What political scientists know that you don’t

Lots of stuff.  Foremost among them, term limits are really, really stupid.  Excellent piece from Seth Masket:

Colorado’s state legislature concluded its 2018 session last week. As was the case in 2017, this session was considered a productive one. And as with 2017, this productivity came as a surprise—a lot of conditions exist that would lead one to expect a gridlocked and unproductive chamber…

Why did this happen? How was the government able to have two productive sessions in a row? To no small extent, this was a product of leadership. Three key figures—Hickenlooper (D), Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran (D), and Senate President Kevin Grantham (R)—made productivity a priority. They conferred with each other extensively before and during the legislative session (as they did in 2017), helping to usher through bills where they saw avenues for compromise. They were able to leverage their expertise and the relationships they’ve built with their caucuses and with each other to create a good example of functional state government. [emphases mine]

Thanks to term limits, all three will be gone next year. Hickenlooper, Duran, and Grantham were all elected in 2010, and they’re all termed out this year.

Now, in fairness, the non-term-limited United States Congress is hardly a model of effectiveness these days. And longstanding politicians, even if they’re very experienced and competent, are rarely popular in concept. So when a bipartisan group of politicians from Beto O’Rourke in Texas to Donald Trump in the White House calls for congressional term limits, one can certainly see the political payoff.

But it is nonetheless an irresponsible stance. For one thing, as Jonathan Bernstein notes, when politicians start talking about constitutional amendments (which is what congressional term limits would require), it usually means they’re lacking for actual governing ideas. It’s a dodge.

In fact, term limits can be quite harmful: Legislative leaders and parties would have less power and expertise, leaving a void for lobbyists and bureaucrats to fill. Term limits mean usually a quarter or more of the legislature cannot run for re-election and are thus unaccountable to their voters. Working against expertise and accountability, term limits thus undermine the parts of representative government we need to function better.

Now, of course, Hickenlooper, Grantham, and Duran all emerged within Colorado’s term-limited system. It’s possible for term limits to produce other intelligent and creative leaders. Good results can occur within bad processes. But most of the time they won’t. And calling for term limits for Congress will most likely produce no change at all—and actually has a chance of making our government significantly worse.

Obviously, voters are frustrated because politicians seem so unaccountable.  The proper way to address that is to make elections actually more competitive– redistricting reform and sensible campaign finance reform (public funding is a great place to start).  Term limits are a short-cut that sounds good and is appealing because the other options are hard.  But empowering lobbyists and long-time staff over the politically accountable representative is not the way to go.


Photo of the day

I do love Volcano photos.  A whole gallery from the latest eruptions in Hawaii:

A 2,000-foot-long fissure erupts within the Leilani Estates subdivision, on the east rift zone of the Kilauea volcano threatening homes of hundreds in Hawaii, on May 5, 2018. 

Bruce Omori / Paradise Helicopters / EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock

Hope (in Republicans) for a better environmental future?

I listened to an interview with James Hansen about climate change recently.  Honestly, so depressing.  Probably, one of the reasons I don’t write about this topic more.

Anyway, not exactly reasons for huge optimism, but here’s a nice piece from Pew pointing out that younger Republicans are substantially more pro-environment (or, maybe less anti-environment) than older Republicans:

I found this especially interesting because it very much comports with my anecdotal experience, in that even my Republican students are somewhat liberal on environmental issues.  Kind of sad, that only 36% of young Republicans are willing to admit the scientific consensus on global warming, but at least that’s twice the rate of old Republicans.  And on basic questions of taking government action for environmental protection, they are substantially more liberal than their elders.

So, there’s at least some decent hope that we’ll begin to see more sensible environmental protection policies as older Republicans die off and younger ones take their place.

Why I’m not paying much attention to Trump and North Korea

Well, honestly, because, as you know, I’m just not all that interested in foreign affairs compared to domestic issues.  But, in this particular place, paying close attention is clearly a sucker’s bet.  Yglesias is on the case:

Donald Trump is a liar. More than that, he’s a fraud. Not just a person who makes factual misstatements but a person who has gotten ahead in life through extensive use of bullshit, leaving in his wake a trail of broken promises. [emphases mine]

From his unpaid bills to contractors to his scam university to his brief period ripping off the shareholders of his eponymous company, this is what Trump does — he exploits normal human nature to sucker people into trusting him, and then he exploits his own ever-growing fame and power to get away with breaking the rules.

