Quick hits (part II)

1) Yes, we do need to see more bloody images from mass shootings.

Yet there is something undeniably startling about the photo that Andrews took. For all the images that have been broadcast from mass shootings—scenes of children scurrying from their schools in single file, with their hands in the air, of heavily armored police with assault weapons stalking buildings, of long trains of ambulances queuing up to take victims away—it is unusual to actually see blood. We are more accustomed to seeing these kinds of images from war zones, where news photographers are often able to witness the carnage of combat up close. By contrast, the setting of Andrews’s photograph is visibly suburban. A sidewalk stretches behind the injured man. On the car next to the officer is a barely legible sticker of a ball, with the word “Fastpitch.” A no-parking sign is prominent on the right. It makes for a jarring composition…

There is a case to be made, however, that the country needs to be exposed to these kinds of images, if we have any hope of being jolted from our collective inurement to the ravages of gun violence. I am guessing the details of Virginia Beach will soon blur in my memory, alongside the litany of other mass shootings that have dominated cable news and quickly receded. But my memory of the man in the green shirt will endure.

2) Are surgeons really worse today because kids develop less fine motor skill?  Some medical school faculty think so:

Could you tie a series of square knots around the neck of a teaspoon without, even slightly, moving the teaspoon? How about using tweezers to extract a grape from inside a roll of toilet paper, without piercing the grape’s skin or touching the sides of the roll? Aspiring surgeons should have the dexterity to accomplish such tasks. But increasingly, they don’t.

Faculty members at medical schools in the United States and Britain have noticed a marked decline in the manual dexterity of students and residents. Some say it’s because of fewer hands-on courses in primary and secondary schools — shop class, home economics, drawing, painting and music. Others blame too much time spent tapping and swiping screens rather than doing things that develop fine motor control like woodworking, model building and needlework. While clumsiness is a growing concern in medical schools, the extent and permanence of the problem are unclear.

“There is a language of touch that is easy to overlook or ignore,” said Dr. Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College London. “You know if someone has learned French or Chinese because it’s very obvious, but the language of touch is harder to recognize.” And just like verbal language, he thinks it’s easier to acquire when you’re young: “It’s much more difficult to get it when you’re 24, 25 or 26 than when you’re 4, 5 or 6.”

Dr. Robert Spetzler, former president and chief executive of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, agreed. “Think about the difference between someone who has learned to ski when they were a little kid and someone who spent a long time, perhaps even the same amount of time, skiing as an adult,” he said. “That elegance that you learn when very young, doing that sport, can never be equaled by an adult learning how to ski.”

3) NYT with brief vignettes from college students around the world on students in various countries pay for college (the big takeaway– mostly a lot less of their own money than in the U.S.).

4) The more we learn about the Boeing 737 Max the more we learn Boeing really screwed up:

The fatal flaws with Boeing’s 737 Max can be traced to a breakdown late in the plane’s development, when test pilots, engineers and regulators were left in the dark about a fundamental overhaul to an automated system that would ultimately play a role in two crashes.

A year before the plane was finished, Boeing made the system more aggressive and riskier. While the original version relied on data from at least two types of sensors, the ultimate used just one, leaving the system without a critical safeguard. In both doomed flights, pilots struggled as a single damaged sensor sent the planes into irrecoverable nose-dives within minutes, killing 346 people and prompting regulators around the world to ground the Max.

But many people involved in building, testing and approving the system, known as MCAS, said they hadn’t fully understood the changes. Current and former employees at Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration who spoke with The New York Times said they had assumed the system relied on more sensors and would rarely, if ever, activate. Based on those misguided assumptions, many made critical decisions, affecting design, certification and training.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said a former test pilot who worked on the Max. “I wish I had the full story.”

While prosecutors and lawmakers try to piece together what went wrong, the current and former employees point to the single, fateful decision to change the system, which led to a series of design mistakes and regulatory oversights. As Boeing rushed to get the plane done, many of the employees say, they didn’t recognize the importance of the decision. They described a compartmentalized approach, each of them focusing on a small part of the plane. The process left them without a complete view of a critical and ultimately dangerous system.

The company also played down the scope of the system to regulators. Boeing never disclosed the revamp of MCAS to Federal Aviation Administration officials involved in determining pilot training needs, according to three agency officials. When Boeing asked to remove the description of the system from the pilot’s manual, the F.A.A. agreed. As a result, most Max pilots did not know about the software until after the first crash, in October.

