• The Trump Administration Is Still Busily Spinning the Mueller Report

    A cameraman stakes out the Senate Judiciary Committee office hoping that someone will pop out with a copy of the Mueller report. But it never happened.Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

    The spin machine is in full gear today. Instead of simply releasing Mueller’s own summary of the Mueller report, Attorney General William Barr has decided to release his own summary. I can’t think of any good reason for doing this aside from the possibility that Mueller’s own summary contains some conclusions that Barr and his boss would just as soon not reach the public ear.¹ Apropos of my warning yesterday, then, you should consider Barr’s summary to be the rosiest possible interpretation of the Mueller report.

    But even taken on its own terms, the Barr summary is a little odd. Here’s what he has to say about Russian interference in the 2016 election:

    The Special Counsel’s investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord….The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election.

    That’s it? But I don’t think anyone has ever seriously suspected that Trump (or his staff) was directly involved with the IRA disinformation campaign or the Russian hacking operations. The suspicions of coordination have mainly revolved around more personal contacts: Manafort’s friends in high places; the Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr. and others; the Carter Page weirdness; the Moscow real estate deal that went south; and so forth. It’s possible, of course, that Mueller concluded in his report that none of this amounted to collusion in any criminal sense, but surely he at least addressed this stuff? So why doesn’t Barr mention it?

    On the subject of obstruction of justice, Mueller punted. “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime,” he says, “it also does not exonerate him.” Needless to say, this did not stop Trump from tweeting his take on “does not exonerate”:

    As usual, this is a lie aimed at his followers, who will not read the Barr summary and will instead rely on outlets like Fox News and Breitbart for their news. I think we can safely assume that the conservative media will ignore Mueller’s words and will instead promote Barr’s conclusion that there was no obstruction. However, since Barr was hired specifically to come to this conclusion no matter what, it’s hard to take it very seriously.

    Anyway, I am now more eager than ever to see the Mueller report. I never thought that Trump was directly connected with Russian hacking, so Mueller’s conclusion on that front doesn’t surprise me. Nonetheless, if even Barr’s summary was forced to tiptoe so conspicuously around Mueller’s conclusions, I think we can assume that the Mueller report itself is at least moderately damning. Let’s see it.

    ¹It’s true that the Mueller report probably needs to be redacted here and there, but surely the report’s summary could be redacted pretty quickly?

  • Warning: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear About the Mueller Report

    I don’t have anything to say about the Mueller report because, like everyone else, I haven’t yet seen the Mueller report. But I will offer one warning: for at least the next few days, the only public information will be leaks—official or otherwise—from the Justice Department. These leaks will almost certainly be calculated to present the report in the most favorable light. The goal is to influence the initial news reporting and thus influence the public before we see any of the details.

    So: take the reporting over the next few days with a big grain of salt. It’s almost certain not to be a balanced account. Wait for the whole report to come out before you conclude anything one way or the other.

  • The Black-White Testing Gap Is Real, and It’s a Disgrace

    New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio has been pushing a plan to change the way students are selected for New York’s elite academic high schools. His plan is probably dead (it requires approval at the state level), but it got a push this week when it was announced that only seven black students were accepted into Stuyvesant High School, one of those elite campuses. Overall, the incoming freshman class at the eight elite schools was only 3 percent black in a school system that’s a quarter black.

    Over at Vox, José Vilson, a NYC public school teacher, explains what happened:

    None of this is by accident….New York State passed the Calandra-Hecht Act in 1971 which stated that “admissions to [these specialized high schools] shall be solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination.”…Essentially, these schools enshrined into law the right to ignore school performance, grades, interviews, standardized state exams, or any other qualification in favor of a test that rarely aligns with the standards they learn in school, tacitly keeping these schools out of reach for under-resourced students and schools. The specialized high schools continue to exemplify why New York City has the most segregated school system in the country.

    The Specialized High School Admission Test, much like the IQ tests of yore and the SAT or ACT of the present, has been gamed since its inception. Everything from expensive test prep centers concentrated in specific neighborhoods to private tutors who spend hours with students across the city helps exacerbate admissions, and with it racial disparity.

    I think progressives are ill-served by the continuing notion that every standardized test ever invented is racially biased in a massive way. Over the past several decades, the organizations that create these tests have gone to considerable lengths to address racial bias, and they’ve been largely successful. The tests aren’t perfect, and they have flaws quite aside from any questions of race, but they aren’t terrible either. They also show a consistent but complicated pattern. Here’s a chart showing racial gaps for a lifetime of student testing:

    There are several things to understand about these results:

    • The black-white gap shows up as early as kindergarten and primary school—long before test prep classes come into play—and continues all the way through graduate level tests like the LSAT.
    • Since every test has a different scale (120-180 for the LSAT, 400-1600 for the SAT, etc.), you have to convert the results to standard deviations from the mean in order to compare them. The chart above does this, with the black-white gap shown for each age group, and you can see that the black-white gap increases over time. Very roughly, the gap is 0.5 SD in kindergarten, 0.7 in fourth grade, 0.8 in eighth grade, 0.9 in high school, and 1.1 at the graduate level.
    • With the possible exception of the initial kindergarten gap, these gaps continue to show up even after you control for income, class, parental education, test prep, etc.

    These gaps are real effects of education, not just an artifact of test-taking, and the fact that the gaps increase over time is good evidence that much of the fault lies with our schools and the communities they serve. We miss this if we insist that standardized tests are useless. After all, if there’s no “real” gap at all, then our schools must be doing fine.

    I’m no expert in how to close this gap, though I can say that there have been many dozens of serious efforts—some aimed specifically at schools, others aimed at parents and communities—and virtually all of them have failed. In any case, we shouldn’t pretend there’s nothing here except a bunch of racist test constructors. The black-white performance gap in America is real; it’s a national disgrace; and we can’t give up trying to fix it. If we could figure out how, no matter how much it cost, I’d take it over the mythical hope of reparations any day.

