Quick hits (part I)

1) The total disrespect for science out of the Trump administration is so depressing.  USDA version (one of many there):

One of the nation’s leading climate change scientists is quitting the Agriculture Department in protest over the Trump administration’s efforts to bury his groundbreaking study about how rice is losing nutrients because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Lewis Ziska, a 62-year-old plant physiologist who’s worked at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for more than two decades, told POLITICO he was alarmed when department officials not only questioned the findings of the study — which raised serious concerns for the 600 million people who depend on rice for most of their calories — but also tried to minimize media coverage of the paper, which was published in the journal Science Advances last year.

“You get the sense that things have changed, that this is not a place for you to be exploring things that don’t agree with someone’s political views,” Ziska said in a wide-ranging interview. “That’s so sad. I can’t even begin to tell you how sad that is.”

2) So, apparently that walking around with a water bottle all day to hydrate may not be so great.   Some interesting research suggests hydrating is much more effective with meals.  Hooray for me and my 60 ounces of Diet Dr Pepper with pizza lunches:

“If you’re drinking water and then, within two hours, your urine output is really high and [your urine] is clear, that means the water is not staying in well,” says David Nieman, a professor of public health at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus. Nieman says plain water has a tendency to slip right through the human digestive system when not accompanied by food or nutrients. This is especially true when people drink large volumes of water on an empty stomach. “There’s no virtue to that kind of consumption,” he says…

“People who are drinking bottles and bottles of water in between meals and with no food, they’re probably just peeing most of that out,” Nieman says. Also, the popular idea that constant and heavy water consumption “flushes” the body of toxins or unwanted material is a half-truth. While urine does transport chemical byproducts and waste out of the body, drinking lots of water on an empty stomach doesn’t improve this cleansing process, he says.

3) This is cool. “Everything you thought you knew about gravity is wrong.”

Consider the assumptions underlying that common answer:

“Gravity is the force of attraction that makes things fall straight down.”

Well, yes — depending on what we mean by “force.” We can say gravitation is one of the four fundamental forces, but it’s such an outlier that the word “force” becomes nearly meaningless. The strong nuclear force (which keeps atomic nuclei intact) is about 100 times stronger than the electromagnetic force (which creates the light spectrum), which in turn is up to 10,000 times stronger than the weak nuclear force (which facilitates the subatomic interactions responsible for radioactive decay). Three forces, all within six orders of magnitude of one another. Then comes gravitation. It’s about a million billion billion billion times weaker than the weak nuclear.

To put that discrepancy into perspective, you can try this experiment at home. Place a paper clip on a tabletop. There it remains, unmoving, anchored to its spot by its gravitational interaction with the entire planet beneath it. The Earth’s mass is 6,583,003,100,000,000,000,000 tons. A paper clip’s mass is 4/100 of an ounce. Now take a refrigerator magnet and wand it over the paper clip. Presto! You have counteracted the gravitational “force” of the entire Earth with a wave of your hand…

So: “Gravity is.”

Well, yes — depending on what we mean by “is.” We know what gravity does, in the sense that we can mathematically measure and predict its effects. We might anticipate what happens when two black holes collide or when we let go of a rock. But we don’t know how it does what it does. We know what its effects are, and we can give the name “gravity” to the cause of those effects, but we don’t know the cause of that cause.

Not that cosmologists particularly care. In science, knowing what you don’t know is a good start. In this case, it has led scientists to believe that finding a quantum solution to gravity is a key — perhaps the key — to understanding the universe on the most fundamental level. Until then, they will work with what they do know, no matter what every bone in their bodies tells them:

Gravity is not the force of attraction that makes things fall straight down.

4) I find it astounding and depressing that we still have headlines like this in 2019.  How clueless of a school administrator do you need to be to not get this.  “Georgia school faces backlash over display of ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ black hairstyles.”

5) Don’t quite understand what the Fed does and feel like you should?  Just take 5 minutes with this from Planet Money.

6) Michelle Goldberg asks, “Why Not Cory Booker? He’s winning the debates and he’s great on paper. When will he catch on?”  I’m not about to put money on him, but Booker is good stuff and I think there’s still a non-trivial chance he’ll catch on.  I would be a very enthusiastic supporter.

7) Our criminal justice system is so disgustingly screwed up in systematically unfair ways.  This Radley Balko headline kind of says it all, “A young black football player was arrested after claiming ‘cocaine’ on his car was bird poop. It was bird poop.”

This is ridiculous. These field tests are notoriously unreliable. That hasn’t stopped police departments from using them, of course. And it also doesn’t mean we should just shrug it off when someone is falsely arrested, portrayed in the media as a drug user, and subjected to national ridicule because the police relied on tests known to have a high rate of false positives.

Even putting aside the reliability issue, I have questions.

  • Do the officers who pulled Werts over really believe that cocaine would remain on the hood of a car after that car was driven at 80 miles per hour? What manner of consuming cocaine would cause the cocaine to stick to the hood? I’m having a difficult time imagine any interaction with the drug that would result in portions of it being stuck to the hood of a car in a manner that could withstand wind at 80 miles per hour.
  • Given all of that, why would these deputies see a white substance on the hood, and immediately assume it was cocaine, rather than the dozen or so other more likely explanations? Have they ever mistaken bird poop for cocaine before? Why would they decide that this was a substance that needed to be tested at all?
  • Is it possible that they were influenced by — and I’m just spit-balling here — the fact that Werts was a young black guy driving a sports car?
  • 4) Even if it was cocaine, how did they plan to tie it to Werts? It would be one thing if that powder was inside the car. But were they prepared to hold the man liable for a substance on the outside of his car — and could have come from anywhere? …

Finally, if you’ve been reading my work for a while, you know that I’ve been keeping a list of substances that have resulted in false positives from these tests. Here’s the list: Sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaptortilla doughdeodorantbilliards chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mintsloose-leaf teaJolly RanchersvitaminsKrispy Kreme doughnut glazeairTylenoljust about every brand of chocolate at your local convenience storedry wallBC powdercotton candypowdered sugar, and now . . . bird poop.

8) Dahlia Lithwick with the best take of the photo of the Trump’s with the orphaned baby in El Paso:

Trump is really only good at one thing: being on television. Any event that can be engineered to look like a scene from The Apprentice can be fudged to his advantage. Stadium rallies, press availability from inside the Oval Office, even canned speeches read from a teleprompter can be salvaged; so long as he is essentially only producing a simulacrum of presidenting, he can shift along. But reality confounds him. Take him out from behind the oceans of fawning MAGA hats and put him next to a real survivor of sexual violence, and all the grinning and preening tricks fail him. Put him next to actual heads of state discussing actual international policy, and he sulks and mopes. Oh, he can pull off the photo-op; this is a man made of photo-ops. But time and time again, when he is called on to deal with real people—not glassy superfans but genuine human beings whom he allegedly serves as president—he fails to meet the occasion. The consummate reality-TV president is unerringly confounded by reality.

It’s not simply that an injured baby had to be returned to a hospital so that a grinning president could throw a Fonzie-style thumbs-up for the Twitter fans—that’s gross, yes, but it misses the point. The point is that this president, who understands only ratings and adulation and crowd size and “getting credit,” is seemingly incapable of subordinating all that to the moment. This was a moment in which grieving Americans wanted nothing more than for him to show up and be with them. The “catastrophe,” with all due respect to the unparalleled wisdom of Scaramucci, is not that he failed to show the requisite “compassion” or “empathy” for the cameras. Neither Donald Trump, nor his wife, nor his handlers and enablers, will ever understand that the real catastrophe isn’t how he appeared on television or Twitter. The real catastrophe is that Americans are dead and dying and their president is mass-producing a television show about his presidency, with their personal tragedy as a set choice.

