and growing anti-immigrant sentiment stoked by President Trump’s rhetoric — we found that many families became afraid to apply for food assistance programs. The Trump administration’s new “public charge” rule will intensify this kind of fear for immigrant families, including those who are in this country legally. One result will be more hungry families and children.

By allowing the government to deny permanent legal status (also known as green cards) to people who have received public benefits like housing assistance, SNAP or Medicaid, the new rule — which will go into effect Oct. 15 if it survives legal challenges, including suits by CaliforniaNew York and Washington — will force families to choose between putting food on the table and the promise of future citizenship.

3) Wired feature on the wagon wheel effect of water going up and other fascinating illusions is pretty cool.

4) Thanks to JPP for sending me this, “It doesn’t matter if it’s sugary or diet: New study links all soda to an early death.”   From my response to his email,
“Thanks, of course. I find this one particularly interesting in that they have 400K+ people and still can’t truly make useful conclusions about diet soda. Just too many unmeasured factors, even with their controls. And, while we all understand the potential deleterious mechanisms for excess sugar, I would argue that it is incumbent upon them to add a scientifically plausible mechanism of action for aspartame leading to diseases of the circulatory system.”  Some studies make me honestly assess my commitment to diet soda.  This was not one of them.

5) Is there anything dumber than Republicans’ asinine, bad-faith “republic, not a democracy” nonsense (well, sure, of course there is, but this is really annoying)?  Jamelle Bouie:

But the crux of Crenshaw’s argument is his second point. “We live in a republic.” He doesn’t say “not a democracy,” but it’s implied by the next clause, where he rejects majority rule — “51% of the population doesn’t get to boss around the other 49%.”

You can fill in the blanks of the argument from there. The Founding Fathers built a government to stymie the “tyranny of the majority.” They contrasted their “republic” with “democracy,” which they condemned as dangerous and unstable. As John Adams wrote in an 1814 letter to the Virginia politician John Taylor: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide.”

But there’s a problem. For the founders, “democracy” did not mean majority rule in a system of representation. The men who led the revolution and devised the Constitution were immersed in classical literature and political theory. Ancient Greece, in particular, was a cautionary tale. When James Madison critiqued “democracy” in Federalist No. 10, he meant the Athenian sort: “a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person.” This he contrasted with a “republic” or “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place.” Likewise, in a 1788 speech to the New York ratification convention, Alexander Hamilton disavowed “the ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated.” They “never possessed one good feature of government,” he said. “Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”…

It’s worth asking where this quip — “we’re a republic, not a democracy” — even came from. Nicole Hemmer, a historian of American politics and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics,” traces it to the 1930s and 40s. “When Franklin Roosevelt made defending democracy a core component of his argument for preparing for, and then intervening in, the war in Europe, opponents of U.S. intervention began to push back by arguing that the U.S. was not, in fact, a democracy,” she wrote in an email…

These origins are important. If there’s substance behind “We’re a republic, not a democracy,” it’s not as a description of American government. There’s really no difference, in the present, between a “republic” and a “democracy”: Both connote systems of representation in which sovereignty and authority derive from the public at large.

The point of the slogan isn’t to describe who we are, but to claim and co-opt the founding for right-wing politics — to naturalize political inequality and make it the proper order of things. What lies behind that quip, in other words, is an impulse against democratic representation. It is part and parcel of the drive to make American government a closed domain for a select, privileged few. [emphasis mine]

6a) Really interesting NYT feature on how Phoenix is adapting to climate change by moving more and more activities to the night-time.  Also, speaking as a resident of an almost temperate rainforest climate, people really should not move to the desert by the millions.

6b) And very, very cool interactive Washington Post feature on how climate change is already affecting all sorts of places across America.

7) Paul Waldman, “if we told the truth about guns”

The next thing they’d say: We know that more guns don’t equal less crime. Because if that were true, then not only would America have the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world (which we don’t), but also the places with the most guns would be the safest places (which they aren’t).

The next thing they’d say: We know that more guns don’t equal less crime. Because if that were true, then not only would America have the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world (which we don’t), but also the places with the most guns would be the safest places (which they aren’t).

And then: We know that the “good guy with a gun” taking out a mass shooter is a fantasy. It’s something that rarely happens despite all the millions of people walking around with guns. But we love that fantasy. It’s a big part of the attraction of guns. Just thinking about it makes us feel strong and capable and manly, as though we could turn into action heroes at a moment’s notice, exchanging fire with a terrorist strike team or saving a bunch of innocent kids from a mad killer.

And: We know that guns are not the only protection against tyranny, no matter how many times we say otherwise. The very idea is absurd. If it were true, there would have been authoritarian takeovers in recent years in Britain, and France, and Sweden, and Norway, and … you get the idea.

8a) This was a really good piece from Perry Bacon Jr last month, “GOP Politicians Are Much More Resistant To Gun Control Than GOP Voters Are.”

8b) Relatedly, Dylan Matthews from last year on how gun ownership because a political identity is really good:’

In 1972, about 66 percent of gun owners voted for Richard Nixon, compared to 55 percent of non-gun owners, for a gap of 11 percentage points.

In 2012, 56 percent of gun owners voted for Mitt Romney, compared to 26 percent of non-gun owners. The gap was 30 percent, almost triple what it was in 1972. Joslyn and Haider-Markel updated their study in 2017, and found that the gap in 2016 wasn’t quite as large as in 2012 — 62 percent of gun owners and 38 percent of non-owners voted for Trump  but it did remain significant and far larger than in the 1970s and ’80s.

