The next NC governor?

Josh Stein. Or so that’s where I’m putting my money.  One of the cool things about NYT columnist Frank Bruni moving to Chapel Hill, NC is is forays into NC politics.  He may not have talked to the right NC “experts” 🙂 in this column, but an interesting preview of our 2024 gubernatorial race:

The 2024 governor’s race in North Carolina just got underway. You care.

Not because this state is the nation’s ninth most populous, though that’s reason enough. But because what happens here is a referendum on how low Republicans will sink and how far they can nonetheless get.

Attorney General Josh Stein of North Carolina announced his candidacy last week. At present he’s the likeliest Democratic nominee. He’s a mostly conventional choice, with a long résumé of public service and unremarkable politics. I say “mostly” because he’s in one way a trailblazer. He’d be the state’s first Jewish governor.

The likeliest Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, is also a trailblazer. He’d be the state’s first Black governor. But that’s the beginning, middle and end of anything forward-looking and progress-minded about him, and he’s extremism incarnate: gun-loving, gay-hating and primed for conspiracy theories, with a garnish of antisemitism to round out the plate.

Robinson hasn’t formally declared a bid, and he could face and be foiled by a primary challenge from a less provocative rival. But as Tim Funk noted in an article in The Assembly about Robinson’s flamboyantly combative speeches during Sunday worship services across the state, he was recently introduced in Charlotte as “the next governor of North Carolina.”

Heaven forbid. His election would almost certainly retard the state’s economic dynamism by repelling the sorts of companies and educated young workers attracted to it during the six years that Gov. Roy Cooper, a moderate Democrat who cannot run for another term, has been in office.

And if 2024 smiles on Republicans, Robinson could indeed emerge victorious…

Funk captured Robinson well in that Assembly article: “In the Gospel According to Mark Robinson, the United States is a Christian nation, guns are part of God’s plan, abortion is murder, climate change is ‘Godless … junk science,’ and the righteous, especially men, should follow the example of the Jesus who cleansed the temple armed with a whip, and told his disciples to make sure they packed a sword.”

Robinson’s religion is indeed the whipping, slashing kind. It mingles cruelty and snark. When Paul Pelosi was assaulted in his home by a hammer-wielding intruder, Robinson didn’t offer prayers for his recovery. He expressed doubt that Pelosi was an innocent victim — and mocked him.

He has referred to homosexuality as “filth” and to the transgender rights movement as “demonic.” He’s preoccupied with the devil, whose hand he saw in the movie “Black Panther,” which was “created by an agnostic Jew and put to film by satanic marxist,” he railed in a Facebook post that could have used some copy-editing.

His whole persona could use some copy-editing. It’s all exclamation points.

But that’s his power, too. “Mark Robinson is extremely popular with the Republican base and the Republican rank and file,” Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, told me. (He has no relation to Roy.) “The reality is that he’s a compelling speaker. And just as many Republicans thought that Donald Trump went too far but at the same time were happy he gave the finger to ‘the establishment,’ Mark Robinson has many of the same advantages.” …

The Republican Party has gone off the rails but keeps hurtling forward, damage be damned. We’d be foolish in North Carolina to trust that we won’t be part of the wreckage.

Yes, it is disturbing to think about Robinson as our next governor, but, honestly, this guy makes Doug Mastriano look like a sensible moderate (and Mastriano got killed in his election effort).  I suspect Josh Stein would love nothing more than to run against Robinson.  Mark Robinson’s shtick may work for a low-information Lieutenant Governor campaign, but no way he survives the scrutiny of a gubernatorial campaign in anything but a truly red wave year (and, as of now, there’s no reason to suspect 2024 to be a great Republican year).  

Of course, the sane Republicans (to whatever degree they exist) in NC know this, too, and it will definitely be interesting to see just what kind of candidates and efforts materialize against Robinson in the primary.  But, Mark Robinson’s all culture war all the time persona certainly represents the Republican base right now and he will be tough to beat in the primary.  Surely, a topic I will be returning to down the road. 

Professionalize (and fund) the police

Great post from Noah Smith on our need to professionalize policing:

So what else can we do when it comes to police reform in the United States? One answer is to look at how other developed countries handle policing.

Where the U.S. lags its peers: training

 

The advocates of the ill-fated “defund” movement like to imagine that the country in general is over-policed. But when we look at countries in Europe and the Anglosphere, we see that U.S. police staffing levels are actually on the low side. We have nowhere near as many officers per capita as, say, France or Germany.

Source: Wikipedia

As a percentage of GDP, the U.S. is in the middle of the pack. In fact, there is a body of evidence that suggests that the U.S. is under-policed.

What’s different about U.S. police is not their staffing levels or budgets; it’s their behavior. Despite the fact that U.S. cops are relatively few in number, they kill far more people than their counterparts in Europe and the Anglosphere:

And when we look at differences between U.S. policing practices and those in Europe and the Anglosphere, we notice one other big difference: training. U.S. cops have to undergo far fewer hours of training than their peers in other countries before they’re sent out on the job:

Source: ICJTR via BBC

In fact, U.S. cops undergo far less training than cosmetologists or plumbers — professions that don’t require people to carry deadly weapons and make life-and-death decisions.

Source: ICJTR

Do we really think a police officer needs 2000 fewer hours of training than someone who cuts hair and paints nails? Do we really think Australia, with 3500 hours of police training and less than 1/4 our rate of police killings, is getting something deeply wrong? Is it not common sense that cops who haven’t been properly prepared for the violent and dangerous situations they encounter on a job might resort to escalation dominance and demonstrative displays of aggression because they just don’t know how else to react?

Surprisingly, I can’t find good causal studies on the overall impact of police training on police brutality. What I can find are some studies showing good results from specific kinds of training, such as “procedural justice training” (basically, getting cops to communicate more, explain their actions, and respond to concerns) and “de-escalation training”.

Given this encouraging evidence, and the glaring international disparity, and plain old common sense, increasing the required hours of police training in America by a factor of 4 or 5 seems like an obvious policy to try.

Yes, yes, yes.  Every time we discuss policing in my classes we always end up with a consensus on more and better training.  (Right now, far too much of the training is the wrong training– also addressed in Smith’s post).  Let’s do it.  But it will take more of an investment in policing.  Smith also advocates for requiring a college degree.  That would also require more money through higher salaries.  But, if the benefit to these financial costs is safer communities and a dramatic reduction in police misbehavior sure strikes me as worth it!

The one thing I was kind of surprised Smith left out is that when it comes to our insane level of police shootings compared to other democracies is that this is surely closely related to the fact that we have an insane number of guns on our streets compared to other modern democracies. To be fair, that’s an issue beyond policing reform, but in the big picture, our streets awash in guns is surely part of the problem as it absolutely encourages a “warrior” mentality and combat training of the police.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is really good on misguided police culture:

Thirty-four years ago, near the crest of the crack-cocaine-fuelled crime surge of the early nineteen-nineties, two F.B.I agents began a novel investigation of threats to police. One agent was a former police lieutenant in Washington, D.C. The other was also a Catholic priest with a doctorate in psychology. Together, they plunged into the prison system, interviewing fifty convicted cop killers. Most criminologists today call such research pseudoscience. A sample size of fifty was almost anecdotal, and why should anyone trust a cop killer, anyway? The agents also had no benchmark—no comparable interviews with criminals who had complied. Yet the sweeping conclusions of their study, “Killed in the Line of Duty,” made the front page of the Times, and, through decades of promotion by the Department of Justice, became ingrained in the culture of American law enforcement.

At the top of an inventory of “behavioral descriptors” linked to officers who ended up dead, the study listed traits that some citizens might prize: “friendly,” “well-liked by community and department,” “tends to use less force than other officers felt they would use in similar circumstances,” and “used force only as last resort.” The cop killers, the agents concluded from their prison conversations, had attacked officers with a “good-natured demeanor.” An officer’s failure to dominate—to immediately enforce full control over the suspect—proved fatal. “A miscue in assessing the need for control in particular situations can have grave consequences,” the authors warned.

Although few patrolmen today explicitly cite the study, some of its findings survive as police folklore, like the commonplace that unshined shoes can make an officer a target. Most significant, the study’s core lesson about the imperative to dominate dovetailed with a nineties-era turn in law-enforcement culture toward what was known as a “warrior mind-set,” teaching officers to see almost any civilian as a potentially lethal assassin—an approach that many police trainers still advertise, even as the cops-vs.-citizens mentality has fallen out of favor among many police chiefs.

The killing, this month, of Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis is the latest reminder that the dominate-or-die impulse persists among some rank-and-file officers. Body-camera and surveillance videos released on Friday by the the city of Memphis show that a cluster of officers appear to have beaten Nichols to death merely for defying their orders: commands like “Get on the ground,” “Lie flat, goddammit,” and “Give me your fucking hands.”

2) Okay, I get that everything that uses energy can be framed as a “climate change!” issue, but as someone who has not skied since about 1993, I was pretty intrigued to learn of the advances in fake snow technology:

A lack of snow and abnormally mild temperatures are threatening ski resorts in the eastern United States, Europe and Asia. As natural snow becomes scarcer and temperatures creep too high for traditional snow machines, new technology is helping a growing number of ski areas adapt to the warming climate.

These new snow machines can make fake snow in temperatures as high as 80 degrees. But there are limitations that may keep this human-made snow from being a true solution. The costly machines require an enormous amount of energy to operate — much more than traditional ones — and can often make only enough snow to cover small areas…

The all-weather snow-making technology comes in containers where ice flakes are shaved from frozen barrels. The snowlike ice flakes are then fired out using a high-powered fan. The machine uses electricity to draw from local water sources, pumping 20 gallons of water per minute. Since the artificial snow is made up of individual ice flakes, it’s much colder and more durable against warmer temperatures.

“I believe it’s the magic bullet that everyone needs,” said Ken Marlatt, the director of operations for the resort, in an interview.

The machine, made by the Italian company TechnoAlpin, can produce 60 tons of snow a day in any environment — a huge upgrade from previous machines that required temperatures of 28 degrees or lower to operate. Using the machine, Ski Apache was able to produce five acres of snow to get up and running nearly a month earlier at the start of this season, Marlatt said.

3) I love me some Rachmaninoff, but 3 1/2 hours for a classical music concert just seems insane to me. “Yuja Wang, Daredevil Pianist, Takes on a Musical Everest: Known for dazzling virtuosity, Wang faces a new challenge in a three-and-a-half-hour Rachmaninoff marathon at Carnegie Hall.”

4) Apparently the UC system made a deal with the grad student union for huge raises.  But there’s no additional budgetary allocation for this– could get interesting!

The full financial costs of the labor settlements between UC and 48,000 academic workers who help power the system’s vaunted teaching and research engine are still being tallied. But preliminary estimates have dealt a “financial shock to the system,” said Rosemarie Rae, UC Berkeley chief financial officer.

The UC Office of the President estimates the increased costs for salary, benefits and tuition systemwide will be between $500 million and $570 million over the life of the contracts. Campuses have come up with their own calculations: At UC Santa Barbara, for instance, the Academic Senate chair estimated that the cost of pay hikes alone could spiral to more than $53 million over three years at her campus, one of 10 systemwide.

Overall, the costs take in pay increases of 20% to 80% depending on the workers — teaching assistants, tutors, researchers and postdoctoral scholars — and are among the highest ever granted to such university employees in the nation.

“It’s a huge number,” UC Board of Regents Chair Rich Leib said of the costs. “I think it was a good agreement and I’m happy with that. But there are ramifications. It’s not like the money’s coming from the sky. We’re trying to figure it out, but it’s going to require changes.”

Options are limited, with no new state influx of money in the coming academic year dedicated to covering the raises when they kick in — and the state is facing a projected $22.5-billion budget deficit. Fixed federal contracts that pay for 60% of the academic workers can’t be abruptly renegotiated. Many campuses have raised pointed questions as to why UC negotiated the contracts without identifying a clear funding source.

Indeed!

5) This article from Brian Klass in 2021 is on my syllabus and highly relevant to the latest situation, “Focus on Who Police Are, Not What They Do”

This week, voters in Minneapolis decisively rejected a proposal to replace its much-maligned police department with a new department of public safety, and the rest of the United States remains fiercely divided over police reform. Some progressives cling to the faltering movement to defund the police, others suggest better training or accountability, and many Republicans insist that no reform is necessary. For years, there have been calls to expand the use of body cameras, to create more citizen-oversight panels, and to adopt more de-escalation training. All of those reforms are useful and can reduce avoidable police violence. But while American discourse has been focused on what the police do, New Zealand decided to improve upon its already-low levels of police violence by focusing on who the police are.

Several years ago, Doraville, Georgia, a small town not far from Atlanta, posted a disturbing police-recruitment video on the main page of the department’s website. The video (which has since been taken down from the department’s site, but remains online) opens by flashing the Punisher logo, a reference to a fictional vigilante whose tactics routinely include kidnapping, torture, and murder. Then a military vehicle screams into view, and officers in assault gear toss smoke grenades out the hatch before briefly exiting the vehicle to shoot their targets with military-style weapons. The entire video is accompanied by the song “Die MF Die” by the heavy-metal band Dope.

Anyone who went to the department’s website while contemplating joining the force would have been greeted by that video. It’s an unapologetic celebration of military tactics and the use of deadly force. For anyone who hoped to be part of a department devoted to public service and community policing, the video would be enough to dissuade them from applying. For other potential recruits who saw policing as being part of an occupying army that uses violence to lay down the law, the video would affirm that they had found the right department.

As I discovered in my research, the profession of policing is heavily skewed by a self-selection bias. Just as tall kids are more likely than short ones to try out for the school basketball team, certain kinds of people are more drawn to policing than others. Helen King, the former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, told me that authoritarian personalities are disproportionately drawn to the uniform. “If you’re a bully, a bigot, or a sexual predator, policing is a really attractive career choice,” she explained. This doesn’t mean that police officers are overwhelmingly bullies and bigots, but it does mean that many bullies and bigots like the idea of being a cop. To put it bluntly, white men with authoritarian personalities are disproportionately likely to be drawn to policing.

As I like to say, damn if selection bias doesn’t explain almost everything.

6) I hope that with the right scale and investment, small modular nuclear reactors– as those just approved– can be cost effective because they sound like a great solution:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has certified the design for what will be the United States’ first small modular nuclear reactor.

The rule that certifies the design was published Thursday in the Federal Register. It means that companies seeking to build and operate a nuclear power plant can pick the design for a 50-megawatt, advanced light-water small modular nuclear reactor by Oregon-based NuScale Power and apply to the NRC for a license.

It’s the final determination that the design is acceptable for use, so it can’t be legally challenged during the licensing process when someone applies to build and operate a nuclear power plant, NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell said Friday. The rule becomes effective in late February.

The U.S. Energy Department said the newly approved design “equips the nation with a new clean power source to help drive down” planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions…

However, David Schlissel at the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis expressed concerns about the costs. Schlissel, who has studied the history of the nuclear power industry and the finances of the NuScale project, expects they will continue to go up, which could limit how many NuScale reactors are built. He said he thinks they’re not competitive in price with renewables and battery storage.

Hughes said from wind and solar to hydrogen and nuclear, energy projects have seen cost increases due to changing financial market dynamics, interest rate hikes and inflationary pressures on the sector’s supply chain that have not been seen in decades. NuScale’s VOYGR power plant remains a cost competitive source of reliable, affordable and carbon-free energy, she added.

7) I’ve watched the first two episodes of “Poker Face” and I love it. 

8) Great stuff from Binyamin Applebaum on tax policy:

Washington’s favorite show, “Debt Ceiling Chicken,” is playing again in the big white theater on Capitol Hill. And once again, it is diverting attention from the fact that the United States really does have a debt problem.

Republicans and Democrats in recent decades have hewed to a kind of grand bargain, raising spending and cutting taxes, and papering over the difference with a lot of borrowed money.

From 1972 to 2021, the government, on average, spent about 20.8 percent of gross domestic product while collecting about 17.3 percent of G.D.P. in revenue. It covered the gap with $31.4 trillion in i.o.u.s — the federal debt.

