Photo of the day

How cool is this, an Atlantic photo gallery of North Carolina!  This lead image is pretty amazing:

Fog burns off in the valley below Linn Cove Viaduct in western North Carolina during an autumn morning. 

Kellyvandellen / iStockphoto / Getty

Emails vs the Hatch Act

Brian Beutler on how mainstream media reported the Republican convention last week was so good.  This is a long excerpt, but so on-point.  Read it.

It’s Republican convention week which means liberals are largely united in collective trauma from watching Republicans lie and cheat and degrade people for four straight nights, while the mainstream press largely marvels at how savvy all the lying, cheating, and degradation is. Like a regular week, but moreso.

This is largely a story about Trump and how the national press has treated him and his Republican allies and all of their depravity. But Democrats aren’t non-entities in that story, so I want to examine here how unhealthy media practices and Democratic political strategies have interacted both through the narrow confines of the GOP convention, and more generally across the past few years.

The problem surfaced most visibly after the second night of the RNC—the one where the secretary of State flew to Jerusalem on the public dime to endorse Trump’s re-election in violation of the law, and Trump abused the pardon power and immigration law for electioneering purposes at the White House, and the mainstream conventional wisdom was essentially, “lol, who cares!”

My friend and every mom’s favorite journalist Sam Stein acknowledged how bad this looked when he tweeted, “It’s legit to ask why [Hillary Clinton’s] violations of email protocol/govt records retention was treated as an existential election issue and violations of the Hatch Act are dismissed as a Beltway obsession.”

It is legit! And the answer does reflect poorly on the press writ large. But the explanation isn’t just laziness or partisanship or anything as simple as assuming the press is out to get Democrats, or give Republicans a pass to escape inevitable, bad-faith accusations of bias. The fear of bias accusations is of course a powerful source of media dysfunction, but the way mainstream journalism seeks to inoculate itself from bias accusations in situations like these is to emphasize lawbreaking and corruption most particularly when one of the parties gets mad or pretends to be mad about something. In those cases, the unwritten rules of journalism say that thing has entered the realm of controversy, and thus merits sustained attention.

Why did the press obsess over an email-retention scandal and Benghazi conspiracy theories through 2016, only to treat far-greater breaches of national security and federal law by the Trump administration with relative indifference? This is why. Journalists have adopted “unbiased” standards that liberate them from making independent judgements about what behavior is scandalous and what is not, and Republicans have exploited it by injecting the bias themselves.

This standard in effect allows the parties themselves to serve as assignment editors, which might work out okay in the wash if both parties were equally scrupulous, but the inherent weakness of the standard becomes obvious when the parties themselves are imbalanced. Particularly when one of them is, uh, unbalanced.

The key for today’s purposes, though, is that this works in both directions. Republicans will froth on command whenever it’s in their partisan interest, even if there’s no underlying conduct to be mad about, and the press will respond, which is how we got Benghazi and BUT HER EMAILS and ultimately Trump. But by the same token, if journalists observe bad behavior, and then see that the opposition party isn’t particularly upset by it, they will be loath to generate controversy over the wrongdoing themselves. Like when a toddler falls down and looks up at the nearby adults to see if he should cry, but in the most insulting possible terms.  [All bold is mine; italics in original]

From my perspective, liberals are right to excoriate the press for adopting this standard in the first place, but as long as it’s the standard, it means Democrats have a role to play in shaping coverage of Republican abuses. Now here’s what Nancy Pelosi had to say about the festival of corruption on display at the RNC: “The American people really—they know these people are unethical and illegal and doing things outside the law. What they want to know is what we’re going to be doing for them. And we’d rather have our focus be on how we’re going to protect their health care.” We’re not happy about it, but we’d prefer to talk about something else.

You can’t understand the media habits that treated EMAILS as a generational scandal, but have posed little impediment to Trump’s increasingly brazen corruption, without accepting that those habits largely reflect partisan outrage, real or fabricated. And the exceptions here prove the rule. In Trump’s first two years, when Democrats were in the minority in both chambers, and had to rely on the power of the soapbox to command public attention, political reporters were in sync with them on the importance of the Russia scandal. When Democrats impeached Trump on the narrow basis of the Ukraine scandal, it blocked out the sun. Democrats eventually got appropriately freaked out about the Post Office and now it’s perhaps the most scrutinized institution in the federal government. In each case, the risks of ignoring the abuses to focus on kitchen-table issues posed an existential threat to democracy, and in each case the journalists set aside the question of whether Trump’s supporters would care or not, and simply did their jobs.

My own view on this, why I have been so tedious about Democrats’ strategy of non-confrontation, is that unless Trump faces predictable, real, enduring pushback for corrupting the government and subverting democracy, he will encroach further. Gently scold him for deploying official government powers for personal gain and not only will the media move on, but he will be emboldened to cheat in more alarming ways.

Relatedly, if you want the media to do better, then by all means call journalists on the carpet for getting duped into holding the two parties to different standards. But the quicker way to get results is to demand that Democratic leaders do better, too.

Social pressure is strong

This was a really interesting article.  As Republicans go, NC Senator Thom Tillis has been pretty good about masks.  I’ve also definitely noted when watching his ads during Jeopardy that the ads typically feature multiple shots of him wearing a mask.  I still think he’s a dangerous enabler of Trump who needs to be defeated, but the masks are good.  Credit where credit is due.  It is therefore especially interesting to see the social pressure on a man like Tillis (and explains why despite some nascent efforts, he’s never really stood up to Trump when he clearly knows better) who did not wear a mask for Trump’s convention speech.  Interesting:

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis has been adamant about the need to wear face coverings and be socially distant from others, repeatedly highlighting those precautions as keys to defeating COVID-19.

Tillis, a Republican facing re-election in 2020, attended President Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention acceptance speech Thursday night on the White House’s South Lawn. More than 1,000 people were there, sitting shoulder to shoulder with few wearing face coverings. There was not universal testing for attendees.

“I’ve stressed the importance of mask wearing throughout this pandemic and have tried to lead by example on this issue, but last night I fell short of my own standard,” Tillis said in a statement Friday…

Tillis posted a photo of himself wearing a face mask before Thursday’s event started, but was captured on camera not wearing a face mask in the middle of the crowd later on…

During a campaign event in Raleigh on Wednesday, Tillis demonstrated how to properly wear a mask by covering the nose as well as the mouth. He has been holding roundtable events with just a few others this week, often spaced around a table. During his regular telephone town hall events, Tillis repeatedly tells callers to wear marks and practice social distancing. He conducts polls asking those on the line about their mask-wearing habits.

So, Tillis is (rightly) a true believer in the importance of masks.  But when faced with wearing one in front of Donald Trump and his other GOP enablers, we see the real Thom Tillis.  Good for him for admitting he fell short of his standards, but the reality is, Donald Trump leads him to consistently fall short of his standards and that’s why he needs to go.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) I liked this from Drum:

Why, oh why, do conservative voters keep supporting the GOP even though it’s the party of Social Security “reform” and tax cuts for millionaires?

The answer is equally obvious: these voters don’t really care much about economic policy and we can’t make them. They care about social issues. Translated into non-apocalyptic language, here’s what the world looks like from their point of view:

  • Liberals have removed prayer from schools; banned Bible studies; refused to fund Christian schools; and tried to force Christian businesses to pay for birth control.
  • They have supported homosexuals in our schools and in our textbooks; they push homosexuality on the rest of us via TV and movies; and they think gay marriage is perfectly normal.
  • They have handcuffed the police via things like the exclusionary rule and Miranda warnings; they opposed the death penalty even when crime was skyrocketing and they continue to oppose it to this day; they looked on benignly as riots and looting broke out in cities this year; and now they want to literally defund the police.
  • They have tried to ban handguns—failing only thanks to the NRA—and succeeded in banning so-called assault weapons; and they want to register all gun owners in a central FBI registry.
  • Their friends in Hollywood have turned TV and movies into rivers of filth.
  • They’re eager to legalize marijuana and they treat the use of hard drugs as mere “medical problems.”
  • They support the murder of unborn children, seemingly with no restrictions at all.
  • They refuse to support effective border control, allowing Mexican immigrants to flood the country; take away our jobs; and invade our culture.

