Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting piece from Seth Masket comparing Covid to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927:

The flood was the product of several freak storms in the winter and spring of 1927. The flood surge destroyed the homes of roughly 700,000 people as it worked its way down the Mississippi River, killing 500 people and flooding 27,000 square miles of land (an area larger than West Virginia). Damages in today’s currency would likely exceed a trillion dollars. It remains the most destructive river flood in American history. 

Here’s the part that really echoes: as the flood surge approached New Orleans, city leaders there made a fateful decision to dynamite the levees that were protecting the poorer regions of St. Bernard Parish and Plaquemines Parish, saving the city’s wealthier neighborhoods. 

Now, the specific details of the flood aren’t that much like the COVID-19 virus, obviously. But the similarities lie in what the flood revealed about the society it tore apart.

As Barry argues, a powerful popular belief at the time was the idea of noblesse oblige, the idea that the wealthy and powerful would look after everyone else because it was their obligation to do so. Of course there was rampant economic and racial inequality in the 1920s and well prior to that, but it wasn’t so bad because the people on top would take care of everyone else when the chips were down. 

That philosophy died hard when New Orleans city leaders blew the levees. Now, I need to be clear what “city leaders” here means. As Barry describes it, the leaders were not so much elected officials as they were the city elders, leaders of prominent families, and especially the elite clubs known as krewes who held the real power in town. (Krewes today have much more pleasant tasks like creating Mardi Gras floats — back then they more or less ran the city.)

The flood, and the calloused and self-dealing manner in which city elites responded to its threat, undermined their rule and the ideology of noblesse oblige that had propped them up for so long. Poorer citizens would no longer trust elites to do the right thing in a crisis. The flood’s aftermath created an environment for populist politicians like Huey Long to rise to power by running against the elite families. Herbert Hoover, then the US Secretary of Commerce, organized a massive federal relief effort in the region, setting a precedent for federal remedies for local and regional catastrophes (and also bolstering his 1928 presidential run). 

Importantly, when the Great Depression hit a few years later, there was little expectation that local elites or wealthy patrons would remedy the problems. The federal government was expected to fix it.

We may be seeing something like this at work today, although we are still only at the beginning stages of the Coronavirus pandemic. President Trump, while seeking efforts to shore up the economy, has largely resisted using governing tools like the Defense Production Act to respond to demands for masks and ventilators and virus tests, instead insisting that governors and private industry should be doing more. 

2) Be suspicious of a wine bar that starts selling gourmet pizza during a pandemic, “A restaurant in South Carolina has been accused of reselling Costco pizzas at a 700% markup as ‘gourmet Roman-style thin crust pizza'”

3) If Hillary Clinton had been president we probably would have not closed the border as quickly, but we would have done virtually everything else so much better.  Max Boot.

4) Meanwhile the fundamental rule of law in our court system continues to be undermined.  Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern:

Nowhere is the problem of asymmetrical rhetorical warfare more apparent than in the federal judiciary. For the past several years, federal judges, notably those appointed by Donald J. Trump, have felt unmoored from any standard judicial conventions of circumspection and restraint, penning screeds about the evils of “big government” and rants against Planned Parenthood. Most of the judicial branch, though, has declined to engage in this kind of rhetoric. There are norms, after all, and conventions, standards, and protocols. There seems to also be an agreement that conservative judges demonstrate deeply felt passion when they delve into such issues, while everyone else just demonstrates “bias” if they decide to weigh in. So when Justice Clarence Thomas just last year used a dissent to attack the integrity of a sitting federal judge in the census case, it was mere clever wordsmithing. But when Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggests, as she did recently, that the conservative wing of the high court seems to be privileging the Trump administration’s emergency petitions, she is labeled—by the president himself—unfit to judge. It’s such a long-standing trick, and it’s so well supported by the conservative outrage machine, that it’s easy to believe that critiques of fellow judges by conservative judges are legitimate, while such critiques from liberal judges are an affront to the legitimacy of the entire federal judiciary…

A startling number of Trump judges appear to believe that, like Ho, their job is mainly to own the libs in print. Neomi Rao, a Trump judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has created a cottage industry out of writing preposterous Trump-friendly polemics. On the same morning that South Texas College of Law Houston professor Josh Blackman expressed his outrage at Adelman’s article, Rao issued yet another dissent that would protect Trump, this time by denying the House of Representatives access to the unredacted Mueller report. Rao’s position is so extreme that Thomas Griffith, a conservative George W. Bush appointee, penned a separate concurrence just to shred it. It is impossible to ignore the fact that Rao keeps running interference for the Trump administration, making arguments that are promptly shunned. And it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that her lengthy, contorted dissents begin with the proposition that Trump must triumph and work backward from there.

5) NPR, “Why Germany’s Coronavirus Death Rate Is Far Lower Than In Other Countries”  Testing.

6) Enjoyed this little history of toilet paper.  Also, glad my wife went out and bought one big jumbo pack at the beginning of the craziness so we didn’t have to worry.

7) I really wish more people understood how fundamentally white Christian evangelicalism in America is tied to white supremacy in the South.  (MB will definitely want to read this whole link).

I grew up in a rural Indiana town surrounded by symbols of American exceptionalism. Despite our size, we maintained one of the biggest Fourth of July parades in the state. Bright red, white, and blue flags and bunting decorated our houses and businesses year-round, including our plethora of churches. At the time, I had no idea that I was being raised in a nationalist, white-identity, Neo-Confederate cult that worshipped power, white supremacy, and hypercapitalism. I’ve come to call this massive and dangerous sect the Cult of the Shining City.

The America I knew—the America that so many of us grew up believing in—was not simply true, it was the only truth. The history we were taught in school focused on the United States of America as the one certain hope in a world of danger and evil. That message was echoed in our preachers’ sermons every Sunday morning as figures like Jesus Christ and George Washington were treated with similar reverence. What those history lessons and sermons didn’t teach us was the means by which evangelical Christianity had come to merge with the secular worship of wealth and power, creating a nationalist, racist faith.

8) Fixing the economy, Nordic style:

In Denmark, political parties from across the ideological spectrum joined with labor unions and employers associations this month to unite behind a plan that has the government covering 75 to 90 percent of all worker salaries over the next three months, provided that companies refrain from layoffs.

The Danish government also agreed to cover costs like rent for companies that suffer a shortfall in revenues. These two elements are collectively estimated to cost 42.6 billion Danish kroner (about $6.27 billion), after factoring in the savings on the unemployment insurance system.

The Netherlands produced a similar scheme, with the government stepping in to cover 90 percent of wages for firms that show losses of at least 20 percent of their revenue. The British government pledged to cover 80 percent of wages, and on Thursday extended those protections to the self-employed.

The aim of this approach is to prevent the wrenching experience of mass unemployment, while allowing businesses to retain their people rather than firing and then hiring them again. Once normalcy returned, companies would be in position to quickly resume operations, restoring economic growth.

“There was quickly an understanding that we were in an exceptional situation where it was necessary to very quickly produce exceptional initiatives,” said Carl-Johan Dalgaard, an economist at the University of Copenhagen and chair of the Danish Economic Council, which advises policymakers. “If you can tide firms over and thereby reduce the severity of bankruptcies and firings, you can expedite the return to normal.”

The primary reason that this sort of approach appears unthinkable in the United States is the same one that limits options to expanding health care and lowering the cost of university education: Wealthy Americans have proved adept at shielding themselves from taxation.

“You don’t have a comprehensive welfare state in the United States, because it implies a politically unacceptable level of redistribution,” said Jacob F. Kierkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “As long as you’re not willing to tax wealthy people and give some of the money to people who are not wealthy, these sorts of options are not on the menu.”

9) OMG Thomas Massie really is the worst and I love the way that Dana Milbank points out that he’s very much a creation of the perverse dysfunction that is the modern Republican Party (also, he apparently went to MIT, just more proof that you can have high IQ and be a moron):

Massie, a believer in the “deep state” conspiracy, is a product of the tea party, a protege of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a collaborator with outgoing Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who is becoming Trump’s chief of staff, when they tried to oust then-Speaker John Boehner. “I’m ready to be unpopular,” Massie said after his 2012 election, and he has opposed even anti-lynching and human rights legislation — and celebrated when he uses “the process” so that “things die.”

He is emblematic of the newer Republicans who congressional scholars Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann say have turned the GOP into an “insurgent outlier,” rewarding bomb-throwers and making compromise with Democrats all but impossible.

“Newt Gingrich gave them the theme that the best thing they can do is discredit government and blow up all of government,” Ornstein told me Friday as Massie perpetrated his shenanigans. Massie, he said, “is a monster created by their deliberate attempt to get people to have contempt for government and institutions that are part of government.” That contempt gave rise to Trump, but it also remade the Republican caucus in Congress.

10) Peter Wehner on how astonishingly unsuited Trump is for this moment:

The thing to understand about Donald Trump is that putting others before self is not something he can do, even temporarily. His attempts to convey facts that don’t serve his perceived self-interest or to express empathy are forced, scripted, and always short-lived, since such reactions are alien to him.

This president does not have the capacity to listen to, synthesize, and internalize information that does not immediately serve his greatest needs: praise, fealty, adoration. “He finds it intolerable when those things are missing,” a clinical psychologist told me. “Praise, applause, and accolades seem to calm him and boost his confidence. There’s no room for that now, and so he’s growing irritable and needing to create some way to get some positive attention.”

Adam Serwer: Trump is inciting a coronavirus culture war to save himself

She added that the pandemic and its economic fallout “overwhelm Trump’s capacity to understand, are outside of his ability to internalize and process, and [are] beyond his frustration tolerance. He is neither curious nor interested; facts are tossed aside when inconvenient or [when they] contradict his parallel reality, and people are disposable unless they serve him in some way.”

It’s useful here to recall that Trump’s success as a politician has been built on his ability to impose his will and narrative on others, to use his experience on a reality-television show and his skill as a con man to shape public impressions in his favor, even—or perhaps, especially—if those impressions are at odds with reality. He convinced a good chunk of the country that he is a wildly successful businessman and knows more about campaign finance, the Islamic State, the courts, the visa system, trade, taxes, the debt, renewable energy, infrastructure, borders, and drones than anyone else.

Read: How the pandemic will end

But in this instance, Trump isn’t facing a political problem he can easily spin his way out of. He’s facing a lethal virus. It doesn’t give a damn what Donald Trump thinks of it or tweets about it. Spin and lies about COVID-19, including that it will soon magically disappear, as Trump claimed it would, don’t work. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Misinformation will cause the virus to increase its deadly spread.

So as the crisis deepens—as the body count increases, hospitals are overwhelmed, and the economy contracts, perhaps dramatically—it’s reasonable to assume that the president will reach for the tools he has used throughout his life: duplicity and denial. He will not allow facts that are at odds with his narrative to pierce his magnetic field of deception.

11) Love this idea from Jay Rosen:

What: A daily briefing on where we are in fighting the Covid-19 virus. 

When: Every day for the forseeable future, 4 to 5 pm ET. 

Where: On the internet. Streaming video and audio always. Broadast whenever a particpating channel or station decides to pick it up. All guests appear remotely. All questions asked remotely. 

Why: For the same reason there needs to be a daily briefing at the White House, but this one is independent from the White House. It provides a stream of factual and relevant information from experts who can speak with authority, and people on the front lines who are in a position to know. 

Who: Originated by the “network pool,” a consortium of ABC, CBS, NBC, FNC and CNN that already collaborates on big occasions like the State of the Union, plus a few other events like this. Any other media company can join for free, submit questions live, and carry the video or audio, which are also available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and as a podcast. 

How: Features 4-5 guests a day who have advanced knowledge or a vital perspective: public health experts, epidemiologists, scientists, hospital officials, governors. Journalists who are part the AMDB can submit questions live. Anyone on the internet can submit questions in advance. 

12) This is great from Parker Molloy, “By reframing Trump’s incoherent inaccurate ramblings as bland political copy, journalists are carrying water for the president.”  Lots of great examples at the link.

13) Farhad Manjoo, “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask: A very American story about capitalism consuming our national preparedness and resiliency.”

14) You are probably not getting things wet enough or leaving the moisture long enough with your disinfecting wipes for them to actually do the job.  I’ve just been wiping lots of stuff down of late with straight-up rubbing alcohol.  

15) It is utterly amazing to watch people trash their reputation to give the president the most ridiculous and literally incredible praise (here’s looking at you, Dr. Birx.  But my friend, Michael Cobb, raises the good point that we should not put scientific experts in the position where they feel they have to do this to save their job.  

16) I’ve been telling people I’m really glad I live in a state with a Democratic governor.  Now, some empirical backing:

 

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