As president, this pattern has only continued…

Everyone knows this, which raises the question of why everyone is pretending to believe that Trump may make a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea.

Trump’s Korea rhetoric is alarming and dishonest

A good clue that we are being set up for some bullshit is that not only is the Trump administration’s North Korea policy being headed up by Donald Trump, but it has been conducted so far like you would expect a bullshitter to conduct policy.

The key turnabout in the region, after all, has come from the fact that Trump decided to make a large, unilateral concession to the North Koreans. As Josh Smith and David Brunnstrom reported for Reuters in March, “for at least two decades, leaders in North Korea have been seeking a personal meeting with an American president,” and across all that time American presidents have been saying no.

“North Korea has said these things before,” Mark Dubowitz of the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies told them. “Kim Jong Il wanted to meet with President Clinton.”

Trump, perhaps wisely and likely under the influence of South Korea’s new progressive leader Moon Jae-in, has decided to reverse longstanding US policy and make this concession to Pyongyang. ..

When a notorious liar does something dramatic and new and starts immediately lying about what it is that he’s doing, a sensible reaction is to become alarmed and suspicious — not to suddenly become credulous and naive…

Back in the real world, meanwhile, Trump isn’t a master strategist keeping the North Koreans off balance. He’s an erratic guy with poor impulse control and little understanding of issues who does things like blurt out that Americans held captive in North Korea and sentenced to serve in labor camps received “excellent” treatment from the regime that used them as hostages…

Instead of talking about these risks, however, the mainstream press — Timethe New York TimesCNN, etc. — seems obsessed with the possibility that maybe Trump will deliver a historic diplomatic breakthrough with Pyongyang and then not receive the level of credit and adulation he deserves.

I’m happy to admit that it is, at least in theory, possible that a vainglorious, dishonest, ignorant, and corrupt president who is already lying about his own diplomatic initiatives will shock the world by delivering something fantastic. But Trump has been in the public eye for decades, has a well-deserved reputation as a braggart and a liar, and deserves to be met with nothing but skepticism.

It takes money to pay teachers more

As my readers know, I’ve long advocated for significantly higher teacher salaries as a major starting point for improving education (treating teachers like professionals and recruiting more ambitious people into the profession).  And, the American public seems to be largely in agreement that teachers should be paid more.  Vox:

Support for raising teachers’ salaries cuts across party lines. Nearly 90 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents, and 66 percent of Republicans think teachers don’t get paid enough. [emphasis mine]

The survey of 1,140 adults, conducted April 11 through 16, gauged public opinion on the wave of teachers strikes sweeping through the nation. Teachers in West VirginiaOklahoma, and Kentucky all walked out of class in recent months to pressure state lawmakers to spend more money on schools or teachers (or both). Their success has inspired teachers in Arizona and Colorado to prepare their own work stoppage.

The AP/NORC poll shows that these teachers have a lot of support, though not everyone agrees with their strategy. About 78 percent of adults surveyed said schools don’t pay teachers enough, and 52 percent said they support educators who are going on strike to demand higher salaries (25 percent disapprove of strikes). Adults who knew about the recent teacher walkouts were more likely to support the idea of teachers striking — 80 percent of them did.

It’s great that even about 2/3 of Republicans recognize the value of higher teacher salaries.  But, then there’s this:

In the AP/NORC poll, half of respondents said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to improve education funding. The view was shared equally by parents and adults without children. However, Republicans and independents were far less willing than Democrats to pay higher taxes. Only 38 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of independents said they would, compared to 69 percent of Democrats. [emphasis mine]

And there’s the damn rub!  I’m sure Republicans think that states can just magically cut all the “waste, fraud, and abuse” (heck, state’s don’t even have foreign aid to cut) to enable millions in teacher pay.  If you really value something, you should be willing to pay for it.  I remember an editorial a good twenty years ago about Republicans in the Virginia legislature looking to find more money for roads (always a major issue in VA), but not willing to raise taxes for it or cut any government programs.  The proposed solution? Alchemy.  Alas, too often it seems that Republicans are hardly more serious than alchemy when it comes to making the hard choices need to address our problems.

Quick hits (part II)

1) I hope EMG is reading this, because this story about how there are simply too many wild Mustangs in the American west and the solution is to allow mountain lions to eat them reminds me of one of my favorite student papers ever, “they shoot horses, don’t they?”

