Paul Ryan, the Speakership, and his family

I think that mostly Paul Ryan does not want to be speaker because, under current conditions, it’s a thankless, impossible, horrible job.  If that weren’t enough, it’s actually got to be a horrible job for anybody who values spending time with their kids.  And I think Paul Ryan does.  Interesting piece on this in the Post:

He has reminded colleagues and reporters that he is a married man with three young children with whom, due to his existing work in Washington, D.C., he already spends only weekends. The New York Times reported that in recent years, current Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the man who wants out of the job, spent as many as 200 days a year en route to fundraisers or fundraising somewhere.

Okay, and personally, I cannot imagine taking any job that only allowed me to see my kids on the weekends.   But 200+ days of travel?  What’s the point in being a dad?  Anyway:

There’s almost nothing about Ryan’s conundrum that Americans haven’t heard before. In fact, work-life balance is about two days away from joining the list of arguably meaningless cliches. More than a few public figures — particularly lawmakers — have used the old “resigning to spend more time with my family” excuse for bowing out of some political race or office. Oftentimes, the excuse seems dubious.

And most of Ryan’s own House colleagues seemed to have all but dismissed his family life concerns. Look closely at all those stories about which lawmaker has said what to Ryan to convince him to take the job. Not many have bothered to share a thought — at least in print — on how one might be speaker and a good father to three young children. Translation: Ryan should be more like them. He should leave the bulk of family responsibilities and relationship-building to his wife or the hired help a rising career can buy.

The truth is, there’s almost nothing about Ryan’s dilemma that many working parents don’t know. The real and important difference here is that this time, this is a conversation that is kind of, sort of, being had about a man.

And, plenty more good stuff on moms, dads, and the modern workplace.

Marriage cure

Way back in the Spring I spoke to Rachel Cohen, the author of this interesting take on marriage and public policy.  I don’t necessarily agree with everything here, but I sure do love that she name-checks my book:

As political scientists Laurel Elder and Steven Greene have traced in their book, The Politics of Parenthood: Causes and Consequences of the Politicization and Polarization of the American Family, the Democrats’ family rhetoric began to veer to the right under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Since then, nontraditional families have been without a political champion, at least in presidential politics.

Nice!  So, onto the main point of the article:

If there were policy interventions that would lead people to feel secure enough to marry, as the Marriage Opportunity Council hopes, that would be great. Stable and loving marriages are to be cherished, and evidence suggests they are salutary for children. But the government is just not very good at promoting such marriages. [emphasis mine] And poverty corrodes them. Single parenthood and divorce have continued to increase under conservative rule as well as liberal. Today, more than 40 percent of American children are born outside of marriage.

That’s why making it easier for parents, married or not, to manage their responsibilities is so critical. Economic policies like universal child care, paid family leave, paid sick leave, living wages, child allowances, rent subsidies, affordable health care, and quality public transportation are examples of the types of reforms that we know would dramatically improve the lives of millions of families.

Good points.  I’m just not so sure we should give upon the government promoting healthy marriages.  Healthy marriages do tremendous good for the individual, the children, and society (that’s been a key plank in Jonathan Rauch’s compelling argument for same-sex marriage).  Basically, there’s a very nice liberal case laid out here for all the liberal policies government can do that, among other things, should help marriages.  And I think it can.  But this confidence in government disappears when it comes to the “conservative” idea that marriage should be encouraged.  We may not have a very good idea, given the known benefits of healthy marriages, I absolutely don’t think the government should simply give up on promoting them.


How Paul Ryan games the system

Love this Paul Krugman column which quite accurately explains how Paul Ryan so expertly exploits pathologies of political journalism:

What makes Mr. Ryan so special? The answer, basically, is that he’s the best con man they’ve got. His success in hoodwinking the news media and self-proclaimed centrists in general is the basis of his stature within his party. Unfortunately, at least from his point of view, it would be hard to sustain the con game from the speaker’s chair.

To understand Mr. Ryan’s role in our political-media ecosystem, you need to know two things. First, the modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn’t do real solutions to real problems. Second, pundits and the news media really, really don’t want to face up to that awkward reality…

The Times’s Josh Barro has dubbed Mr. Rubio’s tax proposal [quite similar to Ryan’s plans] the “puppies and rainbows” plan, consisting of trillions in giveaways with not a hint of how to pay for them — just the assertion that growth would somehow make it all good.

