Quick hits (part I)

1) Lee Drutman makes a compelling case that we should make more predictions.

Most scholars and commentators these days are overly cautious about venturing predictions. It’s understandable: After so many got so much wrong in 2016, the natural response is to step back and “get out of the prediction business.”

This is too bad. If anything, we should make more predictions — if so many once-reliable theories crumbled in 2016, there’s all the more need to come up with new ones. And making predictions is the best way to test our theories and assumptions, and therefore an excellent way to learn. Yes, it means sticking your neck out and maybe being wrong. The safest way to always be right is to never make any predictions. But without venturing testable hypotheses about the future, it’s harder to distinguish rival theories.

Like it or not, the demand for predictions exists. Our minds are wired to hate uncertainty, to know the next turn in the story. Predictions fill a deep need.

Without scholars and commentators making informed predictions in the accountable spirit of the scientific method, the market is left to those who care less whether they are right — they just want to be interesting. This reduces the quality of predictions — more vague and wild predictions, fewer ones resting on specified theories. The result: We understand less about the world…

Now, you might say: Why make predictions when we can just wait for the outcome, and thenmake a post-hoc judgment call? But once we know the outcome, post-hoc rationalization sets in. Hindsight is always 20/20 (and not just in 2020).

If you have a new theory, there’s only one way to know whether it might be any good: make predictions and see how well you do.

Drutman predicts Beto.

Here’s my theory, informed by what we’ve seen from recent elections: The candidate who is best able to get by on “authenticity” and charisma and can keep from getting mired in policy specifics has the best chance of winning. The current era of social media- and internet-driven small-donor financing has made politics more unmediated, more direct-to-voter than ever.

I don’t have much of a theory, but to the extent I do, I’ll predict Kamala.  I think the fact that she is a Black woman is a huge plus in an identity-politics on the left age and I think she has the skills to do really well in debates, which will help set her apart from a large field.  So, there you go.

2) Speaking of identity politics, Jesse Singal is really good on this:

Identity politics is really just any instance of a group advocating for its own interests, often by arguing it hasn’t been treated fairly or is being screwed over by some other group or some bigger force. The civil rights and women’s suffrage movements were instances of effective identity politics.

‘Identitarianism’ is a bit better. In poking around online, I came across the blog of Matt Drabek, a philosopher and the author of the very interesting-looking Classify and Label: The Unintended Marginalization of Social Groups. Drabek argues against identitarianism on the left, from the left, laying out the identity politics/identitarianism distinction as follows in a post from last June:

-‘Identity politics’ picks out any politics aimed at advancing the interests of a discernible identity group or groups.

-‘Identitarianism’ picks out any politics or movement that reduces political issues entirely or almost entirely to issues of identity.

That seems about right to me. And it captures what feels like a burgeoning tendency in certain left-of-center spaces, particularly elite ones. Since it has certain characteristics unique to it and not held by right-wing forms of identitarianism, let’s call it left-wing identitarianism, or LWI, for short. This is somewhat blunt phrasing, since there are far-left socialist identitarians and center-left Hillary-Clinton-supporting identitarians, but it gets the point across well enough.

LWI has certain defining features that pop up endlessly. One is that it makes strong causal claims about the connection between race and behavior or belief…

This is a really good example of the miles-wide gap between how traditional progressivism and LWI handle the question of race and crime.

Traditional progressivism: If there’s a link between race and crime, it isn’t about race itself — being one race or another, doesn’t, on its own, cause someone to be more criminal via properties essential to that racial group. Rather, the race-crime link is mediated by all sorts of other variables, like poverty and lack of access to opportunity.

Left-wing identitarianism: There is a causal link between race and crime when it comes to white crime, because of the essential qualities of whiteness.

In fact, LWI has a tendency to reduce all sorts of complicated stuff to whether or not the person doing that stuff is a member of majority or minority groups. Among the most ardent left-wing identitarians, the first step toward explaining anything is identity groups.

3) I do plan on reading this big NYT magazine feature on Rupert Murdoch.  Everybody tells me I should.

4) My wife thinks I’m too old for this.  I disagree.

5) I subscribed to the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1998-99.  It was a great paper.  So sad to see it’s dramatic decline, as with so many high-quality local newspapers.

6) Everybody also said this Caitlyn Flanagan piece on the college admissions scandal is a must-read. It’s really good, but I didn’t think quite up to the hype.  But, yes, read it.

These parents—many of them avowed Trump haters—are furious that what once belonged to them has been taken away, and they are driven mad with the need to reclaim it for their children. The changed admissions landscape at the elite colleges is the aspect of American life that doesn’t feel right to them; it’s the lost thing, the arcadia that disappeared so slowly they didn’t even realize it was happening until it was gone. They can’t believe it—they truly can’t believe it—when they realize that even the colleges they had assumed would be their child’s back-up, emergency plan probably won’t accept them. They pay thousands and thousands of dollars for untimed testing and private counselors; they scour lists of board members at colleges, looking for any possible connections; they pay for enhancing summer programs that only underscore their children’s privilege. And—as poor whites did in the years leading up to 2016—they complain about it endlessly. At every parent coffee, silent auction, dinner party, Clippers game, book club, and wine tasting, someone is bitching about admissions. And some of these parents, it turns out, haven’t just been bitching; some of them decided to go MAGA.

Also, I have seen so many non-elite state-school graduates go on to great things that the obsession with elite undergraduate institutions grows ever more tiresome to me.

7) There’s just so much horror committed by our government in the name of “protecting our borders” that it’s hard to keep up.  And it is a moral stain on our country.  Especially those responsible.

8) Good stuff in Wired on they physics and reality of free-throw shooting.  I love that the best research on this is from an NC State professor (see, who needs the Ivies).

9) And as long as we’re talking basketball… Zion has led me to enjoy college basketball more than I have in many years.  I hate that I only got one season of him and that I’ll never see him in a Duke jersey again.  But this Ringer article on how the whole one-and-done thing has been Coach K’s downfall is terrific.

10) And to stick with a theme, Notre Dame women’s college basketball coach will not be hiring any men again.  Ever.

Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw has been on the Final Four stage nine times in her career. She has answered hundreds of questions about her team, about her rivalry with Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma, about the state of women’s basketball. But her news conference on Thursday was different. It was passionate, and it was personal.

Muffet McGraw has had enough.

Enough of the declining percentage of women coaching women’s basketball teams. Enough of the limited female representation in Congress. Enough of confining gender roles. Enough of the gender pay gap.

“Men run the world. Men have the power. Men make the decisions. It’s always the man that is the stronger one,” McGraw said, her voice rising in response to a question about saying in a recent ThinkProgress article that she would not hire another man for her coaching staff.

11) This seems like a really important piece of social science to me.  Not only can we p-hack more publishable results, we can null-hack them.  And, of course, any “hacking” of results is not good.  But, for now, rewarded.

Replication and transparency are increasingly important in bolstering the credibility of political science research, yet open science tools are typically designed for experiments. For observational studies, current replication practice suffers from an important pathology: just as researchers can often “p-hack” their way to initial findings, it is often possible to “null hack” findings away through specification and case search. We propose an observational open science framework that consists of extending the original time series, independent data collection, pre-registration, multiple simultaneous replications, and collaborators with mixed incentives. We apply the approach to three studies on “irrelevant” events and voting behavior. Each study replicates well in some areas and poorly in others. Had we sought to debunk any of the three with ex post specification search, we could have done so. However, our approach required us to see the full, complicated picture. We conclude with suggestions for future refinements to our approach.

12) This Vox piece on the scientific value of recovering 50-year astronaut poop on the moon was fascinating.  I also loved that my 13-year old son had already read it when I brought up the subject to him.

13) A female teacher lost her job over a topless selfie that she shared with a male co-worker she had been dating (and, alas, somehow made it’s way into the phone of a student).  She is suing based on the gender discrimination of toplessness.  How about the fact that you should not be fired because sexual photos of you exist.

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Quick hits (part I)

1) What to make of Mueller report being submitted even though we don’t know what’s in it?  Just ask Benjamin Wittes.

2) Krugman on the importance of not using “Medicare for all” as a Democratic purity test.  He’s also a fan of Medicare for America:

But even if optimistic claims about Medicare for All are true, will people believe them? And even if most people do, if a significant minority of voters doesn’t trust the promises of single-payer advocates, that could easily either doom Democrats in the general election or at least make it impossible to get their plan through Congress.

To me, then, Medicare for America — which lets people keep employment-based insurance — looks like a much better bet for actually getting universal coverage than Medicare for All. But I could be wrong! And it’s fine to spend the next few months arguing the issue.

