White people vs. democracy

I’d prefer that interesting social science actually be peer-reviewed before it gets widely disseminated by NBC News website.  But, this is pretty cool research and certainly seems to comport well with what we know.  Anyway, here’s the not-all-that-surprising and plenty disturbing stuff:

A new study, however, suggests that the main threat to our democracy may not be the hardening of political ideology, but rather the hardening of one particular political ideology. Political scientists Steven V. Miller of Clemson and Nicholas T. Davis of Texas A&M have released a working paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.” Their study finds a correlation between white American’s intolerance, and support for authoritarian rule. In other words, when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

In other words, when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

Miller and Davis used information from the World Values Survey, a research project organized by a worldwide network of social scientists which polls individuals in numerous countries on a wide range of beliefs and values. Based on surveys from the United States, the authors found that white people who did not want to have immigrants or people of different races living next door to them were more likely to be supportive of authoritarianism. For instance, people who said they did not want to live next door to immigrants or to people of another race were more supportive of the idea of military rule, or of a strongman-type leader who could ignore legislatures and election results.

The World Values Survey data used is from the period 1995 to 2011 — well before Donald Trump’s 2016 run for president. It suggests, though, that Trump’s bigotry and his authoritarianism are not separate problems, but are intertwined. When Trump calls Mexicans “rapists,” and when he praises authoritarian leaders, he is appealing to the same voters…

Trump’s rise is often presented as a major break with the past, and as a repudiation of American values and democratic commitments. But in an email, Miller pointed out that white intolerance has long served as an excuse for, and a spark for, authoritarian measures.

“People are fond of the Framers’ grand vision of liberty and equality for all,” Miller says, “but the beauty of the Federalist papers can’t paper over the real measures of exclusion that were baked into their understanding of a limited franchise.”

Black people, Asians, Native Americans and women were prevented from voting for significant stretches of American history. America’s tradition of democracy (for some) exists alongside a tradition of authoritarianism (for some). The survey data doesn’t show people rejecting American traditions, then, Miller says, so much as it shows “a preference for the sort of white-ethnocentrism that imbued much of the functional form of democracy for the better part of two centuries.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Great stuff from Jon Bernstein on how Trump, regardless of what’s in his heart, is acting like a president who doesn’t care about being re-elected.  And that’s a big part of why he’s performing so poorly.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that President Donald Trump has simply stopped dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, and has no particular plan for confronting its economic fallout either. In both cases, he’s pretty much substituted wishful thinking for action. The Atlantic’s David Graham had a good item about this disengagement earlier in the week, followed by one from Ezra Klein arguing that “the White House does not have a plan, it does not have a framework, it does not have a philosophy, and it does not have a goal.”

What surprised me was political scientist Lee Drutman’s conclusion, based on Klein’s article, that “the debate over what to do has polarized with depressing haste, because ‘winning’ in Washington is not defeating the virus, but winning the next election.” I argued a bit with Drutman on Twitter about this, but it’s worth a longer discussion. My basic sense is that Trump isn’t nearly concerned enough with winning re-election, and that the current catastrophe is in part a consequence of that.

There’s no way to know what’s really in the president’s mind. But we can compare his actions with what a president determined to be re-elected would probably do. A lot of Trump’s critics have claimed that he’s deliberately risking American lives by boosting the economy to improve his chances in November. And it’s true that he seems concerned mainly with re-opening businesses these days. But there are at least two reasons to doubt that this preference is due to the election. For one, public-health experts and economists broadly agree that opening too soon will be a disaster. For another, even if there is a trade-off, there’s no particular reason to think that restoring jobs at the cost of more illness and death will be a good electoral deal for Trump.

At any rate, the evidence that Trump has an economic plan is just as weak as the evidence that he’s engaged in dealing with the coronavirus.

What I think is more likely is that Trump simply isn’t finding this aspect of the presidency very much fun. You might remember when President George H.W. Bush declared that he didn’t like broccoli: “And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!” Trump acts this way about doing most of the mundane jobs of the presidency. Thus his newly invented scandal, “Obamagate.” As the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser points out: “For Trump, spending the week attacking Obama, no matter what the subject, is the political equivalent of retreating to his bedroom and hiding under the blanket. It’s his safe space, his comfort zone.” Except it’s not so much a political equivalent as it is a retreat from politics altogether, along with the duties and responsibilities of his office.

A politician who desperately wanted re-election would’ve been hard at work, from the moment he or she was alerted to the danger, attempting to contain the pandemic and limit the economic damage, and would persevere no matter what the setbacks, never wavering in an effort to produce the policy results that might lead to a big win in November. Such presidents might sacrifice the long term for the short term, as Lyndon Johnson did in goosing the economy in 1964, or Richard Nixon did in 1972. But they would never just give up when things went wrong.

That’s not this president. That’s not Donald Trump.

2) I’m increasingly of the belief that talking is a major factor in spreading Covid-19.  Want to talk to somebody indoors?  Wear a mask– period.

3) This personal essay from Political Science professor, Dannagal Young is soooo good, “I was a conspiracy theorist, too: I know why people turn to conspiracy theories in uncertain times. I did the same when my husband had a brain tumor.”

4) Why the hell are we still sticking absurdly long swabs all the way through your nose to the throat?!  If you fly into Hong Kong, you self-administer a saliva test.

5) Good twitter thread on indoor Covid transmission.  Stop talking and wear a mask.

6) I really think a lot of the “oh, not, we’re not going to have immunity is needless fearmongering.’  The latest, “T cells found in COVID-19 patients ‘bode well’ for long-term immunity”

7) Lots of new reporting casting doubt on Tara Reade.  To me, “believe women” means take them seriously.  I long ago took her claims seriously and decided that they were probably not true.  Chait summarizes the current state of the case.  I have no doubt Bernie dead-enders will not give up on this (it’s coming from there, not the Republicans), but I think this will largely fade away.

8) You think it’s tough at their for regular journalists (it is)?  But, damn, sports journalists these days.  I love good sports journalism (though, there’s so much mediocre), so this really sad.

Sports journalism, once a mainstay of daily newspapers and local TV news across the country, already was teetering from the upheavals of the digital era. But while many news organizations have taken a severe financial hit in recent months, sports departments have been devastated by the novel coronavirus, which has wiped out sports schedules and media advertising revenue virtually simultaneously.

Furloughs and layoffs have hit sports staffs seemingly everywhere, from the Miner in Kingman, Ariz., to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review to the New York Post. Sports Illustrated cut nine employees, further gutting its staff after some 40 editorial employees were let go last year. Even onetime digital darlings such as SB Nation, one of the earliest and most successful sports websites, have not been immune. The Vox-owned outlet announced furloughs in April affecting nearly its entire staff of national writers.

“We face a new reality, precipitated by the pandemic. To achieve necessary cost savings … there will be consequences to people’s income and livelihood resulting from the actions we are implementing today,” Jim Bankoff, the CEO of Vox Media, said in a memo to staff.

Without live games for the foreseeable future, the grim new reality has forced many in sports journalism to confront difficult questions about what their storied profession will look like even when they do resume — from what kind of budgets they will have to work with to what kind of access they will have to coaches and players.

9) Tom Pepinsky ran the regression models on wearing a mask and, “Yes, wearing a mask is partisan now.”

As a continuing part my collaborative work on the politics of COVID-19 in the United States with Shana Gadarian and Sara Goodman, we recently asked a random, representative sample of 2400 Americans if they are wearing masks in public. Here is what we found from logistic regressions that adjust for a full set of dummies for age, race, gender, marital status, income, education, urban-rural, and state fixed effects.














Adjusting for those differences, Democrats are more than 20 percentage points more likely than Republicans to (75% versus 53%) to report wearing masks in public.

