Facing the Storm

Every life has to end one way or another

– Senator John McCain
discussing his brain cancer yesterday on CNN’s State of the Union

There’s no featured post this week. The week’s news was dominated by hurricane-watching, which is the kind of current event a one-person blog isn’t equipped to cover well.

This week everybody was talking about Irma

All week the story was Irma: her strength, her path of destruction across the Caribbean, and where current projections said she would hit the United States.

Personally, I spent a lot of the week listening to hurricane coverage and wondering why Irma had seized so much more of my attention than Harvey had two weeks before. Both were huge and deadly. Both hit the United States and did (and in Irma’s case is still doing) major damage. Yet for some reason Harvey coverage seemed like all the other storm coverage I’ve watched over the years — Andrew, Katrina, Wilma, Sandy — while I got caught up in the drama of Irma: Would it hit Florida’s east or west coasts? What would happen to the Keys? Would it make landfall at Naples, Fort Myers, Tampa?

Part of the reason was undoubtedly personal: I know Florida much better than I know Texas. I have close friends outside of Sarasota. I used to visit my snowbirding parents each year in Fort Lauderdale. My wife and I honeymooned in Key West. I’ve walked the riverwalk in Tampa (where Anderson Cooper had stationed himself Sunday). Texas’ gulf coast, on the other hand, is just a place on a map to me. Whether Harvey made landfall at Corpus Christi or Rockport or further up the line at Galveston … no doubt it mattered tremendously to the people who live there, but I don’t have any personal reason to care about one of those towns more than the others.

I wonder also if the media coverage was different: Irma seemed to blot out the country’s usual politics in a way that Harvey didn’t. (That’s one reason why it seemed pointless to write a featured post this week.) I don’t have any objective measurement of that, and I’d be interested to hear in the comments whether it seemed that way to you.

As for why the networks might have covered Irma differently (if it indeed they did), I think my reaction might be more widespread than I initially suspected: Most of the country has some reason to feel a personal connection to Florida. It is the most visited state in the union. Nearly half the non-Floridians in the U.S. report having gone to Florida for either work or pleasure. It’s also the country’s top retirement destination, which means that almost everybody cares about somebody in Florida: parent, grandparent, mentor, or friend. Lots and lots of Americans have wondered if they might move there themselves someday.

After tracking Irma’s path for a while, Jose diverged to the north, missing islands Irma had already devastated. It now looks likely to stall over the Atlantic.

Irma’s winds hitting 185 sparked discussion about whether the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale needs a Category 6. After all, Category 4 starts at 130 mph winds and Category 5 at 157. Surely by 185 you need a new category.

Popular Mechanics explains why not: The scale was created not as an abstract measure, but to help communities calibrate their preparations.

Category 5 is widespread, catastrophic damage. There’s not really anything worse than that.

In other words, if Cat 5 already means “Run for your lives!” there’s no need for any higher category.

First responders who breathed in the fumes from the post-Harvey chemical-plant explosion in Crosby, Texas are suing the company. They claim the owner minimized the dangers and failed to give them adequate warnings of what to expect after the explosion.

The last time a hurricane season pointed so clearly to global warming was 2005, when Katrina and Wilma hit, and the Atlantic storm list ran out of letters in the alphabet. Until this year, though, no subsequent Category 3 or higher hurricanes had made landfall in the United States. (Sandy had declined to Category 2 by the time it ravaged the Northeast in 2012.) So there had been talk of a  “hurricane drought”.

Chris Mooney discusses what happened. First, there was simple luck. The Atlantic continued producing an above-average number of hurricanes, but their paths stayed out to sea. There does appear to be some decades-long cycle in hurricane activity, but it’s more like bull-and-bear cycles in the stock market than anything you’d want to count on: The oscillations are of no standard length, and since we don’t understand the mechanism, we don’t really know that the apparent pattern is more than a statistical anomaly.

Mooney’s article re-emphasizes a point I’ve made before about climate change: Weather is such a noisy system that it’s not really the place to start when you look for evidence (or try to convince someone else). As an analogy, think about the annual winter-to-summer warming: If all you had to go on was your own thermometer, you might suffer through a Memorial Day cold snap, look back to that one freakishly warm day in early April, and convince yourself that “spring warming” is a myth.

The other end of the phenomenon is easier to understand and see evidence of: The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising. It goes up every year. The rise is caused by burning fossil fuels. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that causes the planet to radiate less of the Sun’s energy back into space.

