Quick hits (part II)

1) Gallup with interesting analysis of age, partisanship, and Covid:

There are often confounding influences at work when we look at the relationship between a demographic characteristic and another variable. Most demographic characteristics are associated with other characteristics, and sometimes those relationships help explain what’s behind an initial finding.

In the current situation, we know that politics has an inordinately large role in determining virus-related attitudes and behaviorand that political identity is age-related.

Older Americans are substantially more likely to identify as Republicans than those under age 65. Republicans are much less worried than Democrats about the virus and less likely than others to socially isolate themselves. This could mean that the lack of higher levels of worry on average among older Americans is caused by their greater likelihood to be Republican.

The data, however, show that older Democrats are no more likely to worry about getting the virus than younger Democrats, and older Republicans are only slightly more likely than younger Republicans to worry. This means there is no hidden effect of party in the age finding. No matter how we might hypothetically change the proportions of Republicans or Democrats among older Americans in the sample, there would not be a significant age skew in worry about the virus.

2) Great discussion between Conor Friedersdorf and Tyler Cowen on Covid and the “Regulatory State”

Friedersdorf: Which country’s regulatory state comes closest to ideal? Based on which characteristics?

Cowen: Taiwan and South Korea have done excellent work in this area, based on speed of response and taking the problem seriously. Taiwan, like South Korea, is also used to the idea of existential risk and risk coming from China. Singapore mostly did a very good job, but with one big lapse, namely failing to secure the dormitories of migrant workers. New Zealand did a very good job too. Three of those four cases are from non-complacent countries that take existential risk seriously. New Zealand has had ongoing regulatory reform, and mechanisms to improve governance, since its broader reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. They all had a strong civil service and leaders who took the problem seriously. They are also smaller nations, islands, or territories having strong island-like properties (South Korea)…

Friedersdorf: Libertarians and small-government conservatives are highly skeptical of the regulatory state. What do they get wrong?

Cowen: Very often, the alternative to regulation is ex post facto reliance on the courts and juries to redress wrongs. Of course, the judiciary and its components are further instruments of governments, and they have their own flaws. There is no particular reason, from, say, a libertarian point of view, to expect such miracles from the courts. Very often, I would rather take my chances with the regulators.

Also, let’s not forget the cases where the regulators are flat-out right. Take herbal medicines, penis enlargers, or vaccines. In those cases, the regulators are essentially correct, and there is a substantial segment of the population that is flat-out wrong on those issues, and sometimes they are wrong in dangerous ways.

3) NYT Editorial Board takes on the travesty that is qualified immunity:

Police officers don’t face justice more often for a variety of reasons — from powerful police unions to the blue wall of silence to cowardly prosecutors to reluctant juries. But it is the Supreme Court that has enabled a culture of violence and abuse by eviscerating a vital civil rights law to provide police officers what, in practice, is nearly limitless immunity from prosecution for actions taken while on the job. The badge has become a get-out-of-jail-free card in far too many instances…

In 1967, the same year the police chief of Miami coined the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to threaten civil rights demonstrators, the Supreme Court first articulated a notion of “qualified immunity.” In the case of police violence against a group of civil rights demonstrators in Mississippi, the court decided that police officers should not face legal liability for enforcing the law “in good faith and with probable cause.

That’s a high standard to meet. But what makes these cases nearly impossible for plaintiffs to win is the court’s requirement that any violation of rights be “clearly established” — that is, another court must have previously encountered a case with the same context and facts, and found there that the officer was not immune. This is a judge-made rule; the civil rights law itself says nothing about a “clearly established” requirement. Yet in practice it has meant that police officers prevail virtually every time, because it’s very hard to find cases that are the same in all respects. It also creates a Catch-22 for plaintiffs, who are required to hunt down precedents in courts that have stopped generating those precedents, because the plaintiffs always lose. As one conservative judge put it in a U.S. district court in Texas, “Heads defendants win, tails plaintiffs lose.”

In the five decades since the doctrine’s invention, qualified immunity has expanded in practice to excuse all manner of police misconduct, from assault to homicide. As the legal bar for victims to challenge police misconduct has been raised higher and higher by the Supreme Court, the lower courts have followed. A major investigation by Reuters earlier this year found that “since 2005, the courts have shown an increasing tendency to grant immunity in excessive force cases — rulings that the district courts below them must follow. The trend has accelerated in recent years.” What was intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits against agents of the government, the investigation concluded, “has become a highly effective shield in thousands of lawsuits seeking to hold cops accountable when they are accused of using excessive force.”

4) Good stuff from Michael Gerson, “Disbelieving black victims is the default position of conservatives. It’s shameful.”

The hunting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the slow suffocation of George Floyd and the bigoted libel against Christian Cooper differ in many details. But they have at least one thing in common: Had it not been for video evidence of these abuses, many Americans on the right would have given the white aggressors the benefit of the doubt. And some have still done so.

It reveals a great deal about the nature of our culture war that skepticism about black victims — attempting to portray their background in the worst possible light — is the default position of many on one side. And this is the main reason that some conservatives (like me) refuse to share the same political coalition as right-wing populists, even though our policy views sometimes coincide. Given our country’s history of racism — expressed in slavery, redemption, segregation and continuing white supremacy — it is simply wrong to join any political coalition that welcomes and features racists. This is, or should be, a moral dealbreaker.

There are a variety of other valid reasons to oppose President Trump’s reelection. There is his casual cruelty (expressed most recently in vile and baseless accusations of murder). There is his incompetent governance (which began the fight against covid-19 too late and may be ending it too early). There is his use of power for corrupt, self-serving purposes (like urging a foreign country to dig up dirt on a political rival or undermining the criminal investigation of cronies). There is his ongoing attempt to undermine confidence in free elections, just in case November brings an unwelcome outcome.

But none of these provocations is as threatening to the identity of the country as Trump’s refusal to isolate and repudiate the contagion of racism…

One reason Trump did not repudiate racist protesters in Charlottesville and Lansing, Mich., is because angry racists are his people — a valued part of his political base. In Trump’s eyes, no one who supports him can really be bad. And racists seem grateful to see their views mainstreamed.