10) Some cool social science, “The effect of messaging and gender on intentions to wear a face covering to slow down COVID-19 transmission”

We find that men less than women intend to wear a face covering, but this difference almost disappears in counties where wearing a face covering is mandatory. We also find that men less than women believe that they will be seriously affected by the coronavirus, and this partly mediates gender differences in intentions to wear a face covering (this is particularly ironic because official statistics actually show that men are affected by the COVID-19 more seriously than women). Finally, we also find gender differences in self-reported negative emotions felt when wearing a face covering. Men more than women agree that wearing a face covering is shameful, not cool, a sign of weakness, and a stigma; and these gender differences also mediate gender differences in intentions to wear a face covering.

Men are sooooo lame!

11) On the Michael Flynn case, Drum is so right on this whole “perjury trap” issue:

Are you wondering why I haven’t said anything yet about the Mike Flynn affair? It’s simple: I don’t care. Flynn is a minor player in a minor tiff that happened three years ago. It barely even matters who’s “right.” Here’s all you really need to know:

  • When the FBI asked Flynn about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, Flynn lied about them. That’s a felony.
  • Now the Department of Justice says the FBI was out of line even asking about this. It was just a setup. Therefore the charges should be dropped.

Fine. Like I said, I don’t really care if Mike Flynn goes to jail. Still, I have a question. The Justice Department is basically saying the FBI engaged in a perjury trap. That is, they surprised Flynn with questions he wasn’t expecting in hopes of getting him to lie. Then they’ve got him on charges of lying to a federal agent.

So here’s my question: the FBI does this all the time. It’s loathsome behavior, and I would be delighted if the Flynn case led to a wholesale reckoning with perjury traps. But I don’t think that’s in the cards. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the Justice Department has never in its history pulled back from a perjury trap voluntarily and announced that they’re really sorry it happened. Have they?

12) Dahlia Lithwick, “Refusing to Wear a Mask Is a Uniquely American Pathology: The obsession with individualism and the misinterpretation of constitutional freedom collide into a germy mess”

 As Lydia Denworth put it in Scientific Americanone of the reasons the wearing of masks has never become a norm in America is that the impulse to think collectively about disease was never necessarily fully integrated: “The point is that masks do not just protect the wearer, they protect others. Such community-minded thinking fits with collectivist cultural norms in some parts of Asia, where masks are routinely worn when one is sick—and where there is more experience with serious epidemics.”

This may even explain why some root their refusal to cover up in religious arguments, also swept in under the First Amendment. An Ohio lawmaker, Republican state Rep. Nino Vitale, declined to wear the mask required by his state’s Department of Health director, because, as he explained in a Facebook post last week, “This is the greatest nation on earth founded on Judeo-Christian principles. One of those principles is that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. That image is seen the most by our face. I will not wear a mask.” His logic was uniquely illogical: “No one is stopping anybody from wearing a face mask. But quite frankly everyone else’s freedom ends at the tip of my nose. You’re not going to tell me what to do and there’s a lot of people that feel that way.” The idea that God wants to see our faces so very badly that we should be allowed to harm and possibly kill everyone with whom we come in contact is a uniquely self-regarding view of religious faith. But if one believes that the self is the only meaningful actor in a democracy, or a theocracy, it perhaps stands to reason…

The simplest explanation for the insistence that wearing masks is for thee, but not for me, rests in the fundamental narcissism of Donald Trump, and the booming cottage industry on the part of right-wing media in so-called vice-signaling—the performative acting out of malice and cruelty toward the weak. The more complicated answer, it seems, is that in a country founded on a long mythology of the Lone Ranger, Batman, Zorro, and Captain America, the mask has somehow come to signal invisibility, and the death of rugged individualism—perhaps even more so because everyone is now wearing one. For those who have come to feel devalued, degraded, left behind, or shunted aside, being asked to hide one’s face must be the ultimate act of public cruelty. If we have come to believe that each of us is only as important as our ability to be seen and heard, the mask must make that erasure complete. It’s not just the toxic myth of rugged individuals pitted against government and the weak that is gutting us. It’s the poisonous notion that unless we are being seen acting out rugged individualism, we don’t even exist.

13) Good and important stuff from Greg Sargent,

The latest developments in the Michael Flynn case should prompt us to revisit one of the most glaring failures in political journalism, one that lends credibility to baseless narratives pushed for purely instrumental purposes, perversely rewarding bad-faith actors in the process.

News accounts constantly claim with no basis that new information “boosts” or “lends ammunition” to a particular political attack, or “raises new questions” about its target. These journalistic conventions are so all-pervasive that we barely notice them.

But they’re extremely pernicious, and they need to stop. They both reflect and grotesquely amplify a tendency that badly misleads readers. That happened widely in 2016, to President Trump’s great benefit. It’s now happening again.

Republican senators have just released a declassified list of Obama administration officials — including Trump opponent Joe Biden — who requested information that ended up “unmasking” Flynn during the transition.

Trump and his campaign have seized on this to further their claim that the Russia investigation was corrupt, and that Biden was key to that. Trump rails that this “unmasking is a massive thing” that raises new questions about Biden’s role.

Meanwhile, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale insists this illustrates “the depth of Biden’s involvement in the setup of Gen. Flynn to further the Russia collusion hoax.”

This is steaming nonsense. But news accounts are reporting on this in purportedly objective ways that subtly place an editorial thumb on the scale in favor of those attacks.

For instance, the Associated Press ran this headline: “Flynn case boosts Trump’s bid to undo Russia probe narrative.” Axios told us:
Biden’s presence on the list could turn it into an election year issue, though the document itself does not show any evidence of wrongdoing.

CNN informed us that this is “the latest salvo to discredit the FBI’s Russia investigation and accuse the previous administration of wrongdoing.” …

But here’s the problem: These formulations do not constitute a neutral transmission of information, even though they are supposed to come across that way.

The new information actually does not “boost” Trump’s claims about the Russia investigation or “discredit” it. And if there is “no evidence of wrongdoing,” then it cannot legitimately be “turned into an election issue.”

There’s no way to neutrally assert that new info “boosts” an attack or constitutes a “salvo” or is “becoming an issue.” The information is being used in a fashion that is either legitimate or not, based on the known facts. Such pronouncements in a from-on-high tone of journalistic objectivity lend the dishonest weaponizing of new info an aura of credibility.

14) This 538 piece really annoyed me, “Why Some Democrats May Be Willing To Look Past The Allegation Against Biden: Democrats aren’t uniformly progressive on #MeToo issues.”  It offered a number of theories, but never even broached the fact that Tara Reade’s credibility is extremely problematic.  You can be for #metoo, think we need to do more to believe women, and also think that the balance of the evidence suggests that Tara Reade is not being truthful.

Trump: annointed by God

Another great piece from Thomas Edsall bringing together all the latest social science on Trump, religion, and the right-wing media echo chamber.  Lots of good stuff, but, damn, did this intro jump out at me.  Yes, I know that American white conservative Evangelicals are the worst, but wow:

In less than a year, from May 2019 to March 2020, the share of weekly church-attending white Protestants convinced that Donald Trump was anointed by God to be president grew from 29.6 percent to 49.5 percent.

This finding — based on direct responses to the question: “How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Donald Trump was anointed by God to become president of the United States” — comes from surveys conducted by Paul A. Djupe and Ryan Burge, political scientists at Dennison and Eastern Illinois Universities. Their study illuminates the depth of quasi-religious devotion to Trump among key segments of the population…

The study by Paul Djupe and Ryan Burge I mentioned at the outset demonstrates how the belief that Trump was anointed by God to be president rises in direct proportion to the frequency with which ministers raise “political speech topics.” These topics include immigration, gun rights, impeachment, same-sex marriage and abortion…

While elite “right wing media are having a profound effect on public opinion, serving to insulate Trump supporters,” Djupe and Burge write, the process is also “built and sustained from the bottom up. That is, political churches, among Republicans especially, reinforce the argumentation that is also coming from above.”

