Quick hits (part I)

So far been pretty lucky with the storm here.  Power was out for about three hours yesterday morning (during which my kids drove me crazy), but other than that, pretty good.  So, you’ll actually have your (rare, these day) on-time Saturday morning quick hits.

1) Oh, to be a pharmaceutical executive and justify price-gouging with your medicine:

In the category of saying the quiet parts out loud, consider this statement by Nirmal Mulye, the chief executive of drug company Nostrum Laboratories: “I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can … to sell the product for the highest price.”

Mulye was responding to questions posed by the Financial Times about his quadrupling the price of an essential antibiotic to $2,392 per bottle. The drug, nitrofurantoin, is used to treat urinary tract infections. It has been on the market since 1953 and is listed by the World Health Organization as an essential medicine for “basic healthcare systems.”

In his interview with the Financial Times published Tuesday, Mulye defended Martin Shkreli, the former drug company CEO who became the face of the industry’s profiteering in 2015 when he jacked up the price of a generic anti-parasitic drug needed by HIV patients by more than 5,000%. “I agree with Martin Shkreli that when he raised the price of his drug he was within his rights because he had to reward his shareholders,” Mulye told the FT. (Shkreli is currently serving a prison term on fraud charges unrelated to the price hike.)

This is a capitalist economy….We have to make money when we can.

2) Vox’s Zack Beauchamp with a long and depressing tale about Hungary’s gradual move from democracy to authoritarianism.  And the out-group scapegoating behind so much of it.

3) David French on the need to end “qualified immunity” for police and others to violate constitutional rights with impunity.

I’m going to start with a story that will break your heart. In the early morning hours of July 15, 2012, a young man named Andrew Scott was up late, home with his girlfriend. They were playing video games when they heard a loud pounding on the door. Alarmed, Scott grabbed a pistol and opened the door. He saw a man crouching outside in the darkness. Scott retreated, gun still at his side, pointing down to the ground.

Almost instantly, the crouching figure fired his own weapon. The encounter was over in two seconds. Scott lay on the ground, dead. The man who fired? He was a police officer. He was at the wrong house. Andrew Scott was a completely innocent man who had done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to keep and bear arms in defense of his own home.

As for the officer? Well, not only was he at the wrong house, but he had no search warrant even for the correct house, he had not turned on his emergency lights, and he did not identify himself as police when he pounded on the door.

The officer was never prosecuted. The state ruled that the shooting was “justified” — in part because it said the police had no obligation to identify themselves. Then, when Scott’s estate sued the officer for money damages, the court threw out the lawsuit. A panel from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. Then last year the entire court rejected en banc review.

A police officer killed a completely innocent man because of the officer’s inexcusable mistake. He escaped criminal prosecution. And then he even escaped civil liability — because of a little-known, judge-made legal doctrine called qualified immunity.

Sadly, this was but one injustice caused by this misguided doctrine. It will not be the last. But there’s a solution. Judges created qualified immunity, and they can end it. It’s past time to impose true accountability on public servants who violate citizens’ constitutional rights.

4) It is misleading to judge hurricanes primarily by maximum sustained wind.  Something involving total energy or total potential destruction would be better.  That said, this stuff annoys me:

Most people know that the bigger the category, the scarier and more notable a storm.

That rule of thumb has the benefit of being true: It was legitimately worrying when, earlier this week, Hurricane Florence seemed like it might become the first Category 5 storm to strike the East Coast north of Florida. Only 33 Category 5 storms have ever been observed in the Atlantic Ocean, and as President Donald Trump exclaimed last year: “I never even knew a Category 5 existed.”

But this rule can also guide families to ruin, especially if they make a survival decision on the basis of category. A family might decide to ignore an evacuation order since it’s survived a Category 4 storm before. But a storm can be scary and notable without having a high category. That’s because only one trait determines a storm’s categorial intensity: its maximum sustained wind speed.

