I'm a big proponent of high-quality, universal pre-K. At the same time, I understand that the evidence in favor of it isn't rock solid. Overall, I think the case for pre-K is fairly strong, but it's a victim of the fact that it's really hard to conduct solid research on long-term outcomes. In particular, there's always the problem of scale: even if you get great results from a pilot program, there's no guarantee that you can scale it nationwide and still maintain the same quality. This is a particular problem with Head Start, the longest-running and best known pre-K program in the country. It has been scaled, but multiple studies have suggested that it's had disappointing results.

But time marches on, and this allows us to conduct new research as Head Start kids grow up. The longer the baseline, the better chance we have to truly measure differences in children who attended Head Start. On that score, we have some good news and bad news from the Hamilton Project.

First the good news. The study compared children from the same families where one attended Head Start and the other didn't. Their birth cohort started in 1974, and they used the 2010 edition of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, so their oldest subjects were in their thirties. What they found was more positive than previous surveys. For example, here's the result on higher education (which includes licenses and certificates):

The Head Start kids started and completed higher education at substantially higher rates than kids who didn't attend. The study shows similar results for high school graduation.

So that's great. But one of the things we've learned about pre-K is that its biggest impact is often on non-cognitive traits. And sure enough, the Hamilton study showed strong effects on self-control and self-esteem:

So what's the bad news? I should more accurately call this cautionary news, but take a look at those green bars. They show Head Start having a bigger effect compared to other preschools than it does compared to no preschool at all. That can only happen if the other preschools were collectively worse than doing nothing. In some cases the effect is pretty large, which in turn means these other preschools were a lot worse than doing nothing at all.

This is possible, of course. But it doesn't seem all that likely, which raises questions about whether the data analysis here has some flaws. For the time being, then, I consider this tentatively positive news about Head Start. But I'll wait for other experts to review the study before I celebrate too much.

Earlier this week the AP wrote a story delivering the astonishing news that Hillary Clinton once met with a Nobel-Prize-winning microcredit guru that she had been friends with for 30 years. This was part of a piece claiming that 85 of 154 people she met with as Secretary of State had also contributed to the Clinton Foundation. That's more than half of her meetings—except that this number doesn't count anyone in a government position, which accounts for the vast, vast majority of her meetings. They left that part out in the promotion of the piece, leading people to believe that literally half of all her meetings over four years as Secretary of State had been with Foundation donors. Then, just to add insult to injury, they refused to release the list of people she had met with, which almost certainly would have driven a stake through the entire article.

Today they followed up with this:

It's a conspiracy: The 2016 campaign features one candidate who warned against the "vast right-wing conspiracy" and another who was a leader of the so-called "birther" movement.

Donald Trump and his surrogates hint at a mysterious "illness" afflicting rival Hillary Clinton. Pushing back, Clinton warns of murky ties between Trump and the Russian government, insinuating that her Republican opponent may be a puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin...[and] she is preparing a Reno, Nevada, address on Thursday that will accuse Trump of supporting an "alt-right" campaign that presents "a divisive and dystopian view of America."

....She described Trump Wednesday night on CNN as a candidate who is campaigning on anger and hatred. "Donald Trump has shown us who he is and we ought to believe him," she said. "He is taking a hate movement mainstream. He has brought it into his campaign. He's bringing it to our communities and our country."

So let's get this straight. Trump's conspiracy theories are (a) Obama was born in Kenya and (b) Hillary Clinton has serious health problems. Both are demonstrably untrue.

Clinton's conspiracy theories are (a) Trump has a surprising number of Russia-friendly policies and (b) Trump appeals to angry white nationalists and uses extreme language. Both are demonstrably true.

Ladies and gentlemen, your objective and balanced press corps at work.

Immigration hardliner Mark Krikorian finds a silver lining in Donald Trump's ham-handed softening on immigration:

Trump probably just threw away his only remaining chance to win in November with Wednesday’s Jeb Bush impersonation. He won the primaries with immigration control as his marquee issue; had he stuck to his guns, and still lost, the GOP Brain Trust, not to mention the Democrats, would more plausibly have been able to argue that opposition to their agenda was the reason.

....But now that he’s channeling Little Marco and Low-Energy Jeb on immigration, that story line has evaporated....It’s liberating, in a sense. While Trump was still clearly seen as the voice of immigration skepticism, I was worried that his oafish shenanigans would taint the immigration issue, especially if he was defeated by Hillary. But now that he’s no longer that voice in any meaningful sense, I can watch the circus undisturbed. His defeat will be on his head alone.