Nearly all wild horses live in the Great Basin of Nevada and surrounding states, in some of the most forbidding land in America. Congress began protecting the herds from slaughter in 1971. Ever since, the bureau has overseen them and has managed the population like an uber-rancher. The bureau rounds up thousands by helicopter each year, literally putting them out to pasture, on confined tracts to try to keep the wild numbers steady.

It doesn’t really work. Because the bureau has always seen the horses as livestock, not wildlife, it has never tried to understand the mustang’s place in the Western ecosystem, or tried to take advantage of the ancient relationship between the horse and its main predator, the mountain lion.

That’s a loss. There are valleys in the West where herds don’t increase because they are kept in check by the big cats. This natural management is not only free and sustainable, but also ensures that wild horses remain as they should — wild. Despite this evidence, the bureau has said repeatedly that wild horses have “no natural predators.”

2) Maybe America is too big to govern effectively (maybe, but I suspect other aspects of our system of government present larger problems):

In fact, large nations turn out to have what the political scientist Pippa Norris has called “democratic deficits”: They don’t fully satisfy their citizens’ demands for democracy. For one thing, citizens in large nations are generally less involved in politics and feel they have less of a voice. Voter turnout is lower. According to the political scientist Karen Remmer, smaller-scale political entities encourage voting in ways large ones can’t by “creating a sense of community” and “enforcing norms of citizenship responsibility.” In addition, small countries promote political involvement by leaning heavily on forms of direct democracy, like referendums or citizen assemblies.

A second problem is political responsiveness: The policies of large nations can be slow to change, even if change is needed and desired. In a book published last year, the sociologists John Campbell and John Hall compared the reactions to the 2007-2008 financial crisis in Denmark, Ireland and Switzerland. These three small countries didn’t cause the crisis; a homegrown Irish housing bubble notwithstanding, the shock wave they dealt with came from America. But though the countries were economically vulnerable, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Hall observed, this vulnerability fostered unexpected resilience and creativity, generating in each nation “a sense of solidarity or ‘we-ness’” that brought together politicians, regulators and bankers eager to do whatever was necessary to calm markets.

3) Like this Vox essay arguing that liberals need to get over Citizens United.  There’s plenty that we can do to improve finance, we just need to do it.

4) Really interesting idea that the breakdown of democracies is seeded within their constitutions:

But this erosion of democratic norms is ultimately driven by deeper factors. In many democracies, the roots of breakdown reside in democratic constitutions themselves.

Over two-thirds of countries that have transitioned to democracy since World War II have done so under constitutions written by the outgoing authoritarian regime. Prominent examples include Argentina, Chile, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and South Korea. Even some of the world’s early democracies, such as the Netherlands and Sweden, were marred by deep authoritarian legacies. Democratic institutions are frequently designed by the outgoing authoritarian regime to safeguard incumbent elites from the rule of law and give them a leg up in politics and economic competition after democratization.

The constitutional tools that outgoing authoritarian elites use to accomplish these ends include factors like electoral system design, legislative appointments, federalism, legal immunities, the role of the military in politics and constitutional tribunal design. In short, with the allocation of power and privilege, and the lived experiences of citizens, democracy often does not restart the political game after displacing authoritarianism.

Furthermore, barriers to changing the social contract in countries that inherit constitutions from a previous authoritarian regime are steep. These constitutions often contain provisions requiring supermajority thresholds for change. And elites from the authoritarian past who benefit from these constitutions utilize their power to pass policies that further entrench their privileges.

5) James Hohman on why McCain opposes Gina Haspel and why it’s important:

— What precisely are the “values” McCain is referring to? Whatever might have resembled a national consensus on that question has eroded these past few years. That’s why giving definition to something seemingly as anodyne as “American values” became a flash point during Haspel’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“I believe very strongly in American values and America being an example to the rest of the world. That is why I support the fact that we have chosen to hold ourselves to a stricter moral standard,” Haspel said. “My moral compass is strong. … My parents raised me right. I know the difference between right and wrong. … I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that is immoral, even if it is technically legal.”

— But every time Haspel was asked to elaborate about the “stricter moral standard” she said she supports, the 33-year agency veteran leaned on the letter of the law like a crutch. Haspel promised she would not revive the CIA’s interrogation program, even if ordered by Trump, because she “fully” supports the current “standards for detainee treatment required by law.”

