Quick hits (part I)

1) I was fascinated by this story about Trader Joe’s products.  Basically, they get national manufacturers to make a Trader Joe’s version to sell for cheaper and keep it entirely secret.

2) Nice 538 piece on the rise of white identity politics.  Pretty sure I’ve posted a version of this chart before, but it’s worth it again.  As long as Republicans manage to convince themselves that white people (and Christians!  My God, the level of delusion!) face more discrimination than Black people, we have a serious, serious problem in this country.

3) Seems like a good time to mention that Republican state legislatures across the country– including here in NC– would like to make it legal to run over protesters.  Seriously!

4) My solar eclipse glasses were refunded by Amazon out of “an abundance of caution.”  That said, based on this Today story, I’m using them anyway (rather than ordering more at what has quickly become astronomical prices):

One sure tip that the glasses are safe for use according to Pfriem is if they have “ISO 12312-2 standard” labeled on them.

Another tip: You shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face while wearing the glasses. That would mean too much light is getting through the filter.

“So a third thing you could look for is when the product is actually in your hand,” Pfriem said. “Look at the film itself and make sure that there’s no pocking, bubbling or creasing. What those deformities sometimes serve to do is amplify the sun’s light coming through the filter.”

The ones I bought are literally like wearing a blindfold except when looking at the sun.  If blocking out that much visible light I’m going to assume they are blocking out the UV as well.

5) How the alt-right’s rebranding has failed.

6) You should take a look at the really disturbing Vice documentary of Charlottesville.

7) I had no idea about “crown shyness” in trees.  Very cool.

8) Enough with the constant password changing and the insistence on special characters.  What you need is a long password.

9) We really don’t have a very good sense of just how bad being “overweight” is for your health.

Most researchers agree that it’s unhealthy for the average person to be, say, 300 pounds. They don’t really know why being very overweight is bad for you, but the thinking is that all those fat cells disrupt how the body produces and uses insulin, leading to elevated glucose in the blood and, eventually, diabetes. Extra weight also increases blood pressure, which can ultimately damage the heart.

But whether just a few extra pounds raise the risk of death is a surprisingly controversial and polarizing issue. Usually, nutrition scientists tell journalists hedgy things like, “this is just what my study shows,” followed by the dreaded disclaimer: “Further research is needed.” But on this question, the researchers involved are entrenched, having reached opposite conclusions and not budging an inch. Like many internecine wars, the dispute mostly comes down to one small thing: how you define the “overweight” population in the study.

10) What Sinclair Broadcasting is doing is very bad and very scary and very under-the-radar.  Not good.

11) The open carry laws in Virginia sure don’t help the situation.

12) NC Governor Roy Cooper makes the strong case for removing the confederate monuments in NC.  Not while the Republicans run the legislature, but he’s right.

13) It is just so obvious that kids need to move to keep their brains working best (heck, adults, too) and just keeping that at their desks all day with minimal breaks is counter-productive.  And, not just obvious, plenty of studies backing them up.  At least some schools are catching on.  Alas, depressing that some educators still can’t get past this mindset:

But not all districts are embracing the trend of movement breaks.

“The bottom line is that with only six and a half hours during the day, our priority is academics,” said Tom Hernandez, the director of community relations for the Plainfield School District in Illinois, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. He said that under state law, the schools provide daily physical education classes and that teachers in the district find ways to give students time during the day to refresh and recharge.

I think I’m going to send the article to my kids’ elementary principal next week.  I’ll be curious as to her response.

14) Jonathan Bernstein on how a classic of political science (I read it in grad school) very much explains Trump’s weakness as a president:

What Neustadt taught was that the constitutional office of President of the United States is an inherently weak one, but that skilled presidents can nevertheless become enormously influential. The flip side of this, however, is that an amateurish president can barely even exercise the constitutional and statutory authority of the office…

Without a more direct way to control the government, Neustadt argues that presidents must depend on what he calls “persuasion” — better referred to as the skilled use of leverage and bargaining power. Not just with Congress, or within the executive branch, but across the board. This “persuasion” doesn’t necessarily mean changing anyone’s mind. It may just mean convincing someone in a position of power to do nothing rather than something.

Resignations from the president’s American Manufacturing Council are a classic case of failed persuasion. The businesspeople who quit — at least six since the president’s poorly reviewed comments on Charlottesville — were private citizens, not government officials. And all Trump wanted from them, to put it plainly, was for them to do nothing while lending their credibility to his agenda. That’s not necessarily a huge ask in the current situation, which didn’t directly put the interests of Merck or Under Armour at risk. Yet persuading them to stay put was something apparently beyond the very limited abilities of the president at this point. It didn’t help, of course, that Trump reinforced his reputation as a paper tiger by attacking Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier only to have Merck’s share prices spike. As my View colleague Joe Nocera pointed out, “there’s nothing to be scared of” from Trump’s tweets. Skilled presidents, however, rely on more than just threats. They work hard to build strong relationships, and know when to dangle carrots to loosely affiliated supporters, too.

Or perhaps an even better illustration of how weak Trump has become is that he’s even lost, in at least one case, the ability to supply the words coming out of the presidential mouth. Trump resisted the statement originally drafted for him about Charlottesville on Saturday, adding squish words about “many sides” to a statement that would have condemned neo-Nazis. But that didn’t stand; by Monday, over his own personal objections, Trump wound up giving the statement he was supposed to have given in the first place. And after kicking up a firestorm in an ugly appearance on Tuesday in which he went back to blaming both sides, it wouldn’t be surprising if he winds up backing down again — or suffering a real price for saying what he wanted to say.

