Quick hits (part II)

1) There have to be so many screw-ups for Jeffrey Epstein to have killed himself:

For anyone familiar with Bureau of Prisons standard operating procedures, Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide is more than mysterious; it is unfathomable.

The 66-year-old accused sex trafficker was found dead in his prison cell at the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC) Saturday morning, apparently after having hanged himself.

The Bureau of Prisons, the federal agency that runs the MCC, has said the FBI will investigate.

It had better.

Epstein’s death almost certainly means that astounding blunders occurred, perhaps by multiple personnel at the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

If any prisoner in the federal system should have been a candidate for suspicion of suicide, it was the high-profile and disgraced Epstein. All administrative and structural measures should have been in place to ensure it could not happen. And yet it apparently did.

2) I enjoyed this on the idea of “hate-reading” but no-way will I spend a whole book on it.  Definitely worth it for an article, though:

This is not about reading a book you know is bad, a pleasure in its own right, like an exceptionally dashing villain. It’s about finding a book that affronts you, and staring it down to the last word.

At a time when people are siloed into narrow sources of information according to their particular tinted worldview — those they follow on Twitter, the evening shoutfest they choose, AM talk radio or NPR — it’s no surprise most of us also read books we’re inclined to favor. Reading is a pleasure and a time-consuming one. Why bother reading something you dislike?

But reading what you hate helps you refine what it is you value, whether it’s a style, a story line or an argument. Because books are long-form, they require more of the writer and the reader than a talk show or Facebook link. You can finish watching a movie in two hours and forget about it; not so a novel. Sticking it out for 300 pages means immersing yourself in another person’s world and discovering how it feels. That’s part of what makes books you despise so hard to dismiss. Rather than toss the book aside, turn to the next page and wrestle with its ideas. What about them makes you so uncomfortable?

3) Meanwhile, I sure hope this guy can save Barnes & Noble for my love-reading.

4) I found this personal essay on spending 12 hours in BWI airport a delightful read.

5) Dana Milbank en fuego:

After two horrific mass shootings, we come together as a nation to confront an urgent question: How are we going to keep Wayne LaPierre safe?

The longtime head of the National Rifle Association, it turns out, is worried sick about his personal safety in this gun culture.

After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, he and his wife bravely waited out the uproar on the pink-sand beaches of the Bahamas, part of $542,000 in private jet trips and personal items the NRA bought for him. And now, thanks to some delightful reporting by my Post colleagues Carol D. Leonnig and Beth Reinhard, we know that last year’s Parkland massacre left LaPierre so fearful for his personal safety that he tried to have the NRA buy him a $6 million French-chateau-style mansion with nine bathrooms in a gated Dallas-area golf course community.

He told associates he was worried about his safety and thought his Virginia home was too easy for potential attackers to find.

Ultimately, the financially stressed NRA didn’t buy LaPierre the mansion. That’s too bad, because, as the saying goes: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a French chateau.”

6) Even without knowing the exact details of who’s “right” and “wrong” here, this is a great example of why meaningful health care reform will be so hard.  Hospitals and doctors will get less money and they really don’t like it.  And they win politically.  

7) Good stuff from Yglesias on what the SoulCycle controversy tells us about Republican politics:

It’s interesting that though Ross is willing to support Trump’s reelection bid in material ways, he doesn’t seem particularly inclined to tell us what the issues are on which he agrees with the president.

Instead, he gave a laundry list of progressive-friendly policy stances that he wants to be seen as holding. It’s pretty clear, however, that Trump is not a big champion of environmental sustainability. Not only does the president mock climate change as a conspiracy theory and tell people that windmills cause cancer, he’s also overseen an unprecedented reversal of decades of progress against non-climate air pollution even as scientific evidence mounts that smog is killing tens of thousands of Americans a year

The issue on which Ross agrees with Trump is likely taxes. Ross has an estimated net worth of $7.7 billion. And while you might think that part of the pleasure of having $7.7 billion is that you don’t need to sweat the small stuff, the fact of the matter is that Trump’s changes to the estate tax alone are worth $4.4 million to a guy like Ross. The median American’s net worth is about $97,000, meaning that Trump and congressional Republicans handed Ross a chunk of change that’s more than 40 times as large as the typical American’s total wealth. That’s a pretty good reason to care passionately about the 2020 election.

But of course Trump’s tax cuts didn’t stop there. Ross is getting thousands of dollars a year in basic rate cuts. And while he is best known for his fitness-related consumer brands, he’s also a major commercial real estate developer, and since Trump is also in this line of business, his tax law is loaded with special provisions to specifically help that genre of rich person.

It’s quite plausible that Ross is telling the truth and he legitimately does have profound disagreements with Trump over certain culture war issues. It’s just that the amount of money at stake for Ross, personally, in the question of Trump’s political success is mind-boggling — far more than the typical person deals with in their lifetime or can even really conceive of…

This stuff is not the foundation of Trump’s popularity, but it very much is the foundation of his political impunity. Impeachment, meaningful congressional oversight, and everything else is on hold because Trump’s presence in office serves the interests of the billionaire class…

All of which is to say that regardless of Ross’s personal views on racial equality, it’s not just that he’s willing to overlook Trump’s retrograde attitudes on these issues for the sake of tax cuts. The political focus on racial conflict is integral to the political viability of the tax cut program. A national debate that focused primarily on whether 20 million people should lose their insurance so that Ross can get a tax cut would be a disaster for Ross’s personal financial interests. To get what he wants, he needs a big national argument about race even while he’d like his more culturally progressive customers to believe he’s secretly on their side.

8) Popehat’s twitter thread on Epstein is a must-read:

9) Conor Friedersdorf on Tucker Carlson:

And apart from the omissions, the segment was riddled with reasoning so inane, one wondered if stupidity or sophistry was the more charitable explanation. White supremacy is “not a real problem in America,” Carlson said, arguing that “the combined membership of every white-supremacist organization in this country, would they be able to fit inside a college football stadium?”
The 9/11 terrorists would fit in a locker room. Every MS-13 gang member in America would fit in the Great Western Forum. The worldwide membership of ISIS might well fit in Michigan Stadium. “Fits in a football stadium” is an idiotic proxy for “a real problem,” especially when only official “members” are counted as part of that problem.

I happen to think that the term white supremacy is now used too promiscuously by some intellectuals. It obviously does not follow that white supremacists don’t exist, or that they aren’t a threat worth taking seriously

Dismissing white supremacy as a concern, Carlson reasoned, “I’ve lived here 50 years and I’ve never met anybody, not one person, who ascribes to white supremacy.” While I doubt that, it would be a dumb argument even if it were true. As far as I know, I’ve never met a murderer or a child molester or a perpetrator of elder abuse. Yet I am certain that all three crimes are still problems.

“The whole thing is a lie,” Carlson insisted. “If you were to assemble a list, a hierarchy of concerns or problems this country faces, where would white supremacy be on the list? Right up there with Russia, probably.”

Russia is a nuclear-armed autocracy that remains the most significant reason for the continued existence of NATO. The country actively works to undermine U.S. interests around the globe. It pays a troll army to sow discord among American citizens, and successfully stole emails from the Democratic Party to influence the last presidential election. I happen to think that some people overstate its influence. That does not mean Russia doesn’t pose real challenges to the country.

10) Good stuff on end-of-life cancer treatment:

Although slightly more than two-thirds of cancer patients treated in the United States are cured, this is mostly the result of early detection and combinations of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatments developed decades ago, Dr. Azra Raza, director of the Myelodysplastic Syndrome Center at Columbia University, wrote in her forthcoming book “The First Cell, and the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last.” In fact, experts suspect that some cancers discovered through early detection would never have become fatal even if they had not been treated.

But once solid tumors like cancers of the breast, colon, lung and prostate have spread well beyond the organs where they began — so-called Stage 4 cancers — cure is rarely, if ever, possible, although treatments with immunotherapy, for example, can sometimes prolong lives for months or longer.

(Prospects are far better for body-wide cancers of the blood and lymph systems.) At best, the often very costly treatments available today to treat patients with far advanced Stage 4 tumors do little more than postpone the inevitable and can make patients even more debilitated. When chemotherapy is used palliatively to shrink painful tumors, it is important to know when to stop because it is no longer helping.