And it’s not just taxes, it’s everything. For example, Republicans have been promising to offer an alternative to Obamacare ever since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, but have yet to produce anything resembling an actual health plan.

Yet most of the news media, and most pundits, still worship at the church of “balance.” They are committed to portraying the two big parties as equally reasonable. This creates a powerful demand for serious, honest Republicans who can be held up as proof that the party does too include reasonable people making useful proposals… [emphasis mine]

And Paul Ryan played and in many ways still plays that role, but only on TV, not in real life. The truth is that his budget proposals have always been a ludicrous mess of magic asterisks: assertions that trillions will be saved through spending cuts to be specified later, that trillions more will be raised by closing unnamed tax loopholes. Or as the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center put it, they’re full of “mystery meat.”

But Mr. Ryan has been very good at gaming the system, at producing glossy documents that look sophisticated if you don’t understand the issues, at creating the false impression that his plans have been vetted by budget experts. This has been enough to convince political writers who don’t know much about policy, but do know what they want to see, that he’s the real deal.

Are there Democrats who are unserious about policy?  Sure.  Except that we don’t pretend that they are the ones who are serious about policy.  The truth is there are some very real differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.  And one of those is that the Republican Party simply doesn’t take policy seriously as anything other than a political weapon (and low taxes on rich people no matter what).  But it’s really hard for political journalists to admit that there’s these kinds of differences between the parties because “both sides!”

Infographic of the day

A cool infographic from Gallup that takes a bunch of recent surveys and looks at the groups with with the Republican presidential candidates perform particularly well or particularly poorly:


Plenty of interesting stuff.  Not surprisingly, Trump is not exactly a favorite among minorities or the more educated.  Rubio does well among conservatives and religious, which would seem to bode well for him.  And I had no idea that it is Republican women who love Ben Carson.


Quick hits (part II)

1) Nice Reihan Salam piece on why party leadership has so little leverage over the freedom caucus.

2) Andrew Prokop with a nice piece arguing that the “Party Decides” conventional Political Science wisdom is wrong. I hope he’s right– that would be great for the Democrats.

3) James Surowiecki on what’s wrong with generic prescription drug regulation and good ideas on what to do about it.

4) Nice Wonkblog summary of some provocative and disturbing new political science research that says that rising economic inequality politically benefits Republicans.

5) Got in a huge FB debate with Steve Saideman over the niqab in Canada because I support the viewpoint against nicely advocated by Adam Gopnik (where he clearly lays out both sides).

6) Why universities need tenure-track faculty

As for costs, universities typically spend only one-third of their budgets on faculty salaries. Despite more than 10 years of education after high school, most people standing in front of a college classroom earn less than $60,000 a year, considering that contingent faculty members, who are not eligible for tenure, make up two-thirds of the faculty work force. Most earn well less than $35,000. And most graduate students paid as teachers earn less than $20,000 a year.

It’s not faculty salaries that have grown so much over the years; it’s the increasing number of administrators and their salaries—along with unnecessary building—that is breaking the higher-education bank. That’s where your tuition money goes. Why? Because administrators set one another’s salaries and pad their staffs.

As for deadwood? Well, the job market for faculty members has been extraordinarily competitive for 40 years. Colleges everywhere have been able to hire outstanding faculty members, people who work hard and stay current in their fields because they love what they do. The deadwood retired or died years ago.

7) Supposedly, it doesn’t even make sense to even define “assault weapons.”  I’m no expert on guns, but here’s a shot– weapons derived from those originally designed for military purposes.

8) I’ve enjoyed college soccer ever since my Duke days (we had quite a good team).  Now I love that my whole family can see pretty good quality soccer at an NCSU game for $5.  Very few elite players play in college, but so far it is working for Stanford student, Jordan Morris.

9) Love this story about an anonymous activist doing all he can do disrupt ISIS on twitter.

10) It is truly amazing that Ben Carson is making a serious run for president while being so utterly ignorant about how the US economy works.  Talk about domain-specific knowledge.

