Marco Rubio responded today to President Biden's comment that reopening states too early is "neanderthal thinking":
President Biden’s use of an old stereotype is hurtful to modern Europeans, Asians & Americans who inherit about 2% of their genes from Neanderthal ancestors. https://t.co/aXHJV5wLlr
He should apologize for his insensitive comments and seek training on unconscious bias.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) March 4, 2021
Unless I've lost my sense of humor completely, I assume this is a joke. Why are so many people treating it otherwise?
Luckily for everyone, this UPS plane decided not to follow the arrows to San Diego.February 18, 2021 — Ontario, California
Democrats in the House have passed HR1, an extensive package of voting reforms designed to fight back against the voter suppression efforts of Republicans. I find myself in an odd position about this: I firmly support passage of the bill, but I don't really care that much what's in it. Let me explain with a chart:
The chart starts in 1992, right before the motor voter law was passed. It goes through 2016, and thus includes all of the various Republican state laws enacted over the past couple of decades to restrict voting.
The results are pretty obvious: Voter turnout has been steady; Black voter turnout has gone up a bit; and both early voting and mail voting have increased. Roughly speaking, all those Republican voter suppression efforts just haven't had much impact on a national level.
On a national level. This is the key. On the level of individual states, it's likely that Republican efforts have been more successful. And this obviously makes a difference in Senate races, in the Electoral College, and in gerrymandering of House districts.
So here's the thing: it's absurd that political parties are essentially able to control the voting process to their own advantage. No other democratic country that I know of allows this. Voting in national elections should be regulated at the national level, just as the Constitution suggests:
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations...
Congress should set the rules for registration and voting and they should be the same for every state. This is so obvious that it barely even needs to be defended.
HR1 would do this. But once we've agreed to national rules, what should those rules be? It's here that I think we have a lot of leeway. As the chart above shows us, national voting has been pretty steady despite the hundreds of individual laws passed over the past couple of decades. Things like Sunday voting, early voting, mail voting, ID requirements, and so forth haven't had a big impact. I'd be perfectly happy to compromise considerably on those details as long as the resulting rules applied equally to every state and territory.
Needless to say, this would also put a stop to the tidal wave of state lawsuits that consume so much time after every election. Very often these cases turn on state legislatures that have tried to change the voting rules at the last minute in a desperate effort to squeeze out a few extra votes for their party, and a national law would put an end to that.
I think it's unlikely that HR1 will pass in the Senate. No matter what it includes, Republicans will conclude that they have a better chance of winning by allowing Republican states to create their own rules. But you never know. It's possible that Democrats could attract a dozen or so Republicans by insisting on national rules but making substantial concessions on the details of the rules. My take—subject to correction from experts—is that Democrats will be in good shape as long as they know what the rules are;¹ Republicans will be satisfied if we agree to some of their hobbyhorses; and the country will be far better off if voting regulations are national. We should give it a try and see if Republicans are willing to put their money where their mouths are.
¹As an example, photo ID laws are one of the worst examples of Republicans trying to suppress the votes of groups that vote Democratic. And yet, it turns out their effect was minimal. The reason is that once Democrats understood the new rules, they were able to turn that into higher energy among Black and Brown voters to get to the polls. On net, then, photo ID laws worked in both directions and had only the smallest effect on election results.
Over at the Washington Post, Philip Bump confirms a suspicion of mine. Fox News has been going absolutely ballistic over the "canceling" of Dr. Seuss books but hasn't shown the actual offensive images themselves:
The Washington Post isn’t showing the images for obvious reasons, but they can be seen elsewhere. But you know who else has avoided showing the images? Fox News.
Instead, the network’s coverage is heavy on B-roll footage in which cameras pan across Seuss titles seen on bookstore shelves....None of the books shown there are among the ones which the Seuss estate has pulled from publication.
The reason for this is obvious. Here, for example, is one of the images:
This is so obviously offensive by today's standards that even the whitest Fox News viewer would cringe at seeing it. And that would ruin their whole schtick. If Fox viewers realized that the images in question actually were offensive, and not just the fever dreams of some lefty social justice warriors, they'd realize that Fox was duping them.
So no pictures for Fox! Much better to simply rail endlessly and let their audience assume that this is just some ridiculous liberal freakout over nothing. That's much better for ratings.
