Quick hits

1) Obviously, I’m out of my depth on Iran, but I think Yglesias is exactly right about how far you should trust the Trump administration on this.  Or anything.

When someone has proven over and over again that they are not trustworthy, you can, and in important situations should, stop trusting them.

Unfortunately, in the escalating crisis with Iran, many people seem to have forgotten this basic principle.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went on CNN Friday morning to explain that the Trump administration killed a top Iranian general to forestall an “imminent threat” and that the decision to do so “saved American lives.” Those remarks are simply echoed uncritically in the Washington Post’s main write-up of the story, along with the observation that Pompeo “stressed that Washington is committed to de-escalation” — a fairly dubious assertion given the current cycle of escalating hostilities dates to Trump’s unprovoked decision to pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal. An ABC News write-up stresses the risks of Iranian retaliation, but simply takes Pompeo’s claim of an imminent threat at face value.

It’s obviously possible that this claim is true. But it’s somewhat at odds with the Department of Defense’s statement Thursday night saying merely that Suleimani was “actively developing plans” for attacks and that the American bombing was “aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans” rather than disrupting an ongoing one. And indeed, David Sanger’s news analysis in the New York Times takes the Pentagon’s deterrence account at face value without noting that the secretary of state actually claims the attack was about something else.

Beyond the contradictions, telling the truth about something would be a strange, new departure for the Trump administration, and it seems unwise to assume that’s something they would do…

Part of Trump lying about everything is that he frequently says things specifically about Iran that are not true…

rump, from time to time, even lies about his own past statements on Iran, spending one day in September complaining that the media reported he’d said he was willing to meet with Iranian leaders without preconditions when he clearly said in both an interview with Chuck Todd and a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte that he was willing to meet without preconditions.

The point is that the probative value of a Trump statement about Iran is, to be generous, roughly zero. And Pompeo is no better. [emphasis mine]

So, what to make of all this with Iran?  Complicated.  What I do know for sure is that there is literally no reason to believe that Trump or his minions will be telling you the truth about what’s going on.

2) And Slate’s Fred Kaplan on just how dumb this is.  (Great discussion with Pesca on the Gist).

The United States is now at war with Iran.

This is the inescapable result of President Donald Trump’s order to assassinate Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, arguably the most powerful military leader in the Middle East, and the most important person in Iran,except for the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

You don’t deliberately kill someone like Soleimani unless you’re at war with his country, and even then, you want to think long and hard before you do, given the near-certainty of blowback. The blowback may soon be coming. Friday morning, Khamenei called for three days of national mourning and a “forceful revenge.” It would be shocking if he didn’t follow through.

To convey a sense of Soleimani’s significance, it would be as if, during the Iraq war, the ayatollah had ordered the assassination of Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. Jim Mattis, the head of Special Operations Command, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.* Soleimani’s responsibilities corresponded with all four of these roles. Even then, the analogy falls short because, among Shi’ite Muslims across the region, Soleimani also exuded the charisma of a religious icon, a holy warrior…

Trump’s actions on Thursday had no strategic purpose, and this means that, at a moment when he needs allies more than ever, he is less likely than ever to recruit them.

Did Trump have an endgame in mind when he ordered the attack, or was his action, like so many of his words and actions, simply impulsive? Did any of his advisers warn him of the legal implications and the potential political, military, and economic consequences? We now know that Congress wasn’t notified, much less consulted. Did the National Security Council even meet to weigh the pros and cons or to discuss alternative responses? Give Trump’s track record on deliberations, it’s unlikely.

In any case, whether Trump means to provoke a war or wants to pursue a diplomatic course at some point, there is no one around him very capable of doing either.

3) When looking for readings for my upcoming Political Parties seminar, I came across this great Yashca Mounk piece from 2018 (that I somehow had missed) that summarizes the excellent work on partisanship from both Daniel Hopkins and Lily Mason.  You should read it.

4) Great stuff from NeverTrumper Stuart Stevens, “Wake up, Republicans. Your party stands for all the wrong things now.”

Here’s a question: Does anybody have any idea what the Republican Party stands for in 2020?

One way to find out: As you are out and about marking the new year, it is likely you will come across a Republican to whom you can pose the question, preferably after a drink or two, as that tends to work as truth serum: “Look, I was just wondering: What’s the Republican Party all about these days? What does it, well, stand for?”

I’m betting the answer is going to involve a noun, a verb and either “socialism” or “Democrats.” Republicans now partly define their party simply as an alternative to that other party, as in “I’m a Republican because I’m not a Democrat.”…

Republicans are now officially the character-doesn’t-count party, the personal-responsibility-just-proves-you-have-failed-to-blame-the-other-guy party, the deficit-doesn’t-matter party, the Russia-is-our-ally party, and the I’m-right-and-you-are-human-scum party. Yes, it’s President Trump’s party now, but it stands only for what he has just tweeted.

A party without a governing theory, a higher purpose or a clear moral direction is nothing more than a cartel, a syndicate that exists only to advance itself. There is no organized, coherent purpose other than the acquisition and maintenance of power…

Trump didn’t hijack the GOP and bend it to his will. He did something far easier: He looked at the party, saw its fault lines and then offered himself as a pure distillation of accumulated white grievance and anger. He bet that Republican voters didn’t really care about free trade or mutual security, or about the environment or Europe, much less deficits. He rebranded kindness and compassion as “PC” and elevated division and bigotry as the admirable goals of just being politically incorrect. Trump didn’t make Americans more racist; he just normalized the resentments that were simmering in many households. In short, he let a lot of long-suppressed demons out of the box.

5) Yes, J.K. Rowling stood up to cancel culture, and that’s awesome, but I doubt this will necessarily work as well for those that lack Rowling’s stature.  Megan McArdle:

Not that we care about the people next door to us. Rather, we fret about the opinions of officious strangers, possibly thousands of miles away, who swarm social media like deranged starlings over and over again, in the same pattern: A few thousand souls, left or right, decide that some opinion or behavior, tolerated as recently as last week, is now anathema. Then they descend upon unwitting heretics en masse — as when author J.K. Rowling attracted the mob’s ire in mid-December for tweeting in support of Maya Forstater, who was fired from a British think tank for expressing her belief that biological sex is immutable and binary. “Dress however you please,” Rowling wrote. “Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill

Institutions reward the mob by firing employees, yanking advertising or inflicting other punishments. Those in the mob-ridden middle quietly think this insane but also quietly think the better of saying so out loud. Which is how the Terrible Tens became the decade of the online mob.

Even the most strait-laced small town probably rolled its collective eyes at those delicate souls who supposedly used chintz ruffles to hide piano legs from the imagined stares of lascivious men. We moderns haven’t yet developed any such filters. Today’s vaporing maiden aunts fell for an adolescent prank that gulled them into believing that the thumb-and-forefinger “okay” sign was a secret white-supremacist symbol . . . and rather than ever admit they were fooled, or that it’s a bad idea to voluntarily cede harmless gestures to racist lunatics, things escalated until the U.S. Naval Academy and West Point were investigating whether midshipmen and cadets were making an “okay” sign at this year’s Army-Navy football game.

It would be too neat a bit of plotting if the decade ended with the discovery of the antidote to this proscription plague. Yet I wonder if that isn’t what happened when the mob decided to cancel J.K. Rowling, and she demurred.

Rowling’s tweet earned her all the denunciations and anguished think pieces that a good mobbing entails. The usual script for what would follow: Rowling vanishes the tweet, apologizes and goes on a listening tour until she had been sufficiently reeducated to explain how wrong she’d been. But Rowling didn’t recite her lines.

There was no apology (though Rowling, who for several years apologized each May 2 for a beloved “Harry Potter” character she had killed off, clearly knows how to offer one). GLAAD contacted Rowling’s PR people to arrange a meeting; she declined it. Almost two weeks later, the tweet remains up despite suggestions that Rowling had irreparably tainted her legacy.

Whatever you think of Rowling’s views, you have to acknowledge that until recently, hers was considered a highly progressive opinion. That view was deemed wrongthink not because reasoned debate proved it incorrect, but because activists proved they could shout louder than anyone who voiced it. Can we also agree that virtual name-calling is a bad way to decide important questions? Quite possibly we’ll decide that Rowling’s beliefs are wrong — but that should be a decision, not something we conceded to save our eardrums a beating.

If you’d prefer reasoned debate, it will start with a collective realization that mobs can’t do much except make noise.

(Also, I purposely kept the part about the cadets as I meant to post on that and did not.  I had recently had a non-white student accused of being racist for this and he explained to me it was just a stupid game he did with his friends.  Occam’s razor).

6) Great interactive video feature in the Washington Post on the Australian wildfires.

7) I haven’t quite finished watching “The Irishman” yet (it’s too long!).  I’m enjoying it, but it ultimately strikes me as pretty derivative of, and less entertaining than, Scorsese’s earlier works. Certainly not worth the universal acclaim it has largely received.  I liked Leah Greenblatt’s review:

As Scorsese hopscotches across cities and decades, often in the service of a dizzyingly large number of plot turns, characters, and narrative cul de sacs, it’s hard not to wonder whether the movie — underwritten entirely by Netflix in the anything-goes age of streaming — would have made more sense as a limited series. (The real-life story would certainly support it, and surely there must be reams left over on the cutting-room floor; though it also feels a little like sacrilege to question his famously discerning editor, Thelma Schoonmaker.)

There’s a sense too, that The Irishman is a kind of caps-lock Scorsese — the greatest hits of his career revisited once more, with feeling. The movie’s passing parade of gangsters and goodfellas don’t have the electric specificity of 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street or the still, hymn-like beauty of 2016’s Silence. Babies are born; deals are forged; doubles are crossed. Men go to prison (though they call it “school”), women smoke cigarettes (and don’t speak much), and kids (played in adulthood by, among others, Anna Paquin and Jesse Plemons) serve mostly as bystanders, looking on in vague confusion or with the harder squint of those who’ve seen more than they really want to know.

It all becomes a bit of muddle for a while midway through; one that’s not nearly as compelling as the acting itself, which is largely phenomenal, frequently surprising, and often more than a little heartbreaking. As Bufalino, Pesci — who’s hardly been on screen for over a decade — abandons his hair-trigger intensity for a sort of gentle, contained menace, his eyes slow-blinking behind enormous glasses and his mouth pursed in a thoughtful moue. He doesn’t want to do bad things, but sometimes bad things are necessary for the order of things, you know?