I don’t doubt we can have better measures.  But the fact is no matter what measures we use, some people are going to act stupidly.  We should not base our measures or media coverage(!!) on the fact that some people will always act stupidly.  Pretty clear that we do with the media coverage.

5) The state of New York is ridiculously bad when it comes to it’s arcane voting laws and the end result is less participation for New Yorkers.  That really needs to change.  On the bright side, an excellent example of how institutional factors affect turnout for my PS 302 students.

6) Generally a fan of Fareed, but this is among his weaker efforts, “The threat to democracy — from the left.”

The real fear that many on the left have is not that Bannon is dull and uninteresting, but the opposite — that his ideas, some of which can reasonably be described as evoking white nationalism, will prove seductive and persuasive to too many people. Hence his detractors’ solution: Don’t give him a platform, and hope that this will make his ideas go away. But they won’t. In fact, by trying to suppress Bannon and others on the right, liberals are likely making their ideas seem more potent. Did the efforts of communist countries to muzzle capitalist ideas work?

Leaving aside the wisdom of the New Yorker festival disinvite, this is a huge mis-reading on Zakaria’s part.  It’s not about suppressing his ideas, but making the statement that they are beyond the pale of acceptable political discourse, due to their white nationalist elements.  Its not fear of the ideas, but rather that there should be some clear lines and that white nationalism is one of them.

7) Relatedly, this essay in the Economist on whether political correctness has gone too far is top notch:

Regardless of how it is labelled, its underlying idea is the same: that measures to increase “tolerance” threaten the liberal, Enlightenment values that have forged the West. Self-styled opponents of political correctness and proponents of free speech may find themselves (mis)quoting Voltaire: “I disapprove what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

When framed like this, it seems utterly reasonable to think that political correctness has the potential to be a menace. Moreover, some aspects of tolerance culture, particularly the actions of students—who frequently draw the ire of such culture warriors—are, in many cases, cloying and precious…

However, some easily-dismissed examples aside, the notion that political correctness has gone too far is absurd. That a man who boasts gleefully about grabbing women by their genitals, mocks disabled reporters and stereotypes Muslims as “terrorists” and Mexicans as “rapists” was able to become the leader of the free world should disabuse anyone of that notion. Indeed those who invoke “political correctness” often use it for more cynical means. It is a smoke screen for regressivism…

These phenomena—invoking “political correctness” as a fig-leaf for naked prejudice, and in spite of evidence to the contrary—find their most troubling embodiment in political figures like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. [emphases mine] Mr Trump once stated that “the problem [America] has is being politically correct,” and sees himself as a corrective to that. Mr Farage, too, sees himself as a crusader against political correctness.

Both consider themselves to be “taking back” their respective countries from a varied cast of bogeymen: among them elitists, social justice warriors, Muslims and immigrants. Both seem to want to undermine the very institutions that preserve our rights and liberties.

At best, the notion of political correctness having gone too far is intellectually dishonest; a fallacy similar to a straw-man argument or an ad hominem attack. At worst, it serves as a rallying cry to cover up the excesses of the most illiberal in our society.

8) I’m a huge fan of “next generation” nuclear power.  Let’s make it happen.  Nice article in Wired.

Other reactors, like Terrestrial’s molten-salt-cooled design, automatically cool down if they get too hot. Water flows through conventional reactors to keep them from overheating, but if something halts this flow — like the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima — the water boils off, leaving nothing to stop a meltdown.

Unlike water, salt wouldn’t boil off, so even if operators switched off safety systems and walked away, the salts would keep cooling the system, Irish said. Salts heat up and expand, pushing uranium atoms apart and slowing down the reaction (the farther apart the uranium atoms, the less likely a flying neutron will split them apart, triggering the next link in the chain reaction).