So Trump is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, a historically weak president. His professional reputation is in tatters, he’s unusually unpopular, and he doesn’t appear to come close to having the skills to do anything about it. Exactly the conditions under which Neustadt predicted presidents would lose influence. [emphasis mine]

15) Been hearing a lot about Antifa lately.  Nice take on it from Peter Beinart.

16) TV is getting more confusing and it’s only going to get worse.

17) Do not use hair conditioner in the case of a nuclear explosion near by.

18) Watched Bill and Ted’s (on Amazon prime this month) with the boys this week.  Holds up in my book.  David loved it just as much as I did at his age.

Photo of the day

As long as I took so many of my own photos I liked last week, I’ll go back to that well.

I find the 16″ guns of WWII battelships endlesssly cool.  Here’s my son with them on the USS North Carolina.  Actually, even more so than the guns, I am always amazed (and this was my third visit) by the technological and logistical sophistication that was required to keep this thing properly manned and functioning.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Obviously I don’t know much about China and North Korea.  But I do know that if Evan Osnos thinks something is our least bad option, there’s a good chance it actually is:

At the G-20 meeting in Hamburg this week, the world’s attention will focus largely on Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin. But Trump’s meeting with Xi will have more immediate relevance in dealing with the Korea crisis. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Thursday, Jake Sullivan and Victor Cha, foreign-policy advisers in the Obama and Bush Administrations, respectively, proposed a new approach to getting China invested in freezing the North Korean missile tests. Instead of threatening North Korea with cutting off trade, they propose, in effect, paying it to cut off missile tests. “The basic trade would be Chinese disbursements to Pyongyang, as well as security assurances, in return for constraints on North Korea’s program. . . . If North Korea cheated, China would not be receiving what it paid for. The logical thing would be for it to withhold economic benefits until compliance resumed.” The Times outlined a similar idea in an editorial of its own this week.

This approach is no silver bullet, but, in the “land of lousy options,” as diplomats call the North Korea problem, it is as good as any, in part because it does not rest on a false understanding of the other party. The relationship between Xi and Trump–leaders of the world’s two largest economies, a rising power and an addled power, straining to coexist—may well prove to be the most consequential diplomatic liaison of its time.

2) Emily Yoffe on Trump’s TV addiction.

3) Linda Greenhouse in Gorsuch:

Whether out of ignorance or by deliberate choice, Neil Gorsuch is a norm breaker. He’s the new kid in class with his hand always up, the boy on the playground who snatches the ball out of turn. He is in his colleagues’ faces pointing out the error of their ways, his snarky tone oozing disrespect toward those who might, just might, know what they are talking about. It’s hard to ascribe this behavior to ignorance — he was, after all, like three of his colleagues, once a Supreme Court law clerk. But if it’s not ignorance, what is it? How could the folksy “Mr. Smith Goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee” morph so quickly into Donald Trump’s life-tenured judicial avatar? …

And while liberals have every reason to gnash their teeth over the justice who holds the seat that should have been Merrick Garland’s, they can perhaps take some comfort in the unexpected daylight that has opened between him and two of the court’s other conservatives, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy. My concern when Justice Gorsuch joined the court was how like Chief Justice Roberts he seemed in demeanor and professional trajectory. I could see him as a natural ally who would bolster the chief justice’s most conservative instincts. It now seems just as likely that Neil Gorsuch’s main effect on John Roberts will be to get on his nerves.

4) I had not heard of the Charlie Gard case till I read about it in Vox.  I don’t think it all unreasonable that a health system without unlimited resources (British NHS) does not want to spend millions of dollars on an unproven treatment for a single child.

5) Amusingly enough, Americans pretend to order their steak less cooked than data suggests they actually do.  I make no apologies for being a medium-well person.  Not big on blood in my food.  Here’s a chart based on orders at Longhorn Steakhouse:

how americans order steak

6) Surprise, surprise, immigrant farm workers are not actually taking the jobs of Americans:

Before they can hire workers through the program, farmers must first try to recruit locally. But many say they don’t have much luck.

“We just don’t have the local labor here to work the farms,” Wooten said. “We wouldn’t be able to run without immigrant labor. It’s that simple, and it’s a lot more than just agriculture.”

A 2013 study by the Center for Global Development analyzed more than a decade’s worth of data from North Carolina farms and found that “no matter how bad the economy becomes, native workers do not take farm jobs.”

7) In other unsurprising news, internet trolls tend to test high in psychopathy.

8) Headline I was not expecting to see, “FBI investigated complaints that Bobby Knight groped women at U.S. spy agency.”

9) Good news for the con artists who pose as “scientific” experts based on fraudulent “forensic science.”  They are protected from lawsuits even in cases of gross negligence.

10) This very computer I’m typing on used to use Kasperky anti-virus until NC State decided to go with another vendor.  Apparently, national security types are so hot on the idea of a Russian company providing key cyber-security.

11) I watched a ton of TV as a kid and safe to say I turned out fine.  My kids have lots of screen time and I’m pretty sure they’ll (well, most of ’em) will turn out fine, too.  Loved this NYT essay:

But the ability of parents to limit screen time, like the ability to limit unwholesome food, has become more than a matter of health. It has become a statement of class, order, purity and parental authority.

We are told that tech billionaires, including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, limited screen time strictly for their own children. The internet is awash with articles linking screen time to depression, A.D.H.D., even psychosis…

Perhaps my writing this is just an attempt to wash away guilt, but I have even made peace with our love of poor-quality screen time, so long as we are still doing the other things that make up a good life. There are too many problems in the world worth worrying about for bourgeois parents like me to waste energy and resources perfecting and regimenting our little worlds.

And what is this teaching my children? I hope it is teaching them that it is O.K. to waste some of the 24 hours in a day. I hope it is teaching them that there is value in making space in your life for laziness and pleasure, for the purposeless passing of time.

