Quick hits (part II)

1) Sean Illing on how Republican efforts to “flood the zone” with lies and information are so effective:

No matter how President Trump’s impeachment trial plays out in the Senate, one thing is certain: Despite the incontrovertible facts at the center of the story, the process will change very few minds.

Regardless of how clear a case Democrats make, it seems likely that a majority of voters will remain confused and unsure about the details of Trump’s transgressions. No single version of the truth will be accepted.

This is a serious problem for our democratic culture. No amount of evidence, on virtually any topic, is likely to move public opinion one way or the other. We can attribute some of this to rank partisanship — some people simply refuse to acknowledge inconvenient facts about their own side.

But there’s another, equally vexing problem. We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth. As Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner put it in a New York Times piece, “people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake, and fact.” This is partly why an earth-shattering historical event like a president’s impeachment has done very little to move public opinion.

The core challenge we’re facing today is information saturation and a hackable media system. If you follow politics at all, you know how exhausting the environment is. The sheer volume of content, the dizzying number of narratives and counternarratives, and the pace of the news cycle are too much for anyone to process.

One response to this situation is to walk away and tune everything out. After all, it takes real effort to comb through the bullshit, and most people have busy lives and limited bandwidth. Another reaction is to retreat into tribal allegiances. There’s Team Liberal and Team Conservative, and pretty much everyone knows which side they’re on. So you stick to the places that feed you the information you most want to hear.

2) OMG Susan Collins is just the worst.  Why anybody would take her seriously and treat her as anything other than a complete hack at this point is beyond me:

Former prosecutor Mimi Rocah tells me, “Senator Collins is either ignorant and uninformed because she doesn’t understand or know that a federal court only just released the Parnas docs or she is just making up excuses because the documents are so damning. Either one is unacceptable and the real question she should be asking is why Trump was trying to hide them.”

3) Would you be at all surprised if I told you that Mississippi had modern day debtors prisons?  NPR:

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It all started with an unlikely tip – a woman living in state prison in Mississippi was also working at McDonald’s and not voluntarily. That tip led Anna Wolfe and Michelle Liu, reporters at Mississippi Today, into a 14-month investigation of the state’s restitution centers. They compare the facilities to modern-day debtors’ prisons, and the people kept their working off fines and other debts rarely know how long they’ll have to stay, says Anna Wolfe.

ANNA WOLFE: The correction department doesn’t provide inmates with their debt balance. So it’s very hard for them to figure out how much they’re earning towards their debts and where their money is going.

CORNISH: People like Dixie D’Angelo. She worked four different jobs, trying to pay down more than $5,000 she owed for damaging a friend’s car.

DIXIE D’ANGELO: I got so depressed yesterday when I was looking at that because I got two checks. And, I mean, it’s not even – it’s, like, 900 and something dollars for two checks, and I’ve been here six weeks.

WOLFE: This is Anna. All the while, as they’re working, the department of corrections is taking out room and board and transportation off the top, and they are given very little documentation of where their money is going. Additionally, you know, they’re there to pay victims, but most of their earnings are going to pay court fees and criminal fines.

4) A couple of old school Republicans make the case for a carbon tax.  It’s a good case.  A friend shared it on FB saying, “I just don’t understand why so many conservatives oppose carbon pricing.”  My response: yes you do.

5) This “how to be a better white person” at the Root seemed pretty good.  Or maybe I think that because by the standards here, I’m a pretty decent white person.

6) I’m actually very much in favor of body positivity.  Love your body and who you are.  Really.  But, please, Vox, don’t pretend there’s not a clear relationship between being substantially overweight and being less healthy.

Michaels’s comments about Lizzo’s weight reflect a widespread belief: that all fat people face serious health risks purely because of their weight. This view is bolstered by a lot of research showing that there are health risks associated with carrying “excess” weight — including heart disease, some forms of cancer, and, yes, diabetes.

But that is not the end of the story, and research on the connection between weight and health is more complicated than it seems. While body mass index (BMI), the most common measurement used to assess if a person is a healthy weight, is correlated with metabolic health in population studies, there are many people with a “normal” BMI with cardiovascular and metabolic issues, while many in the “overweight” and “obese” range are metabolically healthy. Furthermore, the causal mechanisms linking obesity to chronic illnesses aren’t always well understood. For example, the psychological distress that can result from being overweight or obese in a society in which it is stigmatized can cause inflammation and negative long-term health effects.

Moreover, a number of scholars have argued that both the medical community and society put too much emphasis on the effects of weight on health, obscuring the importance of numerous other factors, such as blood pressure, blood lipid levels, and aerobic fitness, that together paint a more informative picture of a person’s health than BMI alone.

I mean all that– and it’s all true– to obscure the fact that overweight people are statistically more likely to suffer from all sorts of negative health consequences.  The give-away is the strawman, “that all fat people [emphasis mine] face serious health risks purely because of their weight.  Is it so hard?  1) Don’t shame people for being overweight.   Really.  2) Admit that most people would be healthier if not overweight.

7) With year’s Oscar controversy on race/gender, I think David Sims has a good take, ”

When the 2020 Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, Little Women earned a spot in the Best Picture category and collected nods for Ronan, Pugh, and Gerwig’s screenplay. But its recognition, which came without a Best Director nod, was still a tier below the biggest favorites of the night, including Joker, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and 1917—movies, some of them superb, about men and violence. For decades, those kinds of films have dominated the ceremony: Long dramas about weighty issues, biopics of celebrities, or narratives about moviemaking, with a dearth of genre movies, domestic narratives, and stories told by women and people of color…

Many of those snubbed movies didn’t fit the idea of “prestige” that has defined Oscar narratives for generations. This blinkered notion is what encourages studios to release certain films during awards season, which tends to run from October to December, and to spend millions of dollars on “for your consideration” campaigns. It’s what helps influential precursor awards such as the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs pick certain films for nominations, anointing them as favorites and nudging Academy voters toward them. The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood were two of my favorite films of the year, and got 20 nominations between them. But these stories of masculinity and brutality—burnished by their filmmakers’ legacies—shouldn’t be the types of works most celebrated by Oscar voters year after year.

Academy members themselves have the power to expand what kinds of movies are considered Oscar contenders. One step would be to reject the preemptive hand-waving doled out to so many acclaimed films, many of them artsier or smaller-scale, that supposedly will never play with Oscar voters for little reason other than tradition.

