I have frequently made the case that Donald Trump is president because of FBI director James Comey. On October 28, Comey wrote a letter to Congress telling them that the FBI was investigating a new cache of Clinton emails that it found on the laptop of Huma Abedin's estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. That was the turning point. Clinton's electoral fortunes went downhill from there and never recovered.

As shocking as this may sound, not everyone agrees with me. A new book, Shattered, makes the case that Clinton was an epically bad candidate and her campaign was epically badly run. That's why she lost. Yesterday, Shadi Hamid took aim at me for my continued Comey obsession in the face of the story told in Shattered:

Let's talk. There's a reason I blame Comey, and it's not because I live in a bubble. It's because a massive amount of evidence points that way. Today I want to put the whole case in one l-o-o-o-o-ng post so everyone understands why I think Comey was the deciding factor in the election. If you still disagree, that's fine, but this is the evidence you need to argue with.

NOTE: I want to make clear that I'm talking solely about Hillary Clinton and the presidency here. Democrats have been badly pummeled at the state level over the past six years, and that obviously has nothing to do with Comey. It's something that Democrats need to do some soul searching about.

Ready? Let's start with some throat-clearing.

First: Keep in mind that Clinton was running for a third Democratic term during a period when (a) the economy was OK but not great and (b) Barack Obama's popularity was OK but not great. Models based on fundamentals therefore rated the election as something of a tossup. Clinton was not running as a sure winner.

Second: For the sake of argument, let's assume that Hillary Clinton was an epically bad, unpopular candidate who ran a terrible campaign. She foolishly used a private email server while she was Secretary of State. She gave millions of dollars in speeches after leaving the State Department. She was a boring speaker with a mushy agenda. She was a hawkish Wall Street shill who failed to appeal to millennials. She lost the support of the white working class. Her campaign was a cespool of ego, power-mongering, and bad strategy. Let's just assume all that.

If this is true, it was true for the entire year. Maybe longer. And yet, despite this epic horribleness, Clinton held a solid, steady lead over Trump the entire time. The only exception was a brief dip in July when Comey held his first presser to call Clinton "extremely careless" in her handling of emails. Whatever else you can say about Hillary Clinton, everyone knew about her speeches and her emails and her centrism and everything else all along. And yet, the public still preferred her by a steady 3-7 percentage points over Trump for the entire year.

Third: Every campaign has problems. If you win, they get swept under the rug. If you lose, bitter staffers bend the ears of anyone who will listen about the campaign's unprecedented dysfunction and poor strategy. This is all normal. Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns had all the usual problems, and in a close election you can blame any of them for a loss. But two things set the Comey letter apart. First, it had a big effect right at the end of the race. Second, it was decidedly not a normal thing. It came out of the blue for no good reason from the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. There is nothing Clinton could have done about it.

With that out of the way, let's take a look at the Clinton campaign. All of the poll estimates look similar, but I'm going to use Sam Wang's EV estimator because it gives a pretty sharp day-to-day look at the race. (Wang's final estimate was wrong, of course, like pretty much everyone else's, but don't worry about that. What we're interested in is the ups and downs.) First off, here are his daily estimates through the end of August:

With the brief exception of the July Comey presser, the race was amazingly stable. During the entire year, Clinton has a formidable lead that translates into 330-340 electoral votes. Now let's pick up the story in September:

At the beginning of September, Clinton slumps following her "deplorables" comment and her stumble at the 9/11 memorial. After Trump's shockingly bad performance at the first debate she starts to regain ground, and continues to gain ground when the Access Hollywood tape is released. By the end of October she's back to where she started, with a big lead over Trump. THIS IS IMPORTANT: despite everything — weak fundamentals, the "deplorables" comment, her personal unpopularity, her mushy centrism, her allegedly terrible campaign — by the end of October she's well ahead of Trump, just as she had been all year. It's clear that 330-340 electoral votes is her baseline level of support.

On October 25, HHS announces that Obamacare premiums will go up substantially in the following year. This doesn't appear to have any effect. Then, on October 28, Comey releases his letter. Clinton's support plummets immediately, and there's no time for it to recover. On November 8, Trump is elected president.

