Good 'ol Pew Research. They do some intriguing work sometimes. Today they released "Partisan Conflict and Congressional Outreach," which analyzed 200,000 press releases and Facebook posts from members of Congress using "methods from the emerging field of computational social science" in order to "quantify how often legislators themselves 'go negative' in their outreach to the public." Here's the basic finding:

The most moderate Republican expresses disagreement at the same rate as the most extreme Democrat. The average Republican expresses disagreement at about three times the rate of the average Democrat.

But maybe this is all nice, polite disagreement? Nope. Pew categorized negativity as both "disagreement" and "indignant disagreement,"  which they helpfully define as "a type of disagreement that also expresses anger, resentment or annoyance." Republicans expressed indignant disagreement at three times the rate of Democrats. And if we turn our attention to Facebook, there's a reason for this:

Sadly, this is not broken down by party. I would be (genuinely!) interested in knowing whether indignant disagreement increases Facebook engagement as much among Democrats as Republicans. Something for the next report, I guess.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says President Obama held back the economy:

Mr. Mnuchin, in his first interview since his confirmation last week as Treasury secretary, said slower economic growth since the financial crisis had primarily been an anomaly and a result of Obama administration policies that can be reversed....“We think it’s critical that we get back to more normalized economic growth. More normalized economic growth is 3% or higher,” Mr. Mnuchin said.

Huh. But what about the strength of the dollar?

He said the strong U.S. dollar is a reflection of confidence in the U.S. economy and its performance compared with the rest of the world and was a “good thing” in the long run....The dollar has appreciated by 23% over the past three years and added to those gains since the November election.

“I think the strength of the dollar has a lot to do with kind of where our economy is relative to the rest of the world, and that the dollar continues to be the leading currency in the world, the leading reserve currency and a reflection of the confidence that people have in the U.S. economy,” Mr. Mnuchin said.

So which is it? Did Obama's policies tank the American economy? Or are they responsible for stronger growth than anywhere else in the world, as reflected in the strength of the dollar? The Trumpies really ought to make up their minds about whether America is a trade-blighted hellhole or the best performing economy in the world.

Here are a few immigration headlines plucked at random from Google News:

  • New York Times: Immigrants Hide, Fearing Capture on ‘Any Corner’
     
  • LA Times: 'You can't even walk anywhere without fearing you may get caught': Immigrants in U.S. illegally prepare for possible deportation
     
  • USA Today: It's a frightening day to be an undocumented immigrant in America
     
  • Fox32 Chicago: Immigrants fearing deportation under Trump change routines, won't even go outside
     
  • WFAA Dallas: Immigration fears: Dreamer arrested in Dallas

It's not (yet) clear that ICE is rounding up any more immigrants than in the past, but they're doing it way more loudly and with way more headlines than before. As you'd expect, this is scaring the hell out of people. Ed Kilgore comments:

“Fear in the immigrant community” is itself a crucial tool for this administration given the signs that it would prefer that as many as possible of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country decide to self-deport. It is certainly less expensive and visible than running down huge numbers of people, holding them in detention facilities, and then shipping them out of the country.

....If the self-deportation strategy doesn’t work substantively or politically, then we will find out whether Kelly and Trump have the stomach for the police-state tactics that would be necessary to deport many millions of people by force.

My guess is a little different. I doubt that this noisy crackdown will cause very many undocumented workers to go back to Mexico or Central America. This is not the first time they've been the target of a grandstanding politician, and for the most part they'll ride it out, just as they have with previous crackdowns.

However, it might very well dissuade further illegal immigration. What with the wall and the increased border security and the raids, a fair number of people might decide that the benefits of migrating to El Norte aren't worth the risk. In other words, Trump's style of TV-driven governing with little substance behind it might actually work here.