    UPDATE: I have replaced the original chart with one that shows test results as standard deviations from the mean. This is a way of comparing different tests with different raw scale scores.

  • Commander-in-Chief Picks Flatterer-in-Chief for Fed Board

    Jeff Malet/Newscom via ZUMA

    Donald Trump has nominated Stephen Moore, a TV buddy of Larry Kudlow, to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. This is about like nominating Dr. Phil to run the CDC. Or, come to think of it, like choosing Larry Kudlow as director of the National Economic Council.

    But this is what we expect from Trump these days, and I imagine the Republican Senate will handwave Moore’s nomination through. The Wall Street Journal explains what caught Trump’s attention:

    Mr. Trump spoke to Mr. Moore to compliment the economic commentator on an opinion article he co-authored last week calling the Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s policy moves a threat to the U.S. economy….Moore for many years argued against the Fed’s postcrisis policies to keep rates low and to buy long-term bonds to stimulate growth, warning that the measures would stoke high inflation. But he has recently said the Fed is making money too tight, echoing Mr. Trump’s criticism of Mr. Powell and the Fed.

    Moore is a hack who argued—absurdly—for high interest rates as long as a Democrat was in office, but then made a sudden U-turn when a Republican president needed to be sucked up to. And it’s paid off. It’s impossible to flatter Donald Trump so much that he figures out what you’re doing, and sure enough, Moore’s willingness to abase himself to Trump’s beliefs has earned him a big promotion.

    Welcome to the 2019 version of America.

  • Surprise! Juvenile Crime Has Plummeted in California.

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that juvenile crime has plunged mysteriously:

    Over the past decade, the state’s numerous expanded juvenile halls have become near-empty monuments to a costly miscalculation — a mistake compounded each year as the number of young offenders plummeted. Some California counties are spending $1,400 a day to incarcerate each juvenile, or $500,000 annually, up from $400 a day or $150,000 annually just eight years ago….Unlike the surge of violence a generation ago, the plunge in juvenile crime has received relatively little attention and has spurred few demands for action.

    My, that is a mystery, isn’t it?

    With bigger facilities and fewer wards, the costs of juvenile detention spiked. The Chronicle requested and reviewed juvenile hall and camp populations and spending data from 14 diverse counties, and found that the annual cost of detaining youths increased in each one since 2011, ranging from 29 percent to 214 percent. “It’s really the opposite of what we thought it would be,” Varela said. “We’re all kind of scratching our heads over what we’re going to do with all the extra space.”

    ….Systemically, there is no clear explanation for why the crime rate dropped, and continued to decline through the 2008 recession and to the present day. Though there’s no consensus, many are eager to offer theories and take credit. Possible reasons include a decline of lead poisoning in children, which reduced the toxic effects on young brains, and pivotal shifts in the street drug trade, including diminishing demand for crack cocaine and strict laws that sent dealers who might recruit young people away for decades.

    Give it up, folks. It’s lead. And that’s a very good thing, since it means the drop in juvenile crime is permanent. It’s time to scuttle all that extra space in juvenile hall.

  • Millennials Are Very Financially Trustworthy

    The St. Louis Fed recently republished a note from last November about credit card delinquency. First, they note that millennials have the highest rate of delinquency. But then they make the obvious point that this is because millennials are younger than other generations, and young people always have higher delinquency rates than middle-aged folks. So what happens when you look at different generations when they were the same age?

    This is interesting. First, it shows that millennials actually have the least credit card delinquency among recent generations. The authors even suggest that “their relative financial trustworthiness will persist throughout the remainder of their lives.”

    But what about that uptick at the end? Starting around age 33, the credit card delinquency of millennials suddenly flattens and then starts to rise. That’s never happened with any other generation, or with younger millennials. What’s up with that? It’s quite prominent and doesn’t look like an artifact, but I can’t even think of a snarky guess about what might be causing this, let alone a serious guess.

  • Marine Commandant Not Happy About Border “Emergency”

    General Robert Neller, the head of the Marine Corps, is not happy with his commander-in-chief:

    The commandant of the Marines has warned the Pentagon that deployments to the southwest border and funding transfers under the president’s emergency declaration, among other unexpected demands, have posed “unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency.”

    ….Neller, a four-star general, said because of the problems, Marines will not participate in planned training exercises in Indonesia, Scotland and Mongolia, and will reduce their participation in joint exercises with Australia and South Korea. Marines “rely on the hard, realistic training” of the training exercises “to develop the individual and collective skills necessary to prepare for high-end combat,” Neller said.

    Military folks are notorious for complaining that reducing their budgets by so much as a dime will be a readiness catastrophe. So I guess I’d take this with a grain of salt. Still, it’s yet another sign that the Pentagon is justifiably unhappy about committing both funds and manpower to what they know is a fake national emergency on the border with Mexico.

  • But Her Emails

    Hey, who needs a government account to communicate official business? That’s so fuddy duddy:

    K.T. McFarland, it turns out, used an AOL email account while she was deputy national security adviser, but I’m sure it was just for trivia, not important stuff like—

    Cummings also told Cipollone that the committee obtained a document showing that McFarland was using an AOL.com account to conduct official White House business. Cummings said the document shows that McFarland was in communication with Tom Barrack, a longtime Trump confidant and the chairman of the president’s Inaugural Committee, about transferring “sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.” Barrack pitched the plan to Bannon through Bannon’s personal email account, according to Cummings.

    Well, no worries. Nobody cares what anyone but Trump says anyway, and he seems to be very careful in his communications habits.