Headline of the day

So often, the Onion cuts right to the heart of things better than anyone.  Love this:

New NFL Policy Requires All Players To Honor Patriotic Spirit Of Subservience That American Flag Represents


One Trump scandal to rule them all

I’ve been so busy and such a bad blogger, but I had to at least find time to post this from Adam Serwer.  So good:

There are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability… [emphases mine]

The president’s opponents have yet to craft a coherent narrative about the Trump administration’s corruption, even though the only major legislative accomplishment Trump has to his name is cutting his own taxes. But his supporters have, ironically, crafted an overarching explanation to account for how the president they voted for, who came to office promising to eliminate official corruption, has come to embody it. The “Deep State” narrative is no more complicated than an attempt to explain the accumulating evidence of misbehavior on the part of the administration as a wide-ranging conspiracy to frame the president. The more evidence of wrongdoing that comes to light, the more certain they are that the conspiracy theory is true. In their own way, Trump supporters have recognized that Trump’s burgeoning list of scandals is made of branches from the same twisted tree…

The essential quality of pro-Trump punditry however, is that their perception of reality must be warped to conform to the latest Trump proclamation, even if it contradicts previous Trump pronouncements or established facts. Trump dictates reality, and his supporters rush to justify whatever has been decreed. In this way, Trump manages to corrupt not just those in his immediate orbit or inner circle, but even those who have never met him, who endeavor to reconcile the insurmountable gap between his words and the world as it exists…

The president’s unwavering commitment to this ethnonationalism persuades his followers that he is incorruptible, despite his use of his own powers for personal gain and profit. “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened,” the segregationist George Wallace once said of his rise to power. “And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.” (These days, they stomp the floor for “son of a bitch” or “animals.”) Any effective hustle persuades the mark that they’re the ones profiting.

For those Americans unmoved by such appeals, the ongoing corruption of the official powers of the U.S. government on behalf of ego, avarice, and impunity should not be seen as separate stories. They are the same story, and it is the story of the Trump presidency.

Quick hits (part I)

Late again.  Busy day with a very wet soccer tournament.  3-1 and 4-1 today.  Hopefully, two more tomorrow and the tournament title.

1) Great piece on how police need to start “snitching” on each other:

Americans have talked constantly about a no-snitch black culture hampering police investigations, leaving violent criminals on the streets. But what about the no-snitch police culture that has hampered investigations into officer misconduct, leaving violent criminals on the streets?

Police officers should lead the way in fostering an American civic culture of reporting lawbreakers. It is their professional duty to snitch, to enforce the law first and foremost against themselves. How can they expect citizens to snitch to them if they refuse to snitch? How can they expect citizens to trust the criminal-justice system if they don’t trust the criminal-justice system? Snitching on each other remains their only salvation from this hypocrisy, their best tool for building trust with the communities they purport to serve and protect. But first, they’ll have to grapple with an empirical truth: Communities of color are actually disproportionately likely to report crimes—it’s police themselves who have maintained a culture of silence.

2) Really interesting Vox piece on the “democratization of kidnapping” in Mexico.

3) Went to buy light bulbs the other day and realized that CFL’s have basically been out-competed now that LED’s are so much more affordable.  Though, what’s really annoying– I need a single LED floodlight.  It says it should last for 13 years.  They only come in 2 packs.  I’m supposed to just save an extra light bulb for 13 years?!

4) Larry Bartels and Catherine Cramer in the Monkey Cage, “White people get more conservative when they move up — not down — economically. Here’s the evidence.”

5) Greg Sargent on Paul Ryan’s immigration lies (and damn, if there’s an American who has a more undeserved reputation for decency than Paul Ryan…):

Now, over to Paul Ryan. Vulnerable Republicans in the House are pushing a discharge petition that would force a vote on immigration bills, including two measures that would grant the dreamers legal status, one of them packaged with fortifications to border security. Seventeen Republicans have signed the petition, meaning that if organizers can get eight more, it would pass, since Dems will support it — forcing a full House vote on whether the dreamers will be protected or remain in limbo.

Ryan is trying to stop this from happening. He justifies this by claiming that there’s no sense in voting on measures protecting the dreamers that Trump would veto. As Ryan put it: “We actually would like to solve this problem, and that is why I think it’s important for us to come up with a solution that the president can support.”

