Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff, as always, from Adam Serwer, bringing in that classic of high school English, “Young Goodman Brown.”

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1835 short story “Young Goodman Brown,” an upright citizen of 17th-century Salem journeys into a New England forest on a dark night and finds himself among fellow Puritans—“faces that would be seen next day at the council board of the province, and others which, Sabbath after Sabbath, looked devoutly heavenward, and benignantly over the crowded pews, from the holiest pulpits in the land”—who are summoning Satan himself to bless their revels…

Hawthorne is appropriate Halloween reading, and especially this year: American society is living through its Goodman Brown moment, a moment when many of the norms we have been taught to admire have been revealed as a shell game for suckers. As Trumpism took hold in the nation in 2015, it was regarded as a kind of temporary madness. But time has revealed that this vulgar spirit is no aberration. It was there all along; the goodly veneer was the lie.

Consider the devolution of Bill Barr, from an “institutionalist” who would protect the Department of Justice to a servant of Donald Trump. Consider the two dozen House Republicans who used physical force to disrupt their own body rather than allow government officials to testify to what they know about President Trump—because to follow the rules of the House, and the strictures of national security, would threaten their party’s grasp on power. Consider the white evangelical leaders who prated to the nation for a generation about character and chastity and “Judeo-Christian morality,” but who now bless Trump as a leader. Consider, if more evidence is needed, the unforgettable moment at the Capitol on September 27, 2018, when Brett Kavanaugh dropped forever the mask of the “independent judge” to stand proudly forth as a partisan figure promising vengeance against his enemies.

The last incident, I think, sums up the horror of what the nation has learned about many of its leaders. It seems likely that Kavanaugh’s self-abasement was not the impulse of a desperate man, but a conscious choice made because, unless he showed himself willing to fight back viciously, he risked losing the support of the president. That choice had the desired effect. Trump embraced Kavanaugh, and used his tirade to move supporters to the polls that November.

This is the point. These are not victims crazed by “polarization” or “partisanship” or “gridlock” but cool-headed political actors who see the chance to win long-sought goals—dictatorial power in the White House, partisan control of the federal bench, an end to legal abortion and the re-subordination of women, destruction of the government’s regulatory apparatus, an end to voting rights that might threaten minority-party control, a return to pre-civil-rights racial norms. The historical moment finds them on a mountaintop; all the kingdoms they have sought are laid out before them, and a voice says, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”

2) Cool stuff in Wired, “Scientists Now Know How Sleep Cleans Toxins From the Brain.”

When we sleep our brains travel through several phases, from a light slumber to a deep sleep that feels like we’ve fallen unconscious, to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when we’re more likely to have dreams. Lewis’ work looks at non-REM sleep, that deep phase which generally happens earlier in the night and which has already been associated with memory retention. One important 2013 study on mice showed that while the rodents slept, toxins like beta amyloid, which can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, got swept away.

Lewis was curious how those toxins were cleared out and why that process only happened during sleep. She suspected that cerebrospinal fluid, a clear, water-like liquid that flows around the brain, might be involved. But she wasn’t sure what was unique about sleep. So her lab designed a study that measured several different variables at the same time…

What she discovered was that during non-REM sleep, large, slow waves of cerebrospinal fluid were washing over the brain. The EEG readings helped show why. During non-REM sleep, neurons start to synchronize, turning on and off at the same time. “First you would see this electrical wave where all the neurons would go quiet,” says Lewis. Because the neurons had all momentarily stopped firing, they didn’t need as much oxygen. That meant less blood would flow to the brain. But Lewis’s team also observed that cerebrospinal fluid would then rush in, filling in the space left behind.

“It’s a fantastic paper,” says Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester who led the 2013 study that first described how sleep can clear out toxins in mice. “I don’t think anybody in their wildest fantasy has really shown that the brain’s electrical activity is moving fluid. So that’s really exciting.”

3) Good stuff from Paul Waldman on Warren’s M4A detailed plan:

Elizabeth Warren just released her health-care plan, and I’m going to do something radical. Instead of directing all your attention to the question of how she’ll pay for it, as 99 percent of the coverage is doing, I’m going to focus on what her plan might mean for — get ready — people’s health care.

Don’t get me wrong: The funding is important. But the most important overarching question is what kind of health-care system we want.

Once we’ve decided that, we can figure out the best way to pay for it. Warren’s solution might be good or bad on either point, though what we have right now is really the worst of all possible worlds: A system with horrific problems, costing more than any system in the world, and paid for in ways that are inequitable and unsustainable. Would her plan be better? …

Warren’s plan makes a lot of assumptions, particularly about the multiple streams she plans to use to raise money. And some people will react by saying, “Oh no, there are trade-offs in her plan? Intolerable!”

But there are trade-offs we live with now — some pretty awful ones. Orthopedic surgeons can make $750,000 a year, which is good for Porsche dealerships, but it also means higher premiums for everybody. Hundreds of thousands of people have jobs in the health insurance industry, and insurance companies make billions of dollars in profits; the trade-off is that all of us have to pay for that with our premiums. We have tens of millions of people with no coverage at all. Our current trade-offs are a disaster…

You might think Warren’s plan is a good way to get us there. Or you might think a more incremental plan has a better chance of passing, putting us on the road to that future. Or you might favor something else entirely.

But whatever plan you find most compelling, we should never forget that what we have now is a practical, financial and moral catastrophe. If we decide to change it, we can.

4)  Bernstein on Gabbard:

The good news for them? There’s no reason to worry about her.

To begin with, while there have been two very close elections recently, in 2000 and 2016, most elections aren’t that close and the odds are this one won’t be either. Democrats have been hurt by third-party candidacies before, in particular by Ralph Nader’s Green Party run in 2000, in which he appeared to be deliberately trying to hurt Vice President Al Gore’s chances. But Gabbard is no Ralph Nader. Nader was a famous activist for decades before he ran. He was able to generate an unusual amount of attention for a minor candidate, and Democrats worried with good reason that voters might choose him over Gore. In fact, Nader received 2.7% of the general-election vote, more than twice as much as all the other minor party and independent candidates combined.

But here’s the thing: There will be other names on the ballot whether Gabbard runs or not. And there’s no reason to think that she’d win many votes. More likely, she’ll resemble Cynthia McKinney, a former Democratic representative who ran as the Green Party candidate in 2008 and got fewer than 200,000 votes nationwide. Yes, the similarly obscure Jill Stein wound up with 1.5 million votes in 2016 after getting about a third of that in 2012. What that suggests, though, is that most third-party candidates gain traction not because voters love them, but because they dislike the major-party candidate who they’d otherwise vote for.

This problem will mostly solve itself. Democratic voters really, really, really dislike President Donald Trump. They’re going to be motivated to vote for whoever the party nominates. They’re also going to be far less willing to risk a third-party vote after the 2016 election, just as voters in 2004 abandoned Nader when he ran again.

5) Eric Levitz, “Beto O’Rourke 2020 Has Been Worse Than Useless”

Understandably, many progressives found O’Rourke’s refusal to placate red America on these points refreshing. Surely, no decent society should have millions of AR-15s in circulation. And why should our tax dollars subsidize institutions that promote bigotry in the name of tradition?

I, for one, would certainly favor mandatory buybacks if it were politically and logistically feasible (I’d also love for the state to take just about all the guns, and then disarm the cops while we’re at it). Beto’s support for conditioning the tax-exempt status of religious institutions on whether he approves of their teaching seems substantively bad (and unconstitutional) to me. But if I had my druthers, I’d probably have the state get out of the religion-subsidizing business entirely.

And if Beto had his druthers, he’d be a serious presidential candidate. Which is to say: We can’t always get what we want in this life…

Nevertheless, in an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning, O’Rourke doubled down on literal confiscation.

This is wildly unproductive. Mandatory buybacks are legislatively impossible, logistically nightmarish, and politically unwise. Elections are won and lost at the margins. There is little-to-no evidence that embracing more ideologically extreme positions spurs higher turnout among unreliable Democratic voters (who tend to be more conservative than reliable ones, especially on social issues). There are a significant number of Americans who oppose Donald Trump but lean right on gun issues. There’s no reason for Democrats to go out of their way to antagonize such voters by embracing relatively unpopular, legislatively nonviable gun reforms. And there is even less reason for O’Rourke to do so. The man is not going to be the Democrats’ 2020 nominee, but he could have used this campaign to fortify his status as a strong candidate for statewide office in Texas. Getting to Elizabeth Warren’s left on firearms probably disqualifies him from that consolation prize. And one can essentially say all these same things about his stance on the tax-exempt status of anti-LGBT churches.

But O’Rourke took his campaign’s malign uselessness to new heights Tuesday night, when he had the temerity to scold Warren for the divisiveness of her wealth tax. After allowing that a levy on the wealth of billionaires might be “part of the solution” to inequality, the man who had just called for siccing big government on Catholic churches and gun owners said the following:

Sometimes I think that Senator Warren is more focused on being punitive and pitting some part of the country against the other instead of lifting people up and making sure that this country comes together around those solutions.

In that moment, it seemed almost plausible that O’Rourke was, in truth, a GOP sleeper agent — or else a Tucker Carlson caricature of elite liberalism come to life. Taxing the wealth of billionaires is popular with a broad, bipartisan majority of Americans. The GOP’s greatest liability with marginal Trump voters is the perception that they’re the party of the superrich and corporations. To the extent that Democrats can make inroads into red America, increasing the salience of popular progressive ideas for equalizing economic power is their best bet for doing so. Warren’s wealth tax represents a step in the direction. By contrast, Beto’s efforts to spotlight relatively unpopular liberal ideas on culture-war issues, while decrying populist rhetoric as punitive and divisise, are music to Republican operatives’ ears.

O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign was a vital contribution to the fight against reactionary rule in the U.S. He deserves some measure of admiration for mounting it. But his presidential bid has accomplished nothing beyond costing his party a promising candidate in the Lone Star State. The longer he drags out this increasingly counterproductive, quixotic crusade, the harder it will be to avoid the question: Members of Beto’s campaign, what the fuck?

6) Drum on William Barr and how secularists are not actually ruining America:

7) This from Claire Cain Miller earlier this year in the Upshot is excellent, “Women Did Everything Right. Then Work Got ‘Greedy.’: How America’s obsession with long hours has widened the gender gap.”  Love this nugget:

Women don’t step back from work because they have rich husbands, she said. They have rich husbands because they step back from work.

8) Good piece from Dan Drezner on how the attack’s on Vindman’s patriotism actually led to reinforcing, rather than breaking, an important norm:

It is truly extraordinary to hear even rabid partisans like Ingraham, Yoo, Kilmeade and Duffy question a decorated war hero’s bona fides because he was an immigrant — and by “extraordinary,” I mean insidious and anti-American. As Jonathan Chait noted:

The Republican position is that there’s no loyalty problem involved in having American foreign policy conducted by an off-the-books lawyer with no security clearance who was apparently on the payroll of the Russian Mafia. The security problem is the NSC official advising an American ally about how to deal with the goons demanding that the ally subvert the independence of its judicial system and insert itself into the American election.

The GOP attack seems particularly malignant given Vindman’s actual backstory..

The story that emerged was that the norm under attack emerged stronger than before.

