Quick hits (part II)

1) Brian Beutler with a very good take on what the Democrats need to be doing politically.

It may seem callous to think about politics in the midst of a pandemic that has millions of Americans secluded at home and wondering if they’ll see their next paychecks. But President Trump’s fumbling and flawed response to coronavirus is a reminder that elections have consequences that can be devastating and deadly. This is not just any election year—it’s perhaps the most important election in American history, and Democrats cannot ignore the politics of the moment.

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Democrats put politics aside to line up behind a Republican president. Republicans responded by using the attack as a cudgel to bully the nation into war and bludgeon Democratic candidates for being soft on terrorism. Democrats must do all we can to ensure that the next time our country faces a national emergency, there is a Democrat presiding over a government staffed by experts, instead of an administration run by Fox News Green Room rejects who are sourcing ideas from Facebook.

In other words, we cannot make the same mistakes again.

2) James Fallows on the need to stop covering Trump’s appalling press conferences.

3) Chait with a good take on the Senator stock-selling scandal:

The trading scandal is, in this sense, a perfectly characteristic act. Last month, Burr became convinced the coronavirus posed a terrifying public-health and economic threat. Yet the Trump administration was still pursuing a denialist line in the hope it could prop up the stock market. So Burr worked out the contradiction as he usually does. He privately warned a group of affluent, well-connected insiders that the virus was far more dangerous than Trump allowed. Publicly, he toed the line, touting Trump’s vigilance in leading the United States, which was “better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump administration,” as he wrote in a cheerful Fox News op-ed. Behind the scenes, Burr was dumping his stock portfolio, selling between $628,000 and $1.72 million in 33 transactions.

4) Jay Rosen on the need for the press to fundamentally change how they are covering Trump.

Donald Trump’s public statements have been unreliable. And that is why today we announce that we are shifting our coverage of the President to an emergency setting.

This means we are exiting from the normal system for covering presidents— which Trump himself exited long ago by using the microphone we have handed him to spread thousands of false claims, even as he undermines trust in the presidency and the press. True: he is not obliged to answer our questions. But neither are we obligated to assist him in misinforming the American people about the spread of the virus, and what is actually being done by his government.

We take this action knowing we will be criticized for it by the President’s defenders, by some in journalism, and perhaps by some of you. And while it would be nice to have company as we change course, we anticipate that others in the news media will stick with the traditional approach to covering presidents.

This we cannot in good conscience do.

Switching to emergency mode means our coverage will look different and work in a different way, as we try to prevent the President from misinforming you through us. Here are the major changes:

* We will not cover live any speech, rally, or press conference involving the president. The risk of passing along bad information is too great. Instead, we will attend carefully to what he says. If we can independently verify any important news he announces we will bring that to you— after the verification step.

5) Adam Serwer is right, “Donald Trump’s Cult of Personality Did This: The autocratic political culture that has propped up the Trump administration has left the nation entirely unprepared for an economic and public-health calamity.”

6) And Paul Waldman is right that Trump is constitutionally incapable of expressing empathy.

7) And, back to a theme here, Jennifer Senior, “Call Trump’s News Conferences What They Are: Propaganda:Then contrast them with the leadership shown by Andrew Cuomo, Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel.”

8) Andrew Ross Sorkin: we need a government bridge loan to everyone.  Hugely expensive, but sounds like about what we need:

The Covid-19 crisis will take time to be solved by science. The economic crisis can be solved right now.

With President Trump proposing to send $1,000 checks to every American and industries, like the airlines, lining up for bailouts, there is a better way to arrest the panic.

I chronicled the 2008 financial crisis and spent the past week on back-to-back telephone calls with many of the experts who crafted that bailout, as well as the programs put in place after 9/11, Katrina, the BP oil spill and other crises. Now here is a thought experiment that could prevent what is quickly looking like the next Great Recession or even, dare it be mentioned, depression.

The fix: The government could offer every American business, large and small, and every self-employed — and gig — worker a no-interest “bridge loan” guaranteed for the duration of the crisis to be paid back over a five-year period. The only condition of the loan to businesses would be that companies continue to employ at least 90 percent of their work force at the same wage that they did before the crisis. And it would be retroactive, so any workers who have been laid off in the past two weeks because of the crisis would be reinstated.

The program would keep virtually everyone employed — and keep companies, from airlines to restaurants, in business without picking winners and losers.

It would immediately create a sense of confidence and relief during these tumultuous times that once the scourge of the coronavirus was contained, life would return to some semblance of normal. It would also help encourage people to stay home and practice social distancing without feeling that they would risk losing their job — the only way to slow this disease.

The price tag? A lot. Some back-of-the-envelope math suggests that many trillions — that’s with a “t” — of dollars would go out in loans if this crisis lasted three months, possibly as much as $10 trillion. That’s half the size of America’s gross domestic product. And assuming 20 percent of it is never repaid, it could cost taxpayers hundreds of billions if not several trillions. I get that. But with interest rates near zero, there is no better time to borrow against the fundamental strength of the U.S. economy, spend the money and prevent years of economic damage that would ultimately be far, far costlier.

9) A must read from Aaron Carroll and Ashish Jha, “This Is How We Can Beat the Coronavirus
Mitigation can buy us time, but only suppression can get us to where we need to be.”

Because of this, some are now declaring that we might be on lockdown for the next 18 months. They see no alternative. If we go back to normal, they argue, the virus will run unchecked and tear through Americans in the fall and winter, infecting 40 to 70 percent of us, killing millions and sending tens of millions to the hospital. To prevent that, they suggest we keep the world shut down, which would destroy the economy and the fabric of society.

But all of that assumes that we can’t change, that the only two choices are millions of deaths or a wrecked society.

That’s not true. We can create a third path. We can decide to meet this challenge head-on. It is absolutely within our capacity to do so. We could develop tests that are fast, reliable, and ubiquitous. If we screen everyone, and do so regularly, we can let most people return to a more normal life. We can reopen schools and places where people gather. If we can be assured that the people who congregate aren’t infectious, they can socialize.

We can build health-care facilities that do rapid screening and care for people who are infected, apart from those who are not. This will prevent transmission from one sick person to another in hospitals and other health-care facilities. We can even commit to housing infected people apart from their healthy family members, to prevent transmission in households.

These steps alone still won’t be enough.

We will need to massively strengthen our medical infrastructure. We will need to build ventilators and add hospital beds. We will need to train and redistribute physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists to where they are most needed. We will need to focus our factories on turning out the protective equipment—masks, gloves, gowns, and so forth—to ensure we keep our health-care workforce safe. And, most importantly, we need to pour vast sums of intellectual and financial resources into developing a vaccine that would finally bring this nightmare to a close. An effective vaccine would end the pandemic and protect billions of people around the world.

All of the difficult actions we are taking now to flatten the curve aren’t just intended to slow the rate of infection to levels the health-care system can manage. They’re also meant to buy us time. They give us the space to create what we need to make a real difference.

10) I don’t know who Thomas Pueyo is, but this “hammer and the dance” analysis on Covid hits many of the same points and seems like a long, but essential read for anybody else on the semi-obsessed side of “what do we do about this?”

11) Interesting contrarian take from a public health expert that argues we are doing to much destruction of our economy relative to the benefit we’re getting. It’s really similar to my initial, frustrated, take along the lines of “can’t we just isolate and the old and vulnerable, do everything we can for them, and let the rest of us live our lives?”  I came to, frustratingly, admit, that that approach is probably not enough.  But, interesting to see it argued for in the NYT.

The clustering of complications and death from Covid-19 among the elderly and chronically ill, but not children (there have been only very rare deaths in children), suggests that we could achieve the crucial goals of social distancing — saving lives and not overwhelming our medical system — by preferentially protecting the medically frail and those over age 60, and in particular those over 70 and 80, from exposure.

Why does this matter?

I am deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near total meltdown of normal life — schools and businesses closed, gatherings banned — will be long lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself. The stock market will bounce back in time, but many businesses never will. The unemployment, impoverishment and despair likely to result will be public health scourges of the first order.

I think maybe this would have been okay if we could get enough damn tests.  It’s really so much about the lack of tests, which may well come to be the single greatest public health failing in US history.

12) Very much relatedly, Reuters, “Special Report: How Korea trounced U.S. in race to test people for coronavirus”

And watch this.  Going to finish off with a run of non Covid!

13) Democrats really, truly do believe in good government (not just power) far, far more than Republicans.  That’s an important asymmetry. Great case in point– Virginia Democrats just stripped themselves of the power to gerrymander.

14) Nice look at why it’s Bernie “Bros” and not “Sis’s” i.e, why do women support Bernie less.  Short version– not clear!  But, it did link to an article I almost forgot I had written way back when.

15) I admit, I especially liked this, “Your Kids’ Coach Is Probably Doing It Wrong” article because throughout I was able to say… ummm, not my daughter’s coach! (i.e., me).

16) The latest research suggests Alcoholics Anonymous really does work pretty well and quite cost effectively.  And, I definitely need to share that, as I wrote positively about this Atlantic article five years ago which very much argues against AA.

17) It’s the cool kid thing to do to make fun of Thomas Friedman, but I quite liked this column of his, “Joe Biden, Not Bernie Sanders, Is the True Scandinavian”

Third, Senator Sanders, do you believe the free enterprise system is the best means for growing jobs, the economy and opportunity — or do you believe in more socialist central planning? I ask because I have often heard you praise Scandinavian countries, like Denmark, as exemplars of democratic socialism. Have you ever been to Denmark? It’s democratic but not socialist.

Denmark is actually a hypercompetitive, wide-open, market economy devoted to free trade and expanding globalization, since trade — exports and imports — makes up roughly half of Denmark’s G.D.P.

Indeed, Denmark’s 5.8 million people have produced some of the most globally competitive multinationals in the world, by the names of A.P. Moller-Maersk, Danske Bank, Novo Nordisk, Carlsberg Group, Vestas, Coloplast, the Lego Group and Novozymes. These are the very giant multinationals Sanders constantly rails against.

As the former Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen once remarked in a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to those who might not fully grasp the Danish model: “I would like to make one thing clear, Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy. The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state, which provides a high level of security for its citizens, but it is also a successful market economy with much freedom to pursue your dreams and live your life as you wish.”