The government relies on this borrowed money to function, and for decades, it has defied a variety of dire predictions about the likely consequences. Notably, there’s no sign that Washington is exhausting Wall Street’s willingness to lend. In financial markets, U.S. Treasuries remain the ultimate comfort food. There’s also little evidence the government’s gargantuan appetite is making it harder for businesses or individuals to get loans, which could impede economic growth.

But the federal debt still carries a hefty price tag.

The most immediate problem with the government’s reliance on borrowed money is the regular opportunity it provides for Republicans to engage in blackmail. Congress imposes a statutory limit on federal borrowing, known as the debt ceiling. The government hit that limit this month, meaning the total amount of spending approved by Congress now requires borrowing in excess of that amount…

Indeed, Americans need more federal spending. The United States invests far less than other wealthy nations in providing its citizens with the basic resources necessary to lead productive lives. Millions of Americans live without health insurance. People need more help to care for their children and older family members. They need help to go to college and to retire. Measured as a share of G.D.P., public spending in the other Group of 7 nations is, on average, more than 50 percent higher than in the United States.

In recent decades, proponents of more spending have largely treated tax policy as a separate battle — one that they’ve been willing to lose.

They need to start fighting and winning both.

It costs money to borrow money. Interest payments require the government to raise more money to deliver the same goods and services. Using taxes to pay for public services means that the government can do more.

The United States paid $475 billion in interest on its debts last fiscal year, which ran through September. That was a record, and it will soon be broken. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, the government paid $210 billion.

The payments aren’t all that high by historical standards. Measured as a share of economic output, they remain well below the levels reached in the 1990s. Last year, federal interest outlays equaled 1.6 percent of G.D.P., compared with the high-water mark of 3.2 percent in 1991. But that mark, too, may soon be exceeded. The Congressional Budget Office projects that federal interest payments will reach 3.3 percent of G.D.P. by 2032, and it estimates interest payments might reach 7.2 percent of G.D.P. by 2052.

That’s a lot of money that could be put to better use.

Borrowing also exacerbates economic inequality. Instead of collecting higher taxes from the wealthy, the government is paying interest to them — some rich people are, after all, the ones investing in Treasuries.

9) Loved this from Jeff Maurer as so many liberals are so fundamentally dishonest on “Critical Race Theory”– “We Are NOT Teaching Post-Funk Techno-Industrial Nü-Metal In Schools! We Are Teaching Funk-Infused Synthetic Post-Punk Neo-Metal.
Any suggestion otherwise is propaganda”

Let me be perfectly clear: Despite what activists claim, children are emphatically NOT being taught post-funk techno-industrial nü-metal in schools. This is, frankly, a ridiculous charge. Children are being taught funk-infused synthetic post-punk neo-metal, as required by state guidelines that have been in place for more than a decade.

The first time I heard this accusation, I scarcely believed it was serious. A clip of a parent waving a Staind album popped up on my Twitter feed, and I almost burst out laughing. As if we would ever impose the rap-infused caterwauling of Staind — or for that matter Korn or Papa Roach — on children! Obviously, those offerings would be better suited to a college-level Intro To Thrash course. The idea that teachers across the country are putting on Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” and saying “class, what are the etymological origins of the line ‘Bawitdaba da bang da bang diggy diggy’?” doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Here’s the truth: A child’s metal education starts with the classics. So: Judas Priest, Motörhead, and anything Ozzy (though a teacher may choose to focus specifically on Sabbath). From there, coursework progresses commensurate with the child’s ability to recognize which bands totally fucking shred. By middle school, a student should be able to differentiate between the take-no-prisoners slaying of Pantera or Dream Theatre and the drop-D poseurism of Soundgarden or Faith No More. By graduation, a student should know the difference between black metal and goth metal, be able to accurately arrange bands according to djent-ness, and be able to explain how Dave Mustaine’s departure from Metallica led to the collapse of glam metal in the early ’90s.

This basic framework has existed since Zeppelin. What’s changed is parents’ belief — stoked by activists — that the curriculum includes the body of work known as nü-metal. Part of the confusion seems to stem from a lack of understanding about what, exactly, nü-metal is. Some parents think that any post-grunge, hip-hop infused guitar rock that relies on syncopated rhythms and minor-key tonalities is nü-metal. In one clip that’s been circulating on social media, a parent refers to Primus as nü-metal — this is absolute madness. Primus is nü-metal about as much as Mercyful Fate is Krautrock!

In my class, I teach an extensive unit on post-punk modern metal that draws from funk and the hard-industrial bands of the ’90s (Rammstein, Pitchshifter). But this is neo-metal, not nü-metal. And yet, activists push their agenda by blurring the line between the two. 

Presumably you get the point.

10) A while back I flagged this otherwise excellent article on school board politics for this bit:

At the work session, Golden shared one end of a conference table with Nancy Garrett, the board’s chair. Garrett, who has rectangular glasses and a blond bob, is from a family that has attended or worked in Williamson County Schools for three generations. She had won the chairmanship, by unanimous vote, the previous August. At one point, she asked an assistant superintendent who had overseen the selection and review of Wit & Wisdom whether “the concept of critical race theory” had come up during the process. No, the assistant superintendent said.

Moms for Liberty members were portraying Wit & Wisdom as “critical race theory” in disguise. Garrett found this baffling. C.R.T., a complex academic framework that examines the systemic ways in which racism has shaped American society, is explored at the university level or higher.

Sorry, but that’s just a fundamentally dishonest argument within the current political context, as Maurer’s piece makes so clear with satire.

11) Some good academic scholarship from last year I think I forgot to highlight, “Are Republicans and Conservatives More Likely to Believe Conspiracy Theories?”

A sizable literature tracing back to Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style (1964) argues that Republicans and conservatives are more likely to believe conspiracy theories than Democrats and liberals. However, the evidence for this proposition is mixed. Since conspiracy theory beliefs are associated with dangerous orientations and behaviors, it is imperative that social scientists better understand the connection between conspiracy theories and political orientations. Employing 20 surveys of Americans from 2012 to 2021 (total n = 37,776), as well as surveys of 20 additional countries spanning six continents (total n = 26,416), we undertake an expansive investigation of the asymmetry thesis. First, we examine the relationship between beliefs in 52 conspiracy theories and both partisanship and ideology in the U.S.; this analysis is buttressed by an examination of beliefs in 11 conspiracy theories across 20 more countries. In our second test, we hold constant the content of the conspiracy theories investigated—manipulating only the partisanship of the theorized villains—to decipher whether those on the left or right are more likely to accuse political out-groups of conspiring. Finally, we inspect correlations between political orientations and the general predisposition to believe in conspiracy theories over the span of a decade. In no instance do we observe systematic evidence of a political asymmetry. Instead, the strength and direction of the relationship between political orientations and conspiricism is dependent on the characteristics of the specific conspiracy beliefs employed by researchers and the socio-political context in which those ideas are considered.

12) Paul Waldman, “The evolving political symbolism of the pickup truck”

At a moment of rapid social change in which gender norms are being challenged, it was predictable that conservatives would begin warning of a new “crisis of masculinity” — practiced as they are in fomenting backlash to trends that unsettle their traditionalist base. That makes this a good time to consider one emblem of manhood that has fascinating implications for gender and politics: the pickup truck.

Nineteen years ago, then-presidential candidate Howard Dean caused some controversy when he said that Democrats needed to appeal to “guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks.” While he was accused of stereotyping Southerners as Confederate sympathizers, no one questioned the idea that Democrats had a serious deficit with the pickup demographic.

Since then, a significant divide has opened up between what pickups symbolize and who’s actually buying them — a divide that says a lot about the place of geography and masculinity in a country that grows more urbanized with each passing year.

While some people still buy trucks for work, the pickup has also become a luxury item that carries in its bed a cargo of ideas about rural culture and manhood, enabling men to spend as much as $100,000 on an identity that may have little to do with their actual lives…

Which brings us to how pickups are marketed: by placing power at the core of their appeal.

 

In the most common type of pickup ad, the truck is presented as a work machine that gives the man who drives it almost limitless power. “A man will ask a lot of his truck,” says the rough-hewn voice of Sam Elliott over scenes of pickups traversing dusty landscapes and job sites in one ad for Ram trucks. “Can it tow that? Haul this? Make it all the way over the top of that? Well isn’t it nice to know that the answer will always be: Hell, yes!” The truck makes you strong and capable, up for any challenge. Does it make you a man? Hell, yes!

That idea of the pickup as a tool for work — especially agricultural work — goes back to its beginnings. The first production pickup truck, the Ford Model TT, debuted in 1917 as a vehicle that would allow farmers who were already using their Model T’s for farm work to haul bigger loads. Its roots in rural American work remain central to its marketing, even if rural people are no longer the target customers. That imagery is meant to evoke a kind of manhood that embodies self-reliance, competence, mastery over the environment and a physicality most men have no need for in their day-to-day lives.

13) OMG do I hate the tipping everywhere now with the electronic payments.  Yes, many retail workers are underpaid.  And, yes, official tipped employees like servers should definitely tip well.  But on the whole, tipping is a dumb way to do things and I hate that technology has led to its proliferation.  

The new tipping culture is confusing at best. I’ve found that some employees feel as uncomfortable about the point-of-sale moment as many consumers do. One barista in Colorado told me that he’d watched a customer contort his fingers on the tablet to make it look like he was tipping 20 percent when he was really selecting “No tip”; far from being offended, the barista said he now deploys the tactic when checking out elsewhere. Other service workers I spoke with suggested that the tablets aren’t the real problem here: If you can afford a $7 latte, they argued, why are you bristling at a $1 tip that would help your server?

And a long-running theory that technology has made people into better tippers may also be more complicated than it appears. A bartender at a Delta SkyClub in Seattle told me that incorporating a personal Venmo QR code into his work has drastically improved his tips. A Park and Ride–shuttle driver told me that digital tipping has hurt him, because people now tend not to carry cash. Square sent me data showing that tips received by both full-service and quick-serve restaurants exploded from 2020 to 2021; growth continued in 2022, but more modestly—full-service was up by more than 25 percent in the third quarter of 2022, and quick-service restaurants were up nearly 17 percent. Despite complaints, people are still tipping well and often.

It’s clear, in any case, that tech has upended tipping, creating a pervasive sense of cultural confusion about parts of the practice. And it’s been exacerbated by societal upheaval from the pandemic, mounting cultural and political frustrations, and broken business models. Employees and consumers are caught in the middle of these larger forces, and the result is a feeling of uncertainty at the moment of transaction.

 

It’s not that modern tipping is “out of control,” as CNN recently put it—a framework that seems to communicate a lack of compassion for service workers, whose minimum wage is staggeringly low in many states. There have always been vindictive customers, bad tippers, and class conflict, and stories about tablet-induced guilt trips have been popping up for a decade now. The new tipping weirdness is about something bigger. Service employees have been made to work through a pandemic, often without adequate protections. On top of that, they’ve had to deal with patrons behaving much more aggressively since mid-2020. Customer-facing employees are burned out, and consumers are more erratic, which means ample opportunities for resentment. More frequent prompts to tip can dredge up complex feelings of guilt and force us to confront difficult conversations: Why do some service industries have standardized tipping cultures, while others don’t? Why did Black service employees receive less money in tips during the pandemic than other employees? …

Ultimately, these tablets accomplish what so much tech-enabled automation does: adding another layer of abstraction between a business’s decisions and its customers. And when customers feel like they’re being taken advantage of by a business’s choice (say, a sneaky 30 percent tip default), they tend to lash out at the workers in front of them—the people least responsible for the decision. It’s another way that technology, when poorly or cynically implemented, can pit consumers against lower-wage employees.

14) Pretty fascinating thread on aging and appearance:

15) Really seems like public toilets should have lids:

Whatever the specifics, the main conclusion from years of research preceding the pandemic has been consistent and disgusting: “Flush toilets produce substantial quantities of toilet plume aerosol capable of entraining microorganisms at least as large as bacteria … These bioaerosols may remain viable in the air for extended periods and travel with air currents,” scientists at the CDC and the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health wrote in a 2013 review paper titled “Lifting the Lid on Toilet Plume Aerosol.” In other words, when you flush a toilet, an unsettling amount of the contents go up rather than down.

Knowing this is one thing; seeing it is another. Traditionally, scientists have measured toilet plume with either a particle counter or, in at least one case, “a computational model of an idealized toilet.” But in a new study published last month, researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder took things a step further, using bright-green lasers to render visible what usually, blessedly, is not. John Crimaldi, an engineering professor and a co-author of the study, who has spent 25 years using lasers to illuminate invisible phenomena, told me that he and his colleagues went into the experiment fully expecting to see something. Even so, they were “completely caught off guard” by the results. The plume was bigger, faster, and more energetic than they’d anticipated—“like an eruption,” Crimaldi said, or, as he and his colleagues put it in their paper, a “strong chaotic jet.” …

The question, then, is not so much whether toilet plume happens—like it or not, it clearly does—as whether it presents a legitimate transmission risk of COVID or anything else. This part is not so clear. The 2013 review paper identified studies of the original SARS virus as “among the most compelling indicators of the potential for toilet plume to cause airborne disease transmission.” (The authors also noted, in a dry aside, that although SARS was “not presently a common disease, it has demonstrated its potential for explosive spread and high mortality.”) The one such study the authors discuss explicitly is a report on the 2003 outbreak in Hong Kong’s Amoy Gardens apartment complex. That study, though, is far from conclusive, Mark Sobsey, an environmental microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told me. The researchers didn’t rule out other modes of transmission, nor did they attempt to culture live virus from the fecal matter—a far more reliable indicator of infectiousness than mere detection.

16) Frustrating poll results given our political reality

17) Pretty intrigued by this policy for ChatGPT and college classes.

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) I think my students would tell you I genuinely care about them and want the best for them. But, my god the coddling approach that the Chronicle of Higher Education teaching newsletter is always taking is just so grating:

  • Acknowledge the Bigger Picture. “We were brought up to just walk into the classroom and say, oh, this DNA molecule is so cool, or this new Shakespeare play is so cool,” said Bryan Dewsbury, associate professor of biological sciences and associate director of the STEM Transformation Institute at Florida International University. But that’s not working for today’s students, who face not only the pandemic but climate change and a host of other serious threats. “We have to stop pretending that the classroom and the campus and the online-course space are just completely disconnected to what’s happening in the wider world — and that people are walking in and just able to shelve all that chaos and just fully be present.”

So, expect less of my students because… climate change?

2) Really interesting interview on how two Supreme Court cases could make some pretty big differences in how social media companies operated. A lot of complicated issues involved.  Also, how had I never heard of this painting?

You said you were sympathetic with the goals, but it seems that the goals might have been just to stop companies from restricting far-right content.

Yes, I do think that’s the goal. But the first time that I saw litigation on claims like this, it came from more traditionally left sources. In Brazil, Facebook took down an image of a native Amazonian woman who was topless. And [the Ministry of Culture said] this was a violation of cultural diversity.

 

That’s hilarious.

The other one’s even crazier. I don’t know if you know the French “L’Origine du Monde,” which is a Gustave Courbet painting? It hangs in the Musée d’Orsay. Its credentials are impeccable, but it’s also a very closeup depiction of female genitalia. Facebook took it down. And the Frenchman who had posted it was, like, “But this is art. I have a right to post art.”

Both of these state laws require platforms to carry speech that the platforms don’t want to. And both of them imposed transparency obligations somewhat similar to the ones in the Digital Services Act in the E.U. The platforms challenged both of those laws in both aspects, the transparency and the so-called must-carry provisions, on a couple of different legal grounds. But the grounds that the Supreme Court would look at if they took it is whether the platform’s own First Amendment rights to set editorial policy have been violated.

The Florida one says that, if an online speaker counts as a journalistic enterprise, which is defined very broadly and strangely, or if they’re a political candidate or they’re talking about a political candidate, then the platform can’t take down anything they say, with almost no exceptions. There’s a weird obscenity exception. Basically, that means if you’re talking about a political candidate or you are a political candidate, you can share electoral disinformation or covid disinformation or racist biological theories. All kinds of things that I think most people would consider pretty horrific. Platforms would have to leave it up in Florida.