12) Enjoyed Dana Goldstein’s article on the growing trend of campus common reading.  I’ve  been a discussion leader for NC State’s program for at least 8 years or so now.  NC State even got the shout-out for this year’s Between the World and Me, which I’ll be starting soon.

13) Hollywood sure does have a bad movie problem.  Maybe there’s hope that Chinese viewers will stop paying for any American crap with a bunch of explosions and this can get better.

14) This John Roberts graduation speech is so good.  It’s honestly hard to believe that the person who could say these words takes some of the SC positions that he does.

15) I’d noticed some Axios links in my various feeds, but didn’t realize it was basically dumbed-down Politico.  Don’t expect a lot of Axios links here.

16) Ezra’s excellent July 4th essay:

We are diminished when our president lies, and even more so when we begin taking his habitual lying for granted. The New York Times published a comprehensive list of falsehoods Trump told since taking office and found it wasn’t until March that Trump went a full day without saying something flatly untrue. The absence of public dishonesty, for Trump, is usually driven by an absence of opportunity to be publicly dishonest. “On days without an untrue statement, he is often absent from Twitter, vacationing at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, or busy golfing,” the Times found…

We are diminished when our president spends his time and energy — and thus the nation’s time and energy — on the wrong issues. At Axios, Mike Allen notes Trump has tweeted the words “opioid” or “opioids” just once — but “loser” 234 times, and “dumb” or “dummy” 222 times. Political capital is finite, and our future is harmed when it is squandered.

We are diminished when the president knows nothing about the issues he faces, and does not try to learn more. It is embarrassing that the president’s staffers have taken to writing his name as often as possible in briefing documents for fear that he will lose interest otherwise, that they fill his press clips with sycophantic praise in an effort to distract him from Twitter, that they fight to appear on Fox & Friends because they know he takes advice from the television better than from his own advisers. We have a president who was not humble enough to realize health care and North Korea are complex problems, and who has not responded to that realization by seriously studying the issues.

17) The science of why bird eggs have different shapes.

18) Among the crazy and horrible things the U.S. does, sending kids adopted from foreign countries as young children back to their “home” country via adult deportation is pretty up there in the wrongness.

19) Texas seems to think that the court system should be fair and merciful for police officers.  Others, not so much.

20) A friend shared something on Facebook about glysophate being responsible for the rise in Celiac and gluten problems.  And it’s based on a study in Interdisciplinary Toxicology.  Well, that sounds good.  Not so much.  Turns out it’s a Slovakian pay to publish journal.  And worst, part, there is not actually Roundup-resistant GMO wheat, upon which the whole idea is predicated.

21) Chait’s been really excellent on Republicans and health care lately:

And today McConnell himself made the same point again. Only this time, he didn’t phrase it quite like a threat. “If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement,” heannounced, “then some kind of action with regard to private-health-insurance markets must occur.”

This is, of course, a comical admission that the entire premise of the Republican onslaught has always been a lie. Republicans have insisted for seven years the law was totally beyond repair, and that the entire thing must be repealed, including its Medicaid expansion. The truth is that the marketplaces have largely stabilized, and they face long-standing challenges providing competition in rural areas, but nothing like the death spiral Republicans have claimed. Even Trump’s own health-care experts have admitted the Obamacare exchanges are healthy. [emphasis mine]

If Republicans want to give up their long-standing boycott of any tinkering with the bill and instead pass some simple patches, they might anger some conservatives, but they will also steer clear of inflicting humanitarian disaster on their own constituents, who might not appreciate it.

22) Very nice piece in Upshot about how Republicans are all for local government.  Except when local government is controlled by liberals who want to pass, you know, liberal policies.

Quick hits (part I)

1) The Grenfell Towers fire in London and government regulation.  This is ultimately what the libertarian view of government gets you– people burned alive.

A formal government inquiry into the fire has just begun. But interviews with tenants, industry executives and fire safety engineers point to a gross failure of government oversight, a refusal to heed warnings from inside Britain and around the world and a drive by successive governments from both major political parties to free businesses from the burden of safety regulations.

Promising to cut “red tape,” business-friendly politicians evidently judged that cost concerns outweighed the risks of allowing flammable materials to be used in facades. Builders in Britain were allowed to wrap residential apartment towers — perhaps several hundred of them — from top to bottom in highly flammable materials, a practice forbidden in the United States and many European countries. And companies did not hesitate to supply the British market.

2) Damn the anti-democratic hubris and arrogance of the NC Republicans really knows no bounds.  Now they are trying to strip the governor of his power to to challenge unconstitutional laws.  Oh, and they want to re-draw and gerrymander state judicial maps, too.  Beyond shameless.

3) Yes, Democratic urban clustering hurts even if it wasn’t for gerrymandering; but gerrymandering definitely does give Republicans an unfair advantage.

4) People kill people.  With guns.  Some new research:

The 2005 report of the National Research Council (NRC) on Firearms and Violence recognized that violent crime was higher in the post-passage period (relative to national crime patterns) for states adopting right-to-carry (RTC) concealed handgun laws, but because of model dependence the panel was unable to identify the true causal effect of these laws from the then-existing panel data evidence. This study uses 14 additional years of panel data (through 2014) capturing an additional 11 RTC adoptions and new statistical techniques to see if more convincing and robust conclusions can emerge.

Our preferred panel data regression specification (the “DAW model”) and the Brennan Center (BC) model, as well as other statistical models by Lott and Mustard (LM) and Moody and Marvell (MM) that had previously been offered as evidence of crime-reducing RTC laws, now consistently generate estimates showing RTC laws increase overall violent crime and/or murder when run on the most complete data.

