Quick hits (part I)

1) Matt Yglesias‘ essay on why it is important to pay members of Congress and their staff a lot more is really great.  You should read it!  Short version: Congress will be better and our democracy will be better:

Congressional pay has been declining in inflation-adjusted terms since the mid-1960s, even while incomes for other professional occupations have risen. Today, a House member earns $174,000 a year — a bit less than the average dentist and quite a bit less than the average doctor — which is certainly not a poverty wage but also not exactly an elite salary. Newly elected members are typically 50-something with professional backgrounds in law and business who are earning less than what they were previously making in the private sector and less than they could make by quitting and going to work on K Street.

Evidence from state legislatures indicates that better pay would attract a larger, more ideologically diverse candidate pool and potentially generate a Congress that actually does things.

But the quality-of-life problems members of Congress face do not stop at salary: They also include the high cost of housing in the Washington, DC, area, and inadequate office staff.

Most House members have unusually high costs of living since they need to maintain two households — one back home in their district and another one in Washington. Dozens of less affluent members sleep in their offices during the workweek.

Meanwhile, members are constantly getting in trouble for things like having staffers do personal errands for them or engaging in corrupt-looking insider trading.

So in addition to reversing the decline in pay for members of Congress, America should make some provision for the housing problem, and offer an adequate level of staffing across the institution so members can get help with their policy development and their dry cleaning.

Then we should hold members of Congress to a higher standard of conduct, with curbs on outside income and stock trading. We should offer staff a real HR department. There are a million things wrong with the American political system and no silver bullet for any of them. But a good place to start is that if you want a great Congress, you need great people, and that means you need to make it a job they’d actually want to do.

2) The reason I first became a fan of Cory Booker is because he was about the only one talking honestly about the fact that truly reforming mass incarceration means thinking differently violent crime.  Then, he kind of lost me with his seemingly naive, overly bipartisan presidential campaign thus far.  But, he’s sure winning me back with rigorous proposals for gun control:

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) sums up his ambitious new gun control plan in one sentence: “If you need a license to drive a car, you should need a license to own a gun.”

On Monday, Booker unveiled his proposal to tackle America’s gun problem as part of his bid for the presidency, detailing a plan that sets a high bar for the rest of the Democratic field.

His plan includes the typical Democratic proposals: universal background checks, an assault weapons banbetter enforcement of existing gun laws, and more funding for gun violence research.

But Booker’s plan goes further by requiring that gun owners not just pass a background check but obtain a license to be able to purchase and own a firearm. It’s a far more robust gun control proposal than any other presidential candidate has proposed. The idea has solid researchbehind it, and real-world experience in nine states that currently require a license or permit for at least handguns, including Booker’s home state of New Jersey.

The plan would go toward addressing a very serious issue: America currently leads the developed world in gun violence. One big reason for that is that America has the laxest gun laws — and the most guns — of any developed country. The research has consistently found that places with easier access to guns and more firearms have more gun deaths.

3) Dahlia Lithwick virtually assembles some great legal minds to ask if we are in a “Constitutional Crisis.”  Lots of varied, thoughtful responses.  But I do love Laurence Tribe’s:

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe agrees that this probably isn’t the time to parse legal language: “Crisis schmisis—what’s in a word? We’re under an ongoing cyberattack from a hostile foreign power that helped install an imbecilic self-seeking con man as our leader, who committed numerous felonies to avoid being held accountable for his illegitimate election, who is encouraging ongoing attacks by that same foreign power and others, who violates his oath of office daily, and who seems secure from removal by virtue of a spineless Senate abetted by a cowardly House. Our constitutional norms are in meltdown as we watch in helpless stupor waiting for the monster to steal or cancel the next election. If this doesn’t qualify as a crisis, the word should be retired forthwith.”

4) Great Jamelle Bouie piece on the problems with the Senate.  For what it’s worth, I’ve been complaining about the fundamental unfairness of the Senate for as long as I’ve been teaching.

The Republican coalition of rural whites, exurban whites and anti-tax suburbanites may not be large enough to win the national popular vote in a head-to-head matchup with Democrats. But it covers a much larger part of the country’s landmass, giving it a powerful advantage in the Senate. And while this coalition — or its Democratic counterpart of liberal whites and the overwhelming majority of nonwhites — isn’t set in stone, it could be years, even decades, before we see meaningful change in the demographic contours of our partisan divides.

5) Thanks to EMG for sharing this piece on what it takes to count the cats in DC.  With fun infographics, too.

6) On a related note– a pretty interesting scientific effort to count all the squirrels in Central Park.

7) It’s long past time to stop sacrificing our kids to the “right to bear arms.”  It’s so morally twisted.  Kristof:

Politicians fearful of the National Rifle Association have allowed the gun lobby to run amok so that America now has more guns than people, but there is still true heroism out there in the face of gun violence: students who rush shooters at the risk of their own lives.

Let’s celebrate, and mourn, a student named Kendrick Castillo, 18, just days away from graduating in Highlands Ranch, Colo., who on Tuesday helped save his classmates in English literature class from a gunman.

“Kendrick lunged at him, and he shot Kendrick, giving all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe, and to run across the room to escape,” Nui Giasolli, a student in the classroom, told the “Today” show. Kendrick was killed, and eight other students were injured.

At least three boys in the class — one of them Brendan Bialy, who hopes to become a Marine — tackled and disarmed the gunman. “They were very heroic,” Nui said. Bravo as well to the police officers who arrived within two minutes of the shooting and seized the two attackers.

The courage of those students in Colorado echoes last week’s bravery of Riley Howell, a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Riley, 21, charged a gunman there and continued even as he was shot twice. As he tackled the gunman he was shot a third time, in the head, and killed, but he ended the shooting.

Riley was deservedly given a hero’s funeral, and presumably the same will happen with Kendrick. But their parents didn’t want martyrs; they wanted children and grandchildren. And it is appalling that we as a society have abandoned American kids so that they must die to save their classmates. [emphasis mine]

8) I think Kevin Drum is probably right on unions:

In the last 60 years, as private-sector unions disintegrated, labor’s share of national income dropped and dropped and dropped. There was a brief recovery during the dotcom boom, but that was quickly put paid. The Great Recession did even further damage, and by 2019 labor’s share had dropped by 13 percent since 1960. That amounts to about $700 billion in lost wages, or roughly $6,000 per working family.

Why did this happen? Because it could. Without unions to push back, owners of capital took a bigger share for themselves and there was no one to stop them. Nor was this any kind of accident. Throughout the entire postwar era, there is nothing—not abortion, not tax cuts, not opposition to social welfare—that Republicans have been more united and aggressive about than destroying unions. This is because the business class that supports Republicans knows perfectly well that unions are their core problem. You have to kill them off before you can get your tax cuts or your stock buybacks or your executive compensation that’s 300x the average worker.

If you want to know if someone supports the middle class, one question will do the job: do you want labor unions to regain their power? If you don’t, then like Donald Trump, you’re just faking it. Granted, it’s a scary thought for some liberals, too, since a re-empowered labor movement means that a bunch of blue-collar workers would have real power of their own and start calling a lot of the shots on the left. But what other way is there to break the power of corporations and the right?

9) And Tom Edsall asks, “Can Democrats figure out how to get unions back into the equation in 2020?”

Even as many Democrats appear to accept organized labor’s decline, Republicans recognize the crucial importance of unions and are determined to gut them further.

The conservative who may understand labor’s ongoing significance best is Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

In a 2017 essay for OZY.com, “Why Republicans (and Trump) May Still Win Big in 2020 — Despite ‘Everything’,” Norquist, a longtime anti-tax, anti-labor activist, argued that continuing the right-wing’s effort to crush labor’s power will be of vital importance to the outcome of the next election…

The problem in building support for a resurgent labor movement is that many liberals and Democrats do not appear to recognize the crucial role that unions continue to play not only in diminishing the effects of inequality, but in voter mobilization and campaign finance. Unfortunately for labor, and for the future of the Democratic Party, groups that are shrinking in numbers and in financial resources lose political leverage and influence, the two commodities unions are most in need of.

What too many on the left of the political spectrum also ignore (or fail to understand) is that labor unions are inextricably intertwined with the economic condition of women and minorities — and, for that matter, of white men. In other words, Democrats make a fundamental mistake if they engage in the politics of subtraction, downgrading the priority of battered but pivotal institutions like the labor movement. They would be wise to commit to the politics of addition instead — amplifying the power of labor to lift up the most loyal Democratic constituencies.

10) OMG I loved Yglesias‘ proposal for “Medicare for Kids.”  Why aren’t Democrats doing this?

Behind the scenes, Democrats in Washington are trying to think about what they’ll do if the party wins the White House in 2021 on a Medicare-for-all platform but still hasn’t made much progress on the critical question of what taxes you’d raise to pay for it.

A natural fallback is to try to find ideas that put the country on the path to the single-payer vision without requiring nearly as much in the way of immediate tax hikes. To many, that means gravitating toward an idea that almost happened in the late stages of the original Affordable Care Act debate — opening up Medicare to a younger class of older people, either by reducing the Medicare eligibility age to 55 or at least creating a structure for the 55-and-older crowd to “buy in” to Medicare.

A much better idea, however, would be to do the reverse and create a universal health insurance program for children. It’s much cheaper, meaning it could be paid for with relatively modest and politically popular tax hikes on the rich and provide a clear, simple benefit to millions of families. New polling shows it’s an extremely popular idea. And most importantly, because kids would age out of the program rather than aging into it, they and their parents would create a natural constituency for further expansions so they can hold on to a benefit they currently enjoy and would fear losing… [emphasis mine]

The great thing from a political economy perspective is that if the beneficiaries of Medicare for Kids liked the program, they would end up having a direct personal incentive to favor its expansion.

Parents who’d loved the fact that they never had to worry about their children’s insurance would hear plans to extend the program up to age 25 or 30 as further reassuring that their kids wouldn’t end up losing out. What’s more, if the government-provided insurance turned out to be good, parents might start to want some for themselves. The basic challenges of program expansion — it costs money, people don’t like paying taxes, and special interest groups will complain — would still be there, of course, but the incentives would be aligned for success to spur program expansion.

Creating special programs for the elderly, unfortunately, has tended to have the opposite impact, and accepting a half-a-loaf strategy to extend Medicare coverage to a larger population of older people might make it harder to eventually achieve universal health care.

Medicare for Kids, by contrast, is the kind of half-measure that would actually keep the country on the path to eventually delivering a real guarantee of health insurance for everyone.

11) So meant to do a post on this.  Alas.  Anyway, love how Jennifer Victor presents Mueller on Trump’s obstruction as almost exactly how we build a social science argument:

 Volume 2 is all about the possibility that President Trump engaged in the criminal act of obstruction of justice during the investigation about his campaign.