8) I quite enjoyed this on the lack of an anti-alcohol movement.  I hardly drink because 1) I really don’t like the taste of most all alcohol; 2) it’s a lot of empty calories; 3) because of my natural personality (low anxiety, low inhibition) I really don’t get all that much benefit; 4) I sure don’t like to spend money on it for the preceding reasons.  But, I really don’t judge those who are regular partakers (though, I could really live without even middle-aged people clearly somehow thinking it makes them “cool” to drink).  Anyway, Olga Khazan:

Occasionally, Elizabeth Bruenig unleashes a tweet for which she knows she’s sure to get dragged: She admits that she doesn’t drink.

Bruenig, a columnist at The New York Times with a sizable social-media following, told me that it usually begins with her tweeting something mildly inflammatory and totally unrelated to alcohol—e.g., The Star Wars prequels are actually good. Someone will accuse her of being drunk. She, in turn, will clarify that she doesn’t drink, and that she’s never been drunk. Inevitably, people will criticize her. You’re really missing out, they might say. Why would you deny yourself?

As Bruenig sees it, however, there’s more to be gained than lost in abstaining. In fact, she supports stronger restrictions on alcohol sales. Alcohol’s effects on crime and violence, in her view, are cause to reconsider some cities’ and states’ permissive attitudes toward things such as open-container laws and where alcohol can be sold.

Breunig’s outlook harks back to a time when there was a robust public discussion about the role of alcohol in society. Today, warnings about the devil drink will win you few friends. Sure, it’s fine if you want to join Alcoholics Anonymous or cut back on drinking to help yourself, and people are happy to tell you not to drink and drive. But Americans tend to reject general anti-alcohol advocacy with a vociferousness typically reserved for IRS auditors and after-period double-spacers. Pushing for, say, higher alcohol taxes gets you treated like an uptight school marm. Or worse, a neo-prohibitionist…

Americans would be justified in treating alcohol with the same wariness they have toward other drugs. Beyond how it tastes and feels, there’s very little good to say about the health impacts of booze. The idea that a glass or two of red wine a day is healthy is now considered dubious. At best, slight heart-health benefits are associated with moderate drinking, and most health experts say you shouldn’t start drinking for the health benefits if you don’t drink already. As one major study recently put it, “Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.”

Alcohol’s byproducts wreak havoc on the cells, raising the risk of liver disease, heart failure, dementia, seven types of cancer, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Just this month, researchers reported that the number of alcohol-related deaths in the United States more than doubled in two decades, going up to 73,000 in 2017. As the journalist Stephanie Mencimer wrote in a 2018 Mother Jones article, alcohol-related breast cancer kills more than twice as many American women as drunk drivers do. Many people drink to relax, but it turns out that booze isn’t even very good at that. It seems to have a boomerang effect on anxiety, soothing it at first but bringing it roaring back later.

Despite these grim statistics, Americans embrace and encourage drinking far more than they do similar vices.

9) Also, one of the links led me to this 4+ year old piece on breast cancer (a subject I’ve always found particularly interesting) and the problems with mammography.  This figure was particularly compelling:

10) This was really, really interesting, “Air Pollution, Evolution, and the Fate of Billions of Humans
It’s not just a modern problem. Airborne toxins are so pernicious that they may have shaped our DNA over millions of years.”

Our ancestors were bedeviled by airborne toxins even as bipedal apes walking the African savanna, argued Benjamin Trumble, a biologist at Arizona State University, and Caleb Finch of the University of Southern California, in the December issue of the Quarterly Review of Biology.

Our forebears evolved defenses against these pollutants, the scientists propose. Today, those adaptations may provide protection, albeit limited, against tobacco smoke and other airborne threats.

But our evolutionary legacy may also be a burden, Dr. Trumble and Dr. Finch speculated. Some genetic adaptations may have increased our vulnerability to diseases linked to air pollution.

It is “a really creative, interesting contribution to evolutionary medicine,” said Molly Fox, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the new study.

The story begins about seven million years ago. Africa at the time was gradually growing more arid. The Sahara emerged in northern Africa, while grasslands opened up in eastern and southern Africa.

The ancestors of chimpanzees and gorillas remained in the retreating forests, but our ancient relatives adapted to the new environments. They evolved into a tall, slender frame well suited to walking and running long distances.

Dr. Finch and Dr. Trumble believe that early humans faced another challenge that has gone largely overlooked: the air.

Periodically, the savanna would have experienced heavy dust storms from the Sahara, and our distant ancestors may have risked harm to their lungs from breathing in the silica-rich particles.

“When the dust is up, we’re going to see more pulmonary problems,” Dr. Finch said. Even today, Greek researchers have found that when Sahara winds reach their country, patients surge into hospitals with respiratory complaints

Later, our ancestors added to airborne threats by mastering fire. As they lingered near hearths to cook food, stay warm or keep away from insects, they breathed in smoke. Once early humans began building shelters, the environment became more harmful to their lungs.

“Most traditional people live in a highly smoky environment,” Dr. Finch said. “I think it has been a fact of human living for us even before our species.”

Smoke created a new evolutionary pressure, he and Dr. Trumble believe. Humans evolved powerful liver enzymes, for example, to break down toxins passing into the bloodstream from the lungs.

11) The problem with the reporting and this study, “Run a First Marathon, and Your Arteries May Look 4 Years Younger: Training for and finishing a marathon can leave arteries more flexible, healthy and biologically younger than before” is that going from basically no exercise to becoming a regular runner is obviously going to have substantial health benefits.  Almost surely those benefits come from efforts well short of actually training for a marathon.

12) Cool experiments show how parrots can exhibit selfless behavior.

In a clear-walled laboratory compartment, an African grey parrot faced a heap of metal washers. A human waited nearby with her hand outstretched. If the washers were given to the human, she would hand back delicious walnuts — but the parrot couldn’t reach her. It could reach its neighboring parrot, though, whose compartment had an opening.

The parrot started picking up washers in its beak and passing them to its neighbor. At least one of them would get some walnuts today.

“They were quite intrinsically motivated to help another,” said Désirée Brucks, a cognitive biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany.

13) Loved this collection of readers’ takes on “life-changing” books.  I really enjoyed a number of these myself.  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road stands out for me from among these.

14) Some very cool infographics with this, “You Are Unvaccinated and Got Sick. These Are Your Odds.”

15) “You were never really here” got great reviews, but I ended up being pretty disappointed.  Struck me as like one of those Man Booker literary award winners that all the critics love, but are no fun to actually read.  Justin Chang’s positive review gets to why:

Some narrative details have been altered from the book, but the plot is largely beside the point.

Ummm, no.  Never going to go for a movie where the plot is beside the point.