11) I got a call for a reporter to comment on Cooper’s new appointment to the NC State Elections Board this week, but I called him back too late to be interviewed.  Didn’t even bother to find out who the new appointment was without the impending interview.  Probably for the best that he didn’t show up at my office and tell me it’s Damon Circosta.  I like to think that I’m always fair and objective, but it would be hard for me to not be unfairly positive.  Also, did not care for the Republicans complaining about him in this article, as if the previous appointment of a registered Independent would somehow get a person without any partisan leanings.  What you really want is somebody who will absolutely be fair and not a partisan hack, and any fair-minded Republican knows that’s Damon Circosta:

Damon Circosta will replace Robert Cordle, who resigned from the board late last month after telling a crude joke to room full of election officials. This will bring the board back up to five members – two Republicans and three Democrats – and they’ll name their own chair.

That person will be the board’s fourth chair since early December, when another Cooper appointee resigned the job.

“Every election is important, but there has never been a better time in our state to put voters first,” Circosta said in a press release Wednesday. “I appreciate the faith Governor Cooper has put in me to carry out this important role. I look forward to working with the State and County Boards of Elections to ensure elections are secure and that voters have confidence in the process.”

Circosta was on a previous iteration of the board in 2018, but that body dissolved as part of a long-running legal battle between Cooper and the General Assembly’s Republican majority over board appointments. Republicans bashed the choice Wednesday night, noting Circosta was the board’s required unaffiliated voter under it’s last iteration. He’s a registered Democrat now.

“Gov. Cooper isn’t even pretending that he cares about good government,” state Sen.

Ralph Hise , who co-chairs the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee, said in an emailed statement. “By appointing Damon Circosta to the Board today as the tie-breaking Democrat, he’s admitting that his previous appointment of Circosta as an ‘unaffiliated’ member was a sham.”
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Quick hits

1) This is kind of too perfect.  The NC Republican party’s “expert” witness has had his testimony thrown out in a big gerrymandering case because he used totally made up figures about the gerrymandered districts.

2) NC State’s Class of 2022 Park Scholars (and me!) are going to DC in October for a “learning lab” on mass incarceration.  I helped them put together this great list of pre-trip reading and viewing.  Want to understand mass incarceration in America?  You could do a lot worse than this list.

3) Sometime longform journalism is just too long.  That said, I did enjoy skimming this feature in The Cut, “The Most Gullible Man in Cambridge A Harvard Law professor who teaches a class on judgment wouldn’t seem like an obvious mark, would he?”

4) Good chance you saw this headline, “Emmett Till Sign Photo Leads Ole Miss Fraternity to Suspend Members.”  I will say this little bit pulled me up short:

But the Ole Miss chapter of Kappa Alpha, which the three students are members of, said in a statement on Thursday that it took swift action after it learned of the photo on Tuesday.

“The photo is inappropriate, insensitive, and unacceptable,” the fraternity chapter said. “It does not represent our chapter.”

Of course they said that, but, the reality is KA is a fraternity that celebrates the confederacy and this is the U of Mississippi chapter, so…

5) I’ve long known the “felony murder” rule is abominable.  I guess I should’ve not been surprised that we’re about the only country systematically unjust enough to regularly use it:

The origins of the felony murder rule are murky. Generations of law students have been taught that it is a relic of British common law.

But Guyora Binder, a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law and a leading expert on felony murder, said he had found otherwise. He traced modern felony murder doctrine to the 1820s, when state legislatures in the United States codified criminal offenses.

England abolished its version of felony murder in 1957, followed by India, Canada and other common law countries, and the United States remains the only country where the felony murder doctrine still exists. A Michigan Supreme Court ruling that did away with it in that state nearly four decades ago called it “a historic survivor for which there is no logical or practical basis for existence in modern law.”

6) This is titled, “Barr’s talking points on the death penalty are misleading.”  To be fair, what does Barr say that’s not misleading.  Still, good stuff:

The worst. It’s a tired talking point – frequently amplified to “worst of the worst” – employed by death penalty proponents who know they can’t argue the merits of the system and instead must rely on fear-mongering and vague stereotypes to rally what little public support is still available to them on this issue.

The reality is that the “worst of the worst” is a subjective classification to begin with – what line one draws in the sand for throwing away the sanctity of human life will vary from the lines of others. But even if we could come to a consensus on what crimes constitute this indistinct classification, a quick look at the facts shows clearly that the severity of the crime rarely determines who gets a death sentence.

In actuality, the leading determinates for who receives the death penalty and who does not have little to do with the nature of the crime at all. In both state and federal systems, it is the location where the crime is committed that is the leading factor in a capital sentence. Just 2 percent of counties bring the majority of death penalty cases. All executions since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s have come from a mere 16 percent of the nation’s counties. At the federal level, three states – Texas, Missouri, and Virginia – are responsible for the majority of the cases, and all of the cases have come from 31 of the nation’s 94 federal judicial districts.

7) If you’ve read this blog for a while, or been in my Public Policy or Criminal Justice Policy classes, you know I’ve been a huge fan of criminology scholar, Mark Kleiman.  He has done as much to influence my own thinking on criminal justice as any scholar has influenced me on any subject.  I will still be assigning When Brute Force Fails for many years to come. Alas, he passed away this week.  I’ll link Kevin Drum’s remembrance, as I’m pretty sure its Drum who introduced me to his scholarship.  Also a nice appreciation from German Lopez.

8) I unapologetically use plastic straws, but I actually quite like paper straws, too, and would happily transition if that’s all that were available.  They last plenty long enough for me to finish a drink and refills.  But, now that Trump is against them, all the more reason.

9) RIP Rutger Hauer.  Bet you didn’t know he was the one to come up with the indelible, “tears in the rain” line.

10) I’ve got David Epstein’s Range sitting on the table 10 feet from me (thanks, DJC), but think I’m going to finish my Chernobyl book first.  Here’s Epstein, “Chances are, you’re not as open-minded as you think.”  But, what if I actually am? 🙂

Do you think of yourself as open-minded? For a 2017 study, scientists asked 2,400 well-educated adults to consider arguments on politically controversial issues — same-sex marriage, gun control, marijuana legalization — that ran counter to their beliefs. Both liberals and conservatives, they found, were similarly adamant about avoiding contrary opinions.

When it came to same-sex marriage, for example, two-thirds of those surveyed passed on a chance to pocket money if, in exchange, they took some time to just look at counterarguments, never mind seriously entertain them.

The lesson is clear enough: Most of us are probably not as open-minded as we think. That is unfortunate and something we can change. A hallmark of teams that make good predictions about the world around them is something psychologists call “active open mindedness.” People who exhibit this trait do something, alone or together, as a matter of routine that rarely occurs to most of us: They imagine their own views as hypotheses in need of testing.

11) In a related vein, nice Vox piece from Robert Peal, “The science of regrettable decisions: A doctor explains how our brains can trick us into making bad choices — and how to fight back.”

In the scientific literature, George and I noticed an interesting pattern: Under the right circumstances, a subconscious neurobiological sequence in our brains causes us to perceive the world around us in ways that contradict objective reality, distorting what we see and hear. This powerful shift in perception is unrelated to our intelligence, morals, or past behaviors. In fact, we don’t even know it’s happening, nor can we control it.

George and I named this phenomenon “brainshift” and found that it happens in two distinct situations: those involving high anxiety and those associated with major reward.

Under these conditions, all of us would do something just as regrettable as the headline-grabbing stories above, contrary to what we tell ourselves. Phrased differently, we don’t consciously decide to act a fool. Rather, once our perception is distorted, we act in ways that seem reasonable to us but foolish to observers.

12) “Fast track” deportation is just so wrong:

The Trump administration’s expansion of the use of fast-track deportations through “expedited removal” will create a “show me your papers” regime nationwide in which people — including citizens — may be forced to quickly prove they should not be deported. This policy allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to quickly deport someone without going before an immigration judge, undermining American principles of fundamental fairness and putting United States citizens, permanent residents and asylum-seekers at risk of wrongful deportation.

