Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this from Chait, “he Most Unrealistic Promise Democrats Are Making Is to Restore Bipartisanship.”

The Obama presidency was an eight-year experiment in the possibility of obtaining Republican support for major initiatives. It is impossible to imagine a more conclusive result. Despite having jacked up the deficit during the entirety of the presidencies both before and after Obama’s, Republicans spent the entire time insisting on massive fiscal austerity despite facing objectively the most favorable conditions for stimulus spending since World War II. Obama’s offer to support John McCain’s cap-and-trade plan and Mitt Romney’s health-care plan drew almost zero Democratic and zero Republican votes, respectively. Republicans wouldn’t even accept a deal to trim Medicare spending in return for tax reform.

McConnell publicly stated his logic at the time: putting the bipartisan imprimatur on Obama’s policies would make the policies popular. More than mere strategy was at work. By waging partisan war against any of Obama’s initiatives, Republicans helped persuade their voters that his ideas — even those with a solid moderate Republican pedigree — were dangerous socialism. And the more fearful Republican voters became, the harder it was for Republicans to negotiate anything with Obama. Republicans were afraideven to be seen talking to the president. At times, when negotiations could not be avoided for bills whose passage was required to avert disaster, Obama would let Biden close the deal just to create the appearance that he hadn’t been part of it…

Democrats are going to have to choose between making real changes that can help their constituents and keeping a supermajority requirement in the Senate. There is no more cruelly unrealistic promise than the magical thinking being peddled by the Democratic party’s self-styled realists.

I’ve been a fan of Cory Booker for his honest talk on criminal justice issues.  But, I will say, his totally unrealistic take on bipartisanship has definitely lowered my opinion of him.

2) Good interview on how parents buy college admissions:

Is there anything you think your book got wrong or understated?

I think the general themes were right on point, and I don’t think it’s because I was so brilliant. I think it’s because this was a system that was hidden in plain view and was in front of your nose if only you looked, and also because it was so offensive to most people’s idea of what America is about. The fundamental ethos of America is equal opportunity and upward mobility and everybody gets a chance. The people who perform the best are supposed to rise to the top, and college education is supposed to be the driving force in upward mobility. So the idea that the wealthy can perpetuate their own privileged status through college admissions, that it’s not an equal gateway for everybody but a way to perpetuate American aristocracy, is a real affront to people. And that’s the resonance a case like this has.

3) Looking forward to reading Frans de Waal’s book on animal emotions:

Of course, we recognize ourselves in such stories. This is why they are powerful: They evoke our empathy, perhaps our most cherished emotional ability (one that we share with animals, as anyone who has lived with a dog well knows). But, to our detriment, researchers who study animal behavior have been methodically warned against exploring empathy as a means of understanding. Too many illuminating observations have gone unpublished because suggesting that humans share traits with other animals invites accusations of anthropomorphism.

To avoid such charges, researchers have invented a glossary of contorted terms: Animals don’t have friends but “favorite affiliation partners”; chimps don’t laugh when tickled, but make “vocalized panting” sounds.

This isn’t just silly; it’s dangerous. Instead of worrying about anthropomorphizing animals, we should fear making a far worse mistake, what de Waal calls “anthropodenial.” When we deny the facts of evolution, when we pretend that only humans think, feel and know, “it stands in the way of a frank assessment of who we are as a species,” he writes. An understanding of evolution demands that we recognize continuity across life-forms. And even more important, achieving realistic and compassionate relationships with the rest of the animate world requires that we honor these connections, which extend far and deep.

4) Top takeaways from Trump’s absurd budget:

4. The biggest losers: Under Trump’s budget proposal, 10 major departments and agencies would see their budgets slashed by 10 percent (or more) in the next year alone: Agriculture, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation, Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Trump administration likes to refer to a 5 percent cut in nondefense spending, but some agencies get far bigger chops than others. The EPA and Corps of Engineers would lose almost a third of their current funding.

5) The revolution will be fought over fabric softener (demand #3).

6) Interesting stuff from James Fallows on the 737 Max.

7) Chait on the fundamental lie of conservative populism:

The populist promises that set Trump apart during both the primary and the general election have simply failed to materialize. Trump’s budget, which proposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that he had famously pledged to oppose, is the latest evidence that he has simply defaulted to traditional movement conservatism.

Conservative populism has followed the same course in the United Kingdom and the United States. Right-wing politicians attached expansive promises to retrograde cultural panic to gain power, and once given a chance to follow through, have managed to deliver only the latter. These movements justified themselves as an authentic rebellion against the experts. The experts warned the promises were impossible. It turns out they knew what they were talking about.

8) Good stuff from Brian Schaffner and Samantha Luks:

The public’s party-driven misinformation and misperceptions about politics has drawn a great deal of attention from scholars over the past decade. While much of this research assumes that the misinformation documented by survey researchers is an accurate reflection of what individuals truly believe, other scholars have suggested that individuals intentionally and knowingly provide misinformation to survey researchers as a way of showing support for their political side. To date, it has been difficult to adjudicate between these two contrasting explanations for misperceptions. However, in this note, we provide such a test. We take advantage of a controversy regarding the relative sizes of crowds at the presidential inaugurations of Donald Trump in 2017 and Barack Obama in 2009 to ask a question where the answer is so clear and obvious to the respondents that nobody providing an honest response should answer incorrectly. Yet, at the same time, the question taps into a salient political controversy that provides incentives for Trump supporters to engage in expressive responding. We find clear evidence of expressive responding; moreover, this behavior is especially prevalent among partisans with higher levels of political interest. Our findings provide support for the notion that at least some of the misinformation reported in surveys is the result of partisan cheerleading rather than genuinely held misperceptions.

9) Ed Yong, “A New Discovery Upends What We Know About Viruses.”

10) The latest YA twitter mob could not be more karmically perfect or happen to a more-deserving target:

What Jackson’s case really demonstrates is just how narrow and untenable the rules for writing Y.A. literature are. In a tweet last May, Jackson himself more or less articulated them: “Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people. Stories of suffrage should be written by women. Ergo, stories about boys during life-changing times, like the AIDS epidemic, should be written by gay men. Why is this so hard to get?”

In a live Q. and A. for an online children’s literature conference in January, Jackson explained that he was at one point tempted to write tangentially about immigration,but his Latino friends talked him out of it: He’d be encroaching on their turf, poaching their spot on the shelves.

11) OMG Thom Tillis is the absolute worst.  There are important constitutional principles at stake.  Until Donald Trump convinces him otherwise.  This is beyond embarrassing:

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis voted Thursday to support President Donald Trump’s Poor Thom Tillis. For a few shining days the Republican senator from North Carolina had a backbone. Then, in one crumbling moment Thursday afternoon, it went away…

The why, according to North Carolina’s junior senator, was that he’s heard “serious discussion” about changing the National Emergency Act so no “future left-wing president” can do what he was voting to allow the current right-wing president to do. The prospect of a change in the law was the fig leaf with which Tillis tried to cover his capitulation.