16) Damn, is the whole GOP just a protection racket for Trump now?  Even the judges?  Slate, “Trump Judges Are Playing Keep-Away With His Tax Returns and Other Financial Records”

On Tuesday, Judge Trevor McFadden of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a surprising order further delaying any potential release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee. McFadden, who was appointed by Trump to the federal bench, has had that committee’s subpoena of Trump’s tax returns before his court since July and has yet to issue a ruling. In Tuesday’s order, the judge continued to delay, putting the proceedings on hold until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decides a completely separate matter. The tax returns case—which has nothing to do with the ongoing impeachment inquiry of Trump—is now on hold until the circuit court rules on the House’s subpoena of testimony for former White House counsel Don McGahn in the impeachment inquiry. Because these cases have few similarities, it is difficult to understand McFadden’s latest order as anything other than an effort to delay the release of Trump’s tax returns for as long as possible. Coupled with D.C. Circuit Judge Neomi Rao’s effort to block a subpoena of Trump’s financial records in the Mazars USA case, this is another instance of one of Trump’s appointees to the federal bench taking a position that could undermine Congress’ ability to access critical information about this president’s finances.

Should we cancel student debt?

No.

Elizabeth Warren was in the news this week saying not only should we cancel student debt, we should do it by executive fiat.  Hmmmm.

First, as to cancelling student debt.  Not-exactly-the-Heritage-Foundation, but Brookings’ Adam Looney released an analysis on this last year on why this should be  problem for liberals:

Despite her best intentions and her description of the plan as progressive, a quick analysis finds the Warren proposal to be regressive, expensive, and full of uncertainties. As I show below, the top 20 percent of households receive about 27 percent of all annual savings, and the top 40 percent about 66 percent. The bottom 20 percent of borrowers by income get only 4 percent of the savings. Borrowers with advanced degrees represent 27 percent of borrowers, but would claim 37 percent of the annual benefit. [emphases mine]

It’s unclear in the proposal where our education system would go next if this proposal were adopted. While Senator Warren’s proposal offers “free college” at public institutions (another regressive element given 35 percent of public college students are from families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution), millions of students will continue to borrow to attend private institutions, graduate and professional schools, and to cover living expenses while enrolled.[1] How can we sustain a system with open-ended borrowing and broadly available loan forgiveness?

The simple fact is that it’s hard to design a progressive and coherent loan relief policy. In one way, it’s like the subprime crisis: too many borrowers were fooled (or fooled themselves) into taking out speculative loans that were impossible to repay. But the vast majority of prime borrowers were responsible, made conservative choices, and continued to pay their loan obligations. We struggled then to differentiate the deserving from undeserving, responsible from irresponsible, and with the potential costs of widespread write-downs.

Debt relief for student loan borrowers, of course, only benefits those who have gone to college, and those who have gone to college generally fare much better in our economy than those who don’t. So any student-loan debt relief proposal needs first to confront a simple question: Why are those who went to college more deserving of aid than those who didn’t? More than 90 percent of children from the highest-income families have attended college by age 22 versus 35 percent from the lowest-income families.

As for the executive fiat part, Drum:

This is getting out of hand. When President Obama signed the DACA executive order, which defers deportation for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, he did so under the theory that immigration law gave an unusual amount of latitude to the executive branch. That was questionable, and it will eventually be decided by the courts, but at least it was a theory. Conversely, the notion that the executive can simply choose not to collect debt seems no more plausible than Donald Trump’s notion that he can withhold aid to Ukraine just because he feels like it.

For starters, no, this isn’t “just the same thing” as prosecutorial discretion. That’s a longstanding prerogative at all levels of government. Unilaterally canceling debt isn’t.

And while the power to create debt may include the power to cancel it, that’s not at issue here. The question is who gets to cancel it. Congress certainly can, but there’s no reason to think that the president can do it without clear statutory authority.

Finally, how far do we want to take this? Can President Trump eliminate the corporate income tax by simply directing the IRS not to collect it? Could President Sanders hand out loans to renewable energy companies and then turn them into outright grants by deciding not to collect them? Once we go down this road, there’s no telling where it stops.

Congress has the power to delegate broad authority to executive branch agencies, but while that power may be broad, it’s not infinite. It depends largely on the wording of the enabling statute. So the key question is the one at the end of the excerpt above: did Congress intend to give the education secretary power to cancel vast swaths of student debt unilaterally? I think we all know the answer to that.

Ugh.  As you know, I like Warren.  In large part because she is typically so thoughtful about public policy.  In a great Gist segment, I think Mike Pesca got to what really bothered me:

Elizabeth Warren’s brand has been I have a plan for that, but I always took the unstated premise to be I have a researched, considered, possibly tried and tested plan for that. This plan is not any of those things, not even much of a plan. It’s a salvo in a seemingly desperate one at that.

As for what policy steps to actually take?  Adam Looney is on that, too.

What really frustrates me as that I know Elizabeth Warren is too smart to truly think this is a good idea.  Or, if she has somehow motivated reasoned herself into thinking it is, I’ve got to question her judgment.  Now, I still think there’s an excellent case to be made for Warren as president and I would enthusiastically support her in the general election.  But, as for the best choice among the Democratic contenders, I really don’t know.  I want Booker back!

Quick hits

1) Jennifer Rubin, “Hillary Clinton is the most exonerated politician ever”

2) This Op-Ed from Peggy Orenstein on teen boys and sex is really, really good.  (I’m pretty sure I linked to her Atlantic piece last month).  I thought about just sending it to my 8th grader to read (I send him a fair amount of good stuff), but realized it would be a parental cop-out if I didn’t make these points myself.  I did– not that either of enjoyed it.  But I’m glad I did.

Yet that silence has troubling implications. According to a 2017 national survey of 3,000 high school students and young adults by the Making Caring Common Project, a large majority of boys never had a single conversation with their parents about, for instance, how to be sure that your partner “wants to be — and is comfortable — having sex with you,” or about what it meant to be a “a caring and respectful sexual partner.” About two-thirds had never heard from their parents that they shouldn’t have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent. Most had never been told by parents not to catcall girls or use degrading terms such as “bitches” or “hoes” — this despite the fact that nearly 90 percent of the girls in the survey reported having been sexually harassed.

3a) Tom Steyer has been talking up term limits.  Jon Bernstein on why they are a “terrible” idea.

He’s for Congressional term limits. That’s a solution in search of a problem. As the scholar of Congress Josh Huder notes, “65% of the Senate and 70% of the House have served 10 years or less.” Today’s Congress is historically weak, and one reason is the relatively short tenure of many members. As it is, short-timers allow themselves to be bossed around by experienced leaders or by the White House. That’s bad enough, but if experienced leaders were eliminated, Congress would find itself bossed by the White House and by large organized interest groups. That’s not just the logic of the situation; it’s also what political scientists who have studied term limits in state legislatures have found.

Politicians who want long careers in Congress tend to work hard to represent their constituents. Politicians who know they’ll be seeking a different job soon won’t have any incentive to care about the people who voted for them — and won’t develop the skills needed to represent them even if they want to try.

3b) Jamelle Bouie is on it, too:

It’s worth saying, to start, that the “problem” of long-serving lawmakers — the problem a term limit purports to solve — isn’t actually a problem at all. The congressional scholar Josh Huder notes that just 35 senators (and less than a third of the House) have served 10 years or more. Likewise, according to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, average tenure in the past two Congresses sat at roughly 10 years. Long-serving lawmakers are highly visible — often because they occupy key leadership roles — but they aren’t particularly common.

Not that this would be a problem, even if it were true. Time in office doesn’t inexorably lead to poor performance — just the reverse. It’s no coincidence that some of the most effective lawmakers in American history — architects of epochal bills like the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act — served for decades accumulating political and legislative expertise. And if voters want to reward an effective legislator or representative with more time in office, they should have that right. Forced retirement cuts against the idea that voters have an absolute right to choose their representatives.

If the goal of term limits is to bring new faces and fresh ideas to Washington, then the solution isn’t a blanket restriction on all lawmakers. The solution is more competition, to make it easier for interested people to run for office and win. There are ways to make that happen. Nonpartisan redistricting in all 50 states would break partisan gerrymandering and force incumbents to compete for votes. Public financing of campaigns would give challengers a fighting chance in a general election. And if part of the problem is low turnout, you can lower the barrier to voting and increase participation through universal registration and mail-in balloting.

4) What  it takes to hold your breath for 24 minutes (filling up on pure oxygen first, among other things).

5) David Hopkins on whether Democrats have a diversity problem:

But out in the mass Democratic Party, the pursuit of group interest is only sometimes channeled through supporting members of the group for elective office, and most citizens are resistant to—or even offended by—assumptions that they will or should line up behind a particular candidate simply because of shared social identity. Much has been made of Joe Biden’s success among black Democrats so far, persuasively explained as a combination of these voters’ collective ideological moderation, political pragmatism, and affection for Biden’s service under Barack Obama. But even the decidedly non-moderate and non-Obamaite Bernie Sanders was winning substantially more black support than Booker was before his withdrawal, just as Biden, Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren all easily outpolled Castro among Latino Democrats.

Mass-level Democratic voters of all races simply are not currently placing descriptive diversity above other priorities—defeating Donald Trump, achieving policy goals, ideologically recalibrating the party—to the same degree as the disproportionately audible voices of the journalistic and academic left. The historical milestone of Obama’s presidency has removed some urgency, at least in the short term, from efforts to elect another non-white candidate, and perceptions that women face a greater challenge than men in winning the presidency seem to have worked to the disadvantage of the female candidates in the 2020 race—perceptions that some feminist commentators have themselves unintentionally promoted. And the remaining Democratic field is not short on demographic diversity by traditional standards: Warren remains a leading contender, two major candidates are Jewish, and one is openly gay (it is, perhaps, a testament to the recent successes of the gay rights movement that much of the trendy left doesn’t celebrate Pete Buttigieg as a pathbreaking figure but instead mocks him as a square, co-opted incrementalist).

The demographic diversity of the 2020 presidential contenders in fact compares quite favorably to the larger officeholding class in American politics, where severe proportional discrepancies in social group representation remain rampant. (For example, Harris and Booker are two of only three black senators currently in office, and Patrick is one of only two elected black governors in the modern history of the nation.) On this issue, as on many others, the presidency receives excessive attention from American culture at the expense of the rest of the political system. But there is surely a distinction worth making between voters freely choosing across lines of group membership not to support a particular candidate or set of candidates in a large and wide-ranging field, as has occurred so far in 2020, and the more formidable social inequities in electoral politics that continue to shape the composition of the larger pool of political leadership in America.

6) Francis Wilkinson on Virginia and the NRA’s utter nonsense on guns:

The National Rifle Association, which has its headquarters in Virginia, and other gun-rights groups are rallying to fight the proposals, sometimes with a curious inattention to detail. Last month Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, and Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, released a 12-page letter to the people of Virginia. Over 12-single-spaced pages, they never quite get around to saying what those proposed regulations are — their broad outlines were debated in the campaign — or what makes them so awful. You will search the document in vain for the phrase “background check” or the word “silencer.”…

“Looking at a map of Virginia,” Pratt and Van Cleave wrote, “it becomes clear that only a few, geographically small, yet heavily populated, jurisdictions have declined to stand up against the current threats to the Virginia and United States Constitutions.” [emphases mine]

In other words, the “heavily populated” parts of Virginia do not have the same view of gun rights as the sparsely populated parts. And since the Virginia legislature was duly elected by popular vote, legislators will likely be more responsive to the interests of the majority than of the minority.

America is a representative democracy. But the gun lobby and other parts of the conservative coalition are increasingly skeptical of that. Armed with an all-purpose Constitution that means whatever they want it to mean, they seek to block popular government action.  

The Second Amendment sanctuaries emerging in Virginia and elsewhere may mark a burgeoning conservative counterculture. Contempt for the “geographically small, yet heavily populated” regions where most Americans reside is becoming a conservative tic. It’s the impetus behind those triumphal MAGA maps depicting countless hectares of American forest, farm and pasture in bold Republican red, while little enclaves such as Brooklyn, with a higher population than 15 states, are dismissed with a tiny blotch of blue.

Densely populated America, in other words, is not real America, and opposing real America is by definition unconstitutional. What the gun sanctuary movement is seeking is not protection from government overreach, but from democracy.

7) I just hate stuff like this, “Fox News goes to desperate lengths to gin up outrage over clip of Vince Vaughn chatting with Trump”  It’s bad enough that some would want to “cancel” Vaughn for talking with the president without Fox News basically pretending there was some widespread liberal reaction that wasn’t actually there.

8) Teaching middle-school sex education in the age of consent.  I’ll be curious to see what my 8th grader gets next semester (so far, it’s been pretty much biology, I think).

9) If 47 is really the most miserable age I’m doing awesome.  (Though, it’s 47.2 and I’m 47.9).

10) Trump’s absurd impeachment defense team (good Lord, is their any more embarrassing hack then Ken Starr?!) recruited from Fox News, of course:

What does this all-star team have in common? Between them, these four have appeared on Fox News over 350 times in the past year, according to Media Matters for America. Which no doubt left Jeanine Pirro asking why she didn’t make the cut.

11) Really liked Anand Giridharadas review of Michael Lind’s entirely class-based (and in some pretty bizarre ways) analysis of Trump’s populism:

Look, writing a book about Trump-era populism without a lens of racial awareness must be hard. Here’s how Lind describes political correctness, for instance: “the artificial dialect devised by leftist activists and spread by university and corporate bureaucrats that serves as a class marker distinguishing the college-educated from the vulgar majority below them.” In this framing, all the new awarenesses and sensitivities and humilities — for which I am profoundly thankful, since these days I’m much less often asked where I’m really from or told my English is impressive (thanks, they teach us well in Ohio!) — are just a ploy by leftists to hold white working-class people down. This understanding portrays the victims as the white working class, and the oppressors as those students who no longer wish to be called “faggots” and secretaries tired of being “sweetie.” I, for one, am grateful for all the thinking and doing that have changed how Americans navigate one another’s identities, and I do not have the luxury of dismissing the improvement in the dignity I am accorded daily as an “artificial dialect.”

Now, if you are going to present Trump as the receptacle of the cries of the unheard, you will need to funhouse-mirror him beyond recognition. Lind is on it. He takes the quintessential racist moment of Trump’s presidency — his famous comments on Charlottesville — and defends them: “Phrases from his remarks were taken out of context, recombined and misconstrued so they could fit into the Trump-is-Hitler narrative.” He also dismisses concerns about Russia’s role in the 2016 election as “mythological thinking.” “Liberal democracy in the West today is not endangered by Russian machinations or resurgent fascism,” Lind writes, describing a world I would love to live in. In fact, get this: Lind believes the “paranoid demonological thinking” represented by worries about Russia and fascism “has the potential to be a greater danger to liberal democracy in the West than any particular populist movements.”…

12) I really enjoy reading contemporary historical takes on Johnson’s impeachment as I got it so wrong in my AP US History paper in 11th grade based almost entirely upon sources which were basically by confederate apologists.  Unsurprisingly, Mike Pence’s history is still in the 1980’s:

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Vice President Mike Pence urging Senate Democrats to follow the example of Edmund G. Ross, who “bucked his party and voted to acquit Andrew Johnson.” Pence praised Ross, who served as a Republican senator during Johnson’s presidency, for resisting “pressure” from his party and staying “true to his own convictions” to “render a fair judgment.” He favorably cites John F. Kennedy’s 1956 book Profiles in Courage, which depicts Ross who resisted “legislative mob rule” and “partisan impeachment.” The vice president draws parallels between Johnson and Donald Trump, asking, “Who, among the Senate Democrats, will stand up to the passions of their party this time?”

Pence’s op-ed is profoundly ahistorical, inaccurate, and oddly reliant upon a view of Johnson promoted by the Ku Klux Klan during its resurgence in the early 20th century. Far from a principled independent, Ross was an unscrupulous politician who exploited his impeachment vote to obtain favors from the president and may well have been bribed to acquit. Historian Brenda Wineapple’s extraordinary book The Impeachers, published in 2019, details the true story of Ross’ corrupt bargain to save Johnson’s catastrophic presidency. We spoke on Friday about the many errors in Pence’s op-ed. Our interview has been edited for length.

13) On the practical value of a liberal arts education:

A study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce finds that over the course of a career, a liberal arts education is remarkably practical, providing a median return on investment 40 years after enrollment that approaches $1 million. The results, searchable and sortable by institution, were released Tuesday…

The Georgetown study finds that the return on a liberal arts education is not typically immediate — at 10 years, the median return is $62,000 — but over the decades of a career, it is solid. Only doctoral universities with the two highest levels of research activity, well-known institutions such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fared better in the school’s estimated return on investment. The median 40-year return of $918,000 at liberal arts colleges is more than 25 percent higher than the median for all colleges, researchers found.

Over a long period, the ideal preparation includes education in a field linked to a career, such as engineering, with the addition of general education that allows a person to be flexible and draw on a wealth of knowledge, according to Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the education and workforce center at Georgetown.

14) This is cool on many levels– living concrete:

For centuries, builders have been making concrete roughly the same way: by mixing hard materials like sand with various binders, and hoping it stays fixed and rigid for a long time to come.

Now, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has created a rather different kind of concrete — one that is alive and can even reproduce.

Minerals in the new material are deposited not by chemistry but by cyanobacteria, a common class of microbes that capture energy through photosynthesis. The photosynthetic process absorbs carbon dioxide, in stark contrast to the production of regular concrete, which spews huge amounts of that greenhouse gas…

The blocks also have the advantage of being made from a variety of common materials. Most concrete requires virgin sand that comes from rivers, lakes and oceans, which is running short worldwide, largely because of the enormous demand for concrete. The new living material is not so picky. “We’re not pigeonholed into using some particular kind of sand,” Dr. Srubar said. “We could use waste materials like ground glass or recycled concrete.”

The research team is working to make the material more practical by making the concrete stronger; increasing the bacteria’s resistance to dehydration; reconfiguring the materials so they can be flat-packed and easily assembled, like slabs of drywall; and finding a different kind of cyanobacteria that doesn’t require the addition of a gel.

Eventually, Dr. Srubar said, the tools of synthetic biology could dramatically expand the realm of possibilities: for instance, building materials that can detect and respond to toxic chemicals, or that light up to reveal structural damage. Living concrete might help in environments harsher than even the driest deserts: other planets, like Mars.

15) Nature shows are all the rage (and the Greene family is on-board).  I love that I shared watching National Geographic specials, etc., with my mom when I was a kid and now I’m watching David Attenborough with my kids.

16) Interesting, revisionist take on the 100th anniversary of Prohibition:

In reality, the temperance movement was anything but pinky-raising Victorians forbidding society to drink. Temperance was the longest-running, most widely supported social movement in both American and global history. Its foe wasn’t the drink in the bottle or the drunk who drank it, but the drink traffic: powerful business interests — protected by a government reliant on liquor taxes — getting men addicted to booze, and then profiting handsomely by bleeding them and their families dry.

In the 19th century, saloonkeepers across the United States and around the world were seen as parasites on the local community. This wasn’t Ted Danson, the friendly bartender in “Cheers!” There was no sending home a customer for having too much; that was lost profit. And since the saloonkeeper was often also the town pawnbroker, once you had drunk up your last penny, he might take your shirt, hat and watch too — if his hired pickpockets didn’t pinch them first.

Since fleecing customers was often illegal, the saloonkeeper’s profits paid kickbacks to the police, judges and mayor. Pop histories describe the saloon as a “symbol” — of masculinity, of drunkenness, of social ills. But the saloon wasn’t the symbol of some other problem; it was the problem itself.

This is why the powerful prohibitionist organization was called the Anti-Saloon League, not the Anti-Drinking Society. This is why neither the 18th Amendment nor state-level prohibitions ever outlawed drinking alcohol, but instead focused on its sale. It wasn’t taking a drink every now and then that got reformers’ hackles up; it was the idea of the rich getting richer by making the poor poorer through addiction.

One legislator called for prohibition “for the safety and redemption of the people from the social, political and moral curse of the saloon.” That zealot was Abraham Lincoln, rising to support Illinois’s statewide prohibition in 1855. Similar sentiments were expressed by Frederick Douglass, Theodore Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, William Jennings Bryan, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many other progressive leaders.

Our inability to comprehend the past comes from taking current worldviews and projecting them backward. And the fact that Prohibition largely failed at the national level, and was later repealed, doesn’t mean that its proponents were crackpots or radicals.

17) The short story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall sounds interesting and provocative.  A shame that the publisher ultimately had to remove it

At the beginning of this year, the science fiction and fantasy magazine Clarkesworld published a short story called “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” by Isabel Fall. The story, which appears to be Fall’s debut, follows the first “somatic female” to undergo “tactical-role gender reassignment” surgery. She becomes, more or less literally, an Army helicopter. “When I was a woman I wanted my skin to be as smooth and dark as the sintered stone countertop in our kitchen,” the narrator says. “Now my skin is boron-carbide and Kevlar.” The experience of the narrator seemed to reflect the real-world struggles of transitioning. “Severe gender dysphoria,” Fall writes, “can be a flight risk.” The story took the offensive meme, slapped some rotors on it, and flew away to surprising places.

Responses were vehement. Readers who liked it saw an author being intentionally subversive. “I expected the worst when I saw the title,” wrote Reddit user Terminus0. “But I like how it leans into and treats seriously the saying … that people use to dismiss gender fluidity and makes it literal.” Most others in the thread agreed, saying they found the piece gripping, pleasantly surprising, or reminiscent of erotic sci-fi’s preeminent provocateur, Chuck Tingle. “I have been talking for days to everyone I meet about ‘I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter,’” @hoverpope tweeted. “It was immediately canonized for me.” Other celebrators of the work included noted author Carmen Maria Machado, who praised the story’s messy boldness. She also called out the critics—of which there seemed to be just as many. “My heart is so crushed and my brain is so angry,” Machado tweeted.

18) I’ll watch pretty much anything from Aardman animation.  And especially if it’s short and for a good cause like saving the oceans.

19) If you haven’t seen this from Buzzfeed, it really is amazing, “Here Are 20 Headlines Comparing Meghan Markle To Kate Middleton That May Show Why She And Prince Harry Are Cutting Off Royal Reporters”

 

 

 

 

It’s all Trump’s GOP now

On the one hand, it’s such a trivial little thing, but on the other, I agree with Greg Sargent that Martha McSally’s actual pride in her petty and childish mis-treatment of a reporter speaks to what’s become of the Republican Party:

If you were a United States senator who just snapped angrily at a reporter for politely asking whether compelling new information about a matter of great import to the nation was weighing on your understanding of that consequential matter, you probably wouldn’t see this as something to advertise.

But then again, you’re not Martha McSally of Arizona. McSally just did exactly this — yet she is now treating it as a badge of honor; as something to boast about.

In a perverse way, it’s fitting that this episode is going viral at exactly the moment when President Trump’s impeachment trial is getting underway — that is, when Trump’s defenders in the Senate are set to put on a great show of pretending to give serious consideration to the case against Trump, before voting to acquit him.

McSally’s vile little performance puts the lie to that notion as effectively as anything possibly could.

What happened is that CNN’s Manu Raju, a hard-working reporter, dared to ask McSally whether new information surfacing about the conduct for which Trump has been impeached should lead GOP senators to admit new evidence at his impeachment trial.

McSally snidely brushed off the question and called Raju a “liberal hack.” Raju then tweeted a neutral description of what had happened.

McSally then proudly tweeted out a video of the episode:

The exchange went like this:

RAJU: Senator McSally, should the Senate consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial?
McSALLY: You’re a liberal hack. I’m not talking to you.
RAJU: You’re not going to comment, Senator?
McSALLY: You’re a liberal hack, buddy.

There’s been talk that McSally staged the episode to excite the Republican base. And indeed, Republicans are already using it to raise money for her reelection campaign, in which McSally is very vulnerable.

But, whether or not this was a setup, McSally is now treating this as something that will give her a political boost, which is just beyond pathetic.

Note that it is now seen as “liberal” to merely ask a Republican senator whether she feels any obligation to consider the full set of facts before exercising her constitutional duty to vote on whether articles of impeachment — passed by the elected representatives in the other chamber of Congress — merit removal.

What’s seen as “liberal” here, plainly, is that this question should be asked of Republican senators at all.

Look at the larger context here. Senate Republicans are hoping to pass, with 51 GOP votes, a process in which tough votes on whether to hear new witnesses and evidence are deferred until after opening statements are heard.

In so doing, they are already laying the groundwork to vote against hearing new witnesses and evidence at that point, while pretending they did so as part of a fair process in which they genuinely weighed the case against Trump delivered during those opening statements.

If seeking truth and asking reasonable questions of politicians is “liberal” and rudely responding is worth conservative fundraising, damn is our country in trouble.

Medicare for… all/some/none?

There’s very good debates to be had on both political and policy grounds on how Democrats should pursue the next-stage of health care reform.  On political grounds… does a Medicare for all who want it (and maybe everybody down the road) have a much clearer path than Medicare for all, now?  You would think, but maybe since this is just the proverbial camel’s nose under all the same Interests that would align and fight like hell against Medicare for all would align and fight just as much against any expansion of Medicare that was designed to increase down the road.

Policy-wise, there’s a lot to be said for single payer.  But, there’s plenty of well-performing health systems that retain a role for private insurance, e.g., Switzerland, Germany, France, Netherlands, etc.  And, I think there’s a very good argument that with starting from now, instead of a blank slate, that would would actually have more successful policy that allowed for the continuation of (much-more-regulated-than-now) private insurance.

Regardless, both the politics and policy are complex and there’s no clear slam-dunk.  And, thus, it’s really annoying when people pretend there us.  Lots of really good discussions of the matter of late that it’s worth highlighting.

First, Eric Levitz last month, “The Public Option Is Politically Superior to Medicare for All — But Only As a Sound Bite”

There is no “glide path” to universal coverage, only rocky roads.

In truth, the kind of public option that Biden and Buttigieg are campaigning on — one robust enough to make universal health care a reality in the United States — would not allow all Americans to “keep their private insurance if they prefer it.” In fact, their plans would guarantee massive disruptions to private coverage. As a campaign slogan, “Medicare for All Who Want It” reconciles the electorate’s desire for universal coverage with its aversion to disruptive change. But as a policy, it doesn’t – because no policy can.

The reason is straightforward. Unlike most other OECD countries, the United States never imposed strict cost controls on its health-care sector. And since human beings are willing to pay most any price to avoid death or severe illness — and since insurance often masks the true cost of medical services — America’s hospitals, doctors, and drug companies have been able to secure payment rates several times higher than their peers in other nations. To appreciate how thoroughly we’re being hosed by our health-care sector, consider this: In 2018, Canada spent roughly 11 percent of its GDP on health care, which was enough to provide all of its citizens with premium-free access to the world’s 14th highest performing health-care system. That same year, the United States spent roughly 18 percent of its GDP on health care — which, in our system, was not sufficient to provide any form of insurance to nearly 30 million Americans, nor to prevent more than 50 percent of our people from delaying or forgoing medical care due to affordability concerns.

In this context, there is no way to provide all Americans with high-quality, affordable health care without radically disrupting the status quo. To extend quality coverage to the millions of Americans who are uninsured or underinsured, you either need to force providers to accept drastically lower payment rates — which is to say, upend the business models underpinning nearly one-fifth of the U.S. economy — or increase federal spending on health care beyond Bernie Sanders’s wildest dreams…

If Uncle Sam uses his singular market power to force down costs — and doles out sufficient subsidies to make his “public option” universally affordable — then the private insurance industry as we’ve known it will cease to exist. Meanwhile, to make the provider payment cuts sustainable, America’s approach to financing hospitals and medical schools would need to be radically restructured. And to make the public option fiscally sustainable — once the vast majority of Americans have enrolled in it — President Biden would need to propose tax increases nearly as large as those put forward by Sanders and Warren.

Mainstream news outlets (and Democratic debate moderators) have almost all either ignored or failed to comprehend these facts. This is likely because, in the Beltway’s popular consciousness, the phrase “public option” is still associated with the policy that Democrats nearly implemented under Barack Obama…

Biden and Buttigieg are, in essence, promising to deliver all the benefits of single-payer, at the political and fiscal cost of a marginal provision of the ACA. And the press has largely affirmed their “free pony” pitch. But the health-care industry isn’t fooled. The hospital, pharmaceutical, insurer, and physicians’ lobbies acknowledge no distinction between Medicare for All and a strong public option, and are already funding messaging campaigns against both…

All of which is to say, when Medicare for All Who Want It stops being a campaign pitch, and becomes a bill before Congress, it will face almost all of the same political obstacles as single-payer.

I like Levitz’s conclusion, because, in the end he admits he really just doesn’t know:

Nevertheless, for whatever reason, the mainstream media is both very hostile to single-payer and extremely friendly to a public option — so friendly, major news outlets routinely frame the latter as a policy that would end all disruption in the private insurance marketand give all Americans access to a high-quality, low-cost public plan. Given these realities, running on Medicare for All would marginally reduce the Democrats’ odds of winning the presidency in 2020, while doing nothing to meaningfully advance the cause of universal health care. And winning in 2020 does matter, even if it will be insufficient for achieving universal health care: With the White House and a slim Senate majority, Democrats could realistically be expected to make marginal improvements to the health-care system (perhaps, if we’re lucky, improvements that make the fight for universal a bit easier down the road); increase funding for clean-energy R&D; restore civil-rights enforcement at the DOJ; adopt more progressive labor, financial, and environmental regulations; and forestall the conservative movement’s complete domination of the federal courts, among other things. Therefore, Democrats should run on the more popular, politically impossible health-care plan.

I personally don’t find this argument 100 percent persuasive. But it does strike me as coherent and difficult to dismiss. Anyhow, if every moderate Democrat and center-left pundit started framing their preference for a public option in these terms, it might make the American public a bit less complacent about the status-quo health-care system, and a bit more sympathetic to calls for radical change. (Which may be one reason why we’re hearing so many dishonest arguments for the public option instead.)

Meanwhile, SB shared with me this Data for Progress post based on a lot of public opinion polling to argue that once Medicare for All Who Want It (i.e., public option) comes under scrutiny, it will actually be less popular than Medicare for all:

Americans are fine with the continued existence of health insurance companies, but they clearly want drastic reforms to healthcare.

The question of what sort of healthcare plan each candidate supports has been at the forefront of the Democratic presidential primary. However, while Medicare for All has faced immense scrutiny, “public option” plans have faced very little. To see how a public option might stand up after facing attacks from the right, we tested a few possible messages for and against the public option…

After being shown each possible consequence of the policy, voters could report whether they supported, opposed, or were unsure how they felt about a public option. Voters saw each item in a randomized order.

Our results suggest voters are ready to do anything to curb the rising costs of healthcare. By an overwhelming margin (73 percent to 16 percent), voters say they would oppose any new healthcare policy that allowed costs to continue to rise. By a similarly strong margin (71 percent to 17 percent), voters also say they would oppose reforms that continued to limit choices to particular networks—a limitation that is also the defining feature of the current healthcare system…

Data for Progress has previously shown that Americans are ready for healthcare reform. And now we’ve seen that a public option must accomplish many things to be politically palatable to voters. Prices must stop rising, choices must be expanded, and the cost of access for users must be low or zero (i.e., out-of-pocket costs are deeply unpopular, except among Republicans). At the same time, voters would accept a public option if it was just that—an option, rather than a government monopoly.

There’s some interesting stuff here, but I think a lot of polling on health care is especially problematic.  Not because of the pollsters, but because on a lot of this, people have surprisingly unstable attitudes and they don’t actually understand the issues well enough to know what they want or how they would behave.   It was not that long ago, that polls showed people loved every element of the ACA, but the individual mandate, but hated the ACA.  Anyway, McElwee may be right, but when it comes to the right policy and politics on health care, an argument largely based on polling some indeterminate health care future is not going to win me over.

And, just because I’m on the topic.  As a country, we are so bad at this, “Every American family basically pays an $8,000 ‘poll tax’ under the U.S. health system, top economists say”

America’s sky-high health-care costs are so far above what people pay in other countries that they are the equivalent of a hefty tax, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton say. They are surprised Americans aren’t revolting against these taxes.