But this is utter nonsense, because there isn’t any deal that Trump is willing to support that can pass Congress. Ryan knows his suggestion otherwise is a big lie, because we already tried this. This year Democrats repeatedly offered Trump deals with money for the wall in exchange for protecting the dreamers, and he rejected them all, because Trump also wanted deep cuts to legal immigration…

Ryan is trying to prevent a vote to protect the dreamers precisely because such a measure could pass the House. That would expose him to the right’s rage and would probably end up forcing Trump to make the terrible choice of accepting or vetoing it. A deal protecting the dreamers in exchange for border security would probably pass the House by a comfortable margin, and it might pass the Senate — after all, passage in the House would bring tremendous pressure on moderate Republican senators — especially if the White House didn’t actively lobby against it…

But Trump will not accept any deal to protect the dreamers, even though it could very likely pass both chambers, unless it also contains deep cuts to legal immigration. So if the House passed it, the White House would lobby the Senate against it, and if that failed, Trump would then have to veto it. Either of those would look horrible, because after House passage, suddenly protections for the dreamers would appear in reach. This is the spectacle that Ryan is trying to avert — all to protect Trump from having his true priorities revealed in all their ugly glory.

6) The untold story of Robert Mueller’s time leading a combat platoon in Vietnam.

7) NY Times writes a story on how the Richmond courthouse’s no cell phone policy discriminates against poor people and they finally do something about it.  Journalism for the win.  And damn are so many courthouses ridiculous about what is an essential feature of modern life.

8) Speaking of journalism, FTW.  This is an amazing and disturbing NYT feature from Nicholas Kristoff of an almost surely innocent man who California seems committed to punishing for murder.  But, thanks to this terrific article, looks like the wheels of justice may finally start turning again.

9) Alvin Chang, “When Russian trolls wanted to divide America, they knew what to use: race.”

10) Billionaires have too much political power.  Hell yeah! Martin Longman:

We have hard limits on how much money individuals can donate to candidates and there’s a reason for that. We don’t want some citizens to be more equal than others, and rich people already have many options for how they can wield undo influence in the corridors of power.

It makes a mockery of our campaign finance laws when a billionaire can throw 30 million dollars into our midterm elections on the side of one party. The fact that Speaker Paul Ryan had to step out of the room when the pitch was made demonstrates that there was something wrong with the transaction. Whether Ryan was in the room or listening outside the door should not define what is ethical and what is not…

It’s not going too far to argue that Adelson’s money distorted the way the 2012 Republican primaries unfolded. Without Adelson’s cash, Gingrich simply couldn’t have financed his travel let alone his advertising. He would have dropped out much earlier. In the end, he was the last candidate to withdraw from the race, on May 2. In 2016, Adelson adopted Marco Rubio as his pet candidate…

It’s not going too far to argue that Adelson’s money distorted the way the 2012 Republican primaries unfolded. Without Adelson’s cash, Gingrich simply couldn’t have financed his travel let alone his advertising. He would have dropped out much earlier. In the end, he was the last candidate to withdraw from the race, on May 2. In 2016, Adelson adopted Marco Rubio as his pet candidate…

The problem isn’t the country or the individual involved. The problem is the disproportionate power one citizen has to bend American foreign policy to his liking. This is also a problem on domestic issues, like gaming regulations. Michael Bloomberg throws a serious amount of money around to support candidates who will push for gun control. He, too, has too much influence. According to Bloomberg News, Tom Steyer spent more in disclosed donations than the Koch Brothers, Robert Mercer or Adelson during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. In 2014, his $75 million was more than the next three biggest donors combined. It’s not a matter of whether someone is wrong or right. Billionaires shouldn’t be able to bankroll a major political party’s midterm elections, or single-handedly keep a candidate in a presidential race who otherwise would not have the funding to pay for their lunch. These huge donations to the political parties and the Super PACs make a mockery of our own small donations and the idea that we’re all equal citizens.

We need to figure out a way to rein in this type of influence.

11) Osita Nwanevu on the hollow calls for liberals to be nice to conservatives:

The piece was the latest in an unending stream of commentary attributing Democrats’ electoral misfortunes to conservative cultural backlash—a variation on a theme in punditry that was old hat long before Hillary Clinton made the supposed mistake of calling Trump supporters “deplorables.” Alleged gaffes like that, the story goes, form part of an imperious posture Democrats take on questions of identity politics that alienates simple folk who haven’t caught up with the progressive consensus on social questions.

Historians will likely take great interest in how the plight of transgender Americans facing a wave of political violence and staggering poverty was framed so casually and easily as the froufrou obsession of wealthy liberal arts students and coastal elites.