In a whopper worthy of the president himself, Tillis said he did not change his position out of concern that a vote against Trump would bring on a primary challenge when he stands for re-election in 2020.

Fear of the president’s disapproval and the wrath of his base clearly caused Tillis’ humiliating flip-flop. After his op-ed, North Carolina Republicans let him know that not being in lockstep with Trump left him out of step with them.

So, it’s okay to ignore Constitutional principles as long as you make it harder for a future “left wing president” to ignore the Constitution.  Riiiiiight.

12) With white Democrats ever-more secular, more candidates are ignoring the “and God bless America” platitudes.  This Christian says “hooray” because boy do I hate that crap.

While white progressives once described religion as something that brought Americans together, they’re now more likely to describe it as something that drives them apart.

It’s not hard to understand why. For starters, the percentage of white Democrats who express no religious affiliation has skyrocketed. According to unpublished data tabulated for me last year by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), 8 percent of white Democrats expressed no religious affiliation in 1990. By 2016, the figure was 33 percent. In 1990, white self-described liberals were 39 points more likely to describe themselves as Protestant than as religiously unaffiliated. By 2016, religiously unaffiliated beat Protestant by nine points.

Secular Democrats haven’t only grown more numerous. They’ve also become some of the party’s most motivated activists. As The Atlantic’s Emma Green has noted, a PRRI poll taken last August and September found that Democrats who shun organized religion were more than twice as likely to have attended a political rally in the previous year than Democrats who identify with a religious group. Today’s Democratic candidates cannot simply assert, as Obama did in 2004, that “we worship an awesome God in the blue states,” because so many active Democrats do not.

The other reason liberal candidates more often describe religion as a source of division is the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Before Donald Trump, Republican religious discourse was more ecumenical.

13) Paul Waldman on white identity politics and the future of the Republican Party:

It’s no accident that the members of Congress who have these folks so worried are a Latina and a Muslim woman, because what is coming to define a good portion of the Republican Party is a sense that white people are not just losing something today but are under the threat of cultural, political and even physical annihilation.

In its extreme form, it’s defined as “white genocide,” a term common among white supremacists who believe that the white race is literally in danger of being wiped out. In a less extreme form, it manifests in people being increasingly drawn to white identity politics.

We have to be clear what we mean when we say that. In her upcoming book, “White Identity Politics,” political scientist Ashley Jardina clarifies that the term should be understood to refer not just to straightforward racism but to something more particular. White identity politics is about whiteness becoming an organizing political factor, a group identity that leads people to seek certain things and favor certain policies because of how they will affect white people.

he presidency of Barack Obama had a great deal to do with the current white identity politics, and in hindsight we might see it as inevitable that a racist demagogue would emerge to exploit the backlash Obama produced. That’s why Ta-Nehisi Coates referred to Trump as “the first white president,” arguing that his 2016 campaign should be understood as an assertion that whites had to retake power and restore (as they saw it) their rightful place atop the hierarchy.

What motivates it isn’t just hostility to minorities but fear that whites will be overrun, oppressed and eventually eliminated, and the solution is in turn to banish minorities from wherever white people are feeling this threat, whether it’s the United States, Europe or New Zealand…

Many Republicans would protest that their party affiliation is based not on racial fears of extinction but on things such as support for small government and tax cuts, or opposition to abortion rights and marriage equality. And they aren’t lying. But it’s also undeniable that with Trump in charge — and with the party having given itself over to him so completely, at least for now — white identity politics now defines the GOP. But what will they do as it drags them down? [emphasis mine]

15) Never heard of “curling parents” before.  Enjoyed this in Chronicle of Higher Ed.

‘Curling’ Parents

People used to talk about helicopter parents, said Jump, the college counselor. These days, he said, the term is “curling parents,” a reference to the Olympic sport. Parenting, in other words, is no longer about hovering over one’s children. It’s about sweeping problems out of their way.

The desire to insulate children from problems also emerged in Calarco’s research. She interviewed a mother who said, “I just don’t want my kids to suffer.” That’s a nearly universal sentiment. But in this particular example, Calarco said, it was the mother’s explanation for why she would run her children’s homework to school if they forgot it at home.

If that’s your definition of suffering, then not getting into your top-choice college is a real hardship.

16) Leonhardt is right, “The Admissions Scandal Is Really a Sports Scandal.”

The researchers were given access to anonymous admissions records at 19 elite colleges and then analyzed how admissions offices treated different groups of students. Low-income students, for example, were no more likely to be admitted than otherwise similar students with virtually identical academic records. So-called legacy students — those whose parents attended the same schools — received substantial boosts. So did underrepresented minorities.

But the biggest boost went to recruited athletes: An athlete was about 30 percentage points more likely to be admitted than a nonathlete with the same academic record…

If the accusations are true, they’re outrageous. But they also highlight a larger problem that has somehow become acceptable: A scam like this could exist only because competitive sports occupy a ridiculously large place in the admissions process.

The situation is different for other extracurricular activities. Great musicians are more likely to be admitted to a college than similar students who don’t play an instrument — as is only fair, because musicians deserve credit for their accomplishments. But the musicians don’t generally receive a 30-percentage-point boost on their admissions chances. Stage managers for the high school theater don’t, either. Nor do student body presidents, debaters, yearbook editors or robotics competitors.

Athletes do. Their extracurricular activities are not treated merely as an important part of a college application, but as a defining part. [emphasis mine]

17) OMG this is crazy!  Sort-of-identical twins. 75% genetically related and boy girl.  Whoa.

One boy. One girl.

Sharing a single placenta.

“It doesn’t add up,” Dr. Fisk recalled thinking.

As it turned out, the twins were neither fraternal nor identical. They fell into a third rare category known as semi-identical or sesquizygotic twins. Although it would take several years to prove, he was looking at the first set of semi-identical twins to be identified during pregnancy, according to a paper published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

18) I used to really enjoy Frances Scott on the local news.  Horrible to read how an artificial hip replacement that should have never happened (there was already evidence that the replacements causes metal poisoning) basically ruined her life.  Ugh.

19) Apollo 11 is amazing!  Go see it on a big screen if you can.

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Why health care reform is so hard, NC edition

Well, first of all credit to our Republican NC Treasurer, Dale Folwell for trying to hold down ever-rising health care costs in the state by placing limits on what the State health insurance plan (what I’m on) will pay out.  In this case, 177% of Medicare reimbursement rates.  Even 177% of Medicare is less than hospitals and providers typically get from private insurance and they are not happy.  So, we get to see a perfect demonstration of where the real power in the health care debate lies.  From the N&O:

A plan to save state employees money on their health insurance expenses is facing opposition at the General Assembly over fears it could harm hospitals all around North Carolina, particularly in rural areas.

A bipartisan group of legislators are backing a bill that would stop changes to the State Health Plan that are set to start on Jan. 1, 2020. But if the bill becomes law it would put off the changes until at least 2022, if not permanently.

