Asymptomatic is key!

Back early in the pandemic, I went through phases of being obsessed with learning about various aspects of Covid.  At one point, I was definitely obsessed with the prevalence and impact on transmission of truly asymptomatic– as opposed to presymptomatic– Covid.  My obsession waned, party because we were getting reasonably good answers and party because so much else to be obsessed with.

Anyway, now, a year down the road, Daniel Oran and Eric Topol, with a great Stat piece on what we know about asymptomatic transmission and its implications for the pandemic.  And, how, among other things, the implications are the need for massive, cheap, rapid antigen testing at scale.  So, obviously, I loved this article:

Jan. 24 marks the one-year anniversary of a momentous but largely unnoticed event in the history of the Covid-19 pandemic: the first published report of an individual infected with the novel coronavirus who never developed symptoms. This early confirmation of asymptomatic infection should have set off alarm bells and profoundly altered our response to the gathering storm. But it did not. One year later we are still paying the price for this catastrophic blunder.

At least one of three people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, do not develop symptoms. That’s the conclusion of a review we just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. It summarizes the results of 61 studies with more than 1.8 million people.

But during much of the pandemic, fierce resistance — and even outright denialism — in acknowledging this not-so-typical disease pattern led to ineffective testing practices that allowed the pandemic to spin out of control…

Today, the best evidence suggests that about half of Covid-19 cases are caused by infected people who do not have symptoms when they pass on the virus. These symptom-free spreaders are roughly divided between those who later develop symptoms, known as pre-symptomatic individuals, and those who never develop symptoms.

While the importance of asymptomatic infection in understanding Covid-19 has been surprising to some, infectious disease experts have long known that infection without symptoms is common in many illnesses. More than 90% of people infected with poliovirus have no symptoms. And about 75% of influenza infections have been estimated to be asymptomatic. Yet these important precedents have largely been ignored…

What’s needed is a pivot to a different type of testing. Antigen tests, which look for a bit of coronavirus protein, cost just a few dollars each and can yield results in minutes. Like home pregnancy tests, they require minimal instruction. Antigen tests are ideal for spotting people who are infectious, rather than those who may be long past the infectious phase of Covid-19, or who harbor such low levels of the virus that they are unlikely to infect others.

Inexpensive rapid home tests would help infected people isolate themselves before they could spread the virus. Frequent testing — at least several times per week — is essential, as demonstrated by successful testing efforts at some universities, which have enabled students to return to campus. A new focus on self testing, in combination with financial assistance and perhaps even temporary housing for isolation, would directly address the problem of asymptomatic infection.

Also, I still find it kind of mind-blowing to see the asymptomatic infection rates for influenza and polio!  Honestly, I’m pretty damn curious why more diseases have not evolved to have high asymptomatic infection rates– seems damn effective for helping them spread.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Jane Mayer on McConnell and the new Trump impeachment is terrific.  You should read it in full.

For four years, McConnell and others in the establishment wing of the Republican Party embraced the conceit that they could temper Trump’s behavior, exploit his popularity, and ignore the racist, violent, and corrupt forces he unleashed. Ornstein observed that McConnell, in a cynical bargain, “used Trump to accomplish his goals of packing the courts and getting tax cuts.” (Since 2016, the top corporate tax rate has been nearly halved, to twenty-one per cent.) In exchange for these gifts to the Party’s corporate backers, McConnell stayed largely silent in the face of Trump’s inflammatory lies and slurs—even though, according to insiders, he privately held the President in contempt. He covered for Trump’s political incompetence, eventually passing budgets and pandemic relief, despite Trump’s tantrums and government shutdowns. And he protected Trump from accountability during the first impeachment trial, in early 2020, announcing in advance that there was “zero chance” a Senate under his leadership would convict the President.

But any pretense that McConnell could maintain control over Trump or over the Party’s fate unravelled after the 2020 election. McConnell was caught between denouncing Trump’s lies and alienating his supporters, thereby risking the loss of the two Senate seats in the Georgia runoff. Faced with a choice between truth and self-interest, McConnell opted for the latter. “He knew he had to keep the team together for Georgia,” a former Trump Administration official close to McConnell’s circle told me. “For him, being Majority Leader was the whole ballgame. It’s hard to overstate. It’s pretty obvious that for McConnell one of the reasons he was so indulgent of Trump was Georgia.”

It is impossible to know whether McConnell would have confronted Trump’s election lies earlier, had his own powerful job not been in play. But, in the weeks after November 3rd, McConnell continued to lend tacit support to Trump’s increasingly dangerous claims that he was the true victor. In a combative Senate speech six days after the election, McConnell declared that Trump was “a hundred per cent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.” He went on to scold the many public figures who were demanding that Trump concede. “Let’s not have any lectures about how the President should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election,” McConnell said. As he surely knew, it was a false equivalence: Democratic politicians had raised many questions about the effects of Russian interference on the 2016 election results, but Hillary Clinton had conceded the race the morning after the vote…

But what remains consistent is that then, as now, he was acting in his self-interest. 

2) The Republican Party is so broken.  “10 Republicans Voted to Impeach Trump. The Backlash Has Been Swift.: The House Republicans who voted to charge President Donald J. Trump with inciting the Capitol riot are facing a fleet of primary challengers, censures and other rebukes from their party.”

3) This is from almost two years ago, but John McWhorter on blackface and the intent behind it, is really good.

4) This was such a great read on how social media encourages radicalization.  Everybody loves the serotonin hit of “likes” and, sadly, nothing brings likes like posting radical content.  “They Used to Post Selfies. Now They’re Trying to Reverse the Election.: Right-wing influencers embraced extremist views, and Facebook rewarded them.”

5) This was an important piece from Adam Serwer.  The Capitol rioters were so not the economically struggling.  “The Capitol Rioters Weren’t ‘Low Class’: The business owners, real-estate brokers, and service members who rioted acted not out of economic desperation, but out of their belief in their inviolable right to rule.”

They were business ownersCEOsstate legislatorspolice officersactive and retired service members, real-estate brokersstay-at-home dads, and, I assume, some Proud Boys.

The mob that breached the Capitol last week at President Donald Trump’s exhortation, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, was full of what you might call “respectable people.” They left dozens of Capitol Police officers injured, screamed “Hang Mike Pence!,” threatened to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and set up a gallows outside the building. Some were extremists using the crowd as cover, but as federal authorities issue indictments, a striking number of those they name appear to be regular Americans.

And there’s nothing surprising about that. Although any crowd that size is bound to include people who are struggling financially, no one should be shocked to see the middle classes so well represented among the mob.

The notion that political violence simply emerges out of economic desperation, rather than ideology, is comforting. But it’s false. Throughout American history, political violence has often been guided, initiated, and perpetrated by respectable people from educated middle- and upper-class backgrounds. The belief that only impoverished people engage in political violence—particularly right-wing political violence—is a misconception often cultivated by the very elites who benefit from that violence.

The members of the mob that attacked the Capitol and beat a police officer to death last week were not desperate. They were there because they believed they had been unjustly stripped of their inviolable right to rule. They believed that not only because of the third-generation real-estate tycoon who incited them, but also because of the wealthy Ivy Leaguers who encouraged them to think that the election had been stolen.

6) This slipped under the radar, “Supreme Court Revives Abortion-Pill Restriction: In their first abortion case since Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court, the justices reinstated a requirement that women seeking medication abortions pick up a pill in person.”  The only good reason to make this requirement is simply to make it harder to get an abortion.

7) This piece from Tim Alberta was fabulous and I kept meaning to give it its own post.  But, seriously, just read it, “Jan. 6 Was 9 Weeks — And 4 Years — in the Making”

I spend a lot of time around Trump voters. It’s a part of my everyday life, engaging with family and friends in Michigan. It’s been the heartbeat of my work in this election cycle, traversing America to figure out what ordinary folks are thinking about. I’ve learned a lot along the way. And there’s one conclusion of which I’m certain: The “fringe” of our politics no longer exists. Between the democratization of information and the diminished confidence in establishment politicians and institutions ranging from the media to corporate America, particularly on the right, there is no longer any buffer between mainstream thought and the extreme elements of our politics.

The first time I heard someone casually suggest an “imminent civil war,” on a reporting trip in January 2020, I shrugged it off. But then I heard it again. And again. Before long, it was perfectly routine. Everywhere I went, I heard people talk about stocking up on artillery. I heard people talk about hunting down cabals of politically connected pedophiles. I heard people talk about the irreconcilable differences that now divide this country. I heard people talk about the president, their president, being sabotaged by a “deep state” of evil Beltway bureaucrats who want to end their way of life. I heard people talk about a time approaching when they would need to take matters into their own hands.

All of that was before the president alleged the greatest conspiracy in American history.

8) Krugman hits a similar theme, “This Putsch Was Decades in the Making”

One striking aspect of the Capitol Hill putsch was that none of the rioters’ grievances had any basis in reality.

No, the election wasn’t stolen — there is no evidence of significant electoral fraud. No, Democrats aren’t part of a satanic pedophile conspiracy. No, they aren’t radical Marxists — even the party’s progressive wing would be considered only moderately left of center in any other Western democracy.

So all the rage is based on lies. But what’s almost as striking as the fantasies of the rioters is how few leading Republicans have been willing, despite the violence and desecration, to tell the MAGA mob that their conspiracy theories are false.

Bear in mind that Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, and two-thirds of his colleagues voted against accepting the Electoral College results even after the riot. (McCarthy then shamelessly decried “division,” saying that “we must call on our better angels.”) …

This coddling of the crazies was, at first, almost entirely cynical. When the G.O.P. began moving right in the 1970s its true agenda was mainly economic — what its leaders wanted, above all, were business deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. But the party needed more than plutocracy to win elections, so it began courting working-class whites with what amounted to thinly disguised racist appeals.

Not incidentally, white supremacy has always been sustained in large part through voter suppression. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see right-wingers howling about a rigged election — after all, rigging elections is what their side is accustomed to doing. And it’s not clear to what extent they actually believe that this election was rigged, as opposed to being enraged that this time the usual vote-rigging didn’t work.

9) Political Scientists Nathan Kalmoe and Lilly Mason have been studying political violence for a while– it’s sadly on-point now, “What you need to know about how many Americans condone political violence — and why.”

10) I just came across this from 2012– still fascinating, “The last mammoths died out just 3600 years ago…but they should have survived”

We usually think of woolly mammoths as purely Ice Age creatures. But while most did indeed die out 10,000 years ago, one tiny population endured on isolated Wrangel Island until 1650 BCE. So why did they finally go extinct?

Wrangel Island is an uninhabited scrap of land off the northern coast of far eastern Siberia. It’s 37 miles from the nearest island and 87 miles from the Russian mainland. It’s 2,900 square miles, making it roughly the size of Delaware. And until about 4,000 years ago, it supported the world’s last mammoth population. For 6,000 years, a steady population of 500 to 1,000 mammoths endured while their counterparts on the mainland disappeared.

It’s truly remarkable just how recent 1650 BCE really is. By then, the Egyptian pharaohs were about halfway through their 3000-year reign, and the Great Pyramids of Giza were already 1000 years old. Sumer, the first great civilization of Mesopotamia, had been conquered some 500 years before. The Indus Valley Civilization was similarly five centuries past its peak, and Stonehenge was anywhere from 400 to 1500 years old. And through all that, with all of humanity in total ignorance of their existence, the mammoths lived on off the coast of Siberia.

So then, what finally killed off the mammoths? That’s been the subject of a four-year research project by British and Swedish researchers, and they now believe that the final extinction of the mammoths was not inevitable, that they could have survived indefinitely if a couple circumstances had worked out differently. Co-author Love Dalen explained to BBC News:

“We wanted to find out why these mammoths became extinct. Wrangel Island is not that big and it was initially thought that such a small population could have suffered problems of inbreeding and a lack of genetic diversity. But the problem is mammoths don’t display that much genetic variation – especially towards the end of their line. The DNA investigations found there was a 30% loss in genetic diversity as the population levels dropped – but that was to be expected. But when we examined the samples from the island, there reached a point when this reached a plateau and there was no more loss. This stage continued until the creatures became extinct. This therefore rejects the inbreeding theory. The mammoths on the island were isolated for nearly 6,000 years but yet managed to maintain a stable population.”

Instead, Dalen and the rest of the team believes some drastic change must have occurred on Wrangel Island to kill off the mammoths, and there are two likely culprits: humans and climate. Archaeological evidence suggests that humans reached Wrangel Island at roughly the same time the last mammoths vanished, but there’s no evidence yet to indicate that they ever hunted the mammoths. The more likely answer is climate change, which as a side effect might well have made it easier for humans to reach the island to serve as witnesses to the mammoths’ final days.

11) Paul Waldman, “The phony GOP calls for ‘unity’ deserve nothing but contempt”

Let’s be clear about something. The problem we face right now isn’t “our political divisions.” The Capitol building was not stormed by members of the Divisiveness Party.