The maneuver that Mueller uses in Volume 2 is extraordinary. It’s a social scientist‘s delight and should be used as a case example in research methods classes. Special counsel Mueller uses the logic and procedure of the scientific method to arrive at his conclusion in his investigation about the possibility of obstruction of justice. This is unusual because it is not the typical route that an attorney would use in building a case or preparing an investigatory report. In short, rather than providing evidence to support a claim of obstruction, Mueller essentially sets out to falsify a null hypothesis that obstruction did not occur.

The double-negative language that describes this procedure can be confusing. Here’s how it works. The scientific method that all scientists, natural or social, use involves a process called falsification. The method was popularized by a philosopher named Karl Popper, who in the mid 20th century wrote a book called The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Popper argues that in science it is not possible to “prove” anything; rather, scientists seek to theorize all the possible explanations for a phenomenon, and then seek evidence to disprove as many of those explanations as possible.

It’s a process of elimination. And this is exactly what Mueller does in his report. Mueller does not set out to prove that the president engaged in obstruction of justice; rather, Mueller recognizes that he is bound by the Attorney General’s interpretation of the law, which says the sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. In light of this legal interpretation, it would be futile for Mueller to build a case and demonstrate that the president should be charged with the crime of obstruction. So Mueller does something incredibly clever: He falsifies all of the alternative explanations. [emphasis mine]

12) And what Ben Wittes learned from the Mueller report:

Trump’s complicity in the Russian hacking operation and his campaign’s contacts with the Russians present a more complicated picture.

No, Mueller does not appear to have developed evidence that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was involved in the hacking operation itself. And no, the investigation did not find a criminal conspiracy in the veritable blizzard of contacts between Trumpworld and the Russians. But this is an ugly story for Trump.

Here’s the key point: If there wasn’t collusion on the hacking, it sure wasn’t for lack of trying. Indeed, the Mueller report makes clear that Trump personally ordered an attempt to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails; and people associated with the campaign pursued this believing they were dealing with Russian hackers. Trump also personally engaged in discussions about coordinating public-relations strategy around WikiLeaks releases of hacked emails. At least one person associated with the campaign was in touch directly with the Guccifer 2.0 persona—which is to say with Russian military intelligence. And Donald Trump Jr. was directly in touch with WikiLeaks—from whom he obtained a password to a hacked database. There are reasons none of these incidents amount to crimes—good reasons, in my view, in most cases, viable judgment calls in others. But the picture it all paints of the president’s conduct is anything but exonerating.

Call it Keystone Kollusion.

13) Sarah Kliff on the three most important things she’s learned as a health care reporter.

14) John Cassidy, “Donald Trump’s business failures were very real.”

In May, 2019, this is all distant history, of course. But don’t let anyone tell you—not Trump, nor Newt Gingrich, nor any of the President’s other apologists—that the businesses Trump operated were successful, or that the huge losses they sustained were simply tax dodges. They weren’t.

15) Really interesting piece on how to fix poverty in the developing world.  I did not love the “liberals won’t like what I have to say” frame.  I liked it just fine.  Of course, societies without basic safety and security are going to suffer horribly and that this fact of life will dramatically reduce the potential beneficial impact of other charitable and philanthropic programs to improve the situation:

f you’re a progressive Democrat in the United States, you’re supposed to care about poverty, education, and women’s rights. If you’re a conservative Republican, you’re supposed to care about terrorism, crime, and controlling immigration. But in real life, all these issues are connected. To solve the problems you care about, sometimes you have to listen to the other side.

Here’s an example: To help the world’s poor people, you have to fight crime.

This is the work of the International Justice Mission, a human rights organization. Its founder, Gary Haugen, outlined the global challenge at an April session of the Faith Angle Forum, a conference on religion and society. In 1994, Haugen led the United Nations investigation into the Rwandan genocide. Three years later, he launched IJM. Through his work and his book The Locust Effect, Haugen makes a compelling case: Today, the principal cause of misery and stagnation in the world isn’t a lack of food or education. It’s violence and lawlessness.

In the United States, crime has sunk to historic lows. But across much of the globe, it’s rampant. The crisis isn’t just war. It’s what Haugen calls “everyday violence”: sex crimes, slavery, and theft. Based on World Health Organization data, Haugen says sexual violence and domestic violence cause more death and disability among women aged 14 to 44 than war, malaria, and car accidents combined. In Peru, he recalls, a doctor reported seeing 50 cases of rape in the preceding five days. All the victims were less than 15 years old.

These crimes are rarely prosecuted. In some countries, statistically, you’re less likely to be convicted of sexual assault than to die from slipping in the shower or being struck by lightning. In such places, ordinary people don’t expect police or the courts to protect them. Often, the police are predators. Kenya, for instance, went through a 25-year period in which, despite chronic police abuse, not one officer was convicted of murder…

The violence is bad enough. But it’s also thwarting development assistance. International organizations throw money at poor countries, often without much to show for it, in part because predators get in the way. One key to development, for example, is educating girls. But in much of the world, what keeps girls out of school is violence. It’s dangerous to walk to school, it’s dangerous to be in school, and many girls face violence at home that keeps them from leaving.

Haugen argues that lawlessness, like joblessness or illiteracy, is a form of deprivation. It’s part of a class structure. Poor people face high crime rates for the same reason they get the worst food and the worst health care. In colonized countries, Western powers designed courts and police to protect their own interests, not the public. In many places, even today, if you want protection, you have to buy it. In the developing world, according to Haugen, the private security industry is four to seven times bigger than public police forces. It’s the largest employer in Africa. [emphasis mine]

Totally makes sense to this liberal.  Let’s do something about it.

16) Tom Nichols on the overly-woke students trying to run elite universities.  Fortunately, I’ve seen only the slightest hints of this at NC State.  This does seem to exist disproportionately among the most over-privileged college students:

When did college students get it into their head that they should be running the university? The distressing trend of students somehow thinking that they’re the teachers began in earnest in the 1960s, a time when at least some of the grievances of campus protesters—from racism and sexism to the possibility of being sent to die in Southeast Asia—made sense.

A more noxious version of this trend, however, is now in full swing, with students demanding a say in the hiring and firing of faculty whose views they merely happen not to like. This is a dangerous development—a triple threat to free speech, to the education of future citizens, and to the value of a college education.

It is no surprise to find Camille Paglia, a professor at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts who has been outraging people across the social and political spectrum for three decades, embroiled in one of these controversies. Paglia proposed to give a talk titled “Ambiguous Images: Sexual Duality and Sexual Multiplicity in Western Art.” According to a letter released by two student activists, “a gender non-binary creative writing major” had “brought this lecture to the student body’s attention through social media and raised their concerns to Title IX and other University administration about the school giving Camille a platform.” This led to a group of students demanding that Paglia (who self-identifies as transgender) be removed from the faculty “and replaced by a queer person of color.”..

To some extent, unbridled and performative student activism is a disease of affluence. Young people who are working their way through school or who are immersed in difficult subjects have less time, and often less economic flexibility, to engage in protest.

Indeed, students at Brown University noticed the time-consuming nature of changing the world, and in 2016 demanded less schoolwork so that they could devote more effort to their “social-justice responsibilities.” As one anonymous undergraduate told the Brown school newspaper, “There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes, and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on.” A senior with the wonderfully appropriate name of Justice Gaines told the paper, “I don’t feel okay with seeing students go through hardships without helping and organizing to make things better.”

17) New research complicates the push for the $15 minimum wage.  You know me– let’s follow the research and not just be ideological about this.  $15 works politically, but it does seem there’s a good case for regional variation, etc.

18) This was a really enjoyable read in Vox, “The mess that is elite college admissions, explained by a former dean: Eight things I wish people understood about my old job.”  In no surprise to anybody genuinely familiar with higher education, “5) Rankings are arbitrary, misleading, and poisonous”

19) This Op-Ed is right, “We Are Taking Religious Freedom Too Far: We have a right to practice our beliefs, but we don’t have the right to discriminate against others, or endanger their lives.”

20) In the sad, pathetic, and entirely unsurprising files, “Nearly half of white Republicans say it bothers them to hear people speaking foreign languages.”  Definitely had me thinking about Prius or Pickup.

21) Has Norway figured out youth sports?  Maybe:

Imagine a society in which 93 percent of children grow up playing organized sports. Where costs are low, the economic barriers to entry few, travel teams aren’t formed until the teenage years — and where adults don’t start sorting the weak from the strong until children have grown into their bodies and interests. Then, the most promising talents become the most competitive athletes in the world, on a per-capita basis.

I am talking about Norway…

“I like being outside and active with my friends,” Julia Stusvik-Eide, an 11-year-old from Oslo, told me at her neighborhood club as she balanced on cross-country skis with the aid of two classmates, arm-in-arm.

Julia’s comment is hardly a revelation. These are the priorities of most children, anywhere in the world. What’s distinctive about Norway’s sport model is how deliberately it tries to align with those needs.

The country’s Children’s Rights in Sport is a document unlike any other in the world, a declaration that underpins its whole sports ecosystem. Introduced in 1987 and updated in 2007 by the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports, the eight-page statement describes the type of experience that every child in the country must be provided, from safe training environments to activities that facilitate friendships.

The statement places a high value on the voices of youth. Children “must be granted opportunities to participate in planning and execution of their own sport activities,” according to the document. They may “decide for themselves how much they would like to train,” and can even opt out of games if they just want to practice.

Want to transfer clubs in midseason? Go ahead, no penalty. Suit up with a rival club next week, if you wish.

“We believe the motivation of children in sport is much more important than that of the parent or coach,” said Inge Andersen, former secretary general of the Norwegian confederation. “We’re a small country and can’t afford to lose them because sport is not fun.”

 

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Quick hits (part I)

Oh my, I have been a complete loser blogger this week.  Cannot believe I’ve gone quick hits to quick hits with nothing in between.  And late, too.  Forgive me.  I promise a better week next week.

1) I order a lot from Amazon and thus have a non-trivial amount of Amazon returns.  I was actually somewhat surprised recently when I got my refund as soon as UPS scanned the return package.  I presume Amazon has some algorithm that says I’m a good customer that does not abuse the return process.

2) I also wondered what would happen to the electric razor that I was unhappy with (for my oldest son– I’m all about the Mach 3 Turbo).  Enjoyed this story about trying to make money on bulk Amazon returns.  I imagine, alas, that used electric razors end up in the trash.

3) Stephen Moore is such an absurd hack that it is offensive to hacks to call him a hack.  It’s a very good thing he will not serve on the Federal Reserve.  And to the utter shame (as is so much) of today’s Republicans that they ignored his horrible qualifications and nutty economic ideas, but only gave up on him for his absurd sexist remarks.  Great take from Yglesias:

Stephen Moore is a charlatan who plays a policy expert on TV

If you consume a lot of conservative media, you could easily be under the impression that Moore is one of the top economic policy thinkers in the country.