For 15 years, the government has been applying expedited removal in a limited way to those within 100 miles of the Canadian or Mexican border who have been in the United States for less than two weeks. The entire process consists of an interview with an immigration officer during which the burden is on the individual to prove a legal right to remain in the United States. One could be questioned, detained and deported very swiftly with little time to consult a lawyer or to gather evidence to prevent deportation. The extremely short timeline of the expedited-removal process increases the chances that a person who is legally entitled to stay in the United States can end up being removed anyway. The government now says it will apply it across the country for many people who cannot prove they have been present in the United States for two years or more. The expansion could affect thousands of people nationwide.

13) Tamar Haspel on why ultra-processed food makes us fat:

“There are several potential hypotheses,” Hall told me. Top of his list? Calorie density. “There were about two calories per gram in the processed food,” excluding drinks, “and in the unprocessed it was closer to one.” People also ate the ultra-processed meals a lot faster. “It might be softer, easier to chew and swallow,” Hall said. And that could mean that satiety signals, which take time, don’t get to your brain until after you’ve overeaten.

This is not a new idea. Penn State nutrition professor Barbara Rolls has been studying it for a couple of decades and wrote the “Volumetrics” series of diet books based on the idea of calorie-density. According to her, diets based on decreasing calorie density — which comes down to eating foods that have more water and less fat — are more effective than any of the diets that manipulate macronutrients.

They have a different mechanism, she explains. “It’s behavioral. It’s visual.” You’re responding to cues about the amount of food you’re eating. So, for example, if you give research subjects the same cereal in two different forms — flaky (higher volume) and crushed (lower volume) — they eat a third more of the crushed version. On average, people tend to decide how much to eat by gauging the amount of food; the more there is available, the more they eat, and volume and weight both play a role, Rolls says. Visual cues matter…

In a nutshell: The root of obesity is palatability and calorie density, combined with ubiquity and convenience. Satiety hormones and other metabolic machinations have much less to do with it. We’re responding to cues from without, not from within. One new study doesn’t prove it, of course, but it’s the hypothesis that best fits the preponderance of the evidence. [emphasis mine]

14) An argument that I should strongly consider not grading my students because it hinders learning.  Hmmm.

That is the kind of growth Blum wants students to experience in her courses. But her research and personal experience have persuaded her that it’s difficult to achieve when students are graded. Blum has come to the conclusion that grades are meaningless, even harmful. Grades, Blum is now convinced, are a barrier: between students and professors, between students and learning.

So Blum has stopped grading. She has joined the ranks of college professors and schoolteachers experimenting with “ungrading,” a set of practices meant to redirect time and attention to more important things. Like most professors, Blum can’t discard grades completely — she still has to hand them in at the end of the term. But that leaves the rest of the semester to help students question the premise of those grades and encourage them to focus instead on their learning.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Just another day in American-style corporate health care:

Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals announced today that the company expects to pay $15.4 million in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department after allegations that Questcor Pharmaceuticals, which Mallinckrodt acquired in 2014, had bribed doctors and their staff to prescribe an incredibly expensive drug.

Two whistleblowers came forward in April to accuse Questcor of trying to boost profits for Acthar, a medication primarily for infants with seizures. Questcor raised the price of the medication by almost 100,000 percent (not a typo) from just $40 in 2000 to $38,892 today, despite the fact that Acthar has been on the market since 1952. Mallinckrodt currently rakes in about $1 billion per year from Acthar, according to CNN. [emphases mine]

“Mallinckrodt denies any wrongdoing on the part of Questcor during the relevant period, and intends to vigorously defend the company in this matter,” the company said in a press release.

Mallinckrodt has previously pointed out that the drug price of Acthar was raised by Questcor before Mallinckrodt bought it. But that doesn’t change the fact that Questcor appears to have been purchased by Mallinckrodt precisely because it was making money hand over fist.

Nor does it change the fact that about $8,000 of the price hikes on Athcar have reportedly occurred since Mallinckrodt bought Questcor. And the $15.4 million fine, which has yet to be finalized with the DOJ, pales in comparison to how much money the company is currently taking in on the drug.

While the company denies wrongdoing, the whistleblower lawsuit alleges that the “illegal practices that Questcor had been engaging in since 2007 have knowingly been continued since the merger and acquisition of Questcor by Mallinckrodt.”

Acthar is used for infantile spasms, which afflict roughly 2,000 babies in the U.S. each year, but Mallinckrodt has expanded the use of Acthar for other ailments like rheumatoid arthritis. A 60 Minutes report from May of 2018 raised serious questions about how well the drug actually works for arthritis in seniors, and an expert who spoke with 60 Minutes said that there’s “no evidence” Acthar works for rheumatoid arthritis despite the fact that Mallinckrodt reportedly makes about $500,000 each year for prescriptions treating the condition.

Curiously, there’s a drug called Synacthen that’s identical to Acthar and sells for just $33 in Canada. So why isn’t Synacthen available in the U.S.? Because Mallinckrodt bought the U.S. rights to Synacthen and simply doesn’t make it available to American consumers.

Ugh.  Also, Infantile Spasms are a particularly serious type of seizure.  So wrong.

2) Roxanne Gay says freak out.  Drum says, maybe not so much:

And there’s more. The headline unemployment rate is at its lowest rate in half a century and the long-term unemployment rate is lower than it was at the height of the housing bubble. Household earnings are up about $8,000 over the past five years. Blue-collar wages have increased by more than $1 per hour. The poverty rate has dropped for three straight years and is now lower than at any time aside from the peak of the dotcom boom. Despite the best efforts of Republicans, Obamacare continues to provide health coverage for nearly 20 million additional people compared to a decade ago. Among teens, cigarette smoking is down; alcohol use is down; other drug use is down; teen pregnancy is down; and arrests are down. The US economy is the most robust in the world. About 700,000 new citizens are naturalized every year, up from 100,000 in 1980. Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. And on a personal note, there’s been a huge surge in new treatments for multiple myeloma, which means that I will probably be blathering on your computer for many years to come.

My message here is simple. If you cherry pick all the bad stuff that’s happened in the past few years, you can make a case for being pretty discouraged. If you cherry pick all the good stuff, you can make a case that everything is fine. The real reality is somewhere in-between. So if you feel like being discouraged, don’t let me get in your way. But there’s always good and bad in the world, and there’s no reason to insist otherwise.

Except for climate change, where we’re still on track to commit planetary suicide and no one is truly taking it seriously. That’s just a pure nightmare.

Oh, yeah, except climate change.

3) My colleague, Andrew Taylor, makes a pretty interesting argument about liberal bias among political science professors using social science.  Though, this liberal is no big fan of implicit bias (heck, among other things, we’ve got enough explicit bias these days):

Yet, although academic political scientists consider themselves experts who have built robust models validated by all sorts of empirical studies, they seem to believe the kinds of misinformed and prejudicial attitudes and anti-social and harmful behavior they attribute to just about everyone else have somehow evaded them.

That is odd. The last time I checked, political science professors were human beings. They are surely not immune from theories of human behavior they hold and have validated under scientific conditions.

One such in-vogue theory is unconscious or implicit bias. This is the idea that individuals are inherently prejudiced against others from certain groups. Social scientists use the theory to explain pervasive racism and prejudice against out or minority groups in all walks of life. The idea is that although a person may feel they judge others neutrally or on merits unrelated to group membership, they hold biases, admittedly often small, that they are incapable of correcting.

These attitudes adversely affect the individuals who constitute their object. Compounded, they can have material effects on public policy and social outcomes.

Although the theory has vocal critics and some proponents recognize its limited capacity to predict the behavior of individuals, the academy has produced a great deal of confirmatory published experimental and survey research.

Academics consider bias particularly pervasive in homogenous populations. Political science is certainly homogenous. A number of studies show the discipline’s professors are overwhelmingly liberal and largely identify as Democrats—by about 10 to 1 according to a study of North Carolina and Florida faculty I recently co-authored and that is forthcoming in a flagship journalof the American Political Science Association.

