Suppose you’re talking to someone who says, sure, they hate Trump personally (the tweets, the rallies, etc.) but they like his policies. So they’re going to vote for Trump unless someone can convince them that his policies are bad or that Democratic policies are better. Let’s think about this. What are Trump’s major policies?
- Cutting taxes.
- Installing conservative judges.
- Getting rid of Obamacare and replacing it with something else.
- A border wall and, more generally, tough restrictions on immigration.
- Tariffs on countries that are taking advantage of us.
- Cutting regulations in ways that are friendly to big business.
- More money for the military.
- Strong support for Israel.
- Opposition to gun control, abortion, and restrictions on religious practice.
It’s worth noting that almost all of these are just bog standard Republican policies. The two exceptions are the border wall and the tariffs. However, the wall is popular among the Republican base and the tariffs, judging from how they’ve been received, were always opposed more in word than deed.
Bottom line: if you’ve already decided that (a) Trump’s bluster isn’t enough to turn you off and (b) his “corruption” is mostly just a bunch of bogus partisan hysterics from Democrats, what is there for an ordinary Republican voter to dislike?
Only about 5 percent of the votes have been counted so far, but everyone has called the Nevada race for Bernie Sanders, who appears to have won nearly half the delegates. Joe Biden came in a distant second with a little less than 20 percent and Pete Buttigieg came in third at around 15 percent.
This is obviously not good news for Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar, neither of whom did well. But Biden, at least, may have stanched his bleeding just in time for the South Carolina primary next weekend. Then it’s on to Super Tuesday, where Mike Bloomberg will finally enter the race. It’s gonna be exciting!
From Alex Tabarrok, responding to a study of what patients value in a hospital:¹
I do wish that patients paid more attention to the outputs of sophisticated statistical models when choosing doctors and hospitals, as I think this would improve quality, but mostly they don’t.
Me too, Alex, me too. However, even among my pretty smart friends, I can’t get them to prioritize even a simple time-series chart over their gut feeling of what “must be true.” And even if I do make a tiny bit of headway on some subject or another, if I bring it up again a month later it turns out they’ve completely forgotten everything I said. They’re back to whatever barstool opinion they had before.
We are overclocked primates. It takes intense training to get humans to overcome the constant mutterings of their lizard brains and pay attention instead to quantitative evidence—i.e., to produce scientists—and even among scientists this training works only in a pinch. This is why elections are won by appealing to people’s emotions, not trying to change their view of the facts. We may be proud of our massive prefrontal cortexes, but they’re merely a thin veneer over the billion years of evolution that produced the rest of our brain.
¹Quiet rooms and nice nurses, it turns out.
As we head into the fine, bright morning of the 2020 Nevada caucuses, Real Clear Politics tells us that Bernie Sanders is way ahead of the pack:
If we’re all being honest, what we’re really interested in is whether Nevada has botched its vote reporting tech the way Iowa did. I hope not. I don’t care all that much about the Nevada caucuses, but I am a technophile and this kind of thing gives tech a bad name.
One warning: the RCP poll aggregation is based on only two recent polls, so take it with a grain of salt. It’s also worth noting that you have to reach a threshold of 15 percent in order to be viable, and there’s practically a trainwreck of candidates clustered around 10-15 percent. Second choices could be really important here.
One of the classic maneuvers in the intelligence business is to paralyze your enemy by making them think that moles are everywhere. Here in the US, for example, James Jesus Angleton became convinced during the Cold War that the Soviet Union had massively infiltrated the CIA and became so paranoid that he did considerable damage to the CIA with his endless hunts for Soviet spies that didn’t exist.
But it doesn’t just happen in intelligence agencies. It can happen anywhere:
President Trump has instructed his White House to identify and force out officials across his administration who are not seen as sufficiently loyal….Johnny McEntee, Trump’s former personal aide who now leads the effort as director of presidential personnel, has begun combing through various agencies with a mandate from the president to oust or sideline political appointees who have not proved their loyalty, according to several administration officials and others familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
….McEntee spent part of this week asking officials in various Cabinet agencies to provide names of political appointees working in government who are not fully supportive of Trump’s presidency, according to administration officials.
….Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior adviser in the White House, has played a central in the push, concentrating more power in the West Wing and working to combat leaks, officials said.
Fabulous. I hope Trump becomes so paranoid that he fires every semi-competent official working for him, thus becoming even less able to execute any of his nutball plans. It’s true that there’s danger in having a bunch of inept toadies running the executive branch, but in this case it’s probably a blessing overall.
Here’s the first of the post-debate polls I’ve been waiting for:
The good news for Mike Bloomberg is that debates seldom affect poll numbers much. So even though he bombed horribly, he only went down three points in the post-debate poll. He still has plenty of time to dust himself off and do better in next week’s debate.
BTW, it’s obvious that I was way out of step in my assessment of Bloomberg’s performance. Even my friends are laughing at me. I think a couple of things explain it. First, I tend to discount loud attacks because I’ve seen them so many times before and they bore me. So the fact that Warren went hard after Bloomberg didn’t really affect me much. Second, I assumed going in that Bloomberg would be attacked mercilessly, so I had already priced that in. His listless response merely meant that he had done a little more poorly than I expected, not that he had bombed.
The rest of the world obviously disagrees, giving Bloomberg approximately a -5 on a scale on 1 to 10. But I have to admit that even two days later I’ve only moved a little bit. I’ll concede that Bloomberg did worse than I thought, but I still don’t think it was a catastrophic performance. But he’d better improved next week.
Hark! Who art yonder cat?
Why, I believe it’s Lord Hilbert, hanging around on our neighbor’s fence. Nobody lives there at the moment, though, so nobody can object. Not that anyone would, I’m sure.
I had lunch with a friend yesterday and I promised him that I’d dig up the violent crime figures for New York City. Here they are:
This chart alone should provide you with pretty good clues to the answers to these questions:
- Did David Dinkins have a pretty good record on crime?
- Was Rudy Giuliani’s adoption of broken windows policing responsible for NYC’s crime decline in the 90s?
- Did Mike Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policing reduce crime in the 2000s?
- Did Bill De Blasio preside over an upsurge in crime in the aughts?
Here are the answers:
- Yes: violent crime declined 20 percent on his watch. But nobody knew it at the time because no figures later than 1991 were available during the 1993 mayoral race.
- No. Violent crime was already declining strongly when he took over, and continued declining after he left. There’s no reason to think that Giuliani had any special impact.
- No. Violent crime declined only modestly during his three terms in office.
- No. Stop-and-frisk ended and nothing happened. Violent crime stayed low.
Conversely, the lead-crime hypothesis predicts very precisely that violent crime should peak right around 1991 and then decline through 2010 as more and more birth cohorts are raised in a lead-free environment.¹ By 2010 an entire generation has reached its most crime-prone years after being raised in a lead-free environment and there are few improvements to be expected going forward. And that’s exactly what happened.
¹Mostly lead free, anyway.
Pretty much everyone agrees that Mike Bloomberg did a terrible job last night. However, there was a one-minute segment where he went after Bernie Sanders:
This is what I’m afraid of in the general election. Sanders doesn’t get a lot of pushback from his fellow liberals for being a socialist, but Republicans will have no qualms about thrashing him to pieces over it. If Sanders wins, I suspect this attack from Bloomberg is just a tiny little taste of what he’ll get in the fall when the campaign gets going. What’s more, I think it will be more effective than we lefties are willing to admit to ourselves.
Maybe I’m wrong. We’ll see.
Last week an intelligence official named Shelby Pierson gave a classified briefing to the House Intelligence Committee. Russia, she said, was already interfering in the 2020 election to try to get Donald Trump re-elected. Shortly thereafter, Trump met in the Oval Office with the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and went ballistic on him. A few days later Trump announced that he was replacing Maguire with Richard Grenell, a loyalist who has no intelligence experience.
White House officials insisted that the timing was just a coincidence.
You betcha. The New York Times reports that Trump was angry because he was afraid Democrats would use this information against him. And I suppose he’s right. Another alternative, of course, would be for Trump to do something about Russian interference, which would neuter any possible Democratic complaints. Apparently, though, that’s out of the question. Don’t you know there’s an election coming up?
This is a giraffe at the Bronx Zoo. They have a nice viewing platform there that allows you to see (and photograph) the giraffes at eye level.June 25, 2011 — Bronx Zoo, New York City
From Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s chief of staff:¹
We are desperate — desperate — for more people. We are running out of people to fuel the economic growth that we’ve had in our nation over the last four years. We need more immigrants.
Technically, this is true. GDP growth has two components: population growth and productivity growth. If population growth slows down, then all that’s left is productivity growth—and there’s little reason to think that Trump even knows what labor productivity is, let alone has any bright ideas about how to improve it.
In fairness, Mulvaney clarified that he thinks we need more legal immigrants, but even that’s not especially popular among Trump’s base. Perhaps we’ll get a “clarification” soon?
¹For now, anyway.
Over at Recode, Jason Del Ray reports that Apple is finally taking antitrust concerns “seriously.” How do we know this?
Apple is considering allowing iPhone users the ability to make third-party apps such as Chrome and Gmail the default on their phones.
That’s it? That’s a sign of taking antitrust concerns seriously? This is a pretty low bar, isn’t it?
And how is it that Apple users have put up with this for the past decade anyway? Are you guys really not allowed to use any other browser or email app as your default? Yeesh. I think I’ll stick to Windows and Android, thankyouverymuch.
After originally asking for a 7-9 year sentence for presidential pal and longtime Republican ratfucker¹ Roger Stone, Attorney General Bill Barr intervened in the case and sent in a new prosecutor who recommended 3-4 years instead.² Today, judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Stone to . . . 3-4 years:
In a lengthy speech before imposing the penalty, Jackson seemed to take aim at Trump — saying Stone “was not prosecuted for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.” She also appeared to call out Attorney General William P. Barr, whose intervention to reduce career prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation she called “unprecedented.” But she said the politics surrounding the case had not influenced her final decision.
….Jackson made clear she thought Stone’s crimes were serious. She called his testimony “plainly false” and “a flat-out lie,” and said his misdirection “shut out important avenues” for Congress to investigate. She said Stone knew “it could reflect badly on president if someone learned” about his efforts to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton, who was then running against Trump to be president, from the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
It’s not over, of course. Stone insists that he deserves a new trial and President Trump insists that Stone has been railroaded from the start. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that none of this sticks and Stone is unable to earn an appeal either. So it’s 40 months in prison unless his friend in the Oval Office pardons him.
¹This is a term of art: “Stone’s specialty is being a ‘ratfucker’—a practitioner of dark arts avoided by most mainstream politicians and consultants,” Will Greenberg wrote for us a few years ago. Stone himself embraces the term “dirty trickster,” but “hasn’t been so eager to embrace another, more profane Nixon-era label with which he’s often tagged: ‘ratfucker,’ or a political operator who engages in roguish behind-the-scenes behavior to undermine rivals,” wrote Ben Zimmer in Politico last year. “He’s inexorably linked to the term, even if he doesn’t like it.”
²“Recommended” might be going too far. The revised sentencing memo was unusually mushy, so it might be more accurate to say that it “implied” a 3-4 year sentence.
Household debt has hit yet another record. Should we be worried?
Michael Strain says no, and I agree. This time, though, it’s more than my usual gripe about not adjusting for inflation. The thing to look at it isn’t raw debt in the first place, but how much it’s affecting family finances:
The average family is spending less than 10 percent of its income on debt payments. This is the lowest it’s been since the Fed started tracking it. So not only is there nothing to worry about, you can even make a case that household debt ought to be a little higher than it is.