He has written extensively over the years for the Weekly Standard and National Review, long the two leading intellectual magazines of the conservative movement. He’s a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. He’s a contributor to CBN News and a former Fox News guy who jumped to CNN in 2017. But, again, even though Trump probably best knows him from television, he’s not just a television pundit. He published in the American Enterprise Institute’s in-house journal and was the director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute for many years.

In short, the institutional conservative movement appears to regard him as a serious heavyweight thinker on economic policy…

Moore’s nomination deserved to sink because he’s a crank. As the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell writes, he complained of imminent hyperinflation at the height of the Great Recession while now arguing that the economy faces deflation when there’s no evidence of this in economic data. He “advocates — at least when politically convenient — crank economic ideas, including returning to the gold standard.” Paul Krugman reminds us that in 2007-’08 when the country was tumbling into recession, he called for interest rate hikes that would have greatly exacerbated the problem.

4) The economics of creating new antibiotics are really not good in today’s big Pharma world.  The good news, is that there are some innovative policy ideas to encourage the creation of new antibiotics.  And we really need them.

5) A good friend of mine recently had to have his daughter treated with anti-venom for a copperhead snakebite.  Sounded like an all-around nightmare. Especially wondering if his insurance (same as mine!) was going to cover the $14,000 anti-venom.  Christopher Ingraham on why it costs so damn much (only in America, of course), “The crazy reason it costs $14,000 to treat a snakebite with $14 medicine”

Shockingly, the cost of actually making the antivenom — of R&D, animal care, plasma harvesting, bottling, and the like — added up to roughly one tenth of one percent of the total cost. Clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of the antivenom accounted for another 2 percent. Other miscellaneous costs, including licensing fees, wholesaler fees, regulatory, legal and office costs, and profit to medical providers, added up to 28 percent.

Finally, over 70 percent of the cost — responsible for most of the “sticker shock” you see in so many stories about envenomation care — comes from hospital markups that are used as instruments in negotiation with insurance providers. Depending on the hospital and the insurer, some percentage of this amount later gets discounted during the final payment process.

6) I finally watched John Oliver’s take on how prosecutors are the fundamental problem in our criminal justice system.  He’s right.  And, of course, it’s a really good segment.

7) I just came across this Conversation piece from a few years ago by an NC State professors on the genetics of Eastern Coyotes and how coywolfs are not a thing.  I had no idea that there was always a mix of dog in there:

New genetic tests show that all eastern coyotes are actually a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog. The percentages vary, dependent upon exactly which test is applied and the geographic location of the canine.

Coyotes in the Northeast are mostly (60%-84%) coyote, with lesser amounts of wolf (8%-25%) and dog (8%-11%). Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes. Virginia animals average more dog than wolf (85%:2%:13% coyote:wolf:dog) while coyotes from the Deep South had just a dash of wolf and dog genes mixed in (91%:4%:5% coyote:wolf:dog). Tests show that there are no animals that are just coyote and wolf (that is, a coywolf), and some eastern coyotes that have almost no wolf at all.

In other words, there is no single new genetic entity that should be considered a unique species. Instead, we are finding a large intermixing population of coyotes across the continent, with a smattering of noncoyote DNA mixed in to varying degrees along the eastern edge. The coywolf is not a thing.

8) Chait, “Trump Claims He Can Ignore Subpoenas Because Congress Is Mean”

This same argument runs nearly all of Trump’s refusals to abide congressional subpoenas. “These aren’t, like, impartial people,” the president declared of Congress. “The Democrats are trying to win 2020.”

The first thing to understand about this legal theory is that it is not a legal theory. Congress is a coequal branch of government which has a legal right to conduct investigations, including of the Executive branch and its officials. There is a legal gray zone around “executive privilege,” which describes the right of officials in the Executive branch to have some confidentiality around their internal discussions.

But Trump is not articulating a theory of executive privilege here. Nor would such a privilege cover a president’s right to maintain a business empire that accepts payments that may or may not be bribes disguised as legitimate reimbursements in complete secrecy from Congress and the public.

Essentially Trump’s argument is that congressional oversight is simply “politics” and, therefore, somehow null and void. Trump’s Deutsche Bank lawsuit has a passage that could have been lifted from an op-ed written by a sophomore member of the College Republicans. It quotes Nancy Pelosi promising “checks and balances to the Trump administration,” then asserts she was “not referring to legislation.” It proceeds to quote a series of journalists describing Congress’s investigations as being unpleasant for Trump:

9) Can’t say I find this Jesse Singal headline all that surprising,”Finally Some Robust Research Into Whether “Diversity Training” Actually Works – Unfortunately It’s Not Very Promising.”

10) Here’s my tweet on the latest Game of Thrones episode:

That said, I loved this tactical analysis of the battle from Angry Staff Officer.

11) Given how much the abortion debate tends to focus on the much more complicated issue of later abortions, this chart from Drum is very useful:

12) I’ve often wondered why getting pictures framed is so damn expensive.  I really would like to framed art in my house, but, the framing always seems like such a rip-off.  Vox is on the case:

Higher pricing is the consequence of frame stores keeping options on hand

According to a 2018 IBISWorld report, there are 9,000 local frame shops in the United States, and if you’ve ever been to one, you know it to be a pretty intimidating experience. You go in knowing you only need one black frame, but are then bombarded with a host of options: There’s matting (a piece of paper or cardboard that goes inside the frame and mounts the print or photo), molding (decorative embellishments on the outside of the frame), glass (referred to as glazing, which can be made of glass or acrylic, and, depending on what you choose, can offer UV protection), and the frames themselves.

According to Mark Klostermeyer, a member of the Professional Picture Frames Association, it’s the sheer amount of mattings, moldings, glazings, and frames a shop provides that drives up prices. The fewer options a business offers, the more able they are to order in bulk, therefore cutting down costs.

Klostermeyer has owned Design Frames, a local custom frame shop in Falls Church, Virginia, for 50 years. “I’m a second generation framer,” he tells me. Klostermeyer offers 2,000 different frames at his shop, along with hundreds of mats and specialty fabric matting options. He also gets custom moldings from eight different vendors.

13) This account of a (non-tenure-track) Duke professor being fired because he may have offended some small percentage of students with just horrible due process is really depressing.

14) Really liked reading about the idea of “decoupling” in Jesse Singal’s article about erisology, the study of how to argue effectively:

The concept of decoupling is erisology at its best. Expanding on the writing of the mathematician and blogger Sarah Constantin, who was herself drawing on the work of the psychologist Keith Stanovich, Nerst describes decoupling as simply the idea of removing extraneous context from a given claim and debating that claim on its own, rather than the fog of associations, ideologies, and potentials swirling around it.

When I first heard of decoupling, I immediately thought about the nervous way in which liberals discuss intelligence research. There is overwhelming evidence that intelligence, as social scientists define and measure it, has a strong hereditary component; according to some estimates, genetic factors account for about half the variation in intelligence among individuals. None of that has anything to do with race, because races do not map neatly onto genetic difference. But because the link between intelligence and genetics is so steeped in oppression and ugly history—that is, because charlatans have so eagerly cited nonsense “research” purporting to demonstrate Europeans’ natural superiority—discussions even of well-founded studies about intelligence often end in acrimony over their potential misuse.

Once you know a term like decoupling, you can identify instances in which a disagreement isn’t really about X anymore, but about Y and Z. When some readers first raised doubts about a now-discredited Rolling Stone story describing a horrific gang rape at the University of Virginia, they noted inconsistencies in the narrative. Others insisted that such commentary fit into destructive tropes about women fabricating rape claims, and therefore should be rejected on its face. The two sides weren’t really talking; one was debating whether the story was a hoax, while the other was responding to the broader issue of whether rape allegations are taken seriously. Likewise, when scientists bring forth solid evidence that sexual orientation is innate, or close to it, conservatives have lashed out against findings that would “normalize” homosexuality. But the dispute over which sexual acts, if any, society should discourage is totally separate from the question of whether sexual orientation is, in fact, inborn. Because of a failure to decouple, people respond indignantly to factual claims when they’re actually upset about how those claims might be interpreted.

15) I really enjoyed telling my wife about the Vegetable Lamb this week:

It’s OK to be wrong, even fantastically so. Because when it comes to understanding our world, mistakes mean progress. From folklore to pure science, these are history’s most bizarre theories.Or so goes the story of the bizarre Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Also known as the barometz, derived from the Tartar word for lamb, this was a useful little creature that Europeans in the Middle Ages–aware that cotton was a thing that arrived from India, yet unaware exactly how it grew–decided was the source of their newfangled threads.

According to 19th-century naturalist Henry Lee, who penned an exhaustive 60-page treatise on the history of the vegetable lamb, in Europe this legend “met with almost universal credence from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries.” Its source, it seems, was the Middle Ages’ most famous traveler, Sir John Mandeville, whose fantastical accounts of his roamings abroad in the 1300s led to no small number of misconceptions back in England.

Mandeville writes in Middle English, so I’ll go ahead and just paraphrase for you: In Tartary (what is now Russia and Mongolia), there grows a plant that produces gourds, and from these issue forth tiny lambs, which men eat. Mandeville, who likely made up a good chunk of his travelsand pulled from reference material instead, wrote that in his experience, they are quite delicious. So based on vegetable lambs not actually existing, we can confirm that Mandeville was somewhat of a liar. (Jorge Luis Borges, in his Book of Imaginary Beings, refers to him hilariously as “the problematic Sir John Mandeville.”)

16) Aaron Rupar on the generally sad media coverage of Trump’s latest lie-fest rallies: “Coverage of Trump’s latest rally shows how major media outlets normalize his worst excesses
Lying is still being recast as ‘reviv[ing] an inaccurate refrain.'”

17) You’ve likely noticed that I like Wired and that it has a paywall.  I’m a subscriber to the print magazine (I love that my 13-year old devours it when it shows up every month), so I happily get the digital as part of that.  I enjoyed reading their lessons from a year behind the paywall:

But the idea was also broader. At WIRED we genuinely believe that journalism as a whole needs to diversify its revenue streams. The advertising business has supported this business for decades—but digital advertising is unruly, unpredictable, and slowly being swallowed by the social media platforms. Paywalls aren’t for every publication, and it would be nice to live in a world in which every reader could access every idea for free. But, in general, paid content seems like the best bet to help this essential and embattledindustry. So, with that spirit in mind, here are some thoughts about what we learned in year one that might apply to other publications.

First off: It worked! Of course you’d expect me to say that, but it really did. I promise. We increased the number of new digital subscribers in the first year by nearly 300 percent over the year before. We don’t know if they’ll resubscribe (please do); we don’t know if they’ll ultimately pay higher prices (please do); we don’t know if it’ll be as easy to get the next batch of people to join (please do). But the early signs are good, particularly for a year in which the bottom fell out from some traffic referrers that used to drive subscribers (hello, Facebook) and the greatest growth was on a platform (hello, Apple News) where getting direct subscribers in 2018 was as easy as hitting a bank shot 3-pointer, and getting subscribers in 2019 will now essentially require a half-court heave.