But how much did Comey's letter cost Clinton? Let's review the voluminous evidence:

I'm not sure how much clearer the evidence could be. Basically, Hillary Clinton was doing fine until October 28. Then the Comey letter cost her 2-4 percent of the popular vote. Without Comey she would have won comfortably — possibly by a landslide — even though the fundamentals predicted a close race.

That's it. That's the evidence. If you disagree that Comey was decisive, you need to account for two things. First, if the problem was something intrinsic to Clinton or her campaign, why was she so far ahead of Trump for the entire race? Second, if Comey wasn't at fault, what plausibly accounts for Clinton's huge and sudden change in fortune starting precisely on October 28?

One way or another, it appears that all the things that were under Hillary Clinton's control were handled fairly well. They produced a steady lead throughout the campaign. The Comey letter exists on an entirely different plane. It was an unprecedented breach of protocol from the FBI; it was completely out of Clinton's control; and it had a tremendous impact. That's why I blame James Comey for Donald Trump's victory.

UPDATE: I've added a chart showing Clinton's level of support from May through August.

1The second letter was the one that cleared her. However, merely by keeping the subject in the news, it hurt Clinton.

Hopper is not asleep in this photo. She was smooching her cheek on an outdoor table and momentarily closed her eyes in a fit of pure feline bliss. We should all consider ourselves lucky if just once in our lives we feel the happiness Hopper is feeling in this moment.

Are we in a second housing bubble, as I suggested in a chart I posted a couple of days ago? Brad DeLong has an optimistic take:

There were three good reasons in the mid-2000s to believe that housing prices should jump substantially....How much were these worth? Not enough to boost housing prices to their 2005 values. But plausibly enough to boost housing prices to their values today. IMHO, the best way to view the graph is as a positive "displacement" boom caused by true fundamentals, a bubble upward overshoot, a crash downward undershoot, and now (we hope) equilibrium.

Maybe! Check back in a couple of years and I'll tell you who's right.

This happened on April 3rd:

This happened two weeks later:

After three years in detention, the Egyptian-American aid worker Aya Hijazi was cleared of child abuse and human trafficking charges in Cairo on Sunday, abruptly ending a high-profile case that had become an international symbol of Egypt’s harsh crackdown on aid groups.

Coincidence? I think not. Trump made a deal: he'd praise al-Sisi and host him in the White House in return for the release of a prisoner. This is what happens when foreign governments know that the president is a weak leader who can be humiliated without consequence.

Do I believe this? Nah—though I imagine that al-Sisi did in fact make this happen as a gesture of goodwill. But where are all the right-wingers who insisted for eight years that stuff like this was clear evidence of Obama caving in to hostage-takers? I assume you all feel the same way about Trump. Don't you?

Matt Yglesias says Mark Zuckerberg could do the world a favor by deep-sixing Facebook:

He bases his call to action on research like this:

Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.

This particular study is prospective and longitudinal: it begins with a group of people and follows them for a couple of years. The benefit of this is that you get more than a mere association. If all you had was a set of data showing that (a) Facebook use is (b) correlated with poor mental health, you'd have no way of knowing if A causes B or B causes A.

This longitudinal data still doesn't answer the question conclusively. It could be that as people become depressed, they spend more time on Facebook. In fact, maybe without Facebook they would have gotten even more depressed. Who knows? You'd almost literally need to track day-by-day mental health and Facebook use to find out.

But I'm totally willing to believe that Facebook is evil even without hard evidence. The casually brutal insults almost certainly outweigh the praise for a lot of people. It instills a sense of always needing to keep up with things every minute of the day. It interferes with real-life relationships. It takes time away from more concentrated activities that are probably more rewarding in the long run.

This doesn't apply to all Facebook users. In fact, I'd guess that it applies to only 10-15 percent of them. But that's enough.

It doesn't matter, of course. Mark Zuckerberg surely disagrees, and anyway, he couldn't shut down Facebook even if he wanted to. He may nominally control the company, but shareholders still have rights. Preventing the CEO from blowing up the company because he's feeling guilty about something is certainly one of them.

On the other hand, perhaps we could at least set an age limit for Facebook. If you aren't allowed to drink before age 21, surely you shouldn't be allowed to use social media either. I'd bet the latter is more dangerous than the former.

I love this tweet:

Trump, of course, has accomplished virtually nothing so far. He's issued a few executive orders that are mostly small beer, and signed a few bills that rescinded some of Obama's executive orders. That's it. His health care bill was a fiasco. He hasn't gotten funding for his wall. His immigration order crashed and burned. He has no tax plan. He has no plan to destroy ISIS.

But there's a silver lining here. As always, today's tweet should be read as an alert aimed at his base. He's telling them that in a few days they'll see a lot of stories saying he's accomplished nothing. In fact, less than nothing, since the government might well be headed for a shutdown by the end of next week. But it's all lies! Clearly he's concerned about this.

That should give Democrats an opening. Try to strike a budget deal before next week's deadline. Agree to support some money for Trump's wall in return for making Obamacare's CSR appropriation automatic.1 This would be good for Trump in two ways. First, he gets to say that he's started building the wall. Second, Obamacare doesn't collapse on his watch, and agreeing to the CSR appropriation doesn't do anything to stop him from trying to repeal and replace Obamacare later. It just ensures that it will work in the meantime.

In return, Democrats don't really get anything. Agreeing to funding for the wall is unpopular with their base, and CSR funding is something that only a few wonks care about. Keeping the CSR money flowing would help insurance companies and it would help actual people, but politically it does nothing much for Democrats.

It's kind of funny, isn't it? I assume Trump is unwilling to make this deal. I don't know why, since it seems almost entirely favorable to him. But he won't do it. Maybe Democrats wouldn't do it either. Is the art of the deal really that dead in Congress these days?

1CSR stands for Cost Sharing and Reduction. It's money paid to insurance companies to reduce deductibles and copays for low-income families. It's been the subject of a long-running court fight, and insurers are justifiably worried about whether they're going to receive the money they've been promised.

The New York Times reports that gerrymandering is headed to the Supreme Court again:

A bipartisan group of voting rights advocates says the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election — so artfully, in fact, that Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote. In November, in a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges agreed.

....In Supreme Court cases in 1986, 2004 and 2006, justices variously called partisan gerrymanders illegitimate, seriously harmful, incompatible with democratic principles and “manipulation of the electorate.” But they have never struck one down....One participant in the 2004 decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, may prove the fulcrum in the court’s deliberations....“The ordered working of our Republic, and of the democratic process, depends on a sense of decorum and restraint in all branches of government, and in the citizenry itself,” he wrote then.

At a time of soaring concern over hyperpartisanship, those words could resonate. That sentence “is the most important line” in the court’s decision, said Edward B. Foley, director of the Election Law Project at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. “He’s going to look at what’s going on in North Carolina as the complete absence of that. I think that helps the plaintiffs in any of these cases.”

Today's gerrymandering is not your grandfather's gerrymandering. It's a practice that's been around for a long time, but back when it depended on humans it was necessarily limited. There were a few legislative geniuses who could wreak real havoc, and anyone could gerrymander well enough to gain a seat or two. But computers have changed the game fundamentally. Every legislature is now a supergenius at gerrymandering, which is why estimates of the number of congressional seats attributable to gerrymandering have been going up for years.

There's a point, I think, where the Supreme Court has to recognize that quantitative changes over time have finally produced a qualitative change. Modern gerrymandering is just too good. The silver lining here is that if computers can revolutionize gerrymandering, they also hold out hope of revolutionizing the detection of gerrymandering. You can no longer say that there's no possible standard for ruling that a particular district map is unconstitutional. In fact, there are several plausible candidates. Hopefully the court will finally recognize this.

Back during Steve Mnuchin's confirmation hearings for Treasury Secretary, he said he was surprised that IRS staffing had gone down. This just reduces the number of audits they can perform, and therefore the amount of tax revenue they collect from high earners. Just think about it. If you increased hiring, it would pay for itself!

It was très adorbs. But Mnuchin is a quick learner, and he never brought that subject up again. Instead, he's now talking about a much more acceptable kind of plan that pays for itself. The subject, of course, is tax cuts:

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the economic growth that would result from the proposed tax cuts would be so extreme — close to $2 trillion over 10 years — that it would come close to recouping all of the lost revenue from the dramatic rate reductions. Some other new revenue would come from eliminating certain tax breaks, although he would not specify which ones.

“The plan will pay for itself with growth,” Mnuchin said at an event hosted by the Institute of International Finance.

The Congressional Budget Office will have a very different take on this, and their take is the only one that matters. So why does Mnuchin even bother with this tired old charade? Maybe so that Donald Trump can yell and scream about how the CBO is rigged when they say that his tax plan is a deficit buster? Maybe to give congressional Republicans an excuse to fire Keith Hall and install a new CBO director who will give them whatever numbers they want?

Who knows? Maybe it's just reflex. While we wait to find out, however, here's a chart showing income tax receipts following the five most recent big changes to tax rates. You can decide for yourself if tax cuts pay for themselves or if tax increases tank the economy.

Below are excerpts from a baker's dozen reviews of Hulu's new adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale. Can you figure out what they all have in common?

New York Times: The television adaptation arrives with a newfound and unexpected resonance in Trump’s America....“We were hoping to be relevant, but we weren’t hoping it would be this relevant.”

io9: It’s incredibly difficult to watch The Handmaid’s Tale and not be affected, to feel like we’re so much closer to it being reality than when it was first written.

Washington Post: The phrase “now more than ever” has become a tiresome cliche in the past few months, but so what: “The Handmaid’s Tale” is here and it demands our attention, now more than ever.

Hollywood Reporter: Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale may be the most unintentionally timely show of the year.

Entertainment Weekly: Their performances — and the show’s consistent sense of textural, lived-in realism — anchor the drama in something beyond speculative sci-fi, making the story feel less like a quasi-fictional fable than an entirely possible preview of what’s to come.

Wall Street Journal: You can’t quite call it a bad dream come true, not yet. But given what might be termed “recent events,” it’s certainly cautionary, and more than urgent.

The Economist: As the Trump administration continues to cut funding and roll back family-planning services, it is easy to hear echoes of its rhetoric on the screen.

Vogue: Could the timing be any more apt?

TV Guide: The show and its source material feel more timely and relevant than ever....With women's rights again on the chopping block under a Trump administration, and a common refrain from critics on the left to resist normalizing Trump, it's difficult if not impossible not to draw parallels between the show and real-life events.

Deadline Hollywood: If ever a television series could border on being too relevant, Hulu’s gripping, chilling and brutal adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, which launches with its first three episodes on April 26, would be the one.

Huffington Post: Whether the show sets out to directly compare its dystopian themes with today’s political climate, for some readers ― and for the story’s author ― the similarities are ripe for picking.

Vanity Fair: All dystopias are meant as cautionary tales. But at this particular moment in time—one marked by a powerful but misguided nostalgia, and religious zealotry, and an increasing sense that paranoia is justified, with the powers that be seemingly determined to chip away at the rights of women—The Handmaid’s Tale feels especially current, cutting, and vital.

Harper's Bazaar: You won't see a more timely or essential onscreen story this year than Hulu's extraordinary rendering of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale, reimagined as a fundamentalist nightmare for the Mike Pence era....Like all the best dystopias, Gilead is not a truly fictional world, and The Handmaid's Tale is not a dark fantasy. It's a warning.

Lunchtime Photo

This is dark, gritty Jeffrey Road, part of my dark, gritty reboot of The OC starring a grown-up Ryan Atwood as an upper-middle-class finance manager who's moved to Irvine. Feeling mildly resentful about his association's rule against non-white window coverings, Ryan's troubled childhood increasingly haunts him until he finally cracks and begins a suburban campaign of mayhem and retribution. In the first episode, he sneaks into neighboring houses at night, replacing the kitchen curtains in each one with a tasteful paisley pattern—and a clue to where he'll strike next. The police are confounded, but one detective—a crusty maverick who sometimes walks to work even though he lives a full half mile from the station—is determined to stop the Paisley Prankster at all costs. But can he do it without becoming the very person he's dedicated his life to tracking down: a serial violator of HOA rules and regulations?