11) Hillary Clinton’s problem with men.

When Hil­lary Clin­ton entered the pres­id­en­tial race, she ex­pec­ted to win over­whelm­ing sup­port among wo­men in her bid to be­come the first fe­male pres­id­ent. In­stead, she’s find­ing out that an un­pre­ced­en­ted level of res­ist­ance to her can­did­acy among men is un­der­min­ing the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom that she’d be the strongest Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee in the gen­er­al elec­tion.

Put an­oth­er way: Clin­ton is now nearly as un­pop­u­lar with men as Don­ald Trump is with wo­men. That’s say­ing something.

12) Seth Masket on changing gun laws without changing hearts and minds.

13) Mark Kleiman starts with guns, but moves onto how we should more closely regulate alcohol.

14) Julia Azari on the need for liberals to change the political rhetoric on gun violence:

Lee Drutman writes today in the New York Times that the side in favor of gun control lacks the organization and energy of the other side. This evaluation strikes me as correct, and I think it’s linked to the framing issues mentioned above. It seems unlikely that gun control will attain the status on the policy agenda that health care, economic issues, orcivil rights have enjoyed.

It might be more effective instead for the president — in his capacity as leader of the nation but also leader of the Democratic Party — to use his platform to reframe this issue in terms of the party’s wider platform. Although matters of economic and racial justice have not dominated the policy agenda in recent decades, they are the focus of the movements that appear most vital on the left. By placing last week’s tragedy in the same category with other, more representative incidences of gun violence, Obama could have laid the groundwork for a new understanding of the issue…

This gets at a crucial function of presidential rhetoric. It not only offers ways to connect seemingly disparate issues, it also has the potential to infuse political debates with moral purpose. The president’s words won’t fundamentally change the substance of an issue or the interests invested in it. But it can shift the focus from process — from questions about enforcement or about whose fault it is that nothing happened last time — and from old frames, like the liberty versus security one that has resulted in a persistent stalemate over the years…

As long as incidents of gun violence remain episodic and uneven, such an understanding will probably require political creativity, not a rehash of familiar arguments. The president isn’t wrong to politicize the issue. Politics is how we address problems. But he missed an opportunity to politicize the gun question in a new and meaningful way.

15) Some of those “good guy with a gun” types might decide it’s a good idea to shoot at a fleeing shoplifter in a parking lot.  It’s not.

16) Paul Waldman on the permanent conservative rebellion:

That’s why it doesn’t really matter much who actually ends up in the Speaker’s chair. Whoever that Speaker is, he’ll be judged inadequate, not enough of a fighter, too willing to roll over. After all, no matter who he is or what he does (and yes, I’m assuming it will be a man, because there aren’t any viable female candidates at this point), he won’t successfully repeal Obamacare, or send all the illegals away, or slash taxes rates, or outlaw abortion, or pound his gavel until the thunderous vibrations reach down Pennsylvania Avenue and drive that usurper Barack Obama out of the White House and back to Chicago. In the eyes of the rebels, the next Speaker will fail, just like his predecessor did. And the rebellion will have to continue.

17) I had not realized that Ben Bernanke says the Republican party left him.  Drum on the matter.

18) Just how much those internet ads slow everything down.

19) I was going to give this great Robert Reich essay on how Economics is too important to left to Economists it’s own post, but I want DJC to read it.

The second issue unaddressed by an exclusive focus on efficiency and growth is democracy — the accountability of government officials to the public. I have known economic policy analysts and advisers who, after finding what they believe to be the best or most efficient outcome, then seek to discover how best to do end runs around the democratic process to implement it. To them, politics is a constraint on rational policy making rather than a source of wisdom about what should be done.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, a focus on efficiency and growth disregards the allocation of power in a political-economic system and the role of political power in determining what the economic rules will be. It fails to examine whether that allocation of power is likely to result in a stream of future decisions that further entrench the powerful and add to their winnings. And it doesn’t ask whether a different balance of power might be preferable.

20) Given my interest in prisons and this great review, I had to buy Prison Architect.  Alas, it could really use a tutorial.  And I think I prefer to just shoot people when I play video games.

