The “liberal media” problem

I gotta say, Brian Beutler has just been getting right to the heart of the problems of Trump’s America as well as anybody.  Here’s an excellent piece on how conservatives how so successfully gamed media coverage with the constant cries of “liberal media bias!”  Well worth reading the whole thing, but here are the best parts:

This misinformation campaign, concocted to delegitimize the Mueller investigation, isn’t limited to presenting conservative news consumers with incorrect information; it also includes telling their readers and viewers that the mainstream media is in on the coverup…

Conservatives have used this same basic method for decades now, treating liberal bias in the mainstream media as a fact, and a conspiracy in and of itself. For just as long, mainstream media institutions have gone to great lengths to refute the right’s liberal-bias accusations, and make good faith efforts to appease their critics. It was arguably this self-defensive reflex that drove leading news outlets to generate a kind of equivalence between Donald Trump’s campaign promise to turn America into a racist kleptocracy, and Hillary Clinton’s email practices at the State Department. By noting that both candidates had question marks hanging over their heads, they could (they believed) preempt accusations of liberal bias from the right.

The conciliatory approach has never worked, and because the accusations themselves are deployed in bad faith, it, importantly, can not work. The goal of movement conservatism is not to make media more representative of American politics at the margin, but to destroy journalism as a mediating institution altogether. [bold are mine; italics Beutler] What might work instead, though, would be for the targets of right wing criticism to embrace the liberal epithet (in a manner of speaking) and then treat the endless right-wing bleating about partisan bias as so much obnoxious noise…

Outside of the specific American context, the word liberal describes something more abstract and less partisan. Internationally, it describes a philosophical approach to organizing society that is capacious enough to include people who believe governments should provide robust safety nets to citizens, and people who believe taxes should be low and the poor left to fend for themselves. What those people share is a common commitment to basic Enlightenment-era ideals like equality, democracy, and empiricism.

In recent years, political science tells us, the two American parties have polarized, and the polarization has been asymmetric. Republicans have become more conservative faster than Democrats have become more progressive.

It is increasingly clear that asymmetric polarization is the wrong metaphor for what has happened in American politics. To say the parties are asymmetrical is to imply that they’re fundamentally similar, but that one has become distorted in some way—that while Democrats and Republicans are still committed to basic Founding values, Republicans are rapidly adopting more extreme policy prescriptions. They’ve changed, but they can change back.

Whether or not that was ever true, it clearly no longer is. The parties aren’t two different animals of the same species. They have speciated.

Democratic politicians, liberal activists, and journalists have different purposes and respond to different incentives, but they are all liberal in that global sense. Two decades after Newt Gingrich redefined what it meant to be a Republican, it is clear that Republican politicians, conservative activists, and the right wing media have become adherents to a fundamentally different political tradition

The job of the mainstream media isn’t to cast judgment on people with different value systems, but journalists can’t do their jobs well if they aren’t aware that the value systems of mainstream journalism and American conservatism are different and in conflict. It should be perfectly possible to apply the neutral rules of modern journalism to both American political parties while accepting that Democrats (and journalists and scientists) descend from the enlightenment tradition, while Republicans (and their allies in conservative media) descend from a different, illiberal tradition—and that this makes the parties behave in different ways.

It is why the right has felt comfortable spending the past weeks fabricating whole-cloth conspiracy theories about the FBI and setting about to cajole and intimidate impartial journalists into taking the theories seriously—or at least into offering liars big platforms to spread disinformation. Journalists have spent decades responding to this kind of manipulation with varying levels of appeasement, hoping to escape the curse of the liberal epithet. They should try embracing their own particular kind of liberalism instead, and letting their bad faith critics scream into the void.

Of course, not all of America’s conservatives reject the broader liberal tradition Beutler speaks of.  But, fair to say that a very disproportionate share of those that do still hold these ideals are NeverTrumpers.

Anyway, one thing is really, really clear.  The mainstream media absolutely has to stop bending over backward to placate those so clearly arguing in bad faith.

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Oklahoma for America

We’ve heard a lot about the disastrous embrace of far-right Republican policies in Kansas.  But Paul Waldman focuses on the case of Oklahoma, where it seems to be even worse.  He could’ve thunk that cutting government revenues to the bone so that rich people could pay less taxes would actually have negative consequences for things like education and infrastructure?  That’s right– anybody paying attention at all who’s not hopelessly blinded by Republican ideology.  Waldman:

Republicans, on the other hand, advocate low taxes, less social spending and less regulation. Both sides have moral arguments for why their models are better, but they also make practical arguments. They say that their model works, and that when it is implemented, we see positive results.