While most acute among white evangelical Republicans, Djupe and Burge continue, belief in the divine sanction “of the presidency is swelling across the board for the religious” of all faiths.

David Kreiss, a professor of journalism and the media at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, suggested in an email that there has been a dramatic shift in the political environment over the past 12 years:

What has changed between 2008 and 2020 on the right is the emergence of a vast extended network of digital and other media that is designed to strengthen the collective identity of the right and its constituent groups and generate internally consistent narratives and ideas about politics.

The conservative media, he continued, is

designed to create that self-referential universe. It exists to not only deflect criticism but literally to create new narratives of Trump (such as transforming his handling of the virus into a success), and to strengthen political and social divisions, undermine opponents, and provide people with identity and ideational resources to refute counter-narratives.

The 2020 election, Kreiss predicted, will be “a big test of whether empirical reality will outweigh motivated partisan reasoning.”

Hell of a country we’ve got here these days.

Quick hits

Look, it’s not all Covid edition.

1) Some interesting new social science:

We propose an explanation for the most prevalent form of democratic breakdown after the Cold War: the subversion of democracy by incumbents. In both democratization research and democracy promotion practice, the public is assumed to serve as a check on incumbents’ temptations to subvert democracy. We explain why this check fails in polarized societies. When polarization is high, voters have a strong preference for their favorite candidate, which makes it costly for them to punish an incumbent by voting for a challenger. Incumbents exploit this lack of credible punishment by manipulating the democratic process in their favor. Our analysis of an original survey experiment conducted in Venezuela demonstrates that voters in polarized societies are indeed willing to trade off democratic principles for partisan interests and that their willingness to do so increases in the intensity of their partisanship. These findings suggest the need to re-evaluate conventional measures of support for democracy and provide an answer to a fundamental question about its survival: When can we expect the public to serve as a check on the authoritarian temptations of elected politicians?

2) Ezra Klein on Congressional Democrats:

In my conversations with congressional Democrats, they bristled at the idea that they should take the zero-sum approach to policymaking that they perceive Republicans as having taken when Obama was president.

“There is enormous suffering, and if we do not respond with the boldness and the scale that this crisis demands, then that suffering will continue,” says Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). “I think it’s important for us to not allow ourselves to be pulled into a place where we don’t define the agenda, given that we are in the position of really defining where the solution is going to land.”

For Democrats, an ideological asymmetry has become a strategic asymmetry. Democrats want to convince the country of the government’s worth. Republicans want to convince the country of the government’s worthlessness. If Washington collapses into dysfunction and paralysis now, when the country needs it most, congressional liberals don’t see that as helping their long-term effort to rebuild trust in public institutions.

“It’s like the old saying that Republicans believe the government is incompetent and then get elected and prove it,” says Schatz. “They don’t want the federal government to work and we do. That’s what’s going on here, and I don’t have a quick, facile solution to it. If we engage in a zero-sum game, we’ll just accelerate the death spiral that is Grover Norquist and Mitch McConnell and the Koch brothers’ dream.”

3) Eric Boehlert on the press and Biden and Tara Reade:

Rushing to anoint the “hypocrite” label to Joe Biden, large parts of the Beltway media are stressing that a 27-year-old allegation of sexual assault against Biden is an awful lot like the decades-old allegations that were lodged against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing in 2018. At the time, Debra Ramirez and Christine Blasey Ford offered detailed accounts of being assaulted by Kavanaugh in high school and in college. The claim today is that if Democrats didn’t believe Kavanaugh’s denials then, how can they believe Biden now, and aren’t they playing politics with claims of sexual assault?

Insisting the two cases are the same, the press wants to portray the Biden story as a case of the #MeToo movement boomeranging on Democrats, revealing them as being two-faced. There’s a huge hole in this comparison. Unlike Kavanaugh, Biden hasn’t lied about almost every facet of the distant claim of sexual assault the way the Republican jurist did. Kavanaugh shattered all precedent and falsified his way through his confirmation hearing, likely perjuring himself in the process.

In order to secure his lifetime appointment to the Court, and facing specific, multiple and credible allegations of sexual assault, Kavanaugh lied about witnesses; he lied about corroboration; he lied about friendships; he lied about parties. He also lied about Maryland’s drinking agevomiting, his yearbook, his accusers, Yale, and drinking — he lied about that a lot. (Separately during his confirmation hearing Kavanaugh lied about his childhoodfederal judges, warrantless wiretaps, his nomination selection, and stolen emails.) “Republicans know Brett Kavanaugh lied under oath,” Armanda Marcotte wrote at Salon. “They just don’t care.”

That’s the simple truth about what happened with Kavanaugh. But journalists today who are trying to tag Biden and Democrats as hypocrites forcefully ignore that central fact…

Why is the D.C. press today glossing over the fact that Kavanaugh lied his way his confirmation hearings? They’re just being consistent. The sad fact is much of the press glossed over Kavanaugh’s lying in real time, back in 2018. (“Kavanaugh Lies His Way Through Confirmation” was not a common headline.) Committed to the premise that Republicans are mirror opposites Democrats, they just occupy a different spot on the political spectrum, the Beltway press for the last decade has refused to acknowledge how radical the modern day GOP has become, and specifically under Trump how the party now revolves around ceaseless lying.

Flashback to 2017, when Republicans were yet again trying to kill Obamacare, and trying to do it by offering up their own alternative: What unfolded was likely the first time a political party try to pass landmark social policy legislation by categorically misstating almost every key claim about the bill. No, the GOP House bill did not protect people with pre-existing conditions. It did not protect older Americans from increased insurance costs. It did not mean everyone would be charged the same for insurance. And the bill wasn’t “bipartisan.”

4) Good stuff on how brand names become generic.

5) Covid in nursing homes is a huge problem.  Jon Cohn on what to do about it.

6) This is quite good, “10 key lessons for the future to be learned from fighting Covid-19”

7) Every time you think you can find a pattern across countries that explains Covid there’s another country that breaks the damn pattern.  It’s really tough.  A simple vesion:

8) Really, really interesting piece on how the discovery of germs transformed parenting— in a bad way!  And great references to a terrific work of non-fiction, Deborah Blum’s Love at Goon Park:

The dread of an unclean kitchen carried into the nursery. Deborah Blum, in her book “Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection,” says physicians began to warn mothers and other caretakers about the risk of any physical affection.

John B. Watson, a preeminent psychologist in the early 20th century and president of the American Psychological Association, went so far as to tell parents that showing physical affection to a child could have harmful psychological effects.

“When you are tempted to pet your child, remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument,” Blum quotes him as saying. Watson warned of “serious rocks ahead for the over-kissed child.”

Watson’s behaviorist views — built on the Pavlovian notion that much of human and animal behavior is reflexively conditioned by stimulus and reward — reflected a widespread belief that the bond between mother and child arose only from a need for food. A child needed a sterilized bottle of milk from his caretaker and little more, or so the thinking went.

“All of it, the lurking fears of infection, the saving graces of hygiene, the fears of ruining a child by affection, the selling of science, the desire of parents to learn from the experts, all came together to create one of the chilliest possible periods in child-rearing,” Blum writes.

For the record, the wire monkey experiments saved us.

9) So, this was kind of interesting, “What Makes People Charismatic, and How You Can Be, Too” but having been around some genuinely charismatic people they are overdoing in on how much you can learn to be yourself.

The first pillar, presence, involves residing in the moment. When you find your attention slipping while speaking to someone, refocus by centering yourself. Pay attention to the sounds in the environment, your breath and the subtle sensations in your body — the tingles that start in your toes and radiate throughout your frame.

