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October 4th, 2020:

Weekend link dump for October 4

“I will confess to a deep pessimism about American politics right now. We stand on the precipice of a legitimacy crisis — minoritarian rule has become the norm, an unpopular president has all but promised to refuse to accept a loss at the polls, and a political system that has only ever worked with weak parties is proving unable to govern amid the collisions of strong ones. But there is a glimmer of an optimistic tale that can be told, too. And, to my surprise, it revolves around McConnell, and the vision of the Senate that he is convincing Democrats to embrace, the reforms he might, at last, convince them to make.”

“What Do Two New Studies Really Tell Us About Coronavirus Transmission on Planes?”

Paradox-free time travel is theoretically possible, according to the mathematical modeling of a prodigious University of Queensland undergraduate student.” Did you ever read an old Superman comic, where he’d travel to the past by flying faster than the speed of light, but he was completely unable to change the events of the past because anything he did was either prevented or subverted by various cosmic forces? It’s like that, apparently.

This is the end of the coronavirus pandemic. And this is how it could happen in the United States: By November 2021, most Americans have received two doses of a vaccine that, while not gloriously effective, fights the disease in more cases than not. Meanwhile, Americans continue to wear masks and avoid large gatherings, and the Covid-19 numbers drop steadily after a series of surges earlier in the year. Eventually, as more and more Americans develop immunity through exposure and vaccination, and as treatments become more effective, Covid-19 recedes into the swarm of ordinary illnesses Americans get every winter.”

“Here are some key takeaways from the Times’ reporting [on Donald Trump’s tax returns]”.

“No matter how many crazy things happen, the fundamentals are the same: The president is a greedy racist and misogynist who does not understand his job.”

RIP, Jay Johnstone, colorful former Major Leaguer who played for multiple teams and wrote several funny books about his experiences. (Actual quote from his onetime manager Tommy LaSorda for his first book, Temporary Insanity: “Johnstone wrote a book? With what, shaving cream? A fire extinguisher?”)

“Now, 8 1/2 months after an infection doctors had never seen before claimed its first victims in China, the pandemic’s confirmed death toll has eclipsed 1 million, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.” Jay Johnstone, whom I eulogized above, is one of those one million people.

“Meet the Abortion Patients Calling Out Ted Cruz on His Abortion Lies”.

“There are at least five fundamental ways in which fact-checking as an independent proposition has always been problematic”. (Article is from last year, but it could have been written this week.)

“In the longer term, though, our president’s adventures in tax avoidance should also provide a great opportunity to build political momentum for rebuilding our our battered, broken-down Internal Revenue Service, a policy item that should be high on Democrats’ to-do list if they retake power.”

Not sure I buy the argument that Republicans will lose interest in Trump once Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, but I’m open to it.

In case you wanted to know more about the 911 outage on Monday.

“Dogs are being trained to sniff out COVID-19, and they’re better than the tests”.

“This is why Trump’s contemptuous remarks about his Christian supporters are so similar to the decades of bewilderedly contemptuous comments he’s made about members of the military, veterans, and prisoners of war — others who, in Trump’s view, stupidly and perversely regarded some calling as higher than the pursuit of money.”

The months of the year if they were named for the metric system. It goes delightfully downhill from there.

RIP, Mac Davis, singer, songwriter, actor, TV personality.

RIP, Helen Reddy, singer best known for “I Am Woman” and “Delta Dawn”.

“A British zoo has had to separate five foul-mouthed parrots who keepers say were encouraging each other to swear.” My heroes.

“The timeline of events leading up to the disclosure of President Trump’s diagnosis point overwhelmingly to some mix of a coverup and gross negligence and likely both.”

“We don’t know their names, but it’s a certainty that Trump has been in proximity to a number of service workers and others there for his safety and comfort over the past week. From White House staff to workers at the fundraisers he held—including one at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, where an undocumented housekeeper cleaned up after him for years—to the employees at his Virginia golf club where he played on Sunday, to the military personnel who make up the crew of Air Force One, and of course his Secret Service detail, Trump has been served and waited on and protected even as he refused to wear a mask and kept top aide Hope Hicks’ positive COVID-19 test secret.”

“Here’s a list of all of the Republicans who have tested positive for coronavirus since last Saturday”.

RIP, Bob Gibson, Hall of Fame and all-time great pitcher for the Saint Louis Cardinals.