“It’s like your pot on the stove when you are boiling pasta,” Irish said. No matter how hot your stove, your pasta will never get hotter than 212 degrees Fahrenheit unless the water boils off. Until it’s gone, the water is just circulating and dissipating heat. When you replace water with liquid salt, however, you have to get to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit before your coolant starts to evaporate.

This stuff can sound like science fiction — but it’s real…

In response, these nuclear startups are designing their businesses to avoid horrible cost overruns. Many have plans to build standardized reactor parts in a factory, then put them together like Legos at the construction site. “If you can move construction to the factory you can drive costs down significantly,” Parsons said.

New reactors could also reduce costs by being safer. Conventional reactors have a fundamental risk of meltdown, largely because they were designed to power submarines. It’s easy to cool a reactor with water when it’s in a submarine, underwater, but when we lifted these reactors onto land, we had to start pumping water up to cool them, Irish explained. “That pumping system can never, ever break, or you get a Fukushima. You need safety system on top of safety system, redundancy on top of redundancy.”

Oklo, a Silicon Valley startup, based its reactor design on a prototype that isn’t susceptible to meltdowns. “When engineers shut off all the cooling systems, it cooled itself and then started back up and was running normally later that day,” said Caroline Cochrane, Oklo’s cofounder. If these safer reactors don’t require all those backup cooling systems and concrete containment domes, companies can build plants for much less money.

9) Apple is just done with small (i.e., non-huge) Iphones.  I love my SE.  This makes me sad.  This is actually the one thing that might eventually move me to Android.

10) Watch this Super pod of dolphins.  So cool!

11) Can’t remember if I shared Wirecutter’s guide to adult board games.  Bought Dixit and played it twice already.  The whole family loves it.  Already fans of 7 Wonders and Ticket to Ride.

12) Speaking of playing games, can we play our way to a better democracy?  Yes?

But not all play is created equal. Peter Gray, a developmental psychologist at Boston College, studies the effects of “free play,” which he defines as “activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself.” Guitar lessons and soccer practice are not free play — they are supervised and directed by an adult. But when kids jam with friends or take part in a pickup soccer game, that’s free play.

The absence of adults forces children to practice their social skills. For a pickup soccer game, the children themselves must obtain voluntary participation from everyone, enforce the rules and resolve disputes with no help from a referee, and then vary the rules or norms of play when special situations arise, such as the need to include a much younger sibling in the game. The absence of an adult also leaves room for children to take small risks, rather than assuming that adults will always be there, like guard rails, telling them where the limits of safety lie. Outdoor free play, in mixed-age groups, is the most effective way for children to learn these essential life skills, Professor Gray says…

By the same logic, if we “protect” kids from the small risks and harms of free play, we stunt their ability to handle challenges and recover from failures. When such children arrive at college, we would expect them to perceive more aspects of their new environment as threatening compared with previous generations. We would expect to see more students experiencing anxiety and depression, which is precisely what is happening, according to national surveys and surveys of student counseling centers. These large increases do not just reflect a greater willingness to seek help; there has been a corresponding rise in self-harm,suicidal thinking and suicide among American adolescents and college students.

The second predictable consequence of play deprivation is a reduction in conflict management and negotiation skills. If there is always an adult who takes over, this is likely to create a condition sociologists call “moral dependence.” Instead of learning to resolve conflicts quickly and privately, kids who learn to “tell an adult” are rewarded for making the case to authority figures that they have been mistreated.

It’s easy to see how overprotection harms individuals, but in a disturbing essay titled “Cooperation Over Coercion,” the economist Steven Horwitz made the case that play deprivation also harms liberal democracies. He noted that a defining feature of the liberal tradition is its desire to minimize coercion by the power of the state and maximize citizens’ freedom to create the lives they choose for themselves. He reviewed work by political scientists showing that self-governing communities and democracies rely heavily on conversation, informal norms and local conflict resolution procedures to manage their affairs with minimal appeal to higher authorities. He concluded that self-governance requires the very skills that Peter Gray finds are best developed in childhood free play. [emphasis mine]