8) Speaking of movies, I watched Alien with my 9-year old daughter.  She was a little bored as pretty much any 9-year old would be with the pacing of the movie, but she liked it and stuck it out for the whole thing.  And then the whole family watched Aliens.  Damn do those movies hold up.  Sarah wants to watch all the Alien movies now, although I’ve told her it’s all downhill.

9) Good stuff from earlier this year in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the poor job colleges do in getting students to graduate, “Forty percent of students don’t graduate. No one is held accountable. No one is fired. That must change.”

10) Also into the Political Parties syllabus, Lee Drutman’s excellent new piece in the Atlantic, “America Is Now the Divided Republic the Framers Feared: John Adams worried that “a division of the republic into two great parties … is to be dreaded as the great political evil.” And that’s exactly what has come to pass.”

Though America’s two-party system goes back centuries, the threat today is new and different because the two parties are now truly distinct, a development that I date to the 2010 midterms. Until then, the two parties contained enough overlapping multitudes within them that the sort of bargaining and coalition-building natural to multiparty democracy could work inside the two-party system. No more. America now has just two parties, and that’s it.

The theory that guided Washington and Adams was simple, and widespread at the time. If a consistent partisan majority ever united to take control of the government, it would use its power to oppress the minority. The fragile consent of the governed would break down, and violence and authoritarianism would follow. This was how previous republics had fallen into civil wars, and the Framers were intent on learning from history, not repeating its mistakes.

James Madison, the preeminent theorist of the bunch and rightly called the father of the Constitution, supported the idea of an “extended republic” (a strong national government, as opposed to 13 loosely confederated states) for precisely this reason. In a small republic, he reasoned, factions could more easily unite into consistent governing majorities. But in a large republic, with more factions and more distance, a permanent majority with a permanent minority was less likely.

The Framers thought they were using the most advanced political theory of the time to prevent parties from forming. By separating powers across competing institutions, they thought a majority party would never form. Combine the two insights—a large, diverse republic with a separation of powers—and the hyper-partisanship that felled earlier republics would be averted. Or so they believed.

However, political parties formed almost immediately because modern mass democracy requires them, and partisanship became a strong identity, jumping across institutions and eventually collapsing the republic’s diversity into just two camps.

Yet separation of powers and federalism did work sort of as intended for a long while…

Over the past three decades, both parties have had roughly equal electoral strength nationally, making control of Washington constantly up for grabs. Since 1992, the country has cycled through two swings of the pendulum, from united Democratic government to divided government to united Republican government and back again, with both sides seeking that elusive permanent majority, and attempting to sharpen the distinctions between the parties in order to win it. This also intensified partisanship.

These triple developments—the nationalization of politics, the geographical-cultural partisan split, and consistently close elections—have reinforced one another, pushing both parties into top-down leadership, enforcing party discipline, and destroying cross-partisan deal making. Voters now vote the party, not the candidate. Candidates depend on the party brand. Everything is team loyalty. The stakes are too high for it to be otherwise.

The consequence is that today, America has a genuine two-party system with no overlap, the development the Framers feared most. And it shows no signs of resolving. The two parties are fully sorted by geography and cultural values, and absent a major realignment, neither side has a chance of becoming the dominant party in the near future. But the elusive permanent majority promises so much power, neither side is willing to give up on it.

This fundamentally breaks the system of separation of powers and checks and balances that the Framers created. Under unified government, congressional co-partisans have no incentive to check the president; their electoral success is tied to his success and popularity. Under divided government, congressional opposition partisans have no incentive to work with the president; their electoral success is tied to his failure and unpopularity. This is not a system of bargaining and compromise, but one of capitulation and stonewalling.

 

 

Boxing Day Quick Hits

1) Good stuff from Jamelle Bouie on impeachment:

What is on the table is a narrative that Democratic presidential candidates can incorporate into their overall message. You can already see this happening. “Today is a sad but necessary day for democracy,” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said in a video statement for his presidential campaign. “The president of the United States is being impeached, and that is the right thing to do because we have got to never forget that no individual in this country, certainly not the president of the United States, is above the law, is above the Constitution.”

This isn’t the relentless focus on personality that undermined the previous campaign against Trump. It’s an important point of information to tie into a larger political case. Sanders makes that completely clear in his conclusion: “I am running for president not just to develop and work on a set of policies that represent working families in this country, not just to take on the greed and corruption of the 1 percent, but also to change the way the presidency functions. And that is, we cannot continue having a pathological liar in the White House.”

Sanders is using impeachment to underscore the themes of his campaign. He’s tying Trump to a broader narrative of corruption and elite impunity, reinforcing the message of impeachment without naming the president or making him the subject of his remarks. He’s showing voters that he’s attentive to the central issue of this election without letting it consume his message. It’s a deft move, and a strong one for an election where many voters will want someone to stand against Trump and make a comprehensive case for a new direction.

2) Linda Greenhouse on the Supreme Court and Trump:

When the first two of President Trump’s appeals seeking to shield his financial records from disclosure reached the Supreme Court last month, I predicted that the justices would take their institutional interests into account and turn the cases down.

I was wrong.

And on reflection, now that the court has agreed to hear those two appeals plus a third, I’m glad I was wrong. Here’s why: The eventual decisions, to come in the months after the as-yet unscheduled arguments in late March or early April, will give the country much-needed clarity about the Supreme Court. With the court in the full glare of an election-year spotlight, we will learn beyond any doubt what kind of Supreme Court we have — and whether its evolution into partnership with a president who acts as if he owns it is now complete.

Those of us who have been warning about this evolution are well aware that it’s a contested claim, subject to ready dismissal as overstatement or ideologically driven fearmongering. So I want to make the case here that for the justices to do anything other than affirm the three decisions at issue by two Courts of Appeals would be to vindicate both the warnings and the president’s disturbing assumption.

3) I’ve been enjoying the TNT marathon of Star Wars movies (yes, I own the DVD’s, of course, but something about just having them on the TV in the background) and I really like this take on the original Star Wars, “The Original Star Wars Is a Great Movie Because It Asks More Questions Than It Answers.”  Did not love the new movie, but that’s for another day.

4) Pretty intrigued by the Historians pushback on the 1619 NYT project and the response from the NYT.  My sense is that the 1619 Project is a super-important and useful corrective to years of History that under-played the truly fundamental role of slavery and white supremacy in American history.  But, that doesn’t mean you cannot go too far in your corrections.  I think Andrew Sullivan makes some good points:

There’s no question that Americans have deliberately avoided the brutal truths about slavery, and it is undeniably important that the full horror of that hideous regime be better and more widely understood. A special issue dedicated to exposing the racial terror-state in America before and after Reconstruction is extremely worthwhile. I wasn’t brought up here, but I can easily believe that high-school history literally whitewashes the historical reality, and still minimizes the evil. Taking that on is God’s work. Equally, Hannah-Jones’s essay is deeply moving about the faith in America that African-Americans, with little reason, clung to for so long. Vital too is recognizing that African-Americans are the most American of anyone in this country (apart, of course, from Native Americans)…

This is therefore, in its over-reach, ideology masquerading as neutral scholarship. Take a simple claim: no aspect of our society is unaffected by the legacy of slavery. Sure. Absolutely. Of course. But, when you consider this statement a little more, you realize this is either banal or meaningless. The complexity of history in a country of such size and diversity means that everything we do now has roots in many, many things that came before us. You could say the same thing about the English common law, for example, or the use of the English language: no aspect of American life is untouched by it. You could say that about the Enlightenment. Or the climate. You could say that America’s unique existence as a frontier country bordered by lawlessness is felt even today in every mass shooting. You could cite the death of countless millions of Native Americans — by violence and disease — as something that defines all of us in America today. And in a way it does. But that would be to engage in a liberal inquiry into our past, teasing out the nuances, and the balance of various forces throughout history, weighing each against each other along with the thoughts and actions of remarkable individuals — in the manner of, say, the excellent new history of the U.S., These Truths by Jill Lepore.

But the NYT chose a neo-Marxist rather than liberal path to make a very specific claim: that slavery is not one of many things that describe America’s founding and culture, it is the definitive one. Arguing that the “true founding” was the arrival of African slaves on the continent, period, is a bitter rebuke to the actual founders and Lincoln. America is not a messy, evolving, multicultural, religiously infused, Enlightenment-based, racist, liberating, wealth-generating kaleidoscope of a society. It’s white supremacy, which started in 1619, and that’s the key to understand all of it. America’s only virtue, in this telling, belongs to those who have attempted and still attempt to end this malign manifestation of white supremacy.

5) The Upshot quiz on recognizing famous people was really fun.  I got 86th percentile, but would have done a little better if I had not mis-typed one person.

6) Really good column on the problems with actually trying to have a free college plan:

Democratic presidential candidates are fighting over who should be eligible for free college based on income, but a bigger question is how to structure a plan that could work in all 50 states.

The United States has no national system of higher education, and each of the states works somewhat differently. Overlooking this basic fact risks creating a policy that could make things worse instead of better.

All of the leading Democratic presidential candidates want to make college free for at least some students. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren say all public colleges should be tuition-free. Pete Buttigieg has proposed making public college tuition free for families earning up to $100,000, saying at Thursday’s debate that “I just want you to go ahead and pay your own tuition” if “you’re in that lucky top 10 percent.” And Joe Biden has proposed eliminating tuition at community colleges, but not at four-year ones.

But the candidates’ plans generally fail to explain how the federal government should make college free nationwide. States vary widely in how well they fund their public colleges, and how much they charge for tuition. In-state prices for a year at a four-year public college range from about $6,000 in Florida and Wyoming to about $17,000 in Vermont and New Hampshire. States that charge students the most tend to be those that fund their colleges the least.

This creates a problem for federal policymakers who want to make college affordable everywhere. A plan that simply pays whatever colleges are charging would bail out states like Vermont at the expense of states like Wyoming — and encourage states to raise tuition to capture more federal money.

The solution would have to consider states’ investment, and the details matter a lot.

7) Waking up in the dark in winter sucks (fortunately, I don’t do that anymore, but my wife and HS-age son do).  Why we should just work shorter hours in winter.  Also, some cool natural experiments:

One potentially insightful group to examine includes people who live at the western edges of time zones. Since time zones can cover vast areas, people living at the eastern edges of time zones experience sunrise about an hour to an hour and a half before those living at the western edge. Despite this, the entire population must abide by the same working hours, meaning that many people will be forced to get up before sunrise. This essentially means that people in one part of the time zone are constantly out of sync with their circadian clocks. And while this might not seem like such a big deal, it’s associated with a number of damaging consequences. People living at the western edges experience higher rates of breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease—put down by researchers primarily to the chronic disruption of circadian rhythms that arises from having to wake up in the dark.

