Man of the people that he is, Donald Trump likes to pick rich guys for high-level positions in his administration. Unfortunately, that poses a problem:

President Donald Trump’s nominee for Navy secretary, investor Philip Bilden, is expected to withdraw from consideration, sources familiar with the decision told Politico, becoming the second Pentagon pick unable to untangle their financial investments in the vetting process....Like billionaire investment banker Vincent Viola, who withdraw his nomination to be secretary of the Army earlier this month, Bilden ran into too many challenges during a review by the Office of Government Ethics to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the sources said.

To become Secretary of State, maybe all this divesting of huge fortunes is worth it. But Navy Secretary? Probably not.

Generally speaking, the Supreme Court is reluctant to weigh in on gerrymandering cases. There are exceptions, primarily where race is a factor, but for the most part they take the view that legislative redistricting is a political question, not a legal one. If a majority party gerrymanders a state to improve its chances in subsequent elections, that's just politics red in tooth and claw.

But there's another reason that courts shy away from gerrymandering cases: there's no obvious judicial standard to use. If they did rule that gerrymandering was illegal or unconstitutional, they'd have to provide some kind of guidance about what's acceptable and what's not. But what would that be? Some weird topographical algorithm? Something relating partisan breakdowns in individual districts to the overall partisan breakdown of the state? Neither of these would work, and the lack of an easily justiciable rule means it's unlikely the Supreme Court would ban gerrymandering even if it did decide it was a legal issue.

But it turns out there is a rule that can be applied easily and fairly. I've had this in an open tab for weeks, and it's time to either close the tab or share the insight. So here it is:

There is a perfectly good scientific standard for determining whether there is partisan gerrymandering. This is the “partisan symmetry” measure developed by Andrew Gelman and Gary King. Essentially, symmetry requires that a specific share of the popular vote (say, 60 percent) would translate into the same number of congressional seats, regardless of which party won that share of the vote. For instance, if winning 60 percent of the popular vote in a state gives the Republican Party 65 percent of the congressional seats, then the Democratic Party should also win 65 percent of the seats if it wins 60 percent of the vote.

....But as Justice Scalia pointed out in his Vieth opinion, parties do not have a right to equal representation, any more than any other social group. It is only individual voters who have a right to equal treatment under the 14th Amendment and Article 1 of the Constitution....In our book, we show that the partisan symmetry standard can be logically derived from the equal treatment of individual voters, based on recent results in social choice theory. In partisan elections, you cannot treat all individual voters equally without treating all parties equally. This means that the party that gets more votes must get more seats. This sounds obvious, but it is precisely what the Supreme Court did not accept in the Vieth case. We show — line by mathematical line — that this logic is inescapable.

We live in an era of brute-force, computer-driven gerrymandering, which produces results like this:

But if gerrymandering is now a brute-force, computer-driven activity, the best answer is a brute-force computer-driven rule. A few decades ago, applying the partisan symmetry rule would have been all but impossible, but today it's easy. It's also something that can be easily defined, and is therefore pretty easily managed by the courts.

In the past, gerrymandering was a problem, but it was a modest one. Computers have changed all that. Anyone can now produce a map gerrymandered beyond anyone's imagination as recently as 30 years ago. That makes it a much bigger problem and a much bigger source of electoral unfairness. The Supreme Court will have a chance to revisit the issue later this year, and they should think very hard about how technology has affected the ancient art of gerrymandering.

These three things all happened in the course of the past month:

Even if I granted that mistakes can happen and maybe that's all this is, here's the part I've never understood. Whenever we hear stories like these, there's one thing that's constant: the border agents act like complete assholes. Why? Even if you think someone is here on the wrong visa or an expired visa or whatnot, why treat them like shit? What does that buy you?

Behold the echo chamber. Here is Gateway Pundit two days ago:

Here is Herman Cain this morning:

Here is Donald Trump shortly afterward:

The strangest thing about this is that...it's true. I'm not really used to that from Trump. I guess accidents do happen, though.

Now, it's also meaningless, and not just because Trump hasn't actually done anything yet. The deficit bounces up and down monthly depending on how much the government happens to spend and how much tax revenue it takes in. For example, take a look at the following chart:

The month of April is shown in blue. Let's make that into its own chart:

Impressive! During Obama's presidency, he turned around America's finances. We went from a deficit of $80 billion in 2010 to a surplus of over $100 billion in his final year. Why didn't the mainstream media ever report that?

Because who cares, that's why. You know what happens in April? Everyone pays their taxes. Does that mean the deficit is in great shape every April? Of course not. That just happens to be when a lot of the money comes in.

But it doesn't matter. As I've mentioned before, Trump's tweets are for for his fans, not for us. And his fans now think that in his very first month Trump has erased the deficit. The guy promised action, and by God, he's delivered. It just goes to show that all this deficit stuff wasn't really so hard to solve after all. It just needed a man of action to go in and straighten things out.

Not that the FAKE NEWS media will ever admit that, of course.

The election for DNC chair is over, and Tom Perez won:

Sigh. This is so ridiculous. I know that Keith Ellison was the "Bernie guy" and Perez was the "Obama/Hillary guy," but it's nuts that this got turned into some kind of ideological showdown. Not only are Ellison and Perez about equally progressive, but DNC chair isn't a policy position anyway. It's a fundraising and managerial position. I didn't really care one way or the other between the two because I have no idea which of them is a better manager and fundraiser.

In any case, thank goodness that Ellison and Perez themselves are grownups. Perez, in what was obviously a prearranged move, immediately offered Ellison the deputy chair job, and Ellison accepted:

This strikes me as the best of all outcomes. Democrats get to keep Ellison in Congress, and hopefully Perez will give him some real authority at the DNC. Better two high-profile guys there than one.