13) Even though my daughter is a good reader, we’re having a rough time actually getting her to read every day.  Maybe I should be making her practice math instead:

A large body of research has revealed that boys and girls have, on average, similar abilities in math. But girls have a consistent advantage in reading and writing and are often relatively better at these than they are at math, even though their math skills are as good as the boys’. The consequence? A typical little boy can think he’s better at math than language arts. But a typical little girl can think she’s better at language arts than math. As a result, when she sits down to do math, she might be more likely to say, “I’m not that good at this!” She actually is just as good (on average) as a boy at the math — it’s just that she’s even better at language arts.

Of course, it’s hard to know what’s taking place in the minds of babes. But studies revealing developmental differences between boys’ versus girls’ verbal abilities alongside developmental similarities in boys’ and girls’ math abilities — combined with studies that show that among girls, self-perceived ability affects academic performance — seem to indicate that something like the above dynamic might be going on.

Unfortunately, thinking you’re not very good at something can be a quick path to disliking and avoiding it, even if you do have natural ability. You can begin to avoid practicing it, because to your mind, that practice is more painful than learning what comes more easily. Not practicing, in turn, transforms what started out as a mere aversion into a genuine lack of competence. Unfortunately, the way math is generally taught in the United States — which often downplays practice in favor of emphasizing conceptual understanding — can make this vicious circle even worse for girls.

It’s important to realize that math is, to some extent, like playing a musical instrument. But the instrument you play is your own internal neural apparatus…

All learning isn’t — and shouldn’t be — “fun.” Mastering the fundamentals is why we have children practice scales and chords when they’re learning to play a musical instrument, instead of just playing air guitar. It’s why we have them practice moves in dance and soccer, memorize vocabulary while learning a new language and internalize the multiplication tables. In fact, the more we try to make all learning fun, the more we do a disservice to children’s abilities to grapple with and learn difficult topics. As Robert Bjork, a leading psychologist, has shown, deep learning involves “desirable difficulties.” Some learning just plain requires effortful practice, especially in the initial stages. Practice and, yes, even some memorization are what allow the neural patterns of learning to take form.

Take it from someone who started out hating math and went on to become a professor of engineering: Do your daughter a favor — give her a little extra math practice each day, even if she finds it painful. In the long run, she’ll thank you for it. (And, by the way: the same applies to your son.)

14) Meanwhile, Amanda Ripley looks at why girls in the Middle East outperform boys by so much:

This spring, I went to the Middle East to try to understand why girls are doing so much better in school, despite living in quintessentially patriarchal societies. Or, put another way, why boys are doing so badly.

It’s part of a pattern that is creeping across the globe: Wherever girls have access to school, they seem to eventually do better than boys. In 2015, teenage girls outperformed boys on a sophisticated reading test in 69 countries—every place in which the test was administered. In America, girls are more likely to take Advanced Placement tests, to graduate from high school, and to go to college, and women continue their education over a year longer than men. These are all glaring disparities in a world that values higher-order skills more than ever before. Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.

And the gender gap in the Middle East represents a particularly extreme version of this trend.

“If you give girls a quality education, they will mostly run with it and do amazing things. It propels them,” says Ridge, one of the few researchers to have written extensively about the gender gap in the Arab world. But for boys, especially low-income boys, access to school has not had the same effect. “These boys struggle to find a connection between school and life,” she says, “and school is increasingly seen as a waste of time.”

15) Even liberal political science professors can be racist.  Though, I’m damn sure I’ve never mistaken a Black female political scientist for the hired help and damn sure I never would.

16) Originalism is such crap and pretty much always just a pretext for reaching conservative decisions that fit with a judge’s ideology.  Always happy to read something making this case.

The problem with these appeals to originalism, and the impartiality they connote, is that they have not held true in practice. Which is why to critics, and I’m one of them, the label of originalist strikes us as a cover for imposing conservative value judgments.

