Quick hits (part I)

Now coming to you at 6:00am sharp, by special request of DJC…

1) I still love my Diet Coke (and so does JP, if he’s reading this), but not so much the rest of America.  And, of course, Diet Dr Pepper is the greatest drink known to humans.

2) Of course Trump has an unqualified 24-year old running the Office of National Drug Control Policy during our opioid crisis.

3) I’m feeling safer already.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/01/16/too-old-for-daca-a-michigan-father-is-deported-after-three-decades-in-the-u-s/?utm_term=.afe95d8e0d15

4) Fake news!

All those media-trust studies have a tendency toward the rote. Yes, we already knew that the public had little trust in the country’s journalistic organs. Yes, we knew that finding credible sources could be a harrowing pursuit for the public. Yes, we knew that an increasing portion of the U.S. public felt that the news was biased.

Yet this nugget from a new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey just about knocked the Erik Wemple Blog out of a decade-long media-research torpor:

Four in 10 [or 42 percent of] Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be “fake news.” [The corresponding figure for Democrats is 17 percent.]

5) Jennifer Rubin on those who demean themselves for Trump:

For the sake of argument, let’s say she doesn’t personally recall the president’s statements. By now, she is aware that both Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) know what was said. She now has to consider — not from a legal sense, but from an ethical one — whether she wants to serve a president who plainly prefers white Europeans to black and brown people, and is prepared to lie to the public about his statements and views. Public service is honorable, but not when you are enabling elected officials to lie and to pursue racist ends.

In a nutshell, this is why you cannot serve a president who is racist, dishonest or personally corrupt. You inevitably wind up enabling racism, dishonesty and corruption. If you thought you could remain untainted, you were wrong. And now, you need to either quit or face the legal and personal consequences.

6) We keep talking about the importance of investing in pre-school, but meanwhile, we don’t seem to be willing to invest in preschool teachers.

7) I learned about the developmental milestone of your kids lying to you way back when I first read Nurtureshock.  So, yes, you should be happy when your kids start lying to you.  And it’s also worth noting that teenagers lie to their parents all the time and it’s perfectly normal (you almost surely did it way more than you would admit to your kids).  That said, I may be related to a certain teenager who could at least limit his lying to parents about non-school-related topics.

8) Amy Davidson Sorkin on Trump’s willing liars:

Among others present, John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, has not commented; Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security Secretary, said on Fox News on Sunday that she didn’t “recall him saying that exact phrase.” (On Tuesday, in sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she said that she didn’t “hear” the word, but acknowledged that the President had used “tough language.”) They all need to speak more clearly, about shitholes or shithouses, if nothing else so that the public has a good gauge of who is willing to lie, and how blatantly, for the President.

Trump seems to be curious about that question, too. According to the Post, members of his Administration at first thought that the controversy could be settled in the shady realm of “do not recall,” since the President had, again, reportedly talked to others about using derogatory language. They were caught by surprise when he started tweeting about how the accounts of his language were outright false. Indeed, he has said that they were proof that “Dicky Durbin” and other Democrats didn’t care about a deal on Dreamers, and were willing to blow up the negotiations by lying about him. Why the change? It is hard to know what is in the President’s mind. Perhaps he was struck by the vehemence of the backlash. But perhaps he also listened to what the other Republicans were saying, and had an insight that they would, indeed, back him up. It was a bully’s triple play: first, he got to slur whole nations. Then he got his guys to gang up on anyone who called him out for it, which produced the final prize: the acknowledgement that the Republican lawmakers were his guys, subordinate and willing to humiliate themselves on his behalf.

What is notable is that, at first, Cotton and Perdue had tried, in a joint statement, to hedge by saying that they did “not recall the President saying these comments specifically.” But, as his lies escalated, so did theirs, to the point where they were backing up the idea that the media was involved in a fake-news conspiracy. They didn’t need to do so—after their Sunday appearances, Lindsey Graham said, according to the Post and Courier, “My memory hasn’t evolved. I know what was said and I know what I said”—yet they chose that route. But it is, apparently, hard to lie halfway for Trump; he won’t let you. Maybe it’s time for the Republicans to stop lying to themselves about that, too.

9) This is from 2014 (friend recently shared on-line), but this article about the human factor in airline crashes is so good.  Reminds me of one of my favorite podcasts ever (listen, David Greene!), 99% Invisible on the Automation Paradox.

10) Thought this on disappearing hotel “do not disturb” signs and what’s driving it was pretty interesting.

11) Every 1990’s TV commercial ever.  Pretty much.

12) Ezra Klein’s 12 thoughts on the “shithole shutdown.”

2.  Republicans have a natural advantage in a shutdown because they care less how well the federal government works, and the parts of government they care most about — like the military and immigration enforcement — are exempted….

12. Taken in its entirety, the “shithole shutdown” is the perfect encapsulation of governance in the Trump era: dysfunction and chaos driven by anger and fear toward America’s changing demographics, and the congressional GOP’s cowardly acquiescence to Trump’s ever-shifting demands.

13) Naturally, Trump’s appointee to oversee government service programs is an absolutely atrocious human being.

14) Alas, also naturally, prosecutors in New Orleans repeatedly kept on prosecuting people even when it was clear they had the wrong guy.

15) Michael Tomasky on Trump’s shithole enablers.

16) It’s the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive.  Julian Zelizer on how it undermined faith in government. Coincidentally, I r-watched Platoon this week (streaming on HBO Go, for you fellow subscribers) for the first time since 1986 (I think).  Thought it held up pretty well.  David certainly liked it and led to some great discussion about the Vietnam War.

