• Meadows: We’ve Given Up On the Pandemic

    Mark Meadows just doesn't care anymore.Chris Kleponis - Pool Via Cnp/CNP via ZUMA

    Well, this explains a lot:

    White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has just made one of the most revealing comments to emerge from Trump’s inner circle about the president’s historic mishandling of the coronavirus crisis. On a Sunday political talk show, Meadows admitted that the federal government was not focusing on trying to control the pandemic.

    “We’re not going to control the pandemic,” he told Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union. “We are going to control the fact that we get a vaccine, therapeutics and other mitigation.” Tapper pressed Meadows to explain why the administration was not going to control Covid-19, given the massive surge that is pummeling the Midwest and mountain states. He replied: “Because it is a contagious virus.”

    I mean, we all knew they’d given up, but I hardly expected them to just admit it on national TV. It doesn’t seem like a good reelection strategy, does it? I suppose they consider this some kind of sneaky 11th-dimensional chess or something, far beyond the comprehension of mere mortals like you and me.

  • Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: October 24 Update

    Here’s the coronavirus death toll through October 24. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

  • Some Notes on Democracy

    Kevin Drum

    Here are a few notes related to yesterday’s post about the (non) decline of democracy.

    • It should be possible to view something as appalling without also insisting that it portends the end of democracy. There are lots of appalling things going on today, but this doesn’t mean that democracy is withering on the vine.
    • We do not face a hostile Supreme Court “for the next 40 years.” Clarence Thomas is 72. Alito is 70. Roberts is 65. There’s a good chance that a Democratic president will have a chance to replace one or more of them sometime in the next 10-15 years. What’s more, even after Amy Coney Barrett joins the court it will likely be no more conservative than it was during the ’80s.
    • Republican control of the Supreme Court is not due to anti-democratic forces. It’s due to the fact that conservatives have worked on it a lot harder than liberals. (Plus they got a bit of luck.)
    • Even after four years of Donald Trump, the rest of the judiciary is split about 50-50 between Republican and Democratic judges. This is less than Republicans have typically enjoyed over the most recent few decades.
    • Republican voter suppression tactics are loathsome. However, they are an act of desperation, not power, and they’ve had very little effect. They succeed in keeping some people away from the polls, but they also produce a backlash among Democratic voters, who show up in greater numbers. On net, the evidence suggests that their effect is zero or just slightly positive.
    • Since 2000, Democrats have controlled the Senate for 10 years vs. 10 for Republicans. They have controlled the House for 6 years vs. 14 for Republicans. Meanwhile, the presidency has rotated normally. And voter turnout has increased from 52 percent in the ’80s and ’90s to 55 percent in the aughts and teens. There are no signs in this that democracy is withering.
    • The Electoral College is anti-democratic, but there’s nothing new about it and it represents no trend. Ditto for the Senate. Nor is there anything new about the fact that both of these institutions slightly increase the importance of small states, something that competent party leaders have always known.
    • Stop being complacent! We’re facing a crisis! We have a minority president who wants to rule forever and deliberately incites racial violence to help him do it. But we’re always facing a crisis. The War of 1812 was an existential crisis. The various expansion compromises over the following decades were crises that enabled the inexorable spread of slavery. The Civil War was a crisis that produced a suspension of habeas corpus. The violence of the early labor movement was a crisis that spawned Army attacks on US citizens on American soil. World War I was a crisis that led to the Palmer Raids. The Great Depression was a crisis that precipitated World War II. World War II was a crisis that produced detention camps for citizens of Japanese ancestry. The Cold War was a crisis that gave us HUAC and Joe McCarthy and Vietnam. The counterculture ’60s were a crisis that spawned COINTELPRO. The stagflation of the ’70s was a crisis that led directly to the election of Ronald Reagan—who, at the time, was viewed by liberals the same way we view Donald Trump today. The terrorist attack of 9/11 was a crisis that gave us the Iraq War. And now Donald Trump is a crisis.
    • It’s hard to take past crises seriously because we know how they turned out. For example, in 1933 many liberals supported the idea of FDR adopting dictatorial powers (a “benevolent autocracy”) to fight the Depression. It was a serious possibility, and certainly far more anti-democratic than anything going on today, but because FDR eventually rejected it the whole thing seems like little more than a tidbit of trivia today. Our crisis, by contrast, still hangs in the balance. But that doesn’t mean it’s more serious than the others.
    • The anti-majoritarian institutions of the Senate and the Electoral College are minor sideshows. The problem with the United States right now isn’t a lack of democracy, but perhaps too much democracy. We remain a 50-50 nation, and our government reflects that a little too well. If we want to get moving again, one side or the other needs to win over a solid, steady majority of voters to its side. It’s weak public support that’s prevented adoption of the progressive agenda, not a vote or two in the Senate.