The second lesson: The stories that led people to subscribe were a little surprising. When we started this, we invested in three new kinds of pieces: longform reportingIdeas essays, and issue guides. All three types overindex in generating subscriptions.

18) Ken Tucker reviewed a new Lizzo album at the end of a Fresh Air episode this week.  I had never heard of her before.  Not my usual type of music, but damn is she good.  I’ve really been enjoying on Spotify this week.  In fact, I’m listening as I work on this post.

19) Black incarceration rates are down.  That’s good.  And we still need to do better.  The charts:

20) So many great takes this week on the amazing awfullness that is William Barr.  Kept meaning to write a post.  I still will,  But this is good.  “Mueller Spent Years Collecting Evidence. Barr Is Pretending It’s Not There.: The special counsel meticulously collected backup for his claims. Barr’s testimony Wednesday dismisses it.”

21) I really hate the way the Supreme Court’s conservatives are willing to overlook all sorts of evidence to pretend that Trump’s administration is acting in good faith when it is so transparently not.  Ugh.  Drum on the census case:

In oral hearings yesterday, the Supreme Court’s five conservatives made it pretty clear that they intend to allow Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. One of Josh Marshall’s readers offers a pointed and largely correct explanation of why this is so bad:

Everyone knows that in the census case Ross “papered” a rationale to justify a decision made for other reasons. But the Court can overturn the decision without finding that he lied — simply by holding that it was arbitrary and capricious to sacrifice the accuracy of the count to obtain citizenship data that could be obtained (at least as accurately, and perhaps more accurately) through administrative records without adding a question to the census. That seems a pretty reasonable holding given that the Constitution itself focuses on an accurate count of the whole population.

But if the Court goes the other way, it is truly an “emperor has no clothes” opinion. The Court will uphold the reasonableness of Ross’s “determination” even though everyone knows those were not his real reasons — in other words, basing its ruling on what everyone knows to be a fictional story, concocted to pass judicial muster. If the Court is willing to tolerate that, what won’t it tolerate?

And then there are the plainly partisan consequences of the ruling. Combine it with the almost-certain rejection of constitutional challenges to gerrymandering, and other election-related decisions and everything points in the same direction — entrenchment of Republican power to resist the forces of demographic change.

Ross lied initially about the citizenship question, saying it had been requested by the Justice Department even though it hadn’t been. Then he badgered DOJ into requesting it. Then he finally asked his own census experts to weigh in, and they said pretty clearly that they could get better data and a more accurate count without the citizenship question. However, they couldn’t be absolutely, positively, 100 percent sure of that, and that was enough for Ross to hang his hat on. If there was even a 1 percent chance of the citizenship question producing better data, then by God, the census would have a citizenship question…

Republicans know that they’re in a demographic death spiral, so they’ve been doing their best to nickel-and-dime additional votes over the past decade. They’ve tried voter ID laws, gerrymandering, targeting of black voters, and now the census. In every case, the Republican majority on the Supreme Court has taken their side. It’s hard to think of a series of cases that could more clearly demonstrate that Republicans on the Supreme Court are naked partisans when it comes to voting issues, but they don’t seem to care. This is why Mitch McConnell broke the Senate in order to get another Republican on the court, and it looks likely to pay off yet again. [emphasis mine]

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Though I only dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons as a teenager, fair to say it has changed by firstborn’s life and I enjoy learning about it vicariously through him.  The Post with an article on how the game is really booming these days.  It only gets a sentence or so in the article, but I think it is quite interesting the degree to which the boom is substantially due to some really smart revisions with the latest (5th) edition of the game, in contrast to the very-much-panned 4th edition.

2) Given the chance, the dingo really will eat your baby.  Harrowing tale of parents saving their toddler from dingos.  And, no way can I resist including this:

3) Interestingly, Mr. “I have the best memory” doesn’t seem to have such a great one when he’s in legal jeopardy:

Mr. Trump rarely lacks for certainty in his public statements on camera, but has shown more caution when under oath.

He said, “I don’t remember” 24 times during a 2012 deposition in a lawsuit involving his now-defunct Trump University and 35 times during another deposition related to the university suit three years later, not counting 10 more times in the two interviews that he said, “I don’t recall” or “Can’t remember.” (He eventually settled the legal claims for $25 million.)

Prosecutors said such selective memory tended to make them suspicious.

“It’s always a red flag when a witness appears to selectively forget the events most likely to be damning,” said Dwight C. Holton, who spent 14 years as a prosecutor, most recently as United States attorney in Oregon.

“And when you have a witness who repeatedly and publicly thumps his chest about how great his memory is, then all of a sudden he has sudden massive memory loss — well, let’s just say that’s a target I’d like to cross-examine in front of a jury.”

4) Sarah Sanders is almost as odious a figure as her boss.

After admitting to investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, that she delivered a false statement from the White House podium, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, defended herself in Trumpian fashion on Friday morning. She counterattacked.

The Mueller report revealed that Ms. Sanders had acknowledged that her repeated claim in 2017 that she had personally communicated with “countless” F.B.I. officials who told her they were happy with President Trump’s decision to fire James B. Comey as the agency’s director was a “slip of the tongue” and not founded on any facts.

Asked on “Good Morning America” if the report had damaged her credibility, Ms. Sanders responded that she had made the statement in the heat of the moment, and that it was not “a scripted talking point.”

But then she added, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t a robot like the Democrat Party that went out for two and a half years and repeated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign.”

Apparently complete and total fabrications are just fine in the heat of the moment.  Good to know.

4) I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to deem it evil, what Mick Mulvaney has done in undermining the CFPB’s ability to help Americans who have been cheated by the financial industry.

5) Asha Rangappa is great on the Mueller report, “How Barr and Trump Use a Russian Disinformation Tactic: They were able to define “collusion” to benefit themselves.  Don’t let them twist meanings again with their “spying” investigation.”

The Trump administration seized on this legal ambiguity early on, with the refrain that “collusion is not a crime.” The standard set here is that anything falling below criminally chargeable behavior is acceptable. When it comes to the presidency, this is not true. The Constitution lays out the procedure for removing an unfit president from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Nevertheless, we took the bait: Collusion may not be a crime, lawyers and pundits responded, but conspiracy is. This “reflexive” response adopted criminality as the bar to be met.

But as we found in the report, conspiracy is very narrowly defined: It requires proof of an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime, and an “overt act” in furtherance of that agreement. Unlike collusion, moreover, conspiracy requires that a party have a specific state of mind — knowledge — of the criminal nature of his or her actions. As a former F.B.I. special agent who conducted counterintelligence investigations, I can attest that foreign intelligence services do not operate on the basis of explicit agreements or even actions that, standing alone, constitute criminal activity.

Foreign intelligence services rely on manipulating vulnerabilities over time — like greed, or fear of exposure of a secret — to puppeteer those under their influence into acting in their interests without saying a word. Our adversaries also want to make sure they have plausible deniability, so it would be impossible to uncover an agreement made directly with a foreign government itself: As detailed in Mr. Mueller’s report, most of Russia’s overtures were made through cutouts and intermediaries, seeking to capitalize on the ambition of members of the Trump campaign to push along their efforts. Counterintelligence is, in effect, chasing ghosts, which is why the tools used to investigate foreign intelligence activity are secret, like human sources or electronic surveillance. It is not the stuff of which criminal prosecutions are made, and it is partly for this reason that operativesrarely see the inside of a courtroom.

Nevertheless, we reached an informal agreement with the White House over the last two years: The test of Mr. Trump’s fitness for office rested on Mr. Mueller’s findings that the president committed a crime, namely, conspiracy with the Russian government to influence the election.

6) Joseph Stiglitz on progressive capitalism:

America arrived at this sorry state of affairs because we forgot that the true source of the wealth of a nation is the creativity and innovation of its people. One can get rich either by adding to the nation’s economic pie or by grabbing a larger share of the pie by exploiting others — abusing, for instance, market power or informational advantages. We confused the hard work of wealth creation with wealth-grabbing (or, as economists call it, rent-seeking), and too many of our talented young people followed the siren call of getting rich quickly.

Beginning with the Reagan era, economic policy played a key role in this dystopia: Just as forces of globalization and technological change were contributing to growing inequality, we adopted policies that worsened societal inequities. Even as economic theories like information economics (dealing with the ever-present situation where information is imperfect), behavioral economics and game theory arose to explain why markets on their own are often not efficient, fair, stable or seemingly rational, we relied more on markets and scaled back social protections.

The result is an economy with more exploitation — whether it’s abusive practices in the financial sector or the technology sector using our own data to take advantage of us at the cost of our privacy. The weakening of antitrust enforcement, and the failure of regulation to keep up with changes in our economy and the innovations in creating and leveraging market power, meant that markets became more concentrated and less competitive.

Politics has played a big role in the increase in corporate rent-seeking and the accompanying inequality. Markets don’t exist in a vacuum; they have to be structured by rules and regulations, and those rules and regulations must be enforced. Deregulation of the financial sector allowed bankers to engage in both excessively risky activities and more exploitive ones. Many economists understood that trade with developing countries would drive down American wages, especially for those with limited skills, and destroy jobs. We could and should have provided more assistance to affected workers (just as we should provide assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of technological change), but corporate interests opposed it. A weaker labor market conveniently meant lower labor costs at home to complement the cheap labor businesses employed abroad.

We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.

7) I’ve got a student doing an honor’s thesis on felon enfranchisement.  Jamelle Bouie on an idea, apparently, gaining some momentum:

But the growing tide against felon disenfranchisement raises a related question: Why disenfranchise felons at all? Why not let prisoners vote — and give the franchise to the roughly 1.5 million people sitting in federal and state prisons? Why must supposedly universal adult suffrage exclude people convicted of crimes?

There is precedent for this idea. California allows voting for those in county jails (with limited exceptions). Colorado does too. New York recently allowed those on parole or probation to vote. And two states, Maine and Vermont, already let prisoners vote. In fact, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont affirmed his support for voting rights in prison the same week Warren backed automatic enfranchisement for former felons.

“In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad,” Sanders said, responding to a question at a town hall. “But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”…

We ought to have that conversation now. Americans may see it as common sense that you lose your right to vote when you’re imprisoned, but in many democracies prisoners retain the right to vote. When that right is revoked, it’s only for particular crimes (in Germany, it’s for “targeting” the “democratic order”), and often there is a good deal of judicial discretion. Mandatory disenfranchisement is unusual, and permanent disenfranchisement is even rarer.

7) I have noticed that the plethora of new apartment buildings near NC State campus look similar.  Apparently, it’s not restricted to Raleigh and there’s a reason for this.  “Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same: Cheap stick framing has led to a proliferation of blocky, forgettable mid-rises—and more than a few construction fires.”