5) Seth Masket on what’s behind Democrats’ 2020 debate rules:

Based on research and interviews I’ve been conducting, these debate rules appear to signal a party adapting to what are generally seen as three main lessons from the 2016 election. Those lessons are:

  1. Anyone is electable: Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 general election, despite his association with many damning scandals and his determination to alienate huge segments of the electorate, suggested to candidates and donors that pretty much anyone with a major party’s label next to his or her name can win. This has been a huge motivator for Democratic candidates, encouraging quite a few to run who might have otherwise sat the race out or focused on more winnable races like Senate seats. This is a major contributor to the fact that roughly two dozen people have now declared for president.
  2. Large fields of candidates are unpredictable and dangerous: Donald Trump received the 2016 GOP nomination even while many Republican leaders were clearly uncomfortable with or even hostile to him. He did so in part because the field of candidates was so large; this made it harder for party elites to coordinate their support on an alternative to Trump. Democratic leaders are probably less concerned that a failure to coordinate will result in someone like Trump as their nominee (there’s not really anyone quite like that in the running this year), but they do wish to maintain some control.
  3. Party preference for some candidates over others is perceived as illegitimate: The DNC was widely derided for appearing to be biased in favor of Hillary Clinton in 2016, and suspicion of insiders influencing the party demobilized supporters of Bernie Sanders in the general election. While the DNC actually did little of any real substance to enable Clinton’s nomination, it has gone out of its way to appear neutral in the 2020 nomination contest. This was what motivated the reforms last summer that reduced the power of “superdelegates” in the Democratic National Convention by stripping them of their first ballot vote.

So the party is attempting to satisfy several (contradictory!) goals at once. It seeks to cull an oversized field but in a way that does not appear systematically biased against any particular set of candidates. Well, it’s apparently okay to be biased against one set of candidates — the unpopular. Those who have been less successful in introducing themselves to primary voters have also been less successful in raising money.

6) A former mayor of Tehran has apparently murdered his wife with impunity, “Everything that’s wrong with Iran in one grotesque televised scandal.”

7) There are so many worse ways kids can be spending their time and exercising their brains than endlessly memorizing how to spell words.  And, yet, I’m still with the critics.  There’s so many better ways.  If you are going to devote all that time and energy to something, I feel like memorizing words is a pretty poor choice.  Mastering an athletic activity brings exercise, coordination, (usually) teamwork and camaraderie, etc.  And mastering a different mental challenge likely brings far more real-world rewards.

8) Well, this is interesting, “Tech giant brings software to a gun fight: Business-software giant Salesforce instituted a new policy barring retail customers from using its technology to sell semiautomatic weapons and some other firearms.”

9) The built-in biases of dating algorithms are hugely problematic, as exposed through a game.

10) I love the original “Aladdin” movie.  I do get how it’s portrayal of a fantasatical Middle-East if problematic, but I also still believe that blithely throwing around “racist” about everything the movie does wrong is exactly the sort of over-wokeness that hurts liberals.

11) Shockingly, a CRS analysis shows that Trump’s tax cuts had very little benefit to the economy:

You may remember all the glowing predictions made for the December 2017 tax cuts by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration: Wages would soar for the rank-and-file, corporate investments would surge, and the cuts would pay for themselves.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has just published a deep dive into the economic impact of the cuts in their first year, and emerges from the water with a different picture. The CRS finds that the cuts have had virtually no effect on wages, haven’t contributed to a surge in investment, and haven’t come close to paying for themselves. Nor have they delivered a cut to the average taxpayer. [emphasis mine]

12) Sad, but true, “The Most Unrealistic Proposal in the Democratic Presidential Primary: Michael Bennet and Elizabeth Warren want members of Congress to ban themselves from ever lobbying after they leave office. Here’s why it’ll never happen.”

The unlikeliest 2020 promise isn’t a big-spending plan like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, or Andrew Yang’s universal basic income—it’s an anti-corruption proposal that would apply to just 535 Americans and cost taxpayers nothing.

This pipe dream is coming from the decidedly unflashy Senator Michael Bennet, a self-proclaimed pragmatist who has chided his rivals for their unrealistic visions of a progressive future. Bennet has pooh-poohed the idea of “free college” and actively opposes Medicare for All as too costly and too disruptive to the U.S. health-care system. “You can’t fix a broken Washington if you don’t level with the American people,” the Colorado Democrat told potential voters in a video announcing his candidacy earlier this month.