    More globally, my own personal fear about declining democracy centers on China. That may seem odd, since China has never had a democracy in the first place, but it’s long been the hope of westerners that rising living standards and greater engagement with the rest of the world would move China in the direction of accepting democratic reforms. That hasn’t happened. In fact, it’s been just the opposite. To the extent that China demonstrates that a country can be harshly authoritarian and enjoy long-term economic success, it sets a model that will be all too appealing elsewhere.

    UPDATE: I’ve deleted a bullet point about anti-democratic actions at the state and local level. On second thought, it was wrong.

  • Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: October 23 Update

    Here’s the coronavirus death toll through October 23. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

    It’s just dismal creating these charts lately. The second wave of COVID-19 is already well underway and it’s pretty obvious that nothing is going to stop it.

    On a more technical note, keep an eye on Sweden. Their approach to COVID-19 was always that they could keep cases relatively low over the entire cycle of two peaks. So far, that seems to be working pretty well. But will it continue?

  • Are Black Homeowners Suffering From Slow Price Growth?

    In the Washington Post today, Michelle Singletary writes about the history of redlining and how it has destroyed the value of houses in Black neighborhoods. But then she says this:

    “Politicians and advocates have long touted homeownership as the best way to build wealth, saying that over the long term, home values go in only one direction: up,” Tim Henderson wrote in a 2018 report for Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts. “But since the dawn of the 21st century, that promise has been an empty one for many African Americans.”

    The Stateline analysis of federal data found that in nearly 20 percent of the Zip codes where most homeowners are Black, home values had decreased since 2000, compared with only 2 percent in neighborhoods where Blacks were the minority.

    That got me curious. There’s no question that homes in majority-Black neighborhoods are undervalued compared to similar homes in majority-White neighborhoods, but do they also appreciate more slowly? Here’s the Stateline data:

    It’s true that there are many more majority-Black zip codes that lost value compared to other zip codes. However, there were also more majority-Black zip codes where prices doubled compared to other zip codes. In other words, Black neighborhoods may or may not have appreciated less overall, but they definitely showed more variance. Here’s another study of home buyers in 15 metro areas:

    This study finds that Black homebuyers do better, on average, than white homebuyers. Here’s a third study, this one from the Center for American Progress:

    At all income levels, Black homebuyers do worse than white homebuyers. Finally, here’s a study based on data from Zillow:

    The Zillow data shows that Black zip codes did worse than white zip codes, but only by a modest amount.

    So what’s the right answer? The problem is twofold. First, two of these studies look at Black neighborhoods and two of them look at Black homebuyers. Intuitively, it seems like these should yield similar results, but they might not.

    Second, these studies were done over four different timeframes: 2000-2017, 2012-2017, 2006-2017, and 2000-2013. I’m skeptical of the CAP figures, since they cherry-picked the peak of the housing bubble as their starting point, which also happens to be the peak of Black homeowner value. If you start at a peak it’s hardly surprising to show a substantial downturn, and sure enough, that’s what they show.

    Put all this together, and the answer is: who knows? Your answer will vary depending on what you look at and what dates you choose. However, if I were forced to choose one of these as the most telling, I’d take the Zillow chart since its data covers the entire nation and it provides a useful time series that fits what I know about the bubble-era lending industry—although I’d sure like to see it extended to the present. It shows that over a somewhat longish term, home appreciation has been lower in Black neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods, primarily because of a huge drop following the housing bubble. The culprit here, however, is not Black neighborhoods per se, but the mortgage industry, which oversold to Black borrowers during the bubble and drove prices far higher than even normal bubble standards. That wretched episode has been documented in considerable detail in a lot of places, but you can read a good outline here if you want to learn more.

  • Democracy Is Alive and Well in America—Without Court Packing or New States

    Kevin Drum

    I’ve long been in basic agreement with Ezra Klein on nearly everything. We just think the same way. But I’m not on board with this, from the introduction to his interview with Vanderbilt law professor Ganesh Sitaraman:

    If Democrats win back power this November, they will be faced with a choice: Leave the existing Supreme Court intact and watch their legislative agenda — and perhaps democracy itself — be gradually gutted by 5-4 and 6-3 judicial rulings, or use their power to reform the nation’s highest court over fierce opposition by the Republican Party.

    ….Supreme Court reform matters — for good or for ill — because democracy matters. In his recent book, The Great Democracy, Sitaraman makes an argument that’s come to sit at the core of my thinking, too: The fundamental fight in American politics right now is about whether we will become a true democracy. And not just a democracy in the thin, political definition we normally use — holding elections and ensuring access to the franchise. The fight is for a thicker form of a democracy, one that takes economic power seriously, that makes the construction of a certain kind of civic and political culture central to its aims.

    As regular readers know, I’m completely on board with the idea that the Republican Party has gone steadily more bugnut insane ever since the ascent of Newt Gingrich in the early ’90s followed by the Murdochization of the news a few years later. One aspect of this is the now-widespread belief among right-wingers that, literally, Democratic rule threatens to destroy America. Another, more recent aspect, is the legions of Trump-supporting Republicans who say they believe in batshit QAnon conspiracy theories. I’m not inclined at the moment to dive deeply into where this has come from (there are whole books about it), but it’s partly a result of the party moving right; partly a result of evangelical Christians who think the nation’s moral fiber is under deliberate attack; partly a result of the conservative media bubble; and partly the result of Republican elites who find it a handy way of harvesting votes.

    Wherever it comes from, it’s real. And it’s toxic. Needless to say, liberals aren’t trying to destroy America. But neither are conservatives, and our toxic partisan swamp just gets worse if liberals join conservatives in believing that the opposition party is ready to literally destroy the nation.

    Of course, if democracy really is under threat then it’s hardly toxic to point this out and fight it. But is it? I understand that mine is an unpopular view these days among progressives, but of course it’s not. America has had gerrymandering, the Senate, the Electoral College, and the Supreme Court since the beginning, and liberals rarely worried that they were an existential threat to democracy. Democrats controlled Congress for nearly 50 straight years after World War II and liberals didn’t think it was a threat to democracy. The Warren Court upended constitutional law in the ’60s and liberals didn’t think it was a threat to democracy. The Senate has only barely changed for over a hundred years, and Democrats haven’t historically had any special problem controlling it for a fair share of the time. Just recently, Democrats passed Obamacare even though it was unanimously opposed by Republicans and only barely eked out majority support from the public. Liberals didn’t consider this a threat to democracy. And in 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage? No threat to democracy there.

    Democracy in practice is never a perfect representation of majority rule. Every democratic country has institutions that get in the way of perfect representation, and this is often considered a good thing: the Senate as a counterweight to the passions of the House, for example, or the Supreme Court as the guarantor of the rights of the minority vs. the will of the majority. Rather, the foundation of democracy is that the people mostly get what they want most of the time. And in America they do, even if, like every country, we’re imperfect on this score, especially if you’re poor or non-white.

    Neither of the two major parties has recently exercised total control over our national agenda, but it’s safe to say that over the past 50 years or so, Democrats have mostly won the culture war while Republicans have won the economic war. The reason, like it or not, is that this is basically what the American public wants. Liberals have made their case for gay rights, civil rights, women’s rights, and so forth, and Americans have hopped on board. Conservatives have made the case for tax cuts and business friendly policies, and Americans have largely hopped on board with that too.

    None of this has been the result of gerrymandering or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the Electoral College except at the margins. It’s been almost entirely the result of parties persuading the American public to support their views. Both tax cuts and the ADA were popular. Both the Iraq War and gay marriage were popular. Both immigration restrictions and national health care are, currently, somewhat popular. But only somewhat. That’s why we don’t yet have either one. To put it simply, democracy is alive and well in the United States, and the institutional exceptions are relatively mild and of long standing. Even the voter suppression tactics of the Republican Party, as odious as they are, have had only a tiny effect on turnout and representation. If you want to see a real breakdown of democracy, try the election of 1876 or decades of Jim Crow protected by the barons of the Senate.

    Old school liberal pols like Sam Rayburn or Tip O’Neill would laugh at present day progressives who complain that the system is rigged against them just because we’ve lost control of the Senate for a few years and now face a potentially hostile Supreme Court. In no uncertain terms they would tell us to stop whining and instead do the hard work of winning more votes in more places. The Senate is what it is and everyone knows it. The rules are simple and well known, so go out and say things that will appeal to enough people in enough places to win 51 senators. We don’t need a couple of new states or a packed Supreme Court or any of that. We need to convince the American public that our agenda is the right one, and just running up the vote in California won’t do it—and isn’t perhaps the most democratic approach anyway.

    In principle, this is straightforward. Progressives can make better arguments and eventually get most of the American public on our side. Alternatively, we can moderate our agenda to win more votes. Or some combination of the two. That’s the democratic way to victory.

    And if we want a “thicker” democracy that takes economic power seriously? Well, there’s no cosmic law that says this is the right thing. As with everything else, progressives need to convince lots of people that this is the way the country should be run. So far we haven’t, but not because of any of the institutions of government. This is something much deeper. But FDR and LBJ made some progress on this front, so why can’t we?

    If you’re still not convinced, get back to me on November 4th. Let’s take another look at democracy then.

  • Say It Again With Gusto: Democrats Are Better For the Economy Than Republicans

    The Wall Street Journal offers some sage advice today:

    For investors worried about how the stock market will fare in the event of a divided government or a sweep by either party in next month’s elections, history offers an important lesson. Stocks tend to go up regardless of which party controls Washington.

    This is true. But it’s incomplete, since you might wonder how much the stock market goes up under Democratic and Republican presidents. I’ve got you covered, with the two-term presidencies labeled:

    This, of course, is just one of many mysteries of the business community: In general they support Republicans even though Democrats tend to turn in better economic performance. It’s true, however, that Democrats also tend to favor stronger corporate regulation than Republicans, and this produces an interesting exercise in revealed preference: Corporate CEOs are apparently more concerned about regulation than they are about their shareholders.

    There’s no question that regulations are annoying, and they can produce a lot of tedious, blood-pressure-raising meetings for CEOs and the rest of the executive suite. They’re also highly salient, whereas economic growth is diffuse and long-term—sort of like climate change. Besides, if CEOs read the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page regularly—and they probably do—they’re most likely convinced that Democrats are routinely disastrous for the economy.

    So which is it? Are corporate CEOs shafting their shareholders in order to make their own lives more pleasant? Or do they imbibe too much conservative muck that falsely tells them Democrats are terrible for growth? Or both?

  • Liveblogging the Final Presidential Debate

    This struck me as a very “by the numbers” debate. Both Trump and Biden mostly just rehashed things they had said before, using much the same words as before. There was nothing even mildly unexpected.

