Quick hits (part II)

1) This is cool.  Nefarious boats can turn off their transponders, but they cannot hide from albatrosses.

2) As much as Senate Republicans seem comfortable with the idea of a dictator, the American president is not a dictator.  Which is why it is so absurd for Republicans who get the wrongness of Trump to say they could never live under Sanders or Warren.  Really, your life would be so little different under President Sanders than President Biden.  Paul Waldman:

But here’s something that people haven’t really considered: Whether you think a social democratic revolution of the kind Sanders promotes is good or bad, the realities of Congress will make it impossible to bring about. In fact, if Sanders is elected, the major policy contours of his presidency will be nearly identical to those of almost any other Democrat.

That’s true to a great degree of Warren as well (though she has done more thinking about how to use regulatory power to achieve progressive ends). And to be clear, I’m not saying the individual in the Oval Office doesn’t matter. There will be differences in what they prioritize, whom they put into key executive branch positions, and how they react to crises.

But on the big picture, any Democratic president will do most of the same things.

Consider health care. Sanders wants immediate passage of what would be the most generous single-payer system in the world. So what will happen when he puts out that plan?

The answer is: basically nothing. Sanders believes he can pass Medicare-for-all through reconciliation, which requires only 50 votes instead of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. But even if Democrats take the Senate, the absolute best-case scenario would get them 52 seats. And not only aren’t there 50 Senate votes for Medicare-for-all, there probably aren’t even 40 votes. Maybe not even 30…

Again, I’m not saying every Democrat’s presidency would be identical. On foreign policy the president has the most latitude to move independently, and unfortunately the candidates have said relatively little about it, though we can be sure that Biden would be more hawkish than Sanders or Warren. But we’re in the midst of a process that convinces us that the future will be radically different depending on which one of these candidates becomes president, and that’s just not likely to be true.

So the Republicans who wake up in a cold sweat imagining the statist nightmare of oppression and deprivation that will result if the wrong Democrat wins the election can rest easy. You won’t like what a Democratic president does, but it won’t be anything like your worst fears, no matter who that president is.

3) Despite the fact that I love Indian food, I am not a Bernie supporter.  But a pretty interesting relationship here.  Lynn Vavreck:

There were no discernible differences on most of the nonpolitical questions across the candidates’ supporters in Iowa, such as on buying organic foods (most supporters of all the candidates think it’s important), using Twitter to read political news (most don’t) or watching television shows on premium outlets (also uncommon). Accounting for things like age and education soaked up most of the differences that appeared at first glance.

But, as has also been true in past contests, Indian food was a distinguishing characteristic. In Iowa, supporters of Mr. Sanders are its biggest fans: 71 percent of them report going to an Indian restaurant sometime in the last 10 years. Mr. Biden’s supporters are less likely to have done so by about 30 points. This makes sense. Mr. Sanders’s supporters are younger and perhaps more likely to live in the college towns or in major metropolitan areas. Still, this relationship persists even after accounting for age, race, gender, education, ideology, being an independent, or where a person lives in the state.

Mr. Biden loses 14 points of vote share among those who have been out for Indian food relative to those who have not, and Elizabeth Warren loses three. Mr. Sanders gains eight points, Pete Buttigieg gains five, and Ms. Klobuchar gains four.

Of course, it’s not that eating Indian food leads a person to support one Democratic candidate over another — that’s silly. (And there are voters for whom Indian food is the taste of home.) But a voter’s orientation toward the world is related to candidate choice, and it turns out that eating in restaurants that celebrate less familiar cultures is one way to measure where people think they are more connected: to those around them locally or to people farther afield.

4) Linda Greenhouse on the Supreme Court looking to break down the separation between church and state:

The case is also a perfect vehicle for showing something else: the contradiction at the heart of the religious claims being pressed on increasingly receptive federal courts. Those making these claims say that religion and nonreligion must be treated equally. “The rule is religious neutrality,” Richard D. Komer, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, told the justices. So if parents are able use publicly financed scholarships for secular private school tuition, this argument goes, there should be no difference when it comes to religious school tuition.

When pressed, however, as they are in this case, religion advocates seek something more than equal treatment. It turns out that what they want is special treatment. That’s this case. The plaintiffs are claiming a continued entitlement to scholarships for their parochial school tuition despite the fact that the state court ended the scholarship program for religious and secular schools alike. No one gets the money.

It’s not enough that all parents are being treated the same, no matter where they choose to enroll their children. It’s different from the invitingly simple “religious freedom” story line, more complex, with deep implications for how Americans will live in an increasingly diverse society…

5) Catherine Rampell on the Trump administration’s nativism, “Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda isn’t about rule of law or economics at all”

The Trump administration’s latest rule massively restricting immigration is based on lies. But don’t take my word for it.

Just ask the Trump administration, whose own actions rebut the argument it gave for putting the rule in place.

On Monday, the Supreme Court allowed the administration to begin implementing a new policy that could dramatically reduce legal immigration. The rule says government officials can deny green cards or other visas to an immigrant if they suspect that someday — literally “at any time” in the future — the immigrant might use safety-net programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. The rule gives government bureaucrats enormous discretion to decide how to make such crystal-ball forecasts, too.

The policy could designate nearly half of the U.S. noncitizen population as a future economic burden (or “public charge,” to use the term of art), according to an estimate from the Migration Policy Institute. Which makes this rule look an awful lot like a backdoor attempt to slash legal immigration levels without consent from Congress…

There are a few reasons to be skeptical of this stated rationale. Foremost is that immigrants are, generally speaking, not an economic burden to the United States; they’re an economic boon.

Contrary to stereotypes of immigrants as lazy moochers, the foreign-born actually use fewer benefits than Americans born here. As a result, immigrants are net contributors to the U.S. economy: They pay more in federal taxes than they receive in services. Their children are also “among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population,” according to a 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

In a sense, then, this “public charge” rule appears to be a solution in search of a problem.

So what did the Trump administration do? It decided to make its imagined problem come true.

At the same time it professes concern that too many immigrants aren’t self-sufficient, it’s also implementing rules that prohibit immigrants from achieving self-sufficiency.

6) Dahlia Lithwick, “Trump’s Lawyers’ Impeachment Defense Will Reshape the Office of the President”

7) I’ve found the Bernie Sanders/Joe Rogan controversy to be pretty fascinating.  Love Yglesias take on the importance of actually winning elections over purity:

For years, Rogan has aired hours-long one-on-one interviews on topics ranging from mixed martial arts to comedy, business, politics, and beyond each week. The show’s appeal is a bit lost on me, but millions of listeners — particularly younger men — love it. His backing is valuable in part because he has such a large audience. But it’s also valuable because he’s a controversial figure who doesn’t hold progressive opinions on some issues.

There aren’t very many people who are fully ideologically consistent. Rogan is a typical example. There’s nothing complicated about the choice of whether to want the support of people like him. To do so is the essence of politics.

Winning elections — a necessary first step to vindicating the rights of trans people or accomplishing anything else in politics — hinges crucially on getting people with bad opinions to vote for you…

As Dylan Matthews put it, liberals “think that discriminating against or maligning someone on the basis of membership in a protected class — women, trans people, black people, and other racially oppressed communities, etc. — violates a rule that should be inviolable. In this view, such discrimination (be it legal, or expressed through hate speech, etc.) is not just wrong because it has bad effects, or because it harms members of the groups in question; it’s wrong because we have a duty to treat humans as equals, and it is never acceptable to violate that duty, even when doing so seems politically expedient.”

This is a reasonable moral theory. But my suspicion is most people who embrace it are not thinking clearly about exactly how inexpedient it is. As of 2018, for example, 47 percent of African Americans told the General Social Survey that it is “always wrong” for two same-sex individuals to have sex…

Meanwhile, 40 percent of white Democrats deny that the black/white gap in jobs, income, and housing is mainly due to discrimination…

Meanwhile, the question of whether Democrats should try to cast out every single person who dissents from every important item on the progressive agenda is a lot bigger than the primary. What may feel like a useful way of sticking it to Sanders or being a good ally to trans friends, in practice, sends an exclusionary message to a large population of voters that Democrats need if they want to win. The big tent really is important. It’s how Democrats can win and do the work necessary to make life better for marginalized groups, like the trans community.