Consider that Justice Thomas, along with Justice Scalia, voted to strike down huge swaths of constitutional law without historical justification. Together they invalidated state and federal affirmative action laws, campaign finance legislation, federal laws directing the states to help implement national programs such as background checks for gun purchasers, and many other important pieces of legislation without relying on persuasive originalist evidence.

Justice Gorsuch has only been on the court for a term and a half, but he has already joined with Justice Thomas (and the other conservatives) several times to strike down state laws without relying on originalist sources…

All of which is to say that, for these originalists, originalism didn’t figure very importantly, if at all, in how they cast their votes on some of the court’s most consequential recent cases. Instead, they used, for their own ends, the same type of values-based living constitutionalism that they and other conservative jurists and politicians typically decry.

17) And an interesting take on the politicized Supreme Court, “What’s the Point of the Supreme Court? If you know beforehand how justices will vote based on which president appointed them, then what’s the point of having a court that, in theory, operates above politics?”

18) Jonathan Bernstein is right about the 25th amendment:

If those close to Trump really think he must be removed from office, impeachment and removal are a better tool. The case for abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and generally violating the oath of office may still not be so obvious that it demands congressional action. But impeachment has always been political, and it’s reasonable for Congress to take into account Trump’s general unfitness for office when it decides whether to move ahead. Meanwhile, impeachment has a lower congressional threshold, making it (relatively) easier than relying on the 25th. And it is constitutionally swift and sure, leaving no ambiguity after it happens. 3 It’s true that the anonymous op-ed writer seems at least as concerned with Trump’s violations of conservative orthodoxy, especially on trade, than he or she is with the general lawlessness of the administration. But perhaps that’s just a message for Republicans who refuse to accept what all the other anonymous leakers have told us. At any rate, there’s no reason it should guide anyone going forward.

The bottom line is that the 25th Amendment simply isn’t adequate to the task of removing a president who remains in good enough condition to contest it and wants to do so. Regardless of whether impeaching the president is a serious question, talk of invoking the 25th, even if well-intentioned, is just misguided and dangerous.

19) Discovered this super-cool interactive power outage map today.  You can see the effect of the hurricane in NC and that things get dramatically worse immediately to the southeast of my home, Wake County.

Advertisements

Photo of the day

This is a recent animated gif satellite image.  I was confused at first, but then realized since it is the visible image, it is the sun rising over Hurricane Florence:

NOAA

Lots more cool satellite images here.

One chart to explain the pathologies of American politics?

Okay, this is not perfect.  But you could do a lot worse.  Via Drum:

Alex Tabarrok, Michael Makowsky, and Thomas Stratmann have a new paperout that will, unfortunately surprise no one. The subject is civil asset forfeitures, where police get to keep money they find in (for example) your car even if there’s no evidence that it’s drug related and nobody is convicted of a crime. They just declare the money suspicious, and that’s that.

In some states, police departments get to keep the money they seize. These are the states the authors look at. Then they look at one other variable: whether the local government (city or county) is running a deficit. Guess what they find? More civil asset forfeitures! Are you shocked!

There are no increases in arrests for murder or assault or burglary. Just for crimes where the police get to keep the money. But there’s one more thing. A picture is worth a thousand words, so check this out…

The more black (and Hispanic) an area is, the more likely it is that strapped local governments will turn to civil asset forfeitures to raise revenue. But the more white an area is, the less likely they are to increase the use of civil asset forfeitures.

Ugh.  Entirely unsurprising.  And entirely revealing of the pathologies deep in the heart of America.

