Quick hits (part II)

1) Quinta Jurecic and Ben Wittes, “23 Dangerous Propositions the Senate Just Ratified”

At least in those circumstances in which the president and the majority of the Senate are of the same political party, the Senate has adopted the following propositions:

  1. It is not an impeachable offense for the president of the United States to condition aid to a foreign government on the delivery of personal favors to himself.
  2. It is not an impeachable offense for the president of the United States to demand that a foreign head of state dish dirt on the president’s political opponents—or demand that he make dirt up if none is available to dish.
  3. For that matter, it is not an impeachable offense for the president to push a foreign law-enforcement agency to investigate a U.S. citizen for conduct no U.S. law-enforcement agency has found to warrant an investigation.
  4. Abuse of power is not an impeachable offense. The oath he swears to “faithfully execute” his duties and “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” notwithstanding, the president is generally free to use his powers under Article II of the Constitution to benefit himself and harm those he disfavors.

And 19 more…

2) Good stuff from Seth Masket, “Trump Will Slime His Democratic Opponent, No Matter Who It Is”

It should be clear by now that this is how Mr. Trump runs for office. He goes into 2020 in a political situation similar to the one he was in four years ago — he’s trailing modestly in polls and is largely seen as ethically challenged. His approach with Hillary Clinton then and with Joe Biden (or any Democrat) now is not to appear more ethical than they are but to besmirch their character with scandal. The idea is to make them look no better than he is, so that political journalists and voters come to see them as equally tainted by scandal, thus neutralizing ethical considerations. [emphasis mine]

It is a remarkable innovation in presidential campaigns. And as the Democrats get deeper into the actual voting toward selecting their nominee and fret over Mr. Biden and Ukraine or Bernie Sanders and socialism, they might keep in mind that it can be applied (early and often) to any opponent…

Traditionally, candidates followed a “glass houses” approach, trying to steer conversations away from areas in which they were vulnerable. Bill Clinton wasn’t about to accuse George H.W. Bush of having an affair, and it would have been strange to see Barack Obama accusing John McCain of inexperience or having a radical minister.

Mr. Trump runs in the opposite direction. He directly accuses his opponents of scandals in which he himself is implicated.

As Masket notes, this only works if the media is actually complicit.  And, of course, we know they damn well will be:

This will be the Trump campaign agenda throughout 2020 if Mr. Biden gets the Democratic nomination — not to portray himself as ethical, but to get voters to say, “Well, both of them have scandals, so whatever.” And some political journalists will feel compelled to acknowledge the accusations against the Bidens. They’ll offer caveats, of course, as one news story from 2019 did, saying, “There’s no evidence that Hunter or his father acted improperly or violated any laws. But the arrangement, government ethics experts say, raises concerns.” The “raises concerns” part is the key — it will be just enough to plant seeds of doubt in voters’ minds about the Democrat’s ethical commitments.

3) Just some stuff Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh has said.  Not offensive/racist/sexist at all.

4) You know I am fascinated by hockey goaltending.  With Ovechkin continuing to tear up the NHL, I was looking for some nice analytical pieces on why he is able to score at such a high rate.  Did not come up with all that much that was particularly insightful (he’s strong and skilled), but I did come across this great piece on goalkeeping (from 5 years ago) by Jonathan Quick.

5) This McKay Coppins piece on Romney’s impeachment vote was really good.  You should read it:

Romney was similarly unmoved by the Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz’s contention that a president who believes his reelection is in the national interest can’t be impeached for pursuing a political advantage. “I had Professor Dershowitz for criminal law in law school,” Romney said, “and he was known to occasionally take his argument to its illogical conclusion.” Nor was the senator swayed by the theory that a president can be impeached only for breaking a statutory law. “To use an old Mormon hymn phrase, that makes reason stare,” he said. “The idea that Congress would have to anticipate all of the offensive things a president could possibly do, and then make them a statute?” Romney posed a hypothetical: What if the president decided to pardon every Republican in prison nationwide, while leaving every Democrat locked up? “There’s no law against that!” he said. “So it’s not a crime or misdemeanor. But it’s obviously absurd.”…

“I was under the misimpression that what brought Republican voters together was conviction in a certain number of policy points of view,” Romney said. He recalled a political strategist during one of his early campaigns explaining how to court the three main factions of the GOP coalition—social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and foreign-policy hawks. Much of Romney’s career since then has been spent trying to win over ideological purists on the right. In 2012, he said, some Tea Party activists refused to support him, because he didn’t have a plan to balance the federal budget within a single year.

Now the conservative movement is ruled by a president who routinely makes a mockery of such litmus tests. Deficit reduction? “There’s no purchase for that,” Romney said. Foreign policy? “The letters with Kim Jong Un didn’t seem to frighten people away … The meeting with the Russian ambassador in the White House right after the election didn’t seem to bother people.” Somehow, Romney said, he is the one constantly being told that he needs to “be with the president.”

“I get that a lot—‘Be with the president,’” Romney told me, sounding slightly perplexed. “And I’ll say, ‘Regardless of his point of view? Regardless of the issue?’ And they say yes. And … it’s like, ‘Well, no, I can’t do that.’”

6) I like Drum on Trump’s seeming appeal to Black voters that is really just about trying to help Trump supporters tell themselves they are not supporting a stone cold racist:

Who else? A number of people think Trump’s speech was aimed at suburban centrists who are uneasy with his usual harsh rhetoric. The idea here is for Trump to look more moderate and inclusive toward blacks while continuing to bang the drum about immigrants who have murdered white folks. The message is that Trump is no racist, but he’ll keep you safe from all the brown people.

But that’s not all. Something that I think people miss is that this kind of inclusive racial rhetoric is also aimed directly at Trump’s base. Remember this?

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Happy ! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics! https://www.facebook.com/DonaldTrump/posts/10157008375200725:0 

Anybody with a liberal sensibility cringed at this, but the message to Trump’s base was clear: See, I’m trying to reach out to Hispanics. But no matter what I do they call it racist.

The inclusive SOTU rhetoric works the same way: Trump is telling his base that he’s no racist and, by inference, that they aren’t racist either. Liberals just call everyone racist who disagrees with them. It’s a very comforting message.

7) Dan Froomkin on the horrible “both sides!” coverage and theater coverage of the SOTU.

8) Josh Putnam argues that people have been complaining about the Iowa Caucus coming first for a long time without it being changed, so don’t expect it now.  True, but never the intensity of complaint or the amazing ammunition to bear, so I remain optimistic.

9) I always enjoy journalists taking Susan Collins to task for her sanctimonious idiocy instead of falling for her act.  In some ways, I really wonder if Collins is just that dumb?  Thinks we’re all that dumb?  Or is just delusional?  Anyway, Ruth Marcus on Collins and other preposterous Republican excuses

President Trump is not going to change. Not now, not ever. “Chastened” is not in his vocabulary; pivoting to presidential is not in his repertoire. If there is anything the country should have learned in the age of Trump, it is this.

So of all the amazing things that Republican senators have said in defense of their impending votes to acquit Trump, it is that a president who has been unwilling to or incapable of learning lessons will somehow have learned a lesson by being . . . not punished by them.

The latest to join this self-delusion caucus is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “I believe that the president has learned from this case,” she told CBS News’s Norah O’Donnell on Tuesday, expanding on a floor speech in which she announced — surprise — her vote to acquit. “​The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson.”…

So the reasons to think Trump has, finally, learned the lesson and will adjust his behavior accordingly are precisely zero. You cannot learn a lesson if you continue to insist that your behavior was perfect. Collins offered a concise summary of the problems with Trump’s behavior: “​Because the president of the United States should not be asking a foreign country to investigate a political rival. That is just improper. It was far from a perfect call.”

Correct. But that is not what Trump believes. There was Trump tweeting the day before the Collins interview, decrying the “totally partisan Impeachment Hoax.” Lesson learned — not.

