Saturday, May 4, 2019


If America faces a real threat
There’s a stark warning tucked inside the Mueller report:   Our government is not ready for a serious crisis.   In addition to examining Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice, the report also provides a disturbing window into how the Trump administration functions.   Mueller found that White House officials routinely ignored President Trump’s orders, because they view him as irrational and ignorant.   This has generally served Trump well, because his own judgment is often so shockingly bad.   Indeed, by refusing to fire Mueller or halt the investigation, officials probably saved Trump’s presidency.   Insubordinate Trump aides have apparently rescued the public from other dark fates.  

But in the long term, this is unsustainable.   In our system of government, the president is supposed to be the final authority.   If his aides and Cabinet members do not carry out his decisions, the constitutional order breaks down.   Who gave these people the power to act for the president?   How do we hold them accountable?   If we’re lucky, we will avoid a national security or economic crisis requiring  a functional emergency-management response.   If not, there is reason to fear that this White House might crumple in an emergency.
--Yuval Levin,

A Sanders candidacy:  Be very afraid?
***From canapé-filled fundraisers on the coasts to the cloakrooms of Washington, establishment Democrats are freaking out that Bernie Sanders might actually win the party’s nomination.   The scenario keeping them up nights is that Sanders, like Donald Trump in 2016, will ride a fanatical base of support through a splintered, historically large field and get a critical mass of delegates.  The moderates fear that nominating an avowed socialist would all but ensure  that Trump gets a second term. 
--Jonathan Martin, New York Times 

***Sanders would send the party’s big-money donors running for the hills.   Democrats also fear that his nomination would give third-party independent Howard Schultz a reason to get into the race as a spoiler—stealing Democratic votes and putting Trump back in office with less than 50 percent of the popular vote.
--James Downie,  Washington Post

***The party establishment is even mulling an overt Stop Bernie campaign, but that would likely backfire.   Sanders would just include that opposition in his “anti-establishment" messaging.   And if mainstream Democrats succeed in damaging him and steering the nomination to someone else, his supporters could become so angry that they’d boycott the general election, as some did in 2016.  
--Jim Newell,

***I’m no Bernie fan, , but would it be so bad if he won the nomination?   He’s a sure-footed campaigner who nearly pulled off a major upset against Hillary Clinton in 2016, and no one can match his anti-establishment credentials or his forceful advocacy of taxing the rich, attacking inequality and helping the middle class.  He might actually be the Democrats’ strongest candidate against Trump.
--Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune

***The worst scenario for Democrats is not Sanders winning the nomination.   It’s the primary vote being so divided that no candidate wins a majority of delegates, leading to a contested convention in July.   Because of Sanders supporters’ bitterness over the “superdelegates” who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, these party elites don’t get to vote in 2020 until the second ballot.   But imagine if Bernie’s ahead after the first go-round, and then the superdelegates step in to hand the nomination to a more moderate candidate.   That would resurrect the Left’s belief that the nomination was “rigged”--and leave precious little time for healing before the general election.
--Andrew Malcolm, Charlotte Observer

Single-payer could doom Democrats
Single-payer health care is “an electoral poison pill” that could cost Democrats the 2020 election.   Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders has turned his proposal for a total government takeover of the health-care system into an uncompromising obsession, insisting that his “ ‘political revolution’ will obliterate all obstacles in a tsunami of public support.”  

But polling shows that it would be far more popular to fortify the Affordable Care Act, add a public option to buy into Medicare, lower prescription prices and make other “incremental reforms,” rather than taking private health insurance away from about 160 million people. When told that single-payer would eliminate private insurance, 58 percent of Americans oppose it.   The prospect of losing their existing coverage and being herded into an unknown new public system costing trillions of dollars “could drive voters in crucial states back into [President Trump’s] arms.”  The attack ads practically write themselves.  For Democrats, single-payer is the heart of a fundamental choice:  Does the party “offer a broad vision with optimal appeal or hobble itself with a laundry list of litmus tests which animate a slice of the electorate even smaller than Trump’s base”?
--Richard North Patterson, The

Why people want Bigfoot to be real
Nature writer Robert Michael Pyle studied Bigfoot enthusiasts--and concluded their obsession gives them a good excuse to spend time in remote, wooded areas.  “These guys don’t want to find Bigfoot--they want to be Bigfoot!” he wrote.   Others frame Bigfoot as a symbol of freedom from the modern world--a simple creature who is free of civilization’s rules and boundaries.   It’s comforting to believe another hominid evolved without “the cruelty, greed, vanity, and other ‘childishness’ ” of Homo sapiens, says naturalist David Rains Wallace, who has studied Bigfoot lore.  Folklore professor Lynne McNeill says Bigfoot satisfies a deep human hunger for the mysterious and the magical and serves as proof that humans have not totally dominated nature.   “It’s a better world if Bigfoot can be real,” McNeill says.   “It says something positive about our retention of wilderness spaces.   It says something positive about the fact that we maybe aren’t utterly destroying the planet we live on if a species can remain hidden and undiscovered.”
--The Week
About those "evil" plastic bags
. . . The alternatives to plastic also have environmental costs.  Paper bags, which are made from pulped, cut-down trees, require significantly more energy to produce than plastic--and thus leave a much larger carbon footprint.   In fact, Britain’s Environmental Agency has found that you have to reuse a paper bag three times and a cotton shopping bag 131 times before these options have “a smaller global warming impact” than one single-use plastic bag.  Don’t forget that many plastic bags have "unseen second lives—as trash bin liners, dog poop bags, and storage receptacles,” said Rebecca Taylor in   My research in California, which passed a statewide ban in 2016, found that the law did, indeed, reduce plastic carryout bag usage by 40 million pounds per year.   Unfortunately, it also led to a 12 million–pound boom in trash bag sales, and perhaps an additional increase in sales of poop bags.   This suggests that charging a small fee for plastic bags might be more effective than a ban, since it provides an option for those who don’t throw them away after one use. Sometimes, bans can backfire.
-- Brad Plumer, New York Times
Combating robocalls
Verizon is now offering free filtering of spam calls.   The system, which uses a federal authentication standard called STIR/SHAKEN, verifies that a call is actually coming from the number it’s posing as.   Many spammers will spoof your local area code or exchange.   The system can automatically block unwanted calls and report the number.  It falls into line with a mandate established by the Federal Communications Commission, which has warned all major U.S. carriers that it will take action if they don’t make an effort to stem the deluge of robocalls, which numbered 26.3 billion in 2018.   Competitor T-Mobile has put a similar system in place, but only for some phone models.  Almost half of all mobile call volume is now estimated to be spam marketing.
--Chris Welch,
Our regenerating brains
For decades, neuroscientists have argued over whether or not humans can make new neurons after their brains stop developing in adolescence.   Now a team of Spanish scientists has found evidence that we do keep making fresh neurons well into our 90s and that production drops rapidly in people with Alzheimer’s--even when the disease has only recently taken hold.   The researchers examined the brains of 58 people who died at ages 43 to 97, focusing on the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory and emotion.  The researchers were able to spot immature, or “new,” neurons and noted that their production declined slightly with age in healthy brains.    “I believe we would be generating new neurons as long as we need to learn new things,” says co-author Maria Llorens-Martín, from the Autonomous University of Madrid.  “And that occurs during every single second of our life.” 

But the brains of people at the very beginning of Alzheimer’s--when symptoms have not yet manifested--had 30 percent fewer new neurons than healthy brains of the same age.   By measuring levels of new brain cells, doctors might eventually be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s at an earlier stage than currently possible and recommend exercise and other interventions to boost neuron production.
SUVs too pricey for Gen Z
The next generation of consumers can’t afford the SUVs coming out of Detroit.   More automakers are ditching sedans in favor of more expensive and more profitable SUVs and trucks.  That shift comes just as many in Gen Z—who are burdened with student debt and highly cost-conscious—contemplate their first set of wheels.   Two-thirds are buying used, with most opting for compact cars or midsize sedans.  Overall, Gen Z is expected to account for only 3.6 percent of new vehicle purchases this year, compared with 4.4 percent for Millennials when they were starting out in 2004. Gen Z will comprise 40 percent of consumers by next year, so Detroit may have to revive the sedan if it wants to catch this youth wave.
--Keith Naughton, Bloomberg Businessweek

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