Besides the damage that Tet imposed on Johnson, the surprise attack and the revelation that the administration had vastly oversold the prospects for success were a severe blow to public confidence in American government leaders to tell the truth and to do the right thing.

The right also took its own lessons from Tet and other parts of the increasingly critical wartime coverage, namely that the media could not be trusted. As reporters focused on Tet as evidence of failure, hawkish Democrats and Republicans were quick to note, rightly so, that the U.S. counter-offensive had been successful. Johnson felt this way and tried to hammer away on the point that the media was misrepresenting what happened. For decades, coverage of Tet would remain to conservatives a symbol of why the “liberal establishment” could not be trusted to give the public a realistic assessment of national security issues.

17) Loved this Edutopia piece about how making an extra effort to really get to know students in a Nevada school district is paying dividends.

18) Army National Guard officer analyzes the repeated tactical failures of the Resistance in the Star Wars movies.

19) Sam “I’ll eat a bug” Wang and Brian Remlinger with a great explainer on gerrymanders.

20) How are we not talking at all about the fact that a presidential campaign paid hush money to a porn star during the campaign??!!  This, more than about anything, is a testament to how Trump continuous and shocking bad behavior has inured us to his awfulness.  Michelle Goldberg:

In any other administration, evidence that the president paid hush money to the star of “Good Will Humping” during the election would be a scandal. In this one it has, so far, elicited a collective shrug.

Liberals, in general, can’t work up much outrage, because the encounter between Trump and Daniels was by all accounts consensual. And few social conservatives are interested in criticizing the president, since they’ve talked themselves into a posture of hardheaded moral realism in order to justify their support for him. In 2016, for example, Bennett himself condemned “Never Trump” conservatives for their “terrible case of moral superiority.”

If there’s a significant scandal, it will lie in the origins of the $130,000, or in other encounters Trump has covered up. There’s a sentence in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It comes toward the end, when Steve Bannon is praising Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz: “Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them.”

If it turns out there were payoffs to hide non-consensual behavior, there may be an uproar. But sleeping with a porn star while your wife has a new baby, then paying the porn star to be quiet? That’s what everyone expects of this president. [emphasis mine]



Quick hits (part I)

1) It’s okay that prosecutors make honest mistakes.  What’s so not okay is when prosecutors refuse to admit they have made mistakes and go on willfully destroying people’s lives.

2) Video of lemurs mobbing a BBC reporter.  Good stuff!

3) NYT Smarter Living column on self-awareness research.  I actually took Organizational Psychologist Tascha Eurich’s on-line test, and thanks to the confirmation of my wife, I’m officially self aware.  That said, I went looking for peer-reviewed research on the matter and found distressingly little.

4) Loved this Vox article featuring “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal on being self-disciplined in writing.

5) Great summary from Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll on why US has the most expensive health care in the world.  The prices.

The United States spends almost twice as much on health care, as a percentage of its economy, as other advanced industrialized countries — totaling $3.3 trillion, or 17.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2016.

But a few decades ago American health care spending was much closer to that of peer nations.

What happened?

A large part of the answer can be found in the title of a 2003 paper in Health Affairs by the Princeton University health economist Uwe Reinhardt: “It’s the prices, stupid.

The study, also written by Gerard Anderson, Peter Hussey and Varduhi Petrosyan, found that people in the United States typically use about the same amount of health care as people in other wealthy countries do, but pay a lot more for it.

6) A Boeing employee friend sent me this from a while back about how Paul Ryan went to Boeing to make the case for corporate tax cuts.

Facts are for suckers these days, but c’mon. Not only is Boeing gushing cash, but its own financial documents show it has actually paid an average federal income tax of just 3.2 percent of profits over the past 15 years. That’s less than one-tenth the figure Ryan cited.

7) Chait on why conservatives love dumb presidents.

8) Austin Frakt on off-loading your memories to other people via “memory extension.”

There’s another type of memory extension that is even more mindlike. We routinely extend our memories by using other people’s minds, and our minds serve as memory extenders for others. Anyone with children is constantly remembering things for them — what time they need to be at soccer practice, where it is, what they need to bring. My children know the names of many other children and their parents, a resource I draw on regularly at family social events because I often forget — or never knew — them…

Humans have been using this kind of mind extension forever. Passage of information from brain to brain orally was the norm well before writing. We’re social animals and formed social networks long before social media. We’re accustomed to relying on one another for information as much as anything else. So remembering who said what or who knows what comes naturally.

Harnessing this to strategically store and retrieve memories from other people’s minds is not a big leap. It relieves you from trying to do what you can’t do anyway: always remember everything.

9) Not ever really paid attention to Lana del Rey before, but she so stole from Radiohead’s “Creep.”  I don’t think it’s really all that hard to make original music— just don’t blatantly take the key melodic phrase of a song.

10) Dahlia Lithwick on everybody’s favorite stable genius:

It seems to me, though, that Raskin has identified the central irony of this political moment: We don’t need Wolff’s book, or even an independent commission, to identify the ways in which the president is not by temperament or character fit for office. This is all already widely known, and spoken aloud, even by his Cabinet members and Republican officeholders. The problem is in developing a process of amassing evidence to reach a conclusion that would require Congress and the Cabinet to act, in contravention of their own parochial interests and the 2016 vote. Republicans have showed no intention of acting in any way against this president. And as my colleague Jamelle Bouie notes here, that is where the system breaks down.

11) And yet more on the fact that eating less, not exercise, is the key to weight loss.

12) Michael Tomasky on the sad (rightward) trajectory of Orrin Hatch.