The human capacity for self-delusion is exceeded only by the politician’s capacity for self-justification. Aspects of both might be at play here. And Collins, as I mentioned, is not alone. There was Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “I think that he knows now that, if he is trying to do certain things — whether it’s ferreting out corruption there, in Afghanistan, whatever it is — he needs to go through the proper channels,” Ernst said. Uh huh. Trump. Proper channels. Right.

There was Indiana Sen. Mike Braun on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” similarly, willfully delusional. Trump, observed host Chuck Todd, is “going to take acquittal and think, ‘I can keep doing this.’ ” Braun begged to differ: “No, I don’t think that. Hopefully, it’ll be instructive.”

10) I’ve been following Rachel Bitecofer on twitter since back when she had hardly any followers and she relentlessly hawked her 2018 election prediction model by jumping on tweets from Nate Silver, Harry Enten, etc.  Thanks to a good model and zealous self-promotion, she’s gotten herself regular appearances on MSNBC and 60,000+ followers.  She tweets some good stuff, but I follow plenty of more insightful political scientists. What has been fascinating is watching her in real-time basically reverse engineer the algorithm for successful social media self promotion.  I’ve been particularly taken aback by the “she’s ignored disrespected because she’s a woman” theme, when, it always struck me as pretty clear that she was ignored and disrespected because she had no history of this and because she’s a professor at Christopher Newport University.  Anyway, interesting profile of her not-nearly-as-unique-and-innovative-as-she-claims (but, hey, that works) approach in Politico.

11) This is from way back, but Matt Yglesias‘ “Immigration makes America great” piece is great.  And, this is a pretty short quick hits, so you should click through and read it:

The main sources of immigration — and the main occupations likely to employ immigrants — have changed over time, but the story has been the same from the beginning. A larger and more diverse population supports more intensive development of the resources available and a more complex division of labor, leading, over time, to a steadily more sophisticated and prosperous national economy.

A lone person on an island by himself will struggle to get by even if he is surrounded by natural abundance. A small band would live at a subsistence level. To achieve true affluence, people need to be able to specialize and trade with one another. To an extent in the modern world, that means access to global markets — grain can be shipped to Europe and timber to Japan. But for most people, it means direct access to other people, who serve as customers and co-workers and suppliers…

Going forward, demographers forecast that immigration — both the people it provides directly and the children that immigrants bear and raise — is the only reason America’s working-age population isn’t declining. This is doubly true when you consider that immigrants’ work in the household and child care sectors likely serves to increase native-born Americans’ childbearing as well.

A declining working-age population, seen already in Japan and some southern European countries, poses some serious challenges to a national economy. It tends to push interest rates down to an incredibly low level, making it difficult for central banks to respond to a recession. It also makes it more difficult to sustain public sector retirement programs and elder care more generally.

There are some offsetting upsides (less strain on transportation infrastructure, for example), and, like anything else, the problems are solvable. Fundamentally, however, an America that is shrinking is a country that is going to be a lesser force in the world than an America that is growing. It’s true, of course, that an America that continues to be open to immigrants will be a progressively less white and less Christian country over time. That’s a threatening prospect to many white Christian Americans, who implicitly identify the country in ethnic and sectarian terms. But America’s formal self-definition has never been in those terms.

And for those who believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the value of America’s ideals, accepting a future of decline and retreat in the name of ethnic purity should be unacceptable. That the more homogeneous America will be not just smaller and weaker but also poorer on a per capita basis only underscores what folly it would be to embrace the narrow vision. That hundreds of millions of people around the world would like to move to our shores — and that America has a long tradition of assimilating foreigners and a political mythos and civil culture that is conducive to doing so — is an enormous source of national strength.

It’s time we started to see it that way.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is good (thanks JDW), “Togo national football team attack: Survivors remember machine gun ambush, 10 years on”

2) Important analysis of Black voters’ substantial and enduring support for Biden, plus his white support, in the Monkey Cage, “Biden appeals both to black voters — and to white voters suspicious of Black Lives Matter”

3) As a huge podcast fan, I loved this tweet.

4) Pretty much every state requires just one U.S. History class, so I’m okay with NC falling in line with that.  That said, while I think it’s great to teach personal financial literacy to HS kids, a whole class seems like overkill to me. But, I did have to address this one quote in the article that is emblematic of comments that drive me crazy, “State education officials said the change won’t result in students having less knowledge of American history. They said North Carolina students will still learn about U.S. history in elementary and middle school and that the revamped civics class will also include content on U.S. history.”  Really?!  One less history class, but not “less knowledge” of history.  Give me a break!  And just admit that they’ll have less history, but still a sufficient amount.

5) So, a non-vegan, “vegan” relative of mine led to some interesting conversations between my wife and myself about what’s really a vegan.  I had not heard of, and do really like, the idea of “plant-based eating.”

The terms “vegan” and “plant-based” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a growing effort to define just what it means to follow a plant-based lifestyle.

According to Brian Wendel, the founder of the “plant-based living” website Forks Over Knives, going plant-based is often “for people who are very enthusiastic about the health angle” of eating mainly whole plant foods.

Reynolde Jordan, who runs a food blog called Plant-Based Vibe in Memphis, said it’s also a way to distance oneself from the rigid ideology of veganism, which calls for abstaining from animal products of all kinds.

“When you classify yourself as vegan, you’re now being watched,” said Mr. Jordan, who posts vegan recipes for dishes such as Cajun seaweed gumbo and raw beet balls along with photos of the vegetarian meals he orders on trips. “In my DMs, I’d get all these messages from activists for protests. I’m just not that guy — I did this for the purpose of eating better.”

6) Tom Jensen with his 2020 analysis based on PPP recent polling, “Democratic Unity Will Determine Trump’s Fate”

Over the last couple weeks PPP did polls testing the leading Democratic contenders for President against Donald Trump in both Arizona and Iowa.

On the surface the numbers are decent but not amazing for Democrats. Donald Trump won Arizona by 4 points in 2016. Currently he ties Joe Biden, leads Bernie Sanders by 1, leads Elizabeth Warren by 2, and leads Pete Buttigieg by 3. Trump won Iowa by 9 points in 2016. Currently he leads Pete Buttigieg by 1, Joe Biden by 3, and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren by 5.

When you dig further into the numbers though a clear picture emerges- Trump’s position would be much, much worse if voters who don’t like him- or even just those voters who voted against him in 2016- end up unifying around the eventual Democratic nominee…

He appears to have very little room to grow among undecideds. These numbers suggest that the fate of the 2020 election really stands in the hands of the voters who don’t like Trump. Trump does not have enough people who like him to get reelected- the only way he does is if the voters who don’t like him refuse to get on the same page after the Democratic primary is over. Right now we see a lot of people saying they will vote for Biden but not Bernie or will vote for Bernie but not Biden- if those people get on the same page once the nominee is chosen, Trump will lose. If they don’t, it will be close.

7) I think it was Ezra Klein who shared this link on the “selection bias” of how we think about kids before we actually have them:

For example, there was a huge amount of selection bias in my observations of parents and children. Some parents may have noticed that I wrote “Whenever I’d noticed parents with kids.” Of course the times I noticed kids were when things were going wrong. I only noticed them when they made noise. And where was I when I noticed them? Ordinarily I never went to places with kids, so the only times I encountered them were in shared bottlenecks like airplanes. Which is not exactly a representative sample. Flying with a toddler is something very few parents enjoy.

What I didn’t notice, because they tend to be much quieter, were all the great moments parents had with kids. People don’t talk about these much — the magic is hard to put into words, and all other parents know about them anyway — but one of the great things about having kids is that there are so many times when you feel there is nowhere else you’d rather be, and nothing else you’d rather be doing. You don’t have to be doing anything special. You could just be going somewhere together, or putting them to bed, or pushing them on the swings at the park. But you wouldn’t trade these moments for anything. One doesn’t tend to associate kids with peace, but that’s what you feel. You don’t need to look any further than where you are right now.

Before I had kids, I had moments of this kind of peace, but they were rarer. With kids it can happen several times a day.