The Texas law is also motivated by a concern about conservative voices being silenced, but it comes at it a little bit differently. It says that platforms can engage in content moderation under their own discretionary terms, but they have to do so in a way that is viewpoint-neutral. And there’s a lot of disagreement and uncertainty about what it means to be viewpoint-neutral. I think, and a lot of people think, that it means that if you take down posts celebrating the Holocaust, you also have to take down posts condemning it. If you leave up posts that are anti-gun violence, you also have to leave up posts that are pro-gun violence.

Sorry, these examples are very dark. But that is what we’re talking about here: horrific things that people say on the Internet, that, effectively, platforms such as Facebook or YouTube would have to leave up under this Texas law, unless they want to take down a whole lot of user speech. They could not let anybody ever talk about racism at all, because they have to be viewpoint-neutral on the topic, or not let people talk about abortion at all, because they have to be viewpoint-neutral on the topic, etc.

3) Scott Alexander on AI is always interesting.  I was also listening to a podcast on ChatGPT today and what was really key was that the language model was trained by feedback from real humans.

So far, so boring. What really helped this sink in was reading Nostalgebraist say that ChatGPT was a GPT instance simulating a character called the Helpful, Harmless, and Honest Assistant.

The masked shoggoth on the right is titled “GPT + RLHF”. RLHF is Reinforcement Learning From Human Feedback, a method where human raters “reward” the AI for good answers and “punish” it for bad ones. Eventually the AI learns to do “good” things more often. In training ChatGPT, human raters were asked to reward it for being something like “Helpful, Harmless, and Honest” (many papers use this as an example goal; OpenAI must have done something similar but I don’t know if they did that exactly).

4) The Durham investigation is a complete embarrassment. Nice summary from Drum:

Today’s big New York Times piece about the Durham investigation is chock full of goodies about how Donald Trump and his lackeys desperately tried to prove that the FBI had illegally opened an investigation of Trump for no good reason. Attorney General Bill Barr and his special counsel, John Durham, were obsessed about this and became increasingly agitated as their investigation continued and they were unable to find anything that backed up their suspicions. They never did. We know now that, in fact, Trump’s presidential campaign did have links to the Russian government. The FBI did have a perfectly sensible reason to open an investigation into this. Vladimir Putin did try to interfere with the election in Trump’s favor. And several members of Durham’s team did quit because of disagreements with him over prosecutorial ethics.

There’s no single smoking gun in the story, just a long series of incidents that paint a damning picture of Barr’s Justice Department. In one of them, Barr received a tip from Italian intelligence:

[In 2019] the Times reported that Mr. Durham’s administrative review of the Russia inquiry had evolved to include a criminal investigation, while saying it was not clear what the suspected crime was. Citing their own sources, many other news outlets confirmed the development.

The news reports, however, were all framed around the erroneous assumption that the criminal investigation must mean Mr. Durham had found evidence of potential crimes by officials involved in the Russia inquiry. Mr. Barr, who weighed in publicly about the Durham inquiry at regular intervals in ways that advanced a pro-Trump narrative, chose in this instance not to clarify what was really happening.

Barr was normally a chatterbox, constantly tossing out tidbits about the investigation that made it seem as if they had the goods on the FBI. This time, however, he kept his mouth shut.

Why? Because the tip from the Italians linked Trump to financial crimes. That was the criminal investigation, but Barr saw no need to correct reporters who thought he was looking into criminal conduct by the FBI.

Nothing came of this investigation, but it’s telling nevertheless. And it’s a warning to everyone to take Durham’s final report with a salt mine’s worth of skepticism when it comes out. Past experience tells us that Durham will do his best to make it look like the FBI was guilty of massive crimes even though he was unable to prove any of them and unable to successfully prosecute even the minor charges he took to court.

Poor John Durham. He made his own bed, but this was partly because he got sucked into the black hole that is Donald Trump. Everyone who associates with Trump comes out of it looking worse than when they went in, and that’s what happened to Durham. In 2019 he was a respected veteran prosecutor. Four years later that reputation is in tatters. Nomen amicitiae sic, quatenus expedit, haeret.

5) Pamela Paul on the chilling effect of the American Dirt controversy:

Three years ago this month, the novel “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins landed in bookstores on a tsunami of enthusiasm. “Extraordinary,” Stephen King wrote in a prepublication blurb. “Riveting, timely, a dazzling accomplishment,” raved Julia Alvarez. “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas,” Sandra Cisneros proclaimed. “This is the international story of our times. Masterful.”

The book’s momentum was nonstop. Riding on starred prepublication reviews from the trades, the book, a fast-paced road novel about a Mexican bookseller and her son trying to cross the border to escape a murderous drug cartel, was named an Indie Next List Pick by independent bookstores. Then came the rapturous reviews. “A thrilling adrenaline rush — and insights into the Latin American migrant experience,” raved The Washington Post. Cummins “proves that fiction can be a vehicle for expanding our empathy,” said Time magazine. Finally, the golden ticket: Oprah selected “American Dirt” for her book club. “I was opened, I was shook up, it woke me up,” Winfrey said.

It all fell apart with stunning speed. Following a blistering online campaign against the author and others involved in the book over who gets to write what, and in response to threats of violence against both author and booksellers, Cummins’s publisher, Flatiron Books, canceled her book tour. Cummins’s motives and reputation were smeared; the novel, eviscerated. “We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor,” Flatiron’s president said in a statement.

Looking back now, it’s clear that the “American Dirt” debacle of January 2020 was a harbinger, the moment when the publishing world lost its confidence and ceded moral authority to the worst impulses of its detractors. In the years since, publishers have become wary of what is now thought of as Another American Dirt Situation, which is to say, a book that puts its author and publishing house in the line of fire. This fear now hangs over every step of a fraught process with questions over who can write what, who should blurb and who can edit permeating what feels like a minefield. Books that would once have been greenlit are now passed over; sensitivity readers are employed on a regular basis; self-censorship is rampant.

A creative industry that used to thrive on risk-taking now shies away from it. And it all stemmed from a single writer posting a discursive and furious takedown of “American Dirt” and its author on a minor blog. Whether out of conviction or cowardice, others quickly jumped on board and a social media rampage ensued, widening into the broader media. In the face of the outcry, the literary world largely folded.

“It was a witch hunt. Villagers lit their torches,” recalled the novelist and bookseller Ann Patchett, whose Nashville home Cummins stayed in after her publisher told her the tour was over. The two were up all night crying. “The fall that she took, in my kitchen, from being at the top of the world to just being smashed and in danger — it was heartbreaking.”…

But if the proposal for “American Dirt” landed on desks today, it wouldn’t get published.

“In the past two or three years, there’s a lot of commentary about the publishing industry being increasingly eager to appease potential cancelers, to not get into trouble to begin with, to become fearful and conformist,” says Bernard Schweizer, a professor emeritus of English at Long Island University who is founding a small publishing company, Heresy Press, with his wife, Liang, to take on the kind of riskier work that now gets passed over. According to Schweizer, the publisher will look for work “that lies between the narrow ideological, nonaesthetic interests presently flourishing on both the left and the right” and “won’t blink at alleged acts of cultural appropriation.” As he told me: “The point is not to offend but to publish stories that are unfettered and freewheeling, maybe nonconformist in one way or another. Somebody may be offended or not, but that’s the kind of risk we want to take.”

For some aspiring writers, the mood remains pessimistic. “My take is the only take and the one everyone knows to be true but only admits in private: the literary world only accepts work that aligns with the progressive/woke point of view of rich coastal liberals,” the Latino writer Alex Perez said in an interview with Hobart magazine last fall. “This explains why everything reads and sounds the same, from major publishing houses to vanity zines with a readership of 15.” Shortly after publication of Perez’s interview, Hobart’s staff of editors quit and Perez was widely mocked on social media. Elizabeth Ellen, Hobart’s editor and the person who conducted the interview, posted a letter from the editor advocating for an atmosphere “in which fear is not the basis of creation, nor the undercurrent of discussion.”

6) It really is crazy that on an entirely regular basis the local school system simply fails to run the necessary busses to get kids to school.  It’s not even Econ 101 about what to do about the bus driver shortage; it’s Econ 01.  Just pay more or find other ways to make the job more enticing.  But, damnit, you’ve got to get the kids to and from school!

That means parents need to be prepared — sometime on short notice — to become their child’s chauffeur when the school bus is very late or isn’t running at all.

“Any day in the office I could get the message that I need to leave my job to get my child,” said Heather Wilson, a Raleigh parent whose daughter rides the bus to Farmington Woods Elementary School in Cary. “It’s definitely very stressful.”

The driver shortage is causing students to miss school, teachers to stay late watching students and bus drivers to feel burned out from the additional routes they’re running.

And the situation could get worse as more drivers retire or switch to other jobs with better hours and higher pay. School bus driver vacancy rates have soared post-pandemic.

7) Big story in the NYT this week about whether schools should tell parents when the kids switch gender identities. I don’t think this is an easy issue with an obviously right answer.  I do think all the trans “allies” who consider the very reporting of this story and a sympathetic hearing of the parents’ views to be so very wrong.  Mona Charen:

Advocates for “gender-affirming care” are vigilant, potent, and feared, trashing anyone who raises questions about rushing into transition as hatemongers who are attempting to “erase” trans people. But their campaign to stifle debate is ebbing. The Atlantic ran a sympathetic account of detransitioners, i.e., patients who’ve regretted sex changes and sought to restore their natal identity. Both of the authors are trans themselves. The New York Times Magazine also ran a piece highlighting competing views within the medical community about how best to handle the explosion of young people saying they think they’re trans, and acknowledging that social contagion may indeed be at work.

The Times also reported on the controversy (yes, there is a controversy) about the use of puberty blocker drugs in children. The Washington Post, noting the pattern of schools withholding information about students’ social transitions from parents, quoted Erica Anderson, a transgender woman and former president of the U.S. Professional Association for Transgender Health, to the effect that failing to notify parents is a form of malpractice: “If there are issues between parents and children, they need to be addressed. It’s not like kicking a can down the road. It only postpones, in my opinion, and aggravates any conflict that may exist.” And New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait chastised enforcers on the left who attempt to cow mainstream journalists on this topic:

The purpose of their rhetorical strategy is to conflate advocates of more cautious treatment of trans children with conservatives who oppose any treatment for trans children. This campaign has met with a great deal of success. Much of the coverage in mainstream and liberal media has followed this template—ignoring or denying the existence of the medical debate, and presenting anti-trans Republican politicians as the only alternative to gender-affirming care. This has been the theme . . . of mainstream organs like Politico and CNN, where coverage of the issue often treats progressive activists as unbiased authorities and dismisses all questions about youth gender treatment as hate-driven denial of the medical consensus.

It’s healthy that the suppression of competing views on this subject is starting to subside, because, as independent journalist Jesse Singal has indefatigably reported, the research on puberty blockers, cross-sex hormone treatment, and other aspects of the affirmative treatment model is actually quite weak. Several European nations, including France, Sweden, and Finland, have drastically limited treatment with puberty blockers, and the largest transgender clinic in Great Britain has been closed due to controversy about unprofessional standards.

8) I actually found this NYT feature on mass shooters infuriating, “We Profiled the ‘Signs of Crisis’ in 50 Years of Mass Shootings. This Is What We Found.”  They are deeply disturbed people suffering despair.

This is no coincidence. The killings are not just random acts of violence but rather a symptom of a deeper societal problem: the continued rise of “deaths of despair.”…

We think the concept of “deaths of despair” also helps explain the accelerating frequency of mass shootings in this country.

Every damn country has people like this, though.  Only in America do they have such ready access to guns.  It’s the guns, guns, guns!

9) I’m cranky about a lot this week. Like this guest essay on childhood obesity:

This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its first comprehensive guidelines for evaluating and treating children and adolescents with obesity. The paper, co-written by 21 prominent doctors, health researchers and obesity experts, advises health care providers that they may refer children as young as 2 years old to “intensive health behavior and lifestyle treatment” programs if they have a body mass index in the overweight or obese range. For children ages 12 and up with an obese B.M.I., doctors are encouraged to prescribe weight-loss medications and to offer those over age 13 with severe obesity a referral to a bariatric surgery center.

The paper’s authors see this new guidance as a brave leap forward in the fight against childhood obesity, which they frame as a “complex and often persistent disease” requiring early and aggressive treatment.

But the guidelines are rooted in a premise that should have been rejected long ago: that weight loss is the best path to health and happiness.

The academy’s guidelines are the latest sally in the war on obesity that health care providers, public health officials and the general public have waged to shrink our bodies for over 40 years. The approach hasn’t worked; Americansincluding kids, are not getting thinner.

Instead, we face an epidemic of anti-fat bias, which results in the stigmatization of fat people in schools, workplaces, doctor’s offices and other public spaces. In a study of almost 14,000 people enrolled in behavioral weight management programs across six countries, researchers found that over half of the participants had experienced weight stigma, with more than two-thirds of those encountering it doing so from doctors…

The guidelines acknowledge that experiences of “weight stigma, victimization, teasing and bullying” are major challenges faced by kids in larger bodies that contribute to disordered eating and worse mental health outcomes. Some health care providers, they note, are biased against fat patients in ways that compromise the quality of care and contribute to more severe illness and even death.

Yes, be nice to overweight people!  But, that doesn’t mean childhood obesity isn’t a serious health issue that we should not take diet and behavioral steps to try and reduce!

10) Loved this in Yglesias‘ mailbag about Reuben Gallego taking on Sinema in Arizona:

Gallego is a great type of candidate for Democrats to run in general — very solid working-class background, military veteran, knows how to talk to normal people — and I think specifically in Arizona is well-positioned to hold on to Democrats’ new voters while halting or partially reversing some Republican gains with Latinos. You can’t tell all that much from his electoral track record because he’s been running in very safe blue House seats, but he did run two to three points ahead of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in 2016 and 2020 respectively, which is what you want to see. Some House members use safe seats like that to be bomb throwers and cast prudence to the wind. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do (members of the Squad run on average 6+ points worse than a generic Democrat, but none of them are at risk of losing their seats), but Gallego doesn’t do that. He’s personable, he champions mainstream Democratic positions on economic issues, and he tries to represent his constituents. He’s also got good judgment, and his team features Rebecca Katz, late of the John Fetterman campaign, and Chuck Rocha, who was Bernie’s Hispanic outreach strategist in the 2020 cycle.

People get touchy about how exactly you characterize the Fetterman campaign, but I’d say it was a good example of how to run a race that progressive factionalists are happy with while avoiding progressive pitfalls and embracing banal popular messages.

But there are sort of three interrelated challenges facing Gallego:

  1. He needs to establish himself as quickly as possible as the immovable force in the race — the Democratic Party nominee who is either going to win the race and finish in first place, or else a Republican will win and Gallego will be in second. Sinema is a spoiler, don’t waste your vote on Sinema.

  2. He needs to define the campaign as having some texture to it other than “he’s more left-wing than Sinema.” I think that probably means trying to find at least one topic to be in some sense to her right on, even as he can clearly position himself as a champion of mainstream Democratic positions on taxing private equity managers and prescription drug pricing against her plutocrat politics. He’s got the progressive base locked down, but he needs to be more than a factional candidate.

  3. He needs to manage his elite politics — his relationship with Katie Hobbs and Mark Kelly and Chuck Schumer and the White House and the national press — to clarify that he, Gallego, the guy with the D next to his name, is standing up for mainstream Democratic Party positions, not for left-factionalist positions. The stuff Sinema killed from the reconciliation package was Biden/Wyden ideas on taxation and prescription drugs that Joe Manchin supports.

The upshot of all this is that as unrealistic as it sounds, I think a dream goal for a Gallego campaign would be to do something collaborative with Manchin on taxes, pharma pricing, and deficit reduction where they talk about how working-class people have a lot in common whether they’re rural whites in West Virginia or Latinos in southern Phoenix, and the Democrats need to be something more than a party for educated snobs.

