Raw Data: The US Trade Deficit ex China ex Oil

This is apropos of nothing in particular. I was just curious what our trade deficit looked like without China and without oil. Answer: it's pretty much zero. I don't know if this really means much, but if I was curious, I figured other people might be curious too.

As I mentioned last night, Hillary Clinton really is significantly ahead of Donald Trump in the national polls. She's ahead by about four points, and that's a pretty normal winning margin in a presidential election with no incumbent running. In the New York Times, Nate Cohn says the same thing but with a lovely little graphic to make his point:

Her lead is smaller than it was last month....But she retains an advantage — perhaps by 4 percentage points nationwide, and a similar margin in the battleground states that are likely to award the electoral votes needed to win the presidency. This straightforward story can get lost in the headlines, which tend to give the most attention to the most surprising results — whether it’s a predicted Clinton landslide or a narrow lead for Mr. Trump in key states.

The truth is probably somewhere between those extremes. Pollsters aren’t joking about the “margin of error”: the inevitable random variance in polls that exists simply by chance. If Mrs. Clinton leads by 4 points, you should expect polls that show her with a big lead or locked in a tight race, with others clustered around the average. That’s more or less what we saw this past week.

As Cohn says, individual polls are likely to fall on a bell curve. I've recreated his chart below, with actual recent polls in blue. As you can see, it's all perfectly normal (pun intended).

Too Many Guns in Cleveland

The Republican convention starts today, and Cleveland police are unhappy about Ohio's open-carry law:

In light of the shooting and death of three police officers in Baton Rouge on Sunday, the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association asked for an emergency suspension of the state’s open-carry law for the duration of the Republican National Convention.

“We are sending a letter to Gov. [John] Kasich requesting assistance from him,” union president Stephen Loomis told CNN. “He could very easily do some kind of executive order or something — I don’t care if it’s constitutional or not at this point.” Kasich denied the union’s request.

Unfortunately, everyone else does have to worry if it's constitutional. Perhaps Loomis should suggest that the Ohio legislature simply end the state's open-carry law entirely. If it's a bad idea when the Republican convention is in town, perhaps it's a bad idea a lot of other times too?

A few days ago I was griping about armchair generals who demand that we get "serious" about ISIS but don't have the guts to endorse the one thing that would truly do that: lots of American ground troops in Iraq and Syria. Tonight on 60 Minutes we got to watch Donald Trump peddle this flimflam:

This is pathetic. Trump acts like he's back in the Celebrity Apprentice boardroom playacting a tough guy for the cameras. He declares that he will get "unbelievable intelligence"; he will "get rid of ISIS big league"; and he will "wipe them out." But when Lesley Stahl repeatedly asks him about ground troops, he repeatedly says this isn't in the cards. Maybe NATO will do it. Maybe other Arab countries will do it. Maybe troops will magically appear from a genie's bottle. Even though Trump claims that we're at war and President Obama is too weak and stupid to get it, in the end he basically endorses what Obama is doing right now. Like all the other armchair generals, he doesn't have the backbone to risk taking an unpopular stand, even if it's the only thing that would actually make a significant difference.

And when he's done with this empty blather, what does Mike Pence say? "This is the kind of leadership America needs." Heaven help us.

I get asked frequently whether I'm worried about this election. Of course I am. It's a blot on our country that a man like Donald Trump has even won a major-party nomination, and it's possible he could even win the presidency. Who wouldn't be worried about that?

But am I especially worried because the national polls are within four or five points and sometimes even moving in Trump's direction? Nope. This is an election with no incumbent running. There have been six of these in the postwar era, and the average margin of victory is about 4 percentage points. That's just the way they go, and we shouldn't be surprised that this one is running about the same. The fact that Trump is even closer in some polls is also entirely normal. If he's truly four points behind, you'd expect a range of about 0-8 percentage points in different polls. And the fact that he's sometimes closer and sometimes farther behind is also normal. External events will affect these things. Put this all together, and you'd expect individual polls to range anywhere from Trump ahead by two points to behind by ten points.

And that's pretty much what we're seeing right now. Trump could win, and that's hardly cause for cheer. But he's been steadily behind Hillary Clinton by 4-6 points for the past month, and the fact that individual polls sometimes show the race closer is nothing to get extra jittery about. Ordinary jitters are quite enough.

Is Brexit Delayed Brexit Denied?

Hmmm....

Theresa May has indicated that Brexit could be delayed as she said she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed “UK approach” backed by Scotland.

The Prime Minister on Friday travelled to Scotland to meet Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, and discuss plans for Britain’s Brexit negotiation....Ms Sturgeon has promised to explore every option to keep Scotland in the EU, and has repeatedly warned that if that is not possible as part of the UK, it is “highly likely” to lead to a second independence vote.