The Republican-controlled Congress passed an amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, quarterbacked by McCain, which limited interrogation techniques to those contained in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3. That version explicitly rejected practices such as waterboarding, forcing detainees to pose in a sexual manner and placing hoods or sacks over the heads of detainees…

— One of the reasons America is great is her historic willingness to reckon with the sins of the past. In 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a detailed report, much of which remains classified, that concluded the techniques used by the CIA were neither useful nor legitimate.

But most Republican members of the intelligence committee were eager to avoid any discussion about the appropriateness of the U.S. government’s conduct during the aughts. “We shouldn’t be talking about what happened 17 years ago,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “We should be talking about what’s going to happen 17 weeks or 17 days from now.”

6) Really interesting take on the connection between sports and 9/11 has ultimately led to more political division on sports:

In my mind, though, all that cannot be decoupled from what Sept. 11 has done to sports. What was once ostensibly a unifying moment in the country has helped transform sports, with flags and flyovers, kneeling and protests — into the most divided public spectacle this side of Congress…

But it also changed how sports were sold, packaged, perceived and marketed. In ballparks across America, in every sport, sports was a healing balm for a broken country. Particularly in New York during those early years after Sept. 11, Americans could look at one another and feel everything was going to be all right, could mourn the 343 firemen killedduring the attacks, the 37 Port Authority personnel and the 23 New York City police officers, and thank the ones who survived — but also get angry, and demand revenge on their attackers and obedience from their countrymen…

The veterans said that they are grateful that it looks like Americans care about them. But they are also resentful of being used as shields to prevent any criticism of the country or the military. The soldiers know they serve so Americans can speak their minds, not be cowed into obedience.

They also don’t want to throw out the first pitch nearly as much as they want jobs and the Department of Veterans Affairs fixed.

7) Amazing tempest in a coffee in vegan muffin at Duke University.  Honestly, this has become a way overblown racial matter simply because the Duke VP who oversees dining establishments wants to make sure they are not playing profanity-laced music in Duke dining establishments.

8) Yglesias on how Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen are crowding out the Democrats’ message:

In concrete terms, the problem with the Daniels issue for Democrats is it doesn’t really add anything to what everyone already thinks about Trump. People who stuck with a thrice-married birther who claimed Hillary Clinton literally founded ISIS through the “grab ’em by the pussy” controversy aren’t about to be suddenly scandalized by the news that he engaged in some legally questionable tactics to cover up an affair with a porn actress. It’s wrong to say that the carnival aspects of the Trump Show don’t do him any harm — his approval ratings remain underwater despite healthy economic conditions — but it’s hard for the circus to hurt him more at the margin given everything that’s already happened.

Democratic Party leaders, for exactly this reason, aren’t talking about Daniels; they’re talking about issues they think can cut into Trump’s base and/or improve their own image among voters. But they’re having a hard time breaking through.

9) Drum on the decline of Evangelicals and their political backlash:

The first decade of the 21st century was a tough one for evangelical Protestants. Their numbers fell, their political influence waned, their most popular leaders died off or retired, and they got badly crushed on the issue of gay rights and gay marriage. By 2012 the movement was in pretty sorry shape, and it only got worse after Obergefell.

Then Donald Trump came along and threw them a lifeline. Sure, he was a philanderer, a faker, a liar, an avatar of mammon, and very plainly not a religious man himself. But Trump made evangelicals the same offer he makes with everyone: he’d adopt their causes as his own and fight for them publicly, but only in return for unconditional public support. Maybe it was a devil’s bargain, but they took it. If you had lost 20 percent of your followers in the past decade and watched helplessly as modern culture steamrolled nearly everything you believe in, you might have too.

10) EJ Dionne, “We know a lot about Trump’s misdeeds. But most of all we know there’s more to come.”

Yes, there is much more to learn here, and we know by now never to assume that any development in this saga can be seen as the beginning of the end. We have no idea yet how this story will end or who, except perhaps for Mueller, will write its conclusion.

But we know enough to conclude that (1) the Russia connection to Trump World runs very deep, and Mueller is no doubt exploring its many tributaries; (2) if Trump is profoundly altering Washington, it is to make the most old-fashioned forms of influence-peddling more common and more blatant; (3) we need to figure out if any of the money sloshing around has found its way to Trump; and (4) Trump will play as fast and loose with fundamental changes in policy as he does with ethics and the truth.

