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Updated: 18 min 25 sec ago

White Mississippi Judge Not Happy With Non-White Colleagues

56 min 41 sec ago

In a recent redistricting case in Mississippi, a federal judge ruled that black voting strength had been illegally diluted in a particular district and ordered that several majority-black precincts be added to it. The case was appealed, and a three-judge appellate panel upheld the ruling, 2-1. The dissenting judge, Edith Brown Clement, unsurprisingly disagreed with the majority on a number of points of law.

But that’s not all. She also explicitly accused the majority of ruling in favor of the black defendents because they themselves were non-white:

This case presents several extraordinary issues. Unfortunately, this court’s usual procedures do not appear to permit en banc review of this denial of a stay even if a majority of the active judges would otherwise grant it. I am afraid defendants have simply had the poor luck of drawing a majority-minority panel. I trust that in light of this, the State will pursue a stay in the Supreme Court because of the injustice that results from the joint efforts of the district judge and the motions panel majority.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has eight white justices and one black justice. I guess that’s more to Judge Clement’s liking.

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

1 hour 24 min ago

I have seen the superbloom up close!

Well, maybe not the superbloom. More like a very commendable bloom, I suppose. However, this bloom is about 20 minutes from my house and has no crowds, so I’ll take it. For you locals, these pictures were all taken at a very nice poppy bloom on Silverado Canyon Road near the post office:

March 24, 2019 — Orange County, California March 24, 2019 — Orange County, California March 24, 2019 — Orange County, California

And here’s what the bloom looks like from a distance. This is not the one on Silverado Canyon Road, which is easily accessible even for pitiful couch potatoes like me. It’s on a hillside to the west of Santiago Canyon Road, and probably not accessible at all. I didn’t even try to find out.

March 24, 2019 — Orange County, California
Categories: Politics

Here’s How Trump Is Dealing With the Mueller Report

4 hours 12 min ago

If you’re President Trump, what’s your best strategy for dealing with the Mueller report? It’s probably pretty simple:

  1. Insist loudly that the report completely exonerates you and you’re totally in favor of releasing the whole thing.
  2. Do not, however, actually order the report released.
  3. Instead, leave it up to the attorney general, who will stall for weeks or months. Let him take the heat for playing bad cop.
  4. Hope that by the time the report is finally released, Russiamania will be played out and it won’t get much play.

And guess what? So far, this is exactly what’s happening.

Categories: Politics

Chart of the Day: The Probability of Recession Is Now 20%

5 hours 16 min ago

Fed expert Tim Duy is getting seriously worried. Based on the movement of short-term and long-term interest rates, he thinks the chance of a recession in the next few months is getting very high:

Duy thinks the Fed needs to cut interest rates sooner rather than later:

So now I switch from analyst to commentator: The above leads me to the conclusion that the Fed needs to get with the program and cut rates sooner than later if they want to extend this expansion. Given inflation weakness and proximity to the lower bound, the Fed should error on the side of caution and cut rates now. Take out the insurance policy. It’s cheap. There will be plenty of opportunity to tighten the economy into recession should inflation emerge down the road.

This is probably sage advice.

Categories: Politics

We Still Know Almost Nothing About the Mueller Report

15 hours 40 min ago

This is probably pointless, but I’d like remind everyone that we know precisely one (1) thing about the Mueller report:

Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to think he could convict Trump or his campaign staff of direct criminal collusion with Russia’s social media and hacking operations.

That’s it. There’s obviously far more than this in the full report, which we’re (so far) not being allowed to see. Until we are, everyone on all sides would be well advised to avoid making sweeping statements about what we know. The truth is that we barely know anything more today than we did a week ago. It’s likely there’s a reason for that.

Categories: Politics

The Trump Administration Is Still Busily Spinning the Mueller Report

Sun, 03/24/2019 - 17:51

The spin machine is in full gear today. Instead of simply releasing Mueller’s own summary of the Mueller report, Attorney General William Barr decided to release his own summary. I can’t think of any good reason for doing this aside from the possibility that Mueller’s own summary contains some conclusions that Barr and his boss would just as soon not reach the public ear.¹ Apropos of my warning yesterday, then, you should consider Barr’s summary to be the rosiest possible interpretation of the Mueller report.