The question, of course, is how long it will work. Not forever, because TV will soon get bored and move on to something new no matter how much ICE tries to amp up the outrages to get ever more coverage. So maybe it buys Trump six months or a year. After that, if he really wants to cut down the flow of illegal immigration across the border, he's going to have to adopt an actually effective policy, something he hasn't yet shown an aptitude for. He's also going to have to deal with all the good Republican business owners who are going to get increasingly antsy for as long as this keeps up. They need workers, and they won't be happy if Trump gets too carried away with all this.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback slashed taxes when he took office five years ago, and since then the state's economy has, for lack of a better word, sucked. The state legislature, which eagerly supported Brownback at first, has finally gotten tired of the obvious problems the tax cuts have produced, and tried this month to raise more revenue. It almost worked, but Brownback vetoed the bill and the state senate fell just short of overturning it. So the tax cuts stay in place for now, and the Kansas budget remains enormously in the hole.

Allow me to illustrate how this has worked out using my new favorite toy, GeoFRED. Here is employment growth over the past year:

Woot! Kansas isn't in last place. It's fourth from last. Here's growth of gross state product in 2015 (the most recent year available):

Better! Kansas is 8th from last (counting Alaska, not shown). When the 2016 figures are available, maybe Kansas will move up to ninth or tenth from last.

There you have it. A picture is worth a thousand words, so that's 2,000 words I've just saved you. You're welcome.

Bloomberg reports on Ivanka Trump's first foray into policymaking:

Members of the House and Senate met with the president’s eldest daughter in the Roosevelt Room at the White House last week to discuss her proposed child care tax benefit, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting....It’s not clear whether Ivanka Trump is finding much appetite on Capitol Hill for her proposal. A deduction for child care expenses is both costly and regressive because it would favor wealthier families with two working parents. The deduction would cost the federal government $500 billion in revenue over a decade, according to an estimate by the Tax Foundation, a politically conservative, nonprofit research group.

Let's see. It would cost $500 billion and fund a touchy-feely welfare program. On the bright side, it would benefit wealthy families more than the poor. Decisions, decisions....

As for the regressiveness, here's a quick stylized example for a plan that allows, say, a deduction of up to $5,000 for child care expenses:

  • Income of $500,000, tax bracket = 39.6 percent, total value of deduction = $1,980
  • Income of $70,000, tax bracket = 15 percent, total value of deduction = $750
  • Income of $25,000, tax bracket doesn't matter because you're not paying any income taxes, total value of deduction = $0.

Everybody in the world with even a passing knowledge of tax policy is well aware of all this. Tax deductions are next to useless for the working and middle classes. That's why anyone who actually wants to help the non-rich proposes tax credits with a fairly low income cap.

In other words, this is typical Trump. Launch Ivanka onto Capitol Hill with a high-profile proposal and get plenty of good PR for it. But the proposal itself does little for the working class, and Congress won't pass it anyway. I think I should start keeping a list of Trump proposals that fit this model.

From Colonel Pat Ryder, an Air Force spokesman, on President Trump's claim that he had saved $1 billion on the development program for a new Air Force One:

To my knowledge I have not been told that we have that information.

Roger that. Ryder added that reporters would have to ask the commander-in-chief to clear this up. Unsurprisingly, Bloomberg reports that a White House spokesman "didn’t respond to repeated inquiries about Trump’s comments."

Here's a loyal reader who knows how to punch my buttons:

Fine. What fresh hell do we have today?

“In Denmark, we are observing a trend toward a much more law-abiding youth,” said Rannva Moller Thomsen, an analyst with the Danish Crime Prevention Council. A recent long-term study funded by the council found that the share of 14-to-15-year olds who confessed to shoplifting at least one time dropped from 46 percent in 1989 to 17 percent in 2016.

....There are numerous possible explanations....But the most surprising explanation may be the simplest one: the Internet. “When young people spend time together in public spaces or meet privately and unwatched, the likelihood of them committing crimes increases,” said Moller Thomsen. “Many young people spend significantly more time online today than they did a few years ago. Overall, they are less social — but also less criminal.”

....In Britain, where youth crime levels have also sharply fallen, government and privately owned initiatives have been praised for creating organized activities that keep kids away from both the streets and from their computers and smartphones.

Right. In Denmark juvenile crime is declining because teens are all hunched over their smartphones instead of hanging around corner shops. In Britain, juvenile crime is down because of innovative programs that pull kids away from their smartphones. So let's take a look at crime in Denmark. I will give myself a maximum of five minutes to research this. Starting...now.

