Today in Trumpisms

I know how pointless this can get, but I can't help myself. Here are the greatest hits from Donald Trump's recent interview with David Muir of ABC News. First off, when he met with the president of Mexico, did they discuss paying for the wall or not?

TRUMP: It was discussed that it wouldn't be discussed.

This is followed by Trump's usual bragging about how great he is ("I've been given A pluses for the job I did in Mexico") and how fabulously presidential he looked ("Mike called me and said, 'I've never seen anybody look so presidential'").

Next up, Muir tries desperately to get Trump to explain his immigration plan. We've already established that (a) he'll build a wall and Mexico will pay for it, (b) criminals will be tossed out on Day 1, and (c) anyone who wants citizenship will have to return home and apply through normal channels. But what about all the people who remain?

MUIR: In the last 24 hours, Rudy Giuliani said that Donald Trump would "find it very difficult to throw a family that's been here in the United States for 15 years with kids who are now American citizens out of this country. That that’s not the America that Donald Trump wants." So will some of these families be allowed to stay?

TRUMP: First of all he's 100 percent right. It’s very difficult. It’s a very difficult thing to do....Once we have a secure border...we're going to take a very good, strong, hard look at the people that remained.

....MUIR: When you take a good, strong hard look, does that mean some of those 11 million undocumented immigrants will be allowed to stay?

TRUMP: It could be.

....MUIR: If they want to be a citizen, they will have to go home?

TRUMP: If they want to be a citizen, they have to go home, get on line.

....MUIR: So when those families do ultimately go home, the ones who have no record, who are here, once you get the wall and the criminals out of here, as you say. Is it self-deportation?

TRUMP: No.

MUIR: Or will you deport them?

TRUMP: No.

MURI: How does it work?

TRUMP: They will— If they want to become a citizen, they'll go out and they’ll come back in through a process, but they have to get on line.

MUIR: But what is that called? I mean, most people call it—

TRUMP: They don't call it anything

MUIR: Will they have to go—

TRUMP: They don't call it anything, OK? They don't call it anything.

We don't call it anything! Capiche? There is no word or phrase or term or anything else in the English language that describes what Trump is going to do. (Although I suspect "nothing" is a pretty fair guess.)

Next up, will Trump name anyone he's sorry about offending? As he's said repeatedly before, he won't. But:

TRUMP: And now you see what's happening with Hillary. You see what’s going on with her emails. It's a disgrace. It's a disgusting situation where she pretends like she doesn't know. I mean, she had her emails — 33,000 emails — acid washed. The most sophisticated person never heard about acid washing. Acid washing is a very expensive process and that's to really get rid of them. Really, and these emails pertain to her wedding or her yoga classes?

Acid washing? Where did he dredge that up? Anyway, what he's talking about is deleting files and then overwriting the deleted sectors so that no data is left on the hard drive. In fact, this is so common that everyone within shouting distance of an IT shop knows about it, and so expensive that there are dozens of free utilities that do it.

That's it. Muir had a full hour with Trump and Mike Pence and basically got almost nothing of interest. He spent a full half of the interview on immigration, and while I appreciate his effort to pin down what happens to the illegal immigrants who just stay put, there wasn't much point to it since Trump has made his position clear before. Ditto for everything else. Unless I missed it, I don't think Muir asked Trump a single tough question, and not a single question that we don't already know the answer to. I managed to get a few pieces of snark out of it, but that's all.

Late Morning News Roundup

I'm experimenting with letting our cats outside, but only under tight supervision. That means I've been away from the computer for the past hour, so let's check up on what's happening. The biggest news, of course, is the introduction of the fabulous new iPhone 7:

Hell yes. What could be more courageous than making everyone buy a brand new set of Apple-branded headphones? But here's what I don't get: what if you want to listen to music at the same time you're charging your phone? I guess that doesn't happen too often, but it happens sometimes. Are you just screwed?

As a former marketing person, I'm truly in awe of the Apple marketing machine. The amount of press they're getting for this event is staggering, despite the fact that the iPhone 7 hardly has any new features, and the ones it does have were mostly leaked months ago. Interestingly, though, they're making some potentially significant changes to their camera, including a feature that (we're told) produces lovely bokeh effects. Bokeh is the fuzzy, out-of-focus background you get in professional pictures, and it's the bête noire of small digital cameras, which simply can't replicate it with tiny lenses and tiny sensors. Presumably Apple is creating simulated bokeh with software, the same way I can do it in Photoshop. However, for folks who just want to take pictures and don't want to dick around with Photoshop, this is a nice feature.