The thing is, all of this is more or less true. We liberals do want to separate church and state; we do support gay rights; we do support abortion rights; etc. And this strikes a lot of rural conservatives as basically depraved. Conservative politicians and conservative media turn all this stuff into a caricature, but it’s not as if it isn’t grounded in reality.

So this leaves liberals with two alternatives. First, we can figure out a way to retain our views on social issues but convince conservative voters that they aren’t a big deal and don’t represent the fall of Western civilization. Second, we can tone down our social views to make them more acceptable to moderate conservatives. Those are our two choices, but among the activist wing of the left we’re not really willing to pursue either one of them. We mostly ignore or mock the rural conservatives, and we certainly refuse to soften our views on social issues for them. They’re just bigots, right? Then we wonder why they vote for Republicans.

All of this used to be fairly obvious to anyone interested in politics, but it gets surprisingly little attention these days because we spend so much time acting goggle-eyed at the lunatics. But the lunatics have always been around: the John Birch Society, the Moral Majority, the Mena airport clowns, the tea party, and today QAnon and assorted other crackpots. So forget them for the moment. The real question is: How can liberals appeal to folks who are just normal conservatives?

One way or another, the answer is that we have to make our views on social issues acceptable to them. Everything else is just so much fluff. So how do we do it?

2) Harry Enten on polling and Kenosha:

Indeed, the story of the protests has been that voters don’t necessarily like the actions of the protesters, but they really don’t like Trump on the issue either. Biden is still overwhelmingly trusted over Trump when it comes to race relations.
The key for Trump is that he does considerably better on the issue of crime. By an 8-point margin in a recent ABC News/Washington Post national poll, voters say Biden would be worse on “safety from crime” than Trump has been as President. It’s one of the few issues where Biden did not have a substantial advantage over Trump in an August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
If the protests are seen as a crime issue, it benefits Trump. If they’re seen more through the lens of race relations, it’s to his detriment. That’s why you don’t really see Trump give any ground to the protesters, and why you see Biden trying to balance praise for the protests with condemnation of those committing violent acts of protests.
The trend has clearly been in the direction Trump wishes to be on how the protests are seen, though the issue is far from a winner for him.
We’ll have to see where the numbers go after the recent events in Kenosha.

3) A must-read on how we’re doing Covid-testing all wrong.

Some of the nation’s leading public health experts are raising a new concern in the endless debate over coronavirus testing in the United States: The standard tests are diagnosing huge numbers of people who may be carrying relatively insignificant amounts of the virus.

Most of these people are not likely to be contagious, and identifying them may contribute to bottlenecks that prevent those who are contagious from being found in time. But researchers say the solution is not to test less, or to skip testing people without symptoms, as recently suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Instead, new data underscore the need for more widespread use of rapid tests, even if they are less sensitive.

“The decision not to test asymptomatic people is just really backward,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, referring to the C.D.C. recommendation.

“In fact, we should be ramping up testing of all different people,” he said, “but we have to do it through whole different mechanisms.”

In what may be a step in this direction, the Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would purchase 150 million rapid tests.

The most widely used diagnostic test for the new coronavirus, called a PCR test, provides a simple yes-no answer to the question of whether a patient is infected.

But similar PCR tests for other viruses do offer some sense of how contagious an infected patient may be: The results may include a rough estimate of the amount of virus in the patient’s body.

“We’ve been using one type of data for everything, and that is just plus or minus — that’s all,” Dr. Mina said. “We’re using that for clinical diagnostics, for public health, for policy decision-making.”

4) And a must-read follow-up thread:


Also, this chart, which wonderfully captures the dynamic:

5) Brian Beutler, “Trump’s Convention Is a Microcosm of A Vile Presidency”

Politico’s newsletter Playbook, which helps set conventional wisdom in Washington media, explained how this works, cautioning readers that while it’s “improper” of Trump to abuse his official powers during the convention to scare up votes, not “a single person outside the Beltway gives a hoot about the president politicking from the White House or using the federal government to his political advantage.”

This is actually false, but the thinking has shaped coverage of every lie, smear, and internally contradictory appeal to voters we’ve seen the past two days. The effect has been to both normalize Trump’s conduct, and to atomize criticism, which tends to attach to this offense, or that reporting failure. But the problem is singular, and easy to identify if you view the RNC not as a standard party convention but as a microcosm of the worst aspects of the Trump era, including a press corps more obsessed with forecasting how his abuses will play in Trump country than with bearing witness to them faithfully.

What we can say about the RNC—that it is not a normal convention, and should not be covered as one—has been said about Trump’s entire presidency thousands of times. It is technically true that the second night of the GOP convention was racially inclusive, that Trump used the “Tools of Presidency in Aim to Broaden Appeal,” but this minute-by-minute literalism, which might be the appropriate way to depict a different convention under a different president, only amplifies Trump’s deceptions.

In an ideal world, Republicans would feel compelled to compete for the support of non-white voters, and the votes of white people who object to their bigotries, by making substantive changes to their agenda, and to how they communicate with the public at large. The world we inhabit is large enough that even someone like Trump, whose supporters are overwhelmingly white, can nevertheless find enough non-white loyalists in positions of prominence to convey a spirit of inclusiveness that doesn’t really exist.

6) Vanity Fair on the oh-so-problematic police unions.

7) From the violent protests may do-in Biden camp, George Packer:

On Tuesday night, the CNN host Don Lemon warned his colleague Chris Cuomo that riots were hurting Biden and the Democrats: “Chris, as you know and I know, it’s showing up in the polls, it’s showing up in focus groups. It’s the only thing right now that’s sticking.” Lemon urged Biden to speak out about both police reform and violence. With Kenosha and the political conventions, the coverage seems to be changing. On Thursday, the Times ran a piece headlined “How Chaos in Kenosha Is Already Swaying Some Voters in Wisconsin.” Half a dozen Kenosha residents, reckoning with damaged buildings and businesses, expressed displeasure with the uncertain response of Democratic officials. Ellen Ferwerda, an antique store owner, “said that she was desperate for Trump to lose in November but that she had ‘huge concern’ the unrest in her town could help him win. She added that local Democratic leaders seemed hesitant to condemn the mayhem.”

8) Andrew Sullivan goes all-in on the Democrats are doomed now.  I think he’s quite wrong, but it was interesting to read.

And let’s be frank about this and call this by its name: this is very Weimar. The center has collapsed. Armed street gangs of far right and far left are at war on the streets. Tribalism is intensifying in every nook and cranny of the culture. The establishment right and mainstream left tolerate their respective extremes because they hate each other so much.

The pattern is textbook, if you learn anything from history: an economic crisis resulting in mass unemployment; the pent-up psychological disorders a long period of lockdown can and will unleash; a failure of nerve on the part of liberals to defend the values and institutions of liberal democracy, and of conservatives to keep their own ranks free of raw demagogues and bigots. But critically: a growing sense of disorder and violence and rioting as simply the background noise; and a sense that authorities do not have the strength or the stomach to restore order. What most people want in that kind of nerve-wracking instability is a figure who will come in and stamp it out. In Trump, we have someone who would happily trample any liberal democratic norm to do it. And the left seems to be all but begging him to do it — if only to prove them right.

A long time ago, I was mocked for saying that I believed that the election of Donald Trump was an extinction-level event for liberal democracy. But this is where we are. There is no place for liberal debate or dissent, just competing mobs deploying propaganda, intimidation and mutual racial hatred. Norms are trashed, from the shameful cooptation of national monuments for partisan purposes, to violating the privacy and peace of ordinary citizens because they are not in the ranks of agitators. Liberals are now illiberal; conservatives are revolutionaries. The Republican convention we are witnessing makes no pretense of even publishing a platform — all to demonstrate total and unfailing fealty to the leader whose own family is now assumed to succeed him. What about this pattern of events do we not already understand?

Yes, we still have an election. But barring a landslide victory for either party, it will be the beginning and not the end of the raw struggle for power in a fast-collapsing republic. In a close race, Trump will never concede, and if he is somehow forced to, he will mount a campaign from the outside to delegitimize the incoming president, backed by street-gangs and propaganda outfits. If Biden wins, we may have one last chance for the center to hold — and what few hopes I have rest on this.

