Right-wing evangelicals are the worst

Worst person in DC?  Okay, that’s Trump.  But, damn, is Scott Pruitt a close second.  The level of malfeasance and penny-ante corruption in a single person is pretty astounding.  How the hell does he still have a job?  Margaret Talbot suggests his Evangelical Christianity may, in part, be saving him:

One reason that Pruitt has managed to hang on this long is that some of the people he seems to have most impressed include the heads of polluting industries whose support helped bring Trump to power…

But there may be another secret to Pruitt’s tenacious grip on the agency that he’s busy undermining. Like several other members of the constantly churning Trump Administration who’ve managed to hold fast—Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and Vice-President Mike Pence—Pruitt is an evangelical Christian. This group attends a weekly Bible-study session for Cabinet members led by Ralph Drollinger, a seven-feet-one-inch former college-basketball player who is the founder and president of Capitol Ministries and the author of “Rebuilding America: The Biblical Blueprint.” Drollinger recently told an interviewer for the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that he offered his White House flock “the high-protein diet of the Word of God.” Speaking about Drollinger’s Bible study, Pruitt told Christian Broadcast Network News, in March, that “to be encouraged, to pray, to basically—each of us are dealing with large issues—and so to spend time with a friend, a colleague, a person who has a faith focus on how we do our job, whether it’s through prayer or through God’s Word, and to encourage one another in that regard is so, so important, and we have that in our Cabinet and it’s such a wonderful thing.”

And, oh, my, the stuff these guys say/believe to justify their anti-science (and I would argue, ultimately anti-Christian) take on climate change is something else.  Wow:

In an essay published on the Capitol Ministries Web site in April, Drollinger explains that accepting a human role in climate change and trying to do something about it poses a terrible moral danger: “To think that Man can alter the earth’s ecosystem—when God remains omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent in the current affairs of mankind—is to more than subtly espouse an ultra-hubristic, secular worldview relative to the supremacy and importance of man.”

Drollinger warns that environmentalism has pretensions to replace Christianity and must be halted in its tracks: “In our lifetime there has been a radical shift in aggregate, national religious belief. In essence and unfortunately, America has been in the process of changing horses: from the religion of Christianity to one of Radical Environmentalism. We are in the process of exchanging the worship of the Creator for the worship of His creation. This is a huge and dire error, with extreme consequences, and it presages disaster.” And, when it comes to exploiting natural resources, Drollinger writes, “God is pleased when organic and inorganic substances, the lesser of creation, are utilized to benefit those uniquely created in His image.”…

Pruitt echoes much of this thinking—he speaks frequently about “stewardship” and “management” of the resources that “God has blessed us with” and clearly wants us to use, and of following the “Biblical world view” on environmental matters. He has expressed doubts about the human contribution to climate change, and, throughout his career, voiced alarm that the United States was keeping religion out of the public square. What may be the scariest thing of all about Pruitt’s tenure at the E.P.A. and the damage he can do to the environment is the righteousness he surely feels in doing it.

And, just before posting this, I came across a Slate article hitting similar themes:

Environmentalism and American evangelicals are like oil and water. Joel Hunter was one of a small number of high-profile leaders who worked, over decades, to try to mix the two. The effort has yielded minimal results: Just 20 percent of committed Christians consider themselves active participants in the environmental movement—a number that has barely moved for a quarter-century and represents less than half the proportion of environmentalists in the general population. The proportion of Christians who prioritize environmental concerns over energy production has dropped by about 20 percentage points in the last 25 years. And indications are that the more ardently Christian an American becomes, the less he or she cares about the environment. Evangelicals are the least environmentally inclined of committed U.S. Christians…

But there’s something that bothers me about the simplicity and convenience of explaining this all by the transitive logic of evangelicals are RepublicansRepublicans hate environmental regulationso evangelicals hate environmental regulation. It suggests that Christians are willing to cast off their moral obligations for political convenience. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe they don’t feel a moral obligation to protect Earth in the first place.

Um, yeah, it is true.  But not political “convenience,” political identity.  And safe to say we’ve reached the point where Republican political identity clearly trumps pretty much anything Jesus ever had to say.

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Quick hits (part I)

1) Wow.  Quite the takedown of Jordan Peterson from a former friend and mentor:

‘I thought long and hard before writing about Jordan, and I do not do this lightly. He has one of the most agile and creative minds I’ve ever known. He is a powerful orator. He is smart, passionate, engaging and compelling and can be thoughtful and kind.

I was once his strongest supporter.

That all changed with his rise to celebrity. I am alarmed by his now-questionable relationship to truth, intellectual integrity and common decency, which I had not seen before. His output is voluminous and filled with oversimplifications which obscure or misrepresent complex matters in the service of a message which is difficult to pin down. He can be very persuasive, and toys with facts and with people’s emotions. I believe he is a man with a mission. It is less clear what that mission is.

In the end, I am writing this because of his extraordinary rise in visibility, the nature of his growing following and a concern that his ambitions might venture from stardom back to his long-standing interest in politics. I am writing this from a place of sadness and from a sense of responsibility to the public good to tell what I know about who Jordan is, having seen him up close, as a colleague and friend, and having examined up close his political actions at the University of Toronto, allegedly in defence of free speech. When he soared into the stratosphere he became peculiarly unknowable. There is something about the dazzle of the limelight that makes it hard to see him clearly. But people continue to be who they are even in the blinding overexposure of success. I have known Jordan Peterson for 20 years, and people had better know more about who he is.

