Yesterday I warned everyone to keep an eye out for details about the size of the bribe that Carrier got from Donald Trump to stay in Indiana. We still don't know that, but we do know a little bit more:

Carrier, the company that changed its plans to shutter a plant in Indianapolis and shift production to Mexico after talks with President-elect Donald Trump, confirmed Wednesday that it would receive financial assistance from the state of Indiana as part of the deal to keep the plant open.

....A statement from the company...“The incentives offered by the state were an important consideration.” The Indiana Economic Development Corp., a state agency, will grant Carrier a tax break in exchange for keeping the plant open, said John Mutz, a member of the corporation's board and a former lieutenant governor.

How big a tax break? And what else will Carrier get? Stay tuned as we learn more details about how many taxpayer dollars are being spent in order to provide Donald Trump with a PR opportunity.

Excellent news! The 2015 TIMSS test results are out. This is one of two international math tests for 4th and 8th graders (the other is PISA), and it provides us with yet another chance to bemoan the shoddy education of American students.

I'll get to that later tonight. First, though, I want to point out an odd thing about the TIMSS test. This year, for only the second time, they decided to add a third "advanced" math test for high school seniors who were in advanced math courses. Eight countries participated, and the United States did pretty well. We lagged behind only Lebanon.

Lebanon? You bet: their average score was 532, a whopping 50 points ahead of the two second-place countries (Russia and the US). But then I noticed something: only 3.2 percent of Lebanese students were in advanced math courses compared to 34 percent of Slovenian students. It makes sense that if you compare the top 3.2 percent of one country to the top 34 percent of another, the former is going to do a lot better.

So are differences in these scores just due to differences in how selective different countries are in accepting students into advanced math courses? Here's the scatterplot you've been waiting for:

Selectivity doesn't account for everything, but it does have a significant impact. If you restrict your classes to only the very brightest students (like Lebanon, Russia, and the US), they'll do well. If you open them up to more than a quarter of your students (like Italy, Portugal and Slovenia), the average kids will drag down the mean score. But which country is actually doing a better job of education? It's hard to say.

Regardless, there's always something to complain about. Here is Jeffrey Mervis in Science:

Students taking the most challenging math and science courses in their senior year were found to have performed progressively worse as they moved from elementary to middle to high school. The U.S. cohort, for example... deteriorated over time, from 29 and 9 points ahead of the midpoint in fourth and eighth grade, respectively, to 15 points below as seniors. Italy recorded the steepest drops, a startling 126 points below the midpoint in physics and 78 points in advanced math by the end of high school.

It's not clear to me that the "midpoint" of the TIMSS test means anything at all. In the advanced math test, every single country except Lebanon scored below it. What kind of midpoint is that? A pretty arbitrary one, I'd guess.

This is weird as hell. Between 12:55 and 12:57 pm on the East Coast this afternoon, the Office of Government Ethics sent out a tweetstorm addressed to Donald Trump:

We can't repeat enough how good this total divestiture will be....Brilliant! Divestiture is good for you, very good for America!....OGE applauds the "total" divestiture decision. Bravo!....As we discussed with your counsel, divestiture is the way to resolve these conflicts....OGE is delighted that you've decided to divest your businesses. Right decision!....Bravo! Only way to resolve these conflicts of interest is to divest . Good call!....this aligns with OGE opinion that POTUS should act as if 18 USC 208 applies. http://bit.ly/2fRpIG0....this divestiture does what handing over control could never have done....we told your counsel we'd sing your praises if you divested, we meant it.

Needless to say, Trump has made no decision to divest his holdings. He has said only that he plans to hand over control of "business operations" to his kids.

So what happened? Here's a few theories:

  1. Trump really does plan to divest, and his lawyers have told OGE this. Then OGE screwed up and scheduled a tweetstorm about it before Trump's announcement.
  2. OGE did this "accidentally" in order to put pressure on Trump to divest.
  3. OGE did this deliberately in order to put pressure on Trump to divest.
  4. Something else.

As near as I can tell, #4 is the winner. Here's what the New York Times reports:

In a statement, Seth Jaffe, an agency spokesman, said that officials there were “excited” by Mr. Trump’s announcements on conflicts of interest and that the messages were not based on any information about the president-elect’s plans beyond what was shared on his Twitter feed.

Asked later about the disclosure of the advice that the Office of Government Ethics had given to Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Mr. Jaffe said he could not provide additional comment. But the agency has left the posts on its official government account.