Given all that, you’d expect the planetwide increase in retained energy to show up in all sorts of ways: heat waves, hurricanes, rising oceans, shrinking glaciers, and so on. And in the long term it does, just as summer always eventually arrives. But all of those effects arise in complex systems with many inputs other than how much solar energy the planet is retaining. CO2 has its foot on the accelerator, but sometimes the car is going uphill, and the increase won’t show up until it starts downhill again.

While we’re on climate change, have you ever wondered about that 3% of climate-science papers that don’t support the consensus theory? Researchers looked at them, and found nothing they could replicate.

Is there anything more annoying than people who see natural disasters as evidence of God’s fury and are sure they know why God is angry? It’s one thing to use God-language metaphorically to personalize actual cause-and-effect, like saying God is sending hurricanes in response to the thoughtless way we’re pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. But attributing Harvey and Irma to abortion or same-sex marriage is treating God like a puppet: He says whatever you want Him to say.

Texas’ recovery from Harvey is producing a church-and-state issue: Should churches get FEMA help to rebuild? Previously, churches weren’t eligible for disaster-relief funds, but that was before the Supreme Court’s recent Trinity Lutheran decision, which extended a state program subsidizing playground resurfacing to cover a school operated by a church. Chief Justice Roberts wrote:

But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.

A new lawsuit by Houston churches wants to extend that decision to disaster relief for houses of worship themselves. I haven’t read the Trinity Lutheran decision yet, so I’m not ready to weigh in. But whatever the outcome, I want it to apply equally to all religions. Would Texas Christians be willing to see their tax dollars rebuilding mosques and synagogues?

and Trump’s deal with the Democrats

In spite of the hurricanes, the week’s most unexpected event came Wednesday when Trump sided with the Democrats on a deal to keep the government running until December 8. The bill (signed Friday) appropriated $15.3 billion for hurricane relief, continued government spending at current levels elsewhere, and raised the debt ceiling. It did all that without any of the usual hostage-taking: no spending cuts to balance the hurricane relief, no attacks on ObamaCare or Medicaid, not even money for Trump’s border wall. There was also none of the brinksmanship we’ve gotten used to: The House and Senate didn’t play chicken with each other, and the vote wasn’t delayed until minutes before the government would have to shut down.

Republicans felt undercut and several were “seething” (according to The L.A. Times). All 90 of the House votes against the bill came from Republicans. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Budget Director Mulvaney reportedly were “met with groans, boos and hisses” Friday morning when they tried to get Republican congresspeople to support the deal.

That agreement was part of a larger Trump charm offensive towards Democrats. When Trump went to North Dakota Wednesday to promote his (so far vacuous, as I explained last week) tax reform proposal, he took Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp with him on Air Force One, and appeared with her on stage.

For a Democrat fighting to keep her seat next year in a state Trump won by 36 points, the senator’s day could not have gone much better. Trump’s tax push has yet to be written as legislation, and a vote still remains a hypothetical. Heitkamp’s appearance with the president, then, cost her little in exchange for what amounted to an endorsement of her willingness to work across the aisle.

Since so far Trump’s tax reform “proposal” is only a vague list of principles, Heitkamp could easily support it in theory and still vote against the bill that ultimately comes to the floor.

He also took Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion to reassure DACA immigrants that they won’t be deported in the next six months. He agreed with Chuck Schumer on the goal of repealing the debt ceiling permanently.

(BTW: That’s a good idea. The debt limit has essentially become a self-destruct button that Congress must periodically decide whether to push. A debt ceiling made sense before 1974, when Congress considered each tax and appropriation separately and members could duck responsibility for the deficits those bills added up to. But now the irresponsibility runs in the other direction: A member can vote for a budget that includes a deficit, and then preen for his constituents by voting against allowing the government to borrow the money.)

The punditry has a number of theories about why Trump is doing this. If you’re in a generous mood, you might imagine that he’s doing it for the good of the country. After all, we avoid a government shutdown or a debt crisis for another three months, and hurricane victims start getting help, all without creating another artificial crisis.

You might also imagine that he’s decided to begin taking seriously the populism he campaigned on. Up until now, Trump’s executive orders have nodded in the direction of campaign promises about immigration and trade, but he has let Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell control his legislative agenda. So ObamaCare repeal-and-replace would have done its greatest damage in precisely the poor rural communities where Trump is so popular, and tax reform looked likely to become yet another giveaway to the super-rich, with working-class Americans offered little more than a mess of pottage in exchange for Social Security and Medicare birthrights that would inevitably be cut once budget deficits balloon.

So charming Democrats could, in theory, be the overture of an authentically populist tax reform, one that eliminates the loopholes where the rich hide their income and uses the money to either cut middle-class taxes or lower the deficit.