But Biden, let’s face it, is weak and a party man to his core, and has surrendered to the far left at almost every single turn — from abortion to immigration to race. You’d be a fool I think, to believe he could resist their fanaticism in office, or that if he does, he won’t be toast in a struggle to succeed him. He remains the only choice in this election. But on the central question of civil order, he blew it last week and so did the Dems. Biden needs a gesture of real Sister Souljah clarity to put daylight between him and the violent left. He has indeed condemned the riots, with caveats. But at some point, the caveats have to go. And the sooner the better.

Sullivan is a smart guy who is far-too-often led astray by his own biases and emotions.  Has Biden shifted left along with the Democratic party?  Absolutely.  That’s why he’s successful.  But “surrendered to the far left at every single turn.”  Not remotely close to reality.

9) A couple of political scientists with “What America Got Wrong About COVID-19–and What We Can Learn from France and Italy: Institutional fragmentation and a lack of national solidarity have derailed the pandemic response”

10) If I were less busy, this tweet would be a post.  But feel so strongly about this.  The on-going leftist defense of looting by any intellectually dishonest means just disgusts me.

Quick hits

1) This was really good, “A Vaccine That Stops Covid-19 Won’t Be Enough: The best vaccines don’t just prevent a disease; they also prevent the pathogen causing the disease from being transmitted. So why aren’t we focusing more on those?”

A vaccine’s ability to forestall a disease is also how vaccine developers typically design — and how regulators typically evaluate — Phase 3 clinical trials for vaccine candidates.

Yet the best vaccines also serve another, critical, function: They block a pathogen’s transmission from one person to another. And this result, often called an “indirect” effect of vaccination, is no less important than the direct effect of preventing the disease caused by that pathogen. In fact, during a pandemic, it probably is even more important.

That’s what we should be focusing on right now. And yet we are not.

Stopping a virus’s transmission reduces the entire population’s overall exposure to the virus. It protects people who may be too frail to respond to a vaccine, who do not have access to the vaccine, who refuse to be immunized and whose immune response might wane over time.

The benefits of this approach have been demonstrated with other pathogens and other diseases…

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stated that preventing a SARS-CoV-2 infection is in itself a sufficient endpoint for the Phase 3 trials of vaccine candidates — that it is an acceptable alternative goal to preventing the development of Covid-19. The World Health Organization has said that “shedding/transmission” is as well.

These guidelines are an important signal, especially considering that the F.D.A. has never approved a vaccine based on its effects on infection alone; instead, the agency has focused exclusively on the vaccine’s effectiveness at disease prevention.

And yet vaccine developers do not seem to be heeding this new call.

Based on our review of the Phase 3 tests listed at, a database of trials conducted around the world, the primary goal in each of these studies is to reduce the occurrence of Covid-19.

Four of the six Covid-19 vaccine trials for which information is available say they will also evaluate the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infections among subjects — but only as an ancillary outcome.

This approach is shortsighted: One cannot assume that a vaccine that prevents the development of Covid-19 in a patient will necessarily also limit the risk that the patient will transmit SARS-CoV-2 to other people.

2) Very relatedly, “What if the First Coronavirus Vaccines Aren’t the Best? Dozens of research groups around the world are playing the long game, convinced that their experimental vaccines will be cheaper and more powerful than the ones leading the race today.”  Lots of great stuff in here, hard to paste any good quote.

3) I thought we had gotten so much better at this.  How are we still having headlines like, “‘Overwhelmed’ Ronnie Long to go free after 44 years. NC to vacate rape conviction.”  I mean, I know, but seems like almost two decades now we’ve realized how many awful racist convictions like this there are and it took this long?!  Every story like this makes me wonder just how many thousands? tens of thousands? of Americans wrongly languish in prison (for the record, Antonin Scalia, a morally very small man, was convinced it was just a few).

4) Is Skynet upon us?  “A Dogfight Renews Concerns About AI’s Lethal Potential”

IN JULY 2015, two founders of DeepMind, a division of Alphabet with a reputation for pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence, were among the first to sign an open letter urging the world’s governments to ban work on lethal AI weapons. Notable signatories included Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Jack Dorsey.

Last week, a technique popularized by DeepMind was adapted to control an autonomous F-16 fighter plane in a Pentagon-funded contest to show off the capabilities of AI systems. In the final stage of the event, a similar algorithm went head-to-head with a real F-16 pilot using a VR headset and simulator controls. The AI pilot won, 5-0.

The episode reveals DeepMind caught between two conflicting desires. The company doesn’t want its technology used to kill people. On the other hand, publishing research and source code helps advance the field of AI and lets others build upon its results. But that also allows others to use and adapt the code for their own purposes.

Others in AI are grappling with similar issues, as more ethically questionable uses of AI, from facial recognition to deepfakes to autonomous weapons, emerge.

A DeepMind spokesperson says society needs to debate what is acceptable when it comes to AI weapons. “The establishment of shared norms around responsible use of AI is crucial,” she says. DeepMind has a team that assesses the potential impacts of its research, and the company does not always release the code behind its advances. “We take a thoughtful and responsible approach to what we publish,” the spokesperson adds.

5) As any Slate Political Gabfest fan knows, David Plotz hates pandas!  And, now you can read one of his patented anti-panda rants in print:

Another Giant Panda baby at the Zoo, another win for China. 

The Giant Panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub Friday night at Washington’s National Zoo, and the local and national media are predictably gaga. It’s a “miracle” cub because Mei Xiang’s the oldest American panda to give birth in captivity, and because the zookeepers managed the pregnancy through the pandemic. If the cub lives, it will be her fourth.

China’s Giant Panda lend-lease program is one of the cleverest examples of public diplomacy in the modern world. Exploiting the world’s crush on the black-and-white semi-bears, China rents pandas out to zoos for huge fees — $1 million a year has been reported. The zoos then pay monstrous amounts to feed and care for the animals, $500,000 a year per bear, and undertake captive breeding programs. China owns all cubs, which are repatriated to China at age four and enrolled in China’s elaborate breeding, research, and re-wilding program. (Mei Xiang’s first three offspring were all repatriated to China.)

Americans have addicted themselves to pandas. They’re the main draw for the National Zoo, and also have attracted huge crowds in other cities where they’ve been loaned out, including San Diego and Atlanta.

But why are we duped by them? Pandas are gorgeous, but — as with too-beautiful humans — pandas exploit their beauty to cover up their deep character flaws. Pandas are lazy and ill-tempered. They barely move! (The hours I wasted as a DC schoolkid waiting for one of the pandas to do something, anything — just to lift a paw!)  Pandas don’t seem to be interested in their own survival: It takes heroic, hideously expensive efforts to get them to breed. They’re largely indifferent parents. (Don’t get me started about the DC panda that crushed its own newborn.)

Americans are forking over enormous sums of money to China so they can gawp at dumb, brutish supermodel animals. We should be spending those millions on American-made products. How about bison? Or black-footed ferrets? Or manatees? Or pumas? Pumas are plenty gorgeous!

The Trump administration is frantic that TikTok and Huawei are infiltrating the US and hooking Americans on Chinese products. Maybe they should worry about Giant Pandas instead. — DP

6) Good stuff from political scientists, Brian Schaffner, Jesse Rhodes and Raymond J. La Raja, “Why Trump Never Stops Talking About ‘Our Suburbs’”

Why do Black citizens receive worse representation in suburban and rural towns relative to cities? One of the most important insights from our research is that people of color are so disadvantaged in terms of influencing their local governments that they really manage to receive equitable political representation only when their political views are similar to those of the whites in their communities.

This is what political scientists call “coincidental representation,” a dynamic where a group has political power only by virtue of having common interests with another politically powerful group. In most places, it is the white residents who have the actual power to influence local government, so in communities where local officials represent the interests of African-Americans, this is often because of a close correspondence between the policy preferences of African-Americans and those of whites.

This insight helps explain the puzzle of why inequality in representation in cities — as bad as it is — is not nearly as bad as it is in smaller communities.

As the second accompanying chart, based on the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study survey of 60,000 Americans, shows, white Americans who live in big cities tend to be more liberal than whites who live in suburbs and small towns. Nearly 40 percent of whites living in cities identify as ideologically liberal, which is very similar to the percentage of African-Americans who do the same. This means that in many big cities a large fraction of white residents often see eye-to-eye with Black residents, at least in terms of how they identify ideologically.