While the moral argument may not be resolvable, the practical argument can be tested. And right now we’re seeing tests take place all over the country. I want to focus on one such test, in the deep-red state of Oklahoma, and what it says about what Republicans are doing in Washington.

Like many states controlled by Republicans, Oklahoma has for some time been putting the GOP theory into practice: low taxes, little regulation and weak social spending. On the tax front, it has been particularly aggressive, since state law mandates that no tax increase can pass without a three-quarters majority in the state legislature. This has created a one-way ratchet, in which any tax cut is effectively permanent and taxes can only go down.

And has it produced the boundless prosperity Republicans predict? Well, no. In fact, the state is now in a full-blown fiscal crisis. Here’s a summary of the situation from NPR:

Riding high on the oil boom of the late 2000s, the state followed the Kansas model and slashed taxes. But the promised prosperity never came. In many cases, it was just the opposite.

Around 20 percent of Oklahoma’s schools now hold classes just four days a week. Last year, highway patrol officers were given a mileage limit because the state couldn’t afford to put gas in their tanks. Medicaid provider rates have been cut to the point that rural nursing homes and hospitals are closing, and the prisons are so full that the director of corrections says they’re on the brink of a crisis.

Just to reiterate: The state has so little money that 1 in 5 schools is open only four days a week. Gov. Mary Fallin and Republicans in the state legislature are debating a plan to increase taxes to try to address some of these problems, including giving a raise to teachers. Which is sorely needed, because Oklahoma pays its teachers less than any other state in the country…

There are two lessons here. The first is that trickle-down economics just doesn’t work. Giving benefits to the wealthy and corporations doesn’t produce prosperity for all. It just doesn’t. Every time Republicans propose a tax cut, they say that this time will be different, but it never is. [emphasis mine] And second, people actually value the services government provides — like having schools that stay open five days a week. When you slash revenue so that you can’t afford those things, the public isn’t happy about it…

So on the whole, while Republicans in Washington won’t be able to turn the entire country into Oklahoma overnight, they’re going to give it their best shot. And they’ll keep saying that if we just cut taxes for the wealthy and slash social spending, everything will work out great. No matter how many times they’re proved wrong.

Facts?  Evidence?  Who needs ’em when you just know lower taxes for rich people always works.  Don’t let pesky things like 4-day school weeks get in the way of just knowing that lower taxes is always better.

How to experience the Vietnam War second-hand

So, as you might have noticed from a variety of posts, I’ve been on a bit of a Vietnam War kick since Ken Burns’ brilliant documentary (watch it, watch it, watch it!).  I’ve re-watched “Platoon” (still loved it) and “Full Metal Jacket” (still not a fan, though I can appreciate Kubrick’s film-making acumen).  I read something I’ve been meaning to for years, Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam story collection, The Things They Carried.  It was excellent, but made me want to re-up my periodic recommendation for Phil Klay’s terrific Iraq story collection, Redeployment.

But what inspired me to write this post was finally reading Karl Marlantes, brilliant novel of a Marine rifle company in 1969 Vietnam, Matterhorn.  It’s been in my “to read” queue ever since in came out in 2010, but watching Marlantes’ commentary in the Burns’ documentary, I knew I really had to read his book.  So glad I finally did.  So, so good.  In many ways, even though it was fiction, I thought this was pretty much a perfect complement to the documentary.  Burns’ documentary reveals the insanity of the Vietnam war, e.g., losing dozens of Marines to capture a hill in broad daylight only to abandon it days later because it actually has no strategic importance, on an impersonal level, but Marlantes’ novel really brings that insanity home through some terrific characters that you literally slog through the jungle with.  No, I will never experience anything like Vietnam, but many veterans attest that Matterhorn is about as close as you can get without actually being there.  The fact that the novel was 30+ years in the making is also a great story in itself.

 

Quick hits (part II)

0) Happy Birthday to me (46th).

1) Chait on Trump’s absurd comb-over and what it says about him.  And some nice mocking from Comedy Central.

It was the worst hair day of what has been a bad hair life. And it may seem cheap and low to mock Trump’s absurd efforts to conceal his hair loss. But Trump is a man obsessed with image in ways that go beyond the normal human concern with looking presentable. Image is Trump’s moral code. He dismisses his political rivals for being short. He sees his succession of wives as visual testament to his own status. He selects his Cabinet on the basis of their looking the part. He conscripts the military as a prop to bathe himself in an aura of presidential grandeur.

Trump’s absurd hair is of a piece with his lifelong attempt to market himself as a brilliant deal-maker and stable genius. So yes, it is okay to laugh when the ruse is exposed.

2) More on motherhood and the gender wage gap via the Upshot:

Two studies of college-educated women in the United States found that they made almost as much as men until ages 26 to 33, when many women have children. By age 45, they made 55 percent as much as men.