It is through these engines of capitalism, free trade, economic openness and globalization that Denmark has managed to become wealthy enough to afford the social safety net that Sanders rightly admires — as do I: access for all to child care, medical and parental leave from work, tuition-free college, a living stipend, universal health care and generous pensions.

Yep.  This is why I always strongly preferred “capitalist to my bones” Elizabeth Warren.  Free markets, properly regulatedare amazing engines of human progress.  And we can and should share the fruits of that progress widely.  But the key is to use capitalism for the public good, which we are completely failing to do here in America, but many European countries seem to have figured out.

Quick hits (part II)

More from obsessively reading about the Corona Virus so that you don’t have to :-).

1) Eric Levitz is no fan of Biden, but gets that Bernie supporters will simply need to vote for him in November:

Progressives and socialists would be wise to build their own independent institutions and cultivate their own mass base of support. But they should also recognize that they do, in fact, have a profound stake in seeing Joe Biden prevail over Donald Trump this November. For low-income people in Louisiana and Kentucky, the stakes of elections between moderate Democrats and far-right Republicans can be life and death. There is no party in U.S. politics right now that is committed to achieving truly universal health care as quickly as logistically possible. But there is one party that is demonstrably committed to expanding public health insurance, and one that is similarly committed to shrinking it. The tens of thousands of Americans who’ve secured Medicaid as a result of Democrats beating Republicans in elections are worth fighting for; as are the Virginians who will no longer have to ration their insulin because Ralph Northam beat Ed Gillespie; as are the undocumented New Yorkers who can now drive legally because Andrew Cuomo beat Marc Molinaro. To abstain from two-party competition in the contemporary United States is to forfeit ripe opportunities to improve the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable people.

2) I think this “never Biden” contingent will be much smaller in November, but, basically, a lot of people hate that they are stuck with this binary choice.  But, they just are.  It’s Trump or the Democratic nominee and a vote for anybody, but the Democratic nominee or a non-vote serves to keep Trump in office.

3) Very nice guide to the what social distancing actually means.  Also interesting that even the experts are not quite in agreement as to what, precisely, this should mean.  E.g.,

SHOULD I BE CANCELING HAIRCUTS AND OTHER NONESSENTIAL APPOINTMENTS?

Watson: Those are more one-on-one interactions. I think there’s a lower likelihood that exposure is going to occur that way. I don’t think that’s a big concern.

Cannuscio: I would say hold off on your haircut and then when you go back, when it’s clear that we have vanquished this foe, everybody please give your hairdresser extra, extra tips. I hope that policies will be put into place to protect the paychecks of people who will suffer during this period.

4) Meanwhile, I think a social distancing plan that says, basically, don’t let your kids play with their friends is taking this too far.

5) That said, we still don’t have a very good handle on how well the virus spreads before symptoms and the asymptomatic spread may be the scariest part.

6) In happier times, we could focus more on the brutal academic job market for PhD’s.  To some degree, this results from a horrible mis-aligning of incentives whereas universities have great incentive to churn out PhDs (and even create new programs) while there just aren’t the jobs for all these people.  Meanwhile, people keep pursuing this because if you are one of the lucky ones who gets a tenure-track professor job, it’s just an amazing job to have.

7) Even before Covid-19 may have doomed Trump’s presidency, Biden’s performance so far has provided plenty of reason to think well of his chances against Trump.  John Cassidy:

The results from Tuesday’s primary in Michigan, a state that Trump carried in the 2016 general election by eleven thousand votes, provided the strongest evidence yet that Biden’s electoral strategy may be a viable one. Having already scored important primary victories in South Carolina and other Southern states, where black voters form the biggest portion of the Democratic electorate, the former Vice-President defeated Bernie Sanders by a sixteen-point margin in Michigan, where, according to an exit poll, whites without college degrees were the largest single voting bloc…

Of course, you can’t directly translate the results of a Democratic primary to a general election, where the voting pool is much bigger and more conservative. In 2016, about 4.8 million people voted in the general election in Michigan, compared to 1.2 million who voted in the Democratic primary. But you can’t ignore the results of primary elections, either. “You have to be careful about the signal-to-noise ratio, but there is certainly some signal there,” Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an expert on electoral demographics, told me on Wednesday. “It seems to fit the proposition that Biden is putting forward. If I was part of the Trump campaign, I’d be a little concerned.”

That might be an understatement. In a recent analysis of what it will take to win the Presidency in 2020, Teixeira and a colleague, John Halpin, pointed out that in November, 2016, whites without college degrees made up about forty-four per cent of the electorate, making them the largest single group, and Trump carried them by more than twenty points. In 2020, Trump is once more basing his campaign on appealing to these voters and getting more of them to turn out. The good news for the Democrats—and the worrying thing for the President—is that they don’t need to eliminate Trump’s advantage with white working-class voters, which would be a huge task. Given the Democrats’ advantage in other demographics, merely restricting Trump’s advantage with that group to more manageable levels could be sufficient to carry Biden to the White House. [emphasis mine]

8) You know where we have the opposite of social distances?  Jails, prisons, and courtrooms.  We need to do so much better here.  As Emily Bazelon succinctly puts it, “Our Courts and Jails Are Putting Lives at Risk.”

9) Susan Rice on how to avoid a worst-case scenario.

Yet, there is still limited time to avoid the worst-case scenario if the White House moves very quickly.

Most immediately, the federal government must make millions of test kits available to all who need them at no cost to patients, including by calling on the W.H.O to help. It must speed the preparedness of hospitals and health care workers to ensure there are sufficient beds, ventilators and protective equipment to treat the imminent influx of the very ill. To fully engage the Federal Emergency Management Agency and accelerate the deployment of critical resources, the president should declare a national emergency now. (Mr. Trump declared a national emergency and announced several other steps to speed coronavirus response and testing at a news conference Friday afternoon.)

Next and critically important, the federal, state and local governments must swiftly mandate rigorous social distancing. To the greatest extent possible, all Americans should avoid sizable gatherings and crowded places, especially older adults and those with underlying health conditions. Not only should the sick and those close to them stay home, but we all should avoid concerts, large religious gatherings, sporting events, conferences and the like. Major league sports and the N.C.A.A. have led by example. School closings, as disruptive and costly as they are, can be critically important in limiting community spread.

Aggressive social distancing is our last key tool for slowing the spread of the coronavirus in the United States. If cities and states can “flatten the curve” of infections so that hospitals and health systems are not overwhelmed, we can better treat the very ill and delay the onset of many infections into a period when there are therapeutic treatments and a vaccine.

The severe economic impacts of the coronavirus must be relieved through urgent financial support to workers, caregivers, small businesses and the uninsured, as well as to companies. Paid leave, food assistance, affordable testing and treatment, and increased unemployment insurance are among the many accommodations Congress and the administration must immediately enact to assist the most vulnerable.

10) Very good one on “flattening the curve.”

11) Great Monkey Cage piece from Neil Malhotra on how short-term thinking is endemic to politics.  This is going in the Public Policy syllabus

So why is the United States so poorly equipped for a mass pandemic? Much of the answer plausibly lies in politicians’ incentives. Having the federal government prepare for crises may be incredibly good value for money. But politicians get few or no benefits from doing so, since voters don’t reward them for being ready. This is why…

Despite the clear efficiency of investing in preparation rather than response, prevention spending has decreased over the decades — while response spending has increased. Why has the federal government spent its money so poorly?

The answer lies in electoral incentives. We find that presidents who deliver relief spending after a disaster get a larger share of the votes in the next election. Specifically, if the incumbent party increases relief expenditures in a county from $1 per person (the 66th percentile for spending in the data) to $10 per person (the 93rd percentile in the data), the incumbent party will gain about 0.77 percentage points more in the next presidential vote. But there is a flat relationship between prevention spending in a county and presidential vote share — in other words, there’s no increase at all. This creates a clear incentive for government to not invest much in prevention, and instead to send help when disaster strikes.

12) Yeah, I’ve heard we all sit too much.  But, no, I will be taking up squatting.

13) Want to boost your immune system to fight off Covid-19?  Nothing at all surprising.  Eat right, exercise, reduce stress, and get enough sleep.

14) Good stuff on underlying medical conditions and susceptibility to Covid-19.

15) Conor Friedersdorf with a thoughtful and thorough look at the role of sexism in Warren’s downfall.

16) Twitter is all lit up with this WP story about the bumbled and awful Coronavirus response.  I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but surely a good use of some of your time on Sunday.

The economy was grinding to a halt. Stocks were in free fall. Schools were closing. Public events were being canceled. New cases of the novel coronavirus were popping up across the country.

And then, on Wednesday, the day the World Health Organization designated the coronavirus a pandemic, Jared Kushner joined the tumult.

President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser — who has zero expertise in infectious diseases and little experience marshaling the full bureaucracy behind a cause — saw the administration floundering and inserted himself at the helm, believing he could break the logjam of internal dysfunction.

Kushner rushed to help write Trump’s widely panned Oval Office address to the nation. His supermodel sister-in-law’s father, Kurt Kloss, an emergency room doctor, crowdsourced suggestions from his Facebook network to pass along to Kushner. And Kushner pressed tech executives to help build a testing website and retail executives to help create mobile testing sites — but the projects were only half-baked when Trump revealed them Friday in the White House Rose Garden

Kushner entered into a crisis management process that, despite the triumphant and self-congratulatory tone of public briefings, was as haphazard and helter-skelter as the chaotic early days of Trump’s presidency — turning into something of a family-and-friends pandemic response operation.

The administration’s struggle to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak has been marked by infighting and blame-shifting, misinformation and missteps, and a slow recognition of the danger. Warring factions have wrestled for control internally and for approval from a president who has been preoccupied with the beating his image is taking.

18) Thoughtful and interesting piece on public closings from a physician who wrote a book about the 1918 epidemic.  I was especially interested in the uncertainty on the efficacy of school closings.

19) Helaine Olen, “Coronavirus is an indictment of our way of life”

Our moment of crisis is decades in the making, the endgame of decades of embracing the idea that we are not interconnected, that it is each man and woman for themselves. The results are all around us: Income and wealth inequality soared. When a global financial crisis occurred in 2008, the government bailed out the banks and financial service sector, while allowing millions of American households to go into foreclosure. The rich got even richer, while almost everyone else fell behind. A majority of people say they cannot come up with $1,000 in a pinch without resorting to credit.