We’ll see what happens. But I thought the launch ad was pretty great. My only criticism is that I think they are going to want to drop the framing that he is “challenging Kyrsten Sinema” for the seat. She has vacated the Democratic Party nomination and he is running to (a) get the Democratic Party nomination and (b) defeat the GOP nominee. Sinema is unpopular, electorally doomed, and should just bow out from running and go be a part-time lobbyist, part-time triathlete. If she wants to insist on running an obviously doomed spoiler campaign, that’s on her, but Gallego wants to rally the Kelly/Biden/Hobbs coalition of Democrats, independents, and McCain Republicans against the MAGA forces who’ve taken over the Arizona GOP.

11) I love German Lopez’s take on the classified documents– especially since it’s basically what I told my class earlier this week.  A cost/benefit lens and bureaucratic risk aversion explain so much:

Why does this keep happening? One possible reason, experts say, is that too many documents are classified in the first place. The federal government classifies more than 50 million documents a year. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of all of them. Some get lost and found years later — and many more are likely still out there…

Playing it safe

The government classifies all kinds of information, including informants’ identities, war plans and diplomatic cables. There are three broad categories of classification: confidential, secret and top secret. Technically, the president decides what is classified. But the job is delegated to cabinet and agency heads, who further delegate, through agency guidelines, to lower-ranked officials.

That system effectively encourages federal officials to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach to classification. The classification of a document reduces the risk that important secret information leaks and leads to trouble, particularly when it concerns national security. But if a document is not classified and is obtained by America’s enemies or competitors, the people who originally handled that information could lose their jobs, or worse.

In many agencies, officials “face no downsides for over-classifying something,” said Oona Hathaway, a professor at Yale Law School and former special counsel at the Pentagon. “But if you under-classify something, really dire consequences could come for you.”

So officials tend to play it safe. Of the more than 50 million documents classified every year, just 5 to 10 percent warrant the classification, Hathaway estimated, based on her experience at the Pentagon.

One example of the extremes of classification: In a cable leaked by Chelsea Manning, an official marked details of wedding rituals in the Russian region of Dagestan as “confidential” — as if most such details were not already well known in a region of more than three million people.

Presidents have criticized the classification system, too. “There’s classified, and then there’s classified,” Barack Obama said in 2016. “There’s stuff that is really top-secret top-secret, and there’s stuff that is being presented to the president or the secretary of state that you might not want on the transom, or going out over the wire, but is basically stuff that you could get in open-source.”

In 2010, Obama signed the Reducing Over-Classification Act. It didn’t solve the problem, experts said.

The downsides

So what’s the harm? Experts say there are several potential dangers to over-classification.

For one, it keeps potentially relevant information from the public, making it harder for voters and journalists to hold their leaders accountable. One example: Starting in the 2000s, the U.S. ran a highly classified drone program to identify, locate and hunt down suspected terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia. The program’s existence was well known, and the destruction it caused was widely reported. Yet elected officials, including members of Congress briefed on the program, could answer few questions from constituents or reporters about it because the details were classified.

Over-classification can also make it difficult for agencies to share information with others, whether they are other U.S. agencies or foreign partners. “There are national security concerns — in terms of information not getting shared that should be,” said Elizabeth Goitein, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program.

And, of course, the recent discoveries show how hard it can be to track all of these classified documents. “We’ve just overloaded the system,” Goitein said. “And that makes slippage inevitable.”

12) You know where I stand on Alec Baldwin’s guilt, but here’s the other side, “Why Alec Baldwin Could Be Found Guilty.”  Not to be belabor, but I just feel like a gun on a movie set is in important ways, fundamentally different from a gun in the rest of the world in ways that affect what would be considered “negligence.”

13) Sorry, but this is wokeness amok, “Stanford student may need to ‘take accountability,’ ‘acknowledge harm’ for reading Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’”

14) Good public post from Yglesias on the debt ceiling, “Republicans can’t even explain what they’re trying to do with the debt ceiling”

15) I ultimately found this New Yorker article not all that enlightening, “Republicans’ sustained and successful courting of Latino voters in South Florida could be a road map for the G.O.P. in 2024.”  And it raises the question of why it is so easy to convince South American immigrants that Democrats are basically socialists/communists when this is not remotely true. 

How to improve gun policy

Nick Kristoff has been writing great columns on gun policy for years now.  It the wake of the latest mass shootings, he’s got an excellent piece today looking at what policy changes would make the most difference and what might be the most achievable.  Very good stuff (you should read it all– gift link):

In many facets of life, we’re accustomed to screening people to make sure that they are trustworthy. For example, consider the hoops one must jump through in Mississippi to vote or adopt a dog:

How to vote

1. Have your Social Security number or driver’s license 
2. Complete six-question voter registration form 
3. Mail or hand deliver 
4. Do this at least 30 days before Election Day 
5. Go to polls 
6. Produce a photo ID 
7. Vote

How to adopt a dog

1. Fill out 64-question application 
2. If renting, landlord is contacted 
3. In-person meeting with entire family 
4. Yard fencing and security assessed 
5. Sleepover visit with pet 
6. Pay $125 adoption fee 
7. Adopt the dog
 

And now consider what someone in Mississippi must do to buy a firearm. For a private purchase from an individual, nothing is needed at all, except that the buyer not be obviously underage or drunk. For a purchase from a gun store, here’s what’s required:

How to buy a gun

1. Pass a 13-question background check 
2. Buy a gun
Note: Question counts exclude basic demographic details and contact information. Sources: Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office and Vote.org (voting); Desoto Animal Rescue (adoption); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (gun purchase)

Why should it be easier to pick up military-style weapons than to adopt a Chihuahua? And why do states that make it difficult to vote, with waiting periods and identification requirements, let almost anyone walk out of a gun shop with a bundle of military-style rifles?

If we want to keep dangerous products from people prone to impulsiveness and poor judgment, one screening tool is obvious: age. We already bar people from buying alcohol or cigarettes before they turn 21, because this saves lives. The same would be true of imposing a minimum age of 21 to buy a firearm, even in private sales.

This may be more politically feasible than some other gun safety measures. Wyoming is one of the most gun-friendly states in America, but it establishes a minimum age of 21 to buy a handgun…

To keep ineligible people from buying firearms, we need universal background checks. (One study found that 22 percent of firearms are obtained without a background check.) But the even bigger problem is that there is no comprehensive system to remove guns from people who become ineligible. If someone is convicted of stalking or becomes subject to a domestic violence protection order, that person should be prevented from owning or having access to firearms — but that rarely happens in fact. California has some of the better policies in this area, and its overall smart gun policies may be one reason — despite the recent shootings — its firearms mortality rate is 38 percent below the nation’s overall.

A pillar of harm reduction involving motor vehicles is the requirement of a license to drive a car. So why not a license to buy a gun?

Some states do require a license before one can buy a gun, and researchers find this effective in reducing gun violence.

In Massachusetts, which has one of the lowest gun mortality rates in the country, an applicant who wants to buy a gun must pay $100 for a license, be fingerprinted, undergo a background check and explain why he or she wants a gun. If the permit is granted, as it typically is after a few weeks, the bearer can then go to a gun store and buy the firearm. There is then an obligation to store it safely and report if it is stolen.

In effect, Massachusetts applies to firearms the sort of system that we routinely use in registering vehicles and licensing drivers to save lives from traffic deaths. Gun registration unfortunately evokes among some gun owners alarm about jackbooted thugs coming to confiscate firearms, which is another reason to work to lower the temperature of the gun policy debate.

Personally, I am all in on gun licensing and think it works and makes a ton of sense, but, obviously, this is a complete non-starter in most of the country.  That said, I do think this could be an issue where liberals could focus and try and shift the debate.  The “we license cars, why not guns?” take is one of this super-simple political formulations that can be very compelling.  And, of course, we have the example of Massachusetts where jackbooted thugs have not come to take away guns and plenty of responsible gun owners still exist.  What it does is cut down on irresponsible gun owners.  

Harm reduction will feel frustrating and unsatisfying to many liberals. To me as well. It means living with a level of guns, and gun deaths, that is extremely high by global standards. But no far-reaching bans on guns will be passed in this Congress or probably any time soon. Meanwhile, just since 2020, an additional 57 million guns have been sold in the United States.

So as a practical matter to save lives, let’s focus on harm reduction.

That’s how we manage alcohol, which each year kills more than 140,000 Americans (often from liver disease), three times as many as guns. Prohibition was not sustainable politically or culturally, so instead of banning alcohol, we chose to regulate access to it instead. We license who can sell liquor, we tax alcohol, we limit who can buy it to age 21 and up, we regulate labels, and we crack down on those who drink and drive. All this is imperfect, but there’s consensus that harm reduction works better than prohibition or passivity…

Public health mostly is not about one big thing but about a million small things. To reduce auto deaths, seatbelts and airbags helped, and so did padded dashboards, crash testing, streetlights, highway dividers, crackdowns on drunken driving and zillions of tiny steps such as those bumps in the highway to help keep dozing drivers from drifting off the road.

Likewise, we need countless other steps to address gun violence, and many of these have been under discussion for decades. One promising approach is background checks to purchase ammunition, and this should be possible without creating burdens for gun owners who have already gone through background checks to buy weapons. California under Gov. Gavin Newsom has led the way in this, and early results are encouraging. People often have tried to buy ammunition when they weren’t allowed to own guns, suggesting that plenty of unauthorized people have firearms and that ammunition controls may impede them.

Red flag laws are also promising, particularly for reducing gun suicides — which get less attention than homicides but are more common. Red flag laws allow the authorities to remove a gun temporarily from those who appear to be a threat to themselves or others. One academic study found that over 10 years, the Indiana red flag law reduced gun suicides by 7.5 percent. There’s less evidence that red flag laws reduce homicides.

One study found that each murder costs society about $17.25 million in policing, courts, incarceration, lost productivity and insecurity. If each handgun and AR-15-style weapon had an additional 20 percent sales tax, that would significantly reduce demand and would begin to pay for some of the costs of crime.

Or what about insurance? Automobile owners must buy insurance, and pool owners and trampoline owners may pay higher premiums, so why shouldn’t gun owners pay higher rates for higher risks? And why should the gun industry be protected from many liability suits?

Yes, to an “all of the above” strategy guided by harm reduction.  The reality, though, is that the politics of guns are so toxic that all of the above gets really hard and it’s difficult to know what to prioritize.  That said, overall, I do think Kristoff lays out a compelling policy approach to reducing gun deaths in America that is clearly Constitutional and generally quite cognizant of political realities.  

Republicans and the debt ceiling

Good stuff from

Chait: “Debt Ceiling Extortion Is an Attack on Democracy: If Republicans want to cut spending, they should win an election and do it themselves.”

The coverage of this demand has been consumed with the practical consequences of a potential default. What has gone largely unremarked upon is the blatant violation of democratic legitimacy this hostage scheme entails. After all, while it’s true Biden won narrowly, he did win an election, he did carry both chambers of Congress in 2020, and he did spell out his domestic program during the campaign.

Republicans, on the other hand, lost ground in the Senate and have not won the presidency. They wish to use their narrow control of one chamber now to force the entire elected government to accede to sweeping domestic change that almost nobody campaigned on, or even mentioned, last fall.

The Republican Party is plotting a series of cuts — to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — without even going through the pretense of obtaining a mandate. Rather than campaign on a platform of shrinking social-insurance programs, they ignored this question almost entirely, failed to win either the presidency or the Senate, and have responded to this defeat by attempting to force through their radical program anyway by exploiting a quirk in federal law…

When they were passing the Trump tax cuts, virtually the entire Republican Party, all the way out to Susan Collins, chose to believe Hassett’s prediction rather than listen to the non-voodoo economists who predicted significant revenue loss. This position conveniently allowed Republicans to avoid the difficult work of finding offsetting cuts to pay for their tax-cut spree.

Suppose, instead, that they had been forced to pay for the tax cuts. And suppose they informed the public that, in the event Hassett’s idiosyncratic supply-side analysis proved wrong once again, they would respond by demanding cuts to popular entitlement programs. What are the odds the tax cuts could have passed Congress? Or, if they had, how would the midterm elections have turned out?

The current round of hyperventilating about the deficit they helped to create is simply the implied funding mechanism slipping into place. First they deny that any trade-off exists, knowing full well that the trade-off would make their policies utterly toxic. Then, rather than take responsibility for the choice, they put a gun to the head of the next Democratic president and order him to do it for them, upon pain of melting down the economy.

The entire two-step is a way to get around the problem that the voters absolutely refuse to abide their fiscal priorities…

The actual power dynamics suggest Biden has a much better chance to prevail through executive action than through Congress. The only body with the power to block his unilateral moves is the Supreme Court. Yes, the Supreme Court is controlled by fairly partisan Republicans, who probably would like to see Biden forced to pay a ransom to their party’s congressional wing. But if Biden acts unilaterally on the cusp of a debt-ceiling crisis, it will be far too late to revive any ransom negotiations. The only options the Court will be able to choose between on the eve of insolvency would be to allow Biden to avert a crisis or to plunge into the crisis. There is very little in Brett Kavanaugh’s background to suggest a taste for unleashing global economic chaos out of some esoteric commitment to a countertextual reading of the United States Platinum and Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1995.

One oft-forgotten lesson of modern history is how easily exertions of executive power go from silly to banal. The idea Donald Trump could build a border wall after Congress explicitly decided not to fund one seemed preposterous, until he did it. As Josh Barro points out, the “extraordinary measures” that the Treasury Department now uses routinely in the run-up to debt ceiling limits — those measures are being implemented right now — were once considered controversial and more-than-plausibly illegal. Biden has tools that, on their face, are more legally defensible.

None of Biden’s executive actions are foolproof. They are all far more likely to succeed than finding a mutually agreeable ransom payment…

The Republican penchant for extortion methods is a natural consequence of the party’s elite’s deeply unpopular fiscal-policy agenda. Unlike the mainstream center-right parties throughout the democratic world, all of which accepted the postwar welfare state, the Republican Party has never truly come to terms with the legitimacy of the New Deal. They consider the Democrats’ defense of entitlement programs “demagoguery,” and they consider progressive taxation little better than mob rule, likening it with revealing frequency to Hitler’s treatment of the Jews.

The conservative movement’s refusal to accommodate the public’s preference for a welfare state financed by progressive taxation has made it a fertile ground for authoritarianism. Trump is just one manifestation of this desire by Republican elites to get around the public’s refusal to endorse their core economic-policy commitments. Their regular use of hostage threats is another.

Great stuff!

And historian extraordinaire, Eric Foner, on why they Democrats should push the 14th amendment option:

Section Four was the Republicans’ response. While the language is certainly infelicitous (surely Congress could have found better wording than declaring it illegal to “question” the validity of the national debt), the historical context makes its purpose clear. In the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, Congress began the nation’s first large experiment in interracial democracy, granting the right to vote to African American men in all the former Confederate states except Tennessee. This propelled Republicans to control of governments throughout the South. But Republicans feared that at some future time, former Confederates might return to power there. Their congressional representatives might join Northern Democrats in repudiating all or part of the national debt while honoring the Confederate one (this latter possibility was explicitly prohibited by Section Four).

The nation needed to be made “safe from the domination of traitors,” declared Representative James Ashley, Republican of Ohio, “safe from repudiation.” The 14th Amendment would help accomplish these goals. Whatever one thinks of Civil War-era fiscal policy, the amendment’s language is mandatory, not permissive — the validity of the public debt “shall not be questioned.” Today, over a century and a half after the amendment’s ratification, this promise is no longer considered an “extraordinary guarantee”; it is an essential attribute of a modern economy.

Our Constitution is not self-enforcing. The 14th Amendment concludes by empowering Congress to implement its provisions. But if the current House of Representatives abdicates this responsibility, throwing the nation into default by refusing to raise the debt limit, President Biden should act on his own, taking steps to ensure that the federal government meets its financial obligations, as the Constitution requires.

 

Mass shootings are a policy choice!

As always on these horrible issues, great stuff from German Lopez:

In every country, people get into arguments, hold racist views or suffer from mental health issues. But in the U.S., it is easier for those people to pick up a gun and shoot someone.

That reality is what allowed an 18-year-old to obtain an assault rifle and kill 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school classroom in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. And it is what makes the U.S. a global outlier when it comes to gun violence, with more gun deaths than any of its peers.

This chart, looking at public shootings in which four or more people were killed, shows how much the U.S. stands out:

Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. Studies have found this to be true at the state and national level. It is true for homicides, suicides, mass shootings and even police shootings.