The rioters who conducted that attack on American democracy were supporters of Donald Trump — the uncontested leader of the GOP, the president whom Rubio and nearly every other Republican supported, cheered on, justified, and rationalized for the past four years while he attacked American institutions and poured hate down on anyone who disagreed with him.

So instead of asking whether Biden is doing enough to promote unity, how about we ask what Republicans are doing to bring the country together?

Aren’t they the ones who have a special obligation to do so right now, when we just saw the logical conclusion of everything they’ve done over the past four years? What are they doing — actually doing — to foster unity?

12) News panels are so bad.  So why do they exist?  They’re cheap to produce and give a superficial appearance of the beloved “balance.”  So, we’re stuck with them.

13) Waldman, “Don’t be fooled: Mitch McConnell will never vote to convict Trump”

14) David Hopkins on Trump, “In the End, the Trump Presidency Was a Failure on Its Own Terms”

With Trump’s evident lack of interest in substantive details, his instinct for combativeness (a universally-acknowledged personal quality which many of his supporters admired), and his apparent difficulties in grasping the motivations of others, the promised knack for deal-making never materialized either. Both major legislative achievements of his presidency—the 2017 tax cut bill and the two rounds of COVID relief in 2020—were, by all accounts, developed and enacted with minimal direct involvement by the president. When Trump did insert himself in legislative negotiations in late 2018 and early 2019 by demanding that Congress approve funding for his border wall, the result was a prolonged government shutdown and subsequent retreat after Senate Republicans abandoned their support for his position.
Of course, politicians occasionally have been known to make promises on the campaign trail that they do not expect to keep if elected. Maybe it’s inaccurate to treat public commitments in the midst of a tough electoral race as evidence of a president’s true goals. So, based on the actions of the Trump administration once it began, what can we conclude about what it wanted to do and whether it succeeded in doing it?
The primary animating force of the Trump presidency, the juice that fueled the president and his subordinates every day, was the waging of a permanent political war against an array of perceived enemies. The Democratic Party was one such enemy—this was by far the most thoroughly partisan presidency in memory—but hardly the only one. The news media, career bureaucrats, intellectuals and educators, the entertainment industry, and any insufficiently supportive Republican were all dependable targets.
This war was unrelenting, but achieved few victories outside the bounds of the Republican Party (where Trump’s influence and threats were most effective at punishing dissenters). Trump’s critics spent the past four years feeling sad, angry, offended, and even fearful about the potential destruction of American democracy. But it’s hard to make the case that their political or cultural power was weaker at the end of his presidency than it was at the beginning.

Trump succeeded in preventing Hillary Clinton from leading the country, but he wound up empowering Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer instead.

15) This was quite good (and fast!), “Research note: Examining false beliefs about voter fraud in the wake of the 2020 Presidential Election”

The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election saw an unprecedented number of false claims alleging election fraud and arguing that Donald Trump was the actual winner of the election. Here we report a survey exploring belief in these false claims that was conducted three days after Biden was declared the winner. We find that a majority of Trump voters in our sample – particularly those who were more politically knowledgeable and more closely following election news – falsely believed that election fraud was widespread, and that Trump won the election. Thus, false beliefs about the election are not merely a fringe phenomenon. We also find that Trump conceding or losing his legal challenges would likely lead a majority of Trump voters to accept Biden’s victory as legitimate, although 40% said they would continue to view Biden as illegitimate regardless. Finally, we found that levels of partisan spite and endorsement of violence were equivalent between Trump and Biden voters.

16) Some more good political science, “Which Republicans are most likely to think the election was stolen? Those who dislike Democrats and don’t mind white nationalists.”

17) Had a good chat with friends yesterday on technology and the future of the planet.  Wanted to make sure LG sees this nice techno-optimist post on solar power from Noah Smith:

But notice that even as of 2019, solar was still just a small fraction of total power generation — about 3% of the global total. You can’t make an impact in the aggregate productivity statistics by changing 3% of global electricity consumption to a different source. That is why the amazing technological progress in solar hasn’t yet translated to faster economic progress. Technology is embodied. It doesn’t automatically change economics just because you invent it; you also have to build it.

But now it’s getting built. As many COVID denialists learned to their great dismay in 2020, exponential curves move fast. Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s graph above is probably way too conservative in its prediction of how much of our electricity we’ll get from solar, as Ramez Naam explains. The real growth rate of solar has tended to be more than 3 times as fast as BNEF forecast in the past.

An energy source that is 3% of electricity generation will not show up in the productivity statistics, but one that is 30% of electricity generation definitely will. And THAT is why solar cost drops didn’t show up in aggregate productivity statistics in the 2010s, but will definitely show up in the future. (Note: For those who are concerned about intermittency, realize that we’ll just overbuild for winter/clouds/morning/evening, and use batteries at night.)

Everything I’ve just said goes for batteries as well. Electric cars are just now hitting the point where they can compete with internal combustion cars in terms of usability and affordability, and the market for electric cars is just starting to take off. Notably, some carmakers are starting to cancel internal combustion models in anticipation of the switch.

Like I said: Slowly, then all at once.

But in order for solar and batteries (and other green energy technologies like wind and hydrogen) to really make a big impact in the aggregate productivity statistics, they can’t just replace fossil fuels — they need to be substantially better than fossil fuels ever were.

That looks likely to happen soon.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Brian Beutler:

But what we’re seeing from Republicans is the real life manifestation of what many of us warned would happen the moment Biden announced his candidacy promising to heal the country by working cooperatively with Republicans. It made securing Republican buy-in a measure of his success, which gave his opponents the straightforward power to turn him into a failure or a promise-breaker. They have begun, as predicted, to oppose his every move, and then to wield their own opposition as a rhetorical brickbat, hammering Biden for not serving up the unifying mitzvah of doing only things Republicans want.  

Tedious as they are, their antics don’t really matter unless they have persuasive force among Democrats or the public, and by making a farce of their own ploy, Republicans will hopefully hasten the point at which Democrats grow impatient and stop seeking bipartisan cover to use their power. If Democrats say they’re done with malarkey, this is malarkey in its chemically purest form.

2) Yes, we definitely need automatic stabilizers in our economic policy and should use the current opportuity to make it happen:

Democrats generally cheered Mr. Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion package, while Republicans peppered Ms. Yellen with questions about whether that level of spending might be overkill. The price tag is indeed big — as it should be. This moment of crisis demands it.

But members of Congress should carefully consider the necessary levels of spending, particularly amid so much uncertainty.

Many lawmakers seem to be asking, “How much is enough?” while “When have we done enough?” is the better question. When those 10 million jobs still missing are back, when the half of families who have lost income from work are made whole and when those who had to leave their jobs because of extra parenting burdens begin to return — that’s when relief should turn off.

A broad cross-section of research shows that auto stabilizers will help us do enough without doingtoo much.

3) Turns out Dire Wolves were more genetically distinct from grey wolves than previously thought:

In the search for fossils that could provide ancient dire wolf DNA, Dr. Perri joined forces with a number of other researchers around the world, including Kieren Mitchell, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Adelaide; Alice Mouton, a geneticist at the University of Los Angeles; and Sandra Álvarez-Carretero, a genomics doctoral student at Queen Mary University of London.

They combed museums to find 46 bone samples that might have usable DNA. Five did. “We got really lucky,” Dr. Perri said. “And we found a lot of things we didn’t really expect.”

The findings were surprising because dire wolf skeletons are similar to gray wolf skeletons, and because DNA was not available. Xiaoming Wang, a paleontologist at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, who published a review of the fossil evidence in 2009 that placed the dire wolf squarely in the genus Canis, called the new paper a “milestone,” adding that “morphology is not foolproof.”

As to why the dire wolf went extinct and wolves survived, the authors speculated that its long genetic isolation and lack of interbreeding with other species may have made it less able to adapt to the disappearance of its main prey species. More promiscuous species like gray wolves and coyotes were acquiring potentially useful genes from other species.

4) I so love the cave art of ancient humans.  Now scientists have found what is currently the oldest known cave painting– about 45,000 years old.

Human skeletal remains as old as the painting have never been found in Sulawesi, so it is not clear that the artists were anatomically modern humans.

5) Eric Levitz on how lucky we are that it didn’t end up so much worse under Trump:

And yet: For all of the mass death and democratic backsliding we’ve suffered these past four years, America is in far better shape than it might have been. Entrusting an authoritarian con man with the world’s most powerful elective office brought the United States catastrophe, but it has also left us with a historic opportunity for democratic renewal.

We are lucky that Donald Trump started no major wars (thanks, in no small part, to Iranian restraint). We’re lucky that Republicans came a few votes short of throwing millions off of Medicaid. We’re lucky that the GOP’s internal divisions on immigration prevented Trump from inscribing his most xenophobic policies into legislative statute, and, thus, that his nativist legacy is almost entirely revocable by executive fiat. Above all, we are lucky that Trump did not win reelection and that the incoming Democratic government will actually have the power to implement reform.

These last points are worth emphasizing. What Trump’s 2020 coalition lacked in size, it nearly made up for in geographic efficiency. Joe Biden’s 4.4-point margin in the popular vote — and narrow victories in historically red Arizona and Georgia — has obscured just how close the president came to winning a second term. In November, Biden won the tipping-point state of Wisconsin by 0.6 percent, or a little over 20,000 votes. Which means that, had the Democrat won the national vote by “only” 3.7 points, Trump quite likely would have won reelection.

Graphic: @davidshor/Twitter

That Biden will actually be able to implement a legislative agenda is even more fortuitous. Thanks to Trump’s consolidation of the white rural vote, the median U.S. state is now roughly 6.6 percent more Republican than the nation as a whole, which gives the GOP a massive advantage in the battle for Senate control. It took one of the largest midterm landslides in history to keep Democrats in contention for the upper chamber this year. In 2018, the party won the House popular vote by over 8 percent, yet lost seats in the Senate, while longtime red-state incumbents like Joe Manchin and Jon Tester barely eked out reelection on the strength of the national environment. Even after salvaging these seats in hostile territory, it took a minor miracle for the party to secure a bare majority in 2020: Had David Perdue received 0.3 percent more votes against Jon Ossoff in November, he would have won more than 50 percent of the vote and thereby averted the runoff that his Democratic challenger won in Georgia earlier this month…

All of which is to say: The American republic would have been in a precarious place by November 2016, even if Trump had remained in the private sector. By winning the GOP nomination — and thereby putting the ugliest possible face on the conservative project — Trump may have ultimately undermined the far right’s long-term prospects. Mainstream news outlets and moderate suburbanites were willing to overlook the GOP’s extremism when the party’s standard-bearers were still buttoned-up country-club worthies well versed in middle-class decorum. Trump made what the party actually stood for impossible for these power centers to ignore. Meanwhile, his celebrity and singular gift for generating sensational controversies helped fuel record-setting Democrat turnout in both 2018 and 2020. Had an authoritarian egotist with a similar feel for the GOP base’s id — but with better manners and self-discipline — conquered the party in 2016, a radically right-wing, anti-democratic party might well boast full control of the federal government today.

My point in raising this counterfactual is not to minimize the unique harms that Trump introduced to our polity, of which there are many (the above considerations notwithstanding, if I had the power to go back in time and make Marco Rubio the 2016 GOP nominee, I would). Rather, the point is that (1) the Republican Party was a threat to multiracial democracy in the U.S. before Trump took office and will remain so after he leaves, and (2) we are very lucky that the mogul’s unique gift for demagoguery, and uniquely shameless contempt for liberal democracy, were paired with equally superlative political liabilities.

6) Damn if the US Conference of Catholic Bishops isn’t just the worst.  The idea that they do the things they do in the name of Jesus and Catholic teachings is just stomach-turning.  Michael Sean Winters:

Wednesday, Jan. 20, was a very Catholic day. It began with the president-elect bringing the political leadership of the nation to Mass. Joe Biden walked into my old parish, the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, followed by the vice president-elect, the speaker of the House, and the majority and minority leaders of both chambers of Congress. After four years of a president incapable of not patting himself on the back in every public moment, it was a welcome change to see a president who is not afraid to go to Mass, where we begin by begging pardon and finish by receiving the gift of eucharistic grace.

The night before, Mr. Biden led the country in a short but poignant ritual of remembrance for those killed by the COVID-19 virus. Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Biden’s new pastor, offered a beautiful prayer to begin the ceremony. He prayed, in part, “Let us, with one heart, commend those who have died from this virus and all of their loved ones to the providential care of the One who is the ultimate source of peace, unity and concord.” After what the country has witnessed in the past few weeks, how refreshing to be reminded that God offers “peace, unity and concord.”…

Once he had taken the oath of office, the new president gave a speech that was heavy on themes found on every page of Catholic social teaching: the dignity of the human person, the commission to serve the common good as the first justification of government, the value of democracy in protecting human dignity and both requiring and evidencing equality, the virtue of solidarity. How different from the dystopian inaugural address we heard four years ago, to say nothing of the speech that incited the mob to storm the U.S. Capitol two weeks prior.