The gun gap could just be an artifact of other demographics. For instance, we know that for a whole host of historical reasons, black Americans overwhelmingly vote for Democrats and whites mostly vote for Republicans; whites are also likelier to own guns, so the gap might reflect racial differences. Same goes for partisan gender gaps (women are more likely to be Democrats and less likely to own guns), rural/urban gaps, and so forth.

But Joslyn and company find that even after you control for gender, race, education, age, rural/urban status, and even party affiliation, gun ownership still correlates strongly with presidential vote choice. Indeed, they find that in their regressions, it “exerts a greater influence on likelihood of voting Republican than gender, education, or rural residence, and rivals age.”

These regressions can’t prove causality — that is, they can’t prove that gun ownership causes people to vote Republican. But they do show that the phenomenon we’re seeing isn’t just an effect of which racial groups or genders are likely to own guns.

8c) And while wer’re at it, Nate Cohn from 2017 with lots of cool graphics on how “Nothing Divides Voters Like Owning a Gun.”

9) My wife particularly loved this story about the problems faced by those left behind in gentrification.  I really don’t know what the solution is, but I don’t think preventing the revitalization of urban cores by wealthier residents (and an important reversal of decades of white flight) is a bad thing.

10) Speaking of my post on ebooks, good stuff from Wired on “The Radical Transformation of the Textbook.”

11) Good stuff from Lili Loofbourow on “sharpiegate.”

More interesting in Trump’s ongoing lie is what his absolute fixation on maintaining it says about the state of his White House and its relationship to the information environment. So clumsy and obvious was the Sharpie-drawn extension that it seemed like a test—how much can I get away with? Authoritarians frequently gauge their subordinates’ loyalties by ordering them to agree to things that are plainly untrue. This is the very first thing Trump did to then–press secretary Sean Spicer, who was forced to publicly defend the president’s claim about crowd sizes at his inauguration despite photographic evidence to the contrary. Spicer obliged, teaching Trump that he could use weak people to help him bend reality as president.

Here’s a theory about why Trump couldn’t let it go this week: One of his staunchest allies didn’t seem to have his back. It may have rattled him. Fox News, which he has recently started attacking for being insufficiently slavish—has let him down…

And if #Sharpiegate can be said to serve any non-embarrassing function, it’s as a test of another kind, to see which institutions and people have rotted under the president’s hysterical commands and which ones haven’t. On Thursday, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter Brown issued a statement taking responsibility for the president’s out-of-date information. On Thursday, a source from the White House informed CNN that Trump had personally directed Brown to make this statement. The president was forcing a high-ranking military official to cover for him. On Friday evening, the NOAA released a peculiar, unsigned statement throwing the Alabama NWS under the bus for contradicting the president-who-shall-not-be-contradicted. (The NWS Employees Organization wasn’t having it, and neither were many former NOAA officials, who professed themselves stunned.)

What’s noteworthy about all this is not that Trump is forcing the government to write him notes of excuse; that’s old news by now. It’s that his critics have not merely shrugged and gone away, and that even the façade of his defense has shown cracks. It was a White House aide who revealed the John Roberts visit to the Oval Office, and, according to the Washington Post, it was a White House official who broke with the administration line to admit that the president of the United States had marked up an official NOAA map in order to avoid even a whiff of admitting fault.

“No one else writes like that on a map with a black Sharpie,” the source said. Trump can sell whatever he wants; he’s seeing what happens when people don’t buy it.

12) This is excellent and true, “The Guy Who Open-Carried an Assault Rifle Into Walmart After El Paso Is America’s Best Gun Control Activist”

On Aug. 3, a 21-year-old Texas man shot 46 people in an El Paso Walmart with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 22 of them. On Aug. 8, a 20-year-old man wearing body armor and carrying a semi-automatic rifle entered a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri, in what police say he intended as a “social experiment” to see if the store would honor the state’s open-carry law in the wake of the El Paso killings.

The experiment got results. After shoppers panicked and a store employee pulled a fire alarm to trigger an evacuation, the man—his name is Dmitriy Andreychenko—was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat; prosecutors argue that he recklessly disregarded the possibility that his actions would cause dangerous chaos. If you’ve been following the rise of politically motivated “tactical” open-carry culture in the last six or so years, what happened next was surprising: Walmart—and a number of its competitors, like Kroger, Wegmans, CVS, and Walgreens—have announced that they are “requesting” or “asking” customers not to display firearms in their stores even in states where the practice is legal.

As private entities, the stores have the right to set rules for their property. Walmart says it will take a “a very non-confrontational approach” to enforcing its request, but gun proliferation is a cultural issue as well as a legal one, which is why certain gun enthusiasts have been so eager to make a public show of openly carrying—and why the company’s move, however non-confrontational, carries weight. Gun activists’ goal has been to make ordinary citizens accept the presence of people who could kill at any moment—to deliver the message that visibly armed citizens ought to be part of everyday life, to express the power of the gun-rights movement, and to convey the idea that arming oneself, rather than collectively disarming society, is the proper response to feeling unsafe.