There is reason to be concerned.

2) Great NYT Editorial… “If Addiction Is a Disease, Why Is Relapsing a Crime?”  Hell, yeah!

When Julie Eldred tested positive for fentanyl in 2016, 11 days into her probation for a larceny charge, she was sent to jail. Such outcomes are typical in the American criminal justice system, even though, as Ms. Eldred’s lawyer has argued, ordering a drug addict to abstain from drug use is tantamount to mandating a medical outcome — because addiction is a brain disease, and relapsing is a symptom of it.

Ms. Eldred’s case, now before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, has the potential to usher in a welcome change to drug control policies across the country. The case challenges the practice of requiring people with substance use disorders to remain drug-free as a condition of probation for drug-related offenses, and of sending offenders to jail when they relapse.

The prosecution’s counterargument — that the disease model of addiction is far from settled science — is weak.

3) Ummm, so this is bizarre and true.  Medieval obsession with the holy foreskin of Jesus.

4) I was recently talking about the horrible, horrible case of race and the war-on-drugs-gone-really wrong in Tulia, Texas twenty years ago.  If you don’t know about this, you should.

5) Good to know that taxpayer dollars in NC are being used to subsidize religious schools that teach the 6000 year-old earth as science.  Ugh.

6) I like Drum on the gay wedding cake ruling:

Now, sure, the cake store was not a private club. It was a public place of business, and there’s jurisprudence on what kinds of places are covered by the Civil Rights Act and what kinds aren’t. And portraits aren’t cakes, which are merely being used at an event, not necessarily carrying a message of their own. Still, it should be pretty obvious that there are subtle issues here that are all but impossible to decide on a bright line basis. Can a Jewish baker be forced to supply a cake for a KKK rally? Can a Christian sandwich shop be forced to cater a Planned Parenthood fundraiser? Can a gay movie star be forced to sign an autograph for Richard Spencer?

There are rules that would cover all these cases that the Supreme Court could adopt. But why? For the most part they never come up, and when they do they’re generally just ignored because they’re so obviously heinous. So perhaps the better part of valor is just to tap dance for a while. Soon enough, refusing to serve a gay couple will be broadly viewed as equally heinous and the issue at stake will simply disappear. In the meantime, there’s no need to make a potentially disastrous ruling.

I think this is what happened, and even half the court’s liberals decided to go along. They figure it’s basically an ephemeral issue, and both liberals and conservatives have good reason to let it slide since any definitive new ruling would almost certainly hurt everyone in one way or another. Instead the court decided to muddle along until everyone forgets the whole thing, and that was likely a wise decision.

7) The stupidity of our drug and health care policies in one headline, “She paid nothing for opioid painkillers. Her addiction treatment costs more than $200 a month.”

8) This terrific graduation speech is even more reason to love the amazingly awesome Atul Gawande:

Insisting that people are equally worthy of respect is an especially challenging idea today. In medicine, you see people who are troublesome in every way: the complainer, the person with the unfriendly tone, the unwitting bigot, the guy who, as they say, makes “poor life choices.” People can be untrustworthy, even scary. When they’re an actual threat—as the inmate was for my chief resident—you have to walk away. But you will also see lots of people whom you might have written off prove generous, caring, resourceful, brilliant. You don’t have to like or trust everyone to believe their lives are worth preserving.

We’ve divided the world into us versus them—an ever-shrinking population of good people against bad ones. But it’s not a dichotomy. People can be doers of good in many circumstances. And they can be doers of bad in others. It’s true of all of us. We are not sufficiently described by the best thing we have ever done, nor are we sufficiently described by the worst thing we have ever done. We are all of it.

Regarding people as having lives of equal worth means recognizing each as having a common core of humanity. Without being open to their humanity, it is impossible to provide good care to people—to insure, for instance, that you’ve given them enough anesthetic before doing a procedure. To see their humanity, you must put yourself in their shoes. That requires a willingness to ask people what it’s like in those shoes. It requires curiosity about others and the world beyond your boarding zone.

We are in a dangerous moment because every kind of curiosity is under attack—scientific curiosity, journalistic curiosity, artistic curiosity, cultural curiosity. This is what happens when the abiding emotions have become anger and fear. Underneath that anger and fear are often legitimate feelings of being ignored and unheard—a sense, for many, that others don’t care what it’s like in their shoes. So why offer curiosity to anyone else?

Once we lose the desire to understand—to be surprised, to listen and bear witness—we lose our humanity.

9) A prisoner-journalist on the mental health crisis in our prisons.  Yes, it is that bad.

10) Jonathan Bernstein on California’s misguided top-two primary system:

Even if the system avoided each of those problems, it would still be a bad idea because the fundamental concept is to disrupt the ability of parties to choose their own nominees. And that’s a mistake: Parties are necessary to all large democracies. Parties activate and accommodate participation from groups and individuals; they provide critical intermediation between political elites and voters, which in turn makes representation possible; they help organize government and opposition ideas about public policy; and they simplify the often-bewildering choices voters must make.