8) Meant to include this from Waldman in an earlier post and forgot it.  It’s good, “Sanders might actually be the Democratic nominee. Nobody knows if he’s electable.”

So what we’ll be told — if you didn’t understand it already — is that Sanders has a long history as not just as a man of the left but a radical, one whose ideas are so outrageous that the general electorate could not possibly support him.

In support of that idea, we’ll hear about how he once advocated abolishing the CIA, how he once affiliated with the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party, how he honeymooned in the Soviet Union, and how he praised Fidel Castro and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. And then there are some old ruminations on male and female sexuality that are, let’s say, problematic, or at least ripe for being taken out of context…

There’s no doubt that Republicans would try to make that case, that Sanders is a crazy radical who would turn America into a communist hellscape where we will all have our property expropriated and be forced to stand on line in shapeless gray overcoats to get our monthly bread allotment.

The trouble is, we have no idea whether that kind of attack would work. Yes, on many issues Sanders is far from the median American voter, but so is President Trump; it’s not as though majorities are clamoring to overturn Roe v. Wade and give more tax cuts to corporations. Americans don’t vote on the basis of ideology, something most of them barely understand…

So will voters reject this crazy leftist, or will he manage to hold Democrats while pulling over just enough moderates and Republicans to bring the party he still refuses to join on to victory?

Here’s the truth: We have no idea.

We don’t know how any of this will factor in a general election. There hasn’t been a nominee like Sanders in modern history, nor has there been a president like Trump for a nominee like Sanders to run against. Polarization is more intense than ever, and that adds another factor that complicates our ability to make accurate predictions. We all have our suspicions, and we can tell a story any way we like that sounds plausible.

Hell yeah!

Yes, I’m a practicing Catholic, but definitely not much of a believer in hell, as traditionally seen in our culture.  Much like, I reflexively and instinctively reject the all-too-comforting notion of heaven, that many seem to have of cavorting with lost loved ones.  Some things, to me, seem just too transparently conceived to make us feel good about death, i.e., just rewards and just punishments.

One of my favorite This American Life episodes (from waaay back), “Heretics“, features a Pentacostal pastor who comes to reject the idea of hell.

Why am I writing about this?  Because I loved this Op-Ed in the Times from a Philosophy and Religion scholar, “Why Do People Believe in Hell? The idea of eternal damnation is neither biblically, philosophically nor morally justified. But for many it retains a psychological allure.”

It’s comforting to imagine that Christians generally accept the notion of a hell of eternal misery not because they’re emotionally attached to it, but because they see it as a small, inevitable zone of darkness peripheral to a larger spiritual landscape that — viewed in its totality — they find ravishingly lovely. And this is true of many.

But not of all. For a good number of Christians, hell isn’t just a tragic shadow cast across one of an otherwise ravishing vista’s remoter corners; rather, it’s one of the landscape’s most conspicuous and delectable details.

I know whereof I speak. I’ve published many books, often willfully provocative, and have vexed my share of critics. But only recently, in releasing a book challenging the historical validity, biblical origins, philosophical cogency and moral sanity of the standard Christian teaching on the matter of eternal damnation, have I ever inspired reactions so truculent, uninhibited and (frankly) demented.

I expect, of course, that people will defend the faith they’ve been taught. What I find odd is that, in my experience, raising questions about this particular detail of their faith evinces a more indignant and hysterical reaction from many believers than would almost any other challenge to their convictions. Something unutterably precious is at stake for them. Why? …

Surely it would be welcome news if it turned out that, on the matter of hell, something got garbled in transmission. And there really is room for doubt.

No truly accomplished New Testament scholar, for instance, believes that later Christianity’s opulent mythology of God’s eternal torture chamber is clearly present in the scriptural texts. It’s entirely absent from St. Paul’s writings; the only eschatological fire he ever mentions brings salvation to those whom it tries (1 Corinthians 3:15). Neither is it found in the other New Testament epistles, or in any extant documents (like the Didache) from the earliest post-apostolic period. There are a few terrible, surreal, allegorical images of judgment in the Book of Revelation, but nothing that, properly read, yields a clear doctrine of eternal torment. Even the frightening language used by Jesus in the Gospels, when read in the original Greek, fails to deliver the infernal dogmas we casually assume to be there.

On the other hand, many New Testament passages seem — and not metaphorically — to promise the eventual salvation of everyone. For example: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” (Romans 5:18) Or: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) Or: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2) (Or: John 13:32; Romans 11:32; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 4:10; Titus 2:11; and others.)…

Theological history can boast few ideas more chilling than the claim (of, among others, Thomas Aquinas) that the beatitude of the saved in heaven will be increased by their direct vision of the torments of the damned (as this will allow them to savor their own immunity from sin’s consequences). But as awful as that sounds, it may be more honest in its sheer cold impersonality than is the secret pleasure that many of us, at one time or another, hope to derive not from seeing but from being seen by those we leave behind.

How can we be winners, after all, if there are no losers? Where’s the joy in getting into the gated community and the private academy if it turns out that the gates are merely decorative and the academy has an inexhaustible scholarship program for the underprivileged? What success can there be that isn’t validated by another’s failure? What heaven can there be for us without an eternity in which to relish the impotent envy of those outside its walls?

Not to sound too cynical. But it’s hard not to suspect that what many of us find intolerable is a concept of God that gives inadequate license to the cruelty of which our own imaginations are capable.

Good stuff.  But, I think lacking in a social-psychological perspective (damn Philosophy professors thinking they’re too good for social science!).  What strikes me as glaringly lacking from this analysis is Just World bias.  I really think it’s more about wanting “bad” people to be genuinely punished than feeling that a heavenly reward means less without hell.  In fact, I think you could do some cool social science research on that matter.

Anyway, very interesting and thought-provoking stuff.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I remain a techno-optimist when it comes to the future of nuclear power.  Newer designs are so much safer and more efficient that the 40-50 year old designs we are using, if we would just give them a real chance.  Like small modular reactors:

For the last 20 years, the future of nuclear power has stood in a high bay laboratory tucked away on the Oregon State University campus in the western part of the state. Operated by NuScale Power, an Oregon-based energy startup, this prototype reactor represents a new chapter in the conflict-ridden, politically bedeviled saga of nuclear power plants.

NuScale’s reactor won’t need massive cooling towers or sprawling emergency zones. It can be built in a factory and shipped to any location, no matter how remote. Extensive simulations suggest it can handle almost any emergency without a meltdown. One reason is that it barely uses any nuclear fuel, at least compared with existing reactors. It’s also a fraction of the size of its predecessors.

This is good news for a planet in the grips of a climate crisis. Nuclear energy gets a bad rap in some environmentalist circles, but many energy experts and policymakers agree that splitting atoms is going to be an indispensable part of decarbonizing the world’s electricity. In the US, nuclear power accounts for about two-thirds of all clean electricity, but the existing reactors are rapidly approaching the end of their regulatory lifetimes. Only two new reactors are under construction in the US, but they’re billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

Enter the small modular reactor, designed to allow several reactors to be combined into one unit. Need a modest amount of energy? Install just a few modules. Want to fuel a sprawling city? Tack on several more. Coming up with a suitable power plant for a wide range of situations becomes that much easier. Because they are small, these reactors can be mass-produced and shipped to any location in a handful of pieces. Perhaps most importantly, small modular reactors can take advantage of several cooling and safety mechanisms unavailable to their big brothers, which all but guarantees they won’t become the next Chernobyl.

2) I’m no so big into watching baseball, but I still find it intellectually interesting.  Like this, about the baseballs:

SAN DIEGO—Baseballs with a lower seam height coupled with a “change in player behavior” were among the primary causes of the power surge that resulted in players hitting a record 6,776 home runs in 2019, a panel of scientists commissioned by Major League Baseball to study the issue said Wednesday.

The committee’s report attributed 60% of the spike to less wind resistance on the balls themselves and 40% to what it described as “launch conditions”—essentially differences in how batters swing.

Throughout the 2019 season, pitchers across the sport questioned whether the league instructed Rawlings, the MLB-owned company that manufactures the baseballs in a factory in Costa Rica, to intentionally “juice” them to generate offense. The report dismissed that theory, saying that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”…

The latest study comes closer to identifying an explanation: inconsistency in the height of the seams, which the professors said can have a dramatic effect on how the ball behaves.

