Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Interesting stuff

by David Zetland    (One handed economist)

Interesting stuff

  1. Biohacking life” — a physics geek gets into our metabolism
  2. Governments are printing money to “get out of the crisis”, but they are probably sowing the seeds of the next crisis (of inflation? fiscal collapse?)
  3. An incredibly interesting dive into Japanese cosmology
  4. The American Press Is Destroying Itself (under pressures of political correctness)
  5. This is the governance article (good/bad responses to C19 as a function of government quality) I’ve been looking for!
  6. Excess deaths really explain the damage from C19: NYT and Economist
  7. Some techniques for reaching consensus on difficult topics
  8. Humans have used technology to help women to have 8 billion babies
  9. Massive glaciers are melting in Antartica in front of researchers’ eyes.
  10. A VC guy on big tech monopolies, inequality and race

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SCOTUS Blocks Census Citizenship Question

Writing for the Majority (5-4):  Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the explanation offered by the Trump administration for adding the question “appears to have been contrived.” Justice John Roberts did leave open the possibility of change if the Administration could provide an adequate answer.

Executive branch officials must “offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public. Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case.”

NYT

USA Today has a good version of the SCOTUS decision. John Roberts and the liberal block rule against 2020 census citizenship question (for now) handing Trump administration a major defeat. Others have said there will probably not be another submission to SCOTUS on the Citizenship question. The only one who might change their “yea” vote would be Roberts if a reasonable answer was supplied by the Administration.

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Nonviolence

This article by Ezra Klein is excellent.  I can’t do it justice in a blog post, but here is a bit:

This is the often neglected heart of nonviolence: It is a strategic confrontation with other human beings. It takes as self-evident that we must continue to live in fellowship with one another. As such, it puts changing each other’s hearts at the center of political action, and then asks what kind of action is likeliest to bring about that transformation. That its answers are radical and demanding does not make them untrue.

“King thinks human beings are sacred,” says Brandon Terry, a Harvard sociologist and co-author of a volume on King’s political philosophy. “We need, above all else, to avoid preventing them from changing for the better. That’s what the whole ethos is about: trying to see in other people what we see in ourselves — the capacity for growth, self-correction, and change.”

And another:

That violence begets violence is more than a dorm room slogan: It is a much-replicated research finding. A study by the US Justice Department of 11- to 17-year-olds, for instance, found that being the victim of violence was an extraordinarily powerful predictor of subsequently being the perpetrator of violence. “Violent victimization,” they concluded, “is an important risk factor for subsequent violent offending.”

There is much the state does that is meant to protect citizens from violence, including policing, which really does work to reduce crime. But there’s also much the state does that inflicts violence — and that is nowhere more true than in the state’s cramped, self-defeating definition of justice. As Danielle Sered writes in Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair, decades of studies find four key predictors of violence in individuals: “shame, isolation, exposure to violence, and a diminished ability to meet one’s economic needs.” Those are also, as it happens, the definitional features of prison. “As a nation, we have developed a response to violence that is characterized by precisely what we know to be the main drivers of violence,” she writes. “We should not be surprised, then, when the system produces exactly the results we would expect.”

And one more:

In restorative justice, the focus is not on what perpetrators have done but on what victims need. In some cases, that is imprisonment. But far more often, it is answers, amends, the kind of visible transformation in a perpetrator that leads to a continued feeling of safety. Sered, who directs the remarkable nonprofit Common Justice, tells the story of a man robbed at gunpoint. Asked if he preferred imprisonment or a restorative justice program, he asked whether the perpetrator could get life without parole for the crime. Told that he couldn’t, the man chose restorative justice. “If he can’t be gone forever, then I’d rather he be changed,” he said.

meta-analysis of 84 evaluations of restorative justice programs focused on juveniles found better outcomes for both offenders and victims. Another analysis of 22 studies examining particularly rigorous restorative justice programs concluded, “restorative justice programs are a more effective method of improving victim and/or offender satisfaction, increasing offender compliance with restitution, and decreasing the recidivism of offenders when compared to more traditional criminal justice responses.”

As they say, read the whole thing!

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Naming Forts

It appears possible that the US military will cease to honor traitors and will change the names of bases named after Confederate generals. This raises the question of what new names to give them. This is one of the topics on which I have the very least expertise, so I will make my suggestions.

1) Fort York. Named after Sergeant Alvin York who, when he was corporal York during World War I, personally captured 132 German soldiers. I like the idea of naming a fort after a sergeant. Also I just learned that, when drafted, York initially was a conscientious objector before being convinced to the distinct advantage of the 132 German soldiers and ot the disadvantage of the 25 he killed when leading the attack on the German machine gun nest.

Only risk. Gaffe prone President Biden might slip up in the decidation ceremony and inadvertently plagiarize “Now is the Winter of our discontent maid glorious Summer by this noble son of York” *I still remember when Neil Kinnock’s ancestors mysteriously became Biden’s ancestors back in 1988).

2) Fort Bradley
Come on, station GIs in a fort named after the GI’s general.