Another theory is that Trump didn’t like hearing that Congress would be too busy in September to accomplish much on tax reform or infrastructure, so he made a quick deal that would “clear the decks“. The Hill reports:

Lawmakers had expected to fight over fiscal issues right up until the end of September, but now the schedule for the month is surprisingly clear.

Finally, there’s Josh Marshall’s theory, which I have to say sounds the most plausible to me:

Trump needs to dominate people. Clearly Trump felt that McConnell and Ryan are not serving him well enough or loyally enough or both. So he lashed out or tried to damage them. Schumer and Pelosi were simply the most convenient cudgels available. … It’s been clear for weeks that [Trump] feels routinely betrayed by these two men. They don’t produce for him. They embarrass. They fail to defend him. The need to dominate runs deeper than any policy agenda or ideological ambition.

I interpret the recent overtures with a high-school-dance metaphor: Trump’s date hasn’t been giving him enough adulation, so he’s punishing her by flirting with her rival. Pelosi and Schumer should enjoy the dance, but not get fooled into thinking that some great romance is starting. Trump will be back with Ryan and McConnell as soon as he thinks they’ve learned their lesson.

and DACA

It’s still not clear what’s going to happen to the Dreamers. Their protection against deportation will start phasing out in six months, and Congress might or might not find a way to help them. (That’s a test of Congress’ functionality: Almost nobody really wants to deport them, but dysfunctional systems often do things that nobody wants.) And Trump is now leaning both ways: He says he will “revisit” his DACA decision in six months if Congress doesn’t do anything.

The stereotypic Dreamer is a teen-ager or 20-something brought to this country from Mexico around age 5. Like a lot of stereotypes, there is some statistical truth in it, but a lot of Dreamers don’t fit.

The NYT does the demographics. About 3/4ths of the Dreamers are from Mexico, and other Latino countries provide most of the rest. But not all: 7250 are from South Korea, 4655 from the Philippines, 3435 from Jamaica, and 3182 from India.

Part of what you see there is that not all undocumented immigrants get into the country by sneaking across a border. A large number of them (even ones from Mexico) come here legally as tourists and then stay after their visas expire. The Great Wall of Mexico won’t do anything to stop them.

15 state attorney generals are suing to block Trump from ending DACA. It’s a difficult argument, and I find it hard to believe they’ll succeed. In some sense their case is modeled on the one against Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, in which he blocked visitors from six Muslim-majority countries. There, the argument wasn’t that Trump lacked the power to issue that order, but that it was unconstitutional for him to issue it capriciously, as a way of discriminating against Muslims.

Ditto here: Obama started DACA via executive order, so Trump certainly has the power to un-order it. To win the case, then, the AGs would have to convince a federal court that Trump’s order could only be motivated by anti-Latino animus. It seems like a tough case to make.

but USA Today’s investigation of corruption deserves more attention

Wednesday, USA Today published “Trump gets millions from golf members. CEOs and lobbyists get access to president“. Abstractly, we all knew the problem Trump’s private clubs create:

for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally.

The initiation fee is $200K at Mar-a-Lago and $300K at Bedminster, with thousands more expected in membership fees each year. A lobbyist or CEO seeking government favors knows that he might meet the President in either place, and the President will know that he has received a large payment — not a campaign contribution, but a payment that benefits him personally.

[This is an important point: If you believe a politician’s policies are good for the country, civic virtue might motivate you to contribute to his or her re-election. But giving a government official money to spend on himself is always improper.]

Even if that’s theoretically possible, does it actually happen? It’s been hard to prove. The membership rolls at Trump’s clubs are secret, so you can’t check them for suspicious names. You also can’t check whether Trump suddenly started making more money off his clubs after he became president, because his tax returns are secret. The Obama administration would at least tell you who the President was playing golf with, but the Trump administration won’t even do that.

So journalists had to get creative.

USA TODAY set out to identify as many members of Trump’s private clubs as possible. We found more than 4,500 names by scouring social media posts, news stories and a public website golfers use to track their handicaps.

Our reporters then reviewed many hundreds of members’ names and used information available online and public documents such as lobbying registrations, corporate records, property deeds and medical licenses to determine the members’ jobs and if they make their living trying to influence the federal government or win contracts with it.

And they found some.

Members of the clubs Trump has visited most often as president — in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia — include at least 50 executives whose companies hold federal contracts and 21 lobbyists and trade group officials. Two-thirds played on one of the 58 days the president was there, according to scores they posted online.

As the article notes, there is nothing illegal about this, as long as the executives and lobbyists pay the same fees other people do, and no government favor is an identifiable quid pro quo. But it’s unsavory at a level that has not been seen in American politics for the last century or so.

Trump isn’t draining the swamp, he’s flooding it.