3) Yglesias makes the case for 2020 as the year of the woman:

Regardless of what exact role you think misogyny played in the coverage Clinton received and the reactions people had to her, the outcome of the 2016 campaign should not make you think a woman can’t beat Trump. Clinton would’ve won if she’d had slightly better luck. She would’ve won if the state boundaries were drawn slightly differently. She would’ve won if she’d made a couple of smarter decisions in the past. And most important, she would’ve won if the underlying fundamentals were narrowly in her favor rather than narrowly against her.

Nobody knows how promising the fundamentals will be for Democrats in 2020. But if they’re favorable, there’s every reason to think a woman nominee will win, and if they’re not, there’s every reason to think a man will lose.

Women have a good track-record overall

Only one woman has ever been a major-party nominee for president, and that exact same woman is also the only one who (back in 2008) managed to come close to the nomination before falling short. Consequently, it’s inherently difficult to distinguish the misfortunes Hillary Clinton has faced in presidential politics from the misfortunes women have faced.

What we do know from Jennifer Lawless’s 2016 book surveying women who run for Congress is that on average they do just fine. People who run for office get attacked, of course. And when women get attacked, they tend to get attacked in misogynist terms. But on average, women who obtain major-party nominations for Congress do just as well as men. Women were badly outnumbered in Congress itself not because they performed poorly in elections, but because they were much less likely to run in the first place.

4) Max Boot is so fun to read now:

You can debate when the GOP’s road to ruin began. I believe it was more than a half century ago, when Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon showed their willingness to pander to racists to wrest the segregationist South from the Democrats. The party’s descent accelerated with the emergence of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Fox News in the 1990s, of Sarah Palin in the 2000s, and of Ted Cruz and the tea party in the 2010s. There were still figures of integrity and decency such as John McCain, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. But the GOP evinced no more enthusiasm for any of them than it had for George H.W. Bush. With the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the party’s plunge into purgatory picked up momentum.

Republicans now found themselves making excuses for a boorish, ignorant demagogue who had no respect for the fundamental norms of democracy and no adherence to conservative principles. The party of fiscal conservatism excused a profligate president who added $2 trillion in debt and counting. The party of family values became cheerleaders for what Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has witheringly and accurately called the “porn star presidency.” The party of law and order became accomplices to the president’s obstruction of justice. The party of free trade did nothing to stop the president from launching trade wars. The party of moral clarity barely uttered a peep at the president’s sickening sycophancy toward the worst dictators on the planet — or his equally nauseating attacks on America’s closest allies. The party that once championed immigration eagerly joined in the president’s xenophobic attacks on refugee caravans. And the party that long castigated Democrats for dividing Americans by race pretended not to notice — or even cheered — when the president made openly racist appeals to white voters.

Faster and faster went the GOP’s descent into oblivion. Now its bankruptcy is complete. It has no more moral capital left.

5) David Leonhardt, “It Isn’t Complicated: Trump Encourages Violence: He doesn’t deserve blame for any specific attack. He does deserve blame for the increase in white-nationalist violence.

To Trump, the incident was part of a larger problem: “You know, the left plays a tougher game. It’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. O.K.? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

This wasn’t the first time Trump had mused about violence, of course. He has talked about “Second Amendment people” preventing the appointment of liberal judges. He’s encouraged police officers to bang suspects’ heads against car roofs. He has suggested his supporters “knock the hell” out of hecklers. At a rally shortly before 2018 Election Day, he went on a similar riff about Bikers for Trump and the military.

I’m well aware of the various see-no-evil attempts to excuse this behavior: That’s just how he talks. Don’t take him literally. Other Republicans are keeping him in check. His speeches and tweets don’t really matter.

But they do matter. The president’s continued encouragement of violence — and of white nationalism — is part of the reason that white-nationalist violence is increasing. Funny how that works.

After Trump’s latest threat, I reached out to several experts in democracy and authoritarianism to ask what they made of it. Their answers were consistent: No, the United States does not appear at risk of widespread political violence anytime soon. But Trump’s words are still corroding democracy and public safety.

6) I love that New Zealand is making an effort not to use the name of the mass shooter.  Of course, this NYT story about that names him, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

7) Really enjoyed the Theranos/Elizabeth Holmes documentary on HBO.  I really could not get past her absurdly fake deep voice.  I honestly found myself wondering how so many people were taken in by her.

8) The over-priced insulin so wonderfully/awfully symbolizes the rot in health care policy in America:

This month, Eli Lilly and Company announced with some fanfare that it was manufacturing a generic version of its own best-selling insulin brand, Humalog, which it would sell for half off — $137.35 versus about $275.

David Ricks, the chief executive of Lilly, said the company was making this seemingly beneficent gesture because “many patients are struggling to afford their insulin.”

But they’re struggling, in large part, because since 2001 Lilly has raised the price of a vial of Humalog to about $275, from $35. Other insulin makers have raised prices similarly.

In Germany, the list price of a vial of Humalog is about $55 — or $45 if you buy five at a time — and that includes some taxes and markup fees. Why not just reduce the price in the United States to address said suffering?…

Instead, Lilly decided to come out with a new offering, a so-called authorized generic. This type of product is made by or under an agreement from the brand manufacturer. The medicines are exactly the same as the brand-name drug — often made in the same factory with the same equipment to the same formula. Only the name and the packaging are different.

It is perhaps, a sign of how desperate Americans are for something — anything — to counteract the escalating price of drugs that Lilly’s move was greeted with praise rather than a collective “Huh?”

Imagine if Apple sold a $500 iPhone for $250 if it was called, say, a yPhone, and simply lacked the elaborate white box and the little Apple on back. That would be patently absurd. An iPhone in a brown paper bag is still an iPhone. And Humalog with a new name isn’t a generic — except according to the bizarre logic of the pharmaceutical industry. Like so many parts of our health care system, its existence has more to do with convoluted business arrangements than health.

9) Enterprise Rental Car’s take on a college degree is interesting.  Chronicle of Higher Ed, “Why Thousands of College Grads Start Their Careers at a Rental-Car Company.”

To the company, a college degree matters mostly because it suggests that a candidate has acquired the right mix of skills to succeed in an entry-level job — and to move up the ladder from there. Its hiring philosophy and practices — which have been in place for decades — can tell us something important about what a B.A. truly signals.

But the company doesn’t see higher education the way higher education sees itself. Enterprise doesn’t pay much attention to where prospective trainees went to college, what they studied, or their grades. The company does care, though, that they finished college: Trainees are required to have a bachelor’s degree.

Why? The big benefit of a bachelor’s degree is soft skills, says Marie Artim, Enterprise’s vice president for talent acquisition. She ticks off some of the ones that employers often mention: critical thinking, communication, problem-solving. By earning a degree, she says, college graduates have shown that they can juggle different responsibilities by, say, holding down a job or playing a sport while keeping up with their classes.

Graduates have also demonstrated “cognitive ability,” Artim adds: “the ability to learn, and to take on more responsibility, and to lead or manage others.”

To a critic, the idea that a bachelor’s degree is needed to work the front desk of a car-rental office may sound like credential creep. But Enterprise overwhelmingly promotes from within. Its managers and even executives almost always get their start as trainees. Hiring happens at the entry level, and getting it right is really important.

10) The recycling situation in this country is so depressing now.  I’m still recycling everything at home, but sometimes when I’m out and it would be less convenient to recycle, I think “pretty sure this plastic is ending up in a landfill wherever I put it.” Also, the situation is so bad because Americans are pathetic at properly separating their recycling.

11) I loved Netflix’s “Russian Doll.  Binge it!  But, stuff like this in Todd VanDerwerff’s otherwise vary positive review, get me so frustrated with Vox:

A necessary caveat: One of Russian Doll’s executive producers — the fourth name listed in the closing credits, even — is Dave Becky, who used to be Louis C.K.’s manager and who has apologized for his role in the comedian’s cover-up of his sexual misconduct. Becky is still Poehler’s manager and one of Lyonne’s managers, and his company, 3 Arts Entertainment, is still a major force in TV comedy. This does not dampen my enthusiasm for Russian Doll or Lyonne’s performance in it, and I know Becky’s name appearing in the credits is almost certainly the result of some sort of contractual obligation. (That said, his name has been erased from the fifth and final season of Broad City.) But seeing his name did make my gut churn a bit at the end of every episode. You may feel differently!

No, not a necessary caveat!!  This is a terrific show.  The fact that one of four producers used to be Louis CK’s manager?!  Please.  Also, I still listen to Michael Jackson.  It’s really not complicated art ≠ the artist.

12) I could go for this insect bread in Finland.  Probably a little expensive to have Mika send me some, though :-).

13) Like any good Republican, Nikki Haley is pretty clueless on health care.  When she argued that Americans would not like health care in Finland, damn did she get dunked on by all quarters.

14) I love linguistics.  I had one class in college and this is a subject I always enjoy learning about.  This is pretty wild, “How ‘F’ Sounds Might Break a Fundamental Rule of Linguistics: If farming helped introduce f’s and v’s 12,000 years ago, it would challenge the principle that humans’ language abilities haven’t significantly changed since we first learned to speak.”