Actually, I’m not sure of the research on this (and, sorry, not going to check right now), but in my experience (okay, with myself and other informed PS professors) being aware of various cognitive biases actually really does make us less susceptible to them.  How many other people discuss the “sunk cost trap” while in line with friends at lunch?

4) Dana Milbank on how for Trump, D-Day was all about… Donald Trump.

5) It’s bad enough to have really bad people among Catholic priests.  Even worse when they are Catholic bishops:

During his 13 years as bishop in West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the nation, Bransfield spent $2.4 million in church money on travel, much of it personal, which included flying in chartered jets and staying in luxury hotels, according to the report. Bransfield and several subordinates spent an average of nearly $1,000 a month on alcohol, it says. The West Virginia diocese paid $4.6 million to renovate Bransfield’s church residence after a fire damaged a single bathroom. When Bransfield was in the chancery, an administrative building, fresh flowers were delivered daily, at a cost of about $100 a day — almost $182,000 in all.

Bransfield, 75, drew on a source of revenue that many parishioners knew little about, oil-rich land in Texas donated to the diocese more than a century ago. He spoke of church money as if it were his to spend without restriction, according to the report.

“I own this,” he is quoted as saying on many occasions.

6) I read $2 a Day about poverty in America as NC State incoming Freshman reading a couple years ago.  It was really good.  And I assign this summary to my Public Policy class.  Turns out, new research strongly suggests that it significantly overstates extreme poverty in America.  That said, there still is too much extreme poverty in America.

7) Really excited to see the updated Hall of Fossils next time I visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  I also like that they reference the last major renovation in the early 1980’s.  I still have very fond memories of my dad taking me to a members only reception for the re-opening featuring dinosaur cookies.

8) Dara Lind with a terrific article on how the border crisis really is a crisis now.  And why.  A must-read.  I added this to my Public Policy syllabus for next semester.

9) Meanwhile a harrowing Politico article on life for poor women in Honduras:

What do you do when you fear for your life and the state won’t protect you? Or if the state might make your already tenuous situation worse? The fraught calculations that face Sofia and her mom are endemic across Honduras, a country that remains in the grip of a rash of violence against women and girls. For some, the answer is simple and disruptive: They have to leave. When exhausted families, mothers toting babies and young women traveling alone arrive at the southern border of the United States, it’s not just gang violence or criminality in general that they’re fleeing. It’s also what Sofia whispers about to her bunny: men who beat, assault, rape and sometimes kill women and girls; law enforcement that does little to curtail them; and laws that deny many women who do survive the chance to retake control and steer their own lives.

As of 2015, Honduras ranked among a tiny group of nations, including war-racked Syria and Afghanistan, with the highest rates of violent deaths of women. Although Honduras’ overall murder rate has decreased in recent years, it remains one of the deadliest countries in the world, and the murder rate has been declining more slowly for female victims. Murder remains the second-leading cause of death for women of childbearing age.

10) Terrific interview with the creator of HBO’s “Chernobyl” on the nature of truth and stories and the show.

11) This Reason satirical campaign video meets used car ads is really, really good:

12) Seth Masket on the potential costs of not impeaching:

But even if we assume there would be a political price for impeachment, that does not mean that declining to impeach would be without consequence. For one thing, if there are voters who would be bothered by impeachment, there are quite a few others who would be bothered by the lack of it. The idea that Trump has clearly committed impeachable acts but Democrats in the House of Representatives won’t punish him because they think it will hurt them in the next election is not a particularly inspiring message, especially for a party that keeps urging people to put country before party.

On top of that calculus, it’s entirely possible Trump wins re-election whether Democrats pursue impeachment or not. He’s won before, incumbents usually win re-election, and they almost always do during a growing economy. What’s the lesson coming out of that election? “We might have removed him but failed to so here he is for another four years”?

It’s important to consider just what the lessons of this presidency will be for subsequent administrations and congressional parties. If Democrats decide that, despite widespread lawbreaking, impeachment just isn’t on the table because conviction is unlikely and there may be political costs, then it would effectively remove impeachment as a serious constraint on presidential actions. And given that the Department of Justice has also removed itself from control of the president, that would basically mean that presidents truly are above the law as long as they serve…

But fairly or not, Democrats have been placed in the position of determining whether to prosecute presidential lawbreaking. Either choice may have negative consequences, but the decision should be evaluated not just in terms of what will happen this year or next, but for the decades to come.

12) I’m sorry, but I’m so not impressed by arbitrary feats such as climbing Everest and returning home all within 14 days.  The key is living in a hypoxia chamber rather than actually acclimating at the mountain.

13) Endorse: Students should stop treating faculty as expendable.  That said, as a middle-aged white male, I hardly ever run into this anymore.

14) Damn, the willful ignorance of Republicans on climate is just breathtaking.  And, I’m not going to just blame Trump– he’s, symptom, not cause here:

Fifty or 100 years from now, we may well say that President Trump’s concerted effort to exacerbate climate change — and that’s precisely what it is — was the single worst thing he did in a presidency full of horrors. A new report from the New York Times gives new details about just how diabolical his administration’s actions have been:

In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change.

And, in what could be Mr. Trump’s most consequential action yet, his administration will seek to undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests.

The goal appears to be to keep the government from ever confirming that climate change exists and, failing that, to do everything it can to make it look less serious than it is. The administration also plans to create a new panel to downplay climate change and discredit legitimate science on the topic, led by National Security Council senior director William Happer, who once said, “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”

15) And you can very much appreciate Tom Nichols’ take on “Chernobyl” without watching the show.

16) Catherine Rampell with a good take (and I’m disappointed in Warren here), “Everyone’s got a climate plan. So where’s the carbon tax?”

To be clear, the candidates’ proposals include many other good ideas. They all say we should eliminate subsidies for fossil-fuel companies. They all boost federal investment in and incentives for R&D in clean technology. This is critically necessary, especially for basic research, which private companies might not be sufficiently incentivized to undertake on their own.

But then things go off the rails.

The plans devote a lot of verbiage to talking about the magical properties of government procurement — that is, using the deep pockets of the government to purchase more energy-efficient products. Warren, for instance, analogizes her own plan, which includes a $1.5 trillion federal procurement commitment, to the industrial policy America previously undertook for the space race and our mobilization against Nazi aggression.

But in both of those historical comparisons, “The goal wasn’t to create a commercial product,” points out David Popp, a Syracuse University professor who specializes in environmental economics. “The government was the consumer.”

Just because the public sector buys more energy-efficient lightbulbs, electric cars or solar panels doesn’t mean the (much larger) private sector will, absent price incentives. Especially if we add conditions to the production of those green goods that actually increase their costs to consumers, as some of these plans do.

17) Greg Sargent:

Amazingly, after all we’ve seen, there’s still a tendency in some quarters to treat the falsehoods regularly told by President Trump, and echoed by his media allies, as a somewhat exaggerated but basically conventional form of political dishonesty.

But Trump and certain of his media partisans have long been engaged in something altogether different — something that can only be described as concerted and deliberate disinformation…

It’s the disinformation, stupid

It should be impossible to watch these diatribes in full without quickly realizing that this isn’t ordinary political dishonesty — some level of artifice is an inevitable feature of politics — but rather is something much more insidious. What’s notable is the sheer comprehensiveness of the effort to create an alternate set of realities whose departure from the known facts seemingly aims to be absolute and unbridgeable…

Disinformation and ‘constitutional rot’

Don’t take my word for it. With Trump’s lies and distortions now numbering over 10,000, serious political theorists have noted this aspect of Trumpian disinformation. See this Jacob Levy essay, which argues that Trump’s autocratic reshaping of reality on multiple fronts depends on the delegitimization of other institutional authority.

Or see this Jack Balkin essay on “constitutional rot.” One key sign of our breakdown, Balkin argues, is the fact that Trump has the backing of what can only be understood as “domestic propaganda machines.”

Such propaganda, Balkin notes, “undermines the crucial role of deliberation and the search for truth in a democracy. Propaganda attempts to put everything in dispute, so that nothing can be established as true.” It “undermines shared criteria of reasoning, good faith attempts at deliberation, and mutual accommodation between political opponents in democracies.”

