Armanigate!

Yet another scandal for Hillary Clinton! This one revolves around a report that she wore a $12,495 Armani jacket recently. And she wore it to a speech on income inequality. It's Armanigate! But in a fearless act of investigative journalism, Fashionista has discovered that, in fact, the jacket has been marked down to $7,497. I demand to see the receipts. What does Hillary have to hide?

This is all ridiculous, so let's change the subject to something important. In what universe is this jacket worth $7,497? Seriously. Come on. It's made of lambskin, not unobtanium. And if there's any couture tailoring involved here, we might as well stop using the word. Amirite?

This post is dedicated to my sister, who will probably call in a few minutes to tell me this jacket is to die for and totally worth seven grand. That would be my clothing budget for...um, pretty much my entire life to this point, I think. But then again, I don't have to put up with a press corps obsessed with what I wear, do I?

Weekly Flint Water Report: May 27-June 2

Here is this week's Flint water report. As usual, I've eliminated outlier readings above 2,000 parts per billion, since there are very few of them and they can affect the averages in misleading ways. During the week, DEQ took 383 samples. The average for the past week was 6.91.

POSTSCRIPT: A number of people have asked why I eliminate outlier readings and then take the mean value. Why not just use the median? Here is last week's dataset of lead readings from Flint:

0,0,0,0,0...[197 zeroes]...1,1,1...[40 ones]...2,2...[23 twos]...175,194,219,977

This is typical: Lots and lots of zeroes and ones, and a small number of readings over ten. The median is zero. It's always zero. So the median doesn't tell you anything.

That said, there are several alternatives. For example, I could just report the percentage of tests over 15 ppb, which is the EPA "action level." This week it was 6.0 percent. Or I could report the 90th percentile level, which is a common testing method for lead in water. This week it was 7 ppb. Both of these measures are going to be pretty much the same from week to week because they don't give any special weight to the small number of very high readings. On the other hand, the mean might give too much weight to the high readings, even after I remove the readings over 2,000 (usually there's no more than one of those per week).

Bottom line: there are several reasonable ways of doing this, and they all have pros and cons. The only one that's completely useless, however, is the median. It tells you nothing.

What *Did* Donald Trump Mean by "No PP"?

As you'll recall, after forgetting what "TPP" meant in a speech last night, Donald Trump smirked and made a little joke to his audience: What you mean is, "No PP." Or, perhaps, "no pee pee." But what did he mean? Readers have offered three suggestions:

  1. It's some kind of reference to the trans bathroom controversy.
  2. It's some kind of cryptic reference to his penis size and capabilities.
  3. It's an obnoxious and juvenile reference to a conservative joke that Hillary Clinton is incontinent.

#1 seems unlikely to me. I just don't see it. #2 is not out of the question. We certainly know that Donald is puerile enough to think this would be funny. But it seems a little too obscure for the situation. That leaves #3, which is a cretinous "joke" that refers to a photoshopped picture circulated on Facebook by the fever swamp right a few weeks ago. It's quite possible that Donald recently saw it and thought it was so hilarious he just had to share. After all, we already know that Trump finds the mere thought of Hillary Clinton taking a bathroom break during a debate "disgusting."

Anyway, that's that. It's my best guess until someone asks him about this.

POSTSCRIPT: Another possibility: it was short for "No Planned Parenthood." That doesn't seem likely to me, but really, with Donald who the hell knows?

This year's general election for the California Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer will feature no Republicans: The top vote-getters in our open primary were a pair of Democrats, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez. This is a historic result, but to get a real feel for the depth of the GOP's debacle, take a look at this deceptively simple chart:

This tells you so much. The GOP's only hope was to unite on a single candidate; instead they ended up with a field of 12, mostly crackpots and no-hopers. Why? Partly because it doesn't cost much to qualify for a Senate race in California, and there were a lot of people who thought it would be amusing to be on the ballot. But it's also because the party is such a joke that it has virtually no influence anymore, even over its own members.

What else does this chart tell us? These 12 candidates won a cumulative total of 29.4 percent of the vote. Not even a third. The top vote-getter, Duf Sundheim, was a complete unknown: a former state GOP chairman with no experience in office of any kind.