Newly developed laboratory techniques enabled the committee to show a correlation between seam height and drag. The average seam height in 2019 was lower than 2018 by less than one-thousandth of an inch. Still, that was enough to account for 35% of the change in drag.

“This is something that escaped our observation in the preceding study simply because the equipment that we were using was not precise enough to determine that,” said Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois and the chair of the study.

The problem is that the committee still can’t figure out the other factors that contributed to the decreased drag. It did rule out certain hypotheses such as roundness, surface roughness and lace thickness. Further breakthroughs will require more study. Asked how long that might take, Lloyd Smith, the director of the Sports Science Laboratory at Washington State University, said, “We have no idea.”

3) This is good from Chait, “Hunter Biden Is the New Hillary Clinton Email Server”

The email scandal was not just a Fox News narrative. It dominated mainstream news coverage of Clinton’s campaign, because it was a real issue, albeit a small one. Mainstream reporters made a historic blunder by devoting far more attention to the email issue than it deserved, but this is an inevitable result of the incentive system in the mainstream press, which prioritizes critical coverage over passive transmission of a candidate’s chosen message. The email issue was the “toughest” subject reporters could cover, so they focused a lot of attention on it. The bizarre result of this coverage choice was that voters came away concluding Clinton’s mishandling of email protocol was a crime on roughly the same scale as Trump’s endless array of massively unethical and illegal acts. Clinton, by the way, apologized for using the private server, but the apology did not stop reporters from highlighting the issue…

Most of Trump’s lax security protocol is both far more serious than Clinton’s snafu, and still not on anybody’s list of the 100 worst things Trump has done in office. For that reason, reporters obviously aren’t going to give it anywhere near Clinton-email levels of attention. Nobody who voted against Clinton because they thought her emails were a major scandal is going to realize Trump’s information-security record has been worse.

Here is another parallel to Biden’s Burisma problem. While he allowed the appearance of impropriety, Trump has allowed actual impropriety. Not only are Trump’s children making money off their relationship — Ivanka received a lucrative patent deal in China; Don Jr. got bulk party purchases of his book — President Trump himself is collecting payments from foreign and domestic sources who have government business. The ethical impropriety involved in Trump running a large business concern while serving as president is so enormous it defies all the applicable laws and terms. The structure built to insulate the president from conflicts of interest never anticipated conflicts on this scale. The idea that Trump’s opponent has a liability on this issue is an absurdity. It would be like electing Ted Bundy president because his opponent once kicked a dog.

And yet, such an absurdity is not just a possible outcome: the incentives of the news media turn it into a likely one. Reporters aren’t going to stop asking Biden tough questions about a legitimate ethical shortcoming just because his opponent’s sins dwarf Biden’s a thousandfold. Clinton’s example suggests that an apology wouldn’t do Biden much good.

4) Really cool Upshot feature, “The Age That Women Have Babies: How a Gap Divides America”

Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.

First-time mothers are older in big cities and on the coasts, and younger in rural areas and in the Great Plains and the South. In New York and San Francisco, their average age is 31 and 32. In Todd County, S.D., and Zapata County, Tex., it’s half a generation earlier, at 20 and 21, according to the analysis, which was of all birth certificates in the United States since 1985 and nearly all for the five years prior. It was conducted for The New York Times by Caitlin Myers, an economist who studies reproductive policy at Middlebury College, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The difference in when women start families cuts along many of the same lines that divide the country in other ways, and the biggest one is education. Women with college degrees have children an average of seven years later than those without — and often use the years in between to finish school and build their careers and incomes.

People with a higher socioeconomic status “just have more potential things they could do instead of being a parent, like going to college or grad school and having a fulfilling career,” said Heather Rackin, a sociologist at Louisiana State University who studies fertility. “Lower-socioeconomic-status people might not have as many opportunity costs — and motherhood has these benefits of emotional fulfillment, status in their community and a path to becoming an adult.”

There has long been an age gap for first-time mothers, which has narrowed a bit in recent years, driven largely by fewer teenage births, Ms. Myers said. Yet the gap may be more meaningful today. Researchers say the differences in when women start families are a symptom of the nation’s inequality — and as moving up the economic ladder has become harder, mothers’ circumstances could have a bigger effect on their children’s futures.

A college degree is increasingly essential to earning a middle-class wage, and older parents have more years to earn money to invest in violin lessons, math tutoring and college savings accounts — all of which can set children on very different paths. Yet an education and a high-paying career also seem out of reach for many people.

5) John Cassidy argues that impeachment is a win for Democrats

If Trump is to be defeated next year, his opponents will have to maintain that energy and build upon it. To do so, Ezra Levin, the co-founder and co-executive director of the Indivisible movement, which now has more than five thousand affiliated local groups, insists, it was utterly necessary for the Democrats to react to the shocking Ukraine revelations by issuing the ultimate congressional rebuke to Trump. Speaking hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that the House Democrats would go ahead and file articles of impeachment, Levin said, “I see only positive sides to this. I see a system that is working. For all the millions of people who got involved with politics after 2016, it shows that all the hard work they did mattered. That is going to get them involved again in 2020.”

From this perspective, the key thing isn’t whether the Senate actually removes Trump from office. Levin, who is also the co-author of a new book, “We Are Indivisible: A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump,” said that he wasn’t making any predictions about the outcome. But he added, “It was vital to demonstrate that elections do have consequences and that the Democrats will use their power to stand up to Trump.” If Pelosi and her colleagues had refused to launch an impeachment process, Levin went on, “it would have been enormously demoralizing for all these people who were newly engaged after 2016.”

This argument seems incontrovertible. I suspect it is why Pelosi ultimately came around to supporting impeachment, despite the reservations of some House Democrats who represent purple districts…

Of course, none of this means that the impeachment process couldn’t end up alienating some independent voters who believe Trump’s misdeeds don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses, or who think Congress should let voters determine his fate next November. That may happen. And an impeachment trial will certainly fire up pro-Trump activists as well.

But these threats have to be balanced against the imperative of maintaining an energized front against Trump going into an election year. As a disruptive insurgent who eagerly fans social and racial resentments, he has always had an enthusiastic base—that isn’t going to change. One of the big challenges for Democrats—or anybody else opposed to Trump—is to nurture and sustain a nationwide countermovement that is at least equally passionate and engaged. From that perspective, as Levin pointed out, impeachment is already a win.

6) Really cool work from Lynn VavreckJohn Sides and 

What the Nationscape data reveal is clear: Impeachment is a top priority for almost everyone, regardless of whether they are in favor of it or against it.

Democrats are nearly 40 percentage points more likely to choose a collection of policies when it contains the position they agree with on impeaching Mr. Trump. Most of them want it to happen (among Democrats with an opinion on the topic, 86 percent support impeachment; the remainder don’t). But taken as a whole, the topic is something Democrats care a lot about right now.

The only policy more important to Democrats is family separation at the southern border (92 percent of Democrats with an opinion are opposed). Slightly less important to Democrats is whether to enact a total ban on abortion (87 percent against) or build a wall on the border (86 percent against). These are the topics Democrats are less willing to sacrifice relative to the other issues we ask about; they are issues with high impact.

To get these things, Democrats are willing to give up some issues like union rights (whether to oppose right-to-work laws) and whether to oppose an immigration system based only on merit. Even climate policies are seen as less important than impeaching the president…

Republicans are similarly focused on impeachment. They are roughly 45 percentage points more likely to choose a basket of policies when it includes their preferred position on the topic (88 percent of Republicans with a position on impeachment do not favor it). It outweighs every other issue for Republicans — including parts of Mr. Trump’s and the party’s agenda, such as building a border wall. The Green New Deal is the sixth-most important issue for Republicans — a much higher ranking than among Democrats (nearly a quarter of Republicans support it, but many more are opposed to it or just not sure).

Just like Democrats, Republicans are willing to sacrifice getting what they want on other issues, like estate tax repeal and a merit-based immigration system. Rounding out the lower-impact issues for Republicans are school vouchers, trade restrictions and a public option for health insurance.