Intent on extracting wealth for an ever-smaller elite, we failed to invest. Corporations put money into stock buybacks, not into their employees or research. School funding fell, and our infrastructure — well, it’s a solid D+, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Roads are filled with potholes, and bridges literally fall down…

ut the fault is not Trump’s alone. Too many of us were deluded, convinced that we ourselves would be fine while others suffered around us. But it was absurd to think money could protect us from all danger. Viral diseases don’t check your wallet before striking, and they find you at Hamptons summer houses and hidden bunkers alike.

We are all connected. We all need to take on the task of rebuilding our society and putting protections in place so that when the next the crisis comes, we are ready to take it on. That looks like Medicare-for-allPaid sick leave. A strong unemployment system — one that covers gig workers — so that people losing their jobs don’t run out of money almost immediately.

That’s not a radical left agenda, it’s one that protects all of us. It also happens to be humane. And if we do it, some good will come out of this terrible calamity. The world will almost certainly never be the same. It’s in our power to make it a better one than before.

20) David Wallace-Wells lets loose:

This is not how a functioning society responds to a crisis. And while it is important to keep in mind that even the worst-case scenarios for COVID-19 stop far short of producing total social and political disarray — producing merely widespread death and suffering and an almost incalculable burden on our already stretched-thin medical capacity — it is nevertheless astonishing, and horrifying, just how quickly we have arrived here, almost totally distrustful of the civic institutions we expect to protect us.

And how did we arrive here? Part of it is, of course, Trump, who has so accelerated the decades-long Republican war on government, which is to say good governance, that it can now seem the only two people actually working in the federal government are Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller (who, by the way, jointly wrote the speech the president gave last night). Part of it is the long story of neoliberalism, which has taught us all that we make our political mark on the world through consumer choice and individual behavior, that we shouldn’t expect much but economic management from government, and that citizens are meant to be unleashed into unemcumbered markets. Part of it is even deeper cultural transformation, involving growing distrust of institutions and authorities and the growth of a kind of casually paranoid style of go-it-alone American life, as was so memorably documented in Chris Hayes’s The Twilight of the Elites. And part of it is, I think, in the term Ross Douthat has deployed in the title of his new book, “decadence” — the ancient imperial cycle of rising power and competence followed by avarice and narcissism and shortsightedness, but accelerated, in the case of the U.S., for a hypermodern age.

Barely more than two decades ago, the United States saw itself as a kind of eternal and all-powerful empire — the indispensable nation. It would have seemed laughable, then, to be told that China would have produced a far better and more comprehensive pandemic response — a shamefully superior response. But today, distressingly, we take that relative failure for granted, and don’t expect to outperform the Chinese on matters like these, let alone South Korea or Singapore. What feels new is that we are doing worse even than Italy, where in the past few days hundreds have died and where they are now rationing critical-care devices between patients who need them — deciding, between two people who will die without support, which one has a better chance of surviving with the machine and giving it to them. We are well behind Italy and seem somewhat closer in the effectiveness and coordination of our response to Iran, where it’s estimated millions may be infected, including many senior figures in government. When countries like these are desperate, they now turn to China, which is sending a huge supply of necessary equipment and human resources to Italy. The United States used to play that role not that long ago. Now, in this crisis and future ones, who will help us?

21) And, we’ll leave on the most damning note from Derek Thompson, “America Is Acting Like a Failed State”

Throughout the world, the most effective responses to the historic threat of the coronavirus have come from state governments. China imposed a lockdown of tens of millions of people in Wuhan and other cities. In Singapore, the government built an app to inform citizens how to contain the virus and what public spaces to avoid. South Korea opened a number of drive-through centers to accelerate diagnostic testing.

But in the United States, the pandemic has devolved into a kind of grotesque caricature of American federalism. The private sector has taken on quasi-state functions at a time when the executive branch of government—drained of scientific expertisestarved of moral vision—has taken on the qualities of a failed state. In a country where many individuals, companies, institutions, and local governments are making hard decisions for the good of the nation, the most important actor of them all—the Trump administration—has been a shambolic bonanza of incompetence.

It might seem hyperbolic to compare the U.S. government to a failed state that cannot project its authority or adequately ensure the safety of its population. But for much of the past month, the White House has shown an inability to do either.

The Trump administration has failed to perform the most basic function of a state during a pandemic—which is to accurately assess the threat. While South Korea is reportedly conducting 10,000 tests a day, lawmakers learned on Thursday that the U.S. has conducted only 11,000 coronavirus tests in total. (For the U.S. to catch up to South Korea on a per capita basis, it would need to conduct 65,000 tests daily.) But the coronavirus caught the Trump White House flat-footed. The administration fired the U.S. pandemic-response team in 2018. It ignored early warnings from epidemiologists; refused to waive regulations that impeded early testing; and botched its initial COVID-19 testing kits.

The White House has also failed in its basic role to protect the public by communicating accurate and useful information about public health and hygiene.

22) Exactly 21 years ago today, I defended my dissertation :-).

Quick hits (part I)

The world is falling apart and here I am writing a blog post edition.  Also, taking time out of my 6 hours a day of obsessively reading about Covid-19 to write a post.

1) Julia Belluz wrote this two years ago, “Trump vs. “disease X”
The administration is setting up the US to botch a pandemic response.”

2) Michael Tesler, “3 ways the coronavirus could end Trump’s presidency.”  The economy, the incompetence, the focus on health care.  I suspect all three will play a role.

3) Really good discussion on closing schools and public health.  The balance of evidence suggests its the right call.  But there are some reasonable dissenting voices.  Meanwhile, my school system which has been known to shut down (on multiple occassions) for 30mph wind is choosing not to.  Surprising.  Interesting explanation (their take is that unless you are willing to commit to 8 weeks–yikes!!– it’s not worth doing).

4) Jedidiah Purdy on social solidarity:

pandemic makes the slogan of solidarity literal: an injury to one is an injury to all. That’s why a pandemic also heightens the frantic wish to withdraw oneself from the web of interdependence and ride it out alone.

The new coronavirus makes vivid the logic of a world that combines a material reality of intense interdependence with moral and political systems that leave people to look out for themselves. Because we are linked — at work, on the bus and subway, at school, at the grocery store, with the Fresh Direct delivery system — we are contagious, and vulnerable. Because we are morally isolated, told to look out for ourselves and our own, we are becoming survivalists house by house, apartment by apartment, stocking enough that’s canned and frozen, grabbing enough cold meds and disinfectant, to cut ties and go out on our own.

The scramble reveals a class system in which a mark of relative status is the power to withdraw. If you have wealth or a salary from an institution that values you, and enough space at home, you might be able to pull off the essentially absurd trick of isolating yourself for a few months by drawing down the global web of commodities on display at Costco and Trader Joe’s. But for the 50 percent of the country that has no savings and lives paycheck to paycheck, or in small apartments with little food storage, or has to hustle every day to find work, this is simply impossible. People will be out every day, on the subways, at the gas stations, choosing between epidemiological prudence and economic survival, because they have no choice but to make that choice.

And as long as this is true — as long as many of us are out there every day, mixing it up to get by — there is reason to think very few of us will be safe. Extrapolating from the little we know about the virus, the number of carriers will continue to grow. As long as our moral and political isolation drives us back into the marketplace, our material interdependence makes nearly everyone vulnerable.

“Wash your hands” is good advice but also a poignant reminder that this is not the sort of problem that personal responsibility can solve. Epidemiology is a political problem. It’s not hard to sketch the steps that would ease our cruel situation: a work stoppage, massive income support (unemployment payments with some universal basic income in the mix), a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures and evictions. Treatment for coronavirus and potentially related symptoms should be free and comprehensive, no questions asked (about immigration status, for instance), so that no one goes untreated because of fear or poverty. This is all, in the most straightforward sense, good for everyone. It is also how people look out for one another’s vulnerability and need when they see one another’s problems as their own.

5) Georgia’s oh-so-wrong efforts to remove eligible voters from their rolls.  I’m sure this was not at all intended for partisan political gain ;-).

6) Josh Barro with a succinct, yet comprehensive look at how the pandemic in America is likely to get worse.

7) Good and important stuff from Catherine Rampell, “Officials have spent the last few years dismantling anti-recession measures”

8) And, oh yeah, there’s still regular electoral politics.  David Leonhardt,

The biggest lesson is simply this: The American left doesn’t care enough about winning.

It’s an old problem, one that has long undermined left-wing movements in this country. They have often prioritized purity over victory. They wouldn’t necessarily put it these terms, but they have chosen to lose on their terms rather than win with compromise.

You can see this pattern today in the ways that many progressive activists misread public opinion. Their answer to almost every question of political strategy is to insist that Americans are a profoundly progressive people who haven’t yet been inspired to vote the way they think. The way to win, these progressives claim, is to go left, always.

Immigration? Most Americans want more of it. Abortion? This is a pro-choice country. Fracking? People now understand its downsides. Strict gun control? Affirmative action? A wealth tax? Free college? Medicare for all? Widely available marijuana? Americans want it all, activists claim.

This belief helps explain why so many 2020 candidates hoping to win the progressive vote — including Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — embraced ideas like a ban on fracking and the decriminalization of the border. The left persuaded itself that those policies were both morally righteous and politically savvy. To reject any one of them was to risk being labeled a neoliberal sellout.

The thing is, progressive activists are right about public opinion on some of these issues. Most Americans do favor higher taxes on the rich, marijuana legalization and additional gun control. But too many progressives aren’t doing an honest analysis of the politics. They are instead committing what the journalist Matthew Yglesias has called “the pundit fallacy.” They are conflating their own opinions with smart political advice. They are choosing to believe what they want to believe.

They often do so by pointing to polls with favorably worded, intricate questions — and by ignoring evidence to the contrary. Affirmative action, for example, typically loses ballot initiatives. Polls show that most Americans favor some abortion restrictions and oppose the elimination of private health insurance.

By designing campaign strategies for the America they want, rather than the one that exists, progressives have done a favor to their political opponents. They have refused to make tactical retreats, which is why they keep losing.