Power, the second pillar, involves breaking down self-imposed barriers rather than achieving higher status. It’s about lifting the stigma that comes with the success you’ve already earned. Impostor syndrome, as it’s known, is the prevalent fear that you’re not worthy of the position you’re in. The higher up the ladder you climb, the more prevalent the feeling becomes.

The key to this pillar is to remove self-doubt, assuring yourself that you belong and that your skills and passions are valuable and interesting to others. It’s easier said than done.

The third pillar, warmth, is a little harder to fake. This one requires you to radiate a certain kind of vibe that signals kindness and acceptance. It’s the sort of feeling you might get from a close relative or a dear friend. It’s tricky, considering those who excel here are people who invoke this feeling in others, even when they’ve just met.

The truth is, immodestly, I do pretty well on all of these.  But I don’t actually consider myself a particularly charismatic person (again, having been around some people who just radiate charisma) so I really do think there’s something ineffable not captured here.

10) Good stuff from Matt Grossman, “Missing Conservatism? Just Wait for a Democratic President”

But if history is a guide, conservatism will rise again under a new Democratic president — featuring the same concerns about overweening government, accelerating social change and American decline. Liberals will cry hypocrisy as Republicans complain about spending under a Democrat, but the pattern reflects the unique form that American conservatism takes: as a reactionary backlash rather than an alternative governing platform.

The conservative movement has perennially stimulated resistance to liberalism, frequently incorporating new cultural issues and voters. But conservatives have been unable to guide Republican presidents to implement a policy agenda beyond lowering taxes and building the military. Despite gaining working-class constituencies, Republicans are not offering tangible solutions to rural poverty, family breakdown, rising drug addiction or deindustrialization.

Yet Republicans should have no trouble reinterpreting the current moment. Even if Mr. Trump is encouraged today, he may later be accused of departing from orthodoxy. A future Mike Pence campaign can simultaneously sell the nationalist pride he shares with Mr. Trump, his disappointment at some betrayals of conservative principles and his commitment to finally follow through. The same plan of resurgence has worked for generations.

11) Pretty good evidence that investing in air conditioning in schools would make a nice contribution to student learning.

12) Great stuff from David Wallace-Wells:

By March 30, the overwhelming majority of U.S. states had issued stay-at-home directions — in many cases, those directions had already been in place for weeks. Which means that by April 30, one month later, anyone who had caught the disease before the lockdowns began should have already passed through the entire life cycle of the disease, either recovering or dying, and that all the new cases we are currently seeing are the result of infections since the shutdown. On April 30, after a month in which new cases ranged between 25,000 and 30,000, there were 29,500 new reported cases.

In all likelihood, the future course of the disease won’t follow an unmitigated trajectory — at least some amount of additional testing will allow us to control the spread a little more effectively, and presumably treatments will arrive that will at least lessen the lethality of the disease somewhat, if not dramatically. And so it is possible, perhaps even probable, that we will not again exceed the peak of daily deaths reached just this week, even after “opening up” — that social-distancing guidelines, phased reopening, better hygienic practices, and improving treatments will keep the total number of cases at any one time from surpassing that 2,700-per-day figure. But while they have dominated talk about the state of COVID so far, peaks are most important when assessing how acute a medical crisis is or will become, and especially how best to plan for and allocate care. The total volume of cases is a much more significant signal in terms of the ultimate toll of the disease — that is, not the height of the curve at its peak but the area underneath the curve as it stretches out not just through the summer but into the fall and possibly into 2021 and even 2022.

13) So there’s basically a Chinese black-market version of Remdesivir that is amazingly effective in curing cats from an otherwise deadly feline coronavirus.  Seriously.  But remdesivir won’t submit it for approval for this:

According to Pedersen, Gilead worried that the cat research could impede the approval process for remdesivir. Because GS-441524 and remdesivir are so similar, any adverse effects uncovered in cats might have to be reported and investigated to guarantee remdesivir’s safety in humans. Gilead’s caution about generating unnecessary cat data is standard industry practice. “One of the rules in drug development is never perform a test you don’t have to, if the results could be problematic,” says Richard Sachleben, a retired pharma-industry researcher. (Gilead declined to comment for this story.)

For Pedersen, the explanation was hard to accept. “It was a blow,” he said. “It hits you very hard, especially when you didn’t see any reason for it.” He still published the studies, as academic researchers do, and results became public in 2018 and 2019.

14) I just now came across this from December, but, oh man is this NYT magazine feature on avalanche school so good.  Basically comes down to people get killed in avalanches not because of snow, but because of cognitive biases.

15) Elizabeth Rosenthal is the best health care reporter out there for my money (really, you just have to read American Sickness) so when she writes about what Covid has to say about America’s health care system, you should read it:

Our system requires every player — from insurers to hospitals to the pharmaceutical industry to doctors — be financially self-sustaining, to have a profitable business model. As such it excels at expensive specialty care. But there’s no return on investment in being primed and positioned for the possibility of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Combine that with an administration unwilling to intervene to force businesses to act en masse to resolve a public health crisis like this, and you get what we got: a messy, uncoordinated under-response, defined by shortages and finger-pointing.

No institutional players — not hospitals, not manufacturers of ventilators, masks, tests or drugs — saw it as their place to address the Covid-19 train coming down the tracks. Meanwhile, the Trump administration, loath to deploy the Defense Production Act, did so only sparingly and slowly, mostly relying on back channel arm-twisting and “incentives” like forgiving liability to get business buy in. That’s because in the current iteration of American health care, tens of thousands of people dying is not incentive enough.

Let’s look at the failures…

In the past quarter-century, we have evolved a reimbursement system that showers cash on elective and specialty care and discourages hospitals from serving the health needs of society. That is true even though two-thirds of our hospitals are tax exempt because they — in theory — perform community benefit. In a functioning health system, pandemic preparedness and response would be part of the expected job. In the 1980s when H.I.V./AIDS was overwhelming hospitals in New York, treating those patients was simply part of each system’s obligation — though some did so far better than others.

All this doesn’t necessarily mean that we need a government-run health system or should eliminate all market influence in health care. In fact, Medicare for All would not by itself solve the above problems, since it’s mostly a payment system that largely relies on providers to come through with services when needed.

But the Covid-19 stress test has laid bare a market that is broken, lacking the ability to attend to the public health at a time of desperate need and with a government unwilling — in some ways unable — to force it to do so. This time around, thousands of stalwart medical professionals have answered the call to treat the ill, doing their best to plug the longstanding holes that the pandemic has revealed.

Whether it’s regulated or run by the government, or motivated by new incentives, the system we need is one that responds more to illness and less to profits.

16) Thomas Edsall asks why isn’t a wannabe authoritarian “riding high” amidst the pandemic.  Because, Trump is is just amazingly awful at being pesident.  So, so bad.  Also, as much as he has authoritarian tendencies (a lot) he’s even more averse to learning and hard work, which, presumably, helps those with authoritarian tendencies succeed.

17) Great NYT interactive feature looking at how safe various establishments (e.g., gym vs. coffee shop) are depending on how crowded and how long people stay.  Also, on a per/sq foot basis, Chik-Fil-A does killer business.

18) I don’t believe Tara Reade, but even if I did, I would soooo be with Linda Hirshman, “I Believe Tara Reade. I’m Voting for Joe Biden Anyway.”

Suck it up and make the utilitarian bargain.

All major Democratic Party figures have indicated they’re not budging on the presumptive nominee, and the transaction costs of replacing him would be suicidal. Barring some miracle, it’s going to be Mr. Biden.

So what is the greatest good or the greatest harm? Mr. Biden, and the Democrats he may carry with him into government, are likely to do more good for women and the nation than his competition, the worst president in the history of the Republic. Compared with the good Mr. Biden can do, the cost of dismissing Tara Reade — and, worse, weakening the voices of future survivors — is worth it. And don’t call me an amoral realist. Utilitarianism is not a moral abdication; it is a moral stance.

