Quick hits (part I)

Happy Halloween!  Greene family will be trick-or-treating tonight because we plan to do it with masks and without sharing anybody’s indoor space.

1) NYT has a whole feature on ideas for improving our Court system.  I really like this one about fixed 18 year terms because it emphasizes both the arbitrariness of our system and what an absurd outlier we are:

Supreme Court justices often try to retire during the presidency of someone sympathetic to their jurisprudence. Of course, that doesn’t always work: Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom I clerked, died after almost 30 years on the court trying to wait out President Barack Obama, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died after nearly 27 years on the court trying to outlast President Trump.

Over all, though, strategic retirements give the justices too much power in picking their own successors, which can lead to a self-perpetuating oligarchy. The current system also creates the impression that the justices are more political actors than judges, which damages the rule of law. It may even change the way the justices view themselves.

That is why we need to permanently reform the broken process for selecting Supreme Court justices. Myproposal is a constitutional amendment that would create a single 18-year term for each of them.

No other major democracy in the world gives the justices on its highest courtlife tenure, and nor do49 of the 50 states. The longest terms are more like the 12-year terms served by German Constitutional Court justices. Countries and states that do not have term limits have mandatory retirement ages; many jurisdictions have both.

The unpredictable American system of life tenure has led tofour presidents picking six or more justices and four presidents selecting none, as happened with Jimmy Carter. This gives some presidents too much influence on the Supreme Court and others too little.

2) Smotus, “For Democrats, There Is No Margin Big Enough To Sleep Well”

Just to clear up a common myth about 2016, no, the polls weren’t especially wrong. It was actually an impressive year for national polling. Polling averages had her up by about 3 points by Election Day; she won the popular vote by 2 points. The reasons people obsess about the 2016 polling are threefold:

  1. The polls substantially understated Trump’s support in a few key states in the Upper Midwest, and that was enough to give him a win.

  2. The popular vote diverged from the Electoral College results to a historically large degree.

  3. Missing by one point isn’t a big deal if you’re expected to get 55 and you get 54. It is a big deal if you’re expected to win and you lose. The polls weren’t off by much, but they were off exactly where it counted.

Suffice it to say that Democrats will pretty much never feel confident in a presidential polling lead again for the foreseeable future. And honestly, that’s not terrible. It means that even in lopsided elections, there will be plenty of interest, attention, money, and campaign activity, all having the effect of informing voters and bringing them to the polls. This is healthy for democracy. It may not be all that healthy for Democrats’ nerves.

3) Paul Waldman, “We just had a decade-long debate on health care, and Democrats won”

This is the past decade of health-care politics: Republicans trying to take away people’s coverage and protections, but failing because public opinion would not allow it, while Democrats attempt to protect the ACA against those attacks and debate among themselves about how to fix the ongoing problems of the system.

Now imagine that Biden becomes president and Democrats do indeed win control of the Senate. What should they do at that point?

The simple answer is that Democrats need to figure out exactly what they want to do, and pass it.

And as it turns out, they pretty much know already, because they had a big debate about this subject during the presidential primaries. Biden’s plan won’t satisfy everyone, but it’s essentially the minimum consensus position among Democrats. Among other things, it creates a public option open to anyone who wants it, boosts ACA subsidies and allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices. If I had my way it would go a lot further, but it’s something pretty much all Democrats should be able to get behind.

Just as important, Democrats have to begin that process with the understanding that absolutely nothing Republicans say about health care needs to be treated with even an iota of seriousness. They’re going to lie about what they believe, what they want, and what the Democratic legislation will and won’t do, because that’s how they operate. There’s no point in negotiating with them, because every last one of them will ultimately vote against just about any legislation on the subject that Democrats offer…

It’s still going to be difficult, because the special interests that oppose health-care reform — insurance companies, drug companies, hospital chains — will fight it tooth and nail, probably investing hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in a campaign to kill it.

But Democrats should never forget that we’ve been debating this for 10 years, and they won the debate. Now they need to act like it.

4) This is such a great takedown of libertarianism from former libertarian Will Wilkinson.  Really worth reading the whole thing, “The Useful Libertarian Idiocy of The Great Barrington Declaration”

So what does any of this have to do with the libertarianism of AIER? Well, libertarians need to believe that, in this case and many others, a policy of doing nothing will work out because they think that government-led efforts (other than the protection of property rights) rarely succeed in improving our lives or securing our freedom. It’s easy to see why it could be thrilling for a libertarian to entertain the idea that, actually, it’s good if most of us just go ahead and get infected with Covid-19. One of the great themes of libertarian thought is that unhindered individual agency and the welfare of society tend to fall into alignment, as if by providence. I’d guess that’s why the authors and advocates of the Declaration studiously ignore actual patterns of individual agency easily observable in places, like Iowa, which have very few restrictions. If they allowed themselves to pay attention, they’d see that the dismal half-life of pandemic America is due more to the invisible hand than the state’s whip hand.

But if you acknowledge that our baleful new reality of Zoom Kindergarten, grocery delivery, and infrequent masked forays into the outer world is more spontaneous than planned order, you’ll have to admit that, when a deadly contagious virus is afoot, unfettered individual choice scales up to a pattern of social life that feels oppressive and suffocating to pretty much everyone. Indeed, libertarians and devil-may-care individualists may feel especially oppressed and suffocated, but they won’t be keen to admit that the scope and value of freedom can shrink without coercion or imposition by the state.

Admitting this would amount to the recognition that patterns of entirely voluntary behavior can leave us less free by closing off options we ought to have. But if you concede that, you’re a mere half-step away from comprehending “structural” or “systemic” oppression.” You might find yourself struggling to deny that the state’s authority can solve otherwise unsolvable collective action problems, supply otherwise unsuppliable public goods, and insure us against otherwise uninsurable risks. You might then become tempted to conclude that not only are we materially better off when the state does all that stuff, we’re also in many respects more free. By that point, hardcore libertarianism is out the window and you’re libertarian-ish, at best. But the ideological mind has a sixth sense for roads to Damascus and can be spectacularly acrobatic in avoiding first steps.

5) As far as recent SC decisions, this seems about right, “The Supreme Court Should Not Muck Around in State Election Laws”

Federal courts have no business interfering in state-law matters. As the three of us wrote back in 2000, the effort of several justices to hijack state law in Bush v. Gore was a disgrace. These justices asserted that the “Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Florida election laws impermissibly distorted them beyond what a fair reading required.” Of course, “fair reading” meant how these justices read state law, not how Florida’s expert judges saw the matter.

No Supreme Court case before 2000 ever tried this maneuver to upend a decision by a state court on state law, and in Bush v. Gore itself, only three justices, led by the chief justice at the time, William Rehnquist, claimed that the federal Constitution made them the ultimate word on the meaning of state election codes.

Until this week, only Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for himself, had ever invoked any aspect of Bush v. Gore as good law. But on Monday evening, ominously, Justice Brett Kavanaugh repeatedly endorsed Rehnquist’s Bush v. Gore concurrence, claiming that the Supreme Court should feel free to second-guess state court interpretations of state election law whenever presidential elections are at issue.

6) No science writer has been better on this than Ed Yong.  This is very true, “America Is About to Choose How Bad the Pandemic Will Get: If Donald Trump is reelected, he will continue to downplay the threat of the coronavirus, and more Americans will fall ill.”  Among other things, this explains the absolutely unprecedented presidential endorsements from scientific and medical organizations.

7) German Lopez wrote this two years ago, but somehow I missed it at the time.  If every state had gun laws like Massachusetts we’d have a lot less dead Americans.

8) This is a great piece from Yglesias on Hunter Biden trading off his father’s name and the far worse behavior of Trump and his children.  What Hunter did really is not good, but if voters really care about presidential children not cashing in on dad’s name.  Ummm…

It seems pretty clear that Hunter Biden, along with the traumas in his family and his personal struggles with addiction, has for years basically been cashing checks based on his relationship with his father.

In the world of political scandals, there are actual crimes and there’s simply shady behavior — and perhaps the real scandal is what’s legal. To be clear, there does not appear to be anything illegal about Hunter Biden’s various roles, but someone getting jobs because his dad is important doesn’t sit well with those who want to see less special interest influence in Washington…

The whole Hunter Biden situation, from top to bottom, reeks of the kind of cozy cronyism that makes a lot of people detest establishment politics and explains the appeal of the idea of a rich businessman who can’t be bought swooping in to drain the swamp.

And then there’s the reality of Trump…

Since both the Trump and Biden families are similarly situated, in this case, you can get a good comparative look at the situation. Hunter seems to have a more troubled personal life than many of the Trumps or various Trump-in-laws.

But the relevant figures of the extended Trump clan are simply more numerous, creating a wider range of actual and potential conflicts of interest. More importantly, Donald Trump has made his family members key advisers on critical political and policy decisions in a way that Biden simply hasn’t. The Trump kids show a lot more hustle and ingenuity at using their positions of privilege to attract more privilege. Jia Tolentino recounts the story Ivanka Trump tells in her biography of how she milked her family’s domestic servants for kickbacks via a lemonade stand:

When Ivanka was a kid, she got frustrated because she couldn’t set up a lemonade stand in Trump Tower. “We had no such advantages,” she writes, meaning, in this case, an ordinary home on an ordinary street. She and her brothers finally tried to sell lemonade at their summer place in Connecticut, but their neighborhood was so ritzy that there was no foot traffic. “As good fortune would have it, we had a bodyguard that summer,” she writes. They persuaded their bodyguard to buy lemonade, and then their driver, and then the maids, who “dug deep for their spare change.” The lesson, she says, is that the kids “made the best of a bad situation.”

This is fundamentally similar to the Kushner situation at Harvard — there for reasons other than his own merit, instead of coasting, he further peddled his dad’s money into a little business hustle. With Trump in office, Jared and Ivanka make policy. Eric and Don Jr. tour the world actively seeking new business opportunities.

It’s much more entrepreneurial than the Hunter Biden story, and much more in keeping with a certain vision of the American work ethic. But it’s infinitely more corrosive than a guy who has had drug problems scoring the occasional no-show job thanks to his dad’s influence.