And Biden quoted St. Augustine! …

I am sure the leadership at the bishops’ conference would be treating any Democrat shabbily. But I think what makes them really crazy is the fact that they realize, at some deep unconscious level, Biden did more in 24 hours to remind the American people that the Catholic Church can be a force for good in our country than the bishops’ conference has done in 10 years. His memorial service for COVID-19 victims was more pastoral than their repugnant statement. Biden’s inaugural address was a better articulation of Catholic ideas about governance than any recent document from the conference. He cited Augustine to help unite our brutally divided country. They turn to citations that exacerbate the divide. Biden has allowed himself to be enriched by the faith of others, Catholic and non-Catholic. Gomez seems stuck in his Opus Dei playbook.

7) Now that I’m into air quality, I recently found this great feature on PM2.5 air pollution.  It’s really worth checking out.  Damn is this something we need to do a lot better on.

8) Planet Money, “Why Nations Fail, America Edition”

“I don’t think Jan. 6 was a singular day of failure,” says Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Daron Acemoglu, who co-authored the book with University of Chicago economist James Robinson. “What surprises me is why it took until Jan. 6.”

Drawing on decades of economic research, Why Nations Fail argues that political institutions — not culture, natural resources or geography — explain why some nations have gotten rich while others remain poor. A good example is North Korea and South Korea. Eighty years ago, the two were virtually indistinguishable. But after a civil war, North Korea turned to communism, while South Korea embraced markets and, eventually, democracy. The authors argue that South Korea’s institutions are the clear reason that it has grown insanely more rich than North Korea.

When Acemoglu and Robinson wrote Why Nations Fail almost a decade ago, they used the United States as an institutional success story. They acknowledge the nation has a dark side: slavery, genocide of Native Americans, the Civil War. But it’s also a creature of the Enlightenment, a place with free and fair elections and world-renowned universities; a haven for immigrants, new ideas and new business models; and a country responsive to social movements for greater equality. Lucky for America — and its economy — its inclusive institutions have had a helluva run.

So, almost 10 years later, how do Acemoglu and Robinson feel about American institutions? “U.S. institutions are really coming apart at the seams — and we have an amazingly difficult task of rebuilding them ahead of us,” Acemoglu says. “This is a perilous time.”

Acemoglu and Robinson see the rising tide against liberal democracy in America as a reaction to our political failure to deal with festering economic problems. In their view, our institutions have become less inclusive, and our economic growth now benefits a smaller fraction of the population. Some of the best economic research over the last couple of decades confirms this. Wage growth for most has stagnated. Social mobility has plummeted. Our labor market has been splitting into two, where the college educated thrive and those without a degree watch their opportunities shrivel, after automation and trade with China destroyed millions of jobs that once gave them good wages and dignity.

Acemoglu and Robinson believe that while factors like the transformation of our media landscape play a role, these economic changes and our political institutions’ failure to grapple with them are the primary cause of our growing cultural and political divides. “As opposed to some of the left, who think this is all just the influence of big money or deluded masses, I think there is a set of true grievances that are justified,” Acemoglu says. “Working-class people in the United States have been left out, both economically and culturally.”

“Trump understood these grievances in a way the traditional parties did not,” Robinson says. “But I don’t think he has a solution to any of them. We saw something similar with the populist experiences in Latin America, where having solutions was not necessary for populist political success. Did Hugo Chávez or Juan Perón have a solution to these problems? No, but they exploited the problems brilliantly for political ends.”

9) Adam Jentleson on the Democrats urgent need to kill the filibuster (to save democracy).  Please, please, please let this get through to Joe Manchin.

10) Speaking of which, I had missed this Norm Ornstein piece from the Fall on how to basically defang the filibuster without outright killing it.  I honestly think that’s the path forward.  Kind of how John Roberts has used the court so gut key legislation without actually explicitly overturning it.  

The answer is to return the filibuster to its original intention—something to be used rarely, when a minority (not necessarily a partisan one, by the way) feels so strongly about an issue of great national significance that it will make enormous sacrifices to delay a bill. There is a simple way to do this—and, in the meantime, keep Rule XXII and mollify Manchin et al. while also providing an opening for Biden and his Democrats to get big things done. That is to flip the numbers: Instead of 60 votes required to end debate, the procedure should require 40 votes to continue it. If at any time the minority cannot muster 40 votes, debate ends, cloture is invoked, and the bill can be passed by the votes of a simple majority.

This change will preserve a unique feature of the Senate, preventing it from becoming just a smaller House of Representatives. It will not allow Democrats to pass everything they want. But it will stop the filibuster from standing in the way of necessary, broadly popular initiatives. If, for example, Democrats introduced a sweeping package of democracy reforms and Republicans filibustered them, the majority could keep the Senate in session around the clock for days or weeks and require nearly all the Republicans to be present constantly, sleeping near the Senate floor and ready on a moment’s notice to jump up and get to the floor to vote—including those who are quite advanced in years, such as Jim Inhofe, Richard Shelby, Charles Grassley, and Mitch McConnell. It would require a huge, sustained commitment on the part of Republicans, not the minor gesture now required. The drama, and the attention, would also give Democrats a chance to explain their reforms and perhaps get more public support—and eventually, they would get a law. A bolder option would be to raise the minority threshold to 45 votes required to continue debate, instead of 40.

The destruction caused by Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress, to our health, environment, economy, and political system, is unprecedented. Undoing it will not be easy no matter the rules or the political composition of Congress. But changing the rules in the Senate is a necessary, if not sufficient, requirement to making progress. Fortunately, there are options besides complete elimination of the filibuster rule.

11) Maybe wolves became dogs because ancient humans gave them leftover lean protein?

Dr. Lahtinen and her colleagues take competition out of the equation. In winter, ice age humans would have had to forego plants, depending on hunting. But people can’t survive on protein alone. Eventually they starve or get protein poisoning. They need fat, so they would have eaten primarily the fatty parts of prey, with some lean meat left over. Wolves, with different digestive systems, can live for quite a while on pure protein.

The researchers say in their paper that among human Arctic hunters, animal protein could have provided up to 45 percent of the calories needed in the winter. They also calculated the amount of protein in the prey available to wolves in the ice age, showing that they have protein “over the limits that humans can consume.” People and wolves hunt similar species, so if humans were consuming the same animals they would have excess protein from their kills.

Humans, including modern hunter-gatherers, have an odd habit of feeding other animals and keeping them, at least for a while. So the authors lean toward the idea of various human bands occasionally snatching a wolf puppy. Eventually, the two species grew closer together and the new dog-wolves became useful. Many thousands of years later, we have pandemic puppies.

The hypothesis is just that, an idea about what might have happened, not a demonstration of what did happen. But Naomi Sykes, a zoo-archaeologist at the University of Exeter in Britain, who reviewed the paper for publication, said she thought the researchers made two important points. “The first is their suggestion that there would have been minimal dietary competition between humans and wolves.” The second, she said, was that their hypothesis “flips the idea of domestication” to people feeding animals rather than raising them to eat.

She said archaeological finds indicate that the domestication of chickens, rabbits, horses and other animals may have begun with the animals being deliberately fed. In some of the earliest discoveries, she said, the ancient bones show that the animals were “being maintained, looked after and even worshiped rather than eaten.”

12) We thought we could keeps snakes from slithering up trees in Guam in order to protect birds.  Snakes: check this out!

13) The perceived decline of white political power and influence is indisputably between so much of what is wrong on the right.  And, yet, I think Yglesias makes a good case in arguing that the January 6 Capitol Riot should not be reduced to primarily the racial aspect:

I don’t want to be Racism Court lawyer for these psychos. There is nothing about them or their actions that I believe deserves a defense.

But I do think to label all right-wing politics as white supremacist is indicative of two problematic trends in progressive thought.

One is a tendency to think of racism as an argument-stopping trump card. I imagine this as having arisen from dorm room culture. If you’re hanging around the common room and another student insists on adhering to a political position that you find to be infuriating, stupid, and harmful to human welfare, then the RA is going to tell you that’s life and you need to deal with it. But if another student insists on saying something that’s racist, then the RA is going to tell him he needs to shut the fuck up. Which is to say that in the campus environment, if you can convince the higher authorities that your adversaries are racist, they lose the argument.

Electoral politics isn’t like that. There’s no RA. There’s just the voters. And most of them are white. If you convince everyone that deep down Candidate X is maybe gonna favor white folks’ interest, it’s not obvious that’s even bad for Candidate X at all. That doesn’t mean you should never call out racism — sometimes telling the truth is its own reward, and stigmatizing the most egregious forms of misconduct (such as being done with Confederate iconography) can improve the climate over time.

However, in ambiguous situations there’s no particular reason to think that calling in the RA to rule your opponents Officially Racist will have any power.

The demographic spider hole

The other problem is belief in demographic determinism. If you point out that there are Black and Hispanic and Asian Trump supporters, people on the left will give you sophisticated explanations of how non-white people can nonetheless participate in politics inflected by white supremacy. And that’s fine. I get that. But I think it’s clear that the habit of casually discussing right-wing politics in racialized terms leads, in practice, to neglecting the existence of swing voters in all ethnic groups in the United States.

14) But, to be clear, there is undoubtedly a substantial racial component to all this.  Eric Foner put it in the historical context in an interview:

[Question:] For a long time, the story of Reconstruction was taught in a lot of history books and was popularly understood as a period of “Northern aggression,” to use a loaded phrase, but you know what I’m talking about. And we still have an evolving understanding of it. What I’m interested in is the mistakes that were made about teaching Reconstruction, and why it’s so important to understand what happened on Wednesday and to understand it clearly, considering how poorly Reconstruction was taught.

First of all, I think how we think about history is very important. So, as a historian, I do believe that strongly. The mythology, I’d have to say, about Reconstruction was not just a question of teaching it wrongly. It was an ideological part of the notion of the Lost Cause, that Reconstruction was a vindictive effort by Northerners to punish white Southerners, that Black people were incapable of taking part intelligently in a democratic government. And therefore, the overthrow of Reconstruction was legitimate, according to this view. It was correct because those governments were so bad. This was part of the intellectual edifice of the Jim Crow system, that if you gave the right to vote back to Black people—and it had been taken away by the turn of the century—you would have the horrors of Reconstruction again. This image of Reconstruction, as the lowest point in the saga of American history, was very much a vindication and a legitimation of the Jim Crow system in the South, which lasted from the eighteen-nineties down into the nineteen-sixties.

So history was part of that legitimation. The motto of the historian is generally, “It’s too soon to tell.” But I do think eventually people will have to see January 6th, I hope will see it, as really a very serious violation of the norms of democratic government. It was not a fly-by-night operation. It was not a misguided group who got a little out of hand or something like that. It was really an attempt to completely subvert the democratic process by violence. And I think that the lesson, if we want to get a lesson out of it, is the fragility of democratic culture. I don’t know how many there were, but the thousands who stormed the Capitol do not believe in political democracy when they lose. They believe in it when they win, but that’s not democracy. So I think we have to be aware of this strand in our history, which is perhaps, what can I say, less worthy than the strands we tend to talk about more, the notion of equality, the notion of opportunity, the notion of liberty, democracy. You get a lot of talk about that in our history classes. You don’t get a lot of talk about the antidemocratic strands in American history, which have always been with us. And this is an exemplification of it.

So I think January 6th was an interesting day from a historical point of view, because it began, if you remember, with people talking about the victory of these two candidates in Georgia, a Black man and a Jewish man, and realizing that’s an amazing thing for Georgia. Georgia has a very long history of racism and anti-Semitism. That’s how it began. Four or six hours later, you have an armed mob seizing the Capitol building. You have these two themes of American history in juxtaposition to each other. That’s my point. And both of them are part of the American tradition, and we have to be aware of both of them, not just the more honorable parts.

15) Study on the ability of mask-fitters to dramatically improve the filtration efficiency of surgical masks.  Alas, “fix the mask” was so damn uncomfortable, but I am intrigued by the Badger Seal.  

16) Chait, “Trump Wanted to Erase Obama’s Legacy. He Failed.”

17) McKay Coppins, “The Coming Republican Amnesia: How will the GOP recover from the Trump era? Pretend it never happened.”

18) Ezra, “Biden’s Covid-19 Plan Is Maddeningly Obvious: It is infuriating that the Trump administration left so many of these things undone.”

