Quick hits (part II)

1) Loved this profile of and conversation with Rupert Murdoch’s son, James, who broke away from the evil empire. (He’s never watched Succession, but plenty of good references here).

2) To the surprise of many, Disney World has, apparently, not been a major source for Covid spread. I’m actually not all that surprised, as regimented as Disney is, I suspect they enforce indoor masks pretty tightly. And when it comes to major sources of spread, it really does seem to be unmasked, indoors.

3) Harry Enten on how Biden is actually a good politician:

Biden, though, seems to be winning in part because he’s actually a fairly popular politician in an era in which those don’t really exist on the national stage.

His favorability rating is above his unfavorable rating in almost all of the polls. In our CNN poll, his net favorability (favorable – unfavorable) has stood at +16 points among likely voters. The average of all the recent high quality live interview polls puts Biden’s net favorability rating at +9 points.

You might think it’s easy to get a positive net favorability when you’re standing next to Trump, who has been quite unpopular throughout his term in office. His net favorability among likely voters in our last poll was -18 points…

Indeed, another big reason Biden has been beating Trump is voters don’t think he’s ideologically extreme. The perceived ideology of candidates matters less than it used to, but we see evidence from races up and down the ballot that voters reward perceived moderation.

In 2016, Trump was seen as fairly moderate compared to other recent Republican nominees. Clinton was seen as more ideologically extreme. Recent polling indicates that voters are more likely to see Biden as moderate than either Trump or Sanders (the most likely Democratic nominee if Biden had fallen short).

4) Among other crazy things in politics is that somehow we need to have fact checks on tax breaks for Cal Cunningham’s “butler’s pantry” (old school term for part of a kitchen) because apparently Tillis wants you to think Cunningham has a butler.  More problematic is if he used it for sexual assignations.

5) George Packer takes on the growing anti-democratic strain among Republicans who are, apparently, going all-in on minority rule, “Republicans Are Suddenly Afraid of Democracy: In a series of tweets, Senator Mike Lee laid the groundwork to contest the results or block an elected majority from governing”

My guess is that Lee wasn’t just being pedantic. Worried about an election in which the people can express their will, Lee was laying the groundwork to contest the results or block an elected majority from governing.

The Trump administration is using the last weeks of the campaign to soften up the country for a repudiation of democracy itself. This project will take some doing. Getting rid of checks on presidential power in the form of inspectors general, congressional committees, special counsels, and nonpartisan judges might drive pundits and experts crazy, but such moves don’t hit home for many citizens. The post-Watergate norms established to preserve the Justice Department’s integrity are not widely understood. But voting is something else. Your vote is your most tangible connection to the idea of democratic government. It’s the only form of political power most Americans possess. It’s proof that government of, by, and for the people hasn’t yet perished from the Earth. Your vote is personal. For a president to throw it out would be an audacious undertaking.

Trump keeps promising to try. Every time he talks about “massive fraud” and sending the election to a Supreme Court with a conservative majority, he’s preparing you to have your vote taken away—to make that shocking prospect a little more normal, even inevitable. Each new controversy, each norm broken, each authoritarian pose makes Trump’s intention to nullify the election results clear.

In just the past two weeks, Trump’s children, his entourage, and the president himself engaged in ostentatious rule-breaking at the presidential debate. The president refused to condemn white supremacists or promise a peaceful transfer of power. Vice President Mike Pence engaged in less aggressive but more persistent interruptions and lies in Wednesday’s debate, and gave his own nonanswer to a question about accepting election results. Trump’s contempt for health protocols at a White House event introducing his new Supreme Court nominee led to the viral contagion of his staff and much of the executive branch’s senior leadership. The president’s flight back from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Marine One ended with a climb up the White House steps and a dramatically lit self-unmasking and salute, like a winded Mussolini. Attorney General William Barr rescinded Justice Department rules in order to be able to investigate supposed vote fraud just before an election. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe released tricked-up evidence of a Barack Obama–Joe Biden–Hillary Clinton conspiracy against the Trump campaign in 2016. Trump expressed annoyance with both Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for taking too long to produce more “evidence” that could undermine Biden in the election’s final days. When the FBI broke up a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer by right-wing extremists of the kind the president won’t renounce, Trump hurled insults at their intended target…

Having chained their party to Trump, Republicans will follow him in his frantic effort to delegitimize the coming election. But I don’t think it will work. The vote remains too powerful an idea in the minds of Americans. They are already standing in long lines to cast the ballots that Trump claims are fraudulent. The word democracy might not be found in the Constitution, but Senator Lee is right to be frightened by it.

6) This.  Meanwhile journalists are completely obsessed with getting Biden on the record on expanding the Court.  Meanwhile, we’re trying to have a democracy here.

7) Man, are liberals on twitter letting loose on Brett Stephens” take on the 1619 Project.  On the whole, I think what the project does is great work and super-important in forcing us to confront the reality of our history versus what we tell ourselves.  That said, you still have to get the history right.  And, there’s clearly a few places where the ideological goals came before the history.  It didn’t make it right before and it doesn’t make it right now.

8) Great summary in Nature of the value of face masks in limiting Covid transmission.  

9) The technophile in me was initially very intrigued by the idea of using sophisticated monitoring software to proctor on-line tests.  The more I thought about it, though, the less I wanted to subject my students to this.  Rather than reward those who cheat, my tests are now open book/note and I’ve made my test questions even more applied and analytical and apply harder grading standards for getting basic information wrong that should be in your notes. I definitely made the right call.  NYT, “How It Feels When Software Watches You Take Tests: Students say that monitoring programs like Proctorio and ExamSoft discourage them in the moments they’re trying to prove themselves.”

10) Not all millionaires are obsessed with their taxes.  In fact, the richer you are, the less you should be obsessed with the absolute value of your taxes.  So, yeah, the smarter millionaires will just pay more in taxes and live in good places and around loved ones.  NYT, “Why These Millionaires Are Staying Put Despite a New Tax on Them: The reason has little to do with money. Family and community ties keep them from leaving their state.”

Ken Schapiro, president of Condor Capital Wealth Management and a member of Tiger 21, an investment group whose members need to be worth tens of millions of dollars, said it would take more than higher taxes for him to leave New Jersey.

“It wouldn’t be higher taxes,” he said. “I have too many business ties. I own a tennis club here. I have friends and family here. Look, if they double the taxes I might do it.”

Still, Mr. Schapiro, an avid skier, said that he planned to work more from the home he has in Colorado, where the tax rate is half New Jersey’s, and that the increase might accelerate the decisions of some clients who prefer one of the states without an income tax, like Florida or Texas.

“The difference between 10.75 percent and 8.75 percent won’t necessarily pay for a second home, but the whole number will for sure,” he said, citing the new and old rates for millionaires in New Jersey. “But in general, I usually tell people to make decisions based on goals and objectives and worry about the taxes secondary.”

Leslie Quick III, one of the founders of the discount brokerage Quick & Reilly, which Fleet Financial bought in 1997 for $1.6 billion, has lived in New Jersey since 1980. He has children and grandchildren in the state and said he would be hard pressed to get his wife to move to Florida for six months and a day to avoid the tax increase.

11) I did not realize sneaky underhanded serves in tennis were a thing.  Part of me really does not like it; but part of me sees it as pretty akin to a drop shot.  I don’t know.  Alas, no tennis of any sort for me to try this out for at least half a year.

12) Good stuff from law professor Nicholas Bagley, “A Warning From Michigan: The state previews how far Republican judges will go to obstruct Democrats in office.”

As in other states, lawsuits challenging the governor’s executive orders came fast. Republican judges proved receptive, even when the legal arguments were appallingly thin. Three months into the pandemic, for example, a federal judge in Grand Rapids declared that the governor’s statewide closure of gyms was so irrational as to be unconstitutional: “At this point, the bare assertion that gyms are dangerous is not enough to demonstrate a ‘real or substantial’ connection to public health, nor is it a set of facts establishing rational basis to justify their continued closure.” The judge’s decision was so far out of line that it earned him a swift, unanimous rebuke from an appeals court.

Another example was a 13-page concurring opinion from a Republican judge excoriating Whitmer for her COVID-19 emergency orders—in a case that had nothing to do with the pandemic (at issue was an emergency rule prohibiting the sale of flavored nicotine pods for e-cigarettes). “Totalitarianism,” the judge intoned, “has no place in America.”

The judge’s rhetoric was so extreme, it bordered on parody: “Will we live under the thumb of autocrats in the hope that they will keep us safe? The world of our children and grandchildren hangs in the balance.” But the paranoid suspicion of government should be recognizable to anyone familiar with the conservative legal movement. As Chief Justice John Roberts has warned darkly, “The danger posed by the grow­ing power of the administrative state cannot be dismissed.”

The michigan supreme Court’s decision last week marks the apotheosis of this “totalitarian” line of thinking. Criticizing the Emergency Powers of Governor Act for giving Whitmer “concentrated and standardless power to regulate the lives of our people,” the Republican majority held that the law was unconstitutional because it violated the so-called nondelegation doctrine.

The doctrine ostensibly prohibits legislatures from passing laws that delegate too much power, or power of the wrong kind, to the executive branch. But the doctrine has never done meaningful work in U.S. constitutional law. It has not been used to strike down an act of Congress since 1935. It has never been used to strike down a Michigan state law, much less an emergency law that has been on the books for three-quarters of a century.

13) Yes, be concerned and vigilant, but, “6 Reasons Not to Panic About the Election.”

14) And, more taxes, “The American Dream Is Tax Reform’s Biggest Obstacle: The federal tax code aligns the interests of the middle class with the ultrawealthy. But the alliance may be breaking up.”

Much of the commentary on the fresh revelations about President Trump’s tax returns has focused on how they illustrate the vulnerability of the federal tax system to exploitation by the ultrarich. This is for good reason: Mr. Trump aggressively used a set of tax breaks popular with real estate developers to pay no taxes in 11 out of the previous 18 years, and just $750 for both 2016 and 2017.

But the most expensive subsidies in the federal tax code are not used by real estate developers, energy chief executives or bankers. They are used by upper-middle-class households under the guise of earned economic security. The main obstacle to reforming the tax code is not Mr. Trump, but rather the upper-middle-class American voter.

There are close to 300 subsidies in the tax code that, in total, cost the federal government over a trillion dollars each year. According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2019 more money was lost to the federal government through the nation’s regressive tax breaks than was spent combined on Medicare and Medicaid.

And six out of 10 of the most expensive federal tax subsidies — including the exclusion for employment-based health insurance, benefits for company pensions and the charitable contribution deduction — are commonly used by wealthier suburban families. In sum, they drain close to $680 billion annually from the U.S. Treasury.

These subsidies are sold as providing necessary assistance — affordable housing, health care and higher education — to middle-class families. But they also apply a veneer of political legitimacy to a system that shovels billions of taxpayer dollars every year to the wealthiest families and corporations in America. For example, the top 1 percent receive benefits from their tax claims that equate to nearly 10 percent of their income and account for nearly a quarter of the total tax benefits distributed to households. In comparison, the middle class claim tax benefits that corresponds to 5.5 percent of their annual incomes and account for only 11 percent of total tax benefits distributed by the federal government.

So why does the public support regressive tax subsidies that primarily benefit the rich? After all, it’s not as if the rich are popular with the American public: A majority of survey respondents report resentment toward the rich, fueled by the perception that the rich abuse the tax system for their personal gain in ways that exacerbate inequality. At least two-thirds of the public have consistently reported that the rich and corporations do not pay their fair share of federal taxes.

But while the majority of Americans may report dissatisfaction with an overly complex and unfair tax system that’s prone to exploitation by the wealthy, their resentment is purely abstract: Americans love the very provisions that create this complexity and inequity.

In a forthcoming book on public opinion toward the tax system, co-written with the political scientist Christopher Ellis, we argue that federal tax subsidies, even those that provide the most benefits to the top 1 percent, are wildly popular with the public. It is the peculiar political nature of the American masses that creates strong incentives for policymakers to use the tax code to finance popular social goals. This is the manifestation of a phenomena described by studies for more than 50 years: A large segment of the electorate can be described as “symbolically conservative but operationally liberal.” They report hating government while favoring federal assistance for more affordable health care insurance, old-age pensions and child care.

15) Pretty happy with my commentary on the NC Governor’s race here

16) And, if you want to see me on TV, ruptured Achilles and all.  

17) Clarence Thomas is the worst.  But, I don’t think many people appreciate just how bad Alito is, too.  Now the both of them are openly clamoring to overturn same-sex marriage.  

“Due to Obergefell, those with sincerely held religious beliefs concerning marriage will find it increasingly difficult to participate in society,” Justice Thomas wrote, adding that the decision had stigmatized people of faith.

“Obergefell enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss,” Justice Thomas wrote, adding, “In other words, Obergefell was read to suggest that being a public official with traditional Christian values was legally tantamount to invidious discrimination toward homosexuals.”

“Since Obergefell,” he wrote, “parties have continually attempted to label people of good will as bigots merely for refusing to alter their religious beliefs in the wake of prevailing orthodoxy.”

The Obergefell case was decided by a 5-to-4 vote. The other two dissenters were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who did not join Justice Thomas’s opinion on Monday, and Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.

Yeah, yeah, gimme a break.  Nobody is asking them to alter their beliefs.  Just do their damn jobs as government officials.  

18) I generally am not a fan of most American political dramas (though, I do love “Veep”) because I cannot get past how unrealistic they are.  The Danish political drama Borgen has finally come to Netflix and I love it.  I’m guessing I would not if I were a Dane, but I’m an American.  Totally love their dramatically different multi-party parliamentary system and how all the coalition politics elements play out.  I’ll also admit to quite a soft-spot for Sidse Babett Knudsen.  