My other source of data about kids was my own childhood, and that was similarly misleading. I was pretty bad, and was always in trouble for something or other. So it seemed to me that parenthood was essentially law enforcement. I didn’t realize there were good times too.

8) And this was really interesting on marriage.  The key to long-term success may largely be avoiding negativity:

We have some answers, thanks to psychologists who have been tracking couples’ happiness. They’ve found, based on the couples’ ratings of their own satisfaction, that marriages usually don’t get better. The ratings typically go downhill over time. The successful marriages are defined not by improvement, but by avoiding decline. That doesn’t mean marriage is a misery. The thrill of infatuation fades, so the euphoria that initially bonded a couple cannot sustain them over the decades, but most couples find other sources of contentment and remain satisfied overall (just not as satisfied as at the beginning). Sometimes, though, the decline in satisfaction is so steep that it dooms a marriage. By monitoring couples’ interactions and tracking them over time, researchers have developed a surprising theory for the breakdown of relationships.

What mattered was the bad stuff, as the psychologists concluded: “It is not so much the good, constructive things that partners do or do not do for one another that determines whether a relationship ‘works’ as it is the destructive things that they do or do not do in reaction to the problems.” When you quietly hang in there for your partner, your loyalty often isn’t even noticed. But when you silently withdraw from your partner or issue angry threats, you can start a disastrous spiral of retaliation.

“The reason long‑term relationships are so difficult,” says Caryl Rusbult, who led the couples study, “is that sooner or later one person is liable to be negative for so long that the other one starts to respond negatively too. When that happens, it’s hard to save the relationship.” Negativity is a tough disease to shake—and it’s highly contagious. Other researchers have found that when partners are separately asked to ponder aspects of their relationship, they spend much more time contemplating the bad than the good. To get through the bad stuff, you need to stop the negative spiral before it begins.

9) Love this on the need for higher middle-class taxes:

But on the question of raising taxes, and for whom, most Democratic candidates have hedged toward an all-too-familiar position. Like Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012, they’ve asserted their opposition to tax increases on anyone but the very rich — even if those tax hikes are offset by household savings on priorities like child care, health care and college education…

A no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge may help fend off misleading questions from reporters and disingenuous attacks from primary opponents, but it is seriously misguided. Middle-class taxes are a necessary and desirable part of a comprehensive, progressive policy framework that benefits low- and middle-income people most. [emphases mine] When redistributed through universal programs like Medicare-for-all (or free child care, free college, paid family leave, etc.), broad taxes provide stable funding and a sizable return on investment. Democratic presidential candidates should make the case for middle-class taxes, not run from them.

Here is a basic fact: The United States is a low-tax country. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, the United States ranked fourth-lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (a consortium of 36 economically developed countries) in terms of tax revenue collected as a percentage of the economy — behind nations like Germany, Israel, Latvia and Canada. The gap between U.S. and average OECD revenue has widened over time, from 1.3 percentage points of gross domestic product in 1965 to 10 percentage points more recently. That’s nearly $2 trillion per year in forgone revenue from lower tax rates.

10) I just really love advanced hockey stats.  So much so that I actually check in on them here during the game while watching Carolina Hurricanes games.  Thus, I really appreciate this analysis here which basically concludes it makes sense to focus most on scoring chances over Corsi, and definitely more so than high-danger chances.

11) Love this NYT feature from Dana Goldstein on how otherwise identical HS History textbooks have minor re-writes for partisan state review boards.  Most egregrious, of course, Texas.  Especially when it comes to race:

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

Critical language about nonwhite cultural movements also appears in a Texas book from McGraw-Hill. It is partly a result of debates, in 2010, between conservative and liberal members of the Texas Board of Education over whether state standards should mention cultural movements like hip-hop and country music. Their compromise was to ask teachers and textbook publishers to address “both the positive and negative impacts” of artistic movements.

Texas struck that requirement in 2018, but its most recent textbooks, published in 2016, will reflect it for years to come.

12) Basically, it’s hell to own a convenience store in Japan, and one owner is fighting back.

13) Honestly, I think it makes us feel better to make claims along the lines that those who commit suicide are cowards.  Ken White, with some great pushback on this:

Every time there’s a suicide in the news, the Courage Experts appear, explaining that taking your own life—especially if you have a family—is cowardly.  The deaths of Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and many others all inspired such judgments from people lacking either insight or human empathy. These people have something in common: They haven’t experienced major depression, and don’t care to make the effort to grasp what it’s like.  Like Ziegler, they see suicide as “selfish,” a decision reached through a self-interested calculus of pleasure and pain, with no consideration given to loved ones left behind.

But that’s not what depression is like at all.  Wallace understood it, even though his understanding wasn’t enough to save him.  In the novel Infinite Jest, he wrote this remarkably evocative and accurate description:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

Depression lies. It lies relentlessly and seductively and convincingly. The lies, like the fire of Wallace’s parable, separate you from hope, from faith, from your loved ones.  Imagine the worst day of your life. Maybe someone you loved died, or betrayed you. Maybe you lost a job you loved or were publicly humiliated or failed some essential obligation. Remember how it felt? Imagine, for a moment, feeling that way almost all of the time. Imagine it’s always there, a hard angry fist in the pit of your stomach, from when you wake to when you sleep. Imagine that the few moments when you forget and don’t feel that way offer little solace, because suddenly you remember, and the pain and hopelessness surge back like a tsunami. Imagine hearing inexorable lies in your own voice, telling you that you’ll never feel better, that you deserve no better, that if there are people who love you, it’s only because they don’t see how worthless you are, and that they would all be better off without you. Imagine that you can’t conceive of any way that the pain can end unless you die. It’s not cowardly to fall prey to that. It’s human. Resisting that, persevering, excelling, creating art when you feel that way, like Wallace did? That’s goddamned epic. Wallace isn’t a coward for falling; he’s a hero for standing as long as he did.

14) Just got back from “1917.”  Damn was that good.

2020 Quick hits

Happy New Year.

1) Peggy Orenstein’s Atlantic cover story on toxic masculinity was really good.  Enjoyed very much discussing this with my boys.  And, once again, made me super-grateful for my dad who was always a great role model of how to be a man without being a jerk.

2) As I like to say, capitalism is great… where it works.  Alas, increasingly an area where it does not work is in creating next-generation antibiotic drugs.  Time for governments to step in.

3) Adam Serwer with, naturally, a thoughtful take on the 1619 project controversy.  Though, in response to this:

The clash between the Times authors and their historian critics represents a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society. Was America founded as a slavocracy, and are current racial inequities the natural outgrowth of that? Or was America conceived in liberty, a nation haltingly redeeming itself through its founding principles? These are not simple questions to answer, because the nation’s pro-slavery and anti-slavery tendencies are so closely intertwined.

Does not the answer just have to be an emphatic, “both!”?

4) John McWhorter on why Latinx is not catching on:

Latino was enthusiastically taken up as an alternative to Hispanic around the same time African American came into use; the newer term solved the problem created by the fact that Hispanic, which centers language, refers to Spanish-speakers and thus excludes people of Brazilian descent. Latinx, too, purports to solve a problem: that of implied gender. True, gender marking in language can affect thought. But that issue is largely discussed among the intelligentsia. If you ask the proverbial person on the street, you’ll find no gnawing concern about the bias encoded in gendered word endings.

To black people, African American felt like a response to discrimination from outsiders, something black people needed as an alternative to the loaded word black. The term serves as a proud statement to a racist society. To Latinos, Latinx may feel like an imposition by activists. It’s also too clever by half for Romance-language speakers accustomed to gendered nouns…

The difference between African American and Latinx represents a pattern demonstrated endlessly in the past. Blackboard-grammar rules—fewer books rather than less books, when to use that instead of which, etc.—are imposed from on high.

5) I found this on hearing loss disturbing and fascinating:

While under normal circumstances, cognitive losses occur gradually as people age, the wisest course may well be to minimize and delay them as long as possible and in doing so, reduce the risk of dementia. Hearing loss is now known to be the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, exceeding that of smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and social isolation, according to an international analysis published in The Lancet in 2017.