But even taken on its own terms, the Barr summary is a little odd. Here’s what he has to say about Russian interference in the 2016 election:

The Special Counsel’s investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord….The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election.

That’s it? But I don’t think anyone has ever seriously suspected that Trump (or his staff) was involved with the IRA disinformation campaign or the Russian hacking operations. The suspicions have mainly revolved around more personal contacts: Manafort’s friends in high places; the Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr. and others; the Carter Page weirdness; the Moscow real estate deal that went south; and so forth. It’s possible, of course, that Mueller concluded in his report that none of this amounted to collusion in any criminal sense, but surely he at least addressed this stuff? So why doesn’t Barr mention it?

On the subject of obstruction of justice, Mueller punted. “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime,” he says, “it also does not exonerate him.” Needless to say, this did not stop Trump from tweeting his take on “does not exonerate”:

As usual, this is a lie aimed at his followers, who will not read the Barr summary and will instead rely on outlets like Fox News and Breitbart for their news. I think we can safely assume that the conservative media will ignore Mueller’s words and will instead promote Barr’s conclusion that there was no obstruction. However, since Barr was hired specifically to come to this conclusion no matter what, it’s hard to take it very seriously.

Anyway, I am now more eager than ever to see the Mueller report. I never thought that Trump was directly connected with Russian hacking, so Mueller’s conclusion on that front doesn’t surprise me. Nonetheless, if even Barr’s summary was forced to tiptoe so conspicuously around Mueller’s conclusions, I think we can assume that the Mueller report itself is at least moderately damning. Let’s see it.

¹It’s true that the Mueller report probably needs to be redacted here and there, but surely the report’s summary could be redacted pretty quickly?

Categories: Politics

Warning: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear About the Mueller Report

Sat, 03/23/2019 - 14:36

I don’t have anything to say about the Mueller report because, like everyone else, I haven’t yet seen the Mueller report. But I will offer one warning: for at least the next few days, the only public information will be leaks—official or otherwise—from the Justice Department. These leaks will almost certainly be calculated to present the report in the most favorable light. The goal is to influence the initial news reporting and thus influence the public before we see any of the details.

So: take the reporting over the next few days with a big grain of salt. It’s almost certain not to be a balanced account. Wait for the whole report to come out before you conclude anything one way or the other.

Categories: Politics

Friday Cat Blogging – 22 March 2019

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 15:00

Hopper is smart enough to figure out that birds like to congregate at the bird feeder. However, she’s not smart enough to figure out that they will decline to congregate if she’s sitting there staring at it. This produced something of a bird feeder fiasco, so we’ve now moved it out to the front yard. It seems to work better there.

Categories: Politics

The Black-White Testing Gap Is Real, and It’s a Disgrace

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 13:56

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio has been pushing a plan to change the way students are selected for New York’s elite academic high schools. His plan is probably dead (it requires approval at the state level), but it got a push this week when it was announced that only seven black students were accepted into Stuyvesant High School, one of those elite campuses. Overall, the incoming freshman class at the eight elite schools was only 3 percent black in a school system that’s a quarter black.

Over at Vox, Jose Vilson, a NYC public school teacher, explains what happened:

None of this is by accident….New York State passed the Calandra-Hecht Act in 1971 which stated that “admissions to [these specialized high schools] shall be solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination.”…Essentially, these schools enshrined into law the right to ignore school performance, grades, interviews, standardized state exams, or any other qualification in favor of a test that rarely aligns with the standards they learn in school, tacitly keeping these schools out of reach for under-resourced students and schools. The specialized high schools continue to exemplify why New York City has the most segregated school system in the country.

The Specialized High School Admission Test, much like the IQ tests of yore and the SAT or ACT of the present, has been gamed since its inception. Everything from expensive test prep centers concentrated in specific neighborhoods to private tutors who spend hours with students across the city helps exacerbate admissions, and with it racial disparity.

