Hey there, fellow Californians! Are you confused by the phone-book-sized "guide" we all got for the November election? I've got you covered. My guide to the 17 initiatives on the ballot this year weighs in at a svelte 1,600 words, which comes to a mere 100 words per initiative. I usually post this closer to Election Day, but with everyone doing the early voting thing these days, I figured I should put it up earlier. You can read it here.

I should note that I'm not generally a fan of initiatives, and I'm especially not a fan of a few specific things that are common to a lot of initiatives. I list these at the top of the guide, and I point them out whenever they're relevant. That way you can see what's motivating me, and can decide for yourself whether to take my quirks seriously. Happy voting!

Melania Trump

With only 22 days left in the campaign, Melania Trump did her best today to defend her husband, telling CNN that Donald's "grab 'em by the pussy" remark was actually all Billy Bush's fault:

Melania Trump says her husband was "egged on" in the 2005 tape in which he made lewd comments about his own sexually aggressive behavior toward women...."And as you can see from the tape, the cameras were not on — it was only a mic. And I wonder if they even knew that the mic was on," she said, referring to Trump and NBC's "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush.

She said they were engaged in "boy talk, and he was led on — like, egged on — from the host to say dirty and bad stuff."

The cameras weren't on! So there's no telling what was really happening on that bus. It's funny, isn't it? I always figured Donald for the strong kind of guy who couldn't be pushed around by a muffinhead like Billy Bush, but lately I've begun to wonder if we ever really knew Billy. The man apparently has Svengali-like powers that, um...what was I just saying? It seems to have escaped me.

Well, let's move on. Last year, it was conventional wisdom that even if Trump lost the election, his businesses would win big. But that's no longer so certain. Here's the New York Times:

An online travel company, Hipmunk, has found that bookings for Trump hotels on its site fell 58 percent during the first half of 2016, compared with the same period a year ago.

Here's New York magazine on Trump's new hotel in Washington DC:

Even with a prime location near the White House, swanky interiors, and aggressive promotion by the candidate himself, empty rooms have forced the hotel to reduce rates during a peak season....Last weekend bankers and dignitaries from around the world descended on Washington for the annual World Bank-IMF meetings. But just a few days before the conference, rooms were not only still available at Trump International, they were heavily discounted....All other five-star D.C. downtown hotels were sold out. By Wednesday, October 5, weekend stays in the deluxe rooms were marked down to $404 per night on Trump International’s own website. The more luxurious 500-square-foot executive rooms, with a city view and marble bath, were only $484. By comparison, at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown, the only available rooms were $1,139 per night, according to Hotels.com.

And here's the Washington Post on data from FourSquare:

The app, which allows its users to “check in” at locations they visit, shows that foot traffic to Trump-branded casinos, hotels and golf courses continues to be lower than it was before his candidacy, especially in blue states.

Foursquare and its sister app, Swarm, have used their data on the foot traffic of more than 50 million users to investigate how businesses are performing in the past for retailers, hedge funds, real estate developers and others....Foursquare data shows that the visit share to Trump properties in September 2016 was down 19 percent compared with two years prior.

Perhaps there's some justice in the world, after all.

A guy in Santa Clarita called police Sunday morning after firing a warning shot in the air at a knife-wielding clown:

The clown fled the scene on foot, and the homeowner called 911, said Sgt. Cortland Myers of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s station. Deputies responded to the scene and could not find a knife-wielding clown, Myers said.

....Was there in fact a knife-wielding clown in the suburbs of Santa Clarita?...Deputies did discover a man with a clown mask hiding in some bushes a few blocks away from where the warning shots were fired — a sighting “unusual for that time of morning,” Myers said.

However, “the homeowner didn’t identify this clown as the correct clown,” Myers said. “His guy had a full clown costume and a mask, and the clown he saw was taller.”

So how did this story end, anyway? Well, the police didn't find a clown, but they did find that the caller was in possession of weapons and narcotics and arrested him. I guess the clowns won this round.

The Wall Street Journal takes a look today at the latest document dump from the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server. Unsurprisingly, the State Department disagreed with many of the classification decisions made by the FBI, and a senior State official, Patrick Kennedy, lobbied to have them changed. Then there's this:

When the FBI official refused to accede to the request, according to the summary, Mr. Kennedy went to a senior FBI official and offered what the official called a quid pro quo: “in exchange for marking the email unclassified, State would reciprocate by allowing the FBI to place more agents in countries where they are presently forbidden,’’ according to a summary of the FBI interview of the unidentified witness.

Alternatively, there's this:

A senior FBI official told investigators that Mr. Kennedy reached out to him seeking help on the email issue, saying he wanted a different classification that would “allow him to archive the document in the basement of the [State Department] never to be seen again.’’ In response, the FBI official said he would “look into the email matter if Kennedy would provide authority concerning the FBI’s request to increase its personnel in Iraq.’’ That arrangement was ultimately rejected by others at the FBI.