Open carry has been hard to stop at the legal level in states where Republicans control legislatures, which, of late, is most of them. The Supreme Court has not recognized a constitutional right to carry guns in public, yet, but it hasn’t struck down any open-carry laws either. Advocates of gun control (or gun safety, if you prefer) have been attempting for years to do an end-run by persuading chain stores and restaurants—which can be more responsive to national, general-public opinion than legislators in gerrymandered states—to ban open carry, with some success.

None of their efforts, though, have been as instantly effective as Andreychenko’s stunt in making the point that wearing military protective gear and carrying a semi-automatic weapon should perhaps not be considered an acceptable way to behave, during peacetime, around people who are shopping for paper towels. [emphasis mine]

13) Been a huge fan of Lizzo’s music since I discovered her via Fresh Air earlier this year.  So good!  And, thus, very intrigued to learn that it wasn’t even her terrific songs on her new album that finally brought her to the success she deserves.  De gustibus non est disputandam!  I even discovered when following the youtube links, that she’s playing in Raleigh this Friday.  Alas, I don’t have to worry about being the weird middle-aged white dude at her concert, because it’s sold out.  Obviously booked this small venue before she really took off.

14) New Yorker with some of the truly amazing detail NC GOP gerrymanderer-in-chief Thomas Hofeller had on his computer.

15) How two-factor authentication with your phone may no longer keep you safe.  Turns out that the massively weak link is the cell phone companies.  And, apparently, they don’t care.  Seems to me maybe the government needs to make them (I can dream).

16) Have I mentioned how much I love Netflix’s Dark?  A nice appreciation in Wired.

17) Wow, here was quite the hot take in the NYT, “Dogs Are Not Here for Our Convenience:
Spaying and neutering puppies shouldn’t be standard policy — and it isn’t automatically the “responsible” choice either.”  Steve’s take.  We have a moral and ethical responsibility to treat them well, but… they kind of are here for our convenience.

18) Michele Goldberg made the case for Cory Booker back in early August.  I’m still hopeful he’ll catch on as a real contender.

19) Some health news I really like, “Flavonoids in Plants May Help Protect Against Major Killers: Those who ate the most flavonoid-rich foods had a lower risk for cancer and cardiovascular death.”

Consuming flavonoids, a large class of nutrients found in plant foods, may reduce the risk for cancer and cardiovascular death.

Researchers used data on 56,048 Danes, following their diet and health prospectively for 23 years. During that time, 14,083 of them died. The study is in Nature Communications.

After controlling for smoking, hypertension, cholesterol and many other health and dietary factors, they found that compared with people in the lowest one-fifth for flavonoid intake, those in the highest one-fifth had a 17 percent reduced risk for all-cause mortality, a 15 percent reduced risk for cardiovascular disease death, and a 20 percent reduced risk for cancer mortality. The association peaked at about 500 milligrams of flavonoids a day, and was stronger for smokers, heavy drinkers and the obese.

Good sources of flavonoids include tea, chocolate, red wine, citrus fruits, berries, apples and broccoli. One cup of tea, one apple, one orange, and three-and-a-half ounces each of blueberries and broccoli would supply more than 500 milligrams of total flavonoids.

Yeah, not so much the brocoli, but love me berries and citrus.

20) This was a disturbing and sadly unsurprising Op-Ed, “A Child Bumps Her Head. What Happens Next Depends on Race: My black and Latino clients are accused of abuse when their kids have accidents.”

(Long lost) quick hits

Quick hits are back!

1) When I’ve read/heard of musical intellectual property violations, it’s typically pretty obvious.  Think Vanilla Ice meets Queen/David Bowie.  Or less dramatically, but still obvious, Sam Smith having Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” at half-speed.  I was not aware that these copyright lawsuits were not totally out of hand trying to claim that basic and universal musical features can be copyrighted.  Good stuff on the matter in Vox.

2) Interesting series on sexism in Political Science in the Monkey Cage, including this, “Political science professors assign fewer readings by women than by men. Here’s why that matters.”  Here’s the thing– I literally have no idea what percent of my readings are by men or women.  I pretty much pay no attention at all to the gender of the author except to make sure I write the name down correctly in the on-line reserve system.  Does that make me sexist?  Heck, when I publish articles, I don’t even know the gender at all of a bunch of our citations.

3) Right now there’s still lots of room for laws to regulate guns under the Supreme Court precedent of DC v. Heller.  This Linda Greenhouse column scared me, though.

4) So, this seems kind of nuts.  Apparently, there’s all these great tools to actually defeat ransomware and Europe is great at helping people use them.  But, the U.S.?  Not so much.

5) Queued up before David Koch’s death, the New Yorker on climate change and the Koch brothers in “Kochland”

“Kochland” is important, Davies said, because it makes it clear that “you’d have a carbon tax, or something better, today, if not for the Kochs. They stopped anything from happening back when there was still time.” The book also documents how, in 2010, the company’s lobbyists spent gobs of cash and swarmed Congress as part of a multi-pronged effort to kill the first, and so far the last, serious effort to place a price on carbon pollution—the proposed “cap and trade” bill. Magnifying the Kochs’ power was their network of allied donors, anonymously funded shell groups, think tanks, academic centers, and nonprofit advocacy groups, which Koch insiders referred to as their “echo chamber.” Leonard also reports that the centrist think tank Third Way quietly worked with the Kochs to push back against efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which could have affected their business importing oil from Canada. Frequently, and by design, the Koch brothers’ involvement was all but invisible.

