Did Elizabeth Warren doom her campaign with Medicare for All?

Well, she could still pull it out.  And, at this point, I’m pretty sure she’s my top choice and I hope she does.  But, assuming she does not I think it would actually be fair to link her downfall to bringing out her detailed Medicare for All plan.  Take a look at her national polling average (brown line) since the beginning of November when this came out

Hindsight being 20/20, this was a huge tactical error.  With the field what it is now, I’ve been thinking that Warren very much represents the best possible “unity” candidate for Democrats.  I think her fundamental economic critique of our “rigged” system has the benefit of being largely accurate and not really alienating to anybody in the Democratic coalition short of socially liberal Wall Street types.  Though everybody wants to group her in the “far left” with Bernie, among my hugely non-random sample of people I know, she’s way more popular than Bernie (and very much liked by people who have no use for Bernie) so to group them together as the “left” has always struck me as problematic.  Of course, in my life, I know a whole bunch of white-collar professionals, for whom the technocratic “I’ve got a plan” for that approach has great appeal.  I wonder if her “plan for that” for health care had just been the “Medicare for all who want it” approach (which, does, hopefully, bring about universal, affordable care) if she would not be way better off by picking up far more from the center-left (where Buttigieg is now on a roll) and Biden, in particular, than she would have lost from the left-left,where Bernie seems to be some combination of irresistible force/immovable object.

I really loved this James Carville interview with Sean Illing and it is very much worth reading in full, but, for present purposes, I think this exchange regarding Warren is notable:

Sean Illing

A lot of Democratic candidates don’t talk like that. Warren doesn’t talk like that. Sanders doesn’t talk like that. Buttigieg doesn’t talk like that. Cory Booker never talked like that.

James Carville

Warren knows her stuff, and I’m particularly hard on her, because she was the star pupil, the one who was smart, had a good story. But I think she gets distracted and loses her core anti-corruption message, which resonates. With a lot of these candidates, their consultants are telling them, “If you doubt it, just go left. We got to get the nomination.”

And then Biden gets in and blocks out good candidates like Cory Booker or Michael Bennet or Steve Bullock by occupying this mainstream lane. There just isn’t enough oxygen and they couldn’t get any traction. But these are serious people, professional people, and they could’ve delivered a winning message.

And, yeah, also, I would’ve loved to be in the alternate universe where Biden never ran.  I think that’s my happy one where Booker is well-positioned.

Anyway, as I was discussing with very-informed friend the other day, I think Warren is good at political strategy (that is, accurately diagnosing and communicating about what ails us a nation), but damn if her political tactics aren’t real trouble.  She recovered from the DNA test (which, really, was way overblown small potatoes), but, in the end, I think it may be tacking left when she should’ve tacked center which will be responsible for her failed candidacy.  Though, I’m hoping I’m wrong.


Quick hits (part I)

1) Sam Vinograd on Trump’s firing of Vindland and Sondland:

And there is also little doubt that this move was intentional retribution — and designed to send a clear message to any other government official who dares to challenge the President. Speak out, and you risk compromising not just your own job, but that of your family’s.
Of course, the President’s surrogates will defend him and argue Trump has the full right to hire and fire staff as he sees fit. And while that may be true, it also ignores the sad reality hidden in that truth. The President only wants henchmen and yes-men who defer to his orders and actions, no matter how dangerous, inappropriate or potentially illegal they may be.
There have been earlier reports that Trump is downsizing the NSC and stacking it with more political appointees. By removing Vindman, and by moving forward with plans to cycle out career government officials, it appears that the President also does not want witnesses around to report, through legally protected channels, any future actions that may cross moral or legal lines.
But there is a great danger to removing individuals like Vindman from the NSC who have longstanding relationships. Trump appears intent on transforming the NSC — from a critical American policy-making apparatus that advances the rule of law to a political arm for his personal benefit — with little regard for rules or laws. [emphasis mine]

2) Honestly, one of the best things to happen to me this winter is that the newly-opened Lidl in my neighborhood (I love this store!) carries Crimson Crisp apples, my favorite apple heretofore only seen at the Farmer’s Market.  And only $.99/pound and I’d pay $4/pound; they’re that good.