It is an intuitive idea: If guns are more available, people will use them more often. If you replaced “guns” in that sentence with another noun, it would be so obvious as to be banal.

Stricter gun laws appear to help. They are associated with fewer gun deaths, in both a domestic and global context, while looser gun laws are linked with more gun deaths…

The U.S. is always going to have more guns, and consequently more deaths, than other rich countries. Given the Second Amendment, mixed public opinion and a closely divided federal government, lawmakers face sharp limits on how far they can go…

But since America’s gun laws are so weak, there is a lot of room to improve — and at least cut some gun deaths.

To reduce mass shootings, experts have several ideas:

  • More thorough background checks might stop some gunmen, like those in the church shootings in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 and in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017.

  • “Red flag” laws allow law enforcement officials to confiscate guns from people who display warning signs of violence, like threatening their peers or family members. The laws might have applied to the gunman in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in 2018.

  • Assault weapon bans would restrict or prohibit access to the kinds of rifles shooters often use. A ban could at least make mass shootings less deadly by pushing gunmen toward less effective weapons, some experts argue

Most shootings in America never appear in national headlines. The majority of gun deaths in 2021 were suicides. Nearly half were homicides that occurred outside mass shootings; they are more typical acts of violence on streets and in homes (and most involve handguns). Mass shootings were responsible for less than 2 percent of last year’s gun deaths.

Stricter gun laws could also reduce the more common gun deaths. It all comes down to the same problem: More guns equal more gun deaths, whether a gang shootout in California, a suicide in Wyoming or a school shooting in Texas.

I also came across this substack from political science professor, Brian Klass, on the issue and it’s terrific, “It’s the Guns.: America is the only rich democracy that features the routine mass slaughter of its citizens with guns. Why does this happen? The data show a really clear picture: It’s the guns. Yes, it’s that simple.”

It’s got a series of false claims and then the reality.  I strongly recommend the whole thing:

Licensing, Training, and Safety Regulation

Most of the gun debate in the United States focuses on gun purchasing and background checks. But what’s often lost in the mix is the standard array of regulations around gun ownership that exist in almost every other country on the planet.

Just to take one example, the United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t require gun owners to have a license in order to own a gun. This graphic is from Politico:

The New York Times has put together a fantastic guide that compares how easy it is to buy a gun in the United States compared to other peer countries. It’s really worth a look to see just how much of an outlier America is—which matters, because it’s not just about gun laws, but also about regulation, licensing, and responsible gun ownership training…

Moreover, the gun lobby and elected Republicans have made a policy choice that they are willing to tolerate tens of thousands of gun murders each year—including in terrifying mass shootings, even in schools. As a result, most sensible gun laws are dead on arrival in Congress, and until the balance of power tips substantially more toward the Democrats, the odds are low that any meaningful gun legislation will pass.

State legislation is crucial, even if it won’t solve the problem (due to what I described as the Chicago Problem above). But it’s going to be a generational battle, to shift America’s gun culture and bring it substantially more in line with other countries.

My message, though, is this: America’s gun violence is not inevitable. It’s a choice.

Parents in the United States are buying bulletproof backpacks, children are being traumatized by mass shooting drills, and an increasing number of people stay away from crowded events because they’re worried they’re going to be shot.

I’ve lived in the United States and I’ve lived in the United Kingdom. In the UK, there’s a key difference: I never think about guns. I never think about mass shootings. Never. It’s just not part of life. It’s not a problem that exists.

Every other rich democracy has solved this problem. The United States can solve it too. But it’s going to take a lot of effort, a lot of persuasion, and a lot of hard-fought election victories. It’s worth it, because nobody wants to live in a broken, violent society in which you have to look for the nearest exits when you go to a concert, a movie theater, or a school.

It’s a choice, it’s a choice, it’s a choice. It’s a democracy and we have a say.  We don’t have to live like this.  And we should reject politicians (yes, 99% Republicans) who tell us we do have to. 

Racial attitudes and abortion– maybe not what you think

Y’all know I love Thomas Edsall’s columns that do a great job summarizing the social science on a newsworthy topic.  In 2021, he had a really interesting one on race and abortion (gift link):

Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Dartmouth and the author of a new book, “Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right,” looked at conservative strategizing in a recent op-ed in The Guardian. In his essay, Balmer recounted a 1990 meeting of conservatives in Washington at which Weyrich spoke:

Remember, Weyrich said animatedly, that the religious right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got the movement going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies, including a ban on interracial dating that the university maintained until 2000.

In an email, Balmer wrote, “Opposition to abortion became a convenient diversion — a godsend, really — to distract from what actually motivated their political activism: the defense of racial segregation in evangelical institutions.”

The same is true, Ballmer continued, of many politicians who have become adamant foes of abortion:

At a time when open racism was becoming unfashionable, these politicians needed a more high-minded issue, one that would not compel them to surrender their fundamental political orientation. And of course the beauty of defending a fetus is that the fetus demands nothing in return — housing, health care, education — so it’s a fairly low-risk advocacy.

The reality in the 1970s was that the surging rights movements — rights for African Americans, women’s rights, reproductive rights, gay rights, rights for criminal defendants and for the mentally ill — had set the stage for what would become an explosive conservative reaction, a reaction that by the 1980 elections put Ronald Reagan in the White House for eight years, wrested control of the Senate from Democrats and elected a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats that wielded tremendous power in the House.

“There is a persistent association between abortion views and ethnoracial exclusion,” Bart Bonikowski, a professor of sociology at N.Y.U., wrote in an email:

What has happened is that both issue positions have become increasingly sorted by party, so that being anti-choice or holding exclusionary beliefs is a clear marker of Republican affiliation, whereas being pro-choice or defining the nation in inclusive terms signals Democratic identity. The same has happened to a wide range of other issues, from health care and voting rights to mask-wearing and vaccination during the Covid-19 pandemic — across all of these domains, policy views increasingly demarcate partisan identity.

David Leege, emeritus professor of political science at Notre Dame, has an additional explanation for the process linking racial animosity and abortion. In an email, he wrote:

For the target populations — evangelical Protestants — whom Viguerie, Weyrich, and Falwell sought to mobilize, racial animosity and abortion attitudes are related but mainly in an indirect way, through aversion toward intellectual elites. The people perceived to be pushing government’s role in equal opportunity and racial integration were now the same as those pushing permissive abortion laws, namely, the highly educated from New England, banking, universities, the Northern cities, and elsewhere.

In short, Leege wrote, “although the policy domain may differ, the hated people are the same.”

Very interesting stuff.  The history on this is undeniable, but my regular co-authors and I were actually struck by the complete lack of contemporary empirical analyses on this very issue.  So, we set out to do our own, and it just got published:

Background

For many Americans, pro-life attitudes are directly attached to their religious beliefs, especially white evangelicals. Some have argued that evangelicals came to oppose abortion not simply because of their views on the sanctity of life, but out of a growing racial resentment as government policy and society moved towards greater racial equality.

Objectives

This study explores the relationship of evangelicalism, racial attitudes, and views on the legality of abortion to explore whether racial resentment is behind evangelical opposition to abortion.

Methods

To carry out this exploration this study employs American National Election Studies data from 2000 to 2020 and the 2020 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) Values survey.

Results

We find no support for the idea that racial attitudes are disproportionately correlated with the abortion views of white evangelicals. Rather, we find that racial attitudes are now correlated with views on abortion for all Americans. Where abortion attitudes are distinctive from attitudes on other policy issues is in having very strong religious determinants, suggesting that genuine religious beliefs do indeed underscore the pro-life views of white evangelicals.

Conclusion

This study provides a good baseline for understanding the relationship between racial attitudes, evangelicalism, and abortion attitudes at the cusp of the Dobbs decision overturning Constitutional protections for abortion, and should be revisited in the post Roe era.

Not what we expected, actually, which makes it all the more interesting.  Some key tables:

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Billy Binion on Alec Baldwin:

If convicted of the first involuntary manslaughter charge, Baldwin faces up to 18 months behind bars. If convicted of the second—to which prosecutors tacked on a firearm enhancement—he faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison.

Carmack-Altwies makes her case sound like a slam dunk. It is anything but.

The case comes down to what the word negligence means under the law. It doesn’t refer to a careless, airheaded moment with deadly consequences. That negligence has to be criminal, which under the New Mexico statute requires “that the defendant must possess subjective knowledge ‘of the danger or risk to others posed by his or her actions.'”

Does that mean that Baldwin is blameless? No. Does that mean that the prosecution will have an easy time convincing a jury that he is criminally culpable? Also no. “The prosecution would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was subjectively aware of the danger: that he actually thought about the possibility that the gun might be loaded, and proceeded to point it and pull the trigger despite that,” writes Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at UCLA. “That’s much harder than just to show carelessness, or even gross carelessness.” …

 

So why bring the case against Baldwin? I’d venture to guess it’s not because the government thinks that the actor, unpalatable as he may be, needs to spend five years in prison to protect public safety. Andrea Reeb, a special prosecutor helping on the case, provided a clue during the national press tour she did alongside Carmack-Altwies. “We’re trying to definitely make it clear that everybody’s equal under the law, including A-list actors like Alec Baldwin,” she said. Ironically, one wonders if these charges would have materialized had no one famous been involved and had it not attracted the attention of the world.

2) Eugene Volokh:

Involuntary manslaughter is thus very different from the voluntary; the similarities are just that it’s a homicide but not murder. One branch of it (“manslaughter committed in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to felony”) is the so-called “manslaughter-misdemeanor” rule, an analog to the “felony-murder” rule. The second branch involves, basically, causing death through negligence.

But not just any old negligence, of the sort that we’re familiar with from civil cases. Rather, it has to be “criminal negligence,” which is defined in New Mexico as “willful disregard of the rights or safety of others”—what some other states might call “recklessness”:

In New Mexico, “the State must show at least criminal negligence to convict a criminal defendant of involuntary manslaughter.” Because involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing, we only attach felony liability where the actor has behaved with the requisite mens rea. This Court has made clear that the criminal negligence standard applies to all three categories of involuntary manslaughter. Criminal negligence exists where the defendant “act[s] with willful disregard of the rights or safety of others and in a manner which endanger[s] any person or property.” We also require that the defendant must possess subjective knowledge “of the danger or risk to others posed by his or her actions.” [Emphasis added.]

Say, then, that the prosecution can show that Baldwin pointed the gun at Hutchins and pulled the trigger, but carelessly believed (without checking this for himself) that it was unloaded.

It wouldn’t be enough to show that Baldwin was careless, negligent, or lacked due caution in the ordinary sense of the word. The prosecution would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was subjectively aware of the danger: that he actually thought about the possibility that the gun might be loaded, and proceeded to point it and pull the trigger despite that. That’s much harder than just to show carelessness, or even gross carelessness, though of course much depends on what evidence the prosecution has gathered.

3) NYT: “Lights, Camera, Weapons Check? Actors Worry After Baldwin Charges.”

The news that Alec Baldwin is facing manslaughter charges for killing a cinematographer with a gun he had been told was safe had the actor Steven Pasquale thinking back to the filming of “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” more than a decade ago, when he and other actors were handed military-style rifles and told to start shooting.

He felt safe, he said, because he relied on the professional props experts and the armorer who had checked and shown him the gun.

“We are artists — we are not actual cowboys, actual cops, actual superheroes,” Mr. Pasquale said. “We are not Jason Bourne. I can’t even begin to imagine an actor having the responsibility of now needing to be the safety person on the set regarding prop guns. That’s insane.”

The charges being brought against Mr. Baldwin for an on-set shooting had many actors recalling their own experiences with guns on sets, and discussing safety measures and who bears primary responsibility for them…

Kirk Acevedo, an actor who has worked extensively with weapons on shows like “Band of Brothers” and in the film “The Thin Red Line,” said it was typical for a film’s armorer, who is responsible for guns and ammunition on set, to open a gun and demonstrate to the actor that it was empty. Mr. Acevedo said that while he owned guns and had experience with them, many actors lacked the expertise to check firearms on their own. In some cases, he noted, the actors are children.

“It’s not me,” he said, referring to who has the responsibility. “It can’t be me. If you have never fired a weapon before, how would you know how to do all of that? For some people, it’s hard to even pull back the slide.”

4) Really interesting take from Rob Henderson on family dysfunction among low income Americans, ‘No One Expects Young Men To Do Anything and They Are Responding By Doing Nothing”

If you come from poverty and chaos, you are up against 3 enemies:

1. Dysfunction and deprivation

2. Yourself, as a result of what that environment does to you

3. The upper class, who wants to keep you mired in it

The people with the most money and education—the class most responsible for shaping politics and culture and customs—ensure that their children are raised in stable homes.

But actively undermine the norm for everyone else…

Absent fathers and broken family units are major factors for many social ills. It’s obvious but no one wants to talk about it.

I am well aware of the behavior genetics research, twin studies, and so on indicating little effect of home environment on personality, propensity for crime, addiction, and so on. These studies are inapplicable for kids living in extreme dysfunction.

Behavior geneticists investigate the relative role of genetic and environmental variation within the sampled population.

Behavioral genetics studies report findings from within the environmental variation in their samples,not in all conceivable environments.

For example, there are many studies on identical twins separated at birth who are adopted by different families.

Researchers find little difference between these twins when they are adults. Their personalities, IQ, preferences, and so on are very similar.

But twins are usually adopted by intact middle-class families.

They are typically taken in by married parents with the means to jump through the hoops to qualify for adoption. Additionally, adoptive parents are the kind of people who would adopt, which introduces another layer of similarity.

I’ve yet to see any twin studies with one set of identical twins raised in extremely bad environments and another in good ones.

The intelligence researcher Russell T. Warne has written:

“A problem with heritability study samples is that they tend to consist of more middle and upper-class individuals than a representative sample would have…results of behavioral genetics studies will indicate genes are important—if a person already lives in an industrialized nation in a home where basic needs are met…it is not clear how well these results apply to individuals in highly unfavorable environments.”

In a chapter titled Genes and the Mind, the psychologist David Lykken states:

“If twins were separated as infants and placed, one with a middle-class Minnesota family and the other with an 18-year-old unmarried mother living on AFDC in the South Bronx, the twins will surely differ 30 years later.”

Yes, genes are responsible for human traits and behavior. But these traits are responsive to social norms and other environmental factors too.

Height is 90 percent heritable. But it is still malleable by the environment. Before Korea was divided, Northerners were taller than Southerners. Today, North Koreans are 6 inches shorter, on average, than South Koreans. Did their genes change? No. Their environments did.

Obesity is highly heritable (40-70%) but the percentage of Americans who are obese has tripled since 1982.

Access to food made people change their behavior by eating more.

Tobacco use is highly heritable (60-80%) but the percentage of Americans who smoke has dropped by half since 1982.

Strong norms against smoking made people change their behavior by smoking less.


Norms were loosened around being an absentee father. So more men took the option.

But nobody wants to admit it because it upsets people.

Instead, we retreat to discussions of poverty and economics because talking about family and parenting makes people feel weird and judgmental.

But young men will only do what’s expected of them.

And a lot did use to be expected. There were social norms to work hard, provide, take care of loved ones, and so on.

Today, these norms have largely dissolved.

Young men have responded accordingly.

5) Really good stuff from Jessica Grose on NZ prime minister, having it all, and what we expect out of our politicians:

In 2023, it’s clear that women can be ambitious and have families. We shouldn’t — we don’t — need to prove that at this point, though Ardern provided us with ample evidence of how well it can be done. She became prime minister in 2017 at just 37. She gave birth while in office, and rose to worldwide prominence for her “extraordinary leadership” in the aftermath of the tragic mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques in 2019.

Like every other world leader, she navigated the coronavirus pandemic and its various economic and political repercussions. As my colleague Natasha Frost reports, though Ardern’s Labour Party has lost favor with New Zealanders, she “has remained personally popular with the electorate” and is still most New Zealanders’ “preferred prime minister.”

All the while, she’s had a young child at home. In 2018, she brought her baby daughter to a United Nations peace summit honoring Nelson Mandela. During the scary early days of the Covid crisis, she “addressed the nation via a casual Facebook Live session she conducted on her phone after putting her toddler to bed,” as my colleague Amanda Taub wrote in 2020.