In Sweden, a recent study found, female executives are half as likely as men to be chief executives, and one-third less likely to be high earners — even when they were more qualified for these jobs than men. Most of the difference was explained by women who were working shorter hours and taking time off work in the five years after their first child was born.

As any parent knows, children come with a host of time-consuming responsibilities. Someone has to do the work. In most opposite-sex couples, that someone is the mother.

There are different explanations for this, researchers say. Women may have intrinsic preferences to do more of this work, or couples could decide it’s most efficient to divide the labor this way. It could also be that social norms about traditional gender roles influence men and women to behave this way.

3) And I’ve got to admit to being guilty by giving my daughter totally gendered toys, i.e., My Little Pony, Barbie, etc.  Of course, this is what she asks for (for which we can presumably blame peer influence and all those commercials on Nickelodeon), but, yeah, I probably should try harder to counter-act this.

4) As if we needed more evidence that many on-line degree programs are a joke (I can personally attest that NCSU’s LPS program is not), an on-line student at Southern New Hampshire University failed an assignment in which the instructor argued, quite persistently, that Australia was a continent, but not a country.

5) Just a friendly reminder that the US Constitution largely does not apply in important ways within 100 miles of the US border.  And, yes, this encompasses most of the country’s population.

6) More evidence on getting the human microbiome off on the right foot via vaginal birth and breastfeeding:

Many studies have strongly suggested that the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the human body influence our current and future health and may account for the rising incidence of several serious medical conditions now plaguing Americans, young and old.

The research indicates that cesarean deliveries and limited breast-feeding can distort the population of microorganisms in a baby’s gut and may explain the unchecked rise of worrisome health problems in children and adults, including asthma, allergies, celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes and obesity. These conditions, among others, are more likely to occur when an infant’s gut has been inadequately populated by health-promoting bacteria…

For example, a Danish study of two million children born between 1977 and 2012 found that those born by cesarean delivery were significantly more likely than those born vaginally to develop asthma, systemic connective tissue disorders, juvenile arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, immune deficiencies and leukemia.

7) Really interesting NYT piece on what teenagers are learning from porn.  Short version– it’s not good.  Had a great discussion about this with my NCSU students.  Probably also need a discussion about it with my boys.

8) Love this from Dylan Matthews.  Sure, John Kelly may be a relative grown-up in the White House.  But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t nonetheless represent much of the worst of Trumpism.

 I would go further, though, and say that Kelly, personally, has become an unacceptable symbol of the worst tendencies of this White House. When he was appointed, he was greeted with widespread bipartisan praise, as a “grown-up” capable of bringing order to an anarchic administration. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said Kelly was “in a position where he can stabilize this White House.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called him “one of the strongest and most natural leaders I’ve ever known.”

But from his time as secretary of homeland security, when he aggressively stepped up immigration raids, including ones sweeping up non-criminals whom immigration enforcement agents weren’t even targeting, Kelly has aligned himself with the hardline anti-immigrant wing of the Trump administration. Not coincidentally, he has also repeatedly expressed extreme disrespect for Americans who are not white.

It was not a coincidence that both Rep. Wilson and Myeshia Johnson, the war widow for whom she advocated, are black women. It was not a coincidence that Kelly praised Gen. Lee, who fought to prevent the expansion of rights (including the right to not be owned as chattel) to black Americans. It was not a coincidence that he describes unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the US as children, a group that’s disproportionately Latino, as lazy.

Nor is it a coincidence, now, that Kelly appears to have repeatedly disregarded women and instead protected their abusers. He chose Rob Porter over the three women who accused him, and a Marine officer who admitted to harassing a female subordinate over that subordinate — who was also a fellow Marine, and much more worthy of Kelly’s loyalty, camaraderie, and brotherhood.

The Trump administration recoils from accusations that it does not care about nonwhite Americans or women. Instead of getting defensive, this time it should try to prove its critics wrong by ejecting a man who has exemplified those tendencies, who has repeatedly disrespected black and Latino Americans and shown no concern for the physical safety of women. The absolute least it can do is force John Kelly to resign.

9) Could really do without all the hyperbolic language in Rebecca Shulman’s Slate article on how German parenting is simply better.  That said, I’m inclined to agree that German parenting is simpler better (largely, because they give their kids far more freedom and independence).  Personally, especially love encouraging kids to play with fire.  Hey, I do that!  Must be my German heritage coming through :-).

10) Really enjoyed this NYT feature on the existing border wall with Mexico.

11) Whoa!  Where has all the sex gone?

