Quick hits (part I)

1) Maps of Israeli settlements that shocked Obama.

2) When you consider the economy, Trump is really unpopular.  Ezra Klein:

3.8 percent unemployment and 42 percent approval. Is that “winning”?

Here’s another way to think about this question: Would President Marco Rubio or Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or Mitt Romney be at 42 percent amidst 3.8 percent unemployment? I doubt it. But I also can’t prove it.

The strongest argument Allen and VandeHei make, in my view, is that Trump, for all his erratic behavior, is registering numbers in line with some past presidents. They note that at this point, Barack Obama was at 46 percent, Bill Clinton was at 46 percent, Ronald Reagan was at 45 percent, and Jimmy Carter was at 43 percent. This makes Trump’s performance sound, if not impressive, at least normal.

What they fail to note is that all those presidents were managing much more troubled economies than Trump. In June of their second year, the unemployment rate was at 9.4 percent for Obama, 6.1 percent for Clinton, 9.6 percent for Reagan, and 5.8 percent for Carter. (And this understates how bad the economy was, given stagflation and the other aftereffects of the OPEC oil embargo.)

And Allen and VandeHei leave out both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. While there were foreign policy dynamics present in their presidencies that make them a tricky fit, I’m not sure they’re worse comparisons than Trump’s combination of peace abroad and extremely low unemployment and high stock prices at home.

According to Gallup, they were at 63 percent and 76 percent approval, respectively, at this point. (It must gall Trump that both Presidents Bush, given how little regard he has for their political skill, were so much more popular at this point in their terms than he is.)

Another way to think about this question is to look at the last time the economy was at 3.8 percent unemployment amid a record stock market. That was in April of 2000, when Bill Clinton registered a 59 percent Gallup approval rating — 17 points above where Trump is now.

3) (Don’t miss this EMG) The anti-vaxxers take on a horse vaccine for the super-deadly Hendra virus (I learned about this in the great book, Spillover).  

4) Is there nothing NC Republicans won’t do to try and prop up their candidates?!

5) And speaking of that last sentence, yeah, the interrobang is cool, but a “?!” seems to work just fine for me.

6) Loves this Fresh Air interview with a pastor who was formerly militantly anti-abortion, but now seems more interested in Jesus’ actual message.  So nice to see self-reflection and humility.

7) And, let’s just keep with a Podcast string here… Loved this Radiolab segment on just how biologically complicated sex (i.e. male/female) actually is.  (Make sure you listen, Nicole).

8) In a less busy week, I so would have done a post on Derek Thompson’s great article on how Canada has been pro-immigrant without a populist backlash.  History, man– it matters!

For decades, Canada has sustained exceptionally high levels of immigration without facing an illiberal populist groundswell. It is the most inclusive country in the world in its attitudes toward immigrants, religion, and sexuality, according to a 2018 survey by the polling company Ipsos. In a ranking of the most important Canadian symbols and values, its citizens put “multiculturalism” right next to the national anthem—and just behind their flag. In the U.S., those supportive of multiculturalism say they’re the least patriotic; in Canada, patriotism and multiculturalism go together like fries and cheese curds.

To be clear, Canada has not discovered some magical elixir to eradicate intoleranceracism, or inequality, all of which are present in the nation of 36 million. Its indigenous communities, which have endured centuries of brutalization and discrimination, often live under conditions that are still described as “third world.” And the country is not equally welcoming to all newcomers. But at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment and populist politics are sweeping across Europe and America, Canada stands apart.

What’s Canada’s secret? A blend of imperial history, bizarre and desolate geography, and provincial politics have forged something unique in the Great White North. Countries now buckling under the strain of xenophobic populism should take note.

9) “Carb-rinsing“… who knew?

10) Save the planet, eat beans, not meat.

This inefficient process happens on a massive scale. Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of red meat, holds around 212 million cattle. (In June, the U.S. temporarily suspended imports of beef from Brazil due to abscesses, collections of pus, in the meat.) According to the United Nations, 33 percent of arable land on Earth is used to grow feed for livestock. Even more, 26 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of Earth is used for grazing livestock. In all, almost a third of the land on Earth is used to produce meat and animal products.

“The real beauty of this kind of thing is that climate impact doesn’t have to be policy-driven,” said Harwatt. “It can just be a positive, empowering thing for consumers to see that they can make a significant impact by doing something as simple as eating beans instead of beef.”She and her colleagues conclude in the journal Climatic Change: “While not currently recognized as a climate policy option, the ‘beans for beef’ scenario offers significant climate change mitigation and other environmental benefits, illustrating the high potential of animal to plant food shifts.”

11) Josh Marshall on Jim Jordan.  Such a shame that everybody is lying about this man of unquestioned honesty and integrity ;-).  And Paul Waldman:

Today, when allegations of this sort surface against a Democrat, the first impulse of those in the Democratic Party is to assume that the victims are probably telling the truth and ask whether the member should resign. That wasn’t always their response in the past, but now it is. The first impulse of Republicans when such a scandal touches their own, on the other hand, is to defend the member no matter what the facts suggest and charge that it’s a liberal conspiracy.

That may be partly because they all pledged their loyalty to a president who is on tape bragging about his ability to commit sexual assault with impunity (“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”), and who was credibly accused of sexual misconduct by a dozen women. Whatever the reasons, they haven’t caught up to the morality of the 21st century.

12) Really enjoyed Megan McArdle asking for more intellectually honest conversations around affirmative action.

13) Political Scientists Matt Grossman and David Hopkins on what really needs to be banged into the heads of political journalists, “No, Democrats Aren’t Ruining Their Midterm Chances.”  Of course, among actual media bias, the bias towards conflict is a very real thing.

14) Matt Yglesias on Brett Kavanaugh’s pro-corporate motivating ideology:

While it’s certainly true that a few important remnants — most notably, some semblance of a legal right to abortion — of that old debate remain relevant, the real debate in the American judiciary is whether the Constitution allows the people’s elected representatives to meaningfully regulate the national economy.

Kavanaugh clearly believes it does not: He has called the existence of independent regulatory agencies — notably including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but potentially the entire alphabet soup of FCC, FTC, CFTC, SEC, FEC, etc. — a “threat to individual liberty.”

But rather than debate this squarely, we are instead faced with grifters like Kavanaugh’s former boss Ken Starr insisting in the pages of the Washington Post that Kavanaugh stands for nothing more than a simple “pro-democracy, let-the-people-govern-themselves vision.” The truth is quite the opposite — Kavanaugh’s vision, which he shares with Starr and the bulk of the conservative legal academy, is one in which the courts should stand as staunch allies of capital and block any effort at democratic control of big business…

In short, Starr praises Kavanaugh for favoring judicial activism in pursuit of a light-touch regulatory agenda.

The way the American political system works is that passing laws is clunky and difficult. Between bicameralism, the presidential veto, the committee system, and the filibuster, it’s just very hard to get new legislation enacted. At the same time, the business world moves fast to try to exploit profit-making opportunities. So if you want to regulate business effectively, you can’t play legislative whack-a-mole and spot abuses in real time. What reformers do instead is try to create regulatory agencies that are given broad mandates to police areas of conduct.

A classic example is the Clean Air Act, which charges the Environmental Protection Agency with identifying forms of harmful air pollution and promulgating rules to cost-effectively reduce it, rather than counting on Congress to pass new laws every time science or business practice changes. To make this system work, judges need to show deference to the regulatory agencies and acknowledge that the congressional reformers who created them wanted the agencies to have some flexibility and discretion. Kavanaugh, as Starr correctly observers, does not believe that this deference should be granted. This is a crucial aspect of his judicial philosophy, and Starr is right to call attention to it.

But Kavanaugh’s doctrine is not about the promotion of self-government or even about deference, it’s about viewing discretion as a one-way street that is always biased against regulation.

15) John Cassidy on Peter Strzok:

Strzok was far from fazed, however. With his close-cut hair, sharp features, and self-confident bearing, he looked like Hollywood’s idea of a senior F.B.I. agent, and he seemed delighted to have his say in public. In his opening statement, which he read out slowly, in a firm voice, he had already effectively demolished the Republican theory of the case: that he was out to get Trump, and prevent him from becoming President. “In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign,” Strzok said. “This information had the potential to derail and, quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind.”

Not content with undermining the logic of his inquisitors, Strzok also dared to question their motivation, and even their patriotism, saying, “I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity, but the honest truth is that Russian interference in our elections constitutes a grave attack on our democracy.” The Russian attack had been “wildly successful—sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions,” Strzok continued. “I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart.”…

As Strzok spoke, Gowdy leaned back in his chair, a cold look on his face. What was he thinking? He hasn’t served entirely as a White House patsy on the Russia affair. At one point, he suggested that Trump should start acting more like he is innocent. But Gowdy and other House Republicans invested what was left of their credibility in a conspiracy theory that was now blowing up in their faces, live on television. After Strzok said the words “deeply destructive,” there was a brief silence in the hearing room. Then there was a round of applause from the public gallery.

16) The deadly superbug yeast that is coming to get us.

17) Republicans kills off super-useful medical database because, of course, their corporate masters would rather physicians not have ready access to what costly treatments are not actually effective.

18) I love how Waldman puts it, “If this is a ‘witch hunt,’ it sure is finding a lot of witches.”

Early Friday afternoon, the Justice Department announced that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had indicted 12 Russian officials in connection with the Kremlin’s effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential election, making even clearer what we already knew: The Russian government had a comprehensive program intended to hurt the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and to help Donald Trump get elected.

The fact this has been treated as anything less than a profound national emergency — and that one of our two parties has argued again and again that it’s no big deal — is something that should appall anyone who has even the slightest concern for U.S. national security.

It is notable that these indictments come a day after Republicans mounted a farcical hearing meant to advance the ludicrous notion that the entire Russia investigation is illegitimate because one FBI agent said disparaging things about President Trump in private text messages during the campaign. But here’s part of what Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein said during his news conference today:

The indictment charges 12 Russian military officers by name for conspiring to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. Eleven of the defendants are charged with conspiring to hack into computers, steal documents and release those documents with the intent to interfere with the election. One of those defendants and a 12th Russian military officer are charged with conspiring to infiltrate computers of organizations involved in administering the elections, including state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and companies that supply software used to administer elections.

The indictment contains numerous intriguing details, including the fact that the Russian hacking of the emails of Clinton associates began on the same day that Trump publicly said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing.”

19) Really interesting feature on how armed citizen good guys in Oklahoma stopped an active shooter, but how the full story is more complicated.  Also, these good guys were an active member of the OK Air National Guard and a former police officer.  This is not just some wannabe heroes who took a couple hour concealed carry class.

20 Nice thorough story of the Thailand Cave rescue was pulled off.

21) The Chait article on Trump’s 30-year connections with Russia that everybody has been talking about.  And NeverTrumper Tom Nichols’ take on it:

Instead, what Chait presents, without having to get too far out on a ledge about agents or assets, is a plausible case that a U.S. president is compromised by a foreign power that has damaging information about him…

Finally, whatever one thinks of Chait’s piece, the attacks from Trump defenders are no more than a reflex that reveals the exhausting double-standard that pro-Trump Republicans must now carry like a cinder block around their necks. People who once wanted to imprison Hillary Clinton for a uranium deal approved by the U.S. government are now waving away 30 years of Moscow’s personal and financial investments in Trump as though it’s nothing more than a condo purchase on an overdrawn checking account.

I do not know how much pressure the president is under from the Russians. Neither does Chait. Neither do Trump’s defenders. We may never get the full story, unless it is revealed to us by Robert Mueller or found in a future tranche of declassified documents. But there is no way to read Chait’s story—or to do any judicious review of Trump’s dealings with the Russians over years—and reach any other conclusion but that the Kremlin has damaging and deeply compromising knowledge about the president. Whether it is using such materials, and how, is a matter of legitimate argument. That such things exist, however, and that they seem to be preoccupying the president, should be obvious. [emphasis mine]

22) Vox headline and subhead says it (mostly) all, “A new study blows up Trump’s “catch-and-release” myth: Families seeking asylum often miss their court dates — not because they’re criminals, but because the system is broken.”

23) Another reason to hate penalty kick shoot-outs to settle soccer games.  In something where the result should be close to 50-50, the team that shoots first wins about 60% of the time.

24) Olga Khazan on the absurd influence of baby formula producers, as recently seen via the Trump administration:

This latest tussle in Geneva follows a decades-long battle by infant-formula makers to promote themselves as essentially on par with breast milk. And while health experts instead say “breast is best,” as this incident shows, policymakers aren’t always willing to put legislation behind that message.

Formula makers have responded to the cultural battle over breastfeeding in true corporate form: by lobbying for their interests and marketing their products. For example, Abbott Laboratories, which makes Similac and other formulas, spent $790,000 on lobbying this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Though the company has spent more in past years, this year their disclosure lists having lobbied the U.S. Trade Representative, among others, on “proposals regarding infant nutrition marketing.” …

Since 1981, the infant-formula who code has been updated through resolutions at the World Health Assembly. The last update was in 2016, during the Obama administration, and it was a big policy push, according to Elizabeth Zehner, a project director with Helen Keller International. As they often do, industry groups spoke out against it, said Sullivan, the 1,000 Days director who attended the 2016 session. The World Health Assembly “welcomed” the 2016 resolution “with appreciation,” a notch below endorsing it.

However, this year’s resolution wasn’t about updating the code. It was more modest, simply intended to remind countries of the importance of promoting breastfeeding, Sullivan said, and notify them about best practices around breastfeeding and HIV, or during natural disasters.

So it surprised health advocates that the United States would use such heavy-handed efforts to try to kill it. “They used very aggressive tactics to get rid of a resolution that really wasn’t a policy grab,” Zehner said.

Of course, aggressive is often the way of the Trump administration. As President Trump wrote on Twitter yesterday, “The failing NY Times Fake News story today about breast feeding must be called out.”

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Quick hits (part II)

Somehow I lost a whole bunch of saved quick hits.  Whoops!  Abbreviated very NYT-heavy version.

1) Great NYT magazine story on when the crazy politics of wolves in America meets the politics of academia.

2) How medical advances in abortion and contraception means even over-turning Roe v. Wade would not have as much impact as it would’ve had in the past:

Even then, a full-fledged return to an era of back-alley, coat-hanger abortions seems improbable. In the decades since Roe was decided, a burst of scientific innovation has produced more effective, simpler and safer ways to prevent pregnancies and to stop them after conception — advances that have contributed to an abortion rate that has already plunged by half since the 1980s.

3) Neymar as the jumping-off point for the complicated politics of race in Brazil:

When audiences tune in to watch Brazil play, they are treated to a rich spectrum of skin tones flashing vibrantly across the screen. The racial makeup of the Brazilian squad, in fact, generally reflects the demographics of the country. According to 2017 data released by the census department, 47 percent of Brazilians identify as mixed-race, while another 8 percent identify as black. One third of marriages happen across racial boundaries. Such numbers confirm the common belief held by Brazilians, and the millions of international travelers who visited last year, that the country is a racially fluid society.

Unlike the national team, however, the upper echelons of most professions in Brazil — be it medicine, media, business, entertainment or government — are occupied by whites. The nation’s raw demographic data paints an accurate portrait of a diverse people; yet it also adds patina to the old myth, promoted for generations by the government and first intellectualized by sociologists nearly a century ago, that Brazil is a democracia racial, or “racial democracy.”

Because Brazil never had an apartheid system like South Africa, or a ban on mixed-race marriages like America, went the argument, a spirit of warm relations blossomed across racial divides.

Never mind that Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery in 1888; or that after abolition, the ruling class mounted a campaign to whiten the majority-black population, by fully subsidizing the immigration of over four million white Europeans, giving them free land, and compelling Brazilians to take up with them.

4) It’s bad enough that the US Military is apparently ramping up efforts to keep immigrants out, but the utter lack of due process and transparency in the process is truly appalling.

“There’s no explanation for this except xenophobia,” said Margaret D. Stock, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and immigration lawyer who helped create the program. [emphasis mine] Known as the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest or Mavni, the program, created during the George W. Bush administration, allows legal, nonpermanent resident immigrants to join the military and get fast track citizenship.

More than 10,000 troops have joined the military through the program — almost all of them in the Army. At its start, the Army touted its foreign recruits, holding naturalization ceremonies with top brass in places like Times Square. But in recent years the Defense Department has tightened regulations, and thousands have been caught up in extra layers of security vetting. Increased scrutiny for the program began in the last months of the Obama administration over national security concerns.

To screen out possible terrorist or espionage threats, the military requires extensive background checks that have grown more complex in the last two years. The C.I.A. and F.B.I. do background checks, and screenings include criminal history and credit, a review of at least a decade of finances, an exhaustive questionnaire and numerous lengthy interviews. Relatives, employers and neighbors are also interviewed.

5) So clear the Trump administration is proving horribly incompetent and callous in their efforts to reunite immigrant families.  Whereas the travel ban was “malevolence tempered by incompetence” this is malevolence exacerbated by incompetence.  Jonathan Blitzer:

But the government also needs information that Hernández doesn’t have: an address, a full criminal background check on every other adult who might live in the same household as her child, and proof of income. Having just left federal prison, Hernández is effectively homeless. She told me, “Once I realized what was happening, I said, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?’ ”

The Trump Administration ended the zero-tolerance policy without a plan for reuniting the children it has taken from their parents (more than twenty-five hundred in the past year) with their families. In late June, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the division of the Department of Health and Human Services that is in charge of the separated children, had two thousand and fifty-three kids in its custody. The Department is no longer disclosing how many children it is holding, but immigration lawyers at the border say that many parents still don’t know where their children are. Last week, a federal judge in San Diego issued an injunction ordering the Trump Administration to reunite the separated families within the next month. Given the government’s disorganization, it’s impossible to see how the judge’s deadline can be met.

6) Love this take on Jim Jordan:

In every way, Jordan’s conduct violates the standards he applies to Comey, Mueller, Rosenstein, and Sessions. He ducked responsibility for offenses that occurred when he was, in effect, the deputy director of the OSU wrestling program. He claims to have known nothing about Strauss’ locker-room behavior, even though Strauss’ locker was next to his. And for months, despite explicit reports from Strauss’ victims, Jordan has kept silent, asking them not to involve him in the story.

A merciful judge might rationalize Jordan’s behavior. Such a judge might speculate that Jordan didn’t understand the seriousness of what Strauss was doing, that Jordan didn’t think of it as abuse, that he forgot the details, or that his reasons for asking to be left out of the story are understandable. But Jordan has never shown that kind of mercy. He insists that such a person should be prosecuted, charged, or forced from office. That is the justice he must now face.

7) Ed Yong on the history of domesticated dogs in the Americas, “The Original American Dogs Are Gone: The closest living relative of the precolonial canines isn’t even a dog. It’s a contagious cancer.”

8) David Roberts’ excellent take on parenting:

This isn’t to say parents and parenting aren’t important. Parents supply the genes, except in cases of adoption (or remarriage). They control, at least to some extent, the peers and environments to which children are exposed. And of course they crucially affect a child’s quality of life at home, which, as I will argue shortly, is not some minor detail.

But it’s safe to say that your kids’ long-term fate will not be meaningfully affected by the speed and timing of potty training, the brand of educational videos you purchase, or the precise tone of voice in which you discipline. A large proportion of the Parenting Industrial Complex isn’t about kids — it’s about generating content for nervous parents who feel like they should be doing something.

Another way of putting this same point is that an enormous amount of a child’s fate is determined by luck, by accidents of birth, socioeconomics, and geography…

If the David Brookses of the world were honest, their parenting advice would begin: Have a healthy kid, live in an affluent area (with low crime and good schools), be from a socially privileged demographic, and make a decent amount of money. From there on, it’s pretty much coasting. [emphasis mine]

9) Krugman on the non-radicalism of the Democratic left:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset primary victory has produced a huge amount of punditry about the supposed radicalization of the Democratic party, how it’s going to hurt the party because her positions won’t sell in the Midwest (and how well would Steve King’s positions sell in the Bronx?), etc., etc.. But I haven’t seen much about the substance of the policies she advocates, which on economics are mainly Medicare for All and a federal job guarantee.

So here’s what you should know: the policy ideas are definitely bold, and you can make some substantive arguments against them. But they aren’t crazy. By contrast, the ideas of Tea Party Republicans are crazy; in fact, Ocasio-Cortez’s policy positions are a lot more sensible than those of the Republican mainstream, let alone the GOP’s more radical members.

Since Ocasio-Cortez is being compared to Dave Brat, who unseated Eric Cantor, consider this: Brat favors a constitutional amendment forcing a balanced budget every year, which 96 percent of economists think is a really bad idea. Also, by the way, remember that Republicans won big in the midterms that followed Cantor’s demise.

So, about Ocasio-Cortez’s positions: Medicare for all is a deliberately ambiguous phrase, but in practice probably wouldn’t mean pushing everyone into a single-payer system. Instead, it would mean allowing individuals and employers to buy into Medicare – basically a big public option. That’s really not radical at all…

The point, in any case, is that while a jobs guarantee is probably further than most Democrats, even in the progressive wing, are willing to go, it’s a response to real problems, and it’s not at all a crazy idea.

So next time you hear someone on the right talk about the “loony left,” or some centrist pundit pretend that people like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez are the left equivalent of the Tea Party, ignore them. Radical Democrats are actually pretty reasonable.

10) In a similar vein, Kevin Drum argues, “we are all Social Democrats now”

It’s funny. I guess what really gets me is that we already have a perfectly good term to describe people like Ocasio-Cortez (and Bernie Sanders): social democrat. That’s basically the European left, which is why Ocasio-Cortez’s platform would sound pretty ordinary if she were running for office in Sweden or Germany. It’s what I call myself if I’m talking to someone who understands what it means. But the fact that it’s foreign makes it taboo in America. Instead we make up a new term and then struggle to define exactly what it means.

But the truth is that American liberals aren’t becoming either socialists or Bernie-bots. American liberalism is simply moving once again in the direction of Europe. This is something that conservatives have been accusing us of for decades, mostly because it’s true. Our progress in that direction is slow and halting, and sometimes it just stops dead for a while, but American liberals have always admired the social democratic model of Europe. Maybe sometime soon it will become acceptable to just say so.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Really enjoyed the commentary from my friend and awesome political scientist, Marc Hetherington, on Trump:

Marc Hetherington, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University, said the list of presidential missteps this week shows “Trump is not especially adept at being president, at least not insofar as people measure adeptness as the ability to solve problems rather than create them.”

“That he struggles to maintain 40 percent approval ratings, and has members of his own party deriding him or apologizing for him, says a lot about his political acumen,” Hetherington added.

2) How Turkey’s move towards Islamism threatens to undermine it’s public education.

3) Interesting analysis from Stanley Greenberg on the potential perils of Trump’s base-service strategy:

Mr. Trump’s strategy is to continue to build support with the Tea Party supporters and evangelicals who make up a plurality of those who identify as Republicans, but they are by no means the whole of the party. And Mr. Trump shows as much interest in winning over those less enthusiastic Republicans as he does in winning independents and Democrats — which is to say, not much…

Mr. Trump’s base strategy brands the Republican Party as sexist, racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant, which magnifies the anti-Trump reaction among Democrats. But it also leaves a tenth who are conservative Catholics and a fifth who are nonreligious conservatives more tentative in their support of the Republican Party — and it pushes away the quarter of Republicans who remain ideologically moderate. [emphasis mine] The harder the president bangs these drums, the more Democrats become enraged and a segment of Republicans gets demoralized. The more he trashes and defeats his Republican opponents in primaries, the more these voters may contemplate different political options…

And then President Trump surprised nearly all political analysts with his decision to govern as a militant Tea Party and evangelical conservative and to make this the heart of his strategy for the midterm elections. Each provocation and each dog whistle — if we can even call them that anymore — make Democrats even more determined to vote and to register their rejection of Mr. Trump’s remade Republican Party. In our polling of registered voters nationally and in the Senate battleground states, a remarkable 79 percent of Democrats strongly disapprove of Mr. Trump, a number that rose to 87 percent in a survey completed last week. Mr. Trump is making Democratic base voters even angrier than you might expect.

4) Soccer remains in the dark ages when it comes to head injuries.

5) Richard Hasen on the Supreme Court gerrymandering punt:

  Although people will focus on the court’s ducking of the issue, what’s really going on is that two of the court’s savviest justices on the right and left, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan, are continuing a battle for the soul of Justice Kennedy on the question of politics in redistricting, and Kennedy, who apparently is not leaving the court anytime soon, watches, broods, and stays silent…

Second, and more to the point of enticing Justice Hamlet, Justice Kagan glommed onto Justice Kennedy’s favorite theory for what’s wrong with partisan gerrymandering: It is a First Amendment associational injury. In Justice Kennedy’s thinking, partisan gerrymandering might be unconstitutional if people are suffering in their political representation solely because they are members of one party or another. Justice Kagan not only fleshed out and endorsed that theory (the beauty pageant again). She also tried to prebut any standing objections, suggesting that state political parties would be in an excellent legal position to assert a First Amendment injury across an entire state when the state has engaged in egregious redistricting.

It’s a nice theory, but it only works with Justice Kennedy coming along. And Kennedy did not come along for the ride Monday with Justice Kagan. He didn’t reject it either, leaving him where he’s been since 2004, in the middle, watching the action around him.

6) Leah, Littman, “How Trump Corrupts the Rule of Law.”

We take it for granted that President Trump says demonstrably false things on any number of topics. That is itself alarming.

But gross factual mischaracterizations have started to trickle down to the lawyers who serve at the president’s pleasure: At oral argument in the Supreme Court, for example, the solicitor general declared that the president had made it crystal clear that he would never follow through on his campaign promise to ban Muslims. In fact, the president never said any such thing.

What if Mr. Trump, and increasingly his Department of Justice, made it routine to take the same black-is-white, up-is-down approach toward the law as they take with the facts?

Mr. Trump is making a mockery of law in the appalling policy of forcibly separating families at the border. In the case, Ms. L v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the president has made the up-is-down claim that a Democratic law — the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, in conjunction with the Homeland Security Act and statutes criminalizing illegal entry — requires him to separate families to protect the children. The administration’s legal mumbo-jumbo attempts to use laws that are meant to protect vulnerable children as a screen to terrorize them and to deter immigrants from coming to the United States border…

And in order to hold government officials accountable for their choices, we need to be able to acknowledge what the law does not say.

That is what makes the Trump administration’s legal claims so dangerous: The administration is simultaneously insisting that it must enforce a law that does not exist, but is refusing to defend a law that actually does exist, and jeopardizing the law in the process.

7) Celebrities are becoming uncomfortable with 20th Century Fox since it’s corporate cousin, Fox News, is increasingly little more than Trump propaganda.

8) I’ve actually tried to largely ignore just how horrible the treatment is for the separated kids because it is too sad.  My wife is (appropriately) beyond outraged.  Ashley Fetters in the Atlantic, “The Exceptional Cruelty of a No-Hugging Policy: When kids separated from their families on the U.S.-Mexico border can’t get hugs or physical comfort from the caretakers at their shelters—or even from one another—their experience becomes even more traumatic..”

9) China won’t take our recycled plastic anymore because it’s just too dirty.  But if we can keep it clean enough, like San Francisco, they’ll still take it.  But, ultimately, it may be an important wake-up call:

Brooks says that she hopes the terrible options for the present plastic glut will help leaders plan better for future waste, or even eliminate it altogether. Her study found that about 90 percent of the traded plastics are single-use polymers, and she hopes that this data will encourage governments to put regulations in place to cut down on disposable plastics. “My dream would be that this is a big enough wake up call to drive international agreements,” she says. The ban has already caused the EU to consider a tax on throwaway plastics. Maybe more cities will step up to decontaminate their waste, like San Francisco. Or—imagine this—cut back on plastics altogether.

10) Sometimes I can’t resist an emotional, liberal, political rant:

Like many Americans, I’m having politics fatigue. Or, to be more specific, arguing-about-politics fatigue.

I haven’t run out of salient points or evidence for my political perspective, but there is a particular stumbling block I keep running into when trying to reach across the proverbial aisle and have those “difficult conversations” so smugly suggested by think piece after think piece:

I don’t know how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.

Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3 percent for my fast food burger if it means the person making it for me can afford to feed their own family. If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.

I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I’m childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye.

If I have to pay a little more with each paycheck to ensure my fellow Americans can access health care? SIGN ME UP. Poverty should not be a death sentence in the richest country in the world. If you’re okay with thousands of people dying of treatable diseases just so the wealthiest among us can hoard still more wealth, there is a divide between our worldviews that can never be bridged.

I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see (do you make anywhere close to the median American salary? Less? Congrats, this tax break is not for you).

I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters. [emphasis mine]

11) Of course the Republican Party wants to pay for it’s tax cuts off the back of hungry kids:

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if House Republicans get their way, more than two million people, many of them young children, will lose access to the food stamp program known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The farm bill that passed by a two-vote margin on Thursday includes tougher work requirements and new eligibility restrictions that would make it much more difficult for families who need food assistance to get it.

The Agriculture Department administers SNAP. If the president gets hisway, SNAP would be moved to the Department of Health and Human Services. And the name of that department, which already oversees other social programs like Medicare and Medicaid, would be changed to include the word “welfare,” which holds about the same amount of appeal for Republicans as “Communists” once did.

The goal of these maneuvers is twofold: to stigmatize such programs — racially stigmatize them for white voters — and to make them easier to cut or eliminate.

12) Of course many of the Republican party’s most odious anti-immigration types have immigrants in their own ancestry who did not follow the law in their immigration.

13) American-style “trickle-down” economics comes to Colombia.

14) Given so much system racism, it may be time to reconsider traffic stops:

A forthcoming book, “Suspect Citizen: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tells Us About Policing And Race” adds to that conversation, taking an unprecedented, granular look at the traffic stops in one state…

In the book, he and his colleagues lay out stark disparity in policing at North Carolina’s traffic stops, and unpack the reasons behind the trends they observe. CityLab caught up with Baumgartner to discuss these findings:…

We also lookedat a city-by-city comparison of the proportion of whites, blacks, and Hispanics who live in that town to the proportion that they represent in the traffic stop data. Again, we do this with caution, but still it shows that, on average, black drivers are much more disproportionately represented—about 60 or 70 percent more likely to be in that traffic stops data than in the population of that city…

What about searches?

Our main focus in the book is who gets searched after a traffic stop because being searched is sign that the officer views you with suspicion. Hence the title of the book “Suspect Citizens.” I’m a white, middle-aged college professor, so the last time I was actually stopped for a traffic violation was 40 years ago, in 1974 … and I’ve never had my car searched after a traffic stop in my life. These things are quite rare for people of, for example, my demographic but they’re quite common generally.

We controlled for why you get pulled over, what time of day it was, what day of the week was that, what police agency was it, what month of the year—all of those things. We still saw these very, very significant, robust findings that young people, males, and people of color are much more likely to be searched after a traffic stop.

15) Jennifer Rubin on the Democrat’s message:

Now, Democrats have been accused of having no message, or just not a clear message. It seems pretty clear to me — put an end to pandemic corruption in this administration and stop him from doing extreme and horrible things that violate our democratic and moral standards while also hurting even his own voters (e.g. tariffs, increasing Obamacare premiums).

16) Trump’s Zero Tolerance as a 1940’s propaganda film.

17) A 19th century scientist was onto the human microbiome, but nobody was listening.

18) It really is appalling what Border agents can away with 100 miles from the border, i.e., an area that encompasses most of the American population, but this nice ACLU explainer explains that they still need “reasonable suspicion” of an immigration violation.  The problematic reality is that such suspicion is all-too-often based on being not white.

19) It took me a while, but I finally got around to reading John Dickerson’s tour-de-force on the American presidency.  This one is going right into the Intro to American Government syllabus.

 

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Dan Hopkins in 538 on how all politics became national.

2) The best way to have self-control?  Don’t test your self-control.  That’s not a zen thing.  Rather, don’t have brownies in your house and try to resist, just don’t have the brownies in your house.  Soooo true in my experience.

3) Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s husband wisely reflects a year after her death and amazing final NYT essay.

4) Perhaps the real problem with robots and jobs in the future, “Robots Might Not Take Your Job—But They Will Probably Make It Boring.”

5) On-line harassment is the worst and sometimes it is okay to kill birds for science.  What a beautiful bird.

The mustached kingfisher.CreditRobert Moyle

6) It would be great if “Making of a Murderer” led the Supreme Court to revisit false confessions, which it desperately needs to do:

After the Seventh Circuit’s ruling, Dassey’s attorneys filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. In some ways, the issues at stake in the case are overdue for review. The Court has not weighed in on the so-called voluntariness issue since DNA-based exonerations began to reveal just how common false confessions are in our justice system. According to attorneys from the Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA evidence to exonerate wrongfully convicted people, more than a quarter of all exonerated people were originally convicted following false confessions. Juveniles are particularly susceptible to offering false confessions, as are people with intellectual disabilities.

Dassey’s case could provide some much needed attention to the subject of police interrogations. When interviewing a suspect, most police officers in the U.S. rely on some version of the Reid Technique—a method that has been denounced by many psychologists and jurists as outdated and coercive, as I detailed in this magazine, in 2013. And, even if the Reid Technique weren’t itself seen as a problem, much of the training that officers receive is informal, and happens on the job. The result is that the quality of interrogation in any given police department depends almost entirely on the individual police officers’ experience.

It’s a fundamental premise in American law that no one should be forced to confess to a crime that he or she didn’t commit. The Supreme Court took up the subject in earnest in the nineteen-thirties, after a federal commission found that police across the country commonly used torture to extract confessions; in 1936, the Court reversed the convictions of three African-American men from Mississippi who confessed to murder after all three were whipped and one hung by the neck from a tree. “The rack and torture chamber may not be substituted for the witness stand,” Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote. That decision cemented the constitutional protection that only confessions given “voluntarily” could be accepted in court.

In the decades following, the Supreme Court narrowed the definition of voluntary confessions to exclude those made after threats or psychological pressure from interrogators. Yet this standard proved subjective.

7) Mantis shrimp are neither mantis nor shrimp, but fully awesome.

8) Dan Gillmor, “Dear Journalists: Stop being loudspeakers for liars,”  Hell, yeah!!

Your job is not to uncritically “report” — that is, do stenography and call it journalism — when the people you’re covering are deceiving the public. Your job is, in part, to help the public be informed about what powerful people and institutions are doing with our money and in our names.

But but but but, you say, we call them out on the lies. We let them lie and then we refute it.

Yes, sometimes you do that, but not consistently. And you almost always refuse to call the lies what they are, resorting instead to mushy words like “falsehood” in order to seem more “objective” even when it’s blatantly clear that the statement was a knowing lie.

But even if you did that every time, and in real time, which you absolutely do not, it wouldn’t be sufficient. Researchers have shown conclusively that repeating the lie tends to reinforce it. There’s some evidence that challenging lies can help in some circumstances, but most of what you’re doing is amplifying lies.

You need to face something squarely: You’re confronted with radical hacking of your own systems of operation. This requires radical rethinking of those systems.

So in a world where powerful people lie so brazenly, how can you stop letting them do it, while still fulfilling your essential role in our society? By hacking journalism to meet the challenge, starting with an announcement to the liars and the public that you’re no longer going to play along. Here are some of the ways you can make that stick:

Stop putting known liars on live TV and radio programs. CNN, MSNBC, CBS, et al, you know for certain that Kellyanne Conway will lie if you put her on TV. Just don’t do it anymore. (This means, of course, that you should never air White House briefings.)

9) Alexis Madrigal on how nobody actually talks on the phone anymore.  Amazing how our culture has changed on this.  I’m even amazed at how much my wife and I rely on texting each other.

10) About 10 years ago I really thought about getting Lasik, but decided that given my really bad vision, -10, the risks were too great even though I was nonetheless a candidate for the procedure.  I’m glad I decided that.

11) We need to find new ways to support local newspapers in the internet age.  They are too important to democracy to seem them wither and disappear:

When local newspapers shut their doors, communities lose out. People and their stories can’t find coverage. Politicos take liberties when it’s nobody’s job to hold them accountable. What the public doesn’t know winds up hurting them. The city feels poorer, politically and culturally.

According to a new working paper, local news deserts lose out financially, too. Cities where newspapers closed up shop saw increases in government costs as a result of the lack of scrutiny over local deals, say researchers who tracked the decline of local news outlets between 1996 and 2015.

12) Man, poor Venezuela is so screwed up.  It’s amazing how much awfulness a corrupt and incompetent government can accomplish in a pretty short amount of time.

13) Catherine Rampell rebuts the “just like other criminals” claim of Jeff Sessions and all those other xenophobic, Trump-loving, pseudo-Christians:

There are two enormous problems with this “it’s just like how we treat other criminals” claim.

First is that U.S. government is ripping immigrant children out of their parents’ arms even when the parents didn’t actually commit a crime (including the crime of crossing the border illegally).

Second, in some cases the government is refusing to return immigrant children to their parents even after the parents are released from jail.That is not something that happens when parents are released from prison for other, non-immigration-related crimes, unless those parents are otherwise accused of being unfit parents. Which is not happening here.

14) Found this NYT guide to a midlife tune-up full of interesting stuff.

15) Really interesting research on how exercise and standing may both benefit your physical health in very different ways.  Short version– do both.

Over all, the results suggest that exercise and standing up have distinct effects on the body, says Bernard Duvivier, a postdoctoral researcher at Maastricht University, who led the new study.

Moderate exercise seems to hone endothelial and cardiac health, he says, probably in large part by increasing the flow of blood through blood vessels.

Standing up, on the other hand, may have a more pronounced and positive impact on metabolism, he says, perhaps by increasing the number of muscular contractions that occur throughout the day. Busy muscles burn blood sugar for fuel, which helps to keep insulin levels steady, and release chemicals that can reduce bad cholesterol.

Of course, this study was small and quite short-term, with each session lasting only four days. Over a longer period of time, the biological impacts of both moderate exercise and less sitting would likely become broader and more encompassing.

But even so, the findings are compelling, Dr. Duvivier says, especially for those of us who often are deskbound.

“People should understand,” he says, “that only moderate exercise is not enough and it’s also necessary to reduce prolonged sitting.”

16) The science behind Improv.

17) Fascinating and disturbing maps of highly-localized areas where unsolved murders are particularly common.

18) Charles Blow on Trum’s will to hatred

But it is the language in the body of Trump’s 1989 death penalty ad [in response to the since-exonerrated “Central Park 5”] that sticks with me. Trump wrote:

“Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.”

He continued:

“Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them.”

That to me is the thing with this man: He wants to hate. When Trump feels what he believes is a righteous indignation, his default position is hatred. Anyone who draws his ire, anyone whom he feels attacked by or offended by, anyone who has the nerve to stand up for himself or herself and tell him he’s wrong, he wants to hate, and does so.

This hateful spirit envelops him, consumes him and animates him.

He hates women who dare to stand up to him and push back against him, so he attacks them, not just on the issues but on the validity of their very womanhood.

He hates black people who dare to stand up — or kneel — for their dignity and against oppressive authority, so he attacks protesting professional athletes, Black Lives Matter and President Barack Obama himself as dangerous and divisive, unpatriotic and un-American.

He hates immigrants so he has set a tone of intolerance, boasted of building his wall (that Mexico will never pay for), swollen the ranks of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and attacks some as criminals and animals.

He hates Muslims, so he moves to institute his travel ban and attacks their religion with the incendiary comment that “I think Islam hates us.”

He always disguises his hatred, often as a veneration and defense of his base, the flag, law enforcement or the military. He hijacks their valor to advance his personal hatred.

So I remember that. I center that. I hear “I want to hate” every time I hear him speak. And I draw strength from the fact that I’m not fighting for or against a political party; I’m fighting hatred itself, as personified by the man who occupies the presidency. That is my spine stiffener.

19) Some fun nuggets in the latest PPP poll:

Associating themselves closely with Trump hasn’t done a lot for either Rudy Giuliani or Roseanne Barr’s image. Giuliani- once a well respected figure in American politics- is now seen positively by only 32% of voters to 48% who have a negative opinion of him. That puts him on only slightly better ground than Roseanne- not once a well respected figure in American politics- who has a 25/52 favorability spread.

-Americans are still pretty down with Canada. 66% of voters see the country favorably to 13% with a negative opinion of it. There is somewhat of a divide between Clinton voters (77/7) and Trump ones (54/19) when it comes to the country but at the end of the day they’re both pretty positive on Canada. Only 5% of voters think Canada should be punished for stuff that happened in the War of 1812 to 82% who are opposed.

-We polled on two great internet debates and settled one while another will rage on. When it comes to who the GOAT is there’s not a lot of division among Americans- 54% say it’s Michael Jordan to only 14% for LeBron James. Much divides us along party lines these days but the belief that Jordan is the greatest ever is one that brings us together as Democrats (60/17), Republicans (51/17), and independents (49/8) alike.

Polling on Laurel vs. Yanny brings no such clarity though. 21% say it’s Yanny, 20% say it’s Laurel…and 49% said they had no clue what we were asking about, perhaps a bit of a reality check on how tuned in most Americans are to the debates that consume people who spend all day on the internet.

20) It’s Yannny ;-).

21) Saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on the big screen today for the first time since 1981.  Great stuff.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I thought this title from a John Cassidy post kind of answers itself, “Giuliani’s call for Mueller to be suspended is a moment of truth for the Republican Party.”  Maybe.  But we’ve already had a bunch of “moments of truth” and the Congressional GOP has failed them all.

2) So, this nice PS research on racial bias among Republican legislators was just published, though, it looks like it is four years old.  Either way, very good stuff that somehow I had missed:

Groundbreaking work by two USC researchers has shown that lawmakers who support voter ID laws are more likely to show racial bias against Latino constituents.

“We wanted to find out if we could detect bias among legislators toward certain groups of people affected by voter ID laws,” said doctoral candidate Matthew Mendez, who did the research with Christian Grose, associate professor of political science at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Such laws require registered voters to show government-issued ID, such as a driving license, before they can vote…

To test bias among state legislators, Grose and Mendez developed a pioneering field experiment. In the two weeks leading to the Nov. 4, 2012 general election, they sent emails to 1,871 state legislators in 14 states with the largest Latino populations in the U.S. The emails read as follows:

Hello (Representative/Senator NAME),

My name is (voter NAME) and I have heard a lot in the news lately about identification being required at the polls. I do not have a driver’s license. Can I still vote in November? Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,
(voter NAME)

Grose and Mendez sent one group of legislators the email from a fictional voter they named Jacob Smith. The other group received it from fictional voter Santiago Rodriguez. In each group, half the legislators received emails written in Spanish, while half received emails in English…

The results showed that lawmakers who had supported voter ID requirements were much more likely to respond to Jacob Smith than to Santiago Rodriguez, thereby revealing a preference for responding to constituents with Anglophone names over constituents with Hispanic ones. They also showed legislators were more likely to respond to English than Spanish-language constituents.

Among voter ID supporters, the responsiveness to Latino constituents was dramatically lower than to Anglo constituents. Even within the Spanish-language constituents’ requests, the Spanish speaker with an Anglo name was responded to 9 percentage points more than a Spanish speaker with a Latino name. The latter received virtually no response from the voter ID supporters, with a response rate of just 1 percent.

3) The decision for the AP “World History” course to now focus on post 1450 only has been quite controversial, but, if colleges are only giving credit for college classes that cover that period, than that strikes me as the smart and reasonable approach for the college board.

4) More political science debate on whether Voter ID laws actually suppress turnout.  My take: even if they don’t they are still bad because that is so self-evidently their intent.

5) This American Life had a great story on an actual high school inside a New Orleans jail.  Here’s the Marshall Project version of it.

6) I hate that my wife relies on a lot Uline boxes for her store, because damn are the Uihleins some rich and influential conservatives.

7) Want your kids to eat almost anything?  Sure as hell don’t do what my wife and I have done, but take the advice from this NPR article.

8) Why soccer is the perfect cosmopolitan antidote to Trump (and, damn, hope you saw the Spain-Portugal game yesterday– so entertaining).

Social media, the wildly popular FIFA video game, the ubiquity of international soccer on TV and the marketing of large U.S. companies all increase soccer’s presence in mainstream culture. The degree to which your teenager’s youth soccer is turning him or her into a citizen of the world will vary according to region and other demographic factors (NBC Sports viewership of the English Premier League still skews toward bicoastal elites, for instance). But there’s no question that soccer’s rising popularity is a nationwide phenomenon, and that playing the game and following it represent a sea change in how people are connecting to place and one another through sports: Even casual players and fans are fully aware that the sport doesn’t revolve around the United States. We all know there are better players and better teams elsewhere; that the best a promising young American prospect like Christian Pulisic (a world-class talent) can aspire to isn’t some college scholarship, as it would be in our domestic sports, but to cross the Atlantic at an early age and attach himself to a club like Germany’s Borussia Dortmund — which he did.

America is becoming a soccer power, but we are far from dominant, and this year fans must experience the healthy heartache of the world’s most popular sporting event taking place without the United States, after our national team’s surprising failure to qualify last fall. It’s not always about us.

Think about how subversive all this is to traditional “We’re No. 1” American entitlement or to “America First” isolationism, and the historic suspicion of soccer in some quarters becomes more understandable. Better for Fortress America to play its own games and proclaim its winners “world champions,” lest we end up with a fifth column of rootless cosmopolitans.

9) Speaking of soccer, this is about the best goal I’ve seen in-person (and from pretty much just this angle).  A great goal in any league.

10) Nice Op-Ed on “misguided” legislation (over)protecting NC hog farmers.

11) I’m not too much of an NBA guy, but I did watch some of the finals.  Found this article pretty intriguing about how the under-performance of Kevin Love is actually why the Cavaliers are so much weaker than the Warriors.

12) Of course, NC Republicans did not get any actual input from elections officials or public input before making substantial changes to early-voting hours and requirements.

13) Back to the soccer theme, Man-in-Blazer, Roger Bennett, “Soccer in the U.S. doesn’t need a team in the World Cup. It’s already here to stay.”

14) My first-born (and reader of this blog) graduated from high school on Monday.  How much do I love that Seth Masket analyzed “Donna Martin graduates!” a chant I hear in my head at every graduation I attend, in Mischiefs of Faction.  And, as long as we’re at it, no protest needed for David Greene:

15) First-person account of pediatrician turned lead-poisoning detective in Flint.  So disconcerting how so many warning signs and concerns were ignored.

16) Saw “Incredibles 2” with the family yesterday.  Really, really liked it.  Nice NYT article on how far the animation has come in 14 years.  Also, really enjoyed the Pixar short before the film, Bao.  This led me to recall my favorite Pixar short ever, Knick Knack.

 

17) This was really interesting and surprising– less time for children in the sun may be leading to the world-wide increase in nearsightedness.  (Of course, given my -10 prescription, you’d think I was raised in a cave).

18) So loved the feel-good story of the week about the skyscraper-scaling raccoon in Minnesota.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Wow.  Quite the takedown of Jordan Peterson from a former friend and mentor:

‘I thought long and hard before writing about Jordan, and I do not do this lightly. He has one of the most agile and creative minds I’ve ever known. He is a powerful orator. He is smart, passionate, engaging and compelling and can be thoughtful and kind.

I was once his strongest supporter.

That all changed with his rise to celebrity. I am alarmed by his now-questionable relationship to truth, intellectual integrity and common decency, which I had not seen before. His output is voluminous and filled with oversimplifications which obscure or misrepresent complex matters in the service of a message which is difficult to pin down. He can be very persuasive, and toys with facts and with people’s emotions. I believe he is a man with a mission. It is less clear what that mission is.

In the end, I am writing this because of his extraordinary rise in visibility, the nature of his growing following and a concern that his ambitions might venture from stardom back to his long-standing interest in politics. I am writing this from a place of sadness and from a sense of responsibility to the public good to tell what I know about who Jordan is, having seen him up close, as a colleague and friend, and having examined up close his political actions at the University of Toronto, allegedly in defence of free speech. When he soared into the stratosphere he became peculiarly unknowable. There is something about the dazzle of the limelight that makes it hard to see him clearly. But people continue to be who they are even in the blinding overexposure of success. I have known Jordan Peterson for 20 years, and people had better know more about who he is.

There is reason to be concerned.

2) Great NYT Editorial… “If Addiction Is a Disease, Why Is Relapsing a Crime?”  Hell, yeah!

When Julie Eldred tested positive for fentanyl in 2016, 11 days into her probation for a larceny charge, she was sent to jail. Such outcomes are typical in the American criminal justice system, even though, as Ms. Eldred’s lawyer has argued, ordering a drug addict to abstain from drug use is tantamount to mandating a medical outcome — because addiction is a brain disease, and relapsing is a symptom of it.

Ms. Eldred’s case, now before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, has the potential to usher in a welcome change to drug control policies across the country. The case challenges the practice of requiring people with substance use disorders to remain drug-free as a condition of probation for drug-related offenses, and of sending offenders to jail when they relapse.

The prosecution’s counterargument — that the disease model of addiction is far from settled science — is weak.

3) Ummm, so this is bizarre and true.  Medieval obsession with the holy foreskin of Jesus.

4) I was recently talking about the horrible, horrible case of race and the war-on-drugs-gone-really wrong in Tulia, Texas twenty years ago.  If you don’t know about this, you should.

5) Good to know that taxpayer dollars in NC are being used to subsidize religious schools that teach the 6000 year-old earth as science.  Ugh.

6) I like Drum on the gay wedding cake ruling:

Now, sure, the cake store was not a private club. It was a public place of business, and there’s jurisprudence on what kinds of places are covered by the Civil Rights Act and what kinds aren’t. And portraits aren’t cakes, which are merely being used at an event, not necessarily carrying a message of their own. Still, it should be pretty obvious that there are subtle issues here that are all but impossible to decide on a bright line basis. Can a Jewish baker be forced to supply a cake for a KKK rally? Can a Christian sandwich shop be forced to cater a Planned Parenthood fundraiser? Can a gay movie star be forced to sign an autograph for Richard Spencer?

There are rules that would cover all these cases that the Supreme Court could adopt. But why? For the most part they never come up, and when they do they’re generally just ignored because they’re so obviously heinous. So perhaps the better part of valor is just to tap dance for a while. Soon enough, refusing to serve a gay couple will be broadly viewed as equally heinous and the issue at stake will simply disappear. In the meantime, there’s no need to make a potentially disastrous ruling.

I think this is what happened, and even half the court’s liberals decided to go along. They figure it’s basically an ephemeral issue, and both liberals and conservatives have good reason to let it slide since any definitive new ruling would almost certainly hurt everyone in one way or another. Instead the court decided to muddle along until everyone forgets the whole thing, and that was likely a wise decision.

7) The stupidity of our drug and health care policies in one headline, “She paid nothing for opioid painkillers. Her addiction treatment costs more than $200 a month.”

8) This terrific graduation speech is even more reason to love the amazingly awesome Atul Gawande:

Insisting that people are equally worthy of respect is an especially challenging idea today. In medicine, you see people who are troublesome in every way: the complainer, the person with the unfriendly tone, the unwitting bigot, the guy who, as they say, makes “poor life choices.” People can be untrustworthy, even scary. When they’re an actual threat—as the inmate was for my chief resident—you have to walk away. But you will also see lots of people whom you might have written off prove generous, caring, resourceful, brilliant. You don’t have to like or trust everyone to believe their lives are worth preserving.

We’ve divided the world into us versus them—an ever-shrinking population of good people against bad ones. But it’s not a dichotomy. People can be doers of good in many circumstances. And they can be doers of bad in others. It’s true of all of us. We are not sufficiently described by the best thing we have ever done, nor are we sufficiently described by the worst thing we have ever done. We are all of it.

Regarding people as having lives of equal worth means recognizing each as having a common core of humanity. Without being open to their humanity, it is impossible to provide good care to people—to insure, for instance, that you’ve given them enough anesthetic before doing a procedure. To see their humanity, you must put yourself in their shoes. That requires a willingness to ask people what it’s like in those shoes. It requires curiosity about others and the world beyond your boarding zone.

We are in a dangerous moment because every kind of curiosity is under attack—scientific curiosity, journalistic curiosity, artistic curiosity, cultural curiosity. This is what happens when the abiding emotions have become anger and fear. Underneath that anger and fear are often legitimate feelings of being ignored and unheard—a sense, for many, that others don’t care what it’s like in their shoes. So why offer curiosity to anyone else?

Once we lose the desire to understand—to be surprised, to listen and bear witness—we lose our humanity.

9) A prisoner-journalist on the mental health crisis in our prisons.  Yes, it is that bad.

10) Jonathan Bernstein on California’s misguided top-two primary system:

Even if the system avoided each of those problems, it would still be a bad idea because the fundamental concept is to disrupt the ability of parties to choose their own nominees. And that’s a mistake: Parties are necessary to all large democracies. Parties activate and accommodate participation from groups and individuals; they provide critical intermediation between political elites and voters, which in turn makes representation possible; they help organize government and opposition ideas about public policy; and they simplify the often-bewildering choices voters must make.

And what we’ve learned is that parties adapt, no matter how difficult government makes it for them to function. We’ve seen that in California this year, with both Democrats and Republicans finding all sorts of ways to try to get the candidates they want into the November election. However, not all ways of organizing parties are equally healthy or equally permeable, and I worry about the effects of all of this on California’s Democrats and Republicans. Nor does it really make sense to constantly force parties to re-invent the wheel.

It’s a lousy system. The sooner the state gets rid of it, the better.

11) In the latest version of NC Republican legislators know best, they are trying to pass a law that a drink can only be called milk if it comes from a “hoofed animal.”  Hmmm, tell that to babies ;-).  Anyway, supposedly a lot of people are confused that soy milk and almond milk come from cows.  Not sure I buy that.  While I’m at it, it always does mystify me that soy milk has a nutrient profile relatively similar to actual milk, but most of the others are sorely lacking in protein.

12) NYT on the Trump administration, “Grifters gonna grift.”  Forget draining “the swamp.”  How about filling it with pollution and dead bodies.

13) Found this New Yorker article on the science of baldness cures (and maybe some new hope on the horizon) really interesting.  I figure it’s too late for me, but hopefully some new innovations in time for my boys to benefit.  It has always bugged me that somehow baldness is about the one physical characteristic for which it is socially acceptable to make fun of people.

14) This is an encouraging headline, “Sucking carbon dioxide from air is cheaper than scientists thought.”

15) New Yorker post on Elizabeth Warren’s coming anti-corruption agenda (now that’s a damn good idea right now), but what I really loved was this from Warren:

The point seems obvious, but it bears repeating: while much of the press, and therefore the country, is preoccupied by the President’s daily outbursts on Twitter and by the leaks and twists of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have been aggressively rolling back regulations of all kinds. The effects of some of these changes may not be directly felt by the voting public for years, when a major health crisis, a financial collapse, or some other catastrophe suddenly arrives, but the risks are being created right now.

