Just about every news outlet in the world has spent the day telling us that President Trump's address to Congress tonight isn't a State of the Union address. It's just an address to Congress. Tradition, you know. It seems like kind of a dumb tradition to me, but whatever. I'll be liveblogging it anyway. I'll be starting up around 9 pm Eastern if you want to follow along.

Over at the Equality of Opportunity Project, a group of scholars has ranked every college and university in the country on a measure of how good they are at producing income mobility. For each school, this is defined at the percentage of students who are in the bottom income quintile multiplied by the percentage who end up in the top quintile. For example:

CSU Los Angeles
33.1% of students are in the bottom quintile
29.9% end up in the top quintile
Mobility rate = 9.89%

After scanning the scores, there are two big takeaways:

  • If you're in the bottom quintile, head to Los Angeles or New York City, which absolutely dominate the top 100. The entire CUNY system is really strong, and outside the city, SUNY has a bunch of good campuses. In Los Angeles, both the CSU and the UC systems have a good selection of schools with high mobility rates. Texas isn't bad either, and it has good schools all over the state.
  • If you want the best chance of moving into the top quintile and don't much care about your field of study, apply to the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, right near beautiful La Guardia Airport in New York City. They have a spectacular mobility rate.

It's not uncommon for the best scoring school in a state to specialize in something. Welding in Oklahoma. Seamanship in Maine. Pharmacists in Massachusetts. And technical schools all over the place. Are you curious about the top-scoring school in your state? Here they are:

On Fox & Friends this morning, Brian Kilmeade asked President Trump why he's been so slow to fill the thousands of open government jobs that are presidential appointees. Trump said it was because he didn't want to fill them. "A lot of those jobs, I don't want to appoint someone because they're unnecessary to have," Trump said. "In government, we have too many people." Nancy LeTourneau comments:

That is an important admission as it reflects on both Trump and his so-called “shadow president,” Steve Bannon. As we’ve already noted, in his speech at CPAC, Bannon suggested that one of his main goals was the deconstruction of the administrative state. Leaving important policy positions open is step one in that process. Of course, that also leads to the kind of incompetence and chaos that we’ve already witnessed from this White House. But for Bannon, that is more likely a feature than a bug.

Hmmm. Do you think that's what's happening? When I first heard Trump say this, I took it for one of his standard off-the-cuff lies. In reality, his administration is just sluggish and incompetent, but he could hardly admit that. So he came up with some other explanation.1

But if he is telling the truth, he must be surrounded by morons. The open jobs are all relatively high-ranking positions that implement the president's will. If you don't fill them, the bureaucracy is likely to keep lumbering along out of sheer inertia, and that means doing whatever it's used to, not what Trump wants it to do. The more high-level positions you fill with loyalists, the better chance you have of pushing the bureaucracy in the direction you want it go.

I guess we'll have to wait and see. At this time next year, if Trump still hasn't filled a substantial number of positions, then he was telling the truth—and he's surrounded by morons. But if they are mostly filled, it means he was just making up the usual Trumpian hokum on the fly to cover up for his own managerial ineptitude.

1And a really good one, too! Credit where it's due, Trump's extemporaneous bullshitting skills are outstanding.

A big target for President Trump's budget cutting turns out to be foreign aid:

The Trump administration is proposing to cut spending by 37% for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development budget, according to a person familiar with the budget deliberations....One U.S. official said that the State Department is looking at development assistance to other countries as a significant source for the cuts.

....“That is definitely dead on arrival,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) told reporters Tuesday, saying the proposed State Department budget “puts our diplomats at risk.”

This is the perfect Trump budget cut. Congress will turn down these cuts almost instantly, and anyway, there's not even much money there (foreign aid accounts for about 1 percent of federal spending). However, the American public has long been convinced that foreign aid is a huge part of the budget, so Trump's base will view this as a bold action to rein in our spiraling federal debt. It's cynical, ignorant, futile, and makes for brilliant PR. What could possibly be more Trumpian?

The latest from the Trump administration:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised on Tuesday a return to more muscular law enforcement and a get-tough approach to drug trafficking and illegal immigration, saying that a recent spike in violence in some cities is “driving this sense that we’re in danger.”...In his first official speech since he was sworn in this month, Mr. Sessions told members of the National Association of Attorneys General that he was concerned that the rise in violence in some cities was not “a one-time blip” but rather “the beginning of a trend.”

Here's the raw data from the Uniform Crime Report and the National Crime Victimization Survey, our two best sources of violent crime data:1

The Uniform Crime Report shows an increase in 2015, which may very well be a reporting issue, and a further increase in the first half of 2016, which may or may not hold up through the end of the year. The NCVS shows a decline in 2015, and hasn't yet released data for 2016.

So is this a blip or the beginning of a trend? There's evidence for either one, especially if you look just at large cities, so you can call it anything you want. It serves Sessions' purpose to believe it's the beginning of an urban (wink wink) crime wave, so that's what he's decided to call it. After all, it helps justify stuff like this:

The Justice Department will likely pull back from the investigations into alleged abuses at municipal police departments that were a hallmark of the Obama administration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday in his first major speech as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer.

....“Where you see the greatest increase in violence and murders in cities is [where] somehow, someway, we undermine the respect for our police, and make, oftentimes, their job more difficult,” Mr. Sessions said....“We are going to try to pull back on this, and I don’t think it’s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights,” Mr. Sessions said in his speech Tuesday. ”I think it’s out of a concern to make the lives of people, particularly in poor, minority communities...safer, happier.”

See? Sessions just wants to make the lives of black people better. I hope all you haters are satisfied.

1The NCVS "serious violent crime rate" is higher than the UCR "violent crime rate" because it uses a more expansive definition of violent crime.

From David Remnick of the New Yorker:

If you talk to people in Moscow now, there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse. There was an order sent down to Russian television, "enough with the celebrating about Trump!"

From the Wall Street Journal on the White House barring disliked reporters from a briefing last week:

China Gloats as Trump Squanders U.S. Soft Power

To Chinese propagandists, the widely criticized White House move was a cause for glee—and another example of Donald Trump playing into China’s hands. For almost seven decades, the U.S. has championed a liberal order in the Asia-Pacific....Today, America’s ideological shift, part of a populist backlash to globalization, threatens to undermine Washington’s position in a region it transformed.

To the extent that the Trump White House closes the country’s borders to immigrants, raises the specter of trade tariffs, or impedes the operations of a free press—even when those restrictions have no equivalence in the repression that Chinese journalists suffer—it creates an opportunity for Beijing.

So Russia put in all this work to elect Trump, and the big winner is...China. Nice work, Vlad.

This is pretty damn impressive. And if you're wondering after the first minute, "Sure, but can it go down a flight of stairs?"—well, just keep watching. (OTOH, if you're wondering "Can it go up a flight of stairs?" you'll have to keep on wondering.)

I'm not on the entertainment beat, but I was thinking yesterday about Sunday's massive FUBAR at the Academy Awards from a failure analysis point of view. It's remarkable the number of things that had to go wrong:

  • There had to be two sets of envelopes (one for each side of the stage). This never should have happened. Things should have been set up backstage so that presenters all go through a single point, receive their envelope, and then walk to whichever wing they're going to enter from. This is pretty simple stuff, but for decades the Academy didn't take the possibility of failure seriously enough to do it.
  • One of the accountants from PWC had to be a moron who spent so much time tweeting pictures from backstage that he lost track of his envelopes.
  • Warren Beatty, who plainly saw that he had the wrong award, had to be unwilling to embarrass himself by leaving the stage to get the right one.
  • Faye Dunaway had to be inattentive enough to take a quick glance at the card, see the words "La La Land" beneath Emma Stone's name, and then read it off since it fit with everyone's expectations.
  • Finally, both PWC accountants, who knew immediately that the wrong movie had been announced, had to be so flummoxed that they froze, instead of immediately alerting someone or even walking on stage themselves to tell the presenters they had it wrong.

This is an impressive list, and it encompasses an impressive number of modes of failure. You have denial. You have idiocy. You have fear of embarrassment. You have a disposition to accept conventional wisdom even in the face of obvious contrary evidence. And you have good old deer-in-headlights syndrome, which turns ordinary failures into spectacular calamities.

All of the first four had to go wrong for this to happen in the first place, and the fifth had to be added to turn it into a fiasco. You'd think the odds would be at least a million-to-one against. But that vastly underrates our human ability to screw up. It turns out it was more like a thousand-to-one.

Hey, Mr. President, where is the money going to come from for that $54 billion increase in the defense budget?

“The money is going to come from a revved-up economy,” Mr. Trump said on Fox and Friends when asked where he would find the budget cuts. “I mean, you look at the kind of numbers we’re doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than 1%. And if I can get that up to three, maybe more, we have a whole different ballgame.”

His words were the latest example of the president offering a conflicting point of view from a member of his cabinet. On Monday, his director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, said nondefense agencies were being asked to find cuts to offset the boost to defense.

What do you think the strategy is here? Or is there one? I mean, this business of Trump directly contradicting something his staff says—or vice versa—has happened way too often to be a coincidence. Is it designed to confuse everyone so that nobody knows what to protest? Or is it just incompetence? Or is it a clever strategy of always saying the least objectionable thing possible whenever he's on a TV show watched by his base?

I suppose the smart money is on incompetence. Occam's Razor and all that. But I'm going with the third option. I think Trump lets his staff dole out bad news, which will show up at the New York Times, but personally presents the same news in the best possible light whenever he's on friendly TV turf. He won't be questioned about it, and his base will be reassured that everything is fine. If the eggheads all get into a tizzy over this on their blogs and newspaper columns, who cares?

In any case, what's really amazing is how much nonsense Trump was able to pack into two sentences:

  • He is directly contradicting the statement of his OMB director less than 24 hours before.
  • He can't increase the defense budget by $54 billion anyway, since that would violate the Budget Control Act.
  • His plan to get real GDP growth up to 3 percent is a ridiculous fantasy.

Impressive! No wonder he's so good on Twitter.

Here are the top ten Republican accomplishments of 2017 so far:

  1. Trump signs executive order on immigration, but it's so badly drafted it causes chaos around the country and is immediately put on hold by court.
  2. Trump chooses crackpot as National Security Advisor, fires him three weeks after inauguration.
  3. Trump tries to bully China by playing games with One China policy, is forced into humiliating retreat after realizing he's playing out of his league.
  4. Paul Ryan proposes border adjustment tax to raise $1 trillion, but can't convince anyone to sign on.
  5. Trump casually green-lights raid on Yemen over dinner, it turns into an epic disaster that kills a SEAL and accomplishes nothing.
  6. Trump blathers about the wall and a 20 percent border tax on Mexico, causing the Mexican president to cancel a planned visit.
  7. Congress goes into recess, but Republicans are embarrassingly forced to cancel town hall events because they're afraid of facing big crowds opposed to their policies.
  8. Trump continues to claim that crime is skyrocketing; that he won a huge election victory; that his inauguration crowd was immense; that polls showing his unpopularity are fake; and that refugees have wreaked terror on America, despite the fact that these are all easily-checkable lies.
  9. After weeks of confusion on their signature priority, Republicans finally realize that repealing Obamacare isn't all that easy and basically give up.
  10. Trump proposes spending an extra $54 billion on defense without realizing he can't do that.

Have either Trump or the Republican Congress done anything yet that's been both successful and non-routine? Unless I'm forgetting something big, it's just been one failure after another for the past two months. And that's not even counting all the day-to-day idiocy coming out of the White House ("enemy of the people," Sweden, "so-called judge," Bowling Green massacre, national security confabs at Mar-a-Lago restaurant, etc.).

Help me out here. Am I missing some big success?