“A few people are getting very rich at the expense of the rest of us,” Case said at conference in San Diego on Saturday. The U.S. health-care system is “like a tribute to a foreign power, but we’re doing it to ourselves.”

The U.S. health-care system is the most expensive in the world, costing about $1 trillion more per year than the next-most-expensive system — Switzerland’s. That means U.S. households pay an extra $8,000 per year, compared with what Swiss families pay. Case and Deaton view this extra cost as a “poll tax,” meaning it is levied on every individual regardless of their ability to pay. (Most Americans think of a poll tax as money people once had to pay to register to vote, but “polle” was an archaic German word for “head.” The idea behind a poll tax is that it falls on every head.)

And that, again, is why meaningful reform is so damn hard.  That’s $8000 per head being distributed to hospital executives, doctors, administrators, technicians, insurance middle-men– you name it.  And none of them want to give up that money.

And, finally, Vox with a nice piece on how Taiwan built a single-payer system from scratch (honestly, the much easier way to do it) pretty recently.  There’s also a great segment on Taiwan in this now very-dated (2008), but still very relevant PBS “Sick Around the World” documentary that was required viewing for my Public Policy classes for years.

So, what’s the right approach then?  I don’t know!  But, based on my knowledge as a political scientist and upon following health care politics since 1993, I’m in the Medicare for All who want it camp.  But, I may well be wrong.

What I do know for 100% sure– we absolutely need to get to a place where, truly, all Americans have affordable health care and I will support anything that helps us get there.  

The president is nuts and it breaks journalistic norms to say so

Very good stuff here from Aaron Rupar.  Any normal person in American listening to last night’s presidential rally would have a reaction along the lines of “what is this crazy old guy talking about.”  He’s somehow obsessed with the change to low-flow showerheads decades ago that work perfectly great these days.  And, seriously, when was the last time Trump used a dishwasher.  But, it breaks strong journalistic norms to say “the president went on a truly bizarre rant about showers, dishwashers, and toilets.”  Rupar:

By almost any standard, President Donald Trump’s rally on Tuesday evening in Milwaukee was a bizarre affair. The president went on a lengthy tirade about lightbulbs, toilets, and showers; touted war crimes; joked about a former president being in hell; and said he’d like to see one of his domestic political foes locked up.

I tried to capture some of the speech’s disconcerting oddness in my write-up of the event. In many ways, the remarks the president made were typical of him. And that provides the media with a challenge: Describing Trump as he really is can make it seem as if a report is “anti-Trump” and that the reporter is trying to make the president look foolish.

But for media outlets that view themselves as above taking sides, attempts to provide a sober, “balanced” look at presidential speeches often end up normalizing things that are decidedly not normal. [emphasis mine]

A brief report about Trump’s Milwaukee speech that aired Wednesday morning on NPR illustrates this phenomenon. The anchor’s intro framed Trump’s at times disjointed ramblings as a normal political speech that “ranged widely,” and the ensuing report (which originated from member station WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio) characterized his delivery as one in which he “snapped back at Democrats for bringing impeachment proceedings.”

“Trump was taking on Democrats on their own territory,” the reporter said, when in reality Trump heaped abuse on them, for instance, suggesting former Vice President Joe Biden is experiencing memory loss.

Listen for yourself:

On Twitter, Georgetown University public affairs professor Don Moynihan noted that NPR’s report about the rally “mentioned specific topics like Iran and impeachment but carefully omit the insane stuff. This is one way the media strives to present Trump as a normal president.”

NPR is far from alone in struggling to cover Trump.

As I wrote following a previous Trump rally in Wisconsin last April, outlets including CBS, USA Today, the Associated Press, and the Hill failed to so much as mention in their reporting that Trump pushed dozens of lies and incendiary smears during his speech.

It is difficult to cover Trump, and it is important to honor the public’s trust in the press by providing fair and balanced coverage. But we also have to pay attention to how much more alarming the unfiltered Trump is when compared to the sanitized version that often emerges in mainstream media reporting.

Yep.  But, in one sense, Trump does do this all the time, so it is “normal.”  But, damn, is it nuts!

Now this is a trigger warning

Damn this is good.  Duke Political Science professor, noted libertarian, and nonetheless all-around good guy, Mike Munger shared this on FB from his latest Capstone in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics syllabus.

Trigger Warning: The explicit purpose of this class is to consider the best arguments for, and against, some highly controversial claims. The debate portion of the class, in particular, exposes students to the risk of being required to argue points of view they may find personally repugnant. Further, a number of the classroom discussions are likely to transgress boundaries of what students find comfortable, especially if your most cherished views are based more on emotion than on reasons and evidence. If there are issues that make you uncomfortable and you find it difficult to encounter arguments you disagree with but cannot refute, you are not temperamentally suited for the PPE enterprise. That certainly doesn’t make you a bad person, but you should NOT take this class.

As J.S. Mill put it, in On Liberty: “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. …if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.”
1. So, the warning: All your lives you have been rewarded for twaddle, making arguments that are some version of: “I feel that….”
2. Not here. The course is not about what you feel. PPE requires that you determine what you think, and why. You need reasons, and to express these reasons coherently as arguments in your writing and debate presentations who don’t already think that you are right will be more likely to agree. If all you do is “feel” about the subjects we talk about, you will “feel” unhappy with your grades. What you need to do is to know the best counter-arguments to your own position, and to be able to express them clearly, precisely so that you can refute the best arguments as decisively as possible. You’ll find that understanding the power of counterarguments, but then refuting them, will make actually make you feel better anyway, because you won’t get so upset when someone disagrees with how you feel.
3. On the other hand (and this is another warning), there is no correct answer. If you need final, correct answers, you should probably go to seminary and study sacred texts. Any opinion, no matter how outlandish or offensive, will result in a good grade if you support it well and argue for it persuasively. We care about reasons. It may well be that some arguments are unsupportable, of course. But that is because there are no good reasons for it, not because you feel it is wrong. If your claims are offensive and badly argued, that is the worst possible outcome.

If any of the above is a problem, you should drop this class. It is not for you. That doesn’t make you a bad person; many people have perfectly good lives having memorized a secular ideological catechism and then being offended when anyone disagrees. But if you find disagreement offensive, this class is likely to be uncomfortable for you, and you should probably look elsewhere. Not everyone is interested in knowing the problems with their own positions, especially if some of those problematic counterarguments are unsettlingly close to being persuasive. After all, that would mean you are wrong, and nothing makes you feel more unsafe than realizing that you are wrong.

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