I’m famous

Was pleased to be able to give my “expert” comments on the family separation issue to a local news station.  Pretty happy with my comments.  Also like that photos of my kids, my own swan photo, David’s 2nd grade artwork, and a giant doughnut make it into the background.


How to balance the budget in a post-tax cut world?

By cutting stuff to help poor people, of course.  Drum:


First they add nearly a trillion dollars to a defense budget that’s already the biggest ever and by far the biggest on the planet. Then they slash spending on Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, SNAP, TANF, veterans affairs, retirement benefits, and anything else that doesn’t especially benefit the rich.

There’s all the usual drivel about how this won’t hurt anyone because the cuts come from clamping down on wastefraudandabuse. Plus spending cuts on the poor will hypercharge economic growth. And anyway, it’s tough love that will put the poor back to work and give them back their dignity.

In other words, the usual. And none of this will ever get a vote on the House floor, let alone the Senate. Still, this is their vision for America. In December we got their tax cuts for the rich, now we’re getting their spending cuts for the poor. That’s the Republican way.

Winners and losers


1) Human decency.

2) Separated families.


1) Donald Trump and his cowardly and callous enablers.  Love this take from Aaron Blake:

The Trump administration insisted it didn’t have a policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. It said that it was merely following the law. And it said “Congress alone can fix” the mess.

It just admitted that all that was nonsense — and that it badly overplayed its hand.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who on Sunday and Monday insisted that this wasn’t an actual policy and that the administration’s hands are tied, will now have to untie them as the White House will reverse the supposedly nonexistent policy. Amid an outcry from Senate Republicans and an emerging promise to fix the problem themselves — just as the White House had demanded — the Trump administration has drafted an executive action to change the policy and keep families united…

It’s at once an admission that the politics of the issue had gotten out of hand and that the administration’s arguments were completely dishonest. [emphasis mine] Virtually everything it said about the policy is tossed aside with this executive action. It’s the political equivalent of waving the white flag and the legal equivalent of confessing to making false statements. Rather than letting Congress rebuke it, the White House is rebuking itself and trying to save some face…

Rarely has the White House so tacitly and unmistakably admitted to overplaying its hand. And rarely has it so blatantly copped to its own dishonesty about its actions. Nielsen, in particular, has a lot of explaining to do. But this whole thing is an extremely ugly chapter. And it makes clear that, from Day One, this was a political gambit to force an immigration bill through. It didn’t work.

I’d really like to think that this will have a lasting negative impact on Donald Trump and the GOP.  And I actually think it will to a modest degree, at the margins.  But for Trump’s 35-40% base, presumably no impact.

And, I like Kevin Drum’s bigger picture take:

Modern Republicans support:

  • Torture of enemy combatants.
  • Separating kids from their parents at the border.
  • Drug tests for the poor who apply for food assistance.
  • Viciously racist rhetoric from their president.
  • Mass incarceration.
  • Cutting back on medical care for the poor.
  • Ending asylum for those fleeing violence in their home countries.
  • Police brutality in poor neighborhoods.

By “support” I mean that they either actively support these things or else they’re happy to let them continue without any criticism. This is the fundamental human cruelty and venom at the heart of the contemporary GOP.

This isn’t new, but Donald Trump has brought it to the surface and supercharged it. So now it’s time for everyone to decide. Whose side are you on?

And good for long-time GOP strategist, Steve Schmidt for choosing sides:

Return of the Guinea Worm

The Guinea Worm is a nasty parasite that has almostNYT been eradicated.  But now, in one of the few remaining countries where it exists, Chad, it has started cropping up in dogs at alarming rates.  This may make ultimate eradication impossible.  This story is fantastic– a medical mystery, the interaction of poverty, infrastructure, and disease, how we treat our pets versus livestock animals, the life-cycle of a complex and nasty parasite.  Just give it a read.

Family separation

Had a fun political conversation with a friend hanging out at the pool tonight.  We agreed that, if this were any other president, this family separation policy, would be a defining negative event with lasting, negative political consequences.  Though, in all honesty, it’s so hard to know with Trump.  It really does seem like he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue– fake news!!– and his base would still support him.  Nice to see, though, that in this case, only 55 % of Republicans support the policy (and only 27% of the public overall).  Disturbing that it’s over half, but still, that’s worse than he fares among Republicans on about anything.