Politics does not offer easy methods to transform disordered hearts. But politics can either abet or inhibit racial hatred. It can push back against prejudice, or let it flourish. Is anyone confident that Trump feels an urgent need to address the racial and social inequalities that covid-19 has revealed in our health-care system? Does anyone seriously believe that Trump’s Justice Department is organized to aggressively pursue racial justice? On these matters, the president has signaled indifference to inequality.

Who is supposed to care deeply about racial justice and reconciliation in the Republican coalition? I would have hoped that religious people would make such moral commitments a priority. Yet (in general) they haven’t. It is the kind of failure that does grave injury to their Christian witness.

Great stuff.  Read the whole column.  And, more than any thing puts the lie to White Evangelicals and their claims of “morality” in politics.5) This is really good, “How Western media would cover Minneapolis if it happened in another country”

In recent years, the international community has sounded the alarm on the deteriorating political and human rights situation in the United States under the regime of Donald Trump. Now, as the country marks 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, the former British colony finds itself in a downward spiral of ethnic violence. The fatigue and paralysis of the international community are evident in its silence, America experts say.

The country has been rocked by several viral videos depicting extrajudicial executions of black ethnic minorities by state security forces. Uprisings erupted in the northern city of Minneapolis after a video circulated online of the killing of a black man, George Floyd, after being attacked by a security force agent. Trump took to Twitter, calling black protesters “THUGS”’ and threatening to send in military force. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts!” he declared.

“Sure, we get it that black people are angry about decades of abuse and impunity,” said G. Scott Fitz, a Minnesotan and member of the white ethnic majority. “But going after a Target crosses the line. Can’t they find a more peaceful way, like kneeling in silence?” …

Trump, a former reality-TV host, beauty pageant organizer and businessman, once called African nations “shithole countries.” But he is now taking a page from African dictators who spread bogus health remedies, like Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, who claimed he could cure AIDS with bananas and herbal potions and pushed his treatments onto the population, resulting in deaths. Trump appeared to suggest injecting bleach and using sunlight to kill the coronavirus. He has also said he has taken hydroxycholoroquine, a drug derived from quinine, a long-known jungle remedy for malaria. Doctors have advised against using the treatment to prevent or treat the coronavirus.

6) Uncut Gems got so many great reviews, but I hated it and gave up half-way through.  Firstly, the directorial style was just self-consciously and pretentiously annoying.  But, mostly this:

And now, I’m afraid we must get on to the more regrettable stage of our acquaintance, as they say in Barry Lyndon. A not-so-good movie with one great element? How about everybody’s beloved Uncut Gems, which, yes, has a fantastic Adam Sandler performance, but also sets off every single bullshit detector I have. I sense almost no recognizable human behavior in that film. The problem is clearly me: I had the same problem with the Safdie brothers’ previous effort, the similarly-wildly acclaimed-in-all-quarters Good Time, which as far as I’m concerned used all sorts of bogus narrative contrivances and character conveniences to build a highly implausible story that apparently everyone else found super-suspenseful and moving and entertaining.

7) While I’m at it with movies, I finally watched Apocalypse Now (It’s currently on HBO Go).  It was an experience.  It was crazy, over-the-top, surreal, but mostly just entertaining as hell.  I couldn’t help but think of Russell Crowe while watching.  Really enjoyed reading what Francis Ford Coppola had to say about it 40 years later.

Are You Not Entertained? - University News |

8) The Supreme Court released an important 5-4 decision yesterday upholding California’s closing down of church services.  What’s really appalling is that it wasn’t 9-0.  The argument from Kavanaugh endorsed by three other conservatives was so transparently ignorant my 14-year old could see through it– no Constitutional law experience needed.  Good piece from Mark Joseph Stern:

“The precise question of when restrictions on particular social activities should be lifted during the pandemic,” Roberts declared, “is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter subject to reasonable disagreement.” The Constitution leaves such decisions “to the politically accountable officials of the state,” whose decisions “should not be subject to second-guessing” by judges who lack “background, competence, and expertise to assess public health.” Multiple coronavirus outbreaks in California have been traced back to religious services. California has good reason to treat churches more like concerts—where people “congregate in large groups” and “remain in close proximity for extended periods”—than grocery stores, where they can social distance. For courts, that should be the end of the matter.

Kavanaugh, in dissent, viewed the case through a different lens. Whereas Roberts began by noting that COVID-19 has “killed thousands of people in California and more than 100,000 nationwide,” Kavanaugh crafted a narrative of invidious religious discrimination. His dissent reads like a brief by the church, not a judicial opinion. Kavanaugh alleged that Newsom’s order “indisputably discriminates against religion” in violation of the free exercise clause. For support, the justice insisted that “comparable secular businesses,” like grocery stores and pharmacies, “are not subject” to the same restrictions imposed on churches. California must have a “compelling justification” for this disparate treatment, and he saw none.

But Kavanaugh’s assertion that California treats churches and “comparable secular businesses” differently begs the question: what is a comparable secular business? When it comes to the spread of infectious disease, is a church really just like a grocery store, where people spend as little time as possible, separated by aisles and shopping carts, rarely speaking to one another? Or is it more like a concert, where people congregate for lengthy periods, shoulder to shoulder, often speaking or singing and thereby spreading droplets that may contain the coronavirus?

What is genuinely shocking about Kavanaugh’s dissent is that he does not even address this question. The dispute lies at the heart of the case, and Kavanaugh ignores it. He simply takes it as a given that churches are “comparable” to grocery stores when it comes to risk of spreading COVID-19. By warping the facts, Kavanaugh paints California’s rules as irrationally discriminatory, when in fact they are based on medical advice Newsom has right now. If the justice wants to override public health measures during a pandemic, shouldn’t he at least admit that he’s substituting his own scientific judgment for that of a democratically elected lawmaker’s?

Roberts seems to think so. His opinion ends with a clear swipe at Kavanaugh: “The notion that it is ‘indisputably clear’ that the Government’s limitations are unconstitutional,” the chief justice wrote, “seems quite improbable.” Roberts went out of his way to telegraph his displeasure with the raft of lawsuits contesting COVID-19 restrictions as unconstitutional burdens on religious liberty. Even in borderline cases, he suggested, courts must defer to the people’s representatives if they decide the health crisis requires limitations on public assemblies.