Utilitarianism arose from the Industrial Revolution, a time of terrible economic inequality and abuse. It was intended to make a moral claim for the equality of all creatures who can feel pain and experience pleasure.

Weigh it: Don’t a few extra cents for each worker matter more than the marginal dollar for the boss? Weigh it: Won’t the good for all the Americans who will benefit from replacing Donald Trump with Joe Biden, including the masses of women who will get some crumbs, count for more than the harm done to the victims of abuse?

19) Be an optimist and live longer!  Ummm, hooray for me, but I didn’t actually choose to be this way.  But, I’ll happy take it when I’m 85+ :-).

20) So this was really cool: “There’s Something Special About the Sun: It’s a Bit Boring:The sun seems a little less active than hundreds of similar stars in our galaxy, which could play a role in why life exists in our solar system.”

21) Birds are smart.  And the smartest birds are the most flexible ones.

Rufous treepies, birds in the crow family native to South and Southeast Asia, usually eat insects, seeds or fruits. But some of them have learned to eat fire.

Well, not exactly, but close. At a small temple in the Indian state of Gujarat, the caretakers regularly set out small votive candles made with clarified butter. The birds flit down to steal the candles, extinguish the butter-soaked wicks with a quick shake of their heads and then gulp them down.

This willingness to experiment with new foods and ways of foraging is an indicator of behavioral flexibility, and some scientists think it is evidence that certain species of birds might be less vulnerable to extinction.

“The idea is that if a species has individuals that are capable of these novel behaviors, they’ll respond with changes in their behavior more easily than individuals from species that do not tend to produce novel behaviors like that,” said Louis Lefebvre, a professor at McGill University in Montreal and an author on the study. “The idea is pretty simple. The problem was to be able to test it in a convincing way.”

22) If you can stand to face the horror head-on, “34 days of pandemic: Inside Trump’s desperate attempts to reopen America”

We need social science to save us

So, I had to make a brief trip to campus today (first time in five weeks) and I was so happy to see my beloved pizza place was still open and doing okay (not great, but hanging in).  Had a nice chat with my long lost friends who work there, especially about their customers not wearing masks.  Too many.  And here’s what I wrote on FB the other day while re-sharing that great Atlantic article on masks:

Back from the store and feeling a little preachy… if you are in a public, indoor, space, wear masks people!! The evidence suggests masks are very effective for preventing you from infecting others if you are shedding virus and don’t know it. And lots of people are shedding virus and don’t know it.

And my wife talked to her parents tonight who have now decided to go shopping all over the place wearing their cloth masks.  Alas, most other shoppers are not wearing much of anything, so that’s not good for them.

We’ve learned a lot about the disease and how it spreads (though, obviously, still much to learn).  What we have really learned, though, is that we need consistent, appropriate, changes in human behavior to fare as well as we can.  Hey… that’s what social science is for.

So, it’s our job to figure out what message on the door will actually get the vast majority of Slice of NY Pizza customers (and everywhere else, of course) to actually wear a mask. I do think so many people aren’t willfully disregarding others’ safety, but just don’t get it.  How about… “For the safety of our customers who are here to serve you, we ask that, if you can, you please wear a mask”

Not coercive, asking nicely.  But, it makes you feel like a bad person who doesn’t care about the employees health if you don’t.  I’m pretty happy with that.  But that’s just off the top of my head.  No reason we couldn’t do all sorts of real-world A/B tests to see which messages had the most impact.  We also need major restaurants/retailers to very much get on this train.  Mom and pop will be a lot less concerned about putting up a sign like this if they know there’s one at Target and Walmart.

So, let’s make this happen social science community and figure this out as best we can.  To be clear it really is “as best we can” when we have horrible elite cues from horrible people the likes of Trump/Pence, but we know that the right message can absolutely change behavior at the margins.  And those margins are human lives.

Quick hits (part II)

1) From Inside Higher Ed:

While the bulk of the $14 billion set aside for higher education in the CARES Act went to colleges and universities, Congress wanted smaller, specialized institutions, many of them religious in affiliation, to get at least $500,00 in stimulus funds.

Under one grant in the package, schools that didn’t get at least that much from the other parts of the CARES Act will get however much is needed to bring their amount of aid up to $500,000.

The U.S. Department of Education has released how 980 schools will divvy up $321.7 million in stimulus funds.

As Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs, said, “A significant number of schools just won the lottery.”

Among them:

The Institute of Taoist Education and Acupuncture, in Colorado, which had gotten $11,057, will get another $488,943;
The Mid-America College of Funeral Service, in Indiana, will get $490,883;
The Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine, in Florida, will get $481,960;
The Birthingway College of Midwifery, in Oregon, will get $481,960;
The Bergin University of Canine Studies, in California, will get $472,850;
The Hypnosis Motivation Institute, in California, will get $443,457.
A large number of the schools receiving the money appear to be seminaries, rabbinical colleges or theology schools.

They include God’s Bible School and College, in Ohio, which will receive $337,445 of stimulus money.

Ummm, not great.

2) Very intrigued by the potential protective effects of nicotine for Covid.  Considering what smoking does to your lungs, it’s kind of amazing that smokers seem to be substantially less likely to have a severe case of Covid.  Yes, it’s way early, but wouldn’t it be amazing if nicotine were actually an effective treatment (trials underway soon in France).  And, here in Cary, NC, wife totally freaked out at the idea of me buying some nicotine patches just in case :-).

3) Yes, I already knew working in a slaughter house is horrible, but it is also horrible in a way that is perfect for leading to Covid outbreaks.  Given how we treat animals and how we treat workers in slaughterhouses, I’m very glad I have cut back to minimal meat consumption (mostly pepperoni, honestly).  Great first-hand account of working conditions.  This bit just killed me:

(Contacted by The Washington Post about this article, Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance, said the company has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation. “The health and safety of our employees is our top priority at all times,” she said.

Riiiiiight.  That could not be further from the truth which is, profits at virtually any cost to human well-being.

4) So this is interesting, “Scientists know ways to help stop viruses from spreading on airplanes. They’re too late for this pandemic.”

Working with two Boeing engineers and a team of researchers from Purdue, Chen wanted to know how changing an airplane’s ventilation system would affect the risk of contracting SARS, as a stand-in for other dangerous viruses that might emerge.

Their results, published last year, were startling. They found that passengers sitting with a SARS patient in a seven-row section of a Boeing 767 would have a 1-in-3 chance of getting sick from a five-hour flight. On a shorter 737 flight, the risk was 1 in 5.

But they found that changing the existing ventilation system — essentially by having air flow into the cabin from near the floor rather than from above — would make a big difference, cutting the risk by half or more.

Chen said droplets were swept away from passengers more efficiently using alternative systems, one tested by Airbus engineers and another developed by Chen and his team.

One reason: The warmth of the passengers’ bodies helped the flow of air coming up from underneath, since warm air rises, he said. ­Going with that flow, rather than fighting against it, lessened the turbulence that could keep germs on top of passengers.

“We try to not mix your air with your neighbors’, ” Chen said…

Brenner and his team at Columbia have begun testing their special 3-by-3-inch lights against the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 220,000 people worldwide.

One colleague, physicist David Welch, is calibrating exposure from the lamps. Another, Manuela Buonanno, is testing how many viruses survive.

They killed two batches of less-threatening coronaviruses in recent weeks with a very low level of exposure, according to research released Monday, and Brenner said things are looking good so far with the one that causes covid-19.

Brenner believes the technology could address the problem of a virus-spewing airplane passenger.

“You’re sitting there and the guy right behind you sneezes. . . . All the filters in the world aren’t going to help you,” Brenner said. “I think the lamp would potentially deal with that.”