3) Fort Howard, named after General Oliver Otis Howard head of the Freedman’s bureau and founder of Howard University. NO compromise with treason.

4) Fort Walker named after the only female Medal of Honore recipient Mary Edwards Walker MD. I’ll drink to that.

5) Fort Anderson named after James Anderson Jr who threw himself on a hand grenade in Cam Lo in 1967

They also served who died in pointless wars. We owe them gratitude along with infinite apologies. Infinite.

6) Fort Baldonado named after Jose Rodriguez Baldonado who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia article.

7) Fort Montgomery. Clearly there might be some need for disambiguation. I am writing as someone raised in Montgomery County Maryland hearing stories about the Montgomery Bus Boycot. I am thinking of lieutenant Jack C Montgomery, more or less the sergeant York of World War II.

I propose renaming Fort Rucker Alabama Fort Montgomery.

As a gesture at national unity play “Sweet Home Alabama” when dedicating it (hoping that people notice the closing line “My, Montgomery’s got the answer” which should have been completely clear in the context of the 1960s also “the governor boo boo boo” should have been fairly clear.

8) Fort Hayashi. I am thinking of Joe Hayashi, but it is OK if people think of Shizuya Hayashi. The name can honor two Medal of Honor recipients with one fort.

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Why Trump Is in Trouble

Why Trump Is in Trouble

Trump is staggering.  He’s plunging in the polls, and his behavior has become erratic and unhinged.  I don’t mean he’s being crude, infantile and wrapped in a world of fantasy—he’s always like that.  Rather, I see him as suddenly incoherent, fumbling with threats and catchphrases as if he were locked out of his house at night, frantically trying one key after another to see if any will work.

Why?

Here’s my theory: throughout his career, Trump has been resolutely self-defining.  He selects his issues, positions and attributes (clever deal-maker, hardass boss, financial/sexual/political winner, tough guy warrior for patriarchal values, underdog rebel against the Establishment) to construct a persona of his own choice.  He takes the initiative.

2016 was a great year for him.  While much was wrong with America, none of it was urgent in a screaming you-can’t-look-away-from-this sort of way.  There was plenty of political space for Trump to define what he thought the country should be focused on and why he would be the one to fix it.  The media provided invaluable service, making a big deal of every tweet, boastful claim or rally-fueled hyperbole.  Through them, Trump told us what the election was about: the invasion of dangerous immigrants pouring through our undefended borders, the humiliation of the America by China, and the haughty, corrupt elitism of Democratic politicians.  Even by disputing his take on these things, the media reinforced the notion that these were the main issues facing the country.

What has collapsed for Trump, finally in 2020, is not just the economy, the health of the population or the racial order, but his ability to determine what the issues are: he has lost control of the narrative.  This is not because the Democrats have beat him at his own game.  On the contrary, they are as clueless about these things as they’ve always been.  His problem is that we are facing real crises that demand our attention whether we want them to or not.  Trump has almost no influence over what politics are about in an election year; the pandemic, the economy and the revulsion against racism and police violence define the political moment on their own.  This is why he seems to be flailing: his entire career has been based on his projection of his needs onto the world, and he has hardly any capacity to respond to the demands of others.

Bad news for Trump: we don’t know how long the current challenge to the racial order will last, but the pandemic and the economic crisis will be with us well beyond November.  They will call the shots.  Trump can blather about some other fantasy issue being the real problem, but few will listen.

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Another Look

Another Look

by

Ken Melvin

In the wake of riots following the Police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many other Black Americans, and Trump’s earlier installation  the likes of Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr as Attorney General; let US Cities find now to be a particularly good time to look anew at what they, the people, think should be the proper role of Police in America. It is time and time to rethink Policing in America. Any and all changes made need be made nationwide, else we would wind up forever dragging around this same Policing Model, a model purportedly somewhat based on some interpretation of the Old Testament of the Bible, a Model with ties to Slavery and Servitude. It is time and time that Policing in America broadly reflects current American values and thinking.

Police being an inclusive term; including all law enforcement agencies.

Much of what we now have was brought forward from 17th Century English Laws premised on protecting the property of the landed gentry, including the Monarch, since modified as required to allow for the added responsibility for public safety, … Today, many Police and Sheriff Departments are Economic and Political Fiefdoms. In December 2019, Barr said, “They have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves, … And if communities don’t give that support and respect, they may find themselves without the police protection they need.” Safe to assume that Sessions would have agreed. Here we are two generations into the Age of Technology with an Administration out of the 1960s and before. Taking off from Albert Camus’ Absurdism, we past Absurd quite a long ways back. Houston, we have hit bottom.

In times like these, the question must be: 

What should be the role of the Police?

 

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Tear Gas Versus Pepper Spray

Tear Gas Versus Pepper Spray

Or pepper gas.