21) Lawrence Krauss on why people keep getting Nobels for neutrinos:

This is exotic and amazing stuff, but why should neutrino oscillations and neutrino masses be worthy of popular, or even scientific, interest? The reason is simple. In the standard model of particle physics, developed throughout the last fifty years of the twentieth century—the model which has correctly described every other observation that has been made in particle accelerators and other experiments, and which represents perhaps the greatest intellectual adventure that science has ever seen—neutrinos have to be massless. The discovery of a massive neutrino, therefore, tells us that something is missing. The standard model cannot be complete. There is new physics remaining to be discovered, perhaps at the Large Hadron Collider, or by means of another machine that has yet to be built.


22) There’s an old saying that “all politics is local.”  Tom Edsall makes the good case that “all politics is national” now.  Read it.

Quick hits (part I)

Lots and lots this week.  Here goes…

1) John Tierney on the difficult economics of recycling.  Basically, only paper, cardboard, and metal cans are cost effective.  That said, he totally elides the issue of externalities.

2) The public university system in North Carolina has a great reputation.  Rob Christensen on how our Republican leadership is putting that in jeopardy.

3) Mark Kleiman on the problem of full legalization of marijuana as opposed to decriminalization:

Inevitably, then, the marijuana movement has begun to give way to the marijuana lobby. To be sure, I’ve had my share of clashes with movement folks, and I haven’t always been impressed with their policy acumen or their standards of argument, but I’ve never seen any reason to doubt that they’re advocating the public interest as they perceive it. The people now being hired by the guys in suits doing cannabis-business stock promotions play by different rules. I expect them to have about the same ethical standards as lobbyists for the alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical, food, and fossil-fuels industries: that is, I expect them to be utterly willing to sacrifice human health and welfare on the altar of the operating statement, just like those folks at VW who decided it would be a cute idea to poison the air just a little bit to goose the performance of their diesel-driven cars.

4) Forget, just find the credit score of a potential romantic partner.

5) I really enjoyed the Everest movie.  Not a great movie, but so awesome to see the super-dramatic events of Into Thin Air so stunningly realized.  Nice New Yorker piece on how death is portrayed in disaster films.

6) Okay, I’m somewhat sympathetic, but really, just how far do universities need to go in allowing “service” animals on campus.  An anxiety bunny?

7) Nice summary of the difficulties faced by contemporary pollsters.

8) This Salon piece pretty much gets at why the gun debate is so asymmetric.

Conservatives aren’t lying when they say they need guns to feel protected. But it’s increasingly clear that they aren’t seeking protection from crime or even from the mythical jackbooted government goons come to kick in your door. No, the real threat is existential. Guns are a totemic shield against the fear that they are losing dominance as the country becomes more liberal and diverse and, well, modern. For liberals, the discussion about guns is about public health and crime prevention. For conservatives, hanging onto guns is a way to symbolically hang onto the cultural dominance they feel slipping from their hands…

It’s not just Hanlin. Guns are generally talked about in right-wing circles in these mythical terms. And because a gun isn’t just a gun to conservatives, but a symbol of all they hold dear, having a reasonable conversation about gun control has become impossible. To liberals, it’s about keeping guns out of the hands of people who misuse them. But to conservatives, it’s clearly about stripping away their very sense of identity, which is naturally going to be a touchier subject.

That’s why Republican politicians would rather say the dumbest, most offensive things possible after a mass shooting than even entertain the possibility that guns might need a teeny bit more regulation.

9) We’re having quite the historical lull between hurricanes hitting the US.  This can’t really keep up.  And when they do start hitting again there’s going to be a lot more people living at the coast.

10) Time to start holding “experts” accountable by making them give precise and testable predictions.

11) The biology of gender ratio is really a complex and fascinating subject.

12) I’ve mentioned before that as fun as the Myers-Briggs personality test is, it really is nothing more than entertainment.  But this explains so succinctly.

But the problem with that idea is the fact that the test is notoriously inconsistent. Research has found that as many as 50 percent of people arrive at a different result the second time they take a test, even if it’s just five weeks later.

That’s because the traits it aims to measure aren’t the ones that are consistently different among people. Most of us vary in these traits over time — depending on our mood when we take the test, for instance, we may or may notthink that we sympathize with people. But the test simply tells us whether we’re “thinking” or “feeling” based on how we answered a handful of binary questions, with no room in between.

13) A pretty entertaining Buzzfeed list on jokes professors play.  I need to up my game!

14) And, lets start a run of gun links.  First, awesome Wonkette headline, “11-Year-Old Shoots 8-Year-Old Over Puppy, America Remains Free Of Tyranny.”  In all seriousness, though, here’s a radical idea– hold gun owners criminally responsible when their children commit acts of violence with their unsecured guns.  Seriously!!

15) You know that NRA “good guy with a gun” trope.  Actual good guys with guns don’t think so highly of it.  And the stats are pretty clear on the matter, too.  And the good guy with a gun who tried in Oregon.  And got shot.

16) Speaking of stats, Vox brings the charts on gun violence.

17) And Charles Blow on the irrational fear of the gun nuts.

These people are afraid. They are afraid of a time conservative media and the gun industry has convinced them is coming when sales of weapons, particularly some types of weapons, will be restricted or forbidden. They are afraid of growing populations of people they don’t trust. Some are even afraid that a time will come when they will have to defend themselves against the government itself.

Unfortunately this fear is winning, as many Americans think crime is up, even though it’s down. This fear is winning as massacres, and the gun violence discussions that follow, don’t lead to fewer gun sales, but more. This fear is winning, following continued violence by antigovernment militias and hate groups.

Fear is winning as there are now close to as many guns in this country as people — with the gun industry producing millions more each year.

We have reached our supersaturation point as a culture. And with that many guns in circulation, too many will invariably make their way into the hands of people with ill intent.

18) After Dr. Seuss, Boynton is by far my favorite childrens’ book author.  I love impressing people by citing the entire Hipppos Go Berserk from memory.

19) Pro Publica on how our lack of a gas tax is a clear indication of what’s so wrong with Washington.

20) Wonkblog on how a natural experiment shows the power of just getting more money into the families of at-risk children.  Maybe we should try and do this.  I expect the ROI would be huge.  I also expect conservatives would never go for it regardless of what the evidence suggests.

21) And your long read.  John Judis on Donald Trump and the return of the Middle American Radicals.  Really good stuff (though, he really should mention the role of white ethnocentrism).

Guns and the perfect as the enemy of the modest progress

So, the other day I mentioned Dylan Matthews excessively skeptical take on much of anything short of full-scale Australian-style gun confiscation.  In fairness, Matthews admitted some policies might have some modest impact.  Of course, Matthews lives in the real world.  Charles Krauthammer, in contrast, lives in Republican fever-swamp land.  Today’s column essentially asserts that an Australian-style confiscation is the only thing that could reduce gun violence and since we know we can’t do that, there’s no point in even trying.

The reason the debate is so muddled, indeed surreal — notice, by the way, how “gun control” has been cleverly rechristened “common-sense gun-safety laws,” as if we’re talking about accident proofing — is that both sides know that the only measure that might actually prevent mass killings has absolutely no chance of ever being enacted.

Mere “common-sense” regulation, like the assault weapons ban of 1994 that was allowed to lapse 10 years later, does little more than make us feel good. AJustice Department study found “no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.”

As for the only remotely plausible solution, Obama dare not speak its name. He made an oblique reference to Australia, never mentioning that its gun-control innovation was confiscation, by means of a mandatory buyback. There’s a reason he didn’t bring up confiscation (apart from the debate about its actual efficacy in reducing gun violence in Australia). In this country, with its traditions, public sentiment and, most importantly, Second Amendment, them’s fightin’ words…

In the final quarter of his presidency, Obama can very well say what he wants. If he believes in Australian-style confiscation — i.e., abolishing the Second Amendment — why not spell it out? Until he does, he should stop demonizing people for not doing what he won’t even propose.

So, the poorly-thought out, overly-comprised assault weapons ban didn’t do much of anything therefore no non-confiscation policies will actually do anything.  Wow, there’s some rigorous logic.  As to policies what would surely make a meaningful dent, I detailed those the other day.  This is just such an intellectually vapid argument.  And, of course, Krauthammer is what passes for a smart guy among conservative pundits.


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