Another extreme example of social jet lag is experienced in Spain, which abides by central European time, despite being geographically in line with the UK. This means the country is shifted one hour forward, and that the population must follow a social schedule which is not in keeping with their biological timings. As a result, the whole country suffers from sleep deprivation—getting an hour less on average than the rest of Europe. This degree of sleep loss has been linked to increased absenteeism, stress, work-related accidents, and failure at school in the country.

8) As a reader of YA fiction, really enjoyed Laura Miller’s take on the decade in YA fiction and the rise and fall of dystopias.

9) This seems… problematic.  “UNC campus police used geofencing tech to monitor antiracism protestors: Police used the technology to collect info from a protest at a Confederate statue on the UNC campus known as “Silent Sam.”

10) Favorite New Yorker cartoons on Instagram this year.  I really like this one:

View this post on Instagram

A cartoon by @johnpmcnamee. #TNYcartoons

A post shared by The New Yorker Cartoons (@newyorkercartoons) on

11) I quite enjoyed “A Marriage Story.”  And the SNL version of George and Kellyanne Conway.

12) Comic-book based TV/Movies are so not my thing.  All the more reason I was super-impressed by Watchmen.  James Poniewozik on the show.

13) Damn did I love the New Yorker’s “Classic Christmas movies starring Mitch McConnell.”  For example:

14) I really meant to do a post on the horrible Appeals Court ruling on the ACA.  But, you should at least read Jon Cohn’s summary:;

The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans upheld key elements of a controversial, widely criticized decision that a district court handed down last year. The lower court had held that a GOP-controlled Congress rendered the entire statute unconstitutional in 2017 when it eliminated the Affordable Care Act’s tax penalty for people who violated the law’s individual mandate to have health coverage.

The 2-1 decision by the three-judge panel is not a full endorsement of that ruling, because it argues that parts of the Affordable Care Act unconnected to the individual mandate might be constitutional. For that reason, the appeals court remanded the case back to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, to decide which (if any) parts of the law can stay in force.

“In terms of what it does, it decides that the individual mandate is unconstitutional ― and that a big chunk of the ACA may be invalid,” Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan law professor, told HuffPost. “But it doesn’t say how much or how little is invalid, and leaves it to Judge O’Connor [to decide].”…

The central issue in the lawsuit is whether, by reducing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate penalty to zero, Trump and the then-GOP-controlled Congress in 2017 introduced a fatal constitutional flaw into the program — one that requires the courts to wipe it out entirely.

Legal experts from across the political spectrum, including some who were vocal advocates of previous challenges to the Affordable Care Act, have called the argument unfounded and nonsensical. [emphasis mine]

But on the 5th Circuit panel, two Republican appointees, Jennifer Walker Elrod and Kurt Engelhardt, found it persuasive. The third judge, Democratic appointee Carolyn Dineen King, voted to keep the law in place.

15) Sean Illing with a good interview with Suzanne Metzler on anti-government attitudes:

Suzanne Mettler

We’re in this weird situation in which people have to come to rely on government more and more, and at the same time government has required less and less of people. Now, you’d expect this to mean that people’s attitudes toward government have become favorable, but the opposite is true. And this is the paradox I’m grappling with in the book.

It turns out that how much a person actually benefits from government services matters very little in terms of shaping their attitude toward government. And that’s true even when controlling for all sorts of other factors.

Sean Illing

But there was one factor in particular that did make a big difference in terms of predicting someone’s view of government, right?

Suzanne Mettler

Right, and that was people’s attitudes about welfare. About 44 percent of Americans have unfavorable views of welfare. And the people who have very unfavorable views about welfare have strong attitudes about government that are shaped by this view. They believe that welfare is unfair, or that undeserving people are receiving it, and that deserving people like themselves are not getting anything.

There’s a lot of resentment out there from people who have this deeply negative perception of welfare, and this perception determines their view of government more than anything else. They’re blind to their own relationship to government, and so they assume welfare is something “other” people get.

Sean Illing

I have to address the giant elephant in the room. When we’re talking about welfare and people’s perceptions of it, we’re talking about race. And what you often find is that people don’t necessarily object to welfare; they object to welfare going to the out-group, to the “others.” Is this consistent with your findings?

Suzanne Mettler

Yes. Race is significant, and many other scholars have discovered this as well. Across the board, whites had more unfavorable views of welfare than people of color, in large part because they considered welfare something that people of color primarily benefit from.

16) To be fair to Trump, I think this horrible policy could come from many Republicans, “A Trump Policy ‘Clarification’ All but Ends Punishment for Bird Deaths”

Across the country birds have been killed and nests destroyed by oil spills, construction crews and chemical contamination, all with no response from the federal government, according to emails, memos and other documents viewed by The New York Times.

Not only has the administration stopped investigating most bird deaths, the

In one instance, a Wyoming-based oil company wanted to clarify that it no longer had to report bird deaths to the Fish and Wildlife Service. “You are correct,” the agency replied.

In another, a building property manager in Michigan emailed the Fish and Wildlife Service to note that residents had complained about birds being killed while workers put up siding and gutters around the apartment. Not to worry, the agency replied: “If the purpose or intent of your activity is not to take birds/nests/eggs, then it is no longer prohibited.”

And when a homeowners’ association in Arizona complained that a developer had refused to safely remove nesting burrowing owls from a nearby lot, Fish and Wildlife said that, because of the new legal interpretation, it could not compel the developer to act.

“Of course, we just got sued over that interpretation, so we’ll see how it ends up,” the enforcement officer wrote.

The revised policy — part of the administration’s broader effort to encourage business activity — has been a particular favorite of President Trump’s, whose selective view of avian welfare has ranged from complaining that wind energy “kills all the birds” to asserting that the oil industry has been subject to “totalitarian tactics” under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The University of North Carolina is going to pay $2.5 million on very shaky legal grounds to the Sons of Confederate Veterans to “care for” a confederate memorial statue that pretty much nobody at UNC actually wants on the campus anymore.  The whole thing is nuts.

2) Honeycrisp apples are good, but they strike me as vastly over-rated.  I’ll take a far more affordable Braeburn anyday.  And, damn, are they hard to grow.

3) Sometimes you really wonder what the NYT Op-Ed editors are thinking.  I read a horrible Op-Ed but decided I wasn’t going to waste my time blogging about it.  But, Drum has more time to blog, so…

Hmmm. So the theory here is that black kids are exposed to so much stress already that a little more barely has an impact. Let’s keep going:

Differences in access to socioeconomic resources such as mother’s education accounted for up to nearly 50 percent of the gap in high school completion….The importance of socioeconomic resources makes sense when we consider the racial gaps in income and wealth between black and white two-parent families. Although in general, youths raised in two-parent families are less likely to live in poverty, black youths raised by both biological parents are still three times more likely to live in poverty than are their white peers. Additionally, black two-parent families have half the wealth of white two-parent families. So, many of the expected economic benefits of marriage and the two-parent family are not equally available to black children.

This really makes no sense. For starters, the usual progressive assumption is that those who are suffering the most deserve the most help. But in this case, Cross is suggesting the opposite: black kids are already suffering enough that we shouldn’t worry too much about tossing another log on the fire in the form of a one-parent home.

Second, Cross suggests that socioeconomic resources account for much of the gap in high school completion. That’s plausible. But if we made some kind of massive effort to close that gap, it wouldn’t do us any good. It would just put black kids on a level footing with white kids, and their single-parent homes would then affect them as much as white kids.

Why write an op-ed like this? Unfortunately, this is the kind of special pleading that’s common when the subject is family structure. On the one hand, there’s a pretty fair literature—which Cross’s own study supports—suggesting that a two-parent family is beneficial for kids (and less stressful for the parents). This is largely because two-parent families are richer; have more time to spend with their kids; are more stable; live in better neighborhoods; and, sometimes, provide better role models for their children. On the other hand, we liberals don’t like telling other people how to live their lives, and we especially don’t like to say anything that even remotely sounds like a criticism of black family lives. So we end up with op-ed pieces like this one that desperately try to make a case that really can’t be made.

4) OMG in a sane world it would be a huge story that the President’s own personal charity was a giant fraud.  I mean, seriously.  We are so damn inured that this is okay?!

It’s easy to get caught up in impeachment, or the hastening ecological decline of our world, or the fact that the president posted more than 80 tweets before 9:30 this morning, including a suggestion to a teenage climate activist that she should “chill” and consider “Anger Management” classes.

But did you see the charity thing? You should see the charity thing. It was almost water under the bridge. Our politics have gone so far down the rabbit hole that a story about how the President of the United States agreed to pay $2 million at a court’s order—while admitting he used his charity for his own gain—barely made a splash. Folks saw the headline and thought to themselves, Well, yeah, of course Donald Trump ran a crooked charity. But really. Look at this.

As part of the settlement, the president paid eight charities a total of $2 million while admitting “he misused funds raised by the Donald J. Trump Foundation to promote his presidential bid and pay off business debts, the New York State attorney general said on Tuesday.”

By the 2000s, the charity was largely holding other people’s money, which was donated to benefit philanthropic causes. Trump used some of this money to buy a $20,000 portrait of himself.

He also used the money to buy a $12,000 signed Tim Tebow helmet, which he kept for himself.

He spent more than a quarter of a million dollars of the charity’s money to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses. This is not legal.

5) Enjoyed this Vulture compilation of year’s best TV shows.  Definitely agree with the multiple mentions of Russian Doll and Fleabag.  I also really enjoy Barry and have found myself liking Watchmen far more than I expected.  I tried one episode of Kingdom last night.  Not sure if I’ll try another.

6) I liked Fred Kaplan’s take on the Afghanistan Papers:

The war in Afghanistan—18 years old and still raging, at a cost of nearly $1 trillion, 2,300 U.S. troops killed, and more than 20,000 injured—has been a muddle from the beginning, steered by vague and wavering strategies, fueled by falsely rosy reports of progress from the battlefield, and almost certainly doomed to failure all along.