I think progressives are ill-served by the continuing notion that every standardized test ever invented is racially biased in a massive way. Over the past several decades, the organizations that create these tests have gone to considerable lengths to address racial bias, and they’ve been largely successful. The tests aren’t perfect, and they have flaws quite aside from any questions of race, but they aren’t terrible either. They also show a consistent but complicated pattern. Here’s a chart showing racial gaps for a lifetime of student testing:

There are several things to understand about these results:

  • The black-white gap shows up as early as kindergarten and primary school—long before test prep classes come into play—and continues all the way through graduate level tests like the LSAT.
  • To compare these results over time you have to convert them to standard deviations. If you do this, you find that the black-white gap increases over time. Very roughly, the gap is 0.6 SD in kindergarten, 0.7 in fourth grade, 0.8 in eighth grade, 0.9 in high school, and 1.0 at the graduate level.
  • With the possible exception of the initial kindergarten gap, these gaps continue to show up even after you control for income, class, parental education, test prep, etc.

These gaps are real effects of education, not just an artifact of test-taking, and the fact that the gaps increase over time is good evidence that much of the fault lies with our schools. We miss this if we insist that standardized tests are useless. After all, if there’s no “real” gap at all, then our schools must be doing fine.

I’m no expert in how to close this gap, though I can say that there have been many dozens of serious efforts and virtually all of them have failed. But we shouldn’t pretend there’s nothing here except a bunch of racist test constructors. The black-white testing gap in America is a national disgrace, and we simply can’t give up trying to fix it. If we could figure out how, no matter how much it cost, I’d take it over the mythical hope of reparations any day.

Categories: Politics

Commander-in-Chief Picks Flatterer-in-Chief for Fed Board

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 12:56

Donald Trump has nominated Stephen Moore, a TV buddy of Larry Kudlow, to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. This is about like nominating Dr. Phil to run the CDC. Or, come to think of it, like choosing Larry Kudlow as director of the National Economic Council.

But this is what we expect from Trump these days, and I imagine the Republican Senate will handwave Moore’s nomination through. The Wall Street Journal explains what caught Trump’s attention:

Mr. Trump spoke to Mr. Moore to compliment the economic commentator on an opinion article he co-authored last week calling the Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s policy moves a threat to the U.S. economy….Moore for many years argued against the Fed’s postcrisis policies to keep rates low and to buy long-term bonds to stimulate growth, warning that the measures would stoke high inflation. But he has recently said the Fed is making money too tight, echoing Mr. Trump’s criticism of Mr. Powell and the Fed.

Moore is a hack who argued—absurdly—for high interest rates as long as a Democrat was in office, but then made a sudden U-turn when a Republican president needed to be sucked up to. And it’s paid off. It’s impossible to flatter Donald Trump so much that he figures out what you’re doing, and sure enough, Moore’s willingness to abase himself to Trump’s beliefs has earned him a big promotion.

Welcome to the 2019 version of America.

Categories: Politics

Chart of the Day: Obamacare and the Uninsured

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 11:19

Here’s a nice chart from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:

This looks great to me aside from the fact that we still have 10 percent of the country to go. But conservatives were dead set against Medicare and Medicaid in the 60s, and they’re dead set against Obamacare today. They just hate the idea of poor people getting medical coverage. I wonder why that bothers them so much?

Categories: Politics

Surprise! Juvenile Crime Has Plummeted in California.

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 21:31

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that juvenile crime has plunged mysteriously:

Over the past decade, the state’s numerous expanded juvenile halls have become near-empty monuments to a costly miscalculation — a mistake compounded each year as the number of young offenders plummeted. Some California counties are spending $1,400 a day to incarcerate each juvenile, or $500,000 annually, up from $400 a day or $150,000 annually just eight years ago….Unlike the surge of violence a generation ago, the plunge in juvenile crime has received relatively little attention and has spurred few demands for action.

My, that is a mystery, isn’t it?

With bigger facilities and fewer wards, the costs of juvenile detention spiked. The Chronicle requested and reviewed juvenile hall and camp populations and spending data from 14 diverse counties, and found that the annual cost of detaining youths increased in each one since 2011, ranging from 29 percent to 214 percent. “It’s really the opposite of what we thought it would be,” Varela said. “We’re all kind of scratching our heads over what we’re going to do with all the extra space.”

….Systemically, there is no clear explanation for why the crime rate dropped, and continued to decline through the 2008 recession and to the present day. Though there’s no consensus, many are eager to offer theories and take credit. Possible reasons include a decline of lead poisoning in children, which reduced the toxic effects on young brains, and pivotal shifts in the street drug trade, including diminishing demand for crack cocaine and strict laws that sent dealers who might recruit young people away for decades.

Give it up, folks. It’s lead. And that’s a very good thing, since it means the drop in juvenile crime is permanent. It’s time to scuttle all that extra space in juvenile hall.

Categories: Politics

Millennials Are Very Financially Trustworthy

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 17:39

The St. Louis Fed recently republished a note from last November about credit card delinquency. First, they note that millennials have the highest rate of delinquency. But then they make the obvious point that this is because millennials are younger than other generations, and young people always have higher delinquency rates than middle-aged folks. So what happens when you look at different generations when they were the same age?

This is interesting. First, it shows that millennials actually have the least credit card delinquency among recent generations. The authors even suggest that “their relative financial trustworthiness will persist throughout the remainder of their lives.”

But what about that uptick at the end? Starting around age 33, the credit card delinquency of millennials suddenly flattens and then starts to rise. That’s never happened with any other generation, or with younger millennials. What’s up with that? It’s quite prominent and doesn’t look like an artifact, but I can’t even think of a snarky guess about what might be causing this, let alone a serious guess.

Categories: Politics

Marine Commandant Not Happy About Border “Emergency”

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 17:22

General Robert Neller, the head of the Marine Corps, is not happy with his commander-in-chief:

The commandant of the Marines has warned the Pentagon that deployments to the southwest border and funding transfers under the president’s emergency declaration, among other unexpected demands, have posed “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency.”

….Neller, a four-star general, said because of the problems, Marines will not participate in planned training exercises in Indonesia, Scotland and Mongolia, and will reduce their participation in joint exercises with Australia and South Korea. Marines “rely on the hard, realistic training” of the training exercises “to develop the individual and collective skills necessary to prepare for high-end combat,” Neller said.

Military folks are notorious for complaining that reducing their budgets by so much as a dime will be a readiness catastrophe. So I guess I’d take this with a grain of salt. Still, it’s yet another sign that the Pentagon is justifiably unhappy about committing both funds and manpower to what they know is a fake national emergency on the border with Mexico.

Categories: Politics

But Her Emails

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 16:31

Hey, who needs a government account to communicate official business? That’s so fuddy duddy:

K.T. McFarland, it turns out, used an AOL email account while she was deputy national security adviser, but I’m sure it was just for trivia, not important stuff like—

Cummings also told Cipollone that the committee obtained a document showing that McFarland was using an account to conduct official White House business. Cummings said the document shows that McFarland was in communication with Tom Barrack, a longtime Trump confidant and the chairman of the president’s Inaugural Committee, about transferring “sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.” Barrack pitched the plan to Bannon through Bannon’s personal email account, according to Cummings.

Well, no worries. Nobody cares what anyone but Trump says anyway, and he seems to be very careful in his communications habits.

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 15:30

This is the world’s greatest strip mall. Check it out. It has a smokes store, a wig store, another wig store, a tattoo store, a bail bondsman, and a pawnshop. And if the billboard is to be believed, cheap pot is right around the corner. It’s everything you could possibly want all in one convenient location.

January 2, 2018 — Santa Ana, California

But wait. What’s that at the far end? It looks like a barber shop. If you go around to the side, you can see what makes them famous:

March 19, 2019 — Santa Ana, California

I dunno. They’re still around, so at least a few people must know about them.

Categories: Politics

People Are About As Happy Today As They’ve Ever Been

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 13:14

Here are a couple of additional charts from the recently released GSS 2018 data. They relate to a longtime hobbyhorse of mine:

This is another and more up-to-date take on how angry people are, which is often cited as the reason Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016. But are people really angrier than they used to be? Overall financial satisfaction has been rising steadily since 2010, just as you’d expect during an economic expansion. By the end of 2016, financial satisfaction was basically at the same level as it had been since 1990.