6) 538, “Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back”

Millennials have earned a reputation for reshaping industries and institutions — shaking up the workplace, transforming dating culture, and rethinking parenthood. They’ve also had a dramatic impact on American religious life. Four in ten millennials now say they are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. In fact, millennials (those between the ages of 23 and 38) are now almost as likely to say they have no religion as they are to identify as Christian. 1
For a long time, though, it wasn’t clear whether this youthful defection from religion would be temporary or permanent. It seemed possible that as millennials grew older, at least some would return to a more traditional religious life. But there’s mounting evidence that today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good.

Social science research has long suggested that Americans’ relationship with religion has a tidal quality — people who were raised religious find themselves drifting away as young adults, only to be drawn back in when they find spouses and begin to raise their own families. Some argued that young adults just hadn’t yet been pulled back into the fold of organized religion, especially since they were hitting major milestones like marriage and parenthood later on.

But now many millennials have spouses, children and mortgages — and there’s little evidence of a corresponding surge in religious interest. A new national survey from the American Enterprise Institute of more than 2,500 Americans found a few reasons why millennials may not return to the religious fold. (One of the authors of this article helped conduct the survey.)

For one thing, many millennials never had strong ties to religion to begin with, which means they were less likely to develop habits or associations that make it easier to return to a religious community.
Young adults are also increasingly likely to have a spouse who is nonreligious, which may help reinforce their secular worldview.
Changing views about the relationship between morality and religion also appear to have convinced many young parents that religious institutions are simply irrelevant or unnecessary for their children.

7) Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes, “If the Witnesses Could Exonerate Trump, Why Aren’t They Testifying? Trump’s defenders suggest that White House aides could exculpate the president—but the evidence suggests otherwise.”

To the extent that the lack of testimony from these witnesses creates holes in the record, those are likely to be damning for Trump. Take Bolton, for example: According to Morrison, after meeting with Trump about the Ukraine aid, Bolton told Morrison that the president “wasn’t ready” to release the aid and that Morrison should “continue to look for opportunities” to convene a meeting with officials who could persuade Trump to do so. This doesn’t sound like Bolton was convinced that the president was legitimately concerned with addressing corruption in Ukraine…

But let’s imagine for a moment that the day comes when these men are compelled to testify—and that they tell the truth. Does anyone believe that the truth will set Trump free—that the real story here is that the president had long-standing concerns about corruption in Ukraine and earnest anxieties about Ukrainian intervention in the 2016 election, and that he asked for investigations out of a disinterested anti-corruption passion he has never exhibited before in his life? …

If these men end up testifying, Republicans will face yet another moment of reckoning as the strongest defense of the president, and the last factual defense, falls away. In an ideal world, that would finally force them to acknowledge the outrageousness of the president’s conduct, and Trump’s support in Congress would plummet. More likely, they will revert to the last defense: that the phone call with Zelensky was, as the president has insisted, “perfect,” and that Trump’s abuse of power is actually a model of how presidents should behave—or if not that, then at least not impeachable behavior.

8) Greg Sargent, “The massive triumph of the rich, illustrated by stunning new data”

A new analysis prepared at my request by Gabriel Zucman — the French economist and “wealth detective” who has become famous for tracing the hidden wealth of the super-rich — illustrates that dual story in a freshly compelling way.

The top-line finding: Among the bottom 50 percent of earners, average real annual income even after taxes and transfers has edged up a meager $8,000 since 1970, rising from just over $19,000 to just over $27,000 in 2018.

By contrast, among the top 1 percent of earners, average income even after taxes and transfers has tripled since 1970, rising by more than $800,000, from just over $300,000 to over $1 million in 2018.

Among the top 0.1 percent, average after-tax-and-transfer income has increased fivefold, from just over $1 million in 1970 to over $5 million in 2018. And among the top .01 percent, it has increased nearly sevenfold, from just over $3.5 million to over $24 million.

I’m emphasizing the phrase “after taxes and transfers” because this is at the core of Zucman’s new analysis. The idea is to show the combined impact of both the explosion of pretax income at the top and the decline in the effective tax rate paid by those same earners — in one result.

The declining progressivity of the tax code is the subject of “The Triumph of Injustice,” a great new book by Zucman and fellow Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. It charts the slow strangulation of that progressivity at the top.

As they demonstrate, the effective tax rate (federal, state, local and other taxes) paid by top earners has steadily declined since the 1950s and 1960s, when the tax code really was quite progressive, to a point where the highest income groups pay barely more, percentage wise, than the bottom.

9) Alex Seitz-Wald on Republicans and Trump:

WASHINGTON — Late in the afternoon of Aug. 7, 1974, Republican leaders in Congress traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to deliver a stark message to Richard Nixon: His presidency was over.

The public had turned on Nixon as evidence emerged about his role in the Watergate scandal and the bottom fell out once his own party abandoned him.

“None of us doubted the outcome. He would resign,” conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater later wrote of the meeting in his memoir. Two days later, Nixon stepped down.

Today, as Democrats in the House of Representatives move toward bringing articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, with the next Judiciary Committee hearing of evidence set for Monday, few Democrats are still clinging to the hope that Republicans will reach a breaking point with Trump like they did with Nixon.

“I really don’t think there is any fact that would change their minds,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC News.

Why? Two key changes since Nixon: a massive divide in American political life — we hate the other team more than ever before — and a media climate that fuels and reinforces that chasm, powered by Fox News on the Republican side. [emphasis mine]

10) New research says LBJ’s war on poverty worked better than is often credited:

We evaluate progress in President’s Johnson’s War on Poverty. We do so relative to the scientifically arbitrary but policy relevant 20 percent baseline poverty rate he established for 1963. No existing poverty measure fully captures poverty reductions based on the standard that President Johnson set. To fill this gap, we develop a Full-income Poverty Measure with thresholds set to match the 1963 Official Poverty Rate. We include cash income, taxes, and major in-kind transfers and update poverty thresholds for inflation annually. While the Official Poverty Rate fell from 19.5 percent in 1963 to 12.3 percent in 2017, our Full-income Poverty Rate based on President Johnson’s standards fell from 19.5 percent to 2.3 percent over that period. Today, almost all Americans have income above the inflation-adjusted thresholds established in the 1960s. Although expectations for minimum living standards evolve, this suggests substantial progress combatting absolute poverty since the War on Poverty began.

11) Dan Drezner on the toddler-in-chief:

Longtime readers of Spoiler Alerts are aware of my efforts to keep track of when President Trump’s staffers, subordinates and political allies talk about him like he’s a toddler. Over a bit less than three years, there are 1,113 documented examples of this phenomenon, which averages out to more than one a day…

During a week in which Trump finally secured bipartisan agreement on a trade deal, it also raises a question: Are examples like these evidence that, dare I say it, Donald Trump is finally growing into the presidency?

Let’s not leave this reader in suspense: The answer is no. As Aaron Rupar explains in Vox, Trump continues to behave in an unhinged, unconstrained manner. The president’s behavior has not changed one iota, which is why, until this month, the quarterly #ToddlerinChief count had shown a steady increase.

What has changed, however, is something akin to what I warned about back in January: “Shifts in the political balance of power in Washington are altering the incentives for who deploys the analogy.” In particular, two ongoing dynamics have slowed down the toddler mentions: the purging of the executive branch and the impeachment of Trump in Congress.

Within the executive branch, Trump has continued to force out subordinates who have resisted his more toddler-like impulses. The most obvious recent example was the departure of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who was fired because of his disagreement with Trump’s decision to intervene in the military justice system. Spencer later wrote an op-ed for The Post in which he stated, “the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.” An even more recent example came this week when FBI Director Christopher A. Wray defended the FBI from baseless conspiracy theories. In response, Trump swatted at him on Twitter.

The population ecology here is simple: The more Trump makes life miserable for mature people serving under him, the more likely those people will leave the government and stop being a source of good toddler analogies. Over time, Trump’s staff is becoming as immature as he is.

12) Jonathan Last makes a good case for Biden winning the nomination.  Ugh.

13) I make a point of never using the phrase “begs the question” because I don’t trust myself to use it correctly.  At some point, though, if virtually everyone uses it to mean “raises the question” shouldn’t that be what it means.  It already kind of is.  But there’s good reason not to give in:

In fact, that wrong usage is so common some people will argue it’s not an error anymore (7). But I’m firmly in the camp that believes it’s worthwhile to stick to the formal definition. There are plenty of phrases writers can use when they mean “makes me wonder” or “raises the question.” There’s no hole in the English language that needs to be filled, so there’s no reason to use begs the question improperly.