Here’s the officially reported coronavirus death toll through March 3. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.
Democrats in the Senate are negotiating the stimulus bill:
Like the House bill, the proposal under discussion would send $1,400 checks to people earning up to $75,000 and households earning up to $150,000, with those earning more receiving smaller payments. But the Senate proposal would end the checks altogether for those making $80,000 or couples earning $160,000, while the House measure had a higher cap of $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for households.
Apparently this would save about $15 billion from a $1.9 trillion bill.
A decade ago the 2009 stimulus bill got cut down from the (approximately) $2 trillion that it should have been to about $1 trillion. That was a mistake, but at least it's understandable. If you're a deficit hawk, that's a big chunk of money you've saved.
But $15 billion out of $1,900 billion? That's a cut of 0.8%. What's the point? Is it just part of an obsession with being able to tell your constituents that you helped cut a wasteful bill down to skin and bones? Does anyone buy this?
Here in Irvine the schools have been open all year, and today it occurred to me that I've heard . . . nothing . . . about this. No complaints big enough to make the paper. Apparently no dramatic deaths. Nothing. According to the school district:
Since resuming in-person instruction on September 24, IUSD and the Orange County Health Care Agency have found no evidence of student-to-staff or student-to-student transmission, and only two confirmed cases of staff-to-staff transmission. In each of these cases, physical distancing practices were not followed.
....Case rates remain extremely low and isolated. Our site rates have not come anywhere close to the state’s threshold for closing schools or other facilities.
Here's the current caseload throughout the district:
That's a total of 17 students out of 23,000 and 3 staff members out of 3,000.
Irvine is an upper middle class district, and obviously that makes a difference. And this is just one anecdote. Still, it's the real world and classrooms have been open for more than six months without any drama. It sure seems like this could be the case nationwide too.
Spring is sproinging, and our front yard garden is starting to bloom. This gave me a chance to indulge in my new obsession of panoramic photography, since our garden is so close to the wall that a single shot can't capture more than half of it. This picture, believe it or not, is made up of ten separate shots.February 28, 2021 — Irvine, California
Last year the Trump administration quietly shifted some funding meant for hospitals to fund vaccine development under Operation Warp Speed. Alex Tabarrok says there's nothing wrong with this:
The real scandal is why Congress never put big funding behind Operation Warp Speed–thus requiring the administration to fund OWS by surreptitiously cutting elsewhere.
But Congress made loads of funding available to OWS. Here's a recent Congressional Research Service report:
In the FY2020 laws, not much was appropriated specifically for COVID-19 vaccine-related efforts; instead, several accounts have funding available for relevant activities.
....In two of the four FY2020 coronavirus supplemental appropriations acts (P.L. 116-123 and P.L. 116-136), funding was made available for vaccine-related efforts to accounts at NIH, DOD, and the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF)....In particular, up to roughly $30 billion (accounting for set-asides and transfers) in the PHSSEF account is available for vaccine development, manufacturing, and purchase until September 30, 2024.
This was all part of two bills passed in March of 2020, two months before Trump announced OWS. Was it enough? So far less than $20 billion has been spent, so I'd guess that it was. OWS has been a pretty good program, primarily aimed at guaranteeing purchases of vaccines as a way of reducing risk for vaccine developers, and it sure seems to have worked. Both Congress and the Trump administration seem like they handled it pretty well.
The Obama administration was no slouch when it came to siccing the Justice Department on suspected leakers, but the Trump administration put them to shame. Via the Intercept, here are the annual numbers for leak investigations referred to the Justice Department since 2009. Trump averaged 84 per year compared to 40 per year for Obama.
Here’s the officially reported coronavirus death toll through March 2. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.
When I was at the zoo last year the sky was mostly overcast. However, the sun came out for a bit in the afternoon and produced this very contrasty picture of a male exclamatory paradise whydah. He has sort of a peacock style tail, apparently grown to absurd lengths in an arms race to attract the attention of the female whydah. But he can still fly!October 9, 2020 — San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California
The global number of new coronavirus cases rose for the first time in nearly two months, the World Health Organization said Monday....Cases over the past week jumped in every region except for Africa and the Western Pacific, the U.N. agency said.