By contrast, African-Americans who live in America’s suburbs and small towns are still quite liberal, but their white neighbors are much more conservative. In fact, 22 percent of small-town and rural whites identify as liberal while more than half identify as conservative. Because whites tend to hold real political power in suburban and rural communities, their conservative views mean that the chance Black interests will be represented is especially poor.

7) Jennifer Rubin, “The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report really is damning”

Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, appeared on television Sunday to discuss the fifth and final volume the committee has published on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump. Keep in mind that this volume was approved 14 to 1 by the committee, including the chairman who oversaw most of the investigation, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Republicans can publicly spin all they like, but the facts are there, nearly unanimously confirmed. The report is replete with damning details of contacts between the Trump campaign (including Roger Stone on the WikiLeaks hack and email dump) and Russian operatives.

Warner explained on “Meet the Press” that there were “unprecedented contacts between Russians and folks on the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign officials welcomed that help.” He added, “Maybe one of the most stunning was the level of detail of the then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, sharing very specific campaign information with a Russian agent.” Warner said, “We’ll never know what the Russians did with that information. But think about that. A campaign manager sharing with a known Russian agent during the middle of a campaign.” That is quite simply collusion.

The suggestion by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that no collusion occurred and that the committee report actually proves this (!!) ignores the connection between Manafort and Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik, the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower among campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya (who had much closer ties to Russian intelligence than previously was known), Roger Stone’s connection to WikiLeaks, and Trump’s open invitation to Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails.

8) One of the great finds of the pandemic for me has been (as you’ve probably noticed) Zeynep Tufekci.  Many have noticed.  Great profile here in the NYT:

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans in January that they didn’t need to wear masks, Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar, a professor at the Mayo Clinic and the editor of the Blood Cancer Journal, couldn’t believe his ears.

But he kept silent until Zeynep Tufekci (pronounced ZAY-nep too-FEK-chee), a sociologist he had met on Twitter, wrote that the C.D.C. had blundered by saying protective face coverings should be worn by health workers but not ordinary people.

“Here I am, the editor of a journal in a high profile institution, yet I didn’t have the guts to speak out that it just doesn’t make sense,” Dr. Rajkumar told me. “Everybody should be wearing masks.”

Ms. Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science with no obvious qualifications in epidemiology, came out against the C.D.C. recommendation in a March 1 tweetstorm before expanding on her criticism in a March 17 Op-Ed article for The New York Times.

The C.D.C. changed its tune in April, advising all Americans above the age of 2 to wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Michael Basso, a senior health scientist at the agency who had been pushing internally to recommend masks, told me Ms. Tufekci’s public criticism of the agency was the “tipping point.”

In recent years, many public voices have gotten the big things wrong — election forecasts, the effects of digital media on American politics, the risk of a pandemic. Ms. Tufekci, a 40-something who speaks a mile a minute with a light Turkish accent, has none of the trappings of the celebrity academic or the professional pundit. But long before she became perhaps the only good amateur epidemiologist, she had quietly made a habit of being right on the big things.

9) Very sadly, for those of us concerned about American democracy, the headline of this WP Editorial is not hyperbole, “A second Trump term might injure the democratic experiment beyond recovery”

10) OMG Dan Snyder’s Washington Redskins have just been an absolute cesspit of sleazy and grossly sexist behavior.  If his record on race was half as bad as it is on gender the other owners would’ve forced him to sell the team.

11) David Frum, “The Platform the GOP Is Too Scared to Publish: What the Republican Party actually stands for, in 13 points”

1) The most important mechanism of economic policy—not the only tool, but the most important—is adjusting the burden of taxation on society’s richest citizens. Lower this level, as Republicans did in 2017, and prosperity will follow. The economy has had a temporary setback, but thanks to the tax cut of 2017, recovery is ready to follow strongly. No further policy change is required, except possibly lower taxes still.

2) The coronavirus is a much-overhyped problem. It’s not that dangerous and will soon burn itself out. States should reopen their economies as rapidly as possible, and accept the ensuing casualties as a cost worth paying—and certainly a better trade-off than saving every last life by shutting down state economies. Masking is useless and theatrical, if not outright counterproductive.

3) Climate change is a much-overhyped problem. It’s probably not happening. If it is happening, it’s not worth worrying about. If it’s worth worrying about, it’s certainly not worth paying trillions of dollars to amend. To the extent it is real, it will be dealt with in the fullness of time by the technologies of tomorrow. Regulations to protect the environment unnecessarily impede economic growth.

12) I love Radiolab.  I loved the “The Other Latif Nasser” series (which I belatedly just recently finished).  And I love this NYT profile of Radiolab’s Latif Nasser.

13) Some interesting social science, “Partisan ideological attitudes: Liberals are tolerant; the intelligent are intolerant.”

In this article we examine intolerance toward ideological outgroups, conceptualized as the negativity of the attitudes of liberals and conservatives toward their ideological outgroup. We show that conservatives are more ideologically intolerant than liberals and that the more intelligent are more ideologically intolerant than the less intelligent. We also show that the differences between liberals and conservatives and the differences between the more and less intelligent depend on ideological extremity: They are larger for extreme than for moderate ideologists. The implication of these results to questions regarding the relationship between intelligence and ideological intolerance and regarding the relationship between ideology and prejudice are discussed.

But here’s the thing, as much as we may want to really believe the emboldened portion means that this is the type of research that deserves more scrutiny from liberals, not less.

14) This was some really, really cool stuff about the bacterial world, “How Bacteria-Eating Bacteria Could Help Win the War Against Germs: While microscopic and little known, predatory bacteria are among the world’s fiercest and most effective hunters.”

Predatory bacteria carry immense promise in an extraordinarily small package. Deployed under the right circumstances, they could help people beat back harmful microbes in the environment, or purge pathogens from the food supply. Some experts think they could someday serve as a sort of living therapeutic that could help clear drug-resistant germs from ailing patients in whom all other treatments have failed.

But even the small community of researchers who study predatory bacteria have not fully figured out how these cells select and slaughter their hosts. Teasing out those answers could reveal a range of ways to tackle stubborn infections, and provide a window onto predator-prey dynamics at their most microscopic.

15) Ariel Edwards-Levy on reasons to think the polls may be right or may be wrong.  I think the extraordinary stability thus far and the record polarization suggests they should be more stable and accurate.  Here’s the counter-arguments:

Why This Year Could Be More Volatile

Close elections are more common than they used to be. As FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley notes, the 2016 election marked the eighth consecutive presidential election to end with the popular vote winner ahead by only a single-digit margin, the longest stretch since the Civil War. This is the flip side to the idea of entrenched, highly partisan voter preferences ― big, game-changing swings in the campaign may now be less common, but even smaller shifts could be more likely to affect who actually wins.

We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Coronavirus has dominated this election cycle, eclipsing other campaign stories and personally affecting pretty much everyone in the country. Other issues at the top of voters’ minds, like the economy and health care, are inextricably tied into the pandemic. It also remains a volatile situation. It’s clear that the coronavirus isn’t going away, but we don’t know precisely what the situation will look like in November or whether public opinion on the White House response will remain as negative as it currently is. The precise state of the economy is another unknown, as is the degree to which the abrupt economic shifts this year will impact voters’ thinking.

Campaigning in a pandemic looks different, too, with both jam-packed rallies and door-to-door mobilization efforts scuttled or reimagined. Without modern precedent, it’s difficult to say exactly how those changes will affect voters.

It’s even harder than usual to predict voter turnout. As the election nears, more pollsters will be reporting results among “likely voters.” That requires them to make judgment calls about which people are likely to end up actually voting, relying on factors including voters’ past history of turning out. In the best of circumstances, this determination is somewhat subjective and prone to uncertainty. This time around, with the pandemic upending Election Day as normal, it could be more difficult than ever. That’s without even getting into the possibility that ― as many Democrats fear ― rejected or delayed mail ballots could have an affect on the election. Nearly half of all voters say they expect voting to be difficult this year, according to Pew, up from 15% in fall 2018.

16) OMG, yes this is so frustrating.  We should know so much more about Covid, “Why the United States is having a coronavirus data crisis: Political meddling, disorganization and years of neglect of public-health data management mean the country is flying blind.”