While all four far-right justices dissented from Friday’s order, only Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined Kavanaugh’s dissent. Justice Samuel Alito declined to join Kavanaugh’s opinion and did not explain why. It’s possible Alito was so perturbed by his colleague’s deceptive recitation of the facts that he could not sign in good faith. Meanwhile, though the four liberals joined Roberts in turning away the church’s challenge, the chief justice wrote only for himself. His opinion reads like an official statement from the head of the judicial branch, reminding lower courts not to overstep constitutional boundaries when assessing COVID-19 orders. As long as Roberts has anything to say about it, the Supreme Court will not facilitate the spread of a deadly virus in the name of the First Amendment.

That’s activist judging damnit (and, I suspect this awful dissent will work it’s way into more than a few of my future lectures about the Supreme Court).  Thank God that at least Roberts still has some modicum of integrity.

9) Sorry if you wanted more on riots/protests, etc.  Still so much to process.  That said, fascinating thread on some PS research about how 1968 protests affected voters.

10) Okay, and no links, but I just got off scrolling through twitter for 15 minutes.  Looting is not okay.  But police sure as hell need to stop targeting journalists and peaceful bystanders (especially in Minneapolis).  What the hell.  There’s many, many good cops, but the culture of policing in so many cities is rotten and broken.

11) Friend just shared with me a terrific FB post from a physician summing up all the research on masks.  Wear them!!

12) But, I’m going to end with Covid.  This was fascinating and makes so much sense based on what I’ve been reading, “Coronavirus May Be a Blood Vessel Disease, Which Explains Everything”


Jesus wants you to sing in indoor groups and spread death

Let’s talk more about this awful, awful, awful decision from the CDC about singing in church.  If we know one thing about superspreader events, church (especially with singing) is bad!  People will die.  That’s not hyperbole.  There’s been a series of these events and they’ve invariably led not to just infections, but deaths (possibly because of the potential for immense viral load being spread while singing– might as well be a continuous sneezing fit).  Derek Thompson summarizes:

The Post with more on this abominable decision:

The Trump administration with no advance notice removed warnings contained in guidance for the reopening of houses of worship that singing in choirs can spread the coronavirus.

Last Friday, the administration released pandemic guidance for faith communities after weeks of debate flared between the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those guidelines posted on the CDC website included recommendations that religious communities “consider suspending or at least decreasing use of choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition.”

It added: “The act of singing may contribute to transmission of Covid-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”

By Saturday, that version was replaced by updated guidance that no longer includes any reference to choirs or congregant singing and the risk for spreading virus. The altered guidance also deleted a reference to “shared cups” among items, including hymnals and worship rugs, that should not be shared. The updated guidelines also added language that said the guidance “is not intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment.”

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about policy discussions, said there have long been concerns within the White House that there were too many restrictions on choirs. A CDC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the guideline change also said the updated Saturday guidance was approved by the White House.

Ahhhh, ” too many restrictions on choirs.”  Morons!!!  That’s because choirs are uniquely well-suited for spreading Covid!

Earlier this month, the CDC issued a report warning about “superspreader” events where the coronavirus might be “highly transmissible in certain settings, including group singing events.” That report described a choir practice in Washington state in March at which one person ended up infecting 52 other people, including two who died.

White House officials battled for weeks with CDC aides about the scope of reopening guidelines. Officials in Vice President Pence’s office, the domestic policy council and other members on the president’s coronavirus task force were resistant to establishing limits on religious institutions even as the CDC issued detailed road maps for reopening other settings, including schools and restaurants, and as the agency warned of the dangers of significant virus transmission rates at religious events.

Some officials in the White House and on the coronavirus task force did not want to alienate the evangelical community and believed that some of the proposals, such as limits on hymnals, the size of choirs or the passing of collection plates, were too restrictive, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy decisions.
God forbid we alienate the Evangelical community by following… science!!!  They know better; they know Jesus wants them to spread Covid. 

I saw somebody sharing some CDC guidelines on something else today, and sadly, we really just cannot trust the CDC to the same degree any more.  Bernstein on the horrible shame of that:

It’s amazing how quickly the CDC has squandered its reputation for straight-shooting and scientific excellence during Donald Trump’s presidency (the latest embarrassments are here and here). There’s a lot to say about this and similar failures across the federal government, but what strikes me is what they reveal about healthy incentives — and how Trump manages to ignore them.

First, having an agency with a gold-standard reputation is a terrific resource for leaders who care about getting their way and also care about re-election. It allows them to speak with the authority of experts even if they themselves are relatively ignorant. It also gives them an opportunity to have most of the nation, and not just their supporters, at least potentially support their policies, since those policies can have the certificate of expertise attached to them. 

That matters. It matters desperately for Trump right now. His obvious goals are to reduce the spread of the virus while rebooting the economy as quickly as possible; for that, he needs ordinary citizens to follow best practices for safety and also to trust that it is safe to return to activities they gave up in March. And he needs strong supporters, strong opponents, and everyone in between to do both of those things, or else it won’t work. No politician is ever able to do that on his or her own. But trusted experts make it possible for the president to get it done.

To be sure, there’s a cost. For a president to get the seal of approval from experts, he or she has to listen seriously to them. This may mean compromising the president’s preferred approach. If the president simply ignores the experts but tries to use their reputation anyway, the agency’s bureaucrats may refuse to endorse the policy, or undermine it through such strategies as press leaks or testimony to Congress. Or, if the president succeeds in undermining the agency’s integrity enough that it will slavishly grant his every whim, its reputation — and thus its political usefulness — will be destroyed.

Notice that healthy incentives are built into the system. Agencies care about their reputations for reasons of professional pride, but also because it benefits them at budget time and helps them do their jobs without outside interference. And presidents have good self-interested reason to listen to those agencies. That’s a way to force politicians who care mainly about elections to seek expert input into policy…

Trump, unfortunately, is so bad at presidenting that he fails to follow those clear healthy incentives. To be fair, he did seem to take some expert advice seriously for two or three weeks in April. But he rapidly lost interest, and either he or others in the White House seem to have pressured agencies to go along with him even as he ignores their counsel. Now he wants the economy to reopen safely, but he has no idea how to get there from here, and he doesn’t have the assets the presidency once had. It’s not apt to work very well for the nation, or for him.