Trump cannot function in reality. He lives in a hall of mirrors with his made-for-TV family, as the national security apparatus, the national intelligence apparatus, the foreign service, and foreign policy detonate all around him. And on the rare occasion on which he is called to step out from behind the glass panopticon that he has built, he fails, spectacularly, because that which really matters can’t be tweeted or reduced to a campaign video.

9) Another only-in-America health care story (at least among industrialized nations), “He lost his insurance and turned to a cheaper form of insulin. It was a fatal decision.”

10) Love what David Morse is doing with his students, “I teach my college students to lie. Honestly. Whoppers. It’s good for them.”

To begin, each student adopted the persona of a real-world politician, journalist or so-called expert, then used a Twitter-style platform to advance their arguments, criticize their opponents and introduce new “evidence.” With gusto, the Liars took advantage of the tools in the deceivers’ playbook, larding their lies with facts (e.g., government experiments on vulnerable populations), asking leading questions, posing worst-case scenarios. Meanwhile, the Truthers, beholden to the facts, could not provide an accurate answer to the liars’ demands as to the location of the missing prisoners. Instead they feebly attempted to shift the debate to the jobs that NASA creates, or criminal justice reform.

11) As much as I love Vox on policy, articles like this always end up with me rolling my eyes in dismay, “Orange Is the New Black celebrated diverse women. It also exploited their stories.”  One of the few shows that tells stories of diverse women to a mainstream audience, apparently, because the writing is sometimes cliche and mediocre, they are actually “exploiting” these women.

12) David Graham on presidential appointments:

Ideally the goals of serving the president and serving the people and the Constitution do not conflict, but the important moments are the ones when they do. Friday afternoon, President Trump announced the withdrawal of Representative John Ratcliffe, the Texas Republican he’d tapped to replace Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. That abortive nomination lays bare how acute this tension has become in the Trump administration.

13) I watch Jurassic Park movies pretty much every time they are on basic cable TV (I still love having cable and just flipping through the guide on weekends to see what’s on).  Anyway, was utterly fascinated to learn this about amber fossils:

That amber fossils exist at all is a bit of a miracle—a succession of miracles, even. First, a tree has to be oozing sap (in the Dominican Republic, amber forms from the sap of the Hymenaea tree). Healthy trees don’t dribble goo—trees do so only when they are stressed by damage, insects, fires, or disease. The resin acts like a translucent bandage, protecting the tree from further injury.

Then, an insect or other creature has to be trapped in the resin. The most common victims are flies (about half of biological inclusions are flies), but social insects such as ants, bees, and termites are also often found in stalactites of resin. The creature either drowns as the sticky goo fills its mouth and spiracles (bug lungs) or starves as it struggles to escape the resin. Most insects or arthropods fossilized in amber are less than seven-eighths of an inch long, since larger creatures can usually pull themselves out of the resin’s deadly grasp.

The resin must then land on wet, swampy soil and, eventually, end up in a freshwater current—if the resin lands on a dry forest floor, it will disintegrate into powder or crack into pieces. Once in freshwater, the resin must flow to an ocean or marsh, where it can be covered by sediment in an oxygenless environment. In this prehistoric kitchen, with millions of years of time plus pressure, the resin hardens into a polymer, in the same way plastic is made from petroleum. The resin has then become amber—nonreactive, stable, and a perfect preserver for the life caught inside.

When plate tectonics or erosion brings the amber to the surface, human hands can pick it up or chisel it out of the surrounding gray layers of lignite.

14) Good stuff in Wired on the difficulty of human spaceflight all the way to Mars.  Maybe a good pillow would help.

15) Misunderstanding of the nature of opioid addition are so common.  Great stuff from Sally Satel:

In tightening controls on doctors who prescribe pain relievers, state and federal agencies were focusing on the aspect of the problem most subject to regulatory intervention.

To some degree, the strategy worked. According to the Centers for Disease Control, overdose deaths declined by around 5 percent in 2018—a dip attributable almost exclusively to fewer deaths from oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other prescription opioids. (Fentanyl deaths are still climbing.) Now that the fever of the opioid crisis may be breaking, Americans can revisit some of the stories we have told ourselves about the role of prescription medication in the crisis.

Did policymakers and public health experts correctly assess who was at risk of becoming addicted to opioid medications? Were their views on the addictive potential of such drugs realistic? Did they anticipate the consequences of policies devised to constrain doctors from over-prescribing? In retrospect, policymakers seriously misjudged the answers to these questions, overestimating the risk that these drugs posed to the average patient while simultaneously doing too little to urge clinicians to identify those most vulnerable to addiction. The best time to correct course is now—while the opioid problem still commands public attention, and before the restrictions imposed at the height of the crisis harden into permanent practice…

In fact, only 22 to 35 percent of “misusers” of pain medication report receiving the drugs from their doctor, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (Misuse is a term that includes anything from taking an extra pill beyond the quantity prescribed by a doctor to full-blown addiction.) About half obtained pain relievers from a friend or relative, while others either stole or bought pills from someone they knew, bought from a dealer, or went out looking for a doctor willing to write prescriptions.

People who abuse pills are rarely new to drugs. The federal government’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, for example, revealed that more than three-fourths of misusers had used non-prescribed benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Xanax, or inhalants. A study of OxyContin users in treatment found that they “were not naive individuals with accidental addictions who were introduced to painkillers by their physicians as reported by the media…[instead they had] extensive drug use histories.”

Among people who are prescribed opioids, addiction is relatively uncommon. The percentage of patients who become addicted after taking opioids for chronic pain is measured in single digits; studies show an incidence from under 1 percent to 8 percent. Most of the estimates are skewed towards the low end of this range, when those at risk (due to a history of substance abuse or, to a lesser but meaningful extent, concurrent mental illness) are removed from the sample. In Feldman’s case, the nature of the risk was constant anguish. When she was 4 years old, her heroin-addicted mother left the family and died of an overdose before she was 12. “For so much of my childhood, I felt abandoned, worthless, unlovable, and confused,” she told me. Her first Percocet came from a girlfriend. “Being numb helped,” she said. Before Percocet, though, she had achieved “escape” with marijuana, alcohol, PCP, benzodiazepines, and cocaine.

16) Jonathan Bernstein: “The Long, Slow Destruction of the U.S. Government: The Trump administration continues its attacks on foreign policy, innovation and economic management.”

Item: Sue Gordon announced her plans to retire as principal deputy director of national intelligence, taking decades of experience with her, in a less-than-appreciative letter — what Dan Drezner called “Mattis Letter II.

Item: A Foreign Service officer resigned in an op-ed, saying “ I can no longer justify … my complicity in the actions of this administration.”

Item: The Donald Trump administration is finding creative ways to destroy the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, which Catherine Rampell describes as “arguably the world’s premier agricultural economics agency.”

That’s all from Thursday. They are hardly the only examples of how the administration is, to put it bluntly, destroying the U.S. government.

We’ve seen this from the start of Trump’s presidency, and it continues. I don’t think there’s any full accounting of all the damage that’s being done, whether it’s attacks on government statistics or the capacity to do science or the well-publicized war against an accurate census.

Some of this, like the attacks on the intelligence community, seem to be a combination of Trump’s personal preferences and conspiracy-minded thinking in Republican-aligned media. Some of it is mindless budget-cutting from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney that Trump likely neither knows or cares about. Some of it is what happens when the government is turned over to the short-term interests of major corporations.

But in the long term, the U.S economy will likely pay dearly for it. Economic management will suffer without reliable statistics. Productivity will suffer without government assistance in innovation (regardless of what ideologues on one side or the other will claim, innovation in the U.S. has always been a product of both public and private initiatives).

And the same thing for U.S. foreign policy, and really everything else.

This is of course not to say that everything the federal government does is worthwhile or running at maximum efficiency. Or that every federal bureaucrat is delivering for the nation. But there’s nothing systematic about any of what’s happening here. No plan. No strategy. No effort to separate the worthwhile from the worthless. It’s just basically random attacks on random pieces of the government. It will take years to recover from. In some ways, perhaps the nation will never recover.