Robert Broome, the executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said his group “strongly opposes this bill, which is a clear attempt to put corporate interests over working families and deny taxpayers a cost savings of more than $300 million each year.”

At stake is a question over how hospitals and other health care providers are paid whenever one of the more than 700,000 people on the State Health Plan go in for medical care. Those include state employees, teachers, retirees and their families.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell, a Republican who won the 2016 election for that office, has backed reforms.

His plan, which is now being challenged by this bill, would create a system in which hospitals are paid 177 percent — or nearly double — of what they would’ve earned if the person had been on Medicare instead of the State Health Plan…

Folwell says his changes would save state employees and other members of the health planmore than $60 million a year in out-of-pocket costs, in addition to saving state taxpayers more than $300 million a year.

On Thursday he slammed the bill that would undo that cost-savings plan.

“As keepers of the public purse, we don’t have millions of dollars to spend on advertising and lobbying,” Folwell said in a written statement. “What we offer is devotion to good government and a promise to the people that we will do everything in our power to attack the problem and make health care more affordable and transparent for public employees.”

But hospital leaders say Medicare rates are too low for the plan to work, and that Folwell’s changes could be the final blow forcing some struggling hospitals in rural areas to shut down for good. [emphasis mine]

To be fair, I don’t know the financial situation of NC’s rural hospitals, but I don’t think the State health insurance plan over-paying for everything is the solution.  And it is not at all dissimilar from the corporate claims you get that every single new tax increase or new regulation will bring economic disaster.  And who doesn’t like rural hospitals?  It’s almost like the puppies of the health care debate.  Give us more money, or the puppies get it!

Anyway, lots more stuff in the article, and I’m pretty curious to see what happens here (okay, the hospitals will win), but this is a great example why meaningful health care reform is so hard.  Some people will make less money and they really, really don’t like that.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Tom Edsall on divisions within the Democrats in Congress.  That said, I found the most interesting part to be that highlighting the profound asymmetry between Democrats and Republicans:

minority, used it 262 times — but successfully only 1.1 percent of the time. In contrast, from 2007 through 2010, Republicans, then in the minority, forced votes on 181 motions to recommit and won 21.5 percent. Then, from 2011 through 2018, the Democratic minority offered 380 motions to recommit and every one of them failed in the face of united Republican opposition…

There are two key factors that explain why Republicans in the House have been far more successful than Democrats in using the motion to recommit to divide the opposition.

The first is that the concentration of Democratic voters in urban districts means that in order to win and maintain a House majority, Democrats must be victorious in highly competitive districts, many of which tilt to the right…

These Democrats, in turn, are the ones who are the most cross-pressured between loyalty to the leadership and fear of losing support from center-right constituents.

“There are more Democrats representing Republican-leaning districts than there are Republicans representing Democratic-leaning districts,” Frances Lee, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, wrote me in an email.

In 2018, she continued, “Democrats carried a larger share of districts where members have to be careful not to antagonize their Republican-leaning constituents.”

The second reason Republicans rarely provide even token support for Democratic motions to recommit is straightforward: a vast array of local and national conservative media is more than willing to denounce a turncoat. And anyone viewed as disloyal to the Republican Party is likely to face a primary challenger. [emphasis mine]

2) Okay, while we’re at it, might as well link the “everybody’s talking about it, of course you need to read it” Jane Mayer article on Fox News.  All sorts of goodness here.  I was somewhat struck by this research on media polarization.  It totally makes sense, but what struck me was that he law professors were actually surprised by the asymmetry.  Anyway:

Benkler’s assessment is based on an analysis of millions of American news stories that he and two co-authors, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts, undertook for their 2018 book, “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation and Radicalization in American Politics.” Benkler told me that he and his co-authors had expected to find “symmetric polarization” in the left-leaning and the right-leaning media outlets. Instead, they discovered that the two poles of America’s media ecosystem function very differently. “It’s not the right versus the left,” Benkler says. “It’s the right versus the rest.”

Most American news outlets try to adhere to facts. When something proves erroneous, they run corrections, or, as Benkler and his co-authors write, “they check each other.” Far-left Web sites post as many bogus stories as far-right ones do, but mainstream and liberal news organizations tend to ignore suspiciously extreme material. Conservative media outlets, however, focus more intently on confirming their audience’s biases, and are much more susceptible to disinformation, propaganda, and outright falsehoods (as judged by neutral fact-checking organizations such as PolitiFact). Case studies conducted by the authors show that lies and distortions on the right spread easily from extremist Web sites to mass-media outlets such as Fox, and only occasionally get corrected.

3) Good stuff from Frank Bruni on anti-vaxxers and the general decline of trust.

4) And Masha Gessen with “why measles is a quintessential political issue of our time.”

5) And the story of an unvaccinated Oregon boy who contracted tetanus, nearly died, had $800,000 spent on his care and then his parents refused further vaccination.

Ummm, this is not okay.  If you want to be part of society and you don’t have a clear medical reason not to be vaccinated.  You need to be vaccinated period.  And we need to enforce that rigorously.

6) Among the most interesting articles I have read on Daylight Savings.  Had never thought about the fact that states can opt of Daylight Savings (and a few day) but states cannot opt out of standard time.  Of course, the obvious answer is to forget the changes and be on Daylight Savings year round.

7) Vox on why college textbooks are so expensive.  I’m actually a fan of the move to more e-books as each purchase goes towards the intellectual property costs.  With hardcopies, they way over-charge for new books because they recoup nothing of the intellectual property costs in all the resales.  The middle-men get all that profit.  So, I like that.  That said, I want some more research on how students learn from e-books versus hardcopy.

8) Great interview with Brad Delong in Vox, “A Clinton-era centrist Democrat explains why it’s time to give democratic socialists a chance.”

“Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy,” DeLong notes. “And did George H.W. Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years? No, they fucking did not.”

The result, he argues, is the nature of the Democratic Party needs to shift. Rather than being a center-left coalition dominated by market-friendly ideas designed to attract conservative support, the energy of the coalition should come from the left and its broad, sweeping ideas. Market-friendly neoliberals, rather than pushing their own ideology, should work to improve ideas on the left. This, he believes, is the most effective and sustainable basis for Democratic politics and policy for the foreseeable future.

9) I gotta admit, I was totally riveted by “Leaving Neverland.”  Not easy to watch, but so fascinating and compelling.  Here’s Vanity Fair with, “10 Undeniable Facts About the Michael Jackson Sexual-Abuse Allegations.”

10) What’s also fascinating and disturbing as hell is those people who feel they need to defend Jackson at all costs.

Personally, I’m of little doubt that Jackson was a monster in some important ways.  But his best songs are nonetheless undeniably brilliant and I have no intention of changing the radio away next time they come on.

11) Recycling as we know it is over.  We really need to find a way to just stop using so much disposable stuff.

