Black Friday Miscellany

The I405 Bristol Street offramp to South Coast Plaza, 2:01 PM on Friday, November 24, 2017. When these folks finally get off the freeway, they still have half a mile to go before they'll get to the mall.

I’ve got a bunch of stuff clogging up my browser tabs and RSS reader, and I don’t think I’ll get around to doing full-blown posts about any of them. So here’s a quick dump of interesting stuff that caught my eye over the past couple of days:


The New York Times reports that Mike Flynn’s lawyers are no longer cooperating with Donald Trump’s lawyers. The Times suggests that this means Flynn has been flipped and may be providing dirt on Trump. As one person “close to the administration” told the Washington Post, it’s a “classic Gambino-style roll-up”—not a phrase one normally associates with a president of the United States. Stay tuned.


A few days ago David Dayen wrote a piece explaining that Donald Trump can’t unilaterally name a successor when Richard Cordray steps down as director of the CFPB. It turns out that the deputy director automatically takes over. This was interesting, but a bit moot, since Cordray has never appointed a deputy. But today, a few hours before his resignation took effect, he finally did:

Cordray on Friday appointed the agency’s chief of staff, Leandra English, as the CFPB’s deputy director, establishing her as his successor when he steps down at the end of the day. The move appears designed to thwart any move by President Donald Trump to name another temporary official to head the controversial agency. Trump has been reported to be considering White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney for the role.

Dayen thinks this signals an “epic fight” over the position. What happens if Trump appoints someone new, claiming that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act gives him the authority to do so, but English stays on, insisting that she’s the only legitimate director because language in the Dodd-Frank bill overrides FVRA? Pass the popcorn!

I suspect this is a fight Trump won’t pick, but I guess you never know.

UPDATE: That was quick. It looks like Trump decided to pick this fight after all. As of midnight Friday, there are two dueling directors of the CFPB. I imagine this will go to court quickly, possibly directly to the DC Circuit Court as the court of original jurisdiction.


Via Alex Ward, here’s the most likely reason that there’s suddenly been a lull in North Korean missile tests, and it has nothing to do with Donald Trump’s blathering:

Until 2012, North Korea never tested missiles during autumn and winter. That changed when Kim Jong-un took over, but not by a lot. They still conduct very few tests in the fourth quarter. The reason comes down to simple bad weather:

Missile launches require good weather. Even NASA delays rocket launches sometimes because of storms. That poses a problem for North Korea, which suffers from brutally cold and blustery winter weather…..At the same time, North Korea’s harvest season takes place during the last three months of the year….Come winter time, Pyongyang prioritizes food transportation over missile launches.

The bad news is that missile tests are likely to pick up next year, and very likely to pick up in February, when South Korea is hosting the Winter Olympics.


Just to remind everyone, there are three separate rules that the Republican tax bill has to conform to:

  1. The Republican budget resolution, which limits the bill to additional deficits of $1.5 trillion over its first ten years (2018-2027).
  2. The Byrd Rule, which limits additional deficits to zero after the first ten years (2028 and beyond).
  3. PAYGO, or pay-as-you go, which, when combined with the Budget Control Act, mandates that any new deficits need to be offset with equal spending cuts.

#1 appears to be pretty well in hand. #2 is still a problem as far as I know, though we haven’t yet seen the latest JCT estimates. And #3 is basically an ICBM headed straight for the Capitol dome: we can all see it coming, but for some reason hardly anyone is talking about it. I don’t quite understand this.

By the way, all of this could have been avoided if Republicans were willing to work with Democrats. The fact that this sounds so ridiculous is a sign of the times, but the fact is that there’s plenty of corporate tax reform that Democrats would go along with—but only if it’s deficit-neutral, which is the one thing Republicans are dead set against. Their goal is, and always has been, budget-busting tax cuts, not economy-growing tax reform.