Hurricane moral panic (you can be too safe)

OMG what a frustrating day.  I should have been at NCSU teaching class like normal.  My kids should have been in school.  Today’s weather was cloudy, high around 80, and occasional winds 10-20mph.  Seriously.  That’s it.  Yes, there is a huge hurricane moving this way, but it is doing so slowly and in a reasonable predictable path.  To make a decision on Wednesday afternoon that it was going to be too dangerous for school today (and on Tuesday that NC State needed to close on Wednesday at noon) is an excess of caution.  Yes, you can be too safe.  If safety was all we really cared about, we’d never leave our homes and certainly not get in cars.  Life is all about managing acceptable risk and for Wake County Public Schools to decide it was too risky today was the wrong call and an excess of caution.  Had they simply followed the evolving weather forecasts (again, slow-moving storm), they could have realized yesterday that barring a nearly unprecedented shift in hurricane forecast, that the Raleigh area would be okay today.  It’s not at all uncommon for us to have winter weather really close to crippling freezing rain versus totally harmless 33-34 degree rain an they’ll wait to make the call at 4am if they have to.  But “hurricane!” and we have to decide now!

So, all the local schools and universities gave into the moral panic.  When they initially decided that school would be out after half a day on Thursday, I’m sure there were tons of panicked messages from parents about putting their kids at extreme risk.  Of course, even then, that extreme risk was 30-40 mph winds.  Not great, but sure not high risk.  NCSU canceled for Wednesday at noon (which was basically canceling all day based on morning class attendance I heard) and we’ve had two days of better-than-average September weather.  If they held off and then things really did get worse, there would still have been plenty of time to cancel and take action.  I’ll italicize again– it’s a slow-moving storm with quite accurate predictions for 24-48 hours ahead.  I had a nice enough day at home.  Played with the kids; figured out how to string a guitar, worked on an external tenure letter, but the non-faculty employees literally were not allowed on campus today and forced to use their leave that they were surely saving up for real vacations.

I know, I know.  It could have been much worse.  Predictions earlier this week had hurricane force winds coming to the Raleigh area.  But, we know that these longer-range predictions have incredibly high uncertainty and we know that when forecasts change, there is time.  Slow-moving.  Even the worst predictions were never suggesting central NC would be in a evacuation type situation.

Why did NCSU cancel prematurely?  I’m sure because UNC did.  Why did my son’s Wake Tech classes prematurely?  I’m sure because NCSU.  It’s just social contagion.  People hear “hurricane” “epic storm” etc., and seem to lose all ability to make reasoned, rational costs/benefit calculations.  Again, I’m not exactly talking about the coast here (sure, those people around Wilmington are more than entitled to freak out).  Nobody wants to be the one university or public school system “putting the kids in danger!” while the other systems exercise their “abundance (excess) of caution.”

Of course, as annoyed as I am in Wake County, the counties north of us truly have no excuse.  Even they canceled today.  Presumably, they thought, “well, we’re next to Wake and Wake canceled…” even though it was marginal at best that Wake should have.   Check out Vance and Granville here (north central NC)

Image result for nc county map

Meanwhile, check out these maps for wind and rainfall potentials:

[Image of WPC QPF U.S. rainfall potential]

[Image of probabilities of 34-kt winds]

Not exactly the stuff of which school cancellations should be made.  Honestly, if you just told people, “Weather tomorrow will be really crappy.  30-40mph winds and 2-3 inches of rain” nobody would say “OMG cancel schools!”  Alas, tell people, “Due to Hurricane Florence, weather tomorrow will be really crappy.  30-40mph winds and 2-3 inches of rain” and everybody thinks this is the most reasonable thing in the world.

When ranting about this to my kids today it struck me that it’s almost like how people lose all rational calculation with cancer.  Many cancers favor watchful waiting and less-invasive treatment, but so many people hear cancer and all they can think is “get it out!”  It seems that with hurricanes causing the weather– even if local conditions are far from hurricane like– people just can’t deal rationally.

Oh, and I know, chance that it could get worse all that.  But again, slow moving, and thus plenty of warning.