Making the decision to leave office now rather than run herself into the ground isn’t conceding that she can’t do the job anymore. It’s an acknowledgment — one that’s both astute and selfless, fine qualities in an elected official — that she no longer wants to do it in this particular way. While she says she has “no plan” and “no next steps” for after she leaves her government role, I anticipate she’ll put her abundant political skill to good use in some way.

She demonstrated that skill in her moving resignation speech, addressing her nation in terms highly relatable to any parent versed in the current motherhood discourse of “filling our tanks” before they are empty and putting our “oxygen masks” on first so we have something left to give our families before we burn out…

I never thought “having it all” meant we should sacrifice our entire lives and our health on the altar of ambition and outward metrics of success or financial reward. It shouldn’t mean that we can never leave a professional role that is no longer suiting us or our families, because feminism, or something. The world would probably be better off if more leaders were like Ardern, less concerned about their own egos and more concerned about what was best for their countries. The “I alone can fix it” posture has its obvious limitations.

 

6) Interesting, “Citing Accessibility, State Department Ditches Times New Roman for Calibri”  I love me some Times New Roman, but when I’m not using serifs (like, I just realized, this blog!) I’m good with Calibri.  That said, this article was frustrating because it was all assertions and no actual evidence. 

7) I’m not sure this policy is necessarily coming from the best place politically, but I do find myself sympathetic to this idea, “UNC Board of Governors to consider policy barring staff from ‘compelling’ speech”

The UNC Board of Governors is considering a policy that would prohibit UNC System schools from asking applicants for employment, promotion or academic admission to share their personal beliefs.

The proposed policy would bar questions requiring applicants “to affirmatively ascribe to or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition to admission, employment, or professional advancement.” It would revise the “Employee Political Activities” section of the system’s policy manual.

8) Regarding the Singal piece I linked yesterday, the problem of DEI trainings is not a new idea, “Don’t Mistake Training for Education: That should especially be the case when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, argue Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder.”

9) Ian Milhiser in Vox, “A new Supreme Court case could turn every workplace into a religious battleground: The fight over whether religious conservatives enjoy special rights is coming to a workplace near you.”

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear Groff v. DeJoy, a case that could give religious conservatives an unprecedented new ability to dictate how their workplaces operate, and which workplace rules they will refuse to follow.

Yet Groff is also likely to overrule a previous Supreme Court decision that treated the interests of religious employees far more dismissively than federal law suggests that these workers should be treated.

The case, in other words, presents genuinely tricky questions about the limits of accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs. But those questions will be resolved by a Supreme Court that has shown an extraordinary willingness to bend the law in ways that benefit Christian-identified conservatives.

That could lead to a scenario in which the Court announces a new legal rule that disrupts the workplace — and that potentially places far too many burdens on non-religious employees.

10) Yglesias addresses highway lanes (as part of a larger argument on transit)

In other words, I don’t think the induced demand critics of highway widening are wrong exactly. But they’re not really saying what they mean. This is what I think they mean:

  • The pollution associated with driving cars is bad.

  • Addressing that pollution via an appropriate gas tax seems politically challenging.

  • Because the American political system is laden with veto points and NIMBY institutions, blocking highway projects is easier than raising taxes.

  • Both new transit and new highways fail to solve traffic, but transit fails by leaving net driving flat while highways increase vehicle miles traveled.

  • Therefore we should advocate for transit and not for highways.

I don’t have a problem with that logic exactly. But when you live by the NIMBY, you die by the NIMBY. Just as the same NIMBY toolkit that blocks private development also blocks public housing, the NIMBY toolkit that blocks highway projects also makes it impossible to complete transit projects in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Beyond that, traffic congestion is a real problem and it deserves a solution.

11) I was really excited about the prospects of fluvoxamine as a cheap, effective treatment for Covid. New studies show that, alas, among the vaccinated there’s just no benefit. 

12) Another take from Rob Henderson, I really enjoyed, “Nobody is a Prisoner of Their IQ”

People often treat intelligence, a relatively immutable trait, as the sole predictive variable in determining life outcomes. And then use it as an instrument to advance their favored agendas.

People on the right and, increasingly, on the left, generally accept the importance of IQ. The right is more open about it. Those on the left are often coy in public, concealing their statements underneath an avalanche of hedges—but in private, without the fear of negative social judgment, most will acknowledge that intelligence matters a lot for achievement.

Recently, two prominent books discussing the importance of intelligence have been written by authors who are broadly thought to be on the political left: The Cult of Smart and The Genetic Lottery.

That intelligence is largely (though not entirely) influenced by genes is somehow simultaneously taboo and widely accepted. Perhaps an example of Paul Graham’s observation that “the biggest source of moral taboos will turn out to be power struggles in which one side only barely has the upper hand. That’s where you’ll find a group powerful enough to enforce taboos, but weak enough to need them.” Still, the publication and relative absence of anger about the two aforementioned books suggests that were it not for fear of being mobbed by lunatics, people would be more forthcoming about their acceptance of this psychological concept.

The importance and fixity of intelligence are now used by both the political right and left in different ways. For many on the left, it confirms that their view that unfairness is pervasive and thus they have a strong argument in favor of large-scale redistribution. You didn’t earn the genes that made you smart, thus whatever earnings you’ve obtained due to your innate abilities are due to luck. For many on the right, the durability of intelligence confirms their view that differences between people exist and there isn’t much you can do about it. Thus society should accept that things are unfair and, e.g., limit the number of immigrants who, on average, extract more resources than they contribute. 

Intelligence is important, but it’s far from the only thing that matters for living a decent life. A meta-analysis of 23 studies found that at the individual level, intelligence has no relationship with happiness. Knowing the IQ of two random people in the same country tells you nothing about whether one is happier than the other. And if you believe Richard Hanania, today the high IQ elites are more miserable than everybody else (yes, the elites are smarter than average—but often smart people use their intelligence to raise their own status rather than seek the truth).

The psychologist and intelligence researcher Russell T. Warne points out:

“Although below-average intelligence makes life more difficult for a person, other traits or life circumstances can compensate for having a lower IQ. Having a supportive family, higher socioeconomic status, motivation, conscientiousness, cultural influences that discourage unfavorable behaviors, determination, and many other characteristics can compensate for a. lower level of intelligence. Nobody is a prisoner of their IQ.”

13) What MSG is doing is still so wrong, but this is nonetheless heartening, “Lawyers Barred by Madison Square Garden Found a Way Back In: MSG Entertainment resorted to facial recognition technology to kick out legal foes, but some have undermined the ban using a law passed to protect theater critics in 1941.”

14) Enjoyed “The Last of Us” and enjoyed learning more about fungal infections here, “The Last Of Us Fungal Outbreak Is Terrifying, But Is It Realistic?”

In The Last of Us premiere episode, 20 years have passed with no progress made against the fungal threat — which is because of the real-life similarities between fungi and humans as eukaryotes, or organisms with nucleated cells, explains Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an instructor with the Duke University School of Medicine who specializes in immunocompromised hosts and invasive fungal infections.

“Our cells are a lot more complex than, for example, bacteria, and fungi are more related to people than they are to bacteria that cause infections,” says Dr. Schwartz of why there are only three antifungal agents compared with “way more classes of antibacterials.” “We have this problem with our adversary being closely related, and what that means is that the cell machinery is the same as ours. There are far fewer targets for antifungals to work with, to selectively cause damage to fungal cells without causing damage to human cells.”

15) Eric Barker on the value of humor and how to be funnier:

We just don’t take humor that seriously.

Yeah, it makes us happier, but its effects are much, much more profound than you might guess.

People who use humor to cope with stress have better immune systems, reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, experience less pain during dental work and live longer. Surgery patients who watched comedies needed 60% less pain medication. Heck, even anticipating humor has been shown to reduce stress.

Humor improves your relationships. Surveys say it’s the second most desirable trait in a partner. When both people in a couple have a good sense of humor they have 67% less conflict. (Want a tip? Reliving moments that made the two of you laugh is a proven way to increase relationship satisfaction.)

Let’s up the stakes, shall we? What about the office? A lot of people think humor isn’t appropriate at work and those people are, as we say, “wrong.” A survey of hundreds of senior executives showed 98% prefer employees who are funny – and 84% thought those people actually did better work.

In fact, if you’re not going for laughs at the office, you may be hurting your career. Humor increases perceptions of power and status. It boosts creativity. It signals intelligence. Making people laugh increases persuasion and made buyers willing to pay higher prices. In fact, studies show work teams often fail simply because they don’t joke around enough. And leaders with a sense of humor were rated as 23% more respected and 25% more pleasant to work with.

Can I stop there? I’ll stop there.

We need to get to the bottom of how to do this humor thing right. We’re gonna pull from a slew of excellent books and studies including Humor, SeriouslyHow to Write FunnyInside Jokes, and Ha: The Science of Why We Laugh.

Alright, let’s get to it…

16) Drum summarizes some cool new PS research:

A new study is out that tries to measure the effectiveness of social media advertising campaigns in political races. The unique part of this study is that it makes use of an actual advertising campaign during the 2020 presidential contest that deliberately held out a control group so that its effectiveness could be measured:

We present the results of a large, US$8.9 million campaign-wide field experiment, conducted among 2 million moderate- and low-information persuadable voters in five battleground states during the 2020 US presidential election. Treatment group participants were exposed to an 8-month-long advertising programme delivered via social media, designed to persuade people to vote against Donald Trump and for Joe Biden.

The funny thing is that I think the authors underrate their own results. For example, here is turnout for Republicans and Democrats:

The authors say, “We found both small mobilizing effects among Biden leaners and small demobilizing effects among Trump leaners.” But this is a net difference of 1.8% in turnout. In most political campaigns this would be considered pretty substantial and the price tag of $8.9 million for five states pretty modest. Most campaign managers in battleground states would be thrilled with it.

Basically, I think you can say two things here. First, on an absolute basis this study shows a fairly small effect. Second, within the context of a close political race, it shows a very substantial effect.

17) I hate this!  If we can’t have meat alternatives, can’t we at least pay more for meat to not have it be horribly inhumane?  Apparently not. “Spy Cams Reveal the Grim Reality of Slaughterhouse Gas Chambers”

18) Well, this is intriguing and, hopefully, promising, “Could this be the solution to chronic pain—and the opioid crisis? Early research suggests that monoclonal antibodies—used to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19—may provide non-addictive, long-lasting pain relief from a variety of conditions.”

As the pandemic raged, monoclonal antibodies gained sudden prominence when these laboratory-made proteins were found to reduce the risk of hospitalization from COVID in vulnerable and immunocompromised people. Now researchers are investigating whether these types of proteins might also be an effective treatment for a variety of chronic pain conditions: low back pain, pain from osteoarthritis, neuropathic pain (such as diabetic peripheral neuropathy), rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer pain.

Already, the Food and Drug Administration has approved four monoclonal antibodies (mAb) to prevent and treat painful chronic migraine attacks. Last year, the FDA approved use of an mAb (an injection of frunevetmab) to treat osteoarthritic pain in cats; similar drugs are in the works for people. And clinical trials for other mAbs for chronic pain are expected to begin later in 2023.

“The hope is that as we learn more about specific pain mechanisms, we can develop monoclonal antibodies that would target different forms of chronic pain,” says Charles Argoff, a professor of neurology and director of the Comprehensive Pain Center at the Albany Medical Center in New York. “But we’re not there yet and I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow.” …

The reason mAbs can be used for many different purposes is that each one has a highly specific target. During the pandemic, monoclonal antibodies were used to block the protein on the COVID-19 virus that enabled it to attach to human cells. Similarly, researchers believe they can design mAbs that can bind to receptors involved in pain transmission, thus blocking the signals.

Yarov-Yarovoy’s goal is to create monoclonal antibodies that target specific ion channels on the surface of nerve cells that receive signals caused by painful stimuli; essentially shutting off the transmission of chronic pain that occurs in a variety of medical conditions.

“In terms of chronic pain, we’ve got to figure something out because it’s difficult to treat and there aren’t a lot of great options,” says Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist and addiction medicine specialist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “Opioids lose their effectiveness with long-term use for a lot of people, and there’s a potential for dependency to develop. Even if you’re taking them as prescribed, you will have to take higher and higher doses to get pain relief.”

19) I’m not worried about getting germs from my spice jars.  I don’t handle raw meat anymore, but, when I did, I guarantee you I was zealous enough with hand-washing that I was not cross-contaminating spice jars. “The germiest spot in your kitchen? The spice jars, a new study found.”

If you had to guess the germiest spot in your kitchen, you might think of the refrigerator handle, the cutting board or maybe the inside of your sink. But a new study shows that icky bacteria could be more likely to be lurking in an unexpected spot: your spice drawer.

Researchers in a recent study commissioned by the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service examined how people preparing turkey burgers cross-contaminated various surfaces in a kitchen. (Sneakily, the participants weren’t told they were participating in a food safety study; instead, they thought they were testing new recipes.)

Spice jars used in the meal, the researchers found, were far and away the most cross-contaminated spot — 48 percentof those used were found to harbor bacteria from the turkey.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Food Protection, noted that while consumers might have heard about the importance of cleaning cutting boards or wiping down handles, they might not have thought about their spice jars. “Consumers may not necessarily think to wipe down or decontaminate spice containers after cooking because they are not typically targeted as high risk for cross-contamination in consumer messaging,” the study says.

20) This is a really cool feature, “The happiest, least stressful, most meaningful jobs in America.”  Check it out with the gift link

21) Good stuff on ChatGPT, “Large Language Models like ChatGPT say The Darnedest Things: The Errors They Make, Why We Need to Document Them, and What We Have Decided to Do About it”

22) Thanks, Republicans! “Opposition to School Vaccine Mandates Has Grown Significantly, Study Finds: A third of parents now feel they should be the ones to decide whether to get their children immunized against measles, mumps and other childhood diseases.”

For generations of most American families, getting children vaccinated was just something to check off on the list of back-to-school chores. But after the ferocious battles over Covid shots of the past two years, simmering resistance to general school vaccine mandates has grown significantly. Now, 35 percent of parents oppose requirements that children receive routine immunizations in order to attend school, according to a new survey released Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

All of the states and the District of Columbia mandate that children receive vaccinations against measles, mumps, rubella and other highly contagious, deadly childhood diseases. (Most permit a few limited exemptions.)

Throughout the pandemic, the Kaiser foundation, a nonpartisan health care research organization, has been issuing monthly reports on changing attitudes toward Covid vaccines. The surveys have showed a growing political divide over the issue, and the latest study indicates that division now extends to routine childhood vaccinations.

Forty-four percent of adults who either identify as Republicans or lean that way said in the latest survey that parents should have the right to opt out of school vaccine mandates, up from 20 percent in a prepandemic poll conducted in 2019 by the Pew Research Center. In contrast, 88 percent of adults who identify as or lean Democratic endorsed childhood vaccine requirements, a slight increase from 86 percent in 2019.

21) Speaking of Republicans, “The House spectacle highlights a key difference between the parties”

As political scientists Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins wrote in their 2016 book, “Asymmetric Politics”: “While the Democratic Party is fundamentally a group coalition, the Republican Party can be most accurately characterized as the vehicle of an ideological movement.” Group coalitions can be managed through transactional politics — so long as some of the groups’ priorities are advanced, they will stick together to deliver for the other groups in the coalition.

Ideological movements are less flexible. There’s pressure for alignment among members — and even when members are mostly aligned, remaining differences may seem all the more significant. (McCarthy’s move rightward hasn’t done much to shore up his position with his opponents.) 

Since “Asymmetric Politics” was published, Democrats have grown increasingly ideological, and the ideological emphases of the GOP have changed. Yet it’s still the case that “the Democratic Party — in the electorate, as an organizational network, and in government — is organized around group interests.” The party’s “self-conscious” constituent groups include, for example, indebted college graduates, intellectuals and the expert class, government-employee unions, and the organized civil-rights apparatus (which itself includes many independent interests).

