Debate wrap-up for Slovaks

Here’s what I wrote for my audience at Slovakian Pravda…

Honestly, it’s difficult to know just how to convey my response and still be professional.  Some version of “what did I just watch?!”  As a regular debate watcher since 1992 I have truly never seen anything like it.  I had to confirm with a friend that I was not mis-remembering and that this was not the Trump we saw in 2016.  To see the president of the United States resort to near-constant bullying, interrupting, and losing his temper was truly something else.  Not to mention spreading disproven conspiracy theories and literally questioning the integrity of our elections to a national audience.  Of course, it’s not usual, either, to have the opponent call the president a “clown” or “the worst president ever” but that somehow was less memorable than Donald Trump’s truly over-the-top performance.  I did not think Biden was particularly at the top of his game, though, to be fair, it would be hard to be under those circumstances (which may have been Trump’s strategic goal).  For this debate to really “matter” though, it would need to have a meaningful, lasting impact on the current state of the race.  It is truly difficult for me to see any plausible way in which that performance wins more voters over to Trump.  And, since he is undoubtedly trailing Biden right now, a debate that doesn’t really change things is a strategic win for Biden.

And, while I’m here, several of my favorite post-debate tweets:

Free college… for some

There’s a robust debate among liberals around whether various public programs should be universal (presumably, to gain more public buy-in) or targeted (so as not to needlessly waste the expense on wealthier people who don’t need the benefit).  Free college definitely fits into this debate.  And, when you consider how much college is already skewed towards wealthier Americans, you can definitely put me into the latter camp.  Dave Leonhardt highlights some interesting research in his newsletter today:

Free college — an idea that Bernie Sanders helped popularize and Joe Biden has partly adopted — makes two basic promises.
The first is that by making all public colleges free to attend, the policy will eliminate a major cost for many struggling Americans. The second is that more students from lower-income families will graduate from college.
But that second promise is untested. Some experts believe that cost is the central reason so many students fail to complete college. Others think that the weak quality of many colleges and lack of student preparation are bigger factors. If the second group is right, free college will end up being an expensive disappointment, not so different from a complicated tax cut that flows only to families with college-age children.
This week, a team of research economists — Joshua Angrist and David Autor of M.I.T. and Amanda Pallais of Harvard — released a study that offers some of the best early evidence on the issue.
It’s an important topic because college degrees are so valuable. A degree is obviously not a guarantee of success, but graduates earn much morelive longer and are more likely to be happy with their lives than nongraduates. “The returns to college are so large,” Autor told me. Affluent parents, well aware of the benefits, typically insist their children finish college. Many middle-class and poor children never finish.
Several years ago, the three economists and the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation created a randomized clinical trial, like those to evaluate new drugs or vaccines. Some high school students received a generous scholarship — often covering the full cost of college — from the foundation, while others did not. The researchers then tracked the two groups.
The results are fascinatingly nuanced. The scholarship did appear to lift graduation rates: Among students who planned to attend a four-year college, 71 percent of scholarship recipients graduated within six years. Only 63 percent of students who didn’t get a scholarship graduated. The gains were largest among nonwhite students, poor students and students whose parents had not attended college. All of that supports the arguments of free-college advocates.
But not every result did. The scholarship had no evident effect on graduation rates at community colleges. That’s a sign that educational quality is a bigger problem at many two-year colleges than tuition bills.
What’s the bottom line? A nationwide program of free college would be extremely expensive, Angrist said. And many of the benefits would flow to upper-income students likely to finish anyway. But a targeted program, focusing on lower-income students, could have a big impact while also leaving more money available for other priorities, be it health care, climate change — or investing more money in the quality of education at community colleges. [emphasis mine[
For more: Biden has proposed a major increase in federal financial aid for higher education, focused on families making less than $125,000 (or roughly the bottom 75 percent of earners). President Trump has proposed substantial cuts in financial aid along with some funding increases for two-year colleges.


Why do older voters like Biden?

One of the key features of Biden’s electoral strength is how surprisingly well he seems to be doing with older voters.  As I’ve pointed out in many a conversation, this relative strength actually predates Covid (which does, though, seem to have strengthened it).  Robert Griffin takes a look at the Nationscape data to try and explain what’s going on and I think he’s right:

But what explains the trend that predates covid-19, which differs from patterns in recent presidential elections? Is it possible that seniors are simply anti-Trump — and ready for a change, whomever the opposing candidate might be? That doesn’t appear to be the case. Within Nationscape, we also consistently ask respondents how they would vote in a hypothetical race in which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the runner-up in the primaries, was the Democratic nominee. In contrast with Biden’s nine-point lead with seniors, Sanders is essentially tied with Trump.

And while older voters may like seeing one of their own run, this hardly sets Biden — at 77, the oldest major-party nominee in history — apart, given that Sanders and Trump are also in their 70s. The answer to the puzzle might well be Biden’s perceived moderation. Polling suggests that Biden is generally seen as more moderate, relative to Trump, than Clinton was in 2016.

Whatever the reason for Biden’s relative strength among seniors, three things are clear as we near the campaign’s final month: It’s real, it has endured for more than a year, and it could tilt the balance in a few swing states. If a blue wave does crash this year, it may have a significant tinge of gray in it.

I also like that Griffin makes the important (and largely ignored) point that Trump was perceived as the more moderate candidate in 2016.  The young people, the Bernie lovers, etc., may not like this, but the reality is it really does help you win elections.  (Realistically, you also cannot take the fact that Biden is a white male out of this, either).  Biden was far from my favorite candidate among the Democratic field, but he really may be just the right one for the goal of defeating Trump as soundly as possible.

Bad Faith Republicans: NC Board of Elections edition

Oh my, oh my.  It is just so depressing the behavior of so many Republican elites.  Around the country I’ve been impressed by the civic-mindedness and professionalism of many (not all, of course) Republicans whose job it is to administer elections.  That is a sacred trust in a democracy and most persons of all parties take this role very seriously.  Thus, so depressing to see the two Republicans on the NC Board of Elections do the right things they were supposed to, but then, under pressure from bad faith arguments from their leadership, cave-in, resign, and then lie about it.  Ugh.  N&O:

The Republican members of the state elections board who resigned in protest earlier this week gave the public false information, the board’s leader said in an emergency meeting Friday.

He and the other Democrats who remain on the board released documents they claim should prove their version of events.

“Two members of our board resigned their seats, claiming they were misled and did not have all the information,” said Damon Circosta, chair of the N.C. State Board of Elections, adding: “This is not true.”

For example, one of the GOP board members who resigned, Ken Raymond, said he did so because attorneys from the office of Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, had withheld key information from him and the rest of the board.However, one of the formerly confidential documents released Friday shows that that information was actually on the first page of a legal memo Stein’s office sent to board members nearly two weeks ago.

After the elections board waived its attorney-client privilege on those documents Friday to make them public, Stein tweeted that Republican leaders “are lying” about the elections board’s actions “to create mistrust in our elections.” …

In a news conference later Friday, Berger said he thinks if the new rules are approved then there will be no guarantee that the election results will be legitimate.

This is so damn irresponsible.  The changes are there because we are voting in a pandemic.  To suggest this is about cheating or gaming the election is not just wrong, but literally anti-democratic.  This is so not about cheating.  The changes:

Black and Raymond’s resignations came at around 10 p.m. Wednesday, just more than 24 hours after they joined with the Democrats on the board to give unanimous approval to several proposed changes in the rules around voting by mail.

Since then, Democratic politicians have said the changes — which have yet to be formally approved — would address coronavirus concerns and also make it less likely for legitimate voters to have their votes thrown out. But Republicans say the changes could lead to voter fraud.

“It is inviting folks to do things to game an election,” Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham County, said Friday. “And quite frankly if the election’s not close, it probably won’t make that much difference. But the problem is … everybody’s talking about how close the election for president is going to be in North Carolina, the election for various other offices, for legislative seats.”