9) Ever since 2016 there’s been a raging debate on whether Democrats need to focus more on mobilizing new voters or persuading Trump voters to vote Democratic.  Both!  But it’s become pretty clear that the latter strategy is the key to Biden’s polling lead.  And here’s a nice PS analysis of 2016:

Looking at all six states to see whether turnout or persuasion mattered more

For more formal estimates of how much turnout contributed to the shifting outcomes, we next used linear regression, a statistical model that allows us to see how well different measures predict an outcome. We continued to work with precinct-level data, fitting statistical models that predict the change in the Republican vote margin across the number of voters in 15 categories that we defined by party alignment, registration status, and voting in just one or both elections. For instance, one such category would include the number of a precinct’s Republicans who were registered in both elections but only voted in 2016. We can then see just how much these various turnout measures jointly predict precincts’ overall swings.

But our three Northern states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio — shifted heavily to the GOP. While Obama won Ohio in 2012 by 3 points, for instance, Trump won the state by 8 points in 2016. And in all three states, we found that turnout shifts helped Democrats in 2016. In other words, Trump won because he persuaded Obama voters to cast ballots for him.

In 2016, persuasion made the biggest difference in the states that swung the most. For 2020, will those voters change their minds again?

10) I’ve been fascinated by shipbreaking ever since I read an epic William Langeweische article about it many years ago.  I also quite enjoyed the dystopian Shipbreakers.  With the cruise industry horribly suffering they are now literally breaking down cruise ships.

Facing dire financial circumstances, cruise lines have been sending ships to Aliaga, in western Turkey, to be dismantled. 

11) There’s truly a lot of good and well-meaning police officers out there who desire to serve their communities.  But there’s far too many bad ones.  And the police unions seem to be all about protecting the bad ones are truly a force for ill in American society.  Like this, “Police took a Black toddler from his family’s SUV. Then, the union used his photo as ‘propaganda,’ attorneys say.”

12) The economy does better under Democratic presidents.  Really.  This is basically an empirical, incontrovertible fact.  If only the public understood this.  I used to read Brad Delong all the time.  I don’t know what happened to him, but here he is, “The Economic Incompetence of Republican Presidents”

As economists Alan S. Blinder and Mark W. Watson showed in a 2015 paper:

“The superiority of economic performance under Democrats rather than Republicans is nearly ubiquitous; it holds almost regardless of how you define success. By many measures, the performance gap is startlingly large – so large, in fact, that it strains credulity.”

In terms of annualized real (inflation-adjusted) GDP growth, for example, Blinder and Watson find that Democrats outperform Republicans by “1.8 percentage points in postwar data covering 16 complete presidential terms – from [Harry] Truman through [Barack] Obama.” Were this analysis to be extended back through the eras of Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the gap would grow to about three percentage points per year. But it is also worth noting that, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Trump presided over unusually strong growth (that is, for a Republican administration) during his first three years, when the US economy matched the average 2.4% annual growth rate achieved during Obama’s second term…

In any case, US history over the past century strongly suggests that Republicans simply have no idea which economic policies are likely to work at any given time. In the 2000s, for example, it seems never to have occurred to Bush or his advisers that under-regulation could produce a catastrophic financial crisis…

In light of these failures, Trump has played true to type. After calling the North American Free Trade Agreement the worst trade deal in American history and the Trans-Pacific Partnership the second-worst, his administration has merely added various TPP provisions to NAFTA, given the agreement a new name, and pronounced America “great again.” Trump has also launched a full-bore trade war against China, promising that it would be “good, and easy to win.”

What have these policies achieved? There has been no improvement in US manufacturing employment, the manufacturing trade deficit has widened, and US consumers’ real incomes have fallen now that they are bearing the costs of import tariffs. Clearly, neither Trump nor his trade advisers have any clue how to conduct a trade war.

This should surprise no one. Republican administrations have been failing at economic policymaking at least since the 1920s. The only choice this Election Day is between a return to sound economic management and a continuation of glaring incompetence.

13) Just read Brian Beutler’s terrific essay.  Really. “The 2020 Election and the Future of Gatekeepers”

For the final entry in our PollerCoaster 2020 partnership with Change Research, we generated our own word clouds to help us gauge what has broken through to voters and what hasn’t. The comparison isn’t perfect. These are snapshots of a much different moment in time, one that happens to be consumed by a once-a-century pandemic, where Trump is the incumbent, not the challenger. But just as Gallup did, we asked likely voters to provide one-word responses “to describe what you’ve heard” about the candidates in the past week. And though the results don’t come close to perfectly capturing the essences of Trump and Joe Biden, or their relative merits, the improvement from four years ago is remarkable.

This comes, of course, despite the right’s best efforts.

Since the early days of the Democratic primary, Republicans have been trying to manufacture scandal around Biden, the best-polling of Trump’s potential 2020 opponents, with the goal of costing him the presidential nomination or crippling his general-election candidacy.

Trump quickly commingled election scheming and agitprop with his governing powers, as he extorted and bribed foreign governments to dirty up his rival, and got himself impeached for it. But even in these, the waning days of the campaign, GOP operatives remain committed, desperate even, to guilt trip, bully, and otherwise pressure the media to treat anti-Biden propaganda with the same credulousness that turned BENGHAZI and, thus, ultimately EMAILS into catchwords. They want our Biden word cloud to scream HUNTER or BURISMA, and recognize their failure to pull it off has likely dealt a fatal blow to Trump’s re-election hopes…

Still, they accomplished a lot. The fact that “Liar” and “Lies” loom almost as large in Biden’s word cloud as in Trump’s, and that the word “Corrupt” squats dead center in Biden’s, yet lurks almost invisibly in Trump’s, is a product of something. Democratic political failures and smaller-scale media failures likely explain some of it. Despite her many strengths as a moderator, NBC’s Kristen Welker asked one question about nepotism at the final presidential debate, and somehow didn’t direct it at the candidate whose children work at the White House while simultaneously helping run his business empire.

But none of it would be possible without the powerful propaganda machine the right has spent decades building. Even against the backdrop of a deadly pandemic that, due to Trump’s lies and incompetence, has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, the right has managed to create a miasma of scandal around Biden out of almost nothing, and turn it into one of a handful of core campaign issues.

The Biden allegations Republicans have spun up are extremely convoluted. But their Benghazi conspiracy theories were also convoluted. The email-server scandal was simpler but it became hopelessly intertwined with the unrelated theft and leaking of Democratic Party emails, which revealed no unethical conduct, but, through roadblock media coverage, drove a hazy sense that something malfeasant lay at the bottom of it all. What truly made the difference between 2016 and 2020 is that the mainstream press hasn’t served as a gleeful validator of right-wing spin and smears and conspiracy theories this time. Without facts on their side, the right can still elevate a fabricated scandal into the middle-tier of public consciousness, but without buy-in from the mainstream press, it will stay there—which is why our word clouds look so different from Gallup’s.

But the propaganda machine won’t stop whirring after the election, even if Trump loses. And so the unanswered question I asked above—will journalists view these improvements as a one-time-only concession, or will they stick?—may soon become the most important one in politics…

If Biden wins, we’ll learn almost right away whether the lessons of 2016 and 2020 have stuck or not. Republicans and their right-wing media allies may set aside their failed Hunter Biden fixation, but they’ll move on to other things: insincere and baseless scaremongering about federal debt, pretending to value political norms and the importance of congressional oversight, a sudden discovery that elections don’t have consequences after all, even when the winner has a popular mandate. No one can stop conservatives from doing what they believe to be in their political interests, but the test of whether the gatekeepers have reasserted themselves will be whether or not they revert to pretending to believe the same old propaganda. Whether they view their resistance to one such campaign as a major, one-off achievement rather than what it should be: a basic obligation of the trade. Whether the next word cloud looks more like ours, or the one that prefigured the past four years of hell.

2020≠2016. Really.

Great piece from Derek Thompson with five reasons 2020 will not be like 2016.  If you are inclined, it’s actually pretty damn well summarized in his twitter thread.

As I’ve mentioned before, I find the Congressional polls the most compelling.

Amy Walter had a thorough electoral college run-down that’s worth your time, but, in keeping with the above, this stuck out:

In Pennsylvania, the conventional wisdom, as well as the Trump campaign, see a tightening race. The FiveThirtyEight polling average puts Biden ahead by 5 points. But, congressional district polling paints a different — and more difficult — picture for the president. These polls find Biden expanding Clinton’s margins in suburban Philadelphia, but also find Trump failing to put up the same kind of numbers he did in 2016 in central, western and northeastern Pennsylvania.

Of course, this time around we have to deal with the President– and, seemingly the whole damn Republican Party– doing everything they can to keep legitimate votes from being counted.  That’s genuine cause for concern.  But, as much as we’re all psychically wounded by 2016 there really is every reason to think 2020 is, in fact, different.

Masks. And ventilation. And less people. And less time.

Masks are great.  But as helpful as they are, they cannot work in isolation.  We really need a layered risk reduction strategy, as all the epidemiologists have been saying.  And, with this airborne disease, spending less time around fewer people in better air is a big part of it.

This is honestly one of the coolest animated features I’ve seen in the whole pandemic.  Dramatically illustrates the power of masks, air, etc.  Just click through and check it out.

Election polling– art and science

If you really want to understand how election polling works, Nate Cohn’s daily diary at the NYT really is a masterclass. There’s so much more than trying to get a random sample and doing some demographic weighting (well, there’s a lot more for the good pollsters and that’s why there’s plenty of untrustworthy pollsters out there). An election poll is not just saying “this is what the people think” but making an estimate of the specific people who will be voting in the election, and that’s quite a different kettle of fish. Anyway, Cohn does a really nice job explaining this with a look at today’s Wisconsin polls:

What is going on in Wisconsin? If anything had poll junkies talking, it was the two big and conflicting results in Wisconsin. ABC News/Washington Post, a high-quality pollster, found Joe Biden leading by … an eyebrow-raising 17 points. (Not a typo — or not a joke, as Mr. Biden might say.) Later in the day, Marquette University Law School, perhaps the most trusted pollster in the state, found him leading by five points. You probably expect me to dive in and explain the difference. Unfortunately, I don’t have answers.