Others have chronicled the cap-and-trade fight well, but Leonard penetrates the inner sanctum of the Kochs’ lobbying machine, showing that, from the start, even when other parts of the company could have benefitted from an embrace of alternative energy, Koch Industries regarded any compromise that might reduce fossil-fuel consumption as unacceptable. Protecting its fossil-fuel profits was, and remains, the company’s top political priority. Leonard shows that the Kochs, to achieve this end, worked to hijack the Tea Party movement and, eventually, the Republican Party itself.

6) Nikole Hannah-Jones essay for the 1619 project really is a must read.  Do it.

No one cherishes freedom more than those who have not had it. And to this day, black Americans, more than any other group, embrace the democratic ideals of a common good. We are the most likely to support programs like universal health care and a higher minimum wage, and to oppose programs that harm the most vulnerable. For instance, black Americans suffer the most from violent crime, yet we are the most opposed to capital punishment. Our unemployment rate is nearly twice that of white Americans, yet we are still the most likely of all groups to say this nation should take in refugees.

The truth is that as much democracy as this nation has today, it has been borne on the backs of black resistance. Our founding fathers may not have actually believed in the ideals they espoused, but black people did. As one scholar, Joe R. Feagin, put it, “Enslaved African-Americans have been among the foremost freedom-fighters this country has produced.” For generations, we have believed in this country with a faith it did not deserve. Black people have seen the worst of America, yet, somehow, we still believe in its best.

7) From the, “of course, because Republicans are in charge” files, “Tyson wants fewer government inspectors in one of its beef plants. Food safety advocates are raising alarms. Consumer advocates warn that the changes could threaten food safety by keeping red flags out of the sight of expert inspectors.”

8) Elaina Plott on Ken Cucinelli, the xenophobe now helping run Trump’s immigration policy:

Enter Cuccinelli. The former Virginia attorney general joined the Trump administration in late May. His background includes trying to eliminate birthright citizenship, questioning whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and proposing to make speaking Spanish on the job a fireable offense. Accordingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advised the president against nominating Cuccinelli to any post that required Senate confirmation. To some, Cuccinelli’s arrival meant that Miller had, at long last, found the consummate ideological ally. (A representative for Cuccinelli declined my request for a phone interview with the director.)…

This week, Cuccinelli has gone on a media blitz of sorts to defend the administration’s crackdown on legal immigration. The new public-charge rule specifically allows the government to deny permanent residency to legal immigrants it deems a financial burden, based on an individual’s current or likely reliance on programs such as food stamps or Medicaid. In an interview with NPR yesterday, Cuccinelli went so far as to suggest a rewrite of the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. “Would you also agree that … ‘Give me your tired, your poor’ are also part of the American ethos?” the host Rachel Martin asked Cuccinelli. “They certainly are,” he replied. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.”

9) Elizabeth Warren remains my favorite Democratic presidential candidate.  But, I wish she’d respect the fact that the Justice Department was pretty clear that Michael Brown was in no way murdered (the same Justice Department that reported on the horrible, systemic racism of the Ferguson PD).

10) Somehow, I never heard of this incident before.  In Republicans’ America where we are free from all those damn burdensome regulations, kids get decapitated on water slides.  Seriously

In 2012, the Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry, together with the senior designer John Schooley, fast-tracked Verrückt’s construction to coincide with an appearance on a reality TV show about amusement parks. (They were also gunning for a Guinness World Record.) Although they had built rides before, neither Henry nor Schooley had a background in mechanical engineering. And according to state law, they didn’t need those credentials to deem their own ride safe. Unlike in the neighboring state of Missouri, water parks in Kansas do not require inspections by a state agency. Still, Henry and Schooley delayed the ride’s opening three times due to safety concerns.

11) To provide a little context for Jeffrey Eptstein’s prison death, Ken White’s, “Thirty-Two Short Stories About Death in Prison” was terrific.  And we should all be horrified at the quotidian inhumanity in our prison system.

12) As you know, I never tire of pointing out that health care producers (doctors and hospitals) are typically the real opponent of meaningful reform, not so much the health insurance companies.  But insurers are not great.  Pro Publica, “Health Insurers Make It Easy for Scammers to Steal Millions. Who Pays? You.”

Williams’ case highlights an unsettling reality about the nation’s health insurance system: It is surprisingly easy for fraudsters to gain entry, and it is shockingly difficult to convince insurance companies to stop them.

Williams’ spree also lays bare the financial incentives that drive the system: Rising health care costs boost insurers’ profits. Policing criminals eats away at them. Ultimately, losses are passed on to their clients through higher premiums and out-of-pocket fees or reduced coverage.

Insurance companies “are more focused on their bottom line than ferreting out bad actors,” said Michael Elliott, former lead attorney for the Medicare Fraud Strike Force in North Texas.

13) Nice little Slate feature on how to bond with your teenager. I was pleased to see I already do most of these.  And as damn surly as my 13-year old can be, I really appreciate that he’s still openly affectionate when he’s not busy rolling his eyes at me.

14) Dahlia Lithwick on the utter idiocy of our approach to guns:

Andreychenko didn’t die last week. Instead, officers took the man into custody “without incident.” That’s a tremendous surfeit of good fortune for a man who was apprehended both by an armed bystander and the police. By its very definition, white privilege is the ability to film yourself conducting a “social experiment” with military-grade weapons at the same chain where a mass shooting just happened, without being shot dead in your tracks. Trayvon Martin wasn’t even granted the luxury of being allowed to conduct a “social experiment” with a bag of Skittles.