If a judge approves the lawsuit settlement — which will be up for debate in court Oct. 2 — the new rules would make it easier for voters to fix problems with absentee ballots by signing an affidavit to confirm their identity, instead of having to start over from scratch with a new ballot.

The changes would also extend the number of days after the election that mail-in ballots could arrive and still be counted, and would tweak the rules surrounding the process for people to get a mail-in ballot but then drop it off in person, either at their county elections office or during early voting at a polling place.

There’s also this fun wrinkle:

Both Republican members of the N.C. State Board of Elections voted Tuesday in favor of proposed changes to mail-in voting rules, then resigned in protest of those rules the next day.

Those resignations, of board members Ken Raymond and David Black, came in the wake of several highly critical press releases from the state’s top Republican politicians. A party spokesman confirmed to The News & Observer that they also came after a phone call with the top lawyer for the state Republican Party to convey that the NC GOP was “very unhappy.”

“They called and spoke with our counsel,” said Tim Wigginton, the N.C. Republican Party’s spokesman, referring to Chief Counsel Philip Thomas. “And afterward they put out their resignation letters.”

On Facebook, Black’s wife wrote that his resignation was “not voluntary.”

Deb Black’s Facebook comment read: “The GOP chairman neglected to mention that these resignations were not voluntary. They were told to resign. Sad times when republicans are firing intelligent and trustworthy republicans.”

This one is really personal to me.  The Chair of the State Board of Elections is a good friend of mine going way back and I first met him when he was the director for the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, an organization whose entire mission was to have better, more fair elections (and government).  I’ve known Damon Circosta for 16 years and if he has one passion (okay, he’s actually got lots) it is an electoral system where everybody who wants to vote can do so and that the system is fair.  Among other things, that also means no cheating.  So, the suggestion that he’s trying to make cheating easier to help Democrats is truly offensive.  He’s trying to make it easier for everybody who wants to vote to actually be able to vote (and the two Republicans on the board clearly agreed with that, before wilting under pressure from other NC Republicans).  Sadly, Republicans in NC (and nationwide) have decided to work against that as they believe it helps Democrats.  But, oh-so-sadly, we are now in a place where Republicans will basically argue that just wanting more people to be able to vote is, in and of itself, evidence of cheating.  This is not good for our state.  This is not good for our democracy.  And, damn, do we need the remaining fair-minded Republicans (hello, are you out there?) to say so.

I’m allowed to be a crappy parent; I choose otherwise (and yes, this is about politics)

So, I recently read this excellent Jamelle Bouie on how most everything Republicans are trying to do, they are actually allowed to do under the Constitution.  But, of course, that does not make it good for our democracy.  (This is the idea of democratic forbearance, written about in “How democracies die.”).

A fight over the fate of the Supreme Court is weighty enough, but beneath the surface of this conflict is an even fiercer struggle about what the Constitution means, one taking place in the context of minority rule and incipient democratic failure.

At no point has a majority ever voted for long-term conservative control of the Supreme Court. The president, and the Republican Senate, represent an electoral minority. Their power rests on a constitutional structure that weights the interests of their voters over those of their opponents’ voters. It is very possible that next year Trump and the Republican Party will hold power in Washington again, despite losing the popular vote by millions. This, it’s true, is procedurally meaningless. But Americans tabulate the national popular vote — and have for nearly 200 years — because victory on that front confers legitimacy and defeat signals weakness and grounds for political contestation.

Many democratic political systems allow for minority-led governments, although they often force parties to build majority coalitions to achieve them. That’s because minority government becomes an unacceptably bitter pill when the winning party rejects compromise and consensus in favor of factionalism and unilateral action. The problem comes when a political system allows for minority winners but doesn’t require coalition government. Stability is possible, but it depends on forbearance and good faith from all sides. You can play political and constitutional hardball, but it might bring conflict out into the open that you can’t ultimately control, and it will raise questions about your mandate to govern.

Trump, McConnell and the Republican Party have embraced a kind of political total war. Democrats and their liberal allies say this violates the democratic principles against which we judge the fairness of our institutions. In response, Republicans say the Constitution is what counts. Whether or not an action violates some abstract principle, if it’s in the rules, it’s in the rules.

The argument, in other words, is over the nature of American democracy. Is it expressed solely in the Constitution, so that a constitutional action is inherently democratic? Or is the Constitution only a tool for realizing the principles of American democracy as they develop over time? If it’s the second, then an action can be both constitutional and undemocratic, which ought to take it off the table as a legitimate move in political combat…

Constitutional government depends on good faith adherence to the spirit as well as the letter of the law. Discard the former, and there’s nothing in the latter to keep a democracy (or if you prefer, a republic) from falling into unenlightened despotism.

Great stuff.  The idea that just because something is permitted within the Constitution means that it is okay to do it is not what we want to live by as a democracy.  Maybe not the greatest analogy, but I’ve been reading a terrific book about therapy (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone) so it’s really had me thinking about parental relationships and how so many people are screwed up by bad parenting.  It’s totally legal.  The vast majority of bad parents do not have their kids taken away.  You are allowed to belittle your kids.  Ignore them.  Deprive them of praise and unconditional love.  As long as you feed them, send them to school, and keep them reasonably safe, you get to keep being their legal parent.  But treating your kids poorly is horrible for them.  And ultimately, it’s bad for you and the whole family, of course.  Well, then, Mitch McConnell is basically a dad who sticks his kid in front of the television every day and ignores the child’s requests for interaction so that, he can go watch porn.  Yeah, that’s legal.  But, so, so not good.  And that’s where we are as a democracy.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Seth Masket on how the presidential race is unlikely to, but could, change.  We’ll be hearing a lot about the SC this week, so:

The Supreme Court Nomination

A final matter which could affect the race is last week’s passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’ll be at least a few more days before we know if this had an effect on the race. This does have the potential to change this contest, although in which direction is difficult to say.

Each of Trump’s Court nominations so far have been highly dramatic and norm-shattering events. This one promises to be no different. Traditionally, Supreme Court nominations have been considered better drivers of Republican voter turnout than Democratic voter turnout – this was part of the reason Republicans in the Senate held open the Supreme Court seat in 2016 – but that’s not obviously true today. The Kavanaugh confirmation fight was likely a net benefit to Democratic turnout efforts in 2018. Also, Ginsburg was a popular icon on the political left, and her replacement by a conservative justice puts a lot of longstanding Democratic accomplishments, including legal abortion and the Affordable Care Act, in jeopardy.

What this nomination fight does have the power to do is shift the focus of the election away from the coronavirus, on which Trump is very unpopular, to an area where he is somewhat more competitive. If the presidential election is very close and contested and ends up in court, as the 2000 presidential election did, Trump would be on better legal footing with his third nominee on the Supreme Court, giving conservatives a 6-3 majority there. Of course, it will be difficult to steer voters’ attention away from the virus that has affected so many of their lives in very direct and personal ways, but this nomination will surely capture a great deal of attention, and will be at the fore of many voters’ minds.

In sum, I think we’re looking at a bunch of game-samers, to borrow Lynn Vavreck’s term. Combine that with the effect that people are already voting, and it really blunts the idea that the overall state of the race is going to be altered.

2) Even though my Civil War history professor was an older Southern gentleman, he got it right on what he taught us with the latest scholarship and not the Lost Cause.  But, somehow, I had not realized just how wrong Ken Burns‘ Civil War (which I did not watch until 1995) got things.

3) I’ve read a lot, of course, on efforts to develop rapid antigen-based diagnostic Covid tests.  I didn’t even know that a home-based PCR could be a thing.  It’s not yet, but one may may get us there.