We then use the synthetic control approach of Alberto Abadie and Javier Gardeazabal (2003) to generate state-specific estimates of the impact of RTC laws on crime. Our major finding is that under all four specifications (DAW, BC, LM, and MM), RTC laws are associated with higher aggregate violent crime rates, and the size of the deleterious effects that are associated with the passage of RTC laws climbs over time. Ten years after the adoption of RTC laws, violent crime is estimated to be 13-15% percent higher than it would have been without the RTC law. [emphasis mine] Unlike the panel data setting, these results are not sensitive to the covariates included as predictors. The magnitude of the estimated increase in violent crime from RTC laws is substantial in that, using a consensus estimate for the elasticity of crime with respect to incarceration of .15, the average RTC state would have to double its prison population to counteract the RTC-induced increase in violent crime.

5) On Canada’s smart immigration policy and how it has helped them resist the anti-immigrant, populist wave.

6) I think there is, actually, a reasonable case for replacing Nancy Pelosi.  Yglesias makes it:

The normal winning political strategy these days is for a party to make a comeback by presenting itself as all new and radically improved, even if the basic ideology and policy framework remains the same. By having Pelosi as their leader, Democrats are essentially asking the voters of swing districts to decide they made a mistake back in 2010 and want to take back their old favorite party again. A new leader would simply let voters decide they’re tired of the GOP and ready to give a new group a shot.

Democratic candidates don’t like to talk about Pelosi

The biggest problem with Pelosi’s status in the leadership is probably seen by the behavior over the years of the Democratic House challengers on whose success she is counting to get elected speaker. Simply put, they don’t want to talk about it.

Of course, there’s still a good case to be made for keeping Pelosi, but I think this–unlike blaming her for Ossof’s loss, etc.– is an actually decent case for replacing her.

7) Grover Norquist’s tweet about his daughter having to pay sales tax on a guitar being how Republicans are made was moronic and truly shows the smallness of his mind and vision.  This article has many of the best replies.

8) The dad who photoshops his young daughter into dangerous situations.  Love this.

9) Richard Hasen on how Gorsuch really is the new Scalia.

10) Hell of a headline, “Man sits in jail when drywall powder is mistaken for cocaine.”  Hooray for the war on drugs.

11) Williams Syndrome— where people are incredibly friendly and sociable– is a pretty fascinating genetic disorder which presents a pretty unique set of parenting problems.

12) Who knew?  How TMZ became a potent pro-Trump media outlet.

13) Josh Barro on the idea that consumers want to take more charge of their health care:

Republicans like to claim that prices will fall because their law will “empower consumers,” which is their code word for the fact that their healthcare bill would saddle consumers with more of the responsibility to pay for their own healthcare. But there is little evidence that forcing consumers to pay more leads to savvier healthcare spending.

It doesn’t push prices down. It does cause people to consume less healthcare. Unfortunately, consumers do not appear to be very good at identifying and forgoing wasteful healthcare instead of useful healthcare — that is, people tend to forgo treatments they actually need but don’t have the money to pay for.

Let me tell you a story about healthcare spending accounts

One of the stupidest aspects of Republican healthcare rhetoric is the idea that consumers want to take charge of their own care by paying routine expenses from special, tax-advantaged accounts.

These accounts have been gradually foisted on Americans over the decades. Your employer most likely asks you whether you want a health savings account or a flexible spending account. I’ve resisted using one because they are such a pain, but I broke down and set up an FSA this year through Business Insider because I decided it was stupid to forgo the tax savings.

So I put $2,600 in the account and ADP sent me a debit card. I started using it at the doctor’s office, at the pharmacy, at the physical therapist. (I threw out my back this spring, which is a reason I’ve been a little crankier than usual.)

Then, after a few months, I got a letter in the mail from ADP saying it needed my receipts. Receipts? I thought ADP got those straight from the providers. It seems it does get them from CVS, but not from the medical providers. I was supposed to be uploading those receipts through a website. Instead, I threw them away.

If I had to upload the receipts, then what was the point of the debit card? If the system requires that much paperwork, I might as well be submitting claim forms and getting checks in the mail.

Anyway, now I have to call those providers’ offices and get duplicate receipts and upload them and allow seven to 10 days for processing. Until I do that, I have been cut off from access to the money in the account — my own money — that got in the account only because Congress chose to offer a tax preference that I could get only by using such an account.

Who wants to deal with this crap?

14) Maine restaurant workers didn’t want their minimum wage raised, because it would be at the expense of tipping.  As we know, tipping sucks.

15) I don’t actually eat tomatoes (you know, picky eater) except as sauce and ketchup.  That said, I found this Smithsonian article on how they lost their good taste pretty fascinating:

But modern farmers aren’t entirely to blame, the genetic study found. “The selection for big fruit and against sugar is dramatic in the modern varieties,” says Klee. “But it goes way back to pre-Columbian days when the Native Americans were already selecting for bigger fruit with lower sugar content.”

Putting more tasty sugar back into mainstream tomatoes may simply not be feasible with today’s production realities, says Klee. That’s because most growers aren’t paid for flavor; they’re paid by the pound. It costs just as much to have a worker pick a small tomato as to pick a huge one, which is a big reason why today’s commercially-produced tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) can be so much more massive than their tiny wild ancestors.

“The breeders have selected plants to produce massive amounts of fruit, all at the same time, and they want bigger fruit on to the plant. The plant just can’t keep up with that, so what happens is you dilute out all of the flavor chemicals,” says Klee.