Here’s an unexpected jolt of reality from the Trump administration:
President Trump’s top economists predict the U.S. economy will not grow at a rate of 3 percent or higher this year unless Congress enacts a major infrastructure package and additional tax cuts….In the annual Economic Report of the President released on Thursday, Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers predicts that if the president and Congress do not make further policy changes, the U.S. economy will grow at a 2.4 percent annual pace this year and at a 2.3 percent pace in 2021. That kind of growth is well below what Trump promised and similar to what occurred under President Barack Obama.
In other words, the economy is going to continue growing at about the same steady rate it’s been growing for the past decade. The nonsensical projections of 3+ percent growth that the Trumpies made in order to get elected were just that: nonsensical. Or, in the usual vernacular, they were lies. It’s not as if Trump’s economists haven’t known this all along, after all.
As for Trump himself, he hasn’t commented yet. When he does, I suppose he’ll whine yet again about how the mean old Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates too high. You may judge for yourself:
If my Twitter feed is any indication, the unanimous opinion of everyone on the planet is that Mike Bloomberg got completely thrashed in the debate tonight. Conversely, I thought he came through OK. He took a ton of hits, but he mostly swatted them away without suffering a lot of damage.
So what really happened? Is lefty Twitter totally out of touch? Am I reading mostly stuff from partisans? Or have I wildly underestimated how brutal the attacks on Bloomberg were? I am now genuinely curious to see how the conventional wisdom congeals over the next week or so.
Mike Bloomberg speaks!
9:18 pm – Warren takes a big shot at Buttigieg’s health care plan: “It’s a PowerPoint, not a plan.”
9:10 pm – Well, this debate is starting out on a spirited note.
9:09 pm – Sanders gets pissed.
9:08 pm – Buttigieg: In a couple of weeks we could find ourselves stuck with one candidate who wants to burn this party down, and another who wants to buy it.
9:06 pm – Biden says no, he’s the guy to beat Trump.
9:05 pm – Bloomberg: I’m a mayor, I’m a manager, I’m a philanthropist. Beat Trump!
This is Horseshoe Bend, a famous 360-degree turn in the Colorado River near Page, Arizona. It costs ten dollars to get in, and I spent $30 so that I could see it three times: in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening. In the morning and the afternoon the shadows are pretty heavy this time of year, but in the evening you can get a good shot as long as you use a tripod and set a fairly long shutter speed.
This picture is a 4-segment panorama taken a few minutes after sundown. It took a fair amount of effort to get Photoshop to stitch this into a single image properly, but eventually everything came together. At the bottom center you can see a group of rafters who had stopped for the evening to camp at the base of the rock.
I’ve been playing around with converting some of my Arizona pictures to black and white. I’ve never been especially good at this, but Arizona provides a pretty good backdrop for practice. The black-and-white version of Horseshoe Bend is at the bottom.January 26, 2020 — Page, Arizona
In 2016 Donald Trump refused to release his income tax records even though (a) he had promised to do so, and (b) he’s a real estate billionaire, the exact kind of person whose financial history is especially salient in a presidential election. This paid off: no one really cared, apparently, and Trump became president. The price of concealing his financial history was smaller than the price he would have paid for whatever that history would have shown.
This year, Bernie Sanders has refused to release his medical records even though (a) he promised to do so, and (b) he’s 78 years old and recently had a heart attack, making him the exact kind of person whose medical history is especially salient in a presidential election. Will this pay off? It seems like it: Sanders is soaring in the polls. The price of concealing his medical history is—in his estimation, anyway—smaller than the price he’d pay for whatever his medical history shows.
Presidential candidates are finally learning that releasing records of any kind is all downside. If the records show that everything is OK, no one cares and it buys you nothing. But if the records show a problem, it could blow your candidacy to pieces. There is literally no reason to do it unless there’s a big price to be paid for keeping things under wrap. But guess what? There isn’t.