    If there’s an exception to that, it was Trump’s relentless effort to claim that Biden had accepted money from practically every endeavor he’s been associated with. On the one hand this is typical Trump: he always accuses other people of doing the things that he himself has done. But there’s hardly any chance this will work. First of all, it’s not true. More importantly, though, Biden has absolutely no reputation for being corrupt or money grubbing. People simply won’t accept wild accusations like these that come out of the blue and go against everything they’ve ever heard about someone.

    On policy, Trump doesn’t want to do anything about COVID-19. He doesn’t want to do anything about health care except repeal Obamacare. He doesn’t want to do anything about immigration. He doesn’t want to do anything about civil rights. And he doesn’t want to do anything about climate change. At least, he never mentioned anything. All he did was attack the stuff Biden wants to do. I suppose he thinks that after four years of Trump there’s nothing left to do.

    This is not a debate that’s going to move the needle. Trump’s attacks were scattershot and ineffective—and even more full of lies than usual. Biden was mostly fine, but fairly mechanical. Overall, the whole thing was suprisingly low key.

    But if you want to crank things up a notch, how about contributing to Mother Jones? I promise that we don’t have a secret Chinese bank account. Just click here.

    The final debate, finally. Let’s go.

    10:34 – And that’s it.

    10:30 – Ah, I guess that Welker is just going to skip the whole “Leadership” section so she can wrap things up.

    10:28 – What about all those poor people who live near dangerous refineries and chemical plants? Trump says they’re all making tremendous amounts of money, so it’s all good.

    10:25 – Biden: “I don’t know where he comes up with these numbers.” In the case of the Green New Deal, the answer is conservative think tanks that included the cost of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan.

    10:23 – This debate is going to go way over time.

    10:20 – Trump’s answer to everything is to ask why Biden didn’t do it already. Finally, Biden mentions the Republican Congress. This is most likely what Trump has been waiting for. He wants to position Biden as a guy who can’t work across the aisle to get anything done.

    10:18 – Biden: Nobody should go to jail for a drug charge.

    10:17 – Welker asks about Trump’s racist rhetoric. What should people think about that? Trump could disown those statements, but he doesn’t. He refuses to address it at all.

    10:09 – Donald Trump has been the best Black president ever! Except for Lincoln. Maybe.

    10:06 – Trump: Only those “with the lowest IQs” show up at their immigration hearings.

    10:03 – Biden says he’ll send an immigration bill to Congress within his first hundred days.

    9:59 – Trump says the minimum wage should be set by the states. This implies that there shouldn’t even be a minimum wage, but then he backtracks. He then suggests that the federal minimum wage should be different in different states. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked to follow up on that.

    9:52 – Socialized medicine. Sigh. At least Trump didn’t accuse Biden of accepting secret bribes from the Peruvian health agency or something.

    9:44 – Are you outraged yet? Do you want to help stop this? How about contributing to Mother Jones? Just click here.

    9:42 – Hey! A whole answer from Trump about North Korea without inventing a story about Biden accepting bribes from Kim Jong Un. Progress!

    9:40 – It’s just attack after attack. Ask about China, and Trump wants to talk about stories of Biden accepting millions of dollars from China. Or something.

    9:37 – Trump is pretty dedicated to bringing up every fever swamp attack on Biden. Sure, he’s doing it a little more calmly than last time, but he’s hardly missing a beat.

    9:31 – Trump still wants to release his tax returns! But he can’t. He just can’t. Such a sad story.

    9:28 – Trump: “While he [Biden] was selling pillows and sheets…” Huh?

    9:23 – OK, I’m convinced. We shouldn’t have bothered doing COVID-19 as a topic again. We’re finally finishing up with Trump bragging that he could have raised more money than Biden if only he’d gone to Wall Street. What?

    9:20 – Trump: Plexiglas is expensive. Seriously? He’s against plexiglas?

    9:14 – Man, we’re getting all the greatest hits about COVID-19.