This sounds an awful lot like a way to ensure that Brexit never happens. Or am I missing something?

Did you miss Donald Trump's speech "announcing" Mike Pence as his running mate? No worries. The Twitter version is always more fun anyway:

UPDATE: Here's the whole thing in all its glory:

Friday Kitten Blogging - 15 July 2016

A friend of mine was visiting this week and got a new kitten while he was here. Why? Because the breeder happened to be nearby, so it was more convenient than making a special trip later just to pick her up. As a result, our house endured a kitten invasion for several days. She has no name yet, but she's a calico Siberian with all the exuberance of kittenhood—which means that most of the time she looked about like this:

However, she occasionally slowed down enough for my camera's shutter to catch a better view:

Isn't she adorable? Unfortunately, that view was not shared by everybody. We mostly kept her isolated in her own room, but we took her out to play periodically and occasionally she squirmed away, as kittens will. Here's her first—and only—meeting with Hilbert:

Poor Hilbert. He lasted about five seconds under her gimlet eye. Then he turned tail and ran under the bed. Courage is not his strong point.

Anyway, she's a tiny fluffball who is going to grow up into a great big fluffball. That's the way of Siberians. And I have a note for scientists: she currently weighs nothing. I suspect that her fur has antigrav properties, which someone should probably look into. Could be useful.

Um, what?

What kind of moron leaks something like this? Is it actually some kind of Trump-approved effort to make sure Pence knows his place? Jesus. Apparently Trump can't even make up his mind about his running mate, let alone something that's actually important.

Are Conservatives Serious About ISIS?

Over at The Corner, conservatives are using the opportunity of dozens dead in France to—what else? Blame it all on President Obama. Here's a small sampling:

Mario Loyola: I don’t want my incandescent anger at Obama’s ISIS policy to get in the way of a simple observation: Obama thinks that more people die in bathtubs than in terrorist attacks, and accordingly, it would be disproportionate to make more than a minimal effort to eliminate the ISIS safe havens in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. He thinks today’s elevated risk of mass-casualty terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. is more acceptable than the risks of really going to war against ISIS, and he thinks that going to war against ISIS won’t stop the terrorist attacks anyway.

Jeremy Carl: One sees how deeply unserious a country America has become. And this is true not just among politicians, but in our entire public culture, which has ultimately permitted as dangerous, divisive, and shallow a man as President Obama to occupy the highest office in the land....We’ve fallen so far that a French socialist dandy is teaching us about resolve in the face of terror, just as previously a bunch of French leftist cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo taught the simpering cowards in our mainstream media a lesson about the true purpose of and, sadly, the ultimate price that must sometimes be paid for, defending free speech and expression.

Jay Nordlinger: What I have to say is not very sophisticated. It would not pass muster at the Council on Foreign Relations. But I think you have to kill these jihadists, and kill them, and kill them, until they simply tire of being killed and leave civilization alone.

A final thought, for now: Al Haig used to say, “Go to the source. You gotta go to the source.”...Iraq, Syria, and Iran are home bases for terrorists worldwide. (And I have confined myself to three.) I know that, for more than ten years, we’ve been tired of the phrase “Either confront them over there or confront them here.” Yeah, yeah, yawn, yawn, warmongering neocons. But some clichés are true, whether we want them to be or not.

Peter Kirsanow: The JV team is whipping the Super Bowl champs because the latter’s coaches are weak, stupid, and deluded....At the same time the president wrings his hands about possible radicalization of American youth he moves heaven and earth to release the most dangerous of radicals from Guantanamo. The commander-in-chief can set red lines toward no purpose and apologize to enablers of terror but he can’t summon the interest or ability to secure a status of forces agreement. No place on the planet is more secure and peaceful than when the president took office.

All of these folks are fundamentally pissed off about our "seriousness" in going after ISIS—although I don't think ISIS has yet been connected to the Nice attack. But put that aside. Whenever I read stuff like this, I have one question: What do you think we should do?

If you really want to destroy ISIS, and do it quickly, there's only one alternative: ground troops, and plenty of them. This would be a massive counterinsurgency operation, something we've proven to be bad at, and at a guess would require at least 100,000 troops. Maybe more. And they'd have to be staged in unfriendly territory: Syria, which obviously doesn't want us there, and Iraq, which also doesn't want us there in substantial numbers.

Is that what these folks want? Anything less is, to use their words, unserious. But if they do want a massive ground operation, and simply aren't willing to say so because they're afraid the public would rebel, then they're just as cowardly as the people they're attacking.

This is the choice. Don't bamboozle me with no-fly zones and tougher rules of engagement and better border security. That's small beer. You either support Obama's current operation, more or less, or else you want a huge and costly ground operation. There's really no middle ground. So which is it?