19) And, we’ll close with good and scary stuff from Rick Hasen, “Trump’s New Supreme Court Is Coming for the Next Dozen Elections”

In short, a Barrett confirmation would make it more likely we will see a significant undermining of the already weakened Voting Rights Act — the Court said on Friday it will hear a case involving the law. A 6-3 conservative Court might allow unlimited undisclosed money in political campaigns; give more latitude to states to suppress votes, especially those of minorities; protect partisan gerrymandering from reform efforts; and strengthen the representation of rural white areas, which would favor Republicans…

The real concern about Barrett and elections requires looking ahead to the next five to ten years. When the Court was split 5-4 on ideological lines, the liberal justices could always try to pick off one of the conservatives in a voting case, like when Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with them in a 2015 case upholding the use of Arizona’s nonpartisan redistricting commissions to draw congressional districts and reduce partisan gerrymandering. Another time, Chief Justice Roberts sided with the liberals in a 2015 case upholding rules barring candidates for judgeships from personally soliciting campaign contributions, which was an important step in recognizing that judicial candidates can be subject to more restrictions on their campaign activities than other candidates to preserve public confidence in their impartiality on the bench.

The task for liberals becomes so much harder with a conservative 6-3 Court. Keep in mind that even on a more closely divided Court, conservatives prevailed in major voting cases: the 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC holding that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums supporting or opposing candidates for office; the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case striking down a part of the Voting Rights Act requiring jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get federal approval before making voting changes; the 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board upholding Indiana’s strict voter-identification law, despite any proof that such laws prevent voter fraud…

And as Republican legislatures continue to pass laws — in the name of preventing phantom voter fraud — that have the practical effect of making it harder to register and vote, some courts have pushed back. The pushback has come in the form of holding these laws unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause or other parts of the Constitution. A 6-3 conservative Court is likely to see it differently and uphold more of these laws, perhaps even draconian laws allowing states to require people to produce a birth certificate or naturalization certificate before registering to vote.

There’s going to be a lot of attention paid in the next few weeks on how a Justice Barrett in theory could decide the 2020 election. We should be far more worried about the rules that would apply in dozens of elections after 2020.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’m with Drum.  I’m putting down my marker that we will have a way more mild than usual flu season.  As for the “but we’ve failed on Covid, we’ll fail on influenza take” note that our failure on Covid has cut the Rt from 2.5-3.5 to 1.1.  Seasonal influenza has a Ro of 1.3.  A lot of our Covid precautions should cut that number down, too.

2) Good stuff from Greg Sargent, “7 ways Trump and his cabal are using government to corrupt the election”

The bottom line: Trump isn’t trying to persuade a majority of U.S. voters to support him. Instead, he’s trying to get within what you might call cheating distance of pulling another electoral college inside straight even while losing the popular vote, just like last time.

He’s not there yet. But many top Trump officials and congressional allies have placed their official duties and the levers of your government at the disposal of Trump’s reelection effort, which depends on closing that gap.

3)  This indoor Covid risk estimator is very cool.

4) Robinson Meyer with a great piece on the wildfires:

If you’re having trouble following this year’s western fire season, you are not alone: The fire scientists are too. “There are two dozen fires burning right now that singularly would have been the top story on the national news 10 or 20 years ago,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told me. A few days ago, he said, he learned of the Slater Fire, which has killed two people. The Slater Fire is burning near the site of the Happy Camp Complex Fire, which was itself one of the worst blazes in state history when it raged in 2014. Yet though the Slater Fire, having merged with another blaze, is larger than the Happy Camp fire ever was, the Slater Fire does not rank among the five biggest fires raging today in the state.

“There’s almost no importance in talking about record-breaking events anymore, when talking about fires in California,” Swain said, “because we’ve broken all the records so many times that … what do they even mean anymore?”…

California and the West have always burned. Their plants and ecosystems have evolved to endure and thrive in seasonal fires. But this regional chaos is something different, Swain said, caused by a “perfect firestorm” of elements. A windstorm whipped California and Oregon earlier this month, turning valleys into blowtorches. Many western forests are crowded with fuel after a century in which authorities fought every fire, no matter how remote. And a rare lightning storm last month provided an enthusiastic source of ignition for fires. All of those factors may explain aspects of why there are so many fires right now.

But they do not capture the unusual ferocity of this fire season. “What we’re seeing right now is that every fire is becoming a super-intense fire,” Swain said. “Even if you assume we need more fire on the landscape, we probably don’t need more of this kind of fire.” To explain the severity, you have to go back to the conditions that preceded August. This has been “one of the hottest and driest years on record in this part of the country,” he said. “And surprise, surprise, now there are hot fires.”

The primary driver of the fires this year, he said, is California’s rising air temperature. Over the past century, climate change has warmed California by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit. This warming has now started to affect the behavior of water stored in vegetation across the state. In hotter, drier air, liquid water is more willing to become a gas.

5) Enjoyed this profile of data of progressive data guy, Sean McElwee.  After being a bombthrower, he basically realized you need legislative majorities to get things done.  So, a bunch of purists on the left consider him a traitor.

6) Great stuff from Political Scientist (and friend) Ben Bishin (and his grad students, I believe):

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent application of employment protections to gays and lesbians in Bostock v. Clayton County highlights the striking absence of policy produced by the U.S. Congress despite two decades of increased public support for gay rights. With the notable exceptions of allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military, and passing hate crimes legislation, every other federal policy advancing gay rights over the last three decades has been the product of a Supreme Court ruling or Executive Order. To better understand the reasons for this inaction, we examine the changing preferences of members of Congress on LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) issues. Examining scores from the Human Rights Campaign from 1989 to 2019, we find a striking polarization by the parties on LGBTQ issues, as Democrats have become much more supportive and Republicans even more opposed to gay rights. This change has been driven not by gerrymandering, mass opinion polarization, or elite backlash, but among Republicans by a mix of both conversion and replacement, and among Democrats primarily of replacement of more moderate members. The result is a striking lack of collective representation that leaves members of the LGBTQ community at risk to the whims of presidents and jurists.

7) Turns out I’m not so great (5/8) at spotting fake social media trolls.  Pretty interesting stuff in here, though, on how to spot them.

8) Enjoyed Jonathan Last‘s contrarian take on the worst part of Woodward’s revelations:

I’d like to take the other side of this Trump-Woodward story and offer two curveball views:

(1) I do not believe that Donald Trump “knew” how dangerous the coronavirus was. Allow me to explain.

Here are some of the things Trump told Woodward:

  • “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. . . . And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
  • “This is deadly stuff.”
  • “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

How in the world can anyone be sure that these are the words of a man who understands the subject and not just the inflationary language of a guy who says that everything he touches is the biggest, or best, or most historic?

  • He won the 2016 election in a landslide! Historic margins!
  • There were more people at his inauguration than any inauguration, ever!
  • He’s more successful than any president since Washington!
  • He’s done more for black people than anyone since Lincoln!
  • The new NAFTA is the greatest trade deal in history!

This is simply how the man talks. About everything.

What’s more, he says everything, takes the both sides of everything:

Masks are bad. But patriots wear masks.

Racism is terrible. Some white supremacists are very fine people.

Fire and fury is coming to North Korea. Kim Jong Un is great leader who wants peace.

This pandemic is the Invisible Enemy and the worst threat ever. Also, it’s not even as bad as the flu and it will go away like a miracle.

Does he believe any of this, either way? Almost certainly not. The man has the brain of a goldfish: He “believes” whatever is in front of him in the moment. No matter whether or not it contradicts something he believed five minutes ago or will believe ten minutes from now.

Also, his “didn’t want to cause panic” line makes no sense. Donald Trump’s entire career is based around trying to create panic.

  • Flight 93 election.
  • Mexican rapists.
  • Caravans.
  • American Carnage.
  • Muslims.
  • Antifa.
  • Black people moving to the suburbs.
  • Law & Order!

All this guy does is try to create panic. That’s his move.

Put those two together—constant exaggerating self-aggrandizement and the perpetual attempt to stoke panic—and what you have is a guy was just saying stuff to Woodward.

In a way, it would be comforting to believe that our president was intelligent enough to grasp the seriousness of the coronavirus, even if his judgment in how to deal with the outbreak was malicious or poor.

But I cannot see any reason to believe that rosy view. All of the available evidence suggests the opposite:

Donald Trump lacks the cognitive ability to understand any concepts more complicated than self-promotion or self-preservation.

Which brings us to . . .

(2) The most alarming part of the Woodward tapes is the way Trump talks about Kim Jong Un and the moment when Trump literally takes sides with Kim Jong Un against a former American president.

9) Alexander Vindman is exactly right, Trump is exactly Putin’s “useful idiot.”

On July 25 of last year, Vindman, who, as the National Security Council’s director for European affairs, organized the call, listened, with other officials, to a conversation between Trump and the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

“I would like you to do us a favor,” Trump told Zelensky, working his way to the subject of Joe Biden: “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it …”

Vindman was surprised by Trump’s approach, and by its implications. Like other American specialists in the successor states of the former Soviet Union, he was invested in the U.S.-Ukraine relationship. And like most national-security professionals, he was interested in countering Russia’s malign influence—along its borders, in places like Ukraine and Belarus and the Baltic states; across Europe; and in American elections. He believed in buttressing Ukraine’s new leadership. He also had an aversion to shakedowns, and this, to him, felt like a shakedown.

He did not fully understand at the time, he says, that the Trump administration had two separate foreign policies. The first was run out of the National Security Council, and by the many agencies and departments that are collectively charged with protecting America from its adversaries. The second was being manufactured by the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, with a goal of ensuring Trump’s reelection. What Vindman learned that day, he says, wasn’t just the extent to which Giuliani was attempting to weaponize the Ukrainian justice system against Biden, but that Trump himself was involved.

“I just had a visceral reaction to what I was hearing,” he says. “I suspected it was criminal, but I knew it was wrong. President Trump knew that Zelensky needed a meeting with him in Washington to strengthen his position vis-à-vis the entrenched opposition at home. So Trump was putting the squeeze on this leader to conduct a corrupt investigation. Trump knew he had them over a barrel. I found it repulsive and un-American for an American president to try to get a leg up by pressuring a foreign leader to get dirt on an American politician. I knew by then that Giuliani was somewhere in the background. But I refused to believe that the president was party to what Rudy was doing. I learned in that phone call that the president was the driving force.”…

“President Trump should be considered to be a useful idiot and a fellow traveler, which makes him an unwitting agent of Putin,” he says. Useful idiot is a term commonly used to describe dupes of authoritarian regimes; fellow traveler, in Vindman’s description, is a person who shares Putin’s loathing for democratic norms.

But do you think Russia is blackmailing Trump? “They may or may not have dirt on him, but they don’t have to use it,” he says. “They have more effective and less risky ways to employ him. He has aspirations to be the kind of leader that Putin is, and so he admires him. He likes authoritarian strongmen who act with impunity, without checks and balances. So he’ll try to please Putin.”

Vindman continues, “In the Army we call this ‘free chicken,’ something you don’t have to work for—it just comes to you. This is what the Russians have in Trump: free chicken.”

10) I didn’t know David Epstein had a newsletter.  Hooray!  Subscribed!  As a Type A (A+, of course 🙂 ), I especially appreciated this, ” TYPE A BLOOD AND COVID: DANGER! …WAIT, NEVER MIND”

While I wasn’t excited to hear the results of the blood type study, thanks to lessons I learned while reporting my first book, The Sports Gene, I was very skeptical. My guess was that subsequent studies would either find a much smaller influence of blood type, or none at all.

In the two years I spent going through research on genetics and physiology, I came across a lot of studies that associated some physical trait with blood type. This, I learned, is how most of that body of research was created: a lab would be studying the genetic contribution to some physical characteristic, let’s say height, just for example; the lab collected blood from all subjects; as long as the researchers had blood, they decided they might as well get blood type data. Later on, when they analyzed all their data, they noticed a correlation between height and a certain blood type, and so they published it. It wasn’t the study they set out to do, but it’s an easy way to get another publication. Fine, nothing wrong with that in and of itself.

Except eventually I learned that a lot of labs were doing that because it’s so easy to do, and those that didn’t find an association just didn’t publish it. So all the positive findings got published, and few of the negative findings (i.e. those that found nothing) got published. This is what scientists know as “publication bias,” or, colloquially, “the file drawer problem,” so-called because studies that find no relationship end up stuffed in a file drawer, never to see the light of publication. In the topics I was probing for The Sports Gene, I saw this pattern several times: a study finds a strong association of some physical trait to blood type, then another study does too; then a few studies start to trickle in that show a much weaker association; then come the studies that show no association at all. Ultimately, the conclusion is that the early studies were false positives, and only scientists getting false positive results were initially publishing. (As psychologist Drew Bailey taught me, this “decline effect” — the gradual drop in a reported effect over time as more studies are published — is an area of study unto itself.)

The good thing is that science often worked the way it should, eventually correcting the record. It just took a while. Amid the breakneck pace of coronavirus research and news, that’s kind of a problem, even when “a while” is measured in weeks.

Six weeks after my dinner-table conversation, a new round of studies found that blood type has little or nothing to do with Covid-19 severity. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the new findings received less attention. (But props to the New York Times for following up its initial story. In my opinion, when this happens, the follow-up article should be linked at the top of the original story, so that anyone who sees the first piece also sees the corrective.)

I was never actually all that worried about my Type A blood, but you know how closely I follow Covid and yet I had not even heard of the follow-ups undermining this.

11) I also really enjoyed Epstein writing on how he has reconsidered the case of Caster Semenya and the role of testosterone in regulating women’s sports.  My take-away– it’s complicated!– and there’s good and good faith arguments (and plenty of bad faith ones) on both sides.

