Quick Hits (part II)

1) Wake County schools are undertaking some smart activities to work on the socio-emotional skills and health of their students (so much value in this).  Alas, conservative parents are not happy:

Some Wake County parents are refusing to give permission for teachers to conduct surveys that rate and track the behavioral health of their students.

The Wake County school system will have teachers at around 40 schools rate their students on 34 questions, such as how often they’ve appeared angry, expressed thoughts of hurting themselves, expressed strange or bizarre thoughts, appeared depressed or engaged in risk-taking behavior…

School officials say the Behavior Intervention Monitoring Assessment System, or BIMAS-2, will help them identify students who are at risk of future academic, behavior or emotional difficulties.

“This will help us to figure out how to support the academic and behavioral needs of our students,” Paul Koh, Wake’s assistant superintendent for student support, said in an interview…

A.P. Dillon, a conservative blogger and parent at Holly Ridge Middle, complained on her blog and on Twitter that the survey is an invasion of students’ privacy. She said Wake should have required parents to opt-in, instead of opting-out of the survey.

“These are minor children, and the district has no business evaluating them medically or psychologically without the express written permission of their parents or legal guardians,” Dillon said in an interview.

The survey is part of Wake’s social emotional learning, or SEL, curriculum. Schools are trying to help students manage their emotions so they can build positive relationships and make responsible decisions.

“Nurturing a student’s social emotional health really supports and improves academic pursuits for students and outcomes,” Edward McFarland, Wake’s chief academic advancement officer, told school board members on Monday. “We also know that strengthening a student’s self-esteem, their resilience, their ability to confront and deal with stress, their overall emotional well-being is not extra. That is in fact core instruction for all students.” …

School board members voiced their support for the circles on Oct. 28, saying they wished the program was used in more schools. School board chairman Jim Martin said it feels to him that critics don’t want their children to be taught empathy because it will be “harder (for them) to maintain a position of entitlement.”

“These are not therapy circles,” Martin said. “These are learn to listen, learn to engage, learn to address conflict. These are all those critical skills that our children need.

“It’s going to reduce bullying. It’s going to increase safety. It’s going to make better workers.”…

Some parents complained about how Wake has handled the notification process. They said they never received an opt-out letter.

“Unbelievable,” Brian Onorio, a Raleigh parent, tweeted Friday. “Are we to assume anything less than a sinister nature? With such opaqueness, we’re left to our own assumptions, driven by their own choices, as to what this is about. As taxpayers and parents, we have an unfettered right to review what is being done.”

2) Lots of countries with way better health care systems than us do it not through single-payer, but through heavily-regulated private insurance.  Upshot on this approach and Buttigieg’s proposal:

Mr. Buttigieg is different. In his written plan and his public statements about health reform, he takes aim at hospitals. (He would also seek to take a bite out of pharmaceutical prices, through taxes, penalties and the threat of patent revocations.)

His plan would cap medical costs in an indirect way. It would allow insurers and medical providers to agree on whatever prices they wish in a contract. But it would limit how much insurers have to pay when providers are “out of network.” The limit, double what Medicare pays them, would help patients who end up at a place that is not covered by their insurance. But it will also tend to influence the negotiations between hospitals and insurance companies, putting downward pressure on in-network prices. Medicare Advantage, the private option for older Americans, has a similar rule, and those plans tend to pay doctors and hospitals prices quite close to the cap.

Currently, most hospitals charge insurers around double the Medicare price, but some charge more. “You’re lopping off the top tail,” said Matthew Fiedler, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, who has been studying similar pricing rules in other contexts. He said the strategy would be particularly useful for services related to medical emergencies…

Many other countries with private insurance regulate prices, either nationwide or with various regional adjustments. Maryland has been regulating hospital prices for decades under an unusual waiver from the federal government. But explicit price regulation has generally remained outside the mainstream of the political conversation in the United States. [emphasis mine]

3) Talk about a crazy bank-shot article from Vox.  The Democratic take-over of Virginia is going to lead to Virginia passing the ERA, which will preserve RBG’s legacy.  Ummm, okay.  Though, as the article points out, RBG was the key in making the ERA largely moot by actually taking what the 14th amendment says (“equal protection of the laws”) with regards to sex.  But, we don’t know that the five conservatives won’t vote together to undermine this.

4) And sometimes Vox is great.  Politico founder John Harris wrote a surprisingly honest and circuspect first-person piece on the media’s centrism bias and Zack Beauchamp did a great job of putting it in context of a larger understanding of media bias.  More of this.  Less of the previous.

On Thursday morning, Politico founder John Harris managed a genuinely interesting contribution to this conversation in a piece that takes aim not only at a relatively invisible source of bias in the Washington press but also a kind of introspection on Harris’s adherence to it. It’s a source of bias that’s not left- or right-leaning in partisan terms — it predisposes DC press and political figures to view both Trump and Warren-Sanders-style Democrats unfavorably — but fundamentally establishmentarian.

“A quarter-century covering national politics has convinced me that the more pervasive force shaping coverage of Washington and elections is what might be thought of as centrist bias, flowing from reporters and sources alike,” he writes. “This bias is marked by an instinctual suspicion of anything suggesting ideological zealotry, an admiration for difference-splitting, a conviction that politics should be a tidier and more rational process than it usually is.”…

The centrist ideology is essentially the slogan “fiscally conservative but socially liberal” come to life. It holds that the national debt is one of the greatest threats to the United States in the long term and that Social Security is unsustainable. It thinks there’s an obvious compromise solution on immigration and adheres to a kind of modest social liberalism on abortion and same-sex marriage, though it generally disdains “identity politics.” It reveres the troops and generally supports US military involvement in foreign wars, seeing criticism of America’s interventionist consensus as vaguely unpatriotic.

The influence of this version of centrist ideology should not be underestimated. It’s particularly popular among the very wealthy, who lavishly fund organizations like No Labels and Fix the Debt to promote it. It often crops up among “straight” or “objective” news reporters, who see it as entirely uncontroversial to say the national debt is a pressing policy problem (it isn’t) or to hold up the American military as a paragon of national virtue. It partly explains why Democratic presidential debates get so hung up on debating how to pay for Medicare-for-all: The underlying assumption is that debt financing is obviously unacceptable.

The centrist ideology is not mere institutionalism, though that’s part of it. It’s a very specific vision of how the world works, one that forms the background of a lot of Washington conversations and political debates — invisible until you notice it and then all of a sudden pervasive…

This imbalance stems from the fact that “centrist” ideas are the province of the educated, wealthy elite. Perhaps the single best predictor of social liberalism in America, aside from Democratic Party membership, is education: The more educated you are, the more likely you are to be open to things like marriage equality and immigration. At the same time, America’s elites are wealthy and thus more likely to be leery of significant tax hikes that would hurt their bottom line. Because elites tend to socialize with other elites, they can talk themselves into thinking that their ideas seem like common sense.

Harris is capturing not just an institutionalist bias but an ideological one, a political worldview based on dubious substantive arguments but with pervasive influence in the capital — owing in no small part to the class makeup of our political elite.

5) Changing the status quo, even clearly for the better, is hard.  In the Post, “These prosecutors won office vowing to fight the system. Now, the system is fighting back.”

6) This from a Finance professor was great, “The U.S. Only Pretends to Have Free Markets: From plane tickets to cellphone bills, monopoly power costs American consumers billions of dollars a year.”  And this is the reason why I like Elizabeth Warren is she realized that so much of American capitalism is a perversion of how free markets should actually work.

When I arrived in the United States from France in 1999, I felt like I was entering the land of free markets. Nearly everything—from laptops to internet service to plane tickets—was cheaper here than in Europe.

Twenty years later, this is no longer the case. Internet service, cellphone plans, and plane tickets are now much cheaper in Europe and Asia than in the United States, and the price differences are staggering. In 2018, according to data gathered by the comparison site Cable, the average monthly cost of a broadband internet connection was $29 in Italy, $31 in France, $32 in South Korea, and $37 in Germany and Japan. The same connection cost $68 in the United States, putting the country on par with Madagascar, Honduras, and Swaziland. American households spend about $100 a month on cellphone services, the Consumer Expenditure Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates. Households in France and Germany pay less than half of that, according to the economists Mara Faccio and Luigi Zingales.

None of this has happened by chance. In 1999, the United States had free and competitive markets in many industries that, in Europe, were dominated by oligopolies. Today the opposite is true. French households can typically choose among five or more internet-service providers; American households are lucky if they have a choice between two, and many have only one. The American airline industry has become fully oligopolistic; profits per passenger mile are now about twice as high as in Europe, where low-cost airlines compete aggressively with incumbents…

The irony is that the free-market ideas and business models that benefit European consumers today were inspired by American regulations circa 1990. Meanwhile, in industry after industry in the United States—the country that invented antitrust laws—incumbent companies have increased their market power by acquiring nascent competitors, heavily lobbying regulators, and lavishly spending on campaign contributions. Free markets are supposed to punish private companies that take their customers for granted, but today many American companies have grown so dominant that they can get away with offering bad service, charging high prices, and collecting, exploiting, and inadequately guarding their customers’ private data.

7) I loved this Vulture feature on every HBO show ranked.  Sopranos wins.  No argument there.  And, okay, okay, I really need to watch Deadwood.  Also, I find the Comeback a little low at 21.  That was a terrific and totally under-appreciated show.

8) How teenage girls dress is such a fraught issue.  Here’s hoping my daughter always makes perfect clothing choices as a teenager ;-).