So either State offered a sleazy deal or else the FBI offered a sleazy deal. I guess we'll never know which.

But I have an entirely different question: Why is the FBI involved in classification decisions regarding State documents about foreign affairs? I've been a little fuzzy all along about where the classification decisions came from, and this is the first time that it's seemed absolutely clear. But why? I thought the CIA and other members of the intelligence community did this stuff.

Also, no one knows what the hell is classified and what isn't. It's a mess.

According to Glassdoor, here are the 50 highest-paying majors during the first five years out of college:

Bottom line: get into either a technical field or one that's highly unionized. Avoid biology for some reason. Alternatively, major in whatever you want and then adjust your lifestyle to your income.

Now some of you oldsters might be thinking that kids have it pretty cushy these days. $70,000 for a computer science major! Hell, even the social worker making $40,000 doesn't sound bad. Why, my first job out of college paid $15,000 and I was happy to get it.

So as a public service, here's the exact same chart, but adjusted for inflation since 1980:

Using the dollars you remember from 1980, the CS major makes $24,000 and the social worker makes $14,000. It doesn't sound quite so cushy anymore, does it? The lesson here is that most of us underestimate the rate of inflation since our college days: prices haven't gone up 50 percent or a hundred percent since 1980, they've gone up 3x. It's hard to internalize that. Hell, it doesn't seem right to me, and I'm staring at the numbers right now.

Jobs that require an engineering degree pay pretty well. But they've always paid pretty well. There's nothing magical about what engineers and coders are making in 2016.

The LA Times copy desk needs to cool it on the clickbait headlines:

The Fed says inflation is low but you don't agree. Here's why you both might be right

The motivation for the accompanying article is a recent poll showing that 44 percent of Americans don't trust the government's economic data. This, in turn, is motivated in part by Donald Trump's insistence that the Fed is keeping interest rates low to help Hillary Clinton despite the specter of massive inflation.

However, the bulk of the article is about the technical difficulties of calculating inflation, which can produce massive differences like these between the two leading inflation indexes for August:

  • CPI: +1.09 percent
  • PCE: +0.96 percent

Obviously somebody is rigging the data here, amirite?

Despite the obvious lack of any chicanery in the inflation figures, the article quotes nutbag Peter Schiff, who insists the government is cooking the books, and "contrarian" David Stockman, who believes he's come up with a more accurate inflation measure by rejiggering the government's calculation to give more weight to prices that are going up the fastest. The article also mentions that inflation might be higher in one city than another, and that sometimes inflation seems higher than it is due a rise in a very visible product like gasoline.

But nowhere in the article does it say flatly that the conspiracy theorists are wrong, and inflation is what it is. It reads more like a he-said-she-said account of whether the government is playing fair. And the headline just reinforces that. This is not good journalism

This is a very slow Monday morning. Donald Trump is blathering about all the usual suspects. Iraq's military says the assault of Mosul is going great. Voters, allegedly, continue to be pissed off. Luckily, the Daily Mirror is digging deep to find us some real news:

The takeaway from this calendar is that even kittens don't seem to like Vladimir Putin much. I always knew cats had good taste.

Also, take note of the April Putin. I swear, he looks like he's posing for Tiger Beat or something.

Who needs superfast internet, anyway?

A few dozen cities in America have next-generation broadband networks that offer speeds of 1 gigabit per second — about 50 times faster than a typical connection. These super-fast connections were supposed to revolutionize Americans’ experience of the internet and rev up the country’s noncompetitive broadband market.

....But six years after the first super-fast connections went live, even proponents concede no “killer” gigabit application has emerged. Most of their potential, critics say, is simply ignored by users. And building gigabit networks nationwide would be a colossally expensive undertaking.

I find this amusing because my local cable company is moving toward gigabit internet and has flooded my TV with breathless ads about what we can do with it. So far, the answer is: make 3D sugar concoctions, play some kind of holographic game of tag, and force grandpa to dance by taking control of his artificial digital legs.

"That's what I'm going to do with Gigablast," says the 3D food kid at the end of his ad. If that's really the case, it makes me less likely to bother with it, not more.

It's 23 days until this sordid campaign finally ends. Polls currently suggest that (a) Hillary Clinton will become president, (b) Democrats will regain control of the Senate, and (c) Republicans will maintain control of the House. Let's assume that's how things turn out. What happens next? A few things:

  • The Republican Party will completely disown and repudiate Donald Trump.
  • Mitch McConnell will be a nonentity. He doesn't pretend to be a national leader, especially if he's in the minority, and he's shown pretty often that he's willing to do deals in a fairly conventional way. He's a caucus manager, not a visionary.
  • With few other choices around, Paul Ryan becomes the undisputed leader of the Republican Party.
  • After the election Republicans will do their usual "autopsy," and it will say the usual thing: Demographic trends are working against them, and they have to reach out to non-white, non-male voters if they don't want to fade slowly into irrelevance. In the last 25 years, they've won two presidential elections by the barest hair's breadth and lost the other five—and this is only going to get worse in the future.
  • Hillary Clinton will remain the pragmatic dealmaker she is. And despite the current bucketloads of anti-Hillary red meat that Republicans are tossing around right now, most of them trust her to deal honestly when it comes to political bargains.

This means that the next four years depend entirely on Paul Ryan. So what will he do? I maintain that this is a very open, very interesting question.

I've gotten some pushback lately for a couple of posts where I've gone soft on Ryan. But here's the thing: when it comes to Ryan's budget policies, I have nothing but contempt for him. Here's a typical post of mine from a few years ago, and there are plenty more just like it. But it's foolish to insist that simply because someone disagrees with my politics they're either stupid or irredeemably evil. Ryan is neither.

So what will Ryan do? One possibility, of course, is that he'll take the simplest route: endless obstruction, just like 2009. Republicans may be a divided party, but one thing they all agree on is that they hate Hillary Clinton and they want to prevent her from doing anything.

But there's another possibility. Ryan is not a racial fearmonger. He's always been open to immigration reform. He's consistently shown genuine disgust for Donald Trump. He's been open to making low-key deals in the past. He's smart enough to know precisely the depth of the demographic hole Republicans are in. And despite being conservative himself, he may well realize that the GOP simply can't stay in thrall to the tea party caucus forever if it wants to survive. On a personal level, he saw what they did to John Boehner, and he may well be sick and tired of them himself.

It's also possible that he wants to run for president in 2020, and if that's the case he'll do better if he has some real accomplishments to show over the next four years. Running on a platform of scorched-earth obstruction might get the tea partiers excited, but that's not enough to win the presidency.

So maybe Ryan decides that now is the time to try to reform the Republican Party. Once he wins the speakership again, he makes clear to the tea partiers that they're finished as power brokers: he's going to pass bills even if it means depending on Democratic support to do it. He reaches out to women and minorities. He passes immigration reform. He makes sure that budgets get passed and we don't default on the national debt. He works behind the scenes with Hillary Clinton in standard horsetrading mode: she gets some things she wants, but only in return for some things conservatives want.

This could go a long way toward making him the next president of the United States. If he plays his cards right, Clinton might suffer with her base for selling them out on some of the deals she makes. Ryan will get the tea partiers under control and have some accomplishments to run on. He'll soften the nonwhite disgust with the party enough to pick up some minority votes. Maybe the economy helps him out by going soft in 2019. And he's already got good looks, youth, and an agreeable speaking style going for him.

So which Paul Ryan will we get in 2017? The movement conservative who breathes fire and insists that Hillary Clinton will never get one red cent for any of her satanic priorities? Or a conservative but realistic leader who's willing to make deals as a way of bringing the Republican Party back from the brink of destruction that Donald Trump has led them to?

If it's the latter, this presents liberals with a real quandary: just what are they willing to give Ryan in return for passage of some of their priorities? That's worth some thought just in case Ryan decides to take the smart route.

Did prime-age men leave the labor force in huge numbers during the Great Recession and then never come back? One way to test this is to look at the trend from 1976-2007 and then extend the line to 2016. If it matches the actual data from 2016, then nothing special happened. The labor market just kept following the same long-term trend as always. Via Brad DeLong, the chart on the right shows what this looks like.

For most age groups, the extended trendline matches the 2016 data. Nothing special happened during the Great Recession and the recovery. There are two exceptions: the blue line and the purple line, which are for men aged 25-34. In that age group, men left the labor force in big numbers during the recession and then stayed out. But why did they stay out? Gabriel Chodorow-Reich has some data to share:

The plurality of the decline in participation is due to increased schooling. This seems benign. The increase in those reporting disability is less so. Using 2000 as a benchmark, the transition rates back into employment for this group also seem more elastic to a tighter labor market, which is consistent with other evidence.

I'm not sure the increase in schooling is all that benign. If it's real, that's fine. But to the extent that it reflects young men hanging out in school merely because they can't find a job, it's not so fine. If that represents half the school total, then we have about half a percent of young men in school waiting for a job to come along; another half percent who want a job and can't find one; and nearly a full percent who are—or claim to be—disabled. All by themselves, those add up to two full points of non-recovery from the Great Recession.

But why only young men, and not any age group over 35, all of whom have recovered to trend levels? The answer is almost certainly not, "Because millennials are treated like crap, you idiot. What do you expect?" But what is the answer? It is a mystery.