According to reports, Trump will nominate Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) as Secretary of the Interior. After a run of three outsiders, this means we're back to the swamp for Trump's cabinet. She's a fairly standard issue Republican by contemporary standards, and naturally she hates any environmental regulations that might actually save our interior for future generations.

You guys are way too smart. I posted my mystery map of the Middle East yesterday morning, and in less than an hour you had figured out what it represented. For the rest of you, here's the map with its real title:

I'm going to make an obvious point about this, but I want to make it carefully. Ever since I wrote my piece about the link between violent crime and leaded gasoline, I've gotten periodic questions about whether lead might be responsible for other things. The most common answer is maybe—but it's unlikely we'll ever have the data to prove it. For that reason, I try to stay pretty restrained about exactly what lead might and might not be responsible for.

That said, there's a lot of evidence that leaded gasoline produced a wave of violent crime between 1960-1990 in the developed world, and that the introduction of unleaded gasoline eliminated that wave and eventually brought crime rates down nearly to 1960 levels. In most developed countries, leaded gasoline was phased out starting around the mid-70s, which benefited children born after that. When those children reached their late teenage years in the early 90s, they were much less prone to impulsiveness and aggression, which led to lower crime rates.

But not every part of the world followed that timetable. In particular, leaded gasoline continued to be used in the Middle East up through the late 90s. Egypt began phasing it out in 1998, and most other countries followed over the next decade or so. Only a few—including Iraq and Afghanistan—still sell significant amounts of leaded gasoline.

Since lead poisoning affects infants, its affects show up about 18-20 years later. What this means is that in the bright red countries, the cohort of kids who reach their late teen years around 2020 should be significantly less aggressive and violent than previous cohorts. Around 2025 the countries in lighter red will join them. Around 2030 the countries in pink will join. By 2040 or so, the process will be complete.

Obviously this means that crime rates in the Middle East should decline steadily between 2020-40. But there's more. Given the effects of lead, it seems almost certain that reducing lead poisoning in teenagers and young adults should lead to a decline in terrorism as well.

This is where I want to be careful. Obviously terrorism, like crime, has a lot of causes. What's more, you could eliminate every molecule of lead in the world and you'd still have plenty of crime and plenty of terrorism. But you'd have less. If terrorism follows the path of violent crime, eliminating leaded gasoline could reduce the level of terrorism by 50 percent or more.

It's also possible—though this is much more speculative—that effective terrorism requires a minimum critical mass of people who are drawn to it. If you fall below that minimum, it might wither away. In other words, it's possible that removing lead from gasoline could reduce terrorism by even more than 50 percent.

In any case, this leads to a concrete prediction: Between 2020 and 2040, the level of terrorism emanating from the Middle East will drop by at least half. Ditto for violence more generally, including civil wars. In a decade or so, we should begin to get hints of whether this prediction is correct.

Here's another look at the current state of water in Flint. Instead of an average, it shows the number of homes with different levels of lead in their tap water. The data (here) is for the entire month of November (11/3 through 12/1) and covers 493 homes. The testing is done with unfiltered water.

About 87 percent of homes have lead content of 5 parts per billion or less. This is safe for anyone, even small children. Another 9 percent have lead content of 6-15 ppb. This is probably safe for adults, and safe for children if it's filtered. Another 3 percent have lead levels between 16-100 ppb. This is unsafe unless filtered. Finally, about 1 percent of homes have lead levels above 100 ppb, which might be unsafe even if it's filtered.

The filters are critical here. About 99 percent of Flint homes have safe water as long as a filter is properly installed and maintained. Replacing Flint's service lines will take a long time, and in the meantime the emphasis should be almost exclusively on making sure everyone has a working filter. Only a tiny percentage of houses still need to be using bottled water.

Polls from Pew Research always have lots of interesting tidbits, and today's is no exception. One question was about approval of cabinet choices, and Donald Trump ranks the lowest of any recent president. But you have to dig down a bit to get the real news.

It turns out this doesn't represent disapproval across the board. Members of Trump's party approve of his picks at roughly the same rate as members of the winning party always have. However, members of the opposing party are usually mildly positive toward a new president's picks. Not this year. Among Democrats, only 11 percent approve of Trump's cabinet choices. This is pretty remarkable. Trump starts out with the most intense disapproval among the opposite party of any new president in recent memory. By far the most intense.

A second result is also interesting—as well as sort of amusing. In pretty much every poll ever taken, members of the president's party think the economy is stronger than members of the out party. Members of the president's party are also more likely to be optimistic about the future of the economy. This is hardly surprising, but Trump has hypercharged it. Take a look at the chart on the right.

Republicans are over the moon. A full 75 percent think the economy will be better in a year. Meanwhile, Democrats, who were already pessimistic, have cratered. Only 15 percent think the economy will be better a year from now.

Personally, I think this is too easy. Instead of blathering about something vague like "economic conditions," you should be willing to name exactly what you think will be better. For example:

  • The unemployment rate is currently 4.6 percent. Higher or lower in November 2017?
  • Real GDP growth averaged (approximately) 1.6 percent in 2016. Higher or lower in 2017?
  • Real weekly wages of production and nonsupervisory employees were up (approximately) 0.41 percent in 2016. Higher or lower in 2017?

You can pick your own examples. But they should be specific and measurable, regardless of whether you think Trump is going to supercharge the economy or destroy it.

As Republicans merrily head down their stated path of repealing Obamacare without bothering to replace it, here are the latest CDC numbers on the uninsured:

Let's put that into raw numbers. There are currently 273 million people in America under the age of 65. If we abolished Obamacare and returned to the 2013 percentage of uninsured, 17 million people would lose health coverage.

And that's optimistic. If Republican recklessness causes the insurance industry to abandon the individual market altogether (explanation here), the number of people who would lose coverage is somewhere in the range of 32-37 million. That's represents 22 million people who are currently in the non-group insurance market plus another 10-15 million who benefited from Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.

Repealing Obamacare makes a great campaign slogan, but now Republicans have to actually govern. Do they really want to be responsible for 17-37 million people losing health coverage? Really?

I seriously don't have the courage to click on this link, so I'll just share the tweet:

Looking for a silver lining? The US is moving toward authoritarianism slower than the other countries. And Germany, which has some recent experience with this sort of thing, remains pretty committed to elections and so forth.

Then again, Russia, Spain, and China have some recent experience with authoritarian governments too, and that's not stopping them from losing faith in democracy.

Over at the Washington Examiner, Jamie McIntyre makes a fair point about Trump's military-heavy cabinet:

"I am concerned that so many of the President-Elect's nominees thus far come from the ranks of recently retired military officers," Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement Wednesday evening....Yet when President Obama assembled his Cabinet in 2009, he also ended up with three retired four-stars in his inner circle: [Jim] Jones as his national security adviser, retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki as veterans affairs secretary, and retired Navy Adm. Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence. That's 12 stars to Trump's 11.

Technically, DNI isn't a cabinet-level position, but it's hard to argue that it's less important than, say, Secretary of the Interior. Of course, Trump still has some positions to fill, including DNI, so we might not be done with the generals yet. Still, if Trump sticks with the three he's got, it's not out of the ordinary.

The real issue with Trump seems to be that he's chosen a retired general to run the Department of Defense. It's reasonable to object to this, but let's just object to it, instead of claiming that Trump's cabinet is unusually heavy with ex-generals.

In case you're keeping score at home, there are five cabinet posts left to be filled: State, Interior, Agriculture, Energy, and Veterans Affairs.

Plus there are three cabinet-level positions still open: Office of Management and Budget, US Trade Representative, and Council of Economic Advisors.

Of these, State and OMB are the most important. Veterans Affairs might be a spot for yet another general. Trade representative isn't usually a high-profile position, but might become one under Trump. The rest are offices he doesn't care about, which means they're wide open for women, minorities, and assorted billionaires.

Well, Donald Trump is just playing with us now. The great protector of the working class plans to nominate for Secretary of Labor—that's Secretary of Labor—Andrew Puzder, the wealthy CEO of a fast-food empire who doggedly opposes a wide variety of worker protections imposed by big government. He also seems to take a fairly dim view of human labor in general, regardless of how much it costs:

Puzder doesn't think that it's likely that any machine could take over the more nuanced kitchen work of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's. But for more rote tasks like grilling a burger or taking an order, technology may be even more precise than human employees. "They're always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case," says Puzder of swapping employees for machines.

Puzder might not be quite as bad as that quote suggests, but he's hardly a fulsome friend of the working man and woman. On the bright side, Carl's Jr. makes a good burger. If they could just improve their fries, they'd be great.

Today the Centers for Disease Control announced that life expectancy at birth declined slightly between 2014 and 2015. I wonder how they calculate that? They're basically predicting death rates around the year 2100, and it hardly seems likely they can do this. My understanding is that it's based on age-specific death rates prevailing for the current year, but what makes anyone think those death rates will remain the same for the next 80 years?

That's a question for another blog post, I suppose. One thing is for sure, however: we can certainly take a look at death rates right now. And this, in particular, is disturbing:

Infant mortality in the US is already far higher than it is in the rest of the developed world. It's under 450 in France, Germany, and Britain, for example, and under 350 in Italy, Japan, and Norway. The only OECD countries with higher infant mortality rates have per-capita incomes less than half ours.

To make things worse, the rate of infant mortality among blacks is double what it is among whites and Hispanics. It's a horror story—and apparently it's getting worse. How is this possible?