So, to summarize– president totally undermining the reputation of one of the most important public health institutions in the world (and damn does reputation matter when we are talking public health) to spread death among science-denying Evangelicals.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) Kristoff on the pandemic relief:

While President Trump and his allies in Congress seek to tighten access to food stamps, they are showing compassion for one group: zillionaires. Their economic rescue package quietly allocated $135 billion — yes, that’s “billion” with a “b” — for the likes of wealthy real estate developers.

My Times colleague Jesse Drucker notes that Trump himself, along with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, may benefit financially from this provision. The fine print was mysteriously slipped into the March economic relief package, even though it has nothing to do with the coronavirus and offers retroactive tax breaks for periods long before Covid-19 arrived.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas, both Democrats, have asked the Trump administration for any communications that illuminate how this provision sneaked into the 880-page bill. (Officially, the provision is called “Modification of Limitation on Losses for Taxpayers Other Than Corporations,” but that’s camouflage; I prefer to call it the “Zillionaire Giveaway.”)

About 82 percent of the Zillionaire Giveaway goes to those earning more than $1 million a year, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. Of those beneficiaries earning more than $1 million annually, the average benefit is $1.6 million.

In other words, a single mom juggling two jobs gets a maximum $1,200 stimulus check — and then pays taxes so that a real estate mogul can receive $1.6 million. This is dog-eat-dog capitalism for struggling workers, and socialism for the rich.

Many Americans understand that Trump bungled the public health response to the coronavirus, but polls suggest that they don’t appreciate the degree to which Trump and Congress also bungled the economic response — or manipulated it to benefit those who least need help.

2) Reasonable question, “Why Does the U.S. Military Celebrate White Supremacy? It is time to rename bases for American heroes — not racist traitors.” Because… America.

3) Felony murder is just an appalling abuse of the criminal justice system.  Even when it is used against racists.  It should not exist.

Mr. McMichael and his father were charged with murder and aggravated assault this month. And on Thursday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested William Bryan, who recorded the video. He faces charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, the authorities said.

Here are the key facts of the case, and why the authorities said all three men were charged with killing Mr. Arbery.

Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator for the local district attorney, had joined in the pursuit, the authorities said. According to a police report, Mr. McMichael said he saw Mr. Arbery running through his neighborhood and thought he looked like the suspect in a rash of nearby break-ins.
In Mr. Bryan’s case, the authorities said, he had tried to help detain Mr. Arbery, which contributed to his death.

“Felony murder is a crime in Georgia where you’re committing a felony crime and that crime ends up in the death of another human being,” Vic Reynolds, the G.B.I. director and a former district attorney, explained at a news conference on Friday.

“As the warrant indicated, he’s charged with an underlying felony and he’s also charged with felony murder,” Mr. Reynolds added. “So, we believe the evidence would indicate his underlying felony helped cause the death of Ahmaud Arbery.”

4) Loved this little bit in EJ Dionne’s Memorial Day column:

Mourning death is an intensely private act that calls for public ritual. Each of us wants to know that others share our love for the person we have lost and that they stand with us in our pain.

It is common to be inarticulate or fall silent in the face of death, and this may be the most reverent response of all. Glib rationalizations of the pain experienced by the bereaved ring hollow. The greatest comfort often comes from those who struggle hardest to find the right words — and fail. Their fumbling awkwardness can be more beautiful than a sonnet, because it conveys a depth of empathy beyond words.

I will forever honor a high school history teacher named Jim Garman, who reached out to me before my father’s wake to say that I should not be offended if people said silly or even stupid things about my dad’s departure. “They just don’t know what to say,” he explained. “They’re trying to say the right thing.” His counsel made me love and appreciate those whom death leaves tongue-tied.

5) Because… America, “Before face masks, Americans went to war against seat belts”

6) It sounds crazy and gross, but, yes, we should totally be monitoring Covid in municipal sewage as an early warning system.  Drum:

7) Megan McArdle, “Conservatives who refuse to wear masks undercut a central claim of their beliefs”

Instead, far too many Republicans are suddenly arguing that public health efforts are not a legitimate exercise of power. The government, they complain, has no right to tell them what they can do, even if what they plan to do comes with some risk that a deadly disease will spread.

I’m not talking about the people who simply make the reasonable, indeed indisputable, argument that we cannot shut down the whole economy until a vaccine is developed. I’m talking about the ones who refuse to make even small compromises for public safety, such as wearing a mask — and especially conservatives who complain when store owners exercise their right to require them on store property.

This doesn’t just eviscerate generations’ worth of arguments about public health. It also undercuts a more central claim of conservatism: that big, coercive government programs are unnecessary because private institutions could provide many benefits that we think of as “public goods.” For that to be true, the civic culture would have to be such that individuals are willing to make serious sacrifices for the common good, and especially to protect the most vulnerable among us.

If conservatives actually want a smaller, less-intrusive government, then they cannot talk only about liberty and rights; they also have to talk about duty and obligations.

Conservatism has always understood that duty without liberty is slavery, but liberty without duty is a Hobbesian war of all-against-all; indeed, this has been one of its major arguments against the steady relaxation of sexual mores and familial obligations. But this principle applies equally well to government, because people will always demand safety, predictability and security, and if the private sector isn’t providing them, they will turn to the state. That’s why shrinking the government leviathan requires citizens who worry more about the welfare of their fellow citizens and are more willing to sacrifice for strangers who share their flag than those who outsource those duties to a professional bureaucracy with enforcement powers.

Reasonable people can of course argue about how much economic sacrifice citizens can be asked to bear for the common good, or whether that good is best served by lockdowns. But I submit that if you are not willing to endure the minimal inconvenience of wearing a piece of cloth across your nose and mouth while shopping, you’re unlikely to make the really big sacrifices that a smaller government would require.