4) Given that I’m in a profession where we would desperately like to hire more Black PhD’s to teach political science, but there just aren’t nearly enough of them, I sympathize with the sentiments for which the Wells Fargo CEO had to apologize:

Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf apologized Wednesday for a remark he made in June about the talent pool of senior Black banking executives that set off a wave of criticism when the quote resurfaced Tuesday…

In the second bullet of the third line-item of the memo, Scharf made a remark about the issues he said the bank had seen in hiring Black leaders to the bank’s operating committee, a group of senior leaders that steer the bank’s direction.

While he wanted more diversity on this committee, Scharf said “while it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of Black talent to recruit from with this specific experience as our industry does not have enough diversity in most senior roles.”

“I apologize for making an insensitive comment reflecting my own unconscious bias,” Scharf said, more than three months after he sent the first memo.

An inartful choice of words, but I don’t doubt that there’s not a lot of Black people with a lot of experience in banking.  The reasons that there’s not?  All sorts of systemic racism which we should work on.  But, that doesn’t change the fact that there really probably are not a lot of Black people with the experience that it takes to get on a bank’s operating committee.  As someone in an area with a definite pipeline problem, I’m really not a fan of those who would pretend the pipeline problem does not exist.  The key is to actually address all the reasons there’s a shortage in the pipeline (and really, we should!), rather than castigate those for admitting it exists.

5) And as long as I’m on race, Conor Friedersdorf on Princeton labeling itself as racist and the federal government taking them up on it:

The president of Princeton is in a pickle. This summer, Christopher L. Eisgruber received a letter from more than 300 faculty members at the university asserting “indifference to the effects of racism on this campus.” They called on him “to openly and publicly acknowledge the way that anti-Black racism, and racism of any stripe, continue to thrive” there and “to block the mechanisms that have allowed systemic racism to work, visibly and invisibly, in Princeton’s operations.”

Princeton graduate students made similar claims. At the architecture school, an open letter asserted the existence of “ongoing anti-Black racism” and “white supremacy.” At the public-affairs school, a different open letter said, “The presence of an overwhelmingly white faculty creates an environment where instances of racism within the classroom often go unaddressed.”

In response, President Eisgruber directed university leaders to spend the summer compiling reports on how to identify and combat “systemic racism.” And he declared in early September that while the institution long ago committed to being more inclusive, “racism and the damage it does to people of color nevertheless persist at Princeton as in our society, sometimes by conscious intention but more often through unexamined assumptions and stereotypes, ignorance or insensitivity, and the systemic legacy of past decisions and policies.”

Those words arguably met the faculty letter’s demand to publicly acknowledge anti-Black racism at Princeton. But the same language was then cited by the Trump administration as justification for a Department of Education probe into whether the university has violated federal law.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 declares that at institutions that receive federal funds, no person shall be subject to discrimination or denied the benefits of any activity on the basis of race.Princeton administrators have long affirmed that their institution is complying with those requirements. Given Eisgruber’s claims that racism persists at Princeton, that racist assumptions are embedded in its structures, and that systemic racism there damages the lives of Black people, the Department of Education says it wants to know if the university has been lying.

The government’s letter concludes with intrusive demands to interview Princeton employees under oath and generate sensitive documents, including a list of each Princetonian who has been discriminated against on the basis of race since 2015, as well as records related to Eisgruber’s claims about “systemic” or “embedded” racism.

The investigation is absurd. Princeton is highly sought after by Black applicants. In admissions it uses the race of minority applicants, who are admitted at higher rates, as a “plus” to achieve greater diversity in a way that very likely benefits Black applicants. It spends lavishly on “inclusion” efforts, holds events to celebrate (and name a building after) Black alumni, and dedicates resources to recruiting and hiring Black faculty and staff. No reasonable person deciding where federal officials should look for anti-Black civil-rights violations would probe the Ivy League University. But trolls waging a culture war against critical race theory might.

As far as I can tell, the strategy is to force Princeton to either admit to serious anti-Black discrimination, risking devastating financial penalties, or else mount an affirmative case that the institution is not guilty of “systemic” anti-Black discrimination, exposing the racism claims of many administrators, faculty, and students as hyperbole. In its absurdity, then, the probe exposes the performative nature of some anti-racist rhetoric at Princeton and other elite universities…

Academic stakeholders ought to eschew strategic hyperbole when doing the important work of diagnosing and remedying problems related to racial inequality on their campuses. If they keep inflating their claims, the term racism will lose whatever power it has to grab a community’s attention and prompt urgent remedies, even in the instances when racism is in fact operating.

I object to the entire witch hunt of an investigation, which Republicans would recognize as a flagrant abuse of federal power were it aimed at Liberty University. No reasonable person could conclude that an onerous probe of Princeton for anti-Black racism is the best use, or even a good use, of scarce resources to safeguard civil rights. The decision to grapple with racism should not trigger a federal investigation, whether or not that grappling is totally honest.

The Trump administration’s action has drawn wider attention to real rhetorical excesses. But if it doesn’t really believe that civil rights are being violated, then it is violating the First Amendment by misusing investigative power to punish speech. A president who weaponizes the administrative state against private institutions because he dislikes their public profile is a danger to the country.

6) And since I believe in reading/sharing those things which challenge what I’ve written, here’s, “I’m a former prosecutor. The charge in Breonna Taylor’s death is pathetically weak.”  He makes a good case that the cops actually should be charged with at least manslaughter.  I’m unsure, but open to that.  I would still argue, though, that this is overwhelmingly a failure far beyond the actions of the cops that actually served the warrant.

7) Noah Feldman has rightly been pilloried for his embrace of Amy Coney Barrett (especially as he completely elides the larger context of her appointment).  But I had to highlight the textualism of her legal approach that he describes:

Barrett, a textualist who was working for a textualist, Justice Antonin Scalia, had the ability to bring logic and order to disorder and complexity. You can’t be a good textualist without that, since textualism insists that the law can be understood without reference to legislative history or the aims and context of the statute.

That’s facially nonsense!!  But, this is what so many conservatives hang their intellectual hats on.  I’ve got a lot of mantras in my approach to life, but one is, “context, damnit!”  And, at it’s core an approach to understanding that intentionally ignores context strikes me as intellectually bankrupt.  Especially when it somehow almost always seems to result in decisions that favor modern conservatism.

8) DJC sent me this interview with Yglesias on his new book.  Little did he know, One Billion Americans is already sitting on my shelf (to be read after I finish the novel I’m on).

9) And SMOTUS again on the Republican Party and minority rule:

Before the end of the year, Amy Coney Barett will probably be sworn in as a Supreme Court justice — and she may serve for decades. She will have been appointed by an impeached president who lost the popular vote in 2016 and may well continue in office after losing it again in 2020. She will almost certainly be approved by senators representing less than 45 percent of the American population.

Our nation is moving even deeper into minority rule: The House aside, the U.S. government is controlled by the less popular party in a polarized two-party system. We may call this unfair, but that would trivialize the problem. It is entirely permissible under the Constitution, and it is dangerous. When the majority of a nation’s citizens can’t get its candidates elected or its preferred policies passed, the government’s legitimacy is compromised and destabilizing pressure begins to build.

The tendency toward minority rule in the United States, present since the founding, has become more acute. That’s certainly true in the Senate: California has 68 times as many residents that Wyoming has, but the same number of senators. The disparity in population size between the biggest and smallest states is far greater than anything the founders knew.

Residents of rural, sparsely populated states are vastly overrepresented in the Senate. And because the electoral college is based on the number of federal representatives, this rural-state overrepresentation plays out in the selection of presidents, as well. Former vice president Joe Biden could well win the popular vote by three or four percentage points, or even more, this fall and still not be elected.

The House, the most democratic institution in the three branches of government, has no role in selecting Supreme Court justices. That’s the purview of the president and the Senate, which means that the composition of the high court has a minoritarian, rural-state bias built into it as well. (According to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll, only 38 percent of Americans say the replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be nominated by Trump and confirmed by the current Senate; 57 percent say the nomination should be left to the winner of the presidential election, and put to a Senate vote next year.) Should a Trump nominee be confirmed, the Supreme Court will consist of six justices appointed by Republicans, even though the party has won the popular presidential vote only once in the past seven elections (George W. Bush, in 2004).

On its own, a rural state bias in representation is potentially problematic but not invidious. Plenty of issues in rural states should receive national attention, of course. But the problems mount when one party dominates the rural areas and the other dominates the urban ones, which is where we stand today. Republicans essentially get bonus points: They can be the less popular party and still get to govern.

10) I was trying to explain about the Reichstag fire and parallels to today to my oldest son.  He should just read this from Dana Milbank, “This is not a drill. The Reichstag is burning.”

11) I love science.  “Nothing Eats Viruses, Right? Meet Some Hungry Protists

On the dinner plate that is planet Earth, there exists a veritable buffet of viruses — an amount of biomass that is the equivalent of about 25 billion human beings.

So perhaps it’s a bit baffling that scientists have yet to pinpoint a species that deliberately eats viruses for energy.

But mounting evidence suggests that at least one group of organisms might nosh on nutrient-rich viruses: protists, microscopic and often single-celled organisms that scientists have struggled to place on the tree of life. Like viruses, protists seethe in seawater by the billions and trillions — and some might slurp up marine viruses, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

If the findings pan out, they could help flip a centuries-old dogma on its head: Rather than acting only as disease-causing agents of chaos and snuffing out life, viruses might in some cases play a role in fueling and sustaining it.

“They are kind of eating everything,” Dr. Anderson said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if viruses were being consumed.”

A team led by Ramunas Stepanauskas, a microbial ecologist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine, started the project more than a decade ago. They initially intended to study the prey preferences of marine protists, many of which chow down on bacteria.

12) Oh, I wish I had known about this little brain test when my kids were under 7.  Try it with yours!

13) Some interesting social science on Covid response:

Context: Social distancing is an essential but economically painful measure to flatten the curve of emergent infectious diseases. As the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spread throughout the United States in early 2020, the federal government left to the states the difficult and consequential decisions about when to cancel events, close schools and businesses, and issue stay-at-home orders.

Methods: We present an original, detailed dataset of state-level social distancing policy responses to the epidemic, then apply event history analysis to study the timing of implementation of five social distancing policies across all fifty states.

Results: The most important predictor of when states adopted social distancing policies is political: All else equal, states led by Republican governors were slower to implement such policies during a critical window of early COVID-19 response.

Conclusions: Continuing actions driven by partisanship, rather than public health expertise and scientific recommendations, may exact greater tolls on health and broader society.

14) I love this post from a scientist who came around to understanding the role of aerosols and the role of the “aerosols = measles” fallacy.  Because I fell for that fallacy because I’m actually a political scientist and didn’t know any better.  But I soon learned from Linsey Marr and others.  What’s amazing is how long it has taken so many others who should know better to come around on this.

15) Of course Biden and Democrats winning the election would be better for the economy.  Don’t take it from me, take it from Moody’s (via Drum)

In every possible category, a Democratic sweep is better for the country than any other scenario. Moody’s even projects that Democrats would be better for the budget deficit than Republicans.

You can read the full report here, but it’s pretty easy to summarize. If Democrats win, they’ll spend money to stimulate the economy out of its COVID-19 funk and this will help everybody. The spending will largely be financed by taxing the rich, which has only a small negative effect on the economy. But if Republicans win, they’ll keep the purse strings closed and instead pursue yet more tax cuts for the rich and trade wars with China. Neither one is especially good for the economy. It’s so simple.

16) OMG this demographic swingometer is fun to play with.  Just try it.

17) Donald Ayer worked with Bill Barr under GHWB.  He tells us that Bill Barr is an unhinged fanatic .

The crucial point for Barr is his claim that the thinking of the Founders, and therefore “the American government” they created, “was predicated precisely on this Judeo-Christian system” of values handed down by God. According to Barr, “the greatest threat to free government, the Founders believed, was not governmental tyranny, but personal licentiousness—the abandonment of Judeo-Christian moral restraints in favor of the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites.”

To put it in polite terms, this is a complete misreading of the Founders’ views. Barr largely ignores many of the most central elements of the American founding—especially those concerning freedom of thought and speech, and the individual pursuit of happiness. Nor does he see as significant the fact that the members of the founding generation, although mostly self-described Christians, had also been greatly influenced by the secular and rationalist outlook of the Enlightenment, and rejected most of the supernatural elements of literal Christian doctrine.

18) I’ve been watching The Simpsons (mostly) from the beginning with my kids the past month.  I love how much they love it.  I love how much I remember (“wow, little meatloaf men!” from episodes that it’s been nearly 30 years since I’ve seen.  The writing by season 3 (which we are know on) is just consistently brilliant and holds up terrifically nearly three decades later.  The kids were real skeptics at the beginning due to the animation, but, damn if this isn’t proof of the power of great writing.

A polling case for optimism

While sharing thoughts on his birthday on FB yesterday, Tom Jensen, director of PPP polling had some very encouraging news on the state of the polls and the election as compared to 2016:

Around this time four years ago I started to get nervous about the Presidential race not because of any statewide polls we were doing but because of state legislative polls we were doing in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania where we were finding Hillary running far behind where Obama had in the same districts. But I kind of rationalized to myself that it was ok because it must just be other districts that weren’t the ones we happened to be getting hired to poll where Hillary was doing better than Obama had and those must even things out. Well that was not the case!
This year we are doing legislative work in almost the key Presidential states- I think we have done 66 legislative polls in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania over the last three weeks. It is remarkable across all those districts how consistently Biden is doing 6-8 points better than Hillary did in 2016. And that holds true in different kinds of districts too.
Some of these are highly educated suburban districts that voted for Romney by 20 in 2012, then went all the way to voting for Trump by just 4 in 2016. Biden’s now winning those places by 4 or 5, and that suburban shift is something we hear about a lot.
There’s also a shift we are seeing pretty consistently that you don’t hear that much about. Places that maybe voted for Obama by 10 in 2012 then shifted dramatically to voting for Trump by 20 in 2016, places with electorates that are less well educated, more rural, etc. Biden isn’t winning those kinds of places- but he’s losing by 10 points instead of 20. And getting medium blown out instead of totally blown out in the rural areas goes a long way toward winning back the Michigans and Pennsylvanias and maybe even the Ohios of the world.
So four years ago all the battleground legislative polling was really giving me some pause about what was going on. This time almost every single one of those polls is reinforcing to me the feeling that the state of the Presidential race is fine. If it’s a fair fight we will win, that of course brings up another whole set of issues that is well beyond my pay grade, just vote as early and as safely as you can while making sure your ballot gets accepted and hopefully all that won’t come into play.
Is it possible that PPP polls are wrong and Biden won’t actually do this well?  Absolutely.  But given what the polls are finding in state legislative districts relative to 2016 suggests that things really are different.

Quick hits (part I)

1) David Quammen is one of my favorite non-fiction authors (Song of the Dodo is one of my favorite non-fiction books ever) and he’s an expert on zoonotic diseases that spillover from animal to human populations.  Love this take, “The Pandemic, From the Virus’s Point of View: The career of the coronavirus so far is, in Darwinian terms, a great success story.”

Viruses have no malice against us. They have no purposes, no schemes. They follow the same simple Darwinian imperatives as do rats or any other creature driven by a genome: to extend themselves as much as possible in abundance, in geographical space and in time. Their primal instinct is to do just what God commanded to his newly created humans in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.”

For an obscure virus, abiding within its reservoir host — a bat or a monkey in some remote region of Asia or Africa, or maybe a mouse in the American Southwest — spilling over into humans offers the opportunity to comply. Not every successful virus will “subdue” the planet, but some go a fair way toward subduing at least humans.

This is how the AIDS pandemic happened. A chimpanzee virus now known as SIVcpz passed from a single chimp into a single human, possibly by blood contact during mortal combat, and took hold in the human. Molecular evidence developed by two teams of scientists, one led by Dr. Beatrice H. Hahn, the other by Michael Worobey, tells us that this most likely happened more than a century ago, in the southeastern corner of Cameroon, in Central Africa, and that the virus took decades to attain proficiency at human-to-human transmission…

SARS-CoV-2 has done likewise, though its success has occurred much more quickly. It has now infected more than 30 million people, just under half as many as the number of people infected by H.I.V., and in 10 months rather than 10 decades. It’s not the most successful human-infecting virus on the planet — that distinction lies elsewhere, possibly with the Epstein-Barr virus, a very transmissible species of herpesvirus, which may reside within at least 90 percent of all humans, causing syndromes in some and lying latent in most. But SARS-CoV-2 is off to a roaring start…

Coronaviruses are an exceptionally dangerous group. The journal Cell recently published a paper on pandemic diseases and how Covid-19 has come upon us, by a scientist named Dr. David M. Morens and one co-author. Dr. Morens, a prolific author and keen commentator, serves as senior scientific adviser to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. His co-author on this paper is Dr. Fauci.

2) This is interesting, “Colds Nearly Vanished Under Lockdown. Now They’re Coming Back”

A question, however, is why the cold viruses appear to be spreading so quickly abroad now in spite of continued mask-wearing and social distancing. Europeans and Australians may be enjoying more of the finer things in life than Americans, but they’re still battling the same pandemic. The differing structures of the virus may play a role. The virus that causes Covid-19 is what’s called an “enveloped” virus, a ball of protein surrounded by a lipid layer. That fatty external structure is easier to destroy with soap and water, and it’s less likely to remain infectious for long on exposed surfaces. That’s one reason health officials now place more emphasis on masks and distancing to help prevent aerosol and droplet spread of SARS-CoV-2, and less on disinfecting grocery bags and doorknobs. Rhinoviruses, however, don’t have that envelope, and are thought to be hardier. “Kids will drag their hands through everything and be festy little carriers of the virus,” Mackay says.

Sebastian Johnston, a leading expert on rhinoviruses at Imperial College London, says that while that’s likely the case, he believes aerosols and droplets are probably still the main route for rhinoviruses to get around—same as SARS-CoV-2. That means masks and distancing help curb those viruses too. But the difficulty of getting kids to uniformly abide by those rules, plus children’s susceptibility to passing colds to each other, plus the viability of surfaces as an alternative route of transmission, are all likely coming together to fuel the current outbreaks. Kids are getting these viruses, somehow—just like any other school year—and then bringing them home with them.

3) Damn it’s tough out there for Hollywood these days.  The case of “Mulan.”

The simple fact is that no major studio has been nimble enough to get around the pandemic’s biggest obstacles. This is partly due to Hollywood’s increasing reliance on blockbusters. In decades past, Hollywood churned out plenty of cheaper movies that relied on word of mouth and could play for months on end, slowly racking up profits. But modern tentpole releases such as Mulan and Tenet are designed to have spectacular global rollouts, packing theaters and securing massive opening-weekend grosses. Think hundreds of millions of dollars rather than merely tens of millions.

4) Nice to see an article make a point I’ve been thinking for a long time, “If You Can Grocery Shop in Person, You Can Vote in Person: Experts now say the health risk of casting an in-person ballot is relatively low. Will Democrats tell their voters that?”

5) Chait with an excellent piece on Trump and authoritarianism:

There is an important difference between these maneuvers and what Putin accomplished: Trump’s strong-arm plays have failed more than they have succeeded. Bezos has refused to sell off or crack down on the Post, the Trump cards did not materialize, and the $5 billion patriotic education fund seems unlikely. But his poor record of success should provide only modest comfort. Trump’s approval ratings have hovered in the low 40s throughout his entire term, and his corporate counterparties have operated under the assumption that he is likely to leave after a single term. Their cold business incentive leans toward resisting his pressure and not implicating themselves in a widely detested criminal regime that is likely to leave in disgrace.

But if Trump wins a second term, those incentives will change. Maybe Big Pharma will go along with the Trump cards, and have less fear of what retribution a Democratic administration would enact. Maybe Jeff Bezos will conclude that financing the Post does not justify the tens of billions of dollars in lost federal contracts. And perhaps all the other business tycoons will come to see that the Deripaska bargain — accepting Trump’s protection in return for allowing him to exploit whatever political leverage he can gain from their market power — is now the smart move. When you’re a tsar, they let you do it.

6) Sadly, this sounds about right to me “Geoengineering Is the Only Solution to Our Climate Calamities.”  On the bright side, this article makes the case for actually being able to pull it off.

7) Great column from EJ Dionne, “The Supreme Court struggle is about democracy”

The battle over the Supreme Court seat opened by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not about “partisanship,” or even Republican hypocrisy, although the GOP has displayed bad faith in abundance. It is, finally, a struggle over whether our constitutional republic will also be democratic.

Allowing President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to complete a judicial coup and install a 6-to-3 conservative majority will be, in both form and substance, a triumph for anti-democratic forces and anti-democratic thinking.

This is why we must reject the fake moderation of those who pretend that both sides in this fight are equally partisan, equally stubborn and equally at fault. No. It’s the American Right that has been willing to abuse power again and again to achieve its goal of imposing a radical approach to jurisprudence that would undercut democracy itself.

There is no liberal analogue to the Shelby County and Citizens United decisions, which changed the rules of the game in anti-democratic ways; no liberal analogue to the Merrick Garland blockade; and no liberal analogue to the lawlessness of Bush v. Gore.

So let’s understand how the words “court-packing” should be used. The real court-packers are McConnell, Trump and conservatives who draw inspiration from what some of them call a “Constitution in exile.”

They are expressing nostalgia for the glory days of pre-New Deal judging that gave us separate-but-equal rulings on civil rights and eviscerated the ability of the democratically elected branches of government to protect workers, consumers and the environment.

If the court-packers succeed in forcing another conservative onto the court regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election, enlarging the court would be a democratic necessity, not payback.

8) A Republican-led Senate committee came out with a damning report on Trump and Russia and nobody even cared.9) And one of Mueller’s deputies has a book out about how they screwed up.  George Packer summarizes:

By abdicating the role of prosecutor, Mueller cleared the way for Barr to take it on himself. Mueller and Barr were old friends. Several weeks before submitting the report, Weissmann writes, Mueller informed Barr of his intent to omit any legal recommendation. Barr didn’t object. Without telling Mueller, he saw a chance to disfigure the report into an exoneration of the president and thereby make its damning truths disappear. “Barr,” Weissmann writes, “had betrayed both friend and country.”

And Mueller? He was incapable of navigating the world remade by Trump. He conducted himself with scrupulous integrity and allowed his team to be intimidated by people who had no scruples at all. His deep aversion to publicity silenced him when the public badly needed clarity about the special counsel’s dense, ambiguous, at times unreadable report. His sense of fairness surrendered the facts of presidential criminality to an administration that was at war with facts. He trusted his friend Barr to play it straight, not realizing that Barr had gone crooked. He left the job of holding the president accountable to a Congress that had shown itself to be Trump’s willing accomplice. He wanted, above all, to warn the American people about foreign subversion of our democracy, while the greater subversion gathered force here at home.

In our interview, I asked Weissmann if Mueller had let the American people down. “Absolutely, yep,” Weissmann said, before quickly adding: “I wouldn’t phrase it as just Mueller. I would say ‘the office.’ There are a lot of things we did well, and a lot of things we could have done better, to be diplomatic about it.”

And the investigation—was it a historic missed opportunity?

Weissmann’s reply was terse. “That’s fair.”

With the end of the Special Counsel’s Office, the one real check on Trump’s unfettered power was gone, until the next election. Now it’s upon us, and the president remains free to repeat what worked for him in the last one.

10) Good question, “Why Are 2 Million People Still Getting Netflix DVDs by Mail?”  I cannot speak for others, but as for me, as soon as Amazon and others let me do a digital rental for more than 24-48 hours, I’ll drop my DVD rentals.  The whole reason Netflix trounced Blockbuster in the first place was the late fees.

11) So, this, “The United States is backsliding into autocracy under Trump, scholars warn.”  And this relevant tweet.

12) This was some interesting social science I just stumbled across:

In this paper I expand on the current literature regarding how women are perceived by surname choice with a vignette experiment conducted in a diverse sample (N = 1243) of the U.S. and ordered logistic regression to evaluate (1) how committed respondents think a woman is as a wife by her last name choice and (2) whether a woman’s last name choice causes individuals to hold her to different standards (a backlash effect). I describe the woman’s behavior in marriage in order to see if surname choice matters beyond information on how the woman is “performing.” In addition, I examine whether name change varies depending on the educational attainment and gender of the evaluator. While overall, last name choice appears to have little impact on how women are viewed among women and highly educated men, I find that men of low education view women who retain their surnames in marriage as less committed wives. These men also think women who retain their surnames should be held to higher standards than women with their husbands’ last names. My results follow scholarship that finds that men of lower education are more protective of overt instances of the gender hierarchy, of which surname practices are an important example.

13) I’m fascinated by how Rachel Bitecofer has gone from a nobody at a largely-unknown university to a political scientist on twitter with over a hundred thousand followers and regular spots on MSNBC.  But, damn, did she sure blow it with her election prediction model.

14) Jill Lepore on “The Last Time Democracy Almost Died” (the 1930’s).

15) And this Ezra Klein piece is terrific.  If you click through and read but a single quick hit, make it this one.  “When did good governance become an “armageddon option”? The price for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat can’t be democracy itself.”

16) Ryan Burge, “What Turned the Tide on Gay Marriage?”

If I were to describe how the shift happened on same sex marriage it would be gradually among some, but also all at once among others. It’s clearly an issue that evolved in an entirely different way from other issues as captured in survey data. Why? Well, I’m partial to the contact hypothesis. Succinctly stated, those who have positive contact with members of a minority group feel more warmly toward that group. In this case, as it has become more socially acceptable to be LGBT and more people felt comfortable to come out, which means that lots of Americans suddenly found themselves with a relative or close friend who was personally impacted by prohibitions against same sex marriage. It became a personal issue for many, and when that happened, opinions began to shift.

I think it’s fair to say that the culture war surrounding gay marriage is essentially over. Consider Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. When it became national news, very few rose up in her defense. Even Republicans running in the presidential primary refused to support her. Donald Trump said, “the decision’s been made, and that’s the law of the land.” She also found no support among Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, or Lindsey Graham. She served five days in jail for contempt (Mike Huckabee offered to go in her place) and then was defeated in the county clerk’s election in 2018. Since her electoral defeat, she’s almost completely retreated from public life, along with the issue that gave her fifteen minutes of fame.

It’s fair to say that we may never see another issue move so quickly, across so many parts of American society, as same sex marriage. A centerpiece of the culture war now seems like a fight from a bygone era. And, while support began to emerge among the young, it quickly spread to even the oldest American Christians. If people believe that the population of the United States is loathe to change its mind, this is the clearest counterfactual that exists.

17) Have I mentioned that the CDC finally admitted airborne transmission is happening.  But then pulled the guidance!  It is literally almost incomprehensible how much Donald Trump is screwing up the pandemic response.

18) This is cool, “Crows possess higher intelligence long thought a primarily human attribute”

19) This is sure true, “Breonna Taylor Is Another Victim of the War on Drugs”

The Drug War killed Breonna Taylor. Former Detective Brett Hankinson, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, and Detective Myles Cosgrove may have pulled the trigger, but they carried out this raid because of our misguided, ineffective, and racist drug laws. Since President Nixon first declared a “War on Drugs” in 1971, Black Americans have been arrested, jailed, and killed for frequently minor or nonviolent drug offenses. No‐​knock raids, in which police are authorized to enter a property without notifying the residents, have become a favorite tool of law enforcement, with tens of thousands executed each year…

Regardless, the warrant was executed in the early hours of the morning as Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend slept; reacting defensively to heavily armed intruders breaking down doors in the middle of the night is a reasonable response. Using violent shock and awe tactics on people suspected of nonviolent offenses is not.

What many of these violent raids have in common is that they target low‐​level drug offenders. Dozens of raids have ended in injury or death since 2010. The aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws may be as dangerous as the drug itself.

Ending the War on Drugs will not eliminate police misuse of deadly force, but it will limit the ability of law enforcement agencies to use the pretext of “public safety” to commit violence. The Drug War must end; it has already claimed too many victims.

20) It really is amazing the medical applications of dogs’ astonishing sense of smell.  How cool is this?” Helsinki airport uses sniffer dogs to detect Covid
Researchers running Helsinki pilot scheme say dogs can identify virus in seconds”

21) Krugman on Trump’s Stalinist approach to science:

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about Trofim Lysenko.

Who? Lysenko was a Soviet agronomist who decided that modern genetics was all wrong, indeed contrary to Marxist-Leninist principles. He even denied that genes existed, while insisting that long-discredited views about evolution were actually right. Real scientists marveled at his ignorance.

But Joseph Stalin liked him, so Lysenko’s views became official doctrine, and scientists who refused to endorse them were sent to labor camps or executed. Lysenkoism became the basis for much of the Soviet Union’s agricultural policy, eventually contributing to the disastrous famines of the 1930s.

Does all of this sound a bit familiar given recent events in America?

Those worried about a crisis of democracy in the United States — which means everyone paying attention — usually compare Donald Trump to strongmen like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not Stalin. Indeed, if the G.O.P. has become an extremist, anti-democratic party — and it has — it’s an extremism of the right.

 But while nobody would accuse Trump of being a leftist, his political style always reminds me of Stalinism. Like Stalin, he sees vast, implausible conspiracies everywhere — anarchists somehow in control of major cities, radical leftists somehow controlling Joe Biden, secret anti-Trump cabals throughout the federal government. It’s also notable that those who work for Trump, like Stalinist officials, consistently end up being cast out and vilified — although not sent to gulags, at least not yet.

And Trumpism, like Stalinism, seems to inspire special disdain for expertise and a fondness for quacks…

Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance to the effect that people exposed to the coronavirus but not having Covid-19 symptoms didn’t need to get tested — contrary to the recommendations of just about every independent epidemiologist. Subsequent reporting revealed that the new guidance was prepared by political appointees and skipped the scientific review process.

More recently, the C.D.C. warned about airborne transmission of the coronavirus — this time matching what experts are saying — only to suddenly pull the guidance from its website a few days later. We don’t know exactly what happened, but it’s hard not to notice that the retracted guidance would have made it clear that recent Trump rallies, which involve large indoor crowds with few people wearing masks, create major public health risks.

I had heard of Lysenkoism, but didn’t really know much about it.  I think this is going into my regular vocabulary when discussing Trump and Covid.

22) I mean, seriously, what does it say about a political party where it seen as a good thing to compare your ideology to Attila the Hun?  Seriously?  Pesca was great on this.  Really worth a listen.  Also, Alexandra Petri:

“She’s more conservative than Attila the Hun.”

— Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s (R-Ga.) own commercial

It has been clear for a while that the Republican Party of President Trump has tossed aside such conservatives as Edmund Burke (too constraining) and Ronald Reagan (too Hollywood) as the icons in whose image they wanted to mold themselves. But you must forgive me for not realizing that they already had a new icon in mind: Attila the Hun.

I suppose the selection of Attila as a new conservative lodestar gave me pause, because I thought conservatism had something to do with conserving and less to do with hearing the lamentations of your enemies mount while you pillaged and brutalized whatever you could lay hands on in a storm of fire and blood. I will not make that mistake again.

How to characterize Attila the Hun’s conservatism?

Old conservatism was about preserving things. New conservatism is about laying waste to them with fire and horse. Old conservatism thought you ought to protect the old and tried from the new and untried. New conservatism is about extorting enormous gold tributes from your geopolitical rivals lest you devastate even more of their languishing cities. Old conservatism fought for institutions. New conservatism is about ensuring travelers to your lands camp far away from the river because the field near the bank is too full of human bones. A powerful role model!

23) This was pretty interesting and disturbing how a QAnon-connected person tried to infiltrate (unsuccessfully, in the end) liberal groups in NC.

Reigning in judicial supremacy

Let’s just make this quote extensively from super-smart newsletters day.  Here’s David Leonhardt on judicial supremacy:

The idea of an all-powerful Supreme Court — a court where justices with lifetime tenure have ultimate authority to resolve society’s toughest questions — has come to seem normal in today’s United States.
It’s not normal anywhere else. In no other democracy do judges serve for as long as they like. In most other democracies, the highest courts are less aggressive about striking down entire laws, as Jamal Greene of Columbia Law School told me. The courts instead tend to direct legislators to fix specific parts of a law.
An all-powerful Supreme Court has also not been constant in American history, largely because the Constitution does not establish it. The balance of power between the judiciary and the other branches of government has oscillated. The past two decades, when the court has intervened to decide an election, legalize same-sex marriage and throw out multiple laws, represent a high point for what scholars call “judicial supremacy.”
All of which suggests that the future of the Supreme Court does not depend only on who the justices are. It also depends on whether future presidents and Congresses choose to accept judicial supremacy.
The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has moved that question to the center of American politics.
The Constitution certainly gives Congress and the president ways to reclaim authority. Jamelle Bouie, a Times Opinion columnist, has explained how Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln both fought their political opponents’ attempts to lock in power through the courts.
“If the policy of the Government upon the vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by the decisions of the Supreme Court,” Lincoln said in his first inaugural address, “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.”
In recent years, conservatives were often the ones criticizing judicial supremacy, especially after Roe v. Wade restricted voters’ ability to decide abortion policy. Today, liberals are alarmed: The Republican Party, despite having lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, may use the judiciary to dictate policy on climate change, voting rights, economic inequality and more, for decades to come.
The option for Democrats that has received the most attention is an expansion of the number of justices. But there are other options that seem less radical, Richard Pildes of New York University notes. Democrats could also pass a law restricting the court from reviewing some areas of the law — a power that the Constitution explicitly gives Congress. Or Congress could pass a law requiring six or seven justices’ votes for any decision striking down federal or state laws.
If Democrats choose any of these options, Republicans may retaliate in the future, setting off a destabilizing political arms race. On the other hand, the acceptance of judicial supremacy brings big downsides, as well. It may be tantamount to forfeiting political power for the majority of Americans.
“If protecting the right of the people to govern for themselves means curbing judicial power and the Supreme Court’s claim to judicial supremacy, then Democrats should act without hesitation,” Jamelle argues. “If anything, they’ll be in good historical company.” Of course, it’s all academic if Democrats don’t win the White House and both houses of Congress.
Other ideas: The historian Julian Zelizer has made the case against court expansion. The Economist magazine favors term limits for justices (which may require a constitutional amendment), and Maya Sen of Harvard has summarized the arguments for term limits.

I know it’s a tough road, politically, but I’m a huge fan of the 18 year terms with one up every two years.  It just makes so much damn sense in so many ways.  Politically, it benefits from the fact that one its most prominent advocates is Rick Perry, so clear bipartisan bonafides.  Of course, Republicans will oppose anything that limits their attempts to entrench minority rule, but this strikes me as a goal to strive for.

The responsibility of journalists when democracy is on the line

Great stuff from Brian Beutler’s newsletter:

The free press is the ricketiest leg of this stool, because its incentives (unlike ours, and unlike the Democratic Party’s) don’t align with the square rejection of autocracy. There is a true story for reporters to tell here: about Trump lagging in the polls; about the pandemic, and his disastrous response to it, creating extraordinary demand for absentee voting; about his public admission that he’s tried to starve the mail-voting apparatus of the resources it needs to function smoothly; about the lies and conspiracy theories he’s fanned to drive his own supporters to in-person polling sites, and build a pretext for challenging mail ballots in court; about his standing as the only candidate who has declined to say he’ll accept the outcome of the election.

On the flipside of this is a bunch of Trumpian Republican nonsense: easily debunked lies about widespread fraud; an absurd inversion of reality where Trump’s desire to discard millions of legitimate votes makes him the free-and-fair election candidate, and Democrats’ desire to count all the votes makes them the real cheaters.

The first story, the true story, is one of enormous historical significance; it’s at least as significant as the time in 2016 when the FBI discovered a cache of duplicative emails on a laptop. The New York Times buried it both on its website and on its Thursday front page.


In fact, the national campaign press corps has shrugged off the story in general—noting it in passing while remaining fixated on the horserace and building an echo chamber to scold Biden for not doing as many press conferences and interviews with them as they’d like. This is an incomprehensible failure. Fortunately it’s a failure that they have time to correct, and there are signs that they can been shamed into correcting it.

But this is a story for all of the 39 days before the election, and possibly for weeks thereafter, not a one-off worthy of a single news cycle before reverting to old habits. The pattern of professional behavior we’ve seen so far isn’t consistent with conveying the stakes of the election faithfully, or faithfully bearing witness to a foundational attack on democracy. It’s entirely consistent, however, with building a safe harbor for anxious minds—a place where Trump’s threats aren’t meaningful, so reporters can cover a fantasy election, in which the ruling party isn’t openly contemplating a procedural coup, under the old rules. Journalists aren’t obliged to help Democrats win elections, whether Democrats have the world on their shoulders or not, but they should feel obliged to report clearly and urgently about internal threats to the ability of American citizens to choose their own leaders—if not for the noble reason that the free press exists to check illegitimate power, than for the self-interested one: The free press itself won’t come out of a successful authoritarian seizure of power intact.

I do want to mention, though, that the Times and Post both got it right a day late.


Antonin Scalia is more responsible for Breonna Taylor’s death than the cops who shot her

Yes.  Seriously.

So, I was going to write a post about the death of nuance/context.  Again.  Taylor’s death was a horrible injustice, but it was not on the part of the cops who shot her.  They were following totally standard (standard, but stupid, mind you) policy with their no-knock warrant.  They barged in in the middle of the night, were met with gunfire (which again, Taylor’s boyfriend was within his rights defending his home from unknown intruders– but again, stupid), and shot back, killing Taylor.  When policy are serving what they believe to be a legal warrant and shoot back when shot at, they are not murderers.  The problem is a system that allows for violent, no-knock warrants for routine drug searches of the former girlfriend of a suspected drug dealer.  And the specific police detective and the specific judge who made this warrant happen.

Pesca had a great spiel on this (starting about 21 minutes in).  It’s an injustice alright, but the cops are not murderers and it’s not injustice that they haven’t been charged with murder.

I knew Radley Balko would have good stuff to say on this and I found this great column he wrote back in June.   Short version, the no-knock raid was illegal (the right-wing talking point now is that it was actually not a no-knock raid– somehow supposedly only 1 person in all the surrounding apartments actually heard anything and clearly Taylor and her boyfriend did not):

Louisville police could also argue that the no-knock provision in the Taylor warrant isn’t relevant because the police claim to have repeatedly knocked and announced themselves before forcing their way inside. Yet, according to Taylor’s attorneys, 16 people in the densely populated neighborhood around Taylor say they heard the gunshots but never heard the police announce themselves. Taylor lived in an apartment building, so if the cops had announced loud enough to wake Taylor and Walker, one would think at least one of her neighbors would have heard it.

Furthermore, Walker actually called 911 after the raid, telling the dispatcher, “I don’t know what happened … somebody kicked in the door and shot my girlfriend.” It’s unlikely that a man with no criminal record would knowingly shoot at police officers, then call 911 and pretend ignorance. It seems safe to say that if the police did announce themselves, Walker didn’t hear it. And that makes the raid legally indistinguishable from a no-knock.

Balko details how no-knock raids happen all the time, despite being mostly illegal (there are rare circumstances where they are, but Balko clearly lays out how this case does not fit those circumstances).  So, why do illegal raids happen all the time?  Because, usually unconstitutional police action is deterred by the exclusionary rule, that holds that unconstitutionally obtained evidence is not admissible in court.  Alas, in 2006, in Hudson v. Michigan, the 5 conservative justices (Anthony Kennedy was basically a conservative who liked gay people), went along with Scalia majority opinion that the exclusionary rule was not needed here because police would behave appropriately due to fear of lawsuits (hello, qualified immunity anyone?) and fear of internal punishment.  Yes, that is as laughable as it sounds.  And history has shown that the conservatives on the highest court, honestly, could not have been more wrong on this.  From the wikipedia summary:

The majority opinion goes on to note that the costs of exclusion for knock and announce violations outweigh the benefits of admitting the evidence. Scalia stated that the costs are small, but that “suppression of all evidence[] amount[s] in many cases is a get-out-of-jail-free card.” The Court stated that exclusion of evidence has little or no deterrence effect, especially considering that deterrents (a civil action against the police department and internal discipline for officers) already existed. Scalia ended the portion of his opinion that constitutes the majority opinion with praise for the “increasing professionalism” of the police force over the last half-century, which he says makes some concerns expressed in past cases by the Court obsolete.

Ha!  Delusional or willfully naïve.  End result, though, is that the policy and decisions that ended Taylor’s life absolutely do not happen without this horrible Supreme Court decision.  I remember when I was young, naïve Steve and learned about the exclusionary rule and thought, “but can’t we just punish/discipline the offending officers?”  But then I learned better because I had been young and naïve.  Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy– not so much.  And I guarantee you Taylor is not the only victim of this (in fact, read the Balko column to learn of more horrible cases).

Justice for Breonna Taylor is not punishing the cops who shot her, but punishing the detective, his supervisors, the judge, etc., who allowed this to happen, but real justice is changing a system that serves warrants like this.

Democracy is on the ballot. This is not hyperbole

I was already planning on sharing Catherine Rampell’s great column on the amoral, power-hungry, anti-democratic actions of Trump’s Republican enablers before his comments this evening.  As to those comments:

This is not a drill.  This is how democracies become quasi-democracies.  Or worse.  Word of the day– autogolpe.

It’s been several hours now and where there should be forceful Republican condemnation, so far… crickets.  That’s probably the scariest part.  Though, hopefully, that will change. Republican politicians, honestly and sadly, are apparently not all that committed to democracy.

Favorite tweet of the day (again, from before Trump’s comments):

Anyway, Rampell:

Was it worth it?

Republican lawmakers must ask themselves this question at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, whenever that is. Perhaps then they will finally inventory every misdeed they ignored or encouraged, every scar they seared into our republic and its institutions, in pursuit of their holy grail: another Supreme Court seat…

The prospect of another Supreme Court appointment was precisely how Republican senators assuaged their consciences these past four years. Judges (and tax cuts) were not merely the justification but their ultimate reward. They’re why these quisling lawmakers held their noses and accepted so much bad, sometimes criminal, behavior from this administration.

The lure of packing the bench with conservative justices is presumably why Republican officials abandoned their putative commitments to limited government and free markets. It’s why they tossed aside free tradefiscal responsibility; and their support for not “picking winners and losers,” not weaponizing government might to reward friends and punish perceived enemies.

It’s how the “party of family values” justified electing its thrice-married leader, who has been publicly accused of sexual assault by more than two dozen women. A man who boasted of grabbing women by their genitals, who allegedly slept with a porn star shortly after his wife had their child.

It’s how the “Party of Lincoln” excused overt bigotry against Muslims; against U.S.-born congresswomen of color who should “go back to” where they came from; against immigrants from “sh–hole countries”; against ethnic minorities who don’t share Trump supporters’ “good genes.” It’s how they brushed off his birtherism, his embrace of neo-Nazis at Charlottesville, his retweets of white supremacists, and the allegedly discriminatory housing policies that long predated Trump’s political career.

It’s how so-called constitutional conservatives ignored his attacks on the First Amendment; the gassing of peaceful protesters for a photo op with a Bible; his threats to “revoke” licenses of media organizations whose coverage he dislikes; his declaration that it was a “beautiful thing” when police fired rubber bullets striking a journalist just doing his job.

It’s how a legislature that once abhorred presidential tyranny has accepted its own constitutional castration. GOP lawmakers willingly submitted when Trump confiscated their powers of the purse; their power to regulate commerce with foreign nations; their duty to advise and consent on major appointments to the executive branch, now riddled with “acting” officials, some of whom courts have determined are serving illegally

Why would Republicans cede this quo, after having irreversibly handed over so much quid?

Today they tell themselves, and their constituents, that the trade-off has been worth it. Tomorrow, the accounting may look different.

Earlier this week, Francis Wilkinson:

Americans who think the coming election is their last chance to save the republic from authoritarianism — Americans, until recently, like me — are almost certainly wrong. Authoritarianism is already here, and what Americans will decide in November is whether it will grow more deeply entrenched.

According to a new report, the U.S. is undergoing “substantial autocratization” — so much so that only one in five similarly damaged democracies has been able to reverse such decline. President Donald Trump’s administration is consuming democratic capacity at about the same pace that wildfire has been destroying the West. The White House has been a source of lies since Trump’s presidency began. Since his impeachment and acquittal by Senate Republicans, his transgressions have grown more aggressive, while being more aggressively supported by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security — together the equivalent of a mighty Security Ministry — both of which are controlled by men who share Trump’s disregard for rule of law.

But declarations of conscience are not a substitute for rule of law; they are merely proof of its absence. And people of good faith are no match for large bureaucracies severed from ethical norms and lawful rigor.

Fear of fascism was once a luxury political good in the U.S., a fringe obsession rendered trivial by the enduring realities of a stable democracy. The authoritarian drive of the American president — and of the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, with the complicity of most of the Republican Party — has altered that…

The U.S. is no more immune to fascism than the Oval Office is to demagoguery. Generations of Black Americans lived with a jackboot on the neck. Nazis in full regalia took over Madison Square Garden for a German Bund event before the U.S. entered World War II. In later years, to a certain segment of the American left, fascism was always and everywhere incipient. Ronald Reagan? Crypto-fascist. George W. Bush? Crypto. Dick Cheney? Not even crypto.

The threat perception this time is not a political luxury, an ideological trifle afforded by a functioning democratic system. The threat is now firmly lodged inside the fortress of American power.

Authoritarians are fully in command of the White House. The Department of Justice is led by another. The rot has spread through the ranks of executive departments large and small. Not even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can escape. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is running an investigation using known Russian disinformation with the express purpose of damaging the president’s political opponent.

If public opinion polls are correct, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, a democratic election is poised to counter this authoritarian thrust. How the authoritarians will respond, beyond the sabotage of voting access already under way, is unknown. But the notion that this election will fend off an authoritarian regime is incorrect. That regime is already in place.

And great stuff from John Cassidy, too, but I’ve kept you here long enough, so just his conclusion:

In any case, the inner workings of Trump’s mind aren’t of much consequence. As the President, what matters are his words and actions. Right now, he is launching a dangerous attack on U.S. democracy. Even as he seeks to undermine the voting process and stack the Supreme Court before Election Day, he is stepping up voter-suppression efforts aimed at minority groups that tend to vote Democratic. And despite a couple of objections from individual Republican senators, his party, the Party of Lincoln, is overwhelmingly behind him. At a White House press conference on Wednesday evening, a reporter asked Trump if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power after the election. “We’re gonna have to see what happens,” he replied. This is how democracies decay and die.

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