Yet one of Bennet’s signature proposals for repairing American democracy might, in its own way, be the most radical of all: a lifetime ban on members of Congress from becoming lobbyists after they leave office.

Good luck with that…

But she and Bennet may find that convincing Congress to appropriate trillions of dollars for new social programs is an easier lift than persuading lawmakers to permanently cut off a lucrative source of their own retirement income. That idea goes too far even for the purest good-government advocates, who say it’s not only wildly unrealistic but possibly unconstitutional.

13) We absolutely have too much choice at major retailers and it, indeed, very frustrating.  When I can decide on a product about which I have no priors on Amazon in less than 5-10 minutes, I’m pretty happy about it.

In theory, Amazon is a site meant to serve the needs of humans. The mega-retailer’s boundless inventory gives people easy access to household supplies and other everyday products that are rarely fun to shop for. Most people probably aren’t eager to buy clothes hangers, for instance. They just want to have hangers when they need them.

But when you type hangers into Amazon’s search box, the mega-retailer delivers “over 200,000” options. On the first page of results, half are nearly identical velvet hangers, and most of the rest are nearly identical plastic. They don’t vary much by price, and almost all of the listings in the first few pages of results have hundreds or thousands of reviews that average out to ratings between four and five stars. Even if you have very specific hanger needs and preferences, there’s no obvious choice. There are just choices.

The phenomenon repeats for almost all of the everyday objects Amazon carries: phone chargers, water bottles, flat-panel televisions. And it’s not just Amazon. The global-manufacturing apparatus now has the capacity to churn out near-endless stuff. The industry’s output has ballooned 75 percent since 2007 to $35 trillion, according to one analysis, and millions of livelihoods depend on its continued growth…

But in the arms race to sell as many sandwich bags or beach towels as possible, a problem has become clear: Variety isn’t infinitely valuable.

Contemporary internet shopping conjures a perfect storm of choice anxiety. Research has consistently held that people who are presented with a few options make better, easier decisions than those presented with many. It has also shown that having many options is particularly confounding when the information available on them is limited or confusing—as with an endless list of virtually identical hangers. To be fair, it’s not entirely clear what information would even be helpful for efficiently evaluating dozens of similar hangers. The 32 velvet options on the first page of results probably aren’t distinct from one another in any significant way, except for color and how many hangers come in a package…

Those infinite, meaningless options can result in something like a consumer fugue state. After shopping online, I often don’t remember days later whether I actually made a decision, and I regularly pause at the mountain of Amazon boxes next to my apartment building’s elevators to glance at the names on the labels, just to see if I forgot to expect something. Often, one of my neighbors is there doing it with me. Usually, both of us get on the elevator without boxes.

14) Randomly came across this video on youtube, “The TRUTH Why Modern Music Is Awful” and it makes me feel like a middle-aged curmudgeon.  But I also have the sneaking suspicion that it’s right.

15) I meant it about Fleabag.  You need to watch this show.

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The real national emergency

It’s not the border.  It’s guns.  Guns may not kill people.  (People kill people!!)  But people kill a lot of people.  With guns.  And here in America at absurd rates far beyond any other modern democracy.  The Post’s editorial in response to just one more crazy mass shooting:

THE TWELVE victims killed in the Virginia Beach massacre were the people who knit the sinews of a society together, who plot the course of overhead wires and underground pipes, who set the course of roadways and sidewalks. They were municipal engineers and administrators, account clerks and agents, all of them making sure in some way or another that the essential connections and pathways everyone relies on would keep functioning. One of the victims had come simply to follow the rules, and file for a permit.

That they were murdered in cold blood at their workplace on Friday afternoon is another sign that our society is not functioning properly in the face of an awful scourge. Mass shootings at schools, newspapers, concerts, nightclubs and factories have become a threat to public health and safety in the United States, an epidemic of violence resulting in hundreds of deaths every year. Would the nation’s politicians be mute and paralyzed if, say, 199 people were killed by food poisoning, a defective toy, or an automobile part malfunction? That is the number who have died in mass shootings so far this year (along with 643 nonfatal gunshot wounds), according to one group that keeps track. Sadly, sensible gun control generates headlines for a few days after each massacre, but then nothing happens. [emphasis mine]

Oh, and we sure don’t need more mass shooters deciding to use noise suppressors, which undermine a rapid response.  Of course, the NRA and friends want to make these items more readily available.