So, AG Barr and Pres. Trump (and also the commander of the US Park Police, I think) have been hotly denying that tear gas was used last Monday June 1  in the attack by the Praetorian Guard on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square.  Various of them have also been claiming that as many as three warnings were issued to the crowd before they attacked and also have claimed that the protesters were throwing things at them and hus were violent rioters.  The latter claims have been denied by nearly all observers, including journalists, although it may have been that perfunctory warnings were issued very quietly so that almost nobody could hear them and that maybe one bottle got thrown.  Barr has also denied giving the order for this attack, laying it on the Park Police chief, and also denied that it had anything to do with Trump walking across the square a few minutes after the protesters were cleared to have his photo op at St. John’s Church with an upside-down backwards Bible, after church personnel were forced off their own church grounds by the attack.  All of this has turned into a massive embarrassment as polls on this have turned sharply against Trump, and the National Guard from 11 states are now being removed from Washington, if not the still non-IDed Praetorian Guard Barr oversees himself.

Then we have the matter of tear gas, with protesters clearly crying and coughing and exhibiting symptoms usually associated with being tear gassed as they fled the square, and with most of them claiming to have been “tear gassed.”  This has been roundly denied by the three parties identified above.  Instead it has been admitted that “pepper balls” were thrown into the crowd, along with rubber bullets being used and flash-bang grenades.  While both Barr and Trump have both since claimed that these “pepper balls” are not “eye irritants,” clearly they are, and a variety of expert sources have reported that they are.

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Meanwhile, Virtual online charter schools

The authors’ Brookings blog Post, they explain their peer-reviewed work. The major conclusion is:

We find the impact of attending a virtual charter on student achievement is uniformly and profoundly negative, equating to a third of a standard deviation in English/language arts (ELA) and a half of a standard deviation in math. This equates to a loss of roughly 11 percentile points in ELA and 16 percentile points in math for an average virtual charter student at baseline as compared to their public school peers (see Figure 1 above). There is no evidence that virtual charter students improve in subsequent years. We could not “explain away” these findings by looking at various teacher or classroom characteristics. We also use the same methodology to analyze the impact of attending brick-and-mortar charter schools. In contrast, we find that students who attended brick-and-mortar charters have achievement no different from their traditional public school peers (see Figure 2 below). Our confidence in these results is further buoyed by other studies of virtual charter schools in Ohio and nationwide having similar findings.

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Stephen Miller’s Racist Fix for Race Relations

Word is circulating that Stephen Miller is writing Donald Trump’s speech on race relations. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Trump’s “solution” to the current malaise in the U.S. will involve extending a ban on immigration and expanding enforcement and expulsion of undocumented individuals. This seems like a safe bet to me because Miller really is a one-trick pony and Trump relishes rehashing his greatest hits. Maybe Miller will toss in some “enterprise zones” or other ornamental trivia but the meat will be anti-immigration.

They playbook for this will be Miller’s Immigration Handbook for a New Republican Majority that he wrote for Jeff Sessions in 2015. Footnote 21 of that handbook states that, “Amnesty and uncontrolled immigration disproportionately harms African-American workers, and has been
described by U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Peter Kirsanow as a ‘disaster.'” The handbook also cites a poll commissioned by Kellyanne \Conway, one finding of which was that “86% of black voters and 71% of Hispanic voters said companies should raise wages and improve working conditions instead of increasing immigration.”

Two years ago, I posted a couple of pieces discussing Miller’s handbook in more detail: The Lump That Begot Trump and Goebbels or Gompers?: A Closer Look at Stephen Miller’s Immigration Manifesto. I hope these pieces provide some insight into just how dangerous and effective Miller’s and Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric can be, especially given the hypocrisy of neo-liberal promotion of immigration as exemplified by Tony Blair’s and Gerhard Schroeder’s “Third Way” advocating “a new supply-side agenda for the left“. To put it bluntly, “Third Way” immigration policy was intended to create jobs by keeping wages low through an abundant supply of labor. The transfer of income from the working class to the wealthy would provide ample funds for “investment.”

In short, Miller’s and Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is dangerous and effective because Blair and Schroeder (and Clinton and Obama) enacted right-wing, supply-side economic policies in the name of “the [‘responsible’] left.”

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Wisconsin ex-Dane and Milwaukee Counties

In comments to NDD’s post, Terry says:

Wisconsin—except for Milwaukee and Madison —basically opened up with no restrictions as a result of the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling 4 weeks ago and much to the delight of the late night comics people flocked to taverns without regard of masks or social distancing. I certainly expected to see numbers bump up by now but in fact they have fallen steadily

Cool if true, but, as Warner Wolf said, let’s go to the video tape data:

author calculations from NYT County-level data

I’m seeing a pop in cases about two to three weeks after the ruling, which rather matches Terry’s (and the world’s) initial expectations.

If you look at the time after those two well-predicted spikes, they look as if they might—best case—return to the mid-May, still pre-“reopening” levels. This is most likely because large firms and stores and most non-alcoholics (unlike the gerrymandered abomination that is the lame-duck Wisconsin Supreme Court) are taking a cautious approach to returning people to work and restaurants and shops to full capacity (assuming they still have disposable income).

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