3) Jamelle Bouie, “The Republican Party Has Embraced Its Worst Self”

Let’s return to those rival accounts of United States history. If the story of the American republic is the story of democratic decline as much as it is of democratic expansion — if backlash shapes our history as much as progress does — then the current moment is easy to understand. We are living through a period of democratic erosion, in which social and political reaction limits the reach and scope of past democratic victories. In this way of looking at the present, we’re living through a period of institutional deterioration, during which American government ceases to function in the face of polarization, zero-sum conflict and constitutional hardball.

Republican politicians have been the single most important force behind that erosion, breaking norms, backing suppression and welcoming an endless flood of money into our politics, all to protect themselves and their ideology from the will of the people. Viewed in that light, the acquittal of President Trump — the desperate cover-up in the face of damning evidence — is just another brick on a road Republicans have been paving for years.

It is what you would expect them to do, not because of any fear of the president or personal fealty to him, but because the party sees accountability, whether to voters or to the Constitution itself, as a threat to its interests. If the acquittal of Trump shows us anything, it’s a Republican Party free of pretense or artifice, ready to embrace its worst self without shame or embarrassment.

4) Dana Milbank, (who, by the way, used to be very much a “both sides,” all-about-the-game centrist before Trump) “This vulgar man has squandered our decency”

The president had broken the law, cheated in his reelection, abused a vulnerable ally by withholding military aid, emboldened a foe and concealed the facts — and there would be no consequences. His fellow Republicans rejected even the symbolic sanction of censure.

It didn’t take long to see the consequences of acquittal: Trump’s blasphemy at the National Prayer Breakfast, his obscene rant in the White House, his move to evict from the White House a decorated military officer who testified during impeachment, his attorney general’s edict that he alone would decide which presidential candidates to investigate and his Treasury Department’s release of sensitive records about the family of a Trump political opponent even as it refuses to release similar records about Trump.

This is a man of the lowest character — and his partisans cheer. The Post identified more than 30 distortions in his State of the Union address Tuesday, where he announced he would award the nation’s highest civilian honor to a man who joined Trump in spreading the “birther” libel and who popularized the tune “Barack the Magic Negro” for his millions of listeners.

And the Republicans on the House floor chanted: “Four more years!

Of this?

5) Dahlia Lithwick, “The Law Is for Suckers”

It is a paradox that the most litigious country in the world—a country whose founding documents were largely drafted by lawyers, and whose constitutional true north has long been the constraints afforded by the law—elected a man who has spent the bulk of his life creating a two-tiered system, in which some men are bound by law and others float away from it. We knew long before he was elected that Donald Trump would not be bound by the rule of law, or by the norms of a system dependent on checks and balances. He told us as much. During the campaign he floated the prospect of torturing the families of enemies, and rewriting libel laws, and banning travelers to the United States based on their religion. Sure, it maybe sounded like hyperbole, and it maybe sounded like campaign-speak, and even as some of those efforts were effectuated, including the Muslim ban and family separations, and even as the norms about nepotism and self-dealing and disclosure were brushed away, it still seemed as if a country founded on law would locate some guardrails.

It hasn’t. Just as Zirin promised us, Trump has deployed all of his Roy Cohn strategies to show us that the law is for suckers, and that for great men it serves as a nuisance at most, something to be gotten out of with a squadron of well-paid lawyers, by terrorizing opposing parties and witnesses, by lying fluently and repeatedly, and by declaring victory even when you lost. It should not surprise a soul that he would have brought those tactics to bear as a candidate, as president, and as the subject of an impeachment inquiry. The legal arguments he has deployed throughout this process—that he should have “absolute immunity” from investigation; that he could not be removed from office for crimes; and that he could only be impeached for literal crimes, not high crimes and misdemeanors as the Framers intended—were vintage Roy Cohn. As was the argument, as proffered by Alan Dershowitz, that if the president believed his election interference was in the best interest of the republic, it was both not illegal and also not an impeachable offense. The fact that the Senate and the Justice Department helped him evade accountability, or that White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Dershowitz and Ken Starr served as Roy Cohn mini-me’s, should surprise nobody. Nor should the fact that the “trial” was not a trial and the jurors were not jurors or that a nontrivial number of the jurors voted to acquit him while still acknowledging that what he did was the thing he continues to deny having done.