Also, interesting to note, that while this has been happening for weeks, it really seems to have boiled over this weekend.  And judging by twitter, it really blew up even more today.  Why?  Well, images of children in literal cages probably has something to do with it.  And, I think that some prominent Republicans coming out against it, i.e., Laura Bush, Lindsey Graham, gave reporters the sense they could give it the negative coverage it so deserves without feeling guilty of liberal bias.  Given increasing numbers of Republicans recognizing that this is political kryptonte, it will, hopefully, only get worse for Trump.

Here’s what I wrote this morning for my Slovakian audience.  I let loose:

“Controversial” is a nice way of putting it. I hope it is not partisan to say that I, like many, many Americans find this policy simply immoral and unconscionable. How any parent could remotely support this is just beyond me. Even more disgusting is that Jeff Sessions and Sarah Sanders would use the bible to justify this policy. Forget as a political scientist, as an American, I am honestly saddened and appalled at what my government is doing. One can certainly favor stronger border enforcement without literally ripping families apart. My sense is that opposition to this policy is only growing and that the Trump administration will have to backtrack as increasing number of his own party speak out against it.

Some excellent summary points in Brian Beutler’s newsletter today [all formatting in original]:

The Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents who’ve been apprehended crossing the U.S. border has finally broken through into public consciousness the way only the most serious scandals and screw ups ever do.

Journalism was central to that change. Reporters have described children held in cages, published photos to contradict administration denials, and detailed the government’s plan to create prison camps for the children. ProPublicareleased audio of children screaming. High-profile figures, including Republicans like Laura Bush and Bill O’Reilly (!!!), publicly condemned the policy…

In recent days, Trump officials have at turns described child separation as:

From Brian: What Nielsen made clear today is that the Trump administration views the imprisoned children as sources of leverage. In response, all 49 Senate Democrats have signed on to legislation that would prohibit family separation, but no Senate Republicans have joined them. In the House, Republicans are using the leverage Trump has offered to push forward restrictionist immigration proposals.

There are three ways this policy can end: Trump’s surrender; the passage of legislation banning child separation as either a stand-alone bill or as part of a larger immigration bill; or by voting all of the people enabling the policy out of office. What’s also clear: If Democrats pay the ransom, Trump will be emboldened to take more hostages, and in this case, the hostages are literally children.

A few other points I’m not sure I’ve mentioned yet in the blog…

The idea of defending this with the bible is so gross.  Of course it’s the same verse used to defend slavery back in the day.  Colbert is onto this, too.  As is John Oliver.

Just a reminder of how wantonly cruel this is.  And, worth noting, the government doesn’t actually have any plans to reunite families.  And, “‘Prison-like’ migrant youth shelter is understaffed, unequipped for Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy, insider says.”

And, finally, this cruel policy was 100% intentional by some truly callous individuals to serve as a deterrent to immigration.  And, a friendly reminder, just because something serves as a deterrent, doesn’t make it right.  It would be a deterrent to give life sentences for shoplifting, but we don’t do that because it’s stupid and immoral.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Dan Hopkins in 538 on how all politics became national.

2) The best way to have self-control?  Don’t test your self-control.  That’s not a zen thing.  Rather, don’t have brownies in your house and try to resist, just don’t have the brownies in your house.  Soooo true in my experience.

3) Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s husband wisely reflects a year after her death and amazing final NYT essay.

4) Perhaps the real problem with robots and jobs in the future, “Robots Might Not Take Your Job—But They Will Probably Make It Boring.”

5) On-line harassment is the worst and sometimes it is okay to kill birds for science.  What a beautiful bird.

The mustached kingfisher.CreditRobert Moyle

6) It would be great if “Making of a Murderer” led the Supreme Court to revisit false confessions, which it desperately needs to do:

After the Seventh Circuit’s ruling, Dassey’s attorneys filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. In some ways, the issues at stake in the case are overdue for review. The Court has not weighed in on the so-called voluntariness issue since DNA-based exonerations began to reveal just how common false confessions are in our justice system. According to attorneys from the Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA evidence to exonerate wrongfully convicted people, more than a quarter of all exonerated people were originally convicted following false confessions. Juveniles are particularly susceptible to offering false confessions, as are people with intellectual disabilities.