9) Sean Trende’s election takeaways:

The suburban shift is real.  In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, David Byler and I wrote a series suggesting that the urban/suburban/rural divide was a fast-emerging, and understudied, cleavage in American politics.  This cleavage has widened into a chasm, with previously Republican suburbs swinging toward Democrats and throwing elections into disarray…

These outcomes are consistent with 2017. As a final thought, to the extent that there are any national implications to these races, it would be something like this: This outcome is roughly consistent with what we saw in 2017. In particular, the failure of the GOP in Virginia to wrest back any of the seats that it lost, even to seemingly accidental House of Delegates candidates, suggests that the environment hasn’t improved.  And even weak Republican candidates, such as Bevin, will win in red states in good GOP environments. These outcomes are local, but they do suggest that the GOP hasn’t yet turned a corner for 2020.

10) Political Scientist Jacob Hacker on Warren and Medicare for All:

In short, the Warren approach sacrifices some degree of rationality and equity to make the transition more politically realistic — which, given how far the system now is from rational or equitable, seems a reasonable trade-off. Further concessions will surely be needed, especially to address the concerns of those who have private insurance through their employer or Medicare (a third of beneficiaries, after all, are enrolled in private plans through Medicare Advantage).

But the message of Ms. Warren’s new plan is that American health care is so costly because it is so inefficient and because it is so lucrative for a narrow segment of American society. By showing how broad the benefits could be if costs were really tackled, she is also outlining a political approach fundamentally different from the strategy followed by President Barack Obama and his allies, who cut expensive deals with the medical-industrial complex and did all they could to minimize disruptions to the present system.

Ms. Warren instead is picking a fight with all the big interests that now depend on the system’s high prices and administrative overheads. As she sees it, the nation can’t afford to buy off the industry again to squeeze through legislation. It has to overcome resistance by promising something clear and simple that Americans can rally behind. Whether she’s right about that or not, her challenge to the narrow framing of the issue seems certain to shake up a familiar debate — and maybe even change it altogether.

11) David Leonhardt, “To Beat Trump, Focus on His Corruption”

Given the severity of Trump’s misbehavior — turning American foreign policy into an opposition-research arm of his campaign — Democrats had no choice but to start an impeachment inquiry. Yet they need to remember that impeachment is an inherently political process, not a technocratic legal matter. It will fail if it does not persuade more Americans of Trump’s unfitness for office. It will succeed only if he is not president on Jan. 21, 2021.

And it is far more likely to succeed if Democrats can connect it in voters’ minds to a larger argument about the substance of Trump’s presidency.

The most promising version of that argument revolves around corruption: The Ukraine quid pro quo matters because it shows how Trump has reneged on his promise to fight for ordinary Americans and is using the power of the presidency to benefit himself. As Leah Greenberg, a co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible, says: “This man is not working for you. He is working to put his own interests first. And he is endangering the country to do it.”

Corruption is one of the public’s top worries, surveys show. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last year, people ranked the economy as the country’s most important issue, and No. 2 was “reducing the influence of special interests and corruption in Washington.” It’s a cross-partisan concern too, spanning Democrats, Republicans and independents.

12) What Florida State could’ve done with the money it spent buying out it’s unsuccessful football coach:

Florida State University bought out its head football coach Willie Taggart’s contract on Sunday, leaving the institution on the hook for nearly $22 million. The former coach now makes that staggering sum to do nothing while the entire Florida State team is paid nothing to play football…

Regardless of the source, Florida State owes Taggart $22 million. If that money was applied to his players instead, it could:

  • Pay every starter on Florida State’s football team — and their backups — the National Football League minimum salary of $480,000.
  • Cover the remaining $20,000 of the Florida State basketball player Michael Cofer’s GoFundMe to pay for his late father’s medical expenses. And then it could pay every Florida State basketball player the National Basketball Association’s rookie minimum salary of $898,310.
  • Pay for the establishment of women’s rowing and lacrosse teams so that Florida State can meet the first prong of equal-opportunity-in-athletics compliance under Title IX …
    • … and fund full scholarships for all of those additional female athletes …
    • … and fund full scholarships for every current Florida State athlete without one.
  • Cover the construction of 22 lazy rivers for athletes to rest and relax in following practice.
  • Reimburse the Jacksonville Jaguars all of the money the team paid to Jalen Ramsey, a Florida State alum, before the cornerback demanded a trade last month.

Or if Florida State used the money it owes Taggart to support its educational efforts, it could:

  • Wipe away 636 Florida students’ debt.
  • Support 3,376 Bright Futures Scholarships, which cover the cost of tuition and fees for talented Florida high schoolers.
  • Fund the entire annual operating budget of the joint Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering and still have $7.5 million to provide modest scholarships to those students or offer bonuses to faculty members.

13) This was too long, but I did enjoy many a tidbit on how the Matrix movie came to be.  Time to watch this with my 13-year old.

14) Robinson Meyer on Trump and climate:

No, when Trump pulls America out of the Paris Agreement, he is responding to a different ideology: carbonism. For Trump, carbonism is a powerfully economic and cultural idea. Think of the carbon in carbonism as akin to the nation in nationalism: It implies a founding myth, a powerful worldview, a theory of value, and a prophecy. But it is, at heart, a simple idea. Carbonism is a belief that fossil fuels—which send carbon pollution spewing into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change and ocean acidification—have inherent virtue. That they are better, in fact, than other energy sources.

When the Trump administration replaces the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with a new rule that may actually increase pollution, that’s carbonism. When Perry tried to get Americans to subsidize failing coal plants through their power bills, that’s carbonism. When the EPA fights to allow the free venting of methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, that’s carbonism. When the EPA fights to let coal plants have an easier time spewing heavy metals and other neurotoxins into the atmosphere, that’s carbonism.

For the Trump administration, carbonism is more powerful than neoliberalism or any theory of free markets. How else to explain the White House’s proposed rollback of fuel-efficiency rules, which—in its hurry to freeze every possible legal restriction on carbon—actually mixed up the idea of supply and demand? And for Trump, too, carbonism is more powerful than any belief in federalism or states’ rights. How else to explain his years-long war on California’s statewide climate policy?

15) Love this New Yorker themed cartoons, “Existential Dread in the Animal Kingdom.”

 

16) If you’ve ever talked movies with me, you know I’m with Scorcese on the proliferation of comic-book movies.

When I was in England in early October, I gave an interview to Empire magazine. I was asked a question about Marvel movies. I answered it. I said that I’ve tried to watch a few of them and that they’re not for me, that they seem to me to be closer to theme parks than they are to movies as I’ve known and loved them throughout my life, and that in the end, I don’t think they’re cinema.

Some people seem to have seized on the last part of my answer as insulting, or as evidence of hatred for Marvel on my part. If anyone is intent on characterizing my words in that light, there’s nothing I can do to stand in the way.

Many franchise films are made by people of considerable talent and artistry. You can see it on the screen. The fact that the films themselves don’t interest me is a matter of personal taste and temperament. I know that if I were younger, if I’d come of age at a later time, I might have been excited by these pictures and maybe even wanted to make one myself. But I grew up when I did and I developed a sense of movies — of what they were and what they could be — that was as far from the Marvel universe as we on Earth are from Alpha Centauri.

For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.

17) This was fascinating and disturbing, “Measles Makes Your Immune System’s Memory Forget Defenses Against Other Illnesses.”

18) Like Drum’s M4A take here:

Actual legislation depends mostly on the Senate, not on President Warren or Speaker Pelosi. This means that health care legislation can’t be more progressive than the 50th most liberal senator, which is likely to be someone like Joe Manchin or Doug Jones. So even in the best case we won’t get the M4A plan that Warren is campaigning on. Not even close.

What this means is that these M4A plans shouldn’t be treated like real legislation to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office. Rather, they should be treated like Republican tax cut proposals. Nobody bothers to analyze them (except for liberal think tanks, natch) because no one takes them seriously. They are meant merely as markers to show where your heart is. A weak plan shows that you’re a RINO. A big tax cut shows you’re a strong conservative. And a ridiculous plan shows that you’re a lunatic—which might or might not be a good thing depending on the mood of the electorate.

So forget the details. Warren and Sanders are deliberately selling themselves as lunatics. Their plans mean nothing except that they are true blue liberals. Don’t try to read any more than that into them. Biden and Buttigieg and Booker are demonstrating that they’re part of the mainstream Obama wing of the party. And Amy Klobuchar is . . . not trying to demonstrate her DINO credentials, but she’s close.

Bottom line: stop sweating the details. Candidate plans aren’t meant to pencil out with a lot of precision. They’re rough drafts designed to show where their hearts are at. Smart analysts will mostly take them that way.

19) Greg Sargent  “The scope of Trump’s corruption is mind-boggling. New developments show how.”

At this point, the broad contours of the Ukraine scandal are well understood. President Trump appears to have used hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money appropriated as military aid to extort a vulnerable ally into helping him rig the 2020 election on his behalf.

But there are two other aspects of this scandal that need elaboration. The first is the degree to which this whole scheme is corrupting multiple government agencies and effectively placing them at the disposal of Trump’s reelection effort.

The second is that two of the scheme’s goals — getting Ukraine to validate a conspiracy theory absolving Russia of 2016 sabotage, and to manufacture smears of one of Trump’s leading 2020 rivals — are really part of the same story. At the core of this narrative is Trump’s continuing reliance on foreign help in corrupting our democracy to his advantage, through two presidential elections, and the covering up of all of it.

20) Sean Trende again, “Why Low-Polling 2020 Democrats Still Have a Chance”

4. Big things happen late in the primary season.

If you’re tuned in enough to be reading this, the 2020 presidential election probably already seems interminable.  For most voters, however, it is only getting started.  This means that lots of minds will be changed, and big movements for candidates can occur.  At this point in 2015, Donald Trump’s main challenger in the polling was Ben Carson, who would actually eclipse Trump briefly in the national polls in early November. Ted Cruz and John Kasich, who would be the last two candidates standing, were in fourth and ninth place, respectively.  In 2011, on the Republican side, we had just witnessed Rick Perry’s poll collapse, and we were in the midst of Herman Cain’s rise.  Newt Gingrich was at 9% in the polls; by mid-December he would have a 13-point lead and have around a third of the Republican electorate in his camp. Rick Santorum was at 2% in the polls, and would not begin his surge until January.