13) Here’s some cool research:

We show that socioeconomic attributes such as income, race, education, and voting patterns can be inferred from cars detected in Google Street View images using deep learning. Our model works by discovering associations between cars and people. For example, if the number of sedans in a city is higher than the number of pickup trucks, that city is likely to vote for a Democrat in the next presidential election (88% chance); if not, then the city is likely to vote for a Republican (82% chance).

14) This tweetstorm putting the “shithole” of Haiti into proper context is absolutely fantastic.

15) Somehow, until last week, I missed this amazing spoof advertisement from 2016 of Patrick Stewart singing cowboy classics.  Especially for those of us who grew up on ads like this, so, so good.

16) Zack Beauchamp on Trump and the “shithole” countries:

The sheer racism of the comments would be shocking coming from any other president. The heartbreaking, and terrifying, thing is that it’s not the least bit surprising coming from Donald Trump.

This is a man who launched his political career by pushing a conspiracy theory that the first black president was not actually born in America. This is a candidate who rocketed to the top of the GOP primary polls by calling Mexicans rapists. This is a president who has repeatedly attempted to act on his campaign pledge to ban Muslims from entering the United States, who has said that Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS” and that Nigerians live in “huts.”

It’s not just that Trump has consistently and unambiguously expressed beliefs like this — though he has. It’s that his willingness to say these things, out loud, is the core of his political appeal to his vaunted base. Trump won the GOP primary and the presidency not in spite of his xenophobia and racism, but because of them.

Put even more bluntly, his talk about “shithole countries” is a perfect distillation of Trumpism.

17) But, damn, Dave Leonhardt lets loose:

When it comes to President Trump and race, there is a predictable cycle. He makes a remark that seems racist, and people engage in an extended debate about whether he is personally racist. His critics say he is. His defenders argue for an interpretation in which race plays a secondary role (such as: Haiti really is a worse place to live than Norway).

It’s time to end this cycle.

No one except Trump can know what Trump’s private thoughts or motivations are. But the public record and his behavior are now abundantly clear. Donald Trump treats black people and Latinos differently than he treats white people.

And that makes him a racist. [emphasis mine]

Is it possible to defend some of his racially charged statements by pointing out that something other than race might explain them? Sure. Is it possible that he doesn’t think of himself as a racist who views white people as superior to nonwhite people? Yes.

But the definition of a racist — the textbook definition, as Paul Ryan might say — is someone who treats some people better than others because of their race. Trump fits that definition many times over: [many documented examples follow]

18) I’ve been discussing the use of totally inappropriate metrics in a variety of contexts lately.  Catherine Rampell on Trump’s wholly inappropriate use of stock market indices as a metric for the health of the American economy and the success of his presidency.

19) The work requirements for Medicaid plan that Republicans are pushing is pretty much the apotheosis of Republican policy– stupid, counter-productive, and needlessly cruel.

20) Dahlia Lithwick says that this article on how to fix Facebook should be your weekend read.  As a Facebook lover, who am I to object?

One drug (chart) to rule them all

Damn I love this chart from Wonkblog that so perfectly summarizes the vast absurdity of our drug policies:

Two brief observations.  Had no idea that Ecstasy was so low on potential harm.  And somewhat surprised that Buprenorphine is as high as it is.  At least we get heroin and cocaine right.


(Sorry, but I’m back) Quick Hits

So, vacation followed by a Political Science conference in New Orleans plus getting ready for the semester starting this week, put the blogging on the way back burner.  Should hopefully be getting back up to regular speed this week.  I did read plenty of good stuff this past week, though, and I’ve decided these are worth your time:

1) NYT editorial, “Capital Punishment Deserves a Quick Death.”

The death penalty is not and has never been about the severity of any given crime. Mental illness, intellectual disability, brain damage, childhood abuse or neglect, abysmal lawyers, minimal judicial review, a white victim — these factors are far more closely associated with who ends up getting executed. Of the 23 people put to death in 2017, all but three had at least one of these factors, according to the report. Eight were younger than 21 at the time of their crime.

More troubling still are the wrongful convictions. In 2017, four more people who had been sentenced to death were exonerated, for a total of 160 since 1973 — a time during which 1,465 people were executed. In many of the exonerations, prosecutors won convictions and sentences despite questionable or nonexistent evidence, pervasive misconduct or a pattern of racial bias. A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences extrapolated from known cases of wrongful convictions to estimate that at least 4 percent of all death-row inmates are wrongfully convicted. Against this backdrop, it would take an enormous leap of faith to believe that no innocent person has ever been executed.

2) Can an algorithm better help social services protect endangered kids?

3) Very nice Jay Rosen post on how to create real transparency in journalism.

4) Gallup with America’s favorite spectator sports.  Pretty amazing to see the drop-off in baseball (of course, I used to be a big fan and now pay pretty much zero attention):

Americans' Favorite Spectator Sports, 1937-2017

5) This is so cool.  How artificial intelligence can create completely realistic-looking fake photos:

At a lab in Finland, a small team of Nvidia researchers recently built a system that can analyze thousands of (real) celebrity snapshots, recognize common patterns, and create new images that look much the same — but are still a little different. The system can also generate realistic images of horses, buses, bicycles, plants and many other common objects.

The project is part of a vast and varied effort to build technology that can automatically generate convincing images — or alter existing images in equally convincing ways. The hope is that this technology can significantly accelerate and improve the creation of computer interfaces, games, movies and other media, eventually allowing software to create realistic imagery in moments rather than the hours — if not days — it can now take human developers.

6) Something we need to do to cut down on sexting– tell our teen sons not to ask for naked pictures.  Seriously.