9) I loved this cartoon.  That is all.Image may contain Advertisement Poster Brochure Paper and Flyer

10) Even after researching it, it still seems crazy to me that, even in a pandemic, we have to wait a year for a vaccine.  I get that testing is important, and time-consuming, but can’t it be expedited more during a crisis?  Do people actually suffer serious harm from ineffective vaccines?

11) So loved the final season of Bojack Horseman.  Really liked this take that doesn’t give away too much.

How do you end a series like BoJack Horseman? You stay true to your core cast of characters, treating them like flesh-and-blood (horse)people who just happened to live in a heightened world. You follow their stories so far to their logical conclusions, with no more hyperbole than can be found in the real world and without giving into either sympathetic schmaltz or nihilistic cynicism. You find a middle ground, a milestone that ties off the story and acts as a pause before it carries itself forward on its own momentum somewhere off the screen. That is the only way BoJack Horseman–perhaps the greatest animated drama series ever created–could have ended, and that’s exactly the way it does.

12) “GPS Tracking Shows How Much Wolf Packs Avoid Each Other’s Range” (thanks EMG)

wolf pack ranges

13) Well, this may be my last sports link for a while 😦  Very cool analytical analysis of what it takes to score goals at the highest level of soccer.  (Probably not a lot of lessons for my 9-year old girls Rec team).  “Be Quick, Press High, Cut Back: How to Score in the Champions League”

14) Seems that “stand your ground” laws are designed for white men to shoot non-white guys.  Okay, that’s probably not quite fair.  But for women suffering abuse– maybe not so much.  Really disturbing story in the New Yorker earlier this year.  And the follow-up is not encouraging.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Oh damn did I love this from Paul Campos on under-appreciated it is that Trump really is just plain stupid:

In my view, the single most under-appreciated fact about Trump is that he’s a genuinely stupid person. (He does possess a combination of complete shamelessness and an animal instinct for grifting, which is not at all the same thing as actual intelligence). It’s extremely difficult to grasp the depth and breath of Trump’s stupidity, and its consequences — lack of the most basic knowledge, absence of any intellectual curiosity, failure to grasp anything about his own cognitive limitations, aka Dunning-Kruger syndrome — because Trump is a very high status, putatively very wealthy white person, which means he always gets the benefit of the doubt about everything. If Trump weren’t these things, the extremely obvious fact that he’s a very stupid person — and not in comparison to, say, Elizabeth Warren, but in comparison to the average college graduate — would be far more self-evident.

In the minds of the elites and their hangers-on — that is among all respectable people — it literally cannot be the case that Trump is just an extremely stupid person, because to recognize that would delegitimate too many hierarchical systems and institutions in our culture. So he’s “crazy like a fox,” or playing the role of a heel in a reality TV show, or playing a complex game in which he pretends to be incredibly ignorant just to pwn the libs. He may look dumb but that’s just a disguise!

No, no it isn’t. He’s really an idiot. Like your racist uncle who was never smart to begin with and whose brain has now been turned to mush by time and Fox News, he’s a complete dumbass, which probably isn’t a DSM-V category, but should be.

What’s particularly interesting is the extent to which his supporters recognize this. Many of them are of course idiots as well, and don’t recognize that about themselves, so naturally they don’t recognize the, to put it delicately, cognitive limitations of their leader.

But some of them aren’t stupid by any means. They’ve decided that having a stupid person (again: not hyperbole or a metaphor or oh he’s really not stupid although he’s no rocket surgeon — he’s literally quite stupid) is a price they’re more than willing to pay to get their tax cuts and judges and ethno-nationalism etc. (See for instance this interesting argument that Mitch McConnell is fully aware of how utterly unfit Trump is to hold office, but pretends otherwise because the prime directive is always to advance McConnell’s own career).

2) OMG this is awesome, “The Uncomfortable is a collection of deliberately inconvenient
everyday objects by Athens-based architect Katerina Kamprani”

3) This “Sexism Didn’t Kill the Warren Campaign. The Warren Campaign Killed the Warren Campaign” makes a number of good points.  Although, it’s annoying that it cannot admit that sexism likely nonetheless played a role:

I live on the planet where the Democratic electorate chose a woman to be their candidate in 2016—and where that same woman won the popular vote. I suppose it’s possible that the last four years of President Donald Trump have turned Democrats more sexist than they were before, but did that just temporarily stop for the several months Warren was at the top of the polls before Democrats realized they actually don’t want a woman after all? I doubt it.

At the same time, I find it curious that while Warren’s campaign was apparently cut down by sexism and/or misogyny, when other female candidates in the race dropped out, sexism didn’t often come up. One would assume that all female candidates would be subject to the same systemic prejudice, and yet few people claim that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) have failed—or, in Gabbard’s case, will fail—because American voters hate women.

When it comes to Gabbard or Klobuchar or the men in the race, people evaluate their campaigns and generally determine it’s the candidate, not the voter, who is at fault. Gabbard isn’t losing because of sexism, she’s losing because she’s a fill-in-the-blank homophobe/cult follower/Bashar Assad apologist. Klobuchar wasn’t a victim of misogyny, she was an uninspiring candidate who abuses her staff and eats her salads with a comb if she can’t find a fork (a quality I personally find highly electable).

So why is Warren’s loss called sexist when Klobuchar’s was not? …

I live on the planet where the Democratic electorate chose a woman to be their candidate in 2016—and where that same woman won the popular vote. I suppose it’s possible that the last four years of President Donald Trump have turned Democrats more sexist than they were before, but did that just temporarily stop for the several months Warren was at the top of the polls before Democrats realized they actually don’t want a woman after all? I doubt it.

At the same time, I find it curious that while Warren’s campaign was apparently cut down by sexism and/or misogyny, when other female candidates in the race dropped out, sexism didn’t often come up. One would assume that all female candidates would be subject to the same systemic prejudice, and yet few people claim that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) have failed—or, in Gabbard’s case, will fail—because American voters hate women.

When it comes to Gabbard or Klobuchar or the men in the race, people evaluate their campaigns and generally determine it’s the candidate, not the voter, who is at fault. Gabbard isn’t losing because of sexism, she’s losing because she’s a fill-in-the-blank homophobe/cult follower/Bashar Assad apologist. Klobuchar wasn’t a victim of misogyny, she was an uninspiring candidate who abuses her staff and eats her salads with a comb if she can’t find a fork (a quality I personally find highly electable).

So why is Warren’s loss called sexist when Klobuchar’s was not?

4) Zack Beauchamp, “Elizabeth Warren’s exit interview is a warning for the dirtbag left”

5) Adam Cohen has a new book on how the Supreme Court has abandoned the poor:

Instead, 50 years ago, the Court shifted rightward. Although it has long enjoyed a reputation as the defender of society’s most disadvantaged, the Supreme Court is now considered, on many issues, an enemy of poor Americans…

The Court has not only refused to extend new rights to poor people; it has also invoked dubious readings of the Constitution to take away rights that poor people have already won from Congress and the president…

If the Supreme Court had continued on the path laid out by the Warren Court, life for the poor would be far better today. One major setback: In 1973, the Court ruled 5–4, in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, that states do not have to ensure that high- and low-income school districts have equal amounts of money to spend on students. If the case had come out the other way, millions of children in low-income districts nationwide would have greater educational opportunities and better life outcomes. They would be better off in another way: If the Court had held that the poor are a suspect class, or took a broader view of equal protection, they could challenge the glaringly unequal levels of welfare benefits across the country. Although benefits are not generous anywhere, in some states, like Wyoming and Mississippi, they are egregiously low, putting the poor in an untenable position.

6) These are good. “40 Comics Reveal What Animals Would Say If They Could Talk”

They Can Talk

7) Every time I teach Criminal Justice policy, one pretty much unanimous conclusion that the students come to is that we need dramatically better police training.  Nice to see conservatives recognize this in the National Review:

After a series of terrible incidents of police violence — think Botham Jean in Dallas, Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, and others — police are under a microscope. Why does it seem like some officers are on a hair trigger, ready to use deadly force with little provocation? Increasingly, critics of police point to what we call “the mindset”: people’s belief that police (despite low crime rates) think that American streets are a battlefield, that they are surrounded by potential enemies, and that every civilian encounter is a struggle to be won.

Not every police officer has the mindset; the best don’t. One of us is a former prosecutor, the other a former police officer who has studied policing for more than 20 years. We know that “the mindset” is real and the root cause of many of these tragedies. But it isn’t inevitable. Instead, police recruits are trained in that attitude and even incentivized to maintain such attitude. Can they be untrained, or trained differently? We think they can — and believe conservatives especially ought to support efforts to reform police training.

The mindset has roots in the drug war, where politicians of all stripes encouraged the militarization of police equipment, tactics, and attitudes. It starts in the police academies. Most use a “stress” model resembling military boot camps, emphasizing drills, intense physical demands, public discipline, and immediate reaction to infractions; substantively, academy training focuses on investigation skills, weapons training, and tactics. But there is little emphasis on the profession of policing, on how to relate to the public, or on developing emotional-intelligence skills. Meanwhile, the average recruit gets less than ten hours of training in de-escalation techniques; 34 states require no training in de-escalation.

As they have proliferated, SWAT teams are increasingly used in standard, on-duty policing activities. In a 2014 analysis, the ACLU, which has done excellent statistical work on this issue, found that 79 percent of the 50,000 annual SWAT callouts were for executing a search warrant, most commonly in drug investigations; only 7 percent were for hostage, barricade, or active-shooter scenarios. At least 60 percent of those operations featured the use of no-knock entries and/or (potentially deadly) flash-bang grenades. The Pentagon’s infamous 1033 Program — which distributes cast-off military equipment such as armored personnel carriers, weaponry, and helicopters to local police — has also helped to drive this phenomenon.

Changes in weapons, tactics, and training birthed the mindset. Reforming all three could help to combat it. To start, the dispersion of cheap military weaponry to police departments must stop. Police ought to be put to the discipline of deciding whether their local situation really justifies the cost of armored personnel carriers.

Finally, we need real, sustained de-escalation training in police academies and among active officers. Departments should accept that, within reason, the onus is on the officer to defuse potentially explosive incidents, slow the pace of police–civilian encounters, and take the time to resolve encounters before they turn violent.