8) Enjoyed this shared by a female reporter friend, “Journalist Jana Shortal is breaking the unspoken dress code for on-air reporters.”

9) Some groundbreaking new research on all the world’s “missing” women.

And yet, for as long as people have been keeping records, nature shows a different, dependable pattern: For every 100 babies born biologically female, 105 come out biologically male. Scientists have speculated this mysteriously male-biased sex ratio is evolution’s way of evening things out, since females consistently outlive their XY-counterparts—for every man that reaches the age of 100, four women have also joined the Century Club.

This biological maxim has been so drilled into the heads of demographers—the researchers responsible for keeping tabs on how many people there are on the planet—that most don’t think twice before plugging it into any projections they’re making about how populations will change in the future. But a massive effort to catalog the sex ratios at birth, for the first time, for every country, shows that’s not such a smart strategy after all.

“For so long people just took that number for granted,” says Fengqing Chao, a public health researcher at the Institute of Policy Studies in Singapore. “But no one had ever gone to the trouble of pulling all this information together to get accurate estimates of this fundamental metric.” Chao led the five-year project, combing through decades of census data, national survey responses, and birth records to build models that could estimate national sex ratios across time. In doing so, she and her collaborators at the United Nations discovered that in most regions of the world, sex ratios diverge significantly from the historical norm. Across a dozen countries, the chasm amounts to 23.1 million missing female births since 1970. The results, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide an unprecedented look at how societal values can skew the laws of nature.

“It’s an incredibly important contribution,” says Darrell Bricker, a Canadian political scientist. “If the only part of the population who can produce new kids are women under the age of 45, and a whole bunch of them are missing, it’s going to have an obvious impact on the fertility of a population.” In his recently published book, Empty Planet, Bricker proposes the radical idea that contrary to a population explosion apocalypse scenario, the data suggests the world is actually more likely to run out of people. If current models are mistakenly counting women that aren’t there, that only makes his predictions that much more plausible, he adds.

10) We need to be so much tougher, policy-wise, on the anti-vaxxers.  You don’t want to vaccinate for vague, anti-scientific reasons.  Fine, lose your rights to schools, malls, public places, etc.  Our current exemption policies are way too lax in many states:

But over the last 10 years, many states have made it easier for parents to get personal exemptions for vaccinations. Recent analyses have shown that since 2009, the number of nonmedical exemptions rose in 12 of the 17 states that relaxed their laws to allow for philosophical objections as well as religious ones. In some anti-vaccine hot spots, exemption rates are nearing double digits. “It’s been a pretty recent phenomenon that people are now saying their concerns about vaccination outweigh their concerns about infectious diseases,” Silverman says. “And it’s starting to test the balancing act most states are trying to pull off.”

At least in some places, the threat of bigger outbreaks appears to be tipping the scales toward more restrictive policies. At least eight states, including some that experienced measles spikes this year, are now taking a harder look at their lax personal-exemption laws. When you add up the costs of an outbreak, it’s not hard to see why. A single five-month outbreak in Minnesota in 2017 that infected 79 people ran the state a tab of $2.3 million.

Stricter laws should help boost vaccine rates, but it’s not always enough. In 2015, California ditched its personal-belief exemptions, making it only the third state—along with West Virginia and Mississippi—to have such rigid requirements. As a result, fewer students skipped shots, and by 2018 immunization rates statewide were once again above the 94 percent threshold. But researchers discovered that over the same time period, medical exemptions grew. It turned out that many parents were getting around the new law by convincing doctors to grant them medical exemptions. That’s why California is now considering a bill that would crack down on the medical exempting process, to ensure they’re reserved only for people who really need them—kids who’ve 1undergone chemotherapy or organ transplants or who suffer from immune disorders.

11) Somehow, just yesterday discovered this Bad Lip Reading “Empire Strikes Back” edition.  Oh man did my kids and I love this

12) Honestly, probably better if Netflix had never made any new “Arrested Development” episodes, but it’s still got a great legacy:

Depressing is a word fans who fell in love with Arrested Development in its original form might call its current state: now that the show’s conclusion to season five has landed, it’s doubtful many will be praying for another renewal. It’s worth remembering though, if this is indeed its last hurrah, how good the show once was. That once there was no touching its hurricane-of-blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gags, surprises and syrupy moments of heartwarming family drama. Our pop culture landscape today would be drastically different without it: TV comedy in 2019 owes a godzilla-sized debt to the show. There may never have been BoJack Horseman or Archer, both of which feature stars from Arrested Development as well as generous servings of its manic, wild-eyed humour. It kicked open the door for the black comic barrage and selfish, shouting protagonists of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and blazed a trail for single cam successes like The OfficeParks and Recreation and Modern Family.

13) Happy Easter!

Quick hits (part II)

1) Very cool NYT visualization of how “The Democratic Electorate on Twitter Is Not the Actual Democratic Electorate. ”

2) Jonathan Ladd with a great MIschiefs of Faction piece, “The Senate is a much bigger problem than the Electoral College: While the Electoral College is a stranger, more poorly designed institution, the Senate poses much bigger challenges going forward.”

Because of their similarities — they are both unusual, state-based, winner-take-all constitutional features — it is easy to assume that the Senate and Electoral College both distort democratic representation in similar ways. But this is not the case. The Senate gives a big advantage to voters in small states, because every state gets an equal number of Senators.

Thus, California’s 39 million people get two senators in Washington, while two Senators also represent states like Wyoming (578,000 people), Vermont (626,000 people), and Alaska (737,000 people). In 2013, the New York Times pointed out that the six senators from California, Texas, and New York represented the same number of people as the 62 senators from the smallest 31 states. (Florida has since passed New York to be the third-biggest state, but the pattern persists.)

People in overrepresented states are not the same as the people in underrepresented states. While there are a few small states on the coasts (hello, Rhode Island and Delaware!), many more small states are inland and rural. The coasts and their large cities tend to be in larger states. This means that the economic and infrastructure needs of cities get less representation in the Senate.

America’s nonwhite population tends to be overwhelmingly in large or medium-sized states. To illustrate, the 10 biggest states (by 2018 Census estimates) all have nontrivial percentages of nonwhite voters, while the 10 smallest states mostly consist of rural, overwhelmingly white states…

The Senate’s representational biases make it harder to do many things, including continuing to reduce systematic unequal treatment of nonwhite people in American society and trying to mitigate climate change. The most plausible reforms — ending the filibuster and admitting DC and Puerto Rico — only begin to reduce the problem. Anyone working to improve American public policy needs to think hard about the vexing problem of Senate reform, because without such reform, adequately addressing the most serious problems facing the United States is impossible. [emphasis mine]

3) Really interesting post from Scott Alexander looking at the relationship between brain size as well as other features, like neuron density, across the animal kingdom and how that relates to intelligence:

To cut to the conclusion: birds have lots of cortical neurons, and number of cortical neurons may be one of the most important biological substrates of intelligence.

It looks like the main driver behind the encephalization quotient results is that bigger animals have bigger neurons. Although elephants have big brains, each of the neurons in those brains is also big, so they don’t have many more neurons than smaller animals. One exception is primates, who have “managed to escape this scaling factor”. In primates, bigger brains translate into more neurons at about a 1:1 rate, which is part of why we’re so smart.

The other exception is birds. Driven by the need to stay light enough to fly, birds have scaled down their neurons to a level unmatched by any other group. Elephants have about 7,000 neurons per mg of brain tissue. Humans have about 25,000. Birds have up to 200,000. That means a small crow can have the same number of neurons as a pretty big monkey.

Does this mean they are equally smart? There is no generalized animal IQ test, so nobody knows for sure. But AII tried to get a rough feeling for this by asking blinded survey participants to rate the intelligence of various animal behavioral repertoires (which, unknown to them, corresponded to the behaviors of either a primate or a bird). They found that participants judged birds to be about as smart as similarly-neuroned primates. In particular, birds with more neurons were rated as smarter than primates with fewer neurons, which is a pretty crushing blow to us monkeys. It also suggests that the different organization of the mammalian cortex and the avian pallium doesn’t matter much.

So does that mean that intelligence is just a function of neuron quantity? That the number of neurons in your brain, plugged into some function, can spit out your IQ?

It…comes pretty surprisingly close to meaning that.

4) North Carolina’s extreme pollen is so bad this year it made the NYT (including these photos that went viral on FB):

Storm clouds pushing pollen over Durham, N.C., earlier this week.  Reuters

5) My own beloved wife actually got taken in by the faux, bad-faith, outrage over Ilhan Omar and 9/11.  Conor Friedersdorf is on the case:

Last month, Representative Ilhan Omar attended a banquet hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, where she delivered remarks for roughly 20 minutes.

A major theme was prejudice against Muslims. “Here’s the truth,” she said. “For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen. Frankly, I’m tired of it. And every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

Omar’s meaning was clear: Many Muslims felt collectively blamed for something that was indisputably perpetrated by a tiny fraction of their co-religionists and marshaled new resources to protect their civil rights in response. (CAIR was actually founded in the 1990s, but expanded significantly after 9/11.)

Her speech was covered live. It generated no blowback upon delivery. Then, this month, an Australian imam stripped one of her remarks from its context and tweeted, “Ilhan Omar mentions 9/11 and does not consider it a terrorist attack on the USA by terrorists, instead she refers to it as ‘Some people did something,’ then she goes on to justify the establishment of a terrorist organization (CAIR) on US soil.”

CAIR is not, in fact, a terrorist organization. Anyone with third-grade reading comprehension can review Omar’s clumsy words and see that they do not, in fact, assert that 9/11 wasn’t a terrorist attack, nor that its perpetrators were not terrorists. Arriving at the opposite conclusion requires interpreting Omar’s words in a manner that is both implausible and willfully optimized for offense-taking.

Nevertheless, Representative Dan Crenshaw retweeted the imam’s remarks, seizing a chance for a woke callout and the expression of disdainful outrage. “First Member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something,’” he wrote. “Unbelievable.”

What’s “unbelievable” about imperfect extemporaneous speech?

There was no reason to suspect that Omar holds any objectionable views about 9/11. Crenshaw was opportunistically drawing attention to an unintentionally problematic word choice, like an “SJW” filing a frivolous complaint about a microaggression. He needlessly drew attention to an inartful locution on an emotionally fraught topic. And he was not the worst offender…

At the Washington Examiner, Tom Rogan shows the way. “I do not believe Omar’s words were designed to deride our fallen fellow citizens,” he writes. She was emphasizing “the ideological separation between American Muslims and al Qaeda.” It is understandable “why Omar would be frustrated at the damage that the 9/11 attacks did to American perceptions of her faith,” he added. “Many Muslims also died on 9/11, and the vast majority of American Muslims are decent patriots. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that was her key point: al Qaeda are not us, and their evil should not be used to collectively punish Muslims. You don’t have to approve of CAIR or Omar to appreciate the legitimacy of this idea.”