12) Jeffrey Toobin on how the Supreme Court is changing the status of religion in American Life:

What the conservatives are doing, in effect, is reading the establishment clause out of the Constitution, and turning almost every issue into a free-exercise case. In this reading, any denial of government benefits to a church can be seen as discrimination which amounts to a denial of free exercise—and the conservatives are making the same move with respect to individuals. Conservatives now cite the free-exercise clause to allow religious people to exempt themselves from obligations that are binding on all other citizens. This currently comes up most often in the context of people who want to discriminate against gay people as an expression of their religious beliefs.

13) It is way too easy to sue people for defamation in Australia.

14) I guess this finding on breast size and exercise should not be at all surprising, but it is unfortunate that it is clearly holding many women back from vigorous exercise:

The results were consistent and rather worrying. As women’s breast sizes grew, their participation in physical activity declined, particularly if that exercise was vigorous. Few very-large-breasted women jogged, for example.

Many of the larger-breasted women also reported that they believed that their breast size prevented them from exercising easily, even in low-impact activities like walking or swimming.

These results remained the same when the researchers considered age, which affects exercise participation, and body mass index, which likewise affects how often we exercise. Over all, slimmer women tended to have smaller breasts and vice versa. But even among overweight women with small breasts and normal-weight women with large bosoms, the relationship to exercise was unchanged.

15) I’m somewhat skeptical that goalkeeping coaching really makes all that much difference at the NHL level, but, it really is kind of amazing how the Hurricanes are doing on this score this year.  And I really like their goalkeeping coach’s philosophy:

When I’m dealing with my guys, my basic philosophy is that I’m trying to help them be the best version of themselves. I don’t have a particular style. Some ideas, I feel, are more conducive to having success than others. But I’d say that’s my basic philosophy. Everybody processes the game a little bit different. Everybody is built a little bit differently. Guys are more comfortable with certain save selections. I understand that guys have gotten to this level for a reason. Let’s see what makes them successful and build off of that.

16) Dahlia Lithwick on “The Cowardice of the Cover-Your-Ass Memo” is awesome:

When the rule of law finally sucks in its last gasp in America, it may well come not by way of an authoritarian clampdown on free speech or a refusal to abide by a court order. No, when historians someday attempt to explain what happened to the rule of law in America in the first quarter of the 21st century, they may well find themselves explaining that it died in the most American way imaginable: by way of the cowardly, lawyerly memo to file—death by a thousand cover-your-asses…

As the Times reports, then chief of staff John Kelly knew full well that affording a top-secret security clearance to Jared Kushner posed a national security risk. President Donald Trump evidently told him to clear Kushner anyhow. Then White House counsel Don McGahn also advised against that clearance, and was also overruled by the president. And so evidently, when Kushner was cleared over their own misgivings, the step they decided to take was to pop a little note in the file, flagging their objections in secret. In the event they weren’t already among the most depressing actors in this whole sad saga, they’ve now cemented themselves as such. Not brave enough to do or say anything that would reflect the fact that they believed Kushner posed a material risk to the country, they were content to simply leave a little “I was only following orders” note for posterity. Tuesday: dentist; Wednesday: dry cleaning; Thursday: endanger entire intelligence apparatus…

The reason for the note-taking is obvious: The president doesn’t understand how government is supposed to work, nor does he have much respect for the rule of law. This makes everyone who is accustomed to rules and laws feel anxious. So government workers who reside someplace down the chain, presumably also aware of this problem, are also reacting by … making notes for their files…

If there is anything sadder than the anonymous op-ed as Trump resistance, the anodyne CYA to the file is surely it. It’s another way of shirking personal or public responsibility and hiding it under the veil of lawyerly professionalism. For the political staffers working in Trump’s White House, here is a lawyerly reminder: If your client is out of control and liable to hurt someone, you have a duty to act. And if your client is out of control and liable to hurt someone and also imperiling national security, you have a duty to act. Waiting around to participate in the someday Ken Burns movie isn’t going to cut it. The rule of law will continue to lose all meaning in Trump’s America, not just because of cowardice and collusion, but because far too many people who insisted they were just doing their jobs let themselves off the hook.

17) I find Esther Perel’s take on marriage pretty fascinating.  Intrigued by her new podcast.

18) Should an algorithm tell you how to eat?

19) There’s actually a lot of issues Americans have a consensus on and they tend to be pretty liberal positions.  Tim Wu writes of this “oppression of the supermajority.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Dahlia Lithwick on Manafort’s sentence:

At the sentencing, Ellis remarked that Manafort had led an “otherwise blameless life,” was “generous,” and loved his family. This despite the fact that his life was quite literally devoted to lobbying for foreign interests that were in some cases vile criminals and to creaming money from one scheme after the next to enrich himself at the expense of his business associates. Frank Foer has done the definitive takedown of Ellis’ comments. But the most important revelation from the hearing is that Ellis is hardly alone in normalizing the criminal conduct of powerful white men. He gave Manafort a pass for doing precisely what Donald Trump, his adult children, and several of his Cabinet members do every day. He put his own legal imprimatur on Trump’s aphorism: “When you’re a star, they let you do it.” [emphasis mine] Manafort did not apologize at his sentencing, and Ellis chided him for that. “I was surprised I did not hear you express regret,” he said. Yet he promptly handed down a sentence so lenient it basically had a nail file baked right into it…

Beyond his marked antipathy for prosecutors, the underlying sin of Ellis’ findings seems to be his willingness to sign off on the idea that literally decades of criminal behavior—tax fraud, deception, lies to banks, and more lies to cover it—are more or less honorable business conduct just two shades griftier than the glittering path of the American dream. Manafort gets credit, in other words, for having his heart in the right place, as he lied and cut corners and cheated his own partners and clients. Who among us hasn’t suffered similar missteps on the road to making our millions?..

Put another way, Ellis’ impulse to forgive Manafort for the way he constructed his life of near-fame and power-brokering is precisely the same impulse that allows some Americans to forgive Donald Trump for cheating on his taxes. (He famously claimed not paying taxes makes him “smart.”) It’s the same impulse that allows so many Americans to forgive Trump’s adult children and business for profiting off the presidency, whether by way of Chinese trademarks for Ivanka or soaring occupancy rates at Trump hotels by those seeking to curry favor. It’s the impulse that allows Trump fans to be largely unbothered by Jared Kushner’s undying friendship with the Saudi crown prince responsible for the hideous murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post reporter. It’s also the impulse that leads some congressional Democrats to claim that going after Trump’s adult children would be deemed excessively punitive. In the world of high-flying, millionaire-adjacent activities, pretty much anything is sketchy and pretty much everything is permissible, until you get caught. All this lying, and covering up, and tax evading, and money laundering, is just the cost of doing business.

2)Yeah, and you totally need to read the Franklin Foer takedown that Lithwick links to.

3a) John Pfaff with a bunch of great tweets arguing, though, that Manafort’s short sentence should be the norm, not the exception.

3b) Drum on the matter:

We are prison crazy in America, racking up an average sentence length of 63 months. This is five times the length of most of our peer countries. But when it comes to white-collar crime, people like Manafort get off relatively easy.

