Links 1/24/20

Links for you. Science:

Volcanic gas bursts probably didn’t kill off the dinosaurs
Dr. Donald Low, the face of Toronto’s response to SARS, dies at 68
‘This is not how sequoias die. It’s supposed to stand for another 500 years’
The biology of coffee, the world’s most popular drink


Stop Calling Armed Mobs the “Militia”
FBI: Saudi government ‘almost certainly’ helps its citizens escape prosecution in US for serious crimes
Warren and Sanders supporters are so worried about repeating 2016, they’re recreating it
The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It
The Amish Keep to Themselves. And They’re Hiding a Horrifying Secret
Will The Chicago Tribune Be the Next Newspaper Picked to the Bone?
Amy Klobuchar Keeps Voting for Trump’s ‘Horrific’ Judges
Why is the mainstream media so gentle to Joe Biden?
Shelving ‘Christina’s World’: Does a museum have the right to hide a masterpiece?
Marching around with guns on your chest? That’s all about fear.
Inside the Last Bohemian Apartments of Manhattan’s Storied Hotel Chelsea
A wild elephant went into a Sri Lankan hotel and gently wandered around while poking stuff with his trunk
This Used to be The Future
The Double Endorsement That Isn’t
‘The streets are more alive’: Ghent readers on a car-free city centre
‘Middle Class’ Joe Biden has a corruption problem – it makes him a weak candidate (I don’t understand why some Democrats called for Sanders to disassociate himself from this op-ed. “…nominating a candidate like Biden will make it far more difficult to defeat Trump. It will allow Trump to muddy the water, to once again pretend he is the one “draining the swamp”, running against Washington culture” is correct)
The Arkansas Gamble: Can a Tablet and a Print Replica Rescue Local News?
Parnas: Trump Became More Powerful When He Got William Barr
Here are 7 pressing questions for corporate media outlets about their blatantly anti-progressive biases
Paul Krugman is egregiously wrong on the facts in this column excusing Biden’s record of calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
Slavery, and American Racism, Were Born in Genocide: Martin Luther King Jr. saw something essential about our nation: Imperial expansion west over stolen Indian land shaped and deepened the American Revolution’s relationship to slavery.

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We Are Being Bamboozled About Biden and Social Security

Similar to actual shooting wars, one casualty of political campaigns is nuance–things end up being portrayed as black and white. Are you good or bad? When it comes to the attempts to defend Biden’s record on Social Security–and it is not good–he suffers from the same problem. As some asshole with a blog noted recently about a long Senate speech in which he called for a Social Security spending freeze (we’ll return to what a freeze meant in the context of the 1990s in a bit; boldface added):

For perspective, Biden obviously wasn’t a liberal Democrat in the 1980s and 1990s, but, importantly, he wasn’t a conservative either. One example of this is a Senate speech he gave when he opposed the balanced budget amendment–which was a good policy…

Again, he was better than the Republicans at the time (as well as too many Democrats), in that he also argued that ‘capital investments’ should not be counted towards deficit spending because states with balanced budget amendments used the same dodge to deficit spend without calling it deficit spending. So, for his era, he wasn’t a conservative at all.

But as the sages noted when asked why Noah–who was called a ‘righteous man in his generation’–wasn’t lauded, [they responded] his generation wasn’t very righteous. It’s not 1995 anymore, but it’s not clear at all that Biden has changed–and saying you’ll ‘protect’ Social Security, when spoken by New Democrats has meant that they will cut it to ‘save it.’

The Gingrich Republicans, who are now the dominant faction in the Republican Party, want(ed) to destroy Social Security. Biden certainly doesn’t want to do that, and to claim that he does is false. But, throughout his long career, he has supported efforts to cut benefits, both through means testing and through a freeze in benefits. Means testing doesn’t work unless enough people are hit hard (i.e., not just the one percent), at which point the program is no longer a universal program–and that is an existential threat to its survival. Spending freezes, along with things like chained CPI, are even worse, in that this policy erodes the spending power of Social Security. In the 1990s, inflation averaged around three percent. A five year benefits freeze at that time would have decreased the relative spending power of a monthly Social Security check by twelve percent–and for people who depend on that check as their primary or sole source of income, that means ‘Cat food, it’s what’s for dinner.’