7) Center for Science in the Public Interest strikes me as often going too far and often being needlessly hyperbolic, but the evidence is pretty clear that they have brought lots of important and needed attention to some off the worst abuses of Big Food.

8) Of course, one could do a whole quick hits just on Michael Wolff’s new book on Trump.  And how Trump is like really, really smart, and like totally a stable genius.  But, I’ll leave it to two things.  First, loved Dan Rather’s tweet for it’s obvious truth and broad applicability:

Also, Michele Goldberg with a nice column:

But most of all, the book confirms what is already widely understood — not just that Trump is entirely unfit for the presidency, but that everyone around him knows it. One thread running through “Fire and Fury” is the way relatives, opportunists and officials try to manipulate and manage the president, and how they often fail. As Wolff wrote in a Hollywood Reporter essaybased on the book, over the past year, the people around Trump, “all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”

And yet these people continue to either prop up or defend this sick travesty of a presidency. Wolff takes a few stabs at the motives of Trump insiders. Ivanka Trump apparently nurtured the ghastly dream of following her father into the presidency. Others, Wolff writes, told themselves that they could help protect America from the president they serve: The “mess that might do serious damage to the nation, and, by association, to your own brand, might be transcended if you were seen as the person, by dint of competence and professional behavior, taking control of it.”

This is a delusion as wild, in its own way, as Trump’s claim that the “Access Hollywood” tape was faked. Some of the military men trying to steady American foreign policy amid Trump’s whims and tantrums might be doing something quietly decent, sacrificing their reputations for the greater good. But most members of Trump’s campaign and administration are simply traitors. They are willing, out of some complex mix of ambition, resentment, cynicism and rationalization, to endanger all of our lives — all of our children’s lives — by refusing to tell the country what they know about the senescent fool who boasts of the size of his “nuclear button” on Twitter.

9) Loved this story of how the widowed spouses of two memoirists came together and found love.  Can’t speak for The Bright Hour, but When Breath Becomes Air was terrific.

10) Lee Drutman with the case for proportional voting.  I really like his historical explanation of the “big sort” (and the reason he argues we know need proportional voting).  This is a more succinct version of what I try and explain in a variety of my classes.  It’s important and under-appreciated.

And yet, many would argue, American politics once functioned quite well as a two-party system, with Democrats and Republicans working out plenty of historic bipartisan compromises to accomplish landmark legislation — particularly in the mid- to late-20th century. What’s wrong with the two-party system that can’t be restored by recovering the lost art of political compromise?

Such nostalgic arguments are quite common among elder statesmen in Washington, the kind who attend panels and write op-eds about the need for “political courage” and “regular order.” What they fail to understand is that the bipartisanship of yore was not just a matter of political character, but a matter of political incentives, party organization, and genuine common ground.

Bipartisanship flourished because voting coalitions split parties on an issue-by-issue basis. Liberal (Northern) Republicans and liberal (Northern) Democrats had many positions in common, as did conservative (Southern) Democrats and conservative (Western) Republicans. There were few permanent enemies and few permanent allies. Both parties also held a broadly shared consensus on American values, largely united against a shared enemy: the evil empire of the Soviet Union.

In retrospect, the pre-1980s era of American politics was not really a two-party system at all, but instead a four-party system within the broader container of a two-party system. Both party coalitions held together liberals and conservatives, who operated as independent factions within the parties. As a result, both parties looked modestly centrist as a whole, and could compete everywhere because their brands were capacious enough to take on different forms depending on local values.

Because partisan identities were less distinct, and complicated by other, cross-cutting regional and ethnic identities, politics lacked the militaristic us-versus-them dynamic it has now fallen into. It was perfectly reasonable for Democrats to sometimes vote Republican, or Republicans to sometimes vote Democrat, because they liked a particular candidate or liked the idea of parties checking each other. Though cross-partisan presidential-support scores have fallen into the single digits and split-ticket voting is a rare phenomenon, such things were common during the mid- to late-20th century.

This bipartisanship began to unravel as the parties realigned in the 1980s and 1990s. New cultural fissures that had emerged out of the ’60s and ’70s reshaped the dividing lines of American politics. And in an era of growing affluence, post-materialist “values voting” replaced pocketbook voting for many voters, and battles over abortion, religion, and social justice took center stage.

As a result, the culturally conservative South moved from solidly Democratic territory to predominantly Republican territory, turning the Republican Party into a much more culturally conservative coalition. Meanwhile, as Democrats gained dominance on the coasts and in the big cities and lost their Southern conservative “Blue Dogs,” the Democrats became much more uniformly culturally liberal. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats essentially went extinct. The overlapping ideologies and loyalties that used to cross-cut the parties realigned along party lines. Politics became regionalized, and without any cross-cutting dimension, partisanship became totalizing.

11) It’s almost like they designed this study to be maximally interesting to me– how does exercise affect your microbiome?  As with most microbiome stuff, it’s actually not all that clear, but there the answer is that there are clear effects and they are quite likely beneficial.

12) Is everything we know about depression wrong?  Maybe.  Given what a fabulous job Johann Hari did on explaining how everything we know about drug addiction is wrong, he’s well-worth hearing out.

New Year’s Day Quick Hits

Well, I guess I’m back from real-life and blog vacation.  Here goes…

1) Who knows whether Trump made nasty, racist comments about Haitians.  The point is that it is utterly believable, despite White House denials, in a way that it would not be believable from any president in 100 years.

2) Another nice defense of the TV episode from Alan Sepinwall.  I agree heartily.  I enjoyed Stranger Things 2 significantly more than the original, and I think a series of coherent episodes is part of the reason why.

3) I was oddly intrigued by this Washington Post story about a traffic nightmare surrounding a Wendy’s in a triangle in Washington, DC.