By midday Tuesday, key members of the GOP’s congressional leadership had pushed back pretty hard against these accusations. Politico’s Burgess Everett and Melanie Zanona reported that “Republicans may quibble with the substance of Vindman’s testimony as they try to protect Trump from the fast-moving impeachment inquiry. But congressional GOP leaders say it’s out of bounds to question Vindman’s patriotism and allegiance to the United States, as some conservative pundits did on Monday night.”…

Still, this is a case in which the attempt to smear someone because they were born somewhere else has actually strengthened and not weakened the norm. In an age in which political courage is in short supply, I’ll take this small victory.

9) Interesting survey finds that about 1/3 of Americans prefer and M4A approach, a 1/3 will take more choice-based universal care, and only 1/3 go for the Republican approach.

10) Good stuff from Paul Waldman on the wildfires:

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” That’s what Ronald Reagan used to say, a summation of his belief that government was not just incompetent but malevolent, a ravenous beast that would steal your money and ruin your life. Or as he put it in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Keep that in mind as you consider the fires now spreading over California, particularly one threatened structure that has gotten a good deal of attention:

Hurricane-force gusts and single-digit humidity levels combined Wednesday to spark a number of fires across Southern California, including one here that threatened the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for several morning hours. […]
Ventura County firefighters had several strike teams in place at the Reagan Library, and intensive aerial attacks from helicopters and a DC-10 tanker kept the flames off the hilltop where the building sits. The library’s safety was far from certain, though, during a morning when conditions conspired against hundreds of firefighters on the ground.

Hundreds of firefighters, helicopters, a DC-10 tanker! Funny how when the Reagan Library was threatened, those charged with keeping alive the memory of Reagan’s long career of undermining, degrading and belittling government didn’t call upon the free market’s invisible hand to save them. No, they called the government…

This is a reminder of what Republicans actually think about government, despite what they say about it.

This presidential campaign will be an opportunity to have a real debate not just about whether government should be big or small, but about what it is for and what it should do. The story of the Reagan Library is just one vivid illustration of the fact that conservatives don’t actually object to government per se; they just want to make sure that government helps some people and not others.

11) Speaking of wildfires, Farhad Manjoo on the end of California as we know it:

Probably, because it’s only going to get worse. The fires and the blackouts aren’t like the earthquakes, a natural threat we’ve all chosen to ignore. They are more like California’s other problems, like housing affordability and homelessness and traffic — human-made catastrophes we’ve all chosen to ignore, connected to the larger dysfunction at the heart of our state’s rot: a failure to live sustainably.

Now choking under the smoke of a changing climate, California feels stuck. We are BlackBerry after the iPhone, Blockbuster after Netflix: We’ve got the wrong design, we bet on the wrong technologies, we’ve got the wrong incentives, and we’re saddled with the wrong culture. The founding idea of this place is infinitude — mile after endless mile of cute houses connected by freeways and uninsulated power lines stretching out far into the forested hills. Our whole way of life is built on a series of myths — the myth of endless space, endless fuel, endless water, endless optimism, endless outward reach and endless free parking.

12) Nobel Prize winning economists on how economic incentives are not what we think they are:

Over the last few decades, this faith in the power of economic incentives led policymakers in the United States and elsewhere to focus, often with the best of intentions, on a narrow range of “incentive-compatible” policies.

This is unfortunate, because economists have somehow managed to hide in plain sight an enormously consequential finding from their research: Financial incentives are nowhere near as powerful as they are usually assumed to be.

We see it among the rich. No one seriously believes that salary caps lead top athletes to work less hard in the United States than they do in Europe, where there is no cap. Research shows that when top tax rates go up, tax evasion increases (and people try to move), but the rich don’t work less. The famous Reagan tax cuts did raise taxable income briefly, but only because people changed what they reported to tax authorities; once this was over, the effect disappeared.

We see it among the poor. Notwithstanding talk about “welfare queens,” 40 years of evidence shows that the poor do not stop working when welfare becomes more generous. In the famous negative income tax experiments of the 1970s, participants were guaranteed a minimum income that was taxed away as they earned more, effectively taxing extra earnings at rates ranging from 30 percent to 70 percent, and yet men’s labor hours went down by less than 10 percent. More recently, when members of the Cherokee tribe started getting dividends from the casino on their land, which made them 50 percent richer on average, there was no evidence that they worked less…

Third, we should not be unduly scared of raising taxes to pay for these projects. There is no evidence that it would disrupt the economy. This is, of course, a touchy subject politically: The idea of raising taxes on anyone but the very rich is not popular. So we should start with raising the rates on top income and adding a wealth tax, as many have proposed. The key then would be to link the added revenue to efforts like the ones we describe above, which would serve to slowly restore the legitimacy of the government’s efforts to help those in need. This will take time, but we have to start somewhere — and soon.

13) More interesting research on the connection between population density and political ideology.

14) This was really interesting… Maybe the super-famous Stanford Prison experiment was not actually all it was cracked up to be.

15) Okay, hockey fans, you have to see Andrei Svechnikov’s “lacrosse goal” if you haven’t yet.  I saw it live on TV, but did not fully appreciate it at the time.

16) This is cool.  A college friend of mine and one-time Political Science PhD student who ended up becoming a law professor has written a children’s book that celebrates Native American culture.

17) Ain’t this just the absolute every day Trump story that gets totally ignored.  Vox: “A crucial federal program tracking dangerous diseases is shutting down: Predict, a pandemic preparedness program, thrived under Bush and Obama. Now it’s canceled.”

18) Happy 20th(!!) birthday to my firstborn, who is reading this.  Now down to two teenagers in the house.  Still waiting on three “grown-ups” though ;-).

Quick hits

1) It’s kind of amazing that there’s so much awful news about Trump that we’ve kind of largely ignored the new evidence that he’s almost surely guilty of bank fraud and tax fraud.  Seriously.  What a crazy world we’re in.  Paul Waldman:

Donald Trump labored for years to create an image as the embodiment of success (which also just happens to be the name of his cologne; you can get a bottle on Amazon for $19.49). For a time, that image was undercut by his eagerness to slap his name on any second-rate product he could find, whether it was ties or steaks or water.

But when he ran for president and journalists began looking deeper into his financial life, it became clear that Trump was in all probability the most corrupt major business figure in America.

Did he leave a string of jilted associates behind? Of course. Did he stiff small businesses? Indeed. Did he create scams such as Trump University that stole people’s life savings? You betcha. Did he run a fake “foundation”? Sure. Did he employ undocumented workers? Naturally.

In many of those cases, however, Trump may have done corrupt and morally repugnant things without literally breaking the law. But ask yourself this: When it comes to his financial life, what do you think the chances are that Trump hasn’t committed crimes?

I ask because of this extraordinary investigation from ProPublica, which obtained documentation on just a couple of Trump projects that show how he does business:

Documents obtained by ProPublica show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.
For instance, Trump told the lender that he took in twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities during the same year, 2017. He also gave conflicting occupancy figures for one of his signature skyscrapers, located at 40 Wall Street. […]
A dozen real estate professionals told ProPublica they saw no clear explanation for multiple inconsistencies in the documents. The discrepancies are “versions of fraud,” said Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “This kind of stuff is not OK.”

Not only is it not okay, if Trump was lying on both ends, to the bank and to tax authorities — and does anyone doubt he would? — it also could mean that he committed both bank fraud and tax fraud.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress that this is a pattern with Trump. “It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes,” Cohen said, “and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.” We have lots of evidence of Trump buying a property, then contesting his tax assessment by having his lawyers argue that, in fact, it is worth next to nothing.

2) Some good news on exercise and cancer:

And they concluded that there was more than enough evidence to start suggesting that exercise should be a part of standard treatment for most people with cancer. They also found that exercise should be considered a means to substantially drop the risk of developing cancer in the first place.

Specifically, the scientists, in separate reviews being published today in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, report that physically active people have as much as 69 percent less risk of being diagnosed with certain cancers than sedentary people. Exercise seems to be especially potent at lessening the likelihood of developing seven common malignancies, the new recommendations add: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, bladder, esophageal and stomach cancers.

The recommendations also point out that, in multiple recent studies, exercise changed the trajectory of cancer once it began. In animal experiments cited in the new reviews, exercise altered the molecular environment around some tumors, stalling or even halting their growth. And in people, exercising during and after cancer treatment was associated with longer subsequent life spans, the reviews found.

3) Interesting new book on cancer treatment.  Henry Marsh (a neurosurgeon who’s book I quite liked), with the review:

There’s an old joke in medical circles: “Why should you never give an oncologist a screwdriver?” The answer: “Because they will open the coffin and carry on treating the patient.”

Azra Raza, an oncologist at Columbia University, vividly illustrates this tug-of-war in her book “The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last.” It is, in many ways, a cry of protest against the disease that killed her husband (also an oncologist) and, over time, most of her patients. When it comes to cancer, Raza knows firsthand how hard it is to reconcile compassion with science and hope with realism.

She asks hard questions: “Why are we so afraid to tell the stories of the majority who die? Why keep promoting the positive anecdote? Why all this mollycoddling?” She says the time has come to think about the “ghastly toxicities of therapies” that often achieve so little. And she intersperses an impassioned argument about the ineffectiveness of current cancer medicine — at least for most patients with metastatic disease — with descriptions of the suffering of her husband and some of her patients (who are identified by first name, with photographs). By describing this suffering, Raza says, she hopes to jolt people into looking for a new paradigm in the so-called war on cancer.

Raza documents the failure of chemotherapy to help the great majority of patients with metastatic disease, and the immense cost and suffering involved. She castigates pharmaceutical companies (as have many others) for concentrating on drugs that often fail and at best achieve, on average, a few extra months of life. She quotes research that in the United States, over 14 years, “42.4 percent of the 9.5 million cancer cases had lost all of their life savings within two-plus years.”

4) Common drug tests cannot distinguish illegal THC from perfectly legal CBD.  Not okay!  But, hey, war on drugs and all that.

5) Jon Bernstein with good stuff on Trump, Watergate, and presidents and bureaucracies:

As more details emerge about President Donald Trump’s plot to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponent, it’s becoming clear that this scandal has something very much in common with both Watergate and Iran-Contra. All three episodes involved a president attempting to bypass the regular executive-branch bureaucracy to get something done. And all three episodes resulted in a fiasco of ineptitude.

Presidents are tempted to bypass the bureaucracy because departments and agencies, in the U.S. system, are empowered in many cases to refuse presidential requests — and in other cases, they can create so many delays that they might as well be refusing. That’s not because of some nefarious “deep state.” It’s because these agencies have masters both in the White House and on Capitol Hill (and in many cases in the courts as well), and because their ultimate allegiance is to the law, not to elected officials. This can be immensely frustrating even to well-intentioned presidents trying to do perfectly legal things. It’s no less frustrating when what the president wants is of dubious legality or if an agency simply isn’t authorized to do it.

Good presidents recognize the signal the system is sending them and either pull back from their plan or increase the resources devoted to overriding bureaucratic resistance. But as the Executive Office of the President has expanded, with more and more staffers reporting directly to the commander in chief, there’s been a strong temptation to simply find someone at the White House, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, or even outside of government altogether to just do whatever it is the president wants.

The result is predictable, so much so that I was writing about the phenomenon back when Trump was still a reality TV star. It turns out that the bureaucracy isn’t just a check on the president’s ability to get what he wants; it’s a critical source of expertise on the difficult tasks of governing a country of more than 300 million people that also happens to be the most powerful in the world. When a president decides to spy on his domestic opponents even after the agencies that normally do such things turn him down, you get the “plumbers” and the Watergate criminals and the clownish cover-up. When a president decides (or passively allows) the National Security Council staff to carry out an arms-for-hostages swap with the profits diverted elsewhere, despite congressional prohibitions and executive-branch reluctance, you get Oliver North sending a cake and a bible to Iran.