What about 2007? The Republican poll leaders were Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, neither of whom would win a primary. Eventual nominee John McCain was in third place with about 15% of the vote, while Mike Huckabee was at just 7%. In Iowa, which Huckabee would eventually win, the former Arkansas governor was only just starting his surge; at the beginning of the month he was in fifth place. Barack Obama trailed Hillary Clinton by over 20 points nationally at this point in 2007. In 2003, the race looked like a two-man race between Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean.  Eventual nominee John Kerry was in third place, albeit with only 9% of the vote.

To be sure, none of these candidates were at 2% of the vote.  But none of these candidates were in 16-person fields either.  It is perfectly reasonable for candidates to wait and see if they can catch fire; someone usually does at this point in the primaries.

21) On how Trump’s impeachment defense is basically all about lying:

Standing before a crowd of supporters this week in Lexington, Ky., President Trump repeated a false claim he has made more than 100 times in the past six weeks: that a whistleblower from the intelligence community misrepresented a presidential phone call at the center of the impeachment inquiry that threatens his presidency.

“The whistleblower said lots of things that weren’t so good, folks. You’re going to find out,” Trump said Monday at a campaign rally. “These are very dishonest people.”

Behind him were men and women in “Read the Transcript” T-shirts — echoing through their apparel Trump’s attempt to recast an incriminating summary of his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president as a piece of exonerating evidence.

It’s a form of gaslighting that has become the central defense strategy for the president as he faces his greatest political threat yet. But the approach is coming under increasing strain as congressional Democrats release transcripts and prepare to hold public hearings presenting evidence that directly undercuts Trump’s claims.

That the whistleblower report essentially mirrors the set of facts that have since been revealed by a stream of documented evidence and sworn testimony has not stopped Trump from repeatedly claiming otherwise. He has also pushed other specious arguments in his harried attempt to counter the growing evidence from witnesses implicating his administration in a quid pro quo scheme linking military aid to Ukrainian investigations targeting Democrats.

Without evidence, Trump has claimed that his own administration officials who have complied with congressional subpoenas are “Never Trumpers.” He has recounted conversations in which senators deemed him “innocent,” only to have the lawmakers deny making the statements. He has dismissed polls that show growing support for impeachment as “fake,” while repeatedly claiming levels of Republican support that exceed anything that exists in public polling.

22) The Politics behind Daylight Savings and changing it.

23) Paul Waldman on Warren and the plutocrats:

But it’s clear in the venomous reactions Warren produces from the plutocrat class that they want not only to be able to be taxed and regulated as lightly as possible, they want to be told they deserve every bit of wealth and power they have.

Warren does not offer that reassurance; quite the opposite. She says that the system has been shaped by the wealthy to advance their own interests, and if you’re one of them, you have an obligation to contribute more. And she’s happy to mock or insult the billionaire class along the way.

That is what differentiates her from many other Democrats. While Warren proposes some deeper changes to corporate structures than many other candidates do, when it comes to taxing the wealthy her positions are only a slightly more elevated version of what most Democrats stand for and have for some time. Every Democratic presidential candidate for years has suggested that the wealthy can afford to pay more, and the last two Democratic presidents both raised taxes on the rich. They do this because they think it’s right, and because the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy is hugely popular

From the perspective of Wall Street plutocrats, the real problem is not practical but spiritual. Warren not only wants to tax and regulate them more; she’s happy to vilify them, and they feel wounded. They expect to not only be able to hoard most of the country’s wealth, but to have the rest of us praise them for their brilliance, laud them for their industriousness, proclaim the splendor of their generous spirits and insist that they truly are the best of us…

If the plutocrats could think straight, they’d look back over history and understand that they’ll be fine almost no matter what. If a Democrat is elected, they may have to pay some more in taxes, but it’s not going to alter their lifestyles. Wall Street may get regulated more, but just as they’ve lived with the Dodd-Frank law that was passed in the wake of the financial crisis, they’ll learn to live with whatever comes next.

And if they’re feeling fearful about the future, they can turn on Fox and know that there are at least some people who will love them unconditionally. It works for the president.

24) Good Q&A with NYT polling guru Nate Cohn.

25) Apparently, the students at Oberlin aren’t as nuts as we were led to believe, but rather the media basically fabricated a narrative:

A Vietnamese student told Ferdinand Protzman, the lecturer teaching a news-writing course in the fall of 2015, that some international students had concerns about food in the cafeteria being passed off as authentic when it fell far short.

Protzman was pleased to see her take his advice to be observant around the campus, but his first response was dismissive. “Come on,” he told the student, “it’s just institutional food. It all sucks, right?”

But the more he learned, the more Protzman, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, thought his student might have a useful local story. The banh mi wasn’t just inauthentic — it didn’t even resemble banh mi. Instead of grilled pork, pâté, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs, the sandwich used ciabatta bread, pulled pork, and coleslaw, according to the student. And the “chicken sushi,” Protzman said, was just chicken loaf draped over a little mound of bad rice.

“I don’t know what culture it wouldn’t offend,” he says.

Protzman instructed the student to interview Campus Dining Services, where staff members told her they didn’t know about the concerns international students had about the banh mi, “chicken sushi,” and other ostensibly Asian dishes. She filed the story. Protzman’s teaching assistant, who was an editor at the student newspaper, The Oberlin Review, wanted to publish it. The author agreed.

“CDS Appropriates Asian Dishes, Students Say,” ran the headline. The article quoted some students who said the food was culturally appropriative and others who disagreed. After the story appeared, dining officials talked with students who had concerns, and agreed to “improve the naming process of meals by not associating excessively modified dishes with specific cultures” and working with students to make dishes “more culturally accurate,” according to a follow-up story in the campus newspaper on December 4. The international students said they felt as if their concerns had been heard.

“This was a great example of what journalists are supposed to do,” says Protzman, who in addition to teaching the journalism course was also the college’s assistant to the president for communications, and is now chief of staff. “She identified a news story that affects people’s lives in the community, and reported on it in a fair, balanced, and verifiable fashion.”…

Volk, the retired professor, summarized the frustration many supporters of the college have about how its students are characterized.

“An article written in a local campus newspaper,” he wrote on his blog, “reporting on complaints by three students (and balanced by the quite measured comments of three others), was picked up six weeks later, weaponized (add Lena Dunham and remove any reasonable comments), and sent out into the world by a right-wing tabloid where it was picked up by, seemingly, every media outlet on God’s green earth, only to return, time and again, as an example of Oberlin’s privileged, radical, preposterous students.”

And it kept returning.

Cultural appropriation in the cafeteria has become the shorthand national reporters often use to convey the excesses of Oberlin-student activism — and, by implication, the excesses of higher education more broadly.

26) This is awesome: “What U.S. Airports and International Flights Can Tell Us About the 2020 Election.”

America’s political divide is often characterized as urban versus rural. But truly rural areas are a relatively small slice of the electorate: in 2016, only 14 percent of all voters cast ballots in counties defined by the Census Bureau as non-metropolitan.

Instead, the most significant divide in 2020 could be between the large, diverse metro areas that make up the majority of vote on America’s coasts and the smaller, less diverse metro areas that are less likely to have reaped the benefits of a globalized economy. And Democrats’ ability to defeat Trump in the Electoral College depends on whether they can hold their ground in the metro areas served by airports that don’t have a lot of international flights — but had a runway long enough to land Trump’s Boeing 757 for a rally in 2016.

An analysis of flight schedules for U.S. primary commercial airports, Census data and election results yields a stark portrait of Democrats’ challenge in 2020. For a moment, let’s divide the country’s electorate into four geographic tiers:

  • Global Metros: Roughly 41 percent of the country’s electorate resides in large metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) served by airports with at least two regularly scheduled flights to destinations outside North America. Examples include Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Minneapolis and Seattle.
  • International Metros: Another 14 percent of the country’s electorate resides in metropolitan areas served by airports with at least one regularly scheduled international flight but fewer than two intercontinental flights. Examples include Indianapolis, New Orleans, Nashville, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Raleigh and San Antonio.
  • Regional Metros: Another 31 percent of the country’s electorate resides in metro areas served by airports featuring service from at least one of America’s four largest domestic carriers – American, Delta, United or Southwest – but no international flights. Examples include Des Moines, Flint, Toledo, Buffalo, Pueblo, Erie, Little Rock and Spokane.
  • Non-metro areas: Finally, 14 percent of the country’s electorate resides in counties defined as non-metropolitan by the Census Bureau. Very few of these areas are directly served by major airlines, save for vacation destinations like ski resorts. These rural areas make up the majority of the population in states like the Dakotas, Vermont and West Virginia, but they comprise a much smaller share of the population in most larger states.

Quick Hits (part II)

1) Andrew Sullivan on the taboo of discussing the fact that some transgender people actually de-transition.  Alas, among many, even discussing this fact gets labeled “transphobic.”  Once again, why can’t we just believe that we need to be sympathetic to and support trans persons and yet admit, maybe some teens actually rush into the process.

A Brown University professor, Lisa Littman, published a paper earlier this year citing parents’ reports on their transgender kids. She discovered a pattern: Most (83 percent) were girls in their teens with no previous history of gender dysphoria, who spent a lot of time online, and “more than one-third [of whom] had friendship groups in which 50 percent or more of the youths began to identify as transgender in a similar time frame.” Littman was not the first person to use this term, but she described this phenomenon as “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” and worried that it could be caused by social contagion, or connected to other issues such as the rejection of parents, depression, autism, and bipolar disease. Littman was concerned that these kids were not getting the full range of mental health help they needed. (Earlier this year, a governor of the Tavistock Centre resigned after submitting a report that argued that teens were being fast-tracked to transition in the center, without sufficient exploration of other comorbid factors. He felt the place had so lost its way in a thicket of ideology that he had to quit.)