If the average sentence in the US were, say, a more normal 12 months, then Manafort’s 47 months would seem appropriately harsh. And since there’s little evidence that long prison sentences do much to reduce crime, it would be great if both states and the federal government moved in that direction. It’s long past time to dial down the criminal justice system from its excesses of the 80s and 90s.

4) OMG, YA Twitter is just insane.  And you gotta love that one of the worst enforcers of political correctness amok was totally hoisted by his own petard.  But, damn, what a toxic mindset.

5) So, apparently Brian Beutler’s wife is pretty awesome, too.  A great column from physician Lisa Beutler on how Democrats should run on Medicare for All (you should totally read the whole thing– great anecdotes in here, too):

Even if Congress never touches the health care issue again, almost everyone who is satisfied with their current health-insurance plans will lose them at some point. They will change employers, get promotions, lose jobs, or they will do nothing at all and their carriers will simply stop offering the plans they like. Inevitably, thousands if not millions of those people will find themselves in bureaucratic nightmares like the one I’m dealing with when their new insurers try to exploit the churn in the market for profit.

On top of everything else Kamala Harris described in her pitch for single payer, Democrats should home in on this. Will you have to switch plans? Yes. But you will have to switch plans at some point anyhow, and when you do, you will be at the mercy of a system that will try to milk your changing circumstances, for profit, at your expense. Let’s deny them that power. Let’s switch, together, all at once, and then never again.

It will of course be an administrative challenge to transition the population to Medicare by a certain date. But the worst thing Democrats could do is try to outsource that challenge to millions of us who have better things to do in life than argue with insurance companies and collections agencies, and who don’t have $17,000 lying around to make the problem go away. We should debate the best way to accomplish the transition and take great care that good, competent people are put in charge of it. But then we would be done. No one would have to turn down an exciting job opportunity because they’d lose their current insurance ever again. No one would have to switch their doctors because their employers found a cheaper contract with a different insurance company. And no one [cough] would get billed for expensive tests and medications ordered around the time they switched between private plans.

I believe in this vision for health care in America as both a doctor and a patient. I believe that when we finally make the transition we will realize, collectively, almost right away, that our old, private, employer-based insurance system was barbaric, and we’ll marvel that we suffered under it for so long. And I think if we settle for Medicare buy-in, or another half measure, then truly universal health care will remain elusive until a future crop of leaders restarts the debate all over again, and gets it right. But we won’t ever make the leap if the country’s most powerful liberals refuse to make the full, honest argument to the public, and let the chips fall where they may.

6) Ending mass incarceration means fundamentally re-thinking our approach to violent crime.  Michelle Alexander:

And yet, as Danielle Sered points out in her profoundly necessary book, “Until We Reckon,” if we fail to face violence in our communities honestly, courageously and with profound compassion for the survivors — many of whom are also perpetrators of harm — our nation will never break its addiction to caging human beings.

Fifty-four percent of the people currently held in state prisons have been convicted of a crime classified as violent. We will never slash our prison population by 50 percent — the goal of a number of current campaigns — much less get back to levels of incarceration that we had before the race to incarcerate began in the early 1980s, without addressing the one issue most reformers avoid: violence.

Reckoning with violence in a meaningful way does not mean “getting tough” in the way that phrase has been used for decades; nor does it mean being “smart on crime” to the extent that phrase has become shorthand for being “tough” on violent crime but “soft” on nonviolent crime — a formulation that continues to be embraced by some so-called “progressive prosecutors” today.

7) In a normal world, people would still be talking about how insane and incoherent Trump’s CPAC speech was.  Or talking about that at all.

8) We’re always hearing about how Big Pharma has to charge so much to bring us innovative new medicines.  The reality, to a substantial degree, they have to charge so much so that their executives can be egregiously over-compensated:

Despite their claims, the big American drug companies have not been using profits from high prices to ramp up investment in drug development. Our research shows that for 2008 through 2017, 17 pharmaceutical companies in the S. & P. 500 distributed just over 100 percent of their combined profits to shareholders, $300 billion as buybacks and $290 billion as dividends. These distributions were 12 percent greater than what these companies spent on research and development. [emphases mine]

With most of their compensation coming from exercising stock options and stock awards, senior executives benefit immensely. We gathered data on the 500 highest-paid executives in the United States from 2008 through 2017. The number who came from the drug industry ranged from 21 (in 2008 and 2011) to 42 (in 2014). The total compensation of those 42 executives averaged about $73 million, compared with an average of an already over-the-top $32 million for all 500 in 2014.

A total of 88 percent of the 2014 compensation was based on stock. In 2017, 28 drug executives in the top 500 averaged more than $41 million in total compensation, with 83 percent stock-based. By jacking up product prices and distributing the increased profits to shareholders, executives lift stock prices and their take-home pay.

Our research for the Institute for New Economic Thinking demonstrates that these companies, even when they show substantial R. & D. spending on their books, do not have much to show for it.

For example, Merck distributed 133 percent of its profits to shareholders from 2008 to 2017, and Pfizer 107 percent. Although both companies recorded large sums spent on R. & D. — Merck $80 billion and Pfizer $81 billion over the decade — these companies generated most of their revenues by acquiring companies with patented drugs on the market, rather than by developing their own new drugs. Since 2001, by our analysis, Pfizer has had significant revenues from only four internally originated and developed products. Since Merck’s merger with Schering-Plough in 2009, it has had only two blockbuster drugs, of which only one was the result of its own research.

The public foots the bill for this behavior. Not only do we pay high drug prices, our tax dollars supply more than $30 billion per year for life-sciences research through the National Institutes of Health. Yet, like most American companies, the drug industry claims that its corporations need to pay lower corporate taxes to remain competitive globally.

9) The SNL cold open on Michael Cohen was really good.

10) Eliot Cohen on the GOP cowardice is great:

And then there is the gray mass of Republicans in the middle, the ones in the House who voted with the president in favor of declaring a national emergency, and the ones who will do so in the Senate. They are not as sleazy as Cohen, as pugnaciously nasty as Gaetz, or as principled as Gallagher. They are simpler souls: They are cowards.

Talk to them privately, and they will confess that there is no emergency at the southern border—there is a problem, to be sure, but one whose seriousness has actually diminished over time. They know that the congressional leadership had the votes to build walls there for the first two years of the administration but did not manage it. They know, for that matter, that border security involves much more than walls. They know that the president is invoking emergency powers as an electoral ploy, and because he is impatient.

They know, in their timid breasts, that they would have howled with indignation if Barack Obama had declared a national emergency in such a circumstance. As they stare at their coffee cup at breakfast, the thought occurs to them that a future left-wing president could make dangerous use of these same powers—because Speaker Nancy Pelosi rubbed that fact in their face. Some of the brighter ones might even realize that emergency powers are a favored tool of authoritarians everywhere.

But they are afraid. They are afraid of being primaried. They are afraid of being called out by the bully whom they secretly despise but to whom they pledge public fealty. They are afraid of having to find another occupation than serving in elective office. And the most conceited of the lot—and there are quite a few of those, perhaps more in the Senate than in the House—think that it would be a tragedy if the country no longer had their service at its disposal.