6) It should really not be all that hard to believe that both 1) Glyphosate (Roundup) really isn’t that harmful; and 2) Monsanto really is a problematic company.  Alas, it seems that so many people are convinced of #2 that they cannot approach #1 rationally.

7) This led me to a fun email conversation with DJC, that made me think of this really nice summary of key critical thinking components from clearerthinking.org.  I think this part here is especially relevant:

Truth-Seeking Traits are personal characteristics that make it easier to get an accurate picture of the world as it is. For another perspective on this concept, check out these 12 rationality virtues.

  • (i) Skepticism – to be skeptical is to be distrustful of information and vet it carefully, with the awareness that people are often misinformed, misled, or motivated to bend the truth. Skepticism requires being willing to reflect frequently on what you’ve heard and actively check information. It also requires some autonomy from the thoughts of others. Skepticism is essential for critical thinking because, without it, we adopt new beliefs without engaging our critical thinking skills.. If you want to practice this useful skill, check our our Belief Challenger program, where we teach some basic yet powerful techniques for skepticism.

The fundamental question to ask yourself here is: do you want to carefully vet information to help make sure it’s true, recognizing that false information is really common, instead of assuming that all of what your standard sources say is true?

  • (ii) Seekingness – to be seeking is to see the value of new perspectives that challenge your own, and to search out a variety of worldviews and ways of thinking. If you won’t deeply consider outside ideas that contradict yours, you will have trouble overturning your existing beliefs. Finding and then listening to other perspectives that disagree with your own is a great way to critically evaluate your assumptions. This seekingness trait of being curious and open to different ideas is especially powerful when combined with skepticism, because it means you will assess the accuracy and relevance of the new perspectives you seek out, rather than being unduly credulous of questionable ideas. We’ve developed a short test that measures these “skepticism” and “seekingness” traits, which will be available on ClearerThinking.org soon!

    • (iii) Impartiality – to evaluate information without self-interested bias requires resisting the temptations of your own social needs, incentives, and preferences when you form beliefs. If your attempts to reach a truthful, logical conclusion are tainted by the desire to get something that you want, it will hinder your ability to see the world clearly. Evaluating evidence and counter-evidence objectively becomes difficult when you aren’t being fair to all sides of the argument. Remember to examine your intentions, and whether your biased towards a particular outcome. You may have an incentive to find out that X is true, but that doesn’t make X any truer (though it certainly makes you more likely to succumb to bias when considering X).

      The fundamental question to ask yourself here is: do you want to seek out the beliefs of those very different from you, and really consider whether they might be true, instead of mainly considering the beliefs you already have?

8) Supposedly, William Barr was a decent man as a young fellow.  He’s sure not now.

9) It’s really pretty horrible just how awful some of Trump’s judicial appointments are.

Marty Lederman takes a look at the dissent from a Trump-appointed judge in today’s DC circuit decision finding that Congress has a right to subpoena Donald Trump’s financial records, and discovers that it has no basis in what could broadly be described as “law:”

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

I’ve just begun perusing the D.C. Circuit opinion in Mazars, but at first glance it sure appears as if Judge Rao’s dissent would conclude that the Ervin Committee Watergate investigation–and, e.g., the Iran/Contra and Whitewater investigations–were unconstitutional.

505 people are talking about this

There’s nothing in the text or legislative history of the relevant statute, or in SCOTUS precedent, or in constitutional law, that supports the Trump administration’s position in this case. Yet somehow, a Trump-appointed judge ruled in Trump’s favor. What could explain this apparently inexplicable development?

Lederman emphasizes that one possible explanation should be considered out of bounds:

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

Would *anyone* write a constitution that imposed such a requirement?

Marty Lederman@marty_lederman

P.S. For those of you who’ve been responding that Rao’s opinion is unsurprising because Trump appointed her, please stop: There’s plenty to criticize on the merits; no need to emulate Trump by insinuating that judges won’t call things straight w/r/t the POTUS who appointed them.

215 people are talking about this

I would hate to insinuate anything like that, so instead I’ll say it straight out: Rao is dissenting despite the absence of any quarter-way plausible legal basis for her dissent, because she is Federalist Society hack, who was put on the federal judiciary to rule in favor of Republicans and against Democrats in any case of political significance.

Lederman’s fervent institutionalist faith is a symptom of what is essentially just another form of American exceptionalism. Suppose a Putin-appointed judge ruled in Putin’s favor in a case that was crucial to Putin’s political interests, despite the absence of any non-frivolous legal argument for doing so. Would Lederman think that was because the judge was making a good-faith mistake, as opposed to ruling the way Putin wanted because that’s what a Putin-appointed judge has been appointed to do?

10) Jordan Weissman takes on Yang and automation:

Yang’s schtick about techno doom may be well-intentioned, but it is largely premised on BS, and is adding to the widespread confusion about the impact of automation on the economy.

Yang is not pulling his ideas out of thin air. Economists have been debating whether automation or trade is more responsible for the long-term decline of U.S. factory work for a while, and it’s possible to find experts on both sides of the issue. After remaining steady for years, the total number of U.S. manufacturing jobs suddenly plummeted in the early 2000s—from more than 17 million in 2000 to under 14 million in 2007. (The Great Recession saw about 2.2 million more vanish, though they’ve bounced back a bit since.) This all coincided with China’s entry into the World Trade Organization and rapid transformation into an industrial powerhouse, which led many to assume that offshoring had caused America’s rapid industrial decline. But some economists disagreed. They pointed out that while the number of manufacturing workers had crashed, factory output was still rising, which suggested that technological advances like industrial robots were just making things much more productive and efficient. In 2015, economists from Ball State University suggested that around 87 percent of manufacturing job losses between 2000 and 2010 were due to improved productivity from automation, and just 13 percent were due to trade, claims that later appeared in the New York TimesSo when Yang says that the “reason Donald Trump was elected was that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” he’s just echoing stuff that’s been printed in the paper of record.

The problem is that the Ball State team’s findings have basically been eviscerated by other researchers. In a 2018 paper, Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research showed that the rise in manufacturing productivity after the late 1990s was largely an illusion driven by how the government measures output in the computer and semiconductor industry. Within other manufacturing sectors, productivity grew slowly, which meant industrial robots probably couldn’t explain job losses…

And therein lies the real problem with Yang’s outlook. It’s not just unrealistic. It’s lazy. When you buy the sci-fi notion that technology is simply a disembodied force making humanity obsolete and that there’s little that can be done about it, you stop thinking about ideas that will actually prevent workers from being screwed over by the forces of globalization or new tech. By prophesying imaginary problems, you ignore the real ones.

11) Put Krugman in the Yang-skeptic category, too:

Which makes you wonder what Andrew Yang is talking about. Yang has based his whole campaign on the premise that automation is destroying jobs en masse and that the answer is to give everyone a stipend — one that would fall far short of what decent jobs pay. As far as I can tell, he’s offering an inadequate solution to an imaginary problem, which is in a way kind of impressive…

So what’s with the fixation on automation? It may be inevitable that many tech guys like Yang believe that what they and their friends are doing is epochal, unprecedented and changes everything, even if history begs to differ. But more broadly, as I’ve argued in the past, for a significant part of the political and media establishment, robot-talk — i.e., technological determinism — is in effect a diversionary tactic.

That is, blaming robots for our problems is both an easy way to sound trendy and forward-looking (hence Biden talking about the fourth industrial revolution) and an excuse for not supporting policies that would address the real causes of weak growth and soaring inequality.

So harping on the dangers of automation, while it may sound tough-minded, is in practice a sort of escapist fantasy for centrists who don’t want to confront truly hard questions. And progressives like Warren and Sanders who reject technological determinism and face up to the political roots of our problems are, on this issue at least, the actual hardheaded realists in the room. emphasis mine]

Other Democrats should follow their lead. They should focus on the real issues, and not get sidetracked by the pseudo-issue of automation.

12) Drum makes the case that Democrats should move slowly on impeachment:

Should Democrats move fast or slow on impeachment? I say slow. For one thing, new evidence is pouring out like a fire hose right now, and we should keep the investigation going until we have as good a picture as we can get of what really happened. Politically, it’s also the best thing to do. Republicans want a fast impeachment so they can brush it off as a partisan stunt and get on with business. Democrats should want just the opposite. They need to treat it seriously, and they need time to build up public support as new revelations are unearthed. Until we get to the point where a third or so of Republicans support impeachment, there’s not much point in voting on articles in the House.

Will this interfere with campaigning? I doubt it. Will it prevent the House from working on other things? Nope. They’ve produced plenty of legislation and all of it goes straight into Mitch McConnell’s round file. So no worries there.

Keep up the committee work until there’s a rock-solid case with good public support. That’s when to stop, and not a moment before.

13) I’m a big fan of “real” cameras and not just phone cameras because the physics of light and the small sensors in phone cameras mean you just can’t do the same things in sub-optimal conditions.  But, it seems like, the software in phone cameras is so good now that you basically can.  Pretty amazing what the Google Pixel 4 can do.

13) Charles Pierce, “The Washington Post’s Story on George Kent and Hunter Biden Shows Desperation to Play Both Sides.”

14) Sadly, I think Paul Waldman is right bout this, “There Will Be No Justice for Trump’s Enablers.”

Sure, one sees the occasional story about something like young Trump staffers complaining that no one wants to date them. But there will be no truth and reconciliation commission, no universal condemnation, no shunning of even the worst offenders.

The reason is that the entire Republican Party will make sure it doesn’t happen, because nearly all of them are implicated.

Consider someone like Stephen Miller, probably the most villainous figure in the administration. The latest revelation about Miller is that he tried for some time to find a way to get states to bar undocumented immigrant children from going to school; he was thwarted not because other officials said, “My god, what kind of monster are you?” (they didn’t) but because the scheme was obviously illegal.

Now try to imagine the Heritage Foundation or the American Enterprise Institute saying to Miller in 2021, “We’re sorry, but we cannot offer you a senior fellow position, because your actions during the last four years were so morally abhorrent that we do not wish to associate ourselves with you.” The very idea is ridiculous. We know what will happen: Heritage, AEI, and any number of other prominent conservative organizations will fall all over themselves to offer Miller a comfortable sinecure from which he can continue to advocate a whiter future for America.

In fact, they’ll undertake a massive project of historical revisionism to convince the country that what we just lived through was all a figment of our imagination. “Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Trump said last year, and this project will attempt to convince us that what we saw, read, and experienced never actually happened. Donald Trump was a fine and responsible president, they’ll say, and even if he might have gotten a little silly on Twitter from time to time, anyone who supported him should take pride in their service to the GOP and to America.

And since the entire Republican Party will repeat this line again and again and again, it will become, if not conventional wisdom, at the very least a respectable position to hold. At worst, if Trump leaves office in disgrace Republicans will say what they did when George W. Bush slinked off in 2009 with the two wars he started still dragging on and the country experiencing the worst economic crisis in 80 years: I never liked him anyway. He wasn’t a real conservative. And of course I didn’t figure that out until it was all over, so don’t blame me.

By and large, they won’t be blamed. Their party may pay a price at the polls, but the men and women who signed up to aid Donald Trump will not get what they deserve. There may be a political reversal, but if you’re waiting for justice, you might not want to get your hopes up.