17) This is really good from Peter Beinart, “What the Measles Epidemic Really Says About America:
The return of a vanquished disease reflects historical amnesia, declining faith in institutions, and a troubling lack of concern for the public good.”

Declining vaccination rates not only reflect a great forgetting; they also reveal a population that suffers from overconfidence in its own amateur knowledge. In her book Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines, the University of Colorado at Denver’s Jennifer Reich notes that starting in the 1970s, alternative-health movements “repositioned expertise as residing within the individual.” This ethos has grown dramatically in the internet age, so much so that “in arenas as diverse as medicine, mental health, law, education, business, and food, self-help or do-it-yourself movements encourage individuals to reject expert advice or follow it selectively.” Autodidacticism can be valuable. But it’s one thing to Google a food to see whether it’s healthy. It’s quite another to dismiss decades of studies on the benefits of vaccines because you’ve watched a couple of YouTube videos. In an interview, Reich told me that some anti-vaccine activists describe themselves as “researchers,” thus equating their scouring of the internet on behalf of their families with the work of scientists who publish in peer-reviewed journals.

In many ways, the post-1960s emphasis on autonomy and personal choice has been liberating. But it can threaten public health. Considered solely in terms of the benefits to one’s own child, the case for vaccinating against measles may not be obvious. Yes, the vaccine poses little risk to healthy children, but measles isn’t necessarily that dangerous to them either. The problem is that for others in society—such as children with a compromised immune system—measles may be deadly. By vaccinating their own children, and thus ensuring that they don’t spread the disease, parents contribute to the “herd immunity” that protects the vulnerable. But this requires thinking more about the collective and less about one’s own child. And this mentality is growing rarer in an era of what Reich calls “individualist parenting,” in which well-off parents spend “immense time and energy strategizing how to keep their children healthy while often ignoring the larger, harder-to-solve questions around them.”

18) Definitely the summer of Fornite for the Greene kids (and the neighbor kids who are over here playing it with them every day).  And, oh my, is my poor wife tired of it.

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Quick hits (part II)

1) David Leonhardt on Democrats the lessons of 2018:

In last year’s midterm elections, Democrats won 31 congressional districts that President Trump had carried in 2016 — including in the suburbs of Atlanta, Chicago, Des Moines, Detroit, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Richmond, Va., as well as in more rural parts of Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin.

How did the Democrats do it? By running a smart, populist campaign that focused above all on pocketbook issues like affordable health care and good jobs. The Democrats who won in these swing districts didn’t talk much about Trump, the Russia scandals, immigration or progressive dreams like single-payer health care. They focused on issues that affect most voters’ daily lives.

2) Farhad Manjoo ordered a lot of abortion pills on-line and had some really interesting thoughts on the matter:

But the pills aren’t just a way to evade today’s restrictions on abortion. Some activists argue that they can also remake tomorrow’s politics surrounding abortion — that the very presence of the underground market could force the authorities to loosen restrictions on abortion pills, eventually paving the way for an alternative vision for terminating a pregnancy in the United States: the inexpensive, safe, very early, private, at-home, picket-line-free, self-managed medical abortion…

Each time I got a pack of pills in the mail, I was increasingly bowled over: If this is so easy, how will they ever stop this? I’ve been watching digital markets for 20 years, and I’ve learned to spot a simple, powerful dynamic: When something that is difficult to get offline becomes easy to get online, big changes are afoot.

3) Krugman was good on Trump’s racism:

What I haven’t seen pointed out much, however, is that Trump’s racism rests on a vision of America that is decades out of date. In his mind it’s always 1989. And that’s not an accident: The ways America has changed over the past three decades, both good and bad, are utterly inconsistent with Trump-style racism.

Why 1989? That was the year he demanded bringing back the death penalty in response to the case of the Central Park Five, black and Latino teenagers convicted of raping a white jogger in Central Park. They were, in fact, innocent; their convictions were vacated in 2002. Trump, nevertheless, has refused to apologize or admit that he was wrong.

His behavior then and later was vicious, and it is no excuse to acknowledge that at the time America was suffering from a crime wave. Still, there was indeed such a wave, and it was fairly common to talk about social collapse in inner-city urban communities.

4) Arthur Brooks on how your professional decline is coming sooner than you think (like for those of us pushing 50) was really good.  Though, I love where it all ends up:

Here’s a practical lesson we can extract from all this: No matter what mix of intelligence your field requires, you can always endeavor to weight your career away from innovation and toward the strengths that persist, or even increase, later in life.

Like what? As Bach demonstrated, teaching is an ability that decays very late in life, a principal exception to the general pattern of professional decline over time. A study in The Journal of Higher Education showed that the oldest college professors in disciplines requiring a large store of fixed knowledge, specifically the humanities, tended to get evaluated most positively by students. This probably explains the professional longevity of college professors, three-quarters of whom plan to retire after age 65—more than half of them after 70, and some 15 percent of them after 80. (The average American retires at 61.) One day, during my first year as a professor, I asked a colleague in his late 60s whether he’d ever considered retiring. He laughed, and told me he was more likely to leave his office horizontally than vertically.

5) Drum is so right on the fact that we could pretty easily stop all these data hacks if we actually held corporate America responsible:

You know what would put a stop to this? Put in place statutory damages for every personal record hacked. No excuses, no safe harbors. If you lose the records, you pay. I’ll be nice and suggest $100 per record.

I’ll tell you this: if Capital One had to pay $10 billion because of this hack, they’d take security a helluva lot more seriously. What measures would they put in place? I don’t know, but I know that after an endless pity party about how this would be totally unfair and there was nothing they could do and it would put them out of business—well, then they’d magically figure something out. That’s always how it works.

6) Watching the new Lion King movie I couldn’t help but thinking… “no, this is all wrong, lion social groupings are completely matriarchal!”  Nice National Geographic piece on the matter.

7) It’s so depressing that, even know, so many people in positions of responsibility and power on the matter are just completely ignorant on how a rape victim “should act.”  And some damn disturbing implications in the Army.

8) Apparently solid research shows growth mindset training to be a total bust.  Not sure if I should tell the nice and well-meaning teachers at my son’s middle school devoting a lot of effort to this.

9) This is good from Jane Coaston, “A question for conservatives: what if the left was right on race?”  At least Max Boot is a former conservative who has figured this out.  Coaston:

I’ve been writing on conservatism and the right for several years. As part of that work, I spend most of my time reading right-leaning news outlets and opinion journals and talking to conservatives — fiscal conservatives and social conservatives, Trump-supportive, Trump-adjacent, and Trump-skeptical.

And in those travels, there’s an argument I hear a lot, particularly in the past week — that had liberals not been so quick to call some on the right, or some ideas on the right, racist, perhaps the right would not have resorted to uniting behind a racist like Donald Trump.

As former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer put it to the New Yorker, “I am also aware of the fact that Democrats accused my boss, George W. Bush, in 2000, and ran ads calling him a racist. … They called John McCain a racist. They called Mitt Romney a misogynist and a racist. They will call whoever comes after Donald Trump a racist. The issue is a lot less, to me, Donald Trump’s words and behavior, and a lot more of the Democrats’ eternal, ongoing tactics, which I reject.”

To them, I’d like to pose a question, and I pose it as someone who has worked hard to understand the conservative movement and conservatism more broadly, and do so in the most generous possible light:

What if, in truth, the conservative movement’s inability to self-police itself against racism and establish firm guardrails against racists in the movement has resulted in an American right increasingly beholden to racism and racist arguments?

And what if, in truth, it’s the left that has seen this most clearly and that has been pointing it out again and again? Perhaps, if your movement has ultimately rallied around a racist, allegedly in response to being called racist, that’s evidence that the people who saw the power racist arguments held in your movement, and the frequency with which those views were referenced, were onto something all along.