Naturally this got me curious:
Sure enough, if you look at the period from February 22-28, daily cases worldwide have gone up by about 14,000. That's an increase of just over 3%. Not the biggest change, but definitely a move in the wrong direction.
So keep masking up and staying at home as much as possible, folks. We aren't out of the woods yet.
The Republican Party has won a majority of the white vote ever since the 1976 election. But how has this changed over the years?
This is a little tricky to measure. Obviously if Republicans win in a landslide, they're also going to win the white vote in a landslide. If they lose, their share of the white vote will go down. The only good way to measure this, then, is to look at the GOP's two-party share of the white vote compared to its two-party share of the total vote. Here it is:
In 1976, for example, Republicans won 48.9% of the total vote and 52.0% of the white vote, so the excess white vote was 3.1 percentage points. In 2020, Donald Trump won 47.7% of the total vote and 58.6% of the white vote, for an excess white vote of 10.9 percentage points.
The interesting thing to note is that the high point for the Republican Party was Mitt Romney in 2012. Running against a Black man they won an excess of 12.2 percentage points of the white vote. Donald Trump, running against the memory of a Black man, performed a bit worse in 2016, and worse still in 2020. This suggests that the white backlash against Barack Obama was at its peak when Obama was actually in the White House, and has declined a bit ever since.
The estate of Dr. Seuss has decided to remove six of his books from publication because of racist imagery. Philip Bump comments on a gift of Seuss books that his son received a few months ago:
One of the books he was sent was Dr. Seuss's “If I Ran the Zoo,” a book I had as a kid and that I remembered fondly. In it, a young boy imagines what he'd do with the local zoo were he in charge. It's Seuss, so the boy's conjurings are wild, weird creatures whose names rhyme with their points of origin.
I sat down to read it with Thomas and rambled along in rhythm. Then I turned the page to the “African island of Yerka” on which lived the Tufted Mazurka. In Seuss’s drawing, the bird-thing is perched on a pole being held by two caricatures of African men that are so obviously and immediately racist that it was almost breathtaking. It would be like watching an interview with Tom Hanks in which he suddenly started casually dropping racial slurs, a grotesque act accentuated by astonishment at the source. This was Dr. Seuss, the benchmark for authors of children’s books! And here are the racist caricatures he drew.
This is unsurprising given that the book was written in 1950, when this kind of imagery was unexceptional. But times change and no one wants their young kids reading and seeing this kind of stuff anymore. Naturally conservatives will yell about Seuss being "canceled" due to precious liberal sensitivities, but who cares? The Seuss estate is doing what's right, and there are loads of other Dr. Seuss books still available.
But here's what I don't get. Why not just remove this page from the book? If I Ran the Zoo isn't a narrative, it's a series of disconnected drawings. Removing one would do it no harm.
Or, for that matter, why not get someone to redraw the African pole bearers? It would be a pretty minor tweak.
If we were talking about Tolstoy or Faulkner, nobody would dare suggest such a thing. But this is Dr. Seuss. Creative integrity is just not that big a deal in a book of cartoons aimed at five-year-olds. Is it?
But I suppose the estate considered all these possibilities and decided against them. It's not as if this depletes the world of children's books, but it's still too bad. If I Ran the Zoo was a pretty good book. Not as good as On Beyond Zebra, maybe, but still pretty good.
For God's sake, people, don't let up now. We have a chance to get everyone vaccinated at the same time that COVID-19 cases are declining, and this is a golden opportunity that will happen only once. Let's not mess it up by opening up and ditching our masks too early. Another couple of months is all we need.
Here’s the officially reported coronavirus death toll through March 1. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.
Over at the New Republic, Clio Chang tells the story of Richard Ault, a Silicon Valley technologist who fell on hard times and ended up in debt to the tune of $60,000:
“It’s ridiculous to me to think that $1,000 to every family in this country is going to save the country,” Ault said of the government’s sporadic relief checks, especially living in a city with such a high cost of living. “It’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Ault is one of millions in the United States facing a similar crisis. Household debt, which has been on the rise for the last decade, reached an astronomical $14.56 trillion at the end of last year. As rent and mortgage debt piles up, nearly a third of people in the country are at risk of eviction or foreclosure. While credit card debt, which is now at $820 billion, fell overall, in part due to a decline in spending, some 51 million people still saw it increase during the pandemic. Student loan debt, the second-biggest type of household debt after mortgages, continues to skyrocket, reaching nearly $1.6 trillion.