The analysis indicated that preventing or treating hearing loss in midlife has the potential to diminish the incidence of dementia by 9 percent.

Difficulty hearing can impair brain function by keeping people socially isolated and inadequately stimulated by aural input. The harder it is for the brain to process sound, the more it has to work to understand what it hears, depleting its ability to perform other cognitive tasks. Memory is adversely affected as well. Information that is not heard clearly impairs the brain’s ability to remember it. An inadequately stimulated brain tends to atrophy.

6) I had no idea rare-earth magnets are a thing.  Now, I do– and they’re cool!  But, as very powerful magnets they are potentially dangerous.  Like if kids swallow them.  The latest, “Number of children swallowing dangerous magnets surges as industry largely polices itself.”  But, sorry, lots of products are potentially dangerous (drain cleaner, anyone?) but we don’t think the government should entirely eliminate them from the marketplace (as, apparently, was once done with these magnets).

7) Even back when I was into cars (yes, yours truly had a subscription to “Road & Track” many, many years ago), I had an irrational bias against the Corvette.  But, damn, this new Corvette is really cool and hello of a deal.

8) Why is it so hard to get things right?  Apparently, cruise ships idling in port spew a ton of pollution needlessly, but even where they’ve added an electric power hook-up in Brooklyn, it hardly gets used.

9) The Navy Seal that Trump pardoned was a truly evil man by the accounts of the members of his own unit

They offer the first opportunity outside the courtroom to hear directly from the men of Alpha platoon, SEAL Team 7, whose blistering testimony about their platoon chief was dismissed by President Trump when he upended the military code of justice to protect Chief Gallagher from the punishment.

“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.

10) It’s crazy to me that Anna Maria College has revitalized itself behind an awful football team. Meanwhile, Northeastern has thrived after dropping its team.  Really interesting contrast.  NYT, “Adding Football Saved One College. Dumping It Boosted Another.Officials at tiny Anna Maria College say starting a football program was one of their best decisions. At Northeastern, it has been good riddance.”

11) Loved this Wired video on the science of color perception.  Of course there’s not even any red pixels in this image, but your brain just assumes that it’s red strawberries in blue light.

strawberries

PHOTOGRAPH: AKIYOSHI KITAOKA

Much more coolness at the link.

12) It’s great that some good guys with guns stopped a shooter in a church in Texas.  Sometimes, the good guy with a gun really does make a difference.  But it is absurdly clear that, on balance, a society awash in guns, as ours is, is simply much, much, much more dangerous.  Also, I read elsewhere that the good guy was a highly-trained, former FBI agent.  Not your usual concealed carry permit holder.

13) Yeah, so this is wrong:

Robert Alexander has been away from home for more than a decade. His days and nights are spent locked up behind walls topped with barbed wire.

“Prison kind of gives you that feeling that you’re like on an island,” says Alexander, 39, who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies while serving his third prison sentence.

Clad in an oversized gray sweatshirt under the fluorescent lights inside the visiting room of Wisconsin’s oldest state prison, he is more than 70 miles from his last address in Milwaukee.

“You don’t feel like a resident of anything,” he adds.

But if Alexander and his more than 1,200 fellow prisoners are still incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution next Census Day — April 1 — the Census Bureau will officially consider them residents of Waupun, Wis., for the 2020 national head count.

That’s because, since the first U.S. census in 1790, the federal government has included incarcerated people in the population counts of where they’re imprisoned. This technical detail of a little-known policy can have an outsized impact on prison towns across the U.S. for the next decade.

While serving time at Waupun Correctional Institution, Robert Alexander is working on a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies. Since the first U.S. census in 1790, the federal government has included incarcerated people in the population counts of where they’re imprisoned.

In many cases, rural, predominantly white towns see their population numbers boosted by population counts from prisons disproportionately made up of black and Latinx people.

In turn, states, which control how voting districts are drawn, and local governments can use those numbers to form districts filled predominantly with people who are locked behind bars and cannot vote in almost all states. Maine and Vermont are the exceptions.

Officials in some prison towns have come up with creative ways to avoid forming voting districts made up primarily of prisoners. But in many others, political lines are drawn around prisons in a way that critics deride as “prison gerrymandering.”

14) I did not know there was a worldwide “rule of law index” but discovered it when learning about Singapore on Wikipedia (my little sister just finished visiting there). Followed some links, and I love this report from the World Justice Project.  US ranks #20.  And, damn, Northern Europe kicks butt once again.  I like the comparisons controlling for income, like this one:

15) Great post from Jay Rosen on what Chuck Todd’s utter failure at MTP says about the broader failures of the media in the age of Trump:

A key premise for Meet the Press is symmetry between the two major political parties. The whole show is built on that. But in the information sphere — the subject of Chuck Todd’s confessions — asymmetry has taken command. The right wing ecosystem for news does not operate like the rest of the country’s news system. And increasingly conservative politics is getting sucked into conservative media. It makes more sense to see Fox News and the Trump White House as two parts of the same organism. As these trends grind on they put stress on Meet the Press practices. But it takes imagination to see how the show might be affected— or changed. In place of that we have Chuck Todd pleading naiveté.

So what will they do now? My answer: they have no earthly idea. This is what I mean by an epistemological crisis. Chuck Todd has essentially said that on the right there is an incentive structure that compels Republican office holders to use their time on Meet the Press for the spread of disinformation. So do you keep inviting them on air to do just that? If so, then you break faith with the audience and create a massive problem in real time fact-checking. If not, then you just broke the show in half.

There is simply nothing in the playbook at Meet the Press that tells the producers what to do in this situation. As I have tried to show, they didn’t arrive here through acts of naiveté, but by willful blindness, malpractice among the experts in charge, an insider’s mentality, a listening breakdown, a failure of imagination, and sheer disbelief that the world could have changed so much upon people paid so well to understand it.

16) I just came across this from a few years ago. Anyway, kind of amazing to me that there were people with an academic background actually arguing that the Southern realignment was predominantly about matters other than race.  Uhhh, no. Anyway, this paper uses copious data to make clear– it’s race:

After generations of loyalty, Southern whites left the Democratic party en masse in the second half of the twentieth century. To what extent did Democrats’ 1960s Civil Rights initiatives trigger this exodus, versus Southern economic development, rising political polarization or other trends that made the party unattractive to Southern whites? The lack of data on racial attitudes and political preferences spanning the 1960s Civil Rights era has hampered research on this central question of American political economy. We uncover and employ such data, drawn from Gallup surveys dating back to 1958. From 1958 to 1961, conservative racial views strongly predict Democratic identification among Southern whites, a correlation that disappears after President Kennedy introduces sweeping Civil Rights legislation in 1963. We find that defection among racially conservative whites explains all (three-fourths) of the decline in relative white Southern Democratic identification between 1958 and 1980 (2000). We offer corroborating quantitative analysis—drawn from sources such as Gallup questions on presidential approval and hypothetical presidential match-ups as well as textual analysis of newspapers—for the central role of racial views in explaining white Southern dealignment from the Democrats as far back as the 1940s.

17) Interesting article on just how hard it is to balance being a mom with being a surgeon.  Left almost entirely unaddressed in the article is that either A) there’s a lot of suffering dads as well, or B) a lot of surgeon dads just don’t really care that much about being a good dad.  Also, clearly, some changes need to happen so that this specialty is more compatible with a reasonable family life.

18) Unsurprisingly, the Ganges is brimming with dangerous bacteria.  Surprisingly, this is even the case near the headwaters:

High in the Himalayas, it’s easy to see why the Ganges River is considered sacred.

According to Hindu legend, the Milky Way became this earthly body of water to wash away humanity’s sins. As it drains out of a glacier here, rock silt dyes the ice-cold torrent an opaque gray, but biologically, the river is pristine — free of bacteria.