As for now, it’s back to the sadly evergreen Onion headline:

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens

Quick hits

1) Finished season 2 of Fleabag last night.  So, so good.  Phoebe Waller-Bridge is, quite simply, absurdly talented as a writer and performer.

2) Great Sargent:

President Trump repeats the claim that the Russia investigation was a treasonous attack on his campaign so frequently that we rarely pause to note how riddled with monumental lies and absurdities it really is. We’re supposed to believe that the FBI should not have opened an investigation into a foreign attack on our political system, and that it did so only to derail Trump’s candidacy, even though it kept the conspiracy probe secret from voters.

In a new Post op-ed, former FBI director James B. Comey seeks to set the record straight by recounting what actually happened, while reminding us — with no apology — that the FBI did make its reopened investigation into Trump’s opponent known just before the election. As Comey says, Trump’s narrative is built on “dumb lies.”

But it’s what Comey did not say that should command the attention of Democrats right now. Comey concludes with this prediction, concerning Attorney General William P. Barr’s internal review of the Russia investigation’s genesis:

Go ahead, investigate the investigators, if you must. When those investigations are over, you will find the work was done appropriately and focused only on discerning the truth of very serious allegations. There was no corruption. There was no treason. There was no attempted coup. … There were just good people trying to figure out what was true, under unprecedented circumstances.

This confidence that Barr’s internal review will conclude that the investigation was legitimate seems deeply misplaced. Barr has already telegraphed that he will likely find a way to fault the handling of the probe, regardless of the facts.

Yet Democrats appear to share Comey’s confidence that this process will unfold in good faith. They don’t appear prepared for the contrary possibility — or how bad that could get for them.

2) William Barr is a very, very bad man.  Chait:

After the legal Establishment had granted him the benefit of the doubt, Attorney General William Barr has shocked his erstwhile supporters with his aggressive and frequently dishonest interventions on behalf of President Trump. The spectacle of an esteemed lawyer abetting his would-be strongman boss’s every authoritarian instinct has left Barr’s critics grasping for explanations. Some have seized on the darker threads of his history in the Reagan and Bush administrations, when he misled the public about a secret Department of Justice memo and helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal.

But Barr’s long, detailed interview with Jan Crawford suggests the rot goes much deeper than a simple mania for untrammeled Executive power. Barr has drunk deep from the Fox News worldview of Trumpian paranoia.

It is hard to convey how far over the edge Barr has gone without reading the entire interview, which lasted an hour. But a few key comments illustrate the depth of his investment in Trump’s perspective.

Barr, as he has done repeatedly, provides a deeply misleading account of what Robert Mueller found. “He did not reach a conclusion,” he says. “He provided both sides of the issue, and … his conclusion was he wasn’t exonerating the president, but he wasn’t finding a crime either.”

As Mueller stated in the report and again at his press conference, he felt bound by a policy preventing him from charging the president with a crime, or even saying the president had committed a crime. Mueller’s view is that his job vis-à-vis presidential misconduct is to describe the behavior and leave it up to Congress to decide if it’s a crime. Several hundred former federal prosecutors have stated, and Mueller clearly signaled, the actions he described in the Mueller report are crimes, or would be if the president could be charged with a crime.

3) OMG this whole Freedom Gas things is beyond insane.  Seriously, every single Republican should just be embarrassed to be a Republican.  Only satire (Alexandra Petri) could do this justice:

Do you smell that? That aroma, like many spoiled eggs congregating in a hot locker room? That is the wonderful, pleasing scent of American freedom!

statement from the Energy Department, which I am not making up because satire has been overfished and is now extinct, described natural gas as “molecules of freedom.” In the statement, Undersecretary of Energy Mark Menezes noted that “increasing export capacity . . . is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy.”

The statement also included the profound remark from Steven Winberg, the assistant secretary for fossil energy, that he was happy “the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of U.S. freedom to be exported to the world.”

So inhale fearlessly! Feel free, too, to light some of that freedom on fire, if you want. Nothing says freedom like setting something dangerously ablaze. Four cheers for CH4! Whenever methane gas is released, that smell, that aroma, is — freedom. Specifically, American freedom, the best kind that there is. That is why people love to sit with me in enclosed spaces that I swiftly perfume with nothing short of Truth, Justice and the American Way, especially if my lunch has been rich in beans. It has never been so critical, as Benjamin Franklin entreated, to “fart proudly.”