So...they just misinterpreted Trump's tweets and got so excited that they couldn't contain themselves. I can't say that this seems especially likely, but I guess anything is possible.

UPDATE: NPR has more here. Their account seems to imply that maybe #3 is the right answer. If it is, then bravo. After all, if Donald Trump can make waves via Twitter, then so can everyone else.

This is a helluva tease:

That's all the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee except Dianne Feinstein, who joined all the Republicans in apparently not wanting this to be made public. That's quite a partisan divide in a mostly nonpartisan committee. I wonder what it's all about?

The ball's in your court, President Obama. To quote our president-elect: at this point, what the hell do you have to lose?

Controlling illegal immigration has never seemed all that hard to me. The vast majority of those who are in the United States illegally—either by crossing the border or overstaying their visas—are here to find jobs. So if you want to reduce illegal immigration, you need to make it hard for employers to hire anyone who's not authorized to work. But in the LA Times today, Wayne Cornelius says that's not in the cards:

There has never been much public or congressional appetite for a harsh crackdown on employers, especially the small businesses that depend most heavily on workers in the U.S. illegally. They are pillars of their communities and campaign contributors. Besides, immigration agents have had higher enforcement priorities — tracking down immigrants who committed serious crimes or pose national security threats.

President-elect Trump has called for full implementation of an electronic employment eligibility verification system called E-Verify....E-Verify, however, is no panacea. It does not prevent immigrants who are ineligible to work from getting jobs by providing valid information pertaining to other people (borrowed documents). And as long as penalties are weak, requiring employers to use E-Verify will not significantly reduce violations.

Will Congress approve crippling fines or even prison sentences for business owners who ignore E-Verify rules? Will lawmakers direct the Justice Department to make these scofflaws a top priority? Unless and until that happens, many employers will continue to view hiring those in the U.S. illegally as a low-risk, high-reward crime. In 2014, the probability that one of the nation’s 6 million employers would be investigated for violating immigration laws was 0.03%.

I don't personally care all that much about the level of illegal immigration. The chart above, from Pew Research, shows the current numbers, which strike me as reasonable. But obviously a lot of people do care, and most of them are Republicans. They talk tough, they build walls and fences, and they promise to hire lots of border enforcement agents. But this is all a sham. If the economic incentives continue to exist, so will illegal immigration.

The problem is that Republicans can't come to grips with their two main constituencies. Social conservatives generally hate undocumented workers and want to deport them all. Business conservatives want no such thing. So Republicans thunder on TV that borders are borders, and by God we need to control them. Then they quietly go back to their jobs and do nothing.

The obvious way to cut down on illegal immigration has always been to go after employers. Not only does this attack the root of the problem, but it's practically self-funding. You hire lots of ICE auditors and then pay for them by levying big fines on employers who break the law. As the problem diminishes, you collect less money but you also need fewer auditors.

E-Verify isn't perfect. Nothing is. But it could be made good enough. And once that's done, enforcement could be made pretty widespread and the fines could be made pretty high. If you do that, you can forget about the wall. It's just a distraction.

Bottom line: Anyone who claims to be fiercely opposed to illegal immigration but doesn't support strong employer sanctions is just lying to you.

Sad news:

The Pittsburgh-area McDonald's franchisee who created the Big Mac nearly 50 years ago has died. Michael "Jim" Delligatti was 98....Delligatti's franchise was based in Uniontown, about 40 miles south of Pittsburgh, when he invented the chain's signature burger with two all-beef patties, "special sauce," lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.

I've never understood the Big Mac. It's basically just a double cheeseburger with an extra bun in the middle. But why would anybody want an extra bun in the middle of their hamburger? Has anyone ever eaten a hamburger and then said, "That was pretty tasty, but it could use some extra bread"?

Can someone please explain this to me? Thanks.

Donald Trump tweeted this morning that it is "visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses." As a result "legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations."

Despite this, the New York Times says that "skeptics" aren't satisfied. There's a good reason for this. Two good reasons, actually. First, we live in a new era. As a matter of fact, not of cynicism or partisan griping, Trump tweets should be treated as lies until proven otherwise. That's just the way it is. Second, removing himself from business operations doesn't accomplish a thing. Trump still has massive conflicts of interest. The only way to resolve this is to sell the Trump Organization, which he will never do. In the meantime, every two-bit autocrat in the world knows that the quickest way to Trump's heart is to do something nice for Trump's business: approve his permits, hook up his kids with connected financiers, move government offices into his buildings, whatever. It's just a way of showing respect, you know?