8) Speaking of flaws in our criminal justice system, the way in which it still allows and rewards junk science is beyond appalling.  Maybe a small victory, though.  Radley Balko:

As I’ve written here ad nauseam, judges are entrusted to be the gatekeepers of good and bad science in the courtroom. By and large, they’ve performed poorly. Judges are trained to perform legal analysis, not scientific analysis, and law and science are two very different fields. Science is forward-looking, always changing and adapting to discoveries and new empirical evidence. The law, by contrast, puts a premium on consistency and predictability. It relies on precedent, so courts look to previous courts for guidance and are often bound by prior decisions.

By and large, judges have approached their task of scientific analysis just as we might expect them to: They have tried to apply it within a legal framework. This means when assessing whether a given field of forensics is scientifically reliable, judges tend to look to what previous courts have already determined. And when confronted with a new field, they tend to err on the side of relying on our adversarial system — they let the evidence in but also let the defense call its own experts to dispute the prosecution’s witness. The problem here is that by simply admitting the evidence, the courts lend it an air of legitimacy. Once the evidence is allowed in, whether jurors find it convincing tends to come down to which witness is most persuasive. State’s witnesses are often seen as unbiased and altruistic, while jurors tend to see defense witnesses as hired guns. And the set of skills it takes to persuade a jury isn’t necessarily the same skill set of a careful and cautious scientist. Indeed, the two are often in conflict.

This is why a field such as bite-mark analysis — which has been found to be unreliable by multiple scientific bodies — has yet to be disallowed by any courtroom in the country. Every time it has been challenged, the court has upheld its validity.

9) This is good, “Like the United States, Finland has a capitalist economy. Why are Finns so much happier than us?”  Also, all those awesome Northern European “Social Democracies” are pretty much based on capitalism, not socialism.  They just do capitalism way better than us through robust use of government policy to make capitalism serve the public interest.

10) Relatedly, Ezra Klein with a good discussion of Bernie Sanders and the underpinnings of “democratic socialism.”

11) This from the new NYT media reporter is really good, “Why the Success of The New York Times May Be Bad News for Journalism”

And the story of consolidation in media is a story about The Times itself.

The gulf between The Times and the rest of the industry is vast and keeps growing: The company now has more digital subscribers than The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the 250 local Gannett papers combined, according to the most recent data. And The Times employs 1,700 journalists — a huge number in an industry where total employment nationally has fallen to somewhere between 20,000 and 38,000…

Because The Times now overshadows so much of the industry, the cultural and ideological battles that used to break out between news organizations — like whether to say that President Trump lied — now play out inside The Times.

And The Times has swallowed so much of what was once called new media that the paper can read as an uneasy competition of dueling traditions: The Style section is a more polished Gawker, while the opinion pages reflect the best and worst of The Atlantic’s provocations. The magazine publishes bold arguments about race and American history, and the campaign coverage channels Politico’s scoopy aggression.

12) Good Yglesias piece on swing voters versus mobilizing the base:

Swing voters are extremely real

The notion that swing voters — voters who back one part in some elections and the other party in others — are mythical is itself a myth.

The 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study conducted a large-sample poll and found that 6.7 million Trump voters said they voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and 2.7 million Clinton voters said they voted for Mitt Romney in 2016. In other words, about 11 percent of Trump voters say they were Obama voters four years earlier, and about 4 percent of Clinton voters say they were Romney voters four years earlier.

Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has this useful table:

A chart showing Trump, Clinton, Obama, and Romney voters, and how they intersect.Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics

By the same token, Yair Ghitza of the Democratic data firm Catalist estimates that while Democrats did make significant turnout-related gains in 2018, about 89 percent of their improvement vote margin is attributable to swing voting.

On issue after issue, the voters who a “mobilization” strategy would target are more moderate than consistent Democrats not more left-wing than them. There are plenty of inconsistent voters in America, and it’s smart to try to get them to vote for Democrats. But the inconsistent voters aren’t some secret bloc of hard-core progressives. The most ideologically committed progressives you’re going to find are the people already consistently pulling the lever for Democrats. In other words, no matter what fraction of the electorate Democrats are aiming to target, there’s no real case for becoming more ideologically rigid or adopting policy views that swing voters reject…

But on the big ideological questions, there’s no mobilization loophole that will let progressives evade the problem that some progressive ideas are unpopular. Third-party voters and drop-off voters are more progressive than D-to-R swing voters, which makes them a promising constituency to target. One reason that taking popular positions is smart politics is that it works as a mobilization strategy as well as a persuasion one…

Last but by no means least: While activists often paint a portrait of bold ideological positions firing up the party base, the available evidence suggests the opposite happens — bold ideological positions fire up the opposition partybase

Taking such positions might be a good idea anyway on the merits. Politics matters because policy matters, and a political party that never takes a righteous stand on anything is worth very much. But while centrist types can be wrong about which kinds of policy stances will be popular, there’s fairly overwhelming evidence that popular stands are better than unpopular ones — both because swing voters matter but also because taking popular positions is better from a strict mobilization standpoint.

13) Good stuff from Peter Wehner on Pete Buttigieg:

More impressive to me was the core theme of Buttigieg’s campaign, which he referred to as a “new kind of politics.” In the pre-Trump era, that may well have come across as an empty slogan; in the age of Trump, it captures an urgent national need.

During his campaign, Buttigieg spoke about what he called “rules of the road,” values that he wanted to make hallmarks of his candidacy and that included respect, responsibility, discipline, excellence, joy, and truth. This is what the Buttigieg campaign said about the latter:

Honesty is in our nature, and it is one of our greatest means of restoring faith in our democracy among everyday Americans and building a national movement rooted in trust and faith in our country and our beliefs. Internally and externally, our effort will be characterized by fidelity to the truth.

That is the kind of language and ethos that once would have appealed to Republicans, who now, under the spell of a president of corruptions without borders, have given up on virtue as a touchstone of political life. Politicians and presidents attempting to foster a climate of trust and mutual respect are snowflakes—or so many in the modern GOP and right-wing-media complex would have you think…

Here’s my hunch: Most Americans are bone-weary of Trump’s antics and aggression, his nonstop assault on reality and truth, his dishonoring of the office of the presidency, and his disordered personality. What Buttigieg understood is that the way to defeat Trump (and Trumpism) is to offer as an alternative seriousness to his unseriousness, grace to his gracelessness, equanimity to his instability.

Pete Buttigieg faced too many obstacles to win the Democratic nomination in his first national race, but his remarkable rise is an indication that he tapped into the longings of an exhausted country. Democrats, if they are wise, will nominate someone who does something similar, who shows he can calm the stormy seas rather than further roil them.

14) The federal judge in the following headline was a Bush appointee.  Barr is just the worst,  “Federal Judge Says He Needs to Review Every Mueller Report Redaction Because Barr Can’t Be Trusted”

15) I see Onion headlines most every day shared in social media, but I had not picked up on this, “How ‘The Onion’ Went Full-On Bernie Bro”

16) I keep meaning to say something about Ezra’s new book (got a couple others I want to finish first), but here’s a thoughtful review/analysis:

In Why We’re Polarized, his first book, policy, Klein’s stock-in-trade, recedes, and group psychology takes center stage. That wonk volte-face gives the book its charge. He presents polarization not as the creation of particular individuals but of interlocking systems. In fact, it is a book about two sets of systems. Concatenated personal and partisan identities confront a Madisonian constitution ill-suited to prolonged combat between two evenly matched, deeply divided parties. The results leave politically active individuals—“us”—enraged, and institutions teetering toward crisis. Klein takes up the same metaphor that journalists disillusioned with the party system adopted in the Gilded Age: a machine. But where they crusaded for reform, he concludes with caution…

Here Klein makes his most important move. Instead of highlighting one specific factor, he argues that they all feed on each other at once. Hairsplitting misses the point, which is interconnection across the polarization machine. In the words of the political scientist Lilliana Mason, “Partisanship can now be thought of as a mega-identity, with all the psychological and behavioral magnifications that implies.” Klein takes that insight and runs with it, telling a mega-story about mega-polarization. “The more sorted we are in our differences, the more different we grow in our preferences.” Elite and mass polarization reinforce one another. Above all, as partisanship becomes central to the identities of ever more Americans, leaping beyond policy preferences to feed on our sense of self, its corrosive, zero-sum psychological dynamics accelerate. Personal decisions—where to live, whom to marry—roll up inside these mega-identities: “polarization begets polarization; it’s a flywheel, not a switch.”

17) I’m in the, “actually, Bloomberg’s $500 million sort of worked” camp.  The counter-factual where Biden finishes poorly in Nevada, continues to lose support in South Carolina, and then sees a lot of that “moderate lane” support go to Bloomberg on Super Tuesday strikes me as utterly plausible.  No, things didn’t turn out Bloomberg’s way, but the fact that some very conceivable scenarios might have led us that way should make us rethink what money on a massive scale in primaries can buy.

18) Some interesting theories on why SARS-CoV-2 seems to hardly effect children:

But in studies with mice, his lab discovered that as animals age, their lungs take on damage that leads to structural changes that make them more susceptible to coronavirus infections. With SARS in particular, the older the mice, the sicker they got. “We know the lung environment really matters with this class of respiratory viruses,” says Perlman. “As people age, that lung environment changes. It gets pelted with pollen and pollution and the body responds with inflammation. A history of inflammation may impact how well you do with coronaviruses.”

More research is needed, but it’s a plausible explanation for Covid-19’s mild symptoms in children, says Creech. “The non-inflamed lung is a much less hospitable place for any virus to land,” he says. The next step would be to look at how children with less pristine lungs are faring in the outbreak—like kids with a history of asthma or babies who are born prematurely and lack a substance that helps keep open the tiny sacs in the lungs that exchange oxygen. If these kids experience severe Covid-19 symptoms too, then the “pristine lung” hypothesis holds up.

Another (highly speculative) possibility, says Creech, is that somehow kids may be leveraging their previous immune responses to the cold-causing coronaviruses they’re constantly being assaulted with. “Each of us is a little different in how we can modify the tips of our antibodies to latch on to foreign invaders,” says Creech. “It’s possible that recent coronavirus exposure in kids has led to the emergence of antibodies that have some cross-reactivity with the virus that causes Covid-19.” But, he stresses, so far there’s no evidence that’s what’s going on.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Eric Levitz on Bernie and lessons learned.  Strongly consider reading it all.