Dassey’s case could provide some much needed attention to the subject of police interrogations. When interviewing a suspect, most police officers in the U.S. rely on some version of the Reid Technique—a method that has been denounced by many psychologists and jurists as outdated and coercive, as I detailed in this magazine, in 2013. And, even if the Reid Technique weren’t itself seen as a problem, much of the training that officers receive is informal, and happens on the job. The result is that the quality of interrogation in any given police department depends almost entirely on the individual police officers’ experience.

It’s a fundamental premise in American law that no one should be forced to confess to a crime that he or she didn’t commit. The Supreme Court took up the subject in earnest in the nineteen-thirties, after a federal commission found that police across the country commonly used torture to extract confessions; in 1936, the Court reversed the convictions of three African-American men from Mississippi who confessed to murder after all three were whipped and one hung by the neck from a tree. “The rack and torture chamber may not be substituted for the witness stand,” Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote. That decision cemented the constitutional protection that only confessions given “voluntarily” could be accepted in court.

In the decades following, the Supreme Court narrowed the definition of voluntary confessions to exclude those made after threats or psychological pressure from interrogators. Yet this standard proved subjective.

7) Mantis shrimp are neither mantis nor shrimp, but fully awesome.

8) Dan Gillmor, “Dear Journalists: Stop being loudspeakers for liars,”  Hell, yeah!!

Your job is not to uncritically “report” — that is, do stenography and call it journalism — when the people you’re covering are deceiving the public. Your job is, in part, to help the public be informed about what powerful people and institutions are doing with our money and in our names.

But but but but, you say, we call them out on the lies. We let them lie and then we refute it.

Yes, sometimes you do that, but not consistently. And you almost always refuse to call the lies what they are, resorting instead to mushy words like “falsehood” in order to seem more “objective” even when it’s blatantly clear that the statement was a knowing lie.

But even if you did that every time, and in real time, which you absolutely do not, it wouldn’t be sufficient. Researchers have shown conclusively that repeating the lie tends to reinforce it. There’s some evidence that challenging lies can help in some circumstances, but most of what you’re doing is amplifying lies.

You need to face something squarely: You’re confronted with radical hacking of your own systems of operation. This requires radical rethinking of those systems.

So in a world where powerful people lie so brazenly, how can you stop letting them do it, while still fulfilling your essential role in our society? By hacking journalism to meet the challenge, starting with an announcement to the liars and the public that you’re no longer going to play along. Here are some of the ways you can make that stick:

Stop putting known liars on live TV and radio programs. CNN, MSNBC, CBS, et al, you know for certain that Kellyanne Conway will lie if you put her on TV. Just don’t do it anymore. (This means, of course, that you should never air White House briefings.)

9) Alexis Madrigal on how nobody actually talks on the phone anymore.  Amazing how our culture has changed on this.  I’m even amazed at how much my wife and I rely on texting each other.

10) About 10 years ago I really thought about getting Lasik, but decided that given my really bad vision, -10, the risks were too great even though I was nonetheless a candidate for the procedure.  I’m glad I decided that.

11) We need to find new ways to support local newspapers in the internet age.  They are too important to democracy to seem them wither and disappear:

When local newspapers shut their doors, communities lose out. People and their stories can’t find coverage. Politicos take liberties when it’s nobody’s job to hold them accountable. What the public doesn’t know winds up hurting them. The city feels poorer, politically and culturally.

According to a new working paper, local news deserts lose out financially, too. Cities where newspapers closed up shop saw increases in government costs as a result of the lack of scrutiny over local deals, say researchers who tracked the decline of local news outlets between 1996 and 2015.

12) Man, poor Venezuela is so screwed up.  It’s amazing how much awfulness a corrupt and incompetent government can accomplish in a pretty short amount of time.

13) Catherine Rampell rebuts the “just like other criminals” claim of Jeff Sessions and all those other xenophobic, Trump-loving, pseudo-Christians:

There are two enormous problems with this “it’s just like how we treat other criminals” claim.

First is that U.S. government is ripping immigrant children out of their parents’ arms even when the parents didn’t actually commit a crime (including the crime of crossing the border illegally).

Second, in some cases the government is refusing to return immigrant children to their parents even after the parents are released from jail.That is not something that happens when parents are released from prison for other, non-immigration-related crimes, unless those parents are otherwise accused of being unfit parents. Which is not happening here.

14) Found this NYT guide to a midlife tune-up full of interesting stuff.

15) Really interesting research on how exercise and standing may both benefit your physical health in very different ways.  Short version– do both.