Viewed in this light, the popularity of this excuse — the idea that if the left hadn’t been pointing out racism on the right, the right never would have embraced a racist as its leader — is the same denial that got conservatives into this mess perpetuating itself.

10) I’ve got far better things to do with my time than watch primary debates (another post coming on that, soon).  For one, damn am I loving “Dark.”  Mostly, debates only matter insofar as journalists respond to what happens and I can get that on twitter without subjecting myself to the ridiculous displays.  Pretty much every media critic has called out CNN for being horrible.  Really like this Megan Garber take:

Debates are competitions, yes. They are spectacles, certainly. And the Democrats have noteworthy differences in their policy positions and their political orientations. But there is a revealing absurdity to CNN’s repeated attempts to reduce a 10-person event to a series of highly targeted duels. The moderators might have asked the candidates about health care, and immigration, and gun safety, and racial inequality, and climate change, but mostly they asked the candidates about one another. The result was cyclical, and cynical: Here were matters of life and death, framed as fodder for manufactured melees.

As the debate wore on, candidates’ individual discussions of policy proposals were often cut short (“Your time is up!” was a common refrain among the moderators); petty squabbles, however, proved less beholden to the rigid rules of the clock. “I want to bring in Governor Hickenlooper,” Tapper said at one point. “I’d like to hear what you say about Senator Warren’s suggestion that those onstage not in favor of Medicare for All lack the will to fight for it.”…

Today, as it becomes clear how few of the previous election’s lessons have been learned in time for the one that rapidly approaches, there is an aptness to the idea that CNN would, once again, take refuge in the easy symmetries of an athletic competition. And there is a thudding inevitability to the notion that the network would find new ways to insist that politics is, above all, a sporting event: high in drama, low in stakes.

Quick hits

1) Just rediscovered this great NYT Magazine feature from last year about the catastrophe (and a brilliant example of unintended consequences) of America’s policy of encouraging vegetable oil fuel:

Most of the plantations around us were new, their rise a direct consequence of policy decisions made half a world away. In the mid-2000s, Western nations, led by the United States, began drafting environmental laws that encouraged the use of vegetable oil in fuels — an ambitious move to reduce carbon dioxide and curb global warming. But these laws were drawn up based on an incomplete accounting of the true environmental costs. Despite warnings that the policies could have the opposite of their intended effect, they were implemented anyway, producing what now appears to be a calamity with global consequences.

The tropical rain forests of Indonesia, and in particular the peatland regions of Borneo, have large amounts of carbon trapped within their trees and soil. Slashing and burning the existing forests to make way for oil-palm cultivation had a perverse effect: It released more carbon. A lot more carbon. NASA researchers say the accelerated destruction of Borneo’s forests contributed to the largest single-year global increase in carbon emissions in two millenniums, an explosion that transformed Indonesia into the world’s fourth-largest source of such emissions. Instead of creating a clever technocratic fix to reduce American’s carbon footprint, lawmakers had lit the fuse on a powerful carbon bomb that, as the forests were cleared and burned, produced more carbon than the entire continent of Europe. The unprecedented palm-oil boom, meanwhile, has enriched and emboldened many of the region’s largest corporations, which have begun using their newfound power and wealth to suppress critics, abuse workers and acquire more land to produce oil.

2) I gotta admit, I love helium balloons, but this was a really interesting and informative take,

There’s a natural resource found beneath Earth’s surface that’s been building up for hundreds of millions of years. It plays a pivotal role in some of society’s most important scientific and medical applications, from MRI machines to superconductivity to particle accelerators to the creation of the strongest magnetic fields on Earth. There is no known substitute for this unique resource; it’s truly irreplaceable.

There is no good way to synthesize this essential ingredient in any sort of substantial quantity, either. We have only what has naturally built up over our planet’s natural geologic history. The resource in question? The lightest inert gas found in nature: helium. Instead of mining, storing, and distributing it for these much-needed medical and scientific uses, we’re squandering it on balloons and squeaky voices. Here’s why that wastefulness must end.

3) And more fascinating stuff, “How a 6000 year old dog cancer spread around the world.”

4) Lost amidst the firehose of awfulness from Trump-related news these days was the pretty awful Supreme Court decision allowing Trump’s end-run around Congress on the border wall:

Like his travel ban, Trump’s desire for a wall along the southern border represents an early campaign promise on immigration that was later whipped into public policy. But, unlike the travel ban, which arguably rested, as Chief Justice John Roberts insisted, on a “comprehensive delegation” of legislative authority to the President, Congress has delegated no such authority to the nation’s chief executive to build a wall. Neither has it appropriated the necessary funds to build it. Instead, legislators turned down his many requests for border-wall funding…

But, without much explanation or grappling with the lower courts’ reservations, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court let the Trump Administration proceed with its plans this past Friday, as the litigation advances in the Ninth Circuit. The Administration’s application to the Court was filed, and granted, on an expedited basis, and the Justices like to say that such preliminary and swiftly issued orders do not represent their views on the merits of a given case. But, in the Trump era, the Supreme Court has bent over backward to give the government much of what it’s asked for, by considering an unprecedented number of requests for emergency or extraordinary relief, and granting many of them. The results, though often procedural, have had a substantive effect—from allowing the enforcement of a transgender ban in the military to stopping the deposition of a Cabinet secretary in the census litigation. The single sentence of reasoning the Court did muster in siding with Trump in the border dispute—stating that the opponents to the wall’s construction “have no cause of action” to question the basis for the Pentagon’s reprogramming of funds—tells us that a conservative majority would rather see this case go away quickly than confront hard questions about executive power and Congress’s role.

5) This Dana Milbank, “Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset” column was awesome.  And probably helped contribute to McConnell’s Senate floor freak-out:

Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset.

This doesn’t mean he’s a spy, but neither is it a flip accusation. Russia attacked our country in 2016. It is attacking us today. Its attacks will intensify in 2020. Yet each time we try to raise our defenses to repel the attack, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, blocks us from defending ourselves.

Let’s call this what it is: unpatriotic. The Kentucky Republican is, arguably more than any other American, doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding…

Pleaded Schumer: “I would suggest to my friend the majority leader: If he doesn’t like this bill, let’s put another bill on the floor and debate it.”

But McConnell has blocked all such attempts, including:

bipartisan bill requiring Facebook, Google and other Internet companies to disclose purchasers of political ads, to identify foreign influence.

bipartisan bill to ease cooperation between state election officials and federal intelligence agencies.

bipartisan bill imposing sanctions on any entity that attacks a U.S. election.

A bipartisan bill with severe new sanctions on Russia for its cybercrimes.

McConnell has prevented them all from being considered — over and over again. This is the same McConnell who, in the summer of 2016, when briefed by the CIA along with other congressional leaders on Russia’s electoral attacks, questioned the validity of the intelligence and forced a watering down of a warning letter to state officials about the threat, omitting any mention of Russia.

6) This is such a great take on climate change from Henry Farrell.  So going to use it going forward, “Don’t ask how to pay for climate change.  Ask who.”

In both venues, some version of the perpetual question will undoubtedly be raised: “How will you pay for the costs of dealing with climate change?”

Despite its pervasiveness, this is a profoundly wrongheaded line of inquiry. Asking how to pay for the impact of climate change implies that these costs are a matter of choice. The reality is that global warming will impose massive costs, regardless of whether policymakers respond or not. Thus, the real question is not “How would you propose to pay?” but instead “Who is going to pay?” and “How much?”

People are already paying for climate change with their lives. Rising temperatures are killing more than 150,000 people every year. This death toll is estimated to increase to 1.5 million people annually by the turn of the century. Some are confronting the likelihood of failed crops; others have been forced to flee floodplains.