Next up is Benghazi!™

What does thin mean? It means that out of 30 "new" emails, all of them have already been released except one: "a flattering note sent by a veteran U.S. diplomat following her testimony on Benghazi before a Senate panel in January 2013." Quelle horreur! I await the true story of what this means from Andy McCarthy.

Trump is in the news too:

It is traditional in politics to promise more than you can deliver. But I have to give Trump credit for realizing the he could take this much farther than any politician ever has. He understands that you flatly don't need to bother with reality at all. Just promise everything and claim that it will all be easy, a total piece of cake once the government isn't staffed by morons. The voters will eat it up and the press will shrug. Who knew?

Finally, here is Hopper in the great outdoors:

Note the fake bokeh in the background. It's a pain in the ass to even get this much in Photoshop, and real bokeh is better. If Apple can automatically produce high-quality bokeh in the camera by using the raw image data, I think we can count on every other smartphone manufacturer following suit very quickly.

You probably think the headline on this post is clickbait. Nope. Here is Donald Trump on Bill O'Reilly's show last night:

"I am under a routine audit, and when it's completed I will release my returns," Trump said in an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly on Tuesday, repeating a claim he has made routinely during his presidential campaign. "In the meantime, she has 33,000 emails that she deleted. When is she going to release her emails? She probably knows how to find [them]. Let her release her emails and I'll release my tax returns immediately."

Trump is referring to Hillary Clinton's personal emails, which are well and truly gone, and which she shouldn't release anyway. Nobody should release their personal emails to the public. So Trump knows he'll never have to make good on this promise.

Nevertheless, he's willing to release his taxes if he can get some advantage out of it. The audit isn't what's stopping him at all.

Keith Humphreys emails to say that his latest piece in the Washington Post is "Drum bait." That's my favorite kind of bait! Let's take a look:

In absolute terms, arrests (like crime) are as expected consistently concentrated among the young at each historical time point. But surprisingly, the drop in the arrest rate over time is entirely accounted for by the current generation of young adults, who are busted 23 percent less frequently than prior generations were at their age. Remarkably, despite the national drop in overall crime and arrest rates, the arrest rate among older Americans is higher than it was 20 years ago.

The reason this is Drum bait is that it's consistent with the lead-crime hypothesis. If you were age 18 in 2013, you grew up in the 90s, a low-lead era. That means you were likely to commit far fewer crimes than someone who was age 18 in 1993 and grew up in the 70s, the peak era for gasoline lead contamination.

But it's different for older folks. People who were age 40 in 2013 grew up in the highly lead-contaminated environment of the 70s. However, the cohorts who were age 40 in 1993 and 2003 grew up in the 50s and 60s, which were also high-lead eras. It's no surprise that there's not much difference between them. (Their absolute crime rate is lower than it is for younger people because people tend to become less violent as they get older. The key here is that there's very little difference between these three age cohorts because they all had similar exposure to lead in childhood, while there is a difference between the three age cohorts of 18-year-olds.)

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Rick Nevin has made similar observations before:

From 1980 to 2011, the USA juvenile (under 18) index crime arrest rate fell by 57%, and the age-18-24 index crime arrest rate fell by 21%, but the index crime arrest rate increased by 32% for ages 35-49. The fall in the juvenile arrest rate from 1980-2011 compares youths born in the 1960s — near the peak in leaded gasoline exposure — with those born after leaded gas was eliminated in the mid-1980s. The 1980-2011 increase in the age-35-49 arrest rate compares adults born before the 1950s surge in leaded gas use with those born near the peak in leaded gas exposure.

(Note: "index crime" is a term that refers to an aggregate of four different violent crimes—murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.)

If you're interested in reading more about this, and more about the full case for the lead-crime hypothesis, Nevin has put it all together in a short e-book, The Lucifer Curves. You can find it here for a mere $2.99!

Via David Wharton of the LA Times, I learn today that preseason college football polls are better predictors of eventual bowl game winners than the final polls of the season. Here is Ed Feng of Power Rank:

In other words, after three months, thousands of games, and seemingly millions of words of commentary and analysis, we're worse at predicting bowl game winners than we were before a single game had been played. There's some kind of Isaiah Berlin joke to be made here, or perhaps an observation about forests and trees, or maybe just an acknowledgement that this basically describes the human condition.