Sanders’s base is strongly ideological and weakly Democratic. But the bulk of blue America’s primary electorate is the opposite: weakly ideological but strongly partisan. Median Democratic primary voters like the Democratic Party and its leadership. They may be open to the idea that Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Nancy Pelosi, and Pete Buttigieg subscribe to a misguided notion of political possibility, but they’re going to be resistant to the claim that they’re all amoral toadies for the billionaire class. Meanwhile, because Democratic primary voters generally like their party, “Beltway Democrats” have a lot of influence over whose side they take in intraparty disputes. Which means that it’s actually important to at least try to cultivate the goodwill of Democratic insiders, rather than actively working to alienate them. Tailoring one’s critiques of the status quo political economy to the sensibilities of normie Democrats, and the egotism of Establishment ones, is not the most cathartic mode of political engagement. Seeking to defuse tensions between liberals and socialists in critical moments, rather than forever and always trying to heighten intra-left contradictions, may be suboptimal for preserving the brand distinctiveness of your Twitter account or alternative media product. But if your goal is to build electoral power and secure progressive reforms in the near future, then you need to make those concessions to coalition building, or else offer a detailed explanation of why Sanders’s example has not revealed such concessions to be necessary.

The 2020 primary offers the broad left other unsexy lessons about electoral politics. For example, there is little to no evidence that large field operations are an efficient use of limited campaign resources in presidential elections. Progressives of all stripes have an attachment to canvassing as a tactic because it feels (and generally is) more human, civic, and democratic to have conversations with one’s fellow Americans than to bombard them with televisual propaganda. But while community organizing is indispensable, knocking on strangers doors and proselytizing for a candidate isn’t community organizing; it’s just a persuasion and mobilization tool that should be used in contexts where it appears effective (like low-turnout local elections) and dropped in contexts where it isn’t — and the 2020 primary appears to be one of the latter.

Candidates who concentrated their time and money on assembling armies of canvassers drastically underperformed those who prioritized paid and earned media. Warren made enormous investments into her Iowa “ground game,” and got third place for her efforts. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, prioritized earned media, accepting virtually every interview and profile opportunity he was offered and working to ensure that reporters had a lovely time when covering his campaign, and rode that free press to a brief moment of improbable contention. Joe Biden, meanwhile, had virtually no field operation or ad campaign in Super Tuesday states and still dominated on the strength of a great news cycle. The corporate media’s biases will always work against left candidates to some extent. But that extent is at least somewhat variable (Elizabeth Warren did win the New York Times’ co-endorsement after all). And given the power that the media wields, it actually probably makes sense for progressive campaigns to do “bullshit” like wishing reporters “happy birthday” and not disparaging entire news outlets in response to negative coverage, even when that coverage is unfair.

2) Peter Beinart comparing Biden as the “establishment” candidate to Jeb(!) in 2016:

Why did embracing his party’s establishment work for Biden but not for Bush? Because Democrats like their establishment more. Although progressive activists criticize Obama, his approval rating among Democrats as a whole—according to Real Clear Politics’ polling average—is almost 87 percent. That makes Biden’s association with him an almost unmitigated political strength. By contrast, an internal Bush campaign poll showed that Jeb’s family connections turned many voters off. The “Bush stuff was holding him back,” one aide told The Washington Post.

Obama isn’t just personally more popular among Democrats than George W. Bush was among Republicans. His agenda is more popular too. Eighty-five percent of Democrats approve of Obamacare. By contrast, a May 2015 poll found that only 54 percent of Republicans believed that the Bush administration’s signature initiative—the Iraq War—had been worth fighting.

Sanders wants to radically expand upon Obama’s legacy. But he hasn’t frontally challenged it, because it’s broadly popular among Democrats. Trump, by contrast, made his assault on the GOP establishment’s support for immigration the centerpiece of his campaign. Soon after entering the race, he released a video slamming Jeb for calling immigration an “act of love.” At the debate a week before the South Carolina vote, he derided Bush as “so weak on illegal immigration it’s laughable.” It worked. According to exit polls, Trump beat Bush by 48 points among South Carolina Republicans who said immigration was their top issue.

By the time he left the race, Jeb Bush had a net favorability rating among Republicans of only five points. Biden’s net favorability among Democrats last month, by contrast, was almost 50 points. That discrepancy isn’t simply a function of the two candidates’ performances on the stump. It’s a statement about the party establishments they represent. Asked to explain Bush’s failure, Mike Murphy, the chief strategist for the former governor’s super PAC, explained, “Our theory was to dominate the establishment lane” but “the problem was there was a huge anti-establishment wave. The establishment lane was smaller than we thought it would be.”

In the Democratic Party, by contrast, the establishment lane is turning out to be larger than many people just last month thought it would be.

3) Quite enjoyed this personal essay.  Imagine finding out your long-time ex-boyfriend was not dating Lady Gaga.

4) Unsurprisingly, I’ve taken an interest in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Gladwell wrote about it way back in 1997.

As the Amherst College biologist Paul Ewald argues in his brilliant 1994 book, “Evolution of Infectious Diseases,” under normal circumstances the mildest offspring of any flu family will always triumph, because people who are infected with the worst strains go home and go to bed, whereas people infected with the mild strains go to work, ride the bus, and go to the movies. You’re much more likely, in other words, to catch a mild virus than a nasty virus because you’re more likely to run into someone with a mild case of flu than with a nasty case of flu. In 1918, Ewald says, these rules got inverted by the war. The Spanish flu turned nasty in the late summer in France. A mild strain of flu spreading from soldier to soldier in the trenches stayed in the trenches because none of the soldiers got so sick that they had to leave their posts. A debilitating strain, though, resulted in a soldier’s being shipped out in a crowded troop transport, then moved to an even more crowded hospital, where he had every opportunity to infect others. Wars and refugee camps and urban overcrowding give the worst flu strains a huge evolutionary advantage. If there were ever again a civil war in China, flu-watchers would be on full alert.

5) No, you don’t need more about how William Barr is just the worst, but he is!

Attorney General William P. Barr quietly intervened in an immigration asylum case last week when he issued a decision that narrowed the definition of torture for asylum seekers who invoke itas a grounds for staying in the United States.

Barr used a process known as “certification,” a historically little-used power of the attorney general that allows him to overrule decisions made by the Board of Immigration Appeals and set binding precedent. Immigration lawyers and judges say the Trump administration is using the power with greater frequency — to the point of abuse — as it seeks to severely limit the number of immigrants who can remain in the United States. The administration is also using it as a check on immigration judges whose decisions don’t align with the administration’s immigration agenda, experts say.

6) My daughter is all about the “exclamatory particle.”  Interesting, according to linguist John McWhorter, females tend to drive these language changes.  So, for now, it’s Sarah and young women saying “stop-uh” before you know it, it may be most everyone.

7) Political Scientist friend, Patrick Miller, posted the following on Facebook when sharing Ezra’s great article about Bernie (which it cannot hurt to share again).

Last Super Tuesday post, I swear. I saw this on Twitter this morning, and felt that it articulated (better than I can) how a lot of people like me feel about Sanders–more negative about his style and personality than (often) the sentiment of his political substance. It’s frightening to see our political institutions being torn down year after year, and it’s frightening to see a candidate like Sanders who traffics in conspiracy theories about parties, the media, and elected leaders as central to his campaign message. Parties, with all of their trappings, are good for democracy, and a lot of us have invested a lot over the years in trying to make the Democratic Party healthy and functional because that makes our democracy stronger. The media is good for democracy. It could all work better and more inclusively, yes, but it’s hard to embrace a message that further tears these institutions down.

8) The following strikes me as the key fact about Covid-19 and why, lamenting aside, containment efforts were almost surely doomed to fail:

The biology of the virus also makes it hard to contain, since it’s possible to spread the virus before showing symptoms of it. “I don’t think we quite know the extent of how often that happens, but it is happening,” Grubaugh says. With SARS in 2003, infected people did not spread the virus without symptoms. They also tended to get sicker, often contracting pneumonia. That made cases easier to detect and isolate.

All of the above is a recipe for an outbreak to become endemic, or a disease that sticks around.Humans haven’t seen this virus before, which means we’re not immune. It’s also a recipe for millions of potential infections in a pandemic — a worldwide outbreak of a new disease.

9) James Carville takes a victory lap interview with Sean Illing.  While Carville makes some good points in the interview, it astounds me that he would put so much emphasis on the SC debate.  Ummm, no, that was so not the turning point.

Sean Illing

The South Carolina debate was definitely Biden’s strongest debate, and he had a moment or two, but what was the big shift?

James Carville

Go back and look at the tape of what I said in my post-debate analysis. Biden was actually talking to voters in South Carolina. Elizabeth Warren, inexplicably, was talking to her fundraising list. Bernie was speaking to the larger questions of the Revolution. Biden just got real and spoke directly to the people in South Carolina.

It’s not just about the issues, like health care or the economy or climate or whatever. It’s about how you talk about them and if you do it in a way that people understand, that relates to them. I think Biden did that. The stupid thing that so many of these candidates are doing now is speaking to opinion leaders, to the Twitter mob. Let me tell you something, that shit doesn’t win elections, all right? It just doesn’t.

10) Colorized daily life in NYC from just over 100 years ago.  So cool!

11) Liked this from Drum:

I do wish that patients paid more attention to the outputs of sophisticated statistical models when choosing doctors and hospitals, as I think this would improve quality, but mostly they don’t.

Me too, Alex, me too. However, even among my pretty smart friends, I can’t get them to prioritize even a simple time-series chart over their gut feeling of what “must be true.” And even when I do make a tiny bit of headway on some subject or another, if I bring it up again a month later it turns out they’ve completely forgotten everything I said. They’re back to whatever barstool opinion they had before.

We are overclocked primates. It takes intense training to get humans to overcome the constant mutterings of their lizard brains and pay attention instead to quantitative evidence—i.e., to produce scientists—and even among scientists this training works only in a pinch. This is why elections are won by appealing to people’s emotions, not trying to change their view of the facts. We may be proud of our massive prefrontal cortexes, but they’re merely a thin veneer over the billion years of evolution that produced the rest of our brain.