Speaking of corruption, we’re still not in a league with Brazil. This is how you know that you’ve got a problem:

and you also might be interested in …

About that “American carnage” we supposedly need an anti-immigrant, law-and-order president to protect us from: no sign of it in the numbers.

Tom Heberlein is an American living in Sweden who likes Swedish taxes. Sure they’re higher than American taxes, but you also get more: healthcare, public transportation, and college, just to name a few benefits. Interestingly, Heberlein turns the conservative “free to choose” argument upside-down:

No matter how rich Bill Gates is, he cannot buy a hiking trail system in Seattle like those we take for granted in Stockholm. I get to use it for free and have more choices for hiking than I can ever enjoy in Wisconsin.

… Betty and I used to live the village of Lodi, about 25 miles from Madison. This being America, I was free to travel to Madison however and whenever I wanted, as long as it was by private automobile. There was (and is) no bus service to Madison. Even though railroad tracks run right through the village, there is no commuter rail service either.

If this were a suburb of Stockholm or any other European city of 250,000, there would be train service and bus service several times an hour. These are the choices Europeans have that we don’t, because they devote more of their income to collective goods.

Ta-Nehisi Coates proclaims Trump “America’s first white president“, meaning (I think) that he’s the first president whose appeal is based on white identity politics.

Explanations of Trump’s victory that rely on economic resentment rather than racial resentment just don’t cut it.

Trump’s white support was not determined by income. According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker. So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class. Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent.

… Sixty-one percent of whites in this “working class” supported Trump. Only 24 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of blacks did. Indeed, the plurality of all voters making less than $100,000 and the majority making less than $50,000 voted for the Democratic candidate. So when Packer laments the fact that “Democrats can no longer really claim to be the party of working people—not white ones, anyway,” he commits a kind of category error. The real problem is that Democrats aren’t the party of white people—working or otherwise. White workers are not divided by the fact of labor from other white demographics; they are divided from all other laborers by the fact of their whiteness.

As interesting and consequential as the Russian hack of Democrats’ email systems is the Russian social-media bot network. It’s still working to influence American political opinion. Most recently, it’s been pushing a pro-alt-Right anti-Antifa angle.

A follow-up to the article I mentioned last week about the morality of being rich: Rachel Sherman wrote in the NYT about her interviews with some wealthy people in New York: They do feel conflicted about their wealth, and many of them try not to appear to be as rich as they are.

Yet we believe that wealthy people seek visibility because those we see are, by definition, visible. In contrast, the people I spoke with expressed a deep ambivalence about identifying as affluent.

One of the interviewees takes the price tags off of everything, because she is embarrassed to have the housekeeper know she spends $6 for a loaf of bread.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to expand publicly funded charter schools nationwide. She was responsible for the law that expanded them in Michigan, which isn’t working out so well.

Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states. It’s a devastating fall. Indeed, new national assessment data suggest Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum. White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.

and let’s close with something out of the ordinary

Looking ahead to Irma hitting Florida, NPR did an article on disaster planning at zoos. It’s usually not possible to load a bunch of exotic animals into a truck and head up the turnpike to safety, so zoos have to get creative about sheltering in place. In this photo, a flock of flamingos (even the females) wait out 1998’s Hurricane Georges in a men’s bathroom.

A related concern is Gatorland in Orlando, where 2,000 alligators (and a few pythons and other dangerous reptiles) live. The theme park assured the public that none of its creatures will escape; a five-person crew stays on duty through a storm. Now there’s an idea for your horror-movie script: You were supposed to be on your way back to college by now, but instead you’re in the crew weathering a disaster at an alligator park. “Don’t worry!” the boss says as he catches the last jeep out.

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  • Roger Owen Green  On September 11, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Unproven theory: the personal stories that came out of the Harvey narrative made Irma’s potential peril more personal? You see what a Cat 3+ storm hitting the US can do from very recent memory. Of course, that makes everyone an expert, including some dude who was SURE those cranes, designed to withstand 135 mph winds, would be fine. (Two fell.)

  • gordonc  On September 11, 2017 at 10:42 am

    “Is there anything more annoying than people who see natural disasters as evidence of God’s fury and are sure they know why God is angry?”

    [H]e maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5;45.,KJV

  • Adrian  On September 11, 2017 at 11:57 am

    Your statement that “CO2 is a greenhouse gas that causes the planet to reflect less of the sun’s energy back into space” misses the greenhouse concept. While a small amount of solar energy (short wave) is reflected off of the atmosphere (due mostly to clouds) or is absorbed by the atmosphere itself, some 75% goes through the atmosphere and is absorbed by the earth’s surface. The surface, in turn, emits infrared (long wave) radiation only 20 to 30% of which makes it back through the atmosphere into space. The bulk of the infrared is reflected off of the greenhouse gasses and returns to earth further warming the surface. This is how a greenhouse works with glass substituting for CO2.