6) Parents leave a loaded gun in a car with their two kids.  Four-year old shoots and kills six-year old.  If that’s not criminal negligence, I don’t know what is.  But, in gun-loving America, it’s not.  That really needs to change.

7) I knew that the St Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington was a rookie sensation.  I had no idea he was 25 or had such an interesting backstory.  It also makes me wonder how many clearly qualified professional athletes are in the minor leagues while they are nonetheless better than the people at the top level.  I suspect it is not a trivial number.

8) Trump’s trade war doing so much damage to all sorts of farmers.  Of course they still love him.

9) This is good and true, “To Reform the Police, Target Their Union Contract.”

AUSTIN, Tex. — After decades of lawsuits and mass protests failed to radically reform the troubled Police Department, we tried a new tactic a few years ago: Targeting one of the most problematic police union contracts in the country. As a result, Austin went from having a retrograde contract to one that offers transparency and accountability. Others cities can follow this route as well.

For years, the Austin Police Department’s contract limited civilian oversight, allowed police misconduct records to basically vanish and kept certain important internal affairs files under seal. This lack of oversight, accountability and transparency was linked to the over-policing of Austin’s black community…

For 18 months, our group, the Austin Justice Coalition, led a major grass-roots organizing campaign. We demanded a seat at the bargaining table with the City Council and the police union and pressed for reforms with teeth.

And we won.

In 2017, the City Council voted down the police union contract because of concerns over accountability, not for the usual reasons like salary or benefits — reportedly the first time a City Council has ever done this.

10) This is some awesome social science & historical research:

Emancipation should have laid waste to the Southern aristocracy. The economy was built on the forced labor of enslaved Africans, and almost half the Confederacy’s wealth was invested in owning humans. Once people could no longer be treated as chattel, that wealth evaporated.

But less than two decades after the Civil War, Southern slave-owning dynasties were back on top of the economic ladder, according to an ambitious new analysis from Leah Boustan of Princeton University, Katherine Eriksson of the University of California at Davis and Philipp Ager of the University of Southern Denmark.

Their research upends the conventional wisdom that slave owners struggled after they lost access to their wealth. Yes, some fell behind economically in the war’s aftermath. But by 1880, the sons of slave owners were better off than the sons of nearby Southern whites who started with equal wealth but were not as invested in enslaved people…

The findings by Boustan and her colleagues indicate generational inequality in the United States isn’t just about the money. Even after the enslaved people on whom their wealth was built were freed, Southern elites passed their advantages to their children through personal networks and social capital. [emphasis mine]

11) Nice Washington Post Op-Ed on border policy, “Neither Trump nor Democrats have advanced a solution for the border. Here’s one.”

A cogent plan to cope with the tsunami of asylum-seeking migrants, mainly Central American families and unaccompanied minors, would start with hundreds more immigration judges to supplement the existing 400 or sowhose backlog of roughly 800,000 cases means that hearings are now scheduled for 2021 and beyond. It would mean expanding and constructing detention centers near the border, suitable for families, that could accommodate many multiples of their current capacity while migrants await the adjudication of their cases. And it would probably entail congressional action that would permit authorities to hold families for more than the three weeks that court decrees have set as a limit on detentions that involve children. Crucially, the existence of a functional system would in short order begin to deter migrants without plausible asylum claims from embarking on the risky and expensive journey.

12) OMG, Brett Easton Ellis‘ recent interview on politics was insane.  This guy should so not be writing anything about politics.

13) Joshua Spivak “The electoral college is a failure. The Founding Fathers would probably agree.”

The electoral college did not succeed in warding off the creation of “cabals” — better known today as political parties. And as the 2016 election showed, foreign powers have been very happy to try to manipulate the election, and the current version of the electoral college did nothing to limit such behavior.

Despite this, all the plans to get rid of the electoral college are, at the moment, fantastical. The Republican Party is firmly opposed to the idea, and there seems little hope that Republicans will change their minds. The Interstate Compact has not been adopted by any “red” states, and even if it passed, it would be certain to face legal challenges.

It’s safe to say the electoral college is here to stay. But in accepting that, we shouldn’t pretend as though the electoral college is part of some grand bargain that the founders enacted to balance the country. It’s not. Instead, it’s a relic of the 18th century that failed in some of its most important intended purposes.

14) We had a interesting class discussion this week about why it seemed everybody was seeming to run for president.  Occasioning this photo:

This NYT story addresses the dynamics at work:

But at the very least, if recent history is a guide, a run is likely to yield better things, perpetuating the victory-in-defeat incentive structure endemic to modern presidential politics.

Today’s primaries tend to produce one nominee but many winners. Beyond the long-shot candidates effectively auditioning for cabinet positions or building a profile (and donor base) for future races, there are prospective books to sell and television contracts to sign, boards to join and paid speeches to paid-speak. Any setback is temporary, any embarrassment surmountable.

“There’s just absolutely no downside and only upside,” Antonia Ferrier, a longtime Republican strategist and former senior aide to Senator Mitch McConnell, said of quixotic presidential runs. “It is an industry of self-promotion. What better way to self-promote than run for president?”

15) This is fun, “You Are Not as Good at Kissing as You Think. But You Are Better at Dancing.: We overestimate and underestimate our abilities in weird ways.”

More recent studies have found examples in which people tend to underestimate their capabilities. One found that most people thought they would be worse than average at recovering from the death of a loved one. Another study reported that people thought they were worse than most at riding a unicycle. Here, they exhibit illusory inferiority.

So when are people likely to be overconfident in how they rank? And when are they underconfident?…

Four factors consistently predicted overconfidence. (If you want to try this yourself, go here.)

First, people tend to be overconfident on skills that reflect one’s underlying personality or character. This helps explain why people overestimated how they compare with others in their ethics, their reliability as a friend and their value as a human being.

And since many people feel pressure to conform to gender norms, this may help us understand why men and women tend to be particularly overconfident on different tasks. Across the 100 skills tested, men are a bit more overconfident overall in how they compared themselves with members of their gender. But men’s overconfidence is particularly noticeable in stereotypically male tasks. Men think they can best the majority of other men in poker, fixing a chair and understanding science. Women are far less confident that they can outperform other women in these tasks.

In contrast, women think they are better than most other women in understanding other people’s feelings, cooking a delicious meal and child-rearing. Men are less confident that they outrank other men in these tasks…

Next, the researchers found that people tend to be overconfident on tasks that are perceived as easy and underconfident on tasks that are perceived as hard. People overestimate how they compare with others in chopping vegetables (easy) but underestimate where they rank in their ability to recite the alphabet backward (hard).

16) Really likes this pro-nuclear power Op-Ed.  I’m totally on board.  “Nuclear Power Can Save the World: Expanding the technology is the fastest way to slash greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize the economy.”

But we actually have proven models for rapid decarbonization with economic and energy growth: France and Sweden. They decarbonized their grids decades ago and now emit less than a tenth of the world average of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour. They remain among the world’s most pleasant places to live and enjoy much cheaper electricity than Germany to boot.

They did this with nuclear power. And they did it fast, taking advantage of nuclear power’s intense concentration of energy per pound of fuel. France replaced almost all of its fossil-fueled electricity with nuclear power nationwide in just 15 years; Sweden, in about 20 years. In fact, most of the fastest additions of clean electricity historically are countries rolling out nuclear power.

This is a realistic solution to humanity’s greatest problem. Plants built 30 years ago in America, as in France, produce cheap, clean electricity, and nuclear power is the cheapest source in South Korea. The 98 U.S. reactors today provide nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity generation. So why don’t the United States and other countries expand their nuclear capacity? The reasons are economics and fear.

New nuclear power plants are hugely expensive to build in the United States today. This is why so few are being built. But they don’t need to be so costly. The key to recovering our lost ability to build affordable nuclear plants is standardization and repetition. The first product off any assembly line is expensive — it cost more than $150 million to develop the first iPhone — but costs plunge as they are built in quantity and production kinks are worked out.

Yet as a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission put it, while France has two types of reactors and hundreds of types of cheese, in the United States it’s the other way around. In recent decades, the United States and some European countries have created ever more complicated reactors, with ever more safety features in response to public fears. New, one-of-a-kind designs, shifting regulations, supply-chain and construction snafus and a lost generation of experts (during the decades when new construction stopped) have driven costs to absurd heights…

All this, however, depends on overcoming an irrational dread among the public and many activists. The reality is that nuclear power is the safest form of energy humanity has ever used. Mining accidents, hydroelectric dam failures, natural gas explosions and oil train crashes all kill people, sometimes in large numbers, and smoke from coal-burning kills them in enormous numbers, more than half a million per year.

By contrast, in 60 years of nuclear power, only three accidents have raised public alarm: Three Mile Island in 1979, which killed no one; Fukushima in 2011, which killed no one (many deaths resulted from the tsunami and some from a panicked evacuation near the plant); and Chernobyl in 1986, the result of extraordinary Soviet bungling, which killed 31 in the accident and perhaps several thousand from cancer, around the same number killed by coal emissions every day. (Even if we accepted recent claims that Soviet and international authorities covered up tens of thousands of Chernobyl deaths, the death toll from 60 years of nuclear power would still equal about one month of coal-related deaths.)

17) On a related note, Jesse Singal, “How The Left Can Lose The Political Battle Over Climate Change.”

18) There’s ever more streaming services and that’s not actually so great for consumers.  Nice Washington Post piece, “How the dream of cheap streaming television became a pricey, complicated mess.”

19) Loved this Krugman, “Donald Trump Is Trying to Kill You.”

But the biggest death toll is likely to come from Trump’s agenda of deregulation — or maybe we should call it “deregulation,” because his administration is curiously selective about which industries it wants to leave alone.

Consider two recent events that help capture the deadly strangeness of what’s going on.

One is the administration’s plan for hog plants to take over much of the federal responsibility for food safety inspections. And why not? It’s not as if we’ve seen safety problems arise from self-regulation in, say, the aircraft industry, have we? Or as if we ever experience major outbreaks of food-borne illness? Or as if there was a reason the U.S. government stepped in to regulate meatpacking in the first place?

Now, you could see the Trump administration’s willingness to trust the meat industry to keep our meat safe as part of an overall attack on government regulation, a willingness to trust profit-making businesses to do the right thing and let the market rule. And there’s something to that, but it’s not the whole story, as illustrated by another event: Trump’s declaration the other day that wind turbines cause cancer

But there’s more to this than just another Trumpism. After all, we normally think of Republicans in general, and Trump in particular, as people who minimize or deny the “negative externalities” imposed by some business activities — the uncompensated costs they impose on other people or businesses.