This is an example of a writer who's just not willing to give up a standard narrative regardless of the facts. First off, here are blue-collar hourly earnings:
Hourly wages for blue-collar workers have been steadily rising since 2014 and spiked upward at the start of the pandemic recession. Even now, after wages lost a bit of their gain, they are still well above the trendline of the past few years.
Here is household debt:
Monthly debt service, which has been at its lowest recorded level for the past eight years, plunged yet again at the beginning of the pandemic recession. It is now well below anything seen since the Reagan era.
Here is the personal saving rate:
This is higher than anything we've seen since the Reagan era. Those "sporadic relief checks" have not only kept spending from falling off a cliff, they've also kept savings high. And this chart goes only through the third quarter of 2020, so it doesn't account for either the December stimulus bill or the current bill working its way through Congress.
Finally, here's the personal bankruptcy rate:
This is post-bankruptcy reform, so the comparison is apples to apples. Bankruptcies fell steadily during the Obama recovery, flattened out around 2016, and then spiked downward after the first stimulus bill passed in March of last year.
In summary: Nearly a year into the pandemic, American households have higher incomes, less debt, more savings, and are filing fewer bankruptcies than they have in decades.
I get that data doesn't tell you everything. Averages can hide a lot of variation, and there are always people in trouble even during the best of times. That said, the data doesn't even remotely back up the economic horror story that liberals seem to be addicted to. If anything, American workers are, in general, better off now than they have been in quite a while—and they'll be better off still after the American Rescue Plan is passed. So let's quit jawing and get it passed.
Here's the latest in woke outrage, Netherlands edition:
The acclaimed author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld has pulled out of translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry ["The Hill We Climb, read at Joe Biden's inauguration] into Dutch, after their publisher was criticised for picking a writer for the role who was not also Black.
....Journalist and activist Janice Deul led critics with a piece in Volkskrant asking why Meulenhoff had not chosen a translator who was, like Gorman, a “spoken-word artist, young, female and unapologetically Black”.
“An incomprehensible choice, in my view and that of many others who expressed their pain, frustration, anger and disappointment via social media,” wrote Deul. “Isn’t it — to say the least — a missed opportunity to [have hired] Marieke Lucas Rijneveld for this job? They are white, nonbinary, have no experience in this field, but according to Meulenhoff are still the ‘dream translator’?”
Meulenhoff said it was Rijneveld’s decision to resign, and that Gorman, who is 22, had selected the 29-year-old herself, as a fellow young writer who had also come to fame early.
Come on, folks. Enough's enough. Are we now to believe that Gorman herself should not be allowed the agency to choose a translator of her choice for her own poetry?
Here's an interesting demonstration of the power of black and white. The top photo is a picture of the Green Church, near Mammoth Lakes, with the White Mountains in the background. It's a so-so image, and mostly radiates a sense of calmness and silence.
Then I decided to render it in high-contrast black and white. Now it looks more like a church you might find in a Stephen King novel, producing mostly a sense that some kind of festering evil is lurking within ready to tear anyone who enters into tiny little shreds. Fascinating, no?
February 16, 2021 — Mono County, California
This ought to be pretty obvious, but I feel like maybe should point it out in plain language. It's common to claim that today's Republican Party is "anti-democracy," but if you've been conned into believing that Democrats stole the 2020 election—that is, if you really, truly believe it—then it's Democrats who are anti-democracy and Republicans who are fighting to restore democracy.
Needless to say, I don't believe this and there's no evidence that it's true. But a small number of conservative leaders from Donald Trump down have convinced millions of rank-and-file Republicans that it's true. These leaders may themselves be anti-democracy, but the rank-and-file almost certainly isn't.
This is not a trivial point. As with so many other things, we should continue fighting the conservative elites who push this stuff but we shouldn't assume that Republican voters in general are beyond redemption. They aren't. They're just in the grip of a media-political complex that uses them for its own cynical ends. With the right message and a little bit of empathy many of them can be persuaded to abandon the right-wing grifters who are using them.