    Some of that solar energy that reaches the surface is reflected as short wave energy back into space, but this is a function of the reflectivity (albedo) of the surface. For example, polar ice absorbs much less energy than ice free ocean. Another significant factor is the angle the solar radiation strikes the earth. Picture a bundle of sunlight striking the Equator on the equinox as compared to the same size bundle striking the Arctic Circle where the low in the sky sunbeam will be spread out over a much larger area resulting in a much lower amount of heat absorbed per square inch.

    Long story short: more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere results in more infrared reflected downward resulting in a warmer planet and the evidence overwhelmingly suggests human activity as the cause.

    This theory was taught in my introduction to climatology class in 1963 (Univ. of Md.) with the exception that human activity was not believed to be the primary cause.

    Keep up the good work that you do.

    Adrian Ziepolt

    Sent from my iPad

  • Andrea Miller  On September 11, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Difference in broadcasting the storms. Personally, every time I go to Texas, I can hardly wait to leave. I used to visit my friends in a retirement trailer park. So glad they have moved out of state. Perhaps the fact that the whole Texas contingent was against helping others with Sandy. Plus the fact that the whole city is set up for flooding due to lack of planning and zoning make a difference too.

  • Abby  On September 11, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    My opinion was that Harvey’s catastrophic nature came as something of a surprise. We thought of it as just another event, until we saw the massive floods, which we were told was the result of building in low country, and then getting a direct hit from a hurricane. It fit in with a well-laid-out global warming disaster scenario–not only are there high winds and storm surges, there is massive rainfall, which doesn’t have anyplace to go. So then, when we are primed to be worried about this, what do we get but another truly huge, strong hurricane aimed at Florida, which is nearly all low country. So Harvey reminded us of how devastating a hurricane can be, and primed us to be terrified by the prospect of the combination of wind, lots of water, and low country. Then a powerful hurricane aimed itself at a notoriously low state. That’s why we were glued to Irma coverage, I think.

  • Abby  On September 11, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    “Explanations of Trump’s victory that rely on economic resentment rather than racial resentment just don’t cut it.” This matches my personal observation, gleaned from canvassing in New Hampshire, which is that Trump voters live in nice houses and drive nice vehicles. They were not the people who were left behind by the economy.

    • L. F. File  On September 12, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      But people in nice houses with nice vehicles vote GOP anyway and many wouldn’t vote for a woman (unless she was a Republican!) So many unusual factors in this election it is easy to overemphasize the role of any particular one. I think media was the worst. It’s attempt at balance – wildly overemphasize HRC’s relatively small negatives to balance coverage with Trump’s underemphasized insanity, dishonesty and Russian double dealing. Then wildly misinterpret polling so Dems – especially minorities already greatly encumbered with regulatory obstacles – think they don’t need to vote, or can throw away their vote in protest.


  • MAHA  On September 11, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    “I wonder also if the media coverage was different: Irma seemed to blot out the country’s usual politics in a way that Harvey didn’t. (That’s one reason why it seemed pointless to write a featured post this week.) I don’t have any objective measurement of that, and I’d be interested to hear in the comments whether it seemed that way to you.”

    I did think the media coverage of Irma blotted out the usual politics, but I noticed that Trump saw the huge ratings CNN’s coverage of Irma was getting and took advantage of it. Always thinking of himself, he started running campaign ads for an election that is more than 3 years off, hyping a long list of accomplishments that no administration can accomplish in a mere 8 months. It was his customary pack of lies. But the ratings!

    Deborah McP

  • Andrew D. Anderson  On September 11, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    “One of the interviewees takes the price tags off of everything, because she is embarrassed to have the housekeeper know she spends $6 for a loaf of bread.”

    -Yet the interviewee isn’t too embarrassed for the housekeeper to know that she in fact has a housekeeper. She also isn’t too embarrassed to actually buy the $6 loaf of bread. It doesn’t sound like she’s conflicted by her wealth at all. How could you ever claim to be embarrassed by the price of your groceries, but not by your pampered lifestyle?

  • Dan Fox  On September 12, 2017 at 1:48 am

    Doug, I do think your perspective on Harvey’s impacts vs. Irma’s is skewed by your location. (And I thank you for being perceptive enough to realize that as a factor.)

    I’m a lifelong left-coaster and throughout my many decades have known only 3 people to have lived in Florida. (One of them was a phone friend; I knew the other two via the Internet). I’ve known only one person – I think – to have vacationed there.