Quick hits

Sorry to be so late.  Had a great time visiting DC on a “learning lab” with NC State’s Park Scholars.  Learned a lot and had so much fun.

Anyway…

1) I loved Stephen Pinker’s “Linguist’s guide to quid pro quo” (I think my son, David, really appreciate this one– read it!)

It’s true that the transcript of the reconstructed conversation does not reveal a smoking sentence with an “if” and a “then.” But to most readers, Mr. Trump’s claim that he was merely musing about his druthers does not pass the giggle test. That is because people in a social relationship rarely hammer out a deal in so many words but veil their offers in politeness and innuendo, counting on their hearers to listen between the lines.

People can certainly issue naked offers and threats. But the clarity of “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” or “Your money or your life” comes with costs. The exchange may be taboo, as in prostitution, bribery or extortion, and even when it is legitimate, overt deal-making can be disagreeable. Each side must hold the other to the terms of a hard bargain, sacrificing flexibility and making the relationship feel cold and transactional.

For these reasons people often cloak their exchanges in the trappings of a communal relationship, in which friends, relatives or comrades share goods unstintingly, with no one keeping track. Deals that are struck under the charade of a fictive friendship may have more forgiving terms, and the parties may throw in sweeteners to secure the other’s loyalty and cement the relationship.

Thus, businesspeople may treat their customers as faux friends. Conversely, casual companions (who often do have to exchange favors) take pains to avoid any impression that they are dickering for goodies or bossing each other around. They soften each other up with sympathetic banter and pleasantries. And they couch any request as an idle observation, such as “I was wondering if you could pass the salt,” knowing that the hearer will mentally fill in the premise that turns the non sequitur into a sequitur.

Often the genteel hint consists of a prerequisite to the favor. It makes no sense to ask someone to pass the salt if you already have the salt, if you don’t like salt or if the hearer is incapable of passing the salt. So by airing a thought like “There isn’t any salt down here,” “I could use some salt” or “Can you pass the salt?” a polite diner can plant the desired next step into the head of his tablemate and get what he wants without seeming to treat her like a flunky.

2) Good stuff from Seth Masket in LA Times, “Opinion: The trouble with Democrats who are still reliving 2016”

I’ve been interviewing political activists in the early primary and caucus states as part of my research project on how party insiders decide on the best direction for their party in the current political environment and settle on a nominee for the next presidential election. In some ways, those activists and party leaders are doing what they usually do — weighing the strengths of the candidates on the issues and trying to figure out who has the best shot of getting elected.

But what’s unusual is how these people who, in many cases, have been volunteering and working in politics for decades, still talk about being traumatized by the 2016 presidential election and how it changed their understanding of politics. That disorientation is playing a central role in whom they’ll choose for 2020.

One Iowa activist, who has been working on presidential campaigns since the 1980s, said fears of tearing the party apart continue to haunt her and her colleagues. “One of the most negative things out of 2015 and ’16 was the animosity between many of Hillary supporters and many Bernie supporters. People don’t want to pick too early because they don’t want to get sucked into the internecine conflict.”

The other trauma was Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump despite her consistent polling lead and her strong performances in the debates. The outcome undermined many activists’ longstanding beliefs about just what sorts of candidates are electable.

3) Of course the Ukraine scandal has it’s roots in Russia.  Jeffrey Toobin is on it.

But the Russia and Ukraine scandals are, in fact, one story. Indeed, the President’s false denials in both of them capture the common themes: soliciting help from foreign interests for partisan gain, followed by obstruction of efforts to uncover what happened. Both, too, share roots in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Mueller’s two indictments of Russian interests—the first involving the use of social media and the second the hacking of Democratic Party e-mails—are perhaps the most detailed chronicle ever published of foreign interference in a U.S. political campaign. Trump’s team was appreciative. When a public-relations adviser to a Russian oligarch’s family e-mailed Donald Trump, Jr., offering dirt on Hillary Clinton that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” the candidate’s son gave a straightforward reply: “If it’s what you say I love it.”…

Mueller famously closed his investigation without rendering a judgment on whether the President committed crimes. “We did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct,” he wrote. The time, though, for ultimate conclusions is approaching. One way of looking at Trump’s evolution from candidate to President, from Mueller’s time to Schiff’s, is that his abuses are accelerating, with each unpunished act serving as a license for more. The Constitution gives Congress the tools to halt this cycle in Trump’s out-of-control Presidency. The question now is whether the people’s representatives will use them.

4) This is good from Robinson Meyer, “Five Radical Climate Policies That Most Americans Actually Like.”

5) Vox on the backlash against meatless meat

But if the emergence of meatless meat a few years ago was hailed unanimously as a good thing, the response to its mainstreaming has been tinged with skepticism. The adoption of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat products by fast-food chains hasn’t exactly been welcomed in some quarters, even among those you would think would be more supportive of this development.

Call it the backlash against the fast rise of meatless meat.

For instance, the CEO of Whole Foods and the CEO of Chipotle both criticized Beyond and Impossible products, calling themtoo highly processed. Food writer and former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, who has long called on Americans to eat less meat, criticized “the new higher-tech vegan meats” for not addressing “resource use and hyperprocessing” (though he has hailed them in the past). His website, Heated, has also given plant-based meats some favorable coverage, but recently wrote nostalgically that “not so long ago … Veggie burgers didn’t masquerade as something they weren’t.” Meanwhile, numerous articles have questioned the health impacts of the products.

There’s certainly some truth to the critiques. The Beyond and Impossible burgers aren’t exactlyhealth food (something I’ve written about previously), though they’re not more unhealthy than the meat products they’re displacing. The Impossible Whopper might help save the planet, but it’s still high calorie, greasy, and probably not a good idea to eat everyday.

But the critiques go further than just observing that fast food isn’t health food. Often, critics end up voicing disdain for the whole process of producing food at scale in the way it has to be produced to feed hundreds of millions of people. In that way, as the Breakthrough Institute’s Alex Trembath has argued,the plant-based meat backlash reflects how much classism and elitism creep into our national conversations about our food system — and how they might stand in the way of fixing it.

6) I love Sandra Boyton so much.  I can still recite all of Hippos Go Beserk by heart.  I had no idea it was her first book. Loved this short profile of her in the Atlantic.

7a) NPR asks, “Did Secretary Pompeo Forget His West Point Pledge?”  Ummm, I think you know the answer to that.

7b) Dan Drezner, “Why Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should resign: He’s been an unmitigated disaster at everything except catering to President Trump.”

8) Sad, but true, “Don’t be mad at the NBA. Hundreds of U.S. companies have sold out to China’s regime.”

9) Great stuff from Annie Lowery on the political and social failure that billionaires represent:

But there are far more urgent reasons than poverty to get rid of billionaires and reverse the trend of economic polarization. A growing body of economic and political-science research demonstrates that Gilded Age–type inequality does not just mean having too many with too little. It is warping the very social fabric of the country, stifling mobility, innovation, investment, and growth, and putting the country at political risk.

Dramatic inequality in wealth means dramatic inequality in terms of political power means a political system unresponsive to what most people want. Wealth inequality, in other words, is an anti-democratic force. [emphases mine] A remarkable study by Lee Drutman found that just 31,385 people—one ten-thousandth of the population—accounted for more than a quarter of all political donations in the 2012 campaign cycle, with politicians getting more money from fewer people than in any other year analyzed. No wonder low-income households’ policy preferences have little effect on political outcomes in the United States, whereas high-income households’ policy preferences do, as research by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern forcefully shows. One of those political outcomes? Inequality itself: Unequal societies tend not to correct their own inequality, because of the political influence of the rich.

The country’s inequality is also stifling mobility and damaging the country’s human capital. As the country has become more unequal, it has also become more sclerotic and class-dominated. Despite all the money the government spends on public education, private education, health, and welfare, rich kids are likely to stay rich and poor kids are likely to stay poor. Measures of absolute mobility have fallen: Children born in 1940 had a 90 percent chance of doing better than their parents did, whereas children born in the 1980s had just a 50 percent chance of the same. The steps of the income ladder are too far apart for kids to climb them, in other words…

Given all this evidence, wealth taxes are not simply a way to pay for programs for the poor. They are a way of reducing the incentive for the rich to soak up all that money in the first place. They are a way of pushing the steps of the income ladder closer together to make them easier to climb. They are a way of ending what two leading economists on inequality, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, call “oligarchic drift,” and its attending political risks. They are a way of building a healthier economic future for everyone—including those 400 families up at the tippy top.

10) This was interesting from law professor Ilya Somin, “Immigration Law Defies the American Constitution: Immigration restrictions have been held to a far lower constitutional standard compared with almost any other exercise of government power.”

11) As always, there’s a lot of Atlantic stories.  The difference is that if you want to read them, now, you have to pay for it.  It’s worth it.  Then again, I just looked and they more than doubled the price I paid last year– wow!  Still, I shall re-up.

12) Nice NYT magazine feature, “The W.N.B.A. Is Putting On Some of the Best Pro Basketball in America” and nobody cares.

13) Kevin Kruse with a useful history of presidents and candidate supplying their tax returns.

14) How repeated exposure to falsehoods leads us to believe them:

Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda for the Nazi German government of the Third Reich, understood the power of repeating falsehoods. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it,” he asserted, “people will eventually come to believe it.” This phenomenon, pervasive in contemporary politics, advertising, and social media, is known in cognitive psychology as the “illusory truth effect.”

Though multiple studies have found that repeated statements seem more truthful than novel ones, the illusion was thought to be limited to uncertain statements, or those in which people had no other information available, such as prior knowledge.

A recent study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review indicates that, contrary to accepted knowledge, belief in all statements, be they plausible or implausible, increases with repetition…

The implications for daily life, where consumers of news and products are often repeatedly exposed to both plausible and implausible falsehoods, is that even patent lies may slowly become more credible, provided enough repetition. Considering this vulnerability, it becomes critically important to not repeat falsehoods, even while we attempt to debunk them—lest we legitimize lies by reiteration itself.

15) Historian Jordan Taylor on the Founders efforts to protect us from foreign interference.

16) William Barr is awful.  Supposedly, he wasn’t always this way.

17) Watched the new Netflix Breaking Bad movie with my aforementioned firstborn today.  It was really, really good.  If you were a fan of the show, definitely worth your time.  And if you’ve never watched the show, what are you waiting for?!

 

 

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Jennifer Rubin has been terrific all week.  This is good, “Seven important and awful signs for Trump”

Indeed, it is the muted reaction of Senate Republicans that leads the list of disastrous signs for the president. The assumption that there could never be a vote to remove him or that it would never get Republican votes needs to be rethought…

Fourth, when Trump’s remarks threatening a whistleblower immediately leaked one could see not only a new basis for impeachment but a willingness of all sorts of people to rat him out. There is virtually no meeting or document that will be shielded from view given the number of people involved and the incentive some may have to step forward and be seen as cooperating with Congress, not as conspirators acting in furtherance of crimes.

2) Honestly, this ended up getting way too scientifically complex for me, but I really enjoyed it before it did.  “Cosmologists Clash Over the Beginning of the Universe: What happened before the Big Bang? And what happened before that? Stephen Hawking’s answer—there was no beginning—is now the subject of intense debate.”

3) Drum is right, “We Should Integrate Schools Based on Class, Not Race:

Even after controlling for economic status, attendance at a school with a big racial attendance gap (i.e., heavily black or heavily white) leads to big differences in black-white achievement scores (0.610). However, once you control for differences in school poverty, the effect goes away (0.013).