I'm back. That took longer than I expected. I'm sure there's better data out there, but here's what I found after six minutes of googling. The numbers are from Table 8 in Nordic Criminal Statistics 1950–2010:1

I've overlaid the shoplifting statistics, and as you can see they pretty much follow the overall crime stats for Denmark. There's a divergence between 2006-10, when overall crime increased, but the rest of the time both crime and juvenile shoplifting move pretty much in sync. I doubt very much that smartphones are responsible for the decline in murder and rape and fraud and so forth, so I doubt it's responsible for the decline in juvenile shoplifting either.2

Besides, give me a break. Shoplifting declined by nearly half between 1989-2005, when smartphone penetration was about zero. This whole theory is ridiculous. I really wish everyone would knock it off with the outré just-so stories every time they run across some kind of crime statistic. Seriously, folks, what are the odds that smartphones have put the kibosh on shoplifting?

1Just because I love you all so much, I went ahead and filled in the 2011-16 crime figures from Danmarks Statistik.

2I think everybody knows what I do think is responsible, so I won't mention it.

Over at Politico, Tara Palmeri has an entertaining story about how Trump's aides desperately try to keep him from exploding on Twitter too often:

The key to keeping Trump’s Twitter habit under control, according to six former campaign officials, is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up — and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk....A former senior campaign official said Nunberg and his successor, former communications director Jason Miller, were particularly skilled at using alternative media like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, Fox News, Infowars and the Daily Caller to show Trump positive coverage.

....They would also go to media amplifiers like Fox News hosts and conservative columnists to encourage them to tweet out the story so that they could print out and show a two-page list of tweets that show that they were steering the message. While Trump still couldn't contain his Twitter-rage with [Alicia] Machado, and ended up tweeting about a mystery sex-tape of the Hillary Clinton surrogate, aides say they dialed back even more posts.

"He saw there was activity so he didn't feel like he had to respond," the former campaign official said. "He sends out these tweets when he feels like people aren't responding enough for him."

For the record, here are Trump's post-debate tweets about Alicia Machado:

And yet, Trump's aides say they "dialed back" even more posts. The mind reels. I wonder they prevented us from seeing? What did Trump really have in mind down in the lizard-brain regions of his medial hypothalamus that relentlessly goad him into an uncontrollable rage whenever someone doesn't love him enough?

I forgot about this until Rachel Maddow mentioned it on her show last night:

A Democrat on the Federal Election Commission is quitting her term early because of the gridlock that has gripped the panel, offering President Trump an unexpected chance to shape political spending rules.

The commissioner, Ann M. Ravel, said during an interview that she would send Mr. Trump her letter of resignation this week. She pointed to a series of deadlocked votes between the panel’s three Democrats and three Republicans that she said left her little hope the group would ever be able to rein in campaign finance abuses.

“The ability of the commission to perform its role has deteriorated significantly,” said Ms. Ravel, who has sparred bitterly with the Republican election commissioners during her three years on the panel. She added, “I think I can be more effective on the outside.”

Ravel is not the first Democrat to resign a post early after Trump's election win. SEC Chair Mary Jo White is another high-profile Democrat who's resigned, and there have been several others as well.

Why? With Republicans in control of everything, isn't this precisely the time when Democrats should want to retain as much power as they can muster for as long as they can? Ravel's resignation will break the FEC's frequent deadlocks, but it will break them by almost certainly giving Republicans total control over election policy. This is precisely the thing that Ravel has been fighting against the past three years.

I don't get it. What am I missing here?

Last year, the Obama administration issued a directive telling public schools to allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom matches their gender identity. This week, that turned into a fight between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over an order that would repeal the Obama directive:

Ms. DeVos initially resisted signing off on the order and told President Trump that she was uncomfortable with it....Mr. Sessions, who strongly opposes expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, fought Ms. DeVos on the issue and pressed her to relent.

....Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, these Republicans said, telling Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her objections. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the choice of resigning or defying the president, has agreed to go along. The Justice Department declined to comment on Wednesday.

This is going to happen a lot. Even on issues where Trump might be personally flexible, he's now surrounded by hardcore ideologues who will push him as far to the right as public opinion will allow. We basically live under a Pence administration with Trump acting as head carnival barker and showman.