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Everyone Is Getting Today's Trump Tweet Totally Wrong

| Thu May 5, 2016 7:05 PM EDT

I think everyone is badly misinterpreting this tweet from Donald Trump:

This is not an awkward and embarrassing outreach to Hispanics. It's not aimed at Hispanics at all. It's aimed at white people. This is the kind of thing that Trump's base—the white working class—views as a perfectly sincere appreciation of Mexican culture. It says, "Yes, I want a wall, and yes, I want to deport all the illegal immigrants in the country. But that doesn't mean I hate Mexicans." It's basically an affirmation to Trump's voters that they aren't racists.

Plus it gets a ton of attention, and it also induces loads of mockery from overeducated PC liberals who don't understand a compliment when they see one. It's really a genius tweet.

Does everyone understand now? Trump is playing this game at a higher level than most of his critics.

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Chart of the Day: Americans Are Pretty Upbeat About the Job Market

| Thu May 5, 2016 5:02 PM EDT

How do Americans feel about the economy? Here is Pew Research:

Americans are now more positive about the job opportunities available to them than they have been since the economic meltdown....Today’s more upbeat views rank among some of the best assessments of the job market in Pew Research Center surveys dating back 15 years.

There's no significant partisan difference in views of the job market. However, older, poorer, and less-educated folks all report less optimism about employment than younger, richer, and better-educated respondents.

Here's Why OxyContin Is So Damn Addictive

| Thu May 5, 2016 3:23 PM EDT

Why has OxyContin become the poster child for opioid abuse? The LA Times has a long investigative piece today which suggests that a big part of the blame should be laid at the feet of Purdue Pharma, the makers of the drug. When OxyContin was launched, it was billed as a painkiller that would last 12 hours—longer than morphine and other opioids. That 12-hour dosing schedule was critical to its success. Without it, Oxy didn't have much benefit. Unfortunately, it turned out that it wore off sooner for a lot of people:

Experts said that when there are gaps in the effect of a narcotic like OxyContin, patients can suffer body aches, nausea, anxiety and other symptoms of withdrawal. When the agony is relieved by the next dose, it creates a cycle of pain and euphoria that fosters addiction, they said.

OxyContin taken at 12-hour intervals could be “the perfect recipe for addiction,” said Theodore J. Cicero, a neuropharmacologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and a leading researcher on how opioids affect the brain.

Patients in whom the drug doesn’t last 12 hours can suffer both a return of their underlying pain and “the beginning stages of acute withdrawal,” Cicero said. “That becomes a very powerful motivator for people to take more drugs.”

But Purdue refused to accept shorter dosing schedules, since that would eliminate its strongest competitive advantage. Instead, they launched a blitz aimed at doctors, telling them to stick with the 12-hour dosing but to prescribe larger amounts. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn't, and when it didn't it increased the chances of addiction:

In the real world practice of medicine, some doctors turned away from OxyContin entirely. San Francisco public health clinics stopped dispensing the painkiller in 2005, based in part on feedback from patients who said it wore off after eight hours. The clinics switched to generic morphine, which has a similar duration and costs a lot less.

“What I had come to see was the lack of evidence that it was any better than morphine,” Dr. Mitchell Katz, then head of the San Francisco public health department, said in an interview.

The whole piece is worth a read. Purdue has known from the start that 12-hour dosing didn't work for a significant number of patients, but they relentlessly focused their marketing in that direction anyway. Why? Because without it, Oxy wouldn't be a moneymaker. As for the danger this posed, that was mostly suppressed by keeping documents under seal in court cases "in order to protect trade secrets." Welcome to the American pharmaceutical industry.

We Thought We Could Not Be Shocked by Donald Trump. Then He Tweeted This.

| Thu May 5, 2016 3:15 PM EDT

Today is Cinco de Mayo, and here's what presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump tweeted to celebrate the occasion:

 

Stop tweeting. 

I Have a Terrific Deal On Mandatory Arbitration Clauses For You

| Thu May 5, 2016 12:30 PM EDT

The CFPB has proposed a new rule that would prevent big companies from forcing their customers to accept mandatory arbitration in place of an actual trial in an actual court. Iain Murray is unhappy:

Like most of the CFPB’s rules, this may sound good at first hearing. In fact, it will be a disaster for the average consumer who enters into contracts like credit-card or mobile-phone service agreements....The inefficiency of the legal system has to be budgeted for, and so without arbitration, fees will go up and some people just won’t be offered a service at all.

....Those won’t be the only ways the consumer will suffer — those who are currently “denied their day in court” will as well. Because arbitration services are much cheaper, companies that use them generally pay all the fees for the consumer as well as their own. That’s not the case in court, where the consumer bears a considerable cost. If you are lucky enough to get a contract after this rule goes into effect, you’d better budget something for your day in court, because you’re going to have to lawyer up. Of course, there’s always the chance that you’ll be asked to participate in a class action lawsuit, which this rule is primarily designed to facilitate.

Fair enough. As it turns out, corporations all offered their services quite widely back in the dark ages before arbitration clauses, but it's true that arbitration does indeed have some benefits. Still, we're all free marketeers around here who believe in contracts freely arrived at without undue coercion. Right? So here's what I propose: my bank and my cell phone company should offer me the choice of accepting arbitration or not when I first sign up. If I accept, they offer me a discount. The CFPB's only role will be to ensure that the discount is reasonably in line with the actual cost savings from arbitration. Deal?

No? I guess there must be something else going on. I wonder what?

Trump Prepares to Tap His "Expansive Personal Rolodex"

| Thu May 5, 2016 11:50 AM EDT

This comes as no surprise, but...

Facing a prospective tab of more than $1 billion to finance a general-election run for the White House, Donald Trump reversed course Wednesday and said he would actively raise money to ensure his campaign has the resources to compete with Hillary Clinton’s fundraising juggernaut....“I’ll be putting up money, but won’t be completely self-funding,” the presumptive Republican nominee said in an interview Wednesday....The campaign will tap his expansive personal Rolodex and a new base of supporters who aren’t on party rolls, two Trump advisers said.

The new plan represents a shift for Mr. Trump, who has for months portrayed his Republican opponents as “puppets” for relying on super PACs and taking contributions from wealthy donors that he said came with strings attached.

Needless to say, this about-face will have no effect. Trump has long made it clear that he doesn't really mean anything he says, and his supporters are OK with this. If he attacks you, it's only because he wants to win. He'll take it back once you drop out. If he offends an important constituency on a policy issue, he explains that he was just providing "an answer." Nobody should have taken it seriously. If he's caught in an outright lie, he simply denies ever having made the offending statement—even if he made it just yesterday and even if it's on tape.

This is all fine. His supporters accept that this kind of behavior is not just OK, but positively admirable. After all, once he wins he's going to deploy this kind of combat on their behalf. Right?

You betcha.

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Will the 2016 Campaign Be All About Race?

| Thu May 5, 2016 11:15 AM EDT

Greg Sargent says that Donald Trump is in for a rough time:

The general election will differ from the primaries in an important sense: Unlike Republicans, Democrats will not be constrained from brutally unmasking the truly wretched nature of his racial appeals. Trump’s GOP rivals had to treat his xenophobia, bigotry, and demagoguery with kid gloves, because many Republican voters agreed with his vows to ban Muslims and carry out mass deportations. But the broader general electorate does not agree with those things. Indeed, many voters that populate key general election constituencies are likely horrified by them. As a result, Democrats will be able to prosecute Trump mercilessly in ways his GOP rivals simply could not — with a relentless, non-diluted, non-euphemistic focus on his white nationalism.

I'm a little less sure about this. Highlighting Trump's racial appeals will help Hillary among liberals, but those are votes she's going to get anyway. The question is whether it will help her among centrist folks who are undecided, and I'm less sure about that. I suppose we'd need some polling data to get a clearer picture of this, but I suspect there are plenty of people in the middle who favor building a wall; are suspicious of Muslim immigrants; and really hate it when support for those things is called racist. Hillary doesn't have to tread as lightly as Trump's Republican opponents, but she might still have to be careful on this score.

Luckily, there are plenty of other avenues to attack Trump. Unluckily, there are plenty of avenues for Trump to attack Hillary too. I expect a pretty brutal campaign. Here's the opening salvo:

Republicans Have a Tough Six Months Ahead of Them

| Thu May 5, 2016 12:39 AM EDT

Every living Republican president has decided not to endorse Donald Trump:

Bush 41, who enthusiastically endorsed every Republican nominee for the last five election cycles, will stay out of the campaign process this time. He does not have plans to endorse presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, spokesman Jim McGrath told The Texas Tribune.

....Bush 43, meanwhile, "does not plan to participate in or comment on the presidential campaign," according to his personal aide, Freddy Ford.

I agree that Republicans partly brought Trump on themselves. But only partly. They were hoping for an ideological extremist, and before this year it wasn't obvious either to them or to liberal critics that they might instead get a demagogic populist extremist. All of us assumed that eventually Republicans would nominate a hardcore conservative, and we were all taken by surprise when Trump stepped in instead.

So the truth is that I feel sorry for them. A lot of conservatives have an agonizing choice to make now: either support Trump or, effectively, support Hillary Clinton, a candidate they loathe. If I had a similar choice—say, between supporting a liberal Trump or supporting Ted Cruz—what would I do? I'd like to think I'd bite the bullet and support Cruz. But honestly? I don't know. Serious Republicans have a helluva rough six months ahead of them.

Here's How Flint's Lead Disaster Is Likely to Affect Its Children

| Thu May 5, 2016 12:06 AM EDT

I've been saying for a while that (a) the elevated lead levels in Flint were fairly moderate and probably didn't cause a huge amount of damage, and (b) the water is now safe to drink. A reader wants me to put my money where my mouth is:

OK. The exact data I'd like to have doesn't seem to be available, but I can provide a rough sense of the landscape. Between 2013 and 2015, the number of children in Flint with elevated blood lead levels (above 5 m/d) rose from 2.4 percent to 4.9 percent. If you plot this out, it suggests that the average increase in BLL was somewhere between 0.2 m/d and 1 m/d. Increases in BLL are approximately associated with a loss of one IQ point per m/d, so this corresponds to an average loss of perhaps half an IQ point. However, most studies are based on children with elevated BLLs throughout their childhood. The elevated blood levels in Flint only lasted for about 18 months, which suggests that even half an IQ point is probably high. It's more like a quarter or a third of an IQ point. That's not even measurable.

Now, this is cocktail-napkin stuff, and I'm not an expert. All I'm trying to do is give you a rough idea of the magnitude of the problem. Anyone who has better data and knows how to analyze it more rigorously is welcome to set me straight if I've made a mistake.

That said, it's unlikely that I'm off by a lot. What happened in Flint was a horrible tragedy, but it's unlikely to have a major cognitive impact on the city's children. However, this is on average. It could have a major impact on individual children, and this is why parents should have their kids tested for lead exposure. This is doubly true in areas of Flint that are known to have had especially high water lead levels.

As for the question about drinking the water today, that's easier to answer: thousands of residential tests confirm that lead levels in Flint's water are below the EPA's action level of 15 parts per billion. What's more, blood testing confirms that elevated BLLs have returned to their 2013 levels. All of this is strong evidence that Flint water is now safe to use.

Conservatives Are Drooling Yet Again Over Hillary's Email Account

| Wed May 4, 2016 8:33 PM EDT

Several years ago a Romanian hacker broke into the email accounts of several high-ranking US officials. One of the email accounts he hacked belonged to Clinton pal Sidney Blumenthal, and it was this hack that eventually led to the revelation that Hillary Clinton had a private email address.

In early April he was extradited from Bucharest, where he had been serving a seven-year prison sentence, and conservatives have been drooling with anticipation ever since. Well, guess what? It turns out the hacker claimed in a jailhouse interview that he had, indeed, downloaded "gigabytes" of Hillary Clinton's email. Imagine that! Let's listen in:

"It was like an open orchid on the Internet," Marcel Lehel Lazar, who uses the devilish handle Guccifer, told NBC News in an exclusive interview from a prison in Bucharest. "There were hundreds of folders."

....A source with knowledge of the probe into Clinton's email setup told NBC News that with Guccifer in U.S. custody, investigators fully intend to question him about her server.

When pressed by NBC News, Lazar, 44, could provide no documentation to back up his claims, nor did he ever release anything on-line supporting his allegations, as he had frequently done with past hacks. The FBI's review of the Clinton server logs showed no sign of hacking, according to a source familiar with the case.

Well, I'm sure he's telling the truth, not just making up shit. Naturally Fox News is on the case with a more recent jailhouse interview:

Wearing a green jumpsuit, Lazar was relaxed and polite in the monitored secure visitor center, separated by thick security glass. In describing the process, Lazar said he did extensive research on the web and then guessed Blumenthal’s security question. Once inside Blumenthal's account, Lazar said he saw dozens of messages from the Clinton email address.

Asked if he was curious about the address, Lazar merely smiled. Asked if he used the same security question approach to access the Clinton emails, he said no — then described how he allegedly got inside.

“For example, when Sidney Blumenthal got an email, I checked the email pattern from Hillary Clinton, from Colin Powell from anyone else to find out the originating IP. … When they send a letter, the email header is the originating IP usually,” Lazar explained. 

He said, “then I scanned with an IP scanner." Lazar emphasized that he used readily available web programs to see if the server was “alive” and which ports were open. Lazar identified programs like netscan, Netmap, Wireshark and Angry IP, though it was not possible to confirm independently which, if any, he used.

In the process of mining data from the Blumenthal account, Lazar said he came across evidence that others were on the Clinton server. "As far as I remember, yes, there were … up to 10, like, IPs from other parts of the world,” he said.

So there you have it. Not only did Lazar hack into the Clinton server, but nearly a dozen other hackers did too. And every single one of them, apparently, has said nothing about it until now. Nor have they released any actual hacked emails. And they were all able to do it without leaving behind even the slightest trace.

Nonetheless, the resident expert at Fox News called Lazar's story "plausible."

Sigh. I'm sure this will lead to yet another whirlwind of emailgate activity. Buckle your seat belts.