17) Smoking gun evidence that NC Republicans lied to the courts for political gain.  I’m sure Democratically-appointed judges will care.  Would be nice if Republican-appointed ones would, too.  You know, rule of law and all that.

Smokable hemp = legal marijuana?

So, this is kind of interesting, allowing smokable hemp in North Carolina may open up a Pandora’s Box that kind-of legalizes marijuana through a loophole.  Of course, presumably NC would turn into an unlivable hellhole like… Washington or Colorado, if that happened.  Here’s the story:

North Carolina agriculture officials envision hemp as a major cash crop for the state, but law enforcement officials told lawmakers Thursday that the push to boost the industry could essentially legalize marijuana because of the difficulty in telling the two cannabis plants apart.

Much of the annual farm bill under consideration in the General Assembly is dedicated to setting up the necessary state infrastructure to regulate hemp production now that the federal government has loosened its restrictions on hemp.

When North Carolina first legalized growing hemp as a pilot project in 2015, the market for the crop was primarily textiles and rope. Since then, however, the fastest growth in the market – and the highest profits – are in smokable hemp products.

Smokable hemp flowers, or so-called pre-rolls, contain CBD but almost no THC, the active compound in marijuana. But they look and smell just like marijuana.

The State Bureau of Investigation and other groups want the state to ban farmers from growing them.

“Law enforcement cannot discern the difference between smokable hemp and marijuana, and our State Crime Lab cannot discern the difference because they can’t discern the level of the THC that it contains,” Peg Dorer, director of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, told members of the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources committee on Thursday. [emphasws mine]

The farm bill would create a presumption in state law that licensed hemp farmers aren’t growing marijuana, but Dorer said that creates a loophole that would basically legalize marijuana in the state.

“Law enforcement will not be able to seize or arrest for marijuana because they can’t tell, and prosecutors will have a very difficult time and will not be able to prosecute any violations of marijuana laws,” she said.

Hemp industry advocates said technology that can tell smokable hemp from marijuana is commercially available to law enforcement, and hemp farmers already growing smokable products said eliminating that market could cripple their businesses.

Oh no, law enforcement not being able to use any of its limited resources seizing marijuana.  They might have to… I don’t know… worry about actual problems to protect society.

 

 

Thom Tillis is a brazen liar. Or really stupid

It simply has to be one or the other.  Here’s his tweet today.

On no planet did the DOJ remotely come close to “concluding” no collusion, no obstruction.  Any fair reading of the Mueller report lets you know that there was “insufficient evidence” to charge collusion.  That is so not the same as concluding no collusion.  As for obstruction, the report is also very clear that the only reason that obstruction is not charged is because of DOJ guidance against charging a sitting president with a crime.  That couldn’t be further from “concluded no obstruction.”  To characterize this concluded no collusion, no obstruction is an absolute brazen, bald-faced lie.  Plain and simple.  The only other explanation is that Tillis is too dumb to understand these concepts that I’m pretty damn sure your average 6th grader could understand (I know some, I might run it by them in the culdesac later today).

Of course, Tillis is not alone in his “evil or stupid” response, I imagine it goes for the vast majority of Republican politicians.  But, it was his awful tweet I saw and he is my Senator, so there you go.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Haven’t read all of it yet, but Emma Green on the future of Christianity in the Middle East is really good:

But the fate of Christianity in places like the Nineveh Plain has a geopolitical significance as well. Religious minorities test a country’s tolerance for pluralism; a healthy liberal democracy protects vulnerable groups and allows them to participate freely in society. Whether Christians can survive, and thrive, in Muslim-majority countries is a crucial indicator of whether democracy, too, is viable in those places. In Iraq, the outlook is grim, as it is in other nations in the region that are home to historic Christian populations, including Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. Christians who live in these places are subject to discrimination, government-sanctioned intimidation, and routine violence.

2) Among things I’ve seen all over twitter this week, but not so much news coverage, is the fact that Donald Trump is a big an of psychopathic mass murderers.  As long as they are in the U.S. Military.  Seriously.  The details about these war criminals he wants to pardon are just abhorrent.  Jamelle Bouie is on the case:

Last year, a federal jury in Washington convicted Nicholas Slatten, a former security contractor, of first-degree murder for his role in killing one of 14 Iraqi civilians who died in 2007 in a shooting that also injured more than a dozen others. Matthew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret, was charged late last year with the murder of an unarmed Afghan man during a 2010 deployment. Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq, was reported to authorities by his own men, who witnessed him “stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death,” “picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost” and “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.”

There are others — all accused of war crimes while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Trump apparently wants to give them a presidential pardon, timed for Memorial Day. Trump is not responding to a groundswell of public support for these men. Nor are current and former military leaders calling for leniency. Just the opposite: They have urged the White House to abandon this plan. “Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the law of armed conflict seriously,” Martin Dempsey, a retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Twitter.

But Republican lawmakers and conservative television personalities have lobbied in support of accused war criminals — Gallagher in particular…

The president likes “tough” people and “tough” action, where “tough” is a euphemism for violent. “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people,” Trump said in a March interview with Breitbart News, in a warning to left-wing protesters. “But they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

For Trump, this toughness — this willingness to act cruelly and brutally — is a virtue. That’s especially true when the targets are racial others. [emphasis mine]

3) Emily Oster on what evidence-based parenting reveals.  This is really good, “There’s Evidence on How to Raise Children, but Are Parents Listening? Day-to-day individual choices matter less than we think, but national policies seem to matter a lot.”

Except, it turns out that a lot of the things that get attention in these “optimize your baby” strategies do not actually seem to boost child outcomes. I’ve done a lot of research on this recently, and the overwhelming sense you get is that much of these investments do not matter…

How do we understand these contrasts — where, on the one hand, the first few years are the crucible of success and, on the other, the kind of investments that many of us obsess about do not seem to matter much?

The answer is that we tend to ignore the big picture. The differences we see by demographic groups in the United States — the inequality of outcomes for children from poor and rich backgrounds — are driven by a combination of vast differences in experiences.

Better-off children in the United States do not benefit just from hearing more words, or having higher-quality day care, or having more stable family lives. They benefit from all these things together, and more. Better-off parents spend more money on their children, and this gap has been growing over time. They also make more nonspending investments, like reading with their kids, which is one of the few specific interventions that does seem to matter. [emphasis mine]

4) I wanted to find something good on regulatory capture for my public policy class in light of the Boeing 737 Max issue.  This is really good.

Last year, before Democrats took control of the House, Trump signed a Republican bill that began rolling back regulations on banks that had been put in place after the abuses that caused the Great Recession. He said the big banks deserve even more “relief” from regulators.

The administration has worked hard to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency created to police scams that were rampant before the 2008 banking crisis. As a result, enforcement activity has fallen dramatically.

This is happening across the intersection of big business and government, where risk of “regulatory capture” is always high. That’s when the regulated industries use their lobbying power to defang the agencies intended to protect the public. Sometimes it happens because the industry itself has the most expertise compared to the staff of the underfunded regulator.

Over the past two years, the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters have taken over the Environmental Protection Agency. Enforcement activity by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has dropped. This change includes fewer workplace-safety inspectors. Dozens of regulations in areas ranging from net neutrality to education have been rolled back or are headed that way.

Trump also rescinded an Obama administration rule that generally banned lobbyists for two years from going to work for regulators they had sought to influence. The potential conflicts of interest now are enormous.

5) It is actually kind of mind-boggling how rapidly major league breaking ball pitches have improved.

6) I knew North Carolina Republicans wanted to pass a bill for the fantastical situation of the attempted abortion born-alive.  But it’s ridiculous that they are making members– including sick ones– show up every day hoping to sneak it through because they don’t actually have enough votes.

7) Enjoyed this on how Raj Chetty has Harvard re-thinking it’s introduction to Economics course.  It does strike me that Chetty’s approach is far more valuable to the typical non-Economics major graduate than knowing how to plot supply and demand curves, etc.  And here’s where I call for my son who just finished his Econ course based on the mentioned Mankiw text to read this and weigh in in the comments.

8) Is the ability to have vegan foods available when you are doing your job fighting fires a human right?  Yes, says a Canadian firefighter.