Nobody should be surprised that in the wake of 3,500 lawsuits, Trump will conclude that he is indeed above the law, that the legal regime exists only for suckers, and also that he can repurpose the machinery of law to investigate, harass, and punish the whistleblowers and the witnesses and those who sought to constrain him. At which point the law won’t just be the thing that applies only to losers and suckers, but also the thing that can be used to put down those who sought justice in the first place. And nobody should be surprised that having invited foreign election interference and having been acquitted for doing so, this president will use the formidable power of his Justice Department to manipulate the 2020 election, and to call into question the results of that election in the courts.

6) Brian Klaas, “Senate Republicans just paved the road to American authoritarianism”

The Senate has neutered itself. That shift in power isn’t temporary — it sets a new orthodoxy of what presidents can get away with.

If Trump commits a crime (as he allegedly has, repeatedly), he cannot be indicted under guidelines from the Justice Department. And if he yet again abuses his power with corrupt intent, it’s up to his lackeys in the Senate to hold him accountable with an impeachment trial — and they just spectacularly failed to do so despite him committing the most egregious abuse of power in recent American history.

Perhaps most striking was the moment in which one of Trump’s defense lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, argued that “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” That logic — that if the leader takes an action to win with corrupt intent but believes that his victory is ultimately good for the country, then it’s fine — is the logic of authoritarian despots. It is a logic that is poisonous to democracy. (Dershowitz has since tried to back away from his own words, but there’s no changing the fact he appears to have captured precisely the philosophy that currently informs thinking among Senate Republicans.)

All of this would be quite worrying indeed if the current president were someone who mimicked the behavior of autocrats. We would be right to panic if the man in the White House was someone who, for example, attacked the media with Stalinist rhetoricscapegoated minority groups, called for the jailing of his political rivalspoliticized the rule of lawhired cronies and family members for top jobs, called to ban an entire religion from entering the country, directly profited from his office, and had invited foreign adversaries to help him stay in power.

Okay, maybe it’s time to break the glass.

7) Okay, I’ll mix it up now.  Hooray for Finland and parental leave:

Parents in Finland will be given the same amount of parental leave, regardless of their gender or whether they are a child’s biological parents, the government announced.

The changes, which were announced Wednesday and could come into effect as early as 2021, are a bid to promote gender equality and inclusivity for same-sex couples and to encourage fathers to take as much time off work as mothers.

The measure is one of the latest reforms under Finland’s new government, led by Sanna Marin, a progressive prime minister who took up the post late last year. Ms. Marin made news when she took up the post late last year becoming the world’s youngest premier and heading a coalition government made up of all female leaders.

Under the new reforms, each parent will be allowed 164 days of paid parental leave, which increased the total allowance for a couple from 11.5 months to more than 14 months, the government said in a statement. Single parents will have the right to use the parental leave quotas of both parents.

The minister of social affairs and health, Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, said that the new policy shows the government’s “investment in the future of children” and in the well-being of families.

“The reform will be a major change in attitudes, as it will improve equality between parents and make the lives of diverse families easier,” she added.

8) Not everyday you find out a business a few hundred yards for your house is a front for prostitution.

Because of community concerns, Cary police said they conducted a “limited operation” involving massage businesses.

Late last week Jin Li, 42, was arrested at the Koko Spa on Southeast Maynard Road.

A mile away at Studio Salons on Northeast Maynard Road, police arrested 43-year-old Jin Hongmei.

Both women are charged with practicing massage without a license and prostitution.

Moana Anderson and her husband brought their four daughters to the indoor playground next door Monday.

“That’s kind of scary because we wanted our kids to be safe,” Anderson told ABC11.

Can, I tell you, though, how absolutely not scared I am for the kids.

9) John Sides (who, by the way, I’m very excited to be bringing to speak at NC State in a pre-Super Tuesday lecture on February 27) on the Democrats not in disarray:

But the disarray story line deserves some qualifications. A survey — conducted in November and December by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group — points to a more complex picture. The survey is unique because it includes 4,250 respondents who have been interviewed periodically since late 2011, as well as interviews with new respondents to ensure that the sample as a whole is nationally representative.

Twenty-five percent of likely Democratic primary voters say they plan to support former vice president Joe Biden, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) at 20 percent and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at 16 percent. November and December polling averages showed similar results, though Sanders has gained some ground and Warren has lost ground.

But you have to look beyond those top-line numbers to see the key takeaway: Despite the lack of consensus on a nominee, there are important signs of unity within the party right now. And history tells us that party unity is likely to grow as November approaches.

1. Most Democrats like most Democrats.

Overall, most Democrats feel favorably about the Democratic front-runners.

10) I’m pretty fascinated by the American Dirt controversy.  Though not as fascinated as Jesse Singal.  It occurred to me Arthur Golden could never write Memoirs of a Geisha today.  And, that’s a shame, because it’s a great book.  Singal on the controversy and the failure off journalism:

There were certain problems with how American Dirt, the novel by Jeanine Cummins that is currently one of the hottest-selling titles on Amazon, and which was chosen by Oprah for her super-famous book club, was written and publicized.

But how severe were those problems? And which of them were actual, you know, problems, rather than the inevitable outrage-overgrowth that instantly sprouts, kudzulike, during any sort of online pileon, suffocating reasoned conversation?

If you read most journalistic coverage of this controversy, you will not be informed. If anything, you will end up more misinformed than you were when you started. And that’s a useful problem to explore given where journalism is right now. I haven’t read American Dirt, so I can’t speak directly to the plot. But the book itself isn’t actually the point I’m interested in: Rather, I want to talk about the nature of how this controversy — and seemingly every controversy, these days — is being covered by mainstream media outlets…

So, anyway, I read some of the coverage of the American Dirt dustup, hoping to better understand what was happening, because my gut impulse was there was at least some there worth extracting and understanding, even if it was at the bottom of a large, stinky pile of internet bullshit. And almost as soon as I started, I realized I couldn’t really trust most of what I was reading, because all it was doing was presenting a too-lightly curated version of “people on the internet are saying…,” with the people in question often leveling critiques about as sophisticated and thoughtful as, well, “If a racist character expresses racist sentiments, that means the book is racist.” Or the author of a given piece him- or herself was making these sorts of arguments. In other words, these articles were contributing to and amplifying the bullshit, not joining me, hand in hand, facemasks snugly secured, to help me dig through it in search of something worthwhile — which is what journalism is supposed to do!

11) Bats are always the damn reservoir species for nasty zoonotic diseases.  Interesting new scientific theories on why.  In large part– flying:

In a 2018 paper in Cell Host and Microbe, scientists in China and Singapore reported their investigation of how bats handle something called DNA sensing. The energy demands of flight are so great that cells in the body break down and release bits of DNA that are then floating around where they shouldn’t be. Mammals, including bats, have ways to identify and respond to such bits of DNA, which might indicate an invasion of a disease-causing organism. But in bats, they found, evolution has weakened that system, which would normally cause inflammation as it fought the viruses.

Bats have lost some genes involved in that response, which makes sense because the inflammation itself can be very damaging to the body. They have a weakened response but it is still there. Thus, the researchers write, this weakened response may allow them to maintain a “balanced state of ‘effective response’ but not ‘over response’ against viruses.”

12) Thanks to a reader for this link about autism and brain myelination:

Scientists have found a clue to how autism spectrum disorder disrupts the brain’s information highways.

The problem involves cells that help keep the traffic of signals moving smoothly through brain circuits, a team reported Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The team found that in both mouse and human brains affected by autism, there’s an abnormality in cells that produce a substance called myelin.

That’s a problem because myelin provides the “insulation” for brain circuits, allowing them to quickly and reliably carry electrical signals from one area to another. And having either too little or too much of this myelin coating can result in a wide range of neurological problems.

For example, multiple sclerosis occurs when the myelin around nerve fibers is damaged. The results, which vary from person to person, can affect not only the signals that control muscles, but also the ones involved in learning and thinking.

The finding could help explain why autism spectrum disorders include such a wide range of social and behavioral features, says Brady Maher, a lead investigator at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and an associate professor in the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“Myelination could be a problem that ties all of these autism spectrum disorders together,” Maher says. And if that’s true, he says, it might be possible to prevent or even reverse the symptoms using drugs that affect myelination.

13) Good stuff from Planet Money, “The Limits Of Nudging: Why Can’t California Get People To Take Free Money?”

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