What takes longer is conclusively proving the long-term safety for people exposed to the light, a type of radiation known technically as far-UVC light. Traditional ultraviolet lights are used to clean water supplies and sanitize operating rooms, but only when no people are under them, because they can cause cancer and eye damage.

5) Tom Edsall does his great thing where he talks to a ton of smart political scientists to sum up the field of knowledge in a particularly relevant area– in this case, changing racial attitudes and how best to think about them and measure them:

This coming November, a great deal depends on whether white Democrats are becoming more liberal while white Republicans are simultaneously becoming more conservative.

If white Republicans and white Democrats are moving in opposite directions, as much current research suggests, Trump will retain a constituency receptive — perhaps even more receptive than it was in 2016 — to his racially divisive tactics.

In his 2019 paper, “White People’s Racial Attitudes are Changing to Match Partisanship,” Andrew Engelhardt, a political scientist at Brown, shows a dramatic increase in partisan racial polarization from 2016 to 2018.

“The data show a profound shift in whites’ evaluations of black Americans in just a two-year period,” Engelhardt wrote.

On a scale from zero to 100, ranking levels of racial resentment, the mean for white Democrats fell from 43 to 34. For white Republicans, the mean rose from 71 to 76.

In a more recent paper, “Observational Equivalence in Explaining Attitude Change: Have White Racial Attitudes Genuinely Changed?” Engelhardt answers in the affirmative the question posed in his title…

Poll data, he writes, supports “seeing changes in white racial attitudes as genuine. The decline in Democrats’ racial resentment levels between 2012 and 2016 appears sincere, not cheap talk.” And, Engelhardt contends, there will be significant political and policymaking consequences:

This result means that white Democrats’ political decision-making may increasingly reflect sincere belief-change with them increasingly supporting policies addressing racial inequality and candidates championing the same.

In an email, Engelhardt wrote that

while attitudes people report in surveys may show change that appears genuine, other dimensions of prejudice have not changed — for instance, what is broadly known as implicit bias.

There is a different, perhaps more distant, possibility, however: that everyone is getting more racially liberal, that many white Republicans are, in fact, tracking along with white Democrats and becoming not more conservative, but more liberal. If that’s the case, Trump’s polarizing strategies would be likely to encounter more resistance…

If, as Hopkins and Washington find, whites are abandoning the relatively high levels of prejudice of 2016 in meaningful numbers, and if this decline contributed to Democratic victories in 2018, Trump will face a steeper climb in capitalizing on racial resentment than he did four years ago.

Hopkins followed up by email:

Overall, I do think these results indicate that the share of white Americans who would rally to a general election campaign because of its explicit appeals to racial prejudice is smaller than many political strategists suppose.

The drop since Trump took office in what had been a fairly consistent sense of white racial superiority, according to Hopkins and Washington, would suggest that Trump’s ongoing racial appeals may have crossed a line, potentially endangering his re-election.

6) So, this was seemingly just one more of those interesting NYT science stories that don’t necessarily get much attention.  But, somehow, the invasive species dubbed the Asian Murder Hornet seemed to take over twitter yesterday.  Fascinating and disturbing:

Only later did he come to suspect that the killer was what some researchers simply call the “murder hornet.”

With queens that can grow to two inches long, Asian giant hornets can use mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins to wipe out a honeybee hive in a matter of hours, decapitating the bees and flying away with the thoraxes to feed their young. For larger targets, the hornet’s potent venom and stinger — long enough to puncture a beekeeping suit — make for an excruciating combination that victims have likened to hot metal driving into their skin.

In Japan, the hornets kill up to 50 people a year. Now, for the first time, they have arrived in the United States.

7) Excellent political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Ladd on the real damage done by Republicans actively working to destroy trust in government, science, and media:

Altogether, this three-pronged attack has produced a deeply partisan reaction to the greatest natural threat to humankind in 100 years. A recent Monmouth University poll found that less than 25% of Republicans were “very concerned” about someone in their family becoming seriously ill from coronavirus, compared to almost 60% of Democrats. Over 80% of Republicans said they were somewhat or very confident that the impact of coronavirus would be “limited,” compared to approximately 30% of Democrats. Several states, so far mostly led by Republican governors, such as Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, have already begun to lift their stay-at-home orders, in contradiction to the Trump administration’s own plan for opening up, which calls for states to have falling numbers of new COVID-19 cases for 14 days prior to reopening. Trump makes the problem worse by vacillating day-to-day between supporting his administration’s guidelines and supporting these governors.

Trump’s own distrust of government agencies, scientific experts, and information from the media may have contributed to his administration’s slow response to the crisis, as documented in detailed reports from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and 60 Minutes.

Why Americans’ trust is key to America’s success

American institutions are not perfect, of course. We all should want to improve scientific practices, remove bias from news coverage, and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of government. But a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic highlights the exorbitant costs of undermining trust in media, science, and government for political gain.

People must believe the health advice that they are getting from the CDC and other government agencies who are fighting the crisis. People must receive (and trust) accurate information from major news organizations, rather than rely on rumors and news from fringe websites that their friends might share on social media. Even as states eventually lift stay-at-home orders, people will need to follow expert guidance, transmitted through the media, in order to prevent a resurgence of new cases.

This need not be a partisan topic. Many Republicans and conservatives over the years have been deeply respectful of government professionals, the findings of science, and non-partisan national journalists. But from the beginning of the conservative movement’s takeover of the Republican Party, which started with Barry Goldwater’s nomination in 1964, many in that movement have seen discrediting these institutions as a useful political strategy—a good way to win votes and gain media market share. But this political strategy can have catastrophic consequences when those very institutions are the key to protecting public health and saving lives.

Calling out this long-running, cynical, and ultimately corrosive approach to politics is long overdue. Politicians and media personalities can pursue conservative policies without undermining the public’s trust in the media, science, and government agencies. Now more than ever, they should do that.

8) The reality is that genuinely “opening up” the economy means that schools will need to be open.  We must figure this out for Fall.

9) I had read that, just maybe, the tuberculosis vaccine could prove helpful.  But, I had not read about the concept of “innate immunology” and how the polio vaccine might be helpful, too.  Hopefully, it is, and even if not, pretty interesting stuff.

It’s counterintuitive to think that old vaccines created to fight very different pathogens could defend against the coronavirus. The idea is controversial in part because it challenges the dogma about how vaccines work.

But scientists’ understanding of an arm of immunology known as innate immunity has shifted in recent years. A growing body of research suggests that live vaccines, which are made from living but attenuated pathogens (as opposed to inactivated vaccines, which use dead pathogens) provide broad protection against infections in ways that no one anticipated.

“We can’t be certain as to what the outcome will be, but I suspect it’ll have an effect” on the coronavirus, said Jeffrey Cirillo, a microbiologist and immunologist at Texas A&M University who is leading one of the B.C.G. trials. “Question is, how big will it be?”

Scientists stress that these vaccines will not be a panacea. They might make symptoms milder, but they probably won’t eliminate them. And the protection, if it occurs, would most likely last only a few years.

Still, “these could be a first step,” said Dr. Mihai Netea, an immunologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands who is leading another one of the trials. “They can be the bridge until you have the time to develop a specific vaccine.”…

The W.H.O. has long been skeptical about these “nonspecific effects,” in part because much of the research on them has involved observational studies that don’t establish cause and effect. But in a recent report incorporating newer results from some clinical trials, the organization described nonspecific vaccine effects as “plausible and common.”…

The possibility that vaccines could have nonspecific effects is brow-furrowing in part because scientists have long believed that vaccines work by stimulating the body’s highly specific adaptive immune system.

After receiving a vaccine against, say, polio, a person’s body creates an army of polio-specific antibodies that recognize and attack the virus before it has a chance to take hold. Antibodies against polio can’t fight off infections caused by other pathogens, though — so, based on this framework, polio vaccines should not be able to reduce the risk associated with other viruses, such as the coronavirus.