What amuses me about this is that McArdle is apparently still telling herself the lie that just because this is what she believes, that actually applies to most American conservatives.  Unlike, Max Boot, she seems unwilling to admit that almost all this is just a convenient lie to support white ethnocentrism and culture war.

8) John Sides and Robert Griffin with a very much under-appreciated fact, “Donald Trump’s problems with senior voters started long before the coronavirus”

9) I, nor Aaron Carroll will not miss an opportunity to make this point about something our society gets so wrong, “The Coronavirus Has Made It Obvious. Teenagers Should Start School Later.: School start times are the biggest reason teenagers are often tired. There may have been some justification for it in the past, but not now.”

10) I discovered Patrick Skinner via a great tweet about George Flloyd and policing.  Wow– what a fascinating guy (CIA operative turned local beat cop).

11) Great stuff from Will Wilkinson, “The Brutal Clarity of the Trump-McConnell Plan to Protect Businesses”

You’ll notice that the Republican call for liability protection amounts to a frank admission that in hurrying back to shops and offices, factories and showrooms, Americans might die. The wariness of business owners to expose themselves to the legal peril of reopening during an uncontained epidemic isn’t a problem. It’s a market signal telling us that for now, the risks of rushing to reopen might outweigh the rewards. If it were generally safe to reopen, Republicans wouldn’t need to shut this signal down.

That said, there’s really very little risk of “a second epidemic of frivolous lawsuits,” as Mr. McConnell heartlessly put it. Personal injury lawyers, who generally get paid only if they win or settle, are unlikely to pursue Covid-19 lawsuits against employers. It would be very difficult to establish precisely when and where someone caught the virus or to prove that a worker would not have picked it up but for their employer’s negligence. Nor is it likely to build a plausible class-action lawsuit by bundling together many injuries of such easily contestable origin. In any case, many employment agreements require workers to waive their right to join class-action suits. There will be no plague of ambulance chasers.

Still, our real problem, the first and actual epidemic, remains to be contained. According to existing liability law, businesses have little to fear if they take “reasonable care” to protect the health and safety of their workers. This means little more than following state and local reopening guidelines and adopting prevailing industry standards.
The demand for liability reform is just a pretext for disgraceful inaction — an excuse for legislative obstruction that attempts to cast Democrats as the obstruction’s source.

12) Brookings, “How media consumption patterns fuel conspiratorial thinking:

People encounter the news in a variety of ways. While some people omnivorously devour all the news they can and others prefer news from their ideological side, a considerable number of people choose not to look for the news at all, confident they can stay informed because if it is important enough the news will work its way into their interpersonal networks or social media feeds. People exhibiting high levels of this “news finds me” perception tend to have lower political knowledge and interest than others, and tend to use social media more often. Since previous research shows that those who are highly knowledgeable about, and distrustful of, the government are more prone to conspiracism, we wondered whether these media-use patterns and orientations toward news consumption contributed to a conspiratorial mentality as well.

Does it? In a word, yes. We conducted a panel survey of adults in five 2020 presidential election swing states (Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina), tapping people’s social media use, political interest and knowledge, trust-in-government, racial resentment, and whether they held a “news finds me” perception. The top-left panel of the figure shows that people with a higher “news finds me” perspective are the most likely to exhibit conspiracism in their thinking…

Using social media more often is also associated with more conspiratorial thinking, as is expressing high levels of racial resentment (by white people toward black people). Not surprisingly, the more people trust the government, the less prone to conspiratorial thinking they are. However, we found that party identification, political knowledge, homogenous political conversation and homogenous media-use patterns were not associated with conspiracism.

13) I’m with Yglesias, “The US should prioritize reopening schools, not salons and restaurants: America can (and should) save small businesses with money, but schools are what teach kids to read.” We’ve got till August to figure this out, but American society as we know it– and America’s children– need schools.

14) Damn, Texas is just the worst.  Richard Hasen, “Texas Voters Face Malicious Prosecutions After COVID-19 Absentee Ballot Ruling”

On Wednesday, the Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling that makes a Lone Star–size mess of the state’s law on absentee balloting and the question of whether voters who lack immunity to COVID-19 have a valid “excuse” to vote by mail in the upcoming elections. In a nutshell, the court has said that the statute does not allow voters who lack immunity and who fear contracting the virus to vote by mail because the statute only allows voting by mail for those with physical conditions preventing them from voting. But it further says that election officials won’t check the validity of excuses and it will be up to each voter, acting in good faith, to determine whether they have the ability to safely vote by mail. This “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is a recipe for disaster in a state in which Attorney General Ken Paxton has already threatened with criminal prosecution those who advise voters who lack immunity and fear the disease to vote by mail. And it cries out for federal court relief.

15) Love this from David Plotz (and so glad he’s co-writing a daily newsletter):

Trump’s incompetence is a choice

After three long years of the Trump presidency, we’ve become numb to this ineptitude. We’re starting to act like government screw-ups or abdication of responsibility are a necessary condition of American life.

But it’s critical that we remember that incompetence is a choice.

Doing things well is hard work. It requires persistent interest, hard-won experience, expertise, effort, follow-up. It requires hiring people who have done the job before and know how to do it. It requires being honest about mistakes so that you don’t make them again. It doesn’t take genius to do this, but it takes discipline and will.

Yet from the top of this administration, we have yawning indifference — if not hostility — to all that. With few exceptions, Trump hasn’t hired the right people and has driven away the most capable people he did hire. The most important job of a leader is to surround him or herself with great people. Trump is incapable of that. The quality he values most is loyalty. Competence and expertise intimidate him, so he runs the other way.

We’ve been left with a government filled with “Acting” Thises and “Acting” Thats, stacked with lickspittles who make sure the president hears what he wants to hear.

That’s how you end up with most challenging White House assignments delegated to Jared Kushner, a dilettante real-estate heir whose only qualification is having married the president’s daughter. Kushner may be intelligent, and he may mean well, but experience and expertise matter. Like Trump, Kushner has little or none. And yet he is presiding over vast swathes of American government during the worst crisis in a generation.

To say it again. It didn’t have to be this way. Imagine how different things might be had Trump appointed Bill Gates as pandemic czar back in March.