What’s left is a big effect in exposure to poor schoolmates (0.924). In other words, this confirms what we’ve known for a long time about the effect of concentrated poverty. If a black student goes go to a school that’s heavily black but middle class, it’s no big deal. But if a black student goes to a school that’s heavily poor, he’s doomed.

If you want to take away any good news from this, here’s a glimmer of hope: If the problem really is class more than race, then we can make a case for desegregating our schools based on class. According to Reardon, this would actually be more effective, and it’s probably slightly less incendiary than desegregation plans based on race.

This is, to be clear, only the slightest glimmer of hope. Parents of middle-class kids will probably resist integration with poor kids just as much as parents of white kids resist integration with poor kids. But you never know. Anything that turns down the dial a bit could be helpful.

4) Political scientist David Hopkins on how the battle for the suburbs is complicated:

While city dwellers still serve as stereotypes of Democratic voters, they do not constitute an outright majority of the party. That distinction actually belongs to suburbanites. Indeed, the share of Democratic votes cast by residents of suburban counties — defined as counties within federal metropolitan areas in which a majority of residents live

But Democrats have hit a wall in one critical respect: They have not extended this success to the suburban communities surrounding smaller cities, which remain predominantly — even increasingly — Republican. The suburbs surrounding Jacksonville, Fla., Indianapolis and Grand Rapids, Mich., for example, provide Republican candidates with more than enough votes to compete in, and often win, statewide elections.

To achieve a durable national majority, Democratic candidates will need to expand their appeal to the less diverse and more culturally conservative electorates of the small-metro suburbs, which remain aligned with the Republican Party even in the era of Donald Trump.

outside the principal city or cities — climbed to 53 percent in 2016 from 41 percent in 1988.

Over the past 25 years, many suburban areas near the country’s biggest cities have gone from dependable Republican strongholds to competitive battlegrounds or even safe Democratic territory. Recent Democratic gains in suburban Houston and Dallas are threatening to turn Texas purple. Outside Los Angeles, the seven districts of Orange County, once the geographic epicenter of the modern conservative movement, were swept blue in the 2018 midterms.

Rising electoral support in the suburbs of the nation’s largest population centers has allowed the Democratic Party to remain nationally competitive in an era of suburban population growth and increasing Republican dominance of rural America.

5) Very good discussion of the evidence for (and problems with that evidence) of the role of processed foods and obesity.  And, yet, pretty sure… eat food, mostly plants, not too much… still does the trick.

6) The creator of the Labradoodle regrets it.  As with everything wrong with dogs, though, it’s all about unscrupulous and thoughtless humans.  Yes, the evil breeders, but damn if people would stop buying dogs from pet stores and puppy mills!!

7) It’s funny the Ukraine stuff got so bad so fast, we’re already quickly past false equivalence and ridiculous “but Joe Biden” stories from the mainstream media.  But, at the beginning of the week it was actually starting out that way.  James Fallows:

If you’ve paid any attention to press retrospectives on the 2016 election, you’ve seen the term false equivalence. It refers to the mismatch between a long-standing procedural instinct of the press and the current realities of the Era of Trump.

Under normal circumstances, the press’s strong preference is for procedural balance. The program’s supporters say this, its critics say that, so we’ll quote both sides and leave it to you, the public, to decide who is right.

This approach has the obvious virtue of seeming fair, as a judge is fair in letting the prosecution and defense each make its case. It has a less obvious but very important advantage for news organizations, that of sparing reporters the burden of having to say, “Actually, we think this particular side is right.” By definition, most reporters most of the time are covering subjects in which we’re not expert. Is the latest prime-rate move by the Fed a good idea? Or a bad one? I personally couldn’t tell you. So if I am covering the story, especially on a deadline, I’ll want to give you quotes from people “on both sides,” and leave it there.

For as long as the press has existed, people have pointed out the limits and loopholes of “let’s hear from both sides” thinking…

But there is a very specific application of these principles to the era of Donald Trump. The problem with Trump is that he is not like anyone else who has ever held the office. He lies with abandon; he uses public office for private gain on a scale never before witnessed; and he seems to have no respect for, or even interest in, the institutions of self-government to which all of his predecessors have at least paid lip service.

Thus any of the “normal” procedural rules, applied to such an abnormal figure, can lead to destructive results. To be “fair” in covering him is to be unfair—to the truth, to history, to the readers, to the national interest, to any concept of journalistic purpose. The stuffy way to put this problem is “false equivalence.” The casual way to put it is “But what about her emails?” [emphasis mine]

8) Adam Serwer:

But behind this unfailing submission to Trump also lie more troubling influences. As the parties have become more racially polarized, and the Republican Party has become more exclusively white and Christian, Republicans have begun to think of themselves as the only genuinely legitimate actors in the polity. This is why Republicans draw districts that hand them more offices even when they fail to win a majority of the votes; it is why Republican legislatures strip Democratic executives of their powers when the electorate foils their efforts to rig elections in their favor; it is why the Trump administration attempted a fraudulent scheme to use the census to diminish the influence of minority voters relative to white voters; it is why Republicans seek to pass laws intended to suppress minority votes; it is why every night on Fox News, viewers hear one host after another outline deranged conspiracies about how Democrats want to steal America from its rightful white owners through demographic change.

Attempts to strip minorities of their rightful place in the polity are a bipartisan American tradition. They emerge whenever one party becomes beholden to an ethnically diverse constituency, and the other answers almost exclusively to white Christians. The contest between the universalist principles espoused by the Founders and their sectarian application in practice has been the principal conflict of American democracy since the beginning.

The peaceful transition of power is fundamental to democracy, but many Republicans have concluded that it is not possible for that to occur legitimately. Without such transitions, democracy is a dead letter. But if your political enemies are inherently illegitimate, then depriving them of power by any means necessary is not effacing democracy; it is defending it. The southern Democrats who stripped black Americans of the franchise at the end of Reconstruction using a battery of literacy tests, property requirements, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses saw themselves not as crippling democracy but as strengthening it, by limiting the ballot to those who were worthy of participating.

The Republican belief that their opposition is inherently illegitimate is one reason it does not matter to many Republicans that Trump’s allegations that Biden sought to get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to prevent his son from being investigated are baseless. As CNN’s Daniel Dale has documented, there is no public evidence that Hunter Biden was ever himself under investigation; the prosecutor whose firing Biden called for as vice president was widely considered corrupt; the investigation Biden supposedly shut down was “dormant” at the time Biden expressed the view of the Obama administration that the prosecutor should be fired; and the reason world leaders, including Barack Obama, were demanding his firing in the first place was that he was failing to investigate corruption in Ukraine, not that he was being prevented from doing so. As my colleague David Graham writes, “Biden’s pressure to install a tougher prosecutor probably made it more likely, not less, that Burisma would be in the cross hairs.”

9) Ezra on board with impeachment now and makes a strong case:

Impeachment was meant to be a political remedy for political offenses. But over time, it has mutated into something quite different: a partisan remedy for political offenses. And partisan remedies are subject to partisan considerations. If Trump falls before an impeachment trial, the Republican Party will be left in wreckage. The GOP’s leaders can’t permit the destruction of their own party. They will protect Trump at all costs.

I think we have seen the total collapse of this very basic obligation of Congress under the weight of partisan polarization — particularly on the right — and it is dramatic,” says Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. “Trump has exposed it rather than triggered it.”

There have been only three serious presidential impeachment efforts in American history. Every single one of them came when Congress was controlled by the opposition party. “Impeachment has essentially never been effective, except maybe as a deterrent,” says Matt Glassman, who is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute.

But deterrents matter. Rather than focusing on what impeachment cannot do, it’s worth looking at what it can. The impeachment process, as it stands now, is broken. It almost certainly will not lead to Trump’s removal, no matter how damning the investigation’s findings. But that doesn’t make it useless. It can act as a sanction to Trump and his successors, unearth information voters will need when deciding whether to reelect Trump, and provide a warning to foreign countries that would seek influence over our politics.

That is not sufficient, but it will have to be enough.

10) This “when to trust your gut” from Spencer Greenberg is good.  Though, I’d still prefer it in a 2-minutes-to-read article instead of an 11 minutes Ted Talk.

11) More good stuff from Jennifer Rubin:

The reason Trump makes idiotic arguments (such as “Look, there’s nothing in the transcript!”) is that he knows there are people intellectually and politically corrupt enough to repeat them. [emphasis mine] In this case, that includes Vice President Pence, who declared in an interview on Wednesday that the transcript entirely vindicates Trump. By contrast, Trump suggests that the media start investigating Pence’s conversations with Ukraine.

In essence, Trump has to give Fox News, talk radio hosts, right-wing activists and lackeys in Congress something to say while the legitimate media is pointing out that Trump has committed impeachable offenses and was too dense to understand the import of his own words. (Did Trump even read the rough transcript? It’s a few pages long, so it is quite possible he did not.)

If you keep waiting for that moment when Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) or the comical Fox News hosts and panelists throw up their hands and say, “I can’t do this anymore! Trump is indefensible!,” do not hold your breath. Graham and McCarthy, as well as most of their Republican colleagues, have either lost the capacity or the will to think rationally and independently; they feel compelled to act like cornered animals facing the snarling teeth of the presidential monster they created. Trump’s media boosters, some of whom know better, are so dependent on their Trump-cult audience that they dare not betray any hint of independent and rational thinking. (Pretending to be as dense as the Trump cult must be demoralizing at some level.)

12) I had no idea “greasing the groove” was a thing when it comes to weightlifting, but, apparently, that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing.  And, obviously, I do love this formulation, “Lift Weight, Not Too Much, Most of the Days.”

13) Alexandra Petri with a guide to quid pro quo:

What is quid pro quo?

Quid pro quo is a term that comes from the Latin and means “thing for WHAT??” It is when someone asks someone else to do something for something in a bad way. Quid pro quo is bad, if it happens, but as you will see from the following examples, it rarely does.

Here are some examples that are commonly mistaken for quid pro quo.

1. Person A to Person B

A: That is a nice baby you have there.

A: Look at my beautiful new chainsaw!

A: Please give me $20.

Is this quid pro quo?

No. In this example, Person A is trying to engage Person B by making a series of friendly statements. In the first statement, A compliments B’s baby, a friendly, neighborly thing to do. In the second, A shows off A’s new lawn-care purchase. A takes pride in his lawn. In the third statement, A makes an unrelated request. There is no quid pro quo here.

2. Lord A to Lord B

A: Wow, what a lovely castle!

A: Look at my new catapult!

A: I hope you will apologize for your remarks about my mother.

A: It would be a shame if anything happened to your castle.

In this situation, Lord A immediately demonstrates he is a good friend. A wants B to know that A admires B’s new castle. A also has purchased a catapult, which is the sort of life milestone that anyone would naturally want to share with a neighbor immediately. Also, it seems B maybe owes A an apology!

5. Individual 1 to the president of Ukraine

1: We have done a lot of nice things for you in the past.

1: We hope to do a lot of nice things for you in the future.

1: Please be sure to look into Joe Biden.

Individual 1, once again, is not engaging in even a hint of quid pro quo! He is expressing two positive wishes for his friend’s well-being, past and future, and then making an unrelated request.

Glad we were able to clear this up!