But over the past decade, immunologists have discovered that live vaccines also stimulate the innate immune system, which is less specific but much faster. They have found that the innate immune system can be trained by live vaccines to better fight off various kinds of pathogens…

This area of innate immunity “is one of the hottest areas in fundamental immunology today,” said Dr. Robert Gallo, the director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-founder of the Global Virus Network, a coalition of virologists from more than 30 countries. In the 1980s, Dr. Gallo helped to identify H.I.V. as the cause of AIDS.

Dr. Gallo is leading the charge to test the O.P.V. live polio vaccine as a treatment for coronavirus. He and his colleagues hope to start a clinical trial on health care workers in New York City and Maryland within six weeks.

10) Chait on the patheticness of the anti-anti-Trump folks on the right, “The Secret to Making a Liberal Argument Sound Dumb: Pretending Trump Doesn’t Exist”

Conservative intellectuals caught between a president who has turned the idea of having any intellectual basis at all for one’s ideas into a dada joke, and an audience that demands fealty to him, have found refuge in anti-anti-Trumpism. The art of anti-anti-Trumpism often lies more in that which goes unsaid than that which is said. It consists largely of tightly narrowing one’s focus to Trump’s critics, whose actions can be analyzed as if Trump himself did not exist. The attraction of this technique is that it permits relative fealty to the facts without offending the Trumpian base.

The trouble is that the facts, even if true, must omit the context in which they make any sense. Imagine a history of the Pacific theater in World War II, which begins with the Doolittle raid and ends with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, skipping Pearl Harbor, etc., and you have a sense of how the method works.

National Review editor Rich Lowry has a column that is a perfect specimen of the genre. Lowry’s theme is that science alone is not a guide to managing the coronavirus pandemic. His launching-off point is a series of pro-science quotes — “Joe Biden has urged President Trump, “Follow the science, listen to the experts, do what they tell you.” — which Lowry rebuts by arguing that science doesn’t have every answer: “Once you are outside a lab setting and dealing with matters of public policy, questions of values and how to strike a balance between competing priorities come into play, and they simply can’t be settled by people in white lab coats.”…

Lowry’s column does not mention, or even allude to, any of this. He does not even have a tossed-off line saying to be sure, Trump’s dismissal of science has gone too far in the other direction. The only mention of Trump’s name in the column occurs in the sentence quoted above, in which Lowry quotes Biden urging Trump to listen to scientists. Lowry does not explain why Biden would even have to make this plea. For the purpose of Lowry’s argument, Biden has simply embraced extreme scientism, out of nowhere.

It is only in that contextless void that Lowry’s criticism makes any sense. An ad for a restaurant promising that its food would contain absolutely no rat would look silly. After all, avoiding rat is not one of the criteria most of us usually focus on when choosing our dining options, and in theory, a restaurateur who obsessed over rats to the exclusion of the taste and price of his meals would be making a mistake. However, if it happened to be the case that a competing restaurant was loading rat meat into every entree, then a no-rats ad campaign would be perfectly sensible.

That is how the anti-anti-Trump conservatives devote their attention: picking apart the claims of the people who are promising America not to serve up plates full of rat every day. Why are they so obsessed with rats? Is rat meat really less healthy than, say, starvation? Didn’t the health inspector once detect mouse droppings in their own kitchen?

Clever minds such as Lowry’s can occupy themselves with questions like this for years on end. It is a seductive escape from the unpleasant choice between maintaining one’s livelihood and thinking clearly about the most powerful man on earth.

11) This is really cool, “Microbe Mappers Are Tracking Covid-19’s Invisible Traces: Armies of microbiologists are swabbing subways, ATMs, and hospitals in search of the novel coronavirus. Their data could help cities reopen responsibly.”

DURING THE SECOND week of March, as the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, a team of latex-gloved scientists from Cornell Weill Medical School fanned out across Penn Station armed with packs of sterile, long-armed swabs and a tripod-mounted instrument for capturing air samples. In New York City, the 100th person had just tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the deadly new respiratory disease, but the subways remained open and packed with daily commuters. The researchers were there, in one of the most crowded areas of the city, to see if the coronavirus was, too.


Quick hits

1) Major “lamestream” media organizations have been so astoundingly bad with their daily coverage of Trump’s propaganda events.  Eric Boehlert: (whom I used to love for his media criticism way back during GWB and I have no rediscovered):

If Trump’s daily pandemic press briefings aren’t newsworthy events, why does the news media continue to shower them with ceaseless attention?

Nobody is under any obligation to carry the briefings live and in their entirety. That’s a choice television news outlets make voluntarily. And everyday they choose to turn on the cameras and allow Trump to ramble, sometimes for two hours as he alternately unravels and misinforms about a public health crisis. Networks are making that choice at the same time more journalists concede the briefings aren’t actually news.

“Over time, the news conferences have become increasingly devoid of actual news,” ABC News recently conceded, in a report specifically about how Trump is using them not to inform the public, but as a way to maintain a high media profile.

During a briefing this week, an on-screen banner for CNN announced the event had become a “propaganda session.” Immediately following, CNN anchor John King admitted, “That was propaganda aired at taxpayer expense in the White House briefing room.”
So why air it?

2) Jacob Hacker makes a compelling case that Biden should adopt Elizabeth Warren’s strong public option plan (I’m sold).

The core argument for the public option is that it wouldn’t frighten or disrupt the lives of the roughly 150 million Americans who had employment-based insurance before the pandemic (roughly 10 million of them have likely lost their coverage in the past month, according to the Economic Policy Institute). But that raises an obvious question: What assurances are being provided that those with such plans will continue to have them, be able to afford them, and not be clobbered by bills not paid by them?

After all, even before the current crisis, premiums and out-of-pocket spending were rising rapidly for insured Americans. Last year, the total premium for family coverage (worker plus employer) cost an average of $20,000. Meanwhile, deductibles have more than tripled since 2008. And while virtually all large employers offer coverage, firms with fewer than 200 workers — which employed roughly four in 10 Americans before the pandemic — have continued their retreat from sponsoring insurance.

The basic problem is simple: Health care prices are rising much faster than wages, and private insurers haven’t been able to do anything about it, except narrowing their networks or raising out-of-pocket costs. Nor have employers shown the clout to push back, which is why they’re making their workers pay more — or getting out of the system altogether.

The bottom line is that Mr. Biden’s plan would not achieve universal insurance and would leave many with private insurance continuing to face high costs. Yes, his plan also has a relatively modest 10-year cost. But, partly for that reason, it would expand the reach of federal insurance only modestly, which means in turn it would be unlikely to rein in prices on its own.

Ms. Warren’s public option is very different. It would offer broader benefits on more generous terms than any existing proposal besides Mr. Sanders’s, including free coverage for everyone under age 18. Her public option would automatically enroll everyone younger than 50 who lacked alternative coverage. Those over age 50 would be able to enroll directly in Medicare — that is, a full decade before they could join Medicare under Mr. Biden’s current proposal.

Ms. Warren’s plan also includes a number of specific measures to reduce the prices paid by the federal government. Moreover, her public option is so generous, it’s certain to get substantial enrollment, so that pricing power will reach a big and growing share of the market.

Indeed, Ms. Warren’s public option is so generous that if it were set up, tens of millions of insured Americans with workplace coverage would likely jump into it.

3) Dan Guild on Trump’s approval numbers and November prospects:

— There is a substantial and persistent difference among pollsters’ findings with respect to Donald Trump’s job approval and his percentage against Joe Biden.

— Biden’s ability to consolidate the anti-Trump vote will be decisive. [emphasis mine]

— Trump’s statewide job approval is almost exactly what one would predict given his 2016 share of the vote. His approval is below 50% in every state that was competitive in 2016.