9) I liked this– “What Game of Thrones Could have taught us about electoral politics.”

These are hard issues—legitimacy, counterinsurgency, propaganda, what wars do to civilians and combatants—in which “Game of Thrones” has been immersed. Robert’s Rebellion, which brought down the Mad King, was, we were told, based on a lie about the king’s son having kidnapped and raped a Stark. (The two were Jon’s parents, and secretly married.) The mere giving of credibility to the rumor that Cersei Lannister’s children with King Robert Baratheon were not legitimate set off the War of the Five Kings. Two of those kings were brothers, one of whom, Stannis Baratheon, tried for quick-kill fixes by murdering first his brother Renly and then his daughter, Shireen; the latter act caused the bulk of his troops to abandon him in horror—a reminder that the appearance of what might be called majesty is not irrelevant, even in a feudal system. Nor is the function of consent. (The power of the later-season High Sparrow and his religious followers provided another such reminder—before Cersei immolated them, anyway.) Power vacuums, in Westeros, tend to lead to a surfeit of competing claims. In the final episode, it produced a row of chairs, haphazardly inhabited, at the council where Ser Davos thinks it’s at least possible he’ll get a vote. Meanwhile, Grey Worm, who has real power, in the form of an army, seems to assume that he is disenfranchised, telling the others, “Choose, then.”

The solution that Tyrion comes up with represents a deep misunderstanding of the role of narrative in establishing legitimacy. The king, he says, should be Bran Stark—“Bran the Broken”—because he has the best story. He was pushed out of a window by Jaime Lannister, and survived, and can “warg” into—basically, psychically inhabit—birds, and thus fly. Indeed, Bran has, in his possession, all the stories, because he has become the Three-Eyed Raven, meaning that he can see into the past and also have visions. And what in the world, Tyrion asks, is more powerful than a good story?

That narrative power is real, as in the case of Shireen, but it came not from having a story but from telling it and persuading others of its truth. And we didn’t see a trace of that in Bran’s ascension.

10) The willingness of local governments to waste public money on millionaire sports owners is endlessly frustrating.  And endless.  Carolina Panthers edition.

11) Drum is right, “Donald Trump Admits He Doesn’t Really Want to Stop Illegal Immigration”

12) How the hell that humans ever get to Polynesia thousands of years ago anyway?  I’m not going to read either of these two books on the matter, but I really did enjoy learning more by reading this NYT review.

13) Having recently completed Frans de Waal’s Mama’s Last Hug, I especially enjoyed reading Ed Yong on how bonobo mothers intervene to improve their sons’ sex lives.

Bonobos live in mostly matriarchal societies, where females both occupy the highest ranks and form the core of social groups. If sons stick close to their mother, they’re more likely to end up at the center of a community, where more females sit. “That creates more mating opportunities,” Surbeck says. “It’s not that the moms physically drag their sons over. It’s more like a social passport.”

But mothers frequently took matters into their own hands, too. As Hanna did, they would stop unrelated males from interfering with their sons’ sexual encounters. They’d interfere themselves, stopping unrelated males from mating with other females. They’d gang up with their sons to evict other males from trees with lots of females.

Surbeck thinks that the mothers use these strategies as a way of furthering their own genetic legacy. They can do this by having more children of their own, or by ensuring that their children give them more grandchildren. They have little influence over their daughters, because bonobo females tend to leave home to find their own communities. Males, however, stay with their birth group, and especially near their mother. Even in the best-case scenario, a male bonobo can easily go through life without reproducing, and without a mother’s presence, the odds of his having a kid are about one in 14. To increase the size of her own dynasty, a mother needs to ensure that her sons have the best sexual opportunities.

And that’s exactly what the team has now found: Males who still live with their mother were three times more likely to sire their own children than those whose mothers had gone.

14) I consider it a personal failing that I still have not watched “Deadwood.”  It was really sad to read about David Milch dealing with Alzheimer’s.

15) Really interesting piece from an obstetrician on the reality of the “threat to mother’s life/health” exceptions on abortion:

I am an obstetrician and gynecologist trained to do abortions. I do not know how to translate these laws into clinical practice because often the language is preposterously vague and they include terms with no medical meaning.

In Alabama, for example, a doctor can “deliver the unborn child prematurely to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.”

The legislation does not define what constitutes a “serious” maternal medical condition nor how “serious” it must be to prompt intervention. The language about how to terminate the pregnancy is similarly problematic. Does the vague word “deliver” mean an induction of labor, or does it also apply to a surgical abortion?

Consider this untenable scenario from 1998 that sadly may become more common if these laws stand.

I was asked to perform an abortion for a very sick pregnant women in her first trimester. She had a medical condition that was deteriorating much more rapidly than expected because of her pregnancy. She was not seconds away from dying, but her medical specialists were concerned that, in the next day or two, she would be likely to develop kidney failure.

While kidney failure can be managed with dialysis, preventing that from happening is the best medical course. Not only in the short term, but saving my patient’s kidneys also would prevent a cascade of medical events that could end her life prematurely in the long term. After all, life expectancy is shorter on dialysis. That’s why we do renal transplants.

My patient’s specialists believed that, if she were not pregnant, they might be able to avoid dialysis. Ending her pregnancy would not save her life that day, but it might next week or next month or in five years. We don’t have crystal balls in medicine, so we often can’t say with certainty who will deteriorate with a given medical condition or precisely when.

But that year, the Kansas legislature had passed a law banning abortions on state property, which included the medical center where I worked. But under the law, an abortion would be allowed to save the life of the pregnant woman.

So when I received a call asking whether I could help this patient, my next phone call was not to the operating room to make arrangements — instead I called the hospital’s attorneys. They did not know how to interpret the law either. Unless my patient was actively dying — for example, we were running a code for a cardiac arrest — an abortion would most likely be illegal. If I did the procedure, I would be fired.

To reconcile our disagreement, the hospital’s attorneys felt the only course of action was to get the opinion of the legislator who wrote the law. An attorney set up a conference call with this man so that I could plead my patient’s case.

I began to explain the medical situation, how ill she was. He interrupted me after a few seconds: “Whatever you think is best, doctor.”

My patient got the abortion and her health improved as a result. But I was furious. How dare some legislator applaud this monstrous law in public all the while deferring to a doctor’s expertise in private.

16) I suppose I’ll give Netflix’s “Rim of the World” a try pretty soon (though, right now, spending my time catching up on “Chernobyl” and loving “Fleabag,” but really enjoyed reading about it’s place in the changed movie ecosystem:

All of which should make you ask: Wait, why’d they make this? Rim of the World is the kind of perfectly fun mid-list movie that, as Stentz says, used to get made all the time, but now isn’t. Why is Netflix reheating what seem like cultural leftovers?

Today, big studios—facing declining movie attendance overall—depend on massive franchises, cinematic universes like the Marvel movies to deliver billion-dollar grosses at thousands of theaters worldwide. “This squeezed out a huge number of genres and formats and styles, even those that were massive hits in the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond,” says Matthew Ball, a digital media analyst, in an email. “This change in theatrical supply is separate from audience demand and interest in this content. Audiences still love rom-coms (which have been largely dropped by the major studios) and kid-focused adventure/thrillers.”

So Netflix is, in a sense, hitting ’em where they ain’t

17) I had already queued this up as literally the dumbest electoral college take I had ever seen, “Rural Americans would be serfs if we abolished the Electoral College” when I saw Smotus‘ succinct take, “The argument here is yes the Electoral College gives our minority group an outsized voice in presidential elections, but we deserve it because we grow food.”

18) This NYT magazine article “How Data (and Some Breathtaking Soccer) Brought Liverpool to the Cusp of Glory” was terrific.  A true must-read for my fellow fans of both soccer and data.  Also, interesting that even with a ton of data, it seems that far-and-away the greatest utility is simply in player personnel decisions and is not meaningfully changing the way the game is played (unlike, say, the NBA).

Quick hits (part II)

Sorry– busy weekend with a super-fun soccer tournament with my daughter.  Onward…

1) Isaac Chotiner interviews Linda Greenhouse about the Supreme Court and abortion:

When you look at the history of abortion law in the United States, is there anything about this law in Georgia or the proposal in Alabama that you find interesting, or new, or different?