Or read about Dave Clark, Amazon’s SVP of worldwide operations, and wonder how we’d be doing if someone with Clark’s ruthlessness, high standards, and intense focus were in charge.

It didn’t have to be this way.

16) Zeynep Tufekci on Trump’s twitter war, “Trump Is Doing All of This for Zuckerberg: The new executive order targeting social-media companies isn’t really about Twitter.”

n reality, Trump’s salvo on social-media companies has primarily an audience of one: Mark Zuckerberg. And it is already working. After the executive order was issued, Facebook’s CEO quickly gave an interview to Fox News in which he said, “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.” He added, “Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

It’s important to pay attention to what the president is doing, but not because the legal details of this order matter at all. Trump is unlikely to repeal Section 230 or take any real action to curb the power of the major social-media companies. Instead, he wants to keep things just the way they are and make sure that the red-carpet treatment he has received so far, especially at Facebook, continues without impediment. He definitely does not want substantial changes going into the 2020 election. The secondary aim is to rile up his base against yet another alleged enemy: this time Silicon Valley, because there needs to be an endless list of targets in the midst of multiple failures.


Covid and workplace risk in chart form

Honestly, I think these estimates are pretty generous on the lack of risk, but I’ll take it, as looks like I’m in the “A” low risk category.  I guess, that’s compared to a hospital or nursing home, though.  Wait, then again, that’s risk of “death.”  And, yeah, middle age is pretty much always going to put that at a lower risk (though, definitely not nothing).

With these odds, should clinicians be advising persons at heightened risk for death from Covid-19 to consider stopping work in settings that confer a high risk of exposure? If a person’s occupational risk of becoming infected and risk of death from infection each approaches 10%, their occupational mortality risk becomes 1 in 100 — 10 times the annual occupational mortality risk among commercial fisherman, the highest-risk occupation in the United States.

I believe that a strategy to protect at-risk workers needs at least three components: a framework for counseling patients about the risks posed by continuing to work, urgent policy changes to ensure financial protections for people who are kept out of work, and a data-driven plan for safe reentry into the workforce.

I propose a framework to help clinicians counsel patients about continuing to work in the midst of the pandemic that is based on their occupational risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 and their risk of death if they are infected (see diagram). Though data on occupational risk are limited, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has published guidance and proposed a scheme for classifying the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection as high, medium, or low based on potential contact with persons who may or do have the virus (www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf. opens in new tab). Low-, medium-, and high-risk categories of individual risk of death from Covid-19 are based on age and the presence of high-risk chronic conditions identified by the CDC.4 Persons with high risk in both domains should consider stopping work, and those with high risk in one domain and medium risk in the other should discuss risk with their clinician. Physicians should also inquire and counsel about risks to household or to other contacts who may be at high risk for poor outcomes.

Why does Trump get away with everything

I liked most of this from Brian Klass:

In January 2016, Donald Trump said something unintentionally profound: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” We’ll hopefully never find out whether Trump really could get away with murder. But we now know he can at least falsely accuse someone of murder without triggering a political exodus.

This “Fifth Avenue problem” is a central puzzle of the Trump presidency. Somehow, Trump can tweet something that would destroy any other politician when he wakes up, and it’s forgotten by lunchtime.

Don’t believe me? In the last week, Trump didn’t just make a false accusation of murder. He also praised one of the United States’ most virulent anti-Semites as a man who bestowed “good bloodlines” on his descendants. He retweeted a man who called Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be a major-party candidate for president, a “skank.” Trump shared an image with Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as House speaker, with duct tape over her mouth and then mocked her physical appearance. And he repeatedly fabricated lies about voter fraud.

If Joe Biden behaved like that, it would destroy his career. But when Trump does it, it has no significant impact on his support. His depravity is now just widely assumed. It’s baked in.

That presents a paradox: The last three years have felt like we’re collectively strapped into the world’s worst roller coaster — of endless scandals, tweets in search of reality and new lows for presidential conduct. Yet for all those disorienting twists and turns,and the seemingly endless plunge of presidential standards, Trump’s approval rating has remained pretty much the same.

In functioning democracies, politicians live and die by public opinion. George W. Bush certainly learned that lesson. After 9/11, his approval rating soared to 90 percent. As the Iraq War worsened and the economy collapsed, he hit a low of 25 percent. Nearly 7 out of 10 Americans changed their minds about him at some point during his presidency.

Trump is fundamentally different. According to Gallup, his highest approval rating has been 49 percent; his lowest, 35 percent. For 103 out of the 130 polls Gallup has conducted since Trump took office, his approval rating has been stuck between 37 percent and 43 percent. (The margin of error is usually around 3 percent, so it’s plausible that public opinion rarely moves and we’re mostly seeing statistical noise.)

Heck, during the pandemic 100,000 Americans have died and nearly 40 million Americans have become unemployed. And still Trump’s approval rating has moved up and down a few percentage points at most. How is that possible?

There are three main reasons for this “Fifth Avenue problem.”

First, Trump gets away with it because the previously unthinkable has become routine. As a species, we are drawn to fresh and surprising information — something we could call “novelty bias.” What would surprise you more: Trump amplifying a lunatic conspiracy theory in a tweet or him unequivocally praising the sacrifices of immigrant nurses and doctors during the pandemic? The former happens all the time; the latter would provoke breathless commentary. Is Trump finally making his mythical pivot to being presidential? Is this a new general election strategy? For every other mainstream politician, that dynamic would be inverted.

That’s why this week’s Sunday morning shows focused on Joe Biden’s recent bungled joke (for which he quickly apologized). Meanwhile, Trump’s praise of a well-known anti-Semite and his false accusation of murder weren’t mentioned.

Second, it’s not easy for humans to admit when we are wrong. It produces a feeling called cognitive dissonance. That has always been true. But for Trump voters, who have, by now, stuck with him despite him boasting about sexual assault, countless scandals and a steady stream of racism, the psychological cost of breaking ranks has soared. His supporters would have to say to themselves: “All of Trump’s previous conduct was acceptable, but this is the final straw!” There is a ratcheting effect. The more you were willing to accept, the harder it is to let go.