— However, Trump’s predicted two-party share of the vote is over 50% in states with 289 electoral votes. Seven states with a combined 88 electoral votes are projected to be within one point.

These numbers suggest that Biden’s ability to consolidate voters who do not approve of the president’s performance will be the difference between a very close election and a relatively significant Democratic victory.

Critically, if the president continues to underperform his job approval by three to four percentage points, the state job approval numbers suggest a Democratic mini-landslide is possible.  [emphasis in original]

And, honestly, I think Biden is definitely better-positioned to do this consolidation than was Clinton.

4) Honestly, David Kessler’s The End of Overeating is a non-fiction book that has stuck with me about as much as any book I have read (amazing what I remember from a book I read 10 years ago).  So, I’ll surely read his new one.  Major takeaways from the NYT article:

Slow carbs like broccoli, beans and brown rice slowly release glucose as they travel through our systems, eventually reaching the lower parts of the gastrointestinal tract. There they trigger a hormone called GLP-1 that tells our bodies we are being fed, resulting in feelings of satiety. But because fast carbs are rapidly absorbed in the upper parts of the digestive tract, they flood our systems with glucose and insulin, the fat-storage hormone, while failing to stimulate GLP-1. As a result, Dr. Kessler said, they fail to turn off our hunger switch.

At the same time, studies suggest, they elicit a potent neurological response, lighting up the reward center in the brain in a way that compels people to eat more even when they are not hungry. Processing also affects the amount of calories that we absorb from our food. When we eat a starchy carb that is minimally processed, much of it passes through the small intestine undigested. Then it is either used by bacteria in the colon or excreted. Industrial processing makes more of those calories available to our bodies, which can accelerate weight gain.

Dr. Kessler stressed that he is not telling people they should never eat these foods — just to be mindful about what they are and how they affect their health. The less often you eat them, he said, the less you will crave them.

He encourages people to follow three steps to improve their health. Limit fast carbs and prioritize slow carbs like beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Watch your LDL cholesterol, a strong driver of heart disease, and eat a largely plant-based diet to help lower it if necessary. And lastly, engage in daily exercise to help control your weight and improve your overall metabolic health.

5a) So, there’s this whole debate now on proper social distancing when running.  Thing is, unless you are running in a truly crowded urban area (which, I expect does not apply to the vast majority of us) you are always going to be running at least 15 feet behind anyway, lest clearly and appropriately being perceived as a creep!  On rare occasions when we walk the dog in the neighborhood, someone will end up closer than 20 feet to us.  Just not okay.

5b) Wired, “Are Running or Cycling Actually Risks for Spreading Covid-19?  An unpublished study went viral after a research team warned that respiratory droplets may travel more than 6 feet during exercise. But that’s not the whole story.”

But so far there are no published studies of the spread of the novel coronavirus from one person to another in outdoor settings. One recent study of 318 outbreaks of three or more Covid-19 patients found all but one transmission occurred indoors—but as with many studies being conducted right now, that report was published as a pre-print in MedRxiv by a team of researchers at Hong Kong University and Southeast University in Nanjing, China, which means it has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne transmission of viral diseases and a professor of civil engineering at Virginia Tech, says the issue of whether people can become infected from cyclists or runners is still undecided. “We need to keep in mind, though, that we don’t yet know what size particles released by an infected person actually contain virus and whether that virus is ‘alive,’ or can still infect others,” Marr wrote in an email to WIRED.

6) Chris Federico and smart other people in the Monkey Cage, “Will the coronavirus make conservatives love government spending?”

Left versus right, or freedom versus protection?

Our research suggests that there is nothing “natural” about the tendency for conservatism in the sense of an emphasis on security, certainty and tradition to go along with support for minimal government. Though many people hold this pattern of beliefs in Western countries — especially if they are highly attentive to politics — it is relatively rare in the world at large. Survey data from 99 nations suggests that cultural conservatism and stronger needs for security and certainty often correlate only weakly with economic attitudes. In fact, they correlate with interventionist economic preferences more often than with right-wing free-market preferences.

In other words, for much of the world, politics is not exclusively organized around the usual left-right ideological divide but also around a freedom-versus-protection axis. On one end of this axis are libertarian views on both culture and economics, with people believing that everyone should be free to make their own choices; on the other end, people want the government to safeguard security and stability in both the cultural and economic domains. On this axis, government interventions in the economy are not indulgent liberal wastes of citizens’ tax dollars in order to pander to people who won’t help themselves but rather an essential means of protecting citizens from economic risks — one that is psychologically congruent with cultural conservatism.

7) This is great from David Hopkins, “Solving the COVID Crisis Requires Bipartisanship, But the Modern GOP Isn’t Built for It”

The contemporary Republican Party has been built to wage ideological and partisan conflict more than to manage the government or solve specific social problems. So perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking that an array of subjects, from what medical treatment might help COVID patients to how important it is to take measures protecting the lives of the elderly, have been drawn into the perpetual political wars. But leading conservative figures like Trump, Sean Hannity, and the Heritage Foundation will find it much easier to persuade existing supporters to take their side in a fight with “liberal” scientists, journalists, and public safety authorities than to win over the American public as a whole.

Republicans need a party-wide reset of priorities. There has seldom been a time in recent political history when daily partisan point-scoring has been rendered more irrelevant. The general election is far enough away that good policy is good politics: the best way for the ruling party to serve its own electoral interests is to work as hard as possible over the next seven months to render COVID manageable and prevent economic freefall. The widespread public confidence that will be necessary for “normal life” to resume simply can’t be jawboned back into existence via daily press conferences, radio broadcasts, or Fox News monologues. If Republicans lose the battle with the coronavirus, they won’t have much of a chance to win the fight against liberalism.

8) Love my small Iphone SE.  But it’s camera software is light-years behind the newer technology.  Very excited about the new SE, which I’ll definitely be getting.  But I do wish they had not felt the need to increase the size.

9) This is great from Jennifer Weiner, “The Seductive Appeal of Pandemic Shaming: I can’t control who gets sick or when we might return to something that looks like normal. But judging a random guy on the sidewalk? That I can do.”

10) The committed NeverTrumpers (George Conway and friends) endorse Biden in the Post, “We’ve never backed a Democrat for president. But Trump must be defeated.”

11) Covid-19 is proving to be a highly unusual disease in a number of interesting ways.  And, increasingly, this means doctors are figuring out better ways to actually treat the disease.  Yes, it will remain damn serious for many who are infected, but even without new drugs, doctors will increasingly figure out the best course of action for patients given their particular symptoms.  NYT, “What Doctors on the Front Lines Wish They’d Known a Month Ago: Ironclad emergency medical practices — about when to use ventilators, for example — have dissolved almost overnight.”

12) Again, this disease is really serious.  But if it was actually routinely as contagious as many people make it out to be, grocery store employees would be dropping like flies.  They are not.  Drum, on the matter.

13) I don’t remember why I had this “Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal” open.  But it’s damn good advice.  Perhaps more than ever during a pandemic quarantine.  Personally, I don’t actually write anything down, but do this orally with two of my boys each night.

14) Some good political science on liberal media bias in the Monkey Cage, “Journalists may be liberal, but this doesn’t affect which candidates they choose to cover.”

15) So, I had read about the controversial film, “The Nightingale.”  Was also very intrigued by the trailer.  But Netflix’s algorithm told me I’d only give it 3 out of 5 starts.  But, I watched it anyway.  I wanted to like this movie so much more than I did (aspects were really well done), but, damn, if Netflix wasn’t right.  So not a fan of movies (or books) that really need a good editor, and so not a fan of cartoonishly evil villains.  Really appreciated David Edelstein’s negative take (re-affirming his status as one of my favorite reviewers).

16) And, as long we we’re in the entertainment realm.  I’m now into season 3 of “The Americans” and loving it (thanks, MY, if you are reading this).

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