Instead, Andreychenko was charged with, basically, “scaring the people”—formally with “making a terrorist threat.” Presumably, he and all the other social experimenters will be free to go back to their laboratories of Second Amendment democracy just as soon as this latest mass shooting slips out of our minds. Springfield attorney Scott Pierson even told a local news outlet that Andreychenko might not have been arrested for the incident if it had happened before the shootings last weekend in El Paso and Dayton. “But because of those things [that] happened, a reasonable person would be fearful of an individual walking in with a tactical vest and what looks like an assault rifle,” he said.

By this logic, Andreychenko could have … what? Waited a week and then tried his stunt then? Chosen a Kmart instead of a Walmart? Worn a lab coat? At what point would a reasonable person believe that “an individual walking in with a tactical vest and what looks like an assault rifle” is just there to shop? A few years back, in response to a rise in men claiming First Amendment rights to mass around restaurants armed to the teeth, Christian Turner and I argued that it’s impossible to tell who’s doing performance art and who’s there to kill or terrorize folks. “Given how many people die every year as a result of gun violence, reasonable observers can’t differentiate between the AK-47 being brandished for lethal purposes and the one being brandished to celebrate freedom and self-reliance,” we wrote. “That’s why reasonable observers tend to feel intimidated and call the cops.”

15) Once the Amazon burns it’s not coming back.  This was a horribly depressing article, “The Horrifying Science of the Deforestation Fueling Amazon Fires.”

16) Always listen to Sean Trende, “Yes, the GOP Should Worry About Texas.”

Nationally, the 2016 election can be viewed as a contest that Democrats won in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, but lost in the rural areas.  In the lead-up to that election, prognosticators focused on changes in Democrats’ favor in the urban areas, but forgot just how many people voted in rural areas and small towns in many states. In particular, in states like Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, the Democrats’ weakness in rural areas and small towns overwhelmed their strong performance in the larger cities. In the Midwest, a near-majority of the votes are still cast in rural areas, small towns and large towns. The notable exceptions are Minnesota, where over 60% of the votes are cast in metropolitan areas, and in Illinois, which is dominated by metro Chicago.  Tellingly, these are the states that Trump failed to flip.

When people think of Texas, they think of rural areas. Cowboys on horseback, cattle roaming the plains, and giant ranches (complete — for people of a certain age — with J.R. Ewing in a Stetson hat). But while the Llano Estacado – what we might call “stereotypical Texas” – does cover a large swath of the state, it is relatively underpopulated.

The nature of rural America changes dramatically when one crosses the 100th meridian. Here, as famously described by John Wesley Powell, rainfall drops beneath levels required for reliable crop growth, so a flourishing rural population never took hold.  Unlike eastern states, states west of this longitude are better thought of as city states: Think of how Denver dominates Colorado, Phoenix dominates Arizona, Salt Lake City dominates Utah, and Las Vegas dominates Nevada.

Texas straddles the 100th meridian. Eastern Texas is actually an extension of the Deep South: It is wooded, humid, has a large number of small towns and cities, and has some rural African American population. The rest of the state, however, is more like New Mexico or western Oklahoma.  Much of the land is given over to ranching, and few votes are cast there.

Instead, votes are cast in the major metropolitan areas. In 2016, the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan areas combined for a majority of the vote in Texas. Donald Trump very nearly lost these areas for the GOP for first time in recent memory, receiving just 48% of the vote there. Despite winning the popular vote nationally by larger margins than Clinton, Barack Obama took just 43% of the vote here in 2012, and 45% during his landslide win in 2008.

17) Interesting analogy– today’s Republicans who know the reality of Trump and are just cowards as compared to Vichy French.

18) In a better world, we would have had more news coverage on curing Ebola.  That’s a big deal!  Nice Wired story on how the new treatments work.

Quick hits (part I)

1) The total disrespect for science out of the Trump administration is so depressing.  USDA version (one of many there):

One of the nation’s leading climate change scientists is quitting the Agriculture Department in protest over the Trump administration’s efforts to bury his groundbreaking study about how rice is losing nutrients because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Lewis Ziska, a 62-year-old plant physiologist who’s worked at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for more than two decades, told POLITICO he was alarmed when department officials not only questioned the findings of the study — which raised serious concerns for the 600 million people who depend on rice for most of their calories — but also tried to minimize media coverage of the paper, which was published in the journal Science Advances last year.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views,” Ziska said in a wide-ranging interview. “That’s so sad. I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

2) So, apparently that walking around with a water bottle all day to hydrate may not be so great.   Some interesting research suggests hydrating is much more effective with meals.  Hooray for me and my 60 ounces of Diet Dr Pepper with pizza lunches:

“If you’re drinking water and then, within two hours, your urine output is really high and [your urine] is clear, that means the water is not staying in well,” says David Nieman, a professor of public health at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus. Nieman says plain water has a tendency to slip right through the human digestive system when not accompanied by food or nutrients. This is especially true when people drink large volumes of water on an empty stomach. “There’s no virtue to that kind of consumption,” he says…

“People who are drinking bottles and bottles of water in between meals and with no food, they’re probably just peeing most of that out,” Nieman says. Also, the popular idea that constant and heavy water consumption “flushes” the body of toxins or unwanted material is a half-truth. While urine does transport chemical byproducts and waste out of the body, drinking lots of water on an empty stomach doesn’t improve this cleansing process, he says.