12) Honestly, I really think so many “pro-life” people have a shockingly narrow concern about actual human life.  Far too many are basically pro-fetus.  Enjoyed this column from pro-life Biden supporter, Michael Gerson:

For most of my life, had you asked me whether I could vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate, my immediate reply would have been “no.” Protecting unborn children — undeniably alive, distinctly human, possessed of their own genetic identity — is the commitment of a compassionate, welcoming society.

Yet my “no” has always been qualified. It does not mean I could support a pro-life fascist or a pro-life segregationist. Opposing abortion does not make up for the betrayal of fundamental democratic values. And the pro-life Republicans I have supported — say, George H.W. Bush or Mitt Romney — were broadly qualified to do the president’s job. Being pro-life does not grant general permission for dangerous ineptitude.

These are admittedly extreme exceptions to my general rule. But does the extremity of our political moment justify pro-life support for a pro-choice presidential candidate?

This does not mean that the policy stance of the president has no influence on the prevalence of abortion. But whatever that influence is, it is overwhelmed by other social factors — some combination of declining births and pregnancies, state restrictions, improved access to and use of contraception (including long-term contraception), and continued public concerns about abortion itself.

Similarly, Trump’s reelection is not likely to substantially reduce the number of abortions beyond current trends…

For some, treating the 2020 election as a referendum on abortion is a way to live with Trump’s moral ugliness. If there is only one issue on the ballot, then only one policy position counts, not Trump’s character as a man and a leader. This has the virtue of simplicity and the drawback of complicity in grave wrongs…

And it should matter — greatly — to pro-life people that Trump has presided over a substantially preventable public health disaster, causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, largely among the ill and elderly.

It dishonors the pro-life cause to make it an inexhaustible permission slip for prejudice, deception and malice. And so I find myself in an uncomfortable but inevitable position: I am pro-life, and I intend to vote for Joe Biden.

Let’s be clear here, the pro-life cause has been gravely dishonored.  Any truly good faith pro-lifers who were motivated primarily by their value for human life would pretty much have to come to the same conclusion as Gerson.

13) I liked this from Jeet Heer on Woodward:

If Woodward is not a daily journalist, what is he? Woodward claims he’s writing “the second draft of history.” The first draft would be the daily newspaper, with Woodward’s books adding to the record with deeper reporting and context.

But if Woodward is a historian, he’s one of a very particular and retrograde kind: He’s a court chronicler, recording the minutiae of modern Washington with the diligence that the duc de Saint-Simon brought to the Versailles of Louis XIV. Court history, long on gossip and palace intrigue but short on analysis, is usually found in monarchies and empires.

In 1996, Joan Didion surveyed six of Woodward’s tomes for The New York Review of Books and drew attention to “Mr. Woodward’s rather eerie aversion to engaging the ramifications of what people say to him.” She added that there was a “disinclination of Mr. Woodward’s to exert cognitive energy on what he is told.” This “disinclination” offers another explanation, in addition to the obvious monetary one, for why Woodward sat on the explosive news he found out about Trump.

In an acute paragraph, Didion notes that Woodward’s superficial focus on personal drama often serves the interest of the Washington insiders he writes about:

That this crude personalization works to narrow the focus, to circumscribe the range of possible discussion or speculation, is, for the people who find it useful to talk to Mr. Woodward, its point. What they have in Mr. Woodward is a widely trusted reporter, even an American icon, who can be relied upon to present a Washington in which problematic or questionable matters will be definitively resolved by the discovery, or by the demonstration that there has been no discovery, of “the smoking gun,” “the evidence.” Should such narrowly-defined “evidence” be found, he can then be relied upon to demonstrate, “fairly,” that the only fingerprints on the smoking gun are those of the one bad apple in the barrel, the single rogue agent in the tapestry of decent intentions.

Didion’s point that Woodward’s gossip-mongering helps defuse scandals certainly applies to Woodward’s reporting in the Trump era. It’s noteworthy that Woodward continued to enjoy the status of being “widely trusted” even after he published his first Trump book, Fear (2018). In that book, Woodward offered many juicy stories about how Trump’s underlings didn’t respect him and often thwarted his agenda. But, as Alex Shephard noted in The New Republic, in Fear “the Russia investigation is largely dismissed in Trumpian terms, as an overhyped political witch hunt, hardly the stuff of Watergate.”

Trump himself clearly felt he had more to gain from trying to shape the narrative by talking to Woodward than he would lose from whatever scurrilous details the reporter might uncover. According to Woodward, Trump would call him up “frequently” and “unexpectedly.” Logs show that these calls lasted as long as half an hour.

14) I agree with Chait, “Lock Him Up? For the Republic to survive Trump’s presidency, he must be tried for his crimes. Even if that sparks a constitutional crisis of its own.”

A democracy is not only a collection of laws, and norms of behavior by political elites. It is a set of beliefs by the people. The conviction that crime pays, and that the law is a weapon of the powerful, is a poison endemic to states that have struggled to establish or to maintain democracies. If the post-election period descends into a political crisis, having all the relevant prosecutors promise immunity for Trump would be the most tempting escape valve. Yet the price of escaping the November crisis, and simply moving past Trump’s criminality by allowing him to ease off to Mar-a-Lago, is simply too high for our country to bear.

Gulag, Anne Applebaum’s 2003 history of Soviet concentration camps, argues in its conclusion that the failure to come fully to terms with the crimes of the old regime had “consequences for the formation of Russian civil society, and for the development of the rule of law … To most Russians, it now seems as if the more you collaborated in the past, the wiser you were.” This observation, written in the early years of Putin’s regime, captures a cynicism that pervades Putin’s now-almost-unchallenged autarky.

Ziblatt likewise suggested to me that Spain’s handling of the post-Franco era has soured in retrospect. In the immediate wake of Spanish democratization, letting many of Franco’s fascist collaborators walk away scot-free seemed like a masterstroke. But over time, a “growing resentment of a collusive bargain between elites” discredited the system and fueled the growth of extremism.

Before 1945, the international norm held that deposed rulers, however crooked or abusive, should be allowed exile. Kathryn Sikkink’s The Justice Cascade: How Human-Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics captures the modern norm, which emphasizes the social value of transparent and fair prosecutions as a deterrent. These cases apply most often, though, to states transitioning from dictatorship to democracy. There is less precedent for what to do when a reasonably healthy democracy elevates a career criminal to the presidency.

Trump’s unique contribution to the decay of the rule of law has been to define criminality in political terms, but he has also joined a very old project in which the political right has long been engaged: associating criminality with a category of people, so that knocking over a 7-Eleven makes you a “criminal” but looting a pension fund does not. Trump’s unusual level of personal crookedness dovetails with a familiar reactionary agenda of combining permissive enforcement of white-collar crime with a crackdown on street crime — or, as Trump calls it, simply “crime.” The implicit meaning of “Law and Order” is that order is distinct from lawfulness and that some crimes create disorder while others do not.

Trump’s reversals of Obama-era police reforms and his open contempt for the law send a signal about whom the law constrains and whom it protects. The fashioning of a more equal society means sending a different message: The rule of law must bind everyone, just as it protects everyone. A world where the power of the state can be brought to bear against a person who was once its most famous symbol of wealth is one where every American will more easily imagine a future in which we are all truly equal before the law.

15) OMG I’m so glad NC has Roy Cooper as governor.  And that there’s no way Dan Forest will defeat him.  What a marroon.

“When I’m governor I would lift the mask mandate for the state and allow individual freedom to decide whether they wear a mask,” Forest said Wednesday.

Cooper instituted the statewide mask mandate on June 26.

Forest talked to reporters at a news conference at the Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh and was joined by Senate leader Phil Berger and other Republican lawmakers and candidates, along with parents who want schools to reopen for in-person, full-time learning now.

Forest said multiple times he was only speaking for himself, not those on stage with him. Most of those on stage wore masks or removed them to speak. Forest did not have a mask on.

He doesn’t think students and staff should be required to wear masks.

“I don’t think there’s any science that backs that up. That’s my personal opinion,” he said.

And I don’t think there’s any science that backs up the nitrogen cycle in my fish tank.  That’s my personal opinion.

16) This is a big story, but hard not to get lost among all the awfulness.  There’s little more important to a public health agency than its reputation.  What Trump has done to the CDC is a travesty and a tragedy, “C.D.C. Testing Guidance Was Published Against Scientists’ Objections: A controversial guideline saying people without Covid-19 symptoms didn’t need to get tested for the virus came from H.H.S. officials and skipped the C.D.C.’s scientific review process.”

A heavily criticized recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month about who should be tested for the coronavirus was not written by C.D.C. scientists and was posted to the agency’s website despite their serious objections, according to several people familiar with the matter as well as internal documents obtained by The New York Times.

The guidance said it was not necessary to test people without symptoms of Covid-19 even if they had been exposed to the virus. It came at a time when public health experts were pushing for more testing rather than less, and administration officials told The Times that the document was a C.D.C. product and had been revised with input from the agency’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield.

But officials told The Times this week that the Department of Health and Human Services did the rewriting and then “dropped” it into the C.D.C.’s public website, flouting the agency’s strict scientific review process.

“That was a doc that came from the top down, from the H.H.S. and the task force,” said a federal official with knowledge of the matter, referring to the White House task force on the coronavirus. “That policy does not reflect what many people at the C.D.C. feel should be the policy.”

The document contains “elementary errors” — such as referring to “testing for Covid-19,” as opposed to testing for the virus that causes it — and recommendations inconsistent with the C.D.C.’s stance that mark it to anyone in the know as not having been written by agency scientists, according to a senior C.D.C. scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a fear of repercussions.

17) This interactive map is so cool, “Every Place Has Its Own Climate Risk. What Is It Where You Live?”  I’m pretty happy with Wake County, NC.  Elevated hurricane risk, but not nearly so bad as on the coast.  I also had fun looking for the places that seemed least impacted.  South-Central North Dakota seems like the place to be :-).

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.

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).

Quick hits (part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This we cannot in good conscience do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These steps alone still won’t be enough.

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

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

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

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

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

Why does this matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick hits (part I)

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

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

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

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

4) Jedidiah Purdy on social solidarity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wolf pack ranges

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

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

Quick hits (part II)

1) Quinta Jurecic and Ben Wittes, “23 Dangerous Propositions the Senate Just Ratified”

At least in those circumstances in which the president and the majority of the Senate are of the same political party, the Senate has adopted the following propositions:

  1. It is not an impeachable offense for the president of the United States to condition aid to a foreign government on the delivery of personal favors to himself.
  2. It is not an impeachable offense for the president of the United States to demand that a foreign head of state dish dirt on the president’s political opponents—or demand that he make dirt up if none is available to dish.
  3. For that matter, it is not an impeachable offense for the president to push a foreign law-enforcement agency to investigate a U.S. citizen for conduct no U.S. law-enforcement agency has found to warrant an investigation.
  4. Abuse of power is not an impeachable offense. The oath he swears to “faithfully execute” his duties and “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” notwithstanding, the president is generally free to use his powers under Article II of the Constitution to benefit himself and harm those he disfavors.

And 19 more…

2) Good stuff from Seth Masket, “Trump Will Slime His Democratic Opponent, No Matter Who It Is”

It should be clear by now that this is how Mr. Trump runs for office. He goes into 2020 in a political situation similar to the one he was in four years ago — he’s trailing modestly in polls and is largely seen as ethically challenged. His approach with Hillary Clinton then and with Joe Biden (or any Democrat) now is not to appear more ethical than they are but to besmirch their character with scandal. The idea is to make them look no better than he is, so that political journalists and voters come to see them as equally tainted by scandal, thus neutralizing ethical considerations. [emphasis mine]

It is a remarkable innovation in presidential campaigns. And as the Democrats get deeper into the actual voting toward selecting their nominee and fret over Mr. Biden and Ukraine or Bernie Sanders and socialism, they might keep in mind that it can be applied (early and often) to any opponent…

Traditionally, candidates followed a “glass houses” approach, trying to steer conversations away from areas in which they were vulnerable. Bill Clinton wasn’t about to accuse George H.W. Bush of having an affair, and it would have been strange to see Barack Obama accusing John McCain of inexperience or having a radical minister.

Mr. Trump runs in the opposite direction. He directly accuses his opponents of scandals in which he himself is implicated.

As Masket notes, this only works if the media is actually complicit.  And, of course, we know they damn well will be:

This will be the Trump campaign agenda throughout 2020 if Mr. Biden gets the Democratic nomination — not to portray himself as ethical, but to get voters to say, “Well, both of them have scandals, so whatever.” And some political journalists will feel compelled to acknowledge the accusations against the Bidens. They’ll offer caveats, of course, as one news story from 2019 did, saying, “There’s no evidence that Hunter or his father acted improperly or violated any laws. But the arrangement, government ethics experts say, raises concerns.” The “raises concerns” part is the key — it will be just enough to plant seeds of doubt in voters’ minds about the Democrat’s ethical commitments.

3) Just some stuff Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh has said.  Not offensive/racist/sexist at all.

4) You know I am fascinated by hockey goaltending.  With Ovechkin continuing to tear up the NHL, I was looking for some nice analytical pieces on why he is able to score at such a high rate.  Did not come up with all that much that was particularly insightful (he’s strong and skilled), but I did come across this great piece on goalkeeping (from 5 years ago) by Jonathan Quick.