At least, that’s according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Science. The authors argue that sounds like f and v weren’t part of human language until farming appeared during the Neolithic age. Agriculture, they say, allowed humans to eat soft foods, which changed the way their jaws developed throughout life, which shaped the kinds of sounds their mouths were capable of making.

This shift would be an exception to a core rule of linguistics, called the uniformitarian principle, which posits that humans’ ability to use language has not significantly changed since language itself first appeared. “Basically, the uniformitarian principle is necessary to do historical linguistics,” Anthony Yates, a linguist at UCLA, told me. It’s hard to say when exactly humans started speaking, but most estimates place the date at least 50,000 years ago. Agriculture, meanwhile, sprung up during the Neolithic, some 12,000 years ago. The idea that humans weren’t using f’s and v’s for the first 38,000 years of our linguistic history is a striking rebuke to uniformitarianism.

14) Are we in a podcast bubble?  Maybe.  But so many good podcasts out there.

15) This is a great story about the coaches and players trying to make the most of their opportunities playing basketball at my son’s community college, Wake Tech.

16) Pretty sure Zion Williamson is my favorite college basketball player since I was in college.  Watching Duke play last night, I was thinking more than anything I want Duke to go to the final so I can see Zion play in college five more times.  And, of course, like all great players in any sport, it’s not just physical ability, but the mental ability to read the game at a different level:

A screwy thing to consider is that Zion Williamson might be underrated. He might just be a victim of his own clamorous dunks. His appeal to a thrill-seeking general public might have smothered his appeal to hopeless basketball geeks.

“How he reads the game,” his teammate, Duke junior Jack White, said last weekend during the ACC tournament in Charlotte, when Williamson’s reading stood out. In addition to all the things that caused the points to amass, the rebounds to mount and the highlight editors to coo, Williamson left strewn across the floor what people sometimes call “basketball plays.”

In addition to dunks and rebound-dunks and other dunks, Williamson seems to fill the game with little things that alter its course, with taps and alterations and bright ideas about where to turn up. The least he could do for opponents is care a tad less, yet his care seems also outsized, turning up in all the otherworldly ways but also in those both pedestrian and crucial.

17) Nice piece in the NYT on how our clean environments are not so great for our immune systems and the history of the “hygiene hypothesis”:

Our ancestors evolved over millions of years to survive in their environments. For most of human existence, that environment was characterized by extreme challenges, like scarcity of food, or food that could carry disease, as well as unsanitary conditions and unclean water, withering weather, and so on. It was a dangerous environment, a heck of a thing to survive.

At the center of our defenses was our immune system, our most elegant defense. The system is the product of centuries of evolution, as a river stone is shaped by water rushing over it and the tumbles it experiences on its journey downstream.

Late in the process, humans learned to take steps to bolster our defenses, developing all manner of customs and habits to support our survival. In this way, think of the brain — the organ that helps us develop habits and customs — as another facet of the immune system.

We used our collective brains to figure out effective behaviors. We started washing our hands and took care to avoid certain foods that experience showed could be dangerous or deadly. In some cultures, people came to avoid pork, which we now know is highly susceptible to trichinosis; in others, people banned meats, which we later learned may carry toxic loads of E. coli and other bacteria.

Ritual washing is mentioned in Exodus, one of the earliest books in the Bible: “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not.”

Our ideas evolved, but for the most part, the immune system did not. This is not to say that it didn’t change. The immune system responds to our environment. When we encounter various threats, our defenses learn and then are much more able to deal with that threat in the future. In that way, we adapt to our environment.

We survived over tens of thousands of years. Eventually, we washed our hands, swept our floors, cooked our food, avoided certain foods altogether. We improved the hygiene of the animals we raised and slaughtered for food.

Particularly in the wealthier areas of the world, we purified our water, and developed plumbing and waste treatment plants; we isolated and killed bacteria and other germs.

The immune system’s enemies list was attenuated, largely for the good. Now, though, our bodies are proving that they cannot keep up with this change. We have created a mismatch between the immune system — one of the longest surviving and most refined balancing acts in the world — and our environment.

Thanks to all the powerful learning we’ve done as a species, we have minimized the regular interaction not just with parasites but even with friendly bacteria and parasites that helped to teach and hone the immune system — that “trained” it. It doesn’t encounter as many bugs when we are babies. This is not just because our homes are cleaner, but also because our families are smaller (fewer older children are bringing home the germs), our foods and water cleaner, our milk sterilized. Some refer to the lack of interaction with all kinds of microbes we used to meet in nature as the “old friends mechanism.”

What does the immune system do when it’s not properly trained?

It can overreact. It becomes aggrieved by things like dust mites or pollen. It develops what we called allergies, chronic immune system attacks — inflammation — in a way that is counterproductive, irritating, even dangerous.

18) Doris Meissner in the Post, “The real border problem is the U.S. is trying to stop the wrong kind of migrants.”

he whole approach the U.S. government takes at the border is geared to yesterday’s problem: Our border security system was designed to keep single, young Mexican men from crossing into the United States to work. Every day, more evidence mounts that it’s not set up to deal with the families and unaccompanied children now arriving from Central America — in search not just of jobs, but also of refuge. The mismatch is creating intolerable humanitarian conditions and undermining the effectiveness of border enforcement.

From the 1960s to the early 2000s, the reality of illegal immigration at the southwest border was overwhelmingly economic migration from Mexico. The U.S. responded, especially once the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted tighter security everywhere, by building up a well-resourced, modernized, hardened border enforcement infrastructure, with more staff and more sophisticated strategies. Successive Congresses and administrations under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans have supported major investments in border security as an urgent national priority. About $14 billion was allocated in fiscal year 2017 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a steep rise from $9.5 billion a decade earlier.

From a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in fiscal 2000 — with 98 percent of those apprehended Mexicans — border apprehensions have fallen by about three-quarters, to 397,000 last year. More Mexicans now return to Mexico annually than enter the United States. The turnaround has been dramatic and is due to the combined effects of economic growth, falling fertility rates and improved education and job prospects in Mexico; job losses in the United States surrounding the 2008-2009 recession; and significant border enforcement successes.

At the same time, an entirely different type of migration became more common. Beginning in 2012, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America — principally El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — crossing the border illegally jumped sharply. Modest numbers of such migrants had been arriving for many years. However, by 2014, the arrival of unaccompanied children spiked to more than 67,000 and, for the first time, the number of non-Mexican apprehensions exceeded those of Mexicans.

By 2016, the Central American flows became predominantly families with young children. Some were fleeing their countries in search of economic opportunity, but many were seeking safety and protection from widespread violence and gang activity that especially targets young people approaching or already in their teens…

he whole approach the U.S. government takes at the border is geared to yesterday’s problem: Our border security system was designed to keep single, young Mexican men from crossing into the United States to work. Every day, more evidence mounts that it’s not set up to deal with the families and unaccompanied children now arriving from Central America — in search not just of jobs, but also of refuge. The mismatch is creating intolerable humanitarian conditions and undermining the effectiveness of border enforcement.

From the 1960s to the early 2000s, the reality of illegal immigration at the southwest border was overwhelmingly economic migration from Mexico. The U.S. responded, especially once the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prompted tighter security everywhere, by building up a well-resourced, modernized, hardened border enforcement infrastructure, with more staff and more sophisticated strategies. Successive Congresses and administrations under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans have supported major investments in border security as an urgent national priority. About $14 billion was allocated in fiscal year 2017 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a steep rise from $9.5 billion a decade earlier.

From a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in fiscal 2000 — with 98 percent of those apprehended Mexicans — border apprehensions have fallen by about three-quarters, to 397,000 last year. More Mexicans now return to Mexico annually than enter the United States. The turnaround has been dramatic and is due to the combined effects of economic growth, falling fertility rates and improved education and job prospects in Mexico; job losses in the United States surrounding the 2008-2009 recession; and significant border enforcement successes.

At the same time, an entirely different type of migration became more common. Beginning in 2012, the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America — principally El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — crossing the border illegally jumped sharply. Modest numbers of such migrants had been arriving for many years. However, by 2014, the arrival of unaccompanied children spiked to more than 67,000 and, for the first time, the number of non-Mexican apprehensions exceeded those of Mexicans.

By 2016, the Central American flows became predominantly families with young children. Some were fleeing their countries in search of economic opportunity, but many were seeking safety and protection from widespread violence and gang activity that especially targets young people approaching or already in their teens.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I’ve been guilty of blaming robots/automation for a lot of our problems (like lots of other liberals).  Krugman with a strong corrective:

The other day I found myself, as I often do, at a conference discussing lagging wages and soaring inequality. There was a lot of interesting discussion. But one thing that struck me was how many of the participants just assumed that robots are a big part of the problem — that machines are taking away the good jobs, or even jobs in general. For the most part this wasn’t even presented as a hypothesis, just as part of what everyone knows.