The quick and dirty tip is to remember that when something begs the question, it begs the question: what is your support for that premise?

14) The NYT art critic defends the $120,000 banana.  Mistake.  When you are wrong in the NYT, the commenters are so much smarter.  Really enjoyed the comments on this one, e.g.,

I know the art world. I ran a successful contemporary art gallery and was editor of an international art magazine. Cattelan’s banana is rubbish, and it’s sad to see the Times critic engaged in rhetorical backflips to try convince a rightly suspicious public that their instincts are wrong. You don’t need an art education to realize that telling the public they should recognize a banana and duct tape as worthy art is little more than gaslighting by art world elites.

 

Cancel cancel culture

This past week Obama made some statements about the problems with cancel culture.  Journalist, and, cancel culture apologist Ernest Owens took to the Op-ed pages of the NYT to attack Obama and defend cancel culture.  Obviously, Owens does not speak for all cancel culture, but insofar as he is representative, what he really shows is how this approach can lead to (otherwise) intelligent people being guilty of very sloppy thinking.  For me, I’ll likely never forget one of my (otherwise intelligent) students zealously arguing that when it comes to potentially racist/sexist behavior “intent doesn’t matter.”  Whoa.  I don’t think you need to be a lawyer to appreciate that “intent” is pretty much at the heart of how we judge other people’s actions all the time.  Of course, a wrongful act is still wrong, but it is preposterous to eliminate the state of mind of the person committing the act from consideration.

Anyway, what we see from Owens here is intellectually lazy and dishonest ways of trying to frame the discussion to his advantage.  For example:

His eagerness to dismiss one part of what happens when young people stand up for what they believe in as “casting stones” is a reminder of a largely generational divide about whether it’s impolite to speak out in favor of the most vulnerable among us and the world we’d like to live in. While there’s some debate about which generation Mr. Obama belongs to, he’s solidly in the older camp.

Seriously?  Talk about a straw man.  As if Obama is somehow arguing against standing up for the vulnerable or standing up for what they believe in.  He’s arguing about “canceling” people because of a single incident/statement and refusing to see the complexity and nuance that is, you know, most of human life.

I loved the idea in Alan Jacob’s How to Think that you be able to describe your opponent’s idea in such a way that they would agree with your characterization.  Then you attack it.  (A steel man instead of a straw man)  Now that’s critical and serious thinking.  It’s pretty clear that Obama would never agree that it is impolite to speak out for the vulnerable.

There’s more, of course:

Boomers and Gen-Xers, along with a handful of younger people with more regressive views, have been agitated by the way many young Americans — and especially young people of color — use social media, the only platform many of us have, to talk about the causes we care about.

But they are going to have to get over it.

The issues that my fellow millennials, along with even younger people in Gen Z, tend to be “judgmental” about are the same ones many of our parents and grandparents have been debating for decades. Being outspoken about climate change, women’s rights, racial justice, LGBTQ inclusivity and gun control — and critical of those who stand in the way of progress on these issues — is work that’s been left to us.

Riiiiight.  I’m just a bitter Gen-Xer upset at all those young people of color using social media.  And speaking out about climate change, women’s rights, racial justice, etc.  Like most Gen X liberals, I’m, obviously, totally against these things.

Or this:

What people of Obama’s generation don’t understand — or don’t want to understand — about the ways in which younger people use the internet to make our values known, is that we’re not bullies going after people with “different opinions” for sport. Rather, we’re trying to push back against the bullies — influential people who have real potential to cause harm, or have already caused it. At the very least, we can speak up to send a message to vulnerable people that the bullies’ bigoted or backward views aren’t the only ones out there.

Hmmm.  Like digging through celebrities’ forgotten tweets from years ago to find anti-LGBTQ statements?  That’s really pushing back against bullies?

Or maybe the problem is lumping Kevin Hart’s forgotten homophobic jokes in with Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual assault and treating them as of the same piece:

Similarly, harsh scrutiny of Hollywood heavyweights Harvey Weinstein and Roman Polanski is appropriate. The National Football League doesn’t deserve my viewership after blackballing former player Colin Kaepernick for standing up against racist police brutality. Dave Chappelle should be ridiculed for making transphobic jokes, especially at a time when black transgender women continue to be murdered. It’s not rude or intolerant to say Kevin Hart’s homophobia isn’t funny.

Nobody on the left, of any age, is saying that it’s rude or intolerant to say Hart’s past homophobic jokes aren’t funny.  We’re saying to “‘cancel” Hart over these jokes is an over-reaction that doesn’t actually serve liberal ends of social justice.

And, lastly, from (seemingly) totally out in left field, I was at church yesterday and the gospel reading was from Luke 19.  Short version: Jesus was so not about cancel culture:

1He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.2Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,3was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.5When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”6And he came down quickly and received him with joy.7When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”a8But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”b9* And Jesus said to him, “Today salvationc has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.10* d For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

People are complicated!  Good people do bad things.  Bad people do good things.  The problem with cancel culture is it too readily fails to admit this basic reality and concludes that bad things equals bad people and that’s the end of it.

And, on the bright side, I’ve got so few twitter and blog followers that I’m not too worried about being canceled over this post.  But, heck, if I was actually semi-famous, I’d need to watch out.

Quick Hits (part II)

1) Andrew Sullivan on the taboo of discussing the fact that some transgender people actually de-transition.  Alas, among many, even discussing this fact gets labeled “transphobic.”  Once again, why can’t we just believe that we need to be sympathetic to and support trans persons and yet admit, maybe some teens actually rush into the process.

A Brown University professor, Lisa Littman, published a paper earlier this year citing parents’ reports on their transgender kids. She discovered a pattern: Most (83 percent) were girls in their teens with no previous history of gender dysphoria, who spent a lot of time online, and “more than one-third [of whom] had friendship groups in which 50 percent or more of the youths began to identify as transgender in a similar time frame.” Littman was not the first person to use this term, but she described this phenomenon as “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” and worried that it could be caused by social contagion, or connected to other issues such as the rejection of parents, depression, autism, and bipolar disease. Littman was concerned that these kids were not getting the full range of mental health help they needed. (Earlier this year, a governor of the Tavistock Centre resigned after submitting a report that argued that teens were being fast-tracked to transition in the center, without sufficient exploration of other comorbid factors. He felt the place had so lost its way in a thicket of ideology that he had to quit.)

The Littman paper was assailed by trans activists and their allies, denounced as transphobic, and had to have its framing language changed before it was republished. But the research and the findings, while very limited in their scope, held up under peer review, and were the same in the republished version as in the original. This is a real enough phenomenon to merit much more research to confirm it. But the pressure to stop this research remains enormous: Littman herself lost her consulting job over the paper, after a campaign to get her fired for transphobia.

2) Republican Senators’ latest plan to excuse Trump?  Throw out a bunch of legal language that maybe they don’t even understand and presume that it’s enough to convince their Fox News base:

“To me, this entire issue is gonna come down to, why did the president ask for an investigation,” Kennedy, who worked as a lawyer, said in an interview. “To me, it all turns on intent, motive. … Did the president have a culpable state of mind? … Based on the evidence that I see, that I’ve been allowed to see, the president does not have a culpable state of mind.”

Maybe the Fox viewership will be thrown by “culplable state of mind,” but, ummm… yes!

3) Of course Trump made up the “whimpering” death of Al-Baghdadi.  But, it’s Trump, so who cares?

That Mr. Trump seems to have made up the scene of a whimpering terrorist may be shocking on one level yet not all that surprising from a president who over the years has made a habit of inventing people who do not exist and events that did not happen. Mr. Trump’s flexibility with fact has become such an established feature of his presidency that polls show most Americans, including even many of his own supporters, do not, as a rule, take him at his word.

What may be most telling about the episode is how little attention the disparity of details received. In the past, presidential words were scrutinized with forensic exactitude and any variance from the established record could do lasting political damage. In the era of Trumpian truth, misstatements and lies are washed away by the next story, prompting Pinocchios from fact checkers and scolding from Democrats and Never Trumpers while Republicans dismiss them with that’s-just-Trump-being-Trump weariness.

“Donald Trump is not simply a serial liar; he is attempting to murder the very idea of truth, which is even worse,” said Peter Wehner, a former strategic adviser to President George W. Bush and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump. “Because without truth, a free society cannot operate.”