It’s all the worse because plenty of Democrats opposed spending freezes, means testing, and cuts: doing so was hardly a far-out lefty position (in fairness, expanding benefits was). One option that was taken seriously was removing the income cap on Social Security payroll taxes. The key point is, while Biden wasn’t horrible (Republicans were horrible), he wasn’t good at all. Trying to reinvent him as a savior of Social Security, when throughout his career–not just one speech in 1995–he has called for various types of cuts is gaslighting. He wasn’t the devil, but he wasn’t close to the angels either. It’s not 1995 anymore either. We can do better.

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Links 1/23/20

Links for you. Science:

The Freshwater Giants Are Dying
Conservative States Seek Billions to Brace for Disaster. (Just Don’t Call It Climate Change.)
How Much Should The Public Be Told About Risky Virus Research?
When lab tests are misleading: A mystery in antibiotic resistance
How Mathematics Can Save Your Life


The Fire This Time: In the Face of Rising White Supremacist Violence, Police Continue to Investigate Victims and Activists (and it distracts from finding actual terrorists)
How Trump fused his business empire to the presidency (Democrats really should have brought up the emoluments issue)
Peter Thiel’s Latest Venture Is the American Government
Joe Biden Tried to Cut Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare for 40 Years: Joe Biden was once a New Deal Democrat. Then he “evolved” and starting backing decades of Republican plans to cut Medicare and Social Security.
Woman arrested in CIA trespass seeking ‘Agent Penis’ charged by Secret Service
My Opponents Are All Very Good, I Am Just Slightly Better (last sentence is critical)
When saving the planet spoils the charm of historic houses
Psychologist Who Waterboarded for C.I.A. to Testify at Guantánamo
The legacy of ‘Citizens United’ has been destructive. We need campaign finance reform.
Trump’s China Deal Creates Collateral Damage for Tech Firms
Today’s Good Times Conceal Lurking Economic Troubles
Joe Biden’s Biggest 2020 Problem Is Joe Biden
Black caucus in Nevada’s largest county endorses Sanders
Just as Many African-Americans Say They’d Consider Voting for Bernie Sanders as Joe Biden
Republican Virginia Delegate Says He’d Support Giving Alexandria And Arlington To D.C. (make both D.C. and North Virginia new states, and gain 2-4 Democratic Senate seats)
Most Americans want Trump out: But Mitch McConnell totally doesn’t care what we think
It sure looks like Amazon is bringing a grocery store to 14th Street (don’t want to give Amazon my info to buy groceries…)
Trump’s Campaign Manager Just Signaled the 2020 Strategy: Head for the Gutter
1943 view of M Street in Georgetown looking east from Wisconsin Avenue.
The Referees Have Taken Trump’s Side: If Mitch McConnell ran the Super Bowl, would the game even have to happen?
‘Nazi Salute’ School a Cesspool of Racism, Sex Abuse: Lawsuit

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We Have Multiple Housing Crises

A recent article, “Why The Housing Crisis Is A Problem For Everyone — Even Wealthy Homeowners” does a very good job of explaining why high urban housing prices are a problem for everyone. But it suffers from a problem in that it treats our housing problems as a one crisis when it’s at least three crises, plural.

One housing crisis, and the one that gets the least attention, exists in those places where housing prices are too low, but I’m not going to discuss that here. The second housing crisis afflicts low income people including the homeless, and that problem is that low-income people don’t have enough money to afford any housing unless it is really low price: as my Uncle Harry used to say, “Rich or poor, it’s always good to have money”, and they just don’t have enough money. The third crisis is that people are paying too much for housing. This isn’t an existential crisis–they can afford to pay for housing, but they are spending money on rent when it could be spent elsewhere more productively (this is rent extraction in the economics sense). It affects people from the low-middle stratum through upper-middle (though not gentry class). Obviously, Uncle Harry’s dictum applies here too–it’s better to be upper-middle than lower-middle, and the boundaries between lower-income and lower-middle are fuzzy, but the key point is that this isn’t an immediate existential crisis, such as choosing between food and rent.

It’s worth breaking apart problems two and three because they require different strategies. For low-income people, they need some kind of subsidy, whether it be public housing or rent supplements (e.g., Section 8). Building more housing (unless it’s subsidized public housing) won’t solve their problems, especially in a short time frame. Again, they can’t really afford to pay for housing–it’s a cash flow problem, not a supply problem. For the broad middle, the problem is housing is too expensive. This can be solved by public housing*, though in the U.S. context, we typically don’t believe in public housing for the middle-class–public housing is based in ‘pity politics.’* This is where building more privately-funded housing would help. Additional housing would lower prices, or at least, slow the increase of prices by adding more supply–and, as the linked article notes, that makes urban life more affordable for the middle class.