3) This is cool. “Everything you thought you knew about gravity is wrong.”

Consider the assumptions underlying that common answer:

“Gravity is the force of attraction that makes things fall straight down.”

Well, yes — depending on what we mean by “force.” We can say gravitation is one of the four fundamental forces, but it’s such an outlier that the word “force” becomes nearly meaningless. The strong nuclear force (which keeps atomic nuclei intact) is about 100 times stronger than the electromagnetic force (which creates the light spectrum), which in turn is up to 10,000 times stronger than the weak nuclear force (which facilitates the subatomic interactions responsible for radioactive decay). Three forces, all within six orders of magnitude of one another. Then comes gravitation. It’s about a million billion billion billion times weaker than the weak nuclear.

To put that discrepancy into perspective, you can try this experiment at home. Place a paper clip on a tabletop. There it remains, unmoving, anchored to its spot by its gravitational interaction with the entire planet beneath it. The Earth’s mass is 6,583,003,100,000,000,000,000 tons. A paper clip’s mass is 4/100 of an ounce. Now take a refrigerator magnet and wand it over the paper clip. Presto! You have counteracted the gravitational “force” of the entire Earth with a wave of your hand…

So: “Gravity is.”

Well, yes — depending on what we mean by “is.” We know what gravity does, in the sense that we can mathematically measure and predict its effects. We might anticipate what happens when two black holes collide or when we let go of a rock. But we don’t know how it does what it does. We know what its effects are, and we can give the name “gravity” to the cause of those effects, but we don’t know the cause of that cause.

Not that cosmologists particularly care. In science, knowing what you don’t know is a good start. In this case, it has led scientists to believe that finding a quantum solution to gravity is a key — perhaps the key — to understanding the universe on the most fundamental level. Until then, they will work with what they do know, no matter what every bone in their bodies tells them:

Gravity is not the force of attraction that makes things fall straight down.

4) I find it astounding and depressing that we still have headlines like this in 2019.  How clueless of a school administrator do you need to be to not get this.  “Georgia school faces backlash over display of ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ black hairstyles.”

5) Don’t quite understand what the Fed does and feel like you should?  Just take 5 minutes with this from Planet Money.

6) Michelle Goldberg asks, “Why Not Cory Booker? He’s winning the debates and he’s great on paper. When will he catch on?”  I’m not about to put money on him, but Booker is good stuff and I think there’s still a non-trivial chance he’ll catch on.  I would be a very enthusiastic supporter.

7) Our criminal justice system is so disgustingly screwed up in systematically unfair ways.  This Radley Balko headline kind of says it all, “A young black football player was arrested after claiming ‘cocaine’ on his car was bird poop. It was bird poop.”

This is ridiculous. These field tests are notoriously unreliable. That hasn’t stopped police departments from using them, of course. And it also doesn’t mean we should just shrug it off when someone is falsely arrested, portrayed in the media as a drug user, and subjected to national ridicule because the police relied on tests known to have a high rate of false positives.

Even putting aside the reliability issue, I have questions.

  • Do the officers who pulled Werts over really believe that cocaine would remain on the hood of a car after that car was driven at 80 miles per hour? What manner of consuming cocaine would cause the cocaine to stick to the hood? I’m having a difficult time imagine any interaction with the drug that would result in portions of it being stuck to the hood of a car in a manner that could withstand wind at 80 miles per hour.
  • Given all of that, why would these deputies see a white substance on the hood, and immediately assume it was cocaine, rather than the dozen or so other more likely explanations? Have they ever mistaken bird poop for cocaine before? Why would they decide that this was a substance that needed to be tested at all?
  • Is it possible that they were influenced by — and I’m just spit-balling here — the fact that Werts was a young black guy driving a sports car?
  • 4) Even if it was cocaine, how did they plan to tie it to Werts? It would be one thing if that powder was inside the car. But were they prepared to hold the man liable for a substance on the outside of his car — and could have come from anywhere? …

Finally, if you’ve been reading my work for a while, you know that I’ve been keeping a list of substances that have resulted in false positives from these tests. Here’s the list: Sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaptortilla doughdeodorantbilliards chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mintsloose-leaf teaJolly RanchersvitaminsKrispy Kreme doughnut glazeairTylenoljust about every brand of chocolate at your local convenience storedry wallBC powdercotton candypowdered sugar, and now . . . bird poop.

8) Dahlia Lithwick with the best take of the photo of the Trump’s with the orphaned baby in El Paso:

Trump is really only good at one thing: being on television. Any event that can be engineered to look like a scene from The Apprentice can be fudged to his advantage. Stadium rallies, press availability from inside the Oval Office, even canned speeches read from a teleprompter can be salvaged; so long as he is essentially only producing a simulacrum of presidenting, he can shift along. But reality confounds him. Take him out from behind the oceans of fawning MAGA hats and put him next to a real survivor of sexual violence, and all the grinning and preening tricks fail him. Put him next to actual heads of state discussing actual international policy, and he sulks and mopes. Oh, he can pull off the photo-op; this is a man made of photo-ops. But time and time again, when he is called on to deal with real people—not glassy superfans but genuine human beings whom he allegedly serves as president—he fails to meet the occasion. The consummate reality-TV president is unerringly confounded by reality.