Those currently paying for the effects of climate change are the most vulnerable—people in the developing world, the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the very young. As the world changes, more people are going to suffer the cost of heat waves, rising water, damaged or dying ecosystems, and flooded coastal cities. This will create what political science and public policy experts describe as “existential politics,” in which different groups fight to preserve their entire way of life.

7) I had no idea there were two different approaches to order of operations in math.  Had a lot of fun reading this.  Also… it’s 1.  “This math equation is dividing the internet, and no one can agree on an answer”

 

8) Josephine Wolff in Slate, “You Have a Moral Obligation to Claim Your $125 From Equifax
Help make sure that companies pay the consequences for data breaches.”   Done.

9) The brain-eating amoeba that thrives in hot summer lakes and rivers and is super rare but super likely to kill you if it gets you.  I remember when somebody dies of this in Jordan Lake, not far from us, about 15 years ago.

10) Wow– loved learning the history behind “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  Especially because we used to listen to a sanitized for kids version of “John Brown’s Body” on car trips many years ago.  Had no idea of the original lyrics– wow:

John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave

11) In more modern music, I’ve been frustrated in my attempts to find contemporary rock that I really like.  The Pandora alternative station served up Meg Myers’ “Tear me to Pieces.”  Good stuff!  In discovering more Meg Myers, I quickly came across this pretty amazing video for “Desire.”  Oh my.  So good and the comments on it are hilarious and so worth reading.  And the Meg Myers spotify playlist brought be Chløë Black’s “Spaceman” which I also really liked.  I’m also taking your recommendations :-).

12) Much needed post from Drum, “No, Joe Biden Didn’t Cause Mass Incarceration.” (And shame on Vox’s editors for letting one of their less-informed writers suggest otherwise):

Incarceration rates approximately quadrupled between 1970 and 1994, and flattened almost immediately thereafter. The 1994 crime bill simply didn’t have anything to do with it.

I realize this is politically impossible, but sometimes I wish Joe Biden would just flat out defend the 1994 bill. “You know what happened after that bill passed?” he should ask. “Crime went down, that’s what.” This would be pretty misleading since we all know what really caused the crime decline,¹ and it’s unlikely the 1994 bill had much impact on its own. Still, it’s at least a true statement.

¹The phaseout of leaded gasoline. But you already knew that, right?

13) David Graham on one of the dirty secrets of political fundraising:

Broadly speaking, U.S. campaign-finance laws have been written to prevent nefarious influence by donors over politicians. To that end, the government limits (for now, at least) how much an individual can give to a candidate. It prevents “straw donations,” in which an individual routes donations through other people, since that would give a single individual undue influence. It prevents donations from foreigners to U.S. political campaigns. It requires that campaigns and some other bodies disclose who has given to them. The unifying principle is the presumption that the public needs to worry about who might influence a politician. Scam PACs bypass that principle. Here, it’s not the donors who are taking advantage—it’s the donors who are being taken advantage of, by operators who have spotted a shadow in the law in which they can operate.

Photo of the day

Wow is this an awesome eclipse photo.  And good story behind at the Wired link:

Reuben Wu spent nearly two years putting together the sponsorship deals that would enable him and a small team to travel to northern Chile to shoot this solar eclipse on July 2, 2019.  Reuben Wu

Quick hits (part II)

1) Great NYT investigation into the Boeing 737 Max.  Can you say regulatory capture?

The regulator’s hands-off approach was pivotal. At crucial moments in the Max’s development, the agency operated in the background, mainly monitoring Boeing’s progress and checking paperwork. The nation’s largest aerospace manufacturer, Boeing was treated as a client, with F.A.A. officials making decisions based on the company’s deadlines and budget.

It has long been a cozy relationship. Top agency officials have shuffled between the government and the industry. [emphasis mine]

During the Max certification, senior leaders at the F.A.A. sometimes overruled their own staff members’ recommendations after Boeing pushed back. For safety reasons, many agency engineers wanted Boeing to redesign a pair of cables, part of a major system unrelated to MCAS. The company resisted, and F.A.A. managers took Boeing’s side, according to internal agency documents.

2) I’m a medium fan of Spoon.  Not huge, but I do like they’re stuff.  Loved this article about the fact that they are releasing a “greatest hits” compilation and how nobody does that anymore.  Some of my favorite albums back in the day were Beatles and Eagles greatest hits.

If your formative years as a music listener fall somewhere between the moon landing and 9/11, the odds are pretty good that a lot of the earliest records you fell in love with weren’t albums at all, but rather greatest hits collections. There’s a good chance they weren’t records you sought out yourself, but were in rotation in your family’s cars — maybe the color-coded Beatles singles collections, or Stevie Wonder’s Song Review, or The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, which happens to be the best-selling album of all time, just ahead of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The golden age of the greatest hits record may be in the past, but its functions — to introduce a veteran act to new listeners and to allow an artist to make a case for their own legacy — are arguably more necessary than ever given the sheer volume of music that is available to young listeners.

Unlike proper albums, which typically have some measure of artistic pretense about them, a greatest hits compilation exists purely as a commercial proposition: all the hits in one place, perfect for casual listeners and newbies. The worst of them feel like hastily tossed-together cash grabs, but the best are so well curated in presenting a fertile period of a career that they are arguably an artist’s definitive work — Madonna’s The Immaculate Collection, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Legend, Squeeze’s Singles 45’s & Under, ABBA’s Gold and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits all immediately come to mind. The format is a gift to artists who are better at producing singles than coherent album statements, and for cash-strapped consumers who can’t go from zero to completist for any given pop star who sparks their interest.

3) Drum on the budget deficit.  It’s about the taxes; not the spending.

Yesterday I put up a chart showing the level of discretionary federal spending over the past 40 years. I did this because the news hook for it was the budget deal that Congress and President Trump agreed to, which was solely about discretionary spending levels for the next two years.But naturally a lot of people thought this was just some kind of trick. What about all federal spending, including stuff like Medicare and Social Security, which we all know is spiraling out of control? Here it is:

The trendline is still slightly down. Roughly speaking, the federal government spent about 21 percent of GDP during the Reagan era, less than that during the Clinton era, and then stabilized at about 20 percent during the Obama era. There is simply nothing here that is out of control.

4) I still have not got myself an Impossible Burger, but, as you know, I’m a huge fan of “fake” meat.  So not a fan of agricultural interests and the politicians who do their bidding pretending that consumers aren’t smart enough to know the difference between a hamburger and a veggie burger:

It’s a case of animal versus vegetable — and the steaks are high.

A growing number of states have been passing laws saying that only foods made of animal flesh should be allowed to carry labels like “meat,” “sausage,” “jerky,” “burger” or “hot dog.”

Who has a beefwith this deal? Makers of plant-based foods, of course — like Tofurky. But also the American Civil Liberties Union. Both are in a coalition that this week sued Arkansas, arguing that thestate’s new label restrictions — set to go into effect this week — censor speech and play favorites with industries. Similar lawsuits are pending against Missouri and Mississippi.

Those are just three of the states that have passed laws restricting meatlike labels for vegan and vegetarian alternatives made of plants, as well as for lab-grown meat from animal cells. Others include MontanaSouth Dakota and Wyoming.In addition to the meat labels, Arkansas also decreed that “rice” made of plants like cauliflower or broccoli can’t be called “rice.” And Louisiana has added protections for crawfish, shrimp and sugar…

Proponents of such measures tend to argue that they want to protect consumers from being misled — for example, by rushing into a store to grab a bag of hot dogs and accidentally buying “vegan sticks.”…

But can meat companies now claim to be the only non-misleading purveyors of labels like “hot dog” (which includes no dog) or “hamburger” (which includes no ham) or “chicken fingers” (which, ideally, include no fingers)?