4) My nuclear security friend sent me this great source on all-things Chernobyl after we were discussing the terrific HBO miniseries.

5) Good stuff from Catherine Rampell: “Trump’s narrative is nonsense. So why is the media buying it?”

Yes, Democrats can walk and chew gum at the same time. The problem right now is that all anyone ever asks about is the gum-chewing.

President Trump is steadily advancing a narrative that Democrats are unable to focus on a substantive policy agenda because they’re too fixated on investigating, subpoenaing and, eventually, impeaching the president.

Or, as our victim in chief tweeted on Monday: “The Dems are getting NOTHING done in Congress! They only want a Do-Over on Mueller!”

This sort of nonsense is something we’ve come to expect from Trump. But more troubling, perhaps, is that many of us in the media have also been amplifying his false narrative…

But another plausible explanation for why so many Democrats are now talking about impeachment is that’s what we in the media, primed by Trump, ask them to talk about — often to the exclusion of other substantive issues that those Democrats are working on and that voters care about…

But, in fairness, there have been a lot of other issues — kitchen table issues, you might even say — that Democrats have also been pursuing, and to which pundits like me haven’t given sufficient time or attention. Many of the proposals are good, some are bad; but, in any case, it’s hard to argue that Democrats have been underinvesting in policy because they’re overinvesting in oversight.

6) Richard Hasen, “Robert Mueller Was Telling Nancy Pelosi to Begin Impeachment Proceedings”

Put it all together and Mueller was saying: Russia interfered in our election. Trump obstructed that investigation. Mueller’s office could have said Trump didn’t commit a crime, but did not reach that conclusion. The ball is in Congress’ court. This is as close to a call for Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings as we are likely to hear from someone as circumspect as Mueller, and it makes Pelosi’s foot-dragging not just untenable but a dereliction of her constitutional duty.

Initially, I could see reason to go along with Pelosi’s implicit argument that an impeachment inquiry against the president would be pointless if the Senate would not consider impeaching, and if public opinion was strongly against it. But the Mueller report offers substantial evidence Trump obstructed justice, and this is an impeachable offense. Members of Congress take an oath to uphold the Constitution and it is their constitutional duty to determine if Trump’s conduct merits impeachment, regardless of the political consequences. Mueller’s emphasis that this is the only way our system currently has for holding an allegedly criminal president accountable while in office points to why fulfilling that duty is more than just empty idealism. Without consequences and a full accounting of potentially criminal actions, what is to stop a criminal president from more and greater abuses of power and ultimately a breakdown of our entire legal regime?

7) Just read this article on the amazing levels of lies and bad faith regarding the Census citizenship question.  Truly, horribly appalling.  If the Supreme Court upholds this… I can’t even.

8) Well, just learned yesterday that my references to “marijuana” are “racist.”  I’m well aware of the racist origins of much of the war on drugs, including against marijuana.  But to call the word “racist”?  Enough with the over-wokeness already.

9) Michael Wear, “The Abortion Debate Is No Longer About Policy”

Abortion politics in 2019 is a morality play about what happens when one side has all the political power, yet feels culturally embattled. In this atmosphere, victories are not satisfying if they leave the other side with a foothold, a vestige of respectability. Cataclysmic discord lies ahead.

Abortion politics is no longer about policy wins, but about establishing dominance. This is why Governor Andrew Cuomo could not be satisfied with the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which eliminated several restrictions on the procedure, but instead had to light up the Empire State Building pink, to declare that abortion rights were now creedal in New York. It was not just the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, but specifically the display of cultural force, that made pro-lifers feel so embattled and isolated.

This dynamic was also evident in Alabama, where the people in power hold the opposite position on abortion as their counterparts in New York and recently passed H.B. 314, a bill that virtually outlaws the procedure.

One scene from the Alabama Senate debate furnishes a quintessential example of the decline of our democracy, of the diminishment of any capacity our political process might have had to help us work through difficult issues together. During the committee markup of the bill, lawmakers passed an amendment to provide an exception for rape or incest. On May 9, as H.B. 314 was headed toward a final vote, Alabama’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth broke protocol by stripping out the amendment without making a motion or acknowledging his Democratic colleagues’ requests for a roll-call vote. Democratic State Senator Bobby Singleton shouted, “There was no motion. You didn’t even make a motion!” Ainsworth simply ignored his colleague’s interjections.

9) I so love Chris Molanphy’s Hit Parade podcast.  Inspired by his latest, I’m listening to a Phil Collins mix on youtube as I type.  Take me Home!

10) I liked Yglesias on why Mueller should testify before Congress:

But having punted the issue to the House, Mueller should now cooperate with House leaders’ desire to hear him speak live and in person.

In some kind of hyper-idealized world, that might not be necessary. The report is there in its entire 400-plus-page glory, and every American — and every member of Congress — can read at least a redacted version of it for themselves. The real world, however, is not like that, as evidenced by the fact that today’s Mueller statement was itself big news…

But the fact that Mueller said it live on camera made a difference. He publicly challenged the administration’s interpretation of events and challenged Congress to face the fact that he did not have limitless powers… [emphases mine]

It’s difficult, of course, not to sympathize with Mueller’s view that having written this all down clearly in a report and then said it should mean he shouldn’t have to say it again before Congress.

But even though Mueller is not a very political person, he’s also not a total naif. He’s held multiple Senate-confirmed positions and served as FBI director for a decade. He knows that media coverage matters to politics and that the presence or absence of video and live drama makes a difference to media coverage.

11) I loved the documentary Free Solo.  And I love this Economist blogging about it to talk about Knowledge Externalities.

12) This is so cool, “A 13,235-Mile Road Trip for 70-Degree Weather Every Day”

13) Has UNC Children’s Hospital been doing children’s heart surgery when it should not have been.  Maybe.  I found this aspect particularly interesting:

The best outcomes for patients with complex heart problems correlate with hospitals that perform a high volume of surgeries — several hundred a year — studies show. But a proliferation of the surgery programs has made it difficult for many institutions, including UNC, to reach those numbers: The North Carolina hospital does about 100 to 150 a year. Lower numbers can leave surgeons and staff at some hospitals with insufficient experience and resources to achieve better results, researchers have found.

“We can do better. And it’s not that hard to do better,” said Dr. Carl Backer, former president of the Congenital Heart Surgeons’ Society, who practices at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “We don’t have to build new hospitals. We don’t have to build new ICUs. We just need to move patients to more appropriate centers.”

Thom Tillis is a brazen liar. Or really stupid

It simply has to be one or the other.  Here’s his tweet today.

On no planet did the DOJ remotely come close to “concluding” no collusion, no obstruction.  Any fair reading of the Mueller report lets you know that there was “insufficient evidence” to charge collusion.  That is so not the same as concluding no collusion.  As for obstruction, the report is also very clear that the only reason that obstruction is not charged is because of DOJ guidance against charging a sitting president with a crime.  That couldn’t be further from “concluded no obstruction.”  To characterize this concluded no collusion, no obstruction is an absolute brazen, bald-faced lie.  Plain and simple.  The only other explanation is that Tillis is too dumb to understand these concepts that I’m pretty damn sure your average 6th grader could understand (I know some, I might run it by them in the culdesac later today).

Of course, Tillis is not alone in his “evil or stupid” response, I imagine it goes for the vast majority of Republican politicians.  But, it was his awful tweet I saw and he is my Senator, so there you go.

How the 1994 crime bill created mass incarceration

It didn’t.  Not at all.

And while it’s great that liberals take criminal justice reform seriously these days.  It’s very not great to totally misunderstand what’s driving the problems and to do things like place blame on that crime bill.  Love this post from Drum.  Mostly, this chart says it all:

And, some good editorializing nonetheless:

As you can see, the 1994 crime bill had no effect on this trend. Incarceration rates started skyrocketing in the late 70s as a response to rising crime rates, and after the crime bill passed the increase in incarceration started to slow, eventually peaking in 2000.

The crime bill, of course, deserves credit for slowing incarceration no more than it deserves blame for increasing it. It was a null factor. Incarceration increased as crime rates increased, and then started to fall about a decade after crime rates started to decline. Mass incarceration in the US was a panicked response to mass crime, and the 1994 crime bill had little effect on it one way or the other.