The study also revealed another surprise in the tomato’s path to blandness. Much of the dilution of tomato flavor over time wasn’t just the necessary result of breeding for larger fruit—it was an accidental side effect. Since breeders aren’t regularly genetically testing their tomatoes, it’s easy for any of the 25 different chemicals involved in tomato aroma to simply drop out one by one over the generations, when the allele for poorer flavor choice is randomly selected.

It seems that, in the case of tomatoes, no one noticed this slow dilution until the cumulative impact of all those lost genes became obvious. “Out of the 25 volatiles 13 of them are significantly reduced in the modern varieties, “ Klee says. “Its almost exactly what you’d predict would occur randomly, but the net effect is that you’ve diluted out flavor.”

16) How legal marijuana makes it harder for police to search your car.  Good.

17) Now NC Republicans are looking to impeach our Democratic Secretary of State.  Nuts!

18) America’s trees are moving West.  And only a small portion can be explained by climate change.

19) Loved this Vox essay from Jimmy Williams, former lobbyist who had to give it up after too much damage to his soul:

Now, before everyone gets their panties in a wad, let me be pointedly clear about something: I support lobbying and believe it’s an essential part of our constitutional right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Everyone in this country, from the left to the right, deserves a voice, and they should be heard loud and clear. If that means hiring a lobbyist to represent your point of view before Congress, awesomesauce. If that means you take to the streets, demand meetings and town halls with cowardly members of the House and Senate, or, better yet, run against them, I’m your biggest advocate.

But what I don’t support are Supreme Court rulings that have repeatedly told us money is an absolutely protected form of speech. A string of cases like Citizens United and others has opened the barn door to unlimited “dark money” campaign spending. Cases like Citizens gross me and most everyone else out because the result is the money in your politics becomes the voice in your politics. Americans’ right “to redress” comes at a cost, and if you don’t have the cash, chances are you’ll be ignored. [emphasis mine]

Bottom line: Those with the most money have the largest voices. Those with the least are rarely part of the process. That makes the legality of the practice of lobbying less relevant because it’s an uneven playing field.

20) Professors getting in trouble for saying what they really think on social media.  Also, if you are only an adjunct, be really careful!

21) Re-assessing Thomas Jefferson.  Here’s my handy approach– judge a person by the standards of their times.

22) Harold Pollack is right, “Trumpcare Will Probably Kill Thousands Each Year: And it is neither alarmist nor uncivil to say so.”

23) Yep, so Republicans are content to keep the status quo in NC where it’s not a rape if the woman said yes before withdrawing consent.

24) Count me as on-board with the plan for Americacare (i.e. public option on steroids) as the new Democratic approach to health care.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) The psychologists behind the CIA’s torture program.

2) How to manipulate teenage defiance for good.

3) Yet more evidence on the link between childhood lead exposure and crime.

4) Jonathan Rauch on why it will be so hard to impeach Trump:

In 1974, as today, Republican legislators were fearful of the political consequences of abandoning a Republican president who enjoyed Republican partisans’ support. That was one reason they protected him for so long. So a key question becomes: when did the Republican base sour on Nixon, making it safe for party leaders to eject him?

The answer, as shown in the second chart, is: never. To the bitter end, his Republican approval stayed at or above 50 percent (with only minor and temporary exceptions). In other words, Nixon divided Republicans but never lost them, despite his evident and gross malfeasance.

Because the Republican Party of 1974 was more moderate and heterogeneous than the Republican Party of today, we can expect today’s Republican base to be even more likely to protect Trump than yesterday’s Republican base was to protect Nixon.

5) Mark Joseph Stern on how the logic of two recent SC decisions on free speech may have an impact on the gerrymandering case.

6) Speaking of which, I find Charles Lane’s post arguing that we don’t want courts deciding how much partisan gerrymandering is too much to be remarkably unpersuasive.

7) Sticking with the Supreme Court, Garrett Epps argues recent rulings are far too trusting of the government on national security.

8) Why the health care industry is not doing more to stop the AHCA (short version: they have a lot of stuff they want from Republicans and don’t want to get on their bad side).

9) Unwritten rules of flying you are probably breaking.  I love this one:

10. Don’t recline in economy. No, listen to me, asshole: Don’t recline in economy. The amount of extra comfort you gain is nothing compared to the chain reaction of pain you have just set off behind you, in which every other passenger in your path is consigned to a modified form of the Trolley Problem, whereby they can either subject themselves and possibly the person next to them to hours of discomfort by doing nothing, or continue the chain reaction by reclining their own seat to gain a little room. If you have the world’s most specific back problem and must sit at precisely a 110-degree angle, then turn around, ask the person behind you if this is OK, and give them time to arrange their laptop, knees, and soul for what you are about to inflict, you heartless life-ruiner who should have taken the bus.

10) Mike Munger talks scholarly writing.  Ummm, no getting up at 4:30am for me to write; I’ll settle for less productivity.

11) The tick that gives people red meat allergies is spreading.  Please don’t bite me.  Please don’t bite me.

12) It’s all in the headline and I’m damn sure it’s not a coincidence, “Trump seeks sharp cuts to housing aid, except for program that brings him millions.”

13) Chris Fitzsimon on the NC budget.

14) Drum on Seattle’s experiment with $15 minimum wage.

The obvious conclusion is that raising its minimum wage hasn’t depressed employment in Seattle at all. DeLong comments:

Low-end labor markets simply do not appear to work like competitive markets.Rather, they work like markets in which employers have substantial market power—and thus minimum wage laws have the same efficiency benefits as does natural-monopoly rate regulation. Why low-end labor markets do not appear to work like competitive markets is a very interesting—and, I believe, unsolved—question. But it is in all likelihood a fact to deal with.

I’d add an obvious caveat to this: it’s possible that a modestly higher minimum wage has little effect when the economy is doing well. We don’t know yet how employment in Seattle will respond when the economy turns down.

15) Good story on the incredibly difficult call sailors had to make to seal watertight doors after a recent collision with Japanese freighter.

16) Is North Carolina the future of American politics?

Welcome to North Carolina circa 2017, where all the passions and pathologies of American politics writ large are played out writ small — and with even more intensity. Ever since 2010, when Republicans seized control of the General Assembly for the first time in a century, and especially since 2012, when they took the governor’s mansion, the state’s politics have been haywire. “There’s been a bigger and quicker shift to the right here than in any other state in the country,” says Rob Christensen, a longtime political writer for The News and Observer newspaper in Raleigh.

In just a few years, North Carolina Republicans have not just run quickly through the conservative policy checklist; they’ve tried to permanently skew the balance of power in the state in their favor, passing some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country and drawing some of the most egregiously gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts in modern American politics (though their moves have repeatedly failed to pass muster with the courts). Cooper’s victory, and the blowback to H.B. 2 that preceded it, seemed to suggest a chastening of the party — until Republicans contested the election results with a series of baseless allegations of voter fraud and legal challenges that left the state in limbo for four weeks before McCrory finally conceded.

17) Chait argues the Conservative health care agenda is dead.  He’s right:

Why didn’t Republicans decide to write a conservative health-care bill? Because Americans don’t want one. Marketized health care with transparent pricing turns out to be literally the opposite of what the country prefers. Washington Post reporter James Hohmann travels to Georgia’s sixth district, the site of the contested special election, and finds through “dozens of interviews” that even the Republicans in this affluent district want a health-care plan that gives them less, not more, skin in the game. One representative right-wing voter hates Obamacare because, he tells Hohmann, “I have to pay a $40 co-pay just to see a doctor.” Any authentic conservative health-care program would increase, not decrease, that amount. “Their expectations might seem unreasonable to anyone who is closely following the debate or is steeped in the complexities of public policy,” reports Hohmann, “but they believe Donald Trump can and should enact a replacement plan that will both reduce their costs and improve their quality of care.” Why would they have these expectation? Because while Republican wonks have been advocating more skin in the game for consumers, Republican politicians have been promising the opposite. That is why Mitch McConnell denounced Obamacare for having the very features — high deductibles and co-pays — that conservative wonks would like to extend…

Rather than design a health-care bill that pursued conservative priorities, they have kept the structure of Obamacare and simply drained its resources in order to finance a large, regressive tax cut. It turns out you can work pretty quickly if you don’t care about substance. Whether or not they dismantle Obamacare, the Republicans have already given the conservative health-care agenda a permanent burial.

18) George Lakoff on Trump.

19) This Washington Post story will likely be the definitive story of Russia’s interference in the election.  Not only is it your must-read of the weekend, it’s surely the must-read of the month.  Just do it.

20) And, oh man does Charles Pierce let loose on the Obama administration for not taking much stronger action (I think he’s probably right).  Also, Mitch McConnell is truly, truly evil.

21) And while we’re on Trump and Russia, Bloomberg on yet more shadowy connections.  Don’t worry, though, just smoke, no fire.  I’m sure Democrats are just making this all up.

22) Though as Josh Marshall says,

The best analog to President Trump’s stance toward the Russia probe and his refusal to accept that Russian interference even happened is a husband who is suspected in his wife’s disappearance and repeatedly insists that she’s probably on a beach in Aruba having a good laugh at his expense.

In any normal circumstance, by any conventional standard, Trump’s attitude and actions are ones that are only consistent with guilt. He has not only repeatedly insisted on his innocence, which the innocent and guilty do in equal measure, but insisted that the crime itself never actually happened. On top of this, using his unique powers as President, he has repeatedly taken actions to end the investigation into his campaign. The most blatant example was firing the FBI Director with the stated goal of relieving the pressure of the Russia probe. But that’s just the most glaring example.

23) I was pretty disappointed in how this Freakonomics interview with Charles Koch let him so easily whitewash the reality of the extremity of his politics and his influence.

24) I did enjoy this Slate story on James McGill Buchanan, who has had a profound influence on the Koch’s.

25) I don’t care what Dean Heller is saying now, I do think the truth is, as Chait says, “GOP moderates always cave.”  They will just use some piddling little excuse to come through with the votes anyway,  just like Tom MacArthur in the House.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The Deepwater Horizon movie was really good.  Seems like it barely made a ripple.  Deserved more.  Also, rarely do you see a movie credited as being based on a newspaper article.  Of course, this is one hell of a NYT article.

2) A variety of scientific explanations for why some dogs like to roll around in poop (I remember some very unpleasant experiences with our dog Lira and cow manure when visiting a relative’s farm).

3) On a not at all unrelated note, how dogs are like probiotics:

So there is growing concern that, in our anxiety to banish bacteria from our indoor world, we have become too clean for our own good. We run the risk of scrubbing, disinfecting, vacuuming and filtering out the fortifying mix of microscopic creatures that our immune system needs to develop properly.

Enter the dog.

Dogs roll in the mud. They sniff feces and other questionable substances. Then they track countless germs into our homes on their paws, snouts and fur.

And if the latest research on pets and human health is correct, that cloud of dog-borne microbes may be working to keep us healthy. Epidemiological studies show that children who grow up in households with dogs have a lower risk for developing autoimmune illnesses like asthma and allergies — and it may be a result of the diversity of microbes that these animals bring inside our homes.

4) As you know, I think I’m a pretty good dad.  But apparently I need to up my game and talk to my kids about pornography.

5) How tech billionaires are trying to remake America’s schools.

6) I learned a lot from the Economist’s take on the British election.

7) This Jonathan Ladd piece on the extreme negative partisanship that characterizes our present political era, is excellent.  You should read all of it:

The typical political science answer five years ago was that a democracy could accommodate extremely polarized parties as long as it had the right institutions. Polarization may be causing problems in the US, but that is only because we have a Madisonian system that only works when politicians are willing to work together. Power is divided between Congress, the presidency, and the courts, which are often controlled by different parties. Supermajority rules in the Senate increase the need for the parties to work together if they hope to get anything done.

By this logic, our problems are caused by presidentialism, the Senate’s rules, and perhaps too strong judicial review. We could accommodate more polarized parties if we had a unicameral parliamentary system, in which the parliament elected a prime minister and Cabinet to rule until the next election. (This would presumably solve our problems, whether legislators continued to be selected in single-member districts, as in the UK, Canada and Australia, or by voters choosing among party lists, as in Italy or Israel.)..

My views have changed. I still think that presidential systems produce their own “perils,” but I no longer think a system with fewer veto points can solve our problems. Specifically, the election of Donald Trump has led me to conclude that, regardless of our political rules, negative partisanship among politicians and the mass public is a serious danger…

Negative partisanship swayed Republicans at the mass and elite level. Many Republicans voted for their party’s nominee primarily in order to avoid a Clinton presidency. Clinton, with her high visibility and close connection with liberalism, is almost ideally suited to activating Republicans’ traditional partisan and ideological loyalties.

The country would be substantially better off if the electorate penalized parties for nominating inexperienced, uniformed, impulsive, corrupt candidates for president. Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, you would be better off if the Republicans in 2016 had nominated and elected Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or even Mike Pence. One of them would implement many of the same policies, but without the massive corruption, the degradation of American political institutions, the danger of starting a major military conflict by accident or incompetence rather than ideology, or the many other Trump specific pathologies.  [emphases mine]

8) My wife and I spent about an hour last week proving to the State Health Plan and the new Republican State Treasurer that she is my wife and our kids are our kids.  Otherwise, we’d lose our insurance.  As my wife pointed out, you’d think the fact that the state health plan actually paid for the births of the younger two ought to be enough for them.  We got it done and our insurance will continue.  But, we could not think about the problems (and time wasted) for those less computer savvy and who may just not be on top of things.  This is a classic example of only considering one side of the cost/benefit– the potential cases of fraud (which, I’m sure are small in number) as opposed to the huge cost spread across all the plan members in terms of time and anxiety, and in some cases, temporary loss of needed insurance.

9) When high school teachers are faced with otherwise intelligent students who think believing climate scientists versus Rush Limbaugh is “just your opinion.”  The teachers in the Times story, need to meet this science teacher in Idaho, who’s got it all figured out.

10) Sorry, that’s it.  Short part II today.  I’m exhausted after a day of celebrating Alex’s birthday plus hosting family plus a dance recital.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’m not a huge fan of Bill Maher, but I generally think he’s pretty funny and almost always enjoy his “new rules” when I watch his show.  Yes, it was pretty stupid of him to use the N-word recently in a weak attempt at humor, but that seems like a pretty weak last straw, as it was for this writer.

2) The myth of the kindly, non-white-supremacist, Robert E. Lee.

3) How Democrats are increasingly moving in favor of supporting single-payer health care.

4) Given the Lego-loving kids in my house, I really loved this Guardian story on how Lego went from a company on it’s deathbed in 2013 to one of the most globally powerful brands:

In 2015, the still privately owned, family controlled Lego Group overtook Ferrari to become the world’s most powerful brand. It announced profits of £660m, making it the number one toy company in Europe and Asia, and number three in North America, where sales topped $1bn for the first time. From 2008 to 2010 its profits quadrupled, outstripping Apple’s. Indeed, it has been called the Apple of toys: a profit-generating, design-driven miracle built around premium, intuitive, covetable hardware that fans can’t get enough of. Last year Lego sold 75bn bricks. Lego people – “Minifigures” – the 4cm-tall yellow characters with dotty eyes, permanent grins, hooks for hands and pegs for legs – outnumber humans. The British Toy Retailers Association voted Lego the toy of the century.

5) Nice deconstruction from Drum on NYT reporting on how Trump is now lying to his key National Security Staff.  Ugh.

6) Very cool article on the secret micro-dots your printer is probably printing that make leaking documents a precarious proposition.

7) The reality of how Planned Parenthood helps people— in this case, Paul Ryan’s constituents.  Not that he cares in the least.

8) I’m always reading about what’s wrong with the French economy is how it’s too hard to fire workers, but finally an excellent explanation from Catherine Rampell about what’s going on (and how Macron wants to fix it):

So what exactly is wrong with the job market in France?

The problem isn’t generous health-care benefits or onerous environmental protections or the usual “job-killing” regulations that American politicians so often vilify — and that the French love.

It’s that it’s virtually impossible, or at the very least prohibitively expensive, to fire employees. Which makes hiring employees unattractive, too.

In France, firings and layoffs can generally happen under very limited circumstances, including gross negligence and “economic reasons.” Laid-off employees can then challenge their dismissals in court, where judges are seen as somewhat hostile to employers.

Judges, for example, have wide latitude in deciding what counts as a justifiable “economic reason” for a layoff. They may decide that multinational firms that are losing money in France are not allowed to pare back their French workforce if they are collectively profitable in other countries, according to Jean-Charles Simon, an economist and former manager of the country’s main employer organization, Mouvement des Entreprises de France, or MEDEF.

A layoff in such a case could be deemed unfair. Furthermore, there is no cap on the damages that judges can award for unfair dismissal, meaning employers’ potential risks are essentially limitless. The whole process can take years to resolve, too.