4) A call for a new Christian “right to life movement.”  Nice, but honestly, pretty disingenuous.  It’s pretty clear that many Christians are far more interested in condemning the sexual behavior of others than in living the radical ethic of service to others, especially the poor and oppressed, that Jesus so clearly called for:

What Christians need is a new right-to-life movement, one in which we agree to disagree about contentious issues of sexuality and focus instead on what we share, on what we allbelieve. Jesus had nothing to say about birth control or abortion or homosexuality. He did have quite a lot to say about the poor and the vulnerable, and maybe that’s a good place to start.

Surely Christians across the political spectrum believe we’re called to feed the hungry, heal the sick, protect the weak and welcome the stranger. If we can agree on that much, and if we can keep our shrieking differences from wrecking the quiet conviction of shared belief, we could create a culture of life that has a chance of transcending the sex wars. I find myself hoping for a day when conservative Christian voters can elect conservative representatives for whom feeding the hungry and caring for the sick and welcoming refugees aren’t political issues at all.

5) This Orthodox Jewish family’s response to a person marrying outside their faith is pretty much a case study in how religion goes wrong.

6) Matthew Glassman uses the classic political science of Richard Neustadt to explain how Trump is a “dangerously weak” president.

As Neustadt would undoubtedly note, there’s now an amateur in the White House. And through the framework he developed, Trump has had a disastrous first year. His professional reputation is awful. Major figures from his own party routinely criticize his impulsive rhetoric and chaotic management, belittle his intelligence, mock his political ideas, and bemoan his lack of policy knowledge. The White House issues talking points, and high-ranking Republicans simply ignore them. Multiple Republican-led congressional committees are investigating his administration on topics ranging from ethics violations to foreign electoral collusion.

Similarly, the president’s public prestige, measured by approval ratings, is among the worst in the polling age. He entered office with record-low approval, 45 percent, and it has steadily declined into the 30s. No other president has had an approval lower than 49 percent in December of his first year; the average is 63 percent. Such numbers sap Trump’s power to leverage popularity into persuasion. They also depress party loyalists concerned about 2018 and embolden potential primary challengers for 2020.

Some of this presidential weakness is an unavoidable byproduct of a bitter campaign and an election victory in which he lost the popular vote. But Trump has also failed to heed Neustadt’s strategic advice. He’s made simple errors that have damaged his professional reputation and public prestige — and ultimately his power.

7) Watched many movies over my vacation.  Honestly, “The Boss Baby” was one of my favorites.

8) I think DJC (and perhaps others) would be interested in these new books about woolly mammoths.

9) Drum’s sad, but true, headline, “Nursing Homes Violate the Rules a Lot. Trump’s Answer: Get Rid of the Rules.”

10) Somehow missed this back in April, “Escaping Poverty Requires Almost 20 Years With Nearly Nothing Going Wrong.”

And how is one to move up from the lower group to the higher one? Education is key, Temin writes, but notes that this means plotting, starting in early childhood, a successful path to, and through, college. That’s a 16-year (or longer) plan that, as Temin compellingly observes, can be easily upended. For minorities especially, this means contending with the racially fraught trends Temin identifies earlier in his book, such as mass incarceration and institutional disinvestment in students, for example. Many cities, which house a disproportionate portion of the black (and increasingly, Latino) population, lack adequate funding for schools. And decrepit infrastructure and lackluster public transit can make it difficult for residents to get out of their communities to places with better educational or work opportunities. Temin argues that these impediments exist by design.

11) This is really good.  Who won the culture war?  Corporate America (with a giant assist from culturally-resentful Republicans):

The contemporary geographic coalitions of the parties primarily reflect the nation’s roiling cultural conflicts, but the representatives chosen via today’s electoral map are equally polarized over economic policies — and it is pocketbook issues, not social matters, that dominate the business of Congress. Increasingly unfettered by a declining bloc of dissident party moderates from the Northeast and Pacific Coast, ascendant red-state Republicans have prioritized an ambitious conservative economic agenda encompassing regulatory rollbacks, repeal of the Affordable Care Act and substantial cuts to federal taxes — like the tax bill passed last week — and entitlement programs. Departures from this small-government approach, such as the No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D programs enacted during the George W. Bush presidency, have fallen out of fashion among post-Tea Party Republican leaders increasingly devoted to the pursuit of ideological purity.

12) Max Boot’s essay, “2017 Was the Year I Learned About My White Privilege” is fantastic.  Read it!

13) While people were obsessed with Betsy DeVos and K-12, her real potential damage all along was higher education.  One of her passions is making it easier for for-profit Higher Ed to defraud their students.  Seriously.

14) Republican Senator Pat Toomey has been very influential with his tax cuts for rich are always good theology (evidence, of course, strongly suggests otherwise).  Though, I’m unconvinced that his colleagues really needed all that much convincing.

15) Is the problem with the US “the Donald Trump in all of us”?  Not in me, damnit.  Good essay, though, from James Traub:

Perhaps in a democracy the distinctive feature of decadence is not debauchery but terminal self-absorption— the loss of the capacity for collective action, the belief in common purpose, even the acceptance of a common form of reasoning. We listen to necromancers who prophesy great things while they lead us into disaster. We sneer at the idea of a “public” and hold our fellow citizens in contempt. We think anyone who doesn’t pursue self-interest is a fool.

We cannot blame everything on Donald Trump, much though we might want to. In the decadent stage of the Roman Empire, or of Louis XVI’s France, or the dying days of the Habsburg Empire so brilliantly captured in Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, decadence seeped downward from the rulers to the ruled. But in a democracy, the process operates reciprocally. A decadent elite licenses degraded behavior, and a debased public chooses its worst leaders. Then our Nero panders to our worst attributes — and we reward him for doing so.