The Littman paper was assailed by trans activists and their allies, denounced as transphobic, and had to have its framing language changed before it was republished. But the research and the findings, while very limited in their scope, held up under peer review, and were the same in the republished version as in the original. This is a real enough phenomenon to merit much more research to confirm it. But the pressure to stop this research remains enormous: Littman herself lost her consulting job over the paper, after a campaign to get her fired for transphobia.

2) Republican Senators’ latest plan to excuse Trump?  Throw out a bunch of legal language that maybe they don’t even understand and presume that it’s enough to convince their Fox News base:

“To me, this entire issue is gonna come down to, why did the president ask for an investigation,” Kennedy, who worked as a lawyer, said in an interview. “To me, it all turns on intent, motive. … Did the president have a culpable state of mind? … Based on the evidence that I see, that I’ve been allowed to see, the president does not have a culpable state of mind.”

Maybe the Fox viewership will be thrown by “culplable state of mind,” but, ummm… yes!

3) Of course Trump made up the “whimpering” death of Al-Baghdadi.  But, it’s Trump, so who cares?

That Mr. Trump seems to have made up the scene of a whimpering terrorist may be shocking on one level yet not all that surprising from a president who over the years has made a habit of inventing people who do not exist and events that did not happen. Mr. Trump’s flexibility with fact has become such an established feature of his presidency that polls show most Americans, including even many of his own supporters, do not, as a rule, take him at his word.

What may be most telling about the episode is how little attention the disparity of details received. In the past, presidential words were scrutinized with forensic exactitude and any variance from the established record could do lasting political damage. In the era of Trumpian truth, misstatements and lies are washed away by the next story, prompting Pinocchios from fact checkers and scolding from Democrats and Never Trumpers while Republicans dismiss them with that’s-just-Trump-being-Trump weariness.

“Donald Trump is not simply a serial liar; he is attempting to murder the very idea of truth, which is even worse,” said Peter Wehner, a former strategic adviser to President George W. Bush and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. “Because without truth, a free society cannot operate.”

4) I enjoyed George Packer’s essay on trying to do right by his kids in NYC public schools.  But, even though he’s a really thoughtful liberal, in the end, it did seem a little too hard for him to realize what an utterly insane liberal-elitist-NYC bubble he lives in.  Safe to say, Packer’s kids will be fine at any non-horrible schools.

5) Yes, the photos here are great, but really love the title, “30 Pics Of Finnish Cats Living Their Best Winter Life.”

Norwegian-Forest-Cats-Sampy-Hiskias

6) Totally with Brett Stephens on this one.  We really should judge art on it’s own merit, not the political/ideological views of it’s creators.  Stephens talks about finding out Roald Dahl was quite an anti-semite.  Definitely disappointing to learn this.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still an all-time amazing book that I will enjoy again.  And, yes, I also still enjoy Michael Jackson’s music, while I’m at it.

7) This was really good from Matt Stoller, “Corporate America’s Second War With the Rule of Law
Opinion: Uber, Facebook, and Google are increasingly behaving like the law-flouting financial empires of the 1920s. We know how that turned out.”

8) Was looking to buy some tickets the other day and the fees, my God, the fees.  So totally absurd that we cannot find a way to require transparency in ticket pricing for sports/entertainment events.

9) This is great news, “Long-awaited cystic fibrosis drug could turn deadly disease into a manageable condition.”

The therapy is a combination of three drugs that wouldn’t have been possible if scientists working in academic laboratories hadn’t unraveled the basic biology of the disease. Finding the gene was a needle-in-a-haystack-type problem, Collins said, and it led scientists to a malfunctioning protein that normally keeps the right balance of salt and water in the lungs. There are more than 1,700 gene mutations that can cause the protein to malfunction, but in the most common mutation, the protein is misfolded and can’t reach the right spot in the cell — and even if it does reach that spot, it doesn’t work properly. The new combination therapy includes one drug that corrects the misfolded protein and two that activate the correctly folded protein when it reaches the right spot in the cell.

In the largest trial, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, 403 patients who had at least one copy of the most common gene mutation underlying cystic fibrosis received either Trikafta or a placebo. There were improvements in objective tests of lung function, decreases in lung problems and hospitalizations and an increase in people’s quality of life.

Many physicians see the most transformative potential impact of the drug in the hope that it will be eventually approved for younger children, as Vertex’s other drugs have been over time. The drug can help older patients, but it can’t erase years of lung damage; if it works and is safe in younger children, it could prevent damage in the first place.

10) It’s sad that the hierarchy of the Catholic church will, apparently, at least consider pretty much anything to address the shortage of priests.  But women.

The modern Catholic Church is beset with serious problems. Among them is that not enough men want to be priests. Over the past three weeks, 184 bishops gathered at a Vatican summit to seek solutions for the Amazon region in particular, singled out because of myriad crises it is facing, including environmental devastation, violence and a shortage of priests to serve the needs of the faithful there.

The bishops’ solution: Do anything other than ordaining women as priests.

On Oct. 26, in a “revolutionary” decision, the bishops gathered at the Vatican voted 128 to 41 to allow an exception to what has essentially been a 1,000-year ban on the ordination of married men as priests. They recommended this change for only certain parts of the Amazon and for only married men already made deacons, meaning men already allowed to perform marriages and baptisms, but not to officiate at mass, which only priests can do. It is now for Pope Francis to decide whether the decision goes forward.

It is surprising in many ways that the bishops made this decision. Allowing a married man to be a priest violates several longstanding rules. They voted as they did despite the tremendous importance of chastity for the Catholic Church and the old idea that sexual activity is a pollutant that cannot be allowed near the holy ritual of the mass. They voted in favor of married priests despite a longstanding fear that for a priest to have a wife and a family would lead to serious conflicts of interest. There is a legend that the word “nepotism” was invented in honor of the grasping nephews of popes who sought and obtained more than they deserved thanks to their powerful uncles (and “nephews” we can sometimes see as a euphemism for “sons”).

These potential conflicts of interest and other dangers that family influence and obligations bring, therefore, are something Catholic authorities have long recognized and have eagerly sought to prevent. They voted as they did despite the symbolic importance, too, of the idea that a priest be united to only one spouse, the Church, just as Jesus Christ was united in an exclusive bond with the Church…

Pope Francis himself has acknowledged that there could be what the theology professor Gary Macy has called a “hidden history” in which women had a larger role in ministry than the Catholic Church currently accepts, for which scholars such as Dr. Macy have found ample and intriguing evidence. While rejecting much of this evidence, conservative Catholic authorities do, however, recognize that for several centuries, their predecessors, like the leaders of the Eastern Churches then and now, allowed married men to serve as priests or as bishops, though sometimes they required celibacy and that their wives enter religious life.

11) Stuff like this makes me a techno-optimist in general.  CRISPR may actually solve our problem with antibiotic resistance:

Crispr-based antibiotic pills aren’t yet anywhere near pharmacy shelves. But developing such treatments could allow scientists to harness the power of the human body’s own resident microbes in preventing disease.

“Scientists are starting to figure out that microbiota can also be extremely beneficial for our health,” said Luciano Marraffini, a microbiologist at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Conventional antibiotics do not distinguish between good and bad bacteria, eradicating everything indiscriminately and occasionally creating problems for people with weakened immune systems.

“A major benefit of Crispr is that we can program it to kill only specific pathogenic bacteria and leave alone the rest of our healthy microbes,” Dr. Marraffini said.

A few companies have started to pursue Crispr-based antibiotics that can be delivered through viruses that have been engineered so that they cannot reproduce or cause infections themselves, as well as other methods. Dr. Marraffini is a co-founder of one such start-up, Eligo Bioscience.

The specificity of Crispr is equally enticing to researchers looking to target pathogenic viruses. Instead of having Crispr kill viruses that infect bacteria, as it does in nature, scientists are programming it to chop up viruses that infect humans.

12) Eat your fiber!  “Fiber and Yogurt Tied to Lower Lung Cancer Risk: By promoting a healthy gut microbiome, a high-fiber diet and foods like yogurt may lower lung cancer risk, even among smokers.”  And “Fiber in Fruits and Grains Protects Against Diverticulitis”

13) Dahlia Lithwick on “the judges Republicans are doing it all for.”

It’s not news that Trump has made packing the federal courts with the youngest, most radical, least qualified jurists ever seen a priority. Nor is it news that this project has been singularly successful because it was contracted out to effective outside groups, and because Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell now cares about no other. Last week, the Senate advanced the nomination for a lifetime tenured position of a 37-year-old associate professor, who had been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Justin Walker, the prospective judge in question, has never tried a case. He’s never been co-counsel in a case. His principal qualification for a federal district court judgeship seems to be his important legal work spent “conducting over 70 interviews in which he challenged the account of Christine Blasey Ford.” He’s a TV judge whom Mitch McConnell somehow touted as “unquestionably the most outstanding nomination that I’ve ever recommended to Presidents to serve on the bench in Kentucky.” Despite his lack of any judicial qualifications and the once-rare not-qualified ABA rating, every Republican on the Judiciary Committee voted to advance his nomination while Democrats broke against him. As Jennifer Bendery noted here, “in his entire eight years in the White House, President Barack Obama didn’t nominate anyone to be a lifetime federal judge who earned a ‘not qualified’ ABA rating.” Walker was Trump’s fourth. And on Thursday, the Senate is poised to vote on the fifth, Sarah Pitlyk, nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

14) Americans trust local news.  Brendan Nyhan on how that belief is being exploited by bad actors:

The nature of the news misinformation problem may be changing. As consumers become more skeptical about the national news they encounter online, impostor local sites that promote ideological agendas are becoming more common. These sites exploit the relatively high trust Americans express in local news outlets — a potential vulnerability in Americans’ defenses against untrustworthy information.