From the deputy Washington editor of the New York Times:

Oh come on. If Republicans were really that confident, they’d have the entire bill expire in 2027. That would sure make passage a whole lot easier. But they aren’t all that confident, so they had to make a decision: which part would they prefer to jettison if worst comes to worst? And the answer was the middle-class tax cuts.


It appears that thousandsor maybe millions—of comments submitted to the FCC in favor of repealing net neutrality were fake. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been trying to investigate, but apparently the FCC has refused to cooperate. This is very strange. It’s unlikely that these comments had any actual impact on the Republican FCC commissioners, who were all dedicated to repealing net neutrality from the get-go, so why would they be so uninterested in finding out how this happened and who was behind it?


John Eligon went to Vallejo, California, recently to take a look at one of the most diverse cities in America. “About 30 miles north of Oakland,” he writes, “it is the rare place in the United States where black, white, Asian and Hispanic people not only coexist in nearly equal numbers, but actually connect.”

In a follow-up piece that promises “behind-the-scenes insights,” he repeats this praise:

I found that most people in Vallejo interacted quite comfortably across racial lines and were accepting of one another, more so than in much of the rest of the United States. Several black people told me, for instance, that they did not feel profiled anywhere they went in town, something I certainly do not hear in most other parts of the country to which I travel.

Despite this, the entire “behind the scenes” piece is devoted to Fred Hatfield, an explicitly racist white guy Eligon met in a diner. Hatfield was “very much an exception in Vallejo,” Eligon says, but he was apparently worth a thousand-word spotlight anyway. Why?

Eligon explains that his piece is really about himself: “Mr. Hatfield’s disparaging remarks about minorities and his quickness to stereotype me underscored a truth about covering race in America as a black man: The story is never far from home.” I’d buy that if his article really was about his experience covering race in America—which would probably be pretty interesting. But it’s not. It’s basically a thousand words about Hatfield.

I struggle a bit to understand why Hatfield was worth this attention. After all, it’s hardly news that if you look around you’ll find some people willing to be overtly racist to your face. Nor, as Eligon acknowledges, is Hatfield even remotely typical of Vallejo. In the end, then, this piece is just the latest in the tired genre of liberal anthropology: stories about “regular places” that inevitably feature “regular people” saying terrible things. This is understandable if (a) these people are representative and (b) there’s a good reason to profile the place itself, but often it seems to be little more than an excuse to highlight non-college graduates outside of big cities being appalling.

Maybe I’m missing the point, but surely this genre is old in the tooth? Reporters should describe the world as it is, warts and all, and that means showing us raw racism and stupidity when that’s how the world is. But it doesn’t mean going out of our way to highlight this stuff just because it confirms our liberal pieties.


Christophe Haubursin reports on experiments in several European cities to improve safety by completely removing road signs:

That’s thanks to a design concept called “shared space,” where urban planners drastically lessen the presence of traffic lights, signs, and barriers, encouraging all forms of transportation to share the road….The heightened risk forces commuters to remain on high alert as they pass through an intersection, in theory leading to safer travel….After installing shared spaces, Ipswich’s accident rates with injuries fell from 23 over three years to just one per year. Pedestrian injuries at London’s Kensington High Street fell by nearly 60 percent.

I just spent three weeks living near Kensington High Street, and I didn’t notice any lack of signs or crosswalks. What did I miss? Not much, apparently: it appears that some modest changes were made there starting in 2000, but not so much that it’s surprising I didn’t notice them. Still, it was apparently enough to produce impressive results: for the past decade reporters have been dutifully passing along the news that collisions involving pedestrians, bicycles, and motorcycles dropped by 48 percent in the three years after the project was completed in 2003.

But there’s a gotcha. First, it turns out that these same collisions dropped by 37 percent everywhere in the borough. Second, it mostly happened before the KHS simplification was carried out:

Color me confused. The entire borough got safer, obviously for reasons unrelated to road simplication. And it mostly happened between 2000 and 2002, before the traffic simplification was even finished. If Kensington High Street followed the same trend, it mostly benefited from the global changes and has probably seen only modest improvement from the simplification. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any studies of KHS more recently than 2005, so who knows?

In any case, the borough itself says that “although the scheme is often cited as an example of ‘simplification’ (since some barriers and other street furniture were removed) it should properly be considered as a holistic re-design of the area that produced (on average) a simplified space although many features were added as part of the scheme.” And it doesn’t appear to have had a big effect. So it might be best to stop using this as one of the half dozen examples that shows up in every article about traffic simplification.


The latest hotness in conservative circles is a proposal to create a whole bunch of new judgeships. Back in 2013, when Democrats merely wanted to fill three empty seats on the DC Court of Appeals, conservatives argued that, properly measured, caseloads were down and we really ought to just eliminate the empty seats entirely rather than let President Obama fill them. But now that a Republican is president, guess what? The court system is groaning under the weight of increased caseloads. We need new judges, and we need them now—with “now” defined as prior to November 2018 when Republicans might lose their Senate majority.

However, the primary author of this proposal, Stephen Calabresi, is pretty frank that although increased caseloads should be the public rationale, it’s really about getting more conservative judges appointed. And don’t call it court packing!

In fact, it is a court-unpacking plan. It counteracts Democratic court-packing under President Carter and a Democratic Congress in 1978…and it counteracts the partisan effects on the judiciary of Senator Chuck Schumer’s shameful filibustering of lower-court federal judges under the younger President Bush and his abolition of the filibuster of lower-court federal judges under President Obama.

….Republicans will have controlled the presidency for 32 of the 52 years between 1969 and 2021. By all rights, Republicans ought to have a three-fifths majority on all the federal courts of appeals. Instead, there is a Democratic majority on almost all of those courts….This is a national scandal of epic proportions, which Congress should and could address by increasing the size of the federal courts of appeals and district courts by 33 percent.

Really? It’s a “national scandal” that Republicans don’t have the same percentage of judges as they’ve had of presidential years between 1969 and 2021? How about if we rerun this from, say, 1993 to 2016? Let’s see. That gives Democrats 67 percent of the years but, shockingly, only 56 percent of the seats on federal courts of appeals. My goodness.

This is a dumb game. If you pick the years right, you can get any percentage of Republican or Democratic years you want. (Though, at the very least, you should probably stop at the present instead of using a range that, comically, goes out to 2021.) And the composition of the courts is always weighted more heavily toward the most recent president’s party.

But why stop there? Democrats won 49 percent of all votes for the Senate in 2016 but won only 35 percent of the open seats. They won 49 percent of the two-party House vote but occupy only 44 percent of the seats. And Hillary Clinton won 51 percent of the two-party presidential vote but Donald Trump is currently occupying the White House. Is this an epic national scandal too?

And by the way, Calabresi also wants to summarily dump all 250 administrative law judges currently on the books and turn them into trial judges with lifetime tenure too. Pronto.

I’d call this a sad joke if it weren’t for the fact that sillier things than this have turned into real-life movements thanks to Fox News and talk radio. Luckily, Calabresi seems not to know anything about reconciliation rules, so he suggests that this should all happen as part of the Republican tax bill. I believe the Senate parliamentarian would have something to say about that. Still, as dumb as this is, it’s worth keeping an eye on. After all, I thought Randy Barnett’s invented-from-whole-cloth argument against the individual mandate was silly too, and that came within a hair’s breadth of overturning all of Obamacare.


What kind of roundup would this be if I didn’t end it with Donald Trump’s latest bit of self-parodic narcissism?

I feel for him. Cat Fancy called a few weeks ago to say that Hilbert and Hopper were probably going to be named Cats of the Year, but they’d have to be groomed and videoed and photographed and—long story short, I took a pass.¹ It would have interrupted nap time, after all, and they might have lost out to Serwer’s brood anyway. Who needs the grief?

¹This joke stolen from Atrios. Used without permission.