    I do know higher numbers of people from Texas, both in-person and through the Internet.

    But those factors alone don’t explain the skew in media coverage that I’ve seen between Harvey & Irma. For instance, Harvey stayed near the top of Facebook’s “trending” feature for days, but I think that Irma only did so once, and then only briefly.

    Even out here, Katrina was perceived as a major national tragedy, and Sandy as a horror. Harvey’s effects were reported here, but Irma’s? Not so much. We have very quickly become desensitized to extreme weather as the new normal.

  • Margaret Toms  On September 12, 2017 at 7:04 am

    Regarding your link to the man living in Sweden, Michael Moore’s last movie was about this very topic. The name had something to do with choosing the next country to invade. Compared to other Michael Moore productions, the movie had a sweetness to it. It didn’t get that much press and I don’t think many people saw it. The name was badly chosen and missed the point. The point was that policies and systems in other countries made for a better quality of life for the citizens. Their solutions to issues were better than ours (the USA’s). And the kicker was that many of those solutions were originally our idea. We just went the wrong way, with our emphasis on the individual versus the collective. And I think the lawsuit on behalf of the Dreamers has as its basis a due process claim. Margaret Toms


  • Guest  On September 12, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Was thinking about your comments ending last week’s discussion, and tried posting a reply but got error messages. Still trying to wrap my head around your position:

    “I am still waiting for the left to prove its appeal in down ballot elections. Maybe 2018 is the year; we’ll see. If what progressives believe about their appeal is true, then I’d expect to see some come-from-nowhere upset in 2018, in a race a moderate Democrat could never have won. (Something like Scott Brown winning Ted Kennedy’s old senate seat, but with the parties reversed.) If that happens, then the party leadership will come around easily. But until it does, I can’t blame them for being skeptical.”

    I don’t know, Doug, after some reflection that seems like a weird place to move the goalposts to. So, if there is no progressive upset in 2018, you’d toss Bernie aside in 2020 even if he was still polling extremely well nationally and far better than any other candidate? I’m not seeing the logic there. If down-ballot races are your be-all-end-all, then how does DNC/Hillary’s underwhelming (politely phrased) performance with regards to down-ballot races in 2016 enter your calculus? IIRC, 2016 was supposed to be a bumper crop year down-ballot for the Dems, whereas 2018 is being forecast as an uphill battle to gain seats. With corporate establishment and Hillary at the helm, the Dems failed down-ballot in 2016, that data is in, but they get the benefit of doubt from you for 2018 and it’s the progressive side of the tent that holds the burden of proof?

    If Hillary won decisively and carried a wave of down-ballot success behind her then, yeah, the kind of standard you seem to be promoting makes sense. But with things as they are, the selective skepticism doesn’t add up.

    If we get to see a progressive upset in 2018 I’d love to see you come around, but won’t hold my breath for DNC leadership. With some minor exceptions, they’ve proven thus far to prefer taking a loss over supporting a progressive victory. Bernie nearly pulled off one of the great American upsets, but for all the states he did win, the DNC only offered essentially lip-service at best (the attacks against him continue), so I have a hard time seeing a random progressive win on the 2018 map moving the needle much. Would like to hear why you don’t.

    • weeklysift  On September 13, 2017 at 10:56 am

      People vote in primaries for two reasons: because they agree with a candidate and because they think s/he can win the general election. You’re making a pure Bernie-can-win argument and claiming that people who don’t agree with him should just get out of the way. That’s what locates the burden of proof in my mind.

      If people think he’ll be a good president, then fine, they should vote for him. But I lived through a long series of progressive landslide losses, and I need some proof at the ballot box that something has changed before I’ll buy the pure this-is-the-way-to-win argument.

      • L. F. File  On September 13, 2017 at 12:00 pm

        Will always wonder how many Bernie supporters threw away their votes on Stein or Johnson because they thought Hilary would win anyway.

      • Guest  On September 15, 2017 at 4:57 pm

        How many progressive landslide losses have you lived through where the progressive candidate was for months consistently polling significantly better in head to head match-ups?

        Rather than a this-is-the-way-to-win-so get-out-of-the-way argument, it’s simply a matter of pointing out that Bernie was and still is polling as the most popular candidate in a general presidential election, while on the other hand we have a DNC track record of choosing conservative democrats like Hillary only to see devastating loses. Raising the fact that down-ballot progressive candidates haven’t won much more than a few scattered victories is fine, but I don’t see it as relevant to the initial point. A string of establishment loses (Gore, Kerry, Clinton) coupled with fantastic polling for Bernie indicates, at the very least, that the burden of proof shouldn’t be as one-sided as you suggest.