Data dashboards in Singapore and New Zealand offer similar windows into how the coronavirus is spreading within their borders. This helps policymakers and citizens determine how to go about daily life, while reducing risks — and provides researchers with a wealth of data. By contrast, the United States offers vanishingly few details on how the disease is spreading, even as people increasingly socialize and travel, and authorities reopen schools and businesses. This state of affairs is frustrating data researchers, who want to help authorities make decisions that can save lives.

“We shouldn’t be flying blind at this point,” says Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “We shouldn’t have to speculate.”

Experts told Nature that political meddling, privacy concerns and years of neglect of public-health surveillance systems are among the reasons for the dearth of information in the United States.

17) David Hopkins on the RNC:

This week’s Republican convention did an especially efficient job of encapsulating the current state of the party after four years of Donald Trump’s leadership. In terms of the roster of speakers and the venues at which they spoke, the convention reflected how much the party has become a personal extension of Trump. Among the usual appearances by up-and-coming politicians and regular-citizen testimonials, a long succession of members of the reigning court—including a deputy chief of staff, press secretary, assistant to the president, counselor to the president, personal attorney of the president, and seven Trump family members—dominated the schedule, while the White House itself served as the backdrop to the addresses of both of its current adult occupants.

But the words of these speeches showed how much Trump’s consolidation of power within the party has been accompanied by his adoption of its existing ideological commitments. Speaker after speaker at this week’s convention reinforced standard Republican themes: small government, social traditionalism, veneration of the military and law enforcement, and attacks on “socialism,” the “radical left,” and the news media. Even the president’s children, who might have been expected to spend their stage time sharing family anecdotes intended to create favorable personal impressions of their father, concentrated instead on delivering familiar conservative rhetoric. The occasional heterodoxies of the 2016 Trump campaign, which convinced many pundits and voters at the time that he was pulling the Republican Party to the left on economic policy, are no longer evident.

18) When it comes to a cough, it really is honey for the win.

19) Great interactive feature from Amy Walter on comparing where the polls stand now compared to 2016.  The most interesting part:

So, how can this work? If Trump isn’t really losing support from his 2016 base, but Biden is gaining on Clinton’s performance, where are those extra votes coming from?

Answer: a lot is coming from voters who supported third-party/other candidates in 2016. According to the Pew July survey, voters who didn’t support either major party candidate last election are now breaking decidedly for Biden — 55 percent to 39 percent. This group of non-Trump/non-Clinton voters doesn’t get the attention of Obama-Trump voters or suburban moms, but they are a not-insignificant portion of the electorate.

In the 2016 election, the non-Clinton/Trump vote was 6 percent. The Pew validated voter survey put it at 7 percent — so a touch higher than the popular vote. In a race decided on the margins, these voters can shift the race a couple of points. Or, as Pew’s Director of Political Research put it to me in an email, “If nothing else, what this shows is how much 3rd and 4th parties cost Clinton (even though, as I said, our estimate was higher than popular vote).”

20) Plotz again in serious mode, on the second amendment undermining the first amendment:

Guns are the enemy of free speech.

What happens when the Second Amendment meets the First Amendment?

The First Amendment loses.

The BLM protest movement represents the highest expression of the First Amendment. In cities and towns across the US, the people have peaceably assembled to express their grievances. These demonstrations have occasionally degenerated into violence and vandalism — though the violence has been disproportionately instigated and magnified by the police — but they have overwhelmingly been peaceful mass expressions of public discontent.

But what’s increasingly happening — as the murder of two demonstrators in Kenosha tragically proved, and as the Washington Post documents here — is that peaceful demonstrators are encountering heavily armed counterprotesters, often representing  alt-right or White nationalist groups.

Here we have the full flowering of the First Amendment — free speech about matters of public urgency — marching headlong the unbridled expansion of the Second Amendment — citizens openly brandishing loaded rifles, often semiautomatic ones, in public places.

These two cherished American principles do not meet on equal footing, because a gun is the opposite of speech. A loaded weapon discourages speech, intimidates, and demands compliance. Even someone who intends no harm with a gun — and I believe that these counterprotesters intend no harm — is quashing the free speech of those around them, because it is impossible to speak openly when someone who hates your opinion is holding a loaded gun near you and telling you to shut up and leave.

It’s right-wing cancel culture.

Guns also intimidate the police, who are proving incapable of keeping order — or unwilling to keep order — when heavily armed counterprotesters decide they want to scare off progressives. This is teaching the gun-bearers that they can dictate what happens in the street because the cops aren’t able to control them the way the cops are all-too-happy to control the peaceful protesters.

Guns can turn what should be harmless exchanges into potential tragedies. We’re still learning exactly what happened in Kenosha, but it appears an unarmed protester verbally accosted Kyle Rittenhouse, and perhaps threw a plastic bag at him, which prompted Rittenhouse to shoot and kill him and then another protester who tried to intervene.

How can citizens possibly engage in the give and take of political argument — the pure heart of the First Amendment — when any wrong move could lead to mass murder? The Second Amendment is squashing the First.

There is no easy solution to this problem. Actually, there is an easy solution, but it’s inconceivable in a country where open-carry is legal almost everywhere, and where there are hundreds of millions of legally owned guns. The easy solution is that citizens should not be permitted to brandish guns in public places.


The Covid in the air

This Time magazine piece form Jose-Luis Jimenez on the airborne nature of Covid-19 is honestly one of the best things I’ve read on the disease this whole time.  He does such a great job walking us through the droplet vs. aerosol debate and why we’ve been wrong.  I found the historical aspect– basically, an over-correction for the miasma theory of disease– particularly fascinating.  Highlights:

The evidence in favor of aerosols is stronger than that for any other pathway, and officials need to be more aggressive in expressing this reality if we want to get the pandemic under control.

There are three possible ways the virus is transmitted, of which two have been emphasized by the WHO and the CDC. The first is through “fomites,” objects that are contaminated with the virus (which could include someone else’s skin). Early in the pandemic, concern over fomite transmission drove some people to bleach groceries and packages. The CDC now says fomites are a possible means of transmission, but likely not one that is major. For example, an intensive handwashing program in the UK led to only a 16% reduction in transmission. Significantly, other viruses that, like SARS-CoV-2 (the one that causes COVID-19), have a lipid envelope, do not survive long on human hands. That means someone would need to touch their eyes, nostrils, or mouth a short time after touching a contaminated surface in order to contract the novel coronavirus…

The second possibility for how COVID-19 spreads is through droplets, small bits of saliva or respiratory fluid that infected individuals expel when they cough, sneeze, or talk. Droplets—which the WHO and CDC maintain is the primary means of transmission of COVID-19—are propelled through the air, but fall to the ground after traveling 3-6 feet. However, published research, which has been replicated, shows that droplets are only important when coughing and sneezing. But when it comes to talking in close proximity, which appears to play a major role in COVID-19 transmission, droplets are less important than the third potential pathway: aerosols. Many diseases, including COVID-19, infect most effectively at close proximity. Since droplets are visible and fall to the ground between 3-6 feet, we can readily see and understand this route of infection. In fact, it was thought for decades that tuberculosis was transmitted by droplets and fomites, based on ease of infection at close proximity, but research eventually proved that tuberculosis can only be transmitted through aerosols. I believe that we have been making a similar mistake for COVID-19…

The unwillingness to acknowledge the likelihood that aerosols are a major means of COVID-19 transmission can be traced to the legacy of Dr. Charles Chapin, an American public health researcher. Trying to bury once and for all the theory of miasmas, ghostly clouds of disease, he argued in his seminal 1910 book The Sources and Modes of Infection that aerosol transmission was nearly impossible. “It will be a great relief to most persons to be freed from the specter of infected air, a specter that has pursued the race since the time of Hippocrates,” Chapin wrote. The impact of his book was fortuitous in a way: it came at a time when enough evidence about the transmission of different infectious diseases had accumulated since the discovery of germs by Pasteur in the 1860s, but before we had the technology to measure aerosols. Chapin’s notions became the paradigm of infectious disease transmission, which has dominated until now.