“Let’s talk about real freedom,” Warren said, during her speech. “Done right, strong, clear regulations protect the freedom of every American. How free would you be if companies were allowed to lie to you about their businesses in order to trick you into investing your life savings in their stock? How free would you be if no one had to wash their hands before they handled your hamburger? How free would you be if companies could pass off little white pills as antibiotics, even if they weren’t?” Finally, she said, “Don’t tell me that all rules do is restrict freedom. Good rules empower people to live, work, and do business freely and safely.” [emphasis mine]

16) Radley Balko taking down forensic “science” never gets old for me.  Alas, I wish our damn court system would start paying attention and stop allowing convictions on what might as well be astrology in some cases:

The most problematic fields of forensics are those known as the pattern matching fields. This includes any specialty that requires an analyst to look at one sample and “match” it to another. Think hair and carpet-fiber analysis, bite-mark analysis, shoe-print and tire-tread analysis, blood-spatter analysis and fingerprint matching. The degree to which these fields are problematic vary quite a bit (bite-mark matching is probably on the least reliable end of the spectrum, with fingerprint matching at the other end), but all at their core are subjective. (Fingerprint matching breaks down the moment you start looking at partial prints.) That means they cannot calculate a margin for error. It means analysts will often disagree about conclusions, sometimes in ways that directly contradict one another. And by definition, any method of analysis that results in experts coming to contradictory conclusions about the same piece of evidence can’t possibly be accurate (one of them is obviously wrong) or reliable.

This means that these fields aren’t science. That doesn’t mean they have no evidentiary value at all. But it does mean that analysts need to be extremely careful about how they present this sort of evidence to juries. The language they use needs to be standardized and then explained to juries, so that the amount of emphasis the jury puts on it is based on the evidence’s actual significance and not other factors, such as the charisma or persuasiveness of the analyst. This hasn’t been happening.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Sarah Kliff had some great pieces on the insanity of ER bills a couple weeks ago.  You can make sure you actually go to an in-network ER when having an emergency only to be billed for out-of-network physicians in your in-network ER.  Only in America.  Her follow-up is called, “There are actually some great policy ideas to prevent surprise ER bills.”  But, of course, there are.  I don’t think policy to prevent this is actually all that complicated.  It’s political will, damnit.

2) Caitlyn Flanagan on Title IX and “mutually non-consensual sex.”

3) The famous marshmallow test of delayed gratification is not all it’s cracked up to be.  And, like so much in life, it’s really all about socio-economic background.

Watts and his colleagues were skeptical of that finding. The original results were based on studies that included fewer than 90 children—all enrolled in a preschool on Stanford’s campus. In restaging the experiment, Watts and his colleagues thus adjusted the experimental design in important ways: The researchers used a sample that was much larger—more than 900 children—and also more representative of the general population in terms of race, ethnicity, and parents’ education. The researchers also, when analyzing their test’s results, controlled for certain factors—such as the income of a child’s household—that might explain children’s ability to delay gratification and their long-term success.

Ultimately, the new study finds limited support for the idea that being able to delay gratification leads to better outcomes. Instead, it suggests that the capacity to hold out for a second marshmallow is shaped in large part by a child’s social and economic background—and, in turn, that that background, not the ability to delay gratification, is what’s behind kids’ long-term success…

This new paper found that among kids whose mothers had a college degree, those who waited for a second marshmallow did no better in the long run—in terms of standardized test scores and mothers’ reports of their children’s behavior—than those who dug right in. Similarly, among kids whose mothers did not have college degrees, those who waited did no better than those who gave in to temptation, once other factors like household income and the child’s home environment at age 3 (evaluated according to a standard research measure that notes, for instance, the number of books that researchers observed in the home and how responsive mothers were to their children in the researchers’ presence) were taken into account. For those kids, self-control alone couldn’t overcome economic and social disadvantages.

4) Paul Waldman on the pardons:

On Thursday, President Trump announced that he is pardoning conservative pundit and author Dinesh D’Souza, who pled guilty in 2014 to violating campaign-finance laws. Unlike other presidents who used their pardon power to correct injustices, Trump has used it almost exclusively to dole out favors to the right wing.

That Trump decided to pardon D’Souza, one of the most despicable and poisonous figures in American public life, is further proof that this president spends a good deal of his time acting like a right-wing Internet troll whose greatest pleasure in life comes from finding ways to Trigger the Libs.

I suspect a lot of the coverage of this decision will be framed as “Trump Pardons Conservative Author,” which will inevitably soft-pedal the rancid bile D’Souza regularly spews into American debate. So we have to be clear about just who D’Souza is. He isn’t just a conservative or a provocateur. He’s a bigot, a liar, a criminal, and a peddler of insane and hateful conspiracy theories.

First, let’s put this in context. Trump’s previous pardons were granted to the authoritarian racist Joe Arpaio; Kristian Saucier, a sailor convicted in a case in which he photographed classified spaces on a submarine, who became a cause celebre on the right when conservatives tried to use him as an argument for why Hillary Clinton should be punished for having a private email server; Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who revealed the name of a covert CIA operative in order to discredit her husband, a critic of the Bush administration; and the boxer Jack Johnson, whose case was championed by Sylvester Stallone.

In other words, with the exception of Johnson’s pardon — which Trump gave solely because a celebrity asked him to — all of his pardons were meant as favors to the right wing…

In other words, D’Souza is a conservative for the Trump era: bigoted, hateful, happy to spread lies, and consumed with bizarre theories about Democrats’ secret plans to destroy the country. In fairness, we should acknowledge that many conservatives find D’Souza an embarrassment, someone they wish would go away and not sully their ideological cause with his loathsome ideas.

5) Chait, “The Constitutional Crisis Is Already Underway.”

6) Alexis Madrigal on how Americans still watch a ton of TV:

Americans still watch an absolutely astounding amount of traditional television. In fact, television viewing didn’t peak until 2009-2010, when the average American household watched 8 hours and 55 minutes of TV per day. And the ’00s saw the greatest growth in TV viewing time of any decade since Nielsen began keeping track in 1949-1950: Americans watched 1 hour and 23 minutes more television at the end of the decade than at the beginning. Run the numbers and you’ll find that 32 percent of the increase in viewing time from the birth of television to its peak occurred in the first years of the 21st century.

Over the last 8 years, all the new, non-TV things—Facebook, phones, YouTube, Netflix—have only cut about an hour per day from the dizzying amount of TV that the average household watches. Americans are still watching more than 7 hours and 50 minutes per household per day.

7) When abortion is illegal but still common (which it would be in America) there are a host of new problems, as we can see in Latin America.

8) One of the most frustrating things about our criminal justice system is the utter lack of respect and concern for real science.  The idea that somebody would be put away for life based on dubious “blood splatter” analysis is so appalling.  Great summary of this problematic issue in an NYT editorial:

That unreliability is not unique to bloodstain-pattern analysis. As DNA testing has revolutionized forensic science and helped to exonerate hundreds of wrongfully convicted people, it has also shined a light on the inadequacy of earlier methods. The National Academy of Sciences report found significant problems with the analysis of bite marks, tire treads, arson and hair samples. In 2015, the F.B.I. released an initial review of hundreds of convictions it had won and found that over two decades, the bureau’s “elite” forensic hair-sample analysts testified wrongly in favor of the prosecution 96 percent of the time. Thirty-two of the defendants in those cases were sentenced to death, and 14 of those were executed or died in prison.

The scientific analysis of forensic evidence can be essential to solving crimes, but as long as the process is controlled by the police and prosecutors, and not scientists, there will never be adequate oversight. Changing this was the goal of a national commission established in the wake of the 2009 report. Unfortunately, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long sided with prosecutors and rejected efforts to look more critically at forensic sciences, let the commission expire last year.

 

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