16) Of course Jeff Sessions wants to put more poor people in jail for being poor.

17) German Lopez on why we should have minimum prices for alcohol.

18) Yglesias on the political lessons of 2017– resistance works:

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act guarantees that the Trump administration will not go down in history as a Carter-esque figure with no policy achievements. And between the large tax cut, the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, and the filling of many lower court vacancies that Mitch McConnell deliberately held open during Barack Obama’s final two years in office, conservative activists can feel that they legitimately got their 30 pieces of silver for lining up behind Trump.

But fundamentally, this is policymaking on easy mode.

Trump has signed fewer bills than any of his recent predecessors, and has gotten nothing at all done that requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. That’s despite the numerous Democratic senators holding down seats in red states who might be persuaded to back a nominally bipartisan bill.

The Affordable Care Act has not been repealed, nor has the Obama administration’s financial regulation overhaul. The Clean Air Act remains on the books, and the Supreme Court decision ruling that the EPA is obligated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions remains the law.

Last winter, the door appeared to be open to Paul Ryan’s vision for comprehensive disemboweling of programs that support low-income Americans, and though Trump’s budget requests indicate that he shares this vision, he’s yet to make any headway in implementing it.

19) Global cities grow in prosperity as smaller cities are being left out.

20) The challenge of two approaches to school desegregation in Dallas.  How much effort should be made to draw in richer white kids?

21) Forget self-confidence, self-compassion is the key.  Though, I wonder if I have an over-abundance of self -compassion.

We live in a culture that reveres self-confidence and self-assuredness, but as it turns out, there may be a better approach to success and personal development: self-compassion. While self-confidence makes you feel better about your abilities, it can also lead you to vastly overestimate those abilities.

Self-compassion, on the other hand, encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, allowing you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view. Both have merits, but many experts believe that self-compassion includes the advantages of self-confidence without the drawbacks.

22) And to wrap things up, the way to keep your New Year’s resolutions is not willpower, but gratitude and compassion:

What these findings show is that pride, gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves. Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use.

If using willpower causes stress, using these emotions actually heals: They slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. By making us value the future more, they ease the way to patience and perseverance.

On that note… I am truly grateful you find my blog worth reading and engaging with the ideas I share here.  And, if you have somehow deluded yourself into thinking Trump is a good president, I have compassion for you :-).  Genuinely wishing the best to all my readers in 2018.

Quick hits (part II)

1) EJ Dionne on tax law, “Republicans are joining a festival of corruption.”

2) Greg Sargent on Trump’s advantages over Nixon:

Yet Trump will be benefiting from a very powerful and far-reaching network of media propaganda on his behalf — one that casts all these ongoing efforts to subject Trump to basic accountability as fundamentally illegitimate — that is nothing like anything Nixon had at his disposal. And the ramifications of that for our country are, at present, a big unknown.

I ran this idea by Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton who specializes in the political history of the 1960s and 1970s. Zelizer agreed that Trump is set to benefit from a “massive propaganda” effort, “via cable television, via websites, and via Twitter,” that didn’t exist when Nixon targeted the Watergate special prosecutor during his Saturday Night Massacre.

“Whatever Mueller does, Trump’s allies have a huge bully pulpit, where the message from his perspective is constantly circulating, regardless of what the investigators do,” Zelizer told me. “Nixon never had anything comparable to that.”

Zelizer noted that at the time, the media was already in full investigative mode due to the Vietnam War. “It was a media controlled by three networks and a handful of major city papers,” Zelizer said. “The state of the media was adversarial.” The result, Zelizer said, was that once the Saturday Night Massacre came down, “there weren’t many people who wanted to cover it from Nixon’s perspective,” and the story was covered as a “constitutional crisis” brought about by Nixon’s conduct.

This is decidedly different from the current landscape, in which huge numbers of Americans are being fed a dramatically different tale about Trump and the Mueller investigation from the one unfolding in the real world.

3) This is actually a really interesting take on what is dividing America from Jonathan Haidt, as he focuses on centripetal and centrifugal forces.  That said, as far as the forces dividing America, as many have pointed out, it’s kind of insane that he spends just an obligatory paragraph on Republican extremism before going on and on about the campus left.  I think he makes a number of legitimate arguments about the campus left, but he so needs to place this in a more realistic context and perspective, rather than making it seem that campus liberals are the greatest threat to America.

4) David Frum on conservatism’s response to Trump:

The core of [National Review’s Charles] Cooke’s indictment is this: [Jennifer] Rubin’s universal distrust of Trump should be seen as the inverse of the mindless praise for Trump’s vagaries elsewhere in the conservative world…

Rubin’s crime is that rather than waking up every morning fresh for each day’s calling of balls and strikes, she carries into her work the memory of the day before. She sees patterns where Cooke sees only incidents. She speaks out even when Cooke deems it prudent to hold his tongue.

In this course, Cooke is following the Republican leadership in the House and Senate and the more presentable of the conservative commentariat: Hope for the best. Make excuses where you can. When you can’t make an excuse, keep as quiet as you can. Attack Trump’s critics in the media and Hollywood when all else fails. That has also become the working position of many conservatives who in 2015 and 2016 called themselves “Never Trump.”…

The conservative intellectual world is whipsawed between distaste for President Trump and fear of its own audience. The conservative base has become ever more committed to Trump—and ever less tolerant of any deviation. Those conservative talkers most susceptible to market pressure—radio and TV hosts—have made the most-spectacular conversions and submissions: Mark Levin, Tucker Carlson…

Conservatism is what conservatives think, say, and do. As conservatives change—as much through the harsh fact of death and birth as by the fluctuations of opinion—so does what it means to be a conservative.

The Trump presidency is a huge political fact. Donald Trump may not be the leader of American conservatism, but he is its most spectacular and vulnerable asset. The project of defending him against his coming political travails—or at least of assailing those who doubt and oppose him—is already changing what it means to be a conservative. The word conservative will of course continue in use. But its meaning is being rewritten each day by the actions of those who lay claim to the word. It is their commitment to Trump that etches Trumpism into them. And while Trump may indeed pass, that self-etching will not soon be effaced.


6) Didn’t quite agree with Alyssa Rosenberg, but her take that “it’s time to stop grading Star Wars movies on a curve” was really interesting.

7) I hadn’t before really thought about the fact that Lawrence Kasdan was the screenwriter for two of my very favorite movies– Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Really enjoyed this interview with him upon his work on The Force Awakens.

8) I don’t think HQ Trivia is leading us to a dystopia, but since I’ve really enjoyed playing it since learning of it in the NYT, I’m linking this anyway.

9) Now, this was really interesting… how the climategate email hack presaged the work of the Russians on the DNC.

Podesta, a leading advocate of climate action during the Obama years, describes Climategate as an early example of hackers conspiring “to take the fruits of illegal behavior, weaponize them, then use them in a political context.” And though the emails contained no evidence of scientific misconduct, Podesta notes, climate change deniers successfully used them to “change public perception and increase skepticism about the need for action at a pivotal moment.”…

On November 20, a New York Times front-page story opened by noting that skeptics “say [the emails] show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.” The Washington Post quoted climate skeptic Myron Ebell—who would later run Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team—as saying the emails exposed an “alarmist political agenda.” The Post even ran an op-ed by Sarah Palin, who claimed that scientists had “manipulated data to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperatures.”

Television coverage was even worse. NBC told viewers that “those who doubt that man-made greenhouse gases are changing the climate say these emails…show climate scientists massaging data.” ABC inaccurately claimed that “one of the most damning email exchanges credits Mann with a trick to hide the decline in temperatures.”

10) So jealous of my colleague Mark Nance.  Not for getting into the Nobel Prize awards ceremony, but for getting his Op-Ed about it (with wife Sarah Bowen) in the NYT.

11) Cops act egregiously horribly (that was tea, not marijuana!), but vindicated by Appeals Court.  Because… America.  Radley Balko:

So I actually agree with the attorney for the sheriff’s office. When its own actors are accused of wrongdoing, the justice system has been designed not to dispense justice, but to put a priority on protecting police, public officials and government entities from accountability.

So, yes. The system did work. It did just what it was designed to do. And that makes these stories all the more worrying.

12) Really enjoyed this interview in Vox about Baby Boomers:

Sean Illing

So what’s your explanation for the awfulness of the boomers? What made them this way?

Bruce Gibney

I think there were a number of unusual influences, some of which won’t be repeated, and some of which may have mutated over the years. I think the major factor is that the boomers grew up in a time of uninterrupted prosperity. And so they simply took it for granted. They assumed the economy would just grow three percent a year forever and that wages would go up every year and that there would always be a good job for everyone who wanted it.

This was a fantasy and the result of a spoiled generation assuming things would be easy and that no sacrifices would have to be made in order to preserve prosperity for future generations.

Sean Illing

I’ve always seen the boomers as a generational trust-fund baby: They inherited a country they had no part in building, failed to appreciate it, and seized on all the benefits while leaving nothing behind.

Bruce Gibney

I think that’s exactly right. They were born into great fortune and had a blast while they were on top. But what have they left behind?

13) I went down a bit of a “neoliberalism” rabbit whole this week thanks to Cornell West’s attack on Ta-Nahesi Coates.  This was one of the better essays I read on the matter of neoliberalism.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The normally staid, reflexively centrist USA Today has had enough with Trump.  And with a line to remember, “unfit to clean toilets.”  Indeed.

2) Ezra on Republican lies and delusion on taxes:

It’s comforting to imagine this denialism as a particular affliction of the Trumpist factions of the modern GOP. It isn’t. It’s present even in the most sober, credible, and respected corners of the Republican Party. It predates Trump and Moore, and it arguably led to their rise.

The battle over tax reform has been a particularly stunning example. Republicans in the House and Senate have passed bills that will add a trillion dollars or more to the debt, and they simply pretend otherwise, despite mountains of evidence (and common sense) to the contrary. The debate shows that the most established of establishment Republicans are just as resistant to unpleasant information, just as happy to live in fantasy worlds of their own concoction, just as likely to wave away overwhelming evidence as partisan fabrication…

This, then, is the truth of the establishment Republican Party: It is Donald Trump without the caps lock, Alex Jones in a suit. Compared to the president, McConnell and Ryan are less alarming in their demeanor, less unhinged in their tone, but, when convenient, they are similarly willing to unmoor themselves from reality. [emphasis mine]

3) Can kindness be taught?  Seems like the answer is yes.  Well, then, let’s do more of it.

4) Bret Stephens on Trump and Russia:

Presented with this list, the president’s craven apologists insist he’s right to try to find common ground with Russia. These are the same people who until recently were in full throat against Barack Obama for his overtures to Putin. More measured apologists say he’s merely naïve, just as Obama and Bush were at the beginning of their terms. Yet the alleged naïveté never quits: Just this week, he asked for Putin’s help on North Korea.