It’s not simply that an injured baby had to be returned to a hospital so that a grinning president could throw a Fonzie-style thumbs-up for the Twitter fans—that’s gross, yes, but it misses the point. The point is that this president, who understands only ratings and adulation and crowd size and “getting credit,” is seemingly incapable of subordinating all that to the moment. This was a moment in which grieving Americans wanted nothing more than for him to show up and be with them. The “catastrophe,” with all due respect to the unparalleled wisdom of Scaramucci, is not that he failed to show the requisite “compassion” or “empathy” for the cameras. Neither Donald Trump, nor his wife, nor his handlers and enablers, will ever understand that the real catastrophe isn’t how he appeared on television or Twitter. The real catastrophe is that Americans are dead and dying and their president is mass-producing a television show about his presidency, with their personal tragedy as a set choice.

Trump cannot function in reality. He lives in a hall of mirrors with his made-for-TV family, as the national security apparatus, the national intelligence apparatus, the foreign service, and foreign policy detonate all around him. And on the rare occasion on which he is called to step out from behind the glass panopticon that he has built, he fails, spectacularly, because that which really matters can’t be tweeted or reduced to a campaign video.

9) Another only-in-America health care story (at least among industrialized nations), “He lost his insurance and turned to a cheaper form of insulin. It was a fatal decision.”

10) Love what David Morse is doing with his students, “I teach my college students to lie. Honestly. Whoppers. It’s good for them.”

To begin, each student adopted the persona of a real-world politician, journalist or so-called expert, then used a Twitter-style platform to advance their arguments, criticize their opponents and introduce new “evidence.” With gusto, the Liars took advantage of the tools in the deceivers’ playbook, larding their lies with facts (e.g., government experiments on vulnerable populations), asking leading questions, posing worst-case scenarios. Meanwhile, the Truthers, beholden to the facts, could not provide an accurate answer to the liars’ demands as to the location of the missing prisoners. Instead they feebly attempted to shift the debate to the jobs that NASA creates, or criminal justice reform.

11) As much as I love Vox on policy, articles like this always end up with me rolling my eyes in dismay, “Orange Is the New Black celebrated diverse women. It also exploited their stories.”  One of the few shows that tells stories of diverse women to a mainstream audience, apparently, because the writing is sometimes cliche and mediocre, they are actually “exploiting” these women.

12) David Graham on presidential appointments:

Ideally the goals of serving the president and serving the people and the Constitution do not conflict, but the important moments are the ones when they do. Friday afternoon, President Trump announced the withdrawal of Representative John Ratcliffe, the Texas Republican he’d tapped to replace Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. That abortive nomination lays bare how acute this tension has become in the Trump administration.

13) I watch Jurassic Park movies pretty much every time they are on basic cable TV (I still love having cable and just flipping through the guide on weekends to see what’s on).  Anyway, was utterly fascinated to learn this about amber fossils:

That amber fossils exist at all is a bit of a miracle—a succession of miracles, even. First, a tree has to be oozing sap (in the Dominican Republic, amber forms from the sap of the Hymenaea tree). Healthy trees don’t dribble goo—trees do so only when they are stressed by damage, insects, fires, or disease. The resin acts like a translucent bandage, protecting the tree from further injury.

Then, an insect or other creature has to be trapped in the resin. The most common victims are flies (about half of biological inclusions are flies), but social insects such as ants, bees, and termites are also often found in stalactites of resin. The creature either drowns as the sticky goo fills its mouth and spiracles (bug lungs) or starves as it struggles to escape the resin. Most insects or arthropods fossilized in amber are less than seven-eighths of an inch long, since larger creatures can usually pull themselves out of the resin’s deadly grasp.

The resin must then land on wet, swampy soil and, eventually, end up in a freshwater current—if the resin lands on a dry forest floor, it will disintegrate into powder or crack into pieces. Once in freshwater, the resin must flow to an ocean or marsh, where it can be covered by sediment in an oxygenless environment. In this prehistoric kitchen, with millions of years of time plus pressure, the resin hardens into a polymer, in the same way plastic is made from petroleum. The resin has then become amber—nonreactive, stable, and a perfect preserver for the life caught inside.

When plate tectonics or erosion brings the amber to the surface, human hands can pick it up or chisel it out of the surrounding gray layers of lignite.

14) Good stuff in Wired on the difficulty of human spaceflight all the way to Mars.  Maybe a good pillow would help.

15) Misunderstanding of the nature of opioid addition are so common.  Great stuff from Sally Satel:

In tightening controls on doctors who prescribe pain relievers, state and federal agencies were focusing on the aspect of the problem most subject to regulatory intervention.

To some degree, the strategy worked. According to the Centers for Disease Control, overdose deaths declined by around 5 percent in 2018—a dip attributable almost exclusively to fewer deaths from oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other prescription opioids. (Fentanyl deaths are still climbing.) Now that the fever of the opioid crisis may be breaking, Americans can revisit some of the stories we have told ourselves about the role of prescription medication in the crisis.

Did policymakers and public health experts correctly assess who was at risk of becoming addicted to opioid medications? Were their views on the addictive potential of such drugs realistic? Did they anticipate the consequences of policies devised to constrain doctors from over-prescribing? In retrospect, policymakers seriously misjudged the answers to these questions, overestimating the risk that these drugs posed to the average patient while simultaneously doing too little to urge clinicians to identify those most vulnerable to addiction. The best time to correct course is now—while the opioid problem still commands public attention, and before the restrictions imposed at the height of the crisis harden into permanent practice…

In fact, only 22 to 35 percent of “misusers” of pain medication report receiving the drugs from their doctor, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (Misuse is a term that includes anything from taking an extra pill beyond the quantity prescribed by a doctor to full-blown addiction.) About half obtained pain relievers from a friend or relative, while others either stole or bought pills from someone they knew, bought from a dealer, or went out looking for a doctor willing to write prescriptions.