I don’t really care what anyone thinks of Joe Biden, but liberals should stop inventing reasons to blame him for things he isn’t responsible for. The 1994 crime bill (a) included a lot of good ideas, (b) included some bad ideas at the insistence of Republicans, (c) had nothing to do with skyrocketing incarceration rates, (d) was supported by most black lawmakers, and (e) was a reaction to the fact that violent crime really was high, and nobody at the time had any reason to think this was likely to change.

The problem with “Washington”

Is Republicans.  Seriously.  But we’ll get back to that.  What I like about reading somebody criticizing “the problems in Washington” is that it lets me know I don’t need to take them seriously.  They are either a) ignorant/naive, or b) know better and willing to lie about it.  Paul Waldman on the problem with blaming all our problems on “Washington:

That points to a key factor in how governing works these days: The Republican agenda has gotten quite narrow, and it contains almost nothing that’s affirmative in any way. Republicans want to dismantle regulations on the environment and labor rights. They want to take health insurance awayfrom as many people as they can. They want to attack abortion rights and make life more miserable for transgender Americans. And, of course, a giant meteor could be headed to destroy the Earth in 48 hours and they’d try to force through one more tax cut for the wealthy and corporations before we’re all vaporized.

But in terms of actually doing anything positive, they’re not really interested [emphases mine]

Meanwhile, Democrats have a long list of ambitious things they’d like to do: achieving universal health coverage, expanding pre-K, fighting climate change, guaranteeing voting rights, making college affordable, raising the minimum wage — but Republicans are opposed to all of it.

Which isn’t surprising, because the two parties represent fundamentally different value systems. Yet we keep telling ourselves that with enough openness and good will, we can make those value differences fade away and come up with solutions to our problems.

Unfortunately, politicians do a great deal to mislead voters about how politics works. Every election, candidates for the House and Senate tell voters that the problem is this thing called Washington, whose dysfunctions can be cured with the proper kick in the keister. And I, the candidate says, am just the person to do it, to change Washington into what it ought to be. Why? Not because I have policy expertise or relevant experience; those things don’t matter. No, it’s because I have common sense, and I know how to get things done…

The reality is that we’re in an era when, unless there’s unified government, not much is going to get done, at least in terms of legislation. That’s not because there’s something wrong with Washington; it’s because the two parties have fundamentally different ideas about what we ought to do.

Stop reporting about abortion bills like this!

I get that it’s a big deal that states keep on passing laws basically outlawing abortion.  But mainstream news outlets simply need to stop reporting this stories as if the laws have actually outlawed abortion.  We have three branches of government and until the Supreme Court decides otherwise, courts basically have no choice but to throw these laws out.  They are not going to go into effect.  But, we keep getting reports like this, from NPR:

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill on Friday that criminalizes abortions in the state after eight weeks of pregnancy, the latest in a series of sweeping restrictions passed by Republican-controlled legislatures that now threaten nearly 50 years of federal protections for abortion.

Under the law, any person who performs an abortion after eight weeks — which is often before many women are aware they are pregnant — could be charged with a Class B felony punishable by five to 15 years in prison.

The final version of the legislation does not have exceptions for victims of rape or incest. It does have a carve-out for cases of medical emergencies…

Supporters of the Missouri legislation say it is distinctive from the Alabama law in one significant way: It was not written to topple Roe v. Wade. Rather, its backers say, it’s aimed at curbing abortions within the bounds of the law.

“We do not want to run through the courts and try to overturn Roe v. Wade like some of the legislators in other states, like Alabama. We just want to save as many lives as we can while withstanding judicial challenges,” Missouri Rep. Nick Schroer, a Republican sponsor of the bill, told NPR. “We want to get as close to the line as possible on what previous judges have thrown out.” [emphasis mine]

Other states, including Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi, have recently passed bills that forbid abortions when heartbeat activity is detected.

Let’s be clear– that’s balderdash.  And NPR should not be reporting it unquestioned.  The simple fact is that an 8 week ban is completely inconsistent with both Roe and Casey.  Until the Supreme Court clearly overturns those precedents, there will not be any 8-week abortion bans in effect.  And, yet, nowhere does the article make this simple fact clear.  Ugh.

Meanwhile, conservatives can go on believing that NPR is somehow just liberal propaganda.  In reality, this is a great example that the huge problems with political journalism are so not any sort of ideological bias, but an over-emphasis on “the game” and a “both sides” approach that often obscures the truth as much as it illuminates it.

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