        Dismissing Bernie because a random progressive hasn’t won a (red!) State congressional seat seems…odd (I’m assuming we are not counting the red states Bernie won in the primaries, but only general elections). You’re free to vote how you please, but given the track record and the polling data, I’m still not seeing the logic. If you can explain then I’m all ears.

        Just to be clear, even though I acknowledge that progressive policy positions enjoy broad public support nationally, and even though I personally believe that going left (Bernie) is better than either staying the course (Hillary) or going right (Trump), I’m not under the delusion that any candidate positioning themselves as a progressive will win every time. As you’ve pointed out, elections are to a great extent popularity contests. But then, why dismiss your most popular candidate?

        To L. F. File: If you ever want to mix it up, you can always wonder how many democrats threw away their votes on Hillary because they thought Bernie wouldn’t beat Trump.

      • L. F. File  On September 15, 2017 at 5:17 pm

        I haven’t seen any evidence that Bernie ever polled well enough to win. The national polls you seem to be referring to were meaningless – HRC won the that race. To support your contention you would not only need polling from each state but also have to account for how Bernie would weather the media supported GOP shitstorm like the one faced by Hillary. I like him fine but he has never been really tested and his chances never measured.


      • weeklysift  On September 16, 2017 at 8:28 am

        I fail to see how I’m dismissing Sanders. I’m just not taking terribly seriously polls this far out from the elections. In December 2012, Hillary’s favorability was at 65%. A lot can happen.

        A big place where we differ is that I don’t think it matters who the DNC “chooses”. I remember 2004 very clearly: It was a free-for-all, and Kerry won it at the ballot box, despite Dean (who I was for) having a big early polling lead. Gore and Clinton likewise were chosen by the primary voters. (Hillary got 55% of the primary votes, outpolling Sanders by 3.7 million votes.)

        You believe that a left turn is the way for Democrats to win. All I’m saying is that I want to see some evidence for that, not in polls that can turn on a dime — remember how far ahead of Trump Hillary was after the grab-them-by-the-pussy tape came out — but in actual elections.

        2018 should be a decent test of that theory. Lots of progressives are planning to run, Bernie’s Our Revolution organization is going to endorse a bunch of them, and I expect Bernie himself to get out and campaign for them. We’ll see how they fare. And I stand by this prediction: If we see some kind of Scott Brown type upset, where a Sanders-endorsed candidate rides a populist wave and beats a Republican in a red-state senate or governor’s race, then the DNC types will get on board, not that it will really matter.

      • L. F. File  On September 16, 2017 at 8:44 am

        HRC won the popular vote and there is no indication – that I know of – that a progressive would have done any better in the EC which is what makes the difference. And you say “despite Dean (who I was for)” recall that it was the media that killed his candidacy – in a singularly inane way. Why would anyone think the Bernie or another progressive would have weathered the media myopia any better than Clinton?


      • SamuraiArtGuy  On September 17, 2017 at 12:17 pm

        L. F. File – ”Will always wonder how many Bernie supporters threw away their votes on Stein or Johnson because they thought Hilary would win anyway.“

        I know a number of people who voted third party becuase they intensely disliked and distrusted Sec. Clinton, as a neoliberal poster girl and standard,bearer for American Imperialism, but could not countenance Donald Trump either. Many more stayed home out of disillusionment, disgust, despair, or disenfranchisement. 43% of the electorate, more than voted for either major candidate.

        Of course living in WV, I could have voted for Bill The Cat for all the difference it would have made in the Electoral College.. “Clinton” is a cuss word here since NAFTA. As an expatriate NYC dweller, I went with Sec Clinton, out of resignation as a gesture of resistance to the shyster Trump. But was for Sanders in the Primary (He won WV D primary).

        But the Media, Analysts, and Pundits waste a lot of energy looking for the One Thing that cost Sec, Clinton the election. Economic distress, Racism, Bernie Bros, Jill Stein, Democratic incompetence, GOP gerrymandering and voter supression, Russian shenanigans… but it almost always feels like an effort to downplay and ignore all other factors. “If not for that one pesky thing, we’d have ben fine!” No need for reform, self-examination, or new tactics or policies.

        But this has been a messy one, and all of it is in the mix. For my money, both Economic distress, and Racism are in there, major factors, and they are overlapping, as racial resentment finds fertile ground in economic insecurity. Donald Trump absolutely spiked his nationalist populist campaign with racism and bigotry. Sweep up the distrssed AND the racists, misogynists, authoritairans, and proto-facists. The ascendant Corporatocracy and GOP Betrayals and Democratic abandonment also played a major role in stoking anti-establishment sentiment.