But I can explain why wild results are relatively likely in Wisconsin. It’s a hard state to poll. There’s very little to help pollsters make sure they get the right number of Democrats and Republicans. There’s no party registration. There isn’t a large racial divide, so it’s not the kind of place where making sure you have the right number of white and Black voters is tantamount to having the right number of Ds and Rs. And so on.

But I can’t explain why these two results are so different. These two pollsters are actually quite similar. They use the same basic methods, and they polled over nearly the exact same field period. To me, this suggests that it’s just statistical noise: the kind of weird, outlying results you inevitably get with random sampling, especially when you can’t count on partisan weighting or race to get you back into a reasonable spot.

You might also expect me to say one poll result is right and the other is wrong. But it’s not that simple.

Take the ABC/Post poll. Yeah, it’s a real outlier. Mr. Biden entered the day with a nine-point lead in Wisconsin according to our poll average, and the ABC/Post result is the largest lead in the state by any public pollster this cycle. So no, I don’t think Mr. Biden is “really” up 17 points in the state.

But that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed out of hand. After all, would you have dismissed an ABC/Post poll that showed Mr. Biden up just one point, which represents the same difference from the average but in the other direction? That would have rightly moved your view of the race toward the president, and this ought to move your view toward Mr. Biden.

The composition of the electorate — Democrats outnumbering Republicans by four points — is a little bit more Democratic than I would have guessed, but it’s no reason to throw the poll out. It’s also not that different from the Marquette poll, which had the two parties evenly split.

If there’s one red flag in the ABC/Post poll, it might be that it found more registered voters who say they backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 than who say they backed President Trump. The survey would have found Mr. Biden up by 12 points if it had adjusted the sample to be Trump plus-one in 2016, like the actual result. If you want to make that adjustment in your head, you’re totally welcome to do so.

But it’s not necessarily the best practice. Voters can misrepresent how they voted, especially if they’ve soured on the person they once backed. And polls don’t represent the 2016 electorate; they represent the 2020 electorate. People have died and moved since 2016, and it’s not at all clear how that’s moved the needle. The fact that pollsters are representing 2020, not 2016, creates another problem: You didn’t design your survey to represent the 2016 vote, and so you shouldn’t expect it to mirror it exactly. For instance, say you have the right number of Democrats and Republicans in your poll, but you have too many nonvoting Democrats and too many voting Republicans. If so, your unbiased poll would have too many Trump supporters.

If you really wanted to be critical, you could also find issues with aspects of the Marquette poll. You could say their young voters or their sample of the city of Milwaukee were way too Republican.

It’s really not just about the +/- 3 (or 4 or whatever) so much of this is about expectations as to what the final electorate will really look like.  And math and statistics only gets you so far with that.

Trump and Biden for Slovaks

As I’m wont to do, I’ll share here my responses for an email interview about Trump and Biden for Slovakian Pravda.

1. What is Trump’s greatest strength(s) and what about his biggest political weakness(es), and why? For a broadly unpopular president, what is notable about Trump is the intense devotion from his core of supporters.  There is almost a cult of personality around him that we are not used to seeing with American leaders.  His projection of a caricature of masculine “strength” at all costs and authoritarian tendencies clearly have a strong appeal to a lot of people.  His unprecedented dishonesty and shamelessness in his dishonesty also proves very successful when aided by a right-wing media ecosystem (e..g, Fox News) where large numbers of his supporters are thus, essentially, living in an alternate political reality.  In many ways, he has simply figured out that by being entirely unconstrained by the truth and likewise unconstrained by longstanding norms of democratic governance he can actually get away with it.
His weakness is that he is just not very good at being president.  His grasp of major policies is tenuous at best.  Because he is in a self-reinforcing loop with Fox News, he is also far to willing to believe his own reality and fail to take steps that would improve his standing politically.  This is eminently clear with Covid, where the political incentives all aligned for him to take a far more active and robust approach in combatting the virus, but he has largely failed to do so and increasingly relies on magical thinking (it will be gone in a few weeks).  Politically, he is great at appealing to his base, but his base is a clear minority, and not good at all at reaching out beyond his base.  In a two-party system, this is a serious, serious weakness.   

2. And the same for Biden, what is his greatest political strength(s) and his biggest political weakness(es), and why?
I’m sometimes skeptical of a “conventional wisdom” that develops around a candidate, but in Biden’s case, I think it’s right.  It’s that he quite effectively determines where the center of the Democratic Party is, and effectively positions himself there.  As the party has moved left, he has moved left.  But, remaining firmly in the center of that great mass, rather than let himself be pulled to politically disadvantageous extremes.  He’s been so effective at this that, try as they might, Republican attacks have very much failed to paint him as a creature of the far left in America.  (It certainly helped that he won the nomination over a couple of candidates– Warren and Sanders– who were clearly and prominently to his left).  Joe Biden also is a politician who seems to have genuine empathy.  This was a major feature of Bill Clinton’s appeal (“I feel your pain”) and while Biden does not have Clinton’s political gifts, I do think he successfully (and genuinely) appeals to voters in this regard.  As for his weaknesses, he’s just not a very inspiring politician.  People just don’t have the passion for Joe Biden they have for other political figures (including Donald Trump, but also Obama).  In 2020, though, passion against Donald Trump appears to be all that Biden really needs. 

Also, I’ll mention that Mike Pesca’s outstanding spiel on the Gist yesterday, really got me thinking about the fundamental threat to democracy of Trump’s shameless lying. Really worth a listen (starting 27:17 in).

Are you smarter than a SC Justice?

If that Justice is Brett Kavanaugh, the answer is quite likely yes.  Just an embarrassment of a concurrence in the Wisconsin voting case.  Mark Joseph Stern:

Mistake No. 2: States declare the winner of an election on election night.

In one shocking passage, Kavanaugh baselessly cast doubt on the validity of mail ballots that arrive after Election Day in language echoing Trump’s. Noting that some states throw out these ballots, he wrote:

These States want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election. And those States also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.

There are really two errors here. The first is that late-arriving ballots can “flip” an election, which is obviously false; as Justice Elena Kagan retorted in dissent, “there are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted. And nothing could be more ‘suspicio[us]’ or ‘improp[er]’ than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night. To suggest otherwise, especially in these fractious times, is to disserve the electoral process.”

The second error lies in Kavanaugh’s claim that states “definitively announce the results of the election on election night.” That is untrue: The media may call an election on election night; a candidate may call on election on election night; but the states do not “definitively announce the results” on election night. To the contrary, every state formally certifies results in the days or weeks following an election; zero certify results on election night. There is a good reason why: It takes a while to count every ballot, including those from members of the military, which frequently arrive late. A state’s duty is not to satisfy anxious candidates and voters but to get the count right. It is only cynical politicians who insist that a state must announce the results immediately…

Mistake No. 4: There is a rule against federal courts changing voting rules before an election.

Kavanaugh alleged that the Supreme Court “has repeatedly emphasized that federal courts ordinarily should not alter state election laws in the period close to an election.” That’s false. The Supreme Court has neverstated this rule in a majority opinion. It has enforced it in a series of unsigned orders released without oral arguments, full briefing, or an opinion of the court—the so-called shadow docket cases. Kavanaugh is pretending that these shadow docket orders qualify as bona fide precedent. They do not…

Mistake No. 5: No one thinks they can return their ballot by Election Day if they request it by Oct. 29.

Kavanaugh wrote: “No one thinks that voters who request absentee ballots as late as October 29 can both receive the ballots and mail them back in time to be received by election day.” He cites no support for this assumption, probably because it’s wrong. Many states explicitly allow voters to request absentee ballots even closer to Election Day and instruct them to mail their ballots back. A large number of voters do wait until the last minute to ask for a ballot, which is why a strict deadline disenfranchises so many people. In August, the Postal Service encouraged 46 states to change their deadlines, warning them that ballots requested and returned in accordance with state law might not make it back in time. The Postal Service would not have sent out this warning if “no one” thought the states’ existing deadlines were unrealistic.

There are several other confusing and dishonest aspects of Kavanaugh’s opinion, many of them spotted by Talking Points Memo’s eagle-eyed Tierney Sneed. Here’s a sampling:

I could go in.  It’s possible that he is actually really smart.  In which case, he’s just shamefully dishonest.  Based on his testimony during his Senate hearings, my money is on not all that smart and not all that honest.  And damn willing to do what it takes to get favorable results for Republicans.  

Also, good stuff from Stern and Lithwick, “The Supreme Court Wants to Determine Who Votes and Who Wins
As Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in, the other justices made their intentions clear” (but I’m now running out of free Slate articles since they started the paywall).  

And Rick Hasen on all this, and, actually, reasons to not freak out, which is encouraging, sort of:

Should we panic about Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion in the Wisconsin voting case that the Supreme Court decided Monday night? Does it mean that the Supreme Court is going to do something crazy that will hand the election to President Trump even if Joe Biden is ahead in the count?

The short answer is that an intervention by the Supreme Court to decide the presidential election is still extremely unlikely — but if the extremely unlikely happens, there’s great reason to be worried about the court’s protection of voting rights and the integrity of the vote…

Kavanaugh’s opinion advanced a controversial theory about near-absolute power of state legislatures to set rules in federal elections. It also was sloppy in talking about facts and the law, and it echoed Trump’s false talking points about the perils of voting by mail…

So why not panic about all of this? Mainly because, as both Jonathan Lai and Greg Sargent explained on Tuesday, the chances of the election being decided by the Supreme Court are very slim. Biden appears comfortably ahead in the polls; it is far from likely that the election would come down to Pennsylvania — or, even if it did, that Pennsylvania will be within the margin that litigation of the election could swing. The result would have to be super close in both the electoral college and popular vote in the state pivotal for the electoral college outcome for a court case to be a plausible way to contest the election. And even then there may be reasons — not the least of which is the legitimacy of the Supreme Court itself and of its newest justice, who already took her seat under circumstances that left Democrats howling — that the court would seek to avoid deciding the outcome of the election. It could instead come down to a resolution of disputes by Congress, which could well be in Democratic hands by the time electoral college votes are counted in January.

Looking beyond this election, though, it is hard to escape the fact that the Supreme Court is poised to allow Republican states to engage in all manner of voter suppression in the name of protecting the rights of state legislatures. This is true not just in election contests but in other cases that raise issues under the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. That is something to panic about. But perhaps for everyone’s sanity we can put off worrying about that until after we get through the election.

Prediction: A larger Supreme Court a year from now


Whatever chances we ever had of Democrats expanding the court seem to be increasing by the day.  What was literally a fringe idea a year ago is now mainstream and increasingly adopted by all sorts of Democrats/liberals who would not have thought about it a year ago.  Mostly, of course, this is ACB.  But that’s not all of it.  EJ Dionne:

There is only one good thing that can come from the power-mad Republican rush to jam Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court before Election Day: Of a sudden, as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, Americans in the tens of millions now know that our country faces a crisis of democracy triggered by the right wing’s quest for unchecked judicial dominance.

Barrett’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and President Trump’s comments before nominating her, brought home just how dangerously disrespectful of democratic norms the enlarged conservative majority on the court threatens to be.

Her silence on the most basic issues of republican self-rule tells us to be ready for the worst. She wouldn’t say if voter intimidation is illegal, even though it plainly is. She wouldn’t say if a president has the power to postpone an election, even though he doesn’t…

Rushing to confirm such a nominee just in time to rule on any election controversies (from which she refused to commit to recusing herself) would be troubling enough. But it is all the worse for being part of a tangle of excesses by the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

The truly scandalous lack of institutional patriotism on the right has finally led many of the most sober liberals and moderates to ponder what they opposed even a month ago: The only genuinely practical and proper remedy to conservative court-packing is to undo its impact by enlarging the court.

Note the language I just used. Court-packing is now a fact. It was carried out by a Republican Senate that was cynically inconsistent when it came to the question of filling a court seat during an election year. A Democratic president could not get a hearing on Judge Merrick Garland. A Republican president got express delivery on Judge Barrett…

It’s not court enlargement that’s radical. Balancing a stacked court is a necessary response to the right’s radicalism and (apologies, Thomas Jefferson) to its long train of abuses. And conservatives are as hypocritical about court enlargement as they are about Garland and Barrett: In 2016, Republicans expanded the state supreme courts of Georgia and Arizona to enhance their party’s philosophical sway.

Democracy itself is at stake here. If the oligarchy-enhancing Citizens United decision and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County ruling don’t convince you of this, reflect on a study by the pro-enlargement group Take Back the Court. In 175 election-related cases this year, it found that Republican appointees interpreted the law in ways that impeded access to the ballot 80 percent of the time, compared with 37 percent for Democratic appointees. (The group pegged the “anti-democracy” score of Trump appointees at 86 percent.)

A-ha.  And there’s the rub. Yes, ACB is huge in all this.  But if we do get the real reform we need, the tipping point will be that Republican judges and justices just keep making decision after decision that makes it harder to vote.  I honestly think that, far more than any single policy– be it health care or abortion– is what may well give nervous and hesistant Democrats the understanding that real reform and expansion of the Supreme Court is necessary.  To wit, just last night:

And Brownstein, puts this aptly in the demographic perspective as he does so well:

Nothing better explains the Republican rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court than the record crowds that thronged polling places for the first days of early voting this week in Georgia and Texas.

The historic number of Americans who stood in long lines to cast their ballot in cities from Atlanta to Houston symbolizes the diverse, urbanized Democratic coalition that will make it very difficult for the GOP to win majority support in elections through the 2020s. That hill will get only steeper as Millennials and Generation Z grow through the decade to become the largest generations in the electorate.

Every young conservative judge that the GOP has stacked onto the federal courts amounts to a sandbag against that rising demographic wave. Trump’s nominations to the Supreme Court of Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Barrett—whom a slim majority of Republican senators appears determined to seat by Election Day—represent the capstone of that strategy. As the nation’s growing racial and religious diversity limits the GOP’s prospects, filling the courts with conservatives constitutes what the Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz calls “the right-wing firewall” against a country evolving electorally away from the party.

This dynamic suggests that the 2020s could reprise earlier conflicts in American history, when a Court majority nominated and confirmed by the dominant party of a previous era systematically blocked the agenda of a newly emerging political majority—with explosive consequences. That happened as far back as the first years of the 19th century, when electoral dominance tipped from John Adams and the Federalists to Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party. At the time—and in language today’s Democrats would recognize—Jefferson complained that the Federalists “have retreated into the judiciary as a stronghold … the tenure of which renders it difficult to dislodge them.”

And, that could happen.  But, should the Republican-controlled Supreme Court continue to act in this way, I really don’t think the Democrats will stand down.  Who knows where this goes.  I’d hate to have each party just expand the court and mess with jurisdictions, so I am hopeful the true endgame would be a Constitutional amendment of 9 Justices (though, not really wedded to the number) with 18 year terms with one justice up every two years.  

So, sure maybe a little dramatic with making a prediction (sure, even I want clicks sometimes), but, I do feel quite confident saying this is now a very mainstream Democratic position and absolutely has a non-trivial chance of coming to fruition next year.  

2020 polling 2016 polling

Yglesias last week:

The two situations are, however, actually quite different. The extreme confidence in Clinton’s 2016 victory was not based on a particularly large lead in national polls. Instead, there were two factors at play: a flawed way of thinking about how state-level races relate to one another, and a misperception about the state of the Electoral College.

Today’s forecasts of Biden’s victory build in much more Republican-friendly assessments of state dynamics. Forecasters think Biden is going to win because his national polling lead is just really, really big.

Uncertainty remains primarily because even though Biden’s lead is big and has been remarkably stable, things could change and it could shrink. And if it does shrink, we’d see that a lot of things have not changed since 2016. It continues to be unclear if pollsters can more precisely gauge public opinion in the key Midwestern swing states, and the Electoral College has a large bias toward Republicans. Still, even as those factors remain constant, there have been some key changes over the past four years…

Biden has a larger, more stable polling lead

RealClearPolitics does a simple, naive polling average with no fancy math or house effects. It says Biden has an 8.6-point national polling lead, which is a bit bigger than Clinton’s lead was at the height of her 2016 convention bump. But Biden is not in the midst of a convention bump, and there are reasons to believe his lead will be more permanent:

  • Biden’s lead is bigger than Clinton’s lead was at any point in the 2016 campaign.
  • Biden’s big lead comes just two weeks before Election Day, so there is limited time for things to change.
  • While her lead was at its peak, Clinton was only polling in the low 40s with lots of undecideds and third party voters. Biden is above 50 percent in the RCP average.

Okay, then lots of reasons for modest concern, too, but, I’m now going to Harry Enten’s piece from today, because I really think Biden’s clear, stable lead is the take-away here:

But perhaps most worrisome for the President: Trump’s clearly behind his 2016 pace. By this point four years ago, he was rapidly closing the gap with Hillary Clinton. No such advancements can be seen in the 2020 polling against Biden.

Right now, Biden is up by about 9 to 10 points nationally, depending on the average you examine. He is, importantly, over 50%. Biden’s edge may be down a point or so from early October, though it is well within the historical average from the beginning of the year.

The 2016 campaign, on the other hand, was in great flux at this time. Among a bunch of factors, the James Comey letter “investigating emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop that were potentially related to a probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server” had just been published by this point in the 2016 campaign. No such bombshells of that magnitude have come out this year.

Clinton’s advantage was down to only about 4 points in the national average 9 days from Election Day 2016. Her advantage had been as high as 7 points with about 21 days to go. Clinton’s 45% vote share was low enough that it left Trump with a lot of room in the final week of the campaign to corral voters who favored neither candidate at this point.

All Biden really needs to do right now to win is hold onto the voters that he has.
But the differences go beyond the national horse race polls. An ABC News/Ipsos poll taken after the final debate between Biden and Trump and published on Sunday found that Trump’s net favorability (favorable – unfavorable) rating is a very weak -22 points.

The fact that Trump has a deeply negative net favorability rating is nothing new. It’s been the norm during his presidency and was true during his 2016 bid for the White House as well.

The more interesting nugget in the poll is that Biden’s net favorability was +1 point. A positive net favorability rating is the norm for Biden these days.

Clinton, however, had almost universally negative net favorability ratings in the final month and nine days of the 2016 election. That is, she was more disliked than liked.

To pull off a win in 2016, Clinton had to win over voters who disliked both Trump and her. Clinton ended up losing the 18% of the electorate who had an unfavorable view of Trump and her by 17 points.

Today, Biden doesn’t need to do anything like that. All he needs to do is win the voters who like him. Our last CNN/SSRS poll had Biden beating Trump by a 93% to 6% margin among likely voters who had a favorable view of Biden.

Could Biden still lose?  Highly unlikely, but possible.  More importantly, we know that if it is close at all, Trump will do everything he can to cheat.  Not to mention the built-in electoral college bias.  So, Biden as the next president is no-sure thing.  But, neither should you be in a panic about 2016 repeating itself.  It really is different.  

Quick hits (part II)

1) Love Leonhardt’s take on the debate in his Friday newsletter:

Last night’s presidential debate felt much more normal than this year’s first one. The candidates interrupted each other only occasionally rather than constantly. They argued about big policy issues like the coronavirus, foreign policy and more.

But the debate wasn’t normal by the standards of nearly all of American history. It wasn’t normal because one of the nominees — the sitting president — told one lie after another. He did so about the virus, North Korea, China, Russia, climate change, his own health care policy, Joe Biden’s health care policy, Biden’s finances and the immigrant children who were separated from their parents.

I understand you may be tired of hearing about President Trump’s untruths. I’m tired of writing about them. They hardly qualify as surprising anymore.
But it’s impossible to analyze a debate filled with untruths without first acknowledging them. They undermine an event meant to highlight differences between candidates. They undermine democracy. To ignore them is to miss the biggest story: a president trying to construct his own reality.

How are voters supposed to choose between, say, two different health care plans if one candidate makes up stories about both plans?

No previous president has behaved this way. Democrats often accused George W. Bush of lying, and Republicans accused Barack Obama of lying. And both men made questionable statements and statements that later proved untrue. But when they proved untrue, Bush and Obama stopped making the claims. Trump just keeps making them.

2) Some really interesting research on learning in the college classroom:

Despite active learning being recognized as a superior method of instruction in the classroom, a major recent survey found that most college STEM instructors still choose traditional teaching methods. This article addresses the long-standing question of why students and faculty remain resistant to active learning. Comparing passive lectures with active learning using a randomized experimental approach and identical course materials, we find that students in the active classroom learn more, but they feel like they learn less. We show that this negative correlation is caused in part by the increased cognitive effort required during active learning. Faculty who adopt active learning are encouraged to intervene and address this misperception, and we describe a successful example of such an intervention.

3) Great discussion in Persuasion on American democracy.  Especially loved Gary Kasparov’s comments:

Kasparov: Oh, absolutely. [After the 2016 U.S. election,] I could feel the real threat to American democracy. I was not under any illusions. I knew American democracy was much stronger, resilient. It’s not Russia; it’s not even Hungary or Poland. It’s an established democracy with 200-plus years of democratic conditions. But I warned Americans—I can just point at my tweets at the time—that soon with Donald Trump, we’ll discover how much of the American democratic system is based on honor, on traditions, on certain political rules that are not written in the law books. I also wanted to warn the American public that democracy doesn’t die overnight. It’s not about tanks in the streets. It’s about the gradual disappearance of checks and balances. And that’s what Trump was very good at. I could see him doing it, one by one. Many of our Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump will be sorry later on. And I’m afraid that we haven’t seen the worst. That’s why I think these elections will be a very important turning point in American history…

Kasparov: The election of 2016 normalized Trump’s political style and the election of 2020—if, God forbid, Trump is re-elected—will normalize his political practice. It’s not about a new constitution. It’s about preserving the spirit of this foundation left by the Founding Fathers for us. And when I’m hearing, most likely a new Supreme Court judge (I’m referring to the Amy Coney Barrett hearings) not answering directly the question about peaceful transition of power? It’s amazing. She was asked a simple question; it’s not a gotcha. She said whatever about beautiful traditions, but she did not answer directly that this president must commit to the peaceful transition power. And she’ll be sitting in the Supreme Court for the next 30-plus years; she’s just 48. So that tells you that Trump is succeeding in eroding the very foundation of the political system by incorporating people here and there that have, let’s say, a very relaxed view about the fundamental issues of our democracy.

4) Adam Serwer is just so good.  Read this.  Really.  “The Supreme Court Is Helping Republicans Rig Elections: Adding more justices to the bench might be the only way to stop them.”

Barrett’s future ascension to the high court portends tremendous headwinds for progressive priorities and legislation. But this is not sufficient reason for Democrats to consider drastic measures such as expanding the Supreme Court. What does justify such measures is that the Republican political project has gone beyond shaping policy to rigging the electorate. In politics, sometimes you lose—and the Court’s rightward tilt for the past half century has reflected the left’s losses. The conservative justices, though, have now concluded that their role is to help the Republican Party continue to wield political power, by inhibiting voters’ ability to make a different choice.

James k. vardaman, later a Democratic governor and senator from Mississippi, wanted to be very clear about the purpose of the state’s 1890 constitution. “Mississippi’s constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the nigger from politics,” Vardaman declared. “Not the ‘ignorant and vicious,’ as some of the apologists would have you believe, but the nigger.”

But when the case of Williams v. Mississippi came before the Supreme Court in 1898, challenging the state’s constitution and its laws for discriminating against Black voters, the Court upheld the rules. Justice Joseph McKenna wrote that even though the state’s poll tax, grandfather clause, and literacy tests had reduced the registration rate of one of the largest African American populations in the country to almost nothing, the measures themselves did not mention race and therefore did not violate the Constitution’s prohibitions on racial discrimination.

“It has been uniformly held that the constitution of the United States, as amended, forbids, so far as civil and political rights are concerned, discriminations by the general government or by the states against any citizen because of his race,” McKenna wrote. “The operation of the constitution and laws is not limited by their language or effects to one race. They reach weak and vicious white men as well as weak and vicious black men, and whatever is sinister in their intention, if anything, can be prevented by both races by the exertion of that duty which voluntarily pays taxes and refrains from crime.”

As the legal historian Lawrence Goldstone wrote in Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, the justices had “chosen a paper-thin, even tortured, interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment and turned a blind eye to the obvious.” When it came to Black rights, the Supreme Court was both ignorant and vicious.

The Williams case capped a decades-long process of disenfranchisement. Although the Reconstruction governments guaranteeing equal rights for Black Americans had been overthrown by 1876, and Republicans had retreated from their advocacy of racial equality, southern politics remained in flux for some years after. The long night of Jim Crow did not fall all at once…

That southern states employed facially race-neutral methods to disenfranchise their Black populations for the express purpose of evading the Constitution didn’t matter to Roberts then, and it doesn’t matter to him now. From the perspective of the Court’s conservative wing, the avalanche of voting restrictions Republicans have adopted since Shelby County  are no crisis; the real concern is the incivility of liberals pointing out when these restrictions are discriminatory.

Under the logic of Roberts Court jurisprudence, not only would most Jim Crow voting restrictions pass constitutional muster, but even Vardaman’s boasting would be meaningless. As Roberts wrote in his opinion upholding the Trump administration’s travel ban targeting Muslim countries, Trump’s explicit declarations of discriminatory intent did not matter, because the lawyers who wrote the order didn’t mention religion. “The text says nothing about religion,” Roberts insisted, echoing McKenna’s assertion that the voting restrictions in Mississippi’s constitution were not “limited by their language or effects to one race.”

Seriously, you should read it all, though.  

5) Great article on white men and the gender gap.  And very excited to see lots of great quotes from my friend and co-author, Melissa Deckman:

The term “gender gap” has a clinical sound to it, like it’s an intrinsic condition of our politics. But it did not always exist, and with each recent election cycle, it has become more extreme.

If we look more closely at it, the gender gap probably deserves another name: It’s the white male gap. Or the white male problem.

Think about what the political map would look like if just white men voted.

We’d have a Senator Roy Moore representing Alabama, where 72 percent of the state’s white male voters (and 63 percent of the white women) cast their ballot for a man who was accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl — and who faced sexual misconduct allegations from multiple other women related to incidents they said occurred when they were underage. (He has denied the accusations.)

We’d likely have a Senator David Duke from Louisiana. The entire U.S. Senate would look far different — with Democratic senators from just a handful of the bluest states. And there would never have been a President Barack Obama.

Polls in advance of Nov. 3 reveal a huge gender divide. The electorate as a whole seems ready to cast out President Trump by a big margin. But not men. The most recent poll by The New York Times and Siena College shows 48 percent of men backing the re-election of Mr. Trump, compared to 42 percent backing Joe Biden. For women, it’s 35 percent for Mr. Trump, and 58 percent for Mr. Biden.

Broken down by race, the latest poll from Pew Research has Mr. Trump leading Mr. Biden among white men by a 12-percentage-point margin — 53 percent to 41 percent.

Why do men and women, even some living under the same roof, have such divergent views on what issues matter and what people are fit to be our leaders?

6) I’m always here for takedowns of libertarianism.  Especially from Krugman.

7) My wife asked me last night what happens if you vote early and then you die.  It depends!  States have all sorts of different rules on this.  Though, here in NC unless someone challenges your vote, it’s probably okay.  

8) Thanks to BB for sharing some great health/science related links for you all in a row.  Big time meta-analysis on the acute (short-term impact) of artificial sweeteners.  And… unsurprisingly, a whole lot of nothing.  Stop your hating.  

Ingestion of LES, administered alone or in combination with a nutrient-containing preload, has no acute effects on the mean change in postprandial glycemic or insulinemic responses compared with a control intervention. Apart from a small beneficial effect on PPG (−0.3 mmol/L) in studies enrolling patients with type 2 diabetes, the effects did not differ by type or dose of LES, or fasting glucose or insulin levels.

9) And, how does a mask affect your during aerobic exercise?  May not be comfortable, but (N95 aside), basically not at all (admittedly, small study, to be fair):

Sixteen male volunteers (mean age and BMI of 34 ± 4 years and 28.72 ± 3.78 kg/m2, respectively) completed the protocol. Heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and time to exhaustion did not differ significantly. 

10) The evidence just seems to keep mounting for the importance of Vitamin D for all sorts of stuff.  I’m kind of curious about my levels, but I also do pretty well on time in the sun.

11) This is great and really a must-read, “The Real Divide in America Is Between Political Junkies and Everyone Else.”  Because, if you are reading this blog, this is almost surely you (except for you, my two sons, reading this because you love your dad and I throw in enough non-politics stuff for you)

The common view of American politics today is of a clamorous divide between Democrats and Republicans, an unyielding, inevitable clash of harsh partisan polarization.

But that focus obscures another, enormous gulf — the gap between those who follow politics closely and those who don’t. Call it the “attention divide.”

What we found is that most Americans — upward of 80 percent to 85 percent — follow politics casually or not at all. Just 15 percent to 20 percent follow it closely (the people we call “deeply involved”): the group of people who monitor everything from covfefe to the politics of “Cuties.”…

But on a number of other issues, we found that Americans fall much less neatly into partisan camps. For example, Democrats and Republicans who don’t follow politics closely believe that low hourly wages are one of the most important problems facing the country. But for hard partisans, the issue barely registers.

Partisan Republicans were most likely to say drug abuse was the most important problem facing the country. But less-attentive Republicans ranked it second to last, and they were also concerned about the deficit and divisions between Democrats and Republicans.

Among Democrats, the political junkies think the influence of wealthy donors and interest groups is an urgent problems. But less-attentive Democrats are 25 percentage points more likely to name moral decline as an important problem facing the country — a problem partisan Democrats never even mention.

These gaps extend beyond issues to feelings about the other party. Hard partisans are twice as likely as people who pay less attention to politics to say that they would be unhappy if their child married someone of the opposing party.

Hard partisans are also more likely to speak out about these political likes and dislikes. Almost 45 percent of people who are deeply involved say they frequently share their views on social media — in some cases, daily. It’s only 11 percent for those without a politics habit. To put this in perspective, a Pew study finds that 10 percent of Twitter users are responsible for 97 percent of all tweets about politics.

12) As you know, I’m always here for Electoral College takedowns.  Nobody better at it than Jesse Wegman.  Terrific Vox interview with Sean Illing.  This is going into syllabi.

13) This on the evolving meaning of “white supremacy” is really good.  Personally, I think those on the left use the phrase too broadly which diminishes its power and importance (i.e., when everything is white supremacy it really hurts our ability to most effectively deal with the worst aspects).  

But some Black scholars, businessmen and activists — on the right and the left — balk at the phrase. They hear in those words a sledgehammer that shocks and accuses, rather than explains. When so much is described as white supremacy, when the Ku Klux Klan and a museum art collection take the same descriptor, they say, the power of the phrase is lost.

Prof. Orlando Patterson, a sociologist at Harvard University who has written magisterial works on the nature of slavery and freedom, including about his native Jamaica, said it was too reminiscent of the phrases used to describe apartheid and Nazi Germany.

“It comes from anger and hopelessness and alienates rather than converts,” he said.

The label also discourages white and Black people from finding commonalities of experience that could move society forward, Professor Patterson and others said.

“It racializes a lot of problems that a lot of people face, even when race is not the answer,” Professor Patterson said.

Glenn C. Loury, a conservative-leaning economics professor at Brown University, hears in the term an attempt to spin a mythic narrative about a fallen America.

“So we declare structures of our country are implacably racist,” Professor Loury said. “On the other hand, we make appeals to have a conversation with that country which is mired in white supremacy? The logic escapes me.”

Then there are those whose cultural signposts are found outside the Black-white divide. The essayist Wesley Yang, the son of Korean immigrants and the author of “The Souls of Yellow Folk,” often examines racial identity and has found himself watching the debate over these words as if through a side window. Did this thing called white supremacy really so neatly define the lives of Black people and Latinos and Asians?

“The phrase is destructive of discourse,” he said. “Once you define it as something that has a ghostly essence, it’s nowhere and everywhere.”

14) Hooray for running.  I’m so looking forward to about 9 weeks from now when I’ll be allowed to start running again on my Achilles.  “Why Running Won’t Ruin Your Knees
Running pummels knees more than walking does, but in the process it may fortify and bulk up cartilage, helping stave off knee arthritis.”

15) Good stuff from Chait on why the Hunter Biden laptop story is going nowhere in sharp contrast to emails:

One problem with these charges is that it’s extremely clear Biden did neither. As vice-president, Biden pushed Ukraine to oust its corrupt prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who democracy advocates throughout the world — including Republicans! — considered a key impediment to reform. Trump’s claim that Shokin was about to investigate Burisma, the firm employing Hunter Biden, is backward. Ukrainian reformers are very clear that Shokin was not investigating Burisma. Biden took the position opposite to the one that benefited his son…

But the Clinton email scandal was different. First, it drew on decades of negative brand equity built up by the media following Clinton scandals, real and imagined. Second, the Hillary Clinton emails were released in monthly tranches throughout the campaign, generating regular coverage. Third, the story benefited as well from a simple linguistic overlap between the Hillary email story and the hacks of Democratic emails — for low-information voters, “emails” became an all-purpose shorthand for Clinton wrongdoing, even though the email hacking was a Trump scandal.

And the media has simply learned not to be suckered in by these tactics as gullibly. They don’t need to give an issue the all-consuming attention that gives off the sense something bad must be going on here just because Republicans want to talk about it. The bad faith of the enterprise is too transparent.

16) Really liked David Hopkins‘ take on the debate:

Joe Biden acted very much like a typical Democrat. He came to the debate armed with summaries of specific policy proposals to address specific social problems, along with associated facts and figures: a public option for health care, a climate change bill, an immigration reform initiative. He pledged to protect the interests of specific groups within the Democratic coalition, such as labor unions, African-Americans, and the “middle class” more generally.
Trump, for his part, exercised the usual Republican counterstrategy against such an approach. He conceded ground on many of the specific policies, and even tried to outflank Biden at times (as on criminal justice). At times, his attacks did not target the content of Biden’s proposals at all, but instead cited Biden’s lack of success at achieving them while he was in office…
That Joe Biden is a walking personification of his party is hardly news. But beneath the idiosyncratic exterior, Donald Trump has himself become an increasingly orthodox Republican over the course of his time in politics. In both his rhetoric and his substantive positions, Trump hews more closely to party doctrine today than he did in 2016, and his instincts in the heat of the debate reflect this evolution.

Many media commentators opined afterwards that the debate didn’t break any new ground. That’s a reasonable characterization. But one big reason why is that each candidate adopted the traditional playbook of his own partisan team, playing to its perennial strengths and defending against its weaknesses. In a year stuffed with unprecedented developments, it was a rare moment of political conventionality.

17) Interesting case that Google’s monopoly has made their search a less pleasant user experience.

18) This is theoretically interesting, “COVID-19 can survive on skin up to 9 hours, versus 2 hours for the flu, study finds.”  But, practically, speaking, it just really doesn’t seem to matter that much in actual transmission.  That said, wash your hands.

19) This is a great essay from political scientist Jennifer Victor, “But really, why should you believe in elections?”

The so-called folk theory of democracy is that elections are the mechanism that help us discover the “will of the people.” Since democracy is a system of self-governance, it is believed that discovering this collective will is essential to our ability to govern ourselves. And if we believe in this folktale then of course everyone should vote and everyone should believe that the outcome of the election is valid, revealing the people’s will.

But this is false. Elections do not discover the will of the people. Most of the time, people do not have a single will, or desire; they have many. How can an election discover something that does not exist? In any large group of people making complex choices, there are many possible and valid outcomes that different majorities might support. An election is simply a mechanism for discovering a will of the people. As a group, there are many possible majorities that could form. An election is a mechanism for discovering just one of those majorities.

So, if multiple outcomes are valid, why should anyone accept the only observed outcome as the true outcome?

Put simply, we accept the outcome as valid because we believe it is valid. In this way, elections have a sort of Tinker Bell quality to them.

When the story of Peter Pan is performed on stage, there is often a brief moment where the fourth wall is broken, and the audience is asked to collectively bring their power of belief to help a fairy fly. What happens when the fairy performs the magical act is that everyone in the audience is automatically connected to one another having achieved something as a group. And the power of that common group connection leaves the audience with a sense of wonder and accomplishment.

You might accept an election outcome in this same way because of the powerful connection that you have made with others around you to participate in a collective act of self-governance that empowers one person to a position of authority.

Political scientists know that the will of the people is a mess, and even if it exists, elections are an unreliable means of discovering it. A national election is a collective act. Engaging in a collective action to produce something as a group, which cannot be produced by any single individual, requires a certain amount of faith. It requires faith in the process and faith in one another. To be accepted as valid, elections require collective faith.

20) This was a really interesting essay, “Tyrants Hate a Plague: But Covid cripples democracies too. Which system works best against a pandemic?”

More than any other crisis, a public-health emergency can induce people voluntarily to accept restrictions on their liberties in the hope of improving their personal security. Invasive surveillance systems and bans on freedom of assembly have been introduced and accepted around the world with little public pushback. And the striking example of Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who has given himself the power to rule by decree and destroy political opponents in the name of combatting the virus, gives us grounds to fear that the current health crisis (and the economic downturn that it has set in motion) can embolden other populists in their quest for unchecked power. But are the restrictions on individual freedom imposed in response to Covid-19, restrictions that disallow not only anti-government protests but also strutting military parades and strident pro-government rallies, genuinely favorable to authoritarian concentrations or seizures of power?

Political theorists are right that authoritarian leaders thrive on crises and that they are fluent in the politics of fear. Yet not all crises are amenable to authoritarian solutions. Nor does every form of public fear accrue to the benefit of political power. The crises that authoritarians most enjoy are those that they have manufactured themselves, or that at least permit them to showcase their imagined strengths. Carl Schmitt said that dictators aspire to wield the power of God to work miracles. But the Almighty is never asked to solve problems thrust upon Him by an unpredictably changing world that He has not created and over which He exercises minimal control.

21) And a very interesting (and anti-woke) take on race and identity in America from John McWhorter, “Living in Blackface: What does it it say about America that Rachel Dolezal and Jessica Krug wanted to pass as black?”

Racism exists, to be sure. But if black people’s experience in the 21st century was the constant firehose spray of slights and dismissals that today’s woke consensus teaches, then Dolezal in her spray tan wouldn’t have lasted two weeks, and Krug would have been quietly thankful that she was not black.

Dolezal and Krug are bellwethers of a sort, who can help us make our way amidst the racial reckoning of 2020. They reveal the uncomfortable fact that more than a few people speaking for black America exaggerate the degree that racism infects our daily lives.

Certainly, there are “Living While Black” incidents—for example, a white person calling the police on a black person with suspicions that have no basis. A couple of years ago, a receptionist mistook me for a sound technician at an event where I was the professor about to lead a class, dressed in an overcoat and carrying a briefcase. However, these are isolated cases happening across a massive nation, remnants of something once vastly more common and dangerous, not regular occurrences in individual black lives in the way that they were generations ago. To be black is not to go about ever injured, grieving, and struggling to get through days endlessly hobbled by manifestations of racism large and small.

Sadly, this portrait has become a boilerplate claim. This year, Greg Patton was teaching a class on business communication to business students at the University of Southern California, discussing hedging terms such as “like” and “you know” in different languages. He mentioned in passing that in Mandarin, people say “na-ge, na-ge, na-ge.” This offended a group of black students in the class, who reported Patton to the dean of the business school, saying in a statement: “We are burdened to fight with our existence in society, in the workplace, and in America. We should not be made to fight for our sense of peace and mental well-being at Marshall.”

The sad thing is that there are black people who fake victimhood in the same way as Dolezal and Krug did, and for the same reason: seeking a sense of validation and group membership in noble victimhood. Only this could explain those insisting that Princeton University—with its battery of diversity programs, its stringent censuring of all communication possibly deemed racist, and its removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from an important building—is a racist institution that needs to deliver itself into the hands of a Star Chamber assigned to police for racist actions and statements. That performative nonsense comes from the same well as Dolezal’s phony reports of discrimination and Krug pretending to have been asked to clean up after a conference hotel meal.

Just as Dolezal and Krug were wrongly deemed crazy, there is nothing pathological in the disproportionate bent for this kind of thing from black people. Almost four centuries of being treated as animals was hardly useful for a true sense of racial pride. In his book on reparations, The Debt, Randall Robinson had it that racism

has hulled empty a whole race of people with inter-generational efficiency. Every artifact of the victim’s past, every custom, every ritual, every god, every language, every trace element of a people’s whole inherited identity, was wrenched from them and ground into a sharp choking dust.

There is some truth in that. It would be difficult to explain if black history had not taught black people that to be black is to be less. Playing the victim is a handy way to assuage that sense of inadequacy. Then—to the extent that playing the victim is a general human trait—as people of a subordinate, troubled group, black people as individuals have a readier way of falling into that personality type than, say, a white Lutheran in North Dakota. There is a sense of warmth in circling the wagons, a sense of purpose in the role of warrior.

22) Oh, man did I love this Vulture feature on 100 sequences that shaped animation.  Let’s just say I spent a little too much time with it one morning.  

Quick hits (part I)

1) I don’t know just how much stock we should put in the particular cost/benefit figures here, but I do think it is truly important that we take more seriously the very real costs of not having kids in in-person school:

Summary: We estimate that each month of school closures in response to the COVID pandemic cost current students between $12,000 and $15,000 in future earnings due to lower educational quality. We also estimate total value-of-life, medical, and productivity costs per infection at $38,315 for September 2020. Using these costs, we calculate the cost-benefit threshold to keeping schools closed for October at over 0.355 new expected infections in the community per student kept out of school.

2) When it comes to court testimony, I think we are finally recognizing hand-writing analysis as psuedo-science.  So, should we really be throwing out ballots based on signature matching?  “Signed, Sealed, Delivered—Then Discarded: Signature matching—which one expert described as “witchcraft”—could lead to thousands of legitimate ballots being thrown out.”

Even in normal election cycles, signature-matching requirements result in many ballots being rejected. Hundreds of thousands of such ballots were disqualified this way in 2016—almost all, presumably, cast by voters who had done everything right. Rejections disproportionately hit certain demographic groups, including elderly voters, young voters, and voters of color, that are expected to heavily favor Vice President Joe Biden this fall. As voting by mail surges across the country, many elections, including the presidential race, could hinge on a process that one expert recently described to me as “witchcraft.” …

Your mileage may vary, but these materials didn’t give me a great deal of confidence in the system. It’s not that election officials aren’t trying—the presentations are earnest and straightforward—but they offer fairly minimal training to the people who will decide whether someone’s vote for president gets to count. Professional forensic document examiners are typically trained for two to three years, but even the most robust training systems for election officials are more like eight hours. Some of the judgment calls depicted in the materials are obvious mismatches, but others are much fuzzier…

Regardless of the overall rejection rates, it’s a safe bet whose ballots will be rejected most: those of the youngest voters, the oldest voters, disabled voters, and voters of color. The first three of these are relatively easily explained. As schools phase handwriting instruction out of their curriculum, young people no longer learn cursive. They are less likely to have consistent, well-practiced signatures, and as a result, are less likely to have two signatures from different occasions match. Over time, their handwriting matures too. Freda Levenson, the legal director of the ACLU of Ohio, told me about a voter who had registered with a girlish signature when she was in high school. By the time she tried casting an absentee ballot in her 30s, “she in effect had to forge her own signature to make it match.” Similarly, older voters’ handwriting is sometimes in decline. Voters who suffer from illnesses such as stroke may lose the ability to sign the way they once did. But why so many voters of color see their ballots rejected is not well understood.

3) This ended up way more in the weeds than I wanted, but the big picture is certainly encouraging, “Geothermal energy is poised for a big breakout”

4) Nice Op-Ed, “What Fans of ‘Herd Immunity’ Don’t Tell You: A proposal to let people with low risk of infection live without constraint could lead to a million or more preventable deaths.”

No matter their politics, people nearly always listen to those who say what they want to hear.

Hence, it is no surprise that the White House and several governors are now paying close attention to the “Great Barrington Declaration,” a proposal written by a group of well-credentialed scientists who want to shift Covid-19 policy toward achieving herd immunity — the point at which enough people have become immune to the virus that its spread becomes unlikely.

They would do this by allowing “those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally.” This, they say, will allow people “to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”

These academics are clearly a distinct minority. Most of their public health colleagues have condemned their proposal as unworkable and unethical — even as amounting to “mass murder,” as William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor who now heads a global health foundation, put it to CNN last week.

But who is right?

The signers of the declaration do have a point. Restrictions designed to limit deaths cause real harm, including, but by no means limited to, stress on the economy, increases in domestic violence and drug abuse, declines in tests that screen for cancer and on and on. Those living alone suffer real pain from isolation, and the young have every reason to feel bitter over the loss of substantive education and what should have been memories of a high school prom or the bonding friendships that form in a college dorm at 2 a.m. or on an athletic team or in some other endeavor.

So the idea of returning to something akin to normal — releasing everyone from a kind of jail — is attractive, even seductive. It becomes less seductive when one examines three enormously important omissions in the declaration.

First, it makes no mention of harm to infected people in low-risk groups, yet many people recover very slowly. More serious, a significant number, including those with no symptoms, suffer damage to their heart and lungs. One recent study of 100 recovered adults found that 78 of them showed signs of heart damage. We have no idea whether this damage will cut years from their lives or affect their quality of life.

Second, it says little about how to protect the vulnerable. One can keep a child from visiting a grandparent in another city easily enough, but what happens when the child and grandparent live in the same household? And how do you protect a 25-year-old diabetic, or cancer survivor, or obese person, or anyone else with a comorbidity who needs to go to work every day? Upon closer examination, the “focused protection” that the declaration urges devolves into a kind of three-card monte; one can’t pin it down.

Third, the declaration omits mention of how many people the policy would kill. It’s a lot.

5) The current Covid surge is really widespread and really not good:

The United States is sleepwalking into what could become the largest coronavirus outbreak of the pandemic so far. In the past week alone, as voters prepare to go to the ballot box, about one in every 1,000 Americans has tested positive for the virus, and about two in every 100,000 Americans have died of it. Today, the United States reported 73,103 new cases, the third-highest single-day total since the pandemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic.

6) On the new CDC Guidelines.  Better, but, “Six Feet Is Not Enough and 15 Minutes Is Too Long: The coronavirus ignores this outdated social distancing measure”

Kimberly Prather, PhD, director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, had this to say about the new CDC definition:

“Given the growing evidence on the importance of aerosol transmission, close contact (and tracing) should be expanded to include anyone in the same room breathing/sharing the air… not just within six feet.”…

But wait, there’s more math to the equation, as Corsi outlines in his blog. The amount of virus a person emits, measured as “respiratory minute volume,” is affected greatly by activity.

“If someone is doing aerobic exercise in a gym or dancing, their respiratory minute volume can be as high as 10 to 15 times what it would be at rest,” Corsi says. Likewise, the amount of virus another person inhales can vary greatly by their own activity and breathing level. And both emission and inhalation are tremendously affected by mask-wearing and other physical circumstances.

Are you sharing the same indoor air without a mask? That’s a close contact.

7) Great stuff from John Sides, “What Pessimistic Takes on Americans’ Willingness to Fight Covid-19 Get Wrong.”

It is worth emphasizing the high level of Republican support for closing businesses. One theory of why the United States has struggled to fight the pandemic, recently proposed by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, is that Trump had to confront the “folk-libertarianism” of the Republican Party—a “reflexive individualism disconnected from the common good” that is “deeply American.” But at that moment, there was little evidence of such sentiments. Even Republicans were not opposed to restrictions intended to fight the virus.

Figure 2. Partisans who follow politics are the most polarized on local Covid-19 policy. Percent who support closing businesses. Data source: YouGov; graph by John Sides.

But that changed after Trump and others began criticizing state and local restrictions. Trump famously targeted states with Democratic governors, tweeting, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” in late April. This led to a sharp drop in support for closing businesses—one most visible among politically attentive Republicans, whose support dropped 40 points in less than three months. Support among Democrats barely declined.

This same pattern of partisan division has played out in many other policy areas,3 including the wearing of masks. And, as the political scientist Cindy Kam and I showed in a recent report, partisan divisions on canceling large gatherings are also largest among those paying the most attention to politics.

At the same time, as the graph above shows, Republican opposition for closing businesses has largely plateaued. In fact, as of mid-September, about half of Republicans disagree with the president and favor the restrictions he wants to “liberate” blue-state voters from.

8) This deserve a post of it’s own.  But I’ve been so damn busy.  Ezra makes the case, “The fight is for democracy”

Republicans against democracy

“We’re not a democracy,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) tweeted during the vice presidential debate. As the backlash mounted, Lee poured cement around his position. “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”

Rank democracy. There is no subtext in this election, only text; no dog whistles, only foghorns. Lee, a former Supreme Court clerk and one of the GOP’s brighter intellectual lights, is stating his party’s position simply: Democracy is the enemy, the specter stalking Republican power.

A party that wins power even as it fails to win over voters will quickly turn against democracy itself. And when that happens, it will use the power it has to make it yet easier to win power without winning voters. And so the Republican Party is. A full accounting of the GOP’s recent assays against democracy would require a book, but a few examples:

  • In North Carolina in 2016 and Michigan and Wisconsin in 2018, Republican legislatures responded to electoral defeat by using lame-duck legislative sessions to entrench their own power and strip incoming Democratic governors and officeholders of key powers and privileges.
  • Republicans at the state level have consistently pushed policies — from voter ID laws to voter roll purges to shutting down polling locations in low-income communities — that disproportionately disenfranchise low-income minorities and Democrats more broadly.
  • The Supreme Court’s conservative bloc has handed down decision after decision undermining voting rights — including gutting the Voting Rights Act — while permitting money to flood politics. And it’s not just the Supreme Court that holds sway here. A recent study tracked 309 votes by judges in 175 election-related decisions and found that “Republican appointees interpreted the law in a way that impeded ballot access 80 percent of the time, versus 37 percent for Democratic ones.”
  • The Trump administration tried to add a citizenship question to the census, with the explicit intention of scaring off Hispanic respondents so the population counts would give Republicans a bigger electoral advantage. The Supreme Court narrowly rejected their machinations, but only because they had been so obvious about the political aims motivating the change.
  • A number of conservative pundits and Republican politicians — including Mike Lee — have called for repealing the 17th Amendment, which allows for the direct election of US senators. The alternative would be state legislatures choosing senators, which would maximize the GOP’s geographic advantages.
  • In 2020, Republicans, including the Trump campaign, filed lawsuits to prevent states from making it easier for Americans to vote, and have their vote counted, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. When groups like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have tried to get judges to change or invalidate existing laws that make it difficult for Americans to vote and have their vote counted during the pandemic, Republicans — including the Trump campaign — have actively fought against them.

All of these efforts continue, with examples piling up even as I write these words. On Monday, the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 over a request by Pennsylvania’s Republicans to overturn a court ruling allowing election officials to count ballots received for up to three days after Election Day, due to restrictions and delays imposed by the coronavirus.

9) Hell, yeah, this is true and we need to talk about it more, “Let’s not mince words. The Trump administration kidnapped children.”

THE TRUMP administration’s immorality, cruelty and bureaucratic malpractice in tearing migrant toddlers, tweens and teens away from their parents in 2017 and 2018 were the work of many co-conspirators, most of them faithfully carrying out the wishes of the president himself. A draft report by the Justice Department’s inspector general has made that clear. Perhaps even more shocking is that policy’s present-day legacy: More than 500 children who, having been wrenched from their families by U.S. government officials with no plan or mechanism ever to reunite them, remain separated.

That is the case despite years of efforts to track down parents who were, in many cases, deported after their children were seized and placed with family sponsors in the United States. For all intents and purposes, these children were kidnapped by the U.S. government.

10) As a Political Parties scholar, I’m particularly fascinated by what may happen to the Republican Party after Trump.  This is a scary thought from Stanley Greenberg, “After Trump, the Republican Party May Become More Extreme”

Even as trump’s chances of victory appear to shrink, the GOP is still his party, one that he can rally from outside the White House. That’s why the 43 percent of voters who still think Trump is doing a good job pose such an immense challenge to the country. They—along with like-minded Republicans in Congress, the federal judiciary, and state governments—will have countless opportunities in the months ahead to thwart Democratic efforts to fight the pandemic and repair its economic damage.

Much more dangerous is a new unity and fervor among Trump’s devoted supporters, who believe it unacceptable that abortion is legal in America, according to a values survey I conducted last year for Democracy Corps. They cheer the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment and hold to an extreme individualism and hatred of government. They side with the militias and the anti-lockdown protesters who menacingly wave their assault weapons and threaten elected officials.

And above all, they are exercised by racial resentments and the idea that America will have a reckoning with its history of racial injustice. They remain inflamed by President Barack Obama and “Obamacare”—the remaining legacy of the first Black president. They believe it was created to make millions of nonwhite people dependent on the government and vote for Democrats, keeping the party in power forever. These same resentments explain Texas state leaders’ decision to allow only one drop-off box per county, a policy with no purpose beyond keeping Black and Latino citizens from voting and putting Democrats in office.

Three-quarters of those who approve of Trump believe that the difficulty Black people face in getting ahead is their “own fault,” not because of “discrimination”—not because of America’s history of systemic racism. Trump’s acolytes are encamped to block any further progress toward equality.

Unfortunately, political parties do not change course quickly. After being crushed in 1980, Democrats needed three presidential elections from 1984 to 1992 to modernize and become a sustainable national party that could carry states in the South and win back working-class suburbs in the North. Joining the fight for the presidency is what draws new voters to a party. In 1984, the reformer Gary Hart attacked the special interests who controlled the party and championed new industries over old. He had at least had a constituency to build on; he won nearly as many primary votes as the eventual nominee, the establishment favorite Walter Mondale. Hart and the third-place candidate, Jesse Jackson, together won more than half of that year’s Democratic primary electorate. The anti-Trump reformers in the GOP begin with, at best, a third of their party.

11) This chart.  Damn.

12) Love family gem-mining when we visit family in the mountains of NC.  In fact, I have big chunks of emerald and amethyst, which I “mined” myself, on my desk at work that I love to fidget with.  Apparently, some people actually make real money at these gem mines.  Also, I did not mine it myself, but I just may carry around a piece of obsidian because I love it.

13) You cannot let off the gas on Covid.  “Masks made Czech Republic the envy of Europe. Now they’ve blown it”

14) Lots of good tips here from Clearer Thinking, “12 Techniques to Accelerate Your Learning.”  I think these last ones are great for students:


10. Active recall Research shows that learning is more effective when you spend time retrieving the information to remember rather than just passively reviewing the materials (the testing effect). For example, if you were learning about space exploration, you could quiz yourself with a question like “How did the U.S. government justify the expense of going to the moon?”, and try to remember the answer (before you check whether you are right), rather than merely reviewing the material passively. Forcing yourself to try to remember actually makes the memories longer lasting.

11. Spaced repetition This method, based on the spacing effect, minimizes the time spent reviewing the learning materials while increasing long-term retention. Schedule reviews of your learning materials at increasingly longer time intervals. This means that you should review what you just learned shortly after learning it (within a day or a week at most) and space out the reviews afterward. If you noticed that you had trouble recalling the information, that would be a sign that you waited too long for the review, so schedule the next one within a shorter time interval. If you get the material right, then you can wait a longer amount of time for your next quiz. To make this easier, you can give ThoughtSaver a try, which is our own system we created for this purpose. Or use advanced flashcard software, such as Anki or Supermemo.

12. Incremental reading This learning technique involves going through new learning material and reviewing old material at the same time, using a process that helps you understand difficult concepts that are new to you. Incremental reading is credited to Piotr Woźniak and is integrated in the newest versions of Supermemo, which he created. The method as described below is closer though is inspired by Michael Nielsen’s take on incremental reading, which you may find it a bit easier to learn and apply. Suppose that you are reading a challenging set of articles on a topic that you are not familiar with, but which you are motivated to really understand. For instance, you may be trying to figure out how “deep neural networks” work.  Skim the articles once, making no attempt to fully understand them. The purpose at this stage is to identify the main ideas in the articles, notice what you already know and figure out the things that you need to learn about. As you do this, take notes using advanced note taking systems like Roam and Notion. When you encounter each important seeming concept and definition, turn them into flashcards using ThoughtSaver, Supermemo or Anki, so that you can be quizzed on the content using the methods of spaced repetition and active recall. Review these cards regularly. Make several passes through the articles this way (most likely spread over a few days or even a week), and you will notice that your flashcards you’re creating start going deeper into the topic. Once you’ve reviewed these more detailed flashcards a few times, you can now try reading the articles again, this time taking your time to try and understand them in detail. You will likely find that the concepts start to fall into place in your mind. What’s more, because of using spaced repetition, the content will likely stay in your memory much longer, and you have an easy way to brush up on the ideas any time.

A few short post-debate thoughts

1) It is a rare debate that changes the course of an election. This was not that rare debate. Trump was not a raving maniac– hooray! But that doesn’t mean there’s any reason he should move up notably in the polls.

2) The liars win in politics.  This might just be Trump’s greatest advantage.  The absolutely astounding levels of shameless lying.  

Yeah, he was not raving, but I swear, probably 80-90% of what he said was not true.  But we are so damn inured, that to many, that just doesn’t matter.  All the lying does not even enter into the theater criticism.  I feel like I could maybe be more “disciplined” if I was allowed to dispense with even a tenuous connection to the truth as a precondition.

3) That said, these two UVA-sponsored tweets seem right to me:

4) And, lastly, if ever there was a race where the presidential debates were not going to change things, it’s this one:


5) Okay, really lastly.  I was nervous.  I honestly don’t think there’s anything Trump can do to fundamentally change the race enough at this point.  His only realistic hope beyond the most epic polling error ever is for Biden to really screw up.  And this was really Biden’s last chance to really screw up.  And he didn’t.

Whatever Bill Barr may try and cook-up will likely have all the credibility and impact of Hunter Biden’s supposed laptop.

So,, yeah, at this point I am mostly hoping we just aren’t looking at the most epically wrong polls in American history.  

Democracy as we know it is in the balance.  

The most encouraging polling

In many ways, the most encouraging polling I’ve been seeing is not national, or even state, but the mounting evidence that Congressional district after Congressional district this time around is polling roughly 8-10 points more D than it did 4 years ago.  This strikes me as pretty solid evidence that, yes, these polling averages showing Biden with a solid lead, are indeed, probably correct.  Especially when one considers that there were some real ignored warning signs in this polling four years ago.  Dave Wasserman via Taegan Goddard:

David Wasserman: “In late October of 2016, district-level polling was full of flashing red warning signs for Hillary Clinton: from northern Wisconsin to New York’s Southern Tier and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, single-digit leads for Donald Trump in September had expanded to double digits in heavily white working-class areas. And although much of this party polling was never released publicly, it turned out to be prescient.”

“Fast forward to 2020: district-level polls are full of danger signs for Trump. In both parties’ private surveys — used to make key resource allocation decisions — he’s routinely underperforming his 2016 margins by eight to ten points, consistent with national polls. As a result, one well-placed GOP member told us this week ‘it would be a pleasant surprise if we only lost ten House seats.’”

I’ve also been hearing much the same from Democratic pollster (PPP) Tom Jensen about their polling compared to four years ago.  

Is it possible the national polls, and the state polls, and the Congressional polls are all wrong?  Yes, it is.  But, probably about 10% at best (the Economist model’s current prediction).  Of course, I hate that I truly believe that the United States continuing as a genuine democracy may well be contingent on that 10% not happening.  

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