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April 26th, 2020:

Weekend link dump for April 26

“The Answer to All of Your Social Distancing Loophole Questions Is No”.

I happened to come across two strange but delightful stories about art on the same day late last week. They are about Pierre Brassau, Monkey Artist and the nice couple from New Mexico who may have stolen a very valuable de Kooning painting and kept it for over 30 years till it was discovered after their deaths. Enjoy!

“[Television] Writers and producers tell us how they’re planning to address the coronavirus pandemic—or not—once their programs finally go back into production.”

“Coronavirus is dealing a gut punch to the illegal drug trade, paralyzing economies, closing borders and severing supply chains in China that traffickers rely on for the chemicals to make such profitable drugs as methamphetamine and fentanyl.”

“What the anti-stay-at-home protests are really about”.

“Wildlife around the world is enjoying the lack of human activity due to coronavirus lockdowns, and sea turtles in Thailand are part of the trend.”

“If this simulation is correct, the value of a mask isn’t that it reduces the amount of virus you shed, but that it redirects it. It mostly stays near you instead of being projected in the direction of other people.”

“Great news, America! We may be confined to our homes during a deadly pandemic, but at least we won’t have to suffer through yet another Roger Stone hearing.”

“As an epidemiologist, I’m amazed that the only thing that’s discussed about Covid-19 and the lockdown is mortality. It’s not just mortality, though.”

It’s hard out here on a tall quarterback.

“A poll designed to test President Trump’s vulnerabilities on foreign policy finds that 56% of voters in 12 battleground states believe he has made America less respected in the world, compared to 31% who say America is now more respected.”

“A malaria drug widely touted by President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus showed no benefit in a large analysis of its use in U.S. veterans hospitals. There were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, researchers reported.”

“The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been forced to cancel its annual event for the first time since 1945 due to the coronavirus.”

You can “reopen” the economy all you want, but until people want to go out and spend money again, it won’t make any difference.

But these protesters aren’t willing to sacrifice anything for the greater social good. They are literally unwilling to wear masks to help keep other Americans healthy, even when those other Americans are their fellow protesters. They are not willing to stay home to ease the burden on hero health care workers. They are not interested in channeling their cavalier attitude about being outside into ministering to the poor or the lonely, or even to cheering on first responders who are trying, with both hands, to keep communities together. All these people can think to do with all the time they evidently have on their hands is to tie up traffic and bitch and moan.”

“By comparing deaths in 2020 to the averages found in cities around the world, analysts demonstrate a sharp increase in deaths in region after region, with a particularly obvious change in those nations that have been reluctant to admit the scope of their problem with COVID-19. Other studies have shown that, thanks to COVID-19 monopolizing hospital resources, deaths for all reasons are up. However, many of these deaths are simply people who died from COVID-19, but did so without ever being tested. In all, analysts have found what looks to be at least 25,000 excess deaths attributable to the disease itself, a number large enough to cause a re-estimate of just how deadly this pandemic may be.”

“The Committee found the ICA presents a coherent and well-constructed intelligence basis for the case of unprecedented Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

“Leaving New York in defiance of all the warnings and shelter-in-place orders, while infuriating, is not the crime of the century. Many who fled, brandishing bottles of disinfectant and bags of groceries, were likely fortunate enough not to infect anyone along the way. But one might ask that they have the grace to enjoy getting away with something in silence, rather than unburdening themselves with mediocre confessions. Everyone else is suffering enough already.”

RIP, Donald Reed Herring, oldest brother of Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Tom Hanks is a national treasure.

UT/Trib: Trump 49, Biden 44

Our first post-primary poll.

Donald Trump would beat Joe Biden by five points in Texas if the presidential race were held now, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

In a Trump-Biden contest, Democratic and Republican voters overwhelmingly back their own party’s candidate. But independent voters are on the fence, with 39% favoring Trump, 29% favoring Biden and 32% saying they haven’t formed an opinion.