American adults, on average, are having sex about nine fewer times per year in the 2010s compared to adults in the late 1990s, according to a team of scholars led by the psychologist Jean Twenge. That’s a 14 percent decline in sexual frequency. Likewise, the share of adults who reported having sex “not at all” in the past year rose from 18 percent in the late 1990s to 22 percent from 2014 to 2016, according to our analysis of the General Social Survey…

Similar trends are apparent among younger men and women. In the early 2000s, about 73 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 30 had sex at least twice a month. That fell to 66 percent in the period from 2014 to 2016, according to our analysis of the GSS.

Other 18- to 30-year-olds aren’t doing it at all. From 2002 to 2004, 12 percent of them reported having no sex in the preceding year. A decade later, during the two years from 2014 to 2016, that number rose to 18 percent.

Sex is also down among teenagers. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a decline in the share of high school students who said they ever had sex: from 47 percent in 2005 to 41 percent in 2015. Sexual activity among teenagers fell the most between 2013 and 2015, about the same time that sex took a real dip among 18- to 30-year-old adults…

What’s driving this sexual counter-revolution? It’s too early to offer definitive answers, but a few hypotheses seem especially plausible.

First, while they are not socially conservative, the members of the millennial (born between 1980 and the mid-1990s) and iGen (born since the mid-1990s) generations are more cautious on average than earlier generations, and hence more inclined to focus on the emotional and physical risks of sex, rather than its joys. Raised by helicopter parents, these young adults take fewer risks. As a group, they drink less, drive less, and they also hit the sheets less. Today’s young adults have gotten the message—think MTV’s 16 and Pregnant—that sex and pregnancy can be a threat to them and their future. Tyrone, a 20-year-old man, put it this way to Twenge for her book, iGen: His generation is having less sex “because of fear of pregnancy and disease.” He added, “There’s a bunch of commercials and television shows and stuff trying to teach you a lesson.”

12) Yes, Americans should totally do more babysitting for each other!

13) Jordan Weissman on how the GOP’s deficits are terrible for our politics:

Forget the GOP’s obvious hypocrisy on spending—ever since the Bush era, it’s been clear that elected conservatives do not really care about deficits, except insofar as they make a handy club for whacking Democrats. Instead, worry about the lessons Republicans might draw from this experience. During Obama’s presidency, the GOP’s mania for spending cuts—and its ability to wring budget concessions out of the president—was an anchor on the economy at a critical moment when millions were suffering from the aftermath of a financial catastrophe. Yet, the party suffered precisely zero political consequences. Instead, they’re in power in part because of the slow, post-crises economy at the end stages of a recovery that could help them hold onto Congress in 2018. Moreover, its clear that nobody actually expects them to make good on their rhetoric about fiscal prudence. They’ve abandoned it pretty much without punishment. Pushing austerity during a downturn and priming the pump when the economy is near full health might turn out to be an incredibly canny political strategy, even if it may have been unplanned. If there ever comes another time when sabotaging the economy might work to Republicans’ advantage, they have every incentive to do it again. [emphasis mine]

14) So, I’m going to be reviewing some students for scholarships soon and it really got me thinking about what sorts of character traits a reviewer might want to see.  I thought to myself “intellectual humility.”  Turns out, that is a thing.  It also led me to this nice Tom Friedman column on how to get a job at google:

And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock, it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.” It is why research shows that many graduates from hotshot business schools plateau. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” said Bock.

“They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. … What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ ” You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.

That’s good stuff.  That said, it seems to be hard enough to find in 40-somethings.  I wonder how much you find in high-achieving young adults.

15) Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the sea turns 20.  One of the very best albums ever.

16) Michael Lewis on Trump and Bannon.  So, so much goodness:

Bannon has a favorite line: If I had to choose who will run the country, 100 Goldman Sachs partners or the first 100 people who walk into a Trump rally, I’d choose the people at the Trump rally. I have my own version of this line: If I had to choose a president, Donald Trump or anyone else I’ve ever known, I’d choose anyone else I’ve ever known. Among the revelations of Wolff’s book was just how many of the people in and around Trump’s White House feel more or less as I do…

He just thinks I’m missing the point. “What was needed was a blunt force instrument, and Trump was a blunt force instrument,” he says. Trump may be a barbarian. He may be in many senses stupid. But in Bannon’s view, Trump has several truly peculiar strengths. The first is his stamina. “I give a talk to a room with 50 people and I’m drained afterward,” Bannon says. “This guy got up five and six times a day in front of 10,000 people, day in and day out. He’s 70! Hillary Clinton couldn’t do that. She could do one.” The public events were not trivial occasions, in Bannon’s view. They whipped up the emotion that got Trump elected: anger. “We got elected on Drain the Swamp, Lock Her Up, Build a Wall,” he says. “This was pure anger. Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls.”

