Quick hits (part II)

1) Nice NYT feature on how Amazon is integrating its human and robot workers.

2) Really nice, thoughtful, Garrett Epps piece on religious freedom vs LGBT rights.

3) Some other countries starting to fine parents who don’t vaccinate their kids.  Hell, yeah.

4) You know I love the Post, but this piece on “alternate nostril breathing” is literally one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen in there (and that includes Marc Thiessen columns):

Alternate nostril breathing has been shown to slow down a rapid heart rate and to lower blood pressure. It can clear toxins and respiratory systems — shodhana translates to purification and nadi to channels, so the intent of the practice is to cleanse different systems of the mind and body.

5) Love this from Mark Joseph Stern— Supreme Court justices predict the future all the time, but they are really bad at it.

6) Maybe don’t let your kid start tackle football before age 12.

7) Hell, yes, police need better training to deal with people with autism.  Thing is, though, they need much better training to deal with people with basic human weaknesses and flaws.  Far too much training on weapons and not nearly enough on conflict de-escalation, etc.

8) Why today’s teens are less about sex, drug, and rock ‘n roll (okay, at least the first two):

 

When 17-year-old Quattro Musser hangs out with friends, they don’t drink beer or cruise around in cars with their dates. Rather, they stick to G-rated activities such as rock-climbing or talking about books.

They are in good company, according to a new study showing that teenagers are increasingly delaying activities that had long been seen as rites of passage into adulthood. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Child Development, found that the percentage of adolescents in the U.S. who have a driver’s license, who have tried alcohol, who date, and who work for pay has plummeted since 1976, with the most precipitous decreases in the past decade…

“In a culture that says, ‘Okay, you’re going to go to high school, go to college, go to graduate school, and then get an internship, and you’re not going to really be responsible till your late 20s,’ well then the brain will respond accordingly,” he said.

Whether the changes are positive or negative depends on the reasons for delaying adult activities, Siegel said.

If the delay is to make room for creative exploration and forming better social and emotional connections, it is a good thing, he said. But “if it’s fear-based, obviously that’s a concern.”

Among teenagers now, “there is a feeling you’re getting of, ‘Wow, the world is pretty serious, so why would I rush to immerse myself. . .Why don’t I stay with my friends and away from anything that has heavy consequences, like pregnancy or sexually-transmitted diseases?'”

Teenagers are also more conscious now about the possible repercussions of their actions, said Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families.

“They’re starting to realize, wow, they really do have to worry about their resumes,” she said. “They come in without the kind of reckless disregard of consequence that a more confident generation of kids had, who said, ‘I’ll drop out of school and join the peace movement, what the hell.'”

With fewer career paths available to those without a college degree, she said, young people can no longer afford that kind of nonchalance.

“They’re absorbing the same kind of anxiety about the future that their parents have for them.”

9) Title IX is awesome when used appropriately.  Laura Kipnis shows how you take a good thing way too far.

10) This feature on Rod Blagojevich in prison was so fascinating.

11) Loved Drum on Trump’s tweets yesterday, “Trump Triples Down on White Racial Grievance Mongering.”

12) Re-thinking Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, especially as it applies to humans.

13) I don’t doubt that, in some cases, attempts at gender equity in Silicon Valley may have gone too far, but few things strike me as more pathetic as the new breed of men out there who are convinced women are out to get them and there’s some sort of witch hunt going on.

14) Dionne, Ornstein, and Mann on how Trump is forcing others to step up and save our democracy:

But precisely because the Trump threat is so profound, he has jolted much of the country to face problems that have been slowly eroding our democracy. And he has aroused a popular mobilization that may far outlast him…

A broad and powerful movement has arisen to defeat Trump and Trumpism. Its success will be a triumph worthy of celebration.

But this is not just an end in itself. It is also an essential first step toward a new politics. It will be a politics that takes seriously the need to solve the problems Trump has exposed. It will nurture our dedication to the raucous but ultimately unifying project of democratic self-government. For it is our shared commitment to republican institutions and democratic values that makes us one nation.

15) So loved this article on the science of hurricanes and why this season has been so bad:

Hurricanes exist to cool the tropics. The vast majority of sunlight beats down in the 23 degrees north and south of the equator. Without something to disperse the energy toward the poles, Earth’s climate would become unbalanced, quickly.

These planetary heat engines sprout from relatively weak clusters of thunderstorms — waves of low pressure from the coast of Africa — and fester in the warm waters of the Atlantic. They feed on tropical moisture and the sun’s intense energy and, eventually, if they get large enough, will start to spin thanks to Earth’s top-like motion.

16) Can teaching Civics save democracy?  I doubt it.  Also, where are the school systems that don’t?

17) Should you buy Tom Brady’s new exercise book?  Only if you don’t believe in science:

The problem with this notion is that exercise science has never heard of muscle pliability.

“It’s balderdash,” says Stuart Phillips, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and an expert in muscle physiology.

In scientific terms, he says, muscles that are soft tend to be muscles that are sick. “When folks do little or nothing, as, for instance, during bed rest, then their muscles get very soft,” he says.

Mr. Brady and Mr. Guerrero have not conducted or published clinical trials of muscle pliability. Neither has anyone else. On the huge PubMed online database of published science, I found only one experiment that contains the words pliability and muscles, and it concerned the efficacy of different embalming techniques.

The book’s sections on diet and nutrition similarly lack supporting evidence, although not common sense.

18) Thomas Mills on Confederate monuments in NC:

Yesterday, the Republicans leaders of the legislature told the State Historical Commission to deny Governor Roy Cooper’s request to move Confederate monuments from the grounds of the state Capitol to the Bentonville Battlefield. Their request makes two things clear: The law they passed was meant to protect the monuments, not establish an orderly process for removal like the GOP claimed, and, second, they want to make this fight about race to drive out their base. [emphases mine]

Senator Phil Berger called Cooper’s request political theater, but it’s Berger who using the stage to advance his cause. He could have let the Historical Commission debate the matter and issue an opinion. Instead, he let the press and his base know that he’s standing up for the statues because he wants the argument to play out in the 2018 elections.

Midterm elections usually hurt the party in the White House and Republicans need something to drive their base to the polls. The fight over hundred-year-old monuments is just what they’re looking for. Native rural white Southerners who make up a large portion of the GOP base want the statues to stay. Younger people, especially African-Americans, want them gone. It’s a wedge issue and dog whistle that would make Jesse Helms proud…

Berger claims he wants to prevent the state from trying to “rewrite history” but that’s exactly what the current monuments were intended to do–and did so successfully for almost a century. If Berger’s sincere, he should also urge the current monuments be put into historical context and recognize that they were originally erected at a time when any opposition to them was being suppressed through violence and intimidation.

But Berger’s not going to do that. He’s letting his base know that he’s with them and hoping for a fight that inflames passions. And like gerrymandering and his voter suppression law, he’s letting African-Americans know that their opinions and history really don’t matter much.

Berger and the Republican leadership’s sense of history is really quite good. They understand that race is still a potent and driving force in Southern politics. Today, they’re cynically exploiting it for political gain and betting dividing North Carolina is better than uniting it.

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Quick hits

1) So far Ken Burns new Vietnam War documentary is fabulous.  Just watch it.

2) The science of the Impossible Burger.  Can’t wait to eat one of these.  Especially looking forward to a time where most of our “meat” actually comes from plants.  Also, an interesting look at how to regulate new food ingredients.

3) Definitely going to have to read Tim Harford’s new book on 50 inventions that shaped the modern economy.  Nice interview with Derek Thompson.

4) Everybody still raving about this Cincinnati Enquirer feature on a week in the heroin epidemic.

5) The US Air Force has a real problem with encouraging the worst kind of Christians.

A U.S. Air Force chaplain who ministers to thousands of men and women at an Ohio base is asserting that Christians in the U.S. Armed Forces “serve Satan” and are “grossly in error” if they support service members’ right to practice other faiths.

6) Speaking of the Prince of Darkness, “Trump Nominee Said Transgender Children Evidence of ‘Satan’s Plan.'”  And just what plan is this?!

7) Very nice piece from Yglesias on what happened in the 2016 election.

Democrats did better with white women, worse everywhere else

Comparing exit polls from 2016 (left) to 2012 (right) we see that while Clinton did worse with voters overall than Barack Obama, she did gain 1 percentage point more of the white women’s vote — rising from 42 percent to 43 percent. Most white women, however, preferred Trump. And though Trump did no better with white men than Romney had, Clinton did considerably worse than Obama.

Perhaps more surprisingly, though Clinton carried all nonwhite groups she seems to have done decidedly worse here than Obama had.

8) So the story of the scientist who discovered the BCRA1 gene and the worst week of her life definitely deserved to go viral.  Trust me and read it.

9) How regulators end up serving those they regulate– deer urine edition.

10) Nice NYT feature, “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food

The story [of growing worldwide obesity] is as much about economics as it is nutrition. As multinational companies push deeper into the developing world, they are transforming local agriculture, spurring farmers to abandon subsistence crops in favor of cash commodities like sugar cane, corn and soybeans — the building blocks for many industrial food products. It is this economic ecosystem that pulls in mom-and-pop stores, big box retailers, food manufacturers and distributors, and small vendors like Mrs. da Silva.

In places as distant as China, South Africa and Colombia, the rising clout of big food companies also translates into political influence, stymieing public health officials seeking soda taxes or legislation aimed at curbing the health impacts of processed food.

For a growing number of nutritionists, the obesity epidemic is inextricably linked to the sales of packaged foods, which grew 25 percent worldwide from 2011 to 2016, compared with 10 percent in the United States, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm. An even starker shift took place with carbonated soft drinks; sales in Latin America have doubled since 2000, overtaking sales in North America in 2013, the World Health Organization reported.

11) Really enjoyed this Wired feature on “Blade Runner 2049.”   I so hope this movie doesn’t disappoint me.

12) If I could only have one person to listen to about China, it would be Evan Osnos:

In recent years, overly hopeful U.S. politicians and commentators have repeatedly misunderstood China’s views of North Korea and assumed that Beijing was, at last, turning against its irksome ally. In private meetings with President Obama, and later with President Trump, Xi has repeated a bottom-line principle about North Korea: “No war. No chaos. No nukes.” A former U.S. official, who was at several of those meetings, told me, “Every American senior official that I know hears, ‘Blah, blah, blah—no nuclear weapons.’ And thinks, ‘Oh, we agree! Excellent!’ So the Chinese ought to be willing to limbo under this bar for us. But, no, that’s third in the list of three strategic priorities. The first two are avoiding war on the Korean Peninsula, and avoiding chaos and collapse.” In that spirit, China has sought to limit the scope of U.S.-backed sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. In the latest round, earlier this month, China succeeded in forcing the U.S. to drop its pursuit of a full oil blockade, which China fears would drive North Korea to collapse.

Nothing worries Chinese officials more than the following scenario: the U.S. uses harsh sanctions and covert action—and possibly military strikes—to drive North Korea close to the point of regime collapse. In turn, Pyongyang lashes out with violence against America or its allies, sparking a full-blown war on China’s border, just as China is trying to maintain delicate economic growth and social stability. Xi, in separate sessions, has offered Obama and Trump the same Chinese adage in reference to North Korea: “When a man is barefoot, he doesn’t fear a man with shoes.” In other words, even if attacking America would be suicide for North Korea, if it sees nothing left to lose, it just might do the unthinkable. For that reason, China, above all, wants the U.S. to avoid backing Kim into a corner from which he has no exit.

13) These “hacks to fix your marriage” generally sound like pretty good advice.  I’m especially inclined to thinking about attribution and gratitude.

14) Can being more honest make you happier?  So says some research.  As for me, I am pretty happy and pretty happy with my (imperfect) level of honesty.

15) Seriously, Tom Price is just the worst.

16) Though, EPA head Scott Pruitt does not take a back seat to many in absurd waste of taxpayer dollars.

17) How Harvard helps it’s richest and most arrogant get ahead.

18) Speaking of Harvard, so happy to finally hear an interview with the brilliant creator of Bojack Horseman, Raphael Bob-Waksberg.

19) Must read for the day– Nate Silver on how the media (and people) mis-understand probability.

 

Follow the money (health care version)

A million things to say about health care this week, but it’s been really busy, so I’ve stuck to writing a dozen blog posts in my head, rather than on the computer.  Among the angles I’ve loved is how much smarter Jimmy Kimmel is on health care policy than your typical Republican Senator.  Now, one thing that political neophytes too readily do is blame everything on the money, e.g., Kimmel here:

“Listen: Health care is complicated,” he said. “It’s boring. I don’t want to talk about it. The details are confusing — and that’s what these guys are relying on. They’re counting on you to be so overwhelmed with all the information [that] you just trust them to take care of it. Well, they’re not taking care of you. They’re taking care of the people who give them money.”

But, here’s the thing.  Kimmel is absolutely right.  This bill is 1) clearly, a policy disaster.  Few Republicans even try and defend it on the merits; and, 2) absurdly unpopular.  So, why push and push?  Follow the money:

WASHINGTON — As more than 40 subdued Republican senators lunched on Chick-fil-A at a closed-door session last week, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado painted a dire picture for his colleagues. Campaign fund-raising was drying up, he said, because of the widespread disappointment among donors over the inability of the Republican Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act or do much of anything else.

Mr. Gardner is in charge of his party’s midterm re-election push, and he warned that donors of all stripes were refusing to contribute another penny until the struggling majority produced some concrete results.

“Donors are furious,” one person knowledgeable about the private meeting quoted Mr. Gardner as saying. “We haven’t kept our promise.”

The backlash from big donors as well as the grass roots has panicked Senate Republicans and is part of the motivation behind the sudden zeal to take one last crack at repealing the health care law before the end of the month.

Well, there you go.  When the rich guys say “jump,” politicians (especially Republican ones), say “how high?”

Also, on the policy disaster front, this Upshot piece from Margot Sanger-Katz has stuck with me.  The title gets it, “The G.O.P. Bill Forces States to Build Health Systems From Scratch. That’s Hard.”  And “hard” is an understatement.  And, if you want more details on why it’s so bad, Ezra, of course, takes care of that.

Of course, I’ll not believe this is dead dead until October 1, but, as I’ve said before, the fact that the GOP is anywhere close to passing such shockingly horrible legislation really tells you all you need to know (okay, just a lot, doesn’t really hit white ethnocentrism) about the modern Republican party.  Oh, also, don’t want to forget– the lies, my God, the lies.

We have got to change high school start times

I was meaning to write a post based on a recent Rand analysis that finds there’s a huge economic benefit to moving school (mostly high school) start times later.  I was slow in writing that up, but did have a great email discussion with an NC State Chemistry professor, Jim Martin, who is on our local school board.  Then, Aaron Carroll had a great piece in the Upshot summarizing all the evidence.  Instead of blogging that, I decided I’d write an Op-Ed for the N&O based on the data and my discussion with Jim Martin on all the political opposition this would bring.  Just maybe, this can help get the local political conversation going a bit.  I particularly wanted to address the fact (elided by Carroll and the Rand summary), that the benefits accrue to the general fund, but the costs are borne almost exclusively by education budgets.  Yep, that damn tyranny of separate budgets.  So, because it’s mine, here’s the whole Op-Ed:

The evidence is clear – it is time for North Carolina high schools to move back their start times for the vast majority of high school students and many middle school students. Here in Wake County, most high schools and some middle schools begin their day at 7:25 a.m. (and, in the extreme case of Apex High, 7:10 a.m.). Such early start times necessitate students getting up at 6 a.m. or even earlier. The research on school start times is compelling – early start times and wake-up times have negative impacts on our students and our communities.

Many blame modern life and smartphones, and question, “Well, can’t they just go to bed earlier?” The answer is no. Adolescent biology is different, and the truth is that teens’ natural biological clocks favor a later bedtime. Add a high-school wake-up time of 6 a.m. to that and all of a sudden the broadly-recommended nine to 10 hours of sleep for an adolescent becomes a literal impossibility. Studies have shown that when school start times become later, students respond not by staying up later but by getting more sleep.

As pretty much everybody knows, a well-rested human is a better-performing human, and the same goes for high school students. Perhaps the quickest, easiest way to achieve improved student performance across the board is not by addressing controversial issues like teacher pay or Common Core (though these are important issues), but actually letting our kids get enough sleep. The data are clear that districts that have shifted to later start times have better student performance.

Surely changing when high school starts would be expensive, with additional transportation and other logistical costs. Ahh, but there’s the rub. The latest systematic research from the highly-respected Rand Corporation says that later start times will actually result in considerable savings – where the economic benefits substantially outweigh the costs. While additional buses and drivers cost more, these costs are more than offset by the increased future economic productivity of well-rested students, as well as avoiding the costs (including loss of life) of early morning, fatigue-induced automobile accidents. The benefits Rand calculated did not even include the positive benefit of lower juvenile crime, which criminologists agree would decrease with fewer unsupervised hours in the afternoon.

With so many compelling arguments for later start times, it should be an easy change – right? How can people oppose healthier, more productive high school students while saving the state money? If only politics were that simple. The reality is, unfortunately, far more complicated.

 The first complicating factor – always a key source of friction in politics – is who pays the costs and who receives the benefits. In this case, the costs would come out of county school budgets. Alas, those same county school budgets will not reap the financial reward that comes from more productive (and alive, having avoided fatal car accidents) future citizens. While this clearly makes economic sense on the state level, it is hard to see school boards taking steps to increase their short-term costs when the benefits are long-term and do not even directly accrue to the county.

The second major complicating factor is status quo bias. People and organizations do not like major change and push back hard against it unless given a compelling reason. And this is a big change. All the evidence-based arguments of student health and economic benefit will come crashing up against the reality that this represents a major adjustment for teachers, administrators and families.

So, how to overcome these problems and bring about the change that will so clearly benefit our adolescents and our communities? This is a case where real political leadership is needed. If evidence for the benefits to young people and society outweighing the costs were enough, our high school students would already be starting at 8:30 a.m. We need politicians and intellectual leaders to clearly and prominently make the case that the difficulties of change are more than worth bearing and that counties will not be financially penalized for doing right by their students.

OK, then, politicians: time to step up and show us you are willing to listen to the evidence and take some concrete steps to benefit our students, schools and communities.

 

Single payer cognitive dissonance

So, Ezra Klein says Bernie pushing for single payer is actually a good thing, despite it being largely fantasy:

Jonathan Chait, at New York magazine, says Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-all bill “gets America zero percent closer to single payer.”

Chait’s argument, which I largely agree with, is that “single payer has always been, and remains, a political dilemma that nobody has been able to resolve, and there is no evidence the resolution has grown any easier.” But his conclusion — that Sanders “has accomplished approximately zero percent of the necessary work” — misses what I think Sanders is trying to do, and what a reasonable definition of success looks like.

Sanders’s bill stands very little chance of ever being enacted, or of getting America to single-payer. As I’ll explain, it solves precisely none of the problems that have foiled every other single-payer plan in American history. But it stands an excellent chance of getting the country quite a lot closer to single-payer.

What Sanders has achieved here is remarkable. A policy that used to be tentatively embraced by elected officials on the party’s left is now being enthusiastically embraced by key leaders from its mainstream, including the party’s most promising 2020 contenders. Even Joe Manchin, the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, is proclaiming himself open to the idea. Sanders has thrown a rock through the Overton window.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize what Sanders hasn’t achieved, and in fact hasn’t even tried to achieve: He has not solved or even admitted any of the very real challenges to implementing single-payer health care in the United States.

Sanders’s bill has 16 co-sponsors, including most of the Senate Democrats most often mentioned as possible 2020 presidential contenders. In one fell swoop, he has taken single-payer from an ideal on the margins of the Democratic Party to a goal endorsed by its likeliest standard-bearers.

The Democratic Party could’ve oriented itself around a number of health care goals in the coming years. It could’ve simply sought to improve Obamacare. It could’ve focused on cutting costs, or lowering premiums, or getting closer to universal coverage. But Sanders, I think, has preempted all that: He’s made the goal single-payer.

Most of Ezra’s post, though, is about how the goal of single-payer is virtually infeasible policy-wise and politics-wise.  Hmmm.  I love the goal of universal coverage.  To insist on the means of single-payer in the United States that has  a unique history and politics working against single payer, strikes me as unwise.  If the single-payer goal actually gets us closer to a good system of universal coverage, then, hey, I’m for it.  I’m just not sure that it does.  I worry that it sets up entirely unrealistic expectations.

Chait:

The barrier to single payer is that the American health-care system has been built, by accident, around employer-based insurance. The rhetoric of single payer concentrates its moral emphasis on people who lack insurance at all. (“Do we, as a nation, join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee comprehensive health care to every person as a human right?” writesSanders today.) But the barrier to single-payer health care is the people who already have coverage. Designing a single-payer system means not only covering the uninsured, but financing the cost of moving the 155 million Americans who have employer-based insurance onto Medicare…

That is not a detail to be worked out. It is the entire problem. The impossibility of this barrier is why Lyndon Johnson gave up on trying to pass a universal health-care bill and instead confined his legislation to the elderly (who mostly did not get insurance through employers), and why Barack Obama left the employer-based system intact and created alternate coverage for non-elderly people outside it…

There is nothing in Sanders’s rhetoric that indicates he even recognizes the shape of the political problem. Instead he employs the classic populist technique of imagining the people as a whole standing united around an obvious solution, and only the machinations of an invidious elite can thwart them…

Evil corporations are the only impediment he acknowledges. At no point does he grant that the most important source of opposition will come from actual American voters concerned about losing their current plan or paying higher taxes…

Obama himself said many times that, if he were starting a health-care system from scratch, he would prefer a single-payer system. Sanders’s single-payer bill is vague enough that the Democrats co-sponsoring it are really doing nothing more than saying the same thing Obama did: A single-payer plan would be nice, in a world that looks nothing like the one we inhabit. [emphases mine]

And Chait’s response to Ezra:

Among center-left health-care analysts, there is very little disagreement that Bernie Sanders says a lot of things on the subject that are misleading or wrong, and that his bill stands little chance of enactment even if Democrats win full control of government. His defenders instead make a different argument: By taking extreme positions, they say, Sanders creates more political room for rational reforms to take hold…

There is a virtual consensus among progressives that the United States would be much better off if it had implemented single-payer insurance, or some other national health-care plan used by industrialized democracies, many decades ago. Instead, the American health-care system grew up around the malformed incentives created by employer-sponsored insurance and fee-for-service medicine. The astronomical cost of medical care, the deep fear of change among the insured, and the entrenched interests of providers have all made the system nearly impervious to systemic reform.

Sanders has not cracked this problem. Nobody really claims he has, or even claims that he has grappled with it. His alleged contribution is to refuse to acknowledge the problem at all. He assumes implausibly large savings, and dismisses fiscal estimates of the cost of his plan as rigged by crooked drug companies. He tells a different, much simpler story than other Democratic politicians. In his words, the only important question is a conviction about the morality of universal insurance, and only obstacle to progress is the profits of the insurance and drug industry. (He omits doctors and hospitals, not to mention change-averse voters themselves.)…

The theory also dismisses the possibility that the candidates who endorse the Sanders plan open themselves up to the attack that they favor a large middle-class tax hike. The Sanders plan attempts to deflect this vulnerability by leavings its financing mechanism open-ended as a list of suggested revenue-raisers. It will work if candidates can get away with attaching themselves to the promised benefits of his plan without committing themselves to the pay-fors it requires. Republican politicians often get away with this kind of legerdemain — but only because they benefit from a partisan right-wing media ecosystem. Democrats need to run the gauntlet of an independent news media that is unlikely to let them run around promising trillions of dollars in new spending without trillions of dollars in new taxes.

Meanwhile, Catherine Rampell is having none of it:

Thanks to the Grand Old Party’s demagoguery, Democrats have for a little while enjoyed a virtual monopoly on facts, evidence and experts. Dems — or some of them, anyway — embraced serious, solutions-based, often technical policymaking and the hard choices that went along with it.

But the lesson the Democrats seem to have taken from the 2016 electoral trouncing is that they need to become more like Republicans. Meaning: Abandon thoughtful, detail-oriented bean-counting and attempts to come up with workable solutions grounded in (occasionally unpopular) reality, and instead chant virtue-signaling catchphrases.

Such as “single-payer.”…

But we’re not starting from scratch. We live in our patchwork world, which means if we want single-payer — an ill-defined catchall, by the way — we need to figure out how to get from here to there. This involves painful political choices, sharp tax hikes and some degree of buy-in from the many stakeholders who are going to get shafted in the transition.

The goal should be universal health care, however we get there. And we’re much likelier to get there if we start from a baseline of reality than if both parties hand-wave away inconvenient truths. There is no courage in saying everyone should have health care. The courage is in staking out a plan to pay for it.

Okay, maybe not so much dissonance.  I think this marks one of the times I just disagree with Ezra Klein.  I’m more persuaded by both Rampell and Chait.

And, to reiterate the key point– Democrats absolutely need to be for genuine universal coverage that reduces overall system costs.  If advocating for single payer gets us to that goal, well, alright, then.  But single payer is a pipe dream given where we are.  Yet, there are other approaches, e.g., gradual Medicaid buy-in, that are far more feasible as policy and politics that reach the same end.  Seems to me, that should be where we put our focus and not lose sight that the goal is the key, not the means.

——

Okay, you know what, I thought about this more after queuing it up to post and I’m even more frustrated by this.  It would be one thing if Sanders actually understood the realities and complexities of health care policy (the way in which he so readily elides the many complexities suggests he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care) and saw advocating for single payer as the most effective way to improve our health care system.  But, instead, it seems that Sanders really doesn’t understand or care about these complexities and has a doctrinaire commitment to single payer that ignores so much reality.  That’s frustrating and I don’t like seeing the Democratic party follow him down that path.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Right up my alley– gut bacteria may be a key to weight loss:

Using feces samples, Danish researchers analyzed the ratio of two gut bacteria, Prevotella and Bacteroides, in 62 overweight people. For 26 weeks, they randomly assigned them to a low-fat diet high in fiber, fruits, vegetables and whole grains or a diet comparable to that of the average Dane.

Those on the high-fiber diet with a high Prevotella to Bacteroides ratio lost an average of 10 pounds of body fat, three and a half pounds more that those on the diet with a low ratio.

Obviously, there’s a long way to go on this topic.  But I fully expect that people will be losing weight by modifying their microbiome within the next 10-20 years.

2) I loved this Science story about NC State paleontologist Mary Schweitzer.  Great story of paleontological controversy over dinosaurs, but I loved learning that Schweitzer started out as a young-earth creationist.

3) Is Apple charging too much for the Iphone X?  Maybe.

With the iPod—Apple’s first successful stab at market dominance—Apple had begun with a high price but quickly dropped it. Over the next few years, the iPod underwent amazing transformations, each one introducing vast improvements and—wait for it—much lower prices. It was a classic instance of Moore’s Law, which explained how tech devices can quickly get both cheaper and dramatically better.

But the iPhone was different. It was introduced with $499 at its top price—and 10 years later, its successor costs twice as much. Apple is treating Moore’s Law as if it were a jaywalking statute. Even the second-rung phone announced today, the iPhone 8—albeit a substantial upgrade to the current top-line model—starts at $699.

I love my Iphone.  But, yes, it is a rip-off (especially what Apple makes you pay for additional memory).

4) Haven’t followed it that closely, but the acquittal of police officer Jason Stockley does seem really, really wrong.

5) Of course Trump’s fraudulent voter fraud commission is using private emails.  Lock them up!

6) Nicely reported piece by Michelle Cottle on why cutting taxes will be harder than Trump thinks.  “Failure is always an option.”

7) A policy that will both punish the poor and increase the deficit?  GOP is all over that.

8) How the opioid epidemic made Vox’s German Lopez far more skeptical of full drug legalization:

Meanwhile, the government responded very slowly. The opioid epidemic began in the late 1990s, particularly with the birth of Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin in 1996. But it wasn’t until 2014 that the Drug Enforcement Administration rescheduled some opioid painkillers to put harsher restrictions on them. And it took until 2016 for Congress to pass a law that attempted to seriously address the epidemic.

In fact, the federal government pushed doctors to prescribe opioids through the “Pain as the Fifth Vital Sign” campaign in the 1990s and 2000s, as drug companies misleadingly marketed opioids to treat chronic pain. And in some cases, different levels of government loosened access to opioids after lobbying from drug companies — by passing laws that, for example, required insurers to cover the drugs.

And while Purdue Pharma was eventually fined for its horribly misleading marketing for OxyContin, the hundreds of millions it paid added up to peanuts compared to the tens of billions it’s reaped from the drug.

As a result, a lot of people have died: In terms of overdoses, the opioid epidemic is deadlier than any other drug crisis in US history — more than crack, meth, and any other heroin epidemic. In total, more than 560,000 people in the US died to drug overdoses between 1999 and 2015 (the latest year of full data available) — a death toll larger than the entire population of Atlanta. And while many of these deaths are now linked to illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl, the source of the epidemic — what got people started on a chain to harder drugs — was opioid painkillers, and legal painkillers were still linked to most opioid overdose deaths as of 2015 (although there are signs that changed in 2016).

This was exactly what anti-legalization activists have warned about: Companies got a hold of a dangerous, addictive product, marketed it irresponsibly, and lobbied for lax rules. The government’s regulatory response floundered. The government even worked with the drug companies in some cases — under the influence of lobbying, campaign donations, and drugmaker-funded advocacy groups. And people got addicted and died.

Looking at this crisis, it slowly but surely dawned on me: Maybe full legalization isn’t the right answer to the war on drugs. Maybe the US just can’t handle regulating these potentially deadly substances in a legal environment. Maybe some form of prohibition — albeit a less stringent kind than what we have today — is the way to go.

9) The fact that Mark Joseph Stern thinks DeVos is taking the right steps on campus rape, make me feel all the more confident that indeed she is.

10) This Op-Ed in support of keeping Confederate statues struck me as laughably bad:

Already across the nation there are moves afoot to take down monuments to Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson, and to rename countless institutions, schools, towns, and much more. These efforts are part of an immense national effort which has at its origin small, hard core Communist groups, like the Workers’ World Party in Durham – the same group that cheers on Kim Jong Un in North Korea – who wish to completely erase nearly all American history, to rewrite totally all our past, to purify it of all perceived “impurities.” Once begun, where do they – where will it – stop?

But like all violent forces that wish to purify the past, these efforts end in a kind of intellectual and spiritual madness that devours us all and knows no end. For it is not just Confederate monuments, it is monuments to Vietnam veterans, to the Founders of this nation, to doctors, to women, to children … anyone who did not share a strict Marxist vision of society a century ago … that are now targeted.

Riiiiiight.  The communist menace, coming for our monuments.  What is this?  1952?

11) Still need to read Coates‘ big piece on race and Trump, but I still found George Packer’s rejoined quite compelling:

At the heart of American politics there is racism. But it’s not alone—there’s also greed, and broken communities, and partisan hatred, and ignorance. Any writer who wants to understand American politics has to find a way into the minds of Trump voters. Any progressive politician who wants to gain power has to find common interests with some of them, without waiting for the day of reckoning first to scourge white Americans of their original sin. This effort is one of the essential tasks of politics.

12) Seth Masket on the foolish attempts to silence Hillary Clinton.

13) James Fallows‘ very positive take on her book.

14) And I thought Ezra’s interview with her was really, really good.

15) Greg Sargent: “Hillary Clinton’s new book blasts Republicans and Russia. She’s 100 percent right.”

16) Why, yes, the NC legislature does need to stop governing by whim and decree.

17) Jon Bernstein on how Democrats’ embrace of Sanders’ single payer is not actually the equivalent of “repeal and replace.”

18) I’m not sure if this is how to fix it (sounds good), but if you want to reform criminal justice in America, you probably want to start with prosecutors offices.

19) This Quora post is actually the best thing I’ve ever read on white privilege:

What people are saying is:

  1. Denying you are lucky is silly.
  2. Stop looking bewildered every time a short person can’t reach something. We’re sick of explaining this incredibly simple concept.
  3. We know there are things you do not have (i.e. even higher shelves).
  4. We know there may be other things preventing you reaching the high shelves. Maybe you have bad elbows or arthritis. Short people with arthritis are still below you. You are still lucky you are tall.
  5. It works out well for most people, for the grocery store to put most things on medium shelves.
  6. If you can help shorter people with things on higher shelves, do so. Why would you not do that? Short people can help you with stuff on lower shelves.
  7. We are annoyed that the people who run the grocery store put all the best stuff on the top shelves.
  8. There are a lot of people who are putting things on higher shelves because they hate short people. Don’t associate with those people. They want everything to be about this height:

Same with white. Advantages. It doesn’t mean you’re rich. It doesn’t mean you’re luckier than a lucky black guy. Nobody wants you to be crippled with guilt. Nobody has ever wanted that, or means those things.

It means you have an advantage, and all anyone is asking is that you *get* that. Once you get that, it’s pretty straightforward to all the further implications.

20) Thanks to Irma and decaying infrastructure, Florida is awash in human sewage.

21) John Judis— who once argued that demographics are inevitably on Democrats side, no longer believes that is the case.  He makes the case for an economics-based Democratic politics of the future:

The second fact about elections is that conservatives in both parties have repeatedly defeated left and center-left candidates by dividing their natural constituency—the bottom two-thirds of America’s economic pyramid—along racial or ethnic lines. The Democrats who have successfully countered this divide-and-conquer strategy didn’t turn their backs on the civil rights of African Americans or Mexican-Americans, or on a woman’s right to choose; rather, they emphasized the fundamental interest in prosperity and peace that unites the working and middle classes. Think of Bill Clinton’s “putting people first” campaign in 1992, or Obama’s reelection effort in 2012, when he spent the year contrasting his vision of a country in which “everybody gets a fair shot” with the GOP’s “same old you’re-on-your-own philosophy.” …

If Democrats try to win future elections by relying on narrow racial-ethnic targeting, they will not only enable the Republicans to play wedge politics, they will also miss the opportunity to make a broader economic argument. Not long ago, I spoke with Mustafa Tameez, a Houston political consultant who made his name helping to elect the first Vietnamese-American to the Texas House. The momentum in American politics, he believes, is with Democrats who stress “an economic message rather than ethnic-identity politics. We can’t buy into the conservative frame that the Democrats are a party of the minorities.”

This thinking runs contrary to the “race-conscious” strategy touted by Democrats who believe that a majority-minority nation is a guarantee of victory. Sorry to say, but it’s not going to happen. The best way for Democrats to build a lasting majority is to fight for an agenda of shared prosperity that has the power to unite, rather than divide, their natural constituencies. There is no need, in short, for Democrats to choose between appealing to white workers and courting people of color. By making a strong and effective case for economic justice, they can do both at the same time.

22) Your absolute must-read for today– the resegregation of Jefferson County

Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting interview with Judge Richard Posner, who, better-late-than-never, recognizes that our justice system is not exactly fair to poor people.

2) So, we’re actually having an interesting debate on whether we need to have reporters out there standing in 150mph winds during a hurricane.

3) The guy who invented the stupid password rules (one uppercase, one special character, etc.) totally regrets it.  What we really need– long, easy to remember passwords.  Thisisareallylongpassword is way better than Ttg9!yt6.

4) Enjoyed this explanation on all the stuff that went right to keep Irma from being an epic catastrophe.

5) Also, we need to do a better job communicating to the public what hurricane forecasts really mean.

6) Equifax and the whole credit reporting industry is so evil and so insulated.  Farhad Manjoo is right that they should not get away with it (they will).  I also love Drum’s simple solution:

The time for small-bore proposals is over. It’s time to make the credit agencies—and others—pay for their flagrantly careless behavior. When they allow someone to steal your identity, they’re the ones who should pay the price, not you.

7) Pretty good satirical video of helping with homework that I love, because Toto’s Africa.

 

 

8) Olympic-sized events rarely work out for the host city.

9) Love this Vox appreciation of the humor in “Bojack Horseman.”  So, dark, yet so much brilliant comedy.

10) David Roberts on how the mainstream media turned HRC’s “gaffes” into scandals based on pretty much nothing is terrific:

If you put these two together — an intensely hostile and dishonest conservative movement combing every word and act for anything that can be distorted, plus a mainstream press endlessly credulous toward each new faux scandal — and then add, in 2015, an intensely hostile and only moderately more informed Bernie Sanders coalition feeding in their own faux scandals from the left, you have, to put it mildly, a inclement information environment for Clinton.

So sure, it makes sense, in isolation, to say that she shouldn’t have bungled that sentence about coal workers. She shouldn’t have used that email server her husband had in the basement. She shouldn’t have given speeches to banks. All of that is true enough.

But note that when mainstream critics talk about these things, it’s never the things themselves that are the problem. It’s always the optics: “how it sounded” or “how it looked.” If you unpack that a little — “she should have known how it would look” — here’s what it means: She should have known that anything she does or says that can be spun to look bad will be spun to look bad, and the MSM will pass along the spin uncritically, so she shouldn’t have done or said anything that can be spun to look bad.

11) The Amish use smartphones?!

12) I’ve never actually seen discrimination against politically conservative professors in my 17 years as a tenure-track professor.  The problem Arthur Brooks overlooks, is massive selection bias.

13) I’ve been meaning to do a post on single-payer, but for now, Drum reminds us that hospitals (and hospital systems) are the costs villain in American medicine, not insurance companies.  I actually feel like the understanding of this fact is something that separates those who understand health care policy from those that think they understand health care policy.

This is the not-so-hidden story of exploding medical costs. We’ve become so accustomed to hating on insurers that we hardly notice that hospital consolidation is a much bigger villain. When a big insurer has a local monopoly, it can usually negotiate lower prices from hospitals because the hospitals have nowhere else to go. But when there are lots of insurers and only one or two local hospitals, it’s the hospitals that have the upper hand. They can charge high prices because the insurers have no choice except to do business with them. As hospital systems get steadily larger and rope in more and more physicians, their effective competition decreases and they have the ability to demand ever higher prices.

Insurance companies are hardly innocent bystanders in the health care system, but if you want to really target the drivers of higher costs, look to the source: the actual providers of medical services. That means doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and medical device makers. That’s where the real money is.

14) My kind of Christian.  John Pavlovitz on Jemelle Hill.

The White House joined in the caucasian outrage, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declaring that Hill’s comments constituted a “fireable offense.” Maybe it’s me, but if calling the President a white supremacist is a fireable offense—then him actually being one sure as heck should be.

This is the heart of the hypocrisy on display here, and the reason Hill isn’t wrong, even if you disagree with her conclusions or her methods.

You don’t get to hire Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka, and Jeff Sessions—and simultaneously mount a high horse of righteous indignation at the suggestion that you’re probably a bigot.

You don’t get to spend a lifetime exemplifying the absolute insulation from accountability that is white privilege—and get to play the victim card when a black woman asks why that is.

15) Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court has based ruling on sex offenders on junk science.  Rulings based on junk science are still rife through our criminal justice system.

16) From prison to a PhD program at NYU.  But not Harvard.

17) Great article on sexism and politics in Germany and the fascinating historical role of Communist progressivism on gender under East Germany.

18) Some interesting new political science research.  More asymmetry!

Recent studies indicate that the wealthy receive more representation from their members of Congress, though this relationship may be more pronounced in Republican compared to Democratic districts. However, drawbacks in existing survey data hamper efforts to delineate the relationship between income and representation with precision, especially at the highest income levels. In this paper we use new data to explore the relationship between wealth, the party identity of elected officials, and representation in greater depth. We develop several alternative models of the relationship between income and representation, and compare them with models employed in previous empirical research. We test each of these models, using two different data sets containing large numbers of wealthy individuals and very granular measures of income. Our results suggest that individuals with Democratic congressional representatives experience a fundamentally different type of representation than do individuals with Republican representatives. Individuals with Democratic representatives encounter a mode of representation best described as “populist,” in which the relationship between income and representation is flat (if not negative). However, individuals with Republican representatives experience an “oligarchic” mode of representation, in which wealthy individuals receive much more representation than those lower on the economic ladder.

19a) So, remember Drutman on the doom-loop.  Chait says just blame Republicans.  And he makes a damn good point.

Whether or not the Times was correct to use this research, and whether or not it treated Clinton fairly overall, is not the point. What matters is that Democratic politicians need to please a news media that is open to contrary facts and willing — and arguably eager — to hold them accountable. The mainstream media have have its liberal biases, but it also misses the other way — see the Times’ disastrously wrong report, a week before the election, that the FBI saw no links between the Trump campaign and Russia and no intention by Russia to help Trump. One cannot imagine Fox News publishing an equivalently wrong story against the Republican Party’s interests — its errors all run in the same direction.

Whatever interest liberals may have in finding congenial media, they don’t dismiss the mainstream media out of hand in the way conservatives have been trained over decades to do. When the conservative news media criticizes Republicans, it is almost always to play the role of ideological enforcer, attacking them for their lack of fervor. One party has a media ecosystem that serves as a guardrail, and the other has one that serves only as an accelerant.

19b) Drum, largely agrees, but argues the Republican Party is not the root of the problem:

There’s much more at the link, where Chait describes the asymmetry between the parties well. I don’t disagree with a word he says. However, I want to stress one small qualification. America is a democracy, and parties survive only if they gain popular support. Over the past couple of decades, we liberals have marveled at the steadily increasing lunacy of the Republican Party, confidently predicting at every turn that eventually the fever has to break. But it hasn’t. Republicans have won the presidency at the same rate as usual. They have won the House. They have won the Senate. They control state governments. They control county governments. There are still a few blue enclaves like California where Democrats truly control things, but not many. Generally speaking, the only thing Democrats truly control in America is its big cities. Urban mayors are almost uniformly Democratic.

In other words, the problem is not the Republican Party. The problem is that lots of people vote for the Republican Party. The lunacy will stop when that does. [emphasis mine]

20) Lastly, here’s your must-read of the week (from Politico!) on how increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is making our plants less healthy.  Seriously.

In the outside world, the problem isn’t that plants are suddenly getting more light: It’s that for years, they’ve been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae—junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack—then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. And it could also be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?

What Loladze found is that scientists simply didn’t know. It was already well documented that CO2levels were rising in the atmosphere, but he was astonished at how little research had been done on how it affected the quality of the plants we eat. For the next 17 years, as he pursued his math career, Loladze scoured the scientific literature for any studies and data he could find. The results, as he collected them, all seemed to point in the same direction: The junk-food effect he had learned about in that Arizona lab also appeared to be occurring in fields and forests around the world. “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

 

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