Given this deeply held disbelief of aerosol transmission, just a few diseases, including measles and chickenpox, have been accepted as being transmitted through aerosols—and only because these are so transmissible that the evidence could not be ignored by the medical community. Some less-contagious respiratory diseases, like influenza, were described as due to droplet and fomite transmission, even when they clearly had an aerosol component. That stance has, over the years, created an unfounded perception in health care that any disease that is transmitted through aerosols has to be extremely contagious. But 110 years later, the nuances and importance of aerosol transmission of respiratory diseases are finally becoming mainstream

The visual analogy of smoke can help guide our risk assessment and risk reduction strategies. One just has to imagine that others they encounter are all smoking, and the goal is to breathe as little smoke as possible. But COVID-19 is not very contagious under most situations, unlike, for example, measles: the CDC says that 15 minutes of close proximity to a COVID-19 infected person often leads to contagion, which provides an estimate of how much “exhaled smoke” one may need to inhale for infection. Inhaling a little whiff of “smoke” here and there is OK, but a lot of “smoke” for a sustained period of time and without a mask is risky. (To be clear, actual smoke does not increase the probability of infection.)…

We should continue doing what has already been recommended: wash hands, keep six feet apart, and so on. But that is not enough. A new, consistent and logical set of recommendations must emerge to reduce aerosol transmission. I propose the following: Avoid Crowding, Indoors, low Ventilation, Close proximity, long Duration, Unmasked, Talking/singing/Yelling (“A CIViC DUTY”). These are the important factors in mathematical models of aerosol transmission, and can also be simply understood as factors that impact how much “smoke” we would inhale.

A CIViC DUTY first suggests that we should do as many activities as possible outdoors, as schools did to avoid the spread of tuberculosis a century ago, despite harsh winters….

Second, masks are essential, even when we are able to maintain social distance. We should also pay attention to fitting masks snugly, as they are not just a parapet against ballistic droplets, but also a means to prevent “smoke” from leaking in through gaps…

It is important to think about ventilation and air cleaning. We take operable windows and HVAC systems for granted, rarely paying attention to how they work. Times are different now, and we need to learn how to best use these systems to decrease risk.

Good stuff!  Meanwhile, a nice piece in BMJ looks at how to think systematically about Covid infection risks and sums it all up with this awesome chart:

Fig 3

But, in the end, pretty simple.  Stay outside when you can.  Wear a mask inside if with people who are not members of your household.  Take the quality of indoor air into account in your activities and your amount of time in the space.  And there you go.  Now, just get us those rapid tests!

The RNC– it’s really not okay

I  feel even better about my take for the journalist last night after reading Greg Sargent today:

The second night of the GOP convention showcased a party that is unshakably confident in its ability to get away with flaunting President Trump’s corrupt manipulation of the levers of government to remain in power — on national television, with absolute impunity.

It also showcased a party that’s equally confident in its power to create a hermetically sealed-off alternate universe in which the only corrupt party is the opposition. Completing this picture, the levers of government are currently being manipulated to manufacture that invented reality about the opposition, too.

If they get away with this, what will be left of our political system?

These stakes were illustrated with unsettling clarity by Pam Bondi’s speech on Tuesday night. The former attorney general of Florida oozed a phony air of sincerity while recycling entirely debunked nonsense about Joe Biden’s son Hunter and Ukraine…

This is not a moment we should allow to slide by. Taken along with the blatant lawbreaking at the convention on Tuesday, it all demonstrates a level of seething contempt for our political system and institutions — and even for the very idea that there should be baseline standards in political competition — that the media still struggles to convey faithfully…

Bondi once again served up the regurgitated tale in which Biden, as vice president, supposedly withheld U.S. aid to pressure a Ukrainian prosecutor to go easy on a company that was paying his son to sit on its board.

But this is all nonsense: While Hunter Biden’s flouting of appearances deserves criticism, there wasn’t an investigation of the company at the time, and then-Vice President Biden sought the prosecutor’s ouster because the prosecutor was corrupt. This was U.S. policy, backed by international institutions. GOP senators had no problem with it in real time

But what’s important for our purposes here is that Trump already got impeached for subverting our national security policy to the corrupt goal of making those false narratives about the Bidens and Ukraine appear true. Having failed to use the levers of government to corrupt our election once, Trump had Bondi simply keep on telling that same set of lies.

Worse, Bondi’s display came on the same night that Trump again used the government to facilitate his reelection. First lady Melania Trump spoke from the White House Rose Garden. Trump staged a naturalization ceremony for a few immigrants at the White House with his acting homeland security chief…

The corruption is bottomless

Meanwhile, Trump’s allies in the Senate continue to manufacture an investigation designed (again) to create the phony impression that there just might be something to that same set of Biden/Ukraine narratives. This caper’s ringleader, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), has openly admitted this will harm Biden politically.

And Trump’s attorney general is laying the groundwork to undermine findings that Russia sabotaged the last election on Trump’s behalf — even as a Senate committee just determined that the Trump campaign worked to benefit from that sabotage to an extraordinary extent…

As Garrett Graff points out, some of the media coverage has soft-pedaled what we saw on Tuesday night:

In this context, a party that thinks it can get away with such an extraordinary juxtaposition at its convention — brashly flaunting that level of open corruption on national television, while recycling a tale of the opposition’s corruption that is pure invention — is a party that simply does not think our institutions, the media included, are capable of meting out the most basic level of accountability any longer.

If that’s true — and if it’s also true voters won’t care about this serial corruption and lawbreaking — then perhaps that’s grounds for more media introspection, and not for validation of the idea that this might be a savvy and realistic calculation on the perpetrators’ part.

Amen.  No convention theater criticism– here’s looking at you NYT!!– when democracy is at stake.

RNC take

You know I’m not a lover of conventions.  I love numbers, stats, etc., about politics.  Spectacle, not so much.  But, a reporter for Courthouse News asked for my take, so I might as well share it here.  I pretty much pulled no punches.  Democracy > political theater criticism.

As a political science expert, what is something you have seen during this convention, or so far tonight, that really stuck out to you as significant (such as strategy, optics, certain talking points, performance and speech delivery, etc.)?

What really stands out is that the majority of the major speakers are Trump’s family members.  We may be getting used to this after almost four years, but this is not normal!  It’s also decidedly not normal, and quite likely literally illegal to have a sitting Secretary of State (who literally admonished his agency’s employees not to engage in partisan political activity recently) give a political speech like this.  The “normal” thing to do would be to comment on the quality of the speeches (Pompeo broke the law for this?), the major themes of the night, etc., but, quite, honestly, as a Political Science professor who has spent the majority of my adult life studying American democracy, it would be wrong to do the normal thing here.  I’ve done the “normal” commentary for both parties’ national conventions going back to 2000, but to simply comment upon the quality of speeches, themes, etc., in this circumstance would be to belie how abnormal this is and to abdicate my own commitment to a healthy democracy.

Through what methods does it appear the Republican convention is attempting to outshine the Democratic convention in the context of this newer virtual battleground?

Honestly, it doesn’t even appear like they really are trying to out-shine the Democrats in any particular way.  It’s almost like they’ve thrown in the towel on that score.  Consider the extremely well-reviewed Democrats’ roll call of states versus the pallid parade of speakers in front of a generic background for Republicans.  Now, they’ve had their shiny moments, too, but, they largely all center almost entirely around President Trump.  The Republican base loves Trump and by giving the convention far more of the actual nominee than is typical, that is their effort to appeal to their base in a way Democrats cannot match.

Have you noticed a change or a need for change in political performance as speakers move from auditoriums to virtual rallys? If so, please explain.

It’s a different skill to give a speech just as effectively to a camera than it is to a live audience.  Some speakers really thrive in particular on that live audience, e.g., President Trump.  There is probably nobody more disappointed in this move to mostly virtual than the President himself.  That said, both parties are re-inventing the conventions in interesting ways that I suspect we will continue to see going forward in conventions ahead.

In what ways could the convention do better to appeal to moderate or stalwart base voters? In what ways is the convention doing well in this regard?

The Republicans are pretty clearly overwhelmingly attempting to appeal to their base.  Trump’s family (and aspiring daughter-in-law) is clearly the classic red meat of that approach.  That said, there has been some effort to strike a more welcoming tone from the likes of notably non-white speakers such as Nikki Haley and Tim Scott.  It’s hard to imagine this would bring through all that much given the overall base-service of the convention, but there does appear to be some effort to expand the coalition, or, at least, reach out to wavering Republican-friendly voters.

 Are both partys just talking to their base in order to motivate them to vote or are there a significant number of voters out there that could cross party lines as a result of speeches like those presented during the RNC?

There plenty of trying to get the base excited at the DNC, but also clear, and consistent efforts to reach out to disaffected Republican voters (e.g., Kasich).  And, overall, far more of an effort to present a unifying “we’re all this together”/unifying image for the campaign.  Definitely more effort at exciting the base at RNC.  But, that’s to be expected when you consider the candidates and how they’ve conducted themselves for years.  The GOP is undoubtedly, unreservedly Trump’s party and Trump’s convention is going to, unreservedly be one, that reflects Trump.  And that’s decidedly not one of looking to reach out and expand his base of support.
Also, as a political scientist, while we may be able to look to overall themes/emphases of campaigns as making a difference, I have a very hard time imagining that a few nights of speeches really change very many minds at all.  The overwhelming body of research shows very modest effects for campaigns overall.  And, while, yes, conventions are a highlight of campaigns I think they end up being of far more interest to political science, professors, journalists, and strong partisans who have already very much made up their mind.

The politics of NC

Well, since the Republican convention was supposed to be in Charlotte, the state of NC getting a little love from the national press.  Here’s a nice geographic rundown in the Post: “The six
political states of North Carolina.”

For a long time, Republicans who ran for president didn’t have to worry about North Carolina, even when Democrats did well down ballot. Democrats have held the governor’s office here for all but four years this century, and since the 1970s, no Senate race here has been won with more than 55 percent of the vote. And until 2010, Democrats controlled the legislature, drew the state’s maps and kept conservatives locked out of power.

That changed with the 2010 tea party wave, and since 2016 the state has been gripped by partisan warfare between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and a Republican legislature that has limited his power to defy them. In the past 10 years, Republicans drew maps and passed voting laws that repeatedly have been struck down as unfair, with one map judged to have targeted Black voters “with surgical precision.” North Carolina has become a microcosm of America: Cities and suburbs have grown bluer, White rural areas have grown redder, and, when one party wins, it makes the place inhospitable for the other one…

To explain why a Trump-won state remains so competitive, we’ve sorted North Carolina into six political “states.” In each of them, small shifts in the vote could be decisive — and in some of them, there may not be many more votes to switch.

I’ll just share my happy home region:

Research Triangle

Compared with the state overall, the voting population here …

  • Has a higher share of people living in cities than average.
  • Has more nonwhite residents than average.
  • Has more college-educated residents than average.
Much of the Democratic Party’s optimism about North Carolina comes from here, the fast-growing area around the state capital, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. Every four years, it casts more of the vote. Residents of Wake County alone cast 442,245 ballots in 2008, 486,427 ballots in 2012 and 527,624 ballots in 2016. Democrats’ margins grew, too, as precinct after suburban precinct turned away from the GOP.

The region is now downright hostile to Republicans, with their margin of defeat expanding by 75,000 votes from 2012 to 2016. In a typical academic year, there are about 100,000 college students living in the region each November. Pandemic conditions will lower that number; any Democratic gains will come from the steady migration of suburban voters away from the Trump-era GOP.

And a nice feature in the New Yorker on the state’s Republicans who are defecting from Trump:

Mike Hawkins, the Republican chairman of the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners, in North Carolina, was on vacation last summer when he saw clips from Donald Trump’s speech to cheering supporters at East Carolina University, in Greenville. Earlier that week, Trump had aimed tweets at four prominent Democratic members of Congress, all women of color, suggesting that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Never mind that three of the four had been born in the United States, and the fourth, Ilhan Omar, had left Somalia as a refugee when she was a young girl. At East Carolina, Trump lit into Omar, prompting the crowd to chant “Send her back!” He attacked the four representatives as “hate-filled extremists” and defended his tweets, saying, “You know, they don’t love our country.”


Party of Trump

Various good takes on the Republican Party basically pledging loyalty to Trump instead of having an actual platform.  Seth Masket:

Here the party has committed itself to two main things: enthusiastic support for President Trump, and absolute refusal to consider any new party platform.

Okay! So the party is committed to whatever President Trump’s agenda is. What is it? Well, that’s the subject of the second document. The Trump reelection team on Sunday evening released a fifty-point platform that includes such goals as:

  • 10 million jobs in ten months

  • A Covid vaccine by the end of 2020

  • “Return to normal in 2021”

  • Teach American exceptionalism

  • Pass congressional term limits

  • “Expose Washington’s money trail and delegate powers back to people and states”

  • A permanent Moon base and the first manned mission to Mars

  • “Build the world’s greatest infrastructure system”

This is really a remarkable set of goals. Some of these are most likely impossible (10 million jobs in ten months, a mission to Mars by 2024, a Covid vaccine within the next four months), some are politically unobtainable (a term limits amendment, the control of the nation’s education system), and some are hopelessly vague (A return to normal? The world’s greatest infrastructure system?). To be fair, there are a few platform planks in there that, while vague or ambitious, do seem something like what parties have called for in the past. But just a few.

Now, there’s some context for all this. The 2020 Republican Party is hardly the first major party to hand over a ton of power to its incumbent president. Party chairs often complain about how little discretion they have over the direction of their party when it is in control of the White House. Julia Azari wrote here last year that the major parties have become increasingly president-centered — and weaker as a result — with time.

And this Republican Party is hardly the first to not really know what it stands for besides support of its nominee. Some early and mid-20th century major parties were famously vague on many policies. The 1952 GOP recruited Dwight Eisenhower as a presidential candidate without even knowing what party he was a member of, no less what he stood for. The Democrats of 1912 didn’t really understand Woodrow Wilson’s mishmash of policies but thought that they could win with them anyway, and simply determined that the candidate was the platform.

But none of this should numb us to just how striking these documents are. The public often associates a party with its incumbent president; a national convention gives a party a chance to show what it stands for besides just that candidate. This seems like a particularly wise thing to do when that candidate is unpopular and trailing his opponent by nearly ten points, and when there are candidates for Senate, House, governor, and state legislature in tight races who may well lose because of their association with the President.

Nevertheless, we are at a moment when the Republican Party — whose first platform set out the party’s commitment to destroying slavery, the most substantial policy change the nation has ever experienced — has handed over all its policy generation efforts to Donald Trump. They are conceding to being an organization that exists, at this point, for no other purpose than his reelection.

And Jonathan Bernstein:

The Republican platform committee met on Sunday and decided that there wouldn’t be any platform at all — they were good with whatever President Donald Trump wanted. Which everyone had good fun with for a while, until later Sunday when what Trump wanted turned out to be

50 bullet points.

The resulting plan has the feel of something that was slapped together in 20 minutes or so. So Trump is supposedly going to produce 10 million new jobs in 10 months, but there’s nothing — really, nothing at all — about how to fulfill that promise. Same with a million new small businesses. The president plans to “Build the World’s Greatest Infrastructure System,” which sounds nice, but given that he’s been promising the same thing for almost four years and hasn’t yet sent a bill to Capitol Hill, some might find it hard to take it seriously. “Wipe Out Global Terrorists” also seems ambitious, but the plan contains nothing about how it would be done in practice or how it squares with the promise to “Stop Endless Wars and Bring Our Troops Home.”

Meanwhile, there are some notable omissions. Nothing about eliminating Obamacare (or, for that matter, about Trump’s promised replacement that’s always two weeks away). Nothing about supporting U.S. allies — not even Israel. Nothing about abortion. Or guns. Nothing about the payroll-tax holiday Trump has been talking about over the past few weeks, or his efforts to restore full deductibility for dining and entertainment expenses.

It’s not clear what happens next. One possibility is that the 50 bullet points keep getting revised to appease various party groups until they eventually look like the platform they were supposed to replace. Another is that those groups would be willing to go along with this version since it’s not an official statement of the party — but won’t be circulating anything like it to their members.

Again, the whole thing sounds like a last-minute attempt to avoid being ridiculed for not having any second-term agenda without actually doing the work of coming up with a second-term agenda. Which is pretty much what I’m expecting of the Republican Convention. Maybe they’ll surprise me! But everything that’s been reported so far suggests that the event is being thrown together at the last minute, with Trump himself constantly changing what he wants and the organizers having to tear up their plans and start over.

David Hopkins is more sanguine:

The popular story that the Republican Party now revolves around Trump is true enough. But it often leaves out the point that Trump has won this power in part by adopting the party’s existing substantive commitments. In terms of both policy and personnel, the Trump presidency is the most consistently conservative administration since Calvin Coolidge. Aside from the area of international trade (which has never been a defining issue for either major party in modern times), Trump governs in an ideologically orthodox fashion. And on some important subjects, such as immigration and international relations, he has helped to pull his party even farther to the right than it was before his arrival…

It’s true enough that Trump does not speak, or carry himself, like a National Review conservative. But that’s because Trump is a Fox News conservative, not because he isn’t a conservative at all. He has little interest in conservatism either as an intellectual movement built on abstract principles or as a set of moral and personal virtues, so conservative thinkers who do view their cause in such a manner naturally find it difficult to admit him to their ranks. However, the last four years have shown that most Republican voters trying to figure out what, or who, is and is not conservative pay a lot more attention to Sean Hannity’s or Rush Limbaugh’s thoughts on the subject than they do to Ramesh Ponnuru’s or George F. Will’s.

Steve’s take: the Republican party is truly empty of ideas beyond low taxes for rich people are good, whatever upsets liberals is good, and whatever upsets culturally conservative white people is bad.  That’s about it.  Seriously.  And, oh, yeah, Donald Trump is good.  And, that, is just sad and pathetic.  And scary for our democracy.

Politics makes even really smart people stupid

Came across this post last month about a pretty heinous mistake from Jill Lepore (whom I’m generally a huge fan of) that also got by the New Yorker’s vaunted fact-checking.  Just such a great example of how politics makes people stupid.  And today (I’m behind on my hardcopies) actually got around to reading it, so here you go…

Reading the latest copy of the New Yorker magazine, published exactly a week ago, I came across this sentence in a piece by Jill Lepore:

One study suggests that two-thirds of Americans between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four who were treated in emergency rooms suffered from injuries inflicted by police and security guards, about as many people as the number of pedestrians injured by motor vehicles.


This in a 5,000 word feature on the history of policing in the United States, which draws a link between the early role of police in suppressing slave rebellions, and police killings of Black Americans in the twenty first century.

This sentence jumped out to me. How could it possibly be true that ‘two-thirds’ of all Americans aged 15-34 visiting emergency rooms had been injured by police or security guards, given the very many other reasons why people might present for emergency treatment? In the online version, there is no hyperlink to the research (although the article does contain hyperlinks), and the study’s authors are not named.

Jill Lepore could hardly be more eminent. She is a professor of American history at Harvard, the recipient of a long list of awards, and a longstanding staff writer at the New Yorker, as well as a contributor at many other well regarded publications. I love her writing, so much so that I bought several extra copies of her latest book These Truths to give as presents to friends and family. Given this, I thought at first that I might have misunderstood the sentence, and tweeted as much

I did my best to work out a rough estimate of the true proportion of 15-34 year olds visiting the ER who had suffered legal intervention injuries, and arrived at a figure of 0.2% (you can follow my working in this thread). So I believe Lepore’s claim to be off by a factor of several hundred.

Why does this one sentence matter? Well, firstly, it misinforms readers, several of whom (based on my Twitter search for the article’s URL) also alighted on this claim, but unlike me took it on trust. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it tells us something about the political climate in a publication like the New Yorker, which was once famous for its rigorous fact checking.

We know that political bias warps cognition, sometimes catastrophically, and this is, I think, an example of that in action. Lepore read Feldman’s research and she misunderstood part of it, despite being an exceptionally intelligent person. Like many other Left-leaning Democrats, she is convinced that police brutality is a huge, under-acknowledged problem in the United States, and she therefore jumped to the conclusion that this wildly inflated ‘two-thirds’ figure was plausible.

The staff at the New Yorker who read her piece also, we must assume, considered it to be plausible. The sentence was printed and, as of the time of writing, has not been corrected. There has been no uproar on social media. I reached out to both the New Yorker and Feldman for comment, and have not received replies.

A small, troubling example of the effect of political bias on journalism.

I really wondered what would have been my reaction to this without being primed from this post.  Pretty sure I would’ve just skimmed right over it, actually, without a close read and just basically intuited under “variety of statistics showing police brutality is bad.”  But, I did find this mistake telling in an article which I think, yes, was overly influenced by ideology.  Police brutality is a serious problem in America.  The interaction of that with race is a serious problem.  The role in all of this of guns is huge, which Lepore acknowledges.  But, there’s so much more to bad policing than racism and so much more to policing in general than a history of racism and evolution from slave-catchers. As with so many things we have very ready examples from all around the world that can help provide analytical leverage and clarity and, here, it’s ignored by Lepore.  She actually admits that our per capita levels of police are fairly in-line with much of the world.  But, otherwise, what’s going on with police in the rest of the world?  Pretty sure that every modern democracy has a police force we’d recognize as a modern police force yet surely in Denmark (for example, and many, many others) this is not at all about a history of slave-catching.  So, does slave-catching really uniquely explain policing in America?  Again, not at all to deny there’s an important historical role to interrogate here, but there’s a lot about modern policing that cannot simply be explained through the lens or slavery and Jim Crow.  And in terms of making policing better it will actually be harder to do if all we think we need to do is root out the systemic racism from policing.  So, systemic racism in policing a problem to be solved?  Yes, absolutely.  Plenty of other problems in policing that cannot be explained by race?  Yes, absolutely, and we need to address them, too.

Artificial sweeteners are going to kill you!

Or not.

I was going to put this in quick hits, but felt like I would be betraying my brand not to give it it’s own post :-).  Latest from NYT on artificial sweeteners and weight gain:

Now some studies are providing answers. Researchers have found that artificial sweeteners can be useful as a tool to help people kick their sugar habits, and that for some people, replacing sugar with nonnutritive sweeteners can indeed help stave off weight gain. But they can also have effects on hormones, blood sugar and other aspects of metabolism that some experts say are concerning, and they caution against consuming them routinely for long periods of time.

So, that’s cool, some good research that, when used appropriately, they actually do what they are supposed to do and limit weight gain when replacing sugar (at least for some overweight people):

After following the groups for a year, the researchers did not find any overall differences in weight gain or in other markers of metabolic health, such as changes in cholesterol or triglyceride levels. But when they looked specifically at the people who had high levels of abdominal obesity, the results were striking.

People who carried the most fat around their midsections — a major risk factor for metabolic disease — had significantly less weight gain when they switched from sugary drinks to diet beverages or water. Among this group, those who drank diet beverages gained about a pound during the study, while those who switched to water lost roughly half a pound. But the people with high levels of belly fat who continued drinking sugary beverages gained an average of 10 pounds.

“That’s a big effect, it’s significant,” said Dr. David Ludwig, an author of the study and co-director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital…

Randomized clinical trials, which are more reliable, have generally shown that diet sweeteners help prevent weight gain. A clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when children who consumed sugary beverages were assigned to drink artificially sweetened beverages, they had less weight gain and fat accumulation after 18 months than children who continued drinking sugary beverages…

The latest study by Dr. Ludwig and his colleagues is among the most rigorous on the subject to date. Its findings support advice issued by health groups like the American Heart Association, which in 2018 published a science advisory stating that using low-calorie sweetened beverages could be an effective strategy for weight loss, especially for people who are habitual consumers of sugary beverages, which are the largest source of added sugars in the American diet.

So, some pretty decent evidence for the benefits of artificial sweeteners.

Alight then, how about all the ways these “chemicals!” are going to kill you?

But the heart group also cautioned that there was a “dearth of evidence on the potential adverse effects” of the sweeteners. Despite decades of widespread use, it’s still unclear whether consuming them heavily for many years can have unintended adverse health effects. 

Got that?  Decades of widespread use and a “dearth of evidence” they are actually bad for you.  It’s almost like one could conclude, I don’t know… maybe they aren’t bad for you?  Now, I’m actually not going to go that far, but it really does speak to my idea that people really do just want them to be bad for you.  (Also, maybe some actual issues with sucralose?  But I’m all about the aspartame in Diet Coke and Diet Dr Pepper).

If you are happy drinking water… drink water!  If you drink a lot of sugar-sweetened soda you should probably switch to water.  But, you’re almost surely better off drinking diet soda than sugar-sweetened soda and despite all the haters, there’s actually very limited evidence that it’s bad for you.

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