The ability to tap anger in others was another of Trump’s gifts, and made him, uniquely in the field of Republican candidates, suited to what Bannon saw as the task at hand: Trump was himself angry. The deepest parts of him are angry and dark, Bannon told Wolff. Exactly what Trump has to be angry about was unclear. He’s had all of life’s advantages. Yet he acts like a man who has been cheated once too often, and is justifiably outraged. What Bannon loved was the way Trump sounded when he was angry. He’d gone to the best schools, but he had somehow emerged from them with the grammar and diction of an uneducated person. “The vernacular,” Bannon called Trump’s odd way of putting things. Other angry people, some of whom actually had been cheated by life, thrilled to its sound.

 

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) Don’t know how I missed this before, but “why conservatives are more susceptible to believing lies” is really good:

The answer, I think, lies in the interaction between reasoning processes and personality. It’s each person’s particular motivations and particular psychological makeup that affects how they search for information, what information they pay attention to, how they assess the accuracy and meaning of the information, what information they retain, and what conclusions they draw. But conservatives and liberals typically differ in their particular psychological makeups. And if you add up all of these particular differences, you get two groups that are systematically motivated to believe different things.

Psychologists have repeatedly reported that self-described conservatives tend to place a higher value than those to their left on deference to tradition and authority. They are more likely to value stability, conformity, and order, and have more difficulty tolerating novelty and ambiguity and uncertainty. They are more sensitive than liberals to information suggesting the possibility of danger than to information suggesting benefits. And they are more moralistic and more likely to repress unconscious drives towards unconventional sexuality.

Fairness and kindness place lower on the list of moral priorities for conservatives than for liberals. Conservatives show a stronger preference for higher status groups, are more accepting of inequality and injustice, and are less empathic (at least towards those outside their immediate family). As one Tea Party member told University of California sociologist Arlie Hochschild, “People think we are not good people if we don’t feel sorry for blacks and immigrants and Syrian refugees. But I am a good person and I don’t feel sorry for them.”…

These conservative traits lead directly to conservative views on many issues, just as liberal traits tend to lead to liberal views on many issues. But when you consider how these conservative traits and these conservative views interact with commonly shared patterns of motivated reasoning, it becomes clearer why conservatives may be more likely to run into errors in reasoning and into difficulty judging accurately what is true and what is false.

It’s not just that Trump is “their” president, so they want to defend him. Conservatives’ greater acceptance of hierarchy and trust in authority may lead to greater faith that what the president says must be true, even when the “facts” would seem to indicate otherwise…

Similarly, greater valuation of stability, greater sensitivity to the possibility of danger, and greater difficulty tolerating difference and change lead to greater anxiety about social change and so support greater credulity with respect to lurid tales of the dangers posed by immigrants. And higher levels of repression and greater adherence to tradition and traditional sources of moral judgment increase the credibility of claims that gay marriage is a threat to the “traditional” family.

2) I didn’t think this was actually a new finding, but college professors sacrifice pay– as compared to comparable professionals– for greater flexibility in how they use their time.  A trade I’m grateful for every day.

3) The current flu vaccine market is broken and we need to fix it.  Or more flu.

4) NYT Op-ed on our hackable political future:

Imagine it is the spring of 2019. A bottom-feeding website, perhaps tied to Russia, “surfaces” video of a sex scene starring an 18-year-old Kirsten Gillibrand. It is soon debunked as a fake, the product of a user-friendly video application that employs generative adversarial network technology to convincingly swap out one face for another.

It is the summer of 2019, and the story, predictably, has stuck around — part talk-show joke, part right-wing talking point. “It’s news,” political journalists say in their own defense. “People are talking about it. How can we not?”

Then it is fall. The junior senator from New York State announces her campaign for the presidency. At a diner in New Hampshire, one “low information” voter asks another: “Kirsten What’s-her-name? She’s running for president? Didn’t she have something to do with pornography?”

Welcome to the shape of things to come.

5) I’m so going to start noticing now that cartoon villains often speak with foreign accents.  And, yes, of course that has implications for what our kids learn.

6) Great upshot piece on the “able-bodied” poor in American society:

The “able-bodied” are now everywhere among government programs for the poor, Republican officials point out. They’re on food stamps. They’re collecting welfare. They’re living in subsidized housing. And their numbers have swelled on Medicaid, a program that critics say was never designed to serve them.

These so-called able-bodied are defined in many ways by what they are not: not disabled, not elderly, not children, not pregnant, not blind. They are effectively everyone left, and they have become the focus of resurgent conservative proposals to overhaul government aid, such as one announced last month by the Trump administration that would allow states to test work requirements for Medicaid.

Able-bodied is not truly a demographic label, though: There is no standard for physical or mental ability that makes a person able. Rather, the term has long been a political one. Across centuries of use, it has consistently implied another negative: The able-bodied could work, but are not working (or working hard enough). And, as such, they don’t deserve our aid.

