Quick hits (part I)

1) This was fun, “How Starship Troopers aligns with our moment of American defeat.”

2) I found this a very interesting take as how social justice is being sold as just one more product by which privileged white women can improve themselves:

This book inspired me to continue on the journey of personal growth that I’ve been on and gave me some fresh new perspectives to consider.

It is a resource and a guide; like having a learned teacher with you in the intimacy of your own home as you confront some of the most troubling and critical truths about yourself.

It wants you to meet your full potential, but YOU have to DO the work.

The journey is hard, but I assure you, it is worth it.

Half of these lines come from five-star reviews of contemporary self-help books. (Titles include Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis and the early-aughts law-of-attraction phenom The Secret.) The other half come from reviews of anti-racist handbooks, all of which rocketed to the top of bestseller lists this month amid a nationwide movement sparked by the May 26 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. (Titles include Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy, and, of course, Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.)

The similarities are eerie, but also unsurprising. Rachel Hollis’ guide to self-help through face hygiene and Robin DiAngelo’s manual for the white and fragile provoke the same sort of starry-eyed praise, using the same highly specific vocabulary (the word “journey” turns up with remarkable frequency), because of the fundamental similarities in what they’re selling—and, more importantly, because the same people are lining up to buy it.

Self-help has always been a woman’s game. Not that men don’t also seek to improve themselves, but the books targeted to them tend to assume an existing state of self-confidence: You’re great as you are, you could just be a little better. Men learn optimization, life hacks, the power of thinking without thinking: four-hour work weeks and other highly effective habits that are meant to help them build upon their innate perfection, like a software upgrade. Women, on the other hand, have faulty wiring that needs ripping out. Our most beloved self-help books are all about fixing something that came broken, delving into the psyche and excavating everything that’s wrong with you: Women are exhorted to work on themselves the way a weekend warrior might work on a vintage TransAm, tinkering endlessly, replacing parts, fixing one flaw only to find that the engine still won’t turn over, the real problem still buried somewhere under the hood. That you might actually get behind the wheel and drive out of the garage someday is a possibility so distant that it’s hardly worth thinking about. What matters is that whatever is wrong—with the engine, your life, the world—it’s definitely all your fault. (“YOU have to DO the work.”)

3a) This is kind of amazing– check it out, “The U.S. Is Lagging Behind Many Rich Countries. These Charts Show Why.”

Government policy and economic forces have combined to make corporations and the wealthy more powerful, and most workers and their families less powerful. These workers receive a smaller share of society’s resources than they once did and often have less control over their lives. Those lives are generally shorter and more likely to be affected by pollution and chronic health problems.

Here, we show you a series of measures — about power, living standards and more — for a variety of countries. Together, they portray the disturbing new version of American exceptionalism.

Lots of great charts, but NYT makes their charts a pain-in-the-butt to paste, really, check it out.

3b) Krugman, “Why Do the Rich Have So Much Power?”

Why do the wealthy have so much influence over politics?

Campaign contributions, historically dominated by the wealthy, are part of the story. A 2015 Times report found that at that point fewer than 400 families accounted for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign. This matters both directly — politicians who propose big tax increases on the rich can’t expect to see much of their money — and indirectly: Wealthy donors have access to politicians in a way ordinary Americans don’t and play a disproportionate role in shaping policymakers’ worldview.

However, the influence of money on politics goes far beyond campaign contributions. Outright bribery probably isn’t much of a factor, but there are nonetheless major personal financial rewards for political figures who support the interests of the wealthy. Pro-plutocrat politicians who stumble, like Eric Cantor, the former House whip — who famously celebrated Labor Day by honoring business owners — quickly find lucrative positions in the private sector, jobs in right-wing media or well-paid sinecures at conservative think tanks. Do you think there’s a comparable safety net in place for the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar?

And even the issues that the news media discuss often reflect a rich person’s agenda. Advertising dollars explain some of this bias, but a lot of it probably reflects subtler factors, like the (often false) belief that people who’ve made a lot of money have special insight into how the nation as a whole can achieve prosperity.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the fixation on cutting benefits in the early 2010s was the extent to which it was treated not as a controversial position but as the undeniably right thing to do. As Ezra Klein pointed out in The Washington Post at the time: “For reasons I’ve never quite understood, the rules of reportorial neutrality don’t apply when it comes to the deficit. On this one issue, reporters are permitted to openly cheer a particular set of highly controversial policy solutions.”

In a variety of ways, then, America’s wealthy exert huge political influence. Our ideals say that all men are created equal, but in practice a small minority is far more equal than the rest of us.

You don’t want to be too cynical about this. No, America isn’t simply an oligarchy in which the rich always get what they want. In the end, President Barack Obama presided over both the Affordable Care Act, the biggest expansion in government benefits since the 1960s, and a substantial increase in federal taxes on the top 1 percent, to 34 percent from 28 percent.

But while you shouldn’t be too much of a cynic, it remains true that America is less of a democracy and more of an oligarchy than we like to think. And to tackle inequality, we’ll have to confront unequal political power as well as unequal income and wealth.

4) So this was really different and interesting, “Alain de Botton on Existential Maturity and What Emotional Intelligence Really Means”

De Botton considers the type of learning with which the road to emotional maturity is paved:

The knack of our species lies in our capacity to transmit our accumulated knowledge down the generations. The slowest among us can, in a few hours, pick up ideas that it took a few rare geniuses a lifetime to acquire.

Yet what is distinctive is just how selective we are about the topics we deem it possible to educate ourselves in. Our energies are overwhelmingly directed toward material, scientific, and technical subjects and away from psychological and emotional ones. Much anxiety surrounds the question of how good the next generation will be at math; very little around their abilities at marriage or kindness. We devote inordinate hours to learning about tectonic plates and cloud formations, and relatively few fathoming shame and rage.

The assumption is that emotional insight might be either unnecessary or in essence unteachable, lying beyond reason or method, an unreproducible phenomenon best abandoned to individual instinct and intuition. We are left to find our own path around our unfeasibly complicated minds — a move as striking (and as wise) as suggesting that each generation should rediscover the laws of physics by themselves.

This irrational orientation to our emotional lives, De Botton argues, is our inheritance from the Romantics, who crowned the untrained intuition the supreme governing body of human conduct. (And yet the Romantics contained multitudes — for all their belief in the unalterable givenness of emotional reality and the fidelity of feeling, they had a glimmering recognition that reason must be consciously applied to reining in the wildness of the emotions. Mary Shelley, offspring of the greatest power couple of political philosophy, placed at the heart of Frankenstein — one of the most prescient and psychologically insightful works of literature ever composed, triply so for being the work of an eighteen-year-old girl — an admonition against the unbridled reign of the ego’s emotional cravings unchecked by reason and forethought of consequence.) Exception aside, De Botton’s broader point is excellent:

The results of a Romantic philosophy are everywhere to see: exponential progress in the material and technological fields combined with perplexing stasis in the psychological one. We are as clever with our machines and technologies as we are simple-minded in the management of our emotions. We are, in terms of wisdom, little more advanced than the ancient Sumerians or the Picts. We have the technology of an advanced civilization balancing precariously on an emotional base that has not developed much since we dwelt in caves. We have the appetites and destructive furies of primitive primates who have come into possession of thermonuclear warheads.

5) This headline, “We Have to Focus on Opening Schools, Not Bars.”  Bail them all out, but stop trying to open locations so clearly amenable to Covid spread, damnit!

6) This is a great post.  As I wrote a while back, Biden really needs to come out in favor of marijuana legalization.  Would be a huge political win, “The Marijuana Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use
Legalizing marijuana is extremely popular. So why won’t Joe Biden embrace the idea?”

Joe Biden won’t inhale.

Democrats eager for Biden to support legalization have theories about why he won’t. His aides insist they’re all wrong. It’s not, they say, because he’s from a generation scared by Reefer Madness. It’s not, they say, because he spent a career in Washington pushing for mandatory minimum sentencing and other changes to drug laws. It’s definitely not, according to people who have discussed the policy with him, because he’s a teetotaler whose father battled alcoholism and whose son has fought addiction, and who’s had gateway-drug anxieties drilled into him.

With legalization seeming such an obvious political win, all that’s stopping Biden, current and former aides say, is public health. He’s read the studies, or at least, summaries of the studies (campaign aides pointed me to this one). He wants to see more. He’s looking for something definitive to assure him that legalizing won’t lead to serious mental or physical problems, in teens or adults.

America appears to be moving on without him, and so are the future leaders of his party.