11) I read The Mars Room because it got so many great reviews.  And Rachel Kushner can really write… but is it too much to actually want a plot?

12) Catherine Rampell with more ways Republican deregulation hurts consumers

For markets to work, you need a system where either the government protects consumers or consumers can adequately defend themselves. Or both. But you can’t have neither. The “neither” option lands you in a kleptocracy, which is basically where Republicans have been leading the country for the past few years.

Happily, a new bill — introduced by Democratic lawmakers last week — would restore at least some of consumers’ diminished tools for self-defense.

Republican politicians love to talk about their deregulatory successes. They’re not exaggerating: Under President Trump’s leadership, Republicans have repealed or watered down tons of federal rules. If you look through a list of these deregulatory efforts, you’ll notice a striking pattern: Many of them loosen the limits for how much harm businesses can inflict upon consumers. [emphases mine]

13) Great Vox interview with my NCSU colleague and friend, Sarah Bowen (and her co-authors) on the social pressures and unrealistic expectations about home cooking.

14) I’m working on this post during a hockey game–alas, my Carolina Hurricanes are getting killed.  They are playing like they are high on marijuana right now.  The good news is, though, that the NHL, unlike most sports leagues, actually has a totally sane policy when it comes to marijuana.  As I’ve written before, it insane that other pro sports leagues penalize their players for this when there are obviously no performance-enhancing aspects.

15) David Brooks comes around on the case for reparations:

We’re a nation coming apart at the seams, a nation in which each tribe has its own narrative and the narratives are generally resentment narratives. The African-American experience is somehow at the core of this fragmentation — the original sin that hardens the heart, separates Americans from one another and serves as model and fuel for other injustices.

The need now is to consolidate all the different narratives and make them reconciliation and possibility narratives, in which all feel known. That requires direct action, a concrete gesture of respect that makes possible the beginning of a new chapter in our common life. Reparations are a drastic policy and hard to execute, but the very act of talking about and designing them heals a wound and opens a new story.

16) Somehow I missed this in the New Yorker when it came out in 2017, but this story, “A Pill to Make Exercise Obsolete: What if a drug could give you all the benefits of a workout?” is pretty fascinating.

17) Great story in the Nation of the incredibly, stupid, short-sighted, and punitive policy that is Arkansas’ policy of work requirements to receive Medicaid.

Since January 2018, 14 other states have requested the ability to impose their own work requirements on Medicaid. They would be wise to take stock of what’s happened in Arkansas. “Don’t do it,” said Numan, adding: “There’s no good way of implementing this kind of policy.” Even federal agencies are taking note. In November, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, a nonpartisan legislative-branch agency, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling for the department to hold off on approving work-requirement requests based on the situation in Arkansas. In February, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) also wrote to Azar urging him to stop approving Medicaid work requirements, saying their concerns have “play[ed] out in real life in the State of Arkansas.”

Numan wishes the state had put its energy into helping people get the support they need to work, such as education, child care, transportation, and, of course, health care. The very idea of work requirements in Medicaid makes little sense. “Medicaid is a work support,” Alker asserted. “If you want to support work, it makes sense to expand Medicaid. If you want to stigmatize the program and [add] a lot of red-tape barriers, then do a work requirement.”

A crappy post

I was about to queue this up for quick hits, but then I thought, damn, as long as I’ve been fascinated by fecal transplants, this excellent NYT story deserves its own post.  Lots of good stuff here:

There’s a new war raging in health care, with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake and thousands of lives in the balance. The battle, pitting drug companies against doctors and patient advocates, is being fought over the unlikeliest of substances: human excrement.

The clash is over the future of fecal microbiota transplants, or F.M.T., a revolutionary treatment that has proved remarkably effective in treating Clostridioides difficile, a debilitating bacterial infection that strikes 500,000 Americans a year and kills 30,000.

The therapy transfers fecal matter from healthy donors into the bowels of ailing patients, restoring the beneficial works of the community of gut microbes that have been decimated by antibiotics. Scientists see potential for using these organisms to treat diseasesfrom diabetes to cancer.

At the heart of the controversy is a question of classification: Are the fecal microbiota that cure C. diff a drug, or are they more akin to organs, tissues and blood products that are transferred from the healthy to treat the sick? The answer will determine how the Food and Drug Administration regulates the procedure, how much it costs and who gets to profit. [emphases mine]

“People have good reason to worry because for many patients, fecal transplants are a matter of life and death,” said Catherine Duff, founder of the Fecal Transplant Foundation, a patients group. “The concern is that corporate greed will get in the way of patient access.”

As the F.D.A. nears a final decision, both sides are ramping up the pressure. More than 40 prominent gastroenterologists and infectious disease doctors recently wrote to the agency, urging it to rethink its approach.

Dr. Alexander Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota, said he feared the F.D.A. was favoring the interests of what he calls the “poop drug cartel,” a group of companies seeking approval for new ways to deliver the active ingredients in transplanted feces. Three of the companies, RebiotixSeres Therapeutics and Vedanta Biosciences, have raised tens of millions of dollars from investors and they recently formed an association to advance their interests with the F.D.A.

“An obscene amount of money is being thrown around by companies trying to profit off of what nature made,” said Dr. Khoruts. “I don’t think there are clear villains here, but I worry that the regulators are not caught up on the latest science and that the interests of investors may be exceeding those of patients.”

I don’t know enough to pretend I know the right way to proceed.  For example, if for-profit companies can come up with a system where you isolate the key bacteria and people can really just take it in a pill instead of an enema a slurry of another person’s feces, that’s amazing and more power (and reasonable profit) to them.  But the power for huge amounts of money at stake to corrupt the process is absolutely something to be very much concerned about.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Alex Sheppard on the meaninglessness of “socialism” in contemporary political discourse.  It’s government ownership of the means of production, damnit!

2) This visualization of global brand popularity over time is amazing.  Watch it (though, it’s too slow, worked at 2-3x for me).

3) I love that even though we now know so much about our universe, it is still utterly baffling.

4) I did feel somewhat obligated to try and understand what’s going on with India and Pakistan.  And I do know enough to know that if I’m not going to read much, Dexter Filkins is a good way to go:

Where does it end? To me, the main impediment to a final peace has always been the Pakistani military. Not only have Pakistan’s generals fuelled the insurgency, and sheltered and abetted terrorist groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, but, by smothering Pakistani democracy, they have also made reconciliation between the two countries all but impossible. The Pakistani military needs an enemy in order to justify its vast budgets and regular interventions in domestic politics. In a televised address this week, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister (who came to power with the military’s support), appealed to India’s leaders in a way that seemed designed to break the impasse. “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation?” Khan asked.

5) Interview with Quinta Jurecic on takeaways from Cohen:

What takeaways did you have from the afternoon session?