For example, the Trump administration wants to roll back rules that limit emissions of mercury from power plants. And in pursuit of that goal, it wants to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from taking account of many of the benefits from reduced mercury emissions, such as an associated reduction in nitrogen oxide.

But when it comes to renewable energy, Trump and company are suddenly very worried about supposed negative side effects, which generally exist only in their imagination. Last year the administration floated a proposal that would have forced the operators of electricity grids to subsidize coal and nuclear energy. The supposed rationale was that new sources were threatening to destabilize those grids — but the grid operators themselves denied that this was the case.

So it’s deregulation for some, but dire warnings about imaginary threats for others. What’s going on?

Part of the answer is, follow the money. Political contributions from the meat-processing industry overwhelmingly favor Republicans. Coal mining supports the G.O.P. almost exclusively. Alternative energy, on the other hand, generally favors Democrats.

20) This Amanda Ripley essay on how to have better journalism by taking into account social science (such as all the great Kahneman and Tversky stuff) is really good.  And, really, really long.  But you’ve got all Sunday.

or decades, economists assumed that human beings were reasonable actors, operating in a rational world. When people made mistakes in free markets, rational behavior would, it was assumed, generally prevail. Then, in the 1970s, psychologists like Daniel Kahneman began to challenge those assumptions. Their experiments showed that humans are subject to all manner of biases and illusions.

“We are influenced by completely automatic things that we have no control over, and we don’t know we’re doing it,” as Kahneman put it. The good news was that these irrational behaviors are also highly predictable. So economists have gradually adjusted their models to account for these systematic human quirks.

Journalism has yet to undergo this awakening. We like to think of ourselves as objective seekers of truth. Which is why most of us have simply doubled down in recent years, continuing to do more of the same kind of journalism, despite mounting evidence that we are not having the impact we once had. We continue to collect facts and capture quotes as if we are operating in a linear world.

But it’s becoming clear that we cannot FOIA our way out of this problem. If we want to learn the truth, we have to find new ways to listen. If we want our best work to have consequences, we have to be heard. “Anyone who values truth,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote in The Righteous Mind, “should stop worshipping reason.”

We need to find ways to help our audiences leave their foxholes and consider new ideas. So we have a responsibility to use all the tools we can find — including the lessons of psychology.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Republicans have a new solution to climate change.  Just keep chanting “innovation” like a mantra while ignoring the fact that actual innovation is shaped by policy choices that Republicans are opposed to.

2) Speaking of climate change… also enjoyed this Vox piece on wind power.  Especially because it showed this cool US wind map that shows that, yes, Lubbock, Texas was indeed by far the windiest place I’ve ever lived (also, let’s go Red Raiders!).

3) Nice piece looking back on Nirvana and “Nevermind” (easily one of the best albums ever) on the 25th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death.  I remember I was visiting OSU before starting grad school on that day.

4) And growing partisan polarization on the environment.

Line graph. The percentages of U.S. Republicans (19%) and Democrats (65%) who worry a great deal about the quality of the environment.

5) In the queue too long, but so worth reading.  Radley Balko, “The criminal justice system also has an ‘alternative facts’ problem.”

It has been nearly 10 years since the National Academy of Sciences sounded the alarm about the shortcomings of forensics. Since then, there have been countless follow-up studies, state and national commissions, reports, panels and — to underscore the conclusions those entities reached — a consistent wave of crime lab scandals all over the country.

In the past year, Voxthe Nation and NBC News have published lengthy treatises on the basic problem: Many of the forensic disciplines used in courtrooms across the United States are unreliable and entirely subjective, using methods unsupported by scientific research. Forensic malfeasance has even crept into the plots of TV police and legal dramas.

The crisis in expert testimony seems to be resonating just about everywhere except for the one place it’s most crucial: in courtrooms. But the problem is bigger than forensics and junk science. It isn’t that the courts have been duped by phony expertise or quackery; it’s that the criminal justice system has evolved to disregard its own mistakes. Courts rarely correct themselves, even when they get something fundamentally wrong. And because they make their own rules, there’s no one to tell them to get it right.

6) Likewise, too long in the queue.  Really liked this take on Elizabeth Warren’s approach to economic policy:

But the Democratic Party would be smart to embrace Senator Warren’s approach and a broader pre-distribution agenda as its next big idea because it deals with the root causes of inequality in America and therefore the voter frustration that helped make Donald Trump president.

Pre-distribution is less costly than redistribution because it mostly entails regulatory reforms rather than big spending items, like free college or job guarantees. So it would not provoke many Americans’ deep-seated mistrust of big government as much as calls for redistribution would.

Conservatives argue that pretax earnings simply reflect the free operation of the market, but they don’t. There is no pristine free market — just real-world markets thoroughly sullied by imbalances of power and regulations that favor corporations over workers. We should not be shy about revising these regulations to achieve more equitable growth. This would not undermine the capitalist economy; it would enrich it.

We tend to speak of the government and the market as adversaries in economic policy debates. They aren’t. The government makes the market work, with vast implications for public welfare. Getting serious about pre-distribution means delving into all the things that governments do to enable modern markets to function properly, from corporate law to antitrust…

The pre-distribution agenda, while rooted in the minutiae of government regulation, actually has a simple core message. It is not about rigging the system to benefit the poor and the middle class, but about unrigging it from benefiting the wealthy and the powerful. It is about shaping markets to allocate returns from economic activity more fairly in the first place rather than trying to correct inequities after the fact.

In essence, it is about giving consumers more value for their dollar and workers the wages they are due. What could be the problem with that?

7) Greg Sargent, “Trump is floundering disastrously on multiple fronts. Stop pretending he’s in control.”

8) I’ve got a number of colleagues with standing desks.  Sit down already :-).  The latest research via CBC, “There is little evidence that standing desks make you healthier or help you lose weight.”

But is it really better to stand all day, rather than sit? Can standing make you healthier, or help you lose weight?

Dr. Aaron Carroll isn’t so sure.

“In fact, there’s very little evidence at all that switching people from sitting to standing desks makes much of a difference on anyone’s health,” he said.

With the proliferation of reports about the hazards of sitting, Carroll can understand why people think standing is better, but says that the connection between poor health and sitting isn’t always so simple.

“We’re trying to argue somehow that it’s the sitting that makes people unhealthy, instead of saying that perhaps people who are otherwise unhealthy or poor or unemployed or who have other issues are sitting a lot, and that’s what’s making them unhealthy, not necessarily the sitting,” he said.

Standing is not exercise

Standing is not exercise, and jobs that require people to spend most of their day standing often tend to be unhealthier, Carroll said.

“Just standing doesn’t get you the same kinds of benefits or health effects that exercising would,” he said. “Secondly, there’s not a lot of great evidence to show that exercise is the way to lose weight. Most of the way that people lose weight has much more to do with what they’re eating and nutrition than it does with exercise.”

While standing does not bring the health benefits people think, Carroll says it is important to get up and move during the day.

“People need to get up every once in a while, walk around and be active,” he said. “There’s probably a bunch of reasons that might be a good idea, the least of which is weight loss. It might actually clear your head, it might provide you with a better work environment, it might improve your mood. All of those things are great.”

Carroll says his goal isn’t to talk people out of standing desks altogether.

“If you find that using a standing desk helps you in a personal way, it relieves pain, it makes you more comfortable, by all means do it,” he said.

Honestly, I really dislike standing for extending periods.  But I’m quite happy getting up to stretch, move around, etc., on a fairly regular basis.  Totally sticking with that.

9) Cannot wait for the nationwide rollout of the “Impossible” Whopper.  The non-animal future of meat is definitely on it’s way.

10) Pretty interesting column from David Brooks on how Canada may be showing the right way to combat poverty.

11) Some AEI guys who suggest some market-based reforms for Republicans to embrace on health care.  Not necessarily horrible ideas, but this was a clear case where the commenters understood the issue better than the writers. You would think they would notice that all those countries thaty deliver better and more care for less money are not doing this through embracing more free-market principles.  Let me know next time you shop for a cardiologist based on price and outcomes.

12) Went to Frogfest yesterday and my son asked me how it was going with amphibians and the evil fungus.  Not good.  Bonus frogfest photo below:

Shocking development: Alabama mistreats it’s prisoners

Okay, not shocking.  But what’s sad is how utterly not-shocking this is, but that is nonetheless a largely accepted, ongoing status quo.  From the Post:

Alabama’s understaffed and overcrowded prisons have for years allowed killings, sex abuse and other violence to go largely unchecked , according to a scathing set of findings issued Wednesday by Justice Department investigators.

The investigators found reasonable cause to suspect the state “routinely violates the constitutional rights of prisoners housed in Alabama’s prisons by failing to protect them from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and by failing to provide safe conditions,” Justice Department officials wrote in a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey.

Federal authorities called the violations “severe, systemic, and exacerbated by serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision,” as well as an inability to control the flow of drugs and weapons inside the 13-prison system that holds roughly 16,000 male inmates…

To highlight the problem, investigators cited as an example a single week in September 2017 in which Alabama’s prisons saw a killing, three stabbings, a half-dozen severe beatings, two drug cases, four sex-abuse incidents, and a fatal drug overdose…

The investigation began in October 2016, a time when the Obama administration was a proponent of such “pattern and practice” investigations into law enforcement agencies with troubling track records of civil rights violations or mistreatment.

It continued during the Trump administration, despite then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s public statements critical of such work. Until his departure late last year, Sessions had sought to curtail pattern and practice probes in favor of criminal investigations of individuals who may have violated people’s rights.

This is truly deplorable and an abomination that a supposedly advanced and supposedly “Christian” country (as so many on the religious right like to claim) just accepts this horrible treatment of prisoners.  Prisoners are supposed to be punished by losing their liberty, not by constant threats and actions of physical violence.  And, it’s also pathetic that Sessions and many Republicans like him would like to completely ignore the fact that this happens on a completely systemic level and pretend that this is just a matter of individual actions.

This is a stain not only on Alabama, but our country as a whole that we treat our prisoners this way.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Janet Napolitano with Karen Breslau, “Americans Are Seeing Threats in the Wrong Places
Security means teaching the public which dangers are real and which are not. Trump’s rhetoric isn’t helping.”

In the four years I led the Department of Homeland Security, I learned from the inside that the greatest threats to our safety play out differently from how political speeches and news reports might have us believe. True security means educating the public about which dangers are real and likely and which are not. Hours after a man killed more than four dozen people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, President Donald Trump downplayed the threat of violence by white-supremacist groups—and went on to contend that the United States is under “invasion” from the south. In fact, mass shootings are genuine security problems. Natural disasters and cyberattacks are genuine security problems. Undocumented immigrants supposedly running over an open border by the millions and attacking Americans on the streets are not.