And, lastly, I wasted far too much time today arguing with Amazon over the package of mine they have seemingly lost.  I ordered it Monday for Wednesday delivery and they have the nerve to tell me the hurricane is why it’s not here.  It’s been in Durham– great weather and 20 miles away since Tuesday!  Every email/chat they’re all like “well.. hurricane” and I’m like “ummm, I live here and no.  If the Durham warehouse is telling you (back in India?) ‘hurricane!’ they are lying.”  My most recent email from them said they were evacuating employees.  Durham is not even under a Tropical Storm Watch (i.e., much less a Warning).

For the record, my Amazon package was an external battery charger so my son Alex can still watch Peppa Pig and Phineas and Ferb on his Ipad through multiple charges should we lose our power.  Now, if we do lose it and Alex ends up upset, I’ll be really mad.

Okay.  Feels damn good to get all that off my chest!

A blue wave in NC

No, not the storm surge.  But, if I had spent the time blogging this week that I have spent obsessively checking computer models of Hurricane Florence, I’d have had a good dozen posts for you.  Sorry.  Big fan of the Cyclocane site and the Weather Underground models summary.  Also, quite happy for the moment that I just make it into the “moderate” impacts, rather than “high” impacts region.

Anyway, leaving aside the storm surge that really scares me for my beloved NC beaches, might there be a blue wave in NC politics.  So, suggests this WP story, that features my friend, Julie von Haefen running for NC legislature just south of me in Apex, NC (NC-36).

Democrat Julie von Haefen, center, who is running for the North Carolina House, talks with Stefan Franzen, left, and his daughter Kirsten Franzen while canvassing last week in Apex, N.C. (Madeline Gray for The Washington Post)

So, how are things looking?

An unusual political battle is unfolding across North Carolina, where national and state Democrats have recruited an army of candidates and are spending millions of dollars on a campaign to loosen a years-long Republican grip on a state legislature that has turned an otherwise evenly split state into a bastion for some of the country’s most conservative measures. Among them: a limit on transgender access to bathrooms that was ultimately repealed under pressure from business leaders, congressional district maps that courts have ruled were designed to curtail the voting power of African Americans, and education spending levels that have sparked mass protests at the State Capitol.

“North Carolina has been a beacon in the South, and I had to try and stop this Republican leadership from tarnishing our brand,” said the leader of the campaign, Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who has watched the GOP’s legislative super­majority override his vetoes 20 times since he narrowly ousted a Republican incumbent two years ago.

The effort reflects a subplot of the Democratic Party’s broader push to engineer a “blue wave” across the country in the November midterms — tapping into voter anger over President Trump as well as Republican policies on school funding, taxes and health care to chip away at GOP dominance in state capitals.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee plans to spend $35 million on state legislative races across the country, twice as much as in 2016, with hopes of flipping 15 chambers nationwide, according to a spokeswoman. The group’s Republican counterpart expects to spend more — over $45 million, according to a spokesman.

In North Carolina, where Democrats have recruited candidates in all 170 legislative districts for the first time anyone can recall, the party’s contenders are knocking on doors and holding town halls to persuade voters that Republicans hold too much power in Raleigh. Many Republicans, meanwhile, seem to sense that they are vulnerable and are emphasizing centrist positions on school spending and health care. Both parties, and many outside groups, are planning to blitz the airwaves with ads for the next two months.

Democrats say they are encountering enthusiasm on front stoops and at volunteer recruitment events — a sign, they say, of a building voter backlash against GOP policies.

Alright, let’s go NC Democrats.  But, then this is pretty sobering:

Democrats hold just 45 of 120 seats in the North Carolina House and just 15 of 50 seats in the Senate. While they face steep odds in their quest to win the legislature outright, some Republicans here have begun to acknowledge their party appears increasingly likely to lose the veto-proof supermajorities that have been key to much of their success in thwarting Cooper. [emphasis mine] For that, Democrats must pick up just four seats in the House and six seats in the Senate. If they do, Cooper has promised to check the Republican agenda with his veto pen, try to expand Medicaid and try to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission to put an end to gerrymandering.