Well, they’re shockingly aggressive. They purport to take us back to the pre-Roe regime, where abortion was criminal until the mid-sixties in all fifty states—despite the fact that, by the time the Court decided Roe, Gallup and other polls showed that a strong majority of the public believed that abortion should be left as a matter between a woman and her doctor. And the pro-choice majority held throughout all demographics: men, women, Catholics, Republicans. Republicans were the pro-choice party at that time. So what’s happening today is pretty breathtaking, actually.

What specifically in these laws do you see as the biggest challenge to Roe?

I don’t think these laws per se are challenges to Roe because they’re so extreme. I actually think the challenge to Roe will come with ostensibly milder measures that will let the courts find cover in seeming not to be extreme even though these laws can have the extreme effect of destroying the abortion infrastructure and cutting off access for most women. I’m referring to, for instance, the laws that Louisiana passed to require doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. A challenge to that law is right now pending before the Supreme Court, and it is a complete twin to the Texas law that the Court overturned in 2016, before Justice [Neil] Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh joined the Court. The vote in that case was 5–3, Justice [Antonin] Scalia having died.

2) Believe it or not, the generic drug industry just might be the most evil industry out there.  Also FDA inspections of foreign drug production facilities are, sadly, a complete joke.

3) And a great Fresh Air interview on all this.

4) Making playgrounds a little more dangerous.  Sounds good to me.

5) Joan Walsh, “Yesterday Was a Dark Day for the Rule of Law: When Lindsey Graham told Donald Trump Jr. to ignore a subpoena from Senate Intelligence, he told him to commit a crime. But that’s not even the worst of it.”

6) Really interesting Op-Ed at the various legal reasonings behind attacking abortion laws and the potential for unintended consequences if the anti-abortion folks get their way:

Natural law-based arguments for fetal personhood were pursued by anti-abortion scholars and jurists for much of the 1960s and 1970s to little avail. These anti-abortion scholars avoided originalism, the prevailing conservative approach to constitutional interpretation, and instead focused on rebuking the Supreme Court for not recognizing the fundamental right to life that would have made all abortions illegal, including in the Roe case.

By the early 1980s, abortion foes generally gave up on this strategy. That’s because neither judges nor many other conservative lawyers, it seems, felt fully comfortable with recognizing rights not detailed in the text or history of the Constitution. After all, conservatives had long invoked the specter of judicial activism in criticizing their liberal colleagues, including those who issued the Roe decision.

And, as abortion opponents grudgingly recognized, natural law could open a Pandora’s box. If the Supreme Court recognized fetal personhood, the justices would probably subsequently confront claims about fetal rights in a variety of contexts, from Social Security benefits to tax law. Very early on, conservative originalist jurists like Justice Antonin Scalia called on the court to “get out of this area.” It was hard to imagine judges wanting to take on the even messier project of developing a fetal personhood jurisprudence.

And so abortion foes turned to originalism-based arguments that stressed that the law did not recognize a right to abortion at the time the 14th Amendment — whose due process clause was the basis of Roe’s privacy right — was ratified. These promised a constrained court, one that was above politics. But these aren’t the arguments that lawmakers in Alabama and Georgia are making.

What’s more, Alabama’s law, rather than claiming to protect both women and fetal life, instead casts abortion as a zero-sum game, chastising “abortion opponents” as those who would “speak to women’s rights,” but “ignore the unborn child.” Many of the other “heartbeat” laws around the country similarly focus almost exclusively on fetal rights.

This approach ignores what many anti-abortion lawyers believed to be the lesson of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision preserving RoeAt the time that Casey was being decided, many expected the justices to reverse RoeIn earlier decisions, the court had upheld abortion restrictions and suggested that Roe was incoherent and potentially unworkable and that the reasoning underlying it was unpersuasive.

7) I used to spend a fair amount of time on the history of abortion in my lectures, but in recent years I have cut back somewhat to allow more time to cover contemporary controversies.  But the history is really important and most people are utterly ignorant of it.  Great Atlantic piece from 1997 on the matter:

Until the last third of the nineteenth century, when it was criminalized state by state across the land, abortion was legal before “quickening” (approximately the fourth month of pregnancy). Colonial home medical guides gave recipes for “bringing on the menses” with herbs that could be grown in one’s garden or easily found in the woods. By the mid eighteenth century commercial preparations were so widely available that they had inspired their own euphemism (“taking the trade”). Unfortunately, these drugs were often fatal. The first statutes regulating abortion, passed in the 1820s and 1830s, were actually poison-control laws: the sale of commercial abortifacients was banned, but abortion per se was not. The laws made little difference. By the 1840s the abortion business—including the sale of illegal drugs, which were widely advertised in the popular press—was booming. The most famous practitioner, Madame Restell, openly provided abortion services for thirty-five years, with offices in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia and traveling salespeople touting her “Female Monthly Pills.”

In one of the many curious twists that mark the history of abortion, the campaign to criminalize it was waged by the same professional group that, a century later, would play an important role in legalization: physicians. The American Medical Association’s crusade against abortion was partly a professional move, to establish the supremacy of “regular” physicians over midwives and homeopaths. More broadly, anti-abortion sentiment was connected to nativism, anti-Catholicism, and, as it is today, anti-feminism. Immigration, especially by Catholics and nonwhites, was increasing, while birth rates among white native-born Protestants were declining. (Unlike the typical abortion patient of today, that of the nineteenth century was a middle- or upper-class white married woman.) Would the West “be filled by our own children or by those of aliens?” the physician and anti-abortion leader Horatio R. Storer asked in 1868. “This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.” (It should be mentioned that the nineteenth-century women’s movement also opposed abortion, having pinned its hopes on “voluntary motherhood”—the right of wives to control the frequency and timing of sex with their husbands.)

8) My 7th grade son recently watched/discussed a Twilight Zone for his English class.  So, we’ve started watching some.  A whole bunch of lists recommended “The Invaders.”  I did not recall it, so we watched.  The lists were wrong– it was tedious and absurdly over-acted.  But I like the approach of this list— the episodes that have aged the best.  Just watched “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” tonight, which I’ve already seen multiple times.  Now that holds up.

9) Is Game of Thrones are last great watercooler show?  I sure hope not.

10) This from Ed Yong is really good and disturbing, “A Waste of 1,000 Research Papers: Decades of early research on the genetics of depression were built on nonexistent foundations. How did that happen?”

11) Jon Cohn on politics of a much needed tax hike to pay for decent roads in Michigan.

As a candidate last year, Whitmer tapped into frustration over those conditions, promising in every speech and media appearance to “fix the damn roads.” It was more than a specific policy pledge. It was a signal about the kind of governor she would be: a savvy, pragmatic leader who would get things done.

Now Whitmer has her chance to make good on her promise, and she has put forward a plan to increase annual road funding by more than $2 billion. But less than a year after literally mocking suggestions that such an initiative would require a big tax hike, she is calling for precisely that ― specifically, a three-stage increase in the gas levy that would raise it by 45 cents a gallon

Pretty much everything Democrats talk about doing nowadays, from simple, relatively uncontroversial increases in school funding to sweeping, polarizing plans for single-payer health insurance, would require raising new revenue. The essential argument on behalf of these ideas is the same as Whitmer’s pitch on the roads: that the benefits people would see are worth the higher taxes they would pay.

There was a time in American history when this case wasn’t so difficult to make, because voters had more faith in government and Republicans were more open to taxes. But that was long ago. The country now seems stuck in a self-destructive cycle ― one in which funding shortfalls make public goods and services inadequate, fueling yet more cynicism about government’s ability to solve problems and making it harder to get the funding that these programs need.