If Biden really has his eyes on public health, he should think about how many Black people end up in jail for marijuana sale and possession, argues Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba—a young Black progressive who oversaw local decriminalization in his city in 2018. Biden should also think about how an illicit, unregulated market is leading to the drug being laced with other chemicals, and the health effects of that, Lumumba told me. If Biden thinks marijuana is addictive, he said, then he should explain what makes it worse than alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Legalization is a necessary part of criminal-justice reform, Lumumba said. “I would encourage him and his campaign more broadly to do more research on some of the finer points,” he added.

Alternatively, John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, says Biden should think about how legalization could raise tax revenue in the post-pandemic economy of state budget deficits. “What better time than now to have that conversation?” Fetterman told me. Before the coronavirus outbreak, Fetterman spent a year traveling his state, including areas that mostly voted for Trump in 2016, proselytizing “commonsense” legalization. There’s even more reason to agree with him now, he said. “It’s the ultimate policy and financial low-hanging fruit,” he said. “If you’re not moved by the gross racial disparities, what state doesn’t need a couple hundred million more in revenue at this point?”

7) Good stuff from Megan McArdle, “Three steps to consider for a more pre-pandemic normal”

Here are three suggestions that deserve more attention.

First, move everything outdoors — as much as possible and much more than has been done already. Many buildings in this country are oversupplied with parking lots, so let’s use that stockpile. With the addition of a simple high roof, you’ve got a farmers market, a sidewalk cafe or an open-air cathedral.

Obviously, no one will sit down for a four-course meal in a Minnesota parking lot in January, no matter how many propane heaters are deployed. But most of the country is not Minnesota, and if the alternative is getting sick, some surprising things become tolerable. While staying with my covid-positive father in April, I kept all the windows in my bedroom open to a steady, damp, 35-degree wind and managed to put in a full workday. I’m not saying that’s ideal, but we’re long past searching for ideal solutions. We’re now hunting for adequate.

It’s urgent to mass-produce masks that better protect the wearer: ideally, N95 masks or the closest substitute available technology and materials allow. Moreover, these masks have to be produced here so our supply doesn’t get interrupted by the export bans that wreaked havoc with U.S. supply chains in February and March. The federal government should be prepared to fund literally any amount of capital investment in the necessary space and equipment. Even if those investments become worthless the day a vaccine rolls out, they will pay for themselves by helping to steady the economy over the coming months or years.

Third, we need not just freely available mass testing but also a reliable process for certifying a recent test result — and a lack of shame about demanding to see a very recent certificate before letting someone into your home or place of business. Before I left my dad in Massachusetts and returned to my covid-free husband and mother, I took an Abbott Labs rapid test at a drive-through CVS clinic that returned results in less than an hour. Such options need to be within walking or driving distance of everyone in the country, and we need to create a social norm about getting tested often, possibly weekly, if you want to be out and about.
These are big, ambitious adaptations. They will be costly. They will be annoying. They will be very, very hard for governments and businesses to execute competently. In fact, the only thing that can be said for them is that they aren’t the two failed solutions we’ve already tried: ignoring the virus in the hope that it won’t be so bad or huddling in our houses and waiting for a medical breakthrough that may be years away.

8) I can see why Jojo Rabbit might not be for everybody, but damn did I love that movie.  I thought I would modestly enjoy it, but just loved it.

9) Good interview with Larry Brilliant on Covid:

OK, we know to wear a mask. But should we still be swabbing everything with Clorox?

The virus does not exist very long in fomites. I mean you’re talking about a very small percentage of cases that are caused by the pencil, the toilet seat—asterisks on toilet seats, because if you don’t have a cover on the toilet seat, and somebody who’s got Covid takes a poop, you create an aerosol so that can spread. But if you look at the things that we worried about, like the Amazon box that comes to the door, the fact that the virus can do that doesn’t mean it does do that. I don’t scrub my groceries at all. If an Amazon box comes, I open it right away. I’m mostly worried about face-to-face transmission by somebody you have had a conversation with, or you’re stuck in an elevator with, or you’re seated next to somebody at a rock show or at a bar. I don’t go do any of those things. I don’t go to lectures, I don’t go out…

Speaking of ending the curse, how do we get out of this mess?

We can still get to that inverted V, but we have to do three different things. First, we have to develop a way to deal with the clusters—nursing homes, refugee settlements, immigrant workershomeless encampments. We should look to Japan, which had similar problems, and they created a team which called the Cluster Busters. In an act of humility, we should be inviting the Japanese epidemiologists to come and teach us their techniques for being Cluster Busters.

The second thing that we should be doing is basic epidemiology 101. We should be finding every active case. You find someone who has symptoms of the disease, and a human being talks to them and identifies all the people they’ve been in contact with, looking backwards to try to find where the disease came from, what was their source of the disease. Those who test positive, you either treat them or you quarantine them for 14 days. Those who test negative, you isolate them for 14 days. You do whatever the hell you need to do, because you’ve got to stop the virus from walking into a bar. It’s not a joke. You’ve got to stop the virus from walking into a super-spreader event.

Some people say you can do that in a culture like South Korea or Japan, but that’s not how Americans behave.

We have to do this in a particularly American way—we have to pay them money! I am a cosigner of a bipartisan bit of prospective legislation. Our proposal is $50 billion out of a $2 trillion set of stimulus packages—$50 billion that will pay people who are contact-traced and who test positive or are suspected of having the disease. Pay them $50 a day for 14 days to quarantine, so they don’t spread the disease. We want to pay for their hotel lodgings. And we want to hire 150,000 contact tracers and pay for the software that does contact tracing.

Maybe we should have done that months ago. Isn’t it too late for that?

It’s less effective, obviously, when you have 3 million cases and 130,000 deaths in the US than when you had 15. But it’s never too late to stop a virus from spreading.

What’s the third thing?

A sensible, nationwide requirement for those places where there are clearly going to be super-spreader events to stay closed: bars, indoor restaurants, churches, megachurches, the kinds of places that we know will spread the disease. Those places can’t be reopened.

10) Great piece from Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern on John Roberts:

There will be much discussion in the coming weeks about the revelations of the Supreme Court’s COVID-19 term. But perhaps more than anything, we should focus on the battle of the titans that has played out this year between Chief Justice John Roberts and President Donald Trump. It certainly has been a years-in-the-making enterprise: Roberts was showing signs of Trump fatigue by the end of last term, and his frustration with the Trump administration’s shoddy lawyering and outright fabrication was evident by the time he thwarted the administration’s effort to put a citizenship question on the census. It’s fair to say that, by this time last year, it was clear that Roberts, a lifelong conservative, was—unlike many other lifelong conservatives—not prepared to give up on every institutional and ideological principle he’d ever held in order to cater to Trump’s tempestuous whims. It was also clear that Roberts would prioritize public respect for the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary over short-term gains for the president and his party.

This was evident not just in his judicial writing. It was clear when he punched back at Trump’s claims that there were “Trump judges and Obama judges” and again when he defended judges (including Merrick Garland) in his annual state of the judiciary report this past winter. It was also why we didn’t think Roberts would rush to intervene dramatically in the impeachment process. Whereas almost everyone in Trump’s ambit has proved to be almost fanatically transactional in their dealings with the president, credit Roberts with being principled. He has signaled, time and again, that he cares more about keeping the court above reproach, and above partisan politics, particularly in an election year.

To that end, the term-ending financial documents decisions are a masterwork. Both Mazars and Vance read as resounding victories for centuries-old principles about the limits of presidential immunity and Congress’ legitimate authority to conduct executive oversight. Both were interpreted as blistering losses for Donald Trump by Donald Trump. Yet they will compel the lower courts to dither and squabble in ways that will keep the financial documents away from the public eye for months if not years. You can’t help but admire the deftness of Roberts’ ability to simultaneously split the baby, persuade both sides that they won, and score indisputable points for judicial supremacy, all while also achieving nothing immediate.

11) One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of nuclear power is that I think the innovations in nuclear power technology are pretty amazing and truly can give us safe, carbon-free, power at an affordable cost.  Nuclear power balls seem pretty awesome.  Nuclear ‘Power Balls’ May Make Meltdowns a Thing of the Past: Triso particles are an alien-looking fuel with built-in safety features that will power a new generation of high-temperature reactors.”

12) This is a pretty cool study on how likely a false negative Covid PCR test is by day:

Over the 4 days of infection before the typical time of symptom onset (day 5), the probability of a false-negative result in an infected person decreases from 100% (95% CI, 100% to 100%) on day 1 to 67% (CI, 27% to 94%) on day 4. On the day of symptom onset, the median false-negative rate was 38% (CI, 18% to 65%). This decreased to 20% (CI, 12% to 30%) on day 8 (3 days after symptom onset) then began to increase again, from 21% (CI, 13% to 31%) on day 9 to 66% (CI, 54% to 77%) on day 21.