Why didn't anyone with more name recognition run? Largely because the California GOP no longer has anyone with any name recognition. They're completely shut out of statewide office and hold only about a third of the seats in the legislature. Only two cities of any size have Republican mayors (San Diego and Fresno), and they're both unknown in the rest of the state.

But there are still a few GOP members of Congress who have enough stature to command an occasional TV camera (Kevin McCarthy, Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter). Why didn't any of them run? Because in 2010 they watched Meg Whitman flush $144 million of her personal fortune down the toilet running for governor and Carly Fiorina do the same with $7 million in the Senate race, and the results were grim: Fiorina lost by ten points and Whitman lost by 13 points. Even candidates only loosely associated with the Republican Party lost in a landslide.

So there you have it. Put all of this together and you get the chart above: a dozen nobodies with no name recognition and no chance, with the top vote-getter receiving a pathetic 8 percent of the vote. It's the California GOP in a nutshell.

The Diving Duck of Irvine

I still haven't been able to track down our new baby geese, and I'm going to torture you with daily waterfowl pictures until I do. Today you get a video! It's the diving duck of Irvine.

A few random thoughts about tonight's election results:

  • Hillary Clinton won a majority of the pledged delegates, a majority of the superdelegates, and a majority of the popular vote. If you can't stand her regardless, that's fine, but a clear majority of Democrats preferred her to Bernie Sanders. Nothing rigged, nothing corrupt, nothing unfair. That's just the way it goes sometimes.
     
  • I'd love to see her choose Jeff Merkley as her running mate. I've never thought it was fair that Oregon gets all the cool senators. They should share.
     
  • But Sherrod Brown is out of the running, I guess: "Aides say Sanders thinks that progressives who picked Clinton are cynical, power-chasing chickens—like Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of his most consistent allies in the Senate before endorsing Clinton and campaigning hard for her ahead of the Ohio primary. Sanders is so bitter about it that he'd be ready to nix Brown as an acceptable VP choice, if Clinton ever asked his advice on who'd be a good progressive champion."
     
  • I find Sanders' bitterness very sad. It's not that it's unusual: presidential primaries often get pretty nasty, and the losers frequently take it personally. But Bernie accomplished a helluva lot. He wanted to move the Democratic Party to the left, and every hack in the party is now keenly aware that young voters bought Bernie's message en masse—young voters who, in a few years, will be middle-aged voters that form the core of the party's base. Sanders has taught the hacks not only that it's safe for the Democratic Party to move to the left, but that it's going to whether they like it or not. How many losing candidates can say they accomplished that? Reagan in 1976? Who else? Bernie may have lost the primary, but he won the more important battle. He should be proud as hell.
     
  • For the record: Whitewater was a nothingburger. Travelgate was a nothingburger. Troopergate was a nothingburger. Filegate was a nothingburger. The Vince Foster murder conspiracy theories were a nothingburger. Monica Lewinsky was Bill's problem, not Hillary's. Benghazi was a tragedy, but entirely nonscandalous. The Goldman Sachs speeches were probably a bad idea, but otherwise a nothingburger. Emailgate revealed some poor judgment, but we've now seen all the emails and it's pretty obviously a nothingburger. Humagate is a nothingburger. Foundationgate is a nothingburger.

    Bottom line: Don't let Donald Trump or the press or anyone else convince you that Hillary Clinton is "dogged by scandal" or "works under a constant cloud of controversy" or whatever the nonsense of the day is. That constant cloud is the very deliberate invention of lowlifes in Arkansas; well-heeled conservative cranks; the Republican Party; and far too often a gullible and compliant press. Like anybody who's been in politics for 40 years, Hillary has some things she should have handled better, but that's about it. The plain fact is that there's no serious scandal on her record. There's no evidence that she's ever sold out to Wall Street. There's no corruption, intrigue, or deceit. And if anything, she's too honest on a policy level. She could stand to promise people a bit of free stuff now and then.

    If you don't believe me, then for God's sake, at least believe Jill Abramson. If she thinks Hillary is "fundamentally honest and trustworthy," then you can probably bank on it.

That is all. For now.

Apologies for the lousy video, but can someone please explain this:

Here's a transcript, such as it is:

GUY IN AUDIENCE: No TPP!

