Trump’s Thin Skin Is Keeping Him From Staffing the Federal Government

Mother Jones

Rex Tillerson’s choice of Elliott Abrams to be his deputy at the State Department was vetoed by the White House. Abrams had once said some bad things about Donald Trump, so he was out. The New York Times reports on what this means:

Mr. Trump remains fixated on the campaign as he applies a loyalty test to some prospective officials….Six of the 15 statutory cabinet secretaries are still awaiting Senate confirmation as Democrats nearly uniformly oppose almost all of the president’s choices.

….It is not just Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson who has no deputy secretary, much less Trump-appointed under secretaries or assistant secretaries. Neither do the heads of the Treasury Department, the Education Department or any of the other cabinet departments. Only three of 15 nominees have been named for deputy secretary positions. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a deputy only because he kept the one left over from President Barack