¹Quiet rooms and nice nurses, it turns out.

12) Wired says lab-grown meat is coming whether we like it or not.  I like it.

13) You know, I generally look to Europeans and wish we could do policy as sensibly as they do.  But, definitely, not always.  Like Germany’s irrational and counterproductive abandonment of nuclear power:

On New Year’s Eve, while the rest of the world was preparing to ring in a new decade, employees of the German energy company EnBW were getting ready to pull the plug on one of the country’s few remaining nuclear power plants. The license to operate the two reactors at the Philippsburg nuclear facility expired at midnight after 35 years of providing carbon-free power to Germans living along the country’s southwestern border. The Philippsburg plant was the 11th nuclear facility decommissioned in Germany over the past decade. The country’s remaining six nuclear plants will go dark by 2022.

Germans have always had a complicated relationship with nuclear power, but the radioactive cloud that swept over Germany following the Chernobyl disaster in the mid-1980s gave new life to the antinuclear policies supported by the country’s Green Party. Following Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant meltdown, Germany’s antinuclear lobby kicked into high gear, and tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest. The German government quickly passed legislation to decommission all of the country’s nuclear reactors, ostensibly to keep its citizens safe by preventing a Fukushima-style disaster. But a study published last month by the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that Germany’s rejection of nuclear power was an expensive and possibly deadly miscalculation.

To uncover the hidden costs of denuclearizing Germany, economists used machine learning to analyze reams of data gathered between 2011 and 2017. The researchers, based at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and Carnegie Mellon University, found that nuclear power was mostly replaced with power from coal plants, which led to the release of an additional 36 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or about a 5 percent increase in emissions. More distressingly, the researchers estimated that burning more coal led to local increases in particle pollution and sulfur dioxide and likely killed an additional 1,100 people per year from respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses.

14) My now regular co-author, Mary-Kate Lizotte (in addition to the always co-author Laurel Elder) has a new book out on gender gaps in issues.  Some key findings here:

It is still true that women, across the different subgroups, are more likely than men to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. Why? Political science research, including my own, provides insight into what issues and other characteristics explain this phenomenon. Attracting the majority of women voters, especially white women, college-educated women, and black women, requires presidential candidates to highlight a vision of a more equal society and a government that protects the well-being of its citizens through a strong social safety net, a commitment to anti-discrimination policies and a green environmental policy agenda…

Simply put, women are more likely to want a candidate who advocates for policies that promote equality and provide a social safety net. To motivate turnout among and procure votes from women, candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination should stress such a vision and emphasize how they differ from President Trump on these issues, on equality, and on compassion more generally.

 

 

Today in interesting coronavirus reading

1) I really would prefer less hand-shaking in my life and more fist-bumping (I know DJC is with me):

Handshaking spreads germs and is a bad method of greeting. I prefer an elegant namaste but that is slightly hard to coordinate on when the other person sticks out their hand. The fist bump is a little smoother and has a greater chance of being adopted.

A study by Mela and Whitsworth in the American Journal of Infection Control found that fist bumps transferred one-quarter as much bacteria as a moderate handshake and even less compared to a strong handshake. Fist bumps are better because of lower contact times and lower contact area.

2) Good general Q&A in Slate:

Am I likely to get the new coronavirus?

Researchers are still figuring that out. One epidemiologist estimated that 40–70 percent of people will get the disease, according to a piece in the Atlantic helpfully titled “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus.” At Stat, reporter Sharon Begley lays out two scenarios based on interviews with epidemiologists if the virus isn’t contained: In one, COVID-19 becomes one of the mundane coronaviruses that’s always floating around in the world (there are currently four; they cause about a fourth of all colds). In another, it’s less mundane and more like the flu, which causes a lot of havoc every year.

So I am going to die of coronavirus?

No, almost certainly not! The death rate outside of Wuhan, China, is 0.7 percent, according to the WHO. In Wuhan, where hospitals are overwhelmed, it’s 2–4 percent. Those numbers might be high because they don’t account for people who experienced the virus without any major symptoms and weren’t screened for it, essentially artificially reducing the denominator. The virus is also mostly a concern for older people, and people who are otherwise immunocompromised; it damages the lungs, potentially leading to pneumonia and in severe cases, organ failure. Typically, severe symptoms from viruses are also a concern for babies, but so far, the symptoms in babies have been mild.

Wait, then why did the coronavirus kill a 29-year-old doctor?

Because he was a doctor. “It’s a dosage thing,” explains Anna Yeung-Cheung, a virologist at Manhattanville College. Health care workers are exposed to far more people, often pretty sick people, than the average person, and therefore stand to come in contact with higher levels of the virus. A lot of virus can still overwhelm a healthy immune system.

3) This is so damn true, “To Prevent Next Coronavirus, Stop the Wildlife Trade, Conservationists Say: Conservationists see a persistent threat of epidemics so long as tens of millions of animals are traded in Southeast Asia.”Just asking for it with zoonotic diseases until this changes.

4) I found this discussion of why the disease seems to be much more deadly for men particularly fascinating:

The coronavirus that originated in China has spread fear and anxiety around the world. But while the novel virus has largely spared one vulnerable group — children — it appears to pose a particular threat to middle-aged and older adults, particularly men.

This week, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention published the largest analysis of coronavirus cases to date. Although men and women have been infected in roughly equal numbers, researchers found, the death rate among men was 2.8 percent, compared with 1.7 percent among women.

The figures were drawn from patient medical records, and the sample may not fully reflect the scope of the outbreak. But the disparity has been seen in the past…

When it comes to mounting an immune response against infections, men are the weaker sex.

“This is a pattern we’ve seen with many viral infections of the respiratory tract — men can have worse outcomes,” said Sabra Klein, a scientist who studies sex differences in viral infections and vaccination responses at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“We’ve seen this with other viruses. Women fight them off better,” she added.

Women also produce stronger immune responses after vaccinations, and have enhanced memory immune responses, which protect adults from pathogens they were exposed to as children.

“There’s something about the immune system in females that is more exuberant,” said Dr. Janine Clayton, director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health.

But there’s a high price, she added: Women are far more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, in which the immune system shifts into overdrive and attacks the body’s own organs and tissues.

Nearly 80 percent of those with autoimmune diseases are women, Dr. Clayton noted. [emphases mine]

The reasons women have stronger immune responses aren’t entirely clear, and the research is still at an early stage, experts caution.

Quick hits (part II)

1) We have a monopoly problem in this country.  Capitalism only works right when government properly sets the rules off the game.  That ain’t happening.  Vox, “America’s monopoly problem, explained by your internet bill”

There’s little denying that since the 1970s, the way antitrust has been approached in the United States has led to a landscape where a smaller number of big players dominate the economy. Incumbents — companies that already exist — are growing their market shares and becoming more stable, and they’re getting harder and harder to compete with. That has affected consumers, communities, competitors, and workers in a variety of ways.

Proponents of the laissez-faire, free market thinking of recent decades will say that the markets have basically worked themselves out — if an entity grows big enough to be a mega-corporation, it deserves its status, and just a handful of players in a given space is enough to keep prices down and everyone happy. A growing group of vocal critics of various political stripes, however, are increasingly warning that we’ve gone too far. Growth and success at the top often doesn’t translate to success for everyone, and there’s an argument to be made that strong antitrust policies and other measures that curb concentration, combined with government investments that target job-creating technology, could spur redistribution and potentially boost the economy for more people overall.

If two pharmaceutical companies make a patent-protected drug and then raise their prices in tandem, what does that mean for patients? When two cellphone companies talk about efficiencies in their merger, what does that mean for their workers, and how long does their subsequent promise not to raise prices for consumers actually last? And honestly, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to delete Facebook if there was another, equally attractive social media platform out there besides Facebook-owned Instagram?

We should be asking the government and corporate America how we got here. Instead, we just keep handing over our money.

2) Gotta say I’m getting pretty damn intrigued by the 16-hour intermittent fasting.  Should not be that hard for me to give up breakfast and eat between 11:30a, and 7:30pm.  But, I love my breakfast and it’s so healthy (Go Lean cereal, fresh raspberries, fresh blueberries, a little soymilk).

3) How is Charles Murray writing pseudo-intellectual stuff about race still a thing?!  Oh, this is how:

Outrage has been good to Charles Murray. Far from being the victim of “a modern witch burning,” as the neuroscientist and podcaster Sam Harris has described him, Murray has been able to cloak himself in the mantle of the embattled intellectual, the purveyor of forbidden knowledge, while comfortably ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute, the influential think tank, for three decades. His previous book, “Coming Apart,” which examined a balkanized America through the lens not of I.Q. but “cultural differences” between wealthy and poor white Americans, was warmly received. “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important,” David Brooks wrote in his column in this newspaper. The violent actions of protesters when Murray appeared at Middlebury College in 2017 were widely deplored.

With “Human Diversity,” Murray tries to stoke some of the same controversy that powered “The Bell Curve” — which sold 400,000 copies in its first two months after publication — although more cautiously; “Human Diversity” is thick with reassurances to the reader, and caveats that individuals ought to be judged on their own merits. “I’m discussing some of the most incendiary topics in academia,” he writes, hastening to add that “the subtext of the chapters to come is that everyone should calm down.”

4) No, I don’t tire of pieces on William Barr’s awfulness:

This entire weaponization of DOJ investigations, prosecutions, and sentences to punish perceived enemies and to reward loyal factotums is a threat to the rule of law in America. Every judge and every lawyer in the country understands this intuitively. Despite Barr’s insistence, the ominous fault line isn’t between the president’s tweeted threats at the sentencing judge in the Stone trial and his silence. The real fault line is between what has happened, in the aggregate, on Barr’s cheerful watch—the Department of Justice has become another corner of the government that protects not the rule of law but this president, and not just this specific president, but this specific kind of president, the kind who believes himself immune to legal accountability…

The only remaining question is what to do about it, and specifically what lawyers, judges, and law students, all of whom know in their bones what is happening, should do about it. If ever there were a time for the American legal profession to put down its yellow pads and stand up for the rule of law, it’s today, en masse, and without waiting for someone, more senior, somewhere, to lead the way. The catastrophe unfolding at the DOJ transcends Barr and his TV spat with Trump. We are watching what happens when the law is warped to please a man who believes himself to actually be the law, and what happens when his enabler agrees with that project, and disagrees only on appearances.