This is the inescapable conclusion of a secret U.S. government history of the war—consisting of 2,000 pages, based on interviews with more than 400 participants—obtained and published by the Washington Post on Monday after years of legal battles to declassify the documents…

Central to the current war effort—and to its failure—was corruption. It was central because the Afghan government couldn’t defeat the Taliban insurgents, or win the support of its people, as long as it was corrupt from top to bottom. The United States failed because the billions of dollars we poured into the country only made Afghanistan’s corruption worse…

A major obstacle here, she said, was the “culture” in the State Department and the Pentagon, which focused on building relationships with their counterparts abroad. Since Afghan officials at all levels were corrupt, officials feared that going after corruption would endanger those relationships.

Chayes also said it was a big mistake to be “obsessed with chasing” the Taliban, to the point of neglecting the country’s political dynamics. We didn’t realize that many Afghans were “thrilled with the Taliban” for kicking corrupt warlords out of power. Instead, we aligned ourselves with the warlords, on the adage that “the enemy of our enemy is our friend”—and, as a result, further alienated the Afghan people and further enriched the corrupt powers, which in turn further inflamed the anti-government terrorists.

“It was through sheer naivete, and maybe carelessness, that we helped to create the system,” Kolenda said. He added, “Foreign aid is part of how” the Afghan kleptocrats “get rents to pay for the positions they purchased.”

What makes this syndrome all the more tragic is that it was recognized long ago, and even publicly discussed. In September 2009, as the Obama administration was debating a new policy toward the Afghanistan war, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified at a Senate hearing that the main problem “is clearly the lack of legitimacy of the government” in Kabul.

7) Brendan Nyhan, “You could teach a political science class on all of Tom Steyer’s bad ideas”

Steyer is a gift to political scientists. His campaign offers us an unusual opportunity to explain why the “reforms” he champions as magical solutions to our political problems are likely to be anything but. Unlike other candidates in the race, who focus on substantive policies — like health care — Steyer is passionate about changing the procedures of democratic decisionmaking. Unfortunately, the ideas he champions are generally bad ones. My field has spent decades amassing evidence that his proposals, and overall approach to governing, would probably make our political system worse, not better.

A hedge-fund manager who recently qualified for the Dec. 19 Democratic debate, Steyer has flooded early primary states with so many ads touting these proposals that even his supporters think he should dial it back. (Months ago, my 13-year-old son could already quote Steyer’s YouTube ads word for word.) Few politicians have worked so hard or spent so much to, in effect, troll an entire scientific field.

8) It’s a crazy and medically-advanced world we live in.  And, my, that’s one hell of a brother.  “Surgeons Transplant a Testicle From One Brother to His Twin”

9) I so relate to this, “How the Loss of the Landline Is Changing Family Life”

My tween will never know the sound of me calling her name from another room after the phone rings. She’ll never sit on our kitchen floor, refrigerator humming in the background, twisting a cord around her finger while talking to her best friend. I’ll get itHe’s not here right now, and It’s for you are all phrases that are on their way out of the modern domestic vernacular. According to the federal government, the majority of American homes now use cellphones exclusively. “We don’t even have a landline anymore,” people began to say proudly as the new millennium progressed. But this came with a quieter, secondary loss—the loss of the shared social space of the family landline.

“The shared family phone served as an anchor for home,” says Luke Fernandez, a visiting computer-science professor at Weber State University and a co-author of Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Feelings About Technology, From the Telegraph to Twitter. “Home is where you could be reached, and where you needed to go to pick up your messages.” With smartphones, Fernandez says, “we have gained mobility and privacy. But the value of the home has been diminished, as has its capacity to guide and monitor family behavior and perhaps bind families more closely together.” …

Cheryl Muller, a 59-year-old artist living in Brooklyn, raised her two sons, now 30 and 27, during the transition from landline to cellphone. “I do remember the shift from calling out ‘It’s for you,’ and being aware of their friends calling, and then asking them what the call was about, to pretty much … silence,” she says. Caroline Coleman, 54, a writer in New York City whose children grew up during the same transition, recalls how at age 10 her son got a call from a man with a deep voice. “I was horrified. I asked who it was—and it was his first classmate whose voice had changed,” she said. “When you get cells, you lose that connection.”

These days, this dynamic is also often reversed. A shared family phone meant that kids overheard some of their parents’ conversations, providing a window into their relationships, but today, children frequently see a parent silently staring at a screen, fingers tapping, occasionally furrowing a brow or chuckling. “Sometimes there are people that I’ve never even heard of that you’re texting,” my 11-year old once told me. Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT and the author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, has described this as “the new silences of family life.”

OMG… how much fun it was to answer the phone when a boy called my big sister.  Or how nervous I would be to call a girl and wonder if her dad was going to answer the phone.  Or talking to my in-laws when they called my wife (early in our marriage) and I answered the phone instead of her.  Or my wife talking to my parents.  Yes, everybody having their own phone is kind of awesome.  But something really is lost.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I remain a techno-optimist when it comes to the future of nuclear power.  Newer designs are so much safer and more efficient that the 40-50 year old designs we are using, if we would just give them a real chance.  Like small modular reactors:

For the last 20 years, the future of nuclear power has stood in a high bay laboratory tucked away on the Oregon State University campus in the western part of the state. Operated by NuScale Power, an Oregon-based energy startup, this prototype reactor represents a new chapter in the conflict-ridden, politically bedeviled saga of nuclear power plants.

NuScale’s reactor won’t need massive cooling towers or sprawling emergency zones. It can be built in a factory and shipped to any location, no matter how remote. Extensive simulations suggest it can handle almost any emergency without a meltdown. One reason is that it barely uses any nuclear fuel, at least compared with existing reactors. It’s also a fraction of the size of its predecessors.

This is good news for a planet in the grips of a climate crisis. Nuclear energy gets a bad rap in some environmentalist circles, but many energy experts and policymakers agree that splitting atoms is going to be an indispensable part of decarbonizing the world’s electricity. In the US, nuclear power accounts for about two-thirds of all clean electricity, but the existing reactors are rapidly approaching the end of their regulatory lifetimes. Only two new reactors are under construction in the US, but they’re billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

Enter the small modular reactor, designed to allow several reactors to be combined into one unit. Need a modest amount of energy? Install just a few modules. Want to fuel a sprawling city? Tack on several more. Coming up with a suitable power plant for a wide range of situations becomes that much easier. Because they are small, these reactors can be mass-produced and shipped to any location in a handful of pieces. Perhaps most importantly, small modular reactors can take advantage of several cooling and safety mechanisms unavailable to their big brothers, which all but guarantees they won’t become the next Chernobyl.

2) I’m no so big into watching baseball, but I still find it intellectually interesting.  Like this, about the baseballs:

SAN DIEGO—Baseballs with a lower seam height coupled with a “change in player behavior” were among the primary causes of the power surge that resulted in players hitting a record 6,776 home runs in 2019, a panel of scientists commissioned by Major League Baseball to study the issue said Wednesday.

The committee’s report attributed 60% of the spike to less wind resistance on the balls themselves and 40% to what it described as “launch conditions”—essentially differences in how batters swing.

Throughout the 2019 season, pitchers across the sport questioned whether the league instructed Rawlings, the MLB-owned company that manufactures the baseballs in a factory in Costa Rica, to intentionally “juice” them to generate offense. The report dismissed that theory, saying that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”…

The latest study comes closer to identifying an explanation: inconsistency in the height of the seams, which the professors said can have a dramatic effect on how the ball behaves.

Newly developed laboratory techniques enabled the committee to show a correlation between seam height and drag. The average seam height in 2019 was lower than 2018 by less than one-thousandth of an inch. Still, that was enough to account for 35% of the change in drag.

“This is something that escaped our observation in the preceding study simply because the equipment that we were using was not precise enough to determine that,” said Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois and the chair of the study.

The problem is that the committee still can’t figure out the other factors that contributed to the decreased drag. It did rule out certain hypotheses such as roundness, surface roughness and lace thickness. Further breakthroughs will require more study. Asked how long that might take, Lloyd Smith, the director of the Sports Science Laboratory at Washington State University, said, “We have no idea.”

3) This is good from Chait, “Hunter Biden Is the New Hillary Clinton Email Server”

The email scandal was not just a Fox News narrative. It dominated mainstream news coverage of Clinton’s campaign, because it was a real issue, albeit a small one. Mainstream reporters made a historic blunder by devoting far more attention to the email issue than it deserved, but this is an inevitable result of the incentive system in the mainstream press, which prioritizes critical coverage over passive transmission of a candidate’s chosen message. The email issue was the “toughest” subject reporters could cover, so they focused a lot of attention on it. The bizarre result of this coverage choice was that voters came away concluding Clinton’s mishandling of email protocol was a crime on roughly the same scale as Trump’s endless array of massively unethical and illegal acts. Clinton, by the way, apologized for using the private server, but the apology did not stop reporters from highlighting the issue…

Most of Trump’s lax security protocol is both far more serious than Clinton’s snafu, and still not on anybody’s list of the 100 worst things Trump has done in office. For that reason, reporters obviously aren’t going to give it anywhere near Clinton-email levels of attention. Nobody who voted against Clinton because they thought her emails were a major scandal is going to realize Trump’s information-security record has been worse.

Here is another parallel to Biden’s Burisma problem. While he allowed the appearance of impropriety, Trump has allowed actual impropriety. Not only are Trump’s children making money off their relationship — Ivanka received a lucrative patent deal in China; Don Jr. got bulk party purchases of his book — President Trump himself is collecting payments from foreign and domestic sources who have government business. The ethical impropriety involved in Trump running a large business concern while serving as president is so enormous it defies all the applicable laws and terms. The structure built to insulate the president from conflicts of interest never anticipated conflicts on this scale. The idea that Trump’s opponent has a liability on this issue is an absurdity. It would be like electing Ted Bundy president because his opponent once kicked a dog.

And yet, such an absurdity is not just a possible outcome: the incentives of the news media turn it into a likely one. Reporters aren’t going to stop asking Biden tough questions about a legitimate ethical shortcoming just because his opponent’s sins dwarf Biden’s a thousandfold. Clinton’s example suggests that an apology wouldn’t do Biden much good.

4) Really cool Upshot feature, “The Age That Women Have Babies: How a Gap Divides America”

Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.