Some misinformation in local news comes from foreign governments seeking to meddle in American domestic politics. Most notably, numerous Twitter accounts operated by the Russian Internet Research Agency were found to have impersonated local news aggregators during the 2016 election campaign.

A recent Senate Intelligence Committee report found that 54 such accounts published more than 500,000 tweets. According to researchers at N.Y.U., the fake local news accounts frequently directed readers to genuine local news articles about polarizing political and cultural topics.

Domestically grown dubious outlets are also proliferating. Last week, The Lansing State Journal reported the existence of a network of more than 35 faux-local websites across Michigan with names like Battle Creek Times, Detroit City Wire, Lansing Sun and Grand Rapids Reporter…

Over all, we found that people preferred to consume local news most. Holding other factors constant, Americans were 11 percentage points more likely to choose articles from local news sources than ones from online-only national outlets — precisely why dubious websites might impersonate local news sources. This differential was largest among Republican identifiers and people with a negative view of the news media.

The prevalence of these impostors is likely to increase as the 2020 election approaches, threatening to mislead more voters and to promote greater skepticism toward all news media, including the local outlets that so many Americans rely on and trust.

15) “Tales from the teenage cancel culture.”  Personally, I’m ready to cancel cancel culture.  Perhaps the response from my younger readers… “Okay Gen-Xer”

16) Sad, hilarious, and amazing how dumb Trump and friends are about what a “witch hunt” means.

17) OMG I hate Britt Hume so much.  What a hack!  Now, I’m far from an expert on American foreign policy (as you’ve noticed, very much a domestic policy guy).  But for Hume to claim that American foreign policy is nothing more than what the president wants foreign policy to be is insane:

What’s also insane is all the commenters in this threat totally on this absurd “l’etat c’est moi” bandwagon where whatever Donald Trump wants is policy (even if it is to subvert America’s national security to his own personal interests).

Just for the record, Congress plays a role in foreign policy, too.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff, as always, from Adam Serwer, bringing in that classic of high school English, “Young Goodman Brown.”

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1835 short story “Young Goodman Brown,” an upright citizen of 17th-century Salem journeys into a New England forest on a dark night and finds himself among fellow Puritans—“faces that would be seen next day at the council board of the province, and others which, Sabbath after Sabbath, looked devoutly heavenward, and benignantly over the crowded pews, from the holiest pulpits in the land”—who are summoning Satan himself to bless their revels…

Hawthorne is appropriate Halloween reading, and especially this year: American society is living through its Goodman Brown moment, a moment when many of the norms we have been taught to admire have been revealed as a shell game for suckers. As Trumpism took hold in the nation in 2015, it was regarded as a kind of temporary madness. But time has revealed that this vulgar spirit is no aberration. It was there all along; the goodly veneer was the lie.

Consider the devolution of Bill Barr, from an “institutionalist” who would protect the Department of Justice to a servant of Donald Trump. Consider the two dozen House Republicans who used physical force to disrupt their own body rather than allow government officials to testify to what they know about President Trump—because to follow the rules of the House, and the strictures of national security, would threaten their party’s grasp on power. Consider the white evangelical leaders who prated to the nation for a generation about character and chastity and “Judeo-Christian morality,” but who now bless Trump as a leader. Consider, if more evidence is needed, the unforgettable moment at the Capitol on September 27, 2018, when Brett Kavanaugh dropped forever the mask of the “independent judge” to stand proudly forth as a partisan figure promising vengeance against his enemies.

The last incident, I think, sums up the horror of what the nation has learned about many of its leaders. It seems likely that Kavanaugh’s self-abasement was not the impulse of a desperate man, but a conscious choice made because, unless he showed himself willing to fight back viciously, he risked losing the support of the president. That choice had the desired effect. Trump embraced Kavanaugh, and used his tirade to move supporters to the polls that November.

This is the point. These are not victims crazed by “polarization” or “partisanship” or “gridlock” but cool-headed political actors who see the chance to win long-sought goals—dictatorial power in the White House, partisan control of the federal bench, an end to legal abortion and the re-subordination of women, destruction of the government’s regulatory apparatus, an end to voting rights that might threaten minority-party control, a return to pre-civil-rights racial norms. The historical moment finds them on a mountaintop; all the kingdoms they have sought are laid out before them, and a voice says, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”

2) Cool stuff in Wired, “Scientists Now Know How Sleep Cleans Toxins From the Brain.”

When we sleep our brains travel through several phases, from a light slumber to a deep sleep that feels like we’ve fallen unconscious, to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when we’re more likely to have dreams. Lewis’ work looks at non-REM sleep, that deep phase which generally happens earlier in the night and which has already been associated with memory retention. One important 2013 study on mice showed that while the rodents slept, toxins like beta amyloid, which can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, got swept away.

Lewis was curious how those toxins were cleared out and why that process only happened during sleep. She suspected that cerebrospinal fluid, a clear, water-like liquid that flows around the brain, might be involved. But she wasn’t sure what was unique about sleep. So her lab designed a study that measured several different variables at the same time…

What she discovered was that during non-REM sleep, large, slow waves of cerebrospinal fluid were washing over the brain. The EEG readings helped show why. During non-REM sleep, neurons start to synchronize, turning on and off at the same time. “First you would see this electrical wave where all the neurons would go quiet,” says Lewis. Because the neurons had all momentarily stopped firing, they didn’t need as much oxygen. That meant less blood would flow to the brain. But Lewis’s team also observed that cerebrospinal fluid would then rush in, filling in the space left behind.

“It’s a fantastic paper,” says Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester who led the 2013 study that first described how sleep can clear out toxins in mice. “I don’t think anybody in their wildest fantasy has really shown that the brain’s electrical activity is moving fluid. So that’s really exciting.”

3) Good stuff from Paul Waldman on Warren’s M4A detailed plan:

Elizabeth Warren just released her health-care plan, and I’m going to do something radical. Instead of directing all your attention to the question of how she’ll pay for it, as 99 percent of the coverage is doing, I’m going to focus on what her plan might mean for — get ready — people’s health care.

Don’t get me wrong: The funding is important. But the most important overarching question is what kind of health-care system we want.

Once we’ve decided that, we can figure out the best way to pay for it. Warren’s solution might be good or bad on either point, though what we have right now is really the worst of all possible worlds: A system with horrific problems, costing more than any system in the world, and paid for in ways that are inequitable and unsustainable. Would her plan be better? …

Warren’s plan makes a lot of assumptions, particularly about the multiple streams she plans to use to raise money. And some people will react by saying, “Oh no, there are trade-offs in her plan? Intolerable!”

But there are trade-offs we live with now — some pretty awful ones. Orthopedic surgeons can make $750,000 a year, which is good for Porsche dealerships, but it also means higher premiums for everybody. Hundreds of thousands of people have jobs in the health insurance industry, and insurance companies make billions of dollars in profits; the trade-off is that all of us have to pay for that with our premiums. We have tens of millions of people with no coverage at all. Our current trade-offs are a disaster…

You might think Warren’s plan is a good way to get us there. Or you might think a more incremental plan has a better chance of passing, putting us on the road to that future. Or you might favor something else entirely.

But whatever plan you find most compelling, we should never forget that what we have now is a practical, financial and moral catastrophe. If we decide to change it, we can.

4)  Bernstein on Gabbard:

The good news for them? There’s no reason to worry about her.

To begin with, while there have been two very close elections recently, in 2000 and 2016, most elections aren’t that close and the odds are this one won’t be either. Democrats have been hurt by third-party candidacies before, in particular by Ralph Nader’s Green Party run in 2000, in which he appeared to be deliberately trying to hurt Vice President Al Gore’s chances. But Gabbard is no Ralph Nader. Nader was a famous activist for decades before he ran. He was able to generate an unusual amount of attention for a minor candidate, and Democrats worried with good reason that voters might choose him over Gore. In fact, Nader received 2.7% of the general-election vote, more than twice as much as all the other minor party and independent candidates combined.

But here’s the thing: There will be other names on the ballot whether Gabbard runs or not. And there’s no reason to think that she’d win many votes. More likely, she’ll resemble Cynthia McKinney, a former Democratic representative who ran as the Green Party candidate in 2008 and got fewer than 200,000 votes nationwide. Yes, the similarly obscure Jill Stein wound up with 1.5 million votes in 2016 after getting about a third of that in 2012. What that suggests, though, is that most third-party candidates gain traction not because voters love them, but because they dislike the major-party candidate who they’d otherwise vote for.

This problem will mostly solve itself. Democratic voters really, really, really dislike President Donald Trump. They’re going to be motivated to vote for whoever the party nominates. They’re also going to be far less willing to risk a third-party vote after the 2016 election, just as voters in 2004 abandoned Nader when he ran again.

5) Eric Levitz, “Beto O’Rourke 2020 Has Been Worse Than Useless”

Understandably, many progressives found O’Rourke’s refusal to placate red America on these points refreshing. Surely, no decent society should have millions of AR-15s in circulation. And why should our tax dollars subsidize institutions that promote bigotry in the name of tradition?

I, for one, would certainly favor mandatory buybacks if it were politically and logistically feasible (I’d also love for the state to take just about all the guns, and then disarm the cops while we’re at it). Beto’s support for conditioning the tax-exempt status of religious institutions on whether he approves of their teaching seems substantively bad (and unconstitutional) to me. But if I had my druthers, I’d probably have the state get out of the religion-subsidizing business entirely.

And if Beto had his druthers, he’d be a serious presidential candidate. Which is to say: We can’t always get what we want in this life…

Nevertheless, in an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning, O’Rourke doubled down on literal confiscation.