“Within that term is this entire history of debates about the poor who can work but refuse to, because they’re lazy,” said Susannah Ottaway, a historian of social welfare at Carleton College in Minnesota. “To a historian, to see this term is to understand its very close association with debates that center around the need to morally reform the poor.” [emphasis mine]

7) This NYT look at how the two Koreas have diverged since the last Korean Olympics (1988) is truly fascinating.  Here’s one of the amazing charts.

8) Of course rural North Carolinians think that a sexual education curriculum that teaches that everyone is not straight and birth control is a thing is the work of the devil.  Of course, the county gave in and pulled the curriculum.

9) Really interesting piece from science journalist Ed Yong from how he worked assiduously to reduce gender bias in his stories.

10) Academia-twitter lit up this week in response to a tweet suggesting that graduate students should plan on working at least 60 hours a week, since that’s what professors are working.  Ummm, no.  Turns out that the 60 hours upon which the tweeter based this comes from a single study of 30(!!) non-random professors at Boise State.  Please!

11) Love this from John McWhorter on Trump’s linguistic style and his mental fitness:

Two and three decades ago, Mr. Trump spoke to David Letterman and Rona Barrett in the quietly composed phrasing we expect of public figures expressing serious thoughts. So why does the same man now toss off word salad?

Because he can.

The younger Mr. Trump, albeit as self-obsessed as now, was not yet a rock star, and he had a businessman’s normal inclination to present himself in as polished a manner as possible in public settings. Especially as someone who grew up in the 1950s, when old-school standards of oratory were still part of the warp and woof of American linguistic culture, Mr. Trump instinctually talked “up” when the cameras were rolling. To him, cloaking his speech in its Sunday best would have been part of, as it were, being a gentleman.

However, for him this would always have been more stunt than essence. Since he is someone who neither reads nor reflects, his linguistic comfort zone has always been the unadorned.

At a certain point, Mr. Trump became the man who felt – and was comfortable saying publicly – that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and retain his supporters’ allegiance. Someone with that mind-set, especially a sybaritic person unaccustomed to sustained effort, has no impetus to speak in a way unnatural to him in public.

Mr. Trump is equally unmoved by any sense that to speak as a president is a kind of kabuki or performance art, in which one doesn’t so much talk as signal. He has learned that he can just show up and run his mouth, and he’ll be adored regardless.

Some suppose Mr. Trump started talking down deliberately in order to portray folksiness. But this imputes to him a sociological sensitivity, a reflective, outwardly focused theory of mind, that he shows no evidence of otherwise. More likely, Mr. Trump has simply taken the path of least resistance.

12) Trump’s solution for the opioid crisis?  Be really mean to drug dealers.  Jeff Sessions?  Blame marijuana (which evidence indicates, might actually mitigate it).

13) New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino asks, “Is there a smarter way to think about sexual assault on campus.”  You don’t need to read the article to know the answer is, “hell, yes!”  That said, it is worth reading as a thoughtful discussion of the issue.

14) Good Lord, Chuck Todd is an idiot, as Erik Wemple nicely points out.

15) This new mutant crayfish species that reproduces asexually and has taken over Europe in just 25 years is a hell of a story:

Over the past five years, Dr. Lyko and his colleagues have sequenced the genomes of marbled crayfish. In a study published on Monday, the researchers demonstrate that the marble crayfish, while common, is one of the most remarkable species known to science.

Before about 25 years ago, the species simply did not exist. A single drastic mutation in a single crayfish produced the marbled crayfish in an instant.

The mutation made it possible for the creature to clone itself, and now it has spread across much of Europe and gained a toehold on other continents. In Madagascar, where it arrived about 2007, it now numbers in the millions and threatens native crayfish.

“We may never have caught the genome of a species so soon after it became a species,” said Zen Faulkes, a biologist at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, who was not involved in the new study…

Only about 1 in 10,000 species comprise cloning females. Many studies suggest that sex-free species are rare because they don’t last long.

In one such study, Abraham E. Tucker of Southern Arkansas University and his colleagues studied 11 asexual species of water fleas, a tiny kind of invertebrate. Their DNA indicates that the species only evolved about 1,250 years ago.

There are a lot of clear advantages to being a clone. Marbled crayfish produce nothing but fertile offspring, allowing their populations to explode. “Asexuality is a fantastic short-term strategy,” said Dr. Tucker.

In the long term, however, there are benefits to sex. Sexually reproducing animals may be better at fighting off diseases, for example.

If a pathogen evolves a way to attack one clone, its strategy will succeed on every clone. Sexually reproducing species mix their genes together into new combinations, increasing their odds of developing a defense.

The marbled crayfish offers scientists a chance to watch this drama play out practically from the beginning. In its first couple decades, it’s doing extremely well. But sooner or later, the marbled crayfish’s fortunes may well turn.

16) Really liked this Op-Ed about saying no.  One key is to say, “I don’t” rather than “I can’t.”   I use this on telephone solicitations all the time.

Second, it’s easier to say no when you know exactly how to say it, so come up with a few anchor phrases for different situations. “No, I don’t buy from solicitors” for door-to-door salespeople, for example. “No, I don’t go out during the week” for co-workers who want to go on a drinking binge on a Monday night.

When you have these phrases ready, you don’t have to waste time wavering over an excuse. And you start to develop a reflexive behavior of saying no.

17) So, I thought this InsiderHigherEd piece on making academic conferences more family-friendly to benefit women scholars had some good points, but I feel like it was really remiss to not even discuss the dynamics that make things hard for women scholars with young children, but presumably not male scholars.  Seems we could be expecting more of these female professor’s husband’s/partners to be able to step up for a few days.

18) I really enjoyed this article on one of the very few conservative Democrats remaining in the House, Dan Lipinski, because I knew Lipinski back when he was a political science graduate student at Duke (he was briefly a PS professor before taking over his dad’s Congressional seat).  He is an example of how the time has come to challenge certain Democratic legislators from the left.

Of the 34 Democrats who broke with the party on that most consequential vote eight years ago, just three remain in office. And none have had it quite so easy as Lipinski, a low-key former college professor who in 2005 inherited a Chicago-area House seat that his father held for two decades.

He’s escaped any real threat from Republicans; they defeated most of the other anti-Obamacare Democrats but couldn’t compete in his solidly blue district. And the left has been too busy defending the law and fighting other battles in the years since.

But Lipinski, 51, is now facing a serious primary challenge for the first time in a decade, in what progressives say is a long-overdue political reckoning for a congressman whose voting record has gotten too far to the right of his constituents. Illinois’s third congressional district, which includes a portion of Chicago and suburbs to the south and west, went for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary and backed Hillary Clinton by 15 points in the general election.

19) Rob Schofield on how North Carolina’s legislative politics is increasingly conducted in the dark.

In some ways, of course, this is not a new story. Ever since Republicans seized control of the General Assembly in 2011, there has been a broad and steady decline in open debate and fair process.

Whether it’s cutting off debate on legislation, holding surprise, late night sessions, regularly ignoring the committee process, burying new and controversial laws that were never previously discussed in omnibus budget bills that cannot be amended, holding an endless series of “special” legislative sessions, refusing to record and archive all sorts of important proceedings, or even directly and blatantly punishing lawmakers who dare to speak up during debate, Republicans have evidenced little shame. Much as has been the case with gerrymandering, legislative leaders have not so much invented new tactics and tricks as they have cynically perfected and expanded the use of old ones.

20) Kurt Andersen with an excellent piece on how the conspiracy theory wing of the Republican party took over.

This is not just symbolic wankery. Take Agenda 21, for instance. In 1992, the U.N. held an Earth Summit to start getting everyone on the same page concerning the environment, especially on CO2 emissions. It adopted a voluntary blueprint called Agenda 21, which nobody outside the environmental do-good sector paid any attention to for many, many years. From 1994 to 2006, there was exactly one reference to Agenda 21 in the New York Times.

But then the right discovered it—exposed it!—and refashioned Agenda 21 as a secret key to the globalist conspiracy. By 2012, Americans on the right knew to be scared, very scared, of this vague, 20-year-old international environmental plan. When the Obama administration created the White House Rural Council to promote economic development in places like Appalachia, a Fox News anchor warned that it was “eerily similar to a U.N. plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one-world order.” When Newt Gingrich was briefly the front-runner for the 2012 presidential nomination and mentioned it during a debate, applause prevented him from finishing the thought. At that moment, Glenn Beck had just published his dystopian novel, Agenda 21, and provided a perfect glimpse into the conspiracist mind on his TV show, where one of his Agenda 21 experts said, “You’re not going to find anything that isn’t Agenda 21 these days. … People recognize many, many things that are wrong but they don’t realize that they’re all connected.”

21) As Yglesias put it, “another crippling blow to MS 13.”  The CNN story, “‘Pillar of the community’ deported from US after 39 years to a land he barely knows.”

22) Man, I used to love to read newsmagazines, and subscribed to Time for years and years.  On the demise of Newsweek.

23) Among the many, many stupid and counter-productive prison policies, many prisons now make it absurdly difficult for prisoners to get decent books.  Can’t we even let prisoners have good stuff to read?!

24) The headline says it all, “Military parades are about ego and power. Of course Trump wants one.”