And what we’ve learned is that parties adapt, no matter how difficult government makes it for them to function. We’ve seen that in California this year, with both Democrats and Republicans finding all sorts of ways to try to get the candidates they want into the November election. However, not all ways of organizing parties are equally healthy or equally permeable, and I worry about the effects of all of this on California’s Democrats and Republicans. Nor does it really make sense to constantly force parties to re-invent the wheel.

It’s a lousy system. The sooner the state gets rid of it, the better.

11) In the latest version of NC Republican legislators know best, they are trying to pass a law that a drink can only be called milk if it comes from a “hoofed animal.”  Hmmm, tell that to babies ;-).  Anyway, supposedly a lot of people are confused that soy milk and almond milk come from cows.  Not sure I buy that.  While I’m at it, it always does mystify me that soy milk has a nutrient profile relatively similar to actual milk, but most of the others are sorely lacking in protein.

12) NYT on the Trump administration, “Grifters gonna grift.”  Forget draining “the swamp.”  How about filling it with pollution and dead bodies.

13) Found this New Yorker article on the science of baldness cures (and maybe some new hope on the horizon) really interesting.  I figure it’s too late for me, but hopefully some new innovations in time for my boys to benefit.  It has always bugged me that somehow baldness is about the one physical characteristic for which it is socially acceptable to make fun of people.

14) This is an encouraging headline, “Sucking carbon dioxide from air is cheaper than scientists thought.”

15) New Yorker post on Elizabeth Warren’s coming anti-corruption agenda (now that’s a damn good idea right now), but what I really loved was this from Warren:

The point seems obvious, but it bears repeating: while much of the press, and therefore the country, is preoccupied by the President’s daily outbursts on Twitter and by the leaks and twists of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have been aggressively rolling back regulations of all kinds. The effects of some of these changes may not be directly felt by the voting public for years, when a major health crisis, a financial collapse, or some other catastrophe suddenly arrives, but the risks are being created right now.

“Let’s talk about real freedom,” Warren said, during her speech. “Done right, strong, clear regulations protect the freedom of every American. How free would you be if companies were allowed to lie to you about their businesses in order to trick you into investing your life savings in their stock? How free would you be if no one had to wash their hands before they handled your hamburger? How free would you be if companies could pass off little white pills as antibiotics, even if they weren’t?” Finally, she said, “Don’t tell me that all rules do is restrict freedom. Good rules empower people to live, work, and do business freely and safely.” [emphasis mine]

16) Radley Balko taking down forensic “science” never gets old for me.  Alas, I wish our damn court system would start paying attention and stop allowing convictions on what might as well be astrology in some cases:

The most problematic fields of forensics are those known as the pattern matching fields. This includes any specialty that requires an analyst to look at one sample and “match” it to another. Think hair and carpet-fiber analysis, bite-mark analysis, shoe-print and tire-tread analysis, blood-spatter analysis and fingerprint matching. The degree to which these fields are problematic vary quite a bit (bite-mark matching is probably on the least reliable end of the spectrum, with fingerprint matching at the other end), but all at their core are subjective. (Fingerprint matching breaks down the moment you start looking at partial prints.) That means they cannot calculate a margin for error. It means analysts will often disagree about conclusions, sometimes in ways that directly contradict one another. And by definition, any method of analysis that results in experts coming to contradictory conclusions about the same piece of evidence can’t possibly be accurate (one of them is obviously wrong) or reliable.

This means that these fields aren’t science. That doesn’t mean they have no evidentiary value at all. But it does mean that analysts need to be extremely careful about how they present this sort of evidence to juries. The language they use needs to be standardized and then explained to juries, so that the amount of emphasis the jury puts on it is based on the evidence’s actual significance and not other factors, such as the charisma or persuasiveness of the analyst. This hasn’t been happening.

The morality of alcohol and marijuana

This from Gallup was pretty interesting:

Obviously, the most important factor here (and the age difference was much smaller than I thought it would be) is religiosity.  I had almost forgotten how much of the New Testament is spent railing against marijuana ;-).

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Steve Saideman makes the case for disbanding ICE.  I’m increasingly inclined to agree.

2) One thing that really intrigued me in this pre-vote story on the Ireland abortion referendum was the pervasive belief that this was an issue for women to decide:

The argument over the referendum has exposed wide divisions among Irish women and has emerged to some extent as a debate among women for women.

In contrast to the United States, where male politicians, donors and social commentators have often dominated the abortion issue, many men in this Irish vote are tending to hang back, seeing abortion as a woman’s matter. That is in large part a reaction to earlier generations, when women’s issues in Ireland were solely decided by men, including leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

3) And the post-referendum coverage which emphasizes how far Ireland has moved in such a short amount of time.  My brief take– the near-absolute power of the Catholic Church in Ireland led to obscene levels of corruption.  Once that corruption was finally revealed, the Catholic Church has basically lost all credibility.

4) Sad, sad story of heart transplant gone wrong and everything cascading from there.

5) What is wrong with people that think a man who has clearly been rehabilitated and living a great life out of prison should be sent back in over a technicality?!  Also, he should have never had 35 years in the first place for selling drugs.  This is where you need the pardon power.  But alas, the man is Black and this is a federal issue and Trump is president.