One problem with the politics of housing is that people who want to solve one of the housing problems often aren’t interested in the other problem, and so housing advocates are talking past each other (e.g., NIMBY DSA members, which, believe it or not, is a thing). Advocates of the poor don’t see increased private development as solving their problems–and to the extent that private development drives out lower income people, it worsens them. Meanwhile, those who want to lower prices for the broad middle–and there’s nothing wrong with policies that help the middle class–realize that public housing won’t help most of the households they’re concerned about.

It’s almost like an alliance or something would be useful.

*If I were El Supremo, I would have mixed public housing. Roughly a third would be for low-income. Around ten percent would be for government employees (including uniformed services), and the rest would be open to the public. If you want an integrated society, then you have to integrate housing at the microscale. Critically, people who aren’t low-income would be paying below-market rate rents–yes, we are giving middle class people (and even the wealthy too! Come on down, Jarvanka!) incentives to live in these communities. It would be better than the current structure of subsidies, including the mortgage interest deduction, which subsidize segregation by income and race.

Posted in Housing | 2 Comments

Links 1/22/20

Links for you. Science:

The basics: What we know — and don’t know — about the virus spreading in China and beyond
Why Black doctors like me are leaving faculty positions in academic medical centers
What’s For Dinner? For Hammerhead Sharks, It’s Family!
Deadly fungus became resistant to all existing drugs in 3 unlinked US patients
New release (v1.1) of Population & Quantitative Genetics book
The War on the War on Cancer


The National Archives used to stand for independence. That mission has been compromised.
Sanders is right: Biden is vulnerable to Trump on Social Security (been saying this since the beginning of the primaries)
The Truth About the Trump Economy
Five myths about bipartisanship
How do you move a 140-ton locomotive? If you’re the Smithsonian, very carefully.
Boston must bring back rent control to protect tenants
Trump has attacked federal unions. Now, for the first time, he’s trying to bust one.
News networks use retired military brass as war analysts without disclosing their defense-industry ties (I noted twelve years ago you can’t be a statesman and a spokesman)
Why Redevelopment Of The D.C. Housing Authority Headquarters Is A Big Deal
We had this utterly unrealistic expectation that Danish society could basically be just as good, if the welfare state ran on half the budget. But now that I’ve lived in the US for 15 years, I’ve gotten front-row tickets to that show. And it’s horror. (“It’s depressing to constantly watch the human suffering in a place like the US. You either live with a bleeding heart or become a sociopath.”)
A Norwegian TV programme pitted some professional stock-pickers against an astrologist, some beauty bloggers and – i kid you not – cows shitting in a field.
Where the Hell Are the Impeachment Protests? Washington was supposed to be entering an era of mass demonstrations. What happened?
Here’s Where Congressional Candidates Stand On The Progressive Labor Agenda
The Silicon Valley Economy Is Here. And It’s a Nightmare.
College-Educated Voters Are Ruining American Politics (ignores comfortable non-college educated voters, but there’s something useful in this)
Centrist Democrats need a 2020 reality check before it’s too late
Biden’s Advocacy for Social Security Cuts Has Had Real Consequences: The proposal for “chained CPI,” a cut to future benefits, during the Obama administration led to its widespread use in other areas of the government. (chained CPI is horrible; “Bob Woodward’s book The Price of Politics notes that Biden favored chained CPI as part of a grand bargain, and was at the center of negotiations on it with Republicans. We have the Tea Party to thank for it not happening; hard-right Republicans balked at the tax increases embedded in the deal.”)
Did Economists Stop Congress From Ending Prison Rape?
By Bullet or Ballot: One of the Only Successful Coups in American History
It Was All [Fruman’s] Contacts in Ukraine

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Trump Understands Something Moderate, ‘Pragmatic’ Democrats Do Not

You have to give your supporters nice things. The last year hasn’t been a good one for many U.S. farmers. Between flooding and a trade war, they have been hit hard. In fact, there was a time when some farmers were turning against Trump. But he understands something too many Democrats don’t–you help your supporters when they’re in trouble (boldface mine):

Donald Trump is boasting that he’s made farmers “really happy.” He’s not wrong, but it’s not just the trade deal that’s left farmers optimistic for 2020.