People who abuse pills are rarely new to drugs. The federal government’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, for example, revealed that more than three-fourths of misusers had used non-prescribed benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Xanax, or inhalants. A study of OxyContin users in treatment found that they “were not naive individuals with accidental addictions who were introduced to painkillers by their physicians as reported by the media…[instead they had] extensive drug use histories.”

Among people who are prescribed opioids, addiction is relatively uncommon. The percentage of patients who become addicted after taking opioids for chronic pain is measured in single digits; studies show an incidence from under 1 percent to 8 percent. Most of the estimates are skewed towards the low end of this range, when those at risk (due to a history of substance abuse or, to a lesser but meaningful extent, concurrent mental illness) are removed from the sample. In Feldman’s case, the nature of the risk was constant anguish. When she was 4 years old, her heroin-addicted mother left the family and died of an overdose before she was 12. “For so much of my childhood, I felt abandoned, worthless, unlovable, and confused,” she told me. Her first Percocet came from a girlfriend. “Being numb helped,” she said. Before Percocet, though, she had achieved “escape” with marijuana, alcohol, PCP, benzodiazepines, and cocaine.

16) Jonathan Bernstein: “The Long, Slow Destruction of the U.S. Government: The Trump administration continues its attacks on foreign policy, innovation and economic management.”

Item: Sue Gordon announced her plans to retire as principal deputy director of national intelligence, taking decades of experience with her, in a less-than-appreciative letter — what Dan Drezner called “Mattis Letter II.

Item: A Foreign Service officer resigned in an op-ed, saying “ I can no longer justify … my complicity in the actions of this administration.”

Item: The Donald Trump administration is finding creative ways to destroy the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, which Catherine Rampell describes as “arguably the world’s premier agricultural economics agency.”

That’s all from Thursday. They are hardly the only examples of how the administration is, to put it bluntly, destroying the U.S. government.

We’ve seen this from the start of Trump’s presidency, and it continues. I don’t think there’s any full accounting of all the damage that’s being done, whether it’s attacks on government statistics or the capacity to do science or the well-publicized war against an accurate census.

Some of this, like the attacks on the intelligence community, seem to be a combination of Trump’s personal preferences and conspiracy-minded thinking in Republican-aligned media. Some of it is mindless budget-cutting from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney that Trump likely neither knows or cares about. Some of it is what happens when the government is turned over to the short-term interests of major corporations.

But in the long term, the U.S economy will likely pay dearly for it. Economic management will suffer without reliable statistics. Productivity will suffer without government assistance in innovation (regardless of what ideologues on one side or the other will claim, innovation in the U.S. has always been a product of both public and private initiatives).

And the same thing for U.S. foreign policy, and really everything else.

This is of course not to say that everything the federal government does is worthwhile or running at maximum efficiency. Or that every federal bureaucrat is delivering for the nation. But there’s nothing systematic about any of what’s happening here. No plan. No strategy. No effort to separate the worthwhile from the worthless. It’s just basically random attacks on random pieces of the government. It will take years to recover from. In some ways, perhaps the nation will never recover.

17) This is really good from Peter Beinart, “What the Measles Epidemic Really Says About America:
The return of a vanquished disease reflects historical amnesia, declining faith in institutions, and a troubling lack of concern for the public good.”

Declining vaccination rates not only reflect a great forgetting; they also reveal a population that suffers from overconfidence in its own amateur knowledge. In her book Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines, the University of Colorado at Denver’s Jennifer Reich notes that starting in the 1970s, alternative-health movements “repositioned expertise as residing within the individual.” This ethos has grown dramatically in the internet age, so much so that “in arenas as diverse as medicine, mental health, law, education, business, and food, self-help or do-it-yourself movements encourage individuals to reject expert advice or follow it selectively.” Autodidacticism can be valuable. But it’s one thing to Google a food to see whether it’s healthy. It’s quite another to dismiss decades of studies on the benefits of vaccines because you’ve watched a couple of YouTube videos. In an interview, Reich told me that some anti-vaccine activists describe themselves as “researchers,” thus equating their scouring of the internet on behalf of their families with the work of scientists who publish in peer-reviewed journals.

In many ways, the post-1960s emphasis on autonomy and personal choice has been liberating. But it can threaten public health. Considered solely in terms of the benefits to one’s own child, the case for vaccinating against measles may not be obvious. Yes, the vaccine poses little risk to healthy children, but measles isn’t necessarily that dangerous to them either. The problem is that for others in society—such as children with a compromised immune system—measles may be deadly. By vaccinating their own children, and thus ensuring that they don’t spread the disease, parents contribute to the “herd immunity” that protects the vulnerable. But this requires thinking more about the collective and less about one’s own child. And this mentality is growing rarer in an era of what Reich calls “individualist parenting,” in which well-off parents spend “immense time and energy strategizing how to keep their children healthy while often ignoring the larger, harder-to-solve questions around them.”

18) Definitely the summer of Fornite for the Greene kids (and the neighbor kids who are over here playing it with them every day).  And, oh my, is my poor wife tired of it.

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