First-time mothers are older in big cities and on the coasts, and younger in rural areas and in the Great Plains and the South. In New York and San Francisco, their average age is 31 and 32. In Todd County, S.D., and Zapata County, Tex., it’s half a generation earlier, at 20 and 21, according to the analysis, which was of all birth certificates in the United States since 1985 and nearly all for the five years prior. It was conducted for The New York Times by Caitlin Myers, an economist who studies reproductive policy at Middlebury College, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The difference in when women start families cuts along many of the same lines that divide the country in other ways, and the biggest one is education. Women with college degrees have children an average of seven years later than those without — and often use the years in between to finish school and build their careers and incomes.

People with a higher socioeconomic status “just have more potential things they could do instead of being a parent, like going to college or grad school and having a fulfilling career,” said Heather Rackin, a sociologist at Louisiana State University who studies fertility. “Lower-socioeconomic-status people might not have as many opportunity costs — and motherhood has these benefits of emotional fulfillment, status in their community and a path to becoming an adult.”

There has long been an age gap for first-time mothers, which has narrowed a bit in recent years, driven largely by fewer teenage births, Ms. Myers said. Yet the gap may be more meaningful today. Researchers say the differences in when women start families are a symptom of the nation’s inequality — and as moving up the economic ladder has become harder, mothers’ circumstances could have a bigger effect on their children’s futures.

A college degree is increasingly essential to earning a middle-class wage, and older parents have more years to earn money to invest in violin lessons, math tutoring and college savings accounts — all of which can set children on very different paths. Yet an education and a high-paying career also seem out of reach for many people.

5) John Cassidy argues that impeachment is a win for Democrats

If Trump is to be defeated next year, his opponents will have to maintain that energy and build upon it. To do so, Ezra Levin, the co-founder and co-executive director of the Indivisible movement, which now has more than five thousand affiliated local groups, insists, it was utterly necessary for the Democrats to react to the shocking Ukraine revelations by issuing the ultimate congressional rebuke to Trump. Speaking hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that the House Democrats would go ahead and file articles of impeachment, Levin said, “I see only positive sides to this. I see a system that is working. For all the millions of people who got involved with politics after 2016, it shows that all the hard work they did mattered. That is going to get them involved again in 2020.”

From this perspective, the key thing isn’t whether the Senate actually removes Trump from office. Levin, who is also the co-author of a new book, “We Are Indivisible: A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump,” said that he wasn’t making any predictions about the outcome. But he added, “It was vital to demonstrate that elections do have consequences and that the Democrats will use their power to stand up to Trump.” If Pelosi and her colleagues had refused to launch an impeachment process, Levin went on, “it would have been enormously demoralizing for all these people who were newly engaged after 2016.”

This argument seems incontrovertible. I suspect it is why Pelosi ultimately came around to supporting impeachment, despite the reservations of some House Democrats who represent purple districts…

Of course, none of this means that the impeachment process couldn’t end up alienating some independent voters who believe Trump’s misdeeds don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses, or who think Congress should let voters determine his fate next November. That may happen. And an impeachment trial will certainly fire up pro-Trump activists as well.

But these threats have to be balanced against the imperative of maintaining an energized front against Trump going into an election year. As a disruptive insurgent who eagerly fans social and racial resentments, he has always had an enthusiastic base—that isn’t going to change. One of the big challenges for Democrats—or anybody else opposed to Trump—is to nurture and sustain a nationwide countermovement that is at least equally passionate and engaged. From that perspective, as Levin pointed out, impeachment is already a win.

6) Really cool work from Lynn VavreckJohn Sides and 

What the Nationscape data reveal is clear: Impeachment is a top priority for almost everyone, regardless of whether they are in favor of it or against it.

Democrats are nearly 40 percentage points more likely to choose a collection of policies when it contains the position they agree with on impeaching Mr. Trump. Most of them want it to happen (among Democrats with an opinion on the topic, 86 percent support impeachment; the remainder don’t). But taken as a whole, the topic is something Democrats care a lot about right now.

The only policy more important to Democrats is family separation at the southern border (92 percent of Democrats with an opinion are opposed). Slightly less important to Democrats is whether to enact a total ban on abortion (87 percent against) or build a wall on the border (86 percent against). These are the topics Democrats are less willing to sacrifice relative to the other issues we ask about; they are issues with high impact.

To get these things, Democrats are willing to give up some issues like union rights (whether to oppose right-to-work laws) and whether to oppose an immigration system based only on merit. Even climate policies are seen as less important than impeaching the president…

Republicans are similarly focused on impeachment. They are roughly 45 percentage points more likely to choose a basket of policies when it includes their preferred position on the topic (88 percent of Republicans with a position on impeachment do not favor it). It outweighs every other issue for Republicans — including parts of Mr. Trump’s and the party’s agenda, such as building a border wall. The Green New Deal is the sixth-most important issue for Republicans — a much higher ranking than among Democrats (nearly a quarter of Republicans support it, but many more are opposed to it or just not sure).

Just like Democrats, Republicans are willing to sacrifice getting what they want on other issues, like estate tax repeal and a merit-based immigration system. Rounding out the lower-impact issues for Republicans are school vouchers, trade restrictions and a public option for health insurance.

6) 538, “Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back”

Millennials have earned a reputation for reshaping industries and institutions — shaking up the workplace, transforming dating culture, and rethinking parenthood. They’ve also had a dramatic impact on American religious life. Four in ten millennials now say they are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. In fact, millennials (those between the ages of 23 and 38) are now almost as likely to say they have no religion as they are to identify as Christian. 1
For a long time, though, it wasn’t clear whether this youthful defection from religion would be temporary or permanent. It seemed possible that as millennials grew older, at least some would return to a more traditional religious life. But there’s mounting evidence that today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good.

Social science research has long suggested that Americans’ relationship with religion has a tidal quality — people who were raised religious find themselves drifting away as young adults, only to be drawn back in when they find spouses and begin to raise their own families. Some argued that young adults just hadn’t yet been pulled back into the fold of organized religion, especially since they were hitting major milestones like marriage and parenthood later on.

But now many millennials have spouses, children and mortgages — and there’s little evidence of a corresponding surge in religious interest. A new national survey from the American Enterprise Institute of more than 2,500 Americans found a few reasons why millennials may not return to the religious fold. (One of the authors of this article helped conduct the survey.)

For one thing, many millennials never had strong ties to religion to begin with, which means they were less likely to develop habits or associations that make it easier to return to a religious community.
Young adults are also increasingly likely to have a spouse who is nonreligious, which may help reinforce their secular worldview.
Changing views about the relationship between morality and religion also appear to have convinced many young parents that religious institutions are simply irrelevant or unnecessary for their children.

7) Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes, “If the Witnesses Could Exonerate Trump, Why Aren’t They Testifying? Trump’s defenders suggest that White House aides could exculpate the president—but the evidence suggests otherwise.”

To the extent that the lack of testimony from these witnesses creates holes in the record, those are likely to be damning for Trump. Take Bolton, for example: According to Morrison, after meeting with Trump about the Ukraine aid, Bolton told Morrison that the president “wasn’t ready” to release the aid and that Morrison should “continue to look for opportunities” to convene a meeting with officials who could persuade Trump to do so. This doesn’t sound like Bolton was convinced that the president was legitimately concerned with addressing corruption in Ukraine…

But let’s imagine for a moment that the day comes when these men are compelled to testify—and that they tell the truth. Does anyone believe that the truth will set Trump free—that the real story here is that the president had long-standing concerns about corruption in Ukraine and earnest anxieties about Ukrainian intervention in the 2016 election, and that he asked for investigations out of a disinterested anti-corruption passion he has never exhibited before in his life? …

If these men end up testifying, Republicans will face yet another moment of reckoning as the strongest defense of the president, and the last factual defense, falls away. In an ideal world, that would finally force them to acknowledge the outrageousness of the president’s conduct, and Trump’s support in Congress would plummet. More likely, they will revert to the last defense: that the phone call with Zelensky was, as the president has insisted, “perfect,” and that Trump’s abuse of power is actually a model of how presidents should behave—or if not that, then at least not impeachable behavior.

8) Greg Sargent, “The massive triumph of the rich, illustrated by stunning new data”

A new analysis prepared at my request by Gabriel Zucman — the French economist and “wealth detective” who has become famous for tracing the hidden wealth of the super-rich — illustrates that dual story in a freshly compelling way.

The top-line finding: Among the bottom 50 percent of earners, average real annual income even after taxes and transfers has edged up a meager $8,000 since 1970, rising from just over $19,000 to just over $27,000 in 2018.

By contrast, among the top 1 percent of earners, average income even after taxes and transfers has tripled since 1970, rising by more than $800,000, from just over $300,000 to over $1 million in 2018.

Among the top 0.1 percent, average after-tax-and-transfer income has increased fivefold, from just over $1 million in 1970 to over $5 million in 2018. And among the top .01 percent, it has increased nearly sevenfold, from just over $3.5 million to over $24 million.

I’m emphasizing the phrase “after taxes and transfers” because this is at the core of Zucman’s new analysis. The idea is to show the combined impact of both the explosion of pretax income at the top and the decline in the effective tax rate paid by those same earners — in one result.

The declining progressivity of the tax code is the subject of “The Triumph of Injustice,” a great new book by Zucman and fellow Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. It charts the slow strangulation of that progressivity at the top.

As they demonstrate, the effective tax rate (federal, state, local and other taxes) paid by top earners has steadily declined since the 1950s and 1960s, when the tax code really was quite progressive, to a point where the highest income groups pay barely more, percentage wise, than the bottom.

9) Alex Seitz-Wald on Republicans and Trump:

WASHINGTON — Late in the afternoon of Aug. 7, 1974, Republican leaders in Congress traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to deliver a stark message to Richard Nixon: His presidency was over.

The public had turned on Nixon as evidence emerged about his role in the Watergate scandal and the bottom fell out once his own party abandoned him.

“None of us doubted the outcome. He would resign,” conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater later wrote of the meeting in his memoir. Two days later, Nixon stepped down.

Today, as Democrats in the House of Representatives move toward bringing articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, with the next Judiciary Committee hearing of evidence set for Monday, few Democrats are still clinging to the hope that Republicans will reach a breaking point with Trump like they did with Nixon.

“I really don’t think there is any fact that would change their minds,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC News.