Ummmm, ending an absurd super-majority (damn are these legislative districts gerrymandered) is not exactly a blue wave.  That’s really a pretty low bar.  But Democrats really do have the energy and enthusiasm on their side.  If not for the state gerrymander, I suspect we’d almost surely get a Democratic legislature.  But, gerrymanders are good because Republicans are good.  Or something like that.

Anyway, we’ll see, and I did love seeing my friend’s campaign in the Post.  Looking forward to her as a guest speaker next time I teach Gender & Politics.

Lots and lots of smoke about Russia

We may not have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt on Donald Trump having nefarious dealings with Russia, but I’d say we’d met the civil standards of clear and convincing evidence.  Dave Leonhardt on the case:

He could make his life easier if only he treated Vladimir Putin the way he treats most people who cause problems — and cast Putin aside. Yet Trump can’t bring himself to do so.

This odd refusal is arguably the biggest reason to believe that Putin really does have leverage over Trump. Maybe it’s something shocking, like a sex tape or evidence of campaign collusion by Trump himself. Or maybe it’s the scandal that’s been staring us in the face all along: Illicit financial dealings — money laundering — between Trump’s business and Russia.

The latest reason to be suspicious is Trump’s attacks on a formerly obscure Justice Department official named Bruce Ohr. Trump has repeatedly criticized Ohr and called for him to be fired. Ohr’s sin is that he appears to have been marginally involved in inquiries into Trump’s Russian links. But Ohr fits a larger pattern. In his highly respected three-decade career in law enforcement, he has specialized in going after Russian organized crime.

It just so happens that most of the once-obscure bureaucrats whom Trump has tried to discredit also are experts in some combination of Russia, organized crime and money laundering. [emphases mine]

It’s true of Andrew McCabe (the former deputy F.B.I. director whose firing Trump successfully lobbied for), Andrew Weissmann (the only official working for Robert Mueller whom Trump singles out publicly) and others. They are all Trump bogeymen — and all among “the Kremlin’s biggest adversaries in the U.S. government,” as Natasha Bertrand wrote in The Atlantic. Trump, she explained, seems to be trying to rid the government of experts in Russian organized crime.

I realize that this evidence is only circumstantial and well short of proof. But it’s one of many suspicious patterns about Trump and Russia. When you look at them together, it’s hard to come away thinking that the most likely explanation is coincidence

Then there is Trump’s paranoia about scrutiny of his businesses. He has refused to release his tax returns. He said that Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line by looking into his finances. When word leaked (incorrectly) that Mueller had subpoenaed Deutsche Bank’s records on Trump, he moved to fire Mueller (only to be dissuaded by aides). Trump is certainly acting as if his business history contains damaging information…

“We need to find out whether that is the case and say so. Or we need to find out that is not the case and say so,” Schiff told me. “But to leave it as an unanswered question, I just think would be negligent to our national security.” So far, congressional Republicans have chosen negligence.

Which means that the November elections may determine whether we ever get answers. If Democrats win House control, Schiff will gain subpoena power. If Republicans keep control, just imagine how emboldened Trump will feel. He could mount a full-on assault on the rule of law by shutting down Mueller’s investigation and any other official scrutiny of the Trump Organization.

At this point, who can doubt that Trump wants to do so? Presumably, he has a good reason.

 

Chart of the day

I tend to resist the “oh, the kids today!” complaints, and I think the perils of kids and their phones can be overblown, but… I think this chart is… not good.  Via Axios:

I don’t think texting and other technologically-aided communication is in and of itself a bad thing, but if it displacing face-to-face, in-person communication, than it almost surely is.  Now, this doesn’t specify actual usage, but “preferred” communication, but still, humans are evolved to form social bonds through face-to-face communication and today’s teenagers (and adults) ignore this at their peril.

%d bloggers like this: