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June 6th, 2021:

Weekend link dump for June 6

“Someone finally asked restaurant workers why they’re not returning”.

“Gun Church That Worships With AR-15s Bought a 40-Acre Compound in Texas for Its ‘Patriots’”. It’s located near Waco. What could possibly go wrong?

“Specific language about the QAnon conspiracy theory has all but disappeared from mainstream public social media platforms, new research concludes.”

Using blimps to fight climate change by replacing short plane rides.

“Among the unvaccinated in Washington state, for example, the rate for hospitalization and deaths is the same as it was in January, the most virulent month of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

They just don’t make the mark of the Beast like they used to.

What should the military do about seditious nutbag Michael Flynn?

“Meaning you can add “flying killer robots” to your list of plausible fears that science fiction predicted.”

“A ransomware attack against Brazilian meat-packing giant JBS has disrupted production in the U.S., Canada and Australia.”

Don’t act like a hooligan at sporting events. I know it’s been awhile, but surely we all remember this.

“With the coronavirus pandemic receding for every vaccine that reaches an arm, the push by some employers to get people back into offices is clashing with workers who’ve embraced remote work as the new normal.”

“Unfortunately, the trendline of where children are getting vaccinated so far shows an expected but still disappointing development. The same places where adults aren’t getting vaccinated are not seeing children getting vaccinated either, which will only exacerbate the growing discrepancies in the places where the most people are protected from the virus.”

No one is coming to our rescue, certainly not “history.” Once democracy is gone, it’s gone. It is up to us to protect and preserve it. Right here, right now.”

RIP, Mike Marshall, first relief pitcher to win the Cy Young Award.

“Kraken Lawyer Sues MLB For Violating Atlanta’s Constitutional Right To Host The All Star Game”.

RIP, F. Lee Bailey, criminal defense attorney who represented Patty Hearst, O.J. Simpson, the Boston Strangler, and the army commander at the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, among others.

“But I have another theory. It’s the thirst. Trump broke the cardinal rule of fame: He made it clear how much he wanted it.”

What was the effect of Texas’ early re-opening?

Here’s a new study by a trio of economic researchers that attempts to answer questions about the behavioral, public health, and economic effects of Greg Abbott ending the statewide mask mandate and all restrictions on how businesses can operate, all on March 3 of this year. Short answer: Pretty much nothing changed.

This study explores a unique policy shock in Texas to identify the causal impacts of a statewide reopening on public health and economic activity. Texas was first state in the United States to enact a “100% reopening.” Executive Order GA-34, issued by Governor Greg Abbott, (i) eliminated statewide capacity constraints on all businesses, and (ii) abolished the statewide mask mandate (Abbott 2021). Texas’ “first mover” position makes the state’s reopening plausibly exogenous relative to other later-reopening states that followed suit and eased restrictions. Under Governor Greg Abbott’s order, local businesses were free to impose their own voluntary restrictions. Furthermore, unlike the imposition of local shelter-in-place orders which were permitted and widely adopted (Dave et al. 2020a), Governor Abbott advanced the legal position that no local order can supersede the state’s reopening order and legally impose COVID-related capacity constraints on local businesses or fine local residents for not wearing masks.4 At the time the reopening was announced, the state of Texas had administered 5.7 million vaccine shots to its residents, fully vaccinating 11 percent of its adult (ages 16 and older) population Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2021b). By March 29, all adults 16 and older were eligible to obtain a vaccine (Harper 2021) and by April 13, 15.2 million vaccines had been distributed in Texas (Johns Hopkins University 2021), with 26 percent of the adult population completely vaccinated.5 This share had reached nearly 40 percent by mid-May 2021.