When a party loses an election, the arguments afterward inevitably coalesce into two sides:

  • We were too extreme. We need to move to the center.
  • We were too moderate. America wants a genuine liberal/conservative.

Republicans have been arguing the latter for years. They've retroactively decided that George Bush wasn't a real conservative. John McCain wasn't a real conservative. Mitt Romney wasn't a real conservative.

But Trump provides them with a problem because he's hard to pigeonhole. He's a hardline conservative on some things, but totally off the reservation on others. So if he loses, the party is going to have a bloody civil war over what to do next.

Krikorian was worried that if an immigration hardliner lost in a landslide, Republicans would conclude that they really did need to compromise on some kind of moderate comprehensive immigration plan and put the issue behind them. He was right to be worried about this. But now he's a happy man. He can plausibly argue that Trump lost because he softened on immigration. This ignores the fact that Trump has been way behind in the polls ever since the conventions and was headed for defeat even before the Great Softening, but at least it's a reed he can cling to. Hope lives on.

The wise new heads surrounding Donald Trump have obviously given up on attracting more than a handful of non-white votes—which is probably a smart move, all things considered—and this means they have to reach out to ever more white voters if they hope to win. This is why, for example, Trump has been saying recently that Hillary Clinton is a terrible bigot who doesn't care about black people. This is certainly not going to attract any black votes, but "Democrats are the real bigots" has been a trope on the white right for years. It might well attract a few more white votes.

But this dynamic can play out in odd ways. Trump's signature issue is immigration, and you'd think that the way to appeal to more whites is to stay tough. But no. It turns out that white voters in the exurbs are a little put off by the whole rapists/thugs/wall schtick, and aren't that keen on an army of jackbooted immigration police rounding up Mexicans and hauling them back south. To appeal to these folks, the wise heads are apparently advising Trump to soften his immigration stance. So now he says "I have never liked the media term mass deportation," and then delivers this little tactical nuke on Sean Hannity's town hall:

No citizenship. Let me go a step further—they'll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there's no amnesty, as such, there's no amnesty, but we work with them. Now, everybody agrees we get the bad ones out. But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I've had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me, and they've said, "Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person who's been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it's so tough, Mr. Trump," I have it all the time. It's a very, very hard thing.

Later on he polled Hannity's audience on what his immigration stance should be. (Seriously.) So Trump has now basically pivoted to the same position as every other Republican: no immigration police; work with the "good" illegal immigrants on a path to legal status; get tough on border security; and this absolutely positively isn't "amnesty" no matter how much it sounds like it. This is pretty much the position that Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz all had, and it's basically the position of the Gang of 8 a few years ago. Until today, Trump attacked this position as craven and weak. Now he's all for it. Gotta win all those exurban soccer moms, after all. The only thing left is for him to casually tell us that "build the wall" was meant kind of metaphorically all along, and most of it will end up being a "virtual wall" of drones and security cameras.

I've been wondering for months why the immigration hardliners were so sure Trump would stick to his guns on this stuff. After all, he's lied about practically everything and shown an eager willingness to change his positions any time he thinks it will benefit him. So what made them think he'd act any differently on immigration?

Beats me. But they're stuck now. They have to defend Trump because he's all they've got. Perhaps the saddest fate is reserved for Ann Coulter, who's launching her new book this week:

Yes, that hit bookstores the very week Trump bailed on immigration. But Coulter is forced to defend Trump anyway, no matter how stupid it makes her look. It couldn't happen to a nicer person.

UPDATE: Apparently Coulter has had second thoughts about defending Trump: "Could be the shortest book tour ever if he's really softening...on immigration," she said this evening. Then she followed up with a bitter and sarcastic rant on Twitter. Sad.

From Media Matters:

Fox News host Sean Hannity, who has been informally advising Donald Trump’s presidential campaign while serving as its primary media cheerleader, has effectively turned his nightly prime-time show into Trump’s second campaign headquarters. According to a Media Matters analysis, Hannity’s program has given Trump what amounts to more than $31 million in free advertising in the form of dozens of fawning interviews with the candidate since Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015.

Hannity has devoted just over 22 hours of airtime to broadcasting interviews with Trump since the launch of Trump’s campaign....These numbers only count the amount of time Hannity spent airing interviews featuring Donald Trump — they do not include the countless time Hannity spends carrying the Trump campaign's water without the candidate present, including similarly fawning interviews with Trump family members, surrogates, and supporters.