4) I enjoyed George Packer’s essay on trying to do right by his kids in NYC public schools.  But, even though he’s a really thoughtful liberal, in the end, it did seem a little too hard for him to realize what an utterly insane liberal-elitist-NYC bubble he lives in.  Safe to say, Packer’s kids will be fine at any non-horrible schools.

5) Yes, the photos here are great, but really love the title, “30 Pics Of Finnish Cats Living Their Best Winter Life.”

Norwegian-Forest-Cats-Sampy-Hiskias

6) Totally with Brett Stephens on this one.  We really should judge art on it’s own merit, not the political/ideological views of it’s creators.  Stephens talks about finding out Roald Dahl was quite an anti-semite.  Definitely disappointing to learn this.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still an all-time amazing book that I will enjoy again.  And, yes, I also still enjoy Michael Jackson’s music, while I’m at it.

7) This was really good from Matt Stoller, “Corporate America’s Second War With the Rule of Law
Opinion: Uber, Facebook, and Google are increasingly behaving like the law-flouting financial empires of the 1920s. We know how that turned out.”

8) Was looking to buy some tickets the other day and the fees, my God, the fees.  So totally absurd that we cannot find a way to require transparency in ticket pricing for sports/entertainment events.

9) This is great news, “Long-awaited cystic fibrosis drug could turn deadly disease into a manageable condition.”

The therapy is a combination of three drugs that wouldn’t have been possible if scientists working in academic laboratories hadn’t unraveled the basic biology of the disease. Finding the gene was a needle-in-a-haystack-type problem, Collins said, and it led scientists to a malfunctioning protein that normally keeps the right balance of salt and water in the lungs. There are more than 1,700 gene mutations that can cause the protein to malfunction, but in the most common mutation, the protein is misfolded and can’t reach the right spot in the cell — and even if it does reach that spot, it doesn’t work properly. The new combination therapy includes one drug that corrects the misfolded protein and two that activate the correctly folded protein when it reaches the right spot in the cell.

In the largest trial, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, 403 patients who had at least one copy of the most common gene mutation underlying cystic fibrosis received either Trikafta or a placebo. There were improvements in objective tests of lung function, decreases in lung problems and hospitalizations and an increase in people’s quality of life.

Many physicians see the most transformative potential impact of the drug in the hope that it will be eventually approved for younger children, as Vertex’s other drugs have been over time. The drug can help older patients, but it can’t erase years of lung damage; if it works and is safe in younger children, it could prevent damage in the first place.

10) It’s sad that the hierarchy of the Catholic church will, apparently, at least consider pretty much anything to address the shortage of priests.  But women.

The modern Catholic Church is beset with serious problems. Among them is that not enough men want to be priests. Over the past three weeks, 184 bishops gathered at a Vatican summit to seek solutions for the Amazon region in particular, singled out because of myriad crises it is facing, including environmental devastation, violence and a shortage of priests to serve the needs of the faithful there.

The bishops’ solution: Do anything other than ordaining women as priests.

On Oct. 26, in a “revolutionary” decision, the bishops gathered at the Vatican voted 128 to 41 to allow an exception to what has essentially been a 1,000-year ban on the ordination of married men as priests. They recommended this change for only certain parts of the Amazon and for only married men already made deacons, meaning men already allowed to perform marriages and baptisms, but not to officiate at mass, which only priests can do. It is now for Pope Francis to decide whether the decision goes forward.

It is surprising in many ways that the bishops made this decision. Allowing a married man to be a priest violates several longstanding rules. They voted as they did despite the tremendous importance of chastity for the Catholic Church and the old idea that sexual activity is a pollutant that cannot be allowed near the holy ritual of the mass. They voted in favor of married priests despite a longstanding fear that for a priest to have a wife and a family would lead to serious conflicts of interest. There is a legend that the word “nepotism” was invented in honor of the grasping nephews of popes who sought and obtained more than they deserved thanks to their powerful uncles (and “nephews” we can sometimes see as a euphemism for “sons”).

These potential conflicts of interest and other dangers that family influence and obligations bring, therefore, are something Catholic authorities have long recognized and have eagerly sought to prevent. They voted as they did despite the symbolic importance, too, of the idea that a priest be united to only one spouse, the Church, just as Jesus Christ was united in an exclusive bond with the Church…

Pope Francis himself has acknowledged that there could be what the theology professor Gary Macy has called a “hidden history” in which women had a larger role in ministry than the Catholic Church currently accepts, for which scholars such as Dr. Macy have found ample and intriguing evidence. While rejecting much of this evidence, conservative Catholic authorities do, however, recognize that for several centuries, their predecessors, like the leaders of the Eastern Churches then and now, allowed married men to serve as priests or as bishops, though sometimes they required celibacy and that their wives enter religious life.

11) Stuff like this makes me a techno-optimist in general.  CRISPR may actually solve our problem with antibiotic resistance:

Crispr-based antibiotic pills aren’t yet anywhere near pharmacy shelves. But developing such treatments could allow scientists to harness the power of the human body’s own resident microbes in preventing disease.

“Scientists are starting to figure out that microbiota can also be extremely beneficial for our health,” said Luciano Marraffini, a microbiologist at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Conventional antibiotics do not distinguish between good and bad bacteria, eradicating everything indiscriminately and occasionally creating problems for people with weakened immune systems.

“A major benefit of Crispr is that we can program it to kill only specific pathogenic bacteria and leave alone the rest of our healthy microbes,” Dr. Marraffini said.

A few companies have started to pursue Crispr-based antibiotics that can be delivered through viruses that have been engineered so that they cannot reproduce or cause infections themselves, as well as other methods. Dr. Marraffini is a co-founder of one such start-up, Eligo Bioscience.

The specificity of Crispr is equally enticing to researchers looking to target pathogenic viruses. Instead of having Crispr kill viruses that infect bacteria, as it does in nature, scientists are programming it to chop up viruses that infect humans.

12) Eat your fiber!  “Fiber and Yogurt Tied to Lower Lung Cancer Risk: By promoting a healthy gut microbiome, a high-fiber diet and foods like yogurt may lower lung cancer risk, even among smokers.”  And “Fiber in Fruits and Grains Protects Against Diverticulitis”

13) Dahlia Lithwick on “the judges Republicans are doing it all for.”

It’s not news that Trump has made packing the federal courts with the youngest, most radical, least qualified jurists ever seen a priority. Nor is it news that this project has been singularly successful because it was contracted out to effective outside groups, and because Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell now cares about no other. Last week, the Senate advanced the nomination for a lifetime tenured position of a 37-year-old associate professor, who had been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Justin Walker, the prospective judge in question, has never tried a case. He’s never been co-counsel in a case. His principal qualification for a federal district court judgeship seems to be his important legal work spent “conducting over 70 interviews in which he challenged the account of Christine Blasey Ford.” He’s a TV judge whom Mitch McConnell somehow touted as “unquestionably the most outstanding nomination that I’ve ever recommended to Presidents to serve on the bench in Kentucky.” Despite his lack of any judicial qualifications and the once-rare not-qualified ABA rating, every Republican on the Judiciary Committee voted to advance his nomination while Democrats broke against him. As Jennifer Bendery noted here, “in his entire eight years in the White House, President Barack Obama didn’t nominate anyone to be a lifetime federal judge who earned a ‘not qualified’ ABA rating.” Walker was Trump’s fourth. And on Thursday, the Senate is poised to vote on the fifth, Sarah Pitlyk, nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

14) Americans trust local news.  Brendan Nyhan on how that belief is being exploited by bad actors:

The nature of the news misinformation problem may be changing. As consumers become more skeptical about the national news they encounter online, impostor local sites that promote ideological agendas are becoming more common. These sites exploit the relatively high trust Americans express in local news outlets — a potential vulnerability in Americans’ defenses against untrustworthy information.

Some misinformation in local news comes from foreign governments seeking to meddle in American domestic politics. Most notably, numerous Twitter accounts operated by the Russian Internet Research Agency were found to have impersonated local news aggregators during the 2016 election campaign.

A recent Senate Intelligence Committee report found that 54 such accounts published more than 500,000 tweets. According to researchers at N.Y.U., the fake local news accounts frequently directed readers to genuine local news articles about polarizing political and cultural topics.