This is wildly unproductive. Mandatory buybacks are legislatively impossible, logistically nightmarish, and politically unwise. Elections are won and lost at the margins. There is little-to-no evidence that embracing more ideologically extreme positions spurs higher turnout among unreliable Democratic voters (who tend to be more conservative than reliable ones, especially on social issues). There are a significant number of Americans who oppose Donald Trump but lean right on gun issues. There’s no reason for Democrats to go out of their way to antagonize such voters by embracing relatively unpopular, legislatively nonviable gun reforms. And there is even less reason for O’Rourke to do so. The man is not going to be the Democrats’ 2020 nominee, but he could have used this campaign to fortify his status as a strong candidate for statewide office in Texas. Getting to Elizabeth Warren’s left on firearms probably disqualifies him from that consolation prize. And one can essentially say all these same things about his stance on the tax-exempt status of anti-LGBT churches.

But O’Rourke took his campaign’s malign uselessness to new heights Tuesday night, when he had the temerity to scold Warren for the divisiveness of her wealth tax. After allowing that a levy on the wealth of billionaires might be “part of the solution” to inequality, the man who had just called for siccing big government on Catholic churches and gun owners said the following:

Sometimes I think that Senator Warren is more focused on being punitive and pitting some part of the country against the other instead of lifting people up and making sure that this country comes together around those solutions.

In that moment, it seemed almost plausible that O’Rourke was, in truth, a GOP sleeper agent — or else a Tucker Carlson caricature of elite liberalism come to life. Taxing the wealth of billionaires is popular with a broad, bipartisan majority of Americans. The GOP’s greatest liability with marginal Trump voters is the perception that they’re the party of the superrich and corporations. To the extent that Democrats can make inroads into red America, increasing the salience of popular progressive ideas for equalizing economic power is their best bet for doing so. Warren’s wealth tax represents a step in the direction. By contrast, Beto’s efforts to spotlight relatively unpopular liberal ideas on culture-war issues, while decrying populist rhetoric as punitive and divisise, are music to Republican operatives’ ears.

O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign was a vital contribution to the fight against reactionary rule in the U.S. He deserves some measure of admiration for mounting it. But his presidential bid has accomplished nothing beyond costing his party a promising candidate in the Lone Star State. The longer he drags out this increasingly counterproductive, quixotic crusade, the harder it will be to avoid the question: Members of Beto’s campaign, what the fuck?

6) Drum on William Barr and how secularists are not actually ruining America:

7) This from Claire Cain Miller earlier this year in the Upshot is excellent, “Women Did Everything Right. Then Work Got ‘Greedy.’: How America’s obsession with long hours has widened the gender gap.”  Love this nugget:

Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands, she said. They have rich husbands because they step back from work.

8) Good piece from Dan Drezner on how the attack’s on Vindman’s patriotism actually led to reinforcing, rather than breaking, an important norm:

It is truly extraordinary to hear even rabid partisans like Ingraham, Yoo, Kilmeade and Duffy question a decorated war hero’s bona fides because he was an immigrant — and by “extraordinary,” I mean insidious and anti-American. As Jonathan Chait noted:

The Republican position is that there’s no loyalty problem involved in having American foreign policy conducted by an off-the-books lawyer with no security clearance who was apparently on the payroll of the Russian Mafia. The security problem is the NSC official advising an American ally about how to deal with the goons demanding that the ally subvert the independence of its judicial system and insert itself into the American election.

The GOP attack seems particularly malignant given Vindman’s actual backstory..

The story that emerged was that the norm under attack emerged stronger than before.

By midday Tuesday, key members of the GOP’s congressional leadership had pushed back pretty hard against these accusations. Politico’s Burgess Everett and Melanie Zanona reported that “Republicans may quibble with the substance of Vindman’s testimony as they try to protect Trump from the fast-moving impeachment inquiry. But congressional GOP leaders say it’s out of bounds to question Vindman’s patriotism and allegiance to the United States, as some conservative pundits did on Monday night.”…

Still, this is a case in which the attempt to smear someone because they were born somewhere else has actually strengthened and not weakened the norm. In an age in which political courage is in short supply, I’ll take this small victory.

9) Interesting survey finds that about 1/3 of Americans prefer and M4A approach, a 1/3 will take more choice-based universal care, and only 1/3 go for the Republican approach.

10) Good stuff from Paul Waldman on the wildfires:

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” That’s what Ronald Reagan used to say, a summation of his belief that government was not just incompetent but malevolent, a ravenous beast that would steal your money and ruin your life. Or as he put it in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Keep that in mind as you consider the fires now spreading over California, particularly one threatened structure that has gotten a good deal of attention:

Hurricane-force gusts and single-digit humidity levels combined Wednesday to spark a number of fires across Southern California, including one here that threatened the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for several morning hours. […]
Ventura County firefighters had several strike teams in place at the Reagan Library, and intensive aerial attacks from helicopters and a DC-10 tanker kept the flames off the hilltop where the building sits. The library’s safety was far from certain, though, during a morning when conditions conspired against hundreds of firefighters on the ground.

Hundreds of firefighters, helicopters, a DC-10 tanker! Funny how when the Reagan Library was threatened, those charged with keeping alive the memory of Reagan’s long career of undermining, degrading and belittling government didn’t call upon the free market’s invisible hand to save them. No, they called the government…

This is a reminder of what Republicans actually think about government, despite what they say about it.

This presidential campaign will be an opportunity to have a real debate not just about whether government should be big or small, but about what it is for and what it should do. The story of the Reagan Library is just one vivid illustration of the fact that conservatives don’t actually object to government per se; they just want to make sure that government helps some people and not others.

11) Speaking of wildfires, Farhad Manjoo on the end of California as we know it:

Probably, because it’s only going to get worse. The fires and the blackouts aren’t like the earthquakes, a natural threat we’ve all chosen to ignore. They are more like California’s other problems, like housing affordability and homelessness and traffic — human-made catastrophes we’ve all chosen to ignore, connected to the larger dysfunction at the heart of our state’s rot: a failure to live sustainably.

Now choking under the smoke of a changing climate, California feels stuck. We are BlackBerry after the iPhone, Blockbuster after Netflix: We’ve got the wrong design, we bet on the wrong technologies, we’ve got the wrong incentives, and we’re saddled with the wrong culture. The founding idea of this place is infinitude — mile after endless mile of cute houses connected by freeways and uninsulated power lines stretching out far into the forested hills. Our whole way of life is built on a series of myths — the myth of endless space, endless fuel, endless water, endless optimism, endless outward reach and endless free parking.

12) Nobel Prize winning economists on how economic incentives are not what we think they are:

Over the last few decades, this faith in the power of economic incentives led policymakers in the United States and elsewhere to focus, often with the best of intentions, on a narrow range of “incentive-compatible” policies.

This is unfortunate, because economists have somehow managed to hide in plain sight an enormously consequential finding from their research: Financial incentives are nowhere near as powerful as they are usually assumed to be.

We see it among the rich. No one seriously believes that salary caps lead top athletes to work less hard in the United States than they do in Europe, where there is no cap. Research shows that when top tax rates go up, tax evasion increases (and people try to move), but the rich don’t work less. The famous Reagan tax cuts did raise taxable income briefly, but only because people changed what they reported to tax authorities; once this was over, the effect disappeared.

We see it among the poor. Notwithstanding talk about “welfare queens,” 40 years of evidence shows that the poor do not stop working when welfare becomes more generous. In the famous negative income tax experiments of the 1970s, participants were guaranteed a minimum income that was taxed away as they earned more, effectively taxing extra earnings at rates ranging from 30 percent to 70 percent, and yet men’s labor hours went down by less than 10 percent. More recently, when members of the Cherokee tribe started getting dividends from the casino on their land, which made them 50 percent richer on average, there was no evidence that they worked less…

Third, we should not be unduly scared of raising taxes to pay for these projects. There is no evidence that it would disrupt the economy. This is, of course, a touchy subject politically: The idea of raising taxes on anyone but the very rich is not popular. So we should start with raising the rates on top income and adding a wealth tax, as many have proposed. The key then would be to link the added revenue to efforts like the ones we describe above, which would serve to slowly restore the legitimacy of the government’s efforts to help those in need. This will take time, but we have to start somewhere — and soon.

13) More interesting research on the connection between population density and political ideology.

14) This was really interesting… Maybe the super-famous Stanford Prison experiment was not actually all it was cracked up to be.

15) Okay, hockey fans, you have to see Andrei Svechnikov’s “lacrosse goal” if you haven’t yet.  I saw it live on TV, but did not fully appreciate it at the time.

16) This is cool.  A college friend of mine and one-time Political Science PhD student who ended up becoming a law professor has written a children’s book that celebrates Native American culture.

17) Ain’t this just the absolute every day Trump story that gets totally ignored.  Vox: “A crucial federal program tracking dangerous diseases is shutting down: Predict, a pandemic preparedness program, thrived under Bush and Obama. Now it’s canceled.”

18) Happy 20th(!!) birthday to my firstborn, who is reading this.  Now down to two teenagers in the house.  Still waiting on three “grown-ups” though ;-).

If California can let teenagers sleep, everybody can, damnit

Damnit for emphasis because this issue frustrates me so much.  One of those cases where the science is so clear, but status quo bias, entrenched interests, and plain old “well, we’ve always done it that way” combine to conspire against the obviously far more sensible of not having teenagers wake up absurdly early for high school.  Some forward-thinking school districts around the country have been slowly catching on.  And, now, the whole damn state of California is– hooray!

California students can look forward to extra sleep in the morning once a new law takes effect.

The law, signed on Sunday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, pushes back the start times at most public middle and high schools, making California the first state to order such a shift.

Classes for high schools, including those operated as charter schools, will start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. under the law, and classes for middle schools will start no earlier than 8 a.m.