In a huge and open nation, there will never be enough money, gates, guns, or guards to run down every potential threat. Homeland security works when we adhere to proven principles of law enforcement, national security, and disaster management, and when we integrate those principles with the best data science and other technological innovations available and update them constantly. We get into trouble when political ideology is thrown into the mix. A stubborn or willful misreading of the threat environment leads to poor management of resources and results in failure. And in this regard, I regret to say, we are backsliding terribly.

2) Liked this from a recent Crooked newsletter:

But in cracking open the door to endorsing filibuster abolition down the line, Booker joins Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), and others who, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, have accepted that filibuster reform may be necessary if Democrats hope to enact the varied, bold policies the candidates are running on.

This recognition is critical because it shows that Democratic politicians increasingly grasp that Republican leaders, if not Republican voters themselves, remain committed to not negotiating with Democrats in good faith, and are poised to revive the strategy they adopted during the Obama administration of opposing and filibustering Democratic priorities in lockstep.

It’s also important because it comes as the Democratic Party has oriented itself toward defending democracy from conservative forces at all levels—from opposing voter suppression to ending partisan gerrymandering to curbing the influence of money in politics to reforming the electoral college. That project isn’t compatible with a rule that allows a minority of senators, representing an even smaller minority of the population a silent veto over policies that command overwhelming popular support.

3) This is interesting, “Purdue blocking Netflix, Hulu, gaming sites in all classrooms after spring break.”

4) And this, via the Upshot, is pretty wild, “Women With a Twin Brother Are More Likely to Face Penalties at School and Work: Research shows they might act more like boys when they’re young, struggling in school, but then face sexism when they’re grown.”

Women with a twin brother do worse in school and make less money than those with a twin sister, a large new study has found. In their 30s, the women wound up earning 9 percent less. They were also less likely to graduate from school, marry and have children.

The researchers said the effects were because the women were naturally exposed to their brothers’ testosterone in the womb. The study, which was published Monday, included all births in Norway for 11 years.

The findings might also help explain a paradox — over all, girls are doing better than boys in school, but men are doing better than women in the work force. There are other potential explanations involving cultural expectations. Girls seem to be encouraged to be competent, while boys are encouraged to be confident, research shows, and school today requires a lot of self-control, which most boys develop later. Once people start working, women face sexism and a host of other inequalities (many related to motherhood).

Testosterone, which all females are exposed to in utero, might be another contributor. The hormone is associated with certain behaviors— including aggression, competition and risk taking — that might contribute to boys’ underperformance in school, but that are often rewarded in the workplace. Females exposed to an elevated level oftestosterone might act more like boys when they’re young, but then face sexism at work when they’re older. Women are penalized, research shows, when they show many of the same behaviors that benefit men in the workplace.

5) Meanwhile, I find it depressing that our oppressive standards of women’s appearance means that an increasing number of preteen girls feel the need to resort to professional hair removal.

6) Trump’s America: “How a flight attendant from Texas ended up in an ICE detention center for six weeks.”  Also, she’s “from Texas” but a DACA beneficiary.

7) Really like this “defense of eco-hypocrisy.”

Contrary to popular belief, fossil fuel companies are actually all too happy to talk about the environment. They just want to keep the conversation around individual responsibility, not systemic change or corporate culpability.

Sadly, these efforts at distraction have been wildly effective.

Ask your average citizen what they can do to stop global warming, and they will say “go vegetarian”, or “turn off the lights”, long before they talk about lobbying their elected officials. And this framing has been used as an extremely effective cudgel against those speaking out.

Perhaps nobody embodies this more than former Vice President Al Gore, whose Inconvenient Truth documentary catapulted the climate crisis back into the US political discourse. Rather than grapple with the complex, often terrifying facts presented in the film, critics were quick to change the subject.

A report — released simultaneously with the documentary, and authored by a “free market” think tank — claimed that Mr. Gore’s house used 20 times more energy than the average American home. And while Gore’s spokespeople responded with statistics about his energy efficient retrofits, the damage was already done:

“Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth: a $30,000 Energy Bill”cried one particularly snarky headline,from Jake Tapper for ABC News.

More recently, Green New Deal advocate and freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has faced similar attacks, based on her apparent shocking use of cars. This time, however, there are promising signs that the lessons of past battles have been learned. Rather than defend herself with receipts for carbon offsets, AOC rightly and forcefully steered the conversation back to the only scale that truly matters…

Still, the purity tests persist. And while some come from our opponents, many of them are actually coming from inside the movement too.

George Monbiot, a British environmentalist and journalist, has written beautifully about climate change for years. While much of his focus has been on the structural underpinnings of the problem, Monbiot is also not above directing his fire at the environmentally aware. Society’s addiction to cheap flights is a regular target for his ire:

“If we want to stop the planet from cooking, we will simply have to stop traveling at the kind of speeds that planes permit. This is now broadly understood by almost everyone I meet. But it has had no impact whatever on their behavior. When I challenge my friends about their planned weekend in Rome or their holiday in Florida, they respond with a strange, distant smile and avert their eyes. […] The moral dissonance is deafening.”

For those of us who believe that personal lifestyle change has largely been used as a distraction, it’s tempting to argue that Monbiot’s dinner party conversations are not just awkward or ineffective — they are actively counterproductive. If we’re going to grow a movement that can challenge our fossil fuel dependent economic order, we’re going to need as many people as possible on board—pushing folks away because they participate in that economic order is going to leave us with a pretty small pool of recruits.

8) John Cassidy asks, How did the FAA allow the 737 Max to fly?”  I don’t think it is actually so crazy to have aircraft manufacturers play a major role in deciding whether their products are safe.  They have so much to lose, if they are not, that it seems the financial incentives actually are to have your aircraft as safe as possible.  That said, this seems to have gone wrong in the case of the 737 Max.

9) On what we actually need to do about college:

No change in whom the most selective colleges admit would have a fraction of the good effect on the country that increasing the proportion of college graduates would have.

What’s the barrier to this? It isn’t that we don’t have a big enough higher-education system. These days, about ninety per cent of young people have some interaction with college. The problem is that not enough of them graduate, and so they cannot reap the copious benefits that a degree provides. A commission of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which I was a member, reported that only about sixty per cent of students at four-year colleges graduate within six years. Only thirty per cent of community-college students, who are supposed to get their degrees in two years, graduate within six. There are a number of reasons for this, including students being underprepared, higher education’s long-running undervaluation of the intense personal attention that makes all the difference for students who are struggling, and years of funding cuts by state legislatures. That should not give rise to fatalism, though: a few places have shown that dedicated effort can raise graduation rates dramatically. In the majority-minority, majority-poor Georgia State University system, the graduation rate has increased by twenty percentage points in fifteen years, thanks to the advent of a new system of customized advising and tutoring.

Busting the admissions cheaters is the right thing to do, in addition to being emotionally satisfying. But it won’t change America much for the better. Anyone who wants to do that through higher education, and who focusses on élite schools, is looking in the wrong place. The right place to look is the great majority of colleges where getting in isn’t a problem. The right cause to take up is raising graduation rates. Who wins the glittering prizes gets our attention; how well the system works for most people matters a great deal more.

10) The electoral college is almost entirely unjustified.  Jamelle Bouie is on the case:

In February, I wrote about the Electoral College, its origins and its problems. Whatever its potential merits, it is a plainly undemocratic institution. It undermines the principle of “one person, one vote,” affirmed in 1964 by the Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims — a key part of the civil and voting rights revolution of that decade. It produces recurring political crises. And it threatens to delegitimize the entire political system by creating larger and larger splits between who wins the public and who wins the states.

Many readers disagreed, making arguments similar to those used by the president and his allies. But those claims — that the Electoral College ensures rural representation, that its counter-majoritarian outcomes reflect the intentions of the framers and that it keeps large states from dominating small ones — don’t follow from the facts and are rooted more in folk civics than in how the system plays out in reality.

Take rural representation. If you conceive of rural America as a set of states, the Electoral College does give voters in Iowa or Montana or Wyoming a sizable say in the selection of the president. If you conceive of it as a population of voters, on the other hand, the picture is different. Roughly 60 million Americans live in rural counties, and they aren’t all concentrated in “rural” states. Millions live in large and midsize states like California, New York, Illinois, Alabama and South Carolina.

With a national popular vote for president, you could imagine a Republican campaign that links rural voters in California — where five million people live in rural counties — to those in New York, where roughly 1.4 million people live in rural counties. In other words, rural interests would be represented from coast to coast, as opposed to a system that only weights those who live in swing states.

11) How not to be a snowplow parent:

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

From the moment they are born, our kids study our faces for signs that the world is safe or scary. When they learn to walk, teetering and tumbling to the ground, the first thing they do is look up at us. If we gasp or panic, they do, too. If we react with a mix of empathy and encouragement, they keep going.

Our children never stop scanning our faces for direction on how upset to get, whether they’re bringing home a bad grade or facing a college rejection. That’s why I coach parents to ask themselves a single question when they are faced with an upset child and feel anxiety begin to tighten its grip: How would I parent if I were not afraid? That is, if you knew that despite whatever was happening with your children, they would turn out just fine, what would you say and do differently in this moment?

The question lets us pull back from the catastrophic thinking that often makes us say and do things we later regret, and makes room for openness and optimism. Once we are calm, we can stay in the moment with our children instead of being hijacked by our own fear.

12) Krugman on the reality of rural America:

Rural lives matter — we’re all Americans, and deserve to share in the nation’s wealth. Rural votes matter even more; like it or not, our political system gives hugely disproportionate weight to less populous states, which are also generally states with relatively rural populations.

But it’s also important to get real. There are powerful forces behind the relative and in some cases absolute economic decline of rural America — and the truth is that nobody knows how to reverse those forces.

Put it this way: Many of the problems facing America have easy technical solutions; all we lack is the political will. Every other advanced country provides universal health care. Affordable child careis within easy reach. Rebuilding our fraying infrastructure would be expensive, but we can afford it — and it might well pay for itself.

But reviving declining regions is really hard. Many countries have tried, but it’s difficult to find any convincing success stories.

Southern Italy remains backward after generations of effort. Despite vast sums spent on reconstruction, the former East Germany is still depressed three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Maybe we could do better, but history is not on our side.

What’s the matter with rural America? Major urban centers have always been magnets for economic growth. They offer large markets, ready availability of specialized suppliers, large pools of workers with specialized skills, and the invisible exchange of information that comes from face-to-face contact. As the Victorian economist Alfred Marshall put it, “The mysteries of the trade become no mysteries; but are as it were in the air.”

But the gravitational pull of big cities used to be counteracted by the need to locate farming where the good land was. In 1950 U.S. agriculture directly employed more than six million people; these farmers supported a network of small towns providing local services, and some of these small towns served as seeds around which various specialized industries grew.

Nor was farming the only activity giving people a reason to live far from major metropolitan areas. There were, for example, almost half a million coal miners.

13) What they are trying to do with the restored felon voting rights in Florida is just unconscionable.  An a poll tax.

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