Notice, even on the “best” day, you are looking at 21% false negative.

13) EJ Dionne, “A vicious culture war is all Trump has left”

14) Frum on Supreme Court decisions on Trump’s taxes:

The Supreme Court rebuked Donald Trump, the arrogant president. The Supreme Court has prepared a world of trouble for Donald Trump, the dirty businessman. But the Supreme Court has done a tremendous favor to Donald Trump, the candidate for reelection.

Trump’s legal arguments to protect his business records from subpoena were always miserably flimsy, when not actively crazy. On Trump’s behalf, the Department of Justice urged the Supreme Court to junk precedents dating back to the 1880s. Government lawyers proposed that the Court invent a fantastical new system of judicial oversight of subpoenas of the president. Those arguments were always bound to lose, and in a pair of decisions on Thursday, the Court rejected them.

But Trump’s legal strategy was cannier than his legal arguments. The strategy was to play for time, to push the day of reckoning beyond November 2020. That strategy has now paid off…

Trump has lived his whole life one jump ahead of the law. As The New York Timesreported in 2018, relying on documents provided by the president’s own niece, Trump “participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud,” that enlarged the fortune he inherited. In 2019, ProPublicapresented evidence that Trump might have committed bank fraud. Completing this presidential term with the cops breathing down his neck may not be comfortable for Trump, but it will not be unfamiliar or unmanageable for him.

What Trump has never before faced—and what, thanks to the Supreme Court, he will not face before November—is a public reckoning for his acts. He has lived a lie, presenting himself as a great American businessman. In the eyes of much of the American electorate, that lie will continue past Election Day.

15) This headline sounds really scary, “Research is coalescing around the idea that coronavirus antibodies may last just a few months” but when you actually read the whole article it is not nearly so dire.  The human immune system is complicated and it does seem pretty clear that the vast majority of people will not be able to be re-infected with Covid-19 in a matter of months (among other things, we’d actually be seeing that already, and we’re not).

16) I really don’t think NC Park authorities need to be limiting the number of visitors to our outdoor parks.  I know they can get crowded, but there’s just so little outdoor transmission.  I’ll take my chance in a crowded state park for two hours over 45 minutes in a 50% capacity restaurant any day.

Protesters and police are both learning– and that’s good!

I was very sorry to hear that Raleigh, NC suffered pretty heavy vandalism and some looting in protests this weekend.  To my knowledge, Raleigh is a pretty good police force that does the right things the right way and is led by an African-American woman who I hear good things about (and has an MPA from my department!).  

As I’ve discussed with many, I’m so frustrated by the violence and looting (which I really think is, typically, truly just a handful of bad actors taking advantage of the situation) because it takes away from such an important message that, otherwise, would really be coming through loud and clear (and I think is coming through, just muddled by the damn vandalism and looting).

Obviously, the more thoughtful protesters absolutely realize the violence muddles their very important message.  And, the more thoughtful police departments recognize that they should absolutely be looking to de-escalate, not escalate, tense situations.  From what I’ve seen in my non-scientific survey, there was a lot less violence and mayhem in Tuesday protests.  I don’t know if Raleigh was representative in this way, but I sure liked what I read:

Police in downtown Raleigh took a dramatically different posture Tuesday toward the protesters who filled the city’s downtown streets for the fourth evening in a row with demonstrations against police brutality.

Officers in riot gear and National Guard troops in fatigues were relatively rare sightings. Officers put more distance between themselves and demonstrators than on previous nights, some of which were marked by repeated use of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. And protesters were more focused on sharing personal stories of injustice and presenting demands than directly confronting police…

Most of the more than 1,000 protesters who came out Tuesday went home around 8 p.m., when a citywide curfew took effect for the second night.

But about 45 minutes later, about 100 sat in Lane Street in front of the Governor’s Mansion. Police cars circulated, periodically playing a recorded message telling protesters that they were violating curfew…

The Raleigh Police Department did not make any arrests, according to a news release sent shortly after midnight…

Police acknowledged protesters’ effort. After demonstrators at the State Capitol shouted, “kneel with us” in the afternoon, officers took a knee and were greeted with hugs. The gesture was a reference to Colin Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality when he played football in the NFL.

State Capitol Police Chief Chip Hawley said officers took a knee to “show our deep and abiding respect for the value of all human lives.” …

“We hear you, and we understand your frustration,” Hawley said in an emailed statement. “We want you to know your voices and your message has not fallen on deaf ears. We understand we should be and want to be part of the solution to this problem.”

Raleigh police waiting in a line in front of the Raleigh Municipal Building did the same later in the afternoon. A group of protesters asked officers to kneel with them. Each officer took a knee for a few seconds. Some protesters shook hands with the officers. Others considered the act a publicity stunt and shouted insults.

National Guard troops were visible near the State Capitol, and police in riot gear could be seen in buses, but police and protesters never clashed. Raleigh police said they told protesters several times that they were in violation of the curfew but gave them an opportunity to voluntarily leave.

Hooray for all involved– that’s how it’s done!  I’d like to think that the protesters policed themselves of anybody tending towards violence (or maybe the violence-prone ones have already had their fill) and the police, this time, absolutely showed the restraint, flexibility, and thoughtfulness that the situation demands.  Hooray for them.  Nobody got hurt.  The important message of the protesters was not diminished by violence, and the police showed that they can behave with restraint and proper discretion.

Again, this was just Raleigh, but I’d like to think both protesters and police forces around the country and both adapting in this way.  The message is out there.  I truly believe we are undergoing a shift that will actually result in better policy for better policing in the future, but that shift means the focus is on peaceful protests and the message of ending police brutality, not on riots, vandalism, and looting, which, if even a tiny fraction of what happens, will, inevitably be what leads media coverage and thus the overall narrative.  


Raleigh Police Detective B.H. Winston, a veteran of 16 years, fist bumps Albert Fervily after having a conversation with Keesh Ormond, left and Dante Robinson following a rally at the Raleigh Municipal Building on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett RWILLETT@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

Are we worrying about the wrong things?

How could people go to the swimming pool in a pandemic?  Well, starting Saturday, I’ll be able to go to the pool I belong to (though, I’ll probably wait for a prolonged patch of warm weather first– I hate cold water).  The rules for how the pool will operate will be quite stringent, and especially as it’s outside, and Cary, NC is definitely no hotspot, I will feel pretty safe in going there.  Similarly, I could get a haircut this weekend (haircut my wife gave me a few weeks ago is holding up great– between me and the three boys, we may save serious money in this department in the future).  All the employees will have to wear masks and the number of customers in the story will be limited.  Again, I’m waiting, but with the rules in place I’d feel pretty safe.

So, all this “public” stuff we’re worried about, I suspect will not be the problem if we do get spikes.  All the matters the government can regulate it is establishing smart and sensible regulations that would seem to follow the science (especially the encouraging of masks) in limiting spread.  It’s all the stuff the government doesn’t regulate that worries me.  I think we might start getting a lot more spread from all sorts of interpersonal contacts in all sorts of places where people don’t have to follow social distancing and mask guidelines and those who are inclined to say “yeah– we’re re-opening, let’s go!” will simply not be following sensible guidelines and getting each other sick.

My Catholic church is going to start have mass again soon and, good for them(!), they are requiring masks, limiting numbers in the church, and no singing.  I’m probably still not going to go, but I think I would feel pretty good about it under these circumstances.

So, if we do start seeing new clusters and outbreaks, I don’t think it will be from pools, or hair salons, or massage parlors, or nail salons, or, or sensible churches, or maybe even not restaurants (NC has been smart enough to keep bars closed), but rather from all the entirely unregulated gatherings of people wear sensible precautions will not be taken.

Just wear a damn mask already!!

Okay, we’re doomed.  Not quite, but the response to masks is soooooo depressing.  This is far and away the easiest thing we can do as a society which will have a meaningful impact on reducing viral transmission and saving lives.  But, sadly, even that seems to be far too much for far too many on the right.  Great N&O Editorial:

It shouldn’t be surprising, we guess, that during a public health crisis that’s become politicized, with the debate over staying at home becoming partisan, that the latest thing to become a red or blue badge is the simple act of covering your nose and mouth in public.

Really? We’re fighting over face coverings?

Just wear the stupid mask.

It’s not a betrayal of the president.

It’s not a sign that you’re sick.

It’s a health measure in places where it’s difficult to socially distance. If you wear it, you protect others from your possibly asymptomatic COVID-19 self. If you wear it, you also protect yourself from others. It’s safer. That’s it…

Just wear the stupid mask.