His third is “motivated reasoning” which is, true, but not at all unique to Trump our current American politics (just exacerbated with polarization).  But, he’s absolutely right about novelty bias in particular.  I first wrote about that back before Trump was even elected:

As much as some journalists may be trying to keep from normalizing Trump’s absurdly abnormal behavior, honestly, the volume of it just makes it hard.  It is quite simply human nature to adapt to that to which you are always exposed.  Donald Trump is like a 20-year old cat that just keeps peeing all over the house.  After a while, you just don’t even smell it any more.  But if your neighbors come over all they can think is “damn, this house smells like cat piss.”  Or if you go away for a week you come back and think, “damn does my house stink.”  But day in, day out, you just get used to it.

Right now, Donald Trump is an old cat (or dog) peeing all over the house and our media is mostly just inured to it.

And now we are so damn inured to it that we think the dog just peeing on the rug instead of the sofa is a victory.

Blame right-wing media for our Covid predicament?

Why, yes, of course.  Great post from David Hopkins:

The current historical moment is merely the point at which the barrier previously separating the increasingly-dominant media wing of the American conservative movement from its traditional officeholding wing suffered a serious structural buckle, catapulting many of the media types—with their distinctive preoccupations, motivations, and rhetorical styles—into positions of governing power. Put another way, the Trump administration is more or less a real-life simulation of what would have happened if Rush Limbaugh had been elected president. Journalists and attentive citizens often gasp at this or that example of “unprecedented” Trumpian behavior and marvel that they can’t picture Barack Obama—or George W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan—ever saying or doing such a thing. But if the question were instead “can you imagine a President Limbaugh saying or doing that?” the answer is nearly always yes. [emphases mine]

Many observers have expressed amazement at how quickly the nationwide public health crisis of COVID-19, itself not inherently an ideological or divisive issue, has evolved to conform to the outline of familiar culture-war conflicts. But to the media outlets that now exercise substantial influence over the national Republican Party, culture war is what politics is all about. In the world that they construct for their audiences, conservatism is in the position of defending America itself against ceaseless attack from Democratic politicians, liberal interests, and a mainstream news media all bent on its destruction or catastrophic transformation. In this constant state of emergency, there is little room to prize non-ideological values such as governing competence or policy expertise, and any form of compromise with the political opposition is tantamount to capitulation.

Even during periods of Republican rule, the content of conservative media programming focuses more on criticizing Democrats and the non-conservative media than on celebrating conservative electoral or governing successes. An emergence of national unity, with the leaders and members of both parties agreeing to implement public policies developed by non-partisan experts to address a widespread threat to the well-being of all citizens, wouldn’t just undercut the arguments that liberals are wrong about everything and that government power cannot be leveraged productively for universal benefit. It’s even worse than that: what would the conservative media talk about every day?

But an important difference remains between officeholding conservatives and media figures: talking heads don’t need to win over a plurality of eyeballs to build long and successful careers, but politicians can only stay in power by attracting more votes, whether popular or electoral, than the other side. The all-culture-war-all-the-time attitude is more reliable as a means of building a loyal audience in a splintered media marketplace than as a national campaign strategy. Trump is openly envious of the governors who have received a post-COVID boost in personal approval ratings that has eluded him, but the facts-first, inclusive governing approach that citizens have rewarded across party lines at the state and local level is simply not in his nature to adopt regardless of its potential electoral benefits.

Covid lessons from Japan

Great stuff in Science magazine:

Then, whereas much of the rest of the world built its response to the pandemic on widespread contact tracing, isolation, and testing, Japan adopted a “quite different” strategy, Oshitani says. “We try to identify the clusters and [determine] their common characteristics.”

Not surprisingly, they found that most clusters originated in gyms, pubs, live music venues, karaoke rooms, and similar establishments where people gather, eat and drink, chat, sing, and work out or dance, rubbing shoulders for relatively extended periods of time. They also concluded that most of the primary cases that touched off large clusters were either asymptomatic or had very mild symptoms. “It is impossible to stop the emergence of clusters just by testing many people,” Oshitani says. This led them to urge people to avoid what they dubbed the “three Cs”—closed spaces, crowds, and close-contact settings in which people are talking face-to-face. It sounds simple. But, “This has been the most important component of the strategy,” Oshitani says.

Damn, Japan has been on top of this.  And, the lack of subway transmission is a really, really interesting piece of the puzzle that suggests even more that it’s about vocalizing (and, maybe the extra heavy breathing from exercising) indoors.  And, when we talk about eating, drinking, singing, exercising, etc,. these are all activities that were presumably taking place without masks.  
There’s a lot we still don’t understand about this disease, but we have a pretty good idea about what not to do.  Alas, this is America, so we’ll be doing these things anyway and people will be dying.
Relatedly, I keep checking back on the case of the Great Clips in Missouri (I go to Great Clips!) where two stylists were infected and exposed over 140 clients.  For each haircut, both stylist and customer were wearing masks.  Following up on these 140 clients could tell us so much about just how much protection masks really offer us in preventing transmission in indoor spaces for prolonged interpersonal contacts.  Alas, google news searches never get me any new information.  I sure hope somebody is on this, though.
Until we know more, though, stick with those Japanese 3 C’s!
Natalie E. Dean, PhD on Twitter: "Avoid the three Cs! Japan was ...

Can we still trust the CDC?!

OMG Trump ruins everything.  If we cannot even trust the CDC for reasonable, science-based guidance we are in real trouble.  On twitter, Paul Starr points out that CDC removed guidance about singing in churches.

Oh, man, that is bad.  If there is one thing we know about the science of transmission of this virus, singing spreads tons of virus from infectious individuals.  It’s probably roughly equivalent to an ongoing coughing fit.

The actual scientists of the CDC surely know this and know that singing in an indoor space where people congregate is an absolutely horrible idea.  But, it seems, alas, ascientific ignoramuses from the Trump administration want to quash this to make the dumbest of their right-wing Evangelical supporters happy.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.  And, the horror is that when the megachurch of Dallas or Orlando or wherever has all these people singing they will then go out into their communities.  This is just begging for super-spreading events to happen.  So, so, so stupid.  This situation is truly scary.

Republicans’ alternate Covid reality

You know, it’s really okay for Democrats and Republicans to have different opinions and concern levels about Covid.  The disease, thus far, has been far more prevalent in urban areas and far more prevalent (proportionately) among non-white people.  Given the partisan distributions and the fact that we are naturally more concerned about things when they are clearly in our communities and affecting people we know, it’s not unreasonable for Republicans to be less concerned about Covid.

You know what is unreasonable?  Being 100% factually wrong on the reality of Covid that is being reported day-after-day-after-day in accurate media (e.g., the non Fox News, “lamestream” media).  Gallup with some surveys about what people believe about the virus:

Fact: Covid is more lethal than the flu.  You might as well answer that Covid-19 is not caused by a virus.  Or, I don’t know, that climate change is substantially influenced by human activity.


Everything we know tells us that cases are being under-reported, if anything.  There’s no world (except on Fox, I think) where cases are actually over-reported.  That is, of course, unless you are a Republican.

Republicans are living in their own reality on Covid and it’s the wrong one.  Of course, that makes all the more harder to come to the right solutions.  No point taking an umbrella outside if Fox News tells you it’s not raining.  Ugh.

Photo of the day

Wired gallery of cool photos taken from drones:

A polar bear leaps over water on sea ice in Canada north of the Arctic Circle. Florian Ledoux captured this image from a...

A polar bear leaps over water on sea ice in Canada, north of the Arctic Circle. Florian Ledoux captured this image from a drone last August while sailing around Lancaster Sounds and several fjords near Baffin Island. It nabbed him the title of Drone Photographer of the Year.

White people vs. democracy

I’d prefer that interesting social science actually be peer-reviewed before it gets widely disseminated by NBC News website.  But, this is pretty cool research and certainly seems to comport well with what we know.  Anyway, here’s the not-all-that-surprising and plenty disturbing stuff:

A new study, however, suggests that the main threat to our democracy may not be the hardening of political ideology, but rather the hardening of one particular political ideology. Political scientists Steven V. Miller of Clemson and Nicholas T. Davis of Texas A&M have released a working paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.” Their study finds a correlation between white American’s intolerance, and support for authoritarian rule. In other words, when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

In other words, when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

Miller and Davis used information from the World Values Survey, a research project organized by a worldwide network of social scientists which polls individuals in numerous countries on a wide range of beliefs and values. Based on surveys from the United States, the authors found that white people who did not want to have immigrants or people of different races living next door to them were more likely to be supportive of authoritarianism. For instance, people who said they did not want to live next door to immigrants or to people of another race were more supportive of the idea of military rule, or of a strongman-type leader who could ignore legislatures and election results.

The World Values Survey data used is from the period 1995 to 2011 — well before Donald Trump’s 2016 run for president. It suggests, though, that Trump’s bigotry and his authoritarianism are not separate problems, but are intertwined. When Trump calls Mexicans “rapists,” and when he praises authoritarian leaders, he is appealing to the same voters…

Trump’s rise is often presented as a major break with the past, and as a repudiation of American values and democratic commitments. But in an email, Miller pointed out that white intolerance has long served as an excuse for, and a spark for, authoritarian measures.

“People are fond of the Framers’ grand vision of liberty and equality for all,” Miller says, “but the beauty of the Federalist papers can’t paper over the real measures of exclusion that were baked into their understanding of a limited franchise.”

Black people, Asians, Native Americans and women were prevented from voting for significant stretches of American history. America’s tradition of democracy (for some) exists alongside a tradition of authoritarianism (for some). The survey data doesn’t show people rejecting American traditions, then, Miller says, so much as it shows “a preference for the sort of white-ethnocentrism that imbued much of the functional form of democracy for the better part of two centuries.”

Donald Trump, man-child

Damn this Tom Nichols essay on American masculinity and Donald Trump is really, really good.  Lots of ideas in here, but I really like the contrast between aging and actually being a “grown up,” an insight I came to myself at a college reunion many years ago.  Well worth reading the whole thing, but here’s my favorite part…

Trump’s lack of masculinity is about maturity. He is not manly because he is not a man. He is a boy.

To be a man is to be an adult, to willingly decide, as St. Paul wrote, to “put away childish things.” There’s a reason that Peter Pan is a story about a boy, and the syndrome named after it is about men. Not everyone grows up as they age. [emphases mine]

It should not be a surprise then, that Trump is a hero to a culture in which so many men are already trapped in perpetual adolescence. And especially for men who feel like life might have passed them by, whose fondest memories are rooted somewhere in their own personal Wonder Years from elementary school until high-school graduation, Trump is a walking permission slip to shrug off the responsibilities of manhood.

The appeal to indulge in such hypocrisy must be enormous. Cheat on your wife? No problem. You can trade her in for a hot foreign model 20 years younger. Is being a father to your children too onerous a burden on your schedule? Let the mothers raise them. Money troubles? Everyone has them; just tell your father to write you another check. Upset that your town or your workplace has become more diverse? Get it off your chest: Rail about women and Mexicans and African Americans at will and dare anyone to contradict you…

In the end, Trump will continue to act like a little boy, and his base, the voters who will stay with him to the end, will excuse him. When a grown man brags about being brave, it is unmanly and distasteful; when a little boy pulls out a cardboard sword and ties a towel around his neck like a cape, it’s endearing. When a rich and powerful old man whines about how unfairly he is being treated, we scowl and judge; when a little boy snuffles in his tears and says that he was bullied—treated worse than Abraham Lincoln, even—we comfort.

Donald Trump is unmanly because he has never chosen to become a man. He has weathered few trials that create an adult of any kind. He is, instead, working-class America’s dysfunctional son, and his supporters, male and female alike, have become the worried parent explaining what a good boy he is to terrorized teachers even while he continues to set fires in the hallway right outside.

I think that working men, the kind raised as I was, know what kind of “man” Trump is. And still, the gratification they get from seeing Trump enrage the rest of the country is enough to earn their indulgence. I doubt, however, that Trump gives them the same consideration. Perhaps Howard Stern, of all people, said it best: “The oddity in all of this is the people Trump despises most, love him the most. The people who are voting for Trump for the most part … He’d be disgusted by them.” The tragedy is that they are not disgusted by him in return.

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