Besides, national-level purity contests are stupid. Democrats are fine at the national level. It's every other level that they suck at. Anybody who spends any time or energy continuing to fight over some national standard of progressiveness at the DNC is just wasting everyone's time. From a party standpoint, state and local races are all that matter for the next couple of years.

A month ago I took a look at Obamacare approval levels and wasn't too impressed at the spike since Trump's election. The increase was pretty small, and it was hard to tell if it was sustainable. So let's take another look:

I don't usually look at the "Less Smoothing" version of Pollster's charts, but I'm doing it this time to try and get a sense of what's been happening recently. This time, it really does look like there's been a genuine change since Election Day, somewhere in the range of 5-6 points. Both Kaiser and Pew, which have conducted high-quality tracking polls for a long time, show the same thing. Pew breaks down the results by party, and it turns out the increase is due almost entirely to Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents:

In the past year, approval levels have increased 7 points among Democrats and 14 points among independents. Breaking this down further, approval has spiked a whopping 20 points among Democratic-leaning independents. By contrast Republican-leaning independents are up only slightly and Republicans haven't budged even a single point.

In other words, now that Obamacare is under serious attacks, more lefties are finally deciding it's worth defending after all. Finally.

Politico has gotten its hands on a leaked copy of a Republican health care plan. It's a discussion draft of a bill that's a couple of weeks old, but it still provides a good idea of what Republicans are thinking these days. Here's my summary of Sarah Kliff's summary:

  • Good news: Compared to previous plans, it's better on pre-existing conditions; more generous in its funding of high-risk pools; generally cheaper for young people; and includes bigger tax credits than earlier Republican plans.
  • Neutral news: Loosens the list of "essential" benefits for all plans. This is generally better for healthy people and worse for sick people.
  • Bad news: Eliminates Medicaid expansion; cuts Medicaid funding; is terrible for the poor; and is far more expensive for older workers.

There's other stuff (all Obamacare taxes are repealed, for example, which is great news for the rich), but I submit to you that these are pesky details. There's really only one big thing that matters: how much the program costs.

Obamacare spends roughly $100 billion per year on subsidies to make health coverage affordable for the poor, and even at that premiums are too high for many people and deductibles are too high for almost everyone. Handwaving aside, there's no way to produce a plan that's even remotely useful with any less funding than Obamacare. That's just reality.

If the funding is sufficient, we can all have a good time arguing over continuous coverage penalties, age ratios, essential benefits, and all that. If the funding is insufficient, it's all just whistling in the wind.

Rumor has it that an outline of this plan was already submitted to the Congressional Budget Office, and the score they returned was so horrific that it never saw the light of day. So when Republicans do finally release a bill and a CBO score, just turn immediately to the section that estimates the ten-year cost. If it's substantially less than a trillion dollars, you can skip the rest.

Remember those seven countries that President Trump singled out for a travel ban? He asked the Department of Homeland Security to check them out and explain why they deserved to be on a no-entry list. Here's what he got:

Oops. "Rarely implicated" means a grand total of six people out of 82. That's one per year since 2011. And not one terrorist plot per year, either. One "terrorism related offense" per year. In many of these cases, it's probably a material support charge for sending a hundred bucks to some warlord back home.

This comes via the AP, which got this comment:

Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen on Friday did not dispute the report's authenticity, but said it was not a final comprehensive review of the government's intelligence.

"While DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you're referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official, robust document with thorough interagency sourcing," Christensen said. "The ... report does not include data from other intelligence community sources. It is incomplete."

I have a feeling that once the "interagency sourcing" is finished, there might be a different spin on these numbers. This is very definitely not what the boss wants to hear.

The weather has been lovely this week, and Hilbert is spending lots of quality time up on the patio cover. He's gotten pretty adept at scooting up and down the access tree, but he still whines a lot when he wants to come down, hoping that someone will come out and lift him off. I used to fall for this until the third or fourth time that he came over to me and then scampered off as soon as I put up my hands. Ha ha ha. Fooled the human again.

Hilbert is also anxious for everyone to know that he has a college named after him too. Also a local art museum. Plus a summer camp, a village in Wisconsin and its accompanying high school, a lake, and a theater. So there.

From CNN:

CNN and other news organizations were blocked Friday from a White House press briefing....The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Politico were also excluded from the meeting, which is known as a gaggle and is less formal than the televised Q-and-A session in the White House briefing room.

The Associated Press and Time magazine boycotted the briefing because of how it was handled. The White House Correspondents Association is protesting.

The conservative media organizations Breitbart News, The Washington Times and One America News Network were allowed in.

A few days ago, there was some talk about whether Trump would slow-walk federal disaster relief for the Oroville Dam area. As it turned out, he didn't, but the possibility was taken seriously for a while.

This is what makes the Trump presidency so unpredictable. No modern president would even think of taking revenge on a state that voted against him by refusing disaster aid. No modern president would dream of evicting news outlets from a press briefing because they had criticized him. No modern president would lie about easily checkable facts on a routine basis. No modern president would loudly cite every positive bit of economic news as a personal triumph. No modern president since Nixon would casually ask the FBI to take its side in an ongoing investigation.

It's not that modern presidents couldn't do these things. They just didn't. And we all came to assume that none of them would. The technical machinery of government—collecting data, hiring staffers, working by the rules—would be left alone to operate in a professional and impartial way. But that's no longer something we can assume.

Trump is going to find lots of things like this. Things that nobody ever thought of before, but aren't illegal. Or maybe just slightly illegal. And he's going to use them to demagogue his enemies and take revenge on people who badmouth him. Fasten your seat belts.