9) Seems to me that my school system’s administrators are being needless hard-hearted and cruel in not letting a kid actually celebrate graduation because he didn’t know about the rehearsal:

All Wake County seniors are expected to attend graduation rehearsal, said schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten.

“Graduation is a production,” she said. “The students have to walk in a certain order, they have to sit in a certain row. There are a lot of moving pieces.”

A certain row!!  Oh, my, soooo complicated.  I’m sure allowing some kids to attend who had missed the rehearsals would just be mass chaos.

10) The fact that Eric Trump has basically been fraudulently and illegally stealing from children with cancer should be huge news.  But, increasingly, it seems our capacity for bad Trump news (Comey!!) is a zero-sum game.  And that is so to Trump’s benefit.

11) Derek Thompson on Trump’s policies:

The secret of the Trump infrastructure plan is: There is no infrastructure plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no White House health care plan. More than 120 days into Trump’s term in a unified Republican government, Trump’s policy accomplishments have been more in the subtraction category (e.g., stripping away environmental regulations) than addition. The president has signed no major legislation and left significant portions of federal agencies unstaffed, as U.S. courts have blocked what would be his most significant policy achievement, the legally dubious immigration ban.

The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four words long: There is no policy.

12) Speaking of zero-sum political coverage.  Brian Beutler on how Republicans are trying to dismantle the ACA completely hidden from the light of day and nobody’s paying attention (Comey!).

13) Headline says it all, “How Russian Propaganda Spread From a Parody Website to Fox News.”  Let’s be honest, Fox is hardly a “news” organization.

14) David Leonhardt on Trump’s L’état, c’est moi presidency:

Democracy isn’t possible without the rule of law — the idea that consistent principles, rather than a ruler’s whims, govern society.

You can read Aristotle, Montesquieu, John Locke or the Declaration of Independence on this point. You can also look at decades of American history. Even amid bitter fights over what the law should say, both Democrats and Republicans have generally accepted the rule of law.

President Trump does not. His rejection of it distinguishes him from any other modern American leader. He has instead flirted with Louis XIV’s notion of “L’état, c’est moi”: The state is me — and I’ll decide which laws to follow.

This attitude returns to the fore this week, with James Comey scheduled to testify on Thursday about Trump’s attempts to stifle an F.B.I. investigation. I realize that many people are exhausted by Trump outrages, some of which resemble mere buffoonery. But I think it’s important to step back and connect the dots among his many rejections of the rule of law.

15) Tiny jumping spiders can see the moon at night.  That also means you can get them to follow laser pointers (cool videos at the article).

16) I wanted to give Lee Drutman’s post on Trump exploiting the flaws of our two-party system it’s own post.  Oh well:

In this piece, I want to explore how much this “unlikely” conclusion flows from the zero-sum logic of our two-party system. The short answer: a lot.

Because of the two-party system, Republicans are stuck with Donald Trump. If he goes down, they go down with him. There’s now no way for Republicans to advance conservative policy goals without also advancing Trump. And In this era of bipolar two-party tribal politics, no matter what Trump does, there’s always one thing worse for Republicans. Something even more unthinkable, something even more existentially frightening than Trump with his hand on the nuclear codes: Democrats having power.

In two-party politics, a “pathological liar” is always better than a Democrat

Most congressional Republicans never wanted Trump as their standard-bearer. They still don’t. But their fates are now tied to him. If Trump goes down in a dramatic impeachment (is there any other kind?), Republicans almost certainly lose their House majority in the 2018 midterms, and probably continue to suffer the repercussions in 2020. And there’s a real risk that if Trump goes down, he tries to take all the furniture with him, fracturing the Republican Party.

So Republican congressional leaders are stuck. The only thing worse than having Trump as their unpopular standard-bearer is losing power and popularity because they tried to remove him as their standard-bearer…

For Republicans, the challenge will be to keep their troops feeling certain that however imperfect Trump might be, Democrats would by definition be worse — that it really might be the end of the republic if Republicans lose the house. This likely means doubling down on all the aggressive us-against-them white Christian identity politics and apocalyptic narratives they can find to make sure their base shows up.

And so deeper into the widening gyre we go. This is the logic of our two-party system right now. And Donald Trump is still our president, leading us into deeper tribalism as he takes advantage of our two-party system’s fatal flaw.

17) Pretty cool infographic on the scale of D-day.

18) On the secret social media lives of teenagers.  Damn are their some super-sneaky apps out there.  My teenager just prefers to lie (“sure I did all my homework”) to my face.

19) Nice NYT feature on how to raise a feminist son.  On it.  Great role model for this in my mom.

20) The lies from Trump and his people are pretty amazing.  This one on coal may take the cake.  Also, some nice context.  Chait:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, appearing on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, casually asserted that the Trump administration has presided over a staggering increase in coal-industry employment. “We’ve had over 50,000 jobs since last quarter — coal jobs, mining jobs — created in this country. We had almost 7,000 mining and coal jobs created in the month of May alone,” boasted Pruitt.

How false are these statistics? Extremely false.

Last month, the coal industry added 400 jobs, not 7,000. Since October, it has added just 1,700 jobs. The industry as a whole now employs 51,000 people — total. (No, there were not merely 1,000 people working in coal before the election.)

It is bizarre to design your country’s energy policy — which, even if you disregard climate science, has important implications for public health and international diplomacy — around the goal of maximizing jobs in an industry that employs fewer people than Arby’s.

21) Happy to learn the Texas teacher who awarded her students “superlatives” such as “most likely to be a terrorist” is out of a job.

22) A friend just recently posted a portion of this 2012 Michael Lewis speech to Princeton students on FB.  It’s awesome!

I now live in Berkeley, California. A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

23) Happy 15th birthday to my pretty amazing son, Alex.

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