The law, which came amid rising worries about the effects of sleep deprivation on young people, is intended to improve attendance rates and reduce tardiness, said Anthony J. Portantino, a Democratic state senator who wrote the bill.

“Everybody is looking for a magic bullet with education, one that cuts across all demographics, all ethnicities and that actually has a positive, measurable increase in test scores, attendance and graduation rates without costing money,” he said in a telephone interview. “And this is it.”…

Sleep experts also hailed the move. Dr. Sumit Bhargava, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and specialist in pediatric sleep medicine at Stanford Children’s Health, called the law a “triumph,” noting that adolescents’ brains are still developing and that chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of diseases later in life.

Although it might not seem like much, he said, “the effects of that one hour is something they will be feeling as 40-year-old adults,” adding that students would feel less anxious and less depressed and perform better academically. “When you give them the gift of increased sleep time, it is the biggest bang for buck that you can think about,” he said.

Downsides?  Sure.  But not near enough to outweigh these clear benefits.  So, my hope that California will show clear results soon enough that, just maybe, North Carolina, or at least Wake County, will suck it up and make this same change by the time my 3rd grader heads to high school.

The diet soda myth

You didn’t think I was going to let an Aaron Carroll Upshot post on “Five Reasons the Diet Soda Myth Won’t Die” go by without a post, did you?

There’s a decent chance you’ll be reading about diet soda studies until the day you die. (The odds are exceedingly good it won’t be the soda that kills you.)

The latest batch of news reports came last month, based on another study linking diet soda to an increased risk of early death.

As usual, the study (and some of the stories) lacked some important context and caused more worry than was warranted. There are specific reasons that this cycle is unlikely to end.

1. If it’s artificial, it must be bad.

People suspect, and not always incorrectly, that putting things created in a lab into their bodies cannot be good. People worry about genetically modified organisms, and monosodium glutamate and, yes, artificial sweeteners because they sound scary.

But everything is a chemical, [emphases mine] including dihydrogen monoxide (that’s another way of saying water). These are just words we use to describe ingredients. Some ingredients occur naturally, and some are coaxed into existence. That doesn’t inherently make one better than another. In fact, I’ve argued that research supports consuming artificial sweeteners over added sugars. (The latest study concludes the opposite.)…

5. We still don’t understand the limitations of observational studies

No matter how many times you stress the difference between correlation and causation, people still look at “increased risk” and determine that the risk is causing the bad outcome. For reporting on hundreds of thousands of people, observational studies are generally the only realistic option. With very few exceptions, they can tell us only if two things are related, not whether one is to blame for the other (as opposed to randomized control trials).

With respect to diet sodas, it’s plausible that the people who tend to drink them also tend to be worried about their weight or health; it could be a recent heart attack or other health setback that is causing the consumption rather than the other way around. But you shouldn’t assume that diet sodas cause better health either; it could be that more health-conscious people avoid added sugars.

Many of these new observational studies add little to our understanding. At some point, a study with 200,000 participants isn’t “better” than one with 100,000 participants, because almost all have limitations — often the same ones — that we can’t fix.

Dr. John Ioannidis wrote in a seminal editorial: “Individuals consume thousands of chemicals in millions of possible daily combinations. For instance, there are more than 250,000 different foods and even more potentially edible items, with 300,000 edible plants alone.”

And yet, he added, “much of the literature silently assumes disease risk” is governed by the “most abundant substances; for example, carbohydrates or fats.” We don’t know what else is at play, and using observational studies, we never will.

Okay, now back to my Diet Dr Pepper.

Why is our health care so expensive? It’s the hospitals.

Sure, its fun and easy to villainize insurance companies, but those in the know on the pathologies of America’s absurdly expensive recognize that it is the health care providers– hospitals and doctors’ practices– that are the real drivers of our outrageous costs.

Great piece on the matter from Planet Money.  I especially like how they point out that non-profits can be as money-hungry as any corporation.  I used to have no idea on this until I discussed this with my friend/colleague who does research on Non-Profits.  Anyway…

Last year, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was battling to win the Democratic primary, his campaign solicited a donation from the Greater New York Hospital Association, according to a recent report from The New York Times. The hospital lobbying group gave over $1 million to the New York State Democratic Party. And not long after, according to the Times, “the state quietly authorized an across-the-board increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates.” The increase is expected to cost taxpayers around $140 million a year.

The hospital lobby is a juggernaut in New York, as it is in other states. Over the last year, hospital lobbyists have fought reforms for billing transparency in Ohio, minimum nurse staffing levels in Illinois, and cheaper payment rates in North Carolina. [emphases mine] Last month, a leaked email from the Kentucky Hospital Association showed that it was urging members to donate to gubernatorial candidates to “assure access.”

In Washington, D.C., the hospital lobby is battling Medicare for All as well as efforts to end surprise billing, which is when Americans go to in-network providers but then — surprise! — end up getting billed for more expensive, out-of-network services. Three-quarters of Americans say they oppose the practice, and leaders from both political parties have been working to end it. Yet, hospital lobbyists are making reform really difficult. Which is weird, because most hospitals are nonprofits…

“Hospitals are the largest individual contributor to health care costs in the U.S,” Cooper says. Americans spend over a trillion dollars a year at hospitals. That’s about a third of national health spending, which now consumes almost 20% of U.S. GDP. Cooper’s research shows that, after a long period of consolidation, the cost of hospital services has been exploding. Between 2007 and 2014, hospital prices grew 42 percent.

The irony is most hospitals are “nonprofit,” a status that makes them tax exempt. Many (but not all) do enough charity work to justify tax benefits, yet it’s clear nonprofit hospitals are very profitable. They funnel much of the profits into cushy salaries, shiny equipment, new buildings, and, of course, lobbying. In 2018, hospitals and nursing homes spent over $100 million on lobbying activities. And they spent about $30 million on campaign contributions. Health industries have also been funneling hefty sums into dark money groups. But their political power isn’t just the result of lobbying or electioneering. Hospitals are often the biggest employers in states and cities across America.

Forget the insurance companies, this is why meaningful health care reform will be so damn hard (also, plus the insurance companies).  But hospitals are so not the “non-profit” good guys in all this.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Good NYT Editorial on Trump and Republicans:

In the summer of 1950, outraged by Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist inquisition, Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican senator from Maine, stood to warn her party that its own behavior was threatening the integrity of the American republic. “I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny — fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear,” she said. “I doubt if the Republican Party could — simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely, we Republicans aren’t that desperate for victory.”…

The Republican Party is again confronting a crisis of conscience, one that has been gathering force ever since Donald Trump captured the party’s nomination in 2016. Afraid of his political influence, and delighted with his largely conservative agenda, party leaders have compromised again and again, swallowing their criticisms and tacitly if not openly endorsing presidential behavior they would have excoriated in a Democrat. Compromise by compromise, Donald Trump has hammered away at what Republicans once saw as foundational virtues: decency, honesty, responsibility. He has asked them to substitute loyalty to him for their patriotism itself…

These attempts to enlist foreign interference in American electoral democracy are an assault not only on our system of government but also on the integrity of the Republican Party. Republicans need to emulate the moral clarity of Margaret Chase Smith and recognize that they have a particular responsibility to condemn the president’s behavior and to reject his tactics.

2) How the design of almost everything is biased towards men.

3) Nice essay from a mom who had a late-term abortion in the face of severe fetal brain abnormalities.

4) Chait on why impeaching Trump is popular:

This isn’t Russia. The anticlimactic denouement of the Russia investigation weighed heavily on the impeachment skeptics. But the political impact of the Russia probe was smothered both by its dependence on Robert Mueller, who was held back by an almost monk-like desire to escape politics by giving Trump every benefit of the doubt, and the sheer complexity of the affair. If the only important facts in the Russia story were Donald Trump negotiating for a several-hundred-million-dollar payoff from Vladimir Putin during the campaign and then lying about it, the outcry might have toppled him. But because that was just one of countless shady details, the incriminating facts were buried beneath one another.

The Ukraine scandal is much simpler. There is a lot of evidence of wrongdoing, but it all revolves around a single narrative of Trump pressuring a foreign country to investigate his domestic rivals. And the narrative is controlled by Congress, which is willing to charge the president with a high crime, not a reclusive prosecutor who has decided it is improper for him to make any such accusation.

Even Republicans have trouble defending it. For all the public affirmations of support from Trump’s fervent base in the party and party-controlled media, even his supporters are harboring some qualms…

The story can get worse. One thing that ought to have been apparent at the outset of this scandal, but which many people missed, is that a lot of people were involved. Turning American foreign policy into an episode of The Sopranos isn’t easy. You have a whole bureaucracy that’s used to operating along established channels, and distorting its functions in such a gross fashion sends ripples throughout the system.

There are going to be more witnesses and more records of communication. Trump is going to keep lying and saying crazy things. It’s not going to be easy to deprive the story of oxygen.

The politics can get worse, too. Republican support for Trump may be louder than the criticism. But the silence of many Republicans, not just the handful of quasi-independent voices, speaks volumes. Many Republicans are withholding judgment, perhaps criticizing impeachment as hasty, but not defending Trump’s behavior or ruling out removal if more evidence emerges…

Most voters are locked in to one of the parties. The swing vote tends to be low-information voters with a hazy grasp of the issues. Impeachment is a signal to those voters that Trump has done something seriously wrong. It’s not a magic trick that works against every president — there needs to be misconduct people can easily understand, and which the news media covers as a serious scandal. This easily qualifies.

If Trump has any political strengths, it is that he is a low-information voter himself, and grasps how the political narrative plays out in snippets of cable-news chyrons drifting across screens in bars and airports. Trump has confided to allies that impeachment “looks bad on his résumé.”