14) Despite not being a particularly common cancer, pancreatic cancer is the third most deadly.  Good article on why and the (so far failed) efforts to do something about that.  There may be some prospects for a blood test in the future, which would be awesome.

Pancreatic cancer, which will be diagnosed in about 56,770 people in the United States this year, is the only cancer with a rising mortality rate through 2014, although five-year survival has begun to inch up, from 8 percent to 9 percent by 2016. It remains the nation’s third leading cause of cancer deaths, after cancers of the lung and colon, and it is on track to overtake colon cancer within a decade. Three-fourths of people who develop pancreatic cancer die within a year of diagnosis, and only about one in 10 live five years or longer.

Perhaps like me you’ve wondered why modern medicine has thus far failed to gain the upper hand against pancreatic cancer despite having achieved major survival advances for more common cancers like breast and colon. What follows is a large part of the answer.

15) My colleagues on the Republicans in the NC government, “Corruption is undermining NC government.”

16) Paul Waldman on the amazingly pervasive corruption within the Trump administration:

Again, there are reasons to criticize Maguire’s decisions. But it seems clear that he was operating in good faith, trying to follow procedures and the law at least insofar as he understood it. Yet everywhere he turned, he faced offices and people who were partners in Trump’s degradation of the system’s integrity. It appears that, without any intent to be corrupt, Maguire was swallowed by Trump’s corruption.

In the end, some combination of public pressure and Trump’s own hubristic foolishness in thinking he can get way with anything led to the public release of both a rough transcript of Trump’s phone call and the whistleblower complaint itself. The substance of those two documents is devastating.

Watching Maguire testify, one got the sense that he knows it and is trying to somehow emerge from his service with his integrity and reputation intact. Perhaps he should have known that, when you agree to work for Donald Trump, that’s going to be next to impossible.

17) I usually find myself persuaded by Garrett Epps, but not with his argument that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should protect people not just on “sex” but must necessarily also protect for “sexual orientation” which cannot be understood outside the concept of sex.  I’m all for protecting LGBT rights, but we should have a law for that, instead of sophistry to suggest that “sex” and “sexual orientation” should be equivalent in law.

18) Cass Sunstein on how the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence both provide a handy guide to impeachment.

19) Chait, “The Ukraine Scandal Is Not One Phone Call. It’s a Massive Plot.”

The quid pro quo in the call, though perfectly apparent, is mostly implicit. But the real trick in Trump’s defense is framing the call as the entire scandal. The scandal is much more than that. The call is a snapshot, a moment in time in a months-long campaign that put American policy toward Ukraine at the disposal of Trump’s personal interests and reelection campaign.

Last spring, Rudy Giuliani was openly pressuring Kiev to investigate Joe Biden. Giuliani told the New York Times, “We’re meddling in an investigation … because that information will be very, very helpful to my client.” The key word there was “we’re.” The first-person plural indicated Giuliani was not carrying out this mission alone. A series of reports have revealed how many other government officials were involved in the scheme.

When Trump ordered military aid to Ukraine to be frozen, he went through his chief of staff and budget director Mick Mulvaney. Congress had passed the aid, and Ukraine was under military attack from Russia, a fact that made the halting of the assistance worrisome to numerous officials in two branches of government. As the Times reported, lawmakers and State Department staffers were asking why the money hadn’t gone through.

They were given cover stories: Lawmakers “were first told the assistance was being reviewed to determine whether it was in the best interest of foreign policy,” the Times reported this week. “Other administration officials said, without detail, there was a review on corruption in Ukraine, according to current and former officials. Then, as August drew to a close, other officials told lawmakers they were trying to gauge the effectiveness of the aid, a claim that struck congressional aides as odd.”

Lots of officials were involved in disseminating these cover stories to hide the fact that Trump held back the aid to leverage Ukraine to investigate Biden. One of them was Mike Pence, who told some confused officials that the aid was being held up “based on concerns from the White House about ‘issues of corruption.’” Pence knew perfectly well what this really meant — asked point blank if the aid was being held up over Ukraine’s failure to investigate Biden, he replied “as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption.” In other words, yes, Ukraine needed to investigate Biden if it wanted the money…

There may be many others. Last night on Fox News, Giuliani held up a phone he said included messages with official authorization for his activities. “You know who I did it at the request of? The State Department,” he said. The scheme to shake down Ukraine was a massive plot, spreading through the government and corrupting multiple officials. Trump had a lot of accomplices.

20) Scott Lemieux with the appropriate response to the NYT running an Op-Ed by torture architect and war criminal, John Yoo.  ““WHY ARE WE PUBLISHING THIS MAN, DID WE RUN OUT OF HUMAN BEINGS?”

21) Derek Thompson, “American Migration Patterns Should Terrify the GOP.”

This drip-drip-drip of young residents trickling down into red-state suburbs is helping to turn southern metros into Democratic strongholds. (Of course, migration isn’t the only factor pushing these metros leftward, but more on that later.) In Texas, Democrats’ advantage in the five counties representing Houston, Dallas–Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin (the “Texas Five” in the graph below) grew from 130,000 in the 2012 presidential election to nearly 800,000 in the 2018 Senate election.

In Arizona, from 2012 to 2016, Democrats narrowed their deficit in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, by 100,000 votes. Two years later, in the 2018 Senate election, the county swung Democratic, with Democrats gaining another 100,000 net votes.

In Georgia, from the 2012 presidential election to the 2018 gubernatorial elections, the four counties constituting most of Atlanta and its suburbs—Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, and Gwinnett—increased their Democratic margin by more than 250,000.

What’s remarkable about these changes isn’t just their size, but their resemblance to Trump’s 2016 margins. Trump won Texas in 2016 by 800,000 votes. He won Arizona by 90,000 votes. He won Georgia by 170,000 votes. If these states’ biggest metros continue to move left at the same rate, there is every reason to believe that Texas, Arizona, and Georgia could be toss-ups quite soon.

As noted above, migration isn’t the only reason southern metros might be shifting to the Democratic Party: Young southerners are surely pulling their region left, while older residents could be switching parties in response to Trump. Republicans have likely hurt themselves by moving further to the right to galvanize their white exurban and rural base, even as their support has thinned in the suburbs and among working-class white women.

But domestic migration is key.

22) This is really good.  Just because what Hunter Biden did was not actually illegal or “corrupt” it is a great example of how what is so scandalous is what is actually legal.  Sarah Chayes: “Hunter Biden’s Perfectly Legal, Socially Acceptable Corruption: Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense, but prominent Americans also shouldn’t be leveraging their names for payoffs from shady clients abroad.”

How did this get to be standard practice?

The whistle-blower scandal that has prompted the fourth presidential impeachment process in American history has put a spectacle from earlier this decade back on display: the jaw-smacking feast of scavengers who circled around Ukraine as Viktor Yanukovych, a Moscow-linked kleptocrat, was driven from power. Ukraine’s crisis was the latest to energize a club whose culture has come to be treated as normal—a culture in which top-tier lawyers, former U.S. public officials, and policy experts (and their progeny) cash in by trading on their connections and their access to insider policy information—usually by providing services to kleptocrats like Yanukovych. The renewed focus on Ukraine raises jangling questions: How did dealing in influence to burnish the fortunes of repugnant world leaders for large payoffs become a business model? How could America’s leading lights convince themselves—and us—that this is acceptable? …

But the egregiousness of these acts must not blind us to the culture of influence-peddling that surrounds and enables them. That culture is fundamental to the cynical state we are in, and it needs examining. All too often, the scandal isn’t that the conduct in question is forbidden by federal law, but rather, how much scandalous conduct is perfectly legal—and broadly accepted.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Interesting video on the “Rat apocalypse” in New Zealand and the promise and peril of using Crispr plus gene drive to combat the problem.  Perhaps I’m too much of techno-optimist, but I say go for it.

2) Not all that long ago I think I had somewhat overly brought into the promise of STEM education as the best path to a future job.  I’m still a big fan of STEM, but definitely somewhat more skeptical now.  Caitlyn Zaloom, “STEM Is Overrated: College is not just job prep, and the job market changes constantly.”

At any rate, the rise of temporary work means that college graduates can expect to face spikes and dips in income as they lose or finish one job and worry about when the next will come and from where. On top of this volatility, they also have to contend with the rapid transition to automation in white-collar work. Although media discussions tend to pit robots directly against humans in the quest for jobs, today human abilities are more often complemented by automated tasks. Still, together the temporary nature of work and automation undermine arguments for educations that prepare students for specific skills and jobs. If students accept the argument that their college years should be dedicated to job preparation, graduates cannot be certain that the lucrative jobs they envision will still be available, let alone secure…

Dewey’s argument is sharply relevant today. Rather than impressing on college students that they should commit to particular jobs and the direction of corporate executives, colleges and universities ought to enhance students’ ability to experiment and prepare them for an open future, even one in which automation may play a significant role. When universities can broaden “their reach to become engines of lifelong learning,” Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun has argued, they will also “robot proof” education.

Today’s students need universities and colleges that will help them navigate a world where constant changes are the norm and where learning how to adapt is the central problem of living and of citizenship. The idea that the college years should be primarily about potential is not idealistic or naive; it is prescient.

3) You know what’s always struck me as dumb?  Painting all “processed foods” with an extremely broad brush.  The Kashi Go Lean I have for breakfast is chock full of whole grains, protein, and fiber.  Sorry, but that’s good– processed or not.  It’s not exactly oreos.  And, sure my vanilla greek yogurt has added sugar, but it sure beats tortilla chips.  Anyway, really liked this in Wired,”Let’s All Just Chill About Processed Foods”

But it’s time to get real about processed foods. For one, processed doesn’t have to mean unhealthy, and indeed it’s only because of certain processed foods that people around the world get the nutrition they need. Two, processed foods keep better, cutting down on food waste. And three, if we expect to feed a growing population on a planet with finite arable land, we have to engineer new sources of food, protein in particular.

The core of the confusion around processed foods is definitional. According to the Institute of Food Technologists, processing is—and get ready for this—“one or more of a range of operations, including washing, grinding, mixing, cooling, storing, heating, freezing, filtering, fermenting, extracting, extruding, centrifuging, frying, drying, concentrating, pressurizing, irradiating, microwaving, and packaging.”

So … virtually everything you put in your mouth is processed. “Highly refined foods like yogurt, olive oil, and bread have many, many processing steps, and they don’t look anything like the original product they started with,” says Connie Weaver, a nutrition scientist at Purdue University…

What people likely mean when they invoke processing has more to do with ingredients. Any bread will involve grinding, mixing, fermenting, and heating. But white bread goes through an extra step to bleach the flour, which removes some natural nutrients, which are later added back in to make it fortified. And something like a Twinkie takes processing to a whole new level, with added corn syrup and, for good measure, high fructose corn syrup thrown in as well.

It’s the added ingredients that have given processed foods a bad name, because while not all processed foods are junk foods, all junk foods are processed. Supercharging taste with saturated fat, sugar, or salt can be easy, but they’re unhealthy hacks when taken too far. [emphasis mine]

4) It’s been a while since I’ve seen “American Beauty” and I recognize that certain elements don’t hold up all that well 20 years later, but I still think it’s a damn entertaining movie, as opposed to the “worst best picture winner of the modern era.”

5) In the totally unsurprising headline, but it still important to mention category, “Trump’s trade war has killed 300,000 jobs.”  So much winning!