5) This McKay Coppins piece on Romney’s impeachment vote was really good.  You should read it:

Romney was similarly unmoved by the Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz’s contention that a president who believes his reelection is in the national interest can’t be impeached for pursuing a political advantage. “I had Professor Dershowitz for criminal law in law school,” Romney said, “and he was known to occasionally take his argument to its illogical conclusion.” Nor was the senator swayed by the theory that a president can be impeached only for breaking a statutory law. “To use an old Mormon hymn phrase, that makes reason stare,” he said. “The idea that Congress would have to anticipate all of the offensive things a president could possibly do, and then make them a statute?” Romney posed a hypothetical: What if the president decided to pardon every Republican in prison nationwide, while leaving every Democrat locked up? “There’s no law against that!” he said. “So it’s not a crime or misdemeanor. But it’s obviously absurd.”…

“I was under the misimpression that what brought Republican voters together was conviction in a certain number of policy points of view,” Romney said. He recalled a political strategist during one of his early campaigns explaining how to court the three main factions of the GOP coalition—social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and foreign-policy hawks. Much of Romney’s career since then has been spent trying to win over ideological purists on the right. In 2012, he said, some Tea Party activists refused to support him, because he didn’t have a plan to balance the federal budget within a single year.

Now the conservative movement is ruled by a president who routinely makes a mockery of such litmus tests. Deficit reduction? “There’s no purchase for that,” Romney said. Foreign policy? “The letters with Kim Jong Un didn’t seem to frighten people away … The meeting with the Russian ambassador in the White House right after the election didn’t seem to bother people.” Somehow, Romney said, he is the one constantly being told that he needs to “be with the president.”

“I get that a lot—‘Be with the president,’” Romney told me, sounding slightly perplexed. “And I’ll say, ‘Regardless of his point of view? Regardless of the issue?’ And they say yes. And … it’s like, ‘Well, no, I can’t do that.’”

6) I like Drum on Trump’s seeming appeal to Black voters that is really just about trying to help Trump supporters tell themselves they are not supporting a stone cold racist:

Who else? A number of people think Trump’s speech was aimed at suburban centrists who are uneasy with his usual harsh rhetoric. The idea here is for Trump to look more moderate and inclusive toward blacks while continuing to bang the drum about immigrants who have murdered white folks. The message is that Trump is no racist, but he’ll keep you safe from all the brown people.

But that’s not all. Something that I think people miss is that this kind of inclusive racial rhetoric is also aimed directly at Trump’s base. Remember this?

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Happy ! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics! https://www.facebook.com/DonaldTrump/posts/10157008375200725:0 

Anybody with a liberal sensibility cringed at this, but the message to Trump’s base was clear: See, I’m trying to reach out to Hispanics. But no matter what I do they call it racist.

The inclusive SOTU rhetoric works the same way: Trump is telling his base that he’s no racist and, by inference, that they aren’t racist either. Liberals just call everyone racist who disagrees with them. It’s a very comforting message.

7) Dan Froomkin on the horrible “both sides!” coverage and theater coverage of the SOTU.

8) Josh Putnam argues that people have been complaining about the Iowa Caucus coming first for a long time without it being changed, so don’t expect it now.  True, but never the intensity of complaint or the amazing ammunition to bear, so I remain optimistic.

9) I always enjoy journalists taking Susan Collins to task for her sanctimonious idiocy instead of falling for her act.  In some ways, I really wonder if Collins is just that dumb?  Thinks we’re all that dumb?  Or is just delusional?  Anyway, Ruth Marcus on Collins and other preposterous Republican excuses

President Trump is not going to change. Not now, not ever. “Chastened” is not in his vocabulary; pivoting to presidential is not in his repertoire. If there is anything the country should have learned in the age of Trump, it is this.

So of all the amazing things that Republican senators have said in defense of their impending votes to acquit Trump, it is that a president who has been unwilling to or incapable of learning lessons will somehow have learned a lesson by being . . . not punished by them.

The latest to join this self-delusion caucus is Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “I believe that the president has learned from this case,” she told CBS News’s Norah O’Donnell on Tuesday, expanding on a floor speech in which she announced — surprise — her vote to acquit. “​The president has been impeached. That’s a pretty big lesson.”…

So the reasons to think Trump has, finally, learned the lesson and will adjust his behavior accordingly are precisely zero. You cannot learn a lesson if you continue to insist that your behavior was perfect. Collins offered a concise summary of the problems with Trump’s behavior: “​Because the president of the United States should not be asking a foreign country to investigate a political rival. That is just improper. It was far from a perfect call.”

Correct. But that is not what Trump believes. There was Trump tweeting the day before the Collins interview, decrying the “totally partisan Impeachment Hoax.” Lesson learned — not.

The human capacity for self-delusion is exceeded only by the politician’s capacity for self-justification. Aspects of both might be at play here. And Collins, as I mentioned, is not alone. There was Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “I think that he knows now that, if he is trying to do certain things — whether it’s ferreting out corruption there, in Afghanistan, whatever it is — he needs to go through the proper channels,” Ernst said. Uh huh. Trump. Proper channels. Right.

There was Indiana Sen. Mike Braun on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” similarly, willfully delusional. Trump, observed host Chuck Todd, is “going to take acquittal and think, ‘I can keep doing this.’ ” Braun begged to differ: “No, I don’t think that. Hopefully, it’ll be instructive.”

10) I’ve been following Rachel Bitecofer on twitter since back when she had hardly any followers and she relentlessly hawked her 2018 election prediction model by jumping on tweets from Nate Silver, Harry Enten, etc.  Thanks to a good model and zealous self-promotion, she’s gotten herself regular appearances on MSNBC and 60,000+ followers.  She tweets some good stuff, but I follow plenty of more insightful political scientists. What has been fascinating is watching her in real-time basically reverse engineer the algorithm for successful social media self promotion.  I’ve been particularly taken aback by the “she’s ignored disrespected because she’s a woman” theme, when, it always struck me as pretty clear that she was ignored and disrespected because she had no history of this and because she’s a professor at Christopher Newport University.  Anyway, interesting profile of her not-nearly-as-unique-and-innovative-as-she-claims (but, hey, that works) approach in Politico.

11) This is from way back, but Matt Yglesias‘ “Immigration makes America great” piece is great.  And, this is a pretty short quick hits, so you should click through and read it:

The main sources of immigration — and the main occupations likely to employ immigrants — have changed over time, but the story has been the same from the beginning. A larger and more diverse population supports more intensive development of the resources available and a more complex division of labor, leading, over time, to a steadily more sophisticated and prosperous national economy.

A lone person on an island by himself will struggle to get by even if he is surrounded by natural abundance. A small band would live at a subsistence level. To achieve true affluence, people need to be able to specialize and trade with one another. To an extent in the modern world, that means access to global markets — grain can be shipped to Europe and timber to Japan. But for most people, it means direct access to other people, who serve as customers and co-workers and suppliers…

Going forward, demographers forecast that immigration — both the people it provides directly and the children that immigrants bear and raise — is the only reason America’s working-age population isn’t declining. This is doubly true when you consider that immigrants’ work in the household and child care sectors likely serves to increase native-born Americans’ childbearing as well.

A declining working-age population, seen already in Japan and some southern European countries, poses some serious challenges to a national economy. It tends to push interest rates down to an incredibly low level, making it difficult for central banks to respond to a recession. It also makes it more difficult to sustain public sector retirement programs and elder care more generally.

There are some offsetting upsides (less strain on transportation infrastructure, for example), and, like anything else, the problems are solvable. Fundamentally, however, an America that is shrinking is a country that is going to be a lesser force in the world than an America that is growing. It’s true, of course, that an America that continues to be open to immigrants will be a progressively less white and less Christian country over time. That’s a threatening prospect to many white Christian Americans, who implicitly identify the country in ethnic and sectarian terms. But America’s formal self-definition has never been in those terms.

And for those who believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the value of America’s ideals, accepting a future of decline and retreat in the name of ethnic purity should be unacceptable. That the more homogeneous America will be not just smaller and weaker but also poorer on a per capita basis only underscores what folly it would be to embrace the narrow vision. That hundreds of millions of people around the world would like to move to our shores — and that America has a long tradition of assimilating foreigners and a political mythos and civil culture that is conducive to doing so — is an enormous source of national strength.

It’s time we started to see it that way.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) This is good (thanks JDW), “Togo national football team attack: Survivors remember machine gun ambush, 10 years on”

2) Important analysis of Black voters’ substantial and enduring support for Biden, plus his white support, in the Monkey Cage, “Biden appeals both to black voters — and to white voters suspicious of Black Lives Matter”

3) As a huge podcast fan, I loved this tweet.

4) Pretty much every state requires just one U.S. History class, so I’m okay with NC falling in line with that.  That said, while I think it’s great to teach personal financial literacy to HS kids, a whole class seems like overkill to me. But, I did have to address this one quote in the article that is emblematic of comments that drive me crazy, “State education officials said the change won’t result in students having less knowledge of American history. They said North Carolina students will still learn about U.S. history in elementary and middle school and that the revamped civics class will also include content on U.S. history.”  Really?!  One less history class, but not “less knowledge” of history.  Give me a break!  And just admit that they’ll have less history, but still a sufficient amount.

5) So, a non-vegan, “vegan” relative of mine led to some interesting conversations between my wife and myself about what’s really a vegan.  I had not heard of, and do really like, the idea of “plant-based eating.”

The terms “vegan” and “plant-based” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a growing effort to define just what it means to follow a plant-based lifestyle.

According to Brian Wendel, the founder of the “plant-based living” website Forks Over Knives, going plant-based is often “for people who are very enthusiastic about the health angle” of eating mainly whole plant foods.

Reynolde Jordan, who runs a food blog called Plant-Based Vibe in Memphis, said it’s also a way to distance oneself from the rigid ideology of veganism, which calls for abstaining from animal products of all kinds.

“When you classify yourself as vegan, you’re now being watched,” said Mr. Jordan, who posts vegan recipes for dishes such as Cajun seaweed gumbo and raw beet balls along with photos of the vegetarian meals he orders on trips. “In my DMs, I’d get all these messages from activists for protests. I’m just not that guy — I did this for the purpose of eating better.”

6) Tom Jensen with his 2020 analysis based on PPP recent polling, “Democratic Unity Will Determine Trump’s Fate”

Over the last couple weeks PPP did polls testing the leading Democratic contenders for President against Donald Trump in both Arizona and Iowa.

On the surface the numbers are decent but not amazing for Democrats. Donald Trump won Arizona by 4 points in 2016. Currently he ties Joe Biden, leads Bernie Sanders by 1, leads Elizabeth Warren by 2, and leads Pete Buttigieg by 3. Trump won Iowa by 9 points in 2016. Currently he leads Pete Buttigieg by 1, Joe Biden by 3, and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren by 5.

When you dig further into the numbers though a clear picture emerges- Trump’s position would be much, much worse if voters who don’t like him- or even just those voters who voted against him in 2016- end up unifying around the eventual Democratic nominee…

He appears to have very little room to grow among undecideds. These numbers suggest that the fate of the 2020 election really stands in the hands of the voters who don’t like Trump. Trump does not have enough people who like him to get reelected- the only way he does is if the voters who don’t like him refuse to get on the same page after the Democratic primary is over. Right now we see a lot of people saying they will vote for Biden but not Bernie or will vote for Bernie but not Biden- if those people get on the same page once the nominee is chosen, Trump will lose. If they don’t, it will be close.

7) I think it was Ezra Klein who shared this link on the “selection bias” of how we think about kids before we actually have them:

For example, there was a huge amount of selection bias in my observations of parents and children. Some parents may have noticed that I wrote “Whenever I’d noticed parents with kids.” Of course the times I noticed kids were when things were going wrong. I only noticed them when they made noise. And where was I when I noticed them? Ordinarily I never went to places with kids, so the only times I encountered them were in shared bottlenecks like airplanes. Which is not exactly a representative sample. Flying with a toddler is something very few parents enjoy.

What I didn’t notice, because they tend to be much quieter, were all the great moments parents had with kids. People don’t talk about these much — the magic is hard to put into words, and all other parents know about them anyway — but one of the great things about having kids is that there are so many times when you feel there is nowhere else you’d rather be, and nothing else you’d rather be doing. You don’t have to be doing anything special. You could just be going somewhere together, or putting them to bed, or pushing them on the swings at the park. But you wouldn’t trade these moments for anything. One doesn’t tend to associate kids with peace, but that’s what you feel. You don’t need to look any further than where you are right now.

Before I had kids, I had moments of this kind of peace, but they were rarer. With kids it can happen several times a day.

My other source of data about kids was my own childhood, and that was similarly misleading. I was pretty bad, and was always in trouble for something or other. So it seemed to me that parenthood was essentially law enforcement. I didn’t realize there were good times too.

8) And this was really interesting on marriage.  The key to long-term success may largely be avoiding negativity:

We have some answers, thanks to psychologists who have been tracking couples’ happiness. They’ve found, based on the couples’ ratings of their own satisfaction, that marriages usually don’t get better. The ratings typically go downhill over time. The successful marriages are defined not by improvement, but by avoiding decline. That doesn’t mean marriage is a misery. The thrill of infatuation fades, so the euphoria that initially bonded a couple cannot sustain them over the decades, but most couples find other sources of contentment and remain satisfied overall (just not as satisfied as at the beginning). Sometimes, though, the decline in satisfaction is so steep that it dooms a marriage. By monitoring couples’ interactions and tracking them over time, researchers have developed a surprising theory for the breakdown of relationships.

What mattered was the bad stuff, as the psychologists concluded: “It is not so much the good, constructive things that partners do or do not do for one another that determines whether a relationship ‘works’ as it is the destructive things that they do or do not do in reaction to the problems.” When you quietly hang in there for your partner, your loyalty often isn’t even noticed. But when you silently withdraw from your partner or issue angry threats, you can start a disastrous spiral of retaliation.

“The reason long‑term relationships are so difficult,” says Caryl Rusbult, who led the couples study, “is that sooner or later one person is liable to be negative for so long that the other one starts to respond negatively too. When that happens, it’s hard to save the relationship.” Negativity is a tough disease to shake—and it’s highly contagious. Other researchers have found that when partners are separately asked to ponder aspects of their relationship, they spend much more time contemplating the bad than the good. To get through the bad stuff, you need to stop the negative spiral before it begins.