Why? Two key changes since Nixon: a massive divide in American political life — we hate the other team more than ever before — and a media climate that fuels and reinforces that chasm, powered by Fox News on the Republican side. [emphasis mine]

10) New research says LBJ’s war on poverty worked better than is often credited:

We evaluate progress in President’s Johnson’s War on Poverty. We do so relative to the scientifically arbitrary but policy relevant 20 percent baseline poverty rate he established for 1963. No existing poverty measure fully captures poverty reductions based on the standard that President Johnson set. To fill this gap, we develop a Full-income Poverty Measure with thresholds set to match the 1963 Official Poverty Rate. We include cash income, taxes, and major in-kind transfers and update poverty thresholds for inflation annually. While the Official Poverty Rate fell from 19.5 percent in 1963 to 12.3 percent in 2017, our Full-income Poverty Rate based on President Johnson’s standards fell from 19.5 percent to 2.3 percent over that period. Today, almost all Americans have income above the inflation-adjusted thresholds established in the 1960s. Although expectations for minimum living standards evolve, this suggests substantial progress combatting absolute poverty since the War on Poverty began.

11) Dan Drezner on the toddler-in-chief:

Longtime readers of Spoiler Alerts are aware of my efforts to keep track of when President Trump’s staffers, subordinates and political allies talk about him like he’s a toddler. Over a bit less than three years, there are 1,113 documented examples of this phenomenon, which averages out to more than one a day…

During a week in which Trump finally secured bipartisan agreement on a trade deal, it also raises a question: Are examples like these evidence that, dare I say it, Donald Trump is finally growing into the presidency?

Let’s not leave this reader in suspense: The answer is no. As Aaron Rupar explains in Vox, Trump continues to behave in an unhinged, unconstrained manner. The president’s behavior has not changed one iota, which is why, until this month, the quarterly #ToddlerinChief count had shown a steady increase.

What has changed, however, is something akin to what I warned about back in January: “Shifts in the political balance of power in Washington are altering the incentives for who deploys the analogy.” In particular, two ongoing dynamics have slowed down the toddler mentions: the purging of the executive branch and the impeachment of Trump in Congress.

Within the executive branch, Trump has continued to force out subordinates who have resisted his more toddler-like impulses. The most obvious recent example was the departure of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who was fired because of his disagreement with Trump’s decision to intervene in the military justice system. Spencer later wrote an op-ed for The Post in which he stated, “the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.” An even more recent example came this week when FBI Director Christopher A. Wray defended the FBI from baseless conspiracy theories. In response, Trump swatted at him on Twitter.

The population ecology here is simple: The more Trump makes life miserable for mature people serving under him, the more likely those people will leave the government and stop being a source of good toddler analogies. Over time, Trump’s staff is becoming as immature as he is.

12) Jonathan Last makes a good case for Biden winning the nomination.  Ugh.

13) I make a point of never using the phrase “begs the question” because I don’t trust myself to use it correctly.  At some point, though, if virtually everyone uses it to mean “raises the question” shouldn’t that be what it means.  It already kind of is.  But there’s good reason not to give in:

In fact, that wrong usage is so common some people will argue it’s not an error anymore (7). But I’m firmly in the camp that believes it’s worthwhile to stick to the formal definition. There are plenty of phrases writers can use when they mean “makes me wonder” or “raises the question.” There’s no hole in the English language that needs to be filled, so there’s no reason to use begs the question improperly.

The quick and dirty tip is to remember that when something begs the question, it begs the question: what is your support for that premise?

14) The NYT art critic defends the $120,000 banana.  Mistake.  When you are wrong in the NYT, the commenters are so much smarter.  Really enjoyed the comments on this one, e.g.,

I know the art world. I ran a successful contemporary art gallery and was editor of an international art magazine. Cattelan’s banana is rubbish, and it’s sad to see the Times critic engaged in rhetorical backflips to try convince a rightly suspicious public that their instincts are wrong. You don’t need an art education to realize that telling the public they should recognize a banana and duct tape as worthy art is little more than gaslighting by art world elites.

 

Quick hits

Didn’t really feel like working on this on Friday night.  But, damnit, today is DJC’s birthday celebration (not sure if it’s the actual day) and I know he’s depending on his quick hits bright and early.

1) I found this NYT Op-Ed about how Mississippi (of all places) has dramatically improved reading scores by focusing on phonics and making sure elementary teachers understand the science if firmly behind it.  I didn’t realize lots of places still are not fully on-board with it despite the clear scientific evidence.  I’m glad my kids have had Letterland.

To understand what the science says, a good place to start is with something called the “simple view of reading.” It’s a model that was first proposed by researchers in 1986 to clarify the role of decoding in reading comprehension. Everyone agrees the goal of reading is to comprehend text, but back in the 1980s there was a big fight going on over whether children should be taught how to decode words — in other words, phonics.

The simple view says that reading comprehension is the product of two things. One is your ability to decode words: Can you identify the word a string of letters represents? For example, you see the letter string “l-a-s-s” and you are able to sound it out and say the word.

You may have no idea what “lass” means. This is where language comprehension comes in. Language comprehension is your ability to understand spoken language. So, when someone says to you, “Let’s have all the lads and lasses line up at the door,” you know that’s what all the boys and girls are supposed to do.

The simple view is an equation that looks like this:

decoding ability x language comprehension = reading comprehension

Notice that reading comprehension is the product of decoding ability and language comprehension; it’s not the sum. In other words, if you have good language comprehension skills but zero decoding skills, your reading comprehension will be zero, because zero times anything is zero. The simple view also says that if you have good decoding skills but poor language comprehension skills, your reading comprehension isn’t going to be very good either.

The simple view model was proposed more than 30 years ago and has been confirmed over and over again by research. But a study in Mississippi several years ago showed that teachers were not being trained to use this model and that many professors and deans in colleges of education had never even heard of it. Now, through workshops and coaching paid for by state taxpayers, teachers in Mississippi are learning about the simple view and other key takeaways from the science of reading.

Also, there’s a long piece by the same author that I found especially interesting because of the Education professors who are basically the equivalent of climate deniers on the matter.  Really interesting stuff.

2) Rachel Bitecofer makes a strong case that we are using polls wrong in thinking about electability:

The problem with this conclusion is that it’s based on “electability” polls that are unreliable, leading to erroneous narratives that can make or break campaigns, especially for lesser-known candidates who also seek to break through gender or racial glass ceilings like Warren and Harris.

Horserace polling is replete with electability polls because the electability question is central in voters’ minds and, as such, is the type of data heavily prioritized by media outlets. There are significant incentives to produce this type of polling but little scrutiny placed on the practice. Decades of political science scholarship shows that polling helps create narratives that can impact voter behavior, the ability of candidates to raise money, and electability, all of which tie to candidate poll performance in a positive feedback loop. Research shows that voters highly value candidate electability, defined as a candidate’s potential to compete against the opposition party’s nominee, as one of the most important factors driving their vote choice. Even in today’s hyper-ideological environment, two-thirds of likely Democratic primary voters in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey indicate they’d prefer a candidate who can beat Trump over one who aligns with them on the issues, even immediately following an ideology-priming event such as a debate.

The only candidates for whom head-to-head ballot tests are capable of reliably measuring “electability” are those who enjoy what I call “saturation” name recognition. The test only works when two or more equally well-known candidates are compared to each other. It is really important to illustrate how hard it is to reach saturation-level name recognition among the American electorate.

Even Biden, who served as vice president for eight years, is not universally known by voters. The most recent iteration of the Economist/YouGov tracking poll, which samples 1,500 American adults on a rolling basis, finds 15% of sampled adults unable to offer an opinion as to whether they approve or disapprove of Biden. The latest iteration of the Morning Consult Democratic primary tracking poll finds 8% of potential voters reporting they’ve “heard of, but can’t offer an opinion” on Biden and 1% have never heard of him, for a total of 9% in what I call the “unfamiliar with the candidate” category. However, it must be noted, we are now talking about a far more sophisticated population of voters: potential Democratic primary voters. Participants in presidential primaries are among the most engaged and informed voters in the country. Yet, 8% of these voters appear incapable of offering the most basic of opinions about a man who served as President Obama’s veep.

3) The headline about a once-a-month birth control pill is a little misleading (the technology still needs a lot of work), but it was fascinating indeed to learn about the work on a pill that basically slowly releases medication in your stomach for a month.

4) We’re going to run out of teachers because we don’t pay them enough.  We really need to remedy this.  If only rich people and corporations didn’t need their tax cuts so badly.

There are one-third less people enrolling in teacher training programs, which is part of the certification process to become an educator, according to data from the Center for American Progress.
In some states, such as Michigan, Oklahoma, and Illinois, enrollment declined by more than 50%.
The drop in teacher training enrollment suggests that issues plaguing the profession — from low pay to dwindling school funding — has discouraged potential educators, exacerbating the nationwide teacher shortage…

Other data centers have similarly staggering estimates of the teacher shortage crisis. The independent research group Learning Policy Institute estimated a 112,000 teacher shortage in 2018.

Part of the reason many rejected the education field was due to low pay. Teachers get paid nearly 21% less on average than other professions that require a college degree. Thirty years ago, the pay gap was just 2% less.

5) It’s ultimately super-small, but nonetheless encouraging to see some NC local elected officials giving up on the Republican Party for it giving up on the rule of law.

6) Interesting column from David Brooks where he, in theory, is taking on the left by taking on socialism, but ultimately holds up the same model as Bernie Sanders– Denmark.  Yes, Northern Europe does seem to have largely figured out how to balance relatively free markets with a robust public sector– I’m all for emulating it.

7) Sad story of rural, Southwestern Virginia town doing everything to hand on as the population just shrinks.  But, it is also a story of a hugely disproportionate transfer of wealth to one community where it is unlikely to save it:

This corner of southwestern Virginia has long sought alternatives to coal as a source of sustenance. The Appalachian School of Law, which opened in the 1990s in the shell of Grundy Junior High School, was heralded as a new economic engine, lubricated — of course — with taxpayer funds. So was the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, founded in 2003 some 20 minutes down the road in Oakwood. County officials considered a dental school, but figured it was too expensive. They still get grumpy about the optometry school, on which they spent $250,000 in feasibility studies only for it to open across the state line in Pikeville, Ky. Then there is downtown Grundy itself, much of which was moved up the hill to avoid periodic floodwaters from the Levisa Fork, a tributary of the Big Sandy River…

Virginia estimates that the relocation and flood-proofing projects, started almost 20 years ago, cost $170 million in federal and state funds, more than $170,000 for every woman, man and child living in town today. The Army Corps of Engineers shaved off the flank of a mountain across the river to create an elevated platform on which the new commercial district would sit. Virginia’s Department of Transportation bulldozed much of the old downtown and routed U.S. 460 through it, built on top of a levee protecting what was left of Grundy’s old center. Finally, in 2011, Walmart opened a superstore to anchor the new site, perched somewhat oddly above a two-story, publicly funded parking lot.

8) I really quite enjoyed and appreciated the NYC subway on my trip there this summer.  Most everyone on twitter was a big fan of this NYT interactive feature on the subway map.

9) Helaine Olen in polling and a winning message for Democrats in 2020.  Honestly, it does seem crazy to see far left and center-left tear each other apart when there’s a consensus agenda that all Democrats can embrace, Republican voters like, but is anathema to Republican politicians:

While the president remains divisive, the report finds majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans agree on many things. Seventy percent or more of those surveyed, including majorities of Republicans, agreed with each of the following statements:

  • College education is too expensive, and states should do more to “help people afford a college education without getting buried in debt.”
  • “Rich families and corporations should pay a lot more in taxes than they do today, and middle-class families should pay less.”
  • People who don’t receive health insurance from an employer should be allowed to buy into a public plan, and pharmaceutical companies should be “penalized” if drug prices increase faster than the rate of inflation.
  • Increase “good jobs” with a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, including both roads and “expanded production of green energy.”
  • Reduce inequality with a 2 percent “wealth tax” on net worth in excess of $50 million.

That’s not all. People of every political persuasion give President Trump negative marks on his handling of health care and poverty. When asked what they believed is the most important issue that Trump and Congress should address in the coming year, “making health care more affordable” was cited by a majority of voters. Only a third of the entire electorate supported cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in an effort to address the national debt. And 8 in 10 Democrats and three-fourths of independents believe corporations have too much power and should be “strongly regulated” — something even 49 percent of Republicans also signed off on.

10) In a more sane world, we’d be talking more about trump’s military pardons, which really were appalling.  Thomas Edsall:

I asked Porch what the consequences might be of Trump’s war crimes pardons of former Army First Lt. Michael BehennaMaj. Mathew L. Golsteyn and 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, and his restoration of rank and service medals to Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL.

First, Porch wrote, “the treatment of POWs is based on reciprocity” and “thus, to pardon soldiers who allegedly carry out war crimes is to put you own soldiers at risk.”

Second, “it undermines the moral foundation of intervention — how can a cause be moral and acceptable internationally if those who carry it out do not behave within legal norms?”

Trump has taken the opposite stance. In a tweet on Oct. 12, the president declared: “We train our boys to be killing machines, and then prosecute them when they kill!”…

General Charles C. Krulak, former commandant of the United States Marine Corps and a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also disagreed. He told The Wall Street Journal that Trump’s intervention “betrays these ideals and undermines decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country’s fighting forces the envy of the world.”

Scholars of the military generally took the side of Dempsey and Krulak in opposition to the pardons.

Mara Karlin, the director of the strategic studies program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development during the Obama administration, was incisive in her critique of the war crimes pardons. In an email, Karlin wrote:

While some in the military are surely enthusiastic that Trump did so because they support him or Gallagher, they may be underestimating the precedent now set. Of all the contemporary norms that Trump has violated vis-à-vis the military, this is among the most catastrophic because at the end of the day, a transparent, trustworthy, and effective military justice system is the sine qua non of a transparent, trustworthy, and effective military.

11) Should we trust the polls on ready the country is ready for a gay president?

As Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., has surged to a top position in Iowa polls in the Democratic presidential primary, media reports have emerged warning that his sexuality may yet derail his White House bid. A recent national Politico/Morning Consult poll found that a plurality of voters, 45 percent, think the country is not ready for an openly gay president, with only 40 percent saying it’s ready. Consultants have chimed in to say the mayor may be less electable than coastal elites realize because he’s gay.

Ordinary voters are quoted saying they — or their “devout Christian” mother — “would never vote for a gay.” And the Buttigieg campaign’s own focus groups recently found that many undecided black voters in South Carolina regard the candidate’s sexual orientation as a “barrier” to winning their votes.

But the power of polls to predict behavior around social issues and disfavored groups has always been poor, and what we know about people’s attitudes and actions when it comes to L.G.B.T. concerns tells a cautionary tale about how to interpret claims by voters that they won’t support an openly gay candidate for president.

Pollsters have long known about the poor predictive power of asking respondents how they would treat members of an unfavored minority group, especially in politically polarized climates.

12) The Supreme Court heard a big gun control case this week.  What was notable was the way some of the conservatives were really eager to deny the mootness of the issue staring them in the face.  Now that’s judicial activism.

13) Super-edifying, but I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising, when I write something and see that one of my favorites has already made the same point.  In this case, Drum on Barron Trump.

There is nothing wrong with saying this. Nonetheless, Republicans pretended to be outraged by it, and as near as I can tell there was no pushback. Not a single Republican stepped up to say “Give it a rest, guys.”

This kind of solidarity is a startlingly successful strategy. Reporters mostly bought into the Republican outrage, and even more tellingly, so did many Democrats, who suggested that Karlan really shouldn’t have “brought up the president’s son.” Eventually this forced Karlan to say sorry, which prompted yet another round of faux Republican outrage over her (of course) inadequate apology.

This was a minor affair, quickly forgotten. But it reminds me once again of the hack gap. Conservatives instinctively circled the wagons after the first person let loose on Karlan. Many joined in and none defended Karlan. Liberals, by contrast, were divided. Some were clear from the start that the whole thing was entirely fake, but others apparently felt like they had to demonstrate their reasonableness, which they did by saying that while it was no big deal, “still she really should have left Barron out of it.”

14) Paul Waldman on Biden’s “surprisingly liberal” tax plan:

Joe Biden is more liberal than he looks.

Let me qualify that: Biden is moderate in many ways, in vision and inclination. But the policy plans he has laid out as part of his campaign are much more progressive than most anyone seems to realize.

The latest evidence: the tax plan he just released. The coverage it’s receiving has tended toward “Biden releases tax plan much less ambitious than what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders propose.” In fact, it’s so liberal — in very good ways — that when he was vice president it would have been considered radical, certainly too much for Barack Obama to have signed into law, or in some cases even suggested.

This tells us a great deal about the state of the Democratic Party and how it has affected Biden, who is assumed to be the ideologically moderate choice for president (along with other candidates, including Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar).

15) Max Boot, “To GOP hypocrites: I never want to hear about Hillary Clinton’s emails again.”

If there were a global competition for insincerity, President Trump would have won the equivalent of an Oscar, a gold medal, a Ballon d’Or and a Vince Lombardi Trophy combined. You simply could not be more two-faced; it is not humanly possible. His picture belongs in the dictionary under the very word “hypocrisy.”

Trump, recall, spent much of 2016 leading chants of “Lock her up!” because Hillary Clinton made the mistake of employing a private server for some of her official emails as secretary of state. Trump still routinely refers to the former first lady and secretary of state as “Crooked Hillary” as if she had actually committed a crime. Never mind that the Justice Department decided not to prosecute and that a lengthy State Department investigation, completed during the Trump administrationfound “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”

And yet, while castigating Clinton for supposedly mishandling classified information, Trump has been engaging in far more egregious examples of the very same sin…

But all these security breaches pale by comparison with Trump’s promiscuous use of a cellphone to conduct top-secret conversations. My Post colleagues Paul Sonne, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report that “Trump has routinely communicated with his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and other individuals speaking on cellphones vulnerable to monitoring by Russian and other foreign intelligence services.”

And lets definitely not forget to blame the media for taking these bad faith arguments in good faith.

16) Call me transphobic, but, sorry, if you were born a male I don’t think you get to compete in athletic competitions as female.  Also, I honestly don’t know where the controversy falls on the terminology these days, but I’m totally comfortable with the author identifying as as “woman,” but I don’t know about the insistence upon “female.”

17) Okay, I don’t actually listen to the album anymore (though I hear plenty on 90’s at 9 on my satellite radio), but I still say Alanis‘ “Jagged Little Pill” was a great album.  Enjoyed this NYT magazine feature on her.

18) Speaking of music, I had not heard the Kinks’ “Father Christmas” in years and years, but heard it on the radio yesterday.  Used to listen to it all the time on the one Kinks album I owned.  Now that’s a rock ‘n roll Christmas song.

19) How exercise may make your muscles function like they are decades younger.

20) Planet Money on the Constitutional hurdles (with this Supreme Court… hell yeah!) of the wealth tax and an interesting alternative:

Recently, Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, proposed such a reform. He wants to get rid of the “two tax codes” for workers and investors. He proposes the government create “one tax code” by taxing investment income at the same rate as labor income and taxing investment gains annually whether or not they’re sold. Julian Castro and Senator Cory Booker, each running for president, have proposed similar tax policies.

Wyden proposes an “anti-deferral” tax system in which people with over a million dollars in annual income or ten million in net worth over three consecutive years would lose the ability to defer tax payments on publicly listed assets, like stocks and bonds. Harder-to-value private assets, like artwork, real estate, and ownership shares of private businesses, would face a retroactive “deferral charge” when they’re sold. He estimates the tax would raise between $1.5 to $2 trillion over ten years, and he wants to use the money to strengthen the Social Security program.

Proposals for accrual taxes face similar criticisms to the wealth tax. The policy would require, for instance, significant resources to administer. It could distort saving and investment decisions and have unintended consequences for the broader economy. And while proposals on the table include measures to avoid such problems, it’s possible the tax could be hard on some taxpayers who look rich on paper but are in fact short on the cash needed to pay the tax.

A key question over an accrual tax is how it will deal with investor losses. If rich investors get hammered in a financial crash, for instance, will they be able to write off their paper losses? If they make a huge gain one year on Amazon stock and pay a lot in accrual tax, but then next year Amazon stock tanks, do they get to claw back those taxes previously paid? If so, how much? Wyden expresses support for allowing deductibility of losses from tax bills, but he doesn’t provide many specifics. As of September, when he released a white paper about the policy, he sought public comment.

Batchelder believes a wealth tax has a number of advantages over an accrual tax. For one, a wealth tax is easier to explain, which is an asset to politicians, who have to convert complicated policies into easy-to-digest talking points. An accrual tax, which necessitates more wonky details and dull explanations, just isn’t as sexy. “It hasn’t gotten, obviously, the media attention that a wealth tax has,” Batchelder says.

But Batchelder thinks an accrual tax could go a long way toward raising revenue and addressing inequality, and she suggests the policy could even be included as a “backup mechanism” in wealth tax legislation that could kick in if the Supreme Court knocks a wealth tax down.

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

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

Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma was in bad shape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Adam Serwer, always good on Trump:

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

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

3) Book review of The Meritocracy Trap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really good piece in the Times about how the streaming revolution really is fundamentally changing both TV and movies now.

Streaming services, of course, have been challenging the Hollywood status quo for years. Netflix began streaming movies and television shows in 2007 and has grown into a giant, spending $12 billion on programming this year to entertain more than 158 million subscribers worldwide. There are 271 online video services available in the United States, according to the research firm Parks Associates, one for seemingly every predilection — Pongalo for telenovelas, AeroCinema for aviation documentaries, Shudder for horror movies, Horse Lifestyle for equine-themed content. (Offerings include a series called “Marvin the Tap Dancing Horse.”)

While all this was happening, however, the three biggest old-line media companies — Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia — largely stayed on the sidelines. Charging into the streaming fray would mean putting billions of dollars in profit from existing cable networks like USA, Disney Channel and TBS at risk. Building video platforms of the size needed to compete with Netflix and Amazon would be frightfully expensive. And mastering the underlying technology would require a sharp learning curve. Better to bide their time. When it became clear that protecting their existing business model was more perilous than embracing the future, no matter now disruptive in the near term, they would act.

That time is now. And everything is changing.

“I get asked all the time, ‘Where does this stop? When does it stop?’” said Brett Sappington, a senior Parks Associates analyst and researcher. “The truth is that it is only getting started.”

2) I found Frozen 2 enjoyable enough yesterday.  Probably would have enjoyed more without too many overactive 3rd graders there for my daughter’s birthday party.  But, I mostly agree with this review, mostly, because the plot was really not great.

3) I was especially intrigued by this story of U of Florida way over-paying Donald Trump Jr because I do know how crazy speaker fees at universities can be.  It’s kind of like an arms race and the rich universities need to stop absurdly over-paying (not that that is the point of the article at all).

4) I might have mentioned that I’m pretty much done with baseball and I have not attended a game of any sort in years, but I still have very, very fond memories of attending minor league games and agree that MLB’s abandonment of many minor league teams seems really bad.

5) This is interesting from Rolling Stone, “The Unsolved Case of the Most Mysterious Song on the Internet”

Twelve years ago, a catchy New Wave anthem appeared on the internet with no information about who wrote or recorded it. Amateur detectives have spent thousands of hours since trying to figure out where it came from — with little luck. Inside the question that’s been driving the internet crazy for years

6) Seems to be the evidence is pretty clear that apes do have a theory of mind and those arguing that the evidence does not lead to this conclusion are really being quite tendentious.

7) Really liked this from Leonhardt, “Mueller and Comey Failed Their Tests. She Passed Hers.”

Three years later, Robert Mueller faced his own uncomfortable choice. As special counsel, he helped uncover evidence that President Trump had repeatedly broken the law, including paying hush money to two women and interfering in the Russia investigation. But Mueller understood that clearly laying out his conclusions would subject him to vicious criticism as a partisan. Like Comey, he prized his reputation for floating above partisan politics. [emphases mine]

Conveniently, he found a solution that protected his reputation. Mueller’s final report included a detailed recitation of facts, but its conclusions were deliberately obtuse, which meant they changed almost nobody’s mind. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller cryptically said. Making matters worse, he then allowed the Trump administration to control — and spin — the report’s release.

Mueller, to be fair, has a stronger defense than Comey. Throughout, Mueller interpreted Justice Department guidelines in narrow ways: Those guidelines didn’t compel him to present clear conclusions — as Kenneth Starr had two decades earlier — and so Mueller didn’t do so. It’s possible that Mueller’s mistakes had more to do with naïveté than pride.

Yet the outcome was the same. Both Mueller and Comey preserved their nonpartisan images (only temporarily in Comey’s case, because he later engaged in a full-on fight with Trump), while the country suffered.

Comey’s unprecedented insertion of the F.B.I. into the final stages of a presidential campaign may have decided the outcome. And Mueller’s convoluted report was a gift to Trump. Mueller’s long investigation uncovered extensive evidence of a president who had broken the law and abused his power, but Mueller did almost nothing to hold the president accountable.

8) William Barr is definitely the worst.  But I think Mike Pompeo might be a close second.  Thomas Friedman, “Mike Pompeo: Last in His Class at West Point in Integrity: The secretary of state’s behavior has been cowardly and self-serving.”

It seems like every story you read about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo always includes the sentence that he graduated “first in his class” from West Point. That is not a small achievement. But it is even more impressive in Pompeo’s case when you consider that he finished No. 1 even though he must have flunked all his courses on ethics and leadership. I guess he was really good in math.

I say that because Pompeo has just violated one of the cardinal rules of American military ethics and command: You look out for your soldiers, you don’t leave your wounded on the battlefield and you certainly don’t stand mute when you know a junior officer is being railroaded by a more senior commander, if not outright shot in her back.

The classes on ethics and leadership at West Point would have taught all of that. I can only assume Pompeo failed or skipped them all when you observe his cowardly, slimy behavior as the leader of the State Department. I would never, ever, ever want to be in a trench with that man. Attention all U.S. diplomats: Watch your own backs, because Pompeo won’t.

9) This piece on how Quakers shifted our pronouns is really fascinating.  You know how it’s annoying that we have the same word for 2nd person singular and plural, i.e., “you.”  Wasn’t always that way.  We also, like many other languages, used to have formal and informal versions.  The Quakers changed that.

10) This, I had no idea about, “Replacing Coal with Gas or Renewables Saves Billions of Gallons of Water. The ongoing transition from coal to natural gas and renewables in the U.S. electricity sector is dramatically reducing the industry’s water use, a new Duke University study finds”

11) Charles Pierce on Barr and the GOP:

If this really is Attorney General William Barr’s final go-round as a servant to radical conservative power, and we can only pray to god that it is, he’s certainly going out with a bang. In the past two weeks, he’s given two speeches that are so stunningly detached from political reality, and so basically and fundamentally un-American, that they were probably best given from atop a milk crate in Washington Square, and not from respectable rostrums provided by powerful and influential institutions. In short, Barr has become something of a raving maniac…

Again, two specific points: one, this is being done in defense of the most lawless president* in American history and, two, and much more important, these are theories of government that Barr developed while working for Republican presidents since 1989. They are the theories by which he helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal. They are the theories that underpinned what Dick Cheney did in making this country a country that tortured, and what he did to lie this country into a catastrophic war. (Barr even cited the Cheney and the “unitary executive” theory in his speech, ridiculing the notion that the unitary executive posed any threat to the balance of power.) In both speeches we see not Trumpism, but modern conservative Republicanism in its clearest and most extreme form.

It didn’t start with this president*. And my money’s on the proposition that, sadly, it won’t end with him, either.

12) I really liked this NYT Op-Ed on if we are going to kill animals, we should at least do it far more humanely.

NASHVILLE — Last week, Walden’s Puddle, a nonprofit wildlife rescue organization in a rural area of Nashville, posted a set of photos of a barred owl caught in the jaws of a leg-hold trap. The first photo, which featured the owl on the ground, its wings spread wide and its eyes cast down, was emblazoned with the words “Graphic images ahead.” I didn’t click through to see the rest of the pictures. The sight of that magnificent creature of the air tethered to the ground was graphic enough to break my heart. I didn’t need to see what the rest of the images would inevitably reveal: sinews torn, bones splintered, flesh bloody and swollen, great yellow claws mangled beyond repair.

Walden’s Puddle rehabilitates and releases orphaned and injured animals, and its Instagram account is normally a feel-good feed of squirrels, songbirds, turtles, deer, raccoons, opossums, snakes, rabbits, foxes, skunks, groundhogs, bobcats — pretty much everything that flies or crawls or walks or swims — and all of them on the mend. The caption to the post about the barred owl, which had to be euthanized, was uncharacteristically fierce:

These traps are cruel, evil, disgusting and should be illegal, causing unimaginable suffering to any creature who gets caught in its unforgiving jaws. While it is illegal to harm protected bird species such as this one (though these situations rarely result in criminal charges), these types of traps are sadly still legal to use in the state of Tennessee and in many other places, though they’ve been outlawed for many years in other parts of the world. Because the law requires they only be checked every 36 hours, any animal stuck in its grip will experience unimaginable pain and fear, possibly for hours or days.

Although their use has been banned or severely curtailed in more than 120 countries, leg-hold traps are indeed legal in Tennessee and in most other states in this country. Traps are sometimes used by farmers and ranchers to catch livestock predators, but the primary use for leg-hold traps is to catch an animal in a way that preserves the value of its pelt. Fur-edged down parkas, a fashion trend kick-started by a 2013 Sports Illustrated cover featuring the model Kate Upton wearing a bikini and a fur-trimmed Canada Goose parka, are now so prevalent among the affluent that they have caused a boom in backwoods trapping.

Trappers still use leg-hold traps illegally in states where they have been banned, but the problem isn’t generally a matter of legality. The problem is that these traps, and every other kind of trap on the market, are indiscriminate. They mangle pets and people. They mutilate “trash animals” whose pelts are worth nothing to the fur industry. They destroy songbirds and raptors, all of whom are federally protected. And in every one of those creatures, they cause unimaginable suffering…

The word “humane” refers to qualities we believe are part of human nature: tenderness, compassion, mercy. We rarely live up to our own etymology, but in this matter it poses no great trouble for us to do so. We don’t need to agree on whether it’s morally permissible to kill animals to agree that this is not the way to do it. It’s time to ban glue strips. It’s time to ban rat poison. It’s time to ban lead ammunition. It’s time to ban traps that injure but do not kill. There is no good reason not to. [emphasis mine]

13) I saw a comedian live last night for the first time since I saw Jerry Seinfeld in 2002.  I really enjoyed HBO’s Crashing and Pete Holmes was in Cary, so I went.  Good stuff.  I was explaining to my son just how much care and craft goes into a comedy routine and found this great article about Holmes‘ craft.

14) Really interesting essay, “I was an astrologer – here’s how it really works, and why I had to stop”

15) This comic on motivated reasoning and identity-protective cognition is pretty good.  Also, I just really don’t get emotional when learning a fact that goes against my identity, because my identity is as a person who always wants to learn new things.

16) This was interesting and disturbing, “I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb
While searching for the person who grifted me in Chicago, I discovered just how easy it is for users of the short-term rental platform to get exploited.”

 

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