25) So much for my compact disc collection.  Best Buy won’t even be selling them anymore.  Of course, it’s been a long time since I actually listened to a CD, much less purchased one.

In fact, Republicans are remarkably consistent on deficits

You’ve just got to use the right contingent rule.  For decades, Republicans have actually operated by a very simple rule.  Deficits are really, really bad when a Democrat is president and don’t really matter at all when a Republican is president.  The political benefits that accrue to Republicans from this “belief” are entirely coincidental.  Chait, with a thorough take:

During the Obama era, Democrats frequently believed, but only rarely uttered aloud in official forums, that the Republican Party was engaged in economic sabotage. Not a coldly conscious plot, exactly. But it seemed just a little too convenient that the party had reversed its fiscal ideology at precisely the time when doing so would damage Democrats and thereby smooth the GOP’s return to power.

Now that Republicans have reversed their position once again, also in a way that happens to redound to their political benefit, the answer seems a little more clear. Republicans have used their control of government to virtually double the budget deficit, which had been hovering around half a trillion dollars per year, and will now likely run well over $1 trillion — during the peak of an economic expansion. There is no economic rationale for this behavior. Their policy is simply to support fiscal contraction under Democratic presidents and fiscal expansion under Republican ones. Cynicism is the only basis to explain their behavior. [emphases mine]

Of course, this is also really, really bad economics:

Republicans are implementing fiscal stimulus on the largest scale since 2009. One could make the case (as Eric Levitz does) that, despite low unemployment, additional stimulus is still justified in order to heat up the labor market enough to produce really strong wage growth. I’m more persuaded by the need for stimulus when unemployment was above 6 percent, and that it’s no longer worth the additional debt. Alternatively, one could oppose stimulus now and also in 2009, if you seriously oppose it always. But supporting fiscal stimulus now with unemployment close to 4 percent while opposing it when unemployment was far higher is a position no economist in the world would justify.

And yet that literally-no-economist-supported stance is in fact the stance of the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party.

John Cassidy hits a similar note:

The Trump stimulus isn’t as big as the Obama stimulus of 2009 through 2011, which most Republican senators and congressmen vigorously opposed. That package, which consisted of a mix of spending and tax cuts, totalled about two per cent of G.D.P. each year. But, in February, 2009, when it was enacted, the economy was suffering through the deepest recession since the nineteen-thirties. The unemployment rate was 7.8 per cent, and G.D.P. was plummeting. If ever there was a textbook case of an economy crying out for a stimulus, that was it.

Today, by contrast, the economy is in the ninth year of an economic recovery that began in 2009. G.D.P. is growing at an annual rate of close to three per cent, and the unemployment rate stands at 4.1 per cent. Many economics textbooks say this is the sort of environment in which the government should be balancing its books, and perhaps even paying down debt, like a family salting away money for a rainy day. That’s what the Clinton Administration did during the late nineteen-nineties, when the national debt was much smaller than it is today.

The Republicans and Trump are embarked on the opposite course—confirming that the G.O.P.’s devotion to deficit reduction, which in 2011 prompted members of the Party to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, is purely cynical. Of course, we already knew this. The Reagan Administration and the George W. Bush Administration both raided the public purse to finance big tax cuts, and left the deficit much higher than they found it. The Trump Administration is merely following suit.

And more economic analysis in Wonkblog about just how stupid this is:

By running high deficits and adding to the deficit now, Congress reduces its flexibility to pass another stimulus package when the next recession inevitably arrives. Before the Great Recession, the deficit-to-GDP ratio was as low as 1.1 percent, giving the Bush and Obama administrations the room they needed to take measures to stave off an even-worse economic collapse. With this bill, the United States is going in the opposite direction — just as the economy shows signs of heating up…

he economy is, at worst, ordinary. The size of the spending bill isn’t. Former top Obama administration economist Jason Furman makes the same point. Furman is now a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“I think we should be very worried,” Furman said. “As a macroeconomic matter, I’m not aware of another example of this — of a country that’s basically at full employment embarking on massive fiscal stimulus.”

Our analysis shows that, in the course of recent U.S. history, he’s right. This level of government spending at this time is downright odd and straight-up unprecedented.

In a sane and rational world, Republicans would be punished for their incredibly stupid approach to economic policy.  Alas, we do not live in that world.  They are likely to be rewarded and far more likely to be punished for shark attacks.

Photo of the day

Really enjoyed watching the SpaceX launch the other day.  The coolest part, though, was not the launch, but the dual rocket landing.  So cool!  Here it is from an Atlantic gallery of the launch:

The two reusable Falcon 9 boosters return to Earth and land successfully, seen in this image from SpaceX video. 

SpaceX
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