What I was struck by is how careful Cohen has been in what he says Trump has and hasn’t done. The Republicans and Trump himself and his family members have really tried to push this idea of Cohen as someone who has been spurned, who’s out to get Trump, but there are plenty of questions where Democrats will ask whether Trump did such-and-such egregious thing and Cohen will actually say no. The main examples were congresswoman Jackie Speier’s questions about the National Enquirer story [which was never published] about a possible illegitimate child of Trump’s, and the rumor about Trump assaulting Melania in an elevator. And Cohen went out of his way, in both cases, to basically say he didn’t believe that they were true. I think that actually does a lot for him in terms of his credibility.

The testimony today could very well be damning politically and legally for Trump. But does the testimony make you think that more extreme versions of a Russia conspiracy are not true?

It depends how you define what constitutes an extreme theory. It’s interesting that you say that, because my reaction to reading Cohen’s prepared statement was actually the opposite. I felt, like, Oh, right, this is a reminder of how bigand how serious this is. In recent weeks, maybe because the investigation has been relatively quiet and there have been reports of it wrapping up, I felt like the mood has shifted toward wondering whether the report will be kind of a dud—that there wasn’t really collusion and there was just a disorganized effort that didn’t really come together.

The Cohen statement, on the other hand, seemed to me to be a splash of cold water. If he is telling the truth, it sounds like Trump really did know about Roger Stone’s alleged efforts to contact WikiLeaks and approved of them, and that strikes me as a lot more than a dud. It doesn’t corroborate the most explosive details of the Steele dossier—it is not the most extreme version—but it is pretty bad politically.

6) And I really liked Catherine Rampell’s very big-picture take:

There were lots of takeaways from Michael Cohen’s explosive ­congressional testimony this week: about Russia, racism, redemption.

To me, the biggest lesson was that we desperately need to increase the Internal Revenue Service’s budget.

Cohen, formerly President Trump’s personal lawyer, repeatedly offered accounts of not only how comfortable Trump became with cheating Uncle Sam but also how ill-equipped our tax cops were to catch him.

We heard, for instance, Cohen’s story about how the president used the Trump Foundation, supposedly a charitable organization, as his personal piggy bank.

According to Cohen, Trump directed him to hire a straw bidder to purchase a nine-foot painting of Trump at auction. The bidder was then reimbursed with tax-advantaged funds from the Trump Foundation. Cohen said Trump had similarly used foundation funds to buy other portraits of himself that now hang in his golf clubs, a pattern previously documented by my colleague David Fahrenthold…

Further questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) addressed a New York Times report about the Trump family’s use of dubious or outright ­fraudulent schemes to duck taxes on Fred Trump’s estate. And, of course, Republicans hammered Cohen about ­Cohen’s owntax misdeeds; as part of his plea agreement, Cohen pleaded guilty to tax fraud. Trump has said he has “brilliantly” used the tax laws to his advantage, but has repeatedly denied any ­lawbreaking…

If true, that statement (that Trump feared an audit) would undercut Trump’s sorry excuse for not releasing his returns (that he was already under audit). But it would also reflect a grim reality: IRS enforcement activity has indeed loosened over the years, especially when it comes to the ultra-wealthy.

Since fiscal 2011, the audit rate for large corporations (with at least $10 million in assets) has halved. For households with income of more than $1 million, it has declined by two-thirds, according to IRS data.

Likewise, federal prosecutions referred by the IRS have plunged to their lowest level on record, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. In fact, adjusted for population size, IRS-referred prosecutions are just a quarter of their early-’90s peak…

So why has enforcement fallen? Why have people such as Trump — and Cohen, Paul Manafort and others with major red flags — been so confident their taxes won’t be scrutinized? It’s not because the “deep state” wants to go easy on well-heeled tax cheats.

It’s that our policymakers have systematically hobbled the IRS. Congress has given the agency more responsibilities while simultaneously slashing its resources. IRS staffing for key enforcement occupations has shrunk by about a third over the past six years.

That’s bad news if you care about fiscal responsibility, since the IRS brings in several dollars for every dollar it spends. It’s also bad news if you care about catching bad actors. [emphasis mine]

7) I’ve long since stopped watching baseball– too slow and boring.  Though, I was really intrigued by Nate Silver’s diagnosis of the problem (the way relief pitching is used) and proposed fix.

8) Adam Rogers argues that we know how to fix homelessness— we’re just not doing it.  Interesting take, but I think it needs to deal more thoroughly with the mental illness aspect.

9) When I covered health care in class last week, at least two students worried that if we did not stop insanely over-spending on health care in this country, we might lose our innovation edge.  Personally, I’d take that trade.  Also, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  Aaron Carroll (of course) and Austin Frakt are on the case:

Rather, the nation’s innovation advantage arises from a first-class research university system, along with robust intellectual property laws and significant public and private investment in research and development.

Perhaps most important, this country offers a large market in which patients, organizations and government spend a lot on health and companies are able to profit greatly from health care innovation.

The United States health care market, through which over one-sixth of the economy flows, offers investors substantial opportunities. Rational investors will invest in an area if it is more profitable than the next best opportunity.

“The relationship between profits and innovation is clearest in the biopharmaceutical and medical device sectors,” said Craig Garthwaite, a health economist with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and one of the judges in our tournament. “In these sectors, firms are able to patent innovations, and we have a good sense of how additional research funds lead to new products.”…

In fact, some question whether the innovation incentive offered by the health care market is too strong. Spending less and skipping the marginal innovation is a rational choice. Spending differently to encourage different forms of innovation is another approach.

“We have a health care system with all sorts of perverse incentives, many of which do little good for patients,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute and the other expert panelist who favored the U.S. over France, along with Mr. Garthwaite. “If we could orient the system toward measuring and incentivizing meaningfully better health outcomes, we would have more innovations that are worth paying for.”

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) David Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht on how Trump appears to have politically energized girls:

While it is too early to tell, we may be witnessing an emerging generation who are primed for political engagement. Just like baby boomers who came of age during the protests of the 1960s and then remained engaged over their lifetimes, today’s Democratic girls may be launched on a lifelong trajectory of political activism.

In short, one lasting consequence of the Trump era may be a cohort of politically active women — not just in Congress but in our communities — whose entree into politics can be attributed not only to inspiration but also to indignation.

2) Great piece from Jon Bernstein, “Talented Democrats Are All Running for President. It’s a Problem.: Beto O’Rourke’s run for the White House could cost Democrats a Senate seat. That wouldn’t happen in other democracies.”

New polls are showing that Democrats might have a real shot at defeating Texas Senator John Cornyn’s reelection bid next year. The problem? They basically have two appealing candidates for the seat – former Representative Beto O’Rourke and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro – and they’re both running for president…

Both Castro and O’Rourke may have calculated that (good polling notwithstanding) they actually have a better shot at the White House than the Senate. After all, the last time a Democrat defeated an incumbent Republican senator in Texas was never. Meanwhile, there’s no powerhouse in the presidential race so far, and both Castro and O’Rourke have plausible cases for the nomination. So while the party would be better off if one of them switched to the Senate race, individually the incentives differ.