As for job satisfaction, it’s been dead flat for well over a decade. There’s just no movement there at all.

Now, people might not always tell pollsters the bare truth. And political campaigns can sometimes unmask emotions that are held in check most of the time. Still, as best we can tell from a broad read of the data, people aren’t any angrier than they have been in the past, nor are they less satisfied with their economic situation. There are plenty of people who will gripe to reporters who parachute in to do a “sense of the nation” piece, but there are always people who will gripe to reporters if they get the chance. The question is whether they’re griping more than usual, and the GSS data suggests they aren’t now and weren’t in 2016.

And now, a chart I’m posting just because it amuses me:

With the exception of a couple of years around 2000, everyone is actually pretty close on this question. Until now, that is. With Donald Trump in office, Republicans are giddy about their standard of living going up, while Democrats are certain they’re headed to the poorhouse. By this metric, there’s not much question that Trump is the most polarizing president of the past three decades.

Categories: Politics

Progressives Are Getting Better at Bumper Stickers

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 12:15

Tim Wu says that progressives have a bad habit of making policy too complex for voters to understand:

The truth is that good public policy can actually be elegant and simple to understand, even when the social problem that it’s addressing is complex. Social Security, Medicare, bans on indoor smoking, the “do not call” list (when it worked) and public libraries are examples of government solutions that are easy to understand and to benefit from.

Avoidance of complexity and minimizing choices are hallmarks of good design, as we have learned from the technological revolution in user interfaces. The age of impossible-to-use computers and incomprehensible TV remote controls has given way to the sleek and intuitive interfaces offered by pioneers like Steve Jobs of Apple. What progressives most need now is not more brains, but better policy designers.

His go-to example, of course, is Obamacare, and that’s fair enough. There are lots of reasons for the complexity of Obamacare, but that doesn’t change the fact that for most people it requires a “navigator” to walk you through all the options. That’s bad.

On the other hand, it’s not as if Republican policies are simple either. How many health care plans did they go through in 2017? Did you understand all of them? Any of them? How about their tax cut? Do you have any idea what taxes it cuts? Republicans also have a “deregulation” agenda, and I doubt that one person in a hundred could tell you what it really involves.

Obamacare aside—health care really does seem to be a special case until we manage to pass a universal program—the real problem isn’t the grim details of policymaking, it’s the fact that progressives have historically been bad at making bumper stickers for their policies. But that’s changed recently:

  • Medicare for All
  • $15 minimum wage
  • Higher taxes on the rich
  • Break up Google and Facebook
  • etc.

These may or may not be good ideas, but they’re pretty simple to understand even though many of them would end up being very complex to design and implement. In any case, this is the key: simple marketing slogans even if the underlying policy might require a fair amount of expert work.

And one more thing: one of the reasons for the complexity of progressive policy is our belief that government programs have to be fair to everyone. Unfortunately, this is really hard, and there are diminishing returns as you desperately try to eliminate every last bit of unfairness. The Green New Deal, for example, would be about one-quarter its size if it just concentrated on climate change instead of tossing in dozens of other items about environmental and social justice. So these are genuinely competing imperatives. Simplicity is good, but so is fairness. It’s hard to get both at the same time.

Categories: Politics

Fed Projects Growth of 2.1% This Year

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 18:46

Here is the Federal Reserve’s latest projection for economic growth over the rest of Donald Trump’s presidency:

Trump is the only human being on the planet who believes that growth will be over 3 percent this year. It’s true that his staffers are playing along, but only because there’s no other way to remain employed in Trump’s White House. I don’t think even they’re quite dumb enough to actually believe what they’re saying.

Trump, though, is a different story. I have no doubt that he believes. It’s what the voices in his head tell him, after all.

Categories: Politics

Lunchtime Photo

Wed, 03/20/2019 - 15:30

This is a sunset picture of the Sutter Buttes, the smallest mountain range in the world. That may seem an odd claim, since there are plenty of peaks that are far smaller. However, apparently something is a “mountain” only if it’s created by a specific type of geological activity. Your average foothill doesn’t qualify. However, the Sutter Buttes do, and no other genuine mountain range is smaller.

June 15, 2018 — Live Oak, California
Categories: Politics