 All four are worrying. The last is also scary.

11) A baby translator than can also help diagnose autism!

12) Bari Weiss‘ NYT piece on “The Intellectual Dark Web” was all the rage this week.  Saletan’s take.

13) Found this Politico take on liberal turned seemingly-endless Trump apologist, Alan Dershowitz, really interesting.  Whereas this piece helps Dershowitz come off as more than just an intellectual hired-gun looking to cash in, honestly, he has a huge intellectual blind-spot by failing to appreciate the context of his commentary as funneled through Fox News.

14) Hey fish, think you safe from birds under the water?  Not so much.  Awesome video here.

15) Ezra Klein with the case for optimism in today’s must-read piece:

The triumphant story we tell about American history can obscure both the extent of our progress and the fragility of our consensus. To see what we are, or what we may become, requires clarity about what we have been. And what we have been is violent, disordered, undemocratic, and illiberal on a scale far beyond anything the United States is undergoing today.

You do not need to go back to the country’s early years — when new arrivals from Europe drove out the Native Americans, brought over millions of enslaved Africans, and wrote laws making women second-class citizens — to see it.

Just a few decades ago, political assassinations were routine. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy was murdered on the streets of Dallas. In 1965, Malcolm X was shot to death in a crowded New York City ballroom. In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, as was Robert F. Kennedy. In 1975, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, standing about arm’s length from President Gerald Ford, aimed her gun and fired; the bullet failed to discharge. Harvey Milk, the pioneering gay San Francisco city supervisor, was killed in 1978. President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981; the bullet shattered a rib and punctured a lung.

For much of the 20th century, the right to vote was, for African Americans, no right at all. Lynchings were common. Freedom Riders were brutally beaten across the American South. National Guard members fired on, and killed, student protesters at Kent State. Police had to escort young African-American children into schools as jeering crowds shouted racial epithets and threatened to attack…

During this era, there were regions of America that arguably weren’t democratic at all. In his book Paths Out of Dixie, Robert Mickey argues convincingly that much of the American South was under one-party authoritarian rule until the mid-20th century. It was only “with the abolition of the whites-only Democratic primary in 1944 and continuing up through the national party reforms of the early 1970s” that the South — and thus America — actually democratized.

This is not a counterintuitive take on American history, by the way. Among experts, it is closer to the consensus. The Varieties of Democracy project, which has been surveying experts on the state of global democracies since 1900, gave the US political system a 48 on a 1-100 scale in 1945 and a 59 in 1965. It was only after the civil rights movement that America began scoring in the 70s and 80s, marking it as a largely successful democracy.

The era that we often hold up as the golden age of American democracy was far less democratic, far less liberal, far less decent, than today. Trump’s most intemperate outbursts, his most indecent musings, pale before opinions that were mainstream in living memory. And the institutions of American politics today are a vast improvement on the regimes that ruled well within living memory. [emphasis mine]

Stop breast feeding

Okay, not really.  But for women who struggle with it for a variety of reasons, they sure shouldn’t beat themselves up that they are somehow handicapping their child’s future.

Imagine a random-assignment, rather than observational study on breast-feeding.  Well, they actually did that in Belarus, and the results are pretty interesting.

Some earlier observational studies have suggested that children who are exclusively breast-fed have higher I.Q.s through adolescence, and even higher incomes at age 30. But a randomized trial, a more rigorous type of study that better controls for socioeconomic and family variables, found that breast-feeding in infancy had no discernible effect on cognitive function by the time children reached age 16.

Researchers studied 13,557 children in Belarus, assigning them as newborns either to a program that promoted exclusive and prolonged breast-feeding or to usual care. Mothers and children were followed with six pediatrician visits during the first year of life to assess breast-feeding habits. The study is in PLOS Medicine.

At age 16, the children took tests measuring verbal and nonverbal memory, word recognition, executive function, visual-spatial orientation, information processing speed and fine motor skills.

There was no difference in scores between the two groups, except that breast-feeders had slightly higher scores in verbal function…

“If you want to breast-feed in hope of increasing cognitive functioning scores, you may find some benefits in the early years,” said the lead author, Seungmi Yang, an assistant professor of epidemiology at McGill University in Montreal. “But the effect is going to be reduced substantially at adolescence. Other factors, such as birth order and parental education, are more influential.”

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