Over at Politico, "How Trump Gets His Fake News" is getting a lot of play this morning. And why not? In one sense, it's an old story: Trump's staff has to treat him like a volcanic nine-year-old lest he decide on a whim to move the Oval Office onto a barge in the Chesapeake Bay or something. We've read dozens of pieces like this in the past few months because Trump, by all accounts, really is a lot like a high-strung nine-year-old. At the same time, this kind of stuff is liberal crack: you can never get enough.

So what's the best part of this latest installment in the Trump saga? The fake Time cover that got Trump lathered up about climate change? How Katie Walsh almost got fired because of a blog post from a conspiracy theorist? The fact that aides desperately try to ply Trump with good news to keep his temper in check? The endless search for whoever fed him the latest unapproved tidbit of Trumpbait? They're all good. But maybe this is the best:

More recently, when four economists who advised Trump during the campaign — Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow, Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore — wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “now is the time to move [tax reform] forward with urgency,” someone in the White House flagged the piece for the president.

Trump summoned staff to talk about it. His message: Make this the tax plan, according to one White House official present.

Once again, we see that Trump couldn't care less about policy. Any old health care plan is OK. Any old tax plan is OK. Just announce something and get it passed. Who care about all the stupid details, anyway? Just smug PhD types and annoying tea party crackpots.

Nothing matters. It's all just a big show.

I try to keep everyone up to date on the latest research into lead poisoning and crime, but I missed a paper earlier this year from three researchers in Sweden. At first glance, it's just a routine test of the lead-crime hypothesis for yet another country. The researchers follow the usual path of (a) measuring atmospheric lead levels in various regions at various times, (b) showing that these levels correspond to blood lead levels, and (c) performing correlations with all the usual controls between lead poisoning in infants and later outcomes in life. Not to keep you in suspense, the researchers find exactly what you'd expect: childhood exposure to lead predicts lower IQs and higher crime rates later in life.

But there are several interesting aspects to this paper—and that's not even counting the fact that Sweden's EPA measures heavy metal concentrations in the atmosphere via a nationwide grid of moss samples. Moss! Those Swedes are pretty clever. The Swedes also keep good records of their citizens on a variety of measures, which allows the researchers to test outcomes all the way into adulthood with a pretty large sample size (800,000 subjects).

Anyway: Just as in the US, Sweden phased out leaded gasoline in the 70s and 80s, which caused lead poisoning in infants to decrease. Unlike the US, however, lead levels were already fairly low, so the Swedish team was able to measure the effect of changes not just from 30 ug/dl to 20 to 10, but from 10 to 5 to 2. What they found was that the impact of lead reduction does eventually flatten out, but it happens at very low levels. There are gains to be made by reducing blood lead levels all the way down to 2-3 ug/dl.

At the risk of some slight irresponsibility, however, I want to reproduce their chart for violent crime. Here it is:

This might mean nothing, since the error band is quite large. But if it's right, there's no threshold for lead poisoning and violent crime. Just the opposite, in fact. As childhood lead levels decrease, the likelihood of violent crime later in life decreases all the way down to about 6 ug/dl. Then, after flattening out, it takes a sharp downward dive starting around 2 ug/dl. In other words, getting that last little bit of lead out of the environment might pay off considerably in less violent crime 20 years from now.

Because of the large error bars, this is the kind of thing that needs confirmation. But it would be worth the effort. We already know that reducing lead levels from 30 to 20 to 10 to 5 pays off, but we don't know very much about levels below that. It could be that anything under 5 ug/dl is OK. Alternatively, the difference between 5 ug/dl and 1 ug/dl might be considerable. Or, given the error band, the effect could be linear all the way down. We should find out.

One other interesting aspect of this paper is that it tests the effect of lead on non-cognitive traits, which is useful since the effect of lead on cognitive traits like IQ is already about as settled as the law of gravity at this point. Here are their charts:

Lead poisoning affects three out of four of the measured traits all the way down to extremely low levels. This helps explain the effect of lead on crime: "These personality traits have previously been closely linked to Externalizing behavior (e.g. aggression, hyperactivity, antisocial behavior), which is the key explanatory factor in the crime reducing effects of e.g. the Perry Pre-school program, and an important predictor of labor market outcomes."

Unfortunately, neither Donald Trump nor Republicans in Congress have any interest in taking this stuff seriously. After all, reducing lead levels even further in the United States would require soil remediation and a big push to finally get rid of old lead paint everywhere in the country. That's expensive, and it gets in the way of tax cuts for the rich. Sorry kids.

Remember that North Carolina voter ID law that a judge overturned because it targeted African-American voters with "almost surgical precision"? Today the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, so that's the end of the law. And with a Democratic governor installed in Raleigh, it won't be coming back anytime soon.

That's our good news for the day. But of course there's a cloud behind this silver lining: the reason for declining to hear the appeal was technical, so it's possible there would have been five votes to uphold the law on the merits. Still, these days I'll take good news where I can get it.

I haven't checked in on Donald Trump's job approval rating for quite a while. Let's do that:

Trump's job approval rating dropped throughout March, thanks to his "wiretapping" claim and the failure of Trumpcare 1.0. He recovered in April, but has been dropping again since the beginning of May.

I'm not sure what's at the root of this, but an unsmoothed look at the data confirms that there was a sharp change right around the beginning of May in both favorability rating and job approval rating. Was it the second go-around of Trumpcare? Bad publicity surrounding the end of Trump's first 100 days? The budget agreement in which Trump got pretty much nothing he wanted?

None of those really seem likely, but I can't think of anything else that happened at the end of April to cause a sudden drop. That is, I can't think of anything other than, you know, everything.

Medicaid doesn't get a lot of attention in the debate over Trumpcare, but it's likely that more people would be affected by Medicaid cuts than by any other single part of the bill. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that Senate conservatives still aren't satisfied:

Some conservative Senate Republicans, such as [Mike] Lee, want to immediately start phasing back federal money for expansion enrollees, a process that would take 10 years....Conservatives also hope to use a different formula to calculate federal Medicaid funding that would mean less money for states. The House bill would slash an estimated $839 billion from Medicaid over the next 10 years, according to the CBO. Senate conservatives want to change federal funding of Medicaid in part by pegging it to a different inflation measure, which long term would mean less generous payments to the states than under the House GOP bill.

....Centrist GOP senators are on board with some Medicaid cuts but disagree over how best to implement them. Some say the House plan to halt federal funding for new expansion enrollees in 2020 is too harsh and want a longer sunset of the program.

Nearly a quarter of all Americans depend on Medicaid as their primary (or only) source of health coverage. That's the American health care system for you. Nonetheless, of course Republican centrists are on board with "some" Medicaid cuts. They only want to quibble over whether 10 million poor people should be tossed out of the program by 2026 or if it would be more humane to toss out 9 million poor people by 2028. Decisions, decisions.

Here's a snippet from the Economist's interview with President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The subject is whether China is manipulating its currency in a way that hurts the United States:

Trump: They’re actually not a currency [manipulator]. You know, since I’ve been talking about currency manipulation with respect to them and other countries, they stopped.

Mnuchin: Right, as soon as the president got elected they went the other way.

It's tiresome to hear Trump say this, and doubly tiresome to hear Mnuchin chime in like a toady about it. Yes sir, Mr. President, they stopped as soon as they realized a real man was about to occupy the White House!

Here's all you need to know about Chinese currency manipulation:

All the way through 2013, China's foreign reserves increased nearly every quarter. This was because they were buying lots and lots of dollars as a way of keeping the value of the yuan low, which made Chinese exports cheaper and American imports more expensive. In mid-2014 they stopped. Since then, they've mostly sold their dollar holdings, to the tune of a trillion dollars over the past couple of years. During this entire time the yuan has been falling on its own, and the Chinese intervention has had the effect of propping it up to prevent it from falling even faster. This makes Chinese exports more expensive and American imports cheaper, which is exactly what we want.

As for November 2016, nothing happened. I don't know if Trump knows this, since he seems to live in some kind of alternate reality, but Mnuchin does. So does everyone else.

You can do quick and easy fun stuff with color in Photoshop with the White Balance tool and Replace Color tool. For the former, just click the eyedropper randomly on the image and see what happens. For the latter, choose a color randomly and then change the hue to see what you get. If you feel like screwing around with weird tints and colors, this is a very simple way of doing it. We can all be Andy Warhol for 15 minutes.

Remember my photo of the chopsticks a couple of weeks ago? Here's what it looks like with various combinations of color manipulation. The original image is at the top, followed by half a dozen false-color images.

 

After the Cold War ended, US presidents largely stopped hosting visits from authoritarian leaders. But as in so many other things, Donald Trump yearns for the world of his youth, when the world's bastards all got the royal treatment from the White House as long as they were our bastards. Here, as compiled by Jack Hasler and Yonatan Lupu, are the autocrat-hosting records of the past five presidents:

In only his first three months, Trump has already made good progress in returning to the realpolitik of the Cold War. Can he keep this up? Check back in three months and we'll see how he's doing.

From the "With Friends Like These" file:

President Trump at 5:57 am today: "The Roger Stone report on @CNN is false - Fake News. Have not spoken to Roger in a long time."

Roger Stone, an hour or so later: "Well, I am not going to contradict the president and I am not going to say when I've spoken to him but I will say this, I have spoken to him very recently."

This is nothing to get hung up on. Trump and Stone probably just have very different ideas of what "long time" and "recently" mean. To a fruit fly researcher, for example, a "long time" might mean three or four days. To an archeologist, "recently" might mean three or four centuries. So this is probably just a humorous misunderstanding.

What is Hilbert looking at? Squirrel? Butterfly? Hummingbird? Dust mote? I don't remember.

In any case, he's certainly keeping a sharp eye on something, so I think this picture will be our mascot for a new project that needs your help: a muckraking fund to investigate the Trump-Russia connection. The Glaser Progress Foundation has donated $200,000 to kick-start this project, but it will cost more than $500,000 when you account for reporters, fact-checkers, editors, researchers, multimedia work, and legal review. So for every new donor at the $15-a-month level (or higher!), the foundation will donate $50 until we hit $50,000 in matching funds. That gets us more than halfway to what we need.

Read more about it here. Or for you tl;dr folks, go straight to the donation page here. Let's put the snark aside for a few moments and see how much money this blog can raise over the weekend.