He’s going to prison. To finish out a 35-year term for selling crack to an informant in the 90’s.

Charles had already served 21 years before his sentence was cut short as a result of crack guideline changes passed by the Obama administration. But the U.S. Attorney’s office appealed his release on the grounds that Charles was legally considered a “career offender” due to a prior stint in state prison. They said the retroactive change in the law did not apply to him — and a Court of Appeals agreed.

“He’s rebuilt his life and now they’re coming to snatch it,” says “Wolf”, who met Charles at a halfway house in 2016. They’ve volunteered together almost every Saturday since, long after fulfilling their community service requirements.

6) Was pretty interested to see how Liverpool used Moneyball principles to make it to the Champions League final.

7) Party identification is everything.  The latest research:

In short, people sought and then followed the advice of those who shared their political opinions on issues that had nothing to do with politics, even when they had all the information they needed to understand that this was a bad strategy.

Why? This may be an example of what social scientists call the halo effect: If people think that products or people are good along one dimension, they tend to think that they are good along other, unrelated dimensions as well. People make a positive assessment of those who share their political convictions, and that positive assessment spills over into evaluation of other, irrelevant characteristics.

Our findings have obvious implications for the spread of false news, for political polarization and for social divisions more generally. Suppose that someone with identifiable political convictions spreads a rumor about a coming collapse in the stock market, a new product that supposedly fails, cheating in sports or an incipient disease epidemic. Even if the rumor is false, and even if those who hear it have reason to believe that it is false, people may well find it credible (and perhaps spread it further) if they share the political views of the source of the rumor.

Our results also suggest some harmful consequences of political polarization. Suppose that people trust those who are politically like-minded, even on subjects on which they are clueless. Suppose that they distrust those with different political opinions on nonpolitical issues where they have real expertise. If so, the conditions are ripe for a host of mistakes — and not just about blaps.

8) Antibiotics in meat animals is a complicated issue.  It could be damaging our own gut microbiomes.

9) Dan Balz on Trump’s Mueller strategy:

President Trump is waging a war of attrition against special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. If his goal is to poison the reception to whatever Mueller’s findings turn out to be, as seems evident from what he and his allies have done, he is making progress.

The slow but steady separation of public opinion underscores the degree of success in the president’s strategy. Through constant tweets in which he has used exaggeration, distortion and outright falsehoods — combined with the activities of his congressional supporters in hectoring the Justice Department and the FBI — Trump hopes to turn the ultimate confrontation into one more partisan battle.

He has created diversions that have helped to reshape attitudes, primarily among Republicans. It started long ago, when he charged, without evidence, that President Barack Obama had wiretapped the phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. That proved to be false, but it did not deter him from claiming other alleged abuses without solid evidence to back them up…

The pattern continues to repeat itself. Step by step, week by week, the president and his allies cross lines that legal experts insist should not be crossed. The president’s ongoing conflict with the Justice Department and his inflammatory tweets about the Mueller investigation have become so commonplace that it can be easy for people to forget how abnormal it all is.

10) What is the responsibility of a college to let parents know one of their students may be suicidal?

11) Really good Atlantic essay on how to limit school shootings (or at least make them less lethal):

Virtually everyone I spoke with, from the FBI to academic researchers, told me it’s nearly impossible to stop a determined shooter; they’re always one creative step ahead. In one way, Dimitrios Pagourtzis broke with recent shooters: He used his father’s shotgun, rather than a semiautomatic weapon—although Pagourtzis made the shotgun far more lethal by using buckshot. In other cases—at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; at Virginia Tech; at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut—the gunman used a semiautomatic weapon to wreak even more carnage. Stopping a young person from stealing his parents’ legally owned shotguns is impossible; but experts like Michael Caldwell say that restricting the sale of semiautomatic weapons would go some way to limiting the carnage.

“It may not decrease the number of incidents, but it would decrease the number of fatalities,” says Michael Caldwell, the University of Wisconsin professor, not just because he can get off fewer rounds, but because bullets fired from an AR-15 are so much more lethal. “You don’t have to hit the target straight on to kill a person. If you’re shot in the torso, it will kill you.”

One study tracked school shootings in three dozen countries—incidents in which two or more people died. Half of those shooting incidents occurred in the United States. Given that, according to some studies, Americans are no more emotionally troubled than people in Europe and Canada, the stark difference is guns. Children outside the U.S. “don’t have access to AR-15s or Glocks or other weapons that our kids have access to,” says Dewey Cornell. “That’s a huge glaring obvious problem. It’s obvious to scholars in the field. It’s obvious to folks in other countries. For some reason it’s not obvious to our politicians.”

12) A sad question reveals our cycles of violence:

Researchers with the Boston Reentry Study were one year into their interviews, following 122 men and women as they returned from prison to their neighborhoods and families, when they asked the kind of question that’s hard to broach until you know someone well.

They prompted the study’s participants to think back to childhood. “Did you ever see someone get killed during that time?”

Childhood violence, including deadly violence, kept coming up in the previous conversations. The references suggested a level of childhood trauma among people leaving prison that standard survey questions don’t capture. And so the researchers wanted to be methodical — to ask everyone, directly, just like this.

The answers, among hundreds of other questions the study explored, give insight into the life trajectories that precede prison, and the limitations of the criminal justice system that places people there. In total, 42 percent of the study’s participants said “yes.”…

What, then, is to be done with the knowledge that four in 10 prisoners typical to the Massachusetts state prison system saw someone killed as a child?

Mr. Western argues that this should force us to reconsider the simplified model of offenders-and-victims, and to allow more second chances to people we peg in the first category.

“The whole ethical foundation of our system of punishment I think is threatened once you take into account the reality of people’s lives,” he said. In the study, the people who had experienced the most extreme childhood trauma and violence also struggled the most in adulthood with drug addiction and mental and health problems. The line between the two is not straightforward. But it’s also not irrelevant.

13) 24 years of marriage today.  Pretty happy with it ;-).

Chart of the day

My wife and I had a conversation yesterday that had her saying, “and that’s why ‘Evangelical Christian’ is pretty much synonymous with hypocrite” these days.  I cannot even remember exactly what we were talking about, but here’s a chart and a little commentary from Drum that made me recall that conversation:

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump calls this a “fascinating detail,” but I call it totally unsurprising:

But, in all fairness, the gospels are just full of Jesus railing against abortion and homosexuality.  Seems like Jesus never had anything to say about helping out the poor, oppressed, etc.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I hope EMG is reading this, because this story about how there are simply too many wild Mustangs in the American west and the solution is to allow mountain lions to eat them reminds me of one of my favorite student papers ever, “they shoot horses, don’t they?”

Nearly all wild horses live in the Great Basin of Nevada and surrounding states, in some of the most forbidding land in America. Congress began protecting the herds from slaughter in 1971. Ever since, the bureau has overseen them and has managed the population like an uber-rancher. The bureau rounds up thousands by helicopter each year, literally putting them out to pasture, on confined tracts to try to keep the wild numbers steady.

It doesn’t really work. Because the bureau has always seen the horses as livestock, not wildlife, it has never tried to understand the mustang’s place in the Western ecosystem, or tried to take advantage of the ancient relationship between the horse and its main predator, the mountain lion.

That’s a loss. There are valleys in the West where herds don’t increase because they are kept in check by the big cats. This natural management is not only free and sustainable, but also ensures that wild horses remain as they should — wild. Despite this evidence, the bureau has said repeatedly that wild horses have “no natural predators.”

2) Maybe America is too big to govern effectively (maybe, but I suspect other aspects of our system of government present larger problems):

In fact, large nations turn out to have what the political scientist Pippa Norris has called “democratic deficits”: They don’t fully satisfy their citizens’ demands for democracy. For one thing, citizens in large nations are generally less involved in politics and feel they have less of a voice. Voter turnout is lower. According to the political scientist Karen Remmer, smaller-scale political entities encourage voting in ways large ones can’t by “creating a sense of community” and “enforcing norms of citizenship responsibility.” In addition, small countries promote political involvement by leaning heavily on forms of direct democracy, like referendums or citizen assemblies.

A second problem is political responsiveness: The policies of large nations can be slow to change, even if change is needed and desired. In a book published last year, the sociologists John Campbell and John Hall compared the reactions to the 2007-2008 financial crisis in Denmark, Ireland and Switzerland. These three small countries didn’t cause the crisis; a homegrown Irish housing bubble notwithstanding, the shock wave they dealt with came from America. But though the countries were economically vulnerable, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Hall observed, this vulnerability fostered unexpected resilience and creativity, generating in each nation “a sense of solidarity or ‘we-ness’” that brought together politicians, regulators and bankers eager to do whatever was necessary to calm markets.

3) Like this Vox essay arguing that liberals need to get over Citizens United.  There’s plenty that we can do to improve finance, we just need to do it.

4) Really interesting idea that the breakdown of democracies is seeded within their constitutions:

But this erosion of democratic norms is ultimately driven by deeper factors. In many democracies, the roots of breakdown reside in democratic constitutions themselves.

Over two-thirds of countries that have transitioned to democracy since World War II have done so under constitutions written by the outgoing authoritarian regime. Prominent examples include Argentina, Chile, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and South Korea. Even some of the world’s early democracies, such as the Netherlands and Sweden, were marred by deep authoritarian legacies. Democratic institutions are frequently designed by the outgoing authoritarian regime to safeguard incumbent elites from the rule of law and give them a leg up in politics and economic competition after democratization.

The constitutional tools that outgoing authoritarian elites use to accomplish these ends include factors like electoral system design, legislative appointments, federalism, legal immunities, the role of the military in politics and constitutional tribunal design. In short, with the allocation of power and privilege, and the lived experiences of citizens, democracy often does not restart the political game after displacing authoritarianism.

Furthermore, barriers to changing the social contract in countries that inherit constitutions from a previous authoritarian regime are steep. These constitutions often contain provisions requiring supermajority thresholds for change. And elites from the authoritarian past who benefit from these constitutions utilize their power to pass policies that further entrench their privileges.