Or, you can exercise your right not to go where they are required. But don’t whine about freedom when a retail store decides to take measures to protect employees and customers, as businesses have done for many decades. Don’t channel your inner Patrick Henry when your state or local government tells you masks are necessary at a beach or other public spaces.

Guess what? Government forces you to do a lot of things. If you don’t believe us, try this little experiment: Head over to your local grocery store wearing nothing but your freedom. Or try out that personal liberty line the next time you get pulled over for speeding or not wearing a seat belt. You’ll quickly get reminded that governments have always set the boundaries in which we live our lives…

Just wear the stupid mask.

Or, you can exercise your right not to go where they are required. But don’t whine about freedom when a retail store decides to take measures to protect employees and customers, as businesses have done for many decades. Don’t channel your inner Patrick Henry when your state or local government tells you masks are necessary at a beach or other public spaces.

Guess what? Government forces you to do a lot of things. If you don’t believe us, try this little experiment: Head over to your local grocery store wearing nothing but your freedom. Or try out that personal liberty line the next time you get pulled over for speeding or not wearing a seat belt. You’ll quickly get reminded that governments have always set the boundaries in which we live our lives.

Alas, it turns out there’s all sorts of reasons.  Of course, they are conspiracy-based and non-sensical, but… reasons.  The beach we head to every summer just announced their policy which will include requiring masks in public indoor spaces.  Since I knew they would be full of negative blowback, I made sure to comment on their Facebook post thanking them for actually following the science.  The response to my post was mostly predictable (tyranny! liberal conspiracy to take our rights!), but even I did not suspect how far it would go.  I actually made a conscious choice to get into it with total strangers on Facebook and boy was it illuminating.  In a bad way, of course.  Apparently, the latest conspiracy theory out there is that wearing a mask will weaken your immune system.  My favorite was posting a USA Today (i.e., not some “crazy far left”) rebuttal of this inane theory and was met with “so says your article.”  Damn if this just isn’t all the most amazing demonstration of the fact that people will just believe what they want to no matter what.

My friend Kyle Saunders has kind of been the ultimate pessimist on all this and I give him a hard time for being too pessimistic.  I still think he’s too pessimistic on the science angle, but when it comes to his pessimism about human nature he sure has been way more right than me.  Here’s a scene in a Coloado (i.e., not some deep South state) today.


Testing. 1…2…3… Testing.

In a Facebook posting last week, NC State Senator Jeff Jackson– who was doing great on-line briefings for a while and seems to have given them up for an unknown reason– noted that the key factor limiting testing in NC was actually the PPE for the health care workers administering the test.  And when you administer a nasopharyngeal swab– sticking something all the way through the nose to the throat, basically, you damn well need PPE as you are getting a ton of exposure.

You know what creates way less exposure?  Letting somebody run a swab around the inside of their own nose.  And it is apparently just as effective.  (My sense is this is not the case with most respiratory viruses, but, fortunately, it seems to be for Covid).  Bill Gates mentioned this on the latest Ezra Klein podcast.  And here’s a Stat News piece:

The FDA on Thursday took other steps that could help speed up diagnostic testing. It now says that a sample can be collected simply by circling the swab in the nose, instead of sticking a longer swab much deeper into the throat through a nostril. That process is deeply uncomfortable and causes patients to sneeze, meaning that health care providers need to be wearing full protective gear.

The agency also said the swab can be done by a patient, instead of by a health care professional. And instead of being stored in viral transport media, a special solution that is in short supply, the FDA also now said that it is OK to use saline solution, which is much more readily available, if necessary…

Yuan-Po Tu, a physician at the UnitedHealth Group-owned Everett Clinic in Everett, Wash., worked with the Gates Foundation to run studies on how various testing swab techniques compared. Quantigen, a diagnostics firm, was also involved in the study, the results of which were announced simultaneously with the changes in FDA policy.

Tu said the research has shifted how he practices at his clinic, where he now tests patients in their cars, having them swab their own noses.

“This can be done very quickly in our drive-through,” Tu said. “We can collect one person every three minutes. When we do it in a car, we’re using the car as the containment vehicle. It’s not only faster, it’s nicer and more user-friendly and it’s much safer for everybody involved.”

The material used in the swab can affect testing. The tests work by growing large amounts of the virus using a reaction called the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. Q-tips, for instance, don’t work, in part due to the fact that the cotton on the tip contains its own DNA; cotton, after all, is a plant. The swabs that are currently used are nylon or foam. But the FDA’s expansion of permitted materials to some made of polyester could help reduce shortages.

So, why isn’t this the standard for testing everywhere like yesterday?  Seriously!  Meanwhile, it looks like a swab just inside the mouth may also work great:

As testing for the novel coronavirus continues to scale up, a new study finds that saliva samples are a “preferable” indicator for infection than the deep nasal swabs now widely used.

The study led by the Yale School of Public Health — and conducted at Yale New Haven Hospital with 44 inpatients and 98 health care workers — found that saliva samples taken from just inside the mouth provided greater detection sensitivity and consistency throughout the course of an infection than the broadly recommended nasopharyngeal (NP) approach. The study also concluded that there was less variability in results with the self-sample collection of saliva.

Taken together, our findings demonstrate that saliva is a viable and more sensitive alternative to nasopharyngeal swabs and could enable at-home self-administered sample collection for accurate large-scale SARS-CoV-2 testing,” said first author Anne Wyllie, an associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health and a member of its Public Health Modeling Unit. She was joined by 49 other researchers at Yale on the study.

I get that nasopharyngeal swabs have been the “gold standard.”  But, now we clearly have way easier methods that put way less stress on the system (in terms of PPE requirements and health care worker skill– I’m not threading something thorough my own nose!)  Those long swabs need to be gone yesterday (or, honestly, just cut down to nasal swab size).  

Relatedly, everybody writes about the great job that Germany and South Korea have done with rapidly creating and deploying tests.  But shouldn’t they have figured these things out.  The most comprehensive articles on the matter (admittedly after limited google searching) make no mention at all of the swabs.  

And, lastly, if biotech companies can successfully create an antigen test for Covid, that would be a real game-changer:

The gold standard for covid-19 testing is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. In a PCR test, genetic material collected in a nasal swab is copied millions or billions of times over so that markers for covid-19 infection can be identified (the virus’s RNA is too tiny to identify on its own, but making more copies makes it easier to find). PCR testing isn’t perfect, but it’s seen as the most accurate form of testing available for viruses. Unfortunately, it takes time, energy, and trained personnel to run these tests. That makes PCR testing too hard to scale up to the numbers we really need. 

“There will never be the ability on a [PCR] test to do 300 million tests a day or to test everybody before they go to work or to school,” Deborah Birx, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said on April 17. “But there might be with the antigen test.”

What’s an antigen test? While PCR tests look for evidence of viral genetic material, and antibody testing detects human antibodies against the virus, antigen tests look for fragments of viral surface proteins as a marker for infection. (An antigen is the part of a pathogen that elicits an immune response.) These proteins, usually from the coronavirus’s surface spikes, are big enough to study on their own, without spending time and energy making new copies.

Identifying their presence could mean a diagnosis of infection in just a matter of minutes, without expensive equipment, training, or power. In theory, a reliable antigen test could be pretty easy to scale up and could then be used in the home or at point-of-care locations. It could be the test we need to get America back on its feet again…

“We think the first threshold for returning to normal life is to make sure you’re not infectious and the people around you are not infectious,” says Steve Tang, CEO of OraSure, which makes millions of HIV antigen tests a year and is now working on a covid-19 test. “We have to get ourselves out of these testing bottlenecks that are hurting us right now. Antigen testing could be a powerful new tool in that goal.”

Gehrke is a cofounder of a Cambridge-based biotech company called E25Bio, which is developing a covid-19 antigen test. Like most others being developed for the coronavirus, the test works by taking a nasal swab from a patient and introducing that sample into a solution that is then exposed to one end of a series of paper strips. The strips contain artificial antibodies specially designed to bind to coronavirus antigens. As the solution moves up the strip, any antigens that are present will bind to it and give a visual readout. The whole thing takes less than 30 minutes, and it doesn’t require special equipment or training. 

Sounds terrific, but here’s some cold water:

Not everyone is so gung-ho on the technology’s potential. “I would say antigen testing for covid-19 would be a total game-changer, except for one aspect: it won’t work,” says Alan Wells, the medical director of clinical laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. 