Analysts are saying the accord signed this week mostly just takes trade back to normal for American agriculture. China has committed to $32 billion in additional purchases over two years, but that buying will be market dependent and retaliatory tariffs are still in place. Even the status quo is still a welcome relief after more than a year of escalating tensions.

The thing that’s really moved the needle for farmers is Trump’s $28 billion farm bailout. The trade aid meant incomes rose in a year when they were widely expected to fall.

Even better news: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue just confirmed he’s expecting the administration will make the third and final payment for the aid package, even with the China deal. Perdue said those checks should be coming “imminently.” That extra income boost underscores why farmers are feeling good in places like Iowa’s Sioux County, the top agricultural producer in a state that’s No. 1 for corn and hogs.

“I’m really optimistic,” said Chris Ten Napel, who farms 2,500 acres (1,012 hectares) and raises 15,000 hogs a year in a family operation with his father and brother in Sioux County. “Things are looking up, you might say.”

…In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects national net farm income for 2019 will be up more than 10% to the highest since 2013, with the bailout payments accounting for the increase….

Without the trade aid, almost no one would have made money,” said Eric Walhof, president of Northwest Bank in Sioux Center, Iowa. About half the bank’s farm borrowers turned a profit last year, and the rest had what he called “manageable” losses….

“He understands we’re at the front lines of the trade war. He’s taken care of us,” Brad Den Herder, who grows corn and soybeans and raises hogs with his brother and father, said of Trump before trade deals were finalized this week. “We don’t feel forgotten.”

If it weren’t for the aid — the $28 billion sum ringing in at more than twice as expensive as the 2009 bailout of automakers — many Iowa farmers would’ve likely posted losses last year.

Most people aren’t policy wonks–they use heuristics. One of those heuristics is ‘am I doing better because of something Politician or Party X did?’

Democrats are going to have to learn to stop worrying about HOW WILL WE PAY FOR IT?!? and start shoveling money towards their supporters, instead of the ‘eat your vegetables’ philosophy of valuing austerity over nice new things–and, Sweet Baby Intelligent Designer, no goddamn Social Security cuts. Regardless of the specific Green New Deal plan, along with many of Sanders’ and Warren’s other plan, their policies would disproportionately funnel money to Democratic-aligned institutions and voters.

You dance with them that brung ya.

Posted in Democrats, Fucking Morons | 3 Comments

Links 1/21/20

Links for you. Science:

New microbes discovered in a red fox, homemade kefir and a tick
How Climate Change Influenced Australia’s Unprecedented Fires
He helped make burgers safer. Now he’s fighting food poisoning again.
Behavioral Economics’ Latest Bias: Seeing Bias Wherever It Looks
Trump’s EPA is said to cut scientists out of new water policy that threatens New England wetlands
It’s time to take politics out of fisheries


The Ministry Of Untruth: What Donald Trump’s unending stream of lies has done to our White House, our country and us. (must-read)
There are no heroes in the Trump administration (excellent)
Bernie Sanders’s Foreign Policy Is Too Evidence-Based for the Beltway’s Taste
The Case Against Huawei
We Must Save and Strengthen Our Precious Public Assets
“Flood the zone with shit”: How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy
New Jersey Just Passed the First Law in the Nation to Guarantee Severance Pay After Mass Layoffs
Fact Check: Joe Biden Has Advocated Cutting Social Security for 40 Years (yes, he has, and it could cost Democrats the election)
John Carlos Responds to the New Olympics Ban on Political Protest
Tons of New Apartments Are Being Built That Almost No One Can Afford
Bernie Is Less Sexist Than American Voters: Even if you think a woman could be elected as president, you’d be a fool not to worry about it. (was surprised by the author)
An Under-The-Radar SCOTUS Case Could Obliterate The Line Between Church And State
Iowa And Nevada Will Caucus With Mobile Apps Despite Hacking Fears
The Australian Open Is the Tip of a Melting Iceberg
Joe Biden Doubles Down On A Racist Myth About Black Parents
The Science of (Not) Ending Global Poverty
The Bernie Sanders Attack Joe Biden Can’t Ignore
The Warren-Sanders Feud Is Not About #MeToo: Couching the spat between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the language of #MeToo serves no one.
Your online activity is now effectively a social ‘credit score’
Andrew Bacevich on U.S. Foreign-Policy Mistakes

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