A Fresh Start?

David Frum is persuading me this morning that the tweetstorm can be a valuable medium after all. He is not buying Michael Smerconish's suggestion that we should all give Donald Trump a fresh start:

Trump economic advisor Anthony Scaramucci took to the pages of the Financial Times yesterday to tout the bold, innovative plans in store for the American economy:

This could literally have been written by Paul Krugman any time in the past eight years. Needless to say, Republicans in Congress refused to give it the time of day. It was socialism! It was reckless! It was debt busting! It would lead to hyperinflation! And maybe worst of all, it was Keynesianism!

But now it's edging closer and closer to Republican orthodoxy. I wonder how long it will be until Paul Ryan issues an entire roadmap explaining how fiscal stimulus is just what the country needs, and now that Republicans are in charge the country will finally get it?

Shorter Kelly Kleiman: Before Democrats devolve into internecine warfare, let's actually figure out what happened on Tuesday. Was it a whitelash? Sulky Bernie supporters? Lack of enthusiasm from blacks and Latinos? Voter suppression? Right now, we're flying blind, with only some crude data from exit polls and a few first attempts to make sense of the county-level data.

I'll add one thing: whatever the answer turns out to be, it's going to involve a shift of only a few percentage points. Everyone should be careful not to draw overly sweeping conclusions from this, even if it does make for good clickbait.

Hopper wants to hide and pretend that Tuesday never happened. Hilbert is still a bit out of focus at the moment, but he's facing the future with purpose and determination. Which cat are you? Which cat will you be next week?

Dean Baker:

Trump got elected by making many promises that he will not be able to keep. Rebuilding an economy in which the benefits of growth are broadly shared is a great idea, but Donald Trump is not going to bring back the coal mining jobs lost in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and elsewhere....We should make sure that people regularly are informed about President Trump’s progress in bringing back coal mining jobs to Appalachia.

This is absolutely true. But I wonder if it matters. Ronald Reagan got credit for the economic boom of the 80s merely by loudly and persistently taking credit for it. He said his tax cuts would hypercharge the economy, and when the economy finally recovered he took a victory lap. It didn't matter that his tax cuts had barely anything to do with it.

I suspect Trump can play the same game. He will make extravagant promises, and make them loudly enough that a lot of people are convinced. If he passes an infrastructure bill, for example, he'll tout it as the greatest job-producing machine for blue-collar workers ever in American history—and there's a good chance his fans will believe him even if they don't personally get a job building infrastructure.

The same may well be true of lots of other things. I can easily envisage Trump enacting a lot of fairly modest bills but selling them as a huge sea change in the way America is run.1 If he says it often enough, people will believe it. Maybe.

1Along with some big ones, of course. I'm just saying that even in the areas where he can't do the stuff he promised, he'll simply lie about it and lots of people will believe him.

The Trump Era Begins

Today brings three miscellaneous harbingers of life in Trump's America. First, here is Harry Reid on Trump:

I have heard more stories in the past 48 hours of Americans living in fear of their own government and their fellow Americans than I can remember hearing in five decades in politics. Hispanic Americans who fear their families will be torn apart, African Americans being heckled on the street, Muslim Americans afraid to wear a headscarf, gay and lesbian couples having slurs hurled at them and feeling afraid to walk down the street holding hands. American children waking up in the middle of the night crying, terrified that Trump will take their parents away. Young girls unable to understand why a man who brags about sexually assaulting women has been elected president.

Trump could say something about this if he wanted to. The election is over, after all. Hell, it would make him look statesmanlike. But apparently he doesn't want to.

Second, here is James Fallows on foreign trade:

I suppose plenty of liberals are happy with this state of affairs, but Fallows is right. If your beef with TPP revolves around intellectual property issues, then fine. But if you're pretending it's bad because it would hurt American workers, you're engaging in the same cheap populism as Trump. Ceding trade leadership to China will do no one in the United States any good.

Finally, here is Caitlin Owens on Obamacare:

The pre-existing conditions ban will stay? Huh? How do you do that without also keeping the subsidies and the individual mandate? It would bankrupt every insurance company in America. Most likely, I suppose, this is just standard Trumpian deception. He'll keep the pre-existing conditions ban, but surround it with so many qualifiers that it's meaningless.

The Medicaid thing, however, is actually interesting. There's no reason that Trump couldn't keep the Medicaid expansion in place, arguing that it's not "really" Obamacare. What's more, I wonder how many red states would adopt it? If Trump endorses it, and holding out is no longer a big middle finger to Obama, a whole lot of red-state governors might suddenly discover that it's a pretty good deal for their residents after all. This will come right after they decide that a big slug of deficit spending to stimulate the economy is also a great idea.

From The Hill:

Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, communications director Jennifer Palmieri and other Clinton aides sought to provide explanations during a private conference call Thursday with supporters of the Democratic nominee for a loss that to many came out of nowhere.

....At one point on the call, Podesta noted that Comey is the guy “who we think may have cost us the election,” according to one Clinton surrogate who relayed details about the call to The Hill.

Another unidentified aide also seemed to blame Comey. “We saw turnout down and didn't do nearly as well as we thought. Something happened and it happened in a pretty steady way late in the race,” the aide said, according to the surrogate.

Maybe we're all just kidding ourselves. Who knows? But what else happened in the final ten days of the campaign that would explain a sudden, steady erosion like this?

UPDATE: I missed this earlier, but before the election Nate Silver estimated that Comey's letter produced something like a 2 percent drop in support for Hillary Clinton. Needless to say, if this is really the case it's more than enough to account for her loss.

Several months ago I wrote about a new study that compared lead poisoning and crime rates at the census tract level in St. Louis. This is one of the most detailed, neighborhood-level studies I've seen, and the authors reached a simple conclusion: "We uncovered a relatively strong effect of lead on behavior, especially violent behavior."

Today, Andrew Gelman took a look at this study. My first response was "Uh oh." Gelman tends to specialize in debunking bad statistics, so this might not go well. But in the end, Gelman was convinced:

I had a bit of a skeptical reaction—not about the effects of lead, I have no idea about that—but on the statistics....So I contacted the authors of the paper and one of them, Erik Nelson, did some analyses for me.

First he ran the basic regression—no Poisson, no spatial tricks, just regression of log crime rate on lead exposure and index of social/economic disadvantage....Then I asked for a scatterplot: log crime rate vs. lead exposure, indicating census tracts with three colors tied to the terciles of disadvantage....He also fit a separate regression line for each tercile of disadvantage. As you can see, the relation between lead and crime is strong, especially for census tracts with less disadvantage.

....In summary: the data are what they are. The correlation seems real, not just an artifact of a particular regression specification. It’s all observational so we shouldn’t overinterpret it, but the pattern seems worth sharing.

As I said in the original post, this is yet another ecological study, which shows correlation but not necessarily causation. Still, there are a lot of ecological studies from all over the world, with more coming on a regular basis, and they all show the same thing. So it's reassuring that this particular study passes the Gelman test. The relationship between childhood lead poisoning and violent crime is getting stronger all the time.

Apparently Donald Trump is struggling with the whole idea of being president-elect. Yesterday, following a day of protests against his presidency, we initially got the Trump who had his Twitter account taken away by his handlers during the election:

Then, a few hours later, we got the new Trump, totally dedicated to unity and free expression:

It's almost like there's literally a little angel and a little devil sitting on Trump's shoulders telling him what to do. This does not bode well for the next four years.

Fuck You, James Comey

When an election is close, you can blame pretty much anything for your loss. There are dozens of people, events, and movements that can make a difference of 1 percent or so. In this election, you can blame Hillary Clinton, Berniebros, Facebook, Jill Stein, neoliberalism, the DNC, white racism, CNN, Obamacare, or anything else you want. They all deserve a share of the blame, so pick your favorite and go to town.

As for myself, I blame Emailgate. In a purely abstract way, I almost admire the ability of Republicans to elevate a self-evident molehill into a groundless smear on Hillary Clinton for the tenth or twentieth time and still get anyone to pay attention to it. It took dogged persistence and a wide cast of characters to make it happen: Trey Gowdy, Judicial Watch, Julian Assange, a rotating bench of judges, Vladimir Putin, a gullible press corps, Jason Chaffetz, the FBI, and many more. But if we're going to choose one particular person who managed to hand the White House to a buffoonish game show host, it's FBI director James Comey, the guy who inexplicably released a letter a week before the election that yet again implied some kind of vague, amorphous wrongdoing on the part of Hillary Clinton. Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg report that Trump's comeback picked up real steam only after the letter was released:

Trump’s analysts had detected this upsurge in the electorate even before FBI Director James Comey delivered his Oct. 28 letter to Congress announcing that he was reopening his investigation into Clinton’s e-mails. But the news of the investigation accelerated the shift of a largely hidden rural mass of voters toward Trump.

....After Comey, that movement of older, whiter voters became newly evident. It’s what led Trump’s campaign to broaden the electoral map in the final two weeks and send the candidate into states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan that no one else believed he could win (with the exception of liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, who deemed them “Brexit states”). Even on the eve of the election Trump’s models predicted only a 30 percent likelihood of victory.

The message Trump delivered to those voters was radically different from anything they would hear from an ordinary Republican: a bracing screed that implicated the entire global power structure—the banks, the government, the media, the guardians of secular culture—in a dark web of moral and intellectual corruption. And Trump insisted that he alone could fix it.

Comey provided the match that Trump used to light the country on fire. People who decided on their vote during the last week—after Comey wrote his letter—broke strongly for Trump. People who decided on their vote during the last couple of days—after Comey cleared Clinton—broke about evenly. Did that letter make a difference of 1 percent? No one will ever be able to prove or disprove it, but I'll bet it did.

I would be fascinated to know if Hillary Clinton's data team picked up the same warning signs at about the same time.