This correctly gets across the point that Hannity has been so obsequious in his support for Trump that he practically counts as an arm of the Trump campaign. It's embarrassing to watch. At the same time, I suspect the real value of Hannity's shilling is reasonably close to zero, since I doubt that his show reaches more than a handful of truly undecided voters. Basically, he's just preaching to the choir.

Now, I suppose this could help goose turnout among the true believers, but the Hannity audience probably already votes in large numbers. Realistically, then, Hannity is prostituting himself for hardly any gain. I doubt his $31 million in free advertising is keeping the Clinton campaign up at nights.

From the Time Capsule: Ebola and Donald Trump

Lenny Bernstein of the Washington Post reminds us today of Donald Trump's calm and reassuring response to the Ebola crisis two years ago:

This, of course, fits with Trump's apparent panic toward bodily functions of any sort, as well as his basic callousness. Definitely the kind of guy you want in the White House.

I have my issues with Scott Winship and the way he calculates income and inflation, and in particular I continue to wrestle with his contention that PCE is generally a better way of measuring the cost of living than CPI. That said, he also has some good points to make. This week, on the 20th anniversary of the Welfare Reform Act, he's released a paper suggesting that since it was passed in 1996 child poverty has decreased dramatically—but only if you measure it right. If you measure only cash income, poverty has increased. But if you also account for welfare benefits, as you should, it's gone down. Here's his key chart:

I have a couple of issues with this. I remain skeptical of PCE for this particular kind of measurement, and I doubt that health benefits should be counted as part of a poverty measure. (Winship defends the inclusion of health benefits in an appendix.) Still, the overall picture suggests that actual poverty has been decreasing for a long time, and continued decreasing after 1996. Winship makes the same argument for deep poverty (income less than half the poverty level) and extreme poverty (living on $2 per day).

Is this due to welfare reform? I doubt it. In this and other charts, Winship shows the poverty rate declining since about 1980. I'd guess that this is the reason why:

Roughly speaking, we spend nearly a trillion dollars more on social welfare programs than we did three decades ago. That's about $8,000 per low-income person. This spending increased steadily during the 80s, steadily during the 90s, and steadily during the aughts. The amount of money we've spent dwarfs anything that welfare reform did or didn't do.

More to the point, there's simply no way that this amount of money hasn't reduced poverty. There are really only two alternatives here:

  • Social welfare spending has reduced poverty considerably.
  • Throwing even vast amounts of money at poverty doesn't work, so we might as well give up.

I wouldn't support welfare spending at all if it truly had the minuscule effect that partisan studies sometimes seem to show. I support it because I think it's done some real good. I think it's increased living standards for the poor, increased health care for the poor, and increased food security for the poor. I'd like to see us do more, but not because we haven't made a dent in poverty. I support it because I think it has made a dent.

Yes, Politics Is Sort of a Grubby Business

I've been genuinely confused about the whole Foundationgate thing. Did big donors to the Clinton Foundation get extra special access to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State? By all the evidence, no. They may have tried to get access, but for the most part they didn't. So far I haven't seen any emails that even remotely suggest otherwise. If anything, Hillary seems to have been unusually careful to avoid entanglements with the Foundation.

So what's the problem? I chatted about this on Twitter last night with Rick Hasen, a guy I trust on these kinds of things. But I still came away confused. So here is Hasen at greater length this morning in USA Today. After talking a bit about Donald Trump, he turns to Hillary:

And now revelations from the latest batch of State Department emails released through actions of the group Judicial Watch show that the largest donors to the Clinton Foundation had easy access to Clinton’s inner circle. S. Daniel Abraham, for example, the billionaire behind the Slim Fast diet and a Clinton fundraising bundler, got eight meetings with Clinton while she was secretary of State to discuss Middle East issues he cared about. An AP analysis found that at least 85 people who met with Clinton at the State Department were donors or connected to donors.

None of these things — Trump courting super PAC donors, Clinton getting paid by the wealthiest companies as a private citizen, or Clinton as secretary of State giving access to big donors to her foundation — amounts to criminal activity or even what we might term corruption. In the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, declared that “ingratiation and access are not corruption.”

But there’s still something wrong with a political system in which access goes to the highest bidder. The Clinton team is quick to argue that there’s no evidence the meetings Clinton gave to big donors led to any official actions. But those donors get more than just a picture with a candidate; they get a chance to make their pitch for the policies they want pursued or blocked, a pitch the rest of us don’t get to make because we don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to contribute to campaigns.

This is fine. If the beef with Hillary is that she's an ordinary politician who's more likely to see you if you're (a) important, (b) a party wheelhorse, and (c) an important donor, then I have no argument. I also have no argument that this is unseemly.

But it's also something I can't get too upset about. It's not just that everyone does this. It's not just that everyone in American politics does this. It's the fact that everyone, everywhere, throughout all of human history has done this. It's just the way human societies work. I'm all in favor of trying to reduce the influence of money on politics, but I doubt there's any way to truly make much of a dent in it. And as I've mentioned before, I don't consider it one of our nation's biggest problems anyway.

So here are several possible takes on Hillary:

  1. Powerful people all run in the same circles. They all know each other. They all ask favors from one another. Hillary is part of this circle.
  2. People who are big party donors and big policy influencers have more access to politicians than, say, you or me. On this score, Hillary is a garden variety politician.
  3. Donating to the Clinton Foundation was a well-known requirement for getting a meeting with Hillary.

I've simply seen no evidence of #3, and that includes the AP's strained effort yesterday. Besides, if this were truly well known, by now someone would have come forward to spill the beans.

As for #1 and #2, I don't doubt that they're as true of Hillary as they are of every other politician in the country. This might be an unfortunate state of affairs, but it's certainly no scandal. So I remain confused. If you want to criticize the role of money in politics, that's fine. If you want to criticize the outsize influence of the connected and powerful, that's fine. If you want to criticize Hillary Clinton for being an ordinary part of this system—as Bernie Sanders did—that's fine. (As long as you're not also part of that same system, of course.) But is there some kind of special scandal associated with Hillary in the State Department? I sure don't see it.

Good Morning America’s Amy Robach apparently had a brain fart the other day and referred to blacks as “colored people,” rather than the acceptable—even au courant—"people of color." But why does this stuff keep changing? Why have we gone from colored to negro to black to African-American to POC? I was going to write a bit about this, but John McWhorter says precisely what I was going to say, so I'll just let him say it:

“So what do they want to be called now???” one might ask about black people, differently abled people, cognitively challenged people, and others. However, the rolling terminology is not based on willful petulance or a deliberate way of keeping other people off guard. It stems from the way euphemism works—or better, always starts to work but doesn’t.

Namely, a euphemism is designed to step around an unpleasant association. When it comes to societal terms, the idea is to rise above pejorative connotations that society has linked to the thing in question. Hence while cripple was once a perfectly civil term, negative associations accreted upon it like rust or gnats, such that handicapped was felt as a neutral-sounding innovation. However, after a time, that word was accreted in the same way, such that disabled felt more humane. Yet, as we have seen, even that didn’t last.

The lesson is that when there are negative associations with something or someone, periodic renewal of terminology is not a feint, but something to be expected. Until the thoughts or opinions in question change, we can expect the rust to settle in, the gnats to swarm back on—and the only solution, albeit eternally temporary, is to fashion a new term....The rolling terminology, then, is an attempt to refashion thought, not to be annoying.

And that's why these things seem to change so often. We're trying to break the bad associations of the past, so we create a new word. A few decades later, if those bad associations still exist, we try again with another new word. This keeps happening until the associations are finally and completely severed. Needless to say, that can take a while.

Bernie Sells Out, According to Bernie Fans

Bernie Sanders has finally announced the next step in his political revolution, but he's learning that it's no easy task to ride herd on a bunch of idealists who have been promised the moon:

The announcement of the group, which will be livestreamed Wednesday night, also comes as the majority of its staff resigned after the appointment last Monday of Jeff Weaver, Mr. Sanders’s former campaign manager, to lead the organization. Several people familiar with the organization said eight core staff members have stepped down. The group’s entire organizing department quit this week, along with people working in digital and data positions.

....“I left and others left because we were alarmed that Jeff would mismanage this organization as he mismanaged the campaign,” she said, expressing concern that Mr. Weaver would “betray its core purpose by accepting money from billionaires and not remaining grass-roots funded and plowing that billionaire cash into TV instead of investing it in building a genuine movement.”

Live by the sword, die by the sword. But if Bernie isn't pure enough for these folks, where will they go next? Jill Stein?