9) Love this on the need for higher middle-class taxes:

But on the question of raising taxes, and for whom, most Democratic candidates have hedged toward an all-too-familiar position. Like Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012, they’ve asserted their opposition to tax increases on anyone but the very rich — even if those tax hikes are offset by household savings on priorities like child care, health care and college education…

A no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge may help fend off misleading questions from reporters and disingenuous attacks from primary opponents, but it is seriously misguided. Middle-class taxes are a necessary and desirable part of a comprehensive, progressive policy framework that benefits low- and middle-income people most. [emphases mine] When redistributed through universal programs like Medicare-for-all (or free child care, free college, paid family leave, etc.), broad taxes provide stable funding and a sizable return on investment. Democratic presidential candidates should make the case for middle-class taxes, not run from them.

Here is a basic fact: The United States is a low-tax country. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, the United States ranked fourth-lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (a consortium of 36 economically developed countries) in terms of tax revenue collected as a percentage of the economy — behind nations like Germany, Israel, Latvia and Canada. The gap between U.S. and average OECD revenue has widened over time, from 1.3 percentage points of gross domestic product in 1965 to 10 percentage points more recently. That’s nearly $2 trillion per year in forgone revenue from lower tax rates.

10) I just really love advanced hockey stats.  So much so that I actually check in on them here during the game while watching Carolina Hurricanes games.  Thus, I really appreciate this analysis here which basically concludes it makes sense to focus most on scoring chances over Corsi, and definitely more so than high-danger chances.

11) Love this NYT feature from Dana Goldstein on how otherwise identical HS History textbooks have minor re-writes for partisan state review boards.  Most egregrious, of course, Texas.  Especially when it comes to race:

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

Critical language about nonwhite cultural movements also appears in a Texas book from McGraw-Hill. It is partly a result of debates, in 2010, between conservative and liberal members of the Texas Board of Education over whether state standards should mention cultural movements like hip-hop and country music. Their compromise was to ask teachers and textbook publishers to address “both the positive and negative impacts” of artistic movements.

Texas struck that requirement in 2018, but its most recent textbooks, published in 2016, will reflect it for years to come.

12) Basically, it’s hell to own a convenience store in Japan, and one owner is fighting back.

13) Honestly, I think it makes us feel better to make claims along the lines that those who commit suicide are cowards.  Ken White, with some great pushback on this:

Every time there’s a suicide in the news, the Courage Experts appear, explaining that taking your own life—especially if you have a family—is cowardly.  The deaths of Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and many others all inspired such judgments from people lacking either insight or human empathy. These people have something in common: They haven’t experienced major depression, and don’t care to make the effort to grasp what it’s like.  Like Ziegler, they see suicide as “selfish,” a decision reached through a self-interested calculus of pleasure and pain, with no consideration given to loved ones left behind.

But that’s not what depression is like at all.  Wallace understood it, even though his understanding wasn’t enough to save him.  In the novel Infinite Jest, he wrote this remarkably evocative and accurate description:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

Depression lies. It lies relentlessly and seductively and convincingly. The lies, like the fire of Wallace’s parable, separate you from hope, from faith, from your loved ones.  Imagine the worst day of your life. Maybe someone you loved died, or betrayed you. Maybe you lost a job you loved or were publicly humiliated or failed some essential obligation. Remember how it felt? Imagine, for a moment, feeling that way almost all of the time. Imagine it’s always there, a hard angry fist in the pit of your stomach, from when you wake to when you sleep. Imagine that the few moments when you forget and don’t feel that way offer little solace, because suddenly you remember, and the pain and hopelessness surge back like a tsunami. Imagine hearing inexorable lies in your own voice, telling you that you’ll never feel better, that you deserve no better, that if there are people who love you, it’s only because they don’t see how worthless you are, and that they would all be better off without you. Imagine that you can’t conceive of any way that the pain can end unless you die. It’s not cowardly to fall prey to that. It’s human. Resisting that, persevering, excelling, creating art when you feel that way, like Wallace did? That’s goddamned epic. Wallace isn’t a coward for falling; he’s a hero for standing as long as he did.

14) Just got back from “1917.”  Damn was that good.

2020 Quick hits

Happy New Year.

1) Peggy Orenstein’s Atlantic cover story on toxic masculinity was really good.  Enjoyed very much discussing this with my boys.  And, once again, made me super-grateful for my dad who was always a great role model of how to be a man without being a jerk.

2) As I like to say, capitalism is great… where it works.  Alas, increasingly an area where it does not work is in creating next-generation antibiotic drugs.  Time for governments to step in.

3) Adam Serwer with, naturally, a thoughtful take on the 1619 project controversy.  Though, in response to this:

The clash between the Times authors and their historian critics represents a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American society. Was America founded as a slavocracy, and are current racial inequities the natural outgrowth of that? Or was America conceived in liberty, a nation haltingly redeeming itself through its founding principles? These are not simple questions to answer, because the nation’s pro-slavery and anti-slavery tendencies are so closely intertwined.

Does not the answer just have to be an emphatic, “both!”?

4) John McWhorter on why Latinx is not catching on:

Latino was enthusiastically taken up as an alternative to Hispanic around the same time African American came into use; the newer term solved the problem created by the fact that Hispanic, which centers language, refers to Spanish-speakers and thus excludes people of Brazilian descent. Latinx, too, purports to solve a problem: that of implied gender. True, gender marking in language can affect thought. But that issue is largely discussed among the intelligentsia. If you ask the proverbial person on the street, you’ll find no gnawing concern about the bias encoded in gendered word endings.

To black people, African American felt like a response to discrimination from outsiders, something black people needed as an alternative to the loaded word black. The term serves as a proud statement to a racist society. To Latinos, Latinx may feel like an imposition by activists. It’s also too clever by half for Romance-language speakers accustomed to gendered nouns…

The difference between African American and Latinx represents a pattern demonstrated endlessly in the past. Blackboard-grammar rules—fewer books rather than less books, when to use that instead of which, etc.—are imposed from on high.

5) I found this on hearing loss disturbing and fascinating:

While under normal circumstances, cognitive losses occur gradually as people age, the wisest course may well be to minimize and delay them as long as possible and in doing so, reduce the risk of dementia. Hearing loss is now known to be the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, exceeding that of smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and social isolation, according to an international analysis published in The Lancet in 2017.

The analysis indicated that preventing or treating hearing loss in midlife has the potential to diminish the incidence of dementia by 9 percent.

Difficulty hearing can impair brain function by keeping people socially isolated and inadequately stimulated by aural input. The harder it is for the brain to process sound, the more it has to work to understand what it hears, depleting its ability to perform other cognitive tasks. Memory is adversely affected as well. Information that is not heard clearly impairs the brain’s ability to remember it. An inadequately stimulated brain tends to atrophy.

6) I had no idea rare-earth magnets are a thing.  Now, I do– and they’re cool!  But, as very powerful magnets they are potentially dangerous.  Like if kids swallow them.  The latest, “Number of children swallowing dangerous magnets surges as industry largely polices itself.”  But, sorry, lots of products are potentially dangerous (drain cleaner, anyone?) but we don’t think the government should entirely eliminate them from the marketplace (as, apparently, was once done with these magnets).

7) Even back when I was into cars (yes, yours truly had a subscription to “Road & Track” many, many years ago), I had an irrational bias against the Corvette.  But, damn, this new Corvette is really cool and hello of a deal.

8) Why is it so hard to get things right?  Apparently, cruise ships idling in port spew a ton of pollution needlessly, but even where they’ve added an electric power hook-up in Brooklyn, it hardly gets used.

9) The Navy Seal that Trump pardoned was a truly evil man by the accounts of the members of his own unit

They offer the first opportunity outside the courtroom to hear directly from the men of Alpha platoon, SEAL Team 7, whose blistering testimony about their platoon chief was dismissed by President Trump when he upended the military code of justice to protect Chief Gallagher from the punishment.

“The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.

10) It’s crazy to me that Anna Maria College has revitalized itself behind an awful football team. Meanwhile, Northeastern has thrived after dropping its team.  Really interesting contrast.  NYT, “Adding Football Saved One College. Dumping It Boosted Another.Officials at tiny Anna Maria College say starting a football program was one of their best decisions. At Northeastern, it has been good riddance.”

11) Loved this Wired video on the science of color perception.  Of course there’s not even any red pixels in this image, but your brain just assumes that it’s red strawberries in blue light.

strawberries

PHOTOGRAPH: AKIYOSHI KITAOKA

Much more coolness at the link.

12) It’s great that some good guys with guns stopped a shooter in a church in Texas.  Sometimes, the good guy with a gun really does make a difference.  But it is absurdly clear that, on balance, a society awash in guns, as ours is, is simply much, much, much more dangerous.  Also, I read elsewhere that the good guy was a highly-trained, former FBI agent.  Not your usual concealed carry permit holder.

13) Yeah, so this is wrong:

Robert Alexander has been away from home for more than a decade. His days and nights are spent locked up behind walls topped with barbed wire.

“Prison kind of gives you that feeling that you’re like on an island,” says Alexander, 39, who is studying for a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies while serving his third prison sentence.

Clad in an oversized gray sweatshirt under the fluorescent lights inside the visiting room of Wisconsin’s oldest state prison, he is more than 70 miles from his last address in Milwaukee.

“You don’t feel like a resident of anything,” he adds.

But if Alexander and his more than 1,200 fellow prisoners are still incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution next Census Day — April 1 — the Census Bureau will officially consider them residents of Waupun, Wis., for the 2020 national head count.

That’s because, since the first U.S. census in 1790, the federal government has included incarcerated people in the population counts of where they’re imprisoned. This technical detail of a little-known policy can have an outsized impact on prison towns across the U.S. for the next decade.

While serving time at Waupun Correctional Institution, Robert Alexander is working on a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies. Since the first U.S. census in 1790, the federal government has included incarcerated people in the population counts of where they’re imprisoned.

In many cases, rural, predominantly white towns see their population numbers boosted by population counts from prisons disproportionately made up of black and Latinx people.

In turn, states, which control how voting districts are drawn, and local governments can use those numbers to form districts filled predominantly with people who are locked behind bars and cannot vote in almost all states. Maine and Vermont are the exceptions.

Officials in some prison towns have come up with creative ways to avoid forming voting districts made up primarily of prisoners. But in many others, political lines are drawn around prisons in a way that critics deride as “prison gerrymandering.”

14) I did not know there was a worldwide “rule of law index” but discovered it when learning about Singapore on Wikipedia (my little sister just finished visiting there). Followed some links, and I love this report from the World Justice Project.  US ranks #20.  And, damn, Northern Europe kicks butt once again.  I like the comparisons controlling for income, like this one:

15) Great post from Jay Rosen on what Chuck Todd’s utter failure at MTP says about the broader failures of the media in the age of Trump:

A key premise for Meet the Press is symmetry between the two major political parties. The whole show is built on that. But in the information sphere — the subject of Chuck Todd’s confessions — asymmetry has taken command. The right wing ecosystem for news does not operate like the rest of the country’s news system. And increasingly conservative politics is getting sucked into conservative media. It makes more sense to see Fox News and the Trump White House as two parts of the same organism. As these trends grind on they put stress on Meet the Press practices. But it takes imagination to see how the show might be affected— or changed. In place of that we have Chuck Todd pleading naiveté.

So what will they do now? My answer: they have no earthly idea. This is what I mean by an epistemological crisis. Chuck Todd has essentially said that on the right there is an incentive structure that compels Republican office holders to use their time on Meet the Press for the spread of disinformation. So do you keep inviting them on air to do just that? If so, then you break faith with the audience and create a massive problem in real time fact-checking. If not, then you just broke the show in half.

There is simply nothing in the playbook at Meet the Press that tells the producers what to do in this situation. As I have tried to show, they didn’t arrive here through acts of naiveté, but by willful blindness, malpractice among the experts in charge, an insider’s mentality, a listening breakdown, a failure of imagination, and sheer disbelief that the world could have changed so much upon people paid so well to understand it.

16) I just came across this from a few years ago. Anyway, kind of amazing to me that there were people with an academic background actually arguing that the Southern realignment was predominantly about matters other than race.  Uhhh, no. Anyway, this paper uses copious data to make clear– it’s race:

After generations of loyalty, Southern whites left the Democratic party en masse in the second half of the twentieth century. To what extent did Democrats’ 1960s Civil Rights initiatives trigger this exodus, versus Southern economic development, rising political polarization or other trends that made the party unattractive to Southern whites? The lack of data on racial attitudes and political preferences spanning the 1960s Civil Rights era has hampered research on this central question of American political economy. We uncover and employ such data, drawn from Gallup surveys dating back to 1958. From 1958 to 1961, conservative racial views strongly predict Democratic identification among Southern whites, a correlation that disappears after President Kennedy introduces sweeping Civil Rights legislation in 1963. We find that defection among racially conservative whites explains all (three-fourths) of the decline in relative white Southern Democratic identification between 1958 and 1980 (2000). We offer corroborating quantitative analysis—drawn from sources such as Gallup questions on presidential approval and hypothetical presidential match-ups as well as textual analysis of newspapers—for the central role of racial views in explaining white Southern dealignment from the Democrats as far back as the 1940s.

17) Interesting article on just how hard it is to balance being a mom with being a surgeon.  Left almost entirely unaddressed in the article is that either A) there’s a lot of suffering dads as well, or B) a lot of surgeon dads just don’t really care that much about being a good dad.  Also, clearly, some changes need to happen so that this specialty is more compatible with a reasonable family life.

18) Unsurprisingly, the Ganges is brimming with dangerous bacteria.  Surprisingly, this is even the case near the headwaters:

High in the Himalayas, it’s easy to see why the Ganges River is considered sacred.

