Quick hits (part I)

1) I miss James Surowiecki, but Adam Davidson is a great replacement at the New Yorker.  Nice column on the absurdity of Trump’s “buy American” executive order:

Snap-on Tools is actually a good example of why Buy American is a fairly meaningless phrase. It is no easy feat to find a product manufactured entirely of material from the U.S., produced by people in the U.S., using tools made in the U.S. In this sense, the executive order recognizes that no blanket order to buy only American will work. The products we buy are made of raw materials transformed into intermediate goods that are then assembled into a finished product. It’s not possible, or even advisable, to insure that an entire production chain will occur in one country. So a politician who wants to increase the percentage of American-made content in the products that are sold here needs to dig deeper. How will the U.S.-made content of a good be defined? Will it be by weight, by dollar value, by labor hours involved? Each metric would have different findings. A car’s bulk, for example, is primarily made up of steel, aluminum, and glass produced by huge machines with not much labor. However, some of the smaller, fussier bits are made by hand in the U.S. Gas tanks, for example, because of strict emissions laws, are surprisingly complex and require a lot of engineering and manual assembly and are often made in the U.S. A gas tank might be relatively cheap and light, but for American workers it’s worth a lot more than many tons of steel. Very quickly, any discussion of the U.S.-made content of any product will turn to the value of intellectual versus physical content…

There is a real problem in the American economy. For much of the twentieth century, there was a wind at the back of working people—a steady increase in jobs, wages, and opportunity for those with basic education and a willingness to put in a hard day’s work. We have shifted from the era of good work for many to the age of the hustle, where those with luck, good connections, education, and ambition can do far better than their grandparents could have dreamt, while those without see their incomes stagnate or fall and face a future filled with doubt. A sober and serious look at the U.S. economy leads, inevitably, to the conclusion that we haven’t cracked this problem yet. In place of serious consideration from the White House, we have absurdist, self-contradicting theatrics.

2) Very cool NYT Magazine feature on how Singapore is creating more land for itself.

3) Small potatoes, but so telling.  Local government knows best; except when the Republican legislators in Raleigh know better.  Again.

4) Jason Lloyd on improving the relationship between science and society.

5) Got into an interesting discussion about racism and Trump based on this Monkey Cage posting looking at 2016 ANES data.  Just measuring racial resentment, the big difference is that Democratic voters now score way lower, not that Republicans were higher in 2016.  That said, I think the key fact is that racial resentment is presumably more important in impacting vote choice than it was prior to Obama.

6) Max Fisher on why North Korea is such a damn difficult problem.

7) Not at all surprised to learn that– not just high school students– but college students don’t learn so great at 8:00am either.  Only 8am class I ever had was teaching one– Intro to American Government in my 2nd year at Texas Tech.

8) I’m basically not a baseball fan at all anymore.  But I used to be, and thus I very much enjoyed this 538 article on how the “save” statistic ruined relief pitching and how it should be replaced.

9) And let’s stick with sports to mention how much I love this concept for fixing the awful endings of so many basketball games.  I learned about it from this Slate sports podcast where it was discussed.  I especially enjoyed Josh Levin’s point that the end of hockey games becomes even more hockey and is great.  In contrast to the end of basketball ruining what we love about the sport.

10) Seth Masket on Trump’s poor record of accomplishment:

The Republican Party, although enjoying control over a great many governments within the United States right now, is facing a significant crisis in that it can’t translate its ideals into law. The one notable legislative success of the Trump administration’s first hundred days — Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch — is the exception that proves the rule. He was a person sent by the White House, rather than a bill formulated in a chamber that’s hostile to democratic lawmaking procedures. There was no negotiation over who he was; it was simply a matter of a yes or no vote.

Writing laws isn’t nearly that easy. Even if Ryan and Trump get better at it, they have significant hurdles to overcome.

11) Found this article about why America has fewer IUD choices than other developed countries surprisingly interesting.  Mostly, because it’s another example of us just being worse at sensible policy.

12) Good on Prince Harry for fighting against the stigma on mental health.

13) It’s entirely possible I shared this when it came out 2 years ago, but I really do like Aaron Carroll’s simple rules for healthy eating.

14) Really liked this Op-Ed entitled, “My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy.”

Republicans for tax cheats

No, seriously.  This Post editorial nicely captures the dynamic:

Still, we’re not so naive as to believe that compliance would be unchanged if cheaters were never caught. That is one reason President Trump’s proposal to slash Internal Revenue Service funding is such an abysmal idea. The president last month suggested reducing the national tax collector’s $11.2 billion budget by $239 million — this after Republicans already have cut $1 billion from its budget since taking over Congress at the beginning of this decade.

Attacking the IRS is a particularly expensive way to play to the crowd. It rewards tax cheats at everyone else’s expense. Commissioner John Koskinen estimates that the government loses at least $4 for every $1 cut from the IRS and is losing some $4 billion to $8 billion a year due to inadequate funding. [emphasis mine]

The agency’s workforce has contracted by some 17,000 employees in recent years while demands on the agency, from preventing identity theft to enforcing Obamacare’s individual health-insurance mandate, have expanded. Fewer employees means less enforcement: Last year the agency conducted the fewest audits since 2004 — when the U.S. population was about 30 million smaller, the Associated Press notes — and its audit rate has declined to a point not seen since 2003. The more the integrity of the tax oversight system comes into doubt, the more tax-day shenanigans people will attempt — and the more even honest people will wonder why they bother paying such close attention while less scrupulous people get rewarded.

But, I suppose most of those tax cheats are wealthy people, so, I guess it’s all good with Republicans.

The opioid epidemic reflects policy choices

So, yesterday in my public policy class, while I was talking about the failure of the “war on drugs” and how we need to treat addiction as a public health problem, not a criminal justice one, in class yesterday, Radley Balko was posting this excellent piece on how bad policy choices contributed to our opioid epidemic:

The other, more important thing to keep in mind is that much of the current crisis is due to a couple of decades of misguided policies that turned a public-health problem into a crime problem. [emphases mine] It began 20 or so years ago when the Drug Enforcement Administration started targeting physicians who specialize in treating long-term chronic pain, essentially ending that area of medicine. The crackdowns made it increasingly difficult for chronic-pain patients to find well-trained, conscientious pain specialists to treat them. Most of the doctors who weren’t arrested migrated to other areas of medicine. Medical students understandably wanted nothing to do with pain management. But the pain patients didn’t go away. That created demand for someone to provide them relief. That demand was filled by far less careful and conscientious doctors — the “pill mills” you often read about. Meanwhile, more-reputable doctors were told to view patients who were dependent on these drugs not as patients who were depending on the medication — just as a diabetic is dependent on insulin — but as addicts.

There’s no question that unscrupulous doctors, pharmacies and pharmaceutical executives have contributed to the current crisis. But bad policy is the real problem. Drug cops aren’t doctors. Yet for some reason, we’ve decided to bring them into the business of deciding what doctors can prescribe to their patients and in what quantities. If physicians are recklessly prescribing these drugs, they should be disciplined by medical boards, not raided by SWAT teams. Treating pain is difficult. It requires care and finesse to both address the suffering of a patient and to keep that patient away from the threat of addiction. Drug cops aren’t known for their care or finesse. They tend to have one gear…

Asking law enforcement to handle prescription drug abuse was a huge mistake in the early 2000s. We don’t seem to have learned much since. The latest surge in opioid-related deaths has pundits and publications across the political spectrum calling for an ever greater law enforcement role in preventing addiction, and for generally more punitiveness across the board. Prosecutors have responded by targeting more doctors, or by bringing murder charges in overdose deaths. Legislatures have followed with new laws such as lowering the minimum weight of illicit drugs needed for felony charges and new mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking or distributing drugs such as hydrocodone, fentanyl or heroin.

That means more felons, more prisons and more lives ruined by incarceration. Addicts get treated as criminals, not as patients in need of treatment. And meanwhile, people living with chronic pain find it ever more difficult to get the medication they need.

When will we ever learn?!  Not by 2017 apparently.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  I’ll leave you with a link and a headline, “Portugal decriminalised drugs 14 years ago – and now hardly anyone dies from overdosing.”

The Republican health care contradiction

Not quite sure what occasioned this from Ezra this week, as much has already said by him and others last month, but it’s a great succinct summary, so I’m going with it, too:

The most interesting policy argument in America right now is the debate between conservatives’ real position on health care and their fake position.

The fake, but popular, position goes something like this: Conservatives think everyone deserves affordable health insurance, but they disagree with Democrats about how to get everyone covered at the best price. This was the language that surrounded Paul Ryan and Donald Trump’s Obamacare alternative — an alternative that crashed and burned when it came clear that it would lead to more people with worse (or no) health insurance and higher medical bills.

Conservatives’ real, but unpopular, position on health care is quite different, and it explains their behavior much better. Their real position is that universal coverage is a philosophically unsound goal, and that blocking Democrats from creating a universal health care system is of overriding importance. To many conservatives, it is not the government’s role to make sure everyone who wants health insurance can get it, and it would be a massive step toward socialism if that changed…

There has not, in recent political memory, been a national Republican leader who actually argued that the American health care consensus was wrong and it was simply not the government’s job to ensure every American could get health insurance…

Republicans need to realize their problem isn’t poor legislative leadership or dissident House conservatives. It’s that they’ve been hiding their real health care position for decades, and so there’s no public support for the bills that actually achieve their goals. Either they need to change what they believe, and move toward the kinds of policies Roy proposes, or they need to begin the hard work of actually persuading the public that not everyone who wants health insurance should be able to get it.

Yep, yep, yep.  Also reminded me of a Chait post a few weeks ago I forgot to blog about:

But in the long run, these policy defects may be overshadowed by the ACA’s great political achievement: popularizing the idea that the government should guarantee health care to its citizens as a right.

This is not a radical idea. Every other advanced democracy arrived at it long ago, and many Americans already subscribed to the notion before Obamacare was ever introduced.

But as the Trumpcare debate illustrated, the ACA grew the constituency for government-provided health care while fostering the American public’s sense of entitlement to affordable insurance.

The GOP anticipated this development, which is why it fought so hard, on so many fronts, to kill the law. When those efforts failed, for short-term political gain, many Republicans chose not to attack Obamacare’s core premise — that the government should facilitate universal access to basic health care — but rather to attack the law for failing to realize that left-wing ideal…

The Republicans didn’t just lose the battle on health care — they lost the war.

Help a blogger out?

So, I’ve got a student I’m advising on a super-cool Honors Thesis.  She’s looking at how politics affects on-line data habits.  There’s a series of fake tinder profiles and then questions about political beliefs, etc.  Would love to get more people– especially college students and young adults– taking the survey.  Would be grateful if you could consider sharing this survey and plugging it in your social media world.  (And sorry, it’s only IRB approved for American adults– no Finns 🙂 ).

That said, DON’T TELL PEOPLE THIS IS A STUDY OF POLITICS AND DATING ATTITUDES.  (And, for this reason, you probably shouldn’t take it either).  Maybe something more like, “help out an NCSU undergraduate doing a senior thesis about on-line dating attitudes.”

Anyway, here’s the survey, https://ncsu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_88rI5Re0DX2Zb37 .  Please help.  And once we get the results in, it should be really interesting and I’ll share some highlights here.