The better explanations are: (a) the president is infatuated with authoritarians, at least those who flatter him; (b) he’s neurotically neuralgic when it comes to the subject of his election; (c) he’s ideologically sympathetic to Putinism, with its combination of economic corporatism, foreign-policy cynicism, and violent hostility to critics; (d) he’s stupid; or (e) he’s vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Each explanation is compatible with all the others. For my part, I choose all of the above — the first four points being demonstrable while the last is logical.

5) Nice chart on the GOP tax plan from Wonkblog:

6) It really is cruel and inhumane to deport somebody because of failures of the post office.

7) David Ignatius is right, “The Russia facts are hiding in plain sight.”

As Republicans seek to discredit the investigation, it’s useful to remember just what we’ve learned so far about how the Trump campaign sought harmful information about Clinton from sources that, according to U.S. intelligence, were linked to Moscow. This isn’t a fuzzy narrative where the truth is obscured; in the Trump team’s obsessive pursuit of damaging Clinton emails and other negative information, the facts are hiding in plain sight.

8) Zephyr Teachout is not convinced Franken should resign:


9) While Emily Yoffe is worried about a #mettoo backlash:

Now, it’s not just an entire generation—it’s the entire nation. No matter whether an accusation is made about violations on campus, in the workplace or on the streets, it is essential that the accounts be taken seriously and the accusers be treated respectfully. But in the debate over campus sexual assault, believing accusers, especially female ones, has become a virtual article of faith. Many Democratic politicians have expressed an opinion similar to the one recently tweeted by California Senator Kamala Harris, regarding college campuses: “Survivors of sexual assault deserve to be believed, not blamed.” As Harvard Law professor Jeannie Suk Gersen wrote in the New Yorker, wanting to examine the evidence before coming to a conclusion has come to mean being perceived on campus as being “biased in favor of perpetrators.”

In this national “just believe” the accuser moment, it’s important to remember that part of the power of the recent accusations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein and so many others is that they are backed up by meticulous reporting that has provided contemporaneous corroboration and other evidence. Presented with these revelations, the accused themselves in many cases have provided confirmation by acknowledging at least some of their violations. A failed attempt by the right-wing group Project Veritas to persuade the Washington Post to publish the account of a fake accuser of U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore demonstrated the power of verifying before believing…

In the past few weeks, a number of accused men have disappeared Soviet-style from public life, with the work of some—Louis C.K. and Garrison Keillor, for example—withdrawn from distribution. There has been discussion about whether everyone accused deserves a professional death penalty, or whether there should be a scale of punishment. After all, the violations run the gamut from multiple allegations of rape to unwanted touching. But in a statement on Facebook calling for Franken’s resignation, New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand came out against making such distinctions. “While it’s true that his behavior is not the same as the criminal conduct alleged against [Alabama Senate candidate] Roy Moore, or Harvey Weinstein, or President Trump, it is still unquestionably wrong,” she wrote. “We should not have to be explaining the gradations between sexual assault, harassment and unwelcome groping.” [emphasis mine]

With all the Gillibrand love lately, this statement really, really disturbs me.  It’s like saying at the trial of a shoplifter, “we should not be having gradations between shoplifting, grand theft auto, and, armed robbery.”  Life is full of gradations and we go down dangerous paths when we pretend otherwise.

10) NYPD elite Emergency Services Unit kills 69-year old man during middle-of-the-night, no-knock raid looking for that super-dangerous item– marijuana.  Since this is America, of course they didn’t do anything wrong.

11) Charles Sykes on Roy Moore and the GOP:

But in this act, the Republican Party learns the full weight of the choices it has made, and their moral and political consequences. There was a certain inevitability to all of this. Step by step, Republicans embraced a politics that was post-truth and post-ethics. Now, in defeat, the party — or at least its leadership — is officially post-shame.

Some will argue that Republicans actually a dodged a bullet in Alabama, because they will not have to deal with the nightmare of a Senator Moore. But Republicans now head into a fearsome storm of outrage, tightly lashed to both President Trump and memories of Roy Moore’s horrific candidacy.

Throughout this final act, the party’s leaders will desperately try to pretend that this is not a tragedy and that they were not the ones who brought this upon themselves. Some of them will know better, but I suspect that in the final scene they will be left with the question “What have we done?”

12) Chait on the non-scandal of FBI text messages.

13) More new interesting analysis on how schools perform over time (via Drum).  There’s a decent number of poor school districts that have really seemed to figure things out.  Now we need to figure out what exactly it is that they are doing, and take it national.  Or, maybe just look at Tennessee:

14) Russell Berman on the tax bill.  This point has been obvious for a long time, but it’s nice to see more and more journalists catching onto and openly writing about the fact:

What the debate over taxes has revealed is not just that the party is desperate to show they can have something to show for their majority, it’s that tax cuts remain a singular unifying force for the modern GOP. [emphasis mine] That was enough to overcome the many differences over the particulars of tax policy, as well as the polls warning Republican lawmakers that this legislation is not something the public seems to want. And it’s why, despite those many obstacles, Trump is likely to have a bill to sign into law next week.

15) David Epstein on the sad fact that physicians continue using medical treatments long after evidence indicates they don’t actually work.  Heart stents, for example:

In 2012, Brown had coauthored a paper that examined every randomized clinical trial that compared stent implantation with more conservative forms of treatment, and he found that stents for stable patients prevent zero heart attacks and extend the lives of patients a grand total of not at all. In general, Brown says, “nobody that’s not having a heart attack needs a stent.” (Brown added that stents may improve chest pain in some patients, albeit fleetingly.) Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of stable patients receive stents annually, and one in 50will suffer a serious complication or die as a result of the implantation procedure.

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