This argument has very little to do with the actual state of American public opinion on those questions. Survey data suggests that identity politics as practiced by Democrats and the left has been quite successful and persuasive. Take racial issues, for instance. According to Pew, the percentage of white people in America who believe that the country “needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites” has grown by 18 points since the beginning of the decade. Most of this can be attributed to white Democrats moving left on the question, but the numbers show change on the right as well: The number of Republicans and Republican leaners who believe this has grown by six points to 36 percent over the same period. The percentage of Republicans and Republican leaners who say that “racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days” has also jumped about five points to 14 percent. These are, of course, still small minorities on the right, but given talk about how liberal arrogance and piety have alienated those who disagree with Democrats on racial identity politics into a backlash, one would expect the numbers to show … well, a backlash. Instead, they suggest that post–Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, and Black Lives Matter, rhetoric and activism may be working quite well on a broad cross section of Americans.

The criminal justice war on poor people

So, in my criminal justice policy class yesterday, I was talking about systemic injustice based on race and class.  And I thought about something in a new way.  As much systemic racism as there is in our system– and there’s lots— it is all de facto, rather, than de jure.  In no way do our criminal laws single out people based on race or, openly/intentionally punish people more based on race.  But when we charge a poor person a $500 fine and put them in jail for an inability to pay it, we are basically criminalizing poverty.  And we consistently do this in a way that utterly ruins lives.  It’s just so wrong.

This one disturbing story exemplifies how wrong it can all go:

Her tag light was out and she had yet to purchase appropriate stickers for the car. She also had an outstanding seatbelt ticket from another traffic stop in 2015. “I didn’t really have the money to pay that ticket. Then we moved and I honestly just forgot about it,” she said.

Because the ticket went ignored, and Ms. Thomas had failed to appear in court, her license had been suspended. The arresting officer “was going to let me go, after I reasoned with him some,” Ms. Thomas said. “He let me out of the squad car and was just going to tow my car.”

Then another officer arrived, and he persuaded the original officer to go through with the arrest.

“I remember he said, ‘If we let everybody go, there’d be nobody in prison,’” Ms. Thomas said.

She was taken to Atlanta’s Fulton County jail, and she was in jail for three days before a family member found her. Her relatives had been frantic, calling all the local hospitals and police stations. “This is really embarrassing, but I couldn’t remember anybody’s number by heart,” Ms. Thomas said. “I couldn’t call anybody, so I just sat there.”

A judge set Ms. Thomas’s bail at $1,500. Bail is paid at 10 percent. Her family couldn’t afford $150, so Ms. Thomas remained in jail for eight days…

Ms. Thomas’s bail may not have counted as “excessive,” but for her it was still outside the realm of affordability. Expensive bail, in general, is a far more widespread problem for black women, as they are four times as likely to be imprisoned as white women. Black defendants routinely receive higher bail amounts than white defendants with similar charges.

Many things happen while people are held awaiting trial. Families lose income. Children suffer the absence of a parent. The costs of incarceration — whether its fees paid to probation officers or payments made to bail bondsmen — add up, and can be debilitating for families that are already financially vulnerable.

A secondary fear, for many, is the involvement of Child Protective Services. Ms. Thomas felt fortunate that her son, Jorden, was seventeen at the time of her arrest, and her family intervened to care for him while she was away.


What political scientists know that you don’t

Lots of stuff.  Foremost among them, term limits are really, really stupid.  Excellent piece from Seth Masket:

Colorado’s state legislature concluded its 2018 session last week. As was the case in 2017, this session was considered a productive one. And as with 2017, this productivity came as a surprise—a lot of conditions exist that would lead one to expect a gridlocked and unproductive chamber…

Why did this happen? How was the government able to have two productive sessions in a row? To no small extent, this was a product of leadership. Three key figures—Hickenlooper (D), Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran (D), and Senate President Kevin Grantham (R)—made productivity a priority. They conferred with each other extensively before and during the legislative session (as they did in 2017), helping to usher through bills where they saw avenues for compromise. They were able to leverage their expertise and the relationships they’ve built with their caucuses and with each other to create a good example of functional state government. [emphases mine]

Thanks to term limits, all three will be gone next year. Hickenlooper, Duran, and Grantham were all elected in 2010, and they’re all termed out this year.

Now, in fairness, the non-term-limited United States Congress is hardly a model of effectiveness these days. And longstanding politicians, even if they’re very experienced and competent, are rarely popular in concept. So when a bipartisan group of politicians from Beto O’Rourke in Texas to Donald Trump in the White House calls for congressional term limits, one can certainly see the political payoff.

But it is nonetheless an irresponsible stance. For one thing, as Jonathan Bernstein notes, when politicians start talking about constitutional amendments (which is what congressional term limits would require), it usually means they’re lacking for actual governing ideas. It’s a dodge.