Of course, this isn't a sports blog, it's a politics blog. So you may be wondering whether this result is also true of presidential elections. Well, via Pollster, here's the Clinton-Trump head-to-head polling for one year before Election Day:

Hillary Clinton wins by about three points! In a couple of months we'll know whether this ends up being more accurate than the polls done a week before Election Day.

More Pallets of Cash Sent to Iran!

Let the outrage begin anew:

The Obama administration followed up a planeload of $400 million in cash sent to Iran in January with two more such shipments in the next 19 days, totaling another $1.3 billion, according to congressional officials briefed by the U.S. State, Treasury and Justice departments.

....The Obama administration previously had refused to disclose the mechanics of the $1.7 billion settlement, despite repeated calls from U.S. lawmakers. The State Department announced the settlement on Jan. 17 but didn’t brief Congress that the entire amount had been paid in cash.

I'm still stumped by this whole thing. Everyone knew about the $1.7 billion payment, but we're supposed to be shocked by the fact that it was made in pallets of cash instead of a wire transfer or something? Who cares?

Is there a real issue here? Or is it just a handy excuse to complain about something that Republicans wanted to complain about anyway? Somebody clue me in, please.

Donald Trump Reveals His Plan to Defeat ISIS

Donald Trump has been learning and evolving on the campaign trail. Take ISIS, for example:

November 13: "I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me."

So Trump must have a plan of his own for defeating ISIS? Yes indeed, but he wants to keep it a secret:

May 27: "All I can tell you is that it is a foolproof way of winning."

Oh come on, Donald, tell us the plan:

Today: "I am also going to convene my top generals and give them a simple instruction: They will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for defeating ISIS."

I guess the generals have gotten smarter in the past few months. Good work, Obama!

I was chatting with a friend the other day about the different universes that liberals and conservatives inhabit these days. It's not just that partisans become constantly obsessed with new shiny objects, but that their shiny objects are so wildly different. And very often, folks on one side have no idea that the shiny objects on the other side even exist.

Take today, for example. Here's the home page at Drudge:

Spoiler alert: He's the lead Secret Service agent on Hillary Clinton's detail. The Secret Service confirmed this a month ago during yet another shiny object hunt, when they wearily explained that an object seen in his hand was a flashlight, not a diazepam injector in case Clinton had a seizure.1 Now, though, we've apparently moved on: the Drudge story—from the same lunatic who peddled the diazepam idiocy—suggests that the guy isn't even a Secret Service agent. "Do you think the media will ever ask the campaign about this guy?" he asks in boldface, knowing they never will because they all know perfectly well who he is.

And just as Sean Hannity gleefully picked up the fake diazepam story, Drudge is now picking up the fake "not a Secret Service agent" story. It is this week's conservative shiny object, and most people will never even know it's making the rounds. But it is. This is your conservative media at work.

1This was—and still is—part of the crank conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton having some mysterious disease that she's hiding from the public, presumably to ensure that Tim Kaine becomes president when she keels over and dies.

Murder Is Down in New York City

Here's the latest from the New York Police Department:

That's fewer murders, pal. Don't let Twitter be an excuse for bad grammar. Our kids look up to you.

Originally, I was going to post this to show that, in fact, we're probably not in the middle of a nationwide crime wave caused by the "Ferguson Effect." Or if we are, it was short lived. But we won't know that for a while.

However, when I heard about this I headed over to the NYPD website to see if they had a press release with more information. Not only did they not have such a thing, it turns out they don't even issue press releases anymore except for their weekly traffic advisory. I originally heard about the crime stats from a reporter on Twitter who said he had received an email. On the NYPD site, I was informed that I could download their official app (iPhone or Android). Or I could scroll through their Twitter feed. Or I could listen to a podcast.

That's it. Apparently the era of the press release is over, and the rest of us just don't know it yet. That's too bad. It may be old fashioned, but it does allow room for a wee bit more detail than a tweet.

A few months ago I wrote about one of my "liberal heresies": I'm not really a big fan of campaign finance reform. "Maybe this will be the first entry in a periodic series," I said hopefully. But no. I'm a big old wimp, so I never wrote #2 in that series: I'm not really a huge fan of radical transparency either.

But Matt Yglesias wrote about this today, which means he'll take the lion's share of the blowback for being skeptical of transparency. I will say, however, that his arguments struck me as sort of odd:

Phone calls are journalistically indispensable when you want to conduct an extended interview, but for a routine query or point of clarification, email is much, much better…The issue is that administration officials and other executive branch aides don’t want to leave a record of the conversation that might come to light one day.

…The idea that digital text communications are like memos—and should be disclosed as a kind of official government work product— is wrong…A message dashed off on a phone while riding the bus or a quick thumbs up reply clearly aren’t digital versions of an old-time longhand letter. Most email is informal and conversational, and over time digital communication has moved beyond email to mediums that are even better suited to the conversation approach.

…There are a lot of things that colleagues might have good reason to say to one another in private that would nonetheless be very damaging if they went viral on Facebook…Healthy brainstorming processes…blunt assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of different members of the team…describe an actual or potential problem in vivid terms to spur action.

This is a little choppy, but there are basically three arguments here: (1) if email is dangerous, it just forces officials to make more phone calls, (2) email isn't really like old-fashioned paper mail; it's like a conversation, and (3) there are good reasons government officials might want to have private policy discussions.

The first argument is all bound up in the weird Gen X/Millennial dislike of talking on the phone, and it doesn't really do much for me. If emails from government officials really should be publicly accessible, then they should be accessible. The fact that this might drive dishonest actors into furtive phone calls and private meetings in parking structures is neither here nor there.

The second argument is questionable. I don't care if you're on a Unix workstation or an iPhone, email is a written medium. The fact that it can sometimes be conversational has little bearing on whether it should be subject to a FOIA request. Besides, if you exempt email entirely, you just end up creating yet another version of the furtive phone call problem.

But then we come to the third argument: Sunlight may be the best disinfectant, but too much sunlight will give you skin cancer. This is really the only one you need. The public unquestionably has an interest in how and why public policy is determined, but policymakers also have a legitimate interest in being able to speak frankly while they're doing the determining. This conflict of interests is genuine, and the answer is to address it, not to simply assume that everything everywhere should be open to the public.

Everybody understands this, which is why there are some exceptions to FOIA. Within the executive branch, for example, the executive office of the president is largely exempt from FOIA. But this can be taken too far: Congress has exempted itself entirely from FOIA, despite the fact that the public has plenty of legitimate interest in how they make their sausages.

What we need is a genuine middle ground. Unfortunately, as Yglesias says, it's an impossible subject to discuss right now because it's so bound up with Hillary Clinton's emails. But I disagree. I think this makes it the perfect time to talk about it.

Part of the reason is that Hillary Clinton is a real object lesson in how FOIA can go wrong when it's weaponized. Another part is that liberals are the biggest fans of transparency, and seeing one of their own pilloried by it might make them take a second look at whether it's gone off the rails. What we've seen with Hillary Clinton is not that she's done anything especially wrong, but that a story can last forever if there's a constant stream of new revelations. That's what's happened over the past four years. Between Benghazi committees and Judicial Watch's anti-Hillary jihad, Clinton's emails have been steadily dripped out practically monthly, even though there's never been any compelling reason for it. It's been done solely to keep her alleged corruption in the public eye.

Reporters aren't stupid. They know this perfectly well. And yet, news is news. They can't help themselves from covering every new release of emails, even if they don't really show anything very interesting. (And there's much more to come.) Donald Trump, by contrast, has adopted a policy of radical concealment—no tax returns, no medical disclosures, no business records, and certainly no internal emails—and it's worked great. He's taken some hits for all this, but they don't do much damage. With nothing new to report, it's hard to keep an investigation going.

So what's the answer? I'm not going to pretend to have a detailed policy to offer, but in general terms I think it's this: less transparency, but faster, more effective transparency. Even journalists might buy this trade. I believe that cabinet officers need to have a certain amount of space to have policy discussions without fear of every word they say becoming public. For this reason, FOIA should be tightened in some ways. At the same time, the biggest problem with FOIA is that it's abysmally slow and clunky. You have to word your requests just right. You have to pay fees that sometimes make no sense. And then you have to wait forever, and then maybe appeal, and then wait some more, because compliance departments are woefully underfunded and undermanned.

The devil is in the details, but in broad strokes that's the deal I'd like to see. Change FOIA rules so executive branch officials have more latitude for the kinds of frank policy discussions they need to have—and less fear that their every word will be used not to enlighten the public, but solely as nuclear weapons in political campaigns. But in return, properly fund compliance and place real limits on how long legitimate FOIA requests can be stonewalled. Any takers?