The Trump administration seemed to believe a vaccine would solve the coronavirus problem, freeing President Trump and his advisers of the pesky work of governance. But vaccines don’t save people; vaccinations do. And vaccinating more than 300 million people, at breakneck speed, is a challenge that only the federal government has the resources to meet. The Trump administration, in other words, had it backward. The development of the vaccines meant merely that the most logistically daunting phase of the crisis, in terms of the federal government’s role, could finally begin…

Most elements of the plan are surprising only because they are not already happening. Biden’s team members intend to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up thousands of vaccination sites in gyms, sports stadiums and community centers, and to deploy mobile vaccination options to reach those who can’t travel or who live in remote places. They want to mobilize the National Guard to staff the effort and ensure that strapped states don’t have to bear the cost. They want to expand who can deliver the vaccine and call up retired medical personnel to aid the campaign. They want to launch a massive public education blitz, aimed at communities skeptical of the vaccine. They’re evaluating how to eke out more doses from the existing supply — there is, for instance, a particular syringe that will get you six doses out of a given quantity of Pfizer’s vaccine rather than five, and they are looking at whether the Defense Production Act could accelerate production of that particular syringe and other, similarly useful goods.

19) Paul Waldman, “Twitter’s Trump ban is even more important than you thought”

But the magnitude of that decision still hasn’t been fully appreciated. The fact that this one social media company decided to shut down this one account might have completely reshaped American politics for the coming few years.

Until 10 days ago, nearly everyone assumed that Trump would be in a unique place for a defeated ex-president, retaining a hold on his party’s base that would make him the axis around which the Republican world revolved.

His opinions would shape the party’s approach to Biden’s presidency. He would make or break Republican officeholders, depending on their loyalty to him. Everyone within the party — especially those who want to run for president themselves in 2024 — would have to grovel before him, just as they have for so long. The GOP would still be Trump’s party, in nearly every sense.

But not anymore.

As much as we’ve talked about Trump’s tweets for all these years, if anything we might have underestimated how central Twitter was to his power. Without it — especially as an ex-president — he’ll be like Samson without his hair, all his strength taken from him.

Twitter was so important to Trump, according to Shannon McGregor, an assistant professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media of the University of North Carolina, because of a few critical features of the platform itself and who uses it.

First, “Twitter is the space for political and media elites,” McGregor told me. Facebook has many more users, but journalists are on Twitter constantly, which means that when Trump spoke there, he was speaking to them…

Second, the platform provided him a place to speak uncontested. He could say whatever he wanted without being challenged, at least in the moment.

Third, his Twitter presence enabled him to constantly reinforce an affinity between himself and his supporters by speaking to them not only about politics but also about plenty of other topics.

20) Let’s close it off with a Slow Boring roll.  First, relative inflation:

And in this case it’s a fake example. But here are some real facts about how relative prices have changed:

This chart is telling you the plain truth, which is that if you took a healthy, childless person from 2000 and teleported them to 2020 and showed them Spotify and Netflix on an iPad Pro their mind would be totally blown. And an iPad Pro plus a magic keyboard costs less in nominal terms than an iBook did in 1999. Your guy would be extremely impressed with the IT revolution and the information superhighway.

But then if you bring forward another guy who’s got three kids — ages 4, 2, and six months — and tell him what his new child care costs are going to be, he’s gonna be really sad.

And, yeah, the oldest is going to be in public kindergarten soon. But school only runs until 3:30 PM; it takes months off in the summer; and there are lots of random days off. The skyrocketing cost of “child care” is not limited to the formal child care sector — it largely extends to aftercare and after-school programming, to summer camp, and even to babysitters. There are various specific things at work in all of these subsectors, but the basic story is the same — watching kids and taking care of sick people are labor- intensive so Baumol’s Cost Disease ensures that as technology and productivity improve in other sectors of the economy, the costs rise in the less-productive sectors.

In a more banal example, it’s gotten more expensive to hire a live band to play at your party but it’s also become incredibly cheap to gain access to almost any song in the world via the streaming music service of your choice. In the music example it’s just entertainment. But the relative shift toward cheaper stuff but more expensive childcare and health care is a big change for society.

21) The case for vaccine challenge trials:

Instead, in a Phase 3 clinical trial, you give a bunch of people a vaccine candidate and a bunch of other people a placebo and then tell them to go about their business as usual. Over time, you track both populations and if many more infections occur in the placebo group than in the vaccine group, that tells you the vaccine works.

Compared to the challenge trial, the non-challenge model has several downsides:

  • It’s slower, since instead of exposing everyone at once, you need to wait for exposures to trickle in over time.

  • It requires more subjects, since lots of people in both groups actually end up not being exposed at all, so you need a huge sample to get reliable information.

  • The experiment itself has somewhat undetermined scope. Since you can’t know when people will be exposed, you can’t know when you’ll have your data or necessarily even define the terms of success in advance.

But most of all, a non-challenge trial isn’t just slower. It specifically requires large numbers of people outside the experiment to get sick and die.

Is this ethics?

The problem with a challenge trial (allegedly) is ethics because it is (allegedly) problematic to deliberately expose people to a virus you don’t have a cure for.

But even in the non-challenge trial, members of the control group becoming sick are how you know the treatment is working on the treatment group. The interesting thing Hextall skips in the movie is the placebo check. Doing it her way is considered bad science. Once you accept the need to test the candidate against a placebo, there’s no way to avoid the fact that your trial isn’t done until a bunch of people vaccinated with a placebo get sick.

The difference is that in the non-challenge model, everyone is supposed to behave normally rather than deliberately get exposed. But for the trial to succeed, a bunch of people with the placebo need to get sick. Which in turn means a much larger number of people in the general population need to get sick, since the people in the experiment aren’t supposed to be doing anything different.

I confess to a lack of imagination here, but I sincerely cannot understand why the scenario that involves giving people a placebo and then waiting for them (and millions of others) to get sick is “more ethical” than the scenario where we give people a placebo and then get them sick quickly in order to spare others.

If anything, the ethical question here seems to me to be about placebos, not about challenge trials. Giving someone a fake vaccine for science feels a little dodgy, but it’s perhaps a necessary evil. Certainly with a non-challenge trial, it’s necessary because without sick people in the placebo group, you can’t tell whether thepeoplewith a lack of sickness in the vaccinated group is because of the vaccine or just good luck. In a challenge trial, there might be less need for placebossince you know the treatment group has been exposed. But I don’t know. I’m not here to question the medical science of placebo effects.

I am here to say that this vision of ethics doesn’t make sense. And in broader public health terms, it’s particularly bad because it involves planning to fail.

22) And, lastly, on raising the minimum wage:

And that’s over and above the fact that empirical studies of minimum wage increases are very slightly more likely to show job losses than job gains.

If you’re a casual consumer of the news, you may be under the impression that there is a heated research battle over the employment impact of the minimum wage. But I think it’s important to see that this isn’t really true. Instead there’s a heated battle between people who on the one hand say, “there’s no reason to believe a minimum wage hike will substantially reduce employment” and people who on the other hand say, “the bulk of the literature says a minimum wage hike will reduce employment.”

Those are very different ways to characterize that chart, but they are completely compatible statements. My view is that the right way to look at this chart is that we should raise the minimum wage…

Minimum wage increases are really popular.

They’ve passed in ballot initiatives in Florida and Missouri. The $15/hour idea polls in the high 60s in most results I’ve seen. You can push those numbers down a little bit by providing negative messaging, but it doesn’t budge that much since this is a widely debated idea that people are generally familiar with. Elected officials have good reason to want to try to identify popular ways of helping people. Under the circumstances, the right question to ask about a minimum wage increase is not “is it optimal?” or “does it have some downsides?” but “is it actually bad?” …

Progressives looking to win tough races should embrace a higher minimum wage enthusiastically. Republicans looking to co-opt populist energy without hopping on the anti-trade bandwagon should consider this a far superior alternative. Free marketers who strongly favor deregulation should find something more important to focus on. And people who think the real answer is a wage subsidy scheme (does the restaurant-backed Employment Policies Institute ever actually advocate for a more generous EITC or just bring it up as a talking point?) should do the legwork of building the coalition for that rather than just standing in the way.

Bottomless bad faith (and how to limit it)

Great stuff from Catherine Rampell:

It’s almost like clockwork. As soon as a Democrat enters the White House, Republicans pretend to care about deficits again.

“The one thing that concerns me that nobody seems to be talking about anymore is the massive amount of debt that we continue to rack up as a nation,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) complained during a confirmation hearing this week for Treasury Secretary-nominee Janet Yellen. “For me,” he continued,“that is a huge warning sign on the horizon, the fact that we have an ever-growing deficit, an ever-growing debt and no apparent interest in taking the steps that are necessary to address it.”

His colleague Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) likewise carped that U.S. deficit levels are “frightening.” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) piled on, saying that waiting for interest rates to rise to indicate that debts are unsustainable would be “too late.” 

And so Republicans laid the groundwork for blocking the Biden administration’s request for more covid-19 fiscal relief, on the grounds that further spending is not merely unnecessary but also irresponsible. Despite ongoing economic and public health needs.

These foul-weather fiscal hawks neglect to mention, of course, that the GOP’s prized 2017 tax cuts added nearly $2 trillion to deficits — back when the economy was doing okay.

Nor did they note that — again, before the coronavirus pandemic — the Republican-controlled Senate passed and President Donald Trump signed spending bills that added another $2 trillion to deficits. That was on top of what the country had already been expected to borrow over a decade, according to estimates from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Damn it is practically nauseating reading those quotes.  I mean, what do those people think about themselves.  Are they just malevolent manipulators with no belief in truth?  Or more likely, they have reached epic levels of self-delusion as they tell themselves they are actually honest brokers and they haven’t done anything wrong.  Either way… just damn.  

So, what’s the solution to this?  It’s all up to journalists.  If the news people treat this as the bad faith it transparently is, that will dramatically limit it’s impact.  If every story about GOP complaints like this mentions the fact that the complainer voted for trillion dollar increases in the deficit under Trump (when economic conditions for such were far less compelling).  Or better, yet, just doesn’t take these complaints seriously at all.  It’s like the fox telling the farmer the chickens will be happier and healthier if the henhouse remains unlocked.  Don’t fall for it!  Alas, I do not have a lot of faith in most political journalists who, in the end, just default so damn hard to “both sides!”  Here’s hoping the Trump years wised them up some because damn should Republicans not be able to get away with this. 

And, okay, it’s up to Democrats, too, but unlike in Obama’s first term, I’m actually reasonably confident the vast majority of elected Democrats get this now.  

Bring back boring

Man– just a million thoughts about everything today.  It’s one of those days where I just want to say so much that I end up saying nothing.  (That said, if you are really curious, I have been tweeting plenty today).  I am so relieved that Biden is president now.  I mean I knew Trump would be awful, but I really didn’t think he would be quite this awful.  Or, I think I did, but I will admit being surprised by the craven depths of virtually all Congressional Republicans and how severely that has compromised our democracy.  So, massively relieved.  So happy to see all the good that Biden is already doing in his first day.  Cautiously optimistic about what he’ll be able to accomplish with 50 Democratic Senators.  

But, I’m also really looking forward to the presidency just not taking up so damn much emotional energy and headspace.  I’m pretty sure I went whole days without thinking about Obama.  I doubt I ever went a whole day without thinking about Trump.  I definitely look forward to many days ahead where Joe Biden is in the recesses of my mind and I can just relax knowing there’s a competent, non-malevolent government humming along in the background.  Anyway, I read so many good and worthy takes today, but I think my favorite is from reporter/presidential historian extraordinaire John Dickerson, “Boring Is Better.”

But the boredom that this moment calls for is not the monotony of a limited agenda, nor the purposeful dullness of placidity. Biden will have to manage historic challenges. The ride will be bumpy. Plus, he’s loaded reams of executive orders and legislation into the chute for immediate dispersal when he moves to the other side of the Resolute Desk.

It is precisely because his to-do list is so long that boredom is required. I’m using the term in the same sense as Leon Panetta, who I interviewed about the presidency a few years ago. “A rational, experienced president is going to be very, very boring,” said the former defense secretary, CIA director, and White House chief of staff.

Panetta’s remark came as a preamble to a discussion of the skills and attributes required to master the modern presidency: prioritizing what is important, not what is consuming the Twitter hive mind; avoiding dead-end fights with opponents trying to bait you; and focusing on the distant consequences of immediate action, or distant problems that can only be addressed by planning today. Like, say, a pandemic.  

A president who tries to fit this mold might not keep the country riveted, but he will be effective. A presidency based on ratings or the trill of the news alert, by contrast, is as distinct from the vital requirements of the job as The Apprentice was from the habits of effective corporate governance, or The Bachelor is from nurturing relationships.