Because his victory surprised so many people, Trump has a way of psyching out his opponents sometimes. There’s no real political magic here. Having the news dominated by a scandal even many Republicans can’t defend, with a constant drip of damning new details, is extremely unhelpful for the president.

5) Derek Thompson, “The NBA-China Disaster Is a Stress Test for Capitalism.”

China exercises a kind of veto power over the global marketplace of speech. Every piece of content that is critical of the government, or dubious of its claims about Tibet, or Taiwan, or Tiananmen Square, or Xinjiang, is subject to grave financial punishment. It amounts to a kind of “values tariff” on the companies and individuals with which China does business. That is, rather than [x] percent tax on imported goods in China, companies must compromise [x] percent of their values to do business in China. The focus might be on the NBA today. But each firm with business there is paying the values tariff…

Everybody is having it both ways.

The NBA wields social advocacy as a sword within the U.S. and surrenders its outspokenness at the border. Multinational companies ask their employees to “bring their full selves to work” and then fire those employees when their “full selves” offend Beijing bureaucrats living 10,000 miles away. Academic institutions say they cherish free thought while giving Beijing sway over their employees’ thinking.

But if the NBA is cowardly, and Marriott is shameful, and colleges are hypocrites, then what are we, the consumers, in this equation? China is the U.S.’s largest trading partner, from which we import hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of computer parts, toys, furniture, shoes, and plastic.

6) Post, “Economists project Trump will win easily in 2020 — and by a bigger margin.”  Hmmm.  It’s almost like prediction models that only look at the economy and don’t consider presidential approval might not be so great.

7) Krugman on how we’re damn lucky Trump is neither stable nor a genius:

The surprising thing about the constitutional crisis we’re now facing is that it took so long to happen. It was obvious from early on that the president of the United States is a would-be autocrat who accepts no limits on his power and considers criticism a form of treason, and he is backed by a party that has denied the legitimacy of its opposition for many years. Something like this moment was inevitable.

What still hangs in the balance is the outcome. And if democracy survives — which is by no means certain — it will largely be thanks to one unpredictable piece of good luck: Donald Trump’s mental deficiency.

I don’t mean that Trump is stupid; a stupid man couldn’t have managed to defraud so many people over so many years. Nor do I mean that he’s crazy, although his speeches and tweets (“my great and unmatched wisdom”; the Kurds weren’t there on D-Day) keep sounding loonier.

He is, however, lazy, utterly incurious and too insecure to listen to advice or ever admit to a mistake. And given that he is in fact what he accuses others of being — an enemy of the people — we should be thankful for his flaws.

8) Enjoyed this Wired video on the conditions that created the sub 2:00 marathon.

9) Margaret Sullivan on some pretty bad reporting on Elizabeth Warren:

A news report can be narrowly factual, and still plenty unfair.

And so it was with a “revelation” regarding one element of Elizabeth Warren’s personal history, oft-told on the campaign trail: That her 1971 pregnancy caused the 22-year-old to be “shown the door” as a public-school teacher in New Jersey — an unwanted career change that put her on the path to law school and public life. (Warren, of course, is now a Democratic Massachusetts senator who is a leading 2020 presidential candidate.)

The conservative Washington Free Beacon’s new top editor, Eliana Johnson, late of Politico and the National Review, kicked off the contretemps with a report Monday that dug up the minutes from the Riverdale, N.J., school board showing that Warren had been offered another term and that her eventual resignation was accepted with regret.

The headline: “County Records Contradict Warren’s Claim She Was Fired Over Pregnancy.”

Shockingly, nowhere on these documents is it stamped: “The all-male board fired this young woman because she was pregnant and because of its deep-seated misogyny.” (And, more seriously, nowhere in the story is it indicated that the renewal offer likely came before school district honchos knew Warren was pregnant.)

Conservatives and pro-Trumpers gobbled it up — and spit back out an amped-up version, one less tethered to facts. The poisoned version quickly spread into the larger mediasphere…

The headline: “County Records Contradict Warren’s Claim She Was Fired Over Pregnancy.”

Shockingly, nowhere on these documents is it stamped: “The all-male board fired this young woman because she was pregnant and because of its deep-seated misogyny.” (And, more seriously, nowhere in the story is it indicated that the renewal offer likely came before school district honchos knew Warren was pregnant.)

Conservatives and pro-Trumpers gobbled it up — and spit back out an amped-up version, one less tethered to facts. The poisoned version quickly spread into the larger mediasphere.

10) James Mattis‘ unwillingness to speak more forthrightly about Trump is nothing short of a massive failure of leadership– no matter what lies he tells himself.

11) And the frustrating feature on him in the Atlantic.

12) What in the hell is wrong with this country that we think it a remotely good idea to detain a British family–including an infant– for weeks for the crime of accidentally crossing an unmarked U.S.-Canadian border?

13) A colleague of mine brought Cato Institute Criminal Justice policy expert, Clark Neily, to NCSU this past week.  One of my very favorite speakers we’ve had.  Very much a hardcore libertarian, but one who also clearly gets it on matters of race.  Thus, it was terrific to discussing criminal justice reform issues from him and I really appreciated his perspective.  Good stuff from him on the trial tax; the absurd and coercive amount of authority we give to prosecutors; and a pretty interesting idea for making cops carry personal liability insurance.

14) William Barr’s recent speech on how securlization is ruining America was an abomination and an embarrassment.  Toobin is on the case:

William P. Barr just gave the worst speech by an Attorney General of the United States in modern history. Speaking at the University of Notre Dame last Friday, Barr took “religious liberty” as his subject, and he portrayed his fellow-believers as a beleaguered and oppressed minority. He was addressing, he said, “the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today. This is not decay; this is organized destruction.”

Historically illiterate, morally obtuse, and willfully misleading, the speech portrays religious people in the United States as beset by a hostile band of “secularists.” Actually, religion is thriving here (as it should be in a free society), but Barr claims the mantle of victimhood in order to press for a right-wing political agenda. In a potted history of the founding of the Republic, Barr said, “In the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people—a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order.” Not so. The Framers believed that free government was suitable for believers and nonbelievers alike. As Justice Hugo Black put it in 1961, “Neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against nonbelievers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.” But the real harm of Barr’s speech is not what it means for historical debates but what it portends for contemporary government policy…

Perhaps the most galling part of Barr’s speech, under current circumstances, is its hymn to the pious life. He denounces “moral chaos” and “irresponsible personal conduct” as well as “licentiousness—the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good.” By contrast, “religion helps teach, train, and habituate people to want what is good.” Throughout this lecture, one can only wonder if William Barr has ever actually met Donald Trump.

 

15) Lots of people fleeing Humanities— especially English– for STEM and maybe that’s not so good.  Is it wrong that I’m not entirely sold on the relative value of an English major.  Now, a social science major– that’s the place to be.

16) I will not be reading one of the two new books on Clarence Thomas.  But I think the review of one of these books is really useful:

Contrary to what Magnet and other white admirers assume, Robin shows that Thomas never gave up this deep-seated black nationalism. He systematically goes through Thomas’s copious work to show that race informs it all. Thus, Thomas rejects affirmative action not because it harms whites, as other conservatives claim, but because it harms blacks, brands them with a “badge of inferiority,” elevates whites to the status of benefactors and perpetuates white supremacy. Policies aimed at the desegregation of schools and housing are rejected because they imply that blacks are inferior and need whites to learn how to create viable communities. Thomas has declared flatly that “the whole push to assimilate simply does not make sense to me.”

Robin demonstrates that Thomas firmly believes blacks will eventually be saved only through engaging with the capitalist economy, as his grandfather did, and that black interests can never be satisfied through the state, which only does harm, as it did through centuries of slavery and Jim Crow. Moving full circle to a position similar to the racial pessimism of the extreme left, he argues that race is so historically and structurally entrenched that liberal policies amount to mere tinkering, entailing the good will of whites, which can always be revoked. Black agency can be found only outside of politics, through an elite of economically independent black men.

Thomas has come to an extreme view of freedom in which economic decisions are seen as moral choices and hence amount to the exercise of freedom of speech, or moneyed speech. This is what Elena Kagan calls “weaponizing the First Amendment,” allowing the court to strike down many forms of economic regulations. It is, for Thomas, the philosophical basis of the landmark Citizens United decision on campaign finance. Thomas has become the leading advocate of this “liberation of commerce,” and the main defender of plutocracy on the court, his commercial jurisprudence distinguished by the fact that “it is in the market … that the leadership customarily associated with politics is to be found.”

17) And Chait reviews a new book on Comey:

Stewart shows how Comey violated the F.B.I.’s norm of doing everything possible to avoid involving itself in election campaigns, especially at the end. He believed that failing to intervene would lead conservative agents to leak the story — and would result in his own impeachment by the Republican Congress after the election. As a result, Comey told his staff he needed to publicly reopen the investigation lest he create “corrosive doubt that you had engineered a cover-up to protect a particular political candidate.”

This was a catastrophic violation of protocol — and probably a decisive one; as Stewart notes, the new email story led the news in six of the seven days in the final week before the election. But what drove Comey to this error was the refusal of Republicans in the bureau and Congress to accept and follow the rules. Stewart’s narrative shows Democrats still believed in institutions and norms — even after Comey’s extraordinary intervention against Clinton, he was still treated warmly by President Obama and cordially by Loretta Lynch. Comey felt bound to appease the Clinton-haters because they refused to accept any process that failed to yield their preferred outcome.

18) Loved this 99% Invisible episode on the elimination of the ability of the soccer goalkeeper to use their hands on the backpass and how that led to all sorts of changes in the game.

19) It’s official– HRC didn’t really do anything meaningfully wrong with her emails.  I expect the NYT to have a week of headlines on this :-).

20) “Booksmart” received tons of great reviews.  It was fine, but definitely didn’t love it.

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