Why not? An antigen test for a bacterial disease like strep works well. But respiratory viruses like coronavirus are a whole other game. The home of a respiratory illness is in the respiratory system, so ideally you want to use a nasal swab to collect samples deep in the nasal cavity. But the presence of the virus in this area varies from person to person. For example, the antigen test for influenza has a decent sensitivity of about 70 to 80% when run properly on a good nasal swab—but only for children, because the quantity of the virus in children is typically much higher than in adults. When you use the same influenza antigen tests on adults, the sensitivity drops to less than 50%. And this is something observed across the board for respiratory viruses. In a PCR test, the viral genetic material is amplified so that it’s easier to identify signs of covid-19. There’s no amplification of viral proteins in an antigen test. Either the test detects them in the sample or it doesn’t.

Companies like E25Bio and OraSure have made successful tests for other diseases, but not for respiratory viruses, and Wells is very skeptical they’ve solved the biological and technological issues that hold these tests back. “I would love to be wrong,” he says. “But if I’m betting, the covid-19 virus is not going to be any different from the other viruses. It’s not a new biology or a new chemistry.” Antigen testing groups that are claiming sensitivities above 90% are basing that on laboratory samples. They are still waiting for validation tests on actual patient samples, which may be much less accurate.

But, just maybe?  I’d like to think these companies wouldn’t be investing in this if they didn’t at least think there was a chance they could make the science work.  Here’s hoping they do.

But, for now, can’t we at least re-think the whole nasopharyngeal swab thing?! 

Helping the unemployed– NC Republican style

Well, with record numbers of Americans filing for unemployment, our unemployment insurance system is more vital than ever.  Unfortunately for my fellow North Carolinians, the state’s Republicans have made it literally the worst in the country.  Gene Nichol:

In North Carolina, more than half a million people have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March. Last week a national study concluded “NC has the second biggest increase in unemployment due to coronavirus.” Only Louisiana’s been hit harder. Still, our lawmakers have chosen not to convene early to address the crisis. I wonder if they’re still boasting about crushing our compensation scheme?

One of the first bills passed by the General Assembly in 2013, marking the Republican ascendancy, was H.B 4. It launched the steepest cut to a state unemployment compensation program in American history. Rep. Julia Howard, architect of the reductions, said our old approach had grown too rich, “becoming a welfare” scheme. Labor scholars called the changes “a radical reduction in benefits for people unemployed through no fault of their own.” Still, Sen. Phil Berger and then-Speaker of the House Thom Tillis pronounced themselves well satisfied. Moving from the middle of the pack to stingiest on record – that’s a message you can take on the road.

As a result of H.B.4, by 2019, only 8.6% of NC jobless workers were receiving unemployment compensation – placing us 51st in the nation (when DC and Puerto Rico are included). Our average duration of benefits, 8.6 weeks, had sunk to the country’s lowest. We now provide (on average) just $264 a week, again near the bottom, replacing just 32 cents of every dollar of lost income. [emphases mine]

Our cuts were so extreme we forfeited hundreds of millions in federal dollars. We were the only state to give Washington back its money rather than allow it to go to poor residents. And to make sure everyone got the point, Republican lawmakers also dramatically cut the state’s corporate income tax rate. They proclaimed, with gusto, that they knew where their bread was buttered. Then they cut the corporate rate again.

In 2018, Wayne Vroman of the Urban Institute, who had conducted a study of our unemployment system, testified before the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Oversight Committee. Vroman explained that our worst to be found program – smallest payments, shortest times, fewest people – fiercely underserves the state’s workers. Legislators beamed. Rep. Dana Bumgardner, a Gaston County Republican, replied,in full snark: “I think where we are is a good thing. What is the point of your presentation?” …

But our Republicans also seem to enjoy the cellar. We’re the only state ever to abolish its earned income tax credit – raising the tax bill of impoverished families. We’re apparently willing to be the last state standing against Medicaid expansion. “Send our money to other states, we don’t care. It’s better than letting poor people have free health care.” Stepping on the necks of low income folks may be all our Republican lawmakers know how to do.

Honestly, it’s hard not to conclude that the Republicans who brought us to this point are just stunningly vicious, unempathetic people.  No wonder they all love Trump.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Really interesting piece from Seth Masket comparing Covid to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927:

The flood was the product of several freak storms in the winter and spring of 1927. The flood surge destroyed the homes of roughly 700,000 people as it worked its way down the Mississippi River, killing 500 people and flooding 27,000 square miles of land (an area larger than West Virginia). Damages in today’s currency would likely exceed a trillion dollars. It remains the most destructive river flood in American history. 

Here’s the part that really echoes: as the flood surge approached New Orleans, city leaders there made a fateful decision to dynamite the levees that were protecting the poorer regions of St. Bernard Parish and Plaquemines Parish, saving the city’s wealthier neighborhoods. 

Now, the specific details of the flood aren’t that much like the COVID-19 virus, obviously. But the similarities lie in what the flood revealed about the society it tore apart.

As Barry argues, a powerful popular belief at the time was the idea of noblesse oblige, the idea that the wealthy and powerful would look after everyone else because it was their obligation to do so. Of course there was rampant economic and racial inequality in the 1920s and well prior to that, but it wasn’t so bad because the people on top would take care of everyone else when the chips were down. 

That philosophy died hard when New Orleans city leaders blew the levees. Now, I need to be clear what “city leaders” here means. As Barry describes it, the leaders were not so much elected officials as they were the city elders, leaders of prominent families, and especially the elite clubs known as krewes who held the real power in town. (Krewes today have much more pleasant tasks like creating Mardi Gras floats — back then they more or less ran the city.)

The flood, and the calloused and self-dealing manner in which city elites responded to its threat, undermined their rule and the ideology of noblesse oblige that had propped them up for so long. Poorer citizens would no longer trust elites to do the right thing in a crisis. The flood’s aftermath created an environment for populist politicians like Huey Long to rise to power by running against the elite families. Herbert Hoover, then the US Secretary of Commerce, organized a massive federal relief effort in the region, setting a precedent for federal remedies for local and regional catastrophes (and also bolstering his 1928 presidential run). 

Importantly, when the Great Depression hit a few years later, there was little expectation that local elites or wealthy patrons would remedy the problems. The federal government was expected to fix it.

We may be seeing something like this at work today, although we are still only at the beginning stages of the Coronavirus pandemic. President Trump, while seeking efforts to shore up the economy, has largely resisted using governing tools like the Defense Production Act to respond to demands for masks and ventilators and virus tests, instead insisting that governors and private industry should be doing more. 

2) Be suspicious of a wine bar that starts selling gourmet pizza during a pandemic, “A restaurant in South Carolina has been accused of reselling Costco pizzas at a 700% markup as ‘gourmet Roman-style thin crust pizza'”

3) If Hillary Clinton had been president we probably would have not closed the border as quickly, but we would have done virtually everything else so much better.  Max Boot.

4) Meanwhile the fundamental rule of law in our court system continues to be undermined.  Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern:

Nowhere is the problem of asymmetrical rhetorical warfare more apparent than in the federal judiciary. For the past several years, federal judges, notably those appointed by Donald J. Trump, have felt unmoored from any standard judicial conventions of circumspection and restraint, penning screeds about the evils of “big government” and rants against Planned Parenthood. Most of the judicial branch, though, has declined to engage in this kind of rhetoric. There are norms, after all, and conventions, standards, and protocols. There seems to also be an agreement that conservative judges demonstrate deeply felt passion when they delve into such issues, while everyone else just demonstrates “bias” if they decide to weigh in. So when Justice Clarence Thomas just last year used a dissent to attack the integrity of a sitting federal judge in the census case, it was mere clever wordsmithing. But when Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggests, as she did recently, that the conservative wing of the high court seems to be privileging the Trump administration’s emergency petitions, she is labeled—by the president himself—unfit to judge. It’s such a long-standing trick, and it’s so well supported by the conservative outrage machine, that it’s easy to believe that critiques of fellow judges by conservative judges are legitimate, while such critiques from liberal judges are an affront to the legitimacy of the entire federal judiciary…

A startling number of Trump judges appear to believe that, like Ho, their job is mainly to own the libs in print. Neomi Rao, a Trump judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has created a cottage industry out of writing preposterous Trump-friendly polemics. On the same morning that South Texas College of Law Houston professor Josh Blackman expressed his outrage at Adelman’s article, Rao issued yet another dissent that would protect Trump, this time by denying the House of Representatives access to the unredacted Mueller report. Rao’s position is so extreme that Thomas Griffith, a conservative George W. Bush appointee, penned a separate concurrence just to shred it. It is impossible to ignore the fact that Rao keeps running interference for the Trump administration, making arguments that are promptly shunned. And it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that her lengthy, contorted dissents begin with the proposition that Trump must triumph and work backward from there.

5) NPR, “Why Germany’s Coronavirus Death Rate Is Far Lower Than In Other Countries”  Testing.