TRUMP: No PPP, you're right about that. [Smirks toward crowd.] And you mean, no PP.

Trump is such a moron that he doesn't realize right off what the guy is talking about and says "No PPP."1 Then he smirks and makes a little aside. Does he mean "no pee pee"? Is he that much of a child? Was it something else? WTF was this supposed to mean?

1Someone must have yelled at him about this in his ear, because a few seconds later he said, "We're not going to approve, as someone just said, the Trans. Pacific. Partnership." He drew out the last three words very slowly and carefully.

Donald Trump has issued a statement about his beef with Judge Curiel:

It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage. I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent.

Unfortunate indeed. But no one has construed his comments that way. We've all construed them as a categorical attack on Curiel. That's because Trump has explicitly said that Curiel is "a hater" of "Mexican heritage" who is handing down unfair rulings because he dislikes Trump's anti-immigrant politics. "I think that's why he's doing it," he told Jake Tapper, just to make sure there was no question about it. Then this:

Due to what I believe are unfair and mistaken rulings in this case and the Judge’s reported associations with certain professional organizations, questions were raised regarding the Obama appointed Judge’s impartiality. It is a fair question. I hope it is not the case.

"Questions were raised." Golly. I wonder who raised them? No one knows, I suppose. But raised they were, and then Donald had no choice but to address them. But he really hopes these questions all turn out to be unfounded. Really. He does.

There it is. You have the whining, the lying, the passive voice rowback, and the faux sorrow that this has become such a divisive issue, all in just a few sentences. It's vintage Trump, folks.

Here's our first un-endorsement of the season:

Kirk was always likely to be one of Trump's first defectors. He's running a tough reelection race in a blue state. Here's his official reason:

At least, I guess that's the official reason. Twitter is now the source of official political pronouncements, right?

Anyway, this might be the first time ever that a senator has un-endorsed a presidential candidate of his party. There have been plenty who never endorsed in the first place, but I'm not sure if anyone has ever endorsed and then taken it back. Historians, what say you?

Next up: Paul Ryan should become the first Speaker of the House to un-endorse a presidential candidate of his party. If enough members of Congress do this, we might even have to take the hyphen out of un-endorse and make it a real word.

How's the Labor Market Doing, Really?

Last week produced a weak jobs report, and today Fed chair Janet Yellen implied that this made an interest rate hike unlikely in the next month or two. Fine. But that's just one report over one month. Does it really tell us much about the health of the labor market?

Maybe not. Justin Fox suggests that "things have actually been on the downswing for the U.S. labor market for months," based on his read of a newish composite measure from the Fed called the Labor Market Conditions Index. As you can see on the right, the LMCI has mostly shown positive growth over the past three years. In fact, it's been positive since mid-2009. But growth turned negative in January and has been getting steadily more negative ever since. It's currently at -4.8.

So that's not so great. But because the LMCI is a composite mishmash of other metrics, it's hard to have any kind of intuitive sense of what it means. Is -4.8 bad? Really bad? Just a blip?

One way to get a better sense of LMCI is to take a longer-term look at it. The Fed boffins have back-calculated it to 1976, so here it is for the past 40 years:

Ah. It's one of those measures designed to predict recessions. As its creators say: "Changes in the LMCI align well with business cycles as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research....[Since 1980] the LMCI has fallen about an average of 20 points per month during a recession and risen about 4 points per month during an expansion."

These kinds of composite measures are a dime a dozen. Constructing them is practically a parlor game among a certain kind of economist. They're also problematic. LMCI, for example, combines 19 separate measures, and with that many inputs it's not hard at all to gin up a formula that will pretty accurately match past history. So I'd take LMCI with a grain of salt until we see how it does at predicting the next recession.

That said, if we do take LMCI seriously the question is: how low can it go before a recession is inevitable? Answer: Over the past 40 years, it's never gotten below -10 without foreshadowing a recession. In fact, during normal periods of expansion, it's never gotten below -7 without turning into a recession.

So: If we assume that LMCI has predictive capability, we can say that if it keeps dropping for another few months it probably means bad news. And if it drops into negative double digits, a recession is almost inevitable. That's a lot of ifs and probablies, but possibly something to keep an eye on anyway.