According to Hindu legend, the Milky Way became this earthly body of water to wash away humanity’s sins. As it drains out of a glacier here, rock silt dyes the ice-cold torrent an opaque gray, but biologically, the river is pristine — free of bacteria.

Then, long before it flows past any big cities, hospitals, factories or farms, its purity degrades. It becomes filled with a virulent type of bacteria, resistant to common antibiotics.

The Ganges is living proof that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are almost everywhere. The river offers powerful insight into the prevalence and spread of drug-resistant infections, one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Its waters provide clues to how these pathogens find their way into our ecosystem.

Winding over 1,500 miles to the Bay of Bengal, Ma Ganga — “Mother Ganges”— eventually becomes one of the planet’s most polluted rivers, a mélange of urban sewage, animal waste, pesticides, fertilizers, industrial metals and rivulets of ashes from cremated bodies.

But annual tests by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology show that antibiotic-resistant bacteria appear while the river is still flowing through the narrow gorges of the Himalayan foothills, hundreds of miles before it encounters any of the usual suspects that would pollute its waters with resistant germs.

The bacterial levels are “astronomically high,” said Shaikh Ziauddin Ahammad, a professor of biochemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology. The only possible source is humans, specifically the throngs of ritual bathers who come to wash away their sins and immerse themselves in the waters…

But where exactly do these armies of drug-resistant germs come from? Are they already everywhere — in the soil beneath our feet, for example? Do they emerge in hospitals, where antibiotics are heavily used?

Are they bred in the intestines of livestock on factory farms? Do they arise in the fish, plants or plankton living in lakes downstream from pharmaceutical factories?

Or are the germs just sitting inside the patients themselves, waiting for their hosts to weaken enough for them to take over?

Research now being done in India and elsewhere suggests an answer to these questions: Yes, all of the above.

19) Good stuff in NYT about the lack of women’s coaches in college athletics:

Title IX, passed in 1972, transformed American sports — it decided girls deserved the same opportunities as boys to play sports. From then on, men and women in college had to receive equal treatment on the playing l.field and equal funding for their athletic programs. Now the United States produces many of the best female athletes in the world.

But that equality stops at graduation.

Before Title IX, women were head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s college teams. Passage of the law flooded women’s sports with money and created many more jobs, many of which went to men. Now about 40 percent of women’s college teams are coached by women. Only about 3 percent of men’s college teams are coached by women.

That means that men have roughly double the number of opportunities to coach. It only gets worse higher up the administrative ladder: 89 percent of Division I college athletic directors are men.

Without equal opportunities to lead, women don’t…

By not diversifying, college teams are quite literally leaving points on the field.

Adding women to leadership roles improves the overall performance of a team, across fields. According to a Harvard study, gender-balanced teams perform better than male-dominated teams. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study found that “women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones.” Another analysis of gender studies shows that when it comes to leadership skills, men excel at confidence, whereas women stand out for competence.

20) I had actually forgotten that at the beginning of this decade, 3D television was supposed to be a big thing.

The technology had existed before; Samsung got there first, in 2007. But January 2010 presented a clear inflection point. In addition to the Cell TV there were 3D Blu-ray players, sets that could automatically give depth to flat images, and the promise of DirecTV networks that broadcast exclusively in three dimensions. The industry had lined up behind a vision of the future, marketing executives and product managers insisting that the more they had created was also better. How could it not be? It was more.

Five years later, 3D TV was dead. You probably haven’t thought about it since then, if you even did before. But there’s maybe no better totem for the last decade of consumer technology. (The iPhone was more transformative, but is also singular, and besides that was born in the late aughts.) It’s what happens when smart people run out of ideas, the last gasp before aspiration gives way to commoditization. It was the dawn of all-internet everything, and all the privacy violations inherent in that. And it steadfastly ignored how human beings actually use technology, because doing so meant companies could charge more for it.

What I remember most from those press conferences in 2010 was the assuredness that millions of people somehow actively wanted to have to put glasses on their faces in order to watch television. Even then, it made no sense.

Quick hits (part I)

1) I remain a techno-optimist when it comes to the future of nuclear power.  Newer designs are so much safer and more efficient that the 40-50 year old designs we are using, if we would just give them a real chance.  Like small modular reactors:

For the last 20 years, the future of nuclear power has stood in a high bay laboratory tucked away on the Oregon State University campus in the western part of the state. Operated by NuScale Power, an Oregon-based energy startup, this prototype reactor represents a new chapter in the conflict-ridden, politically bedeviled saga of nuclear power plants.

NuScale’s reactor won’t need massive cooling towers or sprawling emergency zones. It can be built in a factory and shipped to any location, no matter how remote. Extensive simulations suggest it can handle almost any emergency without a meltdown. One reason is that it barely uses any nuclear fuel, at least compared with existing reactors. It’s also a fraction of the size of its predecessors.

This is good news for a planet in the grips of a climate crisis. Nuclear energy gets a bad rap in some environmentalist circles, but many energy experts and policymakers agree that splitting atoms is going to be an indispensable part of decarbonizing the world’s electricity. In the US, nuclear power accounts for about two-thirds of all clean electricity, but the existing reactors are rapidly approaching the end of their regulatory lifetimes. Only two new reactors are under construction in the US, but they’re billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

Enter the small modular reactor, designed to allow several reactors to be combined into one unit. Need a modest amount of energy? Install just a few modules. Want to fuel a sprawling city? Tack on several more. Coming up with a suitable power plant for a wide range of situations becomes that much easier. Because they are small, these reactors can be mass-produced and shipped to any location in a handful of pieces. Perhaps most importantly, small modular reactors can take advantage of several cooling and safety mechanisms unavailable to their big brothers, which all but guarantees they won’t become the next Chernobyl.

2) I’m no so big into watching baseball, but I still find it intellectually interesting.  Like this, about the baseballs:

SAN DIEGO—Baseballs with a lower seam height coupled with a “change in player behavior” were among the primary causes of the power surge that resulted in players hitting a record 6,776 home runs in 2019, a panel of scientists commissioned by Major League Baseball to study the issue said Wednesday.

The committee’s report attributed 60% of the spike to less wind resistance on the balls themselves and 40% to what it described as “launch conditions”—essentially differences in how batters swing.

Throughout the 2019 season, pitchers across the sport questioned whether the league instructed Rawlings, the MLB-owned company that manufactures the baseballs in a factory in Costa Rica, to intentionally “juice” them to generate offense. The report dismissed that theory, saying that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”…

The latest study comes closer to identifying an explanation: inconsistency in the height of the seams, which the professors said can have a dramatic effect on how the ball behaves.

Newly developed laboratory techniques enabled the committee to show a correlation between seam height and drag. The average seam height in 2019 was lower than 2018 by less than one-thousandth of an inch. Still, that was enough to account for 35% of the change in drag.

“This is something that escaped our observation in the preceding study simply because the equipment that we were using was not precise enough to determine that,” said Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois and the chair of the study.

The problem is that the committee still can’t figure out the other factors that contributed to the decreased drag. It did rule out certain hypotheses such as roundness, surface roughness and lace thickness. Further breakthroughs will require more study. Asked how long that might take, Lloyd Smith, the director of the Sports Science Laboratory at Washington State University, said, “We have no idea.”

3) This is good from Chait, “Hunter Biden Is the New Hillary Clinton Email Server”

The email scandal was not just a Fox News narrative. It dominated mainstream news coverage of Clinton’s campaign, because it was a real issue, albeit a small one. Mainstream reporters made a historic blunder by devoting far more attention to the email issue than it deserved, but this is an inevitable result of the incentive system in the mainstream press, which prioritizes critical coverage over passive transmission of a candidate’s chosen message. The email issue was the “toughest” subject reporters could cover, so they focused a lot of attention on it. The bizarre result of this coverage choice was that voters came away concluding Clinton’s mishandling of email protocol was a crime on roughly the same scale as Trump’s endless array of massively unethical and illegal acts. Clinton, by the way, apologized for using the private server, but the apology did not stop reporters from highlighting the issue…

Most of Trump’s lax security protocol is both far more serious than Clinton’s snafu, and still not on anybody’s list of the 100 worst things Trump has done in office. For that reason, reporters obviously aren’t going to give it anywhere near Clinton-email levels of attention. Nobody who voted against Clinton because they thought her emails were a major scandal is going to realize Trump’s information-security record has been worse.

Here is another parallel to Biden’s Burisma problem. While he allowed the appearance of impropriety, Trump has allowed actual impropriety. Not only are Trump’s children making money off their relationship — Ivanka received a lucrative patent deal in China; Don Jr. got bulk party purchases of his book — President Trump himself is collecting payments from foreign and domestic sources who have government business. The ethical impropriety involved in Trump running a large business concern while serving as president is so enormous it defies all the applicable laws and terms. The structure built to insulate the president from conflicts of interest never anticipated conflicts on this scale. The idea that Trump’s opponent has a liability on this issue is an absurdity. It would be like electing Ted Bundy president because his opponent once kicked a dog.

And yet, such an absurdity is not just a possible outcome: the incentives of the news media turn it into a likely one. Reporters aren’t going to stop asking Biden tough questions about a legitimate ethical shortcoming just because his opponent’s sins dwarf Biden’s a thousandfold. Clinton’s example suggests that an apology wouldn’t do Biden much good.

4) Really cool Upshot feature, “The Age That Women Have Babies: How a Gap Divides America”

Becoming a mother used to be seen as a unifying milestone for women in the United States. But a new analysis of four decades of births shows that the age that women become mothers varies significantly by geography and education. The result is that children are born into very different family lives, heading for diverging economic futures.

First-time mothers are older in big cities and on the coasts, and younger in rural areas and in the Great Plains and the South. In New York and San Francisco, their average age is 31 and 32. In Todd County, S.D., and Zapata County, Tex., it’s half a generation earlier, at 20 and 21, according to the analysis, which was of all birth certificates in the United States since 1985 and nearly all for the five years prior. It was conducted for The New York Times by Caitlin Myers, an economist who studies reproductive policy at Middlebury College, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The difference in when women start families cuts along many of the same lines that divide the country in other ways, and the biggest one is education. Women with college degrees have children an average of seven years later than those without — and often use the years in between to finish school and build their careers and incomes.

People with a higher socioeconomic status “just have more potential things they could do instead of being a parent, like going to college or grad school and having a fulfilling career,” said Heather Rackin, a sociologist at Louisiana State University who studies fertility. “Lower-socioeconomic-status people might not have as many opportunity costs — and motherhood has these benefits of emotional fulfillment, status in their community and a path to becoming an adult.”

There has long been an age gap for first-time mothers, which has narrowed a bit in recent years, driven largely by fewer teenage births, Ms. Myers said. Yet the gap may be more meaningful today. Researchers say the differences in when women start families are a symptom of the nation’s inequality — and as moving up the economic ladder has become harder, mothers’ circumstances could have a bigger effect on their children’s futures.

A college degree is increasingly essential to earning a middle-class wage, and older parents have more years to earn money to invest in violin lessons, math tutoring and college savings accounts — all of which can set children on very different paths. Yet an education and a high-paying career also seem out of reach for many people.

5) John Cassidy argues that impeachment is a win for Democrats

If Trump is to be defeated next year, his opponents will have to maintain that energy and build upon it. To do so, Ezra Levin, the co-founder and co-executive director of the Indivisible movement, which now has more than five thousand affiliated local groups, insists, it was utterly necessary for the Democrats to react to the shocking Ukraine revelations by issuing the ultimate congressional rebuke to Trump. Speaking hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that the House Democrats would go ahead and file articles of impeachment, Levin said, “I see only positive sides to this. I see a system that is working. For all the millions of people who got involved with politics after 2016, it shows that all the hard work they did mattered. That is going to get them involved again in 2020.”

From this perspective, the key thing isn’t whether the Senate actually removes Trump from office. Levin, who is also the co-author of a new book, “We Are Indivisible: A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump,” said that he wasn’t making any predictions about the outcome. But he added, “It was vital to demonstrate that elections do have consequences and that the Democrats will use their power to stand up to Trump.” If Pelosi and her colleagues had refused to launch an impeachment process, Levin went on, “it would have been enormously demoralizing for all these people who were newly engaged after 2016.”

This argument seems incontrovertible. I suspect it is why Pelosi ultimately came around to supporting impeachment, despite the reservations of some House Democrats who represent purple districts…

Of course, none of this means that the impeachment process couldn’t end up alienating some independent voters who believe Trump’s misdeeds don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses, or who think Congress should let voters determine his fate next November. That may happen. And an impeachment trial will certainly fire up pro-Trump activists as well.

But these threats have to be balanced against the imperative of maintaining an energized front against Trump going into an election year. As a disruptive insurgent who eagerly fans social and racial resentments, he has always had an enthusiastic base—that isn’t going to change. One of the big challenges for Democrats—or anybody else opposed to Trump—is to nurture and sustain a nationwide countermovement that is at least equally passionate and engaged. From that perspective, as Levin pointed out, impeachment is already a win.

6) Really cool work from Lynn VavreckJohn Sides and 

What the Nationscape data reveal is clear: Impeachment is a top priority for almost everyone, regardless of whether they are in favor of it or against it.

Democrats are nearly 40 percentage points more likely to choose a collection of policies when it contains the position they agree with on impeaching Mr. Trump. Most of them want it to happen (among Democrats with an opinion on the topic, 86 percent support impeachment; the remainder don’t). But taken as a whole, the topic is something Democrats care a lot about right now.

The only policy more important to Democrats is family separation at the southern border (92 percent of Democrats with an opinion are opposed). Slightly less important to Democrats is whether to enact a total ban on abortion (87 percent against) or build a wall on the border (86 percent against). These are the topics Democrats are less willing to sacrifice relative to the other issues we ask about; they are issues with high impact.