The five point difference in support — 44% for Biden, 49% for Trump — is in line with previous UT/TT Polls taken before Democrats had settled on a nominee. In November 2019, the president was 7 percentage points ahead of Biden in a hypothetical general election matchup. In the February survey — conducted shortly before the presidential primaries in Texas and before the coronavirus outbreak was widespread — the two candidates were 4 percentage points apart. In all three of the most recent surveys, Trump’s lead was small, but outside the margins of error; none of the results could be called a statistical tie.

Trump has a harder race against himself. Ask Texans whether they would vote today to re-elect the president and, as they have done in four previous UT/TT polls, they split down the middle: 50% say they would vote for him, 49% said they’d vote against him.

Among Republican voters, 81% say they would definitely vote for Trump, and another 11% say they probably would. Democratic voters are just the opposite, with 85% definitely planning to vote for someone else, and 9% probably planning to. Most independent voters — 61% — would vote for someone else, while 39% say they’d vote for the president.

It’s only when you add Biden to the mix that Trump pulls ahead. “When you put a flesh-and-blood opponent against them, they do better,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Here’s the previous UT/Trib poll, from February, and here’s four other poll results from just before the primary. Those were indeed the last polls taken, according to FiveThirtyEight. Biden has been closer in some polls and a little farther back in some others. There are probably still a few Dems who are in the “don’t know/no opinion” bucket right now, as was definitely the case during the primary campaign, so he ought to inch up a bit all else being equal.

The main thing I will note is that not only does Biden start out scoring higher than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 – she only reached as high as 44% in two polls the whole cycle – he’s also above where Beto was in 2018. Beto only reached the 44% mark once before August, then was pretty consistently at or above it after that. Beto was still a fairly unknown candidate at this point in 2018, and his rise later was a sign that he was genuinely growing his support. I said this a few times during that cycle that while we had seen occasional polls that showed a Democrat “close” to a Republican statewide, the actual numbers would usually be something like 42-36, with a ton of “don’t know/no opinion” answers. It was truly rare before 2018 to see a Dem score as much as 42 or 43 percent in a poll, let alone 44 or 45. Wendy Davis in 2014 and Barack Obama in 2012 seldom touched 40 percent. For good reason, it turned out – Davis finished at 39%, Obama at 41. Seeing Biden start out at 44 is a sign that the gains Dems made in 2018 seem to be durable, and while we may not win statewide again, we’ll have enough of a share of the vote to do some damage downballot, as we did then. Winning the Texas House, and picking up some Congressional seats, is likely going to depend on Biden at least coming close to the 48% Beto got in 2018. The polling we have so far, which goes back to those pre-primary polls, suggests this is within range. The rest is up to us.

Vote by mail is not a panacea

Let’s be clear, I very much support expanded access to vote by mail. I support the ongoing TDP lawsuit to force expanded vote by mail, and I would very much advise anyone who is at risk for COVID-19 to apply for a mail ballot. I believe allowing no-excuse vote by mail should be universal, along with a bunch of other voting rights reforms. But we need to recognize that if we do get expanded vote by mail for this year, it’s going to fit within the existing system we have now, not one that has been prepared for it in advance. There are real risks to large-scale expansion of vote by mail, and as is always the case, they fall disproportionately on minority voters.

As election officials scramble to expand their absentee programs, voter advocates are pressing them to preserve adequate in-person voting options, pointing specifically to the obstacles faced by voters of color. They are also noting the ways that vote-by-mail systems — particularly, if implemented sloppily — tend to disenfranchise minority voters at a higher rate than white ones.

Their concerns have already been borne out in the few states that have large-scale mail-in voting programs; in many of them, minority voters’ use of the options lags behind that of white voters.

“From our experience of doing voter engagement, one of the things is that there is confusion,” said Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of BlackPAC, which mobilizes black voting around key races.

Her group recently surveyed registered black voters in swing states and found that 4-in-10 had concerns about voting by mail, a process only 36 percent had experience with. Even with the ongoing pandemic, voting-in-person was about tied with vote-by-mail when the survey-takers were asked their preferred method for November’s election.

“In some ways there’s an instinct that you have about the challenges that make them suspicious or concerned even if they don’t know the specifics,” Shropshire said. “On the reality side, we already know the challenges that black voters face when they vote by mail.”

The potential for racial disparities in how vote-by-mail systems are implemented has already become a flashpoint in upcoming primaries in Ohio, Nevada and Georgia.

Some of the resistance to absentee voting can be chalked up to historical or cultural trends, experts say, such as the longstanding “Souls to the Polls” practice of black church-goers traveling to polling places after Sunday services.

“Early voting has been really, really important for African American communities in encouraging voter participation,” said Danielle Root, an expert at the Center For American Progress who worked on a recent CAP-NAACP paper on the need for in-person voting during the pandemic. “So eliminating all in-person options obviously negatively impacts African American voters in that way.”

There are other systemic issues at play as well. African Americans change addresses more frequently, and they make up a disproportionate percentage of the homeless population. Transience can make participating in vote-by-mail elections challenging.

Given the unreliable nature of postal service on tribal lands, certain mail-in voting policies present unique challenges for Native American communities.

In-person voting is also needed for non-English speaking voters and for voters with disabilities, advocates say.

Pointing to these populations, voter advocates have criticized — and in some places, sued — election officials who have sought to all but eliminate in-person voting during the pandemic, as they have expanded absentee voting opportunities.

“For communities — and this is true for African American voters — that have higher rates of moving and lower rates of voter-by-mail usage, [election officials] need to be figuring out how to reach voters, and not looking for ways to, frankly, cut corners and in turn cut people out of the process,” said Hannah Fried, the national campaign director of the advocacy group All Voting Is Local.

There’s more, and you should read the rest. We have talked about some of these concerns, but this article goes into a lot more detail, and it addresses concerns I had not previously considered.

There are three basic takeaways here. One is that the goal here is to make voting easier for everyone, and that means giving them the best way for them to vote, whether it’s mail or in person. Two, focusing on safety and risk mitigation means considering all reasonable options to make in person voting safer as well – more locations, hand sanitizer and wipes everywhere, getting as many poll workers in place and trained as possible, etc. We can’t afford to be too focused on one method of voting at the expense of others. And three, we need to really listen to the voters who always face the hardest challenges to voting and take their feedback seriously. I’m going to be fine whatever we wind up doing. Lots of people are not in that same position. We need to accommodate those voters before we worry about voters like me.

And now, a few words about tigers

We have a lot of them in Texas, and as is the way in this state, there’s little to no regulation of them.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, announced on Monday that he is co-sponsoring the Big Cat Public Safety Act. The legislation would tighten restrictions regarding the private ownership, exhibition, and breeding of big cats like lions, tigers, and jaguars.

The move comes as the Netflix docu-series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” grips millions of Americans stuck in quarantine. The seven-part series, which tells the bizarre story of an Oklahoma Tiger breeder named Joe Exotic as well as other big cat owners, broke records as the most-watched title on Netflix for the longest period of time.

The private ownership of tigers and other dangerous wild animals is a particularly acute problem in Texas, where regulations are incredibly lax and the rules that do exist are loosely enforced. The exact number of tigers in Texas is impossible to know given that a large number of them are unregistered, but many estimates place it in the thousands. According to some, the Lone Star State has more tigers in captivity than the total number of tigers in the wild.

Just recently, on March 25, authorities in South Texas seized several exotic animals during a drug bust, including a Bengal tiger. One law enforcement described the location as a “pseudo-narco zoo.”

Some kind of federal legislation protecting exotic animals held by private owners has been needed for a long time. If it took Tiger King to get legislation like this passed – and note, Joe Exotic treated his big cats badly – then so be it. I should note that there is a state law called the Dangerous Wild Animal Act, which was passed in 2001, and I have since received this press release from the Texas Humane Legislation Network calling for it to be updated and strengthened. The Observer has more.