5) The gender pronoun controversy on the Harvard campus.  One of those interesting areas where the reliably liberal readership of the NYT lets you know in comments that it’s not that liberal (and, yes, I’m a typical NYT reader in that regard).

6) Speaking of which, I’m totally good with NCSU having women’s history month.  As for womxn’s herstory month— oh please!!  This so does not help the cause of women’s rights.

7) Yes, hospital patients would be so much happier if we didn’t make all patients wear the hospital gown even in the cases where it clearly is not needed.

8) How “left digit bias” causes medical errors:

In a new study of physician treatment decisions, published on Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, we document signs of left-digit bias. This is the bias that explains why many goods are priced at $4.99 instead of $5, as consumers’ minds round down to the left-most digit of $4.

We hypothesized that doctors may be overly sensitive to the left-most digit of a patient’s age when recommending treatment, and indeed, in cardiac surgery they appear to be. When comparing patients who had a heart attack in the weeks leading up to their 80th birthdays with those who’d recently had an 80th birthday, we found that physicians were significantly less likely to perform a coronary artery bypass surgery for the “older” patients. The doctors might have perceived them to be “in their 80s” rather than “in their 70s.” This behavior seems to have translated into meaningful differences for patients. The slightly younger patients, more likely to undergo surgery, were less likely to die within 30 days.

Our study confirms previous work that found doctors are overly responsive to patient age when diagnosing illness, and that showed how seemingly irrelevant factors‚ such as the difference of a few weeks of age, could govern physicians’ decisions about treatment, with potentially life-altering consequences for patients.

Left-digit bias could affect many clinical decisions. For example, patients with hemoglobin levels of 9.9 grams per deciliter may be perceived as being substantially more anemic than patients with hemoglobin levels of 10.0 grams per deciliter (the difference in the two values has no clinical significance).

9) So many prosecutors are just the worst.  The idea that we can prosecute ourselves out of the opioid crisis is not only wrong, but morally disgusting.  The latest, “Naloxone Now Used as Evidence to Prosecute Indiana OD Victims”

10) There’s just so much damn awfulness every week that we are absolutely inured to it.  Any other president, the pardons would be an ongoing scandal.  Alas, now they’re just Tuesday.  NYT, “The 11 Criminals Granted Clemency by Trump Had One Thing in Common: Connections: The process bypassed the formal procedures used by past presidents and was driven instead by friendship, fame, personal empathy and a shared sense of persecution.”

11) This interactive graphic on how various diseases, including COVID-19 spread, is very, very cool.

12) Austan Goolsbee with the case that it’s not just the internet killing shopping malls:

Collectively, three major economic forces have had an even bigger impact on brick-and-mortar retail than the internet has.

In no particular order, here they are:

  • Big Box Stores: In the United States and elsewhere, we have changed where we shop — away from smaller stores like those in malls and toward stand-alone “Big Box” stores. Four years ago, the economists Chad Syverson and Ali Hortacsu at the University of Chicago analyzed the recent history of retail and found that the rise of warehouse clubs and supercenters was bigger than the rise of online commerce.

    They gave this telling example: Over the 14 years through 2013, Amazon added $38 billion in sales while Costco added $50 billion and the Sam’s Club division of Walmart $32 billion. Amazon had the higher growth rate, but the bigger problem for most brick-and-mortar stores was other, largerbrick-and-mortarstores. This continued in 2019.

  • Income Inequality: Rising income inequality has left less of the nation’s money in the hands of the middle class, and the traditional retail stores that cater to them have suffered. The Pew Research Center estimates that since 1970, the share of the nation’s income earned by families in the middle class has fallen from almost two-thirds to around 40 percent. Small wonder, then, that retailers aiming at the ends of the income distribution — high-income people and lower-income people — have accounted for virtually all the revenue growth in retail while stores aimed at the middle have barely grown at all, according to a report by Deloitte.

    As the concentration of income at the top rises, overall retail suffers simply because high-income people save a much larger share of their money. The government reports spending for different income levels in the official Consumer Expenditure Survey. In the latest data, people in the top 10 percent of income saved almost a third of their income after taxes. People in the middle of the income distribution spent 100 percent of their income. So as the middle class has been squeezed and more has gone to the top, it has meant higher saving rates overall.

  • Services Instead of Things: With every passing decade, Americans have spent proportionately less of income on things and more on services. Stores, malls, and even the mightiest online merchants remain the great sellers of things. Since 1960, we went from spending 5 percent of our income on health to almost 18 percent, government statistics show. We spend more on education, entertainment, business services and all sorts of other products that aren’t sold in traditional retail stores.

    That trend has continued for a long time. The federal government’s Current Expenditure Survey goes back more than a century. In 1920, Americans spent more than half their income on food (38 percent) and clothing (17 percent) and almost all of that was through traditional retail stores. Today, food eaten outside the home and in it accounts for 10 percent of spending and clothing just 2.4 percent.

    Economists debate theories of why we have shifted to services and away from goods but no one questions that it has happened. It means that over time, retailers selling things will have to run harder and harder just to stay in place.

In short, the broad forces hitting retail are more a lesson in economics than in the power of disruptive technology. It’s a lesson all retailers will have to learn someday — even the mighty Amazon.

13) How in the world in 2020 America are we still allowing pelvic exams on unconscious, non-consenting patients in the name of medical training?!

14) Speaking of dumb and evil prosecutors (and, yes, there’s plenty of good ones, but the bad ones do so much harm), this kind of thing is just evil and infuriating:

In October, he left the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola after serving 42 years of a life sentence for murder. He’d maintained his innocence from the start, and his departure should have been a joyous moment. Lawyers working on his case had discovered fingerprint evidence previously concealed by prosecutors that pointed to a wrongful conviction.

Yet Brooks, now 62, didn’t walk out of Angola an innocent man. To secure his freedom, he had to “make a deal with the devil.” Rather than languish even longer as he tried to clear his name, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, forfeiting his right to sue, in exchange for immediate release.

“I cried at night in Angola,” confesses Brooks, sitting on his couch next to a pillow with “Blessed” stitched on its front. “I ain’t never thought I was going to get out. So I took the deal. It ain’t right, but that’s the way of the world. It’s a crooked world like that.”

Across the country, the number of exonerations has risen sharply since 2000, especially for homicide cases. The increase is partly attributed to a shift in attitude among some local prosecutors, who have created specialized divisions to review questionable convictions. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner freed 12 wrongfully imprisoned people in his first two years in office. In Baltimore, the Conviction Integrity Unit of the state’s attorney’s office pursued a decades-old case that last November resulted in the exoneration of three men. Each was a teenager when he went to prison.

Other prosecutors still push back, however, even when evidence overwhelmingly supports exoneration. According to Ellen Yaroshefsky, a professor of legal ethics at Hofstra University, money is the most common reason. Wrongful convictions, especially those involving prosecutorial misconduct, often lead to multimillion-dollar lawsuits. If a prosecutor can persuade the incarcerated person to plead guilty in exchange for freedom, the risk of a costly settlement goes away.

15) How are we still fighting about phonics?!  It just works better than anything else for most kids.

16) Drum on Bloomberg and NYC crime:

I had lunch with a friend yesterday and I promised him that I’d dig up the violent crime figures for New York City. Here they are:

This chart alone should provide you with pretty good clues to the answers to these questions:

  1. Did David Dinkins have a pretty good record on crime?
  2. Was Rudy Giuliani’s adoption of broken windows policing responsible for NYC’s crime decline in the 90s?
  3. Did Mike Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policing reduce crime in the 2000s?
  4. Did Bill de Blasio preside over an upsurge in crime in the aughts?

Here are the answers:

  1. Yes: violent crime declined 20 percent on his watch. But nobody knew it at the time because no figures later than 1991 were available during the 1993 mayoral race.
  2. No. Nothing special happened to the crime rate when Giuliani took over. Violent crime was already declining strongly when he became mayor and continued declining after he left. There’s no reason to think that Giuliani had any special impact.
  3. No. Violent crime declined only modestly during his three terms in office.
  4. No. Stop-and-frisk ended and nothing happened. Violent crime stayed low.

17) Really like this on Elizabeth Warren’s approach to capitalism.  Sounds pretty much like I’ve long thought about it without realizing it had a nice theory behind it.  Damn, I wish she were going to be the nominee: “Socialists Will Never Understand Elizabeth Warren: The Democratic candidate is part of a long intellectual tradition that’s gone forgotten in the West: pro-market leftism.”

Warren’s politics are so confusing because we have forgotten that a pro-capitalist left is even possible. For a long time, political debate in the United States has been a fight between conservatives and libertarians on the right, who favored the market, and socialists and liberals on the left, who favored the government…

Warren is reviving a pro-market left that has been neglected for decades, by drawing on a surprising resource: public choice economics. This economic theory is reviled by many on the left, who have claimed that it is a Koch-funded intellectual conspiracy designed to destroy democracy. Yet there is a left version of public choice economics too, associated with thinkers such as the late Mancur Olson. Like Olson, Warren is not a socialist but a left-wing capitalist, who wants to use public choice ideas to cleanse both markets and the state of their corruption…

Now, Warren wants to to wash away the filth that has built up over decades to clog the workings of American capitalism. Financial rules that have been designed by lobbyists need to be torn up. Vast inequalities of wealth, which provide the rich with disproportionate political and economic power, need to be reversed. Intellectual property rules, which make it so that farmers no longer really own the seeds they sow or the machinery they use to plant them, need to be abolished. For Warren, the problem with modern American capitalism is that it is not nearly capitalist enough. It has been captured by special interests, which are strangling competition…

Yet this is a distinctly capitalist variety of radicalism. Socialists will inevitably be disappointed in the limits to her arguments. Warren’s ideal is markets that work as they should, in contrast to the socialist belief that some forms of power are inherent within markets themselves. Not only Marxists, but economists such as Thomas Piketty, have suggested that the market system is rigged in ways that will inevitably favor capital over the long run. The fixes that Warren proposes will at most dampen down these tendencies rather than remove them.

 

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