To get these things, Democrats are willing to give up some issues like union rights (whether to oppose right-to-work laws) and whether to oppose an immigration system based only on merit. Even climate policies are seen as less important than impeaching the president…

Republicans are similarly focused on impeachment. They are roughly 45 percentage points more likely to choose a basket of policies when it includes their preferred position on the topic (88 percent of Republicans with a position on impeachment do not favor it). It outweighs every other issue for Republicans — including parts of Mr. Trump’s and the party’s agenda, such as building a border wall. The Green New Deal is the sixth-most important issue for Republicans — a much higher ranking than among Democrats (nearly a quarter of Republicans support it, but many more are opposed to it or just not sure).

Just like Democrats, Republicans are willing to sacrifice getting what they want on other issues, like estate tax repeal and a merit-based immigration system. Rounding out the lower-impact issues for Republicans are school vouchers, trade restrictions and a public option for health insurance.

6) 538, “Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back”

Millennials have earned a reputation for reshaping industries and institutions — shaking up the workplace, transforming dating culture, and rethinking parenthood. They’ve also had a dramatic impact on American religious life. Four in ten millennials now say they are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. In fact, millennials (those between the ages of 23 and 38) are now almost as likely to say they have no religion as they are to identify as Christian. 1
For a long time, though, it wasn’t clear whether this youthful defection from religion would be temporary or permanent. It seemed possible that as millennials grew older, at least some would return to a more traditional religious life. But there’s mounting evidence that today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good.

Social science research has long suggested that Americans’ relationship with religion has a tidal quality — people who were raised religious find themselves drifting away as young adults, only to be drawn back in when they find spouses and begin to raise their own families. Some argued that young adults just hadn’t yet been pulled back into the fold of organized religion, especially since they were hitting major milestones like marriage and parenthood later on.

But now many millennials have spouses, children and mortgages — and there’s little evidence of a corresponding surge in religious interest. A new national survey from the American Enterprise Institute of more than 2,500 Americans found a few reasons why millennials may not return to the religious fold. (One of the authors of this article helped conduct the survey.)

For one thing, many millennials never had strong ties to religion to begin with, which means they were less likely to develop habits or associations that make it easier to return to a religious community.
Young adults are also increasingly likely to have a spouse who is nonreligious, which may help reinforce their secular worldview.
Changing views about the relationship between morality and religion also appear to have convinced many young parents that religious institutions are simply irrelevant or unnecessary for their children.

7) Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes, “If the Witnesses Could Exonerate Trump, Why Aren’t They Testifying? Trump’s defenders suggest that White House aides could exculpate the president—but the evidence suggests otherwise.”

To the extent that the lack of testimony from these witnesses creates holes in the record, those are likely to be damning for Trump. Take Bolton, for example: According to Morrison, after meeting with Trump about the Ukraine aid, Bolton told Morrison that the president “wasn’t ready” to release the aid and that Morrison should “continue to look for opportunities” to convene a meeting with officials who could persuade Trump to do so. This doesn’t sound like Bolton was convinced that the president was legitimately concerned with addressing corruption in Ukraine…

But let’s imagine for a moment that the day comes when these men are compelled to testify—and that they tell the truth. Does anyone believe that the truth will set Trump free—that the real story here is that the president had long-standing concerns about corruption in Ukraine and earnest anxieties about Ukrainian intervention in the 2016 election, and that he asked for investigations out of a disinterested anti-corruption passion he has never exhibited before in his life? …

If these men end up testifying, Republicans will face yet another moment of reckoning as the strongest defense of the president, and the last factual defense, falls away. In an ideal world, that would finally force them to acknowledge the outrageousness of the president’s conduct, and Trump’s support in Congress would plummet. More likely, they will revert to the last defense: that the phone call with Zelensky was, as the president has insisted, “perfect,” and that Trump’s abuse of power is actually a model of how presidents should behave—or if not that, then at least not impeachable behavior.

8) Greg Sargent, “The massive triumph of the rich, illustrated by stunning new data”

A new analysis prepared at my request by Gabriel Zucman — the French economist and “wealth detective” who has become famous for tracing the hidden wealth of the super-rich — illustrates that dual story in a freshly compelling way.

The top-line finding: Among the bottom 50 percent of earners, average real annual income even after taxes and transfers has edged up a meager $8,000 since 1970, rising from just over $19,000 to just over $27,000 in 2018.

By contrast, among the top 1 percent of earners, average income even after taxes and transfers has tripled since 1970, rising by more than $800,000, from just over $300,000 to over $1 million in 2018.

Among the top 0.1 percent, average after-tax-and-transfer income has increased fivefold, from just over $1 million in 1970 to over $5 million in 2018. And among the top .01 percent, it has increased nearly sevenfold, from just over $3.5 million to over $24 million.

I’m emphasizing the phrase “after taxes and transfers” because this is at the core of Zucman’s new analysis. The idea is to show the combined impact of both the explosion of pretax income at the top and the decline in the effective tax rate paid by those same earners — in one result.

The declining progressivity of the tax code is the subject of “The Triumph of Injustice,” a great new book by Zucman and fellow Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez. It charts the slow strangulation of that progressivity at the top.

As they demonstrate, the effective tax rate (federal, state, local and other taxes) paid by top earners has steadily declined since the 1950s and 1960s, when the tax code really was quite progressive, to a point where the highest income groups pay barely more, percentage wise, than the bottom.

9) Alex Seitz-Wald on Republicans and Trump:

WASHINGTON — Late in the afternoon of Aug. 7, 1974, Republican leaders in Congress traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to deliver a stark message to Richard Nixon: His presidency was over.

The public had turned on Nixon as evidence emerged about his role in the Watergate scandal and the bottom fell out once his own party abandoned him.

“None of us doubted the outcome. He would resign,” conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater later wrote of the meeting in his memoir. Two days later, Nixon stepped down.

Today, as Democrats in the House of Representatives move toward bringing articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, with the next Judiciary Committee hearing of evidence set for Monday, few Democrats are still clinging to the hope that Republicans will reach a breaking point with Trump like they did with Nixon.

“I really don’t think there is any fact that would change their minds,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC News.

Why? Two key changes since Nixon: a massive divide in American political life — we hate the other team more than ever before — and a media climate that fuels and reinforces that chasm, powered by Fox News on the Republican side. [emphasis mine]

10) New research says LBJ’s war on poverty worked better than is often credited:

We evaluate progress in President’s Johnson’s War on Poverty. We do so relative to the scientifically arbitrary but policy relevant 20 percent baseline poverty rate he established for 1963. No existing poverty measure fully captures poverty reductions based on the standard that President Johnson set. To fill this gap, we develop a Full-income Poverty Measure with thresholds set to match the 1963 Official Poverty Rate. We include cash income, taxes, and major in-kind transfers and update poverty thresholds for inflation annually. While the Official Poverty Rate fell from 19.5 percent in 1963 to 12.3 percent in 2017, our Full-income Poverty Rate based on President Johnson’s standards fell from 19.5 percent to 2.3 percent over that period. Today, almost all Americans have income above the inflation-adjusted thresholds established in the 1960s. Although expectations for minimum living standards evolve, this suggests substantial progress combatting absolute poverty since the War on Poverty began.

11) Dan Drezner on the toddler-in-chief:

Longtime readers of Spoiler Alerts are aware of my efforts to keep track of when President Trump’s staffers, subordinates and political allies talk about him like he’s a toddler. Over a bit less than three years, there are 1,113 documented examples of this phenomenon, which averages out to more than one a day…

During a week in which Trump finally secured bipartisan agreement on a trade deal, it also raises a question: Are examples like these evidence that, dare I say it, Donald Trump is finally growing into the presidency?

Let’s not leave this reader in suspense: The answer is no. As Aaron Rupar explains in Vox, Trump continues to behave in an unhinged, unconstrained manner. The president’s behavior has not changed one iota, which is why, until this month, the quarterly #ToddlerinChief count had shown a steady increase.

What has changed, however, is something akin to what I warned about back in January: “Shifts in the political balance of power in Washington are altering the incentives for who deploys the analogy.” In particular, two ongoing dynamics have slowed down the toddler mentions: the purging of the executive branch and the impeachment of Trump in Congress.

Within the executive branch, Trump has continued to force out subordinates who have resisted his more toddler-like impulses. The most obvious recent example was the departure of Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who was fired because of his disagreement with Trump’s decision to intervene in the military justice system. Spencer later wrote an op-ed for The Post in which he stated, “the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.” An even more recent example came this week when FBI Director Christopher A. Wray defended the FBI from baseless conspiracy theories. In response, Trump swatted at him on Twitter.

The population ecology here is simple: The more Trump makes life miserable for mature people serving under him, the more likely those people will leave the government and stop being a source of good toddler analogies. Over time, Trump’s staff is becoming as immature as he is.

12) Jonathan Last makes a good case for Biden winning the nomination.  Ugh.

13) I make a point of never using the phrase “begs the question” because I don’t trust myself to use it correctly.  At some point, though, if virtually everyone uses it to mean “raises the question” shouldn’t that be what it means.  It already kind of is.  But there’s good reason not to give in:

In fact, that wrong usage is so common some people will argue it’s not an error anymore (7). But I’m firmly in the camp that believes it’s worthwhile to stick to the formal definition. There are plenty of phrases writers can use when they mean “makes me wonder” or “raises the question.” There’s no hole in the English language that needs to be filled, so there’s no reason to use begs the question improperly.

The quick and dirty tip is to remember that when something begs the question, it begs the question: what is your support for that premise?

14) The NYT art critic defends the $120,000 banana.  Mistake.  When you are wrong in the NYT, the commenters are so much smarter.  Really enjoyed the comments on this one, e.g.,

I know the art world. I ran a successful contemporary art gallery and was editor of an international art magazine. Cattelan’s banana is rubbish, and it’s sad to see the Times critic engaged in rhetorical backflips to try convince a rightly suspicious public that their instincts are wrong. You don’t need an art education to realize that telling the public they should recognize a banana and duct tape as worthy art is little more than gaslighting by art world elites.

 

Photo of the day

Hopeful images” of 2019 seems like a nice theme given all the negativity.  I liked this one in the Atlantic gallery:

Mohamed Salah of Liverpool plays on the pitch with his daughter, Makka, after the Premier League match between Liverpool F.C. and Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. at Anfield in Liverpool, England, on May 12, 2019.

Catherine Ivill / Getty

Quick hits

Didn’t really feel like working on this on Friday night.  But, damnit, today is DJC’s birthday celebration (not sure if it’s the actual day) and I know he’s depending on his quick hits bright and early.

1) I found this NYT Op-Ed about how Mississippi (of all places) has dramatically improved reading scores by focusing on phonics and making sure elementary teachers understand the science if firmly behind it.  I didn’t realize lots of places still are not fully on-board with it despite the clear scientific evidence.  I’m glad my kids have had Letterland.

To understand what the science says, a good place to start is with something called the “simple view of reading.” It’s a model that was first proposed by researchers in 1986 to clarify the role of decoding in reading comprehension. Everyone agrees the goal of reading is to comprehend text, but back in the 1980s there was a big fight going on over whether children should be taught how to decode words — in other words, phonics.

The simple view says that reading comprehension is the product of two things. One is your ability to decode words: Can you identify the word a string of letters represents? For example, you see the letter string “l-a-s-s” and you are able to sound it out and say the word.

You may have no idea what “lass” means. This is where language comprehension comes in. Language comprehension is your ability to understand spoken language. So, when someone says to you, “Let’s have all the lads and lasses line up at the door,” you know that’s what all the boys and girls are supposed to do.

The simple view is an equation that looks like this:

decoding ability x language comprehension = reading comprehension

Notice that reading comprehension is the product of decoding ability and language comprehension; it’s not the sum. In other words, if you have good language comprehension skills but zero decoding skills, your reading comprehension will be zero, because zero times anything is zero. The simple view also says that if you have good decoding skills but poor language comprehension skills, your reading comprehension isn’t going to be very good either.

The simple view model was proposed more than 30 years ago and has been confirmed over and over again by research. But a study in Mississippi several years ago showed that teachers were not being trained to use this model and that many professors and deans in colleges of education had never even heard of it. Now, through workshops and coaching paid for by state taxpayers, teachers in Mississippi are learning about the simple view and other key takeaways from the science of reading.

Also, there’s a long piece by the same author that I found especially interesting because of the Education professors who are basically the equivalent of climate deniers on the matter.  Really interesting stuff.

2) Rachel Bitecofer makes a strong case that we are using polls wrong in thinking about electability:

The problem with this conclusion is that it’s based on “electability” polls that are unreliable, leading to erroneous narratives that can make or break campaigns, especially for lesser-known candidates who also seek to break through gender or racial glass ceilings like Warren and Harris.

Horserace polling is replete with electability polls because the electability question is central in voters’ minds and, as such, is the type of data heavily prioritized by media outlets. There are significant incentives to produce this type of polling but little scrutiny placed on the practice. Decades of political science scholarship shows that polling helps create narratives that can impact voter behavior, the ability of candidates to raise money, and electability, all of which tie to candidate poll performance in a positive feedback loop. Research shows that voters highly value candidate electability, defined as a candidate’s potential to compete against the opposition party’s nominee, as one of the most important factors driving their vote choice. Even in today’s hyper-ideological environment, two-thirds of likely Democratic primary voters in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey indicate they’d prefer a candidate who can beat Trump over one who aligns with them on the issues, even immediately following an ideology-priming event such as a debate.

The only candidates for whom head-to-head ballot tests are capable of reliably measuring “electability” are those who enjoy what I call “saturation” name recognition. The test only works when two or more equally well-known candidates are compared to each other. It is really important to illustrate how hard it is to reach saturation-level name recognition among the American electorate.