And this assumption has real implications for policy discussion. For example, a lot of the agitation for a universal basic income comes from the belief that jobs will become ever scarcer as the robot apocalypse overtakes the economy.

So it seems like a good idea to point out that in this case what everyone knows isn’t true. Predictions are hard, especially about the future, and maybe the robots really will come for all our jobs one of these days. But automation just isn’t a big part of the story of what happened to American workers over the past 40 years.

We do have a big problem — but it has very little to do with technology, and a lot to do with politics and power…

Technological disruption, then, isn’t a new phenomenon. Still, is it accelerating? Not according to the data. If robots really were replacing workers en masse, we’d expect to see the amount of stuff produced by each remaining worker — labor productivity — soaring. In fact, productivity grew a lot faster from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s than it has since.

So technological change is an old story. What’s new is the failure of workers to share in the fruits of that technological change.

I’m not saying that coping with change was ever easy. The decline of coal employment had devastating effects on many families, and much of what used to be coal country has never recovered. The loss of manual jobs in port cities surely contributed to the urban social crisisof the ’70s and ’80s.

But while there have always been some victims of technological progress, until the 1970s rising productivity translated into rising wages for a great majority of workers. Then the connection was broken. And it wasn’t the robots that did it.

What did? There is a growing though incomplete consensus among economists that a key factor in wage stagnation has been workers’ declining bargaining power — a decline whose roots are ultimately political.

2) Oh my is the “gun sanctuary” movement just insanely stupid.  Only in America.  These people should just be flat-out embarrassed.  I love that these people are so frighteningly isolated that they are somehow unaware that most modern nations all over the world have pretty strict gun control and are not exactly tyrannies.

3) John Cassidy, “No, The Republican Party is not Turning on Donald Trump.”

Pause, for a moment, over the pitiful spectacle presented by Thom Tillis and Cory Gardner. In the past few weeks, Tillis, the first-term North Carolina senator, has emerged as a vocal critic of the national-emergency order, and until Thursday afternoon he was indicating that he would support the Democratic resolution. Then, faced with threats of a possible primary challenge, he did a U-turn and voted against the bill. Colorado’s Gardner, another critic of the executive order, also voted against the resolution—prompting the Denver Postto print an editorial saying its endorsement of him in 2014 was a mistake.

Of the twelve Republican senators who defied Trump, just one—Susan Collins, of Maine—is up for reëlection next year. Alexander is retiring. The other ten—Roy Blunt, Mike Lee, Jerry Moran, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Rand Paul, and Roger Wicker—aren’t up until 2022 or 2024. By then, Trump might well be out of office. Even if he isn’t, the dissidents will have had plenty of time to grovel their way back into his good graces.

4) MDG knew I would love these art deco style space tourism posters.  E.g.,

Europa - JPL Travel Poster

5) This LA Times article on the 737 Max is easily the best I’ve read on the matter.

6) Someone might want to tell NC Republicans that harsher opioid sentences is not going to get us out of this problem.

7) I’ve had to use an asthma inhaler at one point or another with all three of my boys.  And I always had them follow the instructions here.  Apparently, a lot of people don’t.

8) Legacy admissions have absolutely got to go.  I was one (based on other classmates at Duke from my high school, pretty sure I would’ve made it anyway), but all they do is perpetuate privilege.  If any of my kids can get into Duke on their own, more power to them (not that I’m paying for it), but I sure wouldn’t want them getting in just because their parents went there.

9) Only in America.  Olga Khazan, “Americans Are Going Bankrupt From Getting Sick: Doctors’ bills play a role in 60 percent of personal-bankruptcy filings.”

10) How eating crickets can save the lemurs.  Though I’m really picky, I’m all for getting more insect protein into people’s diets as it is such an efficient way to get animal protein.  Turn it into a powder mixed in with other stuff and I’m fine with it.

11) This article on climate change and the Moose Tick in New England is a truly fascinating look at the complex interplay of climate, ecosystems, and species health.  Read the article to find out how, incredibly, shooting more moose may be a key part of the solution.

12) The Little Ice Age is really interesting.  Here’s a new book on it.

13) This is fun, “Oops! Famously Scathing Reviews of Classic Books From The Times’s Archive.”

14) Love, this, “I embraced screen time with my daughter– and I love it.”  Like most anything else, screen time can be great or harmful, it’s all in how you use it.

15) Jennifer Rubin brings the love to Pete Buttigieg.  He really is impressive.

16) Perry Bacon Jr with the six wings of the Democratic Party.  I think I’d but myself with the Progressive New Guard.

17) Okay, looks like now we have “snowplow parents,” too.

Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every activity, is so 20th century. Some affluent mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.

Taken to its criminal extreme, that means bribing SAT proctors and paying off college coaches to get children in to elite colleges — and then going to great lengths to make sure they never face the humiliation of knowing how they got there…

The bribery scandal has “just highlighted an incredibly dark side of what has become normative, which is making sure that your kid has the best, is exposed to the best, has every advantage — without understanding how disabling that can be,” said Madeline Levine, a psychologist and the author of “Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or ‘Fat Envelopes.’”

“They’ve cleared everything out of their kids’ way,” she said.

In her practice, Dr. Levine said, she regularly sees college freshmen who “have had to come home from Emory or Brown because they don’t have the minimal kinds of adult skills that one needs to be in college.”

One came home because there was a rat in the dorm room. Some didn’t like their roommates. Others said it was too much work, and they had never learned independent study skills. One didn’t like to eat food with sauce. Her whole life, her parents had helped her avoid sauce, calling friends before going to their houses for dinner. At college, she didn’t know how to cope with the cafeteria options — covered in sauce.

“Here are parents who have spent 18 years grooming their kids with what they perceive as advantages, but they’re not,” Dr. Levine said.

Yes, it’s a parent’s job to support the children, and to use their adult wisdom to prepare for the future when their children aren’t mature enough to do so. That’s why parents hide certain toys from toddlers to avoid temper tantrums or take away a teenager’s car keys until he finishes his college applications.

If children have never faced an obstacle, what happens when they get into the real world?

18) Love this story of a really successful college basketball player who owes it all, not to dad, but to mom.

19) Really enjoyed this on why this winter’s polar vortex canceled so many flights– the humans:

“When you get below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, everything starts slowing down,” Kohlman says. You may need to start deicing planes, for one thing, which starts to create delays. And while baggage handlers may be able to do their jobs wearing thick gloves, maintenance workers changing out lightbulbs and getting wrenches onto bolts must choose between warmth and dexterity. If temperatures drop to the point where it’s dangerous for workers to stay outside for very long, operations slow down even further. (Airlines have set up temporary heated shelters and doled out hot chocolate and hand warmers at O’Hare, according to theChicago Sun Times.)

Eventually, those delays pile up into cancellations. Remember that the airline system is tightly connected, so problems at one node quickly spread. Passengers start missing their connecting flights in large numbers. Combine them with the folks in the coldest places who may stay home instead of braving the elements, and you can end up flying a half-empty plane. “It might not be the best business decision to do that,” Kohlman says. And airlines only get to make that decision if the crew makes it to the airport.

So, planes—like polar bears and robots—may not mind the cold. But airport workers—like zookeepers and roboticists—do. And they’re the folks who make them fly.

20) Rachel Riederer on the other kind of climate denialism is really good:

In 2008 and 2009, the American Psychological Association put together a task force to examine the relationship between psychology and climate change. It found that, although people said that climate change was important, they did not “feel a sense of urgency.” The task force identified several mental barriers that contributed to this blasé stance. People were uncertain about climate change, mistrustful of the science, or denied that it was related to human activity. They tended to minimize the risks and believe that there was plenty of time to make changes before the real impacts were felt. Just ten years later, these attitudes about climate feel like ancient relics. But two key factors, which the task force identified as keeping people from taking action, have stood the test of time: one was habit, and the other was lack of control. “Ingrained behaviors are extremely resistant to permanent change,” the group stated. “People believe their actions would be too small to make a difference and choose to do nothing.”

Wallace-Wells hits this note in his book, too, writing, “We seem most comfortable adopting a learned posture of powerlessness.” As uncertainty and denial about climate have diminished, they have been replaced by similarly paralyzing feelings of panic, anxiety, and resignation. As we begin to live through the massive dangers imparted by climate change, as one psychologist put it to me, “We are in psychological terrain, whether we like it or not.”

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this from Chait, “he Most Unrealistic Promise Democrats Are Making Is to Restore Bipartisanship.”

The Obama presidency was an eight-year experiment in the possibility of obtaining Republican support for major initiatives. It is impossible to imagine a more conclusive result. Despite having jacked up the deficit during the entirety of the presidencies both before and after Obama’s, Republicans spent the entire time insisting on massive fiscal austerity despite facing objectively the most favorable conditions for stimulus spending since World War II. Obama’s offer to support John McCain’s cap-and-trade plan and Mitt Romney’s health-care plan drew almost zero Democratic and zero Republican votes, respectively. Republicans wouldn’t even accept a deal to trim Medicare spending in return for tax reform.