 

 

Will Democrats get Trump to release his taxes

I doubt it.  But I love how they are trolling him on the issue over his supposed tax reform (i.e., tax cuts for rich peoplel) plans. NYT:

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s promise to enact a sweeping overhaul of the tax code is in serious jeopardy nearly 100 days into his tenure, and his refusal to release his own tax returns is emerging as a central hurdle to another faltering campaign promise.

As procrastinators rushed to file their tax returns by Tuesday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, emphasized again on Monday that Mr. Trump had no intention of making his public. Democrats have seized on that decision, uniting around a pledge not to cooperate on any rewriting of the tax code unless they know specifically how that revision would benefit the billionaire president and his family.

And a growing roster of more than a dozen Republican lawmakers now say Mr. Trump should release them.

“If he doesn’t release his returns, it is going to make it much more difficult to get tax reform done,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, pointing out that the president has significant conflicts of interest on issues such as taxation of the real estate industry and elimination of the estate tax. “It’s in his own self-interest.” …

But it is Mr. Trump’s own taxes that have provided the crucial leverage for his opponents. More than 100,000 of his critics took to the streets over the weekend in marches around the country, demanding that the president release his returns. Tax legislation, they say, could be a plot by Mr. Trump to get even richer.

“When they talk about tax reform, are they talking about cutting Donald Trump’s taxes by millions of dollars a year?” asked Ezra Levin, a member of the Tax March executive committee. “We don’t know.”

Beyond the politics of Mr. Trump’s returns, lawmakers do not want to pass an overhaul of the tax code that unwittingly enriches the commander in chief and his progeny. Those who are worried about conflicts of interest point to the potential repeal of the estate tax or elimination of the alternative minimum tax as provisions that would enrich Mr. Trump.

Here’s the beauty of this.  Democrats are never going to cooperate on any kind of tax reform with Trump, because it is blindingly obvious, that Trump has no genuine interest in reform, but rather just fairly typical Republican tax cuts for the wealthy.  Where he might have some reform impulses– e.g., border adjustment tax– the Republicans will have a civil war among themselves.

But, all the Democrats have to do is pretend that Trump’s personal taxes are holding up real bipartisan compromise and the media will cover it that way.  National media love the idea of bipartisan compromise and tend to hype the possibilities far more than reality suggests is likely.  In a way, this is media catnip planted by Democrats to get the media to focus on Trump’s personal taxes whenever they cover stories of changes to tax policy.  Smart, smart move.  Let’s give the Democrats some credit on this one.

And, oh yeah– what the hell is Trump hiding in his taxes?!

Is CNN the worst news source on TV?

No, it’s Fox.   But CNN is pretty horrible.  In my media class we talk all the time about how the “game orientation” distorts and diminishes the quality of the information we receive.  And, since CNN sees politics as all about the game, what we end up getting is a lot of crap.  Nice piece from Carlos Maza in Vox:

In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, CNN president Jeff Zucker described the network’s approach to covering politics, saying, “The idea that politics is sport is undeniable, and we understood that and approached it that way.” That politics-as-sport approach has placed a heavy emphasis on drama, with much of CNN’s programming revolving around sensationalist arguments between hosts, guests, and paid pundits.

That fighting-based approach to covering politics has created a huge demand for Trump supporters willing to appear on the network, which is why CNN hired Trump supporters like Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany to defend Trump full time.

 But CNN’s fixation on drama and debate has turned the network’s coverage into a circus of misinformation. CNN’s Trump supporters derail segments critical of the president, misrepresent Trump’s positions to avoid tough questions, and peddle false and misleading information on national TV while being paid by the network. In many cases, CNN’s Trump supporters repeat the same lies and talking points that CNN’s serious journalists spend all day trying to debunk. [emphasis mine] That might explain why Trump has quietly pushed his surrogates to appear on CNN, even while publicly feuding with the network.
And, thanks to confirmation bias, it does not take a lot of misinformation at all for people to believe what they want to, no matter how hard Jake Tapper works to actually present facts.  Let’s just sum it up this way– Jeff Zucker is very, very bad for America
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