“If [plant-based makers] can’t say that it’s a black bean burger by using ‘burger,’ how are they to describe to the consumer what the product is?” said Holly Dickson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas. Her group — alongside Tofurky, the Good Food Institute and the Animal Legal Defense Fund — argues that the new Arkansas law restricting meat- and rice-related terms violates the First Amendment’s freedom of speech.

“This is not a law to protect consumers. Arkansans aren’t confused about what a black bean or veggie burger or tofu dog are,” Dickson said. “The law is really designed to allow the government to censor truthful speech and give an advantage to animal-based manufacturers … and disadvantage to plant-based manufacturers.”

5) In trying to find some new article for my upcoming gender and politics class, I found a great piece in Vox that I had never seen about how polls do not such a great job measuring attitudes on abortion:

Is the public really divided on abortion? It’s surprisingly hard to know.

I’ve studied public opinion toward abortion on and off for about a decade as a researcher. Recently I was conducting focus groups where we specifically recruited people who had told us abortion should only be legal in cases of rape or abuse, or if the mother’s health is at risk. But once the conversation started, the issue quickly got more complex. Participants would say things like, “The government should stay out of the decision. It is up to the woman.”

As a pollster, I find this perplexing: these are people who say abortion should only be legal in rare cases, but also want the government out of the decision?

That focus group reminded me of a survey I conducted a few years ago. Some of the respondents who said abortion should only be legal in those rare cases also opposed some restrictions on abortion.

These are just a few of the contradictions I’ve seen, having surveyed thousands of people across the country on the topic. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is this: the current polling fails at accurately measuring opinion on this complex issue.

6) And I also liked David Leonhardt’s summary of public opinion on the issue:

The accurate picture is not as simple as either side claims. It is instead of a country that’s closely divided, with clear majorities supporting both some abortion rights and some restrictions. Large numbers of people fall somewhere in the middle — favoring both unfettered access to abortion in some circumstances but significant restrictions in others.

And unlike on many other issues, abortion does not produce huge differences in opinion between men and women; among whites, blacks and Hispanics; or across different generations. Which is another reason to doubt this debate will have an easy solution.

7) Some pretty depressing research from Cass Sunstein— don’t apologize:

Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a service that allows for rapid surveys, I recently presented four distinct scenarios to four different groups, each demographically diverse and having about 300 people. Here they are:

  • Suppose a nominee for attorney general said a few years ago: “Gays and lesbians are violating God’s will. Marriage should be between Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

  • Suppose a presidential candidate said a few years ago, “People who want to ban abortion just don’t care about women.”

  • Suppose a nominee for secretary of state said a few years ago, “I think the United States should apologize for the many terrible things that it has done in the world.”

  • Suppose a presidential candidate has been accused by a number of women of inappropriate touching — of getting too close to them, of hugging them too much, of hugging them too long. Some of the women said they felt violated.

In all four cases, participants were asked to suppose that the public figure apologized for the statement or behavior in question, and were asked whether the apology would make them more likely to support him or her, less likely to do so, or neither less nor more inclined to support the public figure.

In each and every scenario, the percentage of people who became less inclined to support the offender was larger than the percentage who became more inclined to do so. Stunningly, the patterns were broadly similar in all four cases — even though different groups of people responded to each of them and the statements or actions would offend people of different convictions.

In the case of the hypothetical nominee who disparaged same-sex marriage, 37 percent said that they would be less inclined to support the apologizing nominee; 22 percent said that they would be more inclined; 41 percent said neither.

In the abortion case, 36.5 percent said that they would be less inclined to support the apologizing candidate; 20 percent said that they would be more inclined; 43.5 percent said neither.

In the case of the would-be secretary of state, 41.5 percent said that they would be less inclined to support the apologizing nominee; 23 percent said that they would be more inclined; 35.5 percent said neither.

In the case of inappropriate touching, 29 percent said that they would be less inclined to support the apologizing candidate; 25 percent said that they would be more inclined; 46 percent saidneither.

In a diverse set of contexts, then, an apology tended to decrease rather than to increase overall support for those who said or did things that many people consider offensive. These findings are in line with earlier work by Richard Hanania, a research fellow at Columbia University, who found that apologies by public figures do not help and can even backfire.

Why is that? It’s hard to say for sure, but one reason may be that an apology is like a confession. It makes wrongdoing more salient. It can lead people to think: “We thought he was a jerk; now we know he is. He admits it!”

8) Good piece from Will Saletan on how William Barr won the Mueller report:

Mueller’s integrity makes him a sterling investigator but a lousy political combatant. On March 22, he submitted his 448-page report to Barr, laying out evidence that Trump had obstructed justice but declining to state that conclusion. Barr responded by hijacking the report. Instead of digesting it or releasing the summaries Mueller had drafted for public release, the attorney general issued a letter on March 24 declaring, without explanation, that the evidence was “not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

Mueller and his team were taken aback. On March 27, the special counsel sent Barr a notepointing out that the attorney general’s letter “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.” Mueller asked Barr to release the summaries drafted by the special counsel’s office. Barr refused. Mueller didn’t tell the press about this dispute, and Barr exploited his silence. When the attorney general was asked on April 9 whether members of Mueller’s team were unhappy with Barr’s March 24 letter, he falsely testified that he knew nothing about it.

By dismissing the case against Trump three weeks before he released the report, Barr allowed Republicans to frame the report as a victory. And on April 18, when Barr unveiled the document, he misrepresented it. “The Special Counsel’s report did not find any evidence that members of the Trump campaign or anyone associated with the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its hacking operations,” Barr declared. “In other words, there was no evidence of Trump campaign ‘collusion’ with the Russian government’s hacking.”

That wasn’t true. The report said that there wasevidence—for example, Trump’s explicit appeal to Russia during a July 2016 press conference to “find the 30,000 emails” Hillary Clinton had deleted—but that it wasn’t enough. Barr was twisting the report to fit Republican spin that the investigation was baseless…

And what is Mueller’s reward for these scruples? During his testimony, Republicans accused him of bias against Trump. Then, at a press conference afterward, they crowed that Mueller had trashed the Democrats’ talking points against the president. In the hearings, Democrats had “laid out every possibility they could for obstruction,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “And Mr. Mueller looked at ’em and said … ‘I don’t agree with your theory.’ That should tell you a lot right there.”

It certainly does. It explains, to a large extent, why Trump is off the hook. Barr is playing politics, and Mueller isn’t. Even a Bronze Star Marine can be fragged.

8) Totally unsurprising, but, we should take note.  Jordan  Weissman, “Donald Trump’s Entire Story About the Economy Fell Apart This Week”

Again, this could just be a blip, and it’s possible that as the data get revised, last quarter’s business investment might start to look stronger. But if it doesn’t, it won’t just be a strike against Trump’s story about the economy. It will also undercut years of conservative, supply-side orthodoxy. After all, when Republicans passed their massive corporate tax cut in 2017, their entire argument rested on the idea that it would lead to a surge in investment that would eventually lead to higher wages. Again, there’s no sign that has taken place. If the economy is reaping any benefit from the tax bill, it doesn’t seem to be strong enough to overcome the headwind of Donald Trump’s other rash decisions. Instead, what really appears to be driving the economy is a combination of consumer spending, perhaps plumped up by the tax cut, and federal deficits. The real story of the Trump economy, it seems, is about the power of stimulus spending—the sort of thing Republicans once claimed to hate.

9) You know, it really is a problem that Black transwomen are murdered at a disporportionately high rate.  But I’m still going to say that given 2019 America, this is probably not in the top 100 problems that should be concerning Democratic presidential candidates.  Especially when their supposed sin is voting for a law who’s intent was to limit sex trafficking.

10) I’ve really loved the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.  I watched PBS’ “Chasing the Moon” this week and absolutely loved it.  One of my favorite thins to do is watch the launch of a Saturn V rocket.  I think I could have that on a loop for an hour and be happy.

11) Also, totally loving “Dark” on Netflix.  I’m enjoying the German with English subtitles to see how much I recognize from my four years in high school and college.

Photo of the day

Great Atlantic photo gallery of the moon landing.  I’m a sucker for cool, reflected images.

A close-up view of Buzz Aldrin as he walks on the moon, with a reflected view of the Lunar Module and his photographer, Neil Armstrong, visible in Buzz’s visor.  NASA.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I must say, my Wired subscription has been a great investment.  My 13-year old loves reading the hardcopy every month (reminds me of my love for Discover when I was his age) and I get unlimited online access to all their great articles.  Really enjoyed this on the technical and logistical challenges facing the power grid by dramatically ramping up renewable energy:

The fundamental challenge with integrating solar and wind energy into the US electric grid is that the areas that are best for generating these types of clean energy are usually very remote. The Great Plains is the place to harvest wind energy, and the Mojave Desert gets sun 360 days a year, but these locations are hundreds—if not thousands—of miles away from America’s biggest cities, where clean energy is needed most. Piping this energy from wind and solar farms means building more interstate high-voltage transmission lines, which are expensive, ugly, and loud. Unsurprisingly, most people don’t want transmission lines near their homes, so new builds often face stiff political resistance from locals.

The design and management of the US electric grid itself doesn’t help. The national grid comprises three main regions—the Eastern, Western, and Texas interconnections—and each of these regional grids operates independently of the others. Within the three interconnections, there are a number of regional transmission organizations and independent system operators, which are nonprofit entities that manage the transmission and generation of electricity by utilities in their region. The Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency within the DOE, are responsible for identifying when and where new transmission is needed, but it’s up to the states to pick the patch of dirt where the transmission lines are built, while the utilities within the states decide who will pay for them.

Even in the complex world of energy policy, placing new transmission lines is a gordian knot. “The transmission issue is a hybrid of a federal issue and a state issue, which makes it challenging from the standpoint of policy, because you have different jurisdictions for different things,” says David Hurlbut, a policy and economic researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Furthermore, he says, transmission lines spanning several states raise complex questions about cost allocation, which requires determining who benefits most from the new infrastructure.

2) This was a pretty good fact check on US men’s versus women’s soccer team and what they earn.  The women certainly should be earning more, but there’s a lot of bad arguments out there.  My favorite take is Mike Pesca’s, starting at about 25:40 here.

3) This is great from Brendan Nyhan, “Trump Lost the Citizenship Debate, but He’s Still Corroding Our Politics”

An even more worrying example concerns the president’s relationship with the Department of Justice. Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly called for investigations into his political opponents and simultaneously demanded that investigations into his own administration be curtailed. These statements call for actions that would violate long-standing norms and policies at the DOJ that have helped to preserve its independence under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Luckily, Trump’s pleas have been largely ignored by his appointees at the DOJ, which allowed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to finish his investigation and issue a public report. Again, bureaucratic and legal resistance has protected the stability of the political system; Trump’s anti-democratic rhetoric has not yet politicized the rule of law in the way that liberals feared.

However, Trump’s statements have again expanded the scope of what is possible. Since taking office, Attorney General Bill Barr has not defended the independence of the DOJ and federal law enforcement. Instead, he has launched his own inquiry into the Russia investigation and the public servants who were investigating the Trump–Russia connections, a frequent target of Trump’s ire. In this way, it may chill future inquiries into potential administration wrongdoing, preventing future Mueller reports from seeing the light of day.

This recurring cycle of challenge, resistance, and accommodation is more complex than our political discourse can accommodate — it’s neither the end of democracy in America nor is it politics as usual. Trump’s challenges to our norms will continue to meet stiff resistance, but even his defeats can sow the seeds for future democratic erosion. [emphasis mine]

4) You know I can’t get enough moon landing.  Love this NYT interactive photo feature of the first walk on the moon.

5) Great stuff from David Brooks:

In Trump’s version, “American” is defined by three propositions. First, to be American is to be xenophobic. The basic narrative he tells is that the good people of the heartland are under assault from aliens, elitists and outsiders. Second, to be American is to be nostalgic. America’s values were better during some golden past. Third, a true American is white. White Protestants created this country; everybody else is here on their sufferance.

When you look at Trump’s American idea you realize that it contradicts the traditional American idea in every particular. In fact, Trump’s national story is much closer to the Russian national story than it is toward our own. It’s an alien ideology he’s trying to plant on our soil.

Trump’s vision is radically anti-American.

The real American idea is not xenophobic, nostalgic or racist; it is pluralistic, future-oriented and universal. America is exceptional precisely because it is the only nation on earth that defines itself by its future, not its past. America is exceptional because from the first its citizens saw themselves in a project that would have implications for all humankind. America is exceptional because it was launched with a dream to take the diverse many and make them one — e pluribus unum.

6) David Graham, “Trump Goes All In on Racism: The president’s tweets are an invitation to a racial conflict that pits citizen against citizen, under the calculation that racism itself is a winning political strategy.”

Yet Trump’s racist Twitter attacks on Democratic congresswomen over the weekend still managed to shock, even in this benumbed age, because of his willingness and eagerness to place racism at the center of his political platform in a run for reelection to the presidency. It is not simply the employment of racist ideas for political advantage—that has been a staple of campaigns in both parties for some time. It is the invitation to a racial conflict that pits citizen against citizen, under the calculation that racism itself is a winning strategy, that astonishes.

7) I’m with Jeet Heer, though.  It’s not a winning strategy.  Given our present economy, his approval would surely be over 50% if he was not a braggadocios bigot.  Sure, the deplorable base really loves it, but there truly are a good number of right-leaning Americans who are turned off.

Many analysts believe that Trump’s strategic racism is a shrewd play. Amy Walter, national editor of Cook Political Report, tweeted, “This fight w/ the squad is exactly where Trump wants 2020 fought. The more media/Dems engage him, the better for him. All this fight does is re-polarize the partisans and leaves the up-for-grabs voters (who want to hear about bread-butter issues) tuned out.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper retweeted Walter and added in a quote from Steve Bannon, “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

This diagnosis misreads the role racism plays in Trump’s politics. While it’s true that racism has been crucial for allowing Trump to take over the Republican party and remains key to his strength among GOP partisans, there’s little evidence that racism is actually a winning gambit in national elections. A close look at recent elections shows that if Democrats stay united, they can crush Trumpian racism…

Ramping up xenophobia might not help Republicans win elections, but it does serve Trump’s purpose by keeping the GOP in line. Even Republicans who say they don’t like Trump’s overt expressions of prejudice tend to rally behind the president when he’s being attacked by outsiders.

8) I’ll be honest, Nate Cohn yesterday was scary, “Trump’s Electoral College Edge Could Grow in 2020, Rewarding Polarizing Campaign: Re-election looks plausible even with a bigger loss in the national popular vote.”

9) Though Tom Jensen makes a pretty good case for the Southern route to a Democratic win.

10) Ahhh, Chait: “Republicans Baffled Why Trump Keeps Saying Racist Things”

Republicans usually avoid acknowledging Trump’s long history of discriminatory actions (it’s the past!) or private racist comments (hearsay!) But because Trump is not clever enough to gauge the point at which his racist insinuations cross the line into the kind of overt racism that will discomfit his party, he sometimes does it in public, too. Famous examples include his insistence that a Mexican-American judge is inherently biased, the Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville included “very fine people,” and his recent attribution of foreignness to nonwhite Democrats in Congress.

Representative Mike Turner has gone further than almost any other Republican by using the word “racist” to describe the president’s comments. But even here, he holds out the phantasmal prospect of repentance. Trump’s “tweets from this weekend,” he scolds, “were racist and he should apologize.”

But Trump is not going to apologize. So what happens then? The answer is that they will continue to support him, perhaps disapprove of his next public racist outburst, and the one after that, repeating the ritual as many times as necessary, until he has finally passed from the public stage. Their ability to identify patterns in his rhetoric and actions, and to cast judgment on his character, ended when he won the election. Trump used to be a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot. Now he is president of the United States.

11) Took George Conway a while to see what was in front of his eyes, but he does now:

And how naive an adult could be. The birther imaginings about Barack Obama? Just a silly conspiracy theory, latched onto by an attention seeker who has a peculiar penchant for them. The “Mexican” Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel incident? Asinine, inappropriate, a terrible attack on the judiciary by an egocentric man who imagined that the judge didn’t like him. The white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville? The president’s comments were absolutely idiotic, but he couldn’t possibly have been referring to those self-described Nazis as “good people”; in his sloppy, inarticulate way, he was referring to both sides of the debate over Civil War statues, and venting his anger about being criticized.

No, I thought, President Trump was boorish, dim-witted, inarticulate, incoherent, narcissistic and insensitive. He’s a pathetic bully but an equal-opportunity bully — in his uniquely crass and crude manner, he’ll attack anyone he thinks is critical of him. No matter how much I found him ultimately unfit, I still gave him the benefit of the doubt about being a racist. No matter how much I came to dislike him, I didn’t want to think that the president of the United States is a racial bigot.

But Sunday left no doubt. Naivete, resentment and outright racism, roiled in a toxic mix, have given us a racist president. Trump could have used vile slurs, including the vilest of them all, and the intent and effect would have been no less clear. Telling four non-white members of Congress — American citizens all, three natural-born — to “go back” to the “countries” they “originally came from”? That’s racist to the core. It doesn’t matter what these representatives are for or against — and there’s plenty to criticize them for — it’s beyond the bounds of human decency. For anyone, not least a president.

12) And Elaina Plott makes a good point, “Trump Supporters Don’t Make Chants About Men”

13) Nice to see most mainstream media organizations properly on the “racism” train now (if they have any doubt, they should read Conway).  Good piece from Margaret Sullivan:

Now the question is the word “racist.”

Were Trump’s tweets portraying Democratic legislators of color as foreigners merely “racially tinged”? Were they just sprinkled with racially tinted pixie dust?

And should descriptions of what Trump stands for be put only in the mouths of his critics — a step removed from the journalists themselves?

Or should stronger language and sharper focus be used?

It depends on only one thing: whether journalists want to be clear about saying what’s right there in front of everyone’s eyes and ears…

Former New York Times reporter and columnist Clyde Haberman, in a Sunday tweet, put it simply and well, describing his own transition:

“Despite decades of evidence that Trump is a racist, I’ve resisted calling him one because it’s polarizing language that’s rarely helpful. But his go-back-where-you-came-from harangue tears it for me. He’s a bigot, and if GOPers don’t call him out, they’re complicit.”

That goes for the news media, too.

Journalists don’t need to see themselves as political advocates when they say obvious things in plain terms. And doing so doesn’t make them Democratic operatives as their pro-Trump critics are sure to charge.

It just means they are doing the most fundamental job they have: telling the truth as plainly and directly as possible.

14) I don’t watch a lot of tennis any more, but really enjoyed Federer-Djokovich the other day.  And I really enjoyed Josh Levin on how Federer has re-tooled his game.

15) I’ve long seen far too many Evangelical Christians as driven by a constricted, sex-obsessed, un-empathetic view of Christian morality.  But damn has their embrace of Trump down more than anything to put the lie to their “Christian” faith.  Pete Wehner:

There’s a very high cost to our politics for celebrating the Trump style, but what is most personally painful to me as a person of the Christian faith is the cost to the Christian witness. Nonchalantly jettisoning the ethic of Jesus in favor of a political leader who embraces the ethic of Thrasymachus and Nietzsche—might makes right, the strong should rule over the weak, justice has no intrinsic worth, moral values are socially constructed and subjective—is troubling enough.

But there is also the undeniable hypocrisy of people who once made moral character, and especially sexual fidelity, central to their political calculus and who are now embracing a man of boundless corruptions. Don’t forget: Trump was essentially named an unindicted co-conspirator (“Individual 1”) in a scheme to make hush-money payments to a porn star who alleged she’d had an affair with him while he was married to his third wife, who had just given birth to their son.

16) Linda Greenhouse: “A ‘Train Wreck’ Was Averted at the Supreme Court, but for How Long?
While the rule of law prevailed in the census case, it still hangs by a thread.”

There’s a strong temptation to extract a triumphalist narrative from the president’s grim-faced and rant-filled surrender last Thursday. After all, didn’t the rule of law prevail — and perhaps even emerge stronger for having been so sorely tested? Didn’t the country dodge a “constitutional train wreck,” as Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official in the Clinton administration, wrote in The Washington Post the next day?

Well, maybe. But it was way too close for comfort. And given the Trump administration’s undimmed determination to lock the Supreme Court into a permanent if uneasy partnership, it’s important to realize that the train is still hurtling down the track, destination highly uncertain.

So as the census saga fades from view, it should be remembered, in all its bizarre aspects, not as outlier but as exemplar. Why should we have been shocked that a president would countermand his lawyers’ judgment with a tweet, requiring them to inform a flabbergasted federal district judge that no, the case was not over, and plunging the Justice Department into chaos over a holiday weekend? This is, after all, a president who makes foreign policy via Twitter...

Think of how many contingencies had to fall into place for the census story to end the way it did. Only Chief Justice John Roberts knows whether the revelations from the hard drive of a dead Republican operative, fortuitously brought to light weeks after the Supreme Court heard oral argument, influenced his conclusion that “the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the secretary gave for his decision.” There was already ample evidence to that effect, evidence that had led a federal district judge in New York, Jesse Furman, to invalidate the addition of the citizenship question.

17) Krugman:

And since we’re having this moment of clarity, there are several other points we should address.

First, this isn’t just about Trump; it’s about his whole party.

I don’t just mean the almost complete absence of condemnation of Trump’s racism on the part of prominent Republicans, although this cowardice was utterly predictable. I mean that Trump isn’t alone in deciding that this is a good time to bring raw racism out of the closet.

Last week Bill Lee, the Republican governor of Tennessee, signed a proclamation ordering a day to honor the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, whom he described as a “recognized military figure.” Indeed, Forrest was a talented military commander. He was also a traitor, a war criminal who massacred African-American prisoners, and a terrorist who helped found the Ku Klux Klan.

Put it this way: The Nazis had some very good generals, too. But the world would be horrified if Germany announced plans to start celebrating Erich von Manstein Day. There are, no doubt, some Germans who would like to honor Nazi heroes. But they aren’t in positions of power; their American counterparts are…

Second, although most of the commentary focuses on Trump’s demand that native-born Americans “go back” to their home countries, his description of their imaginary homelands as “crime infested” deserves some attention, too. For his fixation on crime is another manifestation of his racism…

It’s tempting to say that Republican claims to support racial equality were always hypocritical; it’s even tempting to welcome the move from dog whistles to open racism. But if hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, what we’re seeing now is a party that no longer feels the need to pay that tribute. And that’s deeply frightening.

18) How cool is this?  Footage of a giant squid.  Via Wired.

You’re looking at what has been called the “holy grail of natural cinematography.” This is the first-ever footage of a live giant squid in U.S. waters. Pretty much everything scientists know about giant squids comes from ones that been caught in nets or have died and floated ashore. Until now.

Here, we can see they are active, visual predators. This one watches its prey (the camera) for a while before deciding to strike. It’s most likely a juvenile, measuring about 12 feet long with its tentacles unextended. For context, a full adult can get as tall as a four-story building.

Oh, and shortly after capturing this historic footage, the ship the researchers were on was struck by lightning. Here’s the story of how they filmed this mysterious creature: https://wired.trib.al/nCiScrH

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