I suppose there are worse things than having the United States run along the lines of a Mafia family. Nuclear war. An economic crash. Miami settling into the sea. Unfortunately, the odds are at least nontrivial that we're going to get all of those things too.

It's hard to believe there's any important non-Trump news out there, but the rest of the world keeps humming along without us:

OPEC representatives reached a deal to cut oil production after months of wrangling Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter, in an effort to lift sagging prices and reassert the cartel’s influence over a market increasingly dominated by the U.S., Russia and others. Delegates from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels a day from the current 33.6 million barrels, the people said, representing about 1% of global production.

The details are a little unclear, and the Indonesian Oil Minister said "there were still issues to resolve that wouldn’t be easy." That may be why oil markets took the news more or less in stride. Prices were up a bit, but most traders are probably waiting to see if OPEC can actually make its new agreement stick.

Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa recently completed a global survey that tried to measure the strength of liberal democracy. Mounk's conclusion: "The warning signs are flashing red." Exhibit A is this chart, adapted from the New York Times:

Only about 30 percent of American millennials think it's essential to live in a democracy? Holy crap. And there's also this:

Support for autocratic alternatives is rising, too....In a previously published paper, the researchers calculated that 43 percent of older Americans believed it was illegitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, but only 19 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 53 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be illegitimate, while only 36 percent of millennials agreed.

I guess it was nice while it lasted. I wonder who will take over the US after President-for-Life Donald Trump finally expires?

Back in February, United Technologies announced it would be moving a couple of Indianapolis factories to Mexico. One was a Carrier air-conditioning plant that employed 1,400 people, and the other was an electronic controls plant that employed 700.

Donald Trump went ballistic. "I will call the head of Carrier and I will say, 'I hope you enjoy your new building,'" Trump said. "'I hope you enjoy Mexico. Here's the story, folks: Every single air-conditioning unit that you build and send across our border—you're going to pay a 35 percent tax on that unit.'"

Then, a few days ago, the world was treated to this odd tweet:

What was that all about? Today we found out: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has been negotiating with Carrier and has offered them a bunch of new incentives to stay where they are. On Thursday, he and Trump will appear triumphantly in Indianapolis to announce that Carrier has agreed to keep 1,000 jobs in the United States. The other 1,100 jobs, apparently, will still be lost to Mexico. There are several things to say about this:

  • From a PR perspective, this is genius. If you want to demonstrate you care about blue-collar workers, what better way than a big televised announcement surrounded by actual blue-collar workers who will be keeping their jobs?
     
  • We don't know yet what incentives Pence has promised, but it's worth noting that this is really nothing new. State and local governments offer financial inducements to keep companies from moving all the time. Trump is following a wheezy old playbook here, but even at that he can only do this because of the lucky coincidence that his vice president happens to still be governor of Indiana for a few weeks longer.
     
  • Compared to Carrier's 1,000 jobs, Obama's auto bailout saved something like 250,000 jobs at General Motors and Chrysler, and 1 million to 2 million total jobs throughout the entire automotive supply chain. Just sayin'.
     
  • Needless to say, showering incentives on manufacturing companies to stay in America is not a sustainable national manufacturing strategy. And anyway, aren't Republicans opposed to the government picking winners and losers?
     
  • Carrier is a big company, but it's owned by United Technologies, a gigantic defense contractor that does a lot of business with the federal government—soon to be headed by one Donald J. Trump. Would Trump stoop to sabotaging UT's government business if it didn't play ball on the Carrier plant? Maybe. Hell, even Bernie Sanders thinks Trump should promise that UT will never get another government contract if it moves any jobs to Mexico. This would be a massive abuse of power, of course, but who wants to take a chance that Trump cares? Probably not UT.
     
  • Just for the record, the biggest supplier of working-class and middle-class jobs in Indianapolis is not Carrier—or any other heavy manufacturing company. The top 10 are Eli Lilly, Indiana University, Purdue University, St. Vincent Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, CNA Financial Group, Methodist Hospital, the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital, Roche Diagnostics, and FedEx.
     
  • All that said, this is, once again, a genius PR move. Donald promised he'd keep those Carrier jobs in Indianapolis, and by God, he delivered.

What to pay attention to next: the exact terms of the deal that Carrier got. Just how big a bribe did Pence have to pay them to save those 1,000 jobs? After all, Trump was probably pretty eager to have this chance to show off, and he's got a long history of giving away the store when he really wants something.