Donald Trump has issued a statement about his beef with Judge Curiel:

It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage. I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent.

Unfortunate indeed. But no one has construed his comments that way. We've all construed them as a categorical attack on Curiel. That's because Trump has explicitly said that Curiel is "a hater" of "Mexican heritage" who is handing down unfair rulings because he dislikes Trump's anti-immigrant politics. "I think that's why he's doing it," he told Jake Tapper, just to make sure there was no question about it. Then this:

Due to what I believe are unfair and mistaken rulings in this case and the Judge’s reported associations with certain professional organizations, questions were raised regarding the Obama appointed Judge’s impartiality. It is a fair question. I hope it is not the case.

"Questions were raised." Golly. I wonder who raised them? No one knows, I suppose. But raised they were, and then Donald had no choice but to address them. But he really hopes these questions all turn out to be unfounded. Really. He does.

There it is. You have the whining, the lying, the passive voice rowback, and the faux sorrow that this has become such a divisive issue, all in just a few sentences. It's vintage Trump, folks.

Here's our first un-endorsement of the season:

Kirk was always likely to be one of Trump's first defectors. He's running a tough reelection race in a blue state. Here's his official reason:

At least, I guess that's the official reason. Twitter is now the source of official political pronouncements, right?

Anyway, this might be the first time ever that a senator has un-endorsed a presidential candidate of his party. There have been plenty who never endorsed in the first place, but I'm not sure if anyone has ever endorsed and then taken it back. Historians, what say you?

Next up: Paul Ryan should become the first Speaker of the House to un-endorse a presidential candidate of his party. If enough members of Congress do this, we might even have to take the hyphen out of un-endorse and make it a real word.

How's the Labor Market Doing, Really?

Last week produced a weak jobs report, and today Fed chair Janet Yellen implied that this made an interest rate hike unlikely in the next month or two. Fine. But that's just one report over one month. Does it really tell us much about the health of the labor market?

Maybe not. Justin Fox suggests that "things have actually been on the downswing for the U.S. labor market for months," based on his read of a newish composite measure from the Fed called the Labor Market Conditions Index. As you can see on the right, the LMCI has mostly shown positive growth over the past three years. In fact, it's been positive since mid-2009. But growth turned negative in January and has been getting steadily more negative ever since. It's currently at -4.8.

So that's not so great. But because the LMCI is a composite mishmash of other metrics, it's hard to have any kind of intuitive sense of what it means. Is -4.8 bad? Really bad? Just a blip?

One way to get a better sense of LMCI is to take a longer-term look at it. The Fed boffins have back-calculated it to 1976, so here it is for the past 40 years:

Ah. It's one of those measures designed to predict recessions. As its creators say: "Changes in the LMCI align well with business cycles as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research....[Since 1980] the LMCI has fallen about an average of 20 points per month during a recession and risen about 4 points per month during an expansion."

These kinds of composite measures are a dime a dozen. Constructing them is practically a parlor game among a certain kind of economist. They're also problematic. LMCI, for example, combines 19 separate measures, and with that many inputs it's not hard at all to gin up a formula that will pretty accurately match past history. So I'd take LMCI with a grain of salt until we see how it does at predicting the next recession.

That said, if we do take LMCI seriously the question is: how low can it go before a recession is inevitable? Answer: Over the past 40 years, it's never gotten below -10 without foreshadowing a recession. In fact, during normal periods of expansion, it's never gotten below -7 without turning into a recession.

So: If we assume that LMCI has predictive capability, we can say that if it keeps dropping for another few months it probably means bad news. And if it drops into negative double digits, a recession is almost inevitable. That's a lot of ifs and probablies, but possibly something to keep an eye on anyway.

I have exciting news. A few days ago I asked if some qualified lawyer type person could take a look at Judge Curiel's rulings in the Trump University case and report back on whether he'd been fair. Guess what? Someone actually took me up on this! Here is Max Kennerly's summary:

The Makaeff case was filed on April 30, 2010, and transferred to Judge Curiel on January 30, 2013....On the issues where Judge Curiel had discretion, he generally ruled against the plaintiffs....On the issues where Judge Curiel had to rule on disputed legal concepts, he generally ruled against the plaintiffs....There’s only really one issue where Judge Curiel truly sided with the plaintiffs, and that was over the appropriate proof of damages.

....Summing Up: Judge Curiel is doing his job like a normal judge, issuing rulings consistent with the case law. But you already knew that.