This study is the first to examine the impact of a statewide reopening in the midst of a mass statewide vaccination effort. We document three key findings. First, using anonymized smartphone data from SafeGraph, Inc. and a synthetic control approach, we find that the Texas reopening had little impact on stay-at-home behavior or on foot traffic at numerous business locations, including restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, retail establishments, business services, personal care services, and grocery stores. Second, using COVID-19 case and mortality data from the New York Times, we find no evidence that the reopening affected the rate of new COVID-19 cases in the five-week period following the reopening.6 In addition, we find that state-level COVID-19 mortality rates were unaffected by the March 10 reopening. These null results persist when we explore heterogeneity in the state reopening by urbanicity and political ideology of Texas counties. We find no evidence of social distancing or COVID-19 effects of the reopening across more urban versus less urban Texas counties as well as across counties where the majority of residents supported Donald Trump or Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

Finally, we explore whether Governor Abbott’s reopening order generated short-run economic growth in Texas. Using weekly state-level data on UI claims per 1,000 covered jobs from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), synthetic control and difference-in-differences estimates show that neither continued UI claims filed nor new UI claims filed (per 1,000 UI covered job) fell in the five “full week” period following the March 10 reopening. Moreover, using state-level data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED), we find no evidence that the Texas reopening reduced the short-run (March 2021) unemployment rate or employment-to-population ratio. Supplemental analysis of microdata from the Current Population Basic Monthly Survey (CPS-BMS) show no evidence that that the reopening affected employment-to-population ratios at bars, restaurants, or entertainment venues. Taken together, our findings underscore the limits of late-pandemic era changes in COVID-19 reopening policies to alter private behavior.

See here for my post about the end of the statewide mask mandate, which I contended should have waited another couple of weeks until more people were vaccinated. I still think that would have been the smarter policy, but what this study tells us is that a lot of people – both mask-wearers and mask-resisters – kept on doing what they’d been doing. In addition, localities that had mask mandates (at least up until recently) largely kept them in place, and businesses that required people to wear masks continued to do so.

That combination of factors is very likely why not much changed despite the new, relaxed rules. Cellphone mobility data was used in May last year to predict the second-wave summer spike, and the reason for it was that with the initial lifting of stay-at-home orders, people went back to pre-pandemic levels of activity, with predictable results. The authors’ point is that at this later stage of the pandemic, people’s behavior was much more accustomed to being restricted, so a change in government policy had much less effect on them. That also means it had much less effect on economic activity, contra what Abbott promised, for the reason that many had proclaimed for months, namely that you can’t really reopen the economy until most people feel comfortable enough to get back out there and shop and dine at restaurants and go to the gym and movies and whatnot. And they won’t feel that way until the pandemic is well and truly beaten, which means taking it seriously until it’s been controlled.

Anyway, there’s grist for a lot of mills in there, so check it out. It’s kind of dense, so if you’d rather have someone else summarize and analyze it for you, there’s this Atlantic story. If even that is too long for you, or if like me you have run out of free Atlantic articles to read, this Twitter thread from the author will have to suffice. He doesn’t touch on the economic stuff, just the health and behavior stuff, but his explanation of the theories about this are nice and succinct. I’m sure we’ll see further study on this topic – it’s too interesting and important for there to be just this one – but for now, this is what we have.

Buckingham to run for Land Commissioner

That’s the sound of opportunity knocking.

Sen. Dawn Buckingham

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, is set to run for land commissioner, according to two sources familiar with the decision not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Buckingham has made calls to potential supporters sharing her decision, said the sources. A Buckingham spokesperson, Matt Langston, said she was “seriously considering” running and would make an announcement soon.

The news of her decision comes two days after the current land commissioner, George P. Bush, announced he was running for attorney general next year, challenging fellow Republican Ken Paxton.

Buckingham was first elected in 2016 to represent Senate District 24 in Central Texas. While she won a second term last year, all members of the Senate have to run for reelection in 2022 due to redistricting, so she would have to give up her seat if she runs for land commissioner.

That’s the way the dominoes fall. Buckingham’s SD24 is strongly Republicans and got slighty more so over the course of the decade. It’s a mostly-rural/exurban district that’s partly Hill Country, partly I-35 Corridor, and partly West Texas, plus a piece of Travis County. It borders two Republican districts that used to be deep red but have trended strongly Democratic in SDs 5 and 25, plus one of the deepest red districts in SD28 that is lagging in overall population; SD24 itself was below the ideal population level as of 2018 (it was right at 900K at that time, up from 811K when the districts were drawn in 2011), so maybe it takes some blue precincts from the more-populated SD5 and SD25 while shifting whatever it can to SD28. I’m just spitballing here, redistricting is a lot more complex than that, but you get the idea. It’s still going to be a red district when all is said and done, but maybe 62-63% instead of 66-67%, and maybe with the potential to drift towards blue over time. Add it to the list of places where there will be a lot of action next May.