Domestically grown dubious outlets are also proliferating. Last week, The Lansing State Journal reported the existence of a network of more than 35 faux-local websites across Michigan with names like Battle Creek Times, Detroit City Wire, Lansing Sun and Grand Rapids Reporter…

Over all, we found that people preferred to consume local news most. Holding other factors constant, Americans were 11 percentage points more likely to choose articles from local news sources than ones from online-only national outlets — precisely why dubious websites might impersonate local news sources. This differential was largest among Republican identifiers and people with a negative view of the news media.

The prevalence of these impostors is likely to increase as the 2020 election approaches, threatening to mislead more voters and to promote greater skepticism toward all news media, including the local outlets that so many Americans rely on and trust.

15) “Tales from the teenage cancel culture.”  Personally, I’m ready to cancel cancel culture.  Perhaps the response from my younger readers… “Okay Gen-Xer”

16) Sad, hilarious, and amazing how dumb Trump and friends are about what a “witch hunt” means.

17) OMG I hate Britt Hume so much.  What a hack!  Now, I’m far from an expert on American foreign policy (as you’ve noticed, very much a domestic policy guy).  But for Hume to claim that American foreign policy is nothing more than what the president wants foreign policy to be is insane:

What’s also insane is all the commenters in this threat totally on this absurd “l’etat c’est moi” bandwagon where whatever Donald Trump wants is policy (even if it is to subvert America’s national security to his own personal interests).

Just for the record, Congress plays a role in foreign policy, too.

Quick hits (part II)

Sorry to be so late… Duke basketball on Saturday night and NC State Fair today.

1) Career diplomat on how Trump has devastated US Diplomacy.

2) Missouri Senator Josh Hawley is just the worst.  Basically, Trump, but not stupid.  Recently he attacked non-elitist Greg Sargent for being a coastal elitist.  Ed Kilgore cuts Hawley down to size:

Beyond hypocrisy, Hawley, who is not a stupid man, is engaging in the kind of crude geographical and cultural stereotypes that ought to make him ashamed. A very wise man who represented a state adjoining Hawley’s in the U.S. Senate had this to say about that unfortunate and divisive tendency:

The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States.

All kinds of people live and work in all kinds of places, and demagogues who try to convince their constituents that Greg Sargent hates them and can’t understand them because of where he lives and works are deeply cynical. Josh Hawley isn’t what he superficially appears to be at this moment. Neither are most of us.

3) Not a big fan of Latinx.  I think I usually stick with Hispanic.  Here’s a Vox comic that I think is supposed to make the case, kind of, for Latinx, but ends up making the point that trying to use language for ideological purposes instead of clear communication is ultimately a fool’s errand.

4) Good stuff on Trump’s overwhelming corruption:

In other words, the president is unique in his corruption in American history. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has regularly compiled a tally of Trump’s conflicts of interest and violations of the emoluments clauses. The latest numbers are stark: 1,493 trips to Trump properties by government officials, usually spending taxpayer money that will enrich the president; 292 promotions of Trump properties by White House officials; 63 foreign trademarks awarded to Trump brands, mostly from China and Brazil, while he has been president.

The president himself had made 387 trips to his properties, 240 of them to play golf. He regularly does semi-official infomercials for his properties, and he’s told couples considering staging a wedding reception at Mar-a-Lago in Florida or the Trump country club in Bedminster, N.H., that, if they do, he might be available for a photo op. He famously doubled the initiation fee at Mar-a-Lago, to $200,000, when he became president, enabling foreign figures (and others) to gain entrée to the president for a price his businesses collect.

The message has been received: Foreign governments, including Romania, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, moved events from other venues to Trump properties, and foreign countries or other foreign-connected entities have held 13 events at his properties, surely enriching him along the way. (He claims profits from foreigners are repaid to the Treasury; without his tax records, this can’t be checked). One hundred and twenty-one foreign officials from 71 foreign governments have visited his properties; lobbyists of all stripes have scheduled events there. Trump has openly talked about his ventures in places like Saudi Arabia and Turkey even as he has bent American foreign policy in ways that benefit those countries’ autocrats.

The president likes to pretend that there is no such thing as a conflict of interest, that his actions are ”perfect” and “innocent.” But we should not let his lies obscure what are ongoing, direct and outrageous abuses of the Constitution for financial gain by the president and his cronies. The House impeachment hearings are concentrating on other abuses of power, but there is no doubt our Framers would see the emoluments violations as a long series of impeachable and unconscionable offenses.

5) Yes, you can be addicted to video games.  Fair to say my oldest son once suffered from such an addiction.  As for my third son, he’s at least addiction adjacent at this point.

6) Dan Drezner on Trump’s 3rd and 4th rate people:

One of the amusing aspects of Mulvaney’s witless incompetence as a Trump shill is learning of Jared Kushner’s disenchantment with his performance. When Kushner seems like the more competent person in a staff, that is a sign that the staff has scraped the absolute bottom of the barrel.

Politico’s Daniel Lippman had a story over the weekend that bolsters my “it’s the staff, stupid” hypothesis:

Trump has never felt shackled by traditional ways of running a government. But earlier in his administration, “there was enough guardrails around Trump or enough caution on his part that when he did things that were more impulsive, they had less significance and fewer external ramifications,” a former White House official said….
Trying to constrain Trump is “a pipe dream,” one current White House official said. “Everyone who has tried had eventually failed in some way.”
“It’s just looking like everything is coming apart,” a former White House official said. Another former senior West Wing aide agreed that the White House seemed to be “a little bit unraveling” in recent days.
Some current White House officials say they are exhausted amid the constant fighting and lack the energy to constrain a willful president bent on having his way. It’s normal for officials to return to the private sector after a few years of pressure-cooker public service, but the Trump administration has seen extraordinary levels of turnover, and the administration’s ranks are thin and getting thinner. A White House official described a “Who cares?” attitude creeping through the building under Mulvaney’s hands-off management style.

Let me be perfectly clear: Trump is his own worst enemy. His governing impulses, to the extent that they exist, are awful. But he has not suddenly gotten worse. His staff, on the other hand, has devolved.

7) Never-Trumper David French with his latest Trump takedown, “If You Didn’t Already Think Trump Was Unfit for Office, Syria and Ukraine Should Change Your Mind.”

8) And Greg Sargent on Josh Hawley:

That great middle has no apparent room for the tens and tens of millions of Americans who believe we have expansive moral obligations to some of those outside our borders (majorities favor allowing Central American refugees to try for asylum), or to future generations who will suffer from climate change (majorities see it as a crisis and see the need for sacrifices to combat it, and favor rejoining the Paris climate deal).

Where in this great middle is there room for the popular majorities who believe we should sacrifice some of our sovereignty to act in international concert to solve such problems, and thus actually align with the supposedly “elite” positions claimed by Hawley?

Hawley can reach for the “elitist” charge so easily because it’s largely performative. It’s centered on a conception of middle class virtue that lives or dies on being from “the heartland” — rural and exurban Red America — and on holding the suite of conservative nationalist values that are actually being rejected by a vast swath of the real American mainstream.

9) Dahlia Lithwick on Trump and “quid pro quo.”

The truth about that quid pro quo talk? It’s the new “no collusion.” It’s a way in which the White House uses a fake legal test—like insisting that if Mueller finds no collusion then Trump is exculpated—to both define away the misconduct using made-up legal concepts and also to raise the bar far beyond what is being sought. By parroting “no collusion,” Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr (oh, and Graham) deployed a pretend crime Trump didn’t commit to distract from the actual crimes of conspiracy and obstruction that were under investigation.

By insisting there be a criminal quid pro quo in Trump’s dealing with Ukraine—a move the White House has been relying on for weeks now—Trump defenders are pretending to cede ground when, in fact, they are inventing imaginary legal baselines for misconduct and raising meaningless impeachment bars to rest somewhere above the ozone layer. Part of the reason Mulvaney’s comments last week were so damaging was that admitting Trump engaged in, and routinely trades in, quid pro quos crosses these imaginary lines, sky-high though they may be.