RIP, Ron Perranoski, pitcher and pitching coach mostly for the Dodgers, who won two World Series with that team.

RIP, Timothy Ray Brown, first person cured of HIV.

Second lawsuit filed against Abbott’s mail ballot dropoff order

From Chuck Lindell on Twitter, on Saturday afternoon:

See here for the background, and here for more on the first lawsuit. This one is a Democracy Docket suit, and you can read the complaint here. As of when I drafted this on Saturday afternoon, there wasn’t any news coverage that I could find – this CNN story mentions the second lawsuit, but it’s primarily about the first one, and doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Marc Elias of Democracy Docket summarizes what the complaint is about:

Monday ought to be a busy day at the federal courthouse. I feel like there may be cause to file a complaint in state court as well, on the grounds that Abbott’s action violates the Disaster Act since it does not conform with the goal of mitigating the disaster and thus isn’t an appropriate use of his emergency powers, but I Am Not A Lawyer so I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ll update this when I see a link to news story about this second lawsuit.

Two more data points about Latino voting preferences in Texas

On the one hand:

On the eve of the first presidential debate of the 2020 electoral season, Univision News publishes its latest electoral polls: the National Latino Voter Poll, a survey that interviewed a representative sample of all Latino registered voters nationwide, and the Arizona, Texas and Florida Latino Voter Polls, which interviewed a representative sample of all Latino registered voters in each state.

These new polls reveal the diversity and complexity of the Latino electorate current political preferences, voting intention, concerns, opinions on recent developments, views on President Trump, Joe Biden and much more.

Complete results of the polls are now available at UnivisionNoticias.com and via all Univision News digital and social media platforms. Additionally, highlights of the findings will be featured in Univision’s programming, from its morning show “Despierta América, to the different editions of its daily “Noticiero Univision” newscasts and its public affairs program “Al Punto”.

Overseen by Dr. Sergio García-Ríos, Director of Polling for Univision News, the surveys were conducted by the polling firms Latino Decisions and North Star Opinion Research from September 17 – 24, 2020. The Latino Texas Voter Poll was commissioned through a partnership between Univision News and the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) at the University of Houston.

  • 46% of Latinos oppose moving forward with appointing a replacement to the Supreme Court before the election, while 41% are in favor.
  • Biden leads Trump by 42 points among registered Hispanic voters, but in the key state of Florida that advantage has dropped to only 16 points.
  • Trump’s overall approval among Hispanics is 30%, but in Florida it’s 39%.
  • The coronavirus is the biggest concern for 40% of Hispanics, while 73% disapprove of Trump’s management of the pandemic and 61% believe that Biden would have handled it better.
  • About half of Hispanics (48%) plan to vote by mail, although in Texas, where not all voters have that option, the number is only 33%.
  • 76% of Hispanics support the protests that have occurred in recent days over the death of African Americans at the hands of the police, and 58% would welcome a reduction in funding for the police.
  • 59% of Hispanics believe that Biden would do better on the subject of law and order, which is one of Trump’s main slogans.
  • In contests for the Senate in the key state of Arizona, 55% of Latinos favor Democrat Mark Kelly over 21% for Martha McSally. In Texas MJ Hegar leads with 47% against 30% for John Cornyn.


To see full cross tabulations and methodology of the National Latino Voter Polls, click here.

To view the complete results of the polls, please go to UnivisionNoticias.com.

Here’s a more detailed writeup, and here are the questions and crosstabs. The topline numbers are 66-25 for Biden among Latinos in Texas. For MJ Hegar, it’s 47-30 against John Cornyn, but with a significant undecided contingent, which if you dig through those crosstabs is much more Democratic.

On the other hand, we have this:

President Donald Trump has an apparent lead over former Vice President Joe Biden in a close contest for Texas’ 38 electoral votes according to a new poll of likely voters in the state released today.

Trump has the support of 49 percent of Texas likely voters, Biden is at 46 percent, other candidates on the ballot are at 4 percent and 1 percent are undecided. The poll of 882 likely voters carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.

While male poll respondents are more likely to vote for Trump (52 percent Trump, 42 percent Biden), Trump is polling nearly even with Biden among women in Texas (49 percent Biden, 47 percent Trump); Biden likely needs to widen the gender gap in order to carry the state.

More on voters’ support by party, age and education is available at www.uml.edu/polls.

While Trump is slightly ahead of Biden with likely voters, 50 percent say they approve and 49 percent disapprove of the president. Among those who approve, 37 percent do so strongly and 13 percent somewhat. Among Trump disapprovers, 40 percent strongly disapprove of the way he is handling his job as president. Among Democrats, 95 percent disapprove of Trump’s job performance, including 83 percent who strongly disapprove. Among independents, 60 percent disapprove of his job performance, including 39 percent who strongly disapprove. Among the 92 percent of Republicans who approve of Trump’s job performance, 69 percent strongly approve.

“Trump is hanging onto a lead in Texas, but Republicans shouldn’t be celebrating. Once a stronghold, statewide races continue to tighten and a loss in Texas would not only guarantee a Biden presidency, it would signal a landslide. The fact that Biden is keeping it close is cold comfort,” said Joshua Dyck, director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion and associate professor of political science.

[…]

In the closely watched U.S. Senate race in Texas, Republican incumbent John Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar 50 percent to 40 percent with 1 percent saying they will vote for another candidate and 9 percent undecided.

While Cornyn leads by a comfortable margin, his lead also does not necessarily project strength, rather that he is running against a relatively unknown challenger. Cornyn is leading among Republicans 91 percent to Hegar’s 3 percent, while Hegar leads among Democrats 83 percent to 7 percent. However, Hegar also leads among independents by 9 points, 44 percent to 35 percent. Notably, 10 percent of Democrats and 11 percent of independents remain undecided, compared to only 6 percent of Republicans.

As a challenger, Hegar’s relative anonymity among Texas voters shows up in her favorables. She has a net favorability rating of +13 (35 percent to 22 percent), but a large number of Texas voters either have no opinion of her (26 percent) or have never heard of her (17 percent). Cornyn, by contrast, is not a particularly popular incumbent. His favorability rating is net neutral (38 percent favorable, 38 percent unfavorable), while 19 percent of likely voters have no opinion of the senator and 5 percent have never heard of him.

Links to more about the poll can be found here. Why am I grouping this with the Univision/Latino Decisions poll? Because if you look in the crosstabs, Latinos support Biden in this poll by the shockingly small amount of 49-45, with Cornyn leading Hegar among Latinos 44-41. UML also has Black voters giving Trump 16% support, so as with some other polls this may just be some small sample weirdness. But as we’ve discussed before, modeling what Latino voters will do this election, especially in Texas, has produced some wildly divergent results.

This Chron story about that first poll captures what I’m talking about:

Tuesday’s results also aligns with previous polling that has Biden up over Trump among Latinos, though by how much has varied depending on the poll.

An August poll by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and Rice University’s Baker Institute put Biden up by 9.5 points among Texas Latinos. A Quinnipiac University poll last Thursday had Biden up by 8 points, and a smaller survey by the New York Times and Siena College had Biden up 25.

[UH poli sci professor Jeronimo] Cortina attributed the variation in poll results to small sample sizes that don’t fully encompass the breadth of types of Latino voters.

I mentioned the Quinnipiac poll and the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation poll earlier in this post, with the latter including a roundup of other polls that had this subsample data in it at the time. My quick scan of all the results suggests that maybe three fourths of polls of Texas have Trump’s level of support among Latinos in the 20-30 range, mostly 25-30, and the rest have him around 40. Needless to say, they can’t both be right. I tend to believe the former group, and the results of a large Latinos-only poll like this one and its predecessor carry more weight since they have much larger sample sizes, but we just don’t know for sure. I’m just trying to highlight the evidence that we have.

Federal bribery complaint alleged against Paxton

Holy moly.

Best mugshot ever

Top aides of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have asked federal law enforcement authorities to investigate allegations of improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential crimes against the state’s top lawyer.

In a one-page letter to the state agency’s director of human resources, obtained Saturday by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, seven executives in the upper tiers of the office said that they are seeking the investigation into Paxton “in his official capacity as the current Attorney General of Texas.”

The Thursday letter said that each “has knowledge of facts relevant to these potential offenses and has provided statements concerning those facts to the appropriate law enforcement.”

Paxton, a 57-year-old Republican, was elected in 2014. His office said in a statement Saturday evening: “The complaint filed against Attorney General Paxton was done to impede an ongoing investigation into criminal wrongdoing by public officials including employees of this office. Making false claims is a very serious matter and we plan to investigate this to the fullest extent of the law.”

The statement did not elaborate.

The letter to human resources was signed by Paxton’s first assistant, Jeff Mateer, who resigned Friday, as well as Mateer’s deputy and deputy attorneys general overseeing divisions that include criminal investigations, civil litigation, administration and policy.

“We have a good faith belief that the attorney general is violating federal and/or state law including prohibitions related to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses,” the letter states.

Their decisions to report possible illegal activity involving their employer represents a stunning development in an agency that prizes loyalty, particularly from within Paxton’s inner circle. It places a renewed spotlight on Paxton, who is already under indictment for alleged securities fraud.

The complaint concluded by saying that they notified Paxton in a text message Thursday that they had reported the alleged violations to law enforcement.

The whistleblowers, who notified human resources to protect their jobs, offered no other details about the allegations and did not describe what they believe Paxton did that was illegal. Efforts to reach them were unsuccessful Saturday.

Mateer’s inclusion in the complaint letter, and his departure as Paxton’s second in command, was particularly significant, coming from a political ally who shared a conservative Christian perspective on many social and legal issues.

“Stunned” doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about this news. This is a bombshell, and it’s a question of how big it is. The fact that this accusation was made by Paxton’s staffers, including an ideological ally like Jeff Mateer, makes it all the more momentous. I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Paxton’s defense appears to be “I’m not doing illegal stuff, it’s these staffers of mine who are the bad guys”. Not sure how well that will work out, but as we do not have any details from either side as yet, it is very likely there’s more to this, and we’re just going to have to wait to see what else there is. Neither this story nor the KVUE story has a copy of the letter, so what you see here is what we’ve got. Stay tuned. See Jessica Shortall on Twitter for more.

UPDATE: Here’s the letter. Doesn’t say anything that wasn’t already quoted, but you can see who signed it. The Trib has more.

We really can track COVID-19 through wastewater

This is terrific news.

Researchers with the city, Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine were able to sniff out a potential second outbreak of COVID-19 at a homeless shelter in downtown Houston earlier this year by looking down its drains instead of in people’s noses, health officials said Thursday.

Quashing the resurgence at the Star of Hope Men’s Shelter earlier this year was one of the first successes of an effort to track the novel coronavirus through wastewater, city officials said Thursday. The initiative, one of several occurring around the country, attempts to spot outbreaks by sampling water at city treatment facilities, which could help officials tailor their testing and prevention efforts to specific neighborhoods.

To date, the results from testing wastewater largely have aligned with those from nasal swab testing, said Dr. Loren Hopkins, the city’s chief environmental science officer. That has increased the confidence that the wastewater sampling is accurate. The benefit, she said, is that wastewater tests produce quicker results.

“Ultimately, the goal is to develop an early warning system allowing the health department to identify the city’s COVID-19 hot spots sooner and put measures in place to the slow the spread of this virus,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

People shed the virus through feces, regardless of whether they experience symptoms. The city was able to detect the virus in the shelter by placing a sampler on the manhole outside the facility after its initial outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

The ability to home in on a single building still is limited, Hopkins said. City officials have deployed that strategy for the shelter and the Harris County Jail, and they are trying to acquire more equipment to expand the effort in the fall. The health department plans to begin testing long-term care facilities, for example.

[…]

So far, there has been a strong correlation between the viral load in the wastewater and the positivity rates by nasal tests, so the method has not unearthed large swaths of the virus that have gone undetected by tests. Still, that correlation has increased confidence that the wastewater analysis is accurate and can be used as a bellwether for future outbreaks.

From Sept. 7 to Sept. 14, for example, scientists found the virus was increasing in a statistically significant way in the communities served by the Tidwell Timber, Upper Brays and Forest Cove treatment plants, among others, while decreasing in District 23, White Oak and Homestead.

That information, coupled with the local positivity rate and other factors, helped the health department decide where to send strike teams to test people, conduct outreach and provide education about the virus. The city said the wastewater study has resulted in more testing at several congregant living centers.

See here and here for the background. This method is extra useful because it provides a more focused view of where the cases are clustering, and the testing is faster, so the response to the test results is also faster. If we are ever going to get a handle on this disease, especially before there’s a vaccine but also after one is available, it’s going to come from technology like this that gives a real-time and location-specific view of where the virus is happening. We should be rooting for this to ramp up as much and as quickly as possible. Kudos to all for making this happen. The Press has more.