In fact, term limits can be quite harmful: Legislative leaders and parties would have less power and expertise, leaving a void for lobbyists and bureaucrats to fill. Term limits mean usually a quarter or more of the legislature cannot run for re-election and are thus unaccountable to their voters. Working against expertise and accountability, term limits thus undermine the parts of representative government we need to function better.

Now, of course, Hickenlooper, Grantham, and Duran all emerged within Colorado’s term-limited system. It’s possible for term limits to produce other intelligent and creative leaders. Good results can occur within bad processes. But most of the time they won’t. And calling for term limits for Congress will most likely produce no change at all—and actually has a chance of making our government significantly worse.

Obviously, voters are frustrated because politicians seem so unaccountable.  The proper way to address that is to make elections actually more competitive– redistricting reform and sensible campaign finance reform (public funding is a great place to start).  Term limits are a short-cut that sounds good and is appealing because the other options are hard.  But empowering lobbyists and long-time staff over the politically accountable representative is not the way to go.

Hope (in Republicans) for a better environmental future?

I listened to an interview with James Hansen about climate change recently.  Honestly, so depressing.  Probably, one of the reasons I don’t write about this topic more.

Anyway, not exactly reasons for huge optimism, but here’s a nice piece from Pew pointing out that younger Republicans are substantially more pro-environment (or, maybe less anti-environment) than older Republicans:

I found this especially interesting because it very much comports with my anecdotal experience, in that even my Republican students are somewhat liberal on environmental issues.  Kind of sad, that only 36% of young Republicans are willing to admit the scientific consensus on global warming, but at least that’s twice the rate of old Republicans.  And on basic questions of taking government action for environmental protection, they are substantially more liberal than their elders.

So, there’s at least some decent hope that we’ll begin to see more sensible environmental protection policies as older Republicans die off and younger ones take their place.

Why I’m not paying much attention to Trump and North Korea

Well, honestly, because, as you know, I’m just not all that interested in foreign affairs compared to domestic issues.  But, in this particular place, paying close attention is clearly a sucker’s bet.  Yglesias is on the case:

Donald Trump is a liar. More than that, he’s a fraud. Not just a person who makes factual misstatements but a person who has gotten ahead in life through extensive use of bullshit, leaving in his wake a trail of broken promises. [emphases mine]

From his unpaid bills to contractors to his scam university to his brief period ripping off the shareholders of his eponymous company, this is what Trump does — he exploits normal human nature to sucker people into trusting him, and then he exploits his own ever-growing fame and power to get away with breaking the rules.

As president, this pattern has only continued…

Everyone knows this, which raises the question of why everyone is pretending to believe that Trump may make a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea.

Trump’s Korea rhetoric is alarming and dishonest

A good clue that we are being set up for some bullshit is that not only is the Trump administration’s North Korea policy being headed up by Donald Trump, but it has been conducted so far like you would expect a bullshitter to conduct policy.

The key turnabout in the region, after all, has come from the fact that Trump decided to make a large, unilateral concession to the North Koreans. As Josh Smith and David Brunnstrom reported for Reuters in March, “for at least two decades, leaders in North Korea have been seeking a personal meeting with an American president,” and across all that time American presidents have been saying no.

“North Korea has said these things before,” Mark Dubowitz of the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies told them. “Kim Jong Il wanted to meet with President Clinton.”

Trump, perhaps wisely and likely under the influence of South Korea’s new progressive leader Moon Jae-in, has decided to reverse longstanding US policy and make this concession to Pyongyang. ..

When a notorious liar does something dramatic and new and starts immediately lying about what it is that he’s doing, a sensible reaction is to become alarmed and suspicious — not to suddenly become credulous and naive…

Back in the real world, meanwhile, Trump isn’t a master strategist keeping the North Koreans off balance. He’s an erratic guy with poor impulse control and little understanding of issues who does things like blurt out that Americans held captive in North Korea and sentenced to serve in labor camps received “excellent” treatment from the regime that used them as hostages…

Instead of talking about these risks, however, the mainstream press — Timethe New York TimesCNN, etc. — seems obsessed with the possibility that maybe Trump will deliver a historic diplomatic breakthrough with Pyongyang and then not receive the level of credit and adulation he deserves.

I’m happy to admit that it is, at least in theory, possible that a vainglorious, dishonest, ignorant, and corrupt president who is already lying about his own diplomatic initiatives will shock the world by delivering something fantastic. But Trump has been in the public eye for decades, has a well-deserved reputation as a braggart and a liar, and deserves to be met with nothing but skepticism.

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