Elsewhere in people people resigning one office to (probably) run for another:

Texas GOP Chair Allen West announced his resignation Friday morning and said he is considering running for another office, potentially one that is statewide.

During a news conference here, West said a statewide run is “one of the things that I have to go to the Lord in prayer.” He said it would be “very disingenuous with so many people that have asked me to consider something” to not explore a run.

“Many men from Georgia, many men from Tennessee, came here to serve the great state of Texas, and so we’re gonna consider it,” said West, who grew up in Georgia. He added that he was announcing his resignation, effective next month, so that there is no conflict of interest as he weighs his next political move.

West, who has been most frequently discussed as a potential challenger to Gov. Greg Abbott, declined to say whether he was eyeing any particular statewide office, though he told a radio host earlier Friday morning that the host was “safe” to assume West was mulling a gubernatorial run. At the news conference, West also did not say when he would announce a decision on his next step, telling a reporter with characteristic combativeness that his “timeline is in my head and not in yours yet.”

West also raised the prospect he could run for Congress, noting he is a resident of the 32nd Congressional District, “and there’s a guy in Texas 32 I really don’t care for being my congressional representative.” The incumbent is Democratic Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas.

As for a statewide campaign, West said he would not be deterred by an incumbent having the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Trump has already backed Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for reelection.

“You know, I don’t serve President Trump. I serve God, country and Texas,” West said. “So that does not affect me whatsoever.”

Yeah, I don’t like giving Allen West any space for his depravity, but you need to know what he might be up to. And yes, I know Sen. Buckingham isn’t resigning, she just would be giving up her seat to run for Land Commissioner. Anyway, that’s all the time we need to spend on this.

Bring in an outside investigator

That’s the Chron editorial board’s advice for Constable Alan Rosen.

Constable Alan Rosen

Rosen’s office declined to comment to the editorial board Thursday, but in an earlier statement, he said that when he was made aware of the allegations, he “proactively” ordered an internal affairs investigation months ago and “immediately” replaced the supervisor of the human trafficking unit. The investigation, he said, found no violations of law or policy. The constable, whose name has been floated as a replacement for Sheriff Ed Gonzalez if he joins the Biden Administration, suggested the allegations were being brought to impugn his department’s reputation.

“I have a zero-tolerance stance against sexual assault and sexual harassment and would never allow a hostile work environment as alleged,” he said.

If Rosen means that, he shouldn’t hesitate to call for an independent investigation by the FBI’s public integrity unit or the Texas Rangers to get to the bottom of the disturbing claims. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and others on the commissioners’ court should be seeking the same probe and certainly not consider Rosen for the sheriff’s post until they get to the bottom of what happened.

We don’t encourage public officials to cast early blame without all the facts. And indeed, people other than Rosen have pushed back on the lawsuit’s claims, including that the implication that Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg wasn’t willing to get involved.

“The allegation that our office failed to take action is completely false. It’s offensive,” said DA spokesman Dane Schiller. “There was no cover-up, no laziness, no lack of caring by our prosecutors.”

Still, somebody must investigate — other than the department accused. If the allegations don’t pan out, Rosen’s name is cleared. If they are true, the officers’ actions suggest far more than workplace harassment but deeper corruption, potentially criminal wrongdoing and a toxic culture in urgent need of reform.

See here and here for the background. I basically agree with all of this, and I agree that it’s what Constable Rosen himself should want. It’s the best way to get at the truth and have it accepted as such. If Constable Rosen resists this idea, then Commissioners Court should give him a push, or take the decision out of his hands. Let’s not waste time on this, we the voters in Precinct 1 deserve to know what’s going on.