Such a presidency would return the executive branch to its role of informing the public. Briefings, charts, and a parade of forgettable public officials can explain to the citizens of the country—or, more likely, their representatives in the press—what is being done in their name. America showed a distinct preference for this approach during the pandemic. Governors who simply laid out what they knew became heroes. Anthony Fauci inspired such blooming affection throughout the land by explaining what he knew—and where he’d been wrong—that people planted signs thanking him in front of their azalea bushes…

No presidency will be free of political interest or confirmation bias, but a presidency that puts persuasion over assertion, facts over piffle, has a chance to achieve real successes. In the Trump years, where the lie was the president’s basic unit of measurement, fantasy pushed out reality.  But while assertion thrilled the crowds at rallies, it did no good against the coronavirus, or in restoring economic confidence. Insisting that it’s safe to return to bars and restaurants might convince the home team, but boosting consumer confidence requires persuading the entire country. Lots of people need more than CAPS LOCK when the hospital-admittance rate is going up like a hockey stick…

The habits of the Enlightenment, like proportioning the evidence to the size of the claim, delivered us things like electricity and penicillin. Returning to them now won’t work immediate wonders, but it will make a difference.

The great battle of our time is the fight between reality and fantasy. Election officials, judges, experts in the field, and Trump officials with actual knowledge about such matters all agreed that the 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Nevertheless, the president and the majority of his party asserted a different reality. Thousands showed up to do battle for that position. Fantasy propelled an insurrection…

We have seen the harm in the partisanship that prevented Republican leaders from disputing that the election was stolen, even though they knew it wasn’t and knew what damage that lie could do. An argument for inching the presidency away from fantasy, is obligated not to engage in the fantasy that facts can provide a solvent to tribalism. Even the most exquisitely boring president will not be able to use facts, briefings, and patient explanations to fully overcome the incentives of politics and partisan media. At the moment, as McKay Coppins writes, those incentives are encouraging Republicans to pretend they “didn’t see the tweet” of the entire Trump presidency, so that they can continue playing to the same base.

Anyway, here’s hoping for a boring, but supremely competent, presidency.  Though, heck, even a bad president would be a significant improvement on historically awful.  But, damn our country could really use “good” after what we’ve had.  And, I think we’ll be lucky enough to get boring and good.  

The Big Lie has been a long-time coming

I do really think there’s a few key concepts that are key to understanding today’s GOP and Trump that have not previously been a big part of American political discourse.  First among these is bad faith, and I’m definitely heartened to see how the concept has really worked it’s way, quite appropriately, into political coverage.  More recently, it’s the concept of the Big Lie, which is, alas, unfortunately, so key to understanding recent events.

NYT’s Andrew Higgins with a great piece on this:

MOSCOW — In a cable to Washington in 1944, George F. Kennan, counselor at the United States Embassy in Stalin’s Moscow, warned of the occult power held by lies, noting that Soviet rule “has proved some strange and disturbing things about human nature.”

Foremost among these, he wrote, is that in the case of many people, “it is possible to make them feel and believe practically anything.” No matter how untrue something might be, he wrote, “for the people who believe it, it becomes true. It attains validity and all the powers of truth.”

Mr. Kennan’s insight, generated by his experience of the Soviet Union, now has a haunting resonance for America, where tens of millions believe a “truth” invented by President Trump: that Joseph R. Biden Jr. lost the November election and became president-elect only through fraud…

A readiness, even enthusiasm, to be deceived has in recent years become a driving force in politics around the world, notably in countries like Hungary, Poland, Turkey and the Philippines, all governed by populist leaders adept at shaving the truth or inventing it outright…

The utility of lying on a grand scale was first demonstrated nearly a century ago by leaders like Stalin and Hitler, who coined the term “big lie” in 1925 and rose to power on the lie that Jews were responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I. For the German and Soviet dictators, lying was not merely a habit or a convenient way of sanding down unwanted facts but an essential tool of government.

It tested and strengthened loyalty by forcing underlings to cheer statements they knew to be false and rallied the support of ordinary people who, Hitler realized, “more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie” because, while they might fib in their daily lives about small things, “it would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths.”

By promoting a colossal untruth of his own — that he won a “sacred landslide election victory” — and sticking to it despite scores of court rulings establishing otherwise, Mr. Trump has outraged his political opponents and left even some of his longtime supporters shaking their heads at his mendacity.

In embracing this big lie, however, the president has taken a path that often works — at least in countries without robustly independent legal systems and news media along with other reality checks…

Despite his open admiration for Russia’s president and the system he presides over, she said, Mr. Trump, in insisting that he won in November, is not so much mimicking Mr. Putin as borrowing more from the age of Stalin, who, after engineering a catastrophic famine that killed millions in the early 1930s, declared that “living has become better, comrades, living has become happier.”

“That is what the big lie is,” Ms. Khrushcheva said. “It covers everything and redefines reality. There are no holes in it. You so either accept the whole thing or everything collapses. And that is what happened to the Soviet Union. It collapsed.”

Whether Mr. Trump’s universe will collapse now that some allies have taken flight and Twitter has snatched his most potent bullhorn for broadcasting falsehoods is an open question. Even after the Capitol siege by pro-Trump rioters, more than 100 members of Congress voted to oppose the election outcome. Many millions still believe him, their faith fortified by social media bubbles that are often as hermetically sealed as Soviet-era propaganda.

Also great stuff from Timothy Snyder:

When Donald Trump stood before his followers on Jan. 6 and urged them to march on the United States Capitol, he was doing what he had always done. He never took electoral democracy seriously nor accepted the legitimacy of its American version.

Even when he won, in 2016, he insisted that the election was fraudulent — that millions of false votes were cast for his opponent. In 2020, in the knowledge that he was trailing Joseph R. Biden in the polls, he spent months claiming that the presidential election would be rigged and signaling that he would not accept the results if they did not favor him. He wrongly claimed on Election Day that he had won and then steadily hardened his rhetoric: With time, his victory became a historic landslide and the various conspiracies that denied it ever more sophisticated and implausible.

People believed him, which is not at all surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of work to educate citizens to resist the powerful pull of believing what they already believe, or what others around them believe, or what would make sense of their own previous choices. Plato noted a particular risk for tyrants: that they would be surrounded in the end by yes-men and enablers. Aristotle worried that, in a democracy, a wealthy and talented demagogue could all too easily master the minds of the populace. Aware of these risks and others, the framers of the Constitution instituted a system of checks and balances. The point was not simply to ensure that no one branch of government dominated the others but also to anchor in institutions different points of view.

In this sense, the responsibility for Trump’s push to overturn an election must be shared by a very large number of Republican members of Congress. Rather than contradict Trump from the beginning, they allowed his electoral fiction to flourish. They had different reasons for doing so. One group of Republicans is concerned above all with gaming the system to maintain power, taking full advantage of constitutional obscurities, gerrymandering and dark money to win elections with a minority of motivated voters. They have no interest in the collapse of the peculiar form of representation that allows their minority party disproportionate control of government. The most important among them, Mitch McConnell, indulged Trump’s lie while making no comment on its consequences.


Yet for Congress to traduce its basic functions had a price. An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Members of Congress who sustained the president’s lie, despite the available and unambiguous evidence, betrayed their constitutional mission. Making his fictions the basis of congressional action gave them flesh. Now Trump could demand that senators and congressmen bow to his will. He could place personal responsibility upon Mike Pence, in charge of the formal proceedings, to pervert them. And on Jan. 6, he directed his followers to exert pressure on these elected representatives, which they proceeded to do: storming the Capitol building, searching for people to punish, ransacking the place.

And Jamelle Bouie with a great piece on how the groundwork for this in the GOP was laid long before Trump:

Conservative belief in pervasive Democratic Party voter fraud goes back decades — and rests on racist and nativist tropes that date back to Reconstruction in the South and Tammany Hall in the North — but the modern obsession with fraud dates back to the 2000 election. That year, Republicans blamed Democratic fraud for narrow defeats in New Mexico, which George W. Bush lost by just a few hundred votes, and Missouri, where the incumbent senator, John Ashcroft, lost his re-election battle to a dead man…

Over the ensuing years, under pressure from the White House ahead of the presidential election in 2004, the Justice Department ramped up its crusade against voter fraud. Of particular interest was ACORN, a now-defunct advocacy organization that was working — as the presidential election got underway — to register hundreds of thousands of low-income voters. Swing-state Republicans accused the group of “manufacturing voters,” and federal prosecutors looked, unsuccessfully, for evidence of wrongdoing. Later, Karl Rove would press President Bush’s second attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, to fire a number of U.S. attorneys for failure to investigate voter fraud allegations, leading to a scandal that eventually led to Gonzales’s resignation in 2007.

ACORN and voter fraud would remain a bête noire for Republicans for the rest of the decade. Conservative advocacy groups and media organizations produced a steady stream of anti-ACORN material and, as the 2008 election campaign heated up, did everything they could to tie Democratic candidates, and Barack Obama in particular, to a group they portrayed as radical and dangerous. ACORN, Rush Limbaugh said in one characteristic segment, has “been training young Black kids to hate, hate, hate this country.”

During his second debate with Obama, a few weeks before the election, the Republican nominee, John McCain, charged that ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” And his campaign materials similarly accused Obama, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party of orchestrating a vast conspiracy of fraud. “We’ve always known the Obama-Biden Democrats will do anything to win this November, but we didn’t know how far their allies would go,” read one mailer. “The Obama-supported, far-left group, ACORN, has been accused of voter-registration fraud in a number of battleground states.”

McCain and the Republican Party devoted much of the last weeks of the election to a voter fraud scare campaign with ACORN as the villain. And while, in the wake of the election, these allegations of illegal voting never panned out, the conservative fixation with voter fraud would continue into the Obama years and beyond…

The 2012 election saw more of the same accusations of voter fraud. Donald Trump, who had flirted with running for president that year, called the election a “total sham and a travesty” and claimed that Obama had “lost the popular vote by a lot.” According to one survey taken after the election, 49 percent of Republican voters said they thought ACORN had stolen the election for the president…

The absence of any evidence for voter fraud was not, for Republicans, evidence of its absence. Freed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which ended federal “preclearance” of election laws in much of the South, Republican lawmakers passed still more voter restrictions, each justified as necessary measures in the war against fraud.

Prominent Republican voices continued to spread the myth. “I’ve always thought in this state, close elections, presidential elections, it means you probably have to win with at least 53 percent of the vote to account for fraud,” Scott Walker, then the governor of Wisconsin, said in a 2014 interview with The Weekly Standard. “One or two points, potentially.”…

Rank-and-file Republicans had already been marinating in 16 years of concentrated propaganda about the prevalence of voter fraud by the time Donald Trump claimed, in 2016, that Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote with millions of illegal ballots.

So, yeah, Trump is, indeed, uniquely bad.  But, lets not forget Trump’s awfulness could not exist if the Republican Party had not been laying the groundwork for that, in ways large and small, for decades.  And that includes the Big Lie. 

The twitter ban is really working

With all the ways to communicate out there, you’d think just removing Trump from twitter and Facebook shouldn’t make that much difference.  But, clearly it has and to the clear benefit of American democracy.  Paul Waldman:

But the magnitude of that decision still hasn’t been fully appreciated. The fact that this one social media company decided to shut down this one account might have completely reshaped American politics for the coming few years.

Until 10 days ago, nearly everyone assumed that Trump would be in a unique place for a defeated ex-president, retaining a hold on his party’s base that would make him the axis around which the Republican world revolved.

His opinions would shape the party’s approach to Biden’s presidency. He would make or break Republican officeholders, depending on their loyalty to him. Everyone within the party — especially those who want to run for president themselves in 2024 — would have to grovel before him, just as they have for so long. The GOP would still be Trump’s party, in nearly every sense.

But not anymore.

As much as we’ve talked about Trump’s tweets for all these years, if anything we might have underestimated how central Twitter was to his power. Without it — especially as an ex-president — he’ll be like Samson without his hair, all his strength taken from him.

Twitter was so important to Trump, according to Shannon McGregor, an assistant professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media of the University of North Carolina, because of a few critical features of the platform itself and who uses it.

First, “Twitter is the space for political and media elites,” McGregor told me. Facebook has many more users, but journalists are on Twitter constantly, which means that when Trump spoke there, he was speaking to them.

So even if Facebook lets Trump back on (it, too, banned him, but so far only through the inauguration), that won’t give him the ability to send a missive and then sit back as one news organization after another runs stories about it, multiplying its effects. “Whatever he said on Twitter ended up on the news,” McGregor said. According to research McGregor conducted but hasn’t yet published, when President Barack Obama tweeted during his second term, 3 percent of the time the tweet would find its way into a news story. The figure for Trump’s tweets during his term was 65 percent.

Second, the platform provided him a place to speak uncontested. He could say whatever he wanted without being challenged, at least in the moment.

Third, his Twitter presence enabled him to constantly reinforce an affinity between himself and his supporters by speaking to them not only about politics but also about plenty of other topics…

When he’s not president, Trump will have means of speaking to the public — he can call in to “Fox & Friends,” for instance — but he won’t be surrounded by reporters waiting to write down his every word, so he’ll have to work harder to get the attention of the press. Without Twitter, he won’t be able to speak to his people on an hourly basis, maintaining that affinity and crowding out the other Republicans who might compete for their affection.

He could go to some upstart conservative social media platform, like Gab or Parler (if it gets restored). But those don’t have the mainstream legitimacy he craves, and reporters aren’t on them, so their reach is much more limited.

That means that when new events occur, Trump won’t be able to make himself the core of the story. He won’t be able to constantly remind Republicans that they need to fear him. While many of his supporters will remain loyal, others will drift away, not turning against him but just no longer thinking about him every day.

Also Wired’s Steven Levy on Facebook’s heretofore failures:

Facebook’s community-building algorithms were effective in drawing some of its massive audience from the sidelines and into the maw of radicalism and sedition.

In fact, Facebook’s own algorithms seem to pump up membership in those groups. A Wall Street Journal article from May 2020 reported an alarming finding from Facebook’s own researchers. According to a 2016 internal study, “64 percent of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools … Our recommendation systems grow the problem.” The article also revealed that the company’s efforts to address this were stifled by interference from the company’s political wing, ever sensitive to criticisms from the right. And just this week New York Times article outlined several cases where relatively sane people were driven deep into seditious crazytown once they discovered that Facebook widely circulated their most transgressive anti-democratic posts, winning them status and followers. One user found that the more he posted deranged Trumpist messages, the more followers Facebook sent his way, and soon he was hosting a meaningful group based on election denial, with tens of thousands of members. It was almost like an embodiment of what Zuckerberg had described as the feeling of “we are not alone.” By becoming an anti-democracy person, he’d found other people. All reinforcing everyone else’s awfulness.

This week Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave a rare interview. As always, she cautioned that the company wasn’t perfect, but her overall message was that Facebook’s policies were by and large working. “Was there anything you thought Facebook could have done sooner?” asked her interlocutor. Sandberg replied that while Facebook knew that the protests were being organized online, it had generally done its job by removing violent groups like Proud Boys, QAnon, and Stop the Steal. (The latter group garnered 320,000 followers before Facebook took it down, and the corresponding hashtag wasn’t banned until five days after the January 6 insurrection.) She assigned serious blame to others. “I think these events were largely organized by platforms that don’t have our ability to stop hate and don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency,” she said.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey seemed more candid in admitting that his company fell short.

I don’t think truly being rid of the pervasive awful influence of Trump is as easy as a twitter ban.  But, the evidence so far is that it may well be an important piece of doing that.


Quick hits (part II)

Okay, lots of links, but fewer pull quotes this week.  If you want to know more, just click and read them.

1) Paul Waldman, “Imagine if Trump’s influence over the GOP faded away”

2) Waldman again.  So sadly true, “Republican politics is now defined by the threat of murderous violence”

You may have heard this aphorism about the parties: Democrats hate their base and Republicans fear their base. We must now confront a sinister new reality. Republicans are no longer just afraid that their base will force them to defend the politically indefensible or send them packing in a primary challenge.

They’re afraid that their base, or at least certain elements of it, will literally kill them.

Each party has its own complex internal dynamics, as different factions jockey for influence and attempt to convince the party as a whole to adopt their own perspectives on ideology and tactics. In the GOP, that dynamic is now being shaped by QAnon, the new face of the Republican opposition. As The Post reports:

Even as Trump is set to exit the White House, QAnon’s grip on the conservative psyche is growing. Two freshman Republican members of Congress, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (Colo.), have voiced support for QAnon, while others have tweeted its slogans. State legislators across the country have further lent it credence while also backing Trump’s claims of electoral theft despite a lack of evidence and dozens of swift rejections in court.

QAnon is deranged in its beliefs about the world, opposed to the operation of the American democratic system, and built on the threat of deadly violence against anyone it considers an enemy.

This has now been incorporated into the thinking of every Republican as they navigate each new controversy: not just, “Will this vote anger my constituents and get me a primary challenge from the right?”, but also, “If I oppose my party’s base on this, will they murder me and my family?”

This is not an exaggeration or a metaphor. In December, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate said that if she didn’t support Republican efforts to nullify the state’s electoral votes, “I’d get my house bombed tonight.” With the attack on the Capitol, the murderous threat to the life of every elected official came home for members of Congress.

Don’t forget that just hours after Trump supporters rampaged through the Capitol to overturn the election through violence, eight senators and 139 members of the House — fully two-thirds of the GOP caucus in the lower chamber — voted to reject legitimate electoral votes, essentially telling the rioters that they were right.

3) Jennifer Rubin, “Bullied into voting against impeachment? Tell the cops and then resign.”

4) Zeynep, “Most House Republicans Did What the Rioters Wanted: The most dangerous thing that happened Wednesday occurred after the mob dispersed.”

But the most important, most dangerous part of all this was Trump’s successful attempt to convince millions of his supporters that he’d won and was being cheated out of his win—and the fact that many leaders of the Republican Party, at all levels, went along. That claim is somewhat akin to a charge of child abuse—the very accusation is also a demand for immediate action to stop it. The mob that gathered last Wednesday took that accusation seriously, and acted to “stop the steal.”

The storming of the Capitol also included many ridiculous elements—silly costumes worn together with tactical gear, a grinning man making off with a stolen lectern. But like the effort preceding it in the months before, it was also deadly serious: The mob was beaten back with lethal force, when some of its members were just steps away from legislators. The president, meanwhile, watched it all unfold on television, resisting calls to bring in the National Guard.

But the polite facade of what happened just a little later on the floor of the House, as it considered throwing out the results of an election, should not mask the seriousness of the threat this whole effort poses to our democracy. There is a great desire to blame Trump—who is certainly very much to blame—and move on, without recognizing and responding to the dire reality: that much of the GOP enlisted in his attempt to steal an election.

The 139 representatives and eight senators who voted to reject the results of a democratic election, were certainly well mannered—speakers wore formal clothes such as ties and suits rather than the outlandish outfits of the mob. The legislators adhered to time limits rather than putting their feet on desks while hamming it up for photos. But this veneer of respectability makes what happened on the floor more dangerous, by making it harder to recognize as a violation of democracy.

5) NYT Editorial, “The First Step Toward Unity Is Honesty: More Republicans need to be honest that the election wasn’t stolen. Law enforcement needs to be transparent about the threats facing the nation.”

6) Or, as Senator Brian Schatz just put it.

“The election wasn’t rigged. I was wrong to imply it was. This has gotten out of hand. I didn’t sign up for an armed insurrection. I swore an oath to the Constitution, and I let the moment blind me and imperil democracy itself. I am sorry.” – Actually no one has said this yet.

7) Great Noah Smith post on minimum wage.

Over this time period, economists changed their beliefs about the minimum wage. As the chart at the top of this post shows, the percent of economists who think minimum wage is a substantial job-killer went from an overwhelming majority in the late 70s to a modest minority by the mid 2010s. That data is from an older version of a presentation by Arin Dube, an expert on minimum wage research. Here’s the slide from the most recent version:

That’s a pretty dramatic change, and you can see that it started before Card and Krueger did their famous study. So it’s not immediately clear how much of the shift was due to economists’ changing ideological views, and how much was due to the accumulating mountain of evidence.

But a mountain of evidence was accumulating.

8) How to share a car in Covid-world?  Open up front right window and rear left and have driver and one passenger sit opposite from open windows.  Creates a curtain of air.  

9) Zeynep is right that it’s nuts that we are still relying so much on cloth masks.  Or, at least, totally non-regulated, non-certified cloth masks.  

10) Fortunately, it’s been a while since I’ve had a fever.  But, if I can manage, I will eschew the ibuprofen next time I do.  Evidence is increasingly clear that fever is an important natural defense mechanism that, for the most part, we should not try to undermine.  

11) Richard Hasen on how to fix the clear vulnerabilities in our elections and on how to more broadly try and save our democracy.

12) I did not realize that there was now an at-home colon screening that is as effective as a colonoscopy.  Hurray– looks like I’ll get to skip that when I turn 50 next year.  

13) Historical perspective, “How Trumpism May Endure: The Confederacy built a lasting myth of victory out of defeat. Trump and his followers may, too.”

14) Alex MacGillis watched Parler videos of the Capitol Riot so you don’t have to. 

He didn’t appear to know about the deaths and extent of the violence. He had only his vantage point. But we now have many more vantages. And they give us the picture of what happens when something that was gathering across the land for years, and recklessly and cynically fomented by those who knew better, reached a culmination. There undoubtedly were some dangerous organized elements within the mob that attacked the Capitol. But what is scariest about these videos is that they show the damage that can be done by a crowd of unorganized Americans goaded and abetted by the leaders of an organized political party. The radical fringe is a cause for concern. The thousands of regular people whipped into a murderous rage is the real nightmare.

15) And a New Yorker reporters edited footage from inside.  I watched this.  Just wow.  

16) A bunch of really smart political scientists, several of whom I’m friends with, “Pro-Trump Capitol riot violence underscores bipartisan danger of dehumanizing language: Dehumanization is more than just disagreement or incivility — it is the express denial of humanity. And it’s on the rise across America.”

17) When I’m not working on political science with Laurel Elder, I’m… blogging?  When she’s not working with me, she’s got another whole cool research agenda on political families.  Thus, she’s prominently featured in this NYT article on Kamala’s blended family:

When Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president, she will represent many firsts: First woman vice president. First Black woman. First woman of Indian descent. But there is another milestone that will be on display: that of her family.

As Ms. Harris ascends to this barrier-breaking role, with her loved ones looking on, millions of Americans will see a more expansive version of the American family staring back at them — one that could broaden rigid ideas of politically palatable family dynamics or gender roles.

Her family is ready for the moment. Ms. Harris’s niece, Meena Harris, has been sporting a “Vice President Aunty” T-shirt in the lead-up. Her stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, an art student in New York, planned to knit a suit for the occasion (she opted for a dress). Kerstin Emhoff, the mother of Ms. Harris’s stepchildren — yes, Ms. Harris and her husband’s ex are friends — may tuck a sprig of sage in her purse; she is quite sure the Capitol could use a smudging.

And, of course, Ms. Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, will be there — proud husband, supportive vice-presidential spouse, likely to be snapping photos of his wife as he begins his own history-making role as the nation’s first Second Gentleman (and now with the Twitter handle to prove it)…

Professor Elder, a professor of political science at Hartwick College and co-author of the book “American Presidential Candidate Spouses,” called it the “new traditionalism”: the idea that Americans prefer spouses who are active and visible in support of their partners (the new part), but who don’t veer outside of their supporting roles (the traditional part).“Even though women are now doing everything, people’s expectations for presidential and vice-presidential spouses are very traditional,” she said. “Americans are very split on whether they should even have a career — and they really don’t want them being a policy adviser.”

18) Good stuff from Adam Serwer about who the rioters are:

They were business ownersCEOsstate legislatorspolice officersactive and retired service members, real-estate brokersstay-at-home dads, and, I assume, some Proud Boys.

The mob that breached the Capitol last week at President Donald Trump’s exhortation, hoping to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, was full of what you might call “respectable people.” They left dozens of Capitol Police officers injured, screamed “Hang Mike Pence!,” threatened to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and set up a gallows outside the building. Some were extremists using the crowd as cover, but as federal authorities issue indictments, a striking number of those they name appear to be regular Americans.

And there’s nothing surprising about that. Although any crowd that size is bound to include people who are struggling financially, no one should be shocked to see the middle classes so well represented among the mob.

The notion that political violence simply emerges out of economic desperation, rather than ideology, is comforting. But it’s false. Throughout American history, political violence has often been guided, initiated, and perpetrated by respectable people from educated middle- and upper-class backgrounds. The belief that only impoverished people engage in political violence—particularly right-wing political violence—is a misconception often cultivated by the very elites who benefit from that violence…

The members of the mob that attacked the Capitol and beat a police officer to death last week were not desperate. They were there because they believed they had been unjustly stripped of their inviolable right to rule. They believed that not only because of the third-generation real-estate tycoon who incited them, but also because of the wealthy Ivy Leaguers who encouraged them to think that the election had been stolen.

19) And last, David Graham, “We’re Just Finding Out How Bad the Riot Really Was: More than a week after insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, video recordings, news reports, and federal charges are revealing a situation even more dire than it seemed at the time.”

Every day since, as more videos and reporting have emerged, it’s become clear how dangerous the insurrection truly was. As my colleague Elaine Godfrey, who was in the crowd, wrote, “The violence could have been even worse. Some of the rioters clearly wanted it to be.” This was more than a group of people swept up in the emotions of the moment. Within the mob were radicals plotting to kill or kidnap the vice president and members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The rioters came within moments of catching up to Vice President Mike Pence.

And the violence was far worse than first reported. One Capitol Police officer died following the assault, another died by suicide soon after, and dozens of officers were injured, some seriously.

We also now know more about President Donald Trump’s response. While it was clear from the start that he had incited the crowd, further reporting has indicated that he watched the attempted coup with delight. He actively resisted calling out the National Guard, a task that reportedly fell to the besieged Pence. He was induced by his horrified staff to condemn the mob, but reportedly regrets doing so.

In short, January 6 not only could have been much worse—it was much worse than was initially apparent. Sometimes real-time coverage of news events leans toward the sensational and overstates what happened. But because reporters were unprepared for the violence, and because of the fog of war (and tear gas), the horror of this event has emerged slowly. Many people were able to see the stakes on January 6, but it was much harder to see how close a larger catastrophe was to occurring, much less how much harm was actually done.

It’s not a polarization problem, it’s a Republican Party problem

Sorry– no quick hits today. I’ll aim for a MLK edition.  But, for today, you at least to read this terrific interview with co-author of How Democracies Die, Daniel Ziblatt:

Sean Illing

Well, here we are, just a few days after the riot at the US Capitol. What were you thinking when you watched this unfold? Do any historical analogues spring to mind?

Daniel Ziblatt

I think what was so striking for everyone watching this is just how unfamiliar it all felt and looked — to American eyes. There is a record of these sorts of uprising across US states in recent years and in the past, but having this happen at the seat of power was so disorienting. Hence the proliferation of names to describe it: ”coup,” “putsch,” “riot,” “insurrection,” and so on. We just don’t know how to make sense of it.

But in the days since, it has become clear this was a regime-threatening moment. Not only because of the violence but also because the aim was to disrupt the constitutional transfer of power. This is serious business, and most worrying is that it has, at the very least, the tacit support of some leading figures in the Republican establishment.

As I saw the video of Sen. Lindsey Graham being harassed at the Washington, DC, airport for having failed to sufficiently support President Trump, I was reminded of Churchill’s definition of an appeaser — as one who feeds a crocodile, hoping he will be the last one eaten. We have a rotten sore in the midst of our political system, infecting the whole system, that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Sean Illing

Why are properly functioning conservative parties so essential to the health of democratic systems?

Daniel Ziblatt

I’m not sure if they’re more important than liberal or progressive parties, but their importance is definitely underappreciated by most liberals and progressives.

If you look at the history of democracy in Western Europe, and the US, to a degree, a pattern emerges: When economically powerful groups aren’t well-organized into parties that can compete and win in a democratic process, then those groups tend to go outside of the political process and undermine democracy. In places where you’ve had strong center-right parties, like Britain in the 19th century, there was a much more stable constitutional order, and in places where conservative parties were weaker, like Weimar Germany, democracy was much less stable…

Sean Illing

If you look across the democratic world today, how much of an outlier is the GOP?

Daniel Ziblatt

I don’t really have to guess at this. There’s an organization called Varieties of Democracy that we used in our book to categorize parties as abiding by democratic rules or not. And they’ve taken that and applied it to every major political party in almost every democracy since 1970. And what you see, based on the expert evaluations, is that in the mid-1970s, the Republican Party is basically in the same grouping as other major center-right parties throughout Europe.

Beginning in the 2000s, however, it goes dramatically off course in terms of its commitment to democratic norms. The American Republican Party now looks like a European far-right party. But the big difference between the US and a lot of these European countries is that the US only has two parties and one of them is like a European far-right party. If the GOP only controlled 20 percent of the legislature, like you see in a lot of European countries, this would be far less problematic — but they basically control half of it.

So I think the central weakness of our political system right now is the Republican Party. We had what was basically a center-right party and over time it’s become more ideologically extreme while still doing well electorally, and that opens the system to further extremism and risks a kind of spiral in which both parties become more radicalized in response to the other.

Damn.  I just keep thinking about that perspective.  We’ve basically got a far-right party that controls entire state governments and recently our whole federal government because of the unique features of our constitutional design in combination with our current hyper-polarization.  Not good!  And, again, I think this is such an important insight.  I’ve been, of course, railing against false symmetries for years.  But forget asymmetry, the key problem is that the Republican Party is basically an absurdly empowered far-right party sadly lacking in a genuine commitment to democracy.  

Plenty more good stuff in the interview– take you quick hits time and read the whole thing.  


The failed self-coup

Great stuff from Fiona Hill— who definitely knows what she’s talking about– on how this really was a self-coup (autogolpe!) attempt:

These observations are based on the idea that a coup is a sudden, violent seizure of power involving clandestine plots and military takeovers. By contrast, Trump’s goal was to keep himself in power, and his actions were taken over a period of months and in slow motion.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a coup attempt. Trump disguised what he was doing by operating in plain sight, talking openly about his intent. He normalized his actions so people would accept them. I’ve been studying authoritarian regimes for three decades, and I know the signs of a coup when I see them…

The storming of the Capitol building on January 6 was the culmination of a series of actions and events taken or instigated by Trump so he could retain the presidency that together amount to an attempt at a self-coup. This was not a one-off or brief episode. Trump declared “election fraud” immediately on November 4 even while the votes were still being counted. He sought to recount and rerun the election so that he, not Joe Biden, was the winner. In Turkey, in 2015, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan successfully did the same thing; he had called elections to strengthen his presidency, but his party lost its majority in the Parliament. He challenged the results in the courts, marginalized the opposition and forced what he blatantly called a “re-run election.” He tried again in the Istanbul mayoral election in 2019 but was thwarted…

The truth is that for the past four years, Trump has been stress testing the U.S. democratic system to see if anyone will rein him in. Consider how many times he stated that he “deserved” two or even three terms in office because he was treated “unfairly” or “cheated” out of the first two years of his presidency by the “Russia hoax,” the Mueller investigation and last year’s impeachment trial. Throughout 2020, when his poll ratings faltered, the president laid the groundwork for what would become the Big Lie that he won the election. He said in advance that the ballot was “rigged” and that he could lose only if “they” stole the election. “They” was a domestic enemy that he manufactured in broad strokes for his grassroots base to rise up against: Democrats, liberals, globalists, radical socialists, communists, antifa leftists, the Black Lives Matter movement, the mainstream media, George Soros, various other “bogey” men and women, deep state bureaucrats, and even congressional Republicans, whom he labeled “RINOs” (“Republicans in Name Only”) and “Never Trumpers.”…

So, what thwarted Trump’s slow motion, in-plain-sight attempt at a self-coup? Fortunately, there was pushback from all the key institutions you need for a coup. First, the military and other parts of the government resisted Trump’s efforts to personalize their power. Second, major media outlets reported the facts truthfully. Social media outlets flagged the president’s lies about the election—albeit belatedly—and Twitter and Facebook ultimately cut off his accounts. Third, the judiciary and courts held firm. “Trump judges,” all the way up to the Supreme Court, respected their oath of office and rejected the president’s appeals to overturn legitimate election results. Fourth, state and local government officials refused to be swayed. They repeatedly called out the lie that Trump had won the election. Finally, in the legislature, the vice president performed his constitutional role, as did the Republican Senate majority leader and most of the Senate. The only two elements that rallied behind the president’s coup attempt were the handful of senators and the majority of House Republicans and his popular support, in the form of an insurgency—the mob that stormed the Capitol.

The good news for the United States is that Trump’s self-coup failed. The bad news is that his supporters still believe the false narrative, the Big Lie that he won the election. Trump has not repudiated it, nor have the House and Senate Republicans who voted against the Electoral College results. Millions of people still think the election was stolen. They still support Trump the person, not the Republican Party, and many are prepared to take further action on his behalf.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Brian Beutler:

Many Democrats believe that their sole task is to defeat Republicans, and that change will follow naturally. But the structural incentives that led Republicans to embrace Trump in the first place remain in place, even as they lost the Senate and the presidency, and likely even as they’ve been tarred with complicity in an armed insurrection.

The only way to change their behavior is through the adoption of a robust democracy reform agenda—one that will help America complete its transformation into a pluralistic, multiracial democracy and splinter the Republican Party as it currently exists into oblivion. The campaign finance reform, voting rights, and redistricting provisions of H.R. 1 represent big steps forward as do efforts to eliminate the filibuster, reform the courts, abolish the Electoral College, grant statehood to Washington, DC, and allow Puerto Ricans a referendum on statehood or independence. These efforts would help stem the Republican Party’s ability to entrench minority rule in our democracy. But alone, these reforms themselves can’t stop a Republican Party steeped in white-grievance politics from returning to unchecked power.

This Congress should thus enact further democracy-expanding reforms that would require Republicans to attempt to appeal beyond the shrinking white rural minority our existing institutions are designed to empower.

The Fair Representation Act, H.R. 4000, would restructure the rules of our democracy to achieve this. Under the current system, over 70 percent of congressional general elections are uncompetitive and Republicans can routinely win more seats than Democrats while still losing the popular vote. H.R. 4000 would reform the system to create large districts spanning urban and rural areas that would elect multiple members of Congress through ranked-choice voting. Such districts would make urban and rural votes count equally, and would reward all parties for competing everywhere.

A new system like this would create a multi-party, proportional-representation system in the House similar to the kind many other democracies around the world enjoy. For those honest conservatives who genuinely oppose Trump and Trumpism (or for dishonest conservatives who would nevertheless like to shake off the stench of complicity with insurrectionists), proportional representation would allow them to create their own party without fearing that they’d be permanently shut out of power. Many of us on the political left, who often find ourselves at odds with the leadership of the Democratic Party, also find this idea appealing. 

But more importantly, it would provide a bulwark against the possibility that another Trump-like figure will divide the nation in half through authoritarian and white supremacist appeals and prevent such a figure from fully controlling one of America’s only two parties. It would create an incentive structure to cool the Republican Party’s apocalyptic rhetoric, prevent one of the nation’s two political parties from descending further into white-nationalist authoritarianism, and foster a system based on greater diversity and pluralism.

2) Kevin Drum is leaving MoJo and going to part-time blogging due to health reasons.  That makes me sad.  As you surely know, Drum is absolutely my favorite blogger and is far and away the biggest influence on me as a blogger.  I love that his posts are just authentically him and I hope that mine are authentically me in the same way.  Also, I agree with him about 98% of the time. 

3) Jon Cohn on how our vaccine roll-out is actually way better than you think (though still could be so much better):

Assessing the U.S. performance internationally depends on the context you choose ― or, more precisely, which countries are part of the comparison.

Among economically developed countries, the leader is Israel and it’s not even close. As of Tuesday, more than 1 in 5 Israelis had received at least one vaccine dose, according to data from Our World in Data. And the rolling seven-day average for daily doses in Israel was 0.75 per 100 people. The comparable figure for the U.S. was 0.19.

So Americans are getting vaccines a lot more slowly than their Israeli counterparts. At the same time, they’re getting them significantly more quickly than most of their European counterparts. Only the United Kingdom, where the rolling seven-day average was 0.29 on Tuesday, is putting more shots into arms per capita every day….

The international comparisons come with two very important asterisks. One is that not every country is tracking vaccine administration the same way or with the same accuracy. In many nations, including the U.S., data may be lagging behind actual shots.

The other asterisk is that different countries started vaccinating on different days because government approvals of vaccines didn’t happen simultaneously. The U.K. started first, then came the U.S. and then, finally, the European Union. Adjusting for that factor, the performance of the U.S. comes closer to that of the U.K., but several European countries, like Denmark, Ireland and Italy, come close to or look better than the U.S.

Probably the fairest way to judge the U.S. relative to its peer countries is to say that it matches or exceeds the highest performing countries in Western Europe but, like those countries, hasn’t had nearly the success that Israel has ― again, assuming that the data is roughly accurate.

4) Yes, Ivanka and Jared really did cause the Secret Service to pay thousands to not use their toilets.  

5) Harrowing stories from DC Police who fought the rioters.  

6) New study on the gut microbiome:

The researchers collected data on a wide range of factors that influence metabolism and disease risk. They analyzed the participants’ diets, microbiomes and body fat. They took blood samples before and after meals to look at their blood sugar, hormones, cholesterol and inflammation levels. They monitored their sleep and physical activity. And for two weeks they had them wear continuous glucose monitors that tracked their blood sugar responses to different meals.

The researchers were surprised to discover that genetics played only a minor role in shaping a person’s microbiome. Identical twins were found to share just 34 percent of the same gut microbes, while people who were unrelated shared about 30 percent of the same microbes. The composition of each person’s microbiome appeared instead to be driven more by what they ate, and the types of microbes in their guts played a strong role in their metabolic health.

The researchers identified clusters of so-called good gut bugs, which were more common in people who ate a diverse diet rich in high-fiber plants — like spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, nuts and seeds — as well as minimally processed animal foods such as fish and full-fat yogurt. They also found clusters of “bad” gut bugs that were common in people who regularly consumed foods that were highly processed. One common denominator among heavily processed foods is that they tend to contain very little fiber, a macronutrient that helps to nourish good microbes in the gut, the researchers said.

7) Joe Klein reviews Comey’s new book:

In his second debate against Joe Biden last October, Donald Trump inadvertently stated his philosophy of life. The issue was refugees. He said that “low I.Q.” immigrants were the only ones who abided by the law and showed up for their refugee status hearings. A week or so later, The Washington Post reported a similar statement Trump made when he admitted to stiffing his creditors on a Chicago high-rise. He said the chicanery made him “a smart guy, rather than a bad guy.”

A smart guy, according to Trump, is someone who is wise enough to cheat. Stupid people abide by the law and attend their refugee status hearings; smart ones abscond. Stupid people pay their debts; smart ones stiff their lenders and dare them to sue. Stupid people believe their elected officials; smart people know the game is rigged. The most distressing aspect of Trump’s enduring appeal, even in defeat, is how many Americans seem to agree with him…

He should talk. It was Comey’s epic mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email case in 2016 that, arguably, gave Donald Trump the presidency. Comey defends his Clinton actions in both memoirs. He admits only to sins of honesty. The public was clamoring for a judgment. And the F.B.I.’s conclusion, after overwhelming work on the case, was that Clinton had been sloppy but not venal. “If we couldn’t prove bad intent, there was no prosecutable case,” he writes. Comey chose to announce this dramatically, in public, but not without a bone to his fellow Republicans: Clinton had been “extremely careless,” Comey said. He stewed about the adverb, which turned his report into an op-ed. And then, on the brink of the election, he reopened the case. A computer containing more Clinton emails was found in the possession of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose wife, Huma Abedin, worked for Clinton. Now, if there ever was a time for transparency, this was it. Comey could have said: “Look, we found no evidence of criminality in the Clinton case, and I would be very surprised — given the nature of the thousands of emails we’ve read — if this new batch proves otherwise. But we’ve got to look at them, and so we will.” Instead, he sent a damning letter to Congress, announcing that the investigation had been reopened. As Comey might say: No context, no transparency.

8) mRNA vaccines could be a game-changer on more than just Covid:

The better way to fight cancer, Sahin and Tureci realized, is to treat each tumor as genetically unique and to train the immune systems of individual patients against that specific enemy. A perfect job for mRNA. You find the antigen, get its fingerprint, reverse-engineer the cellular instructions to target the culprit and let the body do the rest.

Take a look at the pipelines of Moderna and BioNTech. They include drug trials fortreating cancers of the breast, prostate, skin, pancreas, brain, lung and other tissues, as well as vaccines against everything from influenza to Zika and rabies. The prospects appear good.

Progress, admittedly, has been slow. Part of the explanation Sahin and Tureci give is that investors in this sector must put up oodles of capital and then wait for more than a decade, first for the trials, then for regulatory approvals. In the past, too few were in the mood.

Covid-19, fingers crossed, may turbo-charge all these processes. The pandemic has led to a grand debut of mRNA vaccines and their definitive proof of concept. Already, there are murmurs about a Nobel Prize for Kariko. Henceforth, mRNA will have no problems getting money, attention or enthusiasm — from investors, regulators and policymakers.

That doesn’t mean the last stretch will be easy. But in this dark hour, it’s permissible to bask in the light that’s dawning. 

9) Ron Brownstein in the Atlantic, “Republicans Confront the Consequences of Their Doomsday Rhetoric: The Capitol riot showed how the ominous tenor of contemporary GOP messaging could be fueling white conservatives’ extremism.”

10) But I thought this twitter thread was even better.  Read it!

11) Speaking of great twitter threads.  This one from that unicorn-esque creature– a GOP house member with a spine and a moral conscience.

12) Really really good Slow Boring post from Yglesias:

I don’t know exactly what drives this perennially retrocasting of past iterations of conservatism as reasonable, but I was reminded of Robin’s essay when I read Ezra Klein and Tim Alberta commiserating on the idea that “there is no longer any buffer between mainstream thought and the extreme elements of our politics.”

As a description of the present this is absolutely correct. Conservative thought exists on a spectrum between Q Anon lunatics putting on horns and storming the capital and guys with PhDs arguing that in the long-run corporate tax cuts raise wages. But there is no firewall between these groups. The Covid cranks and the distinguished Federalist Society legal scholars not only sit side-by-side at the Hudson Institute, they are sometimes the same person.

But while I obviously understand the rhetorical potency of claiming that the bad actors in today’s politics are not just bad but uniquely so, I don’t think the claim holds up to analytic scrutiny. Right from the start the conservative movement was a stewof highbrow policy objections to the New Deal Consensus (some of which were even correct!) with paranoid conspiracy theories about communist control of the government and with hard-core white nationalism. Mediating between the respectable and less-respectable faces of conservatism is often a group of grifters, largely because the whole premise of the enterprise is that pitching the long-term benefits of regressive tax policy is not an electoral winner. So different notions ranging from Ike being a Communist to Obama being a Kenyan to the idea that Bill & Hillary Clinton have been assassinating political enemies for decades come and go according to the whims of the moment….

I’ve heard a number of people remark over the past four years that they can’t wait to read the sure-to-be-coming eventual Rick Perlstein volume on the Trump years. But that’s because readers of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and Nixonland are primed to find the Trump era marriage of ideological hardliners with grifters and nutjobs unsurprising. As he details brilliantly, this is the way it’s always worked…

It’s as if you had not just a Q Anon affiliate, but an actual high-ranking member of a Q organization serving in Congress.

What’s different in his case from today — and it is a big difference — is that McDonald was a Democrat. It’s not that the right-wing fringe used to be more frozen out of politics, it’s that party politics used to be less ideologically organized, so lots of hard-right figures entered the mainstream via the Democratic Party rather than the GOP…

None of this is to deny the obvious reality that Trump Era politics is different than the politics of the past. If anything, the problem is that it’s different along too many dimensions:

  • We’ve never before had a president who is so personally uninterested in and disconnected from what the actual job is.

  • The media and political worlds have become much more nationalized, with much less in the way of region- or location-specific weirdness.

  • The ideological organization of the parties is much more rigorous now, so while you might say various unflattering things about various Democratic members, none of them is going to be a right-wing crank, whereas historically we had right-wing cranks in both parties.

  • The electoral system now exhibits a very strong pro-GOP bias in state legislatures, and in the House, and has an enormously strong pro-GOP bias in the senate.

  • Voters have become more entrenched in their partisan preferences.

This all leads to a pretty distressing situation largely because the electoral penalty paid by right-wing cranks is diminishing. Someone like Marsha Blackburn can easily win a Senate race in Tennessee, even though she had to run in what was both a really bad national political environment for the GOP and against a well-liked moderate former governor of the state. A large majority of the voters in Tennessee are Republicans, and they understand politics in nationalized partisan terms — including someone who thinks Blackburn is a bit kooky and who admired Phil Bredesen’s integrity and moderate approach. That person understands the nationalstakes and sides with McConnell.

In this sense, I think Ezra Klein’s great book Why We’re Polarized is much more insightful than the Alberta article he was praising.

The relationship between the racist and conspiratorial fringe and mainstream conservatism has always been fluid, and there has never been a group of “grown ups” who keep the kooks in check. But what does keep them in check is a desire to win elections. In the modern day, thanks to polarization, the electoral penalty for kookery or extremism has fallen; and thanks to unfair maps, the Republicans don’t need electoral majorities to win and govern. The combination has allowed kooks to be elevated to the highest ranks of power, and ensures that Senate Republicans put a much higher premium on preserving party unity than on checking even Trump’s most unpopular or inappropriate actions.

This is a genuinely dangerous situation, and nostalgia for the alleged guardrails of the past is not the answer.

13) As the parent of a teenager and pre-teen, this struck me as a very interesting idea, “Video games have replaced music as the most important aspect of youth culture”

14) Greg Sargent on Biden and Dems learning important lessons from the Obama years:

But still another reason, one that has been less remarked-upon, is that many Democrats have lived through what happened when former president Barack Obama inherited another major economic crisis from another Republican president.

As has been endlessly hashed out, Obama opted for a stimulus that fell short of what was needed. Putting aside why that happened, what everyone now knows is that it was a serious mistake. Democrats lost the House in 2010 and spent the remainder of Obama’s presidency locked in brutal fiscal trench warfare with a GOP determined to starve the recovery with austerity to cripple his presidency under the guise of fake concerns about spending and deficits.

Making them even more wary, one hopes, is the fact that Republican deficit concerns evaporated once a Republican (Donald Trump) became president. Indeed, the Trump economy was good (at least until the coronavirus shattered it) precisely because it was fueled by stimulus.

As Neil Irwin reports, the Trump years have caused a change among economists, who are now more receptive to a hotter economy — with higher deficits and lower unemployment — and less wary of inflation than they traditionally have been. That has fueled a political shift toward tolerance of deficits, making Democrats less wary of bad-faith criticism for overspending.

The lesson of those years is that Trump was the political beneficiary of that chicanery. He consistently had high approval ratings on the economy, and he might have won reelection on the strength of that if the coronavirus hadn’t intervened.

Democrats appear to be learning from that lesson right now.

15) Unsurprisingly, Yglesias has gotten himself a really good intern.  Here’s an important point I see virtually always ignored about single payer systems:

To gain credibility, universal health care advocates should probably drop some misleading rhetoric that now leads people to tune them out. The first type of mistake people make is saying that progressives’ Medicare-for-All bill is simply what every single other developed country has. The plan outlined in the bill covers dental, vision, hearing, reproductive care (including abortions) and mental health care while promising no premiums, deductibles, or copays, and a cap of $200 of out-of-pocket spending on non-preventive prescription drugs for people whose incomes exceeds twice the poverty line.

Many European countries have universal systems that aren’t single-payer. And the Nordic social democracies, which do have a single-payer system, generally do not have a system like this with basically no cost-sharing. Norwegians pay between $19 and $42 per primary care visit and between $30 and $46 for specialist visits, though every adult has a deductible of around $500 above which the government will cover the rest. Denmark has copays too, with a cap of $538, and they don’t pay for adult dental care. Neither does Sweden for people over 23. In Finland, copayments are 20% of all health expenditure, averaging around $850 a year per person. Iceland’s out-of-pocket costs are over $800 per person.

Are all these countries doing way better than America, where out-of-pocket spending is over $1200 a year? Of course. But are their plans substantively different from Medicare-for-All? Yes, hugely — Finland and Iceland’s out-of-pocket expenses are closer to $1200 than they are to $200!

100 percent taxpayer-financed coverage of every conceivable health service is a fine aspirational goal, but it remains an aspiration even in Sweden and Denmark because everywhere you go, there is a tradeoff between services and taxes. There’s also issues of moral hazard and skyrocketing healthcare costs when people find out the government is always on the hook, and I haven’t even gotten into these.

By flattening all plans into “everything related to healthcare is free pretty much always” and “other,” we lose the ability to make distinctions between plans that put us on a path towards government health insurance for all and things that don’t.

For example, Pete Buttigieg’s health insurance plan was also a public option, but it allowed businesses to get the public option for their employees, unlike Biden’s. This difference would’ve allowed tens of millions more people to transition from employer-tied health insurance to government-funded health insurance, while Biden’s plan would by and large preserve employer-tied health insurance. Buttigieg’s plan would have been a much more meaningful step toward the government-health-insurance-for-all vision and if our goal is to recruit allies and move closer to it (as opposed to ideological purity), then we should be willing to recognize that.


Moms and guns meet fragile masculinity

So my NC State PR friend did a really nice release on my guns and motherhood research.  Not much attention to it (though, people in my college noticed, which is nice) given the larger world events, but it is good to have this excellent summary out in the world.  At least one person outside my university noticed, as I got this lovely email.  Wow:

In every country on Earth regardless of the law when you look at demographics the crime rate is the same. The rule of law doesn’t matter that much. Passing gun laws will not change homicide rates, nor will citing data ever convince white rural conservatives to turn in their guns and join the communist party. The black cities of America have plenty of gun control, and the same murder rates as African countries. Indeed 95% of the interracial violence in America is black on white.

America is not a democracy, it is a republic. There is no right to vote away the gun rights of anyone else anyway.

There is no historical example of a multicultural society in which the rule of law did not break down.

Since WW2 sperm counts have declined by 50% and testosterone levels have fallen by 30%. College professors have the lowest testosterone levels of any profession tested. Get your testosterone levels checked.
I know motherhood makes women more red pill cause I’ve made a lot of women mothers. BAHAHAHAHAHA enjoy virginity u cucks. 😎

As one of my co-authors put it, pretty much textbook fragile masculinity.  I mean seriously, what does it say about you not only think this way, but feel the need to send this missive to a total stranger.  Just wow.  

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