6) Okay, apparently I’m five years late to this, but I’m blown away by how good Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast is.  I thought no way would I listen to a whole 3+ hour podcast on just the prelude to WWI, but damn is Carlin good.  I’m not on episode two devoted entirely to August 1914.

7) Hurricane forecasts are pretty amazing now.  I really enjoyed this “tale of two hurricane forecasts” comparing Dorian to Cleo in 1964.

8) Speaking of hurricanes, a little old, but Philip Bump placing Trump and Hurricane Dorian directly into the 1984 Orwellian context was the best thing I read the matter.  Also, if you haven’t, you really, really need to read 1984.  

9) Nicholas Kristof on Seattle’s experiment with Raj Chetty’s insights on social mobility to improve outcomes, “A Better Address Can Change a Child’s Future: A low-cost experiment in Seattle is breaking the cycle of poverty.”

One insight of the study is that although the United States spends $44 billion a year on affordable housing, that money perversely concentrates poverty in blighted neighborhoods. The counterproductive result is that children are sentenced to grow up in areas rife with crime, teenage pregnancy and educational failure.

In contrast, with small tweaks, it turns out to be possible to administer housing vouchers so that families like Rath’s move to neighborhoods that aren’t more expensive but are where children stand a much better chance of thriving.

In Rath’s new “high-opportunity neighborhood” in Renton, a suburb, a low-income 2-year-old like Amina will on average earn $260,000 more over a lifetime than growing up in her old neighborhood, Chetty calculates. Such a girl will also be 8 percent less likely to have a baby as a teenager.

The Seattle program is an outgrowth of a national initiative called Moving to Opportunity, which in the 1990s provided vouchers for low-income families to move to better neighborhoods. Early evaluations suggested it had failed: Adults who received the vouchers didn’t earn more money.

Then in 2015, a follow-up study shook the policy world. While the moves hadn’t helped the adults, those who moved as toddlers were more likely to go to college, to marry, to earn more money and to pay more taxes — enough to pay for the program with interest.

Subsequent research has backed this finding: Neighborhood matters enormously, for young children. That’s the reason for the focus on Amina: Older siblings will also benefit, but the impact is greatest on those who move young and grow up entirely in a high-opportunity neighborhood.

Chetty has developed an online “Opportunity Atlas” that shows how some neighborhoods around the country, without being more expensive, consistently help children get ahead. It’s still unclear what the secret sauce is, although it apparently has something to do with decent schools, less poverty, lots of dads present in families and positive social norms.

10) I’m confident that JDW (and hopefully others) will enjoy this New Yorker article and video in appreciation of the forehand in tennis.

11) NPR’s Greg Rosalsky with “the case for summer vacation.”  Count me in!

12) This Heather Havrilesky provocatively asks “is marriage obsolete?” but the answer is definitely no.  As with summer vacation, also a big fan of marriage:

It’s hard enough just to live peacefully with someone by your side making noises, emitting smells, undoing what you’ve just done, interrupting, undercutting, begging to differ. Once you throw in Tinder, internet porn, and our scrolling, tl;dr attention spans, marriage seems not just antiquated but utterly absurd. So why do I love this torturous state of affairs so much? The daily companionship, the shared household costs, and the tax breaks are not enough. Maybe I’m the sort of weak bird who would rather wait for her very flawed mate to come home than go out preening and showboating just to wind up with another flawed mate in the end.

And yet there’s something distinctly reassuring about breaking down, falling into disrepair, losing your charms, misplacing your keys, when you have an equally inept and irritating human tolerating it all, in spite of a million and one very good reasons to put on his walking boots and take his love to town. If marriage is irrational, in other words, as with child-rearing and ambition and art, that’s also part of its appeal. Even when my husband and I go through a rough time, bickering more than usual over how many tantrums a 12-year-old should throw per day or how long a particularly fussy loaf of bread should be left to rise, after we’ve spent a few weeks staring at our phones at night instead of enjoying each other’s company, I can always trust that we’ll enter an equal and opposite period of humble satisfaction and connection. The other day, in the wake of such a market correction, we began our morning walk with the dogs (who are too neurotic to be walked by one person alone), and my husband announced, “The first thing I thought when I woke up this morning was, You don’t have what it takes. You never did and you never will.” This made us both laugh loudly for a solid block.

Marriage can’t simply be about living your best lives in sync. Because some of the peak moments of a marriage are when you share in your anxieties, your fears, your longing, and even your horrors. That commitment, the one that can withstand and even revel in the darkest corridors of a life, grows and evolves and eventually transcends a contract or a ceremony the way an ocean overflows and subsumes a thimble of water…

But by unearthing our most discouraged moments together without turning away, by screeching at the moon side by side, admitting “This is all our fault,” we don’t just reaffirm our love, we reaffirm our shared and separate ability to face the unknown from this point forward. That’s why sickness and death are key to marriage vows. Because there is nothing more divine than being able to say, out loud, “Today, I am really, truly at my worst,” knowing that it won’t make your spouse run for the hills. My husband has seen my worst before. We both know that our worst is likely to get worse from here. Somehow that feels like grace.

 

 

The 2016 electorate based on verified voters

Pew did a really nice study looking at the views of verified voters (something that’s a pain, but possible, as voting is, of course, a public record).  Not all that different from what we know, but some very nice summary graphs.

 

It really is interesting the degree to which the Democratic party is increasingly the party of college-educated whites and racial minorities and and Republicans are so white and so not urban.

Of all the cool summary statistics, I just feel like age is really going to matter going into the future.  Democrats killed under 30 and won by a large margin under 50.  Not a lot of people undergo partisan transformation once they are voting adults, so in coming years, the Republican electorate will increasingly die off while the younger Democrats will increasingly take over.

Of course, that’s one reason that Republicans are fighting like hell to rig the game and keep it rigged through gerrymandering, overly-onerous voter ID laws, etc.  But, in the end, there’s only so much they can do against numbers like this.  And Donald Trump sure ain’t helping.  Unless of course he manages to squeak through a re-election because of the abomination that is the electoral college and then… well, you know… subvert democracy completely.

As to what exactly this verified voter stuff is all about, here you go from Pew:

One of the biggest challenges facing those who seek to understand U.S. elections is establishing an accurate portrait of the American electorate and the choices made by different kinds of voters. Obtaining accurate data on how people voted is difficult for a number of reasons.

Surveys conducted before an election can overstate – or understate – the likelihood of some voters to vote. Depending on when a survey is conducted, voters might change their preferences before Election Day. Surveys conducted after an election can be affected by errors stemming from respondents’ recall, either for whom they voted for or whether they voted at all. Even the special surveys conducted by major news organizations on Election Day – the “exit polls” – face challenges from refusals to participate and from the fact that a sizable minority of voters actually vote prior to Election Day and must be interviewed using conventional surveys beforehand.

This report introduces a new approach for looking at the electorate in the 2016 general election: matching members of Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel to voter files to create a dataset of verified voters.

The analysis in this report uses post-election survey reports of 2016 vote preferences (conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 12, 2016) among those who were identified as having voted using official voting records. These voter file records become available in the months after the election. (For more details, see “Methodology.”) Among these verified voters, the overall vote preference mirrors the election results very closely: 48% reported voting for Hillary Clinton and 45% for Donald Trump; by comparison, the official national vote tally was 48% for Clinton, 46% for Trump.

This data source allows researchers to take a detailed look at the voting preferences of Americans across a range of demographic traits and characteristics. It joins resources already available – including the National Election Pool exit polls, the American National Election Studies and the Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement – in hopes of helping researchers continue to refine their understanding of the 2016 election and electorate, and address complex questions such as the role of race and education in 2016 candidate preferences.

Quick hits (part II)

Look at this, your first double quick hits, on-time, weekend in forever :-).

1) Truly, the everyday corruption of the Trump administration is just astounding.  And the politicization of the Department of Justice is among the worst parts.  NYT:

President Trump’s Justice Department — for it is increasingly clear that the department has been reduced to an arm of the White House — has opened an antitrust investigation of four auto companies that had the temerity to defy the president by voluntarily agreeing to reduce auto emissions below the level required by current federal law.

The investigation is an act of bullying, plain and simple: a nakedly political abuse of authority.

The department is supposed to prevent companies from acting in their own interest at the expense of the public. The four automakers, by contrast, are acting in the public interest.

That the government of the United States would fight to loosen emissions standards in the face of the growing threat posed by climate change also boggles the mind. Not content to fiddle while the planet burns, Mr. Trump is fanning the flames…

If the Justice Department wants to get serious about antitrust enforcement, there are plenty of places to get started. This investigation is an embarrassment. It might as well wheel out the statue of Lady Justice and replace it with a bronze marionette.

2) Oh, and why we’re at it, how about making immigrant kids go hungry.  Seriously, of course.  My friend and colleague, Sarah Bowen, in the NYT:

Between 2012 and 2017, as part of a study of how low-income mothers feed their children, we talked with women who had moved from Mexico and Central America to the United States. They came here because they wanted to be able to offer their children more than they’d had growing up, including a full belly at the end of every day. Over the course of our research — amid increasing ICE raids, tightened work restrictions and growing anti-immigrant sentiment stoked by President Trump’s rhetoric — we found that many families became afraid to apply for food assistance programs. The Trump administration’s new “public charge” rule will intensify this kind of fear for immigrant families, including those who are in this country legally. One result will be more hungry families and children.

By allowing the government to deny permanent legal status (also known as green cards) to people who have received public benefits like housing assistance, SNAP or Medicaid, the new rule — which will go into effect Oct. 15 if it survives legal challenges, including suits by CaliforniaNew York and Washington — will force families to choose between putting food on the table and the promise of future citizenship.

3) Wired feature on the wagon wheel effect of water going up and other fascinating illusions is pretty cool.

4) Thanks to JPP for sending me this, “It doesn’t matter if it’s sugary or diet: New study links all soda to an early death.”   From my response to his email,
“Thanks, of course. I find this one particularly interesting in that they have 400K+ people and still can’t truly make useful conclusions about diet soda. Just too many unmeasured factors, even with their controls. And, while we all understand the potential deleterious mechanisms for excess sugar, I would argue that it is incumbent upon them to add a scientifically plausible mechanism of action for aspartame leading to diseases of the circulatory system.”  Some studies make me honestly assess my commitment to diet soda.  This was not one of them.

5) Is there anything dumber than Republicans’ asinine, bad-faith “republic, not a democracy” nonsense (well, sure, of course there is, but this is really annoying)?  Jamelle Bouie:

But the crux of Crenshaw’s argument is his second point. “We live in a republic.” He doesn’t say “not a democracy,” but it’s implied by the next clause, where he rejects majority rule — “51% of the population doesn’t get to boss around the other 49%.”

You can fill in the blanks of the argument from there. The Founding Fathers built a government to stymie the “tyranny of the majority.” They contrasted their “republic” with “democracy,” which they condemned as dangerous and unstable. As John Adams wrote in an 1814 letter to the Virginia politician John Taylor: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a Democracy Yet, that did not commit suicide.”