There is no criminality requirement for impeachment. There isn’t a quid pro quo requirement, either. Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of University of California–Berkeley told me the same thing in an email, “The Constitution does not require that there be a crime in order for it to be an impeachable offense. ‘High crimes and misdemeanors’ is thought to refer to serious abuses of power. No quid pro quo is needed for it to be deemed an abuse of power.” It’s been amply demonstrated by scholars that nobody needs to prove that Trump committed a crime under any statutory definition of criminality, to have committed the kinds of abuse of power offenses that formed the spine of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.

To be sure, the debate over whether or not there was a quid pro quo on offer is useful, and it’s even useful for proving noncriminal abuse of power claims. But while we can argue about quid pro quos to establish misconduct for public opinion purposes, it remains a tiny piece of the puzzle. If it turns out that a quid pro quo around aid to Ukraine can be proved, that’s outstanding news for House Democrats. But it is not necessary for a criminal impeachment conviction, and Senate Republicans should not be permitted to hide behind claims that it is. Graham’s statements should be recognized for exactly what they are—a line of defense for Trump, and a distortion of the constitutional floor for impeachment, and nothing close to a crack in the wall of protection for the president.

10) Ron Brownstein, “Trump Has No Room for Error in 2020: Changes in the electorate are putting the squeeze on the president.”

The risk in Donald Trump’s base-first electoral strategy is only rising—because the size of his base is shrinking.

Working-class whites are on track to continue declining as a share of eligible voters in 2020, according to a study released today by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. In turn, two groups much more resistant to Trump will keep growing: Nonwhite voters will swell substantially, while college-educated white voters will modestly increase.

These shifts in the electorate’s composition may seem small, but they could have big implications next year. The report projects that these demographic changes alone could provide Democrats a slim Electoral College majority by reversing Trump’s narrow victories in the three blue-wall states that keyed his 2016 victory: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Indeed, the shifts could be enough to narrowly tip these states back toward the Democrats even if college- and non-college-educated whites and minorities behave exactly as they did in 2016—if their turnout rates stay the same and if they split their votes between Trump and the Democratic nominee in exactly the same proportions as they did then.

And, if all other voting patterns hold equal, these changes alone could add another percentage point to the Democratic nominee’s margin of victory in the national popular vote, giving that candidate an advantage over Trump of more than 3 points. All told, the study, provided exclusively to The Atlantic, underscores how narrow a pathway the president is following headed into 2020.

11) Jonathan Rauch with a thoughtful essay on “Rethinking Polarization.”

12) Wired on the California wildfires, “Kincade Fire: The Age of Flames Is Consuming California: Yet another massive wildfire is ravaging Northern California. Welcome to the Pyrocene—think of it like the Ice Age, but with fire.”

13) I was thinking the other day about hearing the notable decline in religious adherents that it’s gotta be that so many people are turned off by the rank hypocrisy of so many so-called “Christians.”  Well, Kristoff has a column on that:

The decline in religion is particularly evident among young people. Those born between 1928 and 1945 are only two percentage points less likely to identify as Christian than they were a decade ago, while millennials are 16 percentage points less likely to call themselves Christians.

“Adults coming of age today are far less religious than their parents and grandparents before them,” said Gregory Smith of the Pew Research Center.

Smith noted that the data seem consistent with the argument made by leading scholars that young adults have turned away from organized religion because they are repulsed by its entanglements with conservative politics. “Nones,” for example, are solidly Democratic…

The central issue is that faith is supposed to provide moral guidance — and many moralizing figures on the evangelical right don’t impress young people as moral at all. Senator Jesse Helms said in 1995 that AIDS funding should be cut because gay men get the disease. The Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson initially suggested that God organized the 9/11 terror attacks to punish feminists, gays and lesbians.

God should have sued Falwell and Robertson for defamation. But, in some sign of karma, a survey found that gays and lesbians have higher public approval than evangelicals do.

14) The Whistleblower’s work is done here.  Nice NYT Op-Ed:

“Where is the Whistleblower, and why did he or she write such a fictitious and incorrect account of my phone call with the Ukrainian President?” President Trump tweeted Thursday night. “Why did the IG allow this to happen? Who is the so-called Informant (Schiff?) who was so inaccurate? A giant Scam!”

The thing is, Mr. Trump, virtually every piece of information that the public first learned from the whistle-blower’s complaint has been corroborated by the White House’s reconstructed transcript of your call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine or by the congressional testimony and documents provided by current and former administration officials. In the few remaining cases, save one, journalists have backed up his assertions through reporting.

15) Another Raina Telgemeier quick hit (my daughter reads her books like nobody elses)– how the author turned her own fears and anxieties into her super-successful graphic novels.

16) The loudest bird in the world.  This is cool.

17) Much to enjoy here, “The 20 defining comedy sketches of the past 20 years.”

And then God said, “let there be AR-15s”

Speaking of God, Alexandra Petri is so good at this.  In response to Sarah Sanders’ embarrassing and ludicrous claim:

“Democrats say we have guns in America because of ‘corruption.’ No, we have guns because it’s our God-given right enshrined in the Constitution.” — Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders

Petri gives us this:

Yes, this is true, and it is good that we talk about it. This is a fact about the American founding that has been suppressed for too long. Certainly all the firearms that sprout Hydra-like across the country were acquired by no mortal means, and it is important for us to describe exactly how they came about, so that we may better understand and appreciate them.

The year is not important. But it was a long time ago, at least 230 years.

The country possessed many wonders. There were waterfalls, rocks, rills, woods, templed hills. There were raccoons, small nervous bears that were forever washing their hands like tiny Lady Macbeths. There were armadillos. There was even syphilis and Christianity, both thoughtful gifts from Europe. But when one surveyed the country from above, something seemed to be missing. What was it?

Suddenly, thunder rumbled. In the hall in Philadelphia where they were gathered to write a Constitution, and also in Virginia where George Mason was crafting the Virginia Declaration of Rights (confusingly, these events were in different years, but theologians assure me this is possible), the delegates shuddered, and Benjamin Franklin had to rub James Madison’s back soothingly and murmur to him so his hands stopped shaking enough to be able to start taking notes again.

“BEHOLD,” said a thundering voice from a cloud. (Madison had resumed taking his notes at this point, which is how we know this.) The heavens parted. An enormous hand stretched forth, holding a mysterious black object, long and pointed like a stick.

“I’M GIVING YOU THIS,” the hand said. “A GIFT, FROM ME TO YOU, THAT NO ONE CAN EVER TAKE AWAY.”

“What is it?” the delegates asked.

“JUST TAKE IT,” the hand said. “DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.”

“What’s it for?” the delegates asked.

“KILLING,” the hand said. “INDISCRIMINATELY. CHILDREN, TEENAGERS, GRANDMOTHERS, PARENTS ON THEIR WAY TO PICK UP THEIR KIDS FROM SCHOOL. TODDLERS. I GUESS YOU COULD USE IT FOR HUNTING, BUT NOT IF YOU WERE PARTICULARLY GOOD AT HUNTING.”

“Like a musket?” someone asked.

The voice laughed long and loud and rumblingly. “ONLY IN THE LOOSEST SENSE,” the voice said. “FOR BEHOLD, THIS CAN FIRE 600 ROUNDS PER MINUTE.”

“This seems like it could be useful in a war,” Mason said, not unreasonably.

“I DON’T MEAN IN WAR,” the voice said. “THAT GOES WITHOUT SAYING. I MEAN, IN PRIVATE HOMES AND ON CITY STREETS AND UNLOCKED IN CABINETS IN HOUSES WITH TODDLERS IN THEM, AND IN THE HANDS OF POLICE OFFICERS.”…

“I have a slight question,” Benjamin Franklin said.

“STOP ASKING QUESTIONS,” the voice said. “AND IF ANYONE EVER SAYS, ‘THERE ARE TOO MANY, THESE ARE TOO DANGEROUS, WE DON’T WANT THEM ANY MORE, THE MILITIA THING HAS REALLY WANED SO IT SEEMS LIKE MOSTLY THEY ARE USED TO CAUSE ACCIDENTS IN THE HOME, TO INCREASE THE LIKELIHOOD THAT PEOPLE WHO WANT TO END THEIR LIVES WILL BE ABLE TO DO SO, AND TO DECREASE THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN AND CIVILIANS,’ YOU MUST SAY NO, BECAUSE I TOLD YOU SO AND I AM PLEASED TO BEHOLD THIS GREAT WORK.”

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