6) Enjoyed this little history of toilet paper.  Also, glad my wife went out and bought one big jumbo pack at the beginning of the craziness so we didn’t have to worry.

7) I really wish more people understood how fundamentally white Christian evangelicalism in America is tied to white supremacy in the South.  (MB will definitely want to read this whole link).

I grew up in a rural Indiana town surrounded by symbols of American exceptionalism. Despite our size, we maintained one of the biggest Fourth of July parades in the state. Bright red, white, and blue flags and bunting decorated our houses and businesses year-round, including our plethora of churches. At the time, I had no idea that I was being raised in a nationalist, white-identity, Neo-Confederate cult that worshipped power, white supremacy, and hypercapitalism. I’ve come to call this massive and dangerous sect the Cult of the Shining City.

The America I knew—the America that so many of us grew up believing in—was not simply true, it was the only truth. The history we were taught in school focused on the United States of America as the one certain hope in a world of danger and evil. That message was echoed in our preachers’ sermons every Sunday morning as figures like Jesus Christ and George Washington were treated with similar reverence. What those history lessons and sermons didn’t teach us was the means by which evangelical Christianity had come to merge with the secular worship of wealth and power, creating a nationalist, racist faith.

8) Fixing the economy, Nordic style:

In Denmark, political parties from across the ideological spectrum joined with labor unions and employers associations this month to unite behind a plan that has the government covering 75 to 90 percent of all worker salaries over the next three months, provided that companies refrain from layoffs.

The Danish government also agreed to cover costs like rent for companies that suffer a shortfall in revenues. These two elements are collectively estimated to cost 42.6 billion Danish kroner (about $6.27 billion), after factoring in the savings on the unemployment insurance system.

The Netherlands produced a similar scheme, with the government stepping in to cover 90 percent of wages for firms that show losses of at least 20 percent of their revenue. The British government pledged to cover 80 percent of wages, and on Thursday extended those protections to the self-employed.

The aim of this approach is to prevent the wrenching experience of mass unemployment, while allowing businesses to retain their people rather than firing and then hiring them again. Once normalcy returned, companies would be in position to quickly resume operations, restoring economic growth.

“There was quickly an understanding that we were in an exceptional situation where it was necessary to very quickly produce exceptional initiatives,” said Carl-Johan Dalgaard, an economist at the University of Copenhagen and chair of the Danish Economic Council, which advises policymakers. “If you can tide firms over and thereby reduce the severity of bankruptcies and firings, you can expedite the return to normal.”

The primary reason that this sort of approach appears unthinkable in the United States is the same one that limits options to expanding health care and lowering the cost of university education: Wealthy Americans have proved adept at shielding themselves from taxation.

“You don’t have a comprehensive welfare state in the United States, because it implies a politically unacceptable level of redistribution,” said Jacob F. Kierkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “As long as you’re not willing to tax wealthy people and give some of the money to people who are not wealthy, these sorts of options are not on the menu.”

9) OMG Thomas Massie really is the worst and I love the way that Dana Milbank points out that he’s very much a creation of the perverse dysfunction that is the modern Republican Party (also, he apparently went to MIT, just more proof that you can have high IQ and be a moron):

Massie, a believer in the “deep state” conspiracy, is a product of the tea party, a protege of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a collaborator with outgoing Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who is becoming Trump’s chief of staff, when they tried to oust then-Speaker John Boehner. “I’m ready to be unpopular,” Massie said after his 2012 election, and he has opposed even anti-lynching and human rights legislation — and celebrated when he uses “the process” so that “things die.”

He is emblematic of the newer Republicans who congressional scholars Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann say have turned the GOP into an “insurgent outlier,” rewarding bomb-throwers and making compromise with Democrats all but impossible.

“Newt Gingrich gave them the theme that the best thing they can do is discredit government and blow up all of government,” Ornstein told me Friday as Massie perpetrated his shenanigans. Massie, he said, “is a monster created by their deliberate attempt to get people to have contempt for government and institutions that are part of government.” That contempt gave rise to Trump, but it also remade the Republican caucus in Congress.

10) Peter Wehner on how astonishingly unsuited Trump is for this moment:

The thing to understand about Donald Trump is that putting others before self is not something he can do, even temporarily. His attempts to convey facts that don’t serve his perceived self-interest or to express empathy are forced, scripted, and always short-lived, since such reactions are alien to him.

This president does not have the capacity to listen to, synthesize, and internalize information that does not immediately serve his greatest needs: praise, fealty, adoration. “He finds it intolerable when those things are missing,” a clinical psychologist told me. “Praise, applause, and accolades seem to calm him and boost his confidence. There’s no room for that now, and so he’s growing irritable and needing to create some way to get some positive attention.”

Adam Serwer: Trump is inciting a coronavirus culture war to save himself

She added that the pandemic and its economic fallout “overwhelm Trump’s capacity to understand, are outside of his ability to internalize and process, and [are] beyond his frustration tolerance. He is neither curious nor interested; facts are tossed aside when inconvenient or [when they] contradict his parallel reality, and people are disposable unless they serve him in some way.”

It’s useful here to recall that Trump’s success as a politician has been built on his ability to impose his will and narrative on others, to use his experience on a reality-television show and his skill as a con man to shape public impressions in his favor, even—or perhaps, especially—if those impressions are at odds with reality. He convinced a good chunk of the country that he is a wildly successful businessman and knows more about campaign finance, the Islamic State, the courts, the visa system, trade, taxes, the debt, renewable energy, infrastructure, borders, and drones than anyone else.

Read: How the pandemic will end

But in this instance, Trump isn’t facing a political problem he can easily spin his way out of. He’s facing a lethal virus. It doesn’t give a damn what Donald Trump thinks of it or tweets about it. Spin and lies about COVID-19, including that it will soon magically disappear, as Trump claimed it would, don’t work. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Misinformation will cause the virus to increase its deadly spread.

So as the crisis deepens—as the body count increases, hospitals are overwhelmed, and the economy contracts, perhaps dramatically—it’s reasonable to assume that the president will reach for the tools he has used throughout his life: duplicity and denial. He will not allow facts that are at odds with his narrative to pierce his magnetic field of deception.

11) Love this idea from Jay Rosen:

What: A daily briefing on where we are in fighting the Covid-19 virus. 

When: Every day for the forseeable future, 4 to 5 pm ET. 

Where: On the internet. Streaming video and audio always. Broadast whenever a particpating channel or station decides to pick it up. All guests appear remotely. All questions asked remotely. 

Why: For the same reason there needs to be a daily briefing at the White House, but this one is independent from the White House. It provides a stream of factual and relevant information from experts who can speak with authority, and people on the front lines who are in a position to know. 

Who: Originated by the “network pool,” a consortium of ABC, CBS, NBC, FNC and CNN that already collaborates on big occasions like the State of the Union, plus a few other events like this. Any other media company can join for free, submit questions live, and carry the video or audio, which are also available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and as a podcast. 

How: Features 4-5 guests a day who have advanced knowledge or a vital perspective: public health experts, epidemiologists, scientists, hospital officials, governors. Journalists who are part the AMDB can submit questions live. Anyone on the internet can submit questions in advance. 

12) This is great from Parker Molloy, “By reframing Trump’s incoherent inaccurate ramblings as bland political copy, journalists are carrying water for the president.”  Lots of great examples at the link.

13) Farhad Manjoo, “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask: A very American story about capitalism consuming our national preparedness and resiliency.”

14) You are probably not getting things wet enough or leaving the moisture long enough with your disinfecting wipes for them to actually do the job.  I’ve just been wiping lots of stuff down of late with straight-up rubbing alcohol.  

15) It is utterly amazing to watch people trash their reputation to give the president the most ridiculous and literally incredible praise (here’s looking at you, Dr. Birx.  But my friend, Michael Cobb, raises the good point that we should not put scientific experts in the position where they feel they have to do this to save their job.  

16) I’ve been telling people I’m really glad I live in a state with a Democratic governor.  Now, some empirical backing:


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.

And the 20 seconds on central NC television version of my commentary


Many of the precincts that went for Sanders are clustered around college campuses, such as North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

“My students tend to love Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, which are easily the most popular with the younger voters. [There are] very, very few fans of Joe Biden,” said Steve Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State. “So, my students are not happy with the direction of this race.”

Young voters did turn out – to the extent they could be expected to – in support of Sanders, Greene said, but the sudden consolidation of moderate Democrats behind Biden tipped the scales in his favor in North Carolina and nine other “Super Tuesday” states.

Both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar threw their support behind Biden on Monday after dropping out of the race.