5) James Hohman on why McCain opposes Gina Haspel and why it’s important:

— What precisely are the “values” McCain is referring to? Whatever might have resembled a national consensus on that question has eroded these past few years. That’s why giving definition to something seemingly as anodyne as “American values” became a flash point during Haspel’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“I believe very strongly in American values and America being an example to the rest of the world. That is why I support the fact that we have chosen to hold ourselves to a stricter moral standard,” Haspel said. “My moral compass is strong. … My parents raised me right. I know the difference between right and wrong. … I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that is immoral, even if it is technically legal.”

— But every time Haspel was asked to elaborate about the “stricter moral standard” she said she supports, the 33-year agency veteran leaned on the letter of the law like a crutch. Haspel promised she would not revive the CIA’s interrogation program, even if ordered by Trump, because she “fully” supports the current “standards for detainee treatment required by law.”

The Republican-controlled Congress passed an amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, quarterbacked by McCain, which limited interrogation techniques to those contained in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3. That version explicitly rejected practices such as waterboarding, forcing detainees to pose in a sexual manner and placing hoods or sacks over the heads of detainees…

— One of the reasons America is great is her historic willingness to reckon with the sins of the past. In 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a detailed report, much of which remains classified, that concluded the techniques used by the CIA were neither useful nor legitimate.

But most Republican members of the intelligence committee were eager to avoid any discussion about the appropriateness of the U.S. government’s conduct during the aughts. “We shouldn’t be talking about what happened 17 years ago,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “We should be talking about what’s going to happen 17 weeks or 17 days from now.”

6) Really interesting take on the connection between sports and 9/11 has ultimately led to more political division on sports:

In my mind, though, all that cannot be decoupled from what Sept. 11 has done to sports. What was once ostensibly a unifying moment in the country has helped transform sports, with flags and flyovers, kneeling and protests — into the most divided public spectacle this side of Congress…

But it also changed how sports were sold, packaged, perceived and marketed. In ballparks across America, in every sport, sports was a healing balm for a broken country. Particularly in New York during those early years after Sept. 11, Americans could look at one another and feel everything was going to be all right, could mourn the 343 firemen killedduring the attacks, the 37 Port Authority personnel and the 23 New York City police officers, and thank the ones who survived — but also get angry, and demand revenge on their attackers and obedience from their countrymen…

The veterans said that they are grateful that it looks like Americans care about them. But they are also resentful of being used as shields to prevent any criticism of the country or the military. The soldiers know they serve so Americans can speak their minds, not be cowed into obedience.

They also don’t want to throw out the first pitch nearly as much as they want jobs and the Department of Veterans Affairs fixed.

7) Amazing tempest in a coffee in vegan muffin at Duke University.  Honestly, this has become a way overblown racial matter simply because the Duke VP who oversees dining establishments wants to make sure they are not playing profanity-laced music in Duke dining establishments.

8) Yglesias on how Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen are crowding out the Democrats’ message:

In concrete terms, the problem with the Daniels issue for Democrats is it doesn’t really add anything to what everyone already thinks about Trump. People who stuck with a thrice-married birther who claimed Hillary Clinton literally founded ISIS through the “grab ’em by the pussy” controversy aren’t about to be suddenly scandalized by the news that he engaged in some legally questionable tactics to cover up an affair with a porn actress. It’s wrong to say that the carnival aspects of the Trump Show don’t do him any harm — his approval ratings remain underwater despite healthy economic conditions — but it’s hard for the circus to hurt him more at the margin given everything that’s already happened.

Democratic Party leaders, for exactly this reason, aren’t talking about Daniels; they’re talking about issues they think can cut into Trump’s base and/or improve their own image among voters. But they’re having a hard time breaking through.

9) Drum on the decline of Evangelicals and their political backlash:

The first decade of the 21st century was a tough one for evangelical Protestants. Their numbers fell, their political influence waned, their most popular leaders died off or retired, and they got badly crushed on the issue of gay rights and gay marriage. By 2012 the movement was in pretty sorry shape, and it only got worse after Obergefell.

Then Donald Trump came along and threw them a lifeline. Sure, he was a philanderer, a faker, a liar, an avatar of mammon, and very plainly not a religious man himself. But Trump made evangelicals the same offer he makes with everyone: he’d adopt their causes as his own and fight for them publicly, but only in return for unconditional public support. Maybe it was a devil’s bargain, but they took it. If you had lost 20 percent of your followers in the past decade and watched helplessly as modern culture steamrolled nearly everything you believe in, you might have too.

10) EJ Dionne, “We know a lot about Trump’s misdeeds. But most of all we know there’s more to come.”

Yes, there is much more to learn here, and we know by now never to assume that any development in this saga can be seen as the beginning of the end. We have no idea yet how this story will end or who, except perhaps for Mueller, will write its conclusion.

But we know enough to conclude that (1) the Russia connection to Trump World runs very deep, and Mueller is no doubt exploring its many tributaries; (2) if Trump is profoundly altering Washington, it is to make the most old-fashioned forms of influence-peddling more common and more blatant; (3) we need to figure out if any of the money sloshing around has found its way to Trump; and (4) Trump will play as fast and loose with fundamental changes in policy as he does with ethics and the truth.

 All four are worrying. The last is also scary.

11) A baby translator than can also help diagnose autism!

12) Bari Weiss‘ NYT piece on “The Intellectual Dark Web” was all the rage this week.  Saletan’s take.

13) Found this Politico take on liberal turned seemingly-endless Trump apologist, Alan Dershowitz, really interesting.  Whereas this piece helps Dershowitz come off as more than just an intellectual hired-gun looking to cash in, honestly, he has a huge intellectual blind-spot by failing to appreciate the context of his commentary as funneled through Fox News.

14) Hey fish, think you safe from birds under the water?  Not so much.  Awesome video here.

15) Ezra Klein with the case for optimism in today’s must-read piece:

The triumphant story we tell about American history can obscure both the extent of our progress and the fragility of our consensus. To see what we are, or what we may become, requires clarity about what we have been. And what we have been is violent, disordered, undemocratic, and illiberal on a scale far beyond anything the United States is undergoing today.

You do not need to go back to the country’s early years — when new arrivals from Europe drove out the Native Americans, brought over millions of enslaved Africans, and wrote laws making women second-class citizens — to see it.

Just a few decades ago, political assassinations were routine. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy was murdered on the streets of Dallas. In 1965, Malcolm X was shot to death in a crowded New York City ballroom. In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, as was Robert F. Kennedy. In 1975, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, standing about arm’s length from President Gerald Ford, aimed her gun and fired; the bullet failed to discharge. Harvey Milk, the pioneering gay San Francisco city supervisor, was killed in 1978. President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981; the bullet shattered a rib and punctured a lung.

For much of the 20th century, the right to vote was, for African Americans, no right at all. Lynchings were common. Freedom Riders were brutally beaten across the American South. National Guard members fired on, and killed, student protesters at Kent State. Police had to escort young African-American children into schools as jeering crowds shouted racial epithets and threatened to attack…

During this era, there were regions of America that arguably weren’t democratic at all. In his book Paths Out of Dixie, Robert Mickey argues convincingly that much of the American South was under one-party authoritarian rule until the mid-20th century. It was only “with the abolition of the whites-only Democratic primary in 1944 and continuing up through the national party reforms of the early 1970s” that the South — and thus America — actually democratized.

This is not a counterintuitive take on American history, by the way. Among experts, it is closer to the consensus. The Varieties of Democracy project, which has been surveying experts on the state of global democracies since 1900, gave the US political system a 48 on a 1-100 scale in 1945 and a 59 in 1965. It was only after the civil rights movement that America began scoring in the 70s and 80s, marking it as a largely successful democracy.

The era that we often hold up as the golden age of American democracy was far less democratic, far less liberal, far less decent, than today. Trump’s most intemperate outbursts, his most indecent musings, pale before opinions that were mainstream in living memory. And the institutions of American politics today are a vast improvement on the regimes that ruled well within living memory. [emphasis mine]

Quick hits (part II)

Late again.  You will be pleased to know, though, that my Boys U18 Rec soccer team, the Blasters, finished up the Spring season 8-0-0 on top of a Fall 8-0-0 season.  We’ve still got a tournament in a couple weeks, but I’m going to miss coaching these boys  so much.

1) Why do Evangelicals support Trump so much?  Race.

I spent the first 15 years of my career as a scholar studying American evangelicals and race, and in my view, the failure to consider motivations rooted in anxieties about race and gender as an explanation of evangelical Trump support represents a striking omission. The history of American evangelicalism is intensely racially charged. The persistent approval for Trump among white evangelicals ought to prompt far more critical self-reflection within the evangelical community than we’ve seen so far.

Evangelicals’ tenacious affection for Donald Trump is not a bug driven by expediency. Instead, it reflects defining features of American evangelicalism that become clearer when we examine the historical record. Doing so reveals that when white conservative evangelicals feel threatened by cultural change, the old demons of racism and misogyny, which lurk at the heart of the American evangelical tradition, return with a vengeance. Trump is just another chapter in that story.

2) Charles Pierce pulls no punches on the White House Correspondent’s Association:

Faced with an administration* and a president* dedicated to poisoning both the spirit and the institutions of free government, and faced with an administration* and a president* dedicated only to looting those institutions that it cannot destroy, the representatives of the elite political media, through the woman at the head of their formal association, Margaret Talev, have determined that bowing to the fauxtrageaimed at a comedian on behalf of the administration*’s paid liar is the proper way to respond to the weekend’s festivities. The commitment to a free press is not common to this nation’s people any more, if it ever was, and it damn sure doesn’t have any fans in this administration*. Anyone who thinks that “a vigorous and free press” and “honoring civility” are equally desirable goals doesn’t love the former enough to deserve the latter.

3) We need more automatic voter registration.  The only real reason to oppose it is if you just don’t want more people voting.  Shockingly, Republicans are often opposed.

4) This is a really good Drum post on how we need more economic redistribution but that a jobs guarantee is not the best way to go about it:

Since 1980, per-capita GDP has grown 85 percent. If all that growth had been shared equally, median income would also have gone up 85 percent. It hasn’t, and we all know why: because most of the money has gone to the upper middle class and the rich. If we want something fairer, we need to increase taxes on the affluent by enough to raise about $15,000 for most working adults. I’ll let others do the arithmetic. In round numbers, call it a trillion dollars or two.