Even Biden, who served as vice president for eight years, is not universally known by voters. The most recent iteration of the Economist/YouGov tracking poll, which samples 1,500 American adults on a rolling basis, finds 15% of sampled adults unable to offer an opinion as to whether they approve or disapprove of Biden. The latest iteration of the Morning Consult Democratic primary tracking poll finds 8% of potential voters reporting they’ve “heard of, but can’t offer an opinion” on Biden and 1% have never heard of him, for a total of 9% in what I call the “unfamiliar with the candidate” category. However, it must be noted, we are now talking about a far more sophisticated population of voters: potential Democratic primary voters. Participants in presidential primaries are among the most engaged and informed voters in the country. Yet, 8% of these voters appear incapable of offering the most basic of opinions about a man who served as President Obama’s veep.

3) The headline about a once-a-month birth control pill is a little misleading (the technology still needs a lot of work), but it was fascinating indeed to learn about the work on a pill that basically slowly releases medication in your stomach for a month.

4) We’re going to run out of teachers because we don’t pay them enough.  We really need to remedy this.  If only rich people and corporations didn’t need their tax cuts so badly.

There are one-third less people enrolling in teacher training programs, which is part of the certification process to become an educator, according to data from the Center for American Progress.
In some states, such as Michigan, Oklahoma, and Illinois, enrollment declined by more than 50%.
The drop in teacher training enrollment suggests that issues plaguing the profession — from low pay to dwindling school funding — has discouraged potential educators, exacerbating the nationwide teacher shortage…

Other data centers have similarly staggering estimates of the teacher shortage crisis. The independent research group Learning Policy Institute estimated a 112,000 teacher shortage in 2018.

Part of the reason many rejected the education field was due to low pay. Teachers get paid nearly 21% less on average than other professions that require a college degree. Thirty years ago, the pay gap was just 2% less.

5) It’s ultimately super-small, but nonetheless encouraging to see some NC local elected officials giving up on the Republican Party for it giving up on the rule of law.

6) Interesting column from David Brooks where he, in theory, is taking on the left by taking on socialism, but ultimately holds up the same model as Bernie Sanders– Denmark.  Yes, Northern Europe does seem to have largely figured out how to balance relatively free markets with a robust public sector– I’m all for emulating it.

7) Sad story of rural, Southwestern Virginia town doing everything to hand on as the population just shrinks.  But, it is also a story of a hugely disproportionate transfer of wealth to one community where it is unlikely to save it:

This corner of southwestern Virginia has long sought alternatives to coal as a source of sustenance. The Appalachian School of Law, which opened in the 1990s in the shell of Grundy Junior High School, was heralded as a new economic engine, lubricated — of course — with taxpayer funds. So was the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, founded in 2003 some 20 minutes down the road in Oakwood. County officials considered a dental school, but figured it was too expensive. They still get grumpy about the optometry school, on which they spent $250,000 in feasibility studies only for it to open across the state line in Pikeville, Ky. Then there is downtown Grundy itself, much of which was moved up the hill to avoid periodic floodwaters from the Levisa Fork, a tributary of the Big Sandy River…

Virginia estimates that the relocation and flood-proofing projects, started almost 20 years ago, cost $170 million in federal and state funds, more than $170,000 for every woman, man and child living in town today. The Army Corps of Engineers shaved off the flank of a mountain across the river to create an elevated platform on which the new commercial district would sit. Virginia’s Department of Transportation bulldozed much of the old downtown and routed U.S. 460 through it, built on top of a levee protecting what was left of Grundy’s old center. Finally, in 2011, Walmart opened a superstore to anchor the new site, perched somewhat oddly above a two-story, publicly funded parking lot.

8) I really quite enjoyed and appreciated the NYC subway on my trip there this summer.  Most everyone on twitter was a big fan of this NYT interactive feature on the subway map.

9) Helaine Olen in polling and a winning message for Democrats in 2020.  Honestly, it does seem crazy to see far left and center-left tear each other apart when there’s a consensus agenda that all Democrats can embrace, Republican voters like, but is anathema to Republican politicians:

While the president remains divisive, the report finds majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans agree on many things. Seventy percent or more of those surveyed, including majorities of Republicans, agreed with each of the following statements:

  • College education is too expensive, and states should do more to “help people afford a college education without getting buried in debt.”
  • “Rich families and corporations should pay a lot more in taxes than they do today, and middle-class families should pay less.”
  • People who don’t receive health insurance from an employer should be allowed to buy into a public plan, and pharmaceutical companies should be “penalized” if drug prices increase faster than the rate of inflation.
  • Increase “good jobs” with a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, including both roads and “expanded production of green energy.”
  • Reduce inequality with a 2 percent “wealth tax” on net worth in excess of $50 million.

That’s not all. People of every political persuasion give President Trump negative marks on his handling of health care and poverty. When asked what they believed is the most important issue that Trump and Congress should address in the coming year, “making health care more affordable” was cited by a majority of voters. Only a third of the entire electorate supported cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in an effort to address the national debt. And 8 in 10 Democrats and three-fourths of independents believe corporations have too much power and should be “strongly regulated” — something even 49 percent of Republicans also signed off on.

10) In a more sane world, we’d be talking more about trump’s military pardons, which really were appalling.  Thomas Edsall:

I asked Porch what the consequences might be of Trump’s war crimes pardons of former Army First Lt. Michael BehennaMaj. Mathew L. Golsteyn and 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, and his restoration of rank and service medals to Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL.

First, Porch wrote, “the treatment of POWs is based on reciprocity” and “thus, to pardon soldiers who allegedly carry out war crimes is to put you own soldiers at risk.”

Second, “it undermines the moral foundation of intervention — how can a cause be moral and acceptable internationally if those who carry it out do not behave within legal norms?”

Trump has taken the opposite stance. In a tweet on Oct. 12, the president declared: “We train our boys to be killing machines, and then prosecute them when they kill!”…

General Charles C. Krulak, former commandant of the United States Marine Corps and a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also disagreed. He told The Wall Street Journal that Trump’s intervention “betrays these ideals and undermines decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country’s fighting forces the envy of the world.”

Scholars of the military generally took the side of Dempsey and Krulak in opposition to the pardons.

Mara Karlin, the director of the strategic studies program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development during the Obama administration, was incisive in her critique of the war crimes pardons. In an email, Karlin wrote:

While some in the military are surely enthusiastic that Trump did so because they support him or Gallagher, they may be underestimating the precedent now set. Of all the contemporary norms that Trump has violated vis-à-vis the military, this is among the most catastrophic because at the end of the day, a transparent, trustworthy, and effective military justice system is the sine qua non of a transparent, trustworthy, and effective military.

11) Should we trust the polls on ready the country is ready for a gay president?

As Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., has surged to a top position in Iowa polls in the Democratic presidential primary, media reports have emerged warning that his sexuality may yet derail his White House bid. A recent national Politico/Morning Consult poll found that a plurality of voters, 45 percent, think the country is not ready for an openly gay president, with only 40 percent saying it’s ready. Consultants have chimed in to say the mayor may be less electable than coastal elites realize because he’s gay.

Ordinary voters are quoted saying they — or their “devout Christian” mother — “would never vote for a gay.” And the Buttigieg campaign’s own focus groups recently found that many undecided black voters in South Carolina regard the candidate’s sexual orientation as a “barrier” to winning their votes.

But the power of polls to predict behavior around social issues and disfavored groups has always been poor, and what we know about people’s attitudes and actions when it comes to L.G.B.T. concerns tells a cautionary tale about how to interpret claims by voters that they won’t support an openly gay candidate for president.

Pollsters have long known about the poor predictive power of asking respondents how they would treat members of an unfavored minority group, especially in politically polarized climates.

12) The Supreme Court heard a big gun control case this week.  What was notable was the way some of the conservatives were really eager to deny the mootness of the issue staring them in the face.  Now that’s judicial activism.

13) Super-edifying, but I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising, when I write something and see that one of my favorites has already made the same point.  In this case, Drum on Barron Trump.

There is nothing wrong with saying this. Nonetheless, Republicans pretended to be outraged by it, and as near as I can tell there was no pushback. Not a single Republican stepped up to say “Give it a rest, guys.”

This kind of solidarity is a startlingly successful strategy. Reporters mostly bought into the Republican outrage, and even more tellingly, so did many Democrats, who suggested that Karlan really shouldn’t have “brought up the president’s son.” Eventually this forced Karlan to say sorry, which prompted yet another round of faux Republican outrage over her (of course) inadequate apology.

This was a minor affair, quickly forgotten. But it reminds me once again of the hack gap. Conservatives instinctively circled the wagons after the first person let loose on Karlan. Many joined in and none defended Karlan. Liberals, by contrast, were divided. Some were clear from the start that the whole thing was entirely fake, but others apparently felt like they had to demonstrate their reasonableness, which they did by saying that while it was no big deal, “still she really should have left Barron out of it.”

14) Paul Waldman on Biden’s “surprisingly liberal” tax plan:

Joe Biden is more liberal than he looks.

Let me qualify that: Biden is moderate in many ways, in vision and inclination. But the policy plans he has laid out as part of his campaign are much more progressive than most anyone seems to realize.

The latest evidence: the tax plan he just released. The coverage it’s receiving has tended toward “Biden releases tax plan much less ambitious than what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders propose.” In fact, it’s so liberal — in very good ways — that when he was vice president it would have been considered radical, certainly too much for Barack Obama to have signed into law, or in some cases even suggested.

This tells us a great deal about the state of the Democratic Party and how it has affected Biden, who is assumed to be the ideologically moderate choice for president (along with other candidates, including Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar).

15) Max Boot, “To GOP hypocrites: I never want to hear about Hillary Clinton’s emails again.”

If there were a global competition for insincerity, President Trump would have won the equivalent of an Oscar, a gold medal, a Ballon d’Or and a Vince Lombardi Trophy combined. You simply could not be more two-faced; it is not humanly possible. His picture belongs in the dictionary under the very word “hypocrisy.”

Trump, recall, spent much of 2016 leading chants of “Lock her up!” because Hillary Clinton made the mistake of employing a private server for some of her official emails as secretary of state. Trump still routinely refers to the former first lady and secretary of state as “Crooked Hillary” as if she had actually committed a crime. Never mind that the Justice Department decided not to prosecute and that a lengthy State Department investigation, completed during the Trump administrationfound “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”

And yet, while castigating Clinton for supposedly mishandling classified information, Trump has been engaging in far more egregious examples of the very same sin…

But all these security breaches pale by comparison with Trump’s promiscuous use of a cellphone to conduct top-secret conversations. My Post colleagues Paul Sonne, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report that “Trump has routinely communicated with his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and other individuals speaking on cellphones vulnerable to monitoring by Russian and other foreign intelligence services.”

And lets definitely not forget to blame the media for taking these bad faith arguments in good faith.

16) Call me transphobic, but, sorry, if you were born a male I don’t think you get to compete in athletic competitions as female.  Also, I honestly don’t know where the controversy falls on the terminology these days, but I’m totally comfortable with the author identifying as as “woman,” but I don’t know about the insistence upon “female.”

17) Okay, I don’t actually listen to the album anymore (though I hear plenty on 90’s at 9 on my satellite radio), but I still say Alanis‘ “Jagged Little Pill” was a great album.  Enjoyed this NYT magazine feature on her.

18) Speaking of music, I had not heard the Kinks’ “Father Christmas” in years and years, but heard it on the radio yesterday.  Used to listen to it all the time on the one Kinks album I owned.  Now that’s a rock ‘n roll Christmas song.

19) How exercise may make your muscles function like they are decades younger.

20) Planet Money on the Constitutional hurdles (with this Supreme Court… hell yeah!) of the wealth tax and an interesting alternative:

Recently, Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, proposed such a reform. He wants to get rid of the “two tax codes” for workers and investors. He proposes the government create “one tax code” by taxing investment income at the same rate as labor income and taxing investment gains annually whether or not they’re sold. Julian Castro and Senator Cory Booker, each running for president, have proposed similar tax policies.

Wyden proposes an “anti-deferral” tax system in which people with over a million dollars in annual income or ten million in net worth over three consecutive years would lose the ability to defer tax payments on publicly listed assets, like stocks and bonds. Harder-to-value private assets, like artwork, real estate, and ownership shares of private businesses, would face a retroactive “deferral charge” when they’re sold. He estimates the tax would raise between $1.5 to $2 trillion over ten years, and he wants to use the money to strengthen the Social Security program.

Proposals for accrual taxes face similar criticisms to the wealth tax. The policy would require, for instance, significant resources to administer. It could distort saving and investment decisions and have unintended consequences for the broader economy. And while proposals on the table include measures to avoid such problems, it’s possible the tax could be hard on some taxpayers who look rich on paper but are in fact short on the cash needed to pay the tax.

A key question over an accrual tax is how it will deal with investor losses. If rich investors get hammered in a financial crash, for instance, will they be able to write off their paper losses? If they make a huge gain one year on Amazon stock and pay a lot in accrual tax, but then next year Amazon stock tanks, do they get to claw back those taxes previously paid? If so, how much? Wyden expresses support for allowing deductibility of losses from tax bills, but he doesn’t provide many specifics. As of September, when he released a white paper about the policy, he sought public comment.

Batchelder believes a wealth tax has a number of advantages over an accrual tax. For one, a wealth tax is easier to explain, which is an asset to politicians, who have to convert complicated policies into easy-to-digest talking points. An accrual tax, which necessitates more wonky details and dull explanations, just isn’t as sexy. “It hasn’t gotten, obviously, the media attention that a wealth tax has,” Batchelder says.

But Batchelder thinks an accrual tax could go a long way toward raising revenue and addressing inequality, and she suggests the policy could even be included as a “backup mechanism” in wealth tax legislation that could kick in if the Supreme Court knocks a wealth tax down.

 

 

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