Over all, the results suggest that exercise and standing up have distinct effects on the body, says Bernard Duvivier, a postdoctoral researcher at Maastricht University, who led the new study.

Moderate exercise seems to hone endothelial and cardiac health, he says, probably in large part by increasing the flow of blood through blood vessels.

Standing up, on the other hand, may have a more pronounced and positive impact on metabolism, he says, perhaps by increasing the number of muscular contractions that occur throughout the day. Busy muscles burn blood sugar for fuel, which helps to keep insulin levels steady, and release chemicals that can reduce bad cholesterol.

Of course, this study was small and quite short-term, with each session lasting only four days. Over a longer period of time, the biological impacts of both moderate exercise and less sitting would likely become broader and more encompassing.

But even so, the findings are compelling, Dr. Duvivier says, especially for those of us who often are deskbound.

“People should understand,” he says, “that only moderate exercise is not enough and it’s also necessary to reduce prolonged sitting.”

16) The science behind Improv.

17) Fascinating and disturbing maps of highly-localized areas where unsolved murders are particularly common.

18) Charles Blow on Trum’s will to hatred

But it is the language in the body of Trump’s 1989 death penalty ad [in response to the since-exonerrated “Central Park 5”] that sticks with me. Trump wrote:

“Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.”

He continued:

“Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them.”

That to me is the thing with this man: He wants to hate. When Trump feels what he believes is a righteous indignation, his default position is hatred. Anyone who draws his ire, anyone whom he feels attacked by or offended by, anyone who has the nerve to stand up for himself or herself and tell him he’s wrong, he wants to hate, and does so.

This hateful spirit envelops him, consumes him and animates him.

He hates women who dare to stand up to him and push back against him, so he attacks them, not just on the issues but on the validity of their very womanhood.

He hates black people who dare to stand up — or kneel — for their dignity and against oppressive authority, so he attacks protesting professional athletes, Black Lives Matter and President Barack Obama himself as dangerous and divisive, unpatriotic and un-American.

He hates immigrants so he has set a tone of intolerance, boasted of building his wall (that Mexico will never pay for), swollen the ranks of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and attacks some as criminals and animals.

He hates Muslims, so he moves to institute his travel ban and attacks their religion with the incendiary comment that “I think Islam hates us.”

He always disguises his hatred, often as a veneration and defense of his base, the flag, law enforcement or the military. He hijacks their valor to advance his personal hatred.

So I remember that. I center that. I hear “I want to hate” every time I hear him speak. And I draw strength from the fact that I’m not fighting for or against a political party; I’m fighting hatred itself, as personified by the man who occupies the presidency. That is my spine stiffener.

19) Some fun nuggets in the latest PPP poll:

Associating themselves closely with Trump hasn’t done a lot for either Rudy Giuliani or Roseanne Barr’s image. Giuliani- once a well respected figure in American politics- is now seen positively by only 32% of voters to 48% who have a negative opinion of him. That puts him on only slightly better ground than Roseanne- not once a well respected figure in American politics- who has a 25/52 favorability spread.

-Americans are still pretty down with Canada. 66% of voters see the country favorably to 13% with a negative opinion of it. There is somewhat of a divide between Clinton voters (77/7) and Trump ones (54/19) when it comes to the country but at the end of the day they’re both pretty positive on Canada. Only 5% of voters think Canada should be punished for stuff that happened in the War of 1812 to 82% who are opposed.

-We polled on two great internet debates and settled one while another will rage on. When it comes to who the GOAT is there’s not a lot of division among Americans- 54% say it’s Michael Jordan to only 14% for LeBron James. Much divides us along party lines these days but the belief that Jordan is the greatest ever is one that brings us together as Democrats (60/17), Republicans (51/17), and independents (49/8) alike.

Polling on Laurel vs. Yanny brings no such clarity though. 21% say it’s Yanny, 20% say it’s Laurel…and 49% said they had no clue what we were asking about, perhaps a bit of a reality check on how tuned in most Americans are to the debates that consume people who spend all day on the internet.

20) It’s Yannny ;-).

21) Saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on the big screen today for the first time since 1981.  Great stuff.

That wasn’t so hard

Quick hits (part II) coming later.  For now, I just wanted to point out the necessary simplicity and honestly of this NYT headline.  If only more of the media could learn this:

Trump Again Falsely Blames Democrats for His Separation Tactic

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