For the record, note that the "plaintiffs" in this case are the folks suing Trump. So when Curiel rules against the plaintiffs, he's ruling for Trump. There's a whole lot of detail to back up Kennerly's summary, and you should read it if you're interested in this stuff.

But there's one bit that I'll take note of right here. Trump's major whine is that the whole case should have been tossed out on summary judgment long ago. Kennerly points us to Ken White for an explanation of all that. Roughly speaking, White confirms that Trump is full of shit. You don't get summary judgment unless your opponents literally have no credible evidence on their side. If they have even a small amount, then you let a jury decide. Obviously Trump's victims do have some evidence, so summary judgment was never really a possibility.

None of this will stop Trump from whining, of course. As near as I can tell, there's no force on earth that can stop a Trump whinefest. Without something to whine about, I don't think Trump would find life worth living. He's the eternally unappreciated man.

Who's Worse, Berniebros or Hillarybots?

Kevin's law of politics states:

Every candidate for office believes he's been treated brutally unfairly by his opponent, the press, and his opponent's supporters.

Occasionally this is even true. But usually it's not. It's just that candidates usually see only the abuse that's been aimed at them. They never really notice the abuse hurled at their opponent.

For what it's worth, I happen to have had a pretty good look during this election at the way both Bernie and Hillary supporters attack anything critical of their hero, and I have to call it a draw. I'll confess that initially I thought the Berniebros were worse, but they're not. The Hillarybots are every bit as obnoxious, and the condescension and contempt seem about equal on both sides. Bernie's most avid supporters are convinced that Hillary fans are establishment shills, warmongers, and hate young people. And they are tired of being attacked as easily led, bro-centric cultists who have no clue about how real-world politics really works.

Likewise, Hillary's most avid supporters are convinced that Bernie fans are naive, sexist, and in thrall to a cult leader. And they are tired of being attacked as corrupt, patronizing boomers who can't stand the thought that no one cares what they think anymore.

But here's the good news: As near as I can tell, this only describes, at most, about 5 percent of the Democratic electorate even if they get the lion's share of the attention. The other 95 percent has an ordinary preference but that's all. When the dust has settled, they'll shrug and let the outraged 5 percent go off and vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or whoever. The rest of us will forget the primaries and put our minds to work on the upcoming election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

This process of forgetting about the primaries will start tomorrow. It will finish within a week or two.

Your Outrage of the Day, Explained

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, your outrage of the day:

Bernie supporters are apoplectic. We haven't even finished voting yet! What's going on?

It's simple. The AP keeps a running tally of delegates, and on Sunday Hillary won a few more in Puerto Rico. Then on Monday a few more superdelegates announced their support. On Monday evening the delegate counter ticked over the 2,383 mark and the AP moved a story saying she had officially won. The networks followed suit, and so did just about every newspaper in the country.

So was this the right thing to do? There are a couple of ways to look at it:

  • Yes! The AP's tally is what it is. From the start they've said that they'll declare a winner when someone goes over 2,383, and by chance that happened last night. They can't play favorites by changing their minds at the last minute.
  • No! Come on. There's a real world out there too, and the AP should be sensitive to the impact of its coverage on election results. Announcing now is like releasing exit poll results before the polls close. Holding back for 24 hours would hardly have hurt.

The timing of this was unfortunate, but I have to go with Option A. The tally is the tally. When it goes over 2,383 the AP declares a winner. The AP's members expect them to deliver the news when it happens, not to hold it back until their editors decide it's politically safe to release it. Besides, if they did hold it back, someone would probably be apoplectic about that.

On a separate note, the AP's tally includes superdelegates, who aren't technically pledged to a candidate. Superdelegates can announce their support, but they can also un-announce it at any time. Bernie supporters have thus argued for some time that they shouldn't be included in any delegate count.

YMMV, but I don't buy this. Whether you like superdelegates or not, they're part of the Democratic Party process. Willy nilly, you have to count them. If you don't, you're putting a huge thumb on the scale.

On the bright side, at least Bernie supporters aren't mad at Hillary this time around. By providing everyone with a common enemy, the AP is allowing the healing process to begin. Nice work, AP!

Monday Evening Waterfowl Blogging

I'm still looking for the adorable baby geese. So far, they've remained cleverly hidden from my prying camera lens. In the meantime, enjoy this local duck.

Prop 187: Still a Myth!