The obvious candidates for this money are universal health care and universal child care. The former goes a long way toward leveling the benefits of living in a rich country while the latter makes it far easier to hold a job. But what about something that directly tackles employment? My favorite idea is job subsidies…

Bottom line: over the past few decades, the rich have taken all this money. Let’s take it back. In the same way that Republicans compete to offer the biggest tax cut plans during primaries, Democrats should be competing to offer the biggest tax increases on the rich. That will give us all a nice, quantitative measure of just how progressive each candidate really is. And as a bonus, this is already an extremely popular position even before anyone really makes a case for it:

5) Masha Gessen on Michelle Wolf:

There is a fiction that holds that journalists and their subjects can eat and socialize together and yet maintain the distance necessary to continue performing their professional roles. There is a fiction that they can laugh at one another and themselves and not take offense, that the divisions among guests are ultimately bridgeable, that all of them inhabit the same reality, and that both the humor and the objects of the humor are innocuous.

The same fiction continues to dominate our public sphere. In this story, Trump performs the role of President, albeit poorly, and those in the media maintain a strained civility in their coverage of him. In this story, the statement that the President is a racist is still controversial. In this story, the media can discuss his affair with a porn star, and even the question of whether he used a condom, without undermining respect for the office. This is an essential pretense, because respect for the office of the President is indeed a value that should transcend the current Presidency. But it is this pretense, and these fictions, that cast a pall of unreality over most media coverage and make late-night comedy shows the better news outlets. And then there is the pretense that the late-night comedians exist in a parallel universe, separate even from the television channels that broadcast them.

Wolf’s routine burst the bubbles of civility and performance, and of the separation of media and comedy. It plunged the attendees into the reality that is, in the Trump era, the stuff of comedy. Through her obscene humor, Wolf exposed the obscenity of the fictions—and the fundamental unfunniness of it all. Her last line, the most shocking of her entire monologue, bears repeating: Flint still doesn’t have clean water.

6) I hope it doesn’t make me a bad liberal to say “it’s just a dress!” and that his “cultural appropriation” business has gone way too far and is the sort of stuff that makes middle America hate liberals and not listen to us.  Should you intentionally belittle and condescend to other cultures?  Hell, no.  But borrowing from other cultures is as human as making fire.

7) Chait on Trump, Giuliani, and the GOP’s slide into authoritarianism:

Last night, in the midst of a long, deeply incriminating interview, Rudy Giuliani called FBI agents “stormtroopers.” Here was the president’s lawyer, not an outside lobbyist, comparing federal law enforcement to Nazis directly, rather than indirectly. The Washington Post’s account of Giuliani’s interview noted the remark in a single sentence, in the 30th paragraph of its story. The New York TimesWall Street Journal, and Politico accounts of Giuliani’s interview did not even mention the stormtrooper remark at all.

No doubt the flurry of hair-on-fire legal jeopardy unleashed by Giuliani’s remarks helped bury the newsworthiness of his stormtrooper line. Still, the casualness with which the line was uttered and received does indicate something important about the way Republican thinking about law enforcement has evolved. The party’s respect for the rule of law is disintegrating before our eyes, and in its place is forming a Trumpian conviction that the law must be an instrument of reactionary power…

…in the same interview, Giuliani called for James Comey to be prosecuted and Hillary Clinton to be thrown in prison, beliefs that, in the Trump era, have become almost banal. Republicans simultaneously advocate total impunity for their presidency from the law coupled with harsh and even extra-legal punishments for their enemies.

The potential for abuse in turning law enforcement into a weapon of the party that controls government is so terrifying that any democracy has to limit it. For decades, federal law enforcement has observed a series of norms, codified after Watergate, designed to wall it off from partisan considerations…

Republicans are now engaged in a concerted effort to break down these protections altogether.

8) Want to know what’s best to drink to stay hydrated?  Milk!  Here’s looking at you, David Greene.

9) Paul Waldman, “Crimes are no longer a disqualification for Republican candidates.”

Following his lead, Republican Senate candidates with criminal convictions in West Virginia and Arizona have cast themselves as victims of the Obama administration’s legal overreach. Another former Trump adviser who pleaded guilty to a felony has also become an in-demand surrogate, as Republicans jump at the chance to show their opposition to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Here’s a general rule of thumb: Lawmakers should not be lawbreakers,” said Susan Del Percio, a New York GOP consultant who advised Grimm in 2010 but opposes his candidacy. “I guess it’s a different political norm we are facing today.”

10) Pretty interesting article on how Democrats are way more concerned by technological privacy issues than are Republicans.

11) Want to improve your health?  Just move.  Doesn’t matter if it’s 30 minutes at a time, or 10, or 2.  Just move.

12) What should the law do with someone who has pretty clear plans and intent to carry out a mass shooting, but has taken no concrete/imminent steps to do so.  It’s actually pretty tough.  And we just may need to modify our laws to deal with situations like this.

13) Thanks to this pretty disturbing story of racial profiling at Colorado State, I am now familiar with the band “Cattle Decapitation.”  I am astonished by the drumming, but death metal is not my thing.

14) Whatever one thinks of John McCain— and, honestly, I think he’s a pretty complicated figure– I’ve got a soft spot for people who love books and literature and I heretofore had no idea that McCain does.

 

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