        As for the ”Nice Cars and Nice Houses“ GOP demographic? I am pretty sure they would have been perfectly content voting for Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush.

      • L. F. File  On September 17, 2017 at 5:22 pm

        SamuraiArtGuy says: “I know a number of people who voted third party becuase they intensely disliked and distrusted Sec. Clinton, as a neoliberal poster girl and standard,bearer for American Imperialism,..”

        If any of these people were in the states that counted they were fools. The only rational way to vote is to vote so that the resulting government is closest to what you want. The GOP has always beat the Dems on this and this was another case. I read somewhere that conservative voters were much more aware of the SCOTUS situation than Dems. Politics is the art of the possible (Bismark?) To disregard the bearing of your vote on the outcome of an election – especially this one with so much in the balance – by throwing it away in a useless protest is inconceivable to me. I can only explain it by blaming the overconfidence in an HRC win inspired by the horrible media coverage.


      • 1mime  On September 17, 2017 at 6:35 pm

        The 2016 election was hardly driven by rational thought. If it had been, Trump wouldn’t have even been on the stage.

    • weeklysift  On September 13, 2017 at 11:10 am

      It’s worth pointing out that centrist Democrats have won in red states: Manchin in West Virginia, McCaskill in Missouri, and a few others through the years. I’m asking for ONE example where a progressive wins in a red state. If the argument is that progressivism is the way to win states Democrats have been losing, that doesn’t seem like such a big ask.

  • Anonymous  On September 12, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    “The initiation fee is $200K at Mar-a-Lago and $300K at Bedminster, ”

    I’m pretty sure that he raised the initiation fees after he became president. Even without his taxes, it’s a reasonable assumption that he’s benefiting personally.

    • weeklysift  On September 13, 2017 at 10:46 am

      That’s true, but it’s a little more complicated: The fee used to be $200K, then it got reduced to $100K, then raised back after the election. If you’re being generous, you could imagine they always intended to raise it back.

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On September 13, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    “I wonder also if the media coverage was different: Irma seemed to blot out the country’s usual politics in a way that Harvey didn’t.”

    I posted on FB – The Mainstream Media seems only to be able to report on Trump… and just One Other Big Story at a time.

    Seriously, this past week, Mainstream news was stunningly binary. Irma and Trump. That was about it. Seemed to be all the had atention for. You almost had to go to non-US sources like BBC News, The Guardian, and Reuters to find out about anything else going on.

  • DMoses  On September 13, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    “While we’re on climate change, have you ever wondered about that 3% of climate-science papers that don’t support the consensus theory? Researchers looked at them, and found nothing they could replicate.”

    This is unsurprising. In statistics we tend to think about two kinds of errors called, uninspiringly, type 1 and type 2. That corresponds to a false positive and a false negative. Because the data is random (or at the least, the tools used to analyze it must assume it is in order to function) every question and study, or study in general, is going to have both a type 1 and type 2 error rate. Type 1 error and type 2 error have negative correlation (that is as one gets bigger the other gets smaller) when choosing the size of one of the errors but positive correlation in terms of scientific consensus(That is, the further the observed data is from random the probability of making a type 1 error or type 2 error both get smaller)

    So as an example. If everyone were using a p-value of 5% (I.E. “I will accept that there is an effect if given that the data is totally random in the situation i am looking at there is less than a 5% chance that we might get data that we got) and it were indeed true that there was no effect then you would expect that in doing 1000 studies about 50 of them would conclude there was an effect.

    This has a converse. If everyone is using a p-value of 5% and there really is an effect then there will be some number of studies that produce negative results when they shouldn’t. There isn’t really a good way to produce such a number for the amount of studies we would expect to have happen to but 3% isn’t out of the realm of possibility(for a number of reasons both good and bad). And we would not expect them to be replicable except 3%* of the time.

    Which is a lot of words and confusing structures to say “No; there really isn’t much of a reason to think about it. Its normal (and good) for there to be small numbers of papers which produce results that do not fit the orthodoxy even if a majority confirm the orthodoxy”

    *publication bias is likely to change these numbers[I would expect it to push UP the published false negative rate and so make it even less likely to make these studies replicable] but all things perfect on that side you would expect that the false negative rate on replication would be the same as the false negative rate on initial publication

    • weeklysift  On September 15, 2017 at 6:56 am

      The linked article is addressing the narrative that these 3% are Galileo-type truth-tellers whose truth is being suppressed by a dogmatic establishment.

      In that narrative, not trying to replicate the contrarian results is like refusing to look through one of the new-fangled telescopes — if you do, you’ll see the things that Galileo and his confederates say you’ll see. So the authors do try to replicate the results, and no, they don’t see anything.

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