It’s a cycle that has plagued Democrats for decades, especially in states like Michigan that frequently hold the key in national elections. Can Whitmer break it? [emphasis mine]

12) I found this to be a really interesting take in thinking about fiction writing more broadly and how the GOT writing has really suffered since the end of the books:

It all comes down to how stories are crafted, and for that, we need to start with two different types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create a detailed outline before they commit a word to the page. Pantsers prefer to discover the story as they write it—flying by the seat of their pants, so to speak. Both approaches have their advantages. Since plotters know the story in advance, it’s easier to create tight narratives with satisfying conclusions. But that amount of predestination can sometimes make characters feel like cogs in service of the story. Pantsers have an easier time writing characters that live and breathe. They generate the plot by dropping a person with desires and needs into a dramatic situation and documenting the results. But with the characters in charge, pantsers risk a meandering or poorly paced structure, and they can struggle to tie everything together.

To be clear, the advantages of each are not guarantees. And plotters can write memorable characters, while pantsers can write thrilling sequences. The differences usually smooth themselves out over successive drafts anyway. Where the effect can be pronounced is in an ongoing television or book series, since the beginning of the story gets released and digested by the public while the rest is still being written.

George R.R. Martin describes this distinction in terms of architects and gardeners. He’s firmly among the latter. He plants character seeds and carefully guides their growth, and when the show was directly adapting his A Song of Ice and Fire series, the approach paid off. It’s why every emotional beat and fair-in-hindsight surprise landed with such devastating weight: The terrible things that happened to these characters happened because of earlier choices they’d made. Those ever-blooming stories were a boon to the showrunners, who had their pick, but they’re also the reason the narrative momentum of the books slowed over time.

13) Some really interesting PS research on how much all that campaigning in swing states mobilized voters:

Interest in politics has been repeatedly shown to be a substantively important precursor to political participation. Unfortunately, sources of its variation beyond childhood socialization remain under-explored. This is likely due to a widespread belief that interest is intractable: “You’ve either got it or you don’t.” In response, I enumerate several mechanisms through which political mobilization might be expected to shift interest. This potential is then tested using a well-established most-likely case: the 2012 presidential campaign. A difference-in-differences analysis finds that residents of battleground states exhibit a notable increase in political interest between 2010 and 2014 compared to those in “spectator” states and an alternative specification using field office placement implicates campaign mobilization directly in precipitating this change. The magnitude of the estimated effect is equivalent to over 150,000 entirely disinterested North Carolinians becoming fully engaged who would have remained apathetic had they lived in Georgia. The change is concentrated among those without college degrees, indicating mobilization may compensate for marginalizing conditions. Further evidence shows the effect resulted in increased political knowledge and lingered into 2016. Overall, this analysis demonstrates that political mobilization can shift interest and underscores the importance of understanding how recruitment can reshape the motivations of the electorate. [emphasis mine]

14) John Pfaff with five myths about prisons.  #1 and #2 are especially widely believed:

MYTH NO. 1
U.S. prisons are full of nonviolent drug offenders.

Asked recently about voting rights for felons, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), one of the Democratic presidential candidates, claimed that “we locked up more people for marijuana in 2017 than all the violent crimes combined.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has echoed that view, suggesting on Twitter that the prison system is defined by nonviolent people “stopped w/ a dime bag.”

But the simple truth is that, at a minimum, 55 percent of those in state prison have been convicted of a violent crime — and more than half of these people, or nearly 30 percent of the total prison population, have been found guilty of murder, manslaughter, rape or sexual assault, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Slightly less than 15 percent are incarcerated for drug crimes, even though most Americans believe the figure to be about 50 percent. (Drugs play a bigger role in the federal prison system, but that holds only about 10 percent of all prisoners; most incarcerated people are in state prison.)…

MYTH NO. 2
Private prisons drive
mass incarceration.

When people try to explain how the United States ended up with nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, they often point to firms that directly profit from incarceration by running prisons or by providing services to public facilities. At a recent presidential campaign event, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blamed private prisons for mass incarceration (“We need to get rid of for-profit, private prisons”). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) focused on private prisons in his 2016 presidential bid and is doing so again (“The private prison racket has got to end”).

There are two central flaws in this claim. First, only about 8 percent of all state and federal prisoners are held in private facilities . Most of those in private prisons are held in just five states, and there is no real evidence that prison populations have grown faster in those states than elsewhere.

Second, of the roughly $50 billion we spend on prisons, about two-thirds , or $30 billion, is spent on wages and benefits for public-sector employees. In comparison, private prison firms collectively earn a few billion in revenue and (more important for their incentives to lobby) about $300 million in profits — just 1 percent of the public-sector wage bill. So public-sector correctional officer unions have a reason to lobby against reforms that would reduce inmate populations, especially since prisons often provide some of the only well-paying jobs in the rural communities where they are located.

15) Wonkette on how all the most “pro-life” states don’t seem to care for baby’s lives so much once they are, you know, actually born.

16) Loved this Planet Money episode on Jeopardy phenomenon, James Holhauser.  Planet Money reporter Kenny Malone’s sister is married to Holhauser’s brother, so they share nieces and nephews.  Malone is definitely not the coolest uncle any more.

17) Short-term rental electric scooters briefly took over Raleigh and the NC State campus area this past year.  Seems like the business model, though, is set up for a crash.

18) I really liked Conor Friedersdorf on Harvard’s cowardly actions on Ronald Sullivan:

The vital work of criminal defense has managed to endure in spite of such attacks, thanks to a core of sober-minded citizens in each generation who know better than to pile on. They understand that to defend an accused criminal is not to defend his or her alleged crime—and that conflating the two by imposing social sanctions on attorneys would make criminal trials more like popularity contests.

Educational institutions ought to teach young adults this justice-enhancing logic. Harvard is now teaching its undergraduates how to undermine it.

Its shameful capitulation to popular passions began earlier this year when Ronald Sullivan, an African American law professor and faculty dean with a long history of freeing marginalized innocents from prison, announced that he would be working as a defense attorney for the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. “Many students expressed dismay, saying that his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women disqualified Mr. Sullivan from serving in a role of support and mentorship to students,” The New York Timesreported

Either way, Harvard administrators were warned about the unavoidable conflict between upholding an important civic norm––that legal representation for even the most reviled is a service to the community, not a transgression against it—and giving in to the demands of the undergraduates most aggrieved by their faculty dean’s choice of clients. And rather than infer a responsibility of the extremely privileged to uphold civic norms for the benefit of those in society who most need them, this institution, which purports to educate future leaders, chose to prioritize transient discomfort felt by its most aggrieved students. [emphasis mine]

19) I would like to live in a world where policy did not have absurdly over-militarized drug raids and where they were held accountable if they got these raids lethally wrong.  That world does not yet exist.  Radley Balko:

The scandal over a fatal drug raid earlier this year in Houston appears to be growing. We know that the police lied to obtain a search warrant for the January raid that left two people dead. The cops alleged that the couple were selling heroin out of the house. There was no heroin. The officer who led the investigation has since left the Houston Police Department, and prosecutors have dismissed dozens of charges from previous cases in which he was involved.

Now, a crime-scene investigation by specialists hired by the family of the couple killed in the raid has raised even more questions. From the Houston Chronicle:

A four-day independent forensics review at 7815 Harding Street found a cache of evidence left behind by the city’s crime scene teams after a botched drug raid at the home left dead a couple suspected of selling drugs.

Hired by the relatives of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle, the new forensics team found no signs the pair fired shots at police — and plenty of signs that previous investigators overlooked dozens of pieces of potential evidence in what one expert called a “sloppy” investigation. …

Though police said they started shooting when the dog lunged as they came through the door, Maloney’s forensics team found that the dog was shot and killed at the edge of the dining room, 15 feet from the front door. Authorities never picked up the shotgun shell when they collected evidence.

And police said that Tuttle started firing at them, but Maloney’s team did not find clear evidence of that.

“The initial bullet trajectories appear to be somewhat contradictory,” said Louisiana-based attorney Chuck Bourque, who is also representing the Nicholas family. “We see no evidence that anybody inside the house was firing toward the door.”

Some of the bullet holes outside the house appeared at least a foot from the door, a fact that Doyle flagged as troubling.

“You can’t see into the house from there,” he said, “you’re firing into the house through a wall.”

Now we’re entering new territory. This is no longer just about the narcotics officers. We now have to ask if the investigating officers and crime-scene technicians are implicated, too.

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