But there’s a problem. For the founders, “democracy” did not mean majority rule in a system of representation. The men who led the revolution and devised the Constitution were immersed in classical literature and political theory. Ancient Greece, in particular, was a cautionary tale. When James Madison critiqued “democracy” in Federalist No. 10, he meant the Athenian sort: “a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person.” This he contrasted with a “republic” or “a government in which the scheme of representation takes place.” Likewise, in a 1788 speech to the New York ratification convention, Alexander Hamilton disavowed “the ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated.” They “never possessed one good feature of government,” he said. “Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”…

It’s worth asking where this quip — “we’re a republic, not a democracy” — even came from. Nicole Hemmer, a historian of American politics and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics,” traces it to the 1930s and 40s. “When Franklin Roosevelt made defending democracy a core component of his argument for preparing for, and then intervening in, the war in Europe, opponents of U.S. intervention began to push back by arguing that the U.S. was not, in fact, a democracy,” she wrote in an email…

These origins are important. If there’s substance behind “We’re a republic, not a democracy,” it’s not as a description of American government. There’s really no difference, in the present, between a “republic” and a “democracy”: Both connote systems of representation in which sovereignty and authority derive from the public at large.

The point of the slogan isn’t to describe who we are, but to claim and co-opt the founding for right-wing politics — to naturalize political inequality and make it the proper order of things. What lies behind that quip, in other words, is an impulse against democratic representation. It is part and parcel of the drive to make American government a closed domain for a select, privileged few. [emphasis mine]

6a) Really interesting NYT feature on how Phoenix is adapting to climate change by moving more and more activities to the night-time.  Also, speaking as a resident of an almost temperate rainforest climate, people really should not move to the desert by the millions.

6b) And very, very cool interactive Washington Post feature on how climate change is already affecting all sorts of places across America.

7) Paul Waldman, “if we told the truth about guns”

The next thing they’d say: We know that more guns don’t equal less crime. Because if that were true, then not only would America have the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world (which we don’t), but also the places with the most guns would be the safest places (which they aren’t).

The next thing they’d say: We know that more guns don’t equal less crime. Because if that were true, then not only would America have the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world (which we don’t), but also the places with the most guns would be the safest places (which they aren’t).

And then: We know that the “good guy with a gun” taking out a mass shooter is a fantasy. It’s something that rarely happens despite all the millions of people walking around with guns. But we love that fantasy. It’s a big part of the attraction of guns. Just thinking about it makes us feel strong and capable and manly, as though we could turn into action heroes at a moment’s notice, exchanging fire with a terrorist strike team or saving a bunch of innocent kids from a mad killer.

And: We know that guns are not the only protection against tyranny, no matter how many times we say otherwise. The very idea is absurd. If it were true, there would have been authoritarian takeovers in recent years in Britain, and France, and Sweden, and Norway, and … you get the idea.

8a) This was a really good piece from Perry Bacon Jr last month, “GOP Politicians Are Much More Resistant To Gun Control Than GOP Voters Are.”

8b) Relatedly, Dylan Matthews from last year on how gun ownership because a political identity is really good:’

In 1972, about 66 percent of gun owners voted for Richard Nixon, compared to 55 percent of non-gun owners, for a gap of 11 percentage points.

In 2012, 56 percent of gun owners voted for Mitt Romney, compared to 26 percent of non-gun owners. The gap was 30 percent, almost triple what it was in 1972. Joslyn and Haider-Markel updated their study in 2017, and found that the gap in 2016 wasn’t quite as large as in 2012 — 62 percent of gun owners and 38 percent of non-owners voted for Trump  but it did remain significant and far larger than in the 1970s and ’80s.

The gun gap could just be an artifact of other demographics. For instance, we know that for a whole host of historical reasons, black Americans overwhelmingly vote for Democrats and whites mostly vote for Republicans; whites are also likelier to own guns, so the gap might reflect racial differences. Same goes for partisan gender gaps (women are more likely to be Democrats and less likely to own guns), rural/urban gaps, and so forth.

But Joslyn and company find that even after you control for gender, race, education, age, rural/urban status, and even party affiliation, gun ownership still correlates strongly with presidential vote choice. Indeed, they find that in their regressions, it “exerts a greater influence on likelihood of voting Republican than gender, education, or rural residence, and rivals age.”

These regressions can’t prove causality — that is, they can’t prove that gun ownership causes people to vote Republican. But they do show that the phenomenon we’re seeing isn’t just an effect of which racial groups or genders are likely to own guns.

8c) And while wer’re at it, Nate Cohn from 2017 with lots of cool graphics on how “Nothing Divides Voters Like Owning a Gun.”

9) My wife particularly loved this story about the problems faced by those left behind in gentrification.  I really don’t know what the solution is, but I don’t think preventing the revitalization of urban cores by wealthier residents (and an important reversal of decades of white flight) is a bad thing.

10) Speaking of my post on ebooks, good stuff from Wired on “The Radical Transformation of the Textbook.”

11) Good stuff from Lili Loofbourow on “sharpiegate.”

More interesting in Trump’s ongoing lie is what his absolute fixation on maintaining it says about the state of his White House and its relationship to the information environment. So clumsy and obvious was the Sharpie-drawn extension that it seemed like a test—how much can I get away with? Authoritarians frequently gauge their subordinates’ loyalties by ordering them to agree to things that are plainly untrue. This is the very first thing Trump did to then–press secretary Sean Spicer, who was forced to publicly defend the president’s claim about crowd sizes at his inauguration despite photographic evidence to the contrary. Spicer obliged, teaching Trump that he could use weak people to help him bend reality as president.

Here’s a theory about why Trump couldn’t let it go this week: One of his staunchest allies didn’t seem to have his back. It may have rattled him. Fox News, which he has recently started attacking for being insufficiently slavish—has let him down…

And if #Sharpiegate can be said to serve any non-embarrassing function, it’s as a test of another kind, to see which institutions and people have rotted under the president’s hysterical commands and which ones haven’t. On Thursday, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter Brown issued a statement taking responsibility for the president’s out-of-date information. On Thursday, a source from the White House informed CNN that Trump had personally directed Brown to make this statement. The president was forcing a high-ranking military official to cover for him. On Friday evening, the NOAA released a peculiar, unsigned statement throwing the Alabama NWS under the bus for contradicting the president-who-shall-not-be-contradicted. (The NWS Employees Organization wasn’t having it, and neither were many former NOAA officials, who professed themselves stunned.)

What’s noteworthy about all this is not that Trump is forcing the government to write him notes of excuse; that’s old news by now. It’s that his critics have not merely shrugged and gone away, and that even the façade of his defense has shown cracks. It was a White House aide who revealed the John Roberts visit to the Oval Office, and, according to the Washington Post, it was a White House official who broke with the administration line to admit that the president of the United States had marked up an official NOAA map in order to avoid even a whiff of admitting fault.

“No one else writes like that on a map with a black Sharpie,” the source said. Trump can sell whatever he wants; he’s seeing what happens when people don’t buy it.

12) This is excellent and true, “The Guy Who Open-Carried an Assault Rifle Into Walmart After El Paso Is America’s Best Gun Control Activist”

On Aug. 3, a 21-year-old Texas man shot 46 people in an El Paso Walmart with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 22 of them. On Aug. 8, a 20-year-old man wearing body armor and carrying a semi-automatic rifle entered a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri, in what police say he intended as a “social experiment” to see if the store would honor the state’s open-carry law in the wake of the El Paso killings.

The experiment got results. After shoppers panicked and a store employee pulled a fire alarm to trigger an evacuation, the man—his name is Dmitriy Andreychenko—was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat; prosecutors argue that he recklessly disregarded the possibility that his actions would cause dangerous chaos. If you’ve been following the rise of politically motivated “tactical” open-carry culture in the last six or so years, what happened next was surprising: Walmart—and a number of its competitors, like Kroger, Wegmans, CVS, and Walgreens—have announced that they are “requesting” or “asking” customers not to display firearms in their stores even in states where the practice is legal.

As private entities, the stores have the right to set rules for their property. Walmart says it will take a “a very non-confrontational approach” to enforcing its request, but gun proliferation is a cultural issue as well as a legal one, which is why certain gun enthusiasts have been so eager to make a public show of openly carrying—and why the company’s move, however non-confrontational, carries weight. Gun activists’ goal has been to make ordinary citizens accept the presence of people who could kill at any moment—to deliver the message that visibly armed citizens ought to be part of everyday life, to express the power of the gun-rights movement, and to convey the idea that arming oneself, rather than collectively disarming society, is the proper response to feeling unsafe.

Open carry has been hard to stop at the legal level in states where Republicans control legislatures, which, of late, is most of them. The Supreme Court has not recognized a constitutional right to carry guns in public, yet, but it hasn’t struck down any open-carry laws either. Advocates of gun control (or gun safety, if you prefer) have been attempting for years to do an end-run by persuading chain stores and restaurants—which can be more responsive to national, general-public opinion than legislators in gerrymandered states—to ban open carry, with some success.

None of their efforts, though, have been as instantly effective as Andreychenko’s stunt in making the point that wearing military protective gear and carrying a semi-automatic weapon should perhaps not be considered an acceptable way to behave, during peacetime, around people who are shopping for paper towels. [emphasis mine]

13) Been a huge fan of Lizzo’s music since I discovered her via Fresh Air earlier this year.  So good!  And, thus, very intrigued to learn that it wasn’t even her terrific songs on her new album that finally brought her to the success she deserves.  De gustibus non est disputandam!  I even discovered when following the youtube links, that she’s playing in Raleigh this Friday.  Alas, I don’t have to worry about being the weird middle-aged white dude at her concert, because it’s sold out.  Obviously booked this small venue before she really took off.

14) New Yorker with some of the truly amazing detail NC GOP gerrymanderer-in-chief Thomas Hofeller had on his computer.

15) How two-factor authentication with your phone may no longer keep you safe.  Turns out that the massively weak link is the cell phone companies.  And, apparently, they don’t care.  Seems to me maybe the government needs to make them (I can dream).

16) Have I mentioned how much I love Netflix’s Dark?  A nice appreciation in Wired.

17) Wow, here was quite the hot take in the NYT, “Dogs Are Not Here for Our Convenience:
Spaying and neutering puppies shouldn’t be standard policy — and it isn’t automatically the “responsible” choice either.”  Steve’s take.  We have a moral and ethical responsibility to treat them well, but… they kind of are here for our convenience.

18) Michele Goldberg made the case for Cory Booker back in early August.  I’m still hopeful he’ll catch on as a real contender.

19) Some health news I really like, “Flavonoids in Plants May Help Protect Against Major Killers: Those who ate the most flavonoid-rich foods had a lower risk for cancer and cardiovascular death.”

Consuming flavonoids, a large class of nutrients found in plant foods, may reduce the risk for cancer and cardiovascular death.

Researchers used data on 56,048 Danes, following their diet and health prospectively for 23 years. During that time, 14,083 of them died. The study is in Nature Communications.

After controlling for smoking, hypertension, cholesterol and many other health and dietary factors, they found that compared with people in the lowest one-fifth for flavonoid intake, those in the highest one-fifth had a 17 percent reduced risk for all-cause mortality, a 15 percent reduced risk for cardiovascular disease death, and a 20 percent reduced risk for cancer mortality. The association peaked at about 500 milligrams of flavonoids a day, and was stronger for smokers, heavy drinkers and the obese.

Good sources of flavonoids include tea, chocolate, red wine, citrus fruits, berries, apples and broccoli. One cup of tea, one apple, one orange, and three-and-a-half ounces each of blueberries and broccoli would supply more than 500 milligrams of total flavonoids.

Yeah, not so much the brocoli, but love me berries and citrus.

20) This was a disturbing and sadly unsurprising Op-Ed, “A Child Bumps Her Head. What Happens Next Depends on Race: My black and Latino clients are accused of abuse when their kids have accidents.”

%d bloggers like this: