I'm going to venture into dangerous territory and just hope that everyone will give this a sympathetic reading. I'm not trying to shift blame or dismiss a real problem.

The problem in question is the treatment of women by men on Twitter and other social platforms. In a word (or two), there's a subset of really loathsome assholes out there who harass women mercilessly: comments about looks, about rape, about death threats, etc. etc. The best solution, of course, is to get these men to knock it off, but there's no way that will happen quickly. At best, it will take many years to leach this kind of misogyny out of the internet.

In the meantime, the problem is that this treatment causes women genuine pain and stress. I don't get anywhere near this kind of abuse, but I sometimes get a bit of it, and it's no fun. So I have at least a glimmer of what it's like.

So here's my question: is there any kind of relatively simple therapy that can train people not to succumb to panic attacks over Twitter mobs attacking them? I'm not talking about ignoring genuine threats, like folks posting addresses and suggesting someone should be raped. Those should go straight to the police. It's all the rest that I'd like to learn to take in stride as nothing more than the meaningless ravings of cretinous sad sacks.

So: Is there anything like this? Does anyone know a reliable method for building up a thicker skin? Sort of like the hypnosis of Peter Gibbons in Office Space, except something that actually works. I know we shouldn't have to, but sometimes it's worth it even if it's galling that we need to do it at all.

How About a Constitutional Right to Vote?

I have a longstanding belief that a liberal democracy is basically in good shape if it guarantees three rights:

  • Freedom of speech/press.
  • The right to a fair and speedy trial.
  • The right to vote.

I don't mean to denigrate other important rights. Freedom of religion is important, but plenty of free countries operate just fine with state religions. Freedom of assembly can probably be mandated by law. Warrants for searches are necessary, but again, could probably be mandated by law. A ban on slavery is important, but we already have it, and it's not really a pressing issue in the 21st century anyway. And lots of democracies take wildly different views on the right to bear arms. The bottom line is that all these things can be in the Constitution, but if they're not they probably don't preclude a pretty free society.

The first two rights on my list are already enshrined in the Constitution (speech and press freedom in the First Amendment; fair trials in the Fifth through Eighth Amendments). The third, for generally disgraceful reasons, isn't. But for some reason, among the dozens of pet amendments that various interest groups propose even though they're mostly pie in the sky, this one gets almost no attention. Why not?

Don't worry too much about the precise wording of a voting rights amendment. Here's a proposal from Reclaim Democracy! that originated with Jesse Jackson:

All citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, shall have the right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides. The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, any State, or any other public or private person or entity, except that the United States or any State may establish regulations narrowly tailored to produce efficient and honest elections.

Reps. Pocan and Ellison have recently proposed a shorter version:

Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

Maybe you'd want to add some further protections: change voting day to voting week; mandate early voting; make changes to redistricting rules to better guarantee that all votes count equally. I'm agnostic about this.

Needless to say, this would open a can of worms. Basically, anyone who shows up to vote is assumed to have the right to vote unless the government has actively put them on a list of non-voters. Possibly some kind of ID would be required: maybe a Social Security card or a national ID card. Perhaps everyone would be required to enroll for voting on their 18th birthday, and would be given a card that identifies them as a voter. They could do it at the same time they enroll with Selective Service (just as soon as women are added to Selective Service requirements).

There would be exceptions. Can prisoners vote? The Supreme Court has already ruled that prisoners have limited access to free speech rights. They obviously have no right to freedom of assembly, and the right to bear arms has been curtailed with extreme prejudice. This would almost certainly be the case with voting rights as well, though it could easily be written into the text of an amendment if it was considered important enough to spell out specifically.

So why not do it? It seems like a pretty populist idea for a Democratic presidential candidate. How about it, Hillary? She already supports automatic voter registration at age 18, and that's a short jump to a constitutional amendment.

I spent the afternoon catching up on the latest in the world of liberal scuffles. Here's the background: Lefty gadfly Matt Bruenig got into a Twitter fight with Joan Walsh yesterday morning over the topic of young people supporting Bernie Sanders. It culminated with this from Bruenig: "I have a daughter too. Your pathetic ageism against young people (remember taunting them as "barely shaven") is sickening to me." About then, CAP president Neera Tanden weighed in with a light comment defending Walsh, which prompted this follow-up from Bruenig:

Tanden is—and has been for a long time—a Hillary staffer and ally, so it's not unreasonable to suspect that she might have supported welfare reform in the 90s. But Tanden denies ever having supported it, which is believable on its face since (a) her family used welfare when she was growing up, and (b) she was in law school at the time welfare reform was being debated.1

In any case, Bruenig's tweets were nasty, apparently unfounded, and a bit two-faced (charging Walsh with "ageism" followed by insulting Tanden as "geriatric"). So what happened next? I'll get to that, but perhaps some of you don't know who Neera Tanden is. You should. To the best of my memory, I've never interacted with her and don't really know anything about her, but a bit of googling turned up this:

  • Her birthday is a deeply held secret. However, she was born in 1970 and says she's 45 now, so it must be sometime after May 19.
  • Her brother attended USC and she attended UCLA. Woot! I approve already. We need less Ivy League and more West Coast in high places.
  • She uses the word "actually" a lot. Maybe she picked this up at UCLA.
  • She is the president of CAP, the Center for American Progress. CAP is a high-powered progressive think tank that most people think of as either a very influential mainstream liberal think tank or, if you want to be a little more insidery, as the Clinton family's personal think tank.2 Being president of CAP is, as Joe Biden might say, a Big Effin Deal. Tanden is the kind of person who gets mentioned frequently as a possible chief-of-staff in a Hillary Clinton White House.
  • Here's the Washington Post shortly after she took over CAP: "At 5 feet 2 inches tall, with an infectious laugh and impatience for ineptitude, Tanden brims with a moxie that can shift to sarcasm. Critics and allies alike describe her as an effective molder and messenger of intricate policy, as well as an expert practitioner of in-house politics. Friends say she is remarkably well-rounded: a model wife and mother, ideal company for a glass of wine, a perfect partner for spontaneous office dancing." Yikes!

OK, so what happened next? Bruenig works for Demos, a lefty think tank (yeah, they're everywhere), which got wind of his tweets and immediately apologized: "Sincerest apologies for @MattBruenig's judgment and demeanor. It's unacceptable and we're on it. While @MattBruenig blogs with Demos, we do not condone personal attacks. We are dealing with this internally. Thank you for understanding. We value the important work you've done and continue to do. @neeratanden @joanwalsh" This afternoon Demos fired him:

Today, we are taking a harder look at how our staff, fellows and independent contractors engage on social media—and unfortunately, we are finding that we have not met our own standards of vigilance to ensure that nobody associated with Demos is crossing an important line. After our tweet apologizing for Matt’s personal attacks including the term “scumbag,” we received emails from multiple individuals who made it clear that we were not aware of the extent to which Matt has been at the center of controversies surrounding online harassment of people with whom he disagrees.

It was evidence of a pattern of behavior that is far out of line with our code of conduct. After multiple conversations, Matt Bruenig and Demos have agreed to disagree on the value of the attack mode on Twitter. We part ways on the effectiveness of these kinds of personalized, online fights and so we are parting ways as colleagues today. And just as we did with Matt three years ago when he first joined our blog, Demos will continue to find and amplify the voices of lesser-known progressive policy commentators to make for a more inclusive public sphere.

As their statement goes on to say, there's an overlay of Bernie vs. Hillary in all this, and this prompted a flurry of Twitter condemnations of Demos. Glenn Greenwald was fairly typical:

So which was it? Was Bruenig fired for offending the great and good, or was he fired for being a jerk? It's hard to say, isn't it? Demos says it got a pile of emails that suggested a longtime pattern of "online harassment." But the rest of us haven't seen those emails, so who knows? They also say they had "multiple conversations" with Bruenig, and apparently he declined to just apologize and move on. It also sounds like he declined to rein in his behavior.

If you assume that Demos is telling this straight, it's hard to see how they could hold onto him. This is the kind of thing that I'd normally call a non-firing offense, but only if the offender agrees there's a problem and promises to rein it in. The risk of having an employee like this go completely ballistic at some point and write something either libelous or just plain repellent3 is too great. All of these tweets may have been on Bruenig's private account, but he's still very publicly associated with Demos—which is explicitly in the influence biz and has to be careful about making lots of random enemies just because one of its employees has a bit of a temper problem.

The whole thing is a damn shame. I hope Bruenig lands on his feet somewhere, but I'll bet that any future employer will ask for pretty much the same promise about tone and harassment that Demos did. It's a little hard to imagine any outfit in the think tank trade not caring about this. In the end, I suspect Matt Yglesias has the final word:

1It's times like this I wish I still had access to Nexis so I could check this out, but I don't.

UPDATE: Nexis problem solved. I searched "Neera Tanden" for the entire decade of the 90s. The first hit is from 1992 in the Los Angeles Times: "UCLA student Neera Tanden was awarded the first Sam Law Leadership Award by the Asian Pacific Alumni of UCLA at a Nov. 17 reception held at Royce Hall on the campus. Tanden, a senior planning to attend law school, was selected for her leadership experience, community and university service."

The other 11 hits were all the same: she was listed as a contact in press releases for the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1996. I did a more cursory search from 2000 through the present, and found mostly mentions of health care reform. The closest thing I could find about welfare was from a 2014 interview where Tanden criticized Republican budget cuts: "Food stamps have been cut. Proposals to cut nutrition aid would drop children from school lunch programs. Section 8 housing and welfare aren't keeping up with the need. I'm concerned about how the attack on these programs is going to impact people in our country because I know that I wouldn't be here today if they hadn't been available to me."

If Tanden ever so much as mentioned welfare reform, she sure didn't do it publicly.

2Dammit, is there a synonym for think tank?

3More repellent, anyway. You know what I mean.

Donald Trump, Still a Skinflint?

David Fahrenthold reports today that Donald Trump's $6 million fundraiser for veterans actually raised only $4.5 million. I don't have a big problem with that. Sometimes people make pledges and then back out of them. That's life in the fundraising biz, where a 75 percent fulfillment rate probably isn't unheard of. But Fahrenthold managed to identify two of the donors who backed out. One was a shopping mall magnate. The other was...

The other donor had made a much bigger promise: Trump, with his vow to give $1 million. In the past few days, The Post has interviewed 22 veterans charities that received donations as a result of Trump’s fundraiser. None of them have reported receiving personal donations from Trump.

Did Trump make good on his promise to give from his personal funds? “The money is fully spent. Mr. Trump’s money is fully spent,” Lewandowski said.

Who did Trump give to, and in what amounts? “He’s not going to share that information,” Lewandowski said.

This is just weird. Is it really possible that Trump reneged on his promise to donate $1 million? That would be completely nuts. It would be like me promising to toss in twenty bucks for an office party gift and then backing out, even though I knew there was a good chance I'd be caught. What kind of pathological skinflint would do that?

And yet, if he has donated $1 million, what possible reason is there for not telling us where it went? That's crazy too, since it inevitably leads to stories just like this one. Even Trump's most rabid fans would probably hold it against him if it turns out he lied about making a donation to veterans.

Aside from everything else, Trump is one seriously weird dude.

Friday Cat Blogging - 20 May 2016

This morning I have the most tedious possible doctor's appointment: one that I don't need. A high blood-pressure reading during a visit last week provoked Kaiser Permanente's computer into a flurry of activity, starting with an email, building up through web and phone messages, and finally peaking with a call from my doctor telling me to come in so we can chat about my blood pressure meds. Sigh. I knew I was going to pay a price when I skipped a second reading that day. The thing is, I see doctors a lot these days, which means I get my blood pressure tested a lot, and it see-saws up and down with no rhyme or reason. I barely pay attention anymore since I check it myself at home pretty routinely. (Yes, on a meter that's been calibrated by KP.) So I already know my blood pressure is fine, but now I have to go through all the tedium of trying to convince my doctor of that.

Anyway, the good news is that this means catblogging is a little early today. As you can see, Hilbert and Hopper have their eyes glued to the native wildlife, which they will never have a chance to chase around. They probably wish they lived a mouser's life, like Palmerston the foreign office cat. Or perhaps Kevin, the permanently surprised cat.

Here's a fascinating bit of raw data from Amnesty International:

I tend to discount polls asking vague question about "accepting" refugees, but this one included the option of saying that you'd take refugees into your home. That's about as concrete as being hit in the head by a brick, but the answers are still remarkably positive. In Great Britain, which has a reputation for being pretty unfriendly toward immigrants in general, nearly a third say they'd make room for refugees in their homes. In Greece, which is ground zero for the refugee crisis, 20 percent nonetheless say they'd take them in. And in Germany, which has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees—not without problems—the number is still a pretty impressive 10 percent.

Now, there are lots of details left out here. How long would people accept refugees? A few days is a lot different from a few months. Refugees from where? How much would families expect to be paid? Are they serious, or just trying to sound humanitarian to a poll taker?

I don't know. But in America, something like 30 million people say they'd be willing to take in refugees. Donald Trump notwithstanding—that's the 22 percent who would refuse them entry to the country completely—that's a lot. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by this, but I am.

Lately, the news has all been about how recalcitrant Bernie Sanders is. It's not just that he's continuing to campaign even though he no longer has a chance to win, but that he and his team are campaigning pretty negatively. "It is clear that millions of Americans have growing doubts about the Clinton campaign," he said in a statement yesterday, and his supporters continue to paint Hillary as corrupt, scheming, and a pawn of Wall Street. The chaos in Nevada over the weekend sent this dynamic into hyperdrive, leading to this instantly infamous headline in the New York Times a couple of days ago: "Bernie Sanders, Eyeing Convention, Willing to Harm Hillary Clinton in the Homestretch."

But now comes Sahil Kapur to tell us that behind the scenes, Bernie knows it's over and he's letting key Democrats know it:

As tensions were escalating between Bernie Sanders and Democratic Party leaders over the chaos caused by his supporters at a Nevada convention, Dick Durbin got an unexpected call from the Vermont senator. Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, came away from the conversation on Wednesday convinced that Sanders, who has all but lost the presidential nomination battle to Hillary Clinton, understands the need for party unity and will do his part to defeat presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

"We talked about the demonstrations and such," Durbin said Thursday in an interview. "I am convinced, as Bernie has said repeatedly, he is going to be on the team to defeat Donald Trump. I don't have any question in my mind."

....Sanders has reached out to multiple Senate colleagues in an attempt to assuage them. Among them is Senator Barbara Boxer of California, whose keynote speech at the Nevada state Democratic convention last weekend was disrupted by rowdy Sanders supporters in a situation she described as frightening and out of control. Boxer said she conveyed her concerns to Sanders in "a really nice talk" with him Tuesday. "I told him how bad it was in Nevada. He said he was distressed about it, and he expressed chagrin about it. I told him 'Bernie, you need to get a hold of it,' and he said he would.''

"He said, 'I can't believe my people would do this,'" said Boxer, who is stepping down from the Senate in January. "He got the point."

There's some evidence that Bernie is, in fact, toning down the attacks on Hillary lately, though his supporters and staffers will probably be harder sells. But Bernie has never had very tight managerial control over his people anyway. The nickel summary is simple: tempers are running high; Bernie knows it; and everyone just needs to give things a little time to run their course.

That's the latest, anyway—though the conventional wisdom could shift again by next week. Stay tuned.

Finally, Some Actual Bad News About Obamacare

As you know, the overall news about Obamacare is almost uniformly positive. Uninsurance rates are down, costs are under control, subsidies are working, etc. But that doesn't mean everything is perfect. Kaiser's latest survey, for example, highlights growing dissatisfaction with Obamacare coverage:

The number of people who are dissatisfied has gone up from 20 percent in 2014 to 31 percent this year. The main complaint is about premiums and deductibles. As it happens, premiums haven't actually increased all that much, but deductibles have, which means that even modest premium increases strike people as unfair.

As usual, I'd be cautious about drawing any conclusions from this. It's only a year or two of data, and the Obamacare market is still shaking out. Still, it's genuinely unfavorable news—except for conservatives, who finally have something bad they can point to without actually lying about it.

For more details, see Andrew Sprung.

Elizabeth Warren gave a speech today that was focused on what sorts of workplace protections we should adopt in response to the rise of "1099 workers" (freelancers) and on-demand "gig economy" workers (Uber drivers). Before I get to that, though, a quick note: it's not clear to me that there's actually been much of a rise in gig workers, as you can see in the chart on the right. The percentage of full-time workers normally decreases during recessions and increases during recoveries, which is exactly what's happening right now. We're still about a percentage point away from our pre-recession average, but we'll probably make that up within a couple of years.

Still, we might not get there. What's more, whether the number of part-timers is increasing or not, they deserve access to standard employment benefits. Warren names a few, and suggests that both health care and retirement benefits should be portable: they need to belong to employees, not to employers, and should stick with them regardless of who they're working for. I was especially interested in her remarks on retirement benefits:

One change would make a big difference: a high-quality retirement plan for independent contractors, self-employed workers, and other workers who have no access to retirement benefits to supplement their Social Security.

This plan should use best-in-class practices when it comes to asset allocation, governance structure, and fee transparency. It should be operated solely in the interest of workers and retirees, and they should have a voice in how the plan is run. Instead of an employer-sponsored 401(k), this plan could be run by a union or other organization that could contract investment management to the private sector—just as companies like General Motors contract with providers like Fidelity to offer 401(k)s in the employment setting. And, because of the amazing advances in online investment platforms and electronic payroll systems, individuals could set up automatic contributions. It’s time for all workers to have access to the same low-cost, well-protected retirement products that some employers and unions provide today.

Defined-contribution programs like 401(k)s tend to get demonized by liberals, but they shouldn't be. As Warren says, if you want a pension plan to supplement Social Security, it needs to be portable. Old-style pensions tended to lock people into jobs because they took a long time to vest and the vesting was backloaded. If you switched jobs every five or ten years, they likely provided you with a pretty paltry retirement income. By contrast, 401(k)s start building as soon as you start contributing, and continue building regardless of how often you change jobs. And while it's true that the Great Recession wasn't kind to 401(k) plans, they've mostly recovered since their losses in 2009-10.

Still, they're far from perfect. One problem, as Warren notes, is that employees don't always have good options about how to invest their 401(k) contributions—though that's slowly getting better thanks to changes in the law passed a decade ago. Another problem is that too few people sign up for their 401(k) plans, and that's improving too thanks to the legalization of "nudge" style opt-out plans. This has especially benefited low-income workers, who need retirement help the most.

But we can still do better. We can set up better programs for freelancers, and we can mandate the best-in-class investment practices that Warren mentions: automatic increases in contribution amounts as workers age, as well as low-fee lifecycle funds that become less risky as retirement approaches. This should be done universally, not just for freelancers. These are modest proposals, but they'd go a long way toward making modern pension plans truly safe, reliable, and universal.

Weekly Flint Water Report: May 7-12

Here is this week's Flint water report. As usual, I've eliminated outlier readings above 2,000 parts per billion, since there are very few of them and they can affect the averages in misleading ways. During the week, DEQ took 220 samples. The average for the past week was 14.46.