Biden captured North Carolina by a 43 to 24 percent margin over Sanders. Warren finished a distant fourth, at 10 percent, with Mike Bloomberg in third at 13 percent.

Sanders still has more delegates than Biden – and more than half of the states haven’t yet held their primaries – but Greene said that, if Biden winds up winning the Democratic nomination, he may have trouble getting young voters to the polls in the November election unless he makes a strategic choice for vice president.

“Say I get [nominated], I’m going to pick somebody who has that support from younger Americans, from people more to the left of me, so that, you know, you can trust me and come out to vote for me,” Greene said.

And check this out– I actually live in a Sanders precinct (and we’re not a bunch of NC State students here in Cary).

How the system works is so not how our campaign finance system should work

Assuming NC State not over-reacting to 1-3″ snowmageddon today, I’m be teaching campaign finance in my Political Parties class.  One clear conclusion… BCRA/McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform was a pretty big failure.  One thing I really like about it, though, is that required transparency in advertising, e.g., “I’m Donald Trump and I approved this message.”  Transparency is one of the key principles of the post-1974 FECA campaign finance regime.

Alas, transparency means nothing when you can just create an unaccountable group with a meaningless name that doesn’t have to disclose it’s donors.  And that’s our world in post Citizens United America.  I always half-joke with my students about ads being run by “Americans for America.”  Of course, most actual SuperPAC names provide as much actual information.  And these “independent” expenditures by SuperPAC’s are permissible so long as there is not direct coordination with a candidate and there tend to be plenty of indirect coordiniation.

Thing is, though, almost always Republican groups spend money to elect Republicans and hurt Democrats in general elections.  And vice versa.  It strikes me as a new level of political insidiousness and perversity to try to influence the results of the other party’s primary through these shadowy means.  Alas, that’s what I’ve been seeing on my TV every night as of late in the NC Senate race:

Democrats are growing alarmed about Republican attempts to prop up an insurgent liberal candidate in North Carolina — fearful that GOP meddling will undercut the party’s prospects in a key Senate contest.

What seems like a generic campaign ad pitching Erica Smith, a North Carolina state senator, as “the only proven progressive” in the state’s high-profile Senate race is actually part of a multimillion dollar investment from a mysterious super PAC — the innocuously named Faith and Power PAC — with apparent ties to Republicans…

Smith, whose low-budget campaign has otherwise posed little threat to Cunningham, has denounced the intervention. But the episode threatens Democrats’ hopes of getting the better-funded, more moderate Cunningham through the primary unscathed…

“It’scertainly made it more challenging to have over $2 million dumped into an ad buy against Cal Cunningham and what looks to be an attempt by Republicans to sway the primary,” said MaryBe McMillan, president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, which endorsed Cunningham. “I still feel confident about his chances in the primary. It’s just unfortunate that it’s going to mean spending more resources.”

Faith and Power PAC’s ads were placed bya media buyer used by a number of conservative organizations, and the PAC uses Chain Bridge Bank, which has deep ties to Republicans. Faith and Power PAC did not respond to emails. A spokesperson for the GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, which also uses Chain Bridge Bank,did not respond to requests for comment. [emphasis mine]

This is really ridiculous.  For starters, we don’t know that this is a Republican group because there’s no transparency; we have to rely on detective work.  Imagine if this ad for Smith ended by saying “paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.”  Safe to say, Democratic viewers would largely ignore it; and quite appropriately so.  But, many of the same donors who give to the NRSC probably give to “Faith and Power PAC” but we don’t even get to know who they are.

Money is not quite the unalloyed evil in politics that many make it out to be, but, damn, it may not be “evil” for a party to surreptitiously spend heavily to influence the other party’s primary, but it’s damn sure just not right.

Quick hits

1) Okay, nothing particularly new here, but George Conway on Trump is always so good:

As rare as impeachments may be, today’s impeachment of Donald Trump, president of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors was pretty much inevitable.

It was inevitable because of Trump himself, his very character, whose essential nature many who now support him have long understood. As Senator Ted Cruz put it in May 2016, Trump is a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.” Just this year, Senator Lindsey Graham tried to excuse Trump’s racist, vitriolic attacks on congresswomen of color as “more narcissism than anything else.” “That’s just the way he is,” Graham said.

In essence, Trump thinks everything should be about him, for him, for his benefit and glorification—and he can’t comprehend, and doesn’t care about, anything that isn’t. The American diplomat David Holmes testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland explained to him that “the president only cares about ‘big stuff’”—clarifying, according to Holmes, that this meant “big stuff that benefits the president.”

And that’s why Trump can’t comply with his duties to the nation, and why he now stands as the third president ever to have been impeached. His own stated view of his constitutional authority can only be described as narcissistic: “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president.” But as the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report rightly explains, “Impeachment is aimed at Presidents who believe they are above the law, and who believe their own interests transcend those of the country and Constitution.” Or, as then-Representative Mike Pence put it in 2008: “This business of high crimes and misdemeanors goes to the question of whether the person serving as President of the United States put their own interests, their personal interests, ahead of public service.” It was inevitable that, given his boundlessly self-centered bent, this president would do precisely that.

2) Hans Noel on impeachment and Trump’s populism:

It is populist in the specific sense in which Cas Mudde and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser defined it in their Populism: A Very Short Introduction. For them, populist appeals invoke a conflict between “the people” and “the elites.”…

In this framework, the role of the populist leader is to champion the people against the elites. The leader may be rich themselves, but they are on the side of the people and represent the will of the people. The leader loses elections only because the elites thwart this will, and when they win elections, the populist leader embodies the popular will. Small-r republican checks on the power of the leader are simply attempts to subvert the popular will.

This is the argument that dominated Trump’s 2016 campaign and his rallies since election. It also will dominate his 2020 campaign.

And being impeached is perfect fodder for this campaign…

In this framework, the role of the populist leader is to champion the people against the elites. The leader may be rich themselves, but they are on the side of the people and represent the will of the people. The leader loses elections only because the elites thwart this will, and when they win elections, the populist leader embodies the popular will. Small-r republican checks on the power of the leader are simply attempts to subvert the popular will.

This is the argument that dominated Trump’s 2016 campaign and his rallies since election. It also will dominate his 2020 campaign.

And being impeached is perfect fodder for this campaign.

3) Rick Hasen on ten years of Citizens United

In 2010, the largest reported individual contributors to federal campaigns in American politics were Robert and Doylene Perry, owners of Perry Homes, who donated about $7.5 million to support Republican and conservative candidates. In 2018, the largest reported contributors were casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who contributed about $122 million in outside money to support such candidates, representing a 16-fold increase over the Perrys’ 2010 contributions, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. What explains this dramatic shift in American elections, where the wealthiest Americans get to have even greater influence over who is elected and what policies elected officials pursue? The Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In 2010, Citizens United held that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend sums independently to support or oppose candidates for office. Looking at the amount of direct corporate spending in elections over the past decade, one might think that Citizens United was a bust. Few for-profit corporations spend money in their own names boosting or dissing candidates. But this casehelped to usher in a sea change in American elections, and its influence on the decade that followed is hard to overstate. We’ve seen an explosion of outside, often-undisclosed money in elections, candidates skirting campaign finance rules by having shadow “super PACs,” and dangerous foreign interference in our elections. And that pivotal opinion contains all the tools the Supreme Court needs to get rid of remaining campaign contribution limits.

4) Christianity Today shows some actual Christianity and comes out against Trump:

The evangelical magazine founded by the late Rev. Billy Graham published a surprising editorial Thursday calling for President Trump’s removal and describing him as “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”

“Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment,” said the piece, written by editor in chief Mark Galli. “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”

Galli, who will retire from the magazine Jan. 3, wrote that the facts leading to Wednesday’s impeachment of Trump are unambiguous.

“The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents,” Galli wrote. “That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”

But the editorial didn’t just call out Trump. It called out his devout Christian supporters.

“To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve,” Galli wrote. “Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior.”

Trump lashed out at the magazine in a pair of early-morning tweets Friday, calling Christianity Today a “far left magazine … which has been doing poorly.”

5) Not that you really need it, but Conor Friedersdorf eviscerates the Republican defenses of Trump on impeachment.

6) But, hey, really, who’s to know who’s right here?  CJR on the “both sides”! problem:

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, listed 12 more snippets from the article as evidence of the Times’s inability to handle what he calls “asymmetrical polarization.” They included “the different impeachment realities that the two parties are living in,” “both sides engaged in a kind of mutually assured destruction,” and “the two parties could not even agree on a basic set of facts in front of them.”