Democrats tend to argue for specific policies, Grossmann and Hopkins observed, on the grounds that they will help a specific group they see as part of their coalition — women, unions, universities. Republicans, meanwhile, are more likely to appeal to “general concepts and principles … frequently emphasizing the need to limit the scope of government or preserve traditional American society.” A coalition that makes ideology its lodestar is stronger in some respects — but as the House GOP fractiousness has shown, weaker in others.

Business might have once been a group interest within the GOP. Corporations are amenable to transactional politics and have historically expected benefits under Republican governance. But in the Trump years, big business and the Republican Party drifted apart, both because of corporate discomfort with populism and the GOP’s discomfort with business’s growing social liberalism. The gap widened after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. The Republican-business rift has left the House GOP even less constrained by interest groups’ needs, and more driven by ideological goals.

When Republicans ran the House between 2011 and 2019, they had comfortable majorities — from 234 seats to 247 — and still faced significant divisions that made speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan struggle to find 218 votes for legislation at key junctures. The new speaker’s margin for error will be much smaller.

There are similarities between each party’s populist wing — Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is a firebrand like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.); Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont launched an insurgent 2016 Democratic primary bid that paralleled Donald Trump’s. But the Democratic Party’s upstarts have been embraced by the party establishment; it also has leverage over them. Republican populism is more unpredictable and genuinely disruptive to the party system.

22) Alice Evans highlights interesting research on sex differences

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Cathy Young, “Ron DeSantis, Chris Rufo, and the College Anti-Woke Makeover”

DeSantis’s move has been met with alarm by progressive media and by many New College students who see the school as a haven for social justice-friendly values. But harsh rebukes have also come from some people who are themselves strongly critical of the progressive academy and its illiberal bent—such as New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait, who has been writing about “social justice” zealotry and its baneful effects on public discourse for the past eight years (and has taken his share of lumps for it). Indeed, in his column slamming DeSantis’s power grab, Chait wrote:

It is important to understand that there is a critique of the academic left rooted in free-speech norms that posits that many schools have had an atmosphere of ideological pressure that discourages or punishes professors who violate left-wing taboos. This is not the belief system animating DeSantis’s academic mission. He is not seeking to protect or restore free speech, but to impose controls of his own liking.

The DeSantis brand of “anti-wokeism” is classic right-wing illiberalism. (Chait rightly compares it to the conservative institutional takeover in Hungary under the stewardship of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who proudly embraces the “illiberal” label—and who was cited as a model by a DeSantis spokesperson at the National Conservatism Conference in Miami last September.) But that brand is also bad news for those of us who oppose left-wing illiberalism from a liberal, libertarian, or classical conservative perspective favoring the values of free expression, individual rights, and intellectual openness.

2) Advice I will never take (I don’t think they are talking about 10am). “How to Become a Morning Exercise Person”

3) I think Voter ID laws motivated by making it disproportionately harder for minorities to vote are bad on their face.  I think lying to the public about the amount of voter fraud to push these laws is wrong.  That said, they really just don’t have much impact on turnout.  Nate Cohn:

Effects of voter suppression

Many readers asked about another topic I didn’t mention in my post-election analyses: voter suppression.

Did voter suppression or even the threat thereof affect Black and Hispanic turnout? Thank you for your interesting newsletters! — Claire Hess

It’s worth noting that this is a reply to a newsletter entry from early December, when I noted that Black turnout appeared to drop markedly across the country. Indeed, Black turnout really did seem to decline everywhere, regardless of whether states imposed new voter suppression laws or even expanded voter access.

To take the three states where we have the best data — North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia — Black turnout dropped off the most in North Carolina and Louisiana, where Democratic governors blocked efforts to restrict access. And turnout stayed strongest in Georgia, the epicenter of the fight over voting rights.

This pattern doesn’t prove that new voter laws had zero effect in Georgia or elsewhere — and this analysis is separate from the ethics of the intent of the laws — but the broad decline in Black turnout across the country suggests that other factors were mainly responsible. It also implies that the effect of the new laws was small enough that it’s hard to tease out from the other factors that affect turnout from state to state.

As I wrote two years ago about the new Georgia law, “In the final account, it will probably be hard to say whether it had any effect on turnout at all.” This is by no means the final account, but that remains my best guess.

4) Jamelle Bouie on he debt ceiling– he’s right:

One proposed solution to all this is to use accounting tricks and other games to get around the debt limit and render it immaterial. But I think the better option is to take the offensive and confront the issue head-on. Biden should make the case that the debt limit, because of the threat it poses to the validity of the nation’s debt, is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.

By this reasoning, Congress has no right to prevent the White House from faithfully executing the law and borrowing money in accordance with its own instructions. If and when the Treasury exhausts its extraordinary measures, it should simply keep issuing debt, in order for the federal government to do what it is obligated to do under the Constitution.

This is not the best of a set of bad options; I’d say it is the best option, period. President Biden, like all other constitutional officers, is duty bound to interpret and faithfully adhere to the Constitution. And here, on the question of whether he is permitted to place “substantial doubt” on the status of the national debt, much less to let the nation go into default, the Constitution is clear — or at least clear enough for the president to take a stand.

5) From a classified documents expert, “Yes, Trump and Biden Both Broke the Rules. Here’s Why It’s Not the Same.”

But a closer, fuller examination of both the presidency and historical prosecutions for mishandling classified records actually makes the opposite case: Mr. Biden’s mishandling of a limited number of classified files, which upon discovery were promptly turned over to the National Archives and proper authorities, should make the reasoning, and necessity, of prosecuting Mr. Trump all the more clear.

Mr. Biden’s handling of the issue — especially given the more detailed timeline recently released by his team — shows how an official who finds misfiled or improperly stored classified files should react. Mr. Biden’s behavior stands in sharp contrast to that of Mr. Trump, who spent months fighting with the National Archives over the files and repeatedly assured the Justice Department that he had turned over all files, even when he was still — apparently knowingly — holding onto scores of classified files. He failed to comply with a legal subpoena, and only then did the F.B.I. move to search his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Mr. Biden’s scandal so far feels more like an administrative error; there’s no evidence he even knew the documents were misplaced or in his possession, and when discovered they were promptly and properly returned to authorities. The government didn’t know they were missing (which itself is a bit of a mystery, since classified documents are usually tightly controlled, which is how the National Archives knew Mr. Trump had missing documents in the first place), and Mr. Biden didn’t try to hold onto them in the face of a legal process ordering otherwise…

In a tweet, the former Missouri Senate candidate Jason Kander compared Mr. Biden to a shopper who “realized he mistakenly failed to pay for an item in his cart” when he left a store and an alarm went off. Mr. Biden, the analogy goes, went back in and returned the items. By contrast, Mr. Trump apparently stuffed items in his pockets, and when the store alarm sounded “he ran to his car and peeled out.”

You could add to the Trump part of the analogy that he led the police on a low-speed pursuit, and then insisted the stolen items were his all along.

6) Great stuff from Brian Beutler on the debt ceiling:

This gets at my Grand Unified Theory of the politics of Republican debt-limit sabotage. Having learned the hard way in 2011 that the worst approach is to negotiate terms of surrender, Democrats reasoned that the optimal approach is to beat Republicans at their own game. To bait them into offering up a list of politically toxic demands, then using it to turn the public against them. That approach is obviously better than simply caving, but it still sets the political system on a path to vitriol and chaos and economic harm as the drop-dead date to raise the debt limit approaches, and leaves us dangerously vulnerable to a Republican-imposed default. Even if they cave before doing the greatest possible damage, there’ll be more economic misery than there needs to be, and everyone will be less popular than they otherwise would’ve been, including Joe Biden. Liberal commentators often marvel that Republican leaders seem totally indifferent to the concerns of their frontline members when they deploy these kamikaze tactics. But it isn’t irrational at all—just sociopathic. They operate on the theory that hurting the incumbent president by creating national distress helps their frontline members more than any specific antics harm them. And the record, from 2009-2022 suggests it’s at least a wash.

The truly optimal approach, then, is to beat Republicans in the battle of aggression. After Donald Trump became president, and needed Democratic help to raise the debt limit, I argued Democrats should condition their votes on permanently neutralizing the debt limit itself. No more jerking us around when we control the presidency. When Trump wrecked the economy in 2020, and needed Democratic help to pass various rescue bills, I argued Democrats should condition their votes on, among other things, permanently neutralizing the debt limit. When Democrats were rounding out their legislative agenda in 2022, and then lost the House in November, I argued that they should permanently neutralize the debt limit on a partisan basis. Each time, Democrats balked. They also bypassed their best political option. They left the country vulnerable to today’s predictable Republican depredations, because they viewed using power in this way as a liability. Something that would expose them to political attacks and campaign ads they didn’t want to face, rather than an opportunity to defeat a gang of bullies before god and everyone, and brag about having stood between the sinister and the meek…

The good news is that Democratic leaders (if not all the rank and file members of the party) have the correct bottom-line. No negotiations. That’s the one strategic element they can not sacrifice. Isolate Republicans, let them do most of the work of making it clear to everyone they they’re courting default because their demands are not being met. I like what Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) told the Daily Beast“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing. You don’t get a cookie. You don’t get to be treated like you’re the second coming of LBJ. You’re just a person doing the bare minimum of not intentionally screwing over your constituents for insane reasons.”…

Beyond that, I’d add two important ingredients. First, since the Biden administration has disclaimed unilateral measures, Democrats may as well accept (both publicly and in their private contemplations) that Republicans really might do something evil and irreversible out of spite, and no one can really force them to be better people. It’s in their hands alone now and the best hope for the country is that their consciences and political survival instincts kick in before it’s too late. 

Second, since Republicans are threatening to do something evil out of spite, the best way to make that clear to a bewildered public is with real, justified outrage and contempt. I don’t know whether Democrats are outraged or not, but if they are, it isn’t coming through, and I think that’s because being indignant isn’t totally compatible with trying to lure Republicans into a trap…

7) Persuasion, “The Green Technology That Dare Not Speak Its Name”  You know what it is, of course. Nuclear.

It’s the biggest, strangest, most unnecessary environmental disaster of the 21st century: a source of hundreds of millions of tons of new carbon emissions that aren’t just needless but purely senseless, at a time when we’re meant to be going all out to combat climate change.

I’m not talking about fossil fuel subsidies or plutocrats’ private plane fleets, or any other of the climate bugbears you already know about and hate. No, I’m talking about an environmental disaster perpetrated largely by environmentalists in the name of the environment.

Yes, I’m talking about the mass, premature shutdown of nuclear power plants.

As scientists and policy analysts know perfectly well, nuclear power—and I’m talking about old-style nuclear fission power—is in some ways the perfect solution to the climate crisis: extremely safe and reliable, it’s the only way humanity knows to produce large quantities of energy without heating up the atmosphere. Nuclear power plants tick over reliably in fair weather and foul, at night time as well as day, providing a stable base for any electric grid.

And we’re turning them off. In great numbers. All around the developed world. For no good reason. 

8) This was good, “Alarmed by A.I. Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach”

Across the country, university professors like Mr. Aumann, department chairs and administrators are starting to overhaul classrooms in response to ChatGPT, prompting a potentially huge shift in teaching and learning. Some professors are redesigning their courses entirely, making changes that include more oral exams, group work and handwritten assessments in lieu of typed ones…

The moves are part of a real-time grappling with a new technological wave known as generative artificial intelligence. ChatGPT, which was released in November by the artificial intelligence lab OpenAI, is at the forefront of the shift. The chatbot generates eerily articulate and nuanced text in response to short prompts, with people using it to write love letters, poetry, fan fiction — and their schoolwork.

That has upended some middle and high schools, with teachers and administrators trying to discern whether students are using the chatbot to do their schoolwork. Some public school systems, including in New York City and Seattle, have since banned the tool on school Wi-Fi networks and devices to prevent cheating, though students can easily find workarounds to access ChatGPT.

In higher education, colleges and universities have been reluctant to ban the A.I. tool because administrators doubt the move would be effective and they don’t want to infringe on academic freedom. That means the way people teach is changing instead.

For now, I’ve only added the following line to my syllabi, “Academic Integrity also includes not representing work from AI as your own.”  You can follow the links to them and judge for yourself whether my assignments are sufficiently GPT-resistant.

9) You probably already know the social science answer as to the key to a good life… good relationships.  So, how to have them?  Good stuff in the Atlantic.

Thinking about these numbers can help us put our own relationships in perspective. Try figuring out how much time you spend with a good friend or family member. We don’t have to spend every hour with our friends, and some relationships work because they’re exercised sparingly. But nearly all of us have people in our lives whom we’d like to see more. Are you spending time with the people you most care about? Is there a relationship in your life that would benefit both of you if you could spend more time together? Many of these are untapped resources, waiting for us to put them to use. And, enriching these relationships can in turn nourish our minds and bodies…

In this sense, having healthy, fulfilling relationships is its own kind of fitness—social fitness—and like physical fitness, it takes work to maintain. Unlike stepping on the scale, taking a quick look in the mirror, or getting readouts for blood pressure and cholesterol, assessing our social fitness requires a bit more sustained self-reflection. It requires stepping back from the crush of modern life, taking stock of our relationships, and being honest with ourselves about where we’re devoting our time and whether we are tending to the connections that help us thrive. Finding the time for this type of reflection can be hard, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable. But it can yield enormous benefits.

10) I think it’s ridiculous that Alex Baldwin is being charged with Involuntary Manslaughter.  Yes, you should check a gun before you fire it, but an actor on a movie set has no reason whatsoever to think the gun they are firing would ever be loaded with real bullets!  That has to matter.  All the comments I’ve been seeing on standard gun safety apply to situations where you have reason to believe there might possibly be actual bullets in it.  Why would there be on a movie set?

11) Interesting discussion on obesity and the amazing new generation of weight-loss drugs.  I really do think obesity is essentially a disease for many people.  But, for many others it really can be controlled by better diet and exercise and thus it should not always be considered a disease.  But, yeah, it does affect your brain, hormones, and metabolism in dysfunctional ways for many.  Honestly, it really does seem like the key is to never become obese in the first place, if at all possible. 

So I’m going to say it’s a disease of the brain. And the reason why I’m going to say it’s a disease of the brain is because the brain regulates how the body stores fat. The brain is the central operating system.

If the brain’s not there, the rest of the body doesn’t work. So let’s explain what happens. There are two primary pathways by which the brain will regulate weight. There is the pathway that tells us to eat less and store less, what we call the POMC or proopiomelanocortin pathway, or AGRP pathway, which is the agouti-related peptide pathway, which tells us to eat more and store more.

And we don’t choose. And this is where the willpower issue goes away. My organs, my genetics, my environment, all of these things can play a role in whether I signal down the more desirable pathway or less desirable pathway. And so this comes the complexity of this disease that is obesity. Why do certain people signal one way and other people signal another way?

Lulu Garcia-Navarro

Well, help me understand this. Our genetics haven’t completely changed in the past 40 years. Yet, we’ve seen this huge increase in the number of people living with obesity. So what’s changed? I mean, are there environmental factors at play?

Fatima Cody Stanford

Absolutely. So we’ve placed our bodies inside of what we call this obesogenic environment. And this gets into those environmental factors and how they play a role.

How has diet quality changed? How has our sleep quality changed? Our screen time, how does that disrupt or affect our circadian rhythm? We’re supposed to rise when it’s bright outside and go to sleep when it’s dark outside.

But I can tell you that most of us don’t follow that as our inherent rhythm. So when we deviate from all of these things, put ourselves in this world that our bodies weren’t really created to be in, it’s going to lead to a greater storage of adipose or fat. It’s stress on the body. And when we have stress, stress increases storage of an organ that has typically helped us out. And that organ is adipose or fat.

12) Love this from Derek Thompson, “Stop Trying to Ask ‘Smart Questions’”

But for most of my professional life, I labored under a powerful delusion. I thought that asking Smart Questions was of the utmost importance.

A Smart Question is a query designed to advertise the wisdom of the asker. The point may be to establish that the interviewer and interviewee are on equal intellectual footing. Sometimes, the question is designed to get the source to begin the answer with a brief compliment: “That’s a smart question!” or, on a good day, “That’s a really smart question!”