Then, long before it flows past any big cities, hospitals, factories or farms, its purity degrades. It becomes filled with a virulent type of bacteria, resistant to common antibiotics.

The Ganges is living proof that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are almost everywhere. The river offers powerful insight into the prevalence and spread of drug-resistant infections, one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Its waters provide clues to how these pathogens find their way into our ecosystem.

Winding over 1,500 miles to the Bay of Bengal, Ma Ganga — “Mother Ganges”— eventually becomes one of the planet’s most polluted rivers, a mélange of urban sewage, animal waste, pesticides, fertilizers, industrial metals and rivulets of ashes from cremated bodies.

But annual tests by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology show that antibiotic-resistant bacteria appear while the river is still flowing through the narrow gorges of the Himalayan foothills, hundreds of miles before it encounters any of the usual suspects that would pollute its waters with resistant germs.

The bacterial levels are “astronomically high,” said Shaikh Ziauddin Ahammad, a professor of biochemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology. The only possible source is humans, specifically the throngs of ritual bathers who come to wash away their sins and immerse themselves in the waters…

But where exactly do these armies of drug-resistant germs come from? Are they already everywhere — in the soil beneath our feet, for example? Do they emerge in hospitals, where antibiotics are heavily used?

Are they bred in the intestines of livestock on factory farms? Do they arise in the fish, plants or plankton living in lakes downstream from pharmaceutical factories?

Or are the germs just sitting inside the patients themselves, waiting for their hosts to weaken enough for them to take over?

Research now being done in India and elsewhere suggests an answer to these questions: Yes, all of the above.

19) Good stuff in NYT about the lack of women’s coaches in college athletics:

Title IX, passed in 1972, transformed American sports — it decided girls deserved the same opportunities as boys to play sports. From then on, men and women in college had to receive equal treatment on the playing l.field and equal funding for their athletic programs. Now the United States produces many of the best female athletes in the world.

But that equality stops at graduation.

Before Title IX, women were head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s college teams. Passage of the law flooded women’s sports with money and created many more jobs, many of which went to men. Now about 40 percent of women’s college teams are coached by women. Only about 3 percent of men’s college teams are coached by women.

That means that men have roughly double the number of opportunities to coach. It only gets worse higher up the administrative ladder: 89 percent of Division I college athletic directors are men.

Without equal opportunities to lead, women don’t…

By not diversifying, college teams are quite literally leaving points on the field.

Adding women to leadership roles improves the overall performance of a team, across fields. According to a Harvard study, gender-balanced teams perform better than male-dominated teams. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study found that “women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones.” Another analysis of gender studies shows that when it comes to leadership skills, men excel at confidence, whereas women stand out for competence.

20) I had actually forgotten that at the beginning of this decade, 3D television was supposed to be a big thing.

The technology had existed before; Samsung got there first, in 2007. But January 2010 presented a clear inflection point. In addition to the Cell TV there were 3D Blu-ray players, sets that could automatically give depth to flat images, and the promise of DirecTV networks that broadcast exclusively in three dimensions. The industry had lined up behind a vision of the future, marketing executives and product managers insisting that the more they had created was also better. How could it not be? It was more.

Five years later, 3D TV was dead. You probably haven’t thought about it since then, if you even did before. But there’s maybe no better totem for the last decade of consumer technology. (The iPhone was more transformative, but is also singular, and besides that was born in the late aughts.) It’s what happens when smart people run out of ideas, the last gasp before aspiration gives way to commoditization. It was the dawn of all-internet everything, and all the privacy violations inherent in that. And it steadfastly ignored how human beings actually use technology, because doing so meant companies could charge more for it.

What I remember most from those press conferences in 2010 was the assuredness that millions of people somehow actively wanted to have to put glasses on their faces in order to watch television. Even then, it made no sense.

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) Really cool work from Lynn VavreckJohn Sides and 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9) Alex Seitz-Wald on Republicans and Trump:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo of the day

Hopeful images” of 2019 seems like a nice theme given all the negativity.  I liked this one in the Atlantic gallery:

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool plays on the pitch with his daughter, Makka, after the Premier League match between Liverpool F.C. and Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. at Anfield in Liverpool, England, on May 12, 2019.

Catherine Ivill / Getty

Quick hits

Didn’t really feel like working on this on Friday night.  But, damnit, today is DJC’s birthday celebration (not sure if it’s the actual day) and I know he’s depending on his quick hits bright and early.

1) I found this NYT Op-Ed about how Mississippi (of all places) has dramatically improved reading scores by focusing on phonics and making sure elementary teachers understand the science if firmly behind it.  I didn’t realize lots of places still are not fully on-board with it despite the clear scientific evidence.  I’m glad my kids have had Letterland.

To understand what the science says, a good place to start is with something called the “simple view of reading.” It’s a model that was first proposed by researchers in 1986 to clarify the role of decoding in reading comprehension. Everyone agrees the goal of reading is to comprehend text, but back in the 1980s there was a big fight going on over whether children should be taught how to decode words — in other words, phonics.

The simple view says that reading comprehension is the product of two things. One is your ability to decode words: Can you identify the word a string of letters represents? For example, you see the letter string “l-a-s-s” and you are able to sound it out and say the word.

You may have no idea what “lass” means. This is where language comprehension comes in. Language comprehension is your ability to understand spoken language. So, when someone says to you, “Let’s have all the lads and lasses line up at the door,” you know that’s what all the boys and girls are supposed to do.

The simple view is an equation that looks like this:

decoding ability x language comprehension = reading comprehension

Notice that reading comprehension is the product of decoding ability and language comprehension; it’s not the sum. In other words, if you have good language comprehension skills but zero decoding skills, your reading comprehension will be zero, because zero times anything is zero. The simple view also says that if you have good decoding skills but poor language comprehension skills, your reading comprehension isn’t going to be very good either.

The simple view model was proposed more than 30 years ago and has been confirmed over and over again by research. But a study in Mississippi several years ago showed that teachers were not being trained to use this model and that many professors and deans in colleges of education had never even heard of it. Now, through workshops and coaching paid for by state taxpayers, teachers in Mississippi are learning about the simple view and other key takeaways from the science of reading.

Also, there’s a long piece by the same author that I found especially interesting because of the Education professors who are basically the equivalent of climate deniers on the matter.  Really interesting stuff.

2) Rachel Bitecofer makes a strong case that we are using polls wrong in thinking about electability:

The problem with this conclusion is that it’s based on “electability” polls that are unreliable, leading to erroneous narratives that can make or break campaigns, especially for lesser-known candidates who also seek to break through gender or racial glass ceilings like Warren and Harris.

Horserace polling is replete with electability polls because the electability question is central in voters’ minds and, as such, is the type of data heavily prioritized by media outlets. There are significant incentives to produce this type of polling but little scrutiny placed on the practice. Decades of political science scholarship shows that polling helps create narratives that can impact voter behavior, the ability of candidates to raise money, and electability, all of which tie to candidate poll performance in a positive feedback loop. Research shows that voters highly value candidate electability, defined as a candidate’s potential to compete against the opposition party’s nominee, as one of the most important factors driving their vote choice. Even in today’s hyper-ideological environment, two-thirds of likely Democratic primary voters in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey indicate they’d prefer a candidate who can beat Trump over one who aligns with them on the issues, even immediately following an ideology-priming event such as a debate.

The only candidates for whom head-to-head ballot tests are capable of reliably measuring “electability” are those who enjoy what I call “saturation” name recognition. The test only works when two or more equally well-known candidates are compared to each other. It is really important to illustrate how hard it is to reach saturation-level name recognition among the American electorate.

Even Biden, who served as vice president for eight years, is not universally known by voters. The most recent iteration of the Economist/YouGov tracking poll, which samples 1,500 American adults on a rolling basis, finds 15% of sampled adults unable to offer an opinion as to whether they approve or disapprove of Biden. The latest iteration of the Morning Consult Democratic primary tracking poll finds 8% of potential voters reporting they’ve “heard of, but can’t offer an opinion” on Biden and 1% have never heard of him, for a total of 9% in what I call the “unfamiliar with the candidate” category. However, it must be noted, we are now talking about a far more sophisticated population of voters: potential Democratic primary voters. Participants in presidential primaries are among the most engaged and informed voters in the country. Yet, 8% of these voters appear incapable of offering the most basic of opinions about a man who served as President Obama’s veep.

3) The headline about a once-a-month birth control pill is a little misleading (the technology still needs a lot of work), but it was fascinating indeed to learn about the work on a pill that basically slowly releases medication in your stomach for a month.

4) We’re going to run out of teachers because we don’t pay them enough.  We really need to remedy this.  If only rich people and corporations didn’t need their tax cuts so badly.

There are one-third less people enrolling in teacher training programs, which is part of the certification process to become an educator, according to data from the Center for American Progress.
In some states, such as Michigan, Oklahoma, and Illinois, enrollment declined by more than 50%.
The drop in teacher training enrollment suggests that issues plaguing the profession — from low pay to dwindling school funding — has discouraged potential educators, exacerbating the nationwide teacher shortage…

Other data centers have similarly staggering estimates of the teacher shortage crisis. The independent research group Learning Policy Institute estimated a 112,000 teacher shortage in 2018.

Part of the reason many rejected the education field was due to low pay. Teachers get paid nearly 21% less on average than other professions that require a college degree. Thirty years ago, the pay gap was just 2% less.

5) It’s ultimately super-small, but nonetheless encouraging to see some NC local elected officials giving up on the Republican Party for it giving up on the rule of law.

6) Interesting column from David Brooks where he, in theory, is taking on the left by taking on socialism, but ultimately holds up the same model as Bernie Sanders– Denmark.  Yes, Northern Europe does seem to have largely figured out how to balance relatively free markets with a robust public sector– I’m all for emulating it.

7) Sad story of rural, Southwestern Virginia town doing everything to hand on as the population just shrinks.  But, it is also a story of a hugely disproportionate transfer of wealth to one community where it is unlikely to save it:

This corner of southwestern Virginia has long sought alternatives to coal as a source of sustenance. The Appalachian School of Law, which opened in the 1990s in the shell of Grundy Junior High School, was heralded as a new economic engine, lubricated — of course — with taxpayer funds. So was the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, founded in 2003 some 20 minutes down the road in Oakwood. County officials considered a dental school, but figured it was too expensive. They still get grumpy about the optometry school, on which they spent $250,000 in feasibility studies only for it to open across the state line in Pikeville, Ky. Then there is downtown Grundy itself, much of which was moved up the hill to avoid periodic floodwaters from the Levisa Fork, a tributary of the Big Sandy River…

Virginia estimates that the relocation and flood-proofing projects, started almost 20 years ago, cost $170 million in federal and state funds, more than $170,000 for every woman, man and child living in town today. The Army Corps of Engineers shaved off the flank of a mountain across the river to create an elevated platform on which the new commercial district would sit. Virginia’s Department of Transportation bulldozed much of the old downtown and routed U.S. 460 through it, built on top of a levee protecting what was left of Grundy’s old center. Finally, in 2011, Walmart opened a superstore to anchor the new site, perched somewhat oddly above a two-story, publicly funded parking lot.

8) I really quite enjoyed and appreciated the NYC subway on my trip there this summer.  Most everyone on twitter was a big fan of this NYT interactive feature on the subway map.

9) Helaine Olen in polling and a winning message for Democrats in 2020.  Honestly, it does seem crazy to see far left and center-left tear each other apart when there’s a consensus agenda that all Democrats can embrace, Republican voters like, but is anathema to Republican politicians:

While the president remains divisive, the report finds majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans agree on many things. Seventy percent or more of those surveyed, including majorities of Republicans, agreed with each of the following statements:

  • College education is too expensive, and states should do more to “help people afford a college education without getting buried in debt.”
  • “Rich families and corporations should pay a lot more in taxes than they do today, and middle-class families should pay less.”
  • People who don’t receive health insurance from an employer should be allowed to buy into a public plan, and pharmaceutical companies should be “penalized” if drug prices increase faster than the rate of inflation.
  • Increase “good jobs” with a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, including both roads and “expanded production of green energy.”
  • Reduce inequality with a 2 percent “wealth tax” on net worth in excess of $50 million.

That’s not all. People of every political persuasion give President Trump negative marks on his handling of health care and poverty. When asked what they believed is the most important issue that Trump and Congress should address in the coming year, “making health care more affordable” was cited by a majority of voters. Only a third of the entire electorate supported cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in an effort to address the national debt. And 8 in 10 Democrats and three-fourths of independents believe corporations have too much power and should be “strongly regulated” — something even 49 percent of Republicans also signed off on.

10) In a more sane world, we’d be talking more about trump’s military pardons, which really were appalling.  Thomas Edsall:

I asked Porch what the consequences might be of Trump’s war crimes pardons of former Army First Lt. Michael BehennaMaj. Mathew L. Golsteyn and 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, and his restoration of rank and service medals to Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL.

First, Porch wrote, “the treatment of POWs is based on reciprocity” and “thus, to pardon soldiers who allegedly carry out war crimes is to put you own soldiers at risk.”

Second, “it undermines the moral foundation of intervention — how can a cause be moral and acceptable internationally if those who carry it out do not behave within legal norms?”

Trump has taken the opposite stance. In a tweet on Oct. 12, the president declared: “We train our boys to be killing machines, and then prosecute them when they kill!”…

General Charles C. Krulak, former commandant of the United States Marine Corps and a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also disagreed. He told The Wall Street Journal that Trump’s intervention “betrays these ideals and undermines decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country’s fighting forces the envy of the world.”

Scholars of the military generally took the side of Dempsey and Krulak in opposition to the pardons.

Mara Karlin, the director of the strategic studies program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development during the Obama administration, was incisive in her critique of the war crimes pardons. In an email, Karlin wrote:

While some in the military are surely enthusiastic that Trump did so because they support him or Gallagher, they may be underestimating the precedent now set. Of all the contemporary norms that Trump has violated vis-à-vis the military, this is among the most catastrophic because at the end of the day, a transparent, trustworthy, and effective military justice system is the sine qua non of a transparent, trustworthy, and effective military.

11) Should we trust the polls on ready the country is ready for a gay president?

As Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., has surged to a top position in Iowa polls in the Democratic presidential primary, media reports have emerged warning that his sexuality may yet derail his White House bid. A recent national Politico/Morning Consult poll found that a plurality of voters, 45 percent, think the country is not ready for an openly gay president, with only 40 percent saying it’s ready. Consultants have chimed in to say the mayor may be less electable than coastal elites realize because he’s gay.

Ordinary voters are quoted saying they — or their “devout Christian” mother — “would never vote for a gay.” And the Buttigieg campaign’s own focus groups recently found that many undecided black voters in South Carolina regard the candidate’s sexual orientation as a “barrier” to winning their votes.

But the power of polls to predict behavior around social issues and disfavored groups has always been poor, and what we know about people’s attitudes and actions when it comes to L.G.B.T. concerns tells a cautionary tale about how to interpret claims by voters that they won’t support an openly gay candidate for president.

Pollsters have long known about the poor predictive power of asking respondents how they would treat members of an unfavored minority group, especially in politically polarized climates.

12) The Supreme Court heard a big gun control case this week.  What was notable was the way some of the conservatives were really eager to deny the mootness of the issue staring them in the face.  Now that’s judicial activism.

13) Super-edifying, but I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising, when I write something and see that one of my favorites has already made the same point.  In this case, Drum on Barron Trump.

There is nothing wrong with saying this. Nonetheless, Republicans pretended to be outraged by it, and as near as I can tell there was no pushback. Not a single Republican stepped up to say “Give it a rest, guys.”

This kind of solidarity is a startlingly successful strategy. Reporters mostly bought into the Republican outrage, and even more tellingly, so did many Democrats, who suggested that Karlan really shouldn’t have “brought up the president’s son.” Eventually this forced Karlan to say sorry, which prompted yet another round of faux Republican outrage over her (of course) inadequate apology.

This was a minor affair, quickly forgotten. But it reminds me once again of the hack gap. Conservatives instinctively circled the wagons after the first person let loose on Karlan. Many joined in and none defended Karlan. Liberals, by contrast, were divided. Some were clear from the start that the whole thing was entirely fake, but others apparently felt like they had to demonstrate their reasonableness, which they did by saying that while it was no big deal, “still she really should have left Barron out of it.”

14) Paul Waldman on Biden’s “surprisingly liberal” tax plan:

Joe Biden is more liberal than he looks.

Let me qualify that: Biden is moderate in many ways, in vision and inclination. But the policy plans he has laid out as part of his campaign are much more progressive than most anyone seems to realize.

The latest evidence: the tax plan he just released. The coverage it’s receiving has tended toward “Biden releases tax plan much less ambitious than what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders propose.” In fact, it’s so liberal — in very good ways — that when he was vice president it would have been considered radical, certainly too much for Barack Obama to have signed into law, or in some cases even suggested.

This tells us a great deal about the state of the Democratic Party and how it has affected Biden, who is assumed to be the ideologically moderate choice for president (along with other candidates, including Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar).

15) Max Boot, “To GOP hypocrites: I never want to hear about Hillary Clinton’s emails again.”

If there were a global competition for insincerity, President Trump would have won the equivalent of an Oscar, a gold medal, a Ballon d’Or and a Vince Lombardi Trophy combined. You simply could not be more two-faced; it is not humanly possible. His picture belongs in the dictionary under the very word “hypocrisy.”

Trump, recall, spent much of 2016 leading chants of “Lock her up!” because Hillary Clinton made the mistake of employing a private server for some of her official emails as secretary of state. Trump still routinely refers to the former first lady and secretary of state as “Crooked Hillary” as if she had actually committed a crime. Never mind that the Justice Department decided not to prosecute and that a lengthy State Department investigation, completed during the Trump administrationfound “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”

And yet, while castigating Clinton for supposedly mishandling classified information, Trump has been engaging in far more egregious examples of the very same sin…

But all these security breaches pale by comparison with Trump’s promiscuous use of a cellphone to conduct top-secret conversations. My Post colleagues Paul Sonne, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report that “Trump has routinely communicated with his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and other individuals speaking on cellphones vulnerable to monitoring by Russian and other foreign intelligence services.”

And lets definitely not forget to blame the media for taking these bad faith arguments in good faith.

16) Call me transphobic, but, sorry, if you were born a male I don’t think you get to compete in athletic competitions as female.  Also, I honestly don’t know where the controversy falls on the terminology these days, but I’m totally comfortable with the author identifying as as “woman,” but I don’t know about the insistence upon “female.”

17) Okay, I don’t actually listen to the album anymore (though I hear plenty on 90’s at 9 on my satellite radio), but I still say Alanis‘ “Jagged Little Pill” was a great album.  Enjoyed this NYT magazine feature on her.

18) Speaking of music, I had not heard the Kinks’ “Father Christmas” in years and years, but heard it on the radio yesterday.  Used to listen to it all the time on the one Kinks album I owned.  Now that’s a rock ‘n roll Christmas song.

19) How exercise may make your muscles function like they are decades younger.

20) Planet Money on the Constitutional hurdles (with this Supreme Court… hell yeah!) of the wealth tax and an interesting alternative:

Recently, Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, proposed such a reform. He wants to get rid of the “two tax codes” for workers and investors. He proposes the government create “one tax code” by taxing investment income at the same rate as labor income and taxing investment gains annually whether or not they’re sold. Julian Castro and Senator Cory Booker, each running for president, have proposed similar tax policies.

Wyden proposes an “anti-deferral” tax system in which people with over a million dollars in annual income or ten million in net worth over three consecutive years would lose the ability to defer tax payments on publicly listed assets, like stocks and bonds. Harder-to-value private assets, like artwork, real estate, and ownership shares of private businesses, would face a retroactive “deferral charge” when they’re sold. He estimates the tax would raise between $1.5 to $2 trillion over ten years, and he wants to use the money to strengthen the Social Security program.

Proposals for accrual taxes face similar criticisms to the wealth tax. The policy would require, for instance, significant resources to administer. It could distort saving and investment decisions and have unintended consequences for the broader economy. And while proposals on the table include measures to avoid such problems, it’s possible the tax could be hard on some taxpayers who look rich on paper but are in fact short on the cash needed to pay the tax.

A key question over an accrual tax is how it will deal with investor losses. If rich investors get hammered in a financial crash, for instance, will they be able to write off their paper losses? If they make a huge gain one year on Amazon stock and pay a lot in accrual tax, but then next year Amazon stock tanks, do they get to claw back those taxes previously paid? If so, how much? Wyden expresses support for allowing deductibility of losses from tax bills, but he doesn’t provide many specifics. As of September, when he released a white paper about the policy, he sought public comment.

Batchelder believes a wealth tax has a number of advantages over an accrual tax. For one, a wealth tax is easier to explain, which is an asset to politicians, who have to convert complicated policies into easy-to-digest talking points. An accrual tax, which necessitates more wonky details and dull explanations, just isn’t as sexy. “It hasn’t gotten, obviously, the media attention that a wealth tax has,” Batchelder says.

But Batchelder thinks an accrual tax could go a long way toward raising revenue and addressing inequality, and she suggests the policy could even be included as a “backup mechanism” in wealth tax legislation that could kick in if the Supreme Court knocks a wealth tax down.

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really good piece in the Times about how the streaming revolution really is fundamentally changing both TV and movies now.

Streaming services, of course, have been challenging the Hollywood status quo for years. Netflix began streaming movies and television shows in 2007 and has grown into a giant, spending $12 billion on programming this year to entertain more than 158 million subscribers worldwide. There are 271 online video services available in the United States, according to the research firm Parks Associates, one for seemingly every predilection — Pongalo for telenovelas, AeroCinema for aviation documentaries, Shudder for horror movies, Horse Lifestyle for equine-themed content. (Offerings include a series called “Marvin the Tap Dancing Horse.”)

While all this was happening, however, the three biggest old-line media companies — Disney, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia — largely stayed on the sidelines. Charging into the streaming fray would mean putting billions of dollars in profit from existing cable networks like USA, Disney Channel and TBS at risk. Building video platforms of the size needed to compete with Netflix and Amazon would be frightfully expensive. And mastering the underlying technology would require a sharp learning curve. Better to bide their time. When it became clear that protecting their existing business model was more perilous than embracing the future, no matter now disruptive in the near term, they would act.

That time is now. And everything is changing.

“I get asked all the time, ‘Where does this stop? When does it stop?’” said Brett Sappington, a senior Parks Associates analyst and researcher. “The truth is that it is only getting started.”

2) I found Frozen 2 enjoyable enough yesterday.  Probably would have enjoyed more without too many overactive 3rd graders there for my daughter’s birthday party.  But, I mostly agree with this review, mostly, because the plot was really not great.

3) I was especially intrigued by this story of U of Florida way over-paying Donald Trump Jr because I do know how crazy speaker fees at universities can be.  It’s kind of like an arms race and the rich universities need to stop absurdly over-paying (not that that is the point of the article at all).

4) I might have mentioned that I’m pretty much done with baseball and I have not attended a game of any sort in years, but I still have very, very fond memories of attending minor league games and agree that MLB’s abandonment of many minor league teams seems really bad.

5) This is interesting from Rolling Stone, “The Unsolved Case of the Most Mysterious Song on the Internet”

Twelve years ago, a catchy New Wave anthem appeared on the internet with no information about who wrote or recorded it. Amateur detectives have spent thousands of hours since trying to figure out where it came from — with little luck. Inside the question that’s been driving the internet crazy for years

6) Seems to be the evidence is pretty clear that apes do have a theory of mind and those arguing that the evidence does not lead to this conclusion are really being quite tendentious.

7) Really liked this from Leonhardt, “Mueller and Comey Failed Their Tests. She Passed Hers.”

Three years later, Robert Mueller faced his own uncomfortable choice. As special counsel, he helped uncover evidence that President Trump had repeatedly broken the law, including paying hush money to two women and interfering in the Russia investigation. But Mueller understood that clearly laying out his conclusions would subject him to vicious criticism as a partisan. Like Comey, he prized his reputation for floating above partisan politics. [emphases mine]

Conveniently, he found a solution that protected his reputation. Mueller’s final report included a detailed recitation of facts, but its conclusions were deliberately obtuse, which meant they changed almost nobody’s mind. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller cryptically said. Making matters worse, he then allowed the Trump administration to control — and spin — the report’s release.

Mueller, to be fair, has a stronger defense than Comey. Throughout, Mueller interpreted Justice Department guidelines in narrow ways: Those guidelines didn’t compel him to present clear conclusions — as Kenneth Starr had two decades earlier — and so Mueller didn’t do so. It’s possible that Mueller’s mistakes had more to do with naïveté than pride.

Yet the outcome was the same. Both Mueller and Comey preserved their nonpartisan images (only temporarily in Comey’s case, because he later engaged in a full-on fight with Trump), while the country suffered.

Comey’s unprecedented insertion of the F.B.I. into the final stages of a presidential campaign may have decided the outcome. And Mueller’s convoluted report was a gift to Trump. Mueller’s long investigation uncovered extensive evidence of a president who had broken the law and abused his power, but Mueller did almost nothing to hold the president accountable.

8) William Barr is definitely the worst.  But I think Mike Pompeo might be a close second.  Thomas Friedman, “Mike Pompeo: Last in His Class at West Point in Integrity: The secretary of state’s behavior has been cowardly and self-serving.”

It seems like every story you read about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo always includes the sentence that he graduated “first in his class” from West Point. That is not a small achievement. But it is even more impressive in Pompeo’s case when you consider that he finished No. 1 even though he must have flunked all his courses on ethics and leadership. I guess he was really good in math.

I say that because Pompeo has just violated one of the cardinal rules of American military ethics and command: You look out for your soldiers, you don’t leave your wounded on the battlefield and you certainly don’t stand mute when you know a junior officer is being railroaded by a more senior commander, if not outright shot in her back.

The classes on ethics and leadership at West Point would have taught all of that. I can only assume Pompeo failed or skipped them all when you observe his cowardly, slimy behavior as the leader of the State Department. I would never, ever, ever want to be in a trench with that man. Attention all U.S. diplomats: Watch your own backs, because Pompeo won’t.

9) This piece on how Quakers shifted our pronouns is really fascinating.  You know how it’s annoying that we have the same word for 2nd person singular and plural, i.e., “you.”  Wasn’t always that way.  We also, like many other languages, used to have formal and informal versions.  The Quakers changed that.

10) This, I had no idea about, “Replacing Coal with Gas or Renewables Saves Billions of Gallons of Water. The ongoing transition from coal to natural gas and renewables in the U.S. electricity sector is dramatically reducing the industry’s water use, a new Duke University study finds”

11) Charles Pierce on Barr and the GOP:

If this really is Attorney General William Barr’s final go-round as a servant to radical conservative power, and we can only pray to god that it is, he’s certainly going out with a bang. In the past two weeks, he’s given two speeches that are so stunningly detached from political reality, and so basically and fundamentally un-American, that they were probably best given from atop a milk crate in Washington Square, and not from respectable rostrums provided by powerful and influential institutions. In short, Barr has become something of a raving maniac…

Again, two specific points: one, this is being done in defense of the most lawless president* in American history and, two, and much more important, these are theories of government that Barr developed while working for Republican presidents since 1989. They are the theories by which he helped cover up the Iran-Contra scandal. They are the theories that underpinned what Dick Cheney did in making this country a country that tortured, and what he did to lie this country into a catastrophic war. (Barr even cited the Cheney and the “unitary executive” theory in his speech, ridiculing the notion that the unitary executive posed any threat to the balance of power.) In both speeches we see not Trumpism, but modern conservative Republicanism in its clearest and most extreme form.

It didn’t start with this president*. And my money’s on the proposition that, sadly, it won’t end with him, either.

12) I really liked this NYT Op-Ed on if we are going to kill animals, we should at least do it far more humanely.

NASHVILLE — Last week, Walden’s Puddle, a nonprofit wildlife rescue organization in a rural area of Nashville, posted a set of photos of a barred owl caught in the jaws of a leg-hold trap. The first photo, which featured the owl on the ground, its wings spread wide and its eyes cast down, was emblazoned with the words “Graphic images ahead.” I didn’t click through to see the rest of the pictures. The sight of that magnificent creature of the air tethered to the ground was graphic enough to break my heart. I didn’t need to see what the rest of the images would inevitably reveal: sinews torn, bones splintered, flesh bloody and swollen, great yellow claws mangled beyond repair.

Walden’s Puddle rehabilitates and releases orphaned and injured animals, and its Instagram account is normally a feel-good feed of squirrels, songbirds, turtles, deer, raccoons, opossums, snakes, rabbits, foxes, skunks, groundhogs, bobcats — pretty much everything that flies or crawls or walks or swims — and all of them on the mend. The caption to the post about the barred owl, which had to be euthanized, was uncharacteristically fierce:

These traps are cruel, evil, disgusting and should be illegal, causing unimaginable suffering to any creature who gets caught in its unforgiving jaws. While it is illegal to harm protected bird species such as this one (though these situations rarely result in criminal charges), these types of traps are sadly still legal to use in the state of Tennessee and in many other places, though they’ve been outlawed for many years in other parts of the world. Because the law requires they only be checked every 36 hours, any animal stuck in its grip will experience unimaginable pain and fear, possibly for hours or days.

Although their use has been banned or severely curtailed in more than 120 countries, leg-hold traps are indeed legal in Tennessee and in most other states in this country. Traps are sometimes used by farmers and ranchers to catch livestock predators, but the primary use for leg-hold traps is to catch an animal in a way that preserves the value of its pelt. Fur-edged down parkas, a fashion trend kick-started by a 2013 Sports Illustrated cover featuring the model Kate Upton wearing a bikini and a fur-trimmed Canada Goose parka, are now so prevalent among the affluent that they have caused a boom in backwoods trapping.

Trappers still use leg-hold traps illegally in states where they have been banned, but the problem isn’t generally a matter of legality. The problem is that these traps, and every other kind of trap on the market, are indiscriminate. They mangle pets and people. They mutilate “trash animals” whose pelts are worth nothing to the fur industry. They destroy songbirds and raptors, all of whom are federally protected. And in every one of those creatures, they cause unimaginable suffering…

The word “humane” refers to qualities we believe are part of human nature: tenderness, compassion, mercy. We rarely live up to our own etymology, but in this matter it poses no great trouble for us to do so. We don’t need to agree on whether it’s morally permissible to kill animals to agree that this is not the way to do it. It’s time to ban glue strips. It’s time to ban rat poison. It’s time to ban lead ammunition. It’s time to ban traps that injure but do not kill. There is no good reason not to. [emphasis mine]

13) I saw a comedian live last night for the first time since I saw Jerry Seinfeld in 2002.  I really enjoyed HBO’s Crashing and Pete Holmes was in Cary, so I went.  Good stuff.  I was explaining to my son just how much care and craft goes into a comedy routine and found this great article about Holmes‘ craft.

14) Really interesting essay, “I was an astrologer – here’s how it really works, and why I had to stop”

15) This comic on motivated reasoning and identity-protective cognition is pretty good.  Also, I just really don’t get emotional when learning a fact that goes against my identity, because my identity is as a person who always wants to learn new things.

16) This was interesting and disturbing, “I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb
While searching for the person who grifted me in Chicago, I discovered just how easy it is for users of the short-term rental platform to get exploited.”

 

%d bloggers like this: