Quick hits (part II)

1) Super-cool interactive NYT feature on ventilation in schools.  TL;DR– open the windows.

2) So far, this is in mice, but the potential here is truly world-changing, “First vaccine to fully immunize against malaria builds on pandemic-driven RNA tech”

3) So, I highly doubt this will become law, but, the category of state legislators proposing really stupid laws is now not all restricted to Republicans thanks to the overly-woke left, “California Bill Would Give $1,000 Fines to Retailers With Separate ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’ Toy Sections”: The proposed bill from Assembly Members Evan Low and Cristina Garcia would require stores to have one unisex section for children’s products and apparel.”

4) Meanwhile, I try and not link too many columns that I just think aren’t all that great, but I had really come around on Michele Goldberg, but this really intellectually dishonest defense of critical race theory really bugged me.  This is honestly one of those cases where the commenters (“Readers’ picks always better than the NYT picks) are so much more on-point than the column.  Of course, race plays a huge, and long-undervalued role in understanding American history and present society.  But that does not mean everything can be boiled down to race nor that we should revert to a pathological racial essentialism where concepts like “meritocracy” and “hard work” are “white.”  

5) Interesting to see the LGBT estimates in the latest Gallup.  Especially variance by age:

Americans’ Self-Identification as LGBT, by Generation
  LGBT Straight/Heterosexual No opinion
  % % %
Generation Z (born 1997-2002) 15.9 78.9 5.2
Millennials (born 1981-1996) 9.1 82.7 8.1
Generation X (born 1965-1980) 3.8 88.6 7.6
Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) 2.0 91.1 6.9
Traditionalists (born before 1946) 1.3 89.9 8.9
GALLUP, 2020

6) This post from Will Wilkinson on his personal evolution from hardcore libertarian to genuine liberal in the context of which ideas are worth having reasoned debate about is really, really interesting.  

7) I’ve been happily advocating that soon should be mandating vaccines.  This Op-Ed, though, makes a very strong case for why that is far from ideal:

Given the U.S. government’s failure to control the Covid-19 pandemic and the political polarization of public health policies, it may seem wise to allow private corporations to require coronavirus vaccines. After all, it is common for American bosses to manage or attempt to influence the health of their employees through workplace drug testing, company-funded tobacco cessation programs and discounts on gym memberships. Some hospitals and other employers already require their workers to be inoculated for the flu, for example.

But when a company demands that its employees should be vaccinated, this dictate expresses the private power of capital over individuals in ways we should be reluctant to accept. The mere fact that workers and employers are bound together by voluntary contracts doesn’t give bosses license to make medical decisions for their employees. It’s different when the government requires vaccinations, since mandates are typically introduced, removed or modified by democratically elected legislatures, lending legitimacy to public efforts to govern people’s immunization choices…

Governments oversee many actions of private corporations. For example, markets are underpinned by regulatory instruments that uphold contracts, limit monopolies and prevent anti-competitive behavior and insider trading. Thanks to labor laws and worker protections, employer vaccine mandates would also be under at least indirect government influence.

When state governments require vaccinations for school entry, they also specify criteria for exemptions, generally for religious or medical reasons. But establishing criteria for exemptions is beyond the capacities of most private companies, so governments will likely need to do the same for coronavirus vaccine mandates, whether they’re imposed by corporations or legislators. In other words, even private mandates will need government involvement to be operational, let alone effective.

8) This was fascinating and just a perfect case study of why it is truly important to have diverse voices be part of decision-making processes, “In a Changing Military, the Army Eases Its Rules for Women’s Hair: The Army, which is increasingly dependent on female soldiers, has issued new regulations that allow women to wear lipstick and no longer limits their hair to a tight, disciplined bun.”

A photo provided by the Army shows some of the new hairstyles allowed for women.

9) Yglesias makes a really interesting case here, “Back to normal means ignoring the CDC:

The other is that you need to have an appropriate baseline for how public health agencies behave. It is unlikely that the CDC is going to respond to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout by completely revamping their institutional culture. Instead, we need to understand what that institutional culture is, and cover the CDC’s pronouncements accordingly. And the plain fact is that the CDC is extremely scold-y and conservative with its advice.

Nobody actually listens to the CDC

As I’ve mentioned previously, the CDC’s view is not only that pregnant women should abstain from alcohol, but that all women who aren’t on birth control should abstain from alcohol lest they accidentally have a night out drinking without being aware that they are pregnant.

And the context for that, in turn, is that the CDC thinks a man should never have more than two drinks in a day and a woman should never have more than one…

And to be clear, they are quite strict about this — “one drink” equals 12 ounces of 5% ABV beer or one glass of 12% ABV wine. I don’t know anything about wine, but this Real Simple article says that a normal chardonnay, pinot gris, or sauvignon blanc from California has ABV in the 13.5-14.5% range. So a woman who drinks a single glass of white wine is violating CDC guidelines. A Lagunitas IPA is 6.2% ABV, so a woman who drinks one is violating CDC guidelines. If a couple of guys split a six-pack while watching a football game, they are blowing through the guidelines.

I’m not here to say the guidelines are wrong. My understanding is that alcohol is in fact very hazardous to human health.

All I am saying is that we manage as a society to have a situation where these guidelines just kind of exist as a social fact. Libertarians don’t scream at the CDC for advising people to be healthy, and science journalists don’t scream at people for drinking more than this.

According to the federal government’s food safety guidelines:

  • All hamburgers should be cooked to at least 160 degrees (i.e., well done)

  • All steaks should be cooked to at least 145 degrees (i.e., medium)

  • All eggs should have firm yolks (i.e., no sunny-side up)

I am not a foodie snob who judges people for eating well-done meat. But my personal preference is medium-rare. And lots of people eat medium-rare meat. And restaurants serve it. And recipes call for it. I personally know many people who think that we should “listen to the experts” and “science is real” who enjoy eating eggs with runny yolks.

But beyond cooking temperature, any scientist would tell you that a hamburger is not a very healthy thing to eat! But also the people eating the burgers are not confused about this. Throughout the pandemic, pretty much every Saturday I take my kid out for a hike or nature walk somewhere and then take him to a McDonald’s Drive-Thru. I don’t think the government should try to stop me from buying him his Happy Meal. But I also don’t think the government should try to gaslight me into believing McDonald’s is a healthy lunch…

“This isn’t over yet,” Derek Thompson says. “Don’t eat the marshmallow. We still need masks and distancing. We still need to accelerate vaccinations.”

I agree with all that. But in that sense, I think we are being ill-served by political leadership that has reversed Trump’s flagrant dismissal of public health guidance in favor of the excessive deference of “a woman should never drink a full glass of white wine.”

It’s fine that the public health agencies are going to urge caution essentially indefinitely. But that means we need Joe Biden to clearly say something like:

  • I anticipate that a vaccine will be available to any adult who wants one around Day X, or at worst Day Y.

  • That won’t mean the virus magically vanishes, but it does mean that a few weeks after we achieve Vaccination for All Who Want It, the official national emergency will end.

  • In post-emergency America, it will still be true that virologists recommend washing your hands every time you pet your dog, but personally I’m going to return to my relaxed, no-malarkey lifestyle.

  • Specifically, I have been wearing a mask in public even though I was vaccinated a while ago because I’m trying to set a good example, but once vaccines are broadly available I will stop doing that.

  • I understand that everyone is impatient, but I’m asking you all to wait for six more weeks, not seven more months.

Then, I dunno, make a good-hearted joke. Say, “Fauci and Trump disagreed about a lot of stuff, but I read in Washingtonian that way before the pandemic Trump would obsessively hand sanitize before drinking a glass of Diet Coke, and Fauci probably thought that was great. And maybe we should all be more healthy all the time. But right now I’m gonna go get some Jeni’s with Nancy Pelosi.”

The nature of modern social media tends to polarize everything. And throughout the pandemic, the discourse has been pulled between “it’s just the flu” and public health stridency. And for most of the year, stridency has been approximately correct. But the more light there is at the end of the tunnel, the more tempting it becomes to eat the marshmallow, while at the same time the gap between public health stridency and reasonable cost-benefit analysis also grows. It’s not really the job of Fauci or the CDC to strike that balance, but it is the country’s elected leadership’s job, and you can’t just outsource it to them.

10) Crazy story, “Is ‘Avalanche’ the Answer to a 62-Year-Old Russian Mystery Over 9 Deaths? Was it U.F.O.s? Yeti? The K.G.B.? The riddle of who or what killed nine young hikers has inspired conspiracy theories for decades. Two scientists now say a natural disaster may be to blame.”

11) Paul Waldman, “Republicans are barking up the wrong voter suppression tree”

As the Brennan Center for Justice recently reported, Republicans at the state level have introduced a wave of voter suppression measures, including cutting back early voting and making it harder to register. But vote-by-mail has been their primary focus:

Nearly half of restrictive bills introduced this year seek to limit mail voting. Legislators are taking aim at mail voting at every stage, with proposals to circumscribe who can vote by mail, make it harder to obtain mail ballots, and impose hurdles to complete and cast mail ballots.

But what if they’re barking up the wrong voter suppression tree?

A new analysis by Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz suggests they are. While more people voted by mail than ever last November, and more Democrats did than ever, Abramowitz argues that neither party benefited from mail ballots.

He comes to that conclusion by comparing states both to each other and to their results in 2016. Here’s what he found:

  • Turnout was up dramatically across the board.
  • States that eased their absentee voting rules saw significant increases in mail voting; in other words, people took advantage of voting by mail where they could.
  • Where rates of mail voting were high, turnout went up more than states where mail voting was lower.
  • But the rate of mail voting had no effect on President Biden’s performance.

In other words, if a state opened up its absentee voting rules, the result would be that turnout would go up, but it wouldn’t end up helping Biden, because turnout went up for both Democrats and Republicans. Biden did better than Hillary Clinton had pretty much everywhere, but that improvement wasn’t a function of whether a state liberalized its absentee voting rules.

12) Really enjoyed this on the science behind the polar vortex (very cool images here, too).

13) Very science-y, but very cool article from back in September, “The tiny tweak behind COVID-19 vaccines

But there’s a third, more subtle secret to their success: a tiny but oh-so-important tweak to a critical viral component called the spike protein.

Viruses multiply by dumping their genes into our cells and hijacking our cellular machinery to crank out new virus particles. But first, they need a doorway into our cells. Coronaviruses are studded with spikes, which grab hold of proteins decorating our own cells like doorknobs. Once attached, the spike undergoes a dramatic transformation, stretching before partially turning inside out to forcefully fuse with our cells.

Scientists believe that for COVID-19 vaccines to be effective, our immune systems must develop antibodies that prevent this fusion. Such antibodies must target the spike protein in its aptly named prefusion conformation. Unfortunately for vaccine developers, spike proteins are liable to spring from their stubby prefusion shape into their elongated postfusion form on a hair trigger.

Fortuitously, Graham and a former postdoc, Jason McLellan, devised a solution to this problem before the pandemic. Through a bit of structural biology and persistent protein engineering, McLellan discovered that adding two prolines—the most rigid of the 20 amino acids—to a key joint of a vaccine’s spike protein could stabilize the structure’s prefusion shape. This 2P mutation worked in preclinical studies of Graham and Moderna’s MERS vaccine, so they applied it to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

As Norbert Pardi, an mRNA vaccine scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, puts it, we’re “very lucky, actually,” that scientists worked out the 2P mutation for a MERS vaccine before the COVID-19 pandemic. “It wouldn’t be possible to go so fast with the Moderna vaccine otherwise.”

Other companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, and Pfizer, are hoping the 2P mutation works for their COVID-19 vaccines too.

The 2P mutation might quite literally be the smallest detail that could make or break the first generation of COVID-19 vaccines. It’s an easy enough tweak to add during the early stages of vaccine design. And if successful, 2P-based vaccines may herald a new generation of vaccines whose molecular makeup is fine-tuned to craft a safer, stronger immune response.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Good stuff from Heather McGhee on race and economic policy in America:

The anti-government stinginess of traditional conservatism, along with the fear of losing social status held by many white people, now broadly associated with Trumpism, have long been connected. Both have sapped American society’s strength for generations, causing a majority of white Americans to rally behind the draining of public resources and investments. Those very investments would provide white Americans — the largest group of the impoverished and uninsured — greater security, too: A new Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study calculated that in 2019, the country’s output would have been $2.6 trillion greater if the gap between white men and everyone else were closed. And a 2020 report from analysts at Citigroup calculated that if America had adopted policies to close the Black-white economic gap 20 years ago, U.S. G.D.P would be an estimated $16 trillion higher…

Racial integration portended the end of America’s high-tax, high-investment growth strategy: Tax revenue peaked as a percentage of the economy in 1969 compared with the average O.E.C.D. country. Now, America’s per capita government spending is near the bottom among industrialized countries. Our roads, bridges and water systems get a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Unlike our peers, we don’t have high-speed rail, universal broadband, mandatory paid family leave or universal child care.

And while growing corporate power and money in politics have certainly played a role, it’s now clear that racial resentment is the key uncredited actor in our economic backslide. White people who exhibit low racial resentment against Black people are 60 percentage points more likely to support increased government spending than are those with high racial resentment. At the base of this resentment is a zero-sum story: the default framework for conservative arguments, rife with references to “makers and takers,” “taxpayers and freeloaders.”

2) I’ve been relying on sound machines since my 18-year old son was a baby (and wish I had one for his older brother).  Never realized that “random nonrepeating white noise” was a key. 

3) Speaking of background noise, Wired, “The Brain’s ‘Background Noise’ May Be Meaningful After All: By digging out signals hidden within the brain’s electrical chatter, scientists are getting new insights into sleep, aging, and more.

4) Leonhardt on vaccinating teachers and getting kids back in school (one of mine will be on Monday for the first time in almost a year– yes, elementary, where evidence clearly suggests its the least risky school environment):

There are enough vaccine doses

The country now has enough vaccine doses to move teachers to the front of the line without substantially delaying vaccinations for everyone else.

Nationwide, about 6.5 million people work inside a K-12 school. It’s a substantially smaller group than the 21 million health care workers, many of whom were in the first group of Americans to become eligible for vaccines.

As a point of reference, Moderna and Pfizer have delivered an average of more than one million new doses to the federal government every day this month. That daily number is on track to exceed three million next month. Immediately vaccinating every school employee would push back everybody else’s vaccine by a few days at most.

A few states have already prioritized teachers, with Kentucky apparently the furthest along, according to Education Week. It has finished administering the first dose to the bulk of K-12 staff who want one. “This is going to help us safely get our kids back in school faster than just about any other state,” Gov. Andy Beshear said, “and it’s going to allow us to do it without risking the health of those that come in to serve those children.”


Schools have reopened safely

Even before teachers are fully vaccinated — a process which can take more than a month after the first shot — many schools have shown how to reopen.

It involves “masking, social distancing, hand-washing, adequate ventilation and contact tracing,” as Susan Dominus wrote (in a fascinating Times Magazine story on how Rhode Island mostly kept its schools open). It also involves setting up virtual alternatives for some students and staff members who want them. When schools have followed this approach, it has typically worked, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others.

In one of the most rigorous studies, a group at Tulane University looked at hospitalizations (a more reliable measure than positive tests) before and after school reopenings. The results suggest that at least 75 percent of U.S. communities now have Covid well enough under control to reopen schools without sparking new outbreaks, including many places where schools remain closed.

The evidence is murkier for places with the worst current outbreaks, like much of the Carolinas. And some schools do seem to have reopened unsafely, including a Georgia district that is the subject of a new C.D.C. case study.

Still, Douglas Harris, the Tulane economist who runs the research group, told me, “All the studies are suggesting we can do this, if we put our minds to it.” He added: “We can’t do school the old way, but we can do better than this.”

5) Some cool science history, “Researchers looking for mRNA were ridiculed by colleagues. Luckily, that didn’t stop them.: Sixty years ago, the scientists who were pioneering the technology that would make today’s COVID-19 vaccines possible were mocked and dismissed”

6) What we pay state legislators in NC is a joke and, generally, just a horrible idea, “Getting What We Pay For: How North Carolina’s legacy of a “citizen legislature” endures, with far-reaching effects on the state and its General Assembly”

I want to tell you about a job. Do it right and you could help reduce poverty, increase life expectancy, make our roads safer, and improve our schools. Interested? There are a few catches.

The first is the salary—the job pays $13,951 a year, a figure that hasn’t changed since 1995. You’ll receive a small stipend for every day you work, but that stipend won’t be enough to pay for a place to stay unless you prefer motels that end in the number six. Some of your colleagues cope by camping at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds on workdays.

The number of days you work will be unpredictable. Normally, you’ll work January through August. But maybe through October. Or perhaps only until July. Your schedule changes every other year, but sometimes the year that’s expected to be shorter ends up being the longer one. Also, the boss in another division can call you back whenever he likes.

Staff support? You won’t have a lot of it. You will have an assistant, and from time to time, floating staff in the office will offer some help. But the current management team just fired 14 highly educated staffers who were supposed to help you with the more wonky aspects of the job.

Interested in the position? Congratulations! You can now raise money from your friends, campaign for over a year, and potentially serve as a member of the North Carolina General Assembly.

That’s the current recruitment pitch to fill the most powerful branch of government in a state with more than 10 million residents. It’s a model that was designed in a different century and different era, and it no longer serves our state or its citizens; it’s time for a change.

For political scientists, “professionalism” in state legislatures doesn’t mean decorum and polish. Instead, professionalism is increased when a state pays its legislators more money, stays in session longer, and provides more staff. The assumption is that those resources will produce a legislative body composed of people who consider service in the legislature as their primary occupation…

Today, the logic for a less professional legislature rests on the idea that legislators should understand what it’s like to be one of us: Legislators shouldn’t trade the daily toil of the average citizen for the high life in the state Capitol. One might argue that low pay creates an incentive for legislators to reject overly long legislative sessions—to spend more time at home where they, theoretically, have a job that pays the bills. But in reality, it just weakens the system.

Consider how the current setup limits who can serve. It is impossible for vast swathes of the citizenry to take a low-paying job with few resources, requiring you to be away from your primary source of income for an unknown number of days each year. The system skews toward lawyers, retirees, business owners, investors—folks with comfortable incomes, flexible schedules, and the ability to take extended and sudden leaves of absence.

7) Plenty or reasons Black people are vaccine-hesitant, but Tuskegee is not the big factor is often made out to be.  

8) 538 look at why the Congressional polling was so off in 2020.  

So what happened? Were the polls just terribly off in 2020? Not dramatically, no. Yes, polls once again underestimated Donald Trump’s performance, but the magnitude of that error (about 4 percentage points) wasn’t all that different from past presidential contests, such as in 2012 when polls underestimated Barack Obama’s margin of victory by almost 4 points. And there have, of course, been much larger polling errors, too.

But one reason the polling in 2020 has received so much attention is that down-ballot polling, namely the generic ballot — which asks respondents whether they plan to vote for a Democrat or Republican in their local race for the U.S. House of Representatives — was also off by a similarly large margin in 2020. In fact, as the table below shows, the House popular vote was 4.2 points more Republican-leaning than the polls anticipated, making it the largest generic ballot polling miss in a presidential or midterm cycle since 2006…

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, told me he’s still in the process of understanding which voters aren’t responding to polls, but he thinks issues of non-response bias may be the likeliest culprit for polling error in 2020. Nailing down just how much of a role non-response bias played in that error won’t be easy, though. “If the error is due to non-response bias caused by a portion of the electorate that came out only to support Donald Trump, then the polls may be basically fine in 2022 and we really won’t know why,” said Murray. Remember, too, that the size and direction of polling error has historically been unpredictable, so we can’t just bank on Democratic bias being the new normal for pollsters to adjust to. That said, Murray did say this could all be a much bigger issue if the polls are “about 3 to 4 points more left-leaning in their responses because a skewed cohort of folks [have] tuned out from participating in traditional venues of political discourse.”

At this point, we don’t know how widespread of an issue non-response in polling is. But one thing we do know is that what happened down-ballot in 2020 was at least partially tied up in the outcome of the presidential race, as Trump also outperformed his polls and most voters voted for the same party for president and the House. In fact, presidential and generic ballot polls have largely moved in the same direction: In total, in five of the seven presidential elections since 1996, the polling error in the presidential race has gone in the same direction as the error in the House contest (which was true in 2020 as well).

9) EJ Dionne makes the case for the right kind of partisanship (he’s right):

In her book “On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship,” the political philosopher Nancy L. Rosenblum notes that partisans accept “pluralism and political conflict” as a positive good. Partisans, she writes, “see themselves as firmly on the side of the angels,” but acknowledge their partiality. This encourages them to embrace both “political self-restraint” and “mental and emotional discipline.”

And that gets at our problem now — not partisanship as such, but a flight from those disciplines. And while you are free to accuse me of partisanship, I’d insist that what is happening in the Republican Party is objectively a grave threat to the proper functioning of the party system.

Functional partisanship demands, at the bare minimum, commitments to abide by the results of free elections, to tell the truth about those elections and to offer all citizens equal opportunities to participate in the electoral process…

The best kind of partisanship, based on those universal values, promotes fierce but constructive arguments. It acknowledges that in a good society, most political differences involve not a choice between good versus evil, but among competing goods — efficiency, security, entrepreneurship, fairness, individualism and solidarity, to name a few. Compromise (along with, yes, bipartisanship) is easier when we’re honest about the trade-offs we’re making.

But that brand of small-D democratic partisanship requires agreement on certain fundamentals, not the least being a shared commitment to truth and a willingness to let the voters decide — all the voters, not an electorate rigged through voter suppression.

10) Helen Branswell, “Schools may see a burst of the common cold when they reopen, research suggests”

A curious thing happened when Hong Kong reopened schools after closing them because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It bears watching here.

Hong Kong closed its schools to in-person learning from late January 2020 to late May — and then again in early July, when more Covid cases were detected. Within a few weeks of schools reopening in October, they started to see large numbers of kids getting sick, despite mandatory mask-wearing, additional spacing between desks, and other measures to lower the risk of spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

But the children weren’t infected with the virus. Nor did they have influenza, which would have been another possibility. They were infected with rhinoviruses — one of the most common causes of the common cold.

11) This is so cool, “Octopuses Have a Secret Sense to Keep Their 8 Arms Out of Trouble: Even when an octopus can’t see light with its eyes, its arms seem to know it is there.”  You should totally click through and check out the video. 12) Also cool.  Scientists are using cloned black-footed ferrets to add genetic diversity to the super-threatened species.  

12) This is quite interesting, “The unequal impact of parenthood in academia”
Across academia, men and women tend to publish at unequal rates. Existing explanations include the potentially unequal impact of parenthood on scholarship, but a lack of appropriate data has prevented its clear assessment. Here, we quantify the impact of parenthood on scholarship using an extensive survey of the timing of parenthood events, longitudinal publication data, and perceptions of research expectations among 3064 tenure-track faculty at 450 Ph.D.-granting computer science, history, and business departments across the United States and Canada, along with data on institution-specific parental leave policies. Parenthood explains most of the gender productivity gap by lowering the average short-term productivity of mothers, even as parents tend to be slightly more productive on average than nonparents. However, the size of productivity penalty for mothers appears to have shrunk over time. Women report that paid parental leave and adequate childcare are important factors in their recruitment and retention. These results have broad implications for efforts to improve the inclusiveness of scholarship.
13) Love this idea from Noah Smith, “Why not tie minimum wage to local rent?”

This is a good solution, but I think we might be able to do even better. My idea is to tie local minimum wage hikes to increases in local rent. There are two reasons to do this:

  1. Because rent is a good proxy for the cost of living for poor people, and

  2. Because tying minimum wages to rent provides an incentive for cities to build more housing.

Rent is the biggest single expense that low-income Americans have, and they spend more of their income on rent than people with higher incomes do. Via Eli Dourado, here’s a chart showing the percent of consumption spending that goes to rent, for all the income deciles:

Image for post

Of course the y-axis is truncated, so the difference isn’t huge, but you can see that people at the bottom of the distribution spend over a quarter of their income on rent, while people at the top spend maybe one-sixth. A quarter of your income is a huge amount!

Also, inflation includes luxury items and stuff that people can make do without. But no one can make do without shelter, so it seems like if we want to make sure that minimum wage keeps up with the cost of living, we should look at the cost of the most essential items, like shelter and food, instead of inflation overall.

So indexing minimum wage to the cost of shelter would be better than indexing it to inflation. But what about indexing it to median wage? Well, tying minimum wages to (market) rent would have another added benefit: It would push cities to build more housing.

Currently, many American cities have an affordability crisis — high-income people have been moving in, but powerful homeowners dominate local politics, and these homeowners tend to fight against any new housing development. Rising demand for housing with stagnant supply has caused rents to spiral.

The solution, of course, is to build more housing, in order to accommodate the inflow of people. But NIMBYs block this at the local level. The federal government would like to get involved, but because of America’s federalist system, they don’t have many policy levers for forcing states and cities to build more housing. The best federal policy that people have been able to suggest is to hand out money, e.g. through HUD, and then making it conditional on hitting housing targets. But this is a pretty weak lever.

Suppose, though, that minimum wage increases were tied to (market) rents. Businesses that pay low wages — especially restaurants — want to keep minimum wage as low as possible. If they could only do this by lowering market rents, they would become a powerful pro-housing lobby! You’d see local NIMBY homeowners show up to planning meetings, only to get shouted down by local restauranteurs!

And the beauty of this system is, even if business lobbies DID succeed in holding down minimum wages by forcing local governments to build more housing and reduce local rents, it wouldn’t matter. Because rent would be so cheap, it would still work out in poor people’s favor; their wages would be lower, but so would their rent.

14) Carl Zimmer’s essay on viruses and what is easy to be “alive” is great.  

Failing to meet Covid Zero ≠ influenza

Good stuff from David Leonhardt yesterday:

Ten years ago, a deadly infectious disease killed more than 36,000 Americans. The next year, it killed 12,000 more. And over each of the following eight years, the same disease caused between 22,000 and 62,000 deaths.

That disease is influenza — also known as the flu — and it ranks among the 15 leading causes of death in the United States.

Talking about the effects of a typical flu is somewhat fraught these days. We are living through the worst pandemic in a century, one that is of a different order of magnitude from influenza. In the early months of Covid-19, some people who were trying to deny its severity, including President Donald Trump, claimed that it was barely worse than the flu. That’s false:

Credit…By The New York Times | Sources: Health agencies and hospitals

Soon, however, the flu will become a meaningful point of comparison.

In the coming months, Covid will probably recede, as a result of vaccinations and growing natural immunity. But it will not disappear. “Some people have gotten this idea that we’re going to get to ‘Covid zero,’” Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins University told me. “That’s not realistic. It’s a fantasy.”

Covid is caused by a coronavirus — known as SARS-CoV-2 — and coronaviruses often circulate for years, causing respiratory infections and the common cold. The world is not going to extinguish coronaviruses anytime soon, nor will it extinguish this specific one. “The coronavirus is here to stay,” as a recent article in the science journal Nature, by Nicky Phillips, concluded.

The reasonable goal is to make it manageable, much like the seasonal flu. Fortunately, the vaccines are doing that. In fact, they’re doing better than that. For fully vaccinated people, serious illness from Covid is extremely rare, much rarer than serious illness from the seasonal flu…

Here’s a useful way to think about Israel’s numbers: Only 3.5 out of every 100,000 people vaccinated there were later hospitalized with Covid symptoms. During a typical flu season in the U.S., by comparison, roughly 150 out of every 100,000 people are hospitalized with flu symptoms.

And yet the seasonal flu does not grind life to a halt. It does not keep people from flying on airplanes, eating in restaurants, visiting their friends or going to school and work.

I think that’s a great way to think about things.  That said, scientifically, ongoing Covid-19 is almost surely more manageable than ongoing influenza.  The latter is a particularly nasty virus to conquer because it so damn mutagenic and has multiple animal reservoirs.  Covid– not so much.  Really good thread on this from Angela Rasmussen:

So, in all likelihood, some small number of people will continue to die of Covid-19 even after we’ve gotten this mostly under control.  But the reality is– given what we know now– it actually will be much easier to manage than influenza.  

First they came for Pesca

So, all of a sudden I’m looking for more podcasts to listen to because I’m not getting my daily dose of Mike Pesca’s the Gist.  Why am I not getting the Gist?  Pesca is suspended for racism.  His crime?  Suggesting that it’s worth having a conversation as to whether it is ever appropriate to actually use the N-word.  Not as a slur.  But simply in a conversation about the use of the word.  Apparently, just considering that this might be an appropriate use in some circumstances, gets you banned from Slate?  Yep:

The online publication Slate has suspended a well-known podcast host after he debated with colleagues over whether people who are not Black should be able to quote a racial slur in some contexts.

Mike Pesca, the host of “The Gist,” a podcast on news and culture, said in an interview that he was suspended indefinitely on Monday after defending the use of the slur in certain contexts. He made his argument during a conversation last week with colleagues on the interoffice messaging platform Slack.

In a lengthy thread of messages, Slate staff members were discussing the resignation of Donald G. McNeil Jr., a reporter who said this month that he was resigning from The New York Times after he had used the slur during a discussion of racism while working as a guide on a student trip in 2019.

Mr. Pesca, who is white, said he felt there were contexts in which the slur could be used, according to screen shots of the Slack conversation that were shared with The Times. Slate’s chief executive, Dan Check, stepped in to shut down the discussion

Katie Rayford, Slate’s spokeswoman, confirmed that “The Gist” had been suspended indefinitely, pending an investigation, but would not comment on Mr. Pesca. “While I can’t get into specific allegations that are under investigation,” Ms. Rayford said, “I can confirm this was not a decision based around making an isolated abstract argument in a Slack channel.”…

Mr. Pesca, whose interview style at times seemed to embody Slate’s contrarian brand, said he was told on Friday that he would be suspended for a week without pay. On Monday he was informed that the suspension was indefinite, he said.

Mr. Pesca, who has worked at Slate for seven years, said he was “heartsick” over hurting his colleagues but added, “I hate the idea of things that are beyond debate and things that cannot be said.”

Jacob Weisberg, Slate’s former chairman and editor in chief, who left the company for the podcast start-up Pushkin in 2018, called Mr. Pesca “a huge talent and a fair-minded journalist.”

“I don’t think he did anything that merits discipline or consequences, and I think it’s an example of a kind of overreaction and a lack of judgment and perspective that is unfortunately spreading,” Mr. Weisberg said.

Joel Anderson, a Black staff member at Slate who hosted the third season of the podcast “Slow Burn,” disagreed. “For Black employees, it’s an extremely small ask to not hear that particular slur and not have debate about whether it’s OK for white employees to use that particular slur,” he said.

We’re not talking about Pesca “using a slur.”  We’re talking about Pesca arguing that there are occasions where it is appropriate to use the word as part of a discourse in non-derogatory ways.  Notably, Pesca did not even use the word in this Slack chat.  The idea that even discussing the idea if it is every appropriate to use the full word rather than “n word” or whatever, that this intellectual debate itself is verboten is just nuts.  I mean, right– by these standards, this very blog post is racist!  

For the record, I never use the word myself and understand how it upsets people.  But I also find it ridiculous that we’ve reached the point where we cannot even have a discussion about if it is ever appropriate to use the word in a strictly informational, non-derogatory, manner.  

Chait had a really good thread on this.  Among other things, he highlighted Randal Kennedy (a Black Harvard law professor) arguing for using the word:

“[Excised]” is a part of the lexicon of American culture about which people, especially lawyers, need to be aware. One could omit airing “[Excised].” I know several distinguished, effective, thoughtful teachers who, for various reasons, never vocalize the term. One could substitute some euphemism, say, “the N-word.” But I find that alternative unsatisfactory. It veils or mutes an ugliness that, for maximum educational impact, ought to be seen or heard directly.

What about the hurt inflicted by vocalizing the term? Feelings of hurt are not unchangeable givens untouched and untouchable by ways in which their expression is received. Such feelings are, at least in part, affected by the responses of observers.

The more that schools validate the idea that this hurt is justified in the circumstances outlined, the more that that feeling will be embraced, and the more that there will be calls to respect that feeling of hurt by avoiding (even perhaps by dint of threatened punishment) what is said to trigger it. I want to push in another direction, advancing the message that, in the circumstances pertinent here—circumstances in which there is no question but that instructors are airing the term for pedagogical purposes—there is no good reason to feel hurt.

Several professors caught up in the controversy I have outlined have stated that, going forward, in light of protest, they will no longer vocalize “[Excised].” I know some of these professors. I think here especially of Michael McConnell at Stanford Law School and Geoffrey Stone at the University of Chicago Law School. I respect them and the decision they have made.

But I disagree with it. It defers to the notion that that in the circumstances at issue, there is a sufficient basis in the protest to overcome a considered pedagogical judgment that learning would be enhanced by airing the American language’s paradigmatic racial slur.

Perhaps there is something to be said as a matter of prudence for adopting this position. I note, though, that it occasionally fails to obtain the settlement that its initiators undoubtedly sought to obtain as the gesture is scorned. Instead of being seen as a sign of good will, the gesture has been seized upon as a confession of error and deployed as an additional basis for attacking reputations unjustifiably.

In my case, when this issue arises, as I suspect that it will, my position will be that conscientiously vocalizing “[Excised]” or any other epithet for legitimate pedagogical purposes ought not give rise to any belief or insinuation that I am displaying racism or racial insensitivity. For me, demands for silence, for avoidance, or for bowdlerization will be offered no deference.

My remarks are not the result of a transient, ethereal concern. They stem from a deep well of experience, study, and practice. I am a sixty-five year old African-American man born in South Carolina. My parents of blessed memory were refugees from Jim Crow oppression. They were branded as “[Excised].” And I have been called “[Excised]” too.

Should my race make a difference here, cloaking me with more leeway than my white colleagues? To take that position would be a profound violation of sound scholarly procedure. I abjure such a “privilege.”

I am well aware that racism suffuses American life, sometimes in forms that are frighteningly lethal. I believe that racism is a huge, destructive, looming force that we must resist. Vigilance is essential. But so, too, is a capacity and willingness to draw crucial distinctions. There is a world of difference that separates the racist use of “[Excised]” from the vocalizing of “[Excised]” for pedagogical reasons aimed at enabling students to attain essential knowledge.

Anyway, some may disagree with Kennedy.  That’s fine.  But, clearly this is an idea worth some genuine discussion and to have that discussion does not make you a racist.  Again, to be clear, I think it is worth having a discussion on the value of ever uttering the word or not.  Because, maybe it really is better than nobody ever say the word (even though I would argue otherwise, I’m open to considering this position).  But if that discussion– without even uttering the word— is out of bounds, I would argue that actual progress on racism becomes that much harder.  

When you can win elections with cultural war grievance, you don’t actually have to govern

Such a good piece from Adam Serwer who actually had to live out Texas’ failures: “Texas Pays the Price of the Culture War: Instead of focusing on governance, Republican politicians in the Lone Star State spent their time inflaming grievances.”

The crisis in Texas was preceded by more than a decade of Republican control of state government, as politicians focused on culture-war grievances rather than the nuts and bolts of governance. After the near collapse of the power grid exposed its failures, the state’s political leadership attempted to cover for those failures by doubling down on those same grievances.

Serwer describes a report of the Texas grid collapsing under cold weather and the need to better prepare for cold snaps… the kicker– it’s from 2011.  And, obviously, Texas politicians did nothing about it.

That description of the cascading failures of Texas’s power grid is not from the past week. It is actually taken from a 2011 report from FERC, investigating an outage during a prior cold snap. The report recommended that “all entities responsible for the reliability of the bulk power system in the Southwest prepare for the winter season with the same sense of urgency and priority as they prepare for the summer peak season.”

Texas officials didn’t feel like doing all that. As The Texas Tribune reports, the state legislature failed to act. Instead of imposing new regulations or mandates, ERCOT issued a set of voluntary “best practices.” Actually winterizing the entire system would have been expensive. The energy companies didn’t want to spend money they did not have to spend, and the politicians whose campaigns they finance didn’t want to make them do it either…

Ideally in a democracy, when politicians govern poorly, the voters punish them for it. Real life is obviously more complicated, and politicians who fail at their duties aren’t held accountable for all sorts of reasons. But in the contemporary Republican Party, governance has taken a back seat to waging the culture war. Whether you are a competent public official who serves your constituents well matters less than your ability to illustrate your contempt for the rival party’s constituency in word and deed…

Waging the culture war didn’t keep the lights on in Texas, but it might keep ambitious Republican failures in office. If politicians don’t fear being punished for not doing their jobs, they won’t do them.

Hygeine theater is opportunity cost!

I keep seeing images of schools with plexiglass all around desks (not going to do the trick against aerosols!).  And, of course, the endless, wasteful cleaning.  Good stuff rom Derek Thompson on all this hygiene theater.  He doesn’t use the term term, but a huge problem with all this is that hygiene theater is massive opportunity cost by focusing our limited resources on the wrong things:

How Republicans changed the Constitution

Great stuff from Jonathan Rauch:

Though he was no Washington or Lincoln, Trump amended the informal Constitution in at least five significant ways. No one of them is epochal or entirely unprecedented, but together they add up to something new, large, and dangerous.

Amendment 1. No president shall be removed from office for treason, bribery, or any other crime or misdemeanor, no matter how high, should a partisan minority of the Senate choose to protect him…

Amendment 2. Congressional oversight shall be optional. No congressional subpoena or demand for testimony or documents shall bind a president who chooses to ignore it…

Amendment 3. Congressional appropriations shall be suggestions. The president may choose whether or not to comply with congressional spending laws, and Congress shall have no recourse should a president declare that his own priorities supersede Congress’s instructions…

Amendment 4. The president shall have authority to make appointments as he sees fit, without the advice and consent of the Senate, provided he deems his appointees to be acting, temporary, or otherwise exempt from the ordinary confirmation process…

Amendment 5. The president shall have unconstrained authority to dangle and issue pardons for the purpose of obstructing justice, tampering with witnesses, and forestalling investigations.

The common thread in all of this?  Republicans in Congress allowing Trump’s gross abuses to happen.

Most important, repealing the Trump amendments requires a change of mindset among partisans in the public, primarily Republicans. No laws can stymie a chief executive who is determined to ignore them, who punishes anyone who enforces them, and who pardons anyone who helps him evade them. No impeachment process will deter a president whose partisans will protect him regardless of what he does. A conservative party devoted to limited government should be horrified by presidential claims to unlimited personal authority. Instead, however, Republicans have supported Trump’s dangerous precedents at every turn, a decision they will regret if a left-leaning president picks up where Trump left off.

Although he is no constitutional scholar, Trump has a theory of the Constitution: “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” Before he was elected, that theory was plainly wrong. But after his one term in office, the Trump amendments have brought his theory to the brink of realization.

Most worrisome?  That “change of mindset” does not appear remotely forthcoming in the current political environment.  You put all this together and the most lasting impact of Trump is to make the Republican party, to a substantial degree, an anti-democratic party (not just an anti-Democratic party). 

Quick hits (Part II)

1) Krugman from a couple weeks ago on how Democrats have learned:

The good news — and it’s really, really good news — is that Democrats seem to have learned their lesson. Joe Biden may not look like the second coming of F.D.R.; Chuck Schumer, presiding over a razor-thin majority in the Senate, looks even less like a transformational figure; yet all indications are that together they’re about to push through an economic rescue plan that, unlike the Obama stimulus, truly rises to the occasion…

On the economic side, Democrats have finally stopped believing in the debt boogeyman and the confidence fairy, who will make everything better if you slash spending.

There was a time when many Democrats — including President Obama — accepted the proposition that public debt was a huge problem. They even took seriously warnings from people like Representative Paul Ryan that debt was an “existential threat.” But predictions of an imminent fiscal catastrophe kept being proved wrong, and at this point mainstream economists have become much more relaxed about debt than they were in the past.

Some Democrats also used to worry that big spending programs would hurt the economy by undermining business and investor confidence, and conversely that caution would be rewarded with higher private investment. But this doctrine has also been belied by experience; austerity doesn’t instill confidence, it just imposes pain

But if Democrats have learned a lot about economic reality since 2009, they’ve learned more about political reality.

Obama came into office sincerely believing that he could reach across the aisle, that Republicans would help him deal with the economic crisis. Despite the reality of scorched-earth opposition, he continued to seek a “grand bargain” on debt. He regarded the rise of the Tea Party as a “fever” that would break in his second term. He was, in short, deeply naïve.

Many progressives worried that President Biden, who had served in the Senate in a less polarized era, who talks a lot about unity, would repeat Obama’s mistakes. But so far he and his congressional allies seem ready to go big, even if that means doing without Republican votes.

One thing that may be encouraging Democrats, by the way, is the fact that Biden’s policies actually are unifying, if you look at public opinion rather than the actions of politicians. Biden’s Covid-19 relief plan commands overwhelming public approval — far higher than approval for Obama’s 2009 stimulus. If, as seems likely, not a single Republican in Congress votes for the plan, that’s evidence of G.O.P. extremism, not failure on Biden’s part to reach out.

Beyond that, Biden and company appear to have learned that caution coming out of the gate doesn’t store up political capital to do more things later. Instead, an administration that fails to deliver tangible benefits to voters in its first few months has squandered its advantage and won’t get a do-over. Going big on Covid relief now offers the best hope of taking on infrastructure, climate change and more later.

2) I have no idea how the hell it took two whole weeks for this interview with Michael Mina to finally find me, but it did. Chock full of goodness:

How do you see the state of things, right now? I’m having a hard time sort of juggling the bad news about strains versus the good news about vaccines and the trajectories going down. How about you?
Well, my personal feeling is we are seeing the benefits of seasonality hit, which I know some of my colleagues don’t necessarily agree with. But it’s not uncommon for coronaviruses to essentially start dropping around now. Most of the known coronaviruses have something on the order of a three-month window where they’re really infectious — when they’re really transmitting.

And that’s more or less what we were expecting would happen, or at least what I was expecting would happen, in the fall. In the summer, when a lot of people were saying, “This might not be a seasonal virus,” it was just so obvious to me that this was going to hit harder in the fall and that we needed to prepare for that. Now, I think the corollary is that there’s no reason to think that infection rates wouldn’t drop a few months later, just like all of the other coronaviruses. We don’t fully appreciate or understand why seasonality works like this, but if the trajectory stays this way and we also start to achieve some level of herd effects or herd immunity, I think the next few months could start to offer a reprieve. Ideally that will last through the summer until we get into next fall, when we’ll probably have another wave of it. The wild card, of course, being the variants…

When you say that if our goal is to reduce the mass majority of hospitalizations that we might hit that goal relatively soon, what do you mean by relatively soon?
Certainly over the coming couple of months, we’re going to see a massive number of the most vulnerable people who make up the majority of deaths become vaccinated. Then all of a sudden mortality and the real damage done by this virus go way down at the aggregate level. People will still talk about long-haulers, long COVID and children getting severe disease. But we have to recognize that, especially in younger people, these are fairly rare events, especially in kids.

And then it’s time to really reevaluate. I do think we should take the summer and do what we didn’t do last year, which was squander the summer and did nothing to prepare for the fall. I think we could take this summer and we could say, “Okay, let’s get all the pieces in place. Let’s get rapid testing ready and rolled out so that society is comfortable with it.” It doesn’t mean people have to rapid test all the time, but if you start to see an outbreak occur, then you get a text message that says, “Hey, start rapid testing again.” We can really set ourselves up as a country to be adaptive, to be able to combat an outbreak when it starts, so that we’re not always playing catch-up after it does. That could allow us to both simultaneously get back to work and get back to school with minimal risk…

I wanted to ask about the vaccines, though. When we last talked, you were worried that we had evaluated vaccine efficacy so quickly we might be overestimating how powerful the vaccines were — the immune response might wane after a few more months, you said. Are there other problems you’re seeing with our evaluation of the vaccines?
The entire evaluation process was based on symptomatic disease. The major trials didn’t even consider transmission. They didn’t even consider, do we need two doses or one, and what would it mean if we actually could get by for six months between doses, what would that mean for the globe? Does that mean we could actually vaccinate an extra billion people in a year? Well, that’s a massive, massive win for public health if we could, but we didn’t even include it in the trial. We just followed the regular playbook we’ve always used, which is to do a phase three trial, accelerated a little bit. But then the readout was purely, of people who get two doses, what was their ability to not get sick? Why did we not swab people’s noses during those trials, to allow us to ask the basic question, will these vaccines inhibit transmission? That would have massive implications for who we vaccinate first. And we still don’t know the answer.

Another issue: All of the major vaccines that we are building all present the exact same spike protein. They’re all clones of each other — no difference for the most part. Nobody ever took a step back to say, what if this virus mutates? We are vaccinating with a narrow-spectrum vaccine against one piece of the virus. If that piece mutates, it would be able to escape all of our vaccines. And all it needs to do is mutate once, somewhere in the world. And then all of our major vaccines are moot. Why was that not considered?

What would considering it have meant?
For example, the U.S. could have said, “Okay, we’re going to back two vaccines that are against the spike protein only,” and then maybe try to figure out some other vaccines, like multi-protein vaccines, multi-peptide vaccines live attenuated vaccines, killed vaccines — all different sorts of vaccines. And now we very well might find ourselves totally screwed in a few months, because we have no vaccines that will work as well as we need against a mutant that might arise still, or the ones that have already risen…

I mean, in theory, you could even go further and say, if we’re comfortable with the safety and we’re in the middle of the pandemic, and these new strains are a real threat, maybe we could even skip the phase-three trial and just roll it out to the public, then measure efficacy from there — if we’re comfortable with safety.
That’s exactly right. We have treated this all so much like it’s normal. It isn’t normal. We’ve been trying to take the same box that we’re used to working with, and just trying to speed it up instead of just saying, what could be a whole different framework for this? We’re in the middle of an emergency, it’s killing millions of people and ruining economies and societies, should we really just be satisfied with slightly speeding up the status quo?

This is my whole issue with rapid tests, too — rapid tests aren’t about just trying to increase the speed at which we do PCR testing…

What do you mean by window?
A better way to vaccinate people efficiently. You vaccinate only people who are seronegative. You give only a single dose to people who are seropositive, not two.

Because there’s evidence that people who’ve been sick benefit from one dose but don’t necessarily need a second. That would double the reach of those doses. 
There are so many things we could have done, but serology was always for tomorrow. And even today, people are saying, “Well, we’re never going to get it set up for this pandemic, so we should wait until the pandemic finishes and then we’ll invest in surveillance systems for the next pandemic.” You know what, screw that! For all we know the next pandemic could start tomorrow. We don’t know.

3) I am so here for NYT articles on inter-species lemur bonding at the Duke Lemur Center (of which I am a proud financial supporter and where I took my single coolest college class). “Mature Red-Bellied Lemur Seeks Soul Mate for Cuddles and Grooming: At the Duke Lemur Center, an innovative plan to keep the animals social late in life: pair them with lemurs of another species.”

Julio, a mongoose lemur, and Chloris, a ring-tailed lemur.

Julio, a mongoose lemur, and Chloris, a ring-tailed lemur.Credit…David Haring/Duke Lemur Center

4) Scientists are working on a universal– pancoronavirus– vaccine.  Cool!

5) Very interesting interview with the Harvard astronomer who thinks we’ve really been visited by aliens.

6) Frum, “The Founders Were Wrong About Democracy: The authors of the Constitution feared mass participation would unsettle government, but it’s the privileged minority that has proved destabilizing.”

The system of government in the United States has evolved in many important ways since 1787. But the mistrust of unpropertied majorities—especially urban unpropertied majorities—persists. In no other comparably developed society is voting as difficult; in no peer society are votes weighted as unequally; in no peer society is there a legislative chamber where 41 percent of the lawmakers can routinely outvote 59 percent, as happens in the U.S. Senate.

This system is justified today with the same arguments as when it was established a quarter millennium ago. “We’re not a democracy,” tweeted Senator Mike Lee of Utah in October. Lee explained his meaning in a second tweet that crammed Madisonian theory into fewer than 280 characters. “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and [prosperity] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”

American anti-majoritarians have always promised that minority privilege will deliver positive results: stability, sobriety, the security of the public debt, and tranquil and peaceful presidential elections. But again and again, those promises have proved the exact opposite of reality. In practice, the privileged minority has shown itself to be unstable and unsober.

High—very high—on the list of Madison’s concerns about pure democracy was the risk that the unpropertied majority might vote to repudiate debts. In Madison’s single most famous piece of writing, “Federalist No. 10,” he justified the complex mechanism of the Constitution as a safeguard against debt repudiation and other such “improper or wicked [projects].”

In July 2011, Madison’s fears almost came true. The United States was pushed to the verge of a debt default. But the would-be repudiators were not representatives of the poor or the urban dwellers. They were representatives of the party of the wealthy and the rural dwellers; Republicans in the House and the Senate pushed the country toward the gravest fiscal crisis in history. They refused to raise the debt ceiling until 48 hours before the Treasury Department exhausted its legal right to borrow, risking a default that would have capsized credit markets. The crisis sparked the most volatile week in American financial markets since the collapse of 2008—and moved Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. credit rating for the first time in the agency’s history.

The same Mike Lee who would later tweet his doubts about democracy was leading that attack on the country’s credit. Along with allies such as Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the newly elected Lee sought to force a stark choice upon the Obama administration: Either accept a balanced-budget amendment that would institutionalize permanent minority rule over the nation’s finances, or face national bankruptcy. (Under Lee’s version of such an amendment, three-fifths of both the House and the Senate would be required to approve any budget that incurred a deficit.)

After the 2016 election, the whole world would see the bad faith of the Republican professions about spending and debt in 2011. But what was sincere in 2011 was the effort to impose yet another layer of minority rule upon the finances of the United States—so urgently sincere, in fact, that the anti-Democrats in Congress were willing to repudiate the faith and credit of the United States to get their way…

In these opening weeks of a new Congress, Republican senators—who together represent 41 million fewer people than their equal number of Democratic colleagues—have praised themselves for their allegedly superior approach to legislating. Senator John Cornyn of Texas explained in a pair of tweets why 41 senators should be allowed a veto over measures desired by an American majority.

“A practical consequence of breaking the filibuster rule is legislative whiplash. Each time a party gets a bare majority, it can jam [bills] through, only to be reversed when tides turn. The 60 vote cloture requirement (filibuster rule) requires bipartisanship and provides stability in our laws- something we should all want in a big, diverse country of 330 million people.”

But this claim by Cornyn flunks the reality test. In the real world, the filibuster is a generator of instability and unpredictability…

Through the second half of the 20th century, the United States evolved in ways that affirmed the equal right of all citizens to vote and pushed toward a more equal weighting of those votes. In this century, the United States has trended away from those ideals. The retreat from majority rule has not only weakened the American system’s fairness, it has also wobbled that system’s stability.

The path back to constitutional normality depends upon a reinvigoration of the majoritarian principle. “We’re not a democracy,” Senator Lee insists, correctly. But perhaps it’s time the United States resumed its long struggle to become one.

7) This is from 2017 super-interesting and super-relevant, “Why does drug resistance readily evolve but vaccine resistance does not?”

8) Waldman, “Insane GOP lies about Texas offer a depressing preview of coming climate debates”

But that wasn’t good enough for those in the conservative propaganda machine, which swung into action to blame everything on diabolical liberals shoving wind power down everyone’s throat. Here’s a taste of the lunacy being poured into the eyeballs of Fox’s audience:

And it’s not just Fox. The far-right Wall Street Journal editorial board penned an editorial blaming the Texas outages on renewable energy. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) acknowledged that the failures ran across all the different types of energy Texas uses, then bizarrely concluded, “Bottom line: Thank God for baseload energy made up of fossil fuels.”

It’s as if you choked on a piece of steak, and I told you, “That’s why you can’t trust all those hippies who forced you to eat kale!”

And lest anyone be tempted to engage in any mindless bothsidesism, Democrats are most certainly not responding to the events in Texas by saying it shows why we need more renewable energy. Their response is focused on what’s actually happening and whyThey’re arguing that we need to examine the weaknesses in our electrical grids — both the one in Texas and the national grid — and modernize them to make blackouts less likely in the future.

9) In a terrific essay on hockey goalkeeping (yes, a niche intellectual passion of mine), hall-of-fame goalkeeper Ken Dryden argues that, ultimately, a larger net is needed to make hockey the more beautiful, fast-flowing sport it is at its best.

So for shooters and coaches, that is the strategy. Rush the net with multiple offensive players, multiple defensive players will go with them, multiple arms, legs, and bodies will jostle in front of the goalie, and the remaining shooters, distant from the net, will fire away hoping to thread the needle, hoping the goalie doesn’t see the needle being threaded, because if he does, he’ll stop it. The situation for the shooter is much like that of a golfer whose ball has landed deep in the woods. He’s been told many times that a tree is more air than leaves and branches, but with several layers of trees in front of him, somehow his ball will hit a leaf or branch before it gets to the green. Somehow, the shooter’s shot will not make it to the net. So he will try again. Because what else can he do?

The result: This game, one that allows for such speed and grace, one that has so much open ice, is now utterly congested.

10) This is true. “Why Did We Ever Send Sick Kids to School? An overemphasis on attendance puts students’ health at risk and instills the value of working through illness. The pandemic has made it clear how dangerous that is.”

11) Somehow, I’ve never heard the term “myside bias” but this seems quite interesting:

In recent years, an upsurge of polarization has been a salient feature of political discourse in America. A small but growing body of research has examined the potential relevance of intellectual humility (IH) to political polarization. In the present investigation, we extend this work to political myside bias, testing the hypothesis that IH is associated with less bias in two community samples (N1 = 498; N2 = 477). In line with our expectations, measures of IH were negatively correlated with political myside bias across paradigms, political topics, and samples. These relations were robust to controlling for humility. We also examined ideological asymmetries in the relations between IH and political myside bias, finding that IH-bias relations were statistically equivalent in members of the political left and right. Notwithstanding important limitations and caveats, these data establish IH as one of a small handful psychological features known to predict less political myside bias.

12) Initially, this sounds very compelling, but there’s a huge methodological flaw: “Study finds cognitive bias in how medical examiners evaluate child deaths”

new study in the Journal of Forensic Sciences suggests the role medical examiners play in the criminal justice system is far more subjective than commonly thought. It also suggests their analysis might be tainted by racial bias.

Medical examiners (also known as forensic pathologists) make two determinations after conducting an autopsy: the cause of death and the manner. The cause of death, though sometimes ambiguous, is usually a fairly objective finding based on tests and observations well-grounded in medicine. But determining the manner of death can be much more subjective. In most jurisdictions, there are five possibilities for manner of death: undetermined, natural causes, suicide, accident or homicide. The evidentiary gap separating an accidental death from a homicide can be significant (the body was riddled with bullets) or razor-thin (whether the victim drowned or was drowned). Yet it’s enormously consequential, because a homicide designation usually means someone will be charged with a serious crime.

The new study was led by Itiel Dror, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at University College London who specializes in cognitive perception, judgment and decision-making. (His research team also included four forensic pathologists.) There are two parts to the study. In the first, the researchers looked at 10 years of Nevada death certificates for children younger than 6 and found that medical examiners were about twice as likely to rule a Black child’s death to be a homicide as a White child. The researchers then asked 133 board-certified medical examiners to read a vignette about a 3-year-old who was taken to an emergency room with a skull fracture, brain hemorrhaging and other injuries, and later died. All the participants received the same fact pattern, with one important exception: About half were told that the child was Black and had been left in the care of the mother’s boyfriend. The others were told the child was White and had been left in the care of a grandmother…

Of the 133 medical examiners who participated in the study, 78 said they could not determine a manner of death from the information available. Among the 55 who could, 23 concluded the child’s death was an accident, and 32 determined it was a homicide.

This is already a problem. Reliability is one of the key criteria the Supreme Court has said judges should consider in deciding whether to allow expert testimony. The same facts applied to different people should produce the same outcome. That clearly wasn’t the case in this study.

Worse, the medical examiners who were given the fact pattern with a Black child were five times more likely to rule the death a homicide than an accident.

Holy hell what were they thinking with that?!  You leave both the white kid and the black with the grandmother or the boyfriend!  You don’t change the caregiver– talk about a confound!  Among other things, it would not surprise me at all if boyfriends were, in fact, five times more likely to cause a homicide than a grandmother!  Anyway, I suspect there really is bias (and these results are way too varied), but, do the damn study right!

13) Epidemiologist makes the case for in-person school (as always with the case, you’ve got to weight the costs of keeping kids out of school!)

Since March 2020, I have been a front-line pandemic health care provider, adviser to my hospital, and consultant to my religious congregation and a local community college — all with the aim of preventing the spread of Covid-19. Toward that goal, I have also been a volunteer member of the public health and safety advisory panel to the Public Schools of Brookline, Massachusetts, where my family lives.

Unfortunately, our panel’s expertise — and that of national and international health groups — has been frequently dismissed by the local educators’ union in favor of their own judgments about best health practices and the safety of in-person learning. In the process, they have misinterpreted scientific guidance and transformed it into a series of litmus tests that keep our district in hybrid learning. These litmus tests are not based on science, they are grounded in anxiety, and they are a major component of the return-to-school quagmire in which we are stuck.

One sticking point, for example, has been the union’s early and continued insistence that desks remain at least 6 feet apart at all times. This requirement mathematically determines whether there is enough space for learners in the building. Distancing is absolutely critical to Covid-19 mitigation, but there is no magical threshold that makes 6 feet the “safe” distance and 5 feet “dangerous.”

In settings like school, where everyone is wearing a face covering, there really is no measurable difference in risk between being 3 feet and 6 feet apart. That is why there is no official guidance from any relevant public health body that mandates 6-foot distancing at all times. Even the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) school strategy, released February 12, doesn’t address the key problems in the existing guidance to move us forward.

The union also named a lack of asymptomatic testing for teachers as a major barrier to returning to in-person learning. To get kids back to school, we implemented such a routine testing plan, at great cost and logistical effort. We discovered that since testing began in January 2021, the positivity rate among teachers and staff has been approximately 0.15 percent — while cases were surging in the Boston metro area — and our contact tracing efforts have not identified any cases of in-building transmission.

Even so, the union continues to resist a return to full in-person learning. What’s more, the goalpost seems to have shifted again, now to universal vaccination of teachers.

All of this is frustrating, especially to me as an epidemiologist. Generally, union leaders tie their position to public health guidance from bodies like the CDC. But so far, the implementation of these recommendations by our district’s union — and by many others across the country — has been opportunistic, and their stance does not align with current guidance from the World Health Organization, CDC, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, or the Massachusetts Department of Education.

14) Ezra Klein is just killing it as an NYT columnist.  This one is soooo good.  Just read it.  “‘There’s No Natural Dignity in Work’ Punishing mothers for needing help cannot be the answer. A generous child allowance might be.”

Very quick hits

Usually I get these queued up on Friday nights, but I’ve got an early Saturday of interviewing NC State future Park Scholars all day, so, let’s get to a few at least:

1) Derek Thompson: “How to Beat the Pandemic by Summer: Averting a wave of new COVID-19 fatalities could require some dramatic, untested, and controversial strategies.”  Approve AZ.  Prioritize first doses.  Simplify eligibility.  Change the way we talk about vaccines (Leonhardt is all over this one).

2) I loved this from Chait, “Why Are Republican Small Donors So Easy to Swindle?”

Geraghty’s column lacks any operating theory as to why Republican politics in particular has attracted so many grifters. Such types have exploited two long-standing aspects of conservative thought: a tendency toward Manichaean thinking and a rejection of neutral expertise.

Every victory for the Democratic Party or incremental extension of the welfare state is a twilight struggle to safeguard the last flickering hopes for freedom from the ravages of socialism. If Medicare was enacted, warned Ronald Reagan, “you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” Barack Obama’s policies would bring about “ total societal collapse and global conflagration,” predicted National Review.

These predictions are not just scare tactics. They reflect the authentic ideology of the American right, which treats liberalism as either indistinguishable from, or an unstoppably slippery slope toward, Bolshevistic central planning. But these beliefs are also very effective as scare tactics. Conservative fears that Democrats will usher in total societal collapse are good ways to scare conservatives into buying gold (an especially lucrative Obama-era conservative grift) or guns.

The right hardly has a monopoly on fearful predictions, of course. But their impact is magnified by the conservative distrust of the intellectual elite. Conservatives have spent decades training their supporters to reject the authority of bureaucrats, professors, the media, or any institution not explicitly committed to the right-wing agenda. Thus kook notions like the Laffer curve and climate-science denial have become cherished precepts of Republican Party thought. A man who claims a February snowstorm refutes climate science can chair the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and a person who says things like “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler” can become a leading Trump administration climate adviser.

3) As a lifelong resident of car-dependent American suburbia, I nonetheless really appreciated Farhad Manjoo’s take here, “There’s One Big Problem With Electric Cars: They’re still cars. Technology can’t cure America of its addiction to the automobile.”

But electric motors are merely a power source, not a panacea. From General Motors’ Super Bowl ads to President Biden’s climate-change plans, plug-in cars are now being cast as a central player in America’s response to a warming future — turning a perfectly reasonable technological hope into overblown hype.

The planet will be much better off if we switch to electric cars. But gauzy visions of the guilt-free highways of tomorrow could easily distract us from the larger and more entrenched problem with America’s transportation system.

That problem isn’t just gas-fueled cars but car-fueled lives — a view of the world in which huge private automobiles are the default method of getting around. In this way E.V.s represent a very American answer to climate change: To deal with an expensive, dangerous, extremely resource-intensive machine that has helped bring about the destruction of the planet, let’s all buy this new version, which runs on a different fuel…

Fixing the problems caused by cars with new and improved cars and expensive new infrastructure just for cars illustrates why we’re in this mess in the first place — an entrenched culture of careless car dependency. Liberation from car culture requires a more fundamental reimagining of how we get around, with investments in walkable and bike-able roadways, smarter zoning that lets people live closer to where they work, a much greater emphasis on public transportation and above all a recognition that urban space should belong to people, not vehicles. Policy changes that reduce the amount Americans drive could lead to far greater efficiency gains than we’d get just from switching from gas to batteries.

4) This is a terrific idea… way more straightforward labeling on prescription drugs.  Like this:

5) Ryan Cooper, “The Texas blizzard nightmare is Republican governance in a nutshell”

It was all darkly amusing. But what Cruz did is emblematic of the Republican Party’s mode of governance. The reason Cruz felt comfortable leaving Texans to freeze solid on the sidewalks of Houston is the same reason the Texas power grid crumpled under the winter storm. Theirs is a party in which catering to the welfare of one’s constituents, or indeed any kind of substantive political agenda, has been supplanted by propaganda, culture war grievance, and media theatrics. Neither he nor anybody else in a leadership position in the party knows or cares about how to build a reliable power grid. They just want to get rich owning the libs.

The proximate reason the Texas grid failed was, at root, quite simple: It was not built to withstand freezing cold. As The Texas Tribune details, experts have been warning Texas politicians, power managers, and utility companies for years that the state is ill-prepared for a cold snap, as happened a decade ago. “In 2011, Texas faced a very similar storm that froze natural gas wells and affected coal plants and wind turbines, leading to power outages across the state,” reports the Tribune. “A decade later, Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent plants from tripping offline during extreme cold, experts said.”

People have known for decades how to winterize electrical infrastructure — after all, there is still power in Canada and Finland. The reason those investments haven’t been made in Texas is because it would have cost a lot of money, and nobody wanted to pay for it — especially because the deregulated Texas energy grid makes it hard to pay for upgrades or extra capacity…

“Liberty,” to people like this, means that conservative elected officials never have to use their positions or authority to do anything when their constituents are suffering and dying. That, you see, is socialism.

So in a way, it probably doesn’t make much of a difference that Cruz abandoned his state to the freezing Arctic winds. It’s not like he was going to do anything to help them. At best, we’ll get some smarmy tweets now that he’s back. These days, whining is the beginning and end of Republican governance.

6) Youyang Gu and his Covid models are both awesome.  Loved this interview/profile in Bloomberg.  It really just goes to show that a smart, open-minded, flexible thinker can do great things even if they don’t have years of subject-matter expertise (so, enough with the “stay in your lane” folks).  I really enjoyed the sour grapes from one of the IMHE modelers in here as IMHE just kept getting it wrong while Gu was getting it right.  

7) The story of how we poisoned ourselves (quite knowingly) with lead in the 20th century is really quite amazing.  And there’s still huge cost/benefit to be gained by tackling lead abatement.  Yglesias makes the case:

One of the oddities of the 20th century lead disaster is that scientists were basically aware from the beginning that industry was poised to start spewing neurotoxins all over the place. This is from Beth Gardiner’s book “Choked” about air pollution:

A Yale physiologist named Yandell Henderson had tested tetraethyl lead as a potential nerve agent during World War I, and when GM asked his thoughts on putting it into gasoline [in 1921], he replied with alarm. “Widespread lead poisoning was almost certain to result,” he warned. Later he deemed it the “single greatest question in the field of public health that has ever faced the American public.”

The science was clear: Lead is a powerful neurotoxin. The threat was vividly demonstrated at a New Jersey refinery whose tetraethyl lead operation was known as “the loony gas building” because of its workers’ bizarre behavior — stumbling, memory loss, explosions of rage. After an accident, dozens collapsed, suffering seizures and hallucinations; more than 30 were hospitalized and 5 died.

The companies — writing a playbook polluters would draw on for decades — attacked the science, and paid for some of their own, to argue lead’s dangers were exaggerated. A Standard Oil executive even called tetraethyl lead “a gift of God.”

To put it a little less pejoratively, I think the big hope of humanity on lead over time has been the idea that while the very high concentrations in the loony gas building may be dangerous, surely a bit of lead isn’t so bad…

If you enjoy reading policy content on the internet, you are probably familiar with Kevin Drum’s article linking the rise and fall of violent crime in the United States to leaded gasoline. I highly recommend it, along with this follow-up, but also especially his smaller follow-up posts about residual lead in topsoil because this is the problem we have today…

There’s a significant racial disparity in lead exposure thanks to the disproportionate concentration of Black people in old southern and midwestern urban cores.

But in keeping with there being no known safe level of lead, there is also a very wide range of places with serious lead problems. It’s a huge issue in swathes of rural Maine, for example, which is why Jared Golden, the House Democrat who represents the Trumpy part of the state, is the author of a big lead abatement bill. Because of gentrification dynamics, the distribution of lead problems is also becoming considerably less racially polarized in the northeast — it’s a huge issue in many of the hip parts of Brooklyn. When D.C. tested for lead in our playgrounds, we found contamination scattered around the city.

The big common factor is the age of the built environment.

Modern structures don’t use lead paint, and modern gasoline doesn’t have lead additives. So if you’re in the suburbs of San Antonio, your house is probably pretty new. And critically, so are all the other houses in the neighborhood. There also probably just weren’t many people driving around 40 years ago. But any place that’s old is at risk for lead contamination, because even once we stopped burning leaded gasoline, the old lead didn’t vanish — it just settled into the ground. And the old lead paint continues to degrade and contaminate not just old homes but the surrounding areas. And then there’s the Flint problem, where old municipal water systems use lead pipes.

But even in a relatively low-lead area, having just one contaminated property around really isn’t okay…

Per Elise Gould’s work, the benefits of expensive lead abatement projects are high. She estimated that spending up to $11 billion on lead paint removal generates $17 to $221 billion in benefits, mostly in the form of higher lifetime earnings with commensurate higher tax revenues and lower health care expenditures.

Alright, a short version, but some good stuff there.

It’s called a “filibuster” not “rules need 60 votes to proceed”

I was just listening to NPR while driving home from work yesterday and a story about Democrat’s immigration reform proposal came on.  This is a tough go because there’s not budget reconciliation for legislation like this so, presumably Republican will filibuster it like they will filibuster all Democratic legislation that they can.  This “filibuster everything” approach is a modern invention and simply not how the Senate has worked until very recently.  So, to just pretend like there’s some 60 vote rule that’s just how the Senate works is to fundamentally mislead the public about the fact that Republicans are committed to obstructing all Democratic legislation that they can.  This absolutely drove me crazy under Obama and unless Manchin and Sinema come to their senses I fear this will be driving me crazy under Biden.  From the NPR story:

It’s anticipated that Republicans will oppose many provisions in the legislation, which could signal that Democrats will need to employ alternative measures to push it through the Senate where, under current rules, it needs 60 votes to proceed.

Do better, NPR!  Yes, there’s a Senate rule that allows Republicans to filibuster and require the 60 vote threshold, but in no way does ordinary legislation simply “need” 60 votes unless the minority party has decided that they will filibuster.  We can just have the media pretend that Republicans filibustering everything is just “oh, well, Senate rules.”  Because what it is, of course, is the Senators representing dramatically fewer Americans deciding that they need to get their way, majority rule be damned.  

Limbaugh –> Trump

So many good takes on Limbaugh out there.  Chait’s is damn good, so, here you go:

Donald Trump’s connection to the conservative movement to this day remains a subject of acrimonious dispute among the right-wing intelligentsia — some have embraced the 45th president as the movement’s authentic leader, while others regard him warily as an interloper, a New York Democrat who captured the party from the outside.

Nobody on the right ever disowned Rush Limbaugh. Throughout his career, they agreed he was a pure representative of conservative thought. George Bush courted him with an overnight visit to the Lincoln Bedroom and the presidential box at the 1992 Republican National Convention. National Review declared him “Leader of the Opposition” in a 1993 cover story. “Limbaugh is not fringe,” gushed Washington Free Beacon editor Matthew Continetti. “His views fit in the conservative mainstream. He idolizes Buckley.”

The Republican Party considered Limbaugh’s influence on their 1994 midterm sweep so profound they made him an honorary member of the incoming congressional class. “I am in Congress today because of Rush Limbaugh,” testified Mike Pence, in 2001. Upon news of his death, George W. Bush called him “an indomitable spirit with a big heart.”

Bush himself may have a big heart. Limbaugh oozed bile. He did not merely characterize his targets as misguided, or stupid, or even selfish. He rendered them for his audience as dehumanized targets of rage. He had special rage for feminist women, who were castrating harpies, and Black people, who were lazy, intellectually unqualified, and inherently criminal. The message he pounded home day after day was that minorities and women were seizing status and resources from white people and men, and that politics was a zero-sum struggle — and the victory would go to whichever side fought more viciously.

Limbaugh’s racism was obsessive, not incidental. Any measures to uplift Black America, in his mind, could only come at white expense and were inherently illegitimate. Any economic reform — even a goal like universal health care, which Democrats had sought for decades and which prevailed throughout the industrialized world — was “reparations.” No episode was too marginal to be conscripted into this message. When in 2011, some schoolkids got into a fight — as they have since schooling existed — he warned, “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the Black kids cheering.” …

Limbaugh, like Trump, understood the party’s id years before its putative leaders grasped it. They had the same feel for the conservative audience and nearly the same message to capture it. They were almost the same person. Perhaps the only only salient difference between the two men’s careers is that Limbaugh found his place sooner than Trump, at a time when a bellicose misogynist could find a valued position in the party but not as its presidential candidate. That had become a possibility by the time Trump found his way to conservatism as a viable exclusive brand…

It is peculiar that Limbaugh is honored and mourned in a single voice by a party elite that remains split over its descent into violent insurrection. The line from Limbaugh to Trump is about an inch long.

And if you are really in for a speak ill of the dead take, damn does Erik Loomis let loose.  Hard to say he’s wrong, though.  A sampling:

Limbaugh’s garbage show became the most popular radio show in the nation, feeding two generations of white people lies and propaganda about race, about women, about liberals, about the Democratic Party, about immigrants, about guns, and about basically every other issue in the nation. And whites ate this up, as it fed their insatiable desire for resentment against the loss of their status, real or perceived. The hatred that sprung out of this man had no boundaries. He was a disgusting slug of a man who despised anyone and everyone who did not share his racism and misogyny.

It goes without saying that Limbaugh hated women, possibly more than any other group in the country.

Presumably, if Limbaugh had not been Limbaugh somebody else would have filled this void because obviously there was a market for it.  But sometimes individuals really do make a difference.  And in popularizing and monetizing an extraordinarily antagonistic, vulgar, and mean-spirited brand of politics it seems safe to conclude the Limbaugh really did make our country worse.

But, of course, as with Trump, the worst are the complicit who go along knowing that it’s awful but brings electoral advantage.  


I’ve definitely been using some variation of “The Republican Party is Trump’s Party” for quite a while now and damn has the response to January 6 shown this this, so sadly, to be ever more true.  Until definitively proven otherwise, Trumpism and the cult of Trump is the animating force of the Republican Party.

Good stuff from Jamelle Bouie: “If There Was a Republican Civil War, It Appears to Be Over: The party belongs to Trump for as long as he wants it.”

Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, for example, was immediately censured by the Louisiana Republican Party. “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the vote today by Senator Cassidy to convict former President Trump,” the party announced on Twitter. Another vote to convict, Richard Burr of North Carolina, was similarly rebuked by his state party, which censured him on Monday. Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania are also in hot water with their respective state parties, which see a vote against Trump as tantamount to treason. “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he’s doing,” one Pennsylvania Republican Party official explained. “We sent him there to represent us.”

That this backlash was completely expected, even banal, should tell you everything you need to know about the so-called civil war in the Republican Party. It doesn’t exist. Outside of a rump faction of (occasional) dissidents, there is no truly meaningful anti-Trump opposition within the party. The civil war, such as it was, ended four-and-a-half years ago when Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president.

If there’s a conflict, it’s less a war and more a small skirmish with an outmatched and outnumbered opponent. Seventy-five percent of Republicans want Trump to continue to “play a prominent role in the Republican Party,” according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, and 87 percent say he should be allowed to “hold elected office in the future.” A recent survey from Morning Consult likewise shows Trump far ahead of his rivals in a hypothetical 2024 matchup, with 54 percent support versus 12 percent for the runner-up, Mike Pence.

The Republican Party belongs to Trump for as long as he wants it. Its most prominent politicians will follow his lead and attempt to build on his example. His children and in-laws will have a place as heirs to his legacy. If Trump decides to seek the White House for a second term, the nomination is almost certainly his to lose…
What does it mean, in practice, for Trump to retain this strong a hold over the Republican Party? Since “Trumpism” isn’t a policy platform as much as it is a singular devotion to the man himself, a Trumpified Republican Party is one in which candidates do everything they can to shape themselves in his image.

Meanwhile, Perry Bacon with an excellent 538 piece on how much of the worst/Trumpiest of the Republican Party is at the state and local level (of course, if you think about it, those completely bonkers/insane statements that always pop up are invariably from a Republican state legislator or County Chair):

The party’s reaction to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by Trump supporters is perhaps the clearest example of this dynamic. In Washington, the attack resulted in Trump facing a backlash from a few GOP lawmakers. Outside Washington, those who criticized Trump for his role in the attack are the ones facing the backlash.

Only days after Cheney’s colleagues in Washington didn’t punish her, the Wyoming Republican Party did. They passed a formal resolution condemning Cheney for voting for Trump’s impeachment, calling for her immediate resignation and declaring the party will no longer support her politically. The official state GOP parties in ArizonaLouisianaNorth Carolina and South Carolina have also censured prominent Republicans in their states for breaking with the former president, as have county-level GOP officials in IllinoisKentuckyNebraskaMichigan and Washington state. The Republican Party in Oregon released a resolution condemning all 10 U.S. House Republicans who voted for impeachment (none are from Oregon), compared them to Benedict Arnold and suggested the pro-impeachment Republicans were “conspiring to surrender our nation to Leftist forces seeking to establish a dictatorship.”…

Beyond defending Trump himself, state and local Republicans are perhaps the party’s biggest advocates of the kind of white-identity politics that is sometimes referred to as Trumpism.

I think this following part is particularly key:

Why would the anti-establishment wing be more powerful at the state level than in Washington? Well, the forces that push the party in a more traditional direction are generally business groups, who would prefer a Republican Party focused on issues like tax cuts instead of “owning the libs.” Those groups have a lot of reason to invest money and energy in helping McConnell-style Republicans who can pass tax cuts and deregulation bills that can help corporations get seats in Congress. Those business groups have little incentive to get very involved in GOP politics at the state level, particularly in small states like Wyoming.

Also, members of Congress in Washington, particularly senators with six-year terms, are hard to dislodge. But there aren’t a lot of GOP officials at the local or state level as entrenched as someone like McConnell or Thune. So Trump-aligned conservatives, often with the support of the former president and his political aides, have invested deeply in state-level politics and been able to gain power fairly quickly and easily.

And, lastly, because it’s me and it fits in pretty well with this, my comments on Lara Trump (a graduate of not only my university, but my college) possibly running for Senate in NC:

“… for now, the Republican Party is still Donald Trump’s party and one would have to imagine that if he threw his weight behind his daugher-in-law that shares the Trump name, that would be incredibly influential in Republican primaries,” Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, said. “I would not say she’s in any way a lock to win, but she would be a very, very serious contender for the Senate seat.”


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