McConnell publicly stated his logic at the time: putting the bipartisan imprimatur on Obama’s policies would make the policies popular. More than mere strategy was at work. By waging partisan war against any of Obama’s initiatives, Republicans helped persuade their voters that his ideas — even those with a solid moderate Republican pedigree — were dangerous socialism. And the more fearful Republican voters became, the harder it was for Republicans to negotiate anything with Obama. Republicans were afraideven to be seen talking to the president. At times, when negotiations could not be avoided for bills whose passage was required to avert disaster, Obama would let Biden close the deal just to create the appearance that he hadn’t been part of it…

Democrats are going to have to choose between making real changes that can help their constituents and keeping a supermajority requirement in the Senate. There is no more cruelly unrealistic promise than the magical thinking being peddled by the Democratic party’s self-styled realists.

I’ve been a fan of Cory Booker for his honest talk on criminal justice issues.  But, I will say, his totally unrealistic take on bipartisanship has definitely lowered my opinion of him.

2) Good interview on how parents buy college admissions:

Is there anything you think your book got wrong or understated?

I think the general themes were right on point, and I don’t think it’s because I was so brilliant. I think it’s because this was a system that was hidden in plain view and was in front of your nose if only you looked, and also because it was so offensive to most people’s idea of what America is about. The fundamental ethos of America is equal opportunity and upward mobility and everybody gets a chance. The people who perform the best are supposed to rise to the top, and college education is supposed to be the driving force in upward mobility. So the idea that the wealthy can perpetuate their own privileged status through college admissions, that it’s not an equal gateway for everybody but a way to perpetuate American aristocracy, is a real affront to people. And that’s the resonance a case like this has.

3) Looking forward to reading Frans de Waal’s book on animal emotions:

Of course, we recognize ourselves in such stories. This is why they are powerful: They evoke our empathy, perhaps our most cherished emotional ability (one that we share with animals, as anyone who has lived with a dog well knows). But, to our detriment, researchers who study animal behavior have been methodically warned against exploring empathy as a means of understanding. Too many illuminating observations have gone unpublished because suggesting that humans share traits with other animals invites accusations of anthropomorphism.

To avoid such charges, researchers have invented a glossary of contorted terms: Animals don’t have friends but “favorite affiliation partners”; chimps don’t laugh when tickled, but make “vocalized panting” sounds.

This isn’t just silly; it’s dangerous. Instead of worrying about anthropomorphizing animals, we should fear making a far worse mistake, what de Waal calls “anthropodenial.” When we deny the facts of evolution, when we pretend that only humans think, feel and know, “it stands in the way of a frank assessment of who we are as a species,” he writes. An understanding of evolution demands that we recognize continuity across life-forms. And even more important, achieving realistic and compassionate relationships with the rest of the animate world requires that we honor these connections, which extend far and deep.

4) Top takeaways from Trump’s absurd budget:

4. The biggest losers: Under Trump’s budget proposal, 10 major departments and agencies would see their budgets slashed by 10 percent (or more) in the next year alone: Agriculture, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation, Corps of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Trump administration likes to refer to a 5 percent cut in nondefense spending, but some agencies get far bigger chops than others. The EPA and Corps of Engineers would lose almost a third of their current funding.

5) The revolution will be fought over fabric softener (demand #3).

6) Interesting stuff from James Fallows on the 737 Max.

7) Chait on the fundamental lie of conservative populism:

The populist promises that set Trump apart during both the primary and the general election have simply failed to materialize. Trump’s budget, which proposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that he had famously pledged to oppose, is the latest evidence that he has simply defaulted to traditional movement conservatism.

Conservative populism has followed the same course in the United Kingdom and the United States. Right-wing politicians attached expansive promises to retrograde cultural panic to gain power, and once given a chance to follow through, have managed to deliver only the latter. These movements justified themselves as an authentic rebellion against the experts. The experts warned the promises were impossible. It turns out they knew what they were talking about.

8) Good stuff from Brian Schaffner and Samantha Luks:

The public’s party-driven misinformation and misperceptions about politics has drawn a great deal of attention from scholars over the past decade. While much of this research assumes that the misinformation documented by survey researchers is an accurate reflection of what individuals truly believe, other scholars have suggested that individuals intentionally and knowingly provide misinformation to survey researchers as a way of showing support for their political side. To date, it has been difficult to adjudicate between these two contrasting explanations for misperceptions. However, in this note, we provide such a test. We take advantage of a controversy regarding the relative sizes of crowds at the presidential inaugurations of Donald Trump in 2017 and Barack Obama in 2009 to ask a question where the answer is so clear and obvious to the respondents that nobody providing an honest response should answer incorrectly. Yet, at the same time, the question taps into a salient political controversy that provides incentives for Trump supporters to engage in expressive responding. We find clear evidence of expressive responding; moreover, this behavior is especially prevalent among partisans with higher levels of political interest. Our findings provide support for the notion that at least some of the misinformation reported in surveys is the result of partisan cheerleading rather than genuinely held misperceptions.

9) Ed Yong, “A New Discovery Upends What We Know About Viruses.”

10) The latest YA twitter mob could not be more karmically perfect or happen to a more-deserving target:

What Jackson’s case really demonstrates is just how narrow and untenable the rules for writing Y.A. literature are. In a tweet last May, Jackson himself more or less articulated them: “Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people. Stories of suffrage should be written by women. Ergo, stories about boys during life-changing times, like the AIDS epidemic, should be written by gay men. Why is this so hard to get?”

In a live Q. and A. for an online children’s literature conference in January, Jackson explained that he was at one point tempted to write tangentially about immigration,but his Latino friends talked him out of it: He’d be encroaching on their turf, poaching their spot on the shelves.

11) OMG Thom Tillis is the absolute worst.  There are important constitutional principles at stake.  Until Donald Trump convinces him otherwise.  This is beyond embarrassing:

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis voted Thursday to support President Donald Trump’s Poor Thom Tillis. For a few shining days the Republican senator from North Carolina had a backbone. Then, in one crumbling moment Thursday afternoon, it went away…

The why, according to North Carolina’s junior senator, was that he’s heard “serious discussion” about changing the National Emergency Act so no “future left-wing president” can do what he was voting to allow the current right-wing president to do. The prospect of a change in the law was the fig leaf with which Tillis tried to cover his capitulation.

In a whopper worthy of the president himself, Tillis said he did not change his position out of concern that a vote against Trump would bring on a primary challenge when he stands for re-election in 2020.

Fear of the president’s disapproval and the wrath of his base clearly caused Tillis’ humiliating flip-flop. After his op-ed, North Carolina Republicans let him know that not being in lockstep with Trump left him out of step with them.

So, it’s okay to ignore Constitutional principles as long as you make it harder for a future “left wing president” to ignore the Constitution.  Riiiiiight.

12) With white Democrats ever-more secular, more candidates are ignoring the “and God bless America” platitudes.  This Christian says “hooray” because boy do I hate that crap.

While white progressives once described religion as something that brought Americans together, they’re now more likely to describe it as something that drives them apart.

It’s not hard to understand why. For starters, the percentage of white Democrats who express no religious affiliation has skyrocketed. According to unpublished data tabulated for me last year by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), 8 percent of white Democrats expressed no religious affiliation in 1990. By 2016, the figure was 33 percent. In 1990, white self-described liberals were 39 points more likely to describe themselves as Protestant than as religiously unaffiliated. By 2016, religiously unaffiliated beat Protestant by nine points.

Secular Democrats haven’t only grown more numerous. They’ve also become some of the party’s most motivated activists. As The Atlantic’s Emma Green has noted, a PRRI poll taken last August and September found that Democrats who shun organized religion were more than twice as likely to have attended a political rally in the previous year than Democrats who identify with a religious group. Today’s Democratic candidates cannot simply assert, as Obama did in 2004, that “we worship an awesome God in the blue states,” because so many active Democrats do not.

The other reason liberal candidates more often describe religion as a source of division is the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Before Donald Trump, Republican religious discourse was more ecumenical.

13) Paul Waldman on white identity politics and the future of the Republican Party:

It’s no accident that the members of Congress who have these folks so worried are a Latina and a Muslim woman, because what is coming to define a good portion of the Republican Party is a sense that white people are not just losing something today but are under the threat of cultural, political and even physical annihilation.

In its extreme form, it’s defined as “white genocide,” a term common among white supremacists who believe that the white race is literally in danger of being wiped out. In a less extreme form, it manifests in people being increasingly drawn to white identity politics.

We have to be clear what we mean when we say that. In her upcoming book, “White Identity Politics,” political scientist Ashley Jardina clarifies that the term should be understood to refer not just to straightforward racism but to something more particular. White identity politics is about whiteness becoming an organizing political factor, a group identity that leads people to seek certain things and favor certain policies because of how they will affect white people.

he presidency of Barack Obama had a great deal to do with the current white identity politics, and in hindsight we might see it as inevitable that a racist demagogue would emerge to exploit the backlash Obama produced. That’s why Ta-Nehisi Coates referred to Trump as “the first white president,” arguing that his 2016 campaign should be understood as an assertion that whites had to retake power and restore (as they saw it) their rightful place atop the hierarchy.

What motivates it isn’t just hostility to minorities but fear that whites will be overrun, oppressed and eventually eliminated, and the solution is in turn to banish minorities from wherever white people are feeling this threat, whether it’s the United States, Europe or New Zealand…

Many Republicans would protest that their party affiliation is based not on racial fears of extinction but on things such as support for small government and tax cuts, or opposition to abortion rights and marriage equality. And they aren’t lying. But it’s also undeniable that with Trump in charge — and with the party having given itself over to him so completely, at least for now — white identity politics now defines the GOP. But what will they do as it drags them down? [emphasis mine]

15) Never heard of “curling parents” before.  Enjoyed this in Chronicle of Higher Ed.

‘Curling’ Parents

People used to talk about helicopter parents, said Jump, the college counselor. These days, he said, the term is “curling parents,” a reference to the Olympic sport. Parenting, in other words, is no longer about hovering over one’s children. It’s about sweeping problems out of their way.

The desire to insulate children from problems also emerged in Calarco’s research. She interviewed a mother who said, “I just don’t want my kids to suffer.” That’s a nearly universal sentiment. But in this particular example, Calarco said, it was the mother’s explanation for why she would run her children’s homework to school if they forgot it at home.

If that’s your definition of suffering, then not getting into your top-choice college is a real hardship.

16) Leonhardt is right, “The Admissions Scandal Is Really a Sports Scandal.”

The researchers were given access to anonymous admissions records at 19 elite colleges and then analyzed how admissions offices treated different groups of students. Low-income students, for example, were no more likely to be admitted than otherwise similar students with virtually identical academic records. So-called legacy students — those whose parents attended the same schools — received substantial boosts. So did underrepresented minorities.

But the biggest boost went to recruited athletes: An athlete was about 30 percentage points more likely to be admitted than a nonathlete with the same academic record…

If the accusations are true, they’re outrageous. But they also highlight a larger problem that has somehow become acceptable: A scam like this could exist only because competitive sports occupy a ridiculously large place in the admissions process.

The situation is different for other extracurricular activities. Great musicians are more likely to be admitted to a college than similar students who don’t play an instrument — as is only fair, because musicians deserve credit for their accomplishments. But the musicians don’t generally receive a 30-percentage-point boost on their admissions chances. Stage managers for the high school theater don’t, either. Nor do student body presidents, debaters, yearbook editors or robotics competitors.

Athletes do. Their extracurricular activities are not treated merely as an important part of a college application, but as a defining part. [emphasis mine]

17) OMG this is crazy!  Sort-of-identical twins. 75% genetically related and boy girl.  Whoa.

One boy. One girl.

Sharing a single placenta.

“It doesn’t add up,” Dr. Fisk recalled thinking.

As it turned out, the twins were neither fraternal nor identical. They fell into a third rare category known as semi-identical or sesquizygotic twins. Although it would take several years to prove, he was looking at the first set of semi-identical twins to be identified during pregnancy, according to a paper published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

18) I used to really enjoy Frances Scott on the local news.  Horrible to read how an artificial hip replacement that should have never happened (there was already evidence that the replacements causes metal poisoning) basically ruined her life.  Ugh.

19) Apollo 11 is amazing!  Go see it on a big screen if you can.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Tom Edsall on divisions within the Democrats in Congress.  That said, I found the most interesting part to be that highlighting the profound asymmetry between Democrats and Republicans:

minority, used it 262 times — but successfully only 1.1 percent of the time. In contrast, from 2007 through 2010, Republicans, then in the minority, forced votes on 181 motions to recommit and won 21.5 percent. Then, from 2011 through 2018, the Democratic minority offered 380 motions to recommit and every one of them failed in the face of united Republican opposition…

There are two key factors that explain why Republicans in the House have been far more successful than Democrats in using the motion to recommit to divide the opposition.

The first is that the concentration of Democratic voters in urban districts means that in order to win and maintain a House majority, Democrats must be victorious in highly competitive districts, many of which tilt to the right…

These Democrats, in turn, are the ones who are the most cross-pressured between loyalty to the leadership and fear of losing support from center-right constituents.

“There are more Democrats representing Republican-leaning districts than there are Republicans representing Democratic-leaning districts,” Frances Lee, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, wrote me in an email.

In 2018, she continued, “Democrats carried a larger share of districts where members have to be careful not to antagonize their Republican-leaning constituents.”

The second reason Republicans rarely provide even token support for Democratic motions to recommit is straightforward: a vast array of local and national conservative media is more than willing to denounce a turncoat. And anyone viewed as disloyal to the Republican Party is likely to face a primary challenger. [emphasis mine]

2) Okay, while we’re at it, might as well link the “everybody’s talking about it, of course you need to read it” Jane Mayer article on Fox News.  All sorts of goodness here.  I was somewhat struck by this research on media polarization.  It totally makes sense, but what struck me was that he law professors were actually surprised by the asymmetry.  Anyway:

Benkler’s assessment is based on an analysis of millions of American news stories that he and two co-authors, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts, undertook for their 2018 book, “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation and Radicalization in American Politics.” Benkler told me that he and his co-authors had expected to find “symmetric polarization” in the left-leaning and the right-leaning media outlets. Instead, they discovered that the two poles of America’s media ecosystem function very differently. “It’s not the right versus the left,” Benkler says. “It’s the right versus the rest.”

Most American news outlets try to adhere to facts. When something proves erroneous, they run corrections, or, as Benkler and his co-authors write, “they check each other.” Far-left Web sites post as many bogus stories as far-right ones do, but mainstream and liberal news organizations tend to ignore suspiciously extreme material. Conservative media outlets, however, focus more intently on confirming their audience’s biases, and are much more susceptible to disinformation, propaganda, and outright falsehoods (as judged by neutral fact-checking organizations such as PolitiFact). Case studies conducted by the authors show that lies and distortions on the right spread easily from extremist Web sites to mass-media outlets such as Fox, and only occasionally get corrected.

3) Good stuff from Frank Bruni on anti-vaxxers and the general decline of trust.

4) And Masha Gessen with “why measles is a quintessential political issue of our time.”

5) And the story of an unvaccinated Oregon boy who contracted tetanus, nearly died, had $800,000 spent on his care and then his parents refused further vaccination.

Ummm, this is not okay.  If you want to be part of society and you don’t have a clear medical reason not to be vaccinated.  You need to be vaccinated period.  And we need to enforce that rigorously.

6) Among the most interesting articles I have read on Daylight Savings.  Had never thought about the fact that states can opt of Daylight Savings (and a few day) but states cannot opt out of standard time.  Of course, the obvious answer is to forget the changes and be on Daylight Savings year round.

7) Vox on why college textbooks are so expensive.  I’m actually a fan of the move to more e-books as each purchase goes towards the intellectual property costs.  With hardcopies, they way over-charge for new books because they recoup nothing of the intellectual property costs in all the resales.  The middle-men get all that profit.  So, I like that.  That said, I want some more research on how students learn from e-books versus hardcopy.

8) Great interview with Brad Delong in Vox, “A Clinton-era centrist Democrat explains why it’s time to give democratic socialists a chance.”

“Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy,” DeLong notes. “And did George H.W. Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years? No, they fucking did not.”

The result, he argues, is the nature of the Democratic Party needs to shift. Rather than being a center-left coalition dominated by market-friendly ideas designed to attract conservative support, the energy of the coalition should come from the left and its broad, sweeping ideas. Market-friendly neoliberals, rather than pushing their own ideology, should work to improve ideas on the left. This, he believes, is the most effective and sustainable basis for Democratic politics and policy for the foreseeable future.

9) I gotta admit, I was totally riveted by “Leaving Neverland.”  Not easy to watch, but so fascinating and compelling.  Here’s Vanity Fair with, “10 Undeniable Facts About the Michael Jackson Sexual-Abuse Allegations.”

10) What’s also fascinating and disturbing as hell is those people who feel they need to defend Jackson at all costs.

Personally, I’m of little doubt that Jackson was a monster in some important ways.  But his best songs are nonetheless undeniably brilliant and I have no intention of changing the radio away next time they come on.

11) Recycling as we know it is over.  We really need to find a way to just stop using so much disposable stuff.

12) Jeffrey Toobin on how the Supreme Court is changing the status of religion in American Life:

What the conservatives are doing, in effect, is reading the establishment clause out of the Constitution, and turning almost every issue into a free-exercise case. In this reading, any denial of government benefits to a church can be seen as discrimination which amounts to a denial of free exercise—and the conservatives are making the same move with respect to individuals. Conservatives now cite the free-exercise clause to allow religious people to exempt themselves from obligations that are binding on all other citizens. This currently comes up most often in the context of people who want to discriminate against gay people as an expression of their religious beliefs.

13) It is way too easy to sue people for defamation in Australia.

14) I guess this finding on breast size and exercise should not be at all surprising, but it is unfortunate that it is clearly holding many women back from vigorous exercise:

The results were consistent and rather worrying. As women’s breast sizes grew, their participation in physical activity declined, particularly if that exercise was vigorous. Few very-large-breasted women jogged, for example.

Many of the larger-breasted women also reported that they believed that their breast size prevented them from exercising easily, even in low-impact activities like walking or swimming.

These results remained the same when the researchers considered age, which affects exercise participation, and body mass index, which likewise affects how often we exercise. Over all, slimmer women tended to have smaller breasts and vice versa. But even among overweight women with small breasts and normal-weight women with large bosoms, the relationship to exercise was unchanged.

15) I’m somewhat skeptical that goalkeeping coaching really makes all that much difference at the NHL level, but, it really is kind of amazing how the Hurricanes are doing on this score this year.  And I really like their goalkeeping coach’s philosophy:

When I’m dealing with my guys, my basic philosophy is that I’m trying to help them be the best version of themselves. I don’t have a particular style. Some ideas, I feel, are more conducive to having success than others. But I’d say that’s my basic philosophy. Everybody processes the game a little bit different. Everybody is built a little bit differently. Guys are more comfortable with certain save selections. I understand that guys have gotten to this level for a reason. Let’s see what makes them successful and build off of that.

16) Dahlia Lithwick on “The Cowardice of the Cover-Your-Ass Memo” is awesome:

When the rule of law finally sucks in its last gasp in America, it may well come not by way of an authoritarian clampdown on free speech or a refusal to abide by a court order. No, when historians someday attempt to explain what happened to the rule of law in America in the first quarter of the 21st century, they may well find themselves explaining that it died in the most American way imaginable: by way of the cowardly, lawyerly memo to file—death by a thousand cover-your-asses…

As the Times reports, then chief of staff John Kelly knew full well that affording a top-secret security clearance to Jared Kushner posed a national security risk. President Donald Trump evidently told him to clear Kushner anyhow. Then White House counsel Don McGahn also advised against that clearance, and was also overruled by the president. And so evidently, when Kushner was cleared over their own misgivings, the step they decided to take was to pop a little note in the file, flagging their objections in secret. In the event they weren’t already among the most depressing actors in this whole sad saga, they’ve now cemented themselves as such. Not brave enough to do or say anything that would reflect the fact that they believed Kushner posed a material risk to the country, they were content to simply leave a little “I was only following orders” note for posterity. Tuesday: dentist; Wednesday: dry cleaning; Thursday: endanger entire intelligence apparatus…

The reason for the note-taking is obvious: The president doesn’t understand how government is supposed to work, nor does he have much respect for the rule of law. This makes everyone who is accustomed to rules and laws feel anxious. So government workers who reside someplace down the chain, presumably also aware of this problem, are also reacting by … making notes for their files…

If there is anything sadder than the anonymous op-ed as Trump resistance, the anodyne CYA to the file is surely it. It’s another way of shirking personal or public responsibility and hiding it under the veil of lawyerly professionalism. For the political staffers working in Trump’s White House, here is a lawyerly reminder: If your client is out of control and liable to hurt someone, you have a duty to act. And if your client is out of control and liable to hurt someone and also imperiling national security, you have a duty to act. Waiting around to participate in the someday Ken Burns movie isn’t going to cut it. The rule of law will continue to lose all meaning in Trump’s America, not just because of cowardice and collusion, but because far too many people who insisted they were just doing their jobs let themselves off the hook.

17) I find Esther Perel’s take on marriage pretty fascinating.  Intrigued by her new podcast.

18) Should an algorithm tell you how to eat?

19) There’s actually a lot of issues Americans have a consensus on and they tend to be pretty liberal positions.  Tim Wu writes of this “oppression of the supermajority.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Dahlia Lithwick on Manafort’s sentence:

At the sentencing, Ellis remarked that Manafort had led an “otherwise blameless life,” was “generous,” and loved his family. This despite the fact that his life was quite literally devoted to lobbying for foreign interests that were in some cases vile criminals and to creaming money from one scheme after the next to enrich himself at the expense of his business associates. Frank Foer has done the definitive takedown of Ellis’ comments. But the most important revelation from the hearing is that Ellis is hardly alone in normalizing the criminal conduct of powerful white men. He gave Manafort a pass for doing precisely what Donald Trump, his adult children, and several of his Cabinet members do every day. He put his own legal imprimatur on Trump’s aphorism: “When you’re a star, they let you do it.” [emphasis mine] Manafort did not apologize at his sentencing, and Ellis chided him for that. “I was surprised I did not hear you express regret,” he said. Yet he promptly handed down a sentence so lenient it basically had a nail file baked right into it…

Beyond his marked antipathy for prosecutors, the underlying sin of Ellis’ findings seems to be his willingness to sign off on the idea that literally decades of criminal behavior—tax fraud, deception, lies to banks, and more lies to cover it—are more or less honorable business conduct just two shades griftier than the glittering path of the American dream. Manafort gets credit, in other words, for having his heart in the right place, as he lied and cut corners and cheated his own partners and clients. Who among us hasn’t suffered similar missteps on the road to making our millions?..

Put another way, Ellis’ impulse to forgive Manafort for the way he constructed his life of near-fame and power-brokering is precisely the same impulse that allows some Americans to forgive Donald Trump for cheating on his taxes. (He famously claimed not paying taxes makes him “smart.”) It’s the same impulse that allows so many Americans to forgive Trump’s adult children and business for profiting off the presidency, whether by way of Chinese trademarks for Ivanka or soaring occupancy rates at Trump hotels by those seeking to curry favor. It’s the impulse that allows Trump fans to be largely unbothered by Jared Kushner’s undying friendship with the Saudi crown prince responsible for the hideous murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post reporter. It’s also the impulse that leads some congressional Democrats to claim that going after Trump’s adult children would be deemed excessively punitive. In the world of high-flying, millionaire-adjacent activities, pretty much anything is sketchy and pretty much everything is permissible, until you get caught. All this lying, and covering up, and tax evading, and money laundering, is just the cost of doing business.

2)Yeah, and you totally need to read the Franklin Foer takedown that Lithwick links to.

3a) John Pfaff with a bunch of great tweets arguing, though, that Manafort’s short sentence should be the norm, not the exception.

3b) Drum on the matter:

We are prison crazy in America, racking up an average sentence length of 63 months. This is five times the length of most of our peer countries. But when it comes to white-collar crime, people like Manafort get off relatively easy.

If the average sentence in the US were, say, a more normal 12 months, then Manafort’s 47 months would seem appropriately harsh. And since there’s little evidence that long prison sentences do much to reduce crime, it would be great if both states and the federal government moved in that direction. It’s long past time to dial down the criminal justice system from its excesses of the 80s and 90s.

4) OMG, YA Twitter is just insane.  And you gotta love that one of the worst enforcers of political correctness amok was totally hoisted by his own petard.  But, damn, what a toxic mindset.

5) So, apparently Brian Beutler’s wife is pretty awesome, too.  A great column from physician Lisa Beutler on how Democrats should run on Medicare for All (you should totally read the whole thing– great anecdotes in here, too):

Even if Congress never touches the health care issue again, almost everyone who is satisfied with their current health-insurance plans will lose them at some point. They will change employers, get promotions, lose jobs, or they will do nothing at all and their carriers will simply stop offering the plans they like. Inevitably, thousands if not millions of those people will find themselves in bureaucratic nightmares like the one I’m dealing with when their new insurers try to exploit the churn in the market for profit.

On top of everything else Kamala Harris described in her pitch for single payer, Democrats should home in on this. Will you have to switch plans? Yes. But you will have to switch plans at some point anyhow, and when you do, you will be at the mercy of a system that will try to milk your changing circumstances, for profit, at your expense. Let’s deny them that power. Let’s switch, together, all at once, and then never again.

It will of course be an administrative challenge to transition the population to Medicare by a certain date. But the worst thing Democrats could do is try to outsource that challenge to millions of us who have better things to do in life than argue with insurance companies and collections agencies, and who don’t have $17,000 lying around to make the problem go away. We should debate the best way to accomplish the transition and take great care that good, competent people are put in charge of it. But then we would be done. No one would have to turn down an exciting job opportunity because they’d lose their current insurance ever again. No one would have to switch their doctors because their employers found a cheaper contract with a different insurance company. And no one [cough] would get billed for expensive tests and medications ordered around the time they switched between private plans.

I believe in this vision for health care in America as both a doctor and a patient. I believe that when we finally make the transition we will realize, collectively, almost right away, that our old, private, employer-based insurance system was barbaric, and we’ll marvel that we suffered under it for so long. And I think if we settle for Medicare buy-in, or another half measure, then truly universal health care will remain elusive until a future crop of leaders restarts the debate all over again, and gets it right. But we won’t ever make the leap if the country’s most powerful liberals refuse to make the full, honest argument to the public, and let the chips fall where they may.

6) Ending mass incarceration means fundamentally re-thinking our approach to violent crime.  Michelle Alexander:

And yet, as Danielle Sered points out in her profoundly necessary book, “Until We Reckon,” if we fail to face violence in our communities honestly, courageously and with profound compassion for the survivors — many of whom are also perpetrators of harm — our nation will never break its addiction to caging human beings.

Fifty-four percent of the people currently held in state prisons have been convicted of a crime classified as violent. We will never slash our prison population by 50 percent — the goal of a number of current campaigns — much less get back to levels of incarceration that we had before the race to incarcerate began in the early 1980s, without addressing the one issue most reformers avoid: violence.

Reckoning with violence in a meaningful way does not mean “getting tough” in the way that phrase has been used for decades; nor does it mean being “smart on crime” to the extent that phrase has become shorthand for being “tough” on violent crime but “soft” on nonviolent crime — a formulation that continues to be embraced by some so-called “progressive prosecutors” today.

7) In a normal world, people would still be talking about how insane and incoherent Trump’s CPAC speech was.  Or talking about that at all.

8) We’re always hearing about how Big Pharma has to charge so much to bring us innovative new medicines.  The reality, to a substantial degree, they have to charge so much so that their executives can be egregiously over-compensated:

Despite their claims, the big American drug companies have not been using profits from high prices to ramp up investment in drug development. Our research shows that for 2008 through 2017, 17 pharmaceutical companies in the S. & P. 500 distributed just over 100 percent of their combined profits to shareholders, $300 billion as buybacks and $290 billion as dividends. These distributions were 12 percent greater than what these companies spent on research and development. [emphases mine]

With most of their compensation coming from exercising stock options and stock awards, senior executives benefit immensely. We gathered data on the 500 highest-paid executives in the United States from 2008 through 2017. The number who came from the drug industry ranged from 21 (in 2008 and 2011) to 42 (in 2014). The total compensation of those 42 executives averaged about $73 million, compared with an average of an already over-the-top $32 million for all 500 in 2014.

A total of 88 percent of the 2014 compensation was based on stock. In 2017, 28 drug executives in the top 500 averaged more than $41 million in total compensation, with 83 percent stock-based. By jacking up product prices and distributing the increased profits to shareholders, executives lift stock prices and their take-home pay.

Our research for the Institute for New Economic Thinking demonstrates that these companies, even when they show substantial R. & D. spending on their books, do not have much to show for it.

For example, Merck distributed 133 percent of its profits to shareholders from 2008 to 2017, and Pfizer 107 percent. Although both companies recorded large sums spent on R. & D. — Merck $80 billion and Pfizer $81 billion over the decade — these companies generated most of their revenues by acquiring companies with patented drugs on the market, rather than by developing their own new drugs. Since 2001, by our analysis, Pfizer has had significant revenues from only four internally originated and developed products. Since Merck’s merger with Schering-Plough in 2009, it has had only two blockbuster drugs, of which only one was the result of its own research.

The public foots the bill for this behavior. Not only do we pay high drug prices, our tax dollars supply more than $30 billion per year for life-sciences research through the National Institutes of Health. Yet, like most American companies, the drug industry claims that its corporations need to pay lower corporate taxes to remain competitive globally.

9) The SNL cold open on Michael Cohen was really good.

10) Eliot Cohen on the GOP cowardice is great:

And then there is the gray mass of Republicans in the middle, the ones in the House who voted with the president in favor of declaring a national emergency, and the ones who will do so in the Senate. They are not as sleazy as Cohen, as pugnaciously nasty as Gaetz, or as principled as Gallagher. They are simpler souls: They are cowards.

Talk to them privately, and they will confess that there is no emergency at the southern border—there is a problem, to be sure, but one whose seriousness has actually diminished over time. They know that the congressional leadership had the votes to build walls there for the first two years of the administration but did not manage it. They know, for that matter, that border security involves much more than walls. They know that the president is invoking emergency powers as an electoral ploy, and because he is impatient.

They know, in their timid breasts, that they would have howled with indignation if Barack Obama had declared a national emergency in such a circumstance. As they stare at their coffee cup at breakfast, the thought occurs to them that a future left-wing president could make dangerous use of these same powers—because Speaker Nancy Pelosi rubbed that fact in their face. Some of the brighter ones might even realize that emergency powers are a favored tool of authoritarians everywhere.

But they are afraid. They are afraid of being primaried. They are afraid of being called out by the bully whom they secretly despise but to whom they pledge public fealty. They are afraid of having to find another occupation than serving in elective office. And the most conceited of the lot—and there are quite a few of those, perhaps more in the Senate than in the House—think that it would be a tragedy if the country no longer had their service at its disposal.

11) I read The Mars Room because it got so many great reviews.  And Rachel Kushner can really write… but is it too much to actually want a plot?

12) Catherine Rampell with more ways Republican deregulation hurts consumers

For markets to work, you need a system where either the government protects consumers or consumers can adequately defend themselves. Or both. But you can’t have neither. The “neither” option lands you in a kleptocracy, which is basically where Republicans have been leading the country for the past few years.

Happily, a new bill — introduced by Democratic lawmakers last week — would restore at least some of consumers’ diminished tools for self-defense.

Republican politicians love to talk about their deregulatory successes. They’re not exaggerating: Under President Trump’s leadership, Republicans have repealed or watered down tons of federal rules. If you look through a list of these deregulatory efforts, you’ll notice a striking pattern: Many of them loosen the limits for how much harm businesses can inflict upon consumers. [emphases mine]

13) Great Vox interview with my NCSU colleague and friend, Sarah Bowen (and her co-authors) on the social pressures and unrealistic expectations about home cooking.

14) I’m working on this post during a hockey game–alas, my Carolina Hurricanes are getting killed.  They are playing like they are high on marijuana right now.  The good news is, though, that the NHL, unlike most sports leagues, actually has a totally sane policy when it comes to marijuana.  As I’ve written before, it insane that other pro sports leagues penalize their players for this when there are obviously no performance-enhancing aspects.

15) David Brooks comes around on the case for reparations:

We’re a nation coming apart at the seams, a nation in which each tribe has its own narrative and the narratives are generally resentment narratives. The African-American experience is somehow at the core of this fragmentation — the original sin that hardens the heart, separates Americans from one another and serves as model and fuel for other injustices.

The need now is to consolidate all the different narratives and make them reconciliation and possibility narratives, in which all feel known. That requires direct action, a concrete gesture of respect that makes possible the beginning of a new chapter in our common life. Reparations are a drastic policy and hard to execute, but the very act of talking about and designing them heals a wound and opens a new story.

16) Somehow I missed this in the New Yorker when it came out in 2017, but this story, “A Pill to Make Exercise Obsolete: What if a drug could give you all the benefits of a workout?” is pretty fascinating.

17) Great story in the Nation of the incredibly, stupid, short-sighted, and punitive policy that is Arkansas’ policy of work requirements to receive Medicaid.

Since January 2018, 14 other states have requested the ability to impose their own work requirements on Medicaid. They would be wise to take stock of what’s happened in Arkansas. “Don’t do it,” said Numan, adding: “There’s no good way of implementing this kind of policy.” Even federal agencies are taking note. In November, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, a nonpartisan legislative-branch agency, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling for the department to hold off on approving work-requirement requests based on the situation in Arkansas. In February, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) also wrote to Azar urging him to stop approving Medicaid work requirements, saying their concerns have “play[ed] out in real life in the State of Arkansas.”

Numan wishes the state had put its energy into helping people get the support they need to work, such as education, child care, transportation, and, of course, health care. The very idea of work requirements in Medicaid makes little sense. “Medicaid is a work support,” Alker asserted. “If you want to support work, it makes sense to expand Medicaid. If you want to stigmatize the program and [add] a lot of red-tape barriers, then do a work requirement.”

Photo of the day

The Duke-UNC game made a recent Atlantic photos of the week compilation.  It existed, but definitely much less face/body paint going on back in my student days (1990-94):

Fans watch as Luke Maye of the North Carolina Tar Heels waits to throw the ball inbounds against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at the Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, on February 20, 2019.

Streeter Lecka / Getty

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