Rosen is right that this sort of language is inadequate: Democrats, for the most part, are engaging with the factual record; Republicans, for the most part, are not. These positions are manifestly not equivalent. Treating them as such does not serve any useful concept of fairness; instead, it rebounds clearly to the advantage of the one side (Republicans) for whom nonsense being taken seriously is a victory in itself. The Times is far from the only culprit. The structure of some TV news shows, in particular, has bothsidesism hardwired into it: a Democrat and a Republican are given equal time to make their unequal impeachment cases, and both face hard questions, to contrive a sense of balance. The questions lobbed at Democrats are often fair, but often pale into triviality when a Republican follows them on and starts sowing conspiracy theories

The media’s job, done properly, is multidirectional: it holds power to account, and communicates matters of public interest to news consumers. On impeachment, too much coverage seems to have got stuck in a feedback loop: we’re telling the public that politicians aren’t budging from their partisan siloes, and vice versa, with the facts of what Trump actually did getting lost somewhere in the cycle. The cult of “both sides” is integral to this dynamic, and it’s serving the impeachment story poorly. Now, more than ever, our top duty should be to fight for the truth.

7) Former FBI and CIA director William Webster in the NYT, “I Headed the F.B.I. and C.I.A. There’s a Dire Threat to the Country I Love. The rule of law is the principle that protects every American from the abuse of monarchs, despots and tyrants.”

8) Kevin Drum with a massive piece on what we should do about climate change.  And here’s his nickel summary:

In my climate piece today I make a detailed case for massive investment in R&D. I want to outline my argument here in the simplest possible terms:

  1. I am all in favor of building out green energy infrastructure on a huge scale. This means primarily solar, wind, nuclear, grid upgrades, and massive electrification of the economy.
  2. However, this is a big political lift and isn’t likely to happen. More to the point, it only barely matters anyway. Electrification can probably solve only about half our global greenhouse gas problem by 2050, and even if the United States (and Europe) cut their carbon emissions to zero today it would barely be a bump in the road to ever increasing global warming.
  3. This is the key: global warming is globalAny serious plan has to include a plausible way to reduce carbon emissions in China, India, southeast Asia, and other non-Western countries, which is where virtually all of the increase in carbon emissions is coming from. However, they have shown no inclination to sacrifice their economic growth by radically reducing their carbon emissions. I know this is a conservative talking point designed to allow them to shrug away any action, but it happens to be true anyway.
  4. There’s really only one way to get all these developing countries to cut carbon emissions: massive R&D that develops new, cheaper ways of providing energy. This has to include not just electric generation, but also things like cement, airplane travel, land use, chemical production, and other things that electrification won’t solve. Importantly, it also has to include some way of removing carbon from the atmosphere, since no matter how much we reduce emissions we’re still going to end up with too much carbon in the atmosphere by 2050.
  5. Then we give away all our new technology for free to everyone.

That’s basically it. Naturally you want some evidence that I’m right about all this stuff, and for that you have to read my full piece in the current issue of the magazine. Click here for all the grim and gritty details.

9) Interesting piece arguing that John Roberts will have far more say in the conduct of the impeachment trial than we realize.  And, certainly, better him than McConnell.

10) Now this is cool science, “What a 5,700-Year-Old Wad of Chewed Gum Reveals About Ancient People and Their Bacteria”

When hunter-gatherers living in what is now southern Denmark broke down pieces of birch bark into sticky, black tar about 5,700 years ago, they almost certainly didn’t realize that they were leaving future scientists their entire DNA.

Ancient people used the gooey birch pitch to fix arrowheads onto arrows and to repair a variety of stone tools. When it started to solidify, they rolled the pitch in their mouths and chewed on it, like some sort of primitive bubble gum. Chewing on birch pitch would have made it pliable again for using on tools.

It might have also relieved toothaches because of the antiseptic oils in the gum. It’s possible that children also used it recreationally, much like modern humans do today. When they spat the gum out, the same antiseptic properties helped preserve the DNA in their saliva.

The ancient DNA, described in a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications, is especially valuable because few human bones from the Mesolithic and Neolithic Stone Ages have been found in Scandinavia. DNA from the chewed-up gum provides clues about the people who settled in the area, the kind of food they ate and even the type of bacteria they carried on their teeth.

11) In light of UNC’s absurd Board of Governor’s settlement with Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Daily Tarheel takes a really interesting look at internal conflict within the organization (which, in many ways is basically a biker gang!)

The members who spoke with the DTH alleged financial improprieties among SCV leadership, referenced intermingling with gangs and hate groups, and described threats and slurs that have been issued toward members who raise questions.

One member said he joined the SCV within the last decade after learning about his family tree and gaining a newfound appreciation for his Confederate ancestors. But he described an increasingly “scary” presence within the group in the time since.

“I do not like Nazis,” he said. “My uncle and my great grandpa went over there to kill Nazis. I don’t like none of that crap, and some of these guys, for some reason, that draws them to something.”

Stone revealed to SCV members in a Nov. 27 email that months of secret dealings with members of the UNC System Board of Governors had preceded a settlement he “never dreamed we could accomplish… and all at the expense of the University itself.”

Disgruntled members are expressing desires to squash the deal and give the money back. A common fear they shared is that the current deal will empower what they see as the SCV’s most problematic wing: the mechanized cavalry, a nationwide special interest group of motorcycle-riding members which Stone has helmed for around 10 years.

The Silent Sam settlement could lead to UNC System money funding a new headquarters and museum that one member predicts will have “racist overtones” and further enable a nefarious transition.

“Kevin Stone is no more interested in Silent Sam and what it stands for than the man on the moon,” the member said. “He sees this money as a pot of gold to build himself and his biker gang a massive headquarters.”

Stone did not respond to a request for comment.

12) NYT on the “fake meat” versus “real meat” wars.  We recently started purchasing the “fresh” version of Beyond Beef.  OMG, it is so good.  Now, this stuff really is revolutionary.  Compared to their frozen crumbles, which are adequate, but leave me craving the real stuff, this is the real deal.  Put this stuff everywhere and I’d happily be a vegetarian.  And, no, of course it’s not health food.  But the animals saved and the carbon not emitted doesn’t really care about that.

The meat industry has a warning for consumers: Beware of plant-based meat.

That is the message behind a marketing campaign by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a public relations firm whose financial supporters have included meat producers and others in the food industry. In recent weeks the group has placed full-page ads in The New York Times and other newspapers raising health concerns about plant-based meat substitutes like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger, which are designed to look, taste and even appear to bleed like real meat.

The ads call them “ultra-processed imitations” with numerous ingredients. “What’s hiding in your plant-based meat?” asks one ad featuring a sad face made of two patties and sausage. Another directs readers to a site that compares plant-based burgers to dog food. In November, the group’s managing director, Will Coggin, wrote an opinion piece in USA Today that labeled fake meats as ultra-processed foods that can spur weight gain, although the research on processed foods has not included plant-based meats. A few days later, the center’s executive director, Rick Berman, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal criticizing plant-based meats as highly processed and no healthier than meat. Its headline: “‘Plant-Based Meat’ Is All Hat and No Cattle.”

Bloomberg changes everything!

Kidding.  Of course he doesn’t.

Apparently part of his massive effort to light his money on fire rather than spending it in ways that would actually help defeat Trump will include a big ad buy in NC.  So, I got to talk about it on the local news.  I pulled no punches on this one; no “on the other hand…” when it comes to Bloomberg’s chances.  My only regret is that they couldn’t use my quote about Jeb “exclamation point” and his failed 2016 effort despite all his money.

Also, wasn’t sure how the shirt I was randomly wearing when the reporter emailed me would work on TV, but I feel pretty good about it.

“To put not too fine a point on it, I think he’s lighting his money on fire,” Steve Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, said Friday. “I think he has virtually no chance.”

Greene said Bloomberg isn’t adding anything new to the Democratic slate aside from his almost bottomless pockets.

“You just cannot buy yourself an election, especially in primaries,” he said.

Bloomberg appears to be skipping the early primary states entirely, Greene says, hoping that a money bomb in Super Tuesday states could net him enough Democratic delegates – 40 percent of total delegates are up for grabs in 14 primaries from Maine to California – to make him a serious contender.

But that strategy historically doesn’t work, Greene said, adding that Democrats don’t seem excited about Bloomberg’s late entry anyway.

“I’ve seen no signs of support of the grassroots, and without that kind of support, the media’s not going to be paying any attention to him, no matter how much money he spends,” he said.

“The state of the race in North Carolina on March 3 is going to be different based on what happens in Iowa, based on what happens in New Hampshire,” he added. “The idea that you can kind of ignore things that come before and just say, ‘OK, I’m going to spend a lot of money’ just really flies in the face of reality and history.”


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