I used to think these kudos were a sign that my investigation was on the right track. I didn’t want to embarrass myself on the phone with a government official or an academic. And a part of me just wanted the conversations to go as pleasantly as possible.

But after many years of subscribing to the theory of Smart Questions, I’ve decided that I’ve been mostly wrong. Smart Questions are, typically, kind of dumb. And, just as typical, questions that might initially seem dumb or underinformed, or downright unintelligent, are the smartest way to learn stuff if you’re a journalist, an academic, or anybody else…

Readers seemed to like the Big Dumb Question stories because the articles used the day’s news to investigate a deeper truth about the world. Personally, I liked them because they changed the way I thought about asking questions. Reporting out these BDQs required my writers and me to ask a lot of, well, BDQs. Really revelatory and surprising answers can come from extremely basic questions such as:

  • “Can you just explain this to me like I barely know anything about this subject?”
  • “What, if anything, is actually interesting or new about this story?”
  • “Let’s say everything you say is going to happen really does happen. Then what happens?”

And perhaps most important of all:

  • “Is there some angle here that I’m not even seeing?”

None of these questions assume any knowledge. None of them reveal much intelligence. It’s their openness that I’ve found to be useful. 

13) Jeremy Faust, “”Future Covid-19 booster vaccinations should be 100% Omicron.”

14) A few days ago I had the random thought, “why haven’t we cured any genetic diseases with CRISPR yet?”  Next day, I see we actually do have a Crispr-based cure for Sickle Cell Disease.  But, it’s complicated. 

This year, Dr. Jackson and other people with sickle cell may have the option of finally living without the damage the disease causes. Two drug companies are seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for gene therapies that may provide what amounts to a cure. But the decision to take the medication — should it become available — it turns out, is not so simple.

After a life adapted to their illness, some like Dr. Jackson are unsure of how to begin again as healthy people. Do they go back to school after dropping out because of their illness? Do they start looking for jobs after thinking that, with frequent hospitalizations because of sickle cell, they were unemployable? What if this new life is not so easy to enter?

Others fear that the logistical complexities of gene therapies may imperil their ability to access them.

These and other dilemmas illustrate an often hidden aspect of medical advances — a long awaited cure can be accompanied by trepidation.

15) Good stuff in the Atlantic.  Since it actually written by trans people, all the trans-radicals cannot just dismiss this out of hand, “Take Detransitioners Seriously: Some people reverse their gender transition. Understanding their experience is crucial.”

Both of us are trans academics. One of us studies the history of trans activism; the other recently studied detransitioners’ experiences in depth. We strongly oppose efforts, in state legislatures and elsewhere, to target trans children and their families and pass laws restricting treatment options for gender dysphoria, a condition that the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual defines as impairment or distress over an incongruence between a person’s gender identity and their gender assigned at birth. But trans-rights advocates and mainstream-media outlets should stop downplaying the reality of detransition, lest readers and viewers conclude that it’s a negligible issue. It’s not…

To many in the trans and nonbinary community, detransition stories—especially those that involve regret—seem to jeopardize half a century of hard-won gains for civil rights and access to health services. Detransition has become a political cudgel to challenge any and all gender care for young people. This may be one reason right-wing outlets have prominently featured Beck, who has urged trans youth to “slow down” in order to avoid his own fate. Never mind that Beck explicitly states that he is not against trans people or gender-related medical care.

Unfortunately, some people who discuss their detransition on social media are met with suspicion, blame, mockery, harassment, or even threats from within the LGBTQ communities in which they previously found refuge. Some trans-rights advocates have likened detransitioners to the ex-gay movement or described them as anti-trans grifters. In fact, many detransitioners continue to live gender-nonconforming and queer lives. No one benefits from the anger and suspicion that gender-care issues currently inspire. Detransitioners who face social rejection, coupled with shame and isolation, may come to view anti-trans activists as their only allies—even when those activists portray them negatively, as damaged goods rather than as human beings who have survived medical trauma. Meanwhile, clinicians who receive threats of violence for assisting trans youth are vulnerable to developing myopic positions and overly optimistic clinical practices that ignore detransitioners’ accounts…

The LGBTQ community today must still contend with attacks on gender and sexual diversity—but is also at a moment of unprecedented cultural, institutional, and political strength. Those of us who believe in LGBTQ-inclusive health care and bodily autonomy must recognize that some of our hard-earned wins may have introduced new uncertainties. Upholding the dignity and diversity of trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming populations should not be at odds with a data-informed medical approach that seeks to maximize positive outcomes for all. Gender-affirming care must be available to those who need it. But our community must also advocate for the research to help transitioning patients thrive in the long run—regardless of their individual outcome.

16) For example, Jesse Singal is reviled and constantly defamed by trans activists for regularly writing about detransitioners and the complexities of the issue overall.  Not surprisingly, a bunch of the woke went crazy over this piece in the NYT, but, he’s got the research to back him up, “What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?”

D.E.I. trainings are designed to help organizations become more welcoming to members of traditionally marginalized groups. Advocates make bold promises: Diversity workshops can foster better intergroup relations, improve the retention of minority employees, close recruitment gaps and so on. The only problem? There’s little evidence that many of these initiatives work. And the specific type of diversity training that is currently in vogue — mandatory trainings that blame dominant groups for D.E.I. problems — may well have a net-negative effect on the outcomes managers claim to care about.

Over the years, social scientists who have conducted careful reviews of the evidence base for diversity trainings have frequently come to discouraging conclusions. Though diversity trainings have been around in one form or another since at least the 1960s, few of them are ever subjected to rigorous evaluation, and those that are mostly appear to have little or no positive long-term effects. The lack of evidence is “disappointing,” wrote Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton and her co-authors in a 2021 Annual Review of Psychology article, “considering the frequency with which calls for diversity training emerge in the wake of widely publicized instances of discriminatory conduct.”

Dr. Paluck’s team found just two large experimental studies in the previous decade that attempted to evaluate the effects of diversity trainings and met basic quality benchmarks. Other researchers have been similarly unimpressed. “We have been speaking to employers about this research for more than a decade,” wrote the sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in 2018, “with the message that diversity training is likely the most expensive, and least effective, diversity program around.” (To be fair, not all of these critiques apply as sharply to voluntary diversity trainings.)

17) This was disturbing reading.  Lot of dog murder going on in Italy! “Hunting for Truffles Is a Perilous Pursuit, Especially for the Dogs Who Dig: Truffles are big business, and some are trying to take out the competition by poisoning the dogs that accompany those known as “truffle hunters.””

18) Fascinating thread from a gender scholar on sex differences in how we use humor:

19) HEPA filters are great to reduce our exposure to airborne viruses. They can also be a real problem in classroom environments because they are loud.  Here’s the solution:

20) Somehow I had never watched the movie “The Sting” and I saw a little twitter conversation about it this week and decided that it’s time.  It’s on Netflix and if you like Redford, Newman, and a good caper movie, it’s a must watch.  

The state of the Republican Party

It’s really bad!!  Three really good piece on the matter this week.

First, Ezra:

So why has the Republican Party repeatedly turned on itself in a way the Democratic Party hasn’t? There’s no one explanation, so here are three.

Republicans are caught between money and media.

For decades, the Republican Party has been an awkward alliance between a donor class that wants deregulation and corporate tax breaks and entitlement cuts and guest workers and an ethnonationalist grass roots that resents the way the country is diversifying, urbanizing, liberalizing and secularizing. The Republican Party, as an organization, mediates between these two wings, choosing candidates and policies and messages that keep the coalition from blowing apart.

At least, it did. “One way I’ve been thinking about the Republican Party is that it’s outsourced most of its traditional party functions,” Nicole Hemmer, author of “Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s,” told me. “It outsourced funding to PACS. It outsourced media to the right-wing media.”…

What were the hallmark Republican economic policies in this era? Social Security privatization. Repeated tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Free trade deals. Repealing Obamacare. Cutting Medicaid. Privatizing Medicare. TARP. Deep spending cuts. “Elected Republicans were following agendas that just weren’t popular, not even with their own voters,” Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard, told me…

But what really eroded the party’s legitimacy with its own voters was that the attention to the corporate agenda was paired with inattention, and sometimes opposition, to the ethnonationalist agenda…

Same party, different voters.

A few decades ago, the anti-institutional strain in American politics was more mixed between the parties. Democrats generally trusted government and universities and scientists and social workers, Republicans had more faith in corporations and the military and churches. But now you’ll find Fox News attacking the “extremely woke” military and the American Conservative Union insisting that any Republican seeking a congressional leadership post sign onto “a new shared strategy to reprimand corporations that have gone woke.” 

“The reason the Democrats are much more supportive of the institutions is because they are the institutions,” Matt Continetti, author of “The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism,” told me. “Republicans are increasingly the non-college party. When Mitt Romney got the nomination in 2012, the G.O.P. was basically split between college and non-college whites. That’s gone. The Republicans have just lost a huge chunk of professional, college-educated voters — what you would have thought of as the spine of the Republican Party 40 years ago has just been sloughed off.”

The problem for the Republican Party as an institution is that it is, in fact, an institution. And so the logic of anti-institutional politics inevitably consumes it, too, particularly when it is in the majority.

Republicans need an enemy.

When I asked Michael Brendan Dougherty, a senior writer at National Review, what the modern Republican Party was, he replied, “it’s not the Democratic Party.” His point was that not much unites the various factions of the Republican coalition, save opposition to the Democratic Party.

“The anchor of Democratic Party politics is an orientation toward certain public policy goals,” Sam Rosenfeld, author of “The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era,” told me. “The conservative movement is oriented more around anti-liberalism than positive goals, and so the issues and fights they choose to pursue are more plastic. What that ends up doing is it gives them permission to open their movement to extremist influences and makes it very difficult to police boundaries.”

Eric Levitz:

In a remotely healthy democracy, there would be no way to reconcile the Republican Party’s voting base with its fiscal priorities. If Americans had an accurate understanding of their elected representatives’ policy goals, and the interest and resources necessary for holding those representatives accountable to their own preferences, the GOP as we know it could not exist.

Perfect information would not turn every working-class voter into a Democrat, of course. Conservatism, broadly construed, does not lack popular support. Plenty of blue-collar Americans are skeptical of unconditional welfare benefits for the poor and/or hostile to many aspects of social liberalism. But precious few believe that they should pay higher taxes so that the rich can pay lower ones, or that the federal budget should be balanced on the backs of Social Security beneficiaries. In a well-functioning republic, a Republican who supported such positions would not survive a primary…

The Democrats’ greater sensitivity to popular opinion does not derive from the party’s inherent virtue. Rather, it reflects blue America’s relative independence from reactionary billionaires and its coalition’s structural disadvantages. Due to the pro-rural biases of the Senate and Electoral College, the modern Democratic Party cannot win national power without securing roughly 52 percent of the popular vote. And it cannot pass federal legislation without securing the cooperation of legislators who represent Republican-leaning areas. This compels the party to heed majoritarian preferences. And that, in turn, gives the party an incentive to accurately communicate its own governing priorities and those of the GOP.

Conversely, the overrepresentation of rural America enables the GOP to win national power and make federal policy without securing majority support.

And, lastly, Thomas Edsall:

Over the past eight years, the Republican Party has been transformed from a generally staid institution representing the allure of low taxes, conservative social cultural policies and laissez-faire capitalism into a party of blatant chaos and disruption.

The shift has been evident in many ways — at the presidential level, as the party nominated Donald Trump not once but twice and has been offered the chance to do so a third time; in Trump’s — and Trump’s allies’ — attempt to overturn the 2020 election results; in his spearheading of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol; and most recently in the brutal series of votes from Jan. 3 to Jan. 7 in the House of Representatives, where 20 hard-right members held Kevin McCarthy hostage until he cried uncle and was finally elected speaker…

One of the key factors underlying the extremism among Republicans in the House and their election denialism — which has confounded American politics since it erupted in 2020 — is racial tension, not always explicit but nonetheless omnipresent, captured in part by the growing belief that white Americans will soon be in the minority.

As Jack Balkin of Yale Law School noted, “The defenders of the old order have every incentive to resist the emergence of a new regime until the bitter end.”

In his paper “Public Opinion Roots of Election Denialism,” published on Jan. 6, the second anniversary of the storming of the Capitol, Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at M.I.T., argues that “among Republicans, conspiracism has a potent effect on embracing election denialism, followed by racial resentment.” ..

In other words, the two most powerful factors driving Republicans who continue to believe that Trump actually won the 2020 election are receptivity to conspiracy thinking and racial resentment.

“The most confirmed Republican denialists,” Stewart writes, “believe that large malevolent forces are at work in world events, racial minorities are given too much deference in society and America’s destiny is a Christian one.”

Lots more good stuff in all of those.  And let’s be clear, it’s not actually fun to point out how broken, wrong-headed, and dysfunctional the Republican Party has become.  It’s a two-party system and it is genuinely distressing when one party is so far off the rails.  I really miss the good old days when I just disagreed with Republicans on things like health care and taxes rather on whether we should be a democracy or not or whether our politics should be based on ethnonationalism.  

Give me more lanes!!

Anybody who encountered me shortly after my recent trip to Northern Virginia (to see family in Springfield, where I was born and raised) had to listen to me whine about the appalling situation on I-95 between Richmond and the DC area.  Basically, on this incredibly heavily-travelled section of one of our country’s busiest interstates, there are only 6 total full-time travel lanes.  That’s insane!! Decades ago, a very poor decision was made to invest in Express Lanes, which work reasonably well closer in to DC where there really is huge variation in inbound/outbound rush hour commuter traffic traffic. But most of this area is just the tens of thousands of vehicles heading up and down the east coast every day and the express lanes can only help in one direction and are completely closed for a significant portion of the day.  It sucks!  How does such a bad situation persist?

I suspect, in part, because all the experts have told the politicians it’s pointless to build more lanes.  Just after my incredibly frustrating trip, this NYT article came out, “Widening Highways Doesn’t Fix Traffic. So Why Do We Keep Doing It?”  For a news story, this sure has a more lanes are bad and going to ruin the planet feel:

The proposed solution was the same one transportation officials across the country have used since the 1960s: Widen the highway. But while adding lanes can ease congestion initially, it can also encourage people to drive more. A few years after a highway is widened, research shows, traffic — and the greenhouse gas emissions that come along with it — often returns.

California’s Department of Transportation was, like many state transportation departments, established to build highways. Every year, states spend billions of dollars expanding highways while other solutions to congestion, like public transit and pedestrian projects, are usually handled by city transit authorities and receive less funding.

Over the next five years, states will receive $350 billion in federal dollars for highways through the infrastructure law enacted last year. While some have signaled a change in their approach to transportation spending — including following federal guidelines that encourage a “fix it first” approach before adding new highway miles — many still are pursuing multibillion dollar widening projects, including in Democratic-led states with ambitious climate goals.

The Biden administration has suggested that states should be more thoughtful in their solutions to congestion. Sometimes widening is necessary, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, but other options for addressing traffic, like fixing existing roads or providing transit options, should be considered. “Connecting people more efficiently and affordably to where they need to go,” he said, “is a lot more complicated than just always having more concrete and asphalt out there.”

Yes, think more broadly about solutions, but, where it is so clearly needed, widen the damn interstates! I don’t doubt that the traffic “often” returns, but that’s sure not always.  I would bet tens of thousands of dollars that people would spend way less time stuck in traffic in northern Virginia for a good 10 years at least from just one more lane in each direction (and there’s plenty of room to do it).   

When I started at Duke in the early 1990’s, I-40 between Durham and Winston-Salem was only 4 lanes.  Fine for me, but, my poor girlfriend (reader, I married that girl) was always frustrated at getting back from home in western NC because of traffic jams on this part of 40.  By our senior year, they had widened to 8 lanes for most of this section.  I now traverse this interstate many times a year to visit my in-laws.  And you know what?  Decades later and no traffic jams!  It’s almost like increasing interstate capacity actually does reduce interstate congestion!  Now, who am I not to believe research?  And I don’t doubt that in certain urban areas adding more lanes just quickly leads to more traffic.  But this should not be a basis for a near-universal “don’t build more lanes!” approach.  There’s huge financial and psychological downsides to sitting in traffic jams that should not be discounted. 

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