More broadly, though, this situation shows what U.S. political parties are up against. It wouldn’t happen in most other democracies. In parliamentary systems, running for the legislature is a precondition to running for prime minister, not an alternative to it. And in most countries, having a talented politician stuck in the wrong constituency isn’t a thing. In legislatures with proportional representation, the best politicians can be placed at the top of the party list and would get seated as long as the party isn’t shut out (it’s a bit more complicated, but that’s the general idea). In some first-past-the-post systems, there’s a much weaker link between residency and constituency (or no link at all). Under British rules and customs, O’Rourke could just run for the far more Democrat-friendly Colorado Senate seat instead of being stuck in his Republican-leaning home state.

3) My daughter’s overly-dramatic best friend (2nd grade) told me all about how scary this Momo thing is.  Scary, that is, to parents who freak out over viral nothingness.

4) Brendan Nyhan: “A Weak President Can Still Be a Dangerous One”

As he has shown, weak presidents can still inflict damage on democracy while in office. In fact, the slow erosion of democratic norms and institutions — not coups or revolutions — is the most common threat to democratic stability in recent decades. (Think of the recent slide toward authoritarianism in Russia, Turkey, or Hungary, not the fascism of mid-20th century Europe.) While our institutions have limited the damage Trump has been able to inflict so far, there is strong expert consensus that U.S. democracy has degraded since he took office.

For instance, Trump’s weakness may frustrate his ambitions in the legislative sphere, but he can still erode protections against executive overreach in his use of national emergency powers to try to fund a border wall or undermine government efforts to punish and prevent foreign influence in elections. The powers of the presidency are potentially expansive even in the hands of a weak president, as Daniel Drezner emphasized in the Washington Post.

Similarly, Trump’s rhetoric can still be dangerous even if his worst impulses are checked on policy. Trump has endorsed a long list of authoritarian actions ranging from law enforcement investigations of his political opponents to criminal assault against a journalist. He echoes Stalinist rhetoric in calling the media the “enemy of the people” and spoke favorably of white nationalist protesters. These statements risk normalizing hatred and violence and undermining democratic norms, particularly within Trump’s party, where his influence is greatest. Robin suggests that critics of the authoritarian threat have reversed themselves on the power of presidential words, but as political scientist Emily Thorson points out, the articles he cites actually focus on how Trump could change Republican politics — a threat even if his words fail to produce immediate anti-democratic actions.

5) This NYT science article is really, really interesting, “Split-Sex Animals Are Unusual, Yes, but Not as Rare as You’d Think: From butterflies to chickens to lobsters, mixed male-female bodies offer clues as to why certain diseases strike one sex more often than the other.”

Gynandromorph butterflies and other half-male, half-female creatures, particularly birds, have fascinated both scientists and amateurs for centuries. The latest sensation was a half-red, half-taupe cardinal that became a regular visitor in the backyard of Shirley and Jeffrey Caldwell in Erie, Pa. Although the bird would have to be tested to confirm that it is a gynandromorph, its color division strongly suggests that it is, scientists say.

Split-sex creatures are not as unusual as they may seem when one discovery goes viral, as the cardinal’s did. It extends beyond birds and butterflies to other insects and crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs.

Scientists say these instances of split-sex animals and insects could offer clues to why some human diseases strike one sex more than the other.

Researchers thought they had figured out the genetics of birds and bees, but gynandromorphs suggest that there is more to learn

6) I find the analytical difficulty in drafting NFL quarterbacks a fascinating subject.  Do does 538, “The NFL Is Drafting Quarterbacks All Wrong.”

7) I like Drum’s “super-abridged Green New Deal”

Outside of war, I can’t think of an example in all of human history where a large polity—let alone the entire world—willingly made significant sacrifices in service of a fuzzy, uncertain hazard that’s decades away. We are overclocked hairless apes who are simply not designed to think that way. Why would anyone deny this?

This, then, circles back to what I was saying a couple of days ago: A climate plan that requires significant sacrifice might work on planet Vulcan, but not on planet Earth. Assuming otherwise is nonserious. We need a plan that will work with only homo sapiens to carry it out, and that means a plan that takes into account human selfishness and shortsightedness. It means a plan that will appeal to China and India and Brazil and the rest of the world. It means a plan that will somehow reduce atmospheric carbon a lot even while most of us sit around fat, dumb, and happy.

The only such plan I can think of is one that increases global R&D spending on climate mitigation by, oh, 10x or so. Maybe 20x if it’s feasible. This money would be spent on developing new sources of clean energy and energy storage; reducing the price of current sources of clean energy; figuring out ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere; and pretty much anything else that seems remotely useful. The fruits of this research would be turned over to the private sector for free, and they would then compete to sell it all over the globe. This would harness human selfishness instead of fighting it. It’s not guaranteed to work, but unlike the GND and similar manifestos, at least it’s not guaranteed to fail.

8) Long-time Democratic politicians could learn a lot from AOC when it comes to how to question a witness at a Congressional hearing.

9) Watched “A Quiet Place” this week.  Really, really enjoyed it.

10) A nice review of the political science on the role of sexism in elections:

How much sexism ultimately influences votes is a matter of debate. In general elections, partisanship beats everything else, said Kathleen Dolan, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, whose research shows that most voters stick with their party’s candidate regardless of gender.

But there has been little comparable research on primaries, where partisanship isn’t in the equation. And the Democrats will have a wide-open presidential primary in 2020 with multiple leading female candidates.

What is not a matter of debate is the array of ways that sexism can manifest on the campaign trail, affecting not only how voters perceive candidates but how candidates present themselves to voters…

One of the most amorphous qualities candidates are judged on, likability is also deeply influenced by gender bias, researchers say. Voters look for it in men, too — consider the “who would you rather have a beer with” question in campaigns — but only in women, research shows, do they consider it nonnegotiable.

“We know that voters will not support a woman that they do not like, even if they believe that she is qualified,” Ms. Hunter said. “But they will vote for a man that they do not like if they believe he is qualified.”

In 2016, for instance, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump had poor favorability ratings; among voters who said they viewed both candidates negatively, Mr. Trump won by roughly 20 percentage points.

Women also tend to be viewed as unlikable based on their ambition. Harvard researchers found in 2010 that voters regarded “power-seeking” women with contempt and anger, but saw power-seeking men as stronger and more competent. There is often some implication of unscrupulousness in descriptions of female candidates as “ambitious” — an adjective that could apply to any person running for president but is rarely used to disparage men. Within 24 hours of Ms. Harris’s campaign kickoff, some critics were bringing up her onetime relationship with a powerful California politician, Willie Brown — a common tactic faced by women that sexualizes them and reduces their successes to a relationship with a man.

And if a narrative of unlikability takes hold, it can influence voters without their even realizing it.

11) Loved this NYT Magazine feature on Michael J. Fox and how he is coping with the increasing challenges of his Parkinson’s.  I had never really thought about before just how young he was when first stricken by the disease.

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