One of the nice things about having a blog is that I can write about anything that strikes my fancy. This morning, for no particular reason, I suddenly got interested in a question about California's infamous Prop 187. This was a 1994 initiative that denied public services to illegal immigrants, and it was eagerly promoted by Gov. Pete Wilson and other Republicans in a truly toxic campaign. In the aftermath of that campaign, Latino support for Republicans cratered and the California Republican Party never recovered. Today it's all but dead in statewide races.

That's the conventional wisdom, anyway. But when I pulled up the data, it didn't look like Prop 187 had much impact at all: Republican decline was due to the steady increase in the Latino population—which was always pro-Democratic—and that was about it. Unsurprisingly, I got some pushback about this. Let's take a look at it.

First, one reader suggested that instead of just charting the Democratic percentage of the presidential vote over the past few decades, I should chart the two-party share of the vote. That sounded reasonable. Here it is:

I still don't see anything. There's always going to be some noise in charts of voter behavior, but the surprising thing about this one is how little noise there is. The trend in support for Democratic presidential candidates is spectacularly steady and spectacularly well correlated with the increase in the non-white population. For the stat geeks among you, the Pearson's r between those two lines in the chart is .97, which is off-the-charts high. Basically, it says that demographic trends explain nearly the entire change in the GOP's fortunes.

So let's move on to another objection. Keith Humphreys—who I blame for getting me into this mess—passes along a 2006 paper that tries to quantify the effect of Prop 187. As the authors acknowledge, this is hard to do because the data you'd like to have just doesn't exist. They make do with Field polls over the period from 1980-2002, and the bottom line is this: they estimate that Latino support for Republicans dropped 11 percentage points following the passage of Prop 187.

I'll confess to some uneasiness about this result. Why? Because the same paper estimates that Prop 209, which banned affirmative action, resulted in an increase of support for the GOP among African-Americans. This seems kind of unlikely. At the very least, it suggests some fairly large error bars on the numbers.

That said, I don't really object to their results. A drop of 11 percentage points isn't huge in absolute terms, and if the real number is, say, more like six or seven points, then it could easily be consistent with the voting behavior in my chart. A drop of that magnitude among a quarter of the population would show up as a very small blip in overall voting.

Roughly, then, my conclusion is this: Prop 187 probably reduced Latino support for the California GOP by about six or seven points, or maybe a little more. This is a smallish amount, and is basically swamped by demographics. It might account for about 5 percent of the change in Republican fortunes over the years, with the other 95 percent explained by simple population changes.

Finally, one last objection. This one amounts to: "I was there, and it was a volcanic upheaval. Latinos were pissed!" I can attest that this is absolutely right. But the fact that the war over Prop 187 made a huge impression on all of us doesn't mean it changed voting behavior a lot. It just doesn't. For that, you have to look at data of some kind and be willing to accept the results. And the data really doesn't seem to support the conventional narrative about Prop 187. Prop 187 probably had an effect—it would be shocking if it didn't—but it wasn't that big. The basic story is simpler: Minorities don't support Republicans, and as their population increased in California the Republican Party steadily became more and more marginalized.

And now for a guess: Minority hostility toward the Republican Party doesn't depend very much on any particular insult. Prop 187, like so many other things, was just another piece of kindling on the bonfire of GOP contempt for every issue important to them. At this point, Republicans can nominate a guy like Donald Trump, and even that has only a smallish effect. It's just more of the same.

If Republicans want this to turn around, they have to cut the crap and stop basing their continued existence on angry white guys. They need to:

  • Support affirmative action.
  • Support comprehensive immigration reform.
  • Slap down racism in their own ranks whenever it rears its head.
  • Support changes that make the criminal justice system less bigoted.
  • Stop routinely dismissing minority complaints as "grievance mongering" or "race hustling."
  • Etc.

I can hear the objection of conservatives already: "Gee, Kevin, it sounds like you want Republicans to become Democrats." But I don't. Note that Republicans can continue to:

  • Support lower taxes
  • Support smaller government and less regulation.
  • Support gun rights.
  • Oppose abortion.
  • Support a strong military.
  • Etc.

I dunno. Maybe 95 percent of the Republican platform isn't enough for them. Maybe changing even one smallish piece is too much to ask. But until that happens, minorities simply aren't going to support Republicans. At this point, Republican stock among minorities is so low that even overtly hostile acts probably don't hurt them all that much. Likewise, though, merely refraining from overtly hostile acts probably wouldn't help them much. It's just not nearly enough. If Republicans want to make any inroads, they have to actively support minority concerns. That's a hard battleship to turn around, but it's their only hope.

Sen. Lindsey Graham today:

[Graham] urged Republicans who have backed Mr. Trump to rescind their endorsements, citing the remarks about Judge Curiel and Mr. Trump’s expression of doubt on Sunday that a Muslim judge could remain neutral in the same lawsuit, given Mr. Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim noncitizens entering the country.

“This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy,” Mr. Graham said. “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it,” Mr. Graham added. “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”

Now, this is easier for Graham than for most Republicans since (a) he's always loathed Trump, (b) he never endorsed Trump, and (c) he's not up for reelection. But all props to him anyway. More Republicans should have the spine and common decency to follow suit.

WTF, Donald?

Donald Trump and his mysterious STAR tax credit are back in the news. STAR is a New York state program that lowers the property tax bill for owners of primary residences. This year the amount of the credit is $304, and it's available to anyone with a household income of less than $500,000.

Trump has been getting this credit for years. When it became public earlier this year, he naturally claimed it was all because of a city error and it was being fixed. Nothing is ever Donald's fault, after all. But June 3 was property tax day in New York, and guess what? Aaron Elstein of Crain's New York Business discovered that Trump was still getting his $304. Weird, huh? I mean, you have to apply for this credit, which means that Trump actively sought it out in the first place. But why would a guy with an income in the tens of millions do that? We'll never know: the city of New York says that Trump's application has gone missing. On the other hand, there's this:

Hmmm. No need to reapply, but the city does check your income every year to make sure you still qualify. Trump did—and apparently still does. That's just damn peculiar, isn't it?

Now, unlike some folks, I don't think Trump is too big a liar about his wealth. It's probably nowhere near what he says it is, but there's pretty good reason to think that his net worth is at least $1-2 billion and that his annual income is in the tens of millions. There's just no way that he qualified for STAR. And yet, the state of New York checked for many years in a row and said he did. What does it all mean? Here's my guess:

  • His income is pretty substantial, but he takes advantage of fancy tax accounting to reduce his taxable income to approximately zero. This is why he doesn't want to release his tax returns. Even for his fans, this might seem a little obnoxious.
  • When he's in the public eye, he's a pathological show-off about his wealth: gold plated toilets, private jets, etc. But when he's outside the public eye he's a pathological skinflint. He applies for a $304 tax credit. He tries to weasel out of a $1 million donation to vets. He transfers the salary of his longtime personal bodyguard to his campaign. He's bizarrely unwilling to make charitable contributions.

The guy's just—wait. What's that? We're receiving more Trump news over the transom before I can even finish this post? Sigh. Sock it to me, Bloomberg:

An embattled Donald Trump urgently rallied his most visible supporters to defend his attacks on a federal judge's Mexican ancestry during a conference call on Monday in which he ordered them to question the judge's credibility and impugn reporters as racists.

"We will overcome," Trump said, according to two supporters who were on the call....When former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer interrupted the discussion to inform Trump that his own campaign had asked surrogates to stop talking about the lawsuit in an e-mail on Sunday, Trump repeatedly demanded to know who sent the memo, and immediately overruled his staff.

"Take that order and throw it the hell out," Trump said.

Told the memo was sent by Erica Freeman, a staffer who circulates information to surrogates, Trump said he didn't know her...."Are there any other stupid letters that were sent to you folks?" Trump said. "That's one of the reasons I want to have this call, because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren't so smart."

"We will overcome"? Seriously, Donald? That's the first phrase that comes to mind when you're orchestrating an obscenely racist campaign to smear a judge of Hispanic heritage? Apparently so: "The people asking the questions—those are the racists," he told the folks on the conference call. So I guess "we shall overcome" is totally appropriate.

For the record, Trump hired Erica Freeman six weeks ago to coordinate with his surrogates. I guess he's already forgotten. Presumably she takes orders from Paul Manafort or some similar mucky-muck, so I guess they're all idiots too.

I don't think I've ever come across another person more a slave to their hormones than Donald Trump. No matter what the stakes, he just can't rein himself in. He has to attack in the most boorish way imaginable and he can't stop. Or maybe it's worse: his hormones are OK except when the stakes are the highest. Jesus. Can you imagine what might have happened if Trump had been president during the Cuban Missile Crisis? That's assuming you'd be alive to ponder this question, of course.

In other news, Hillary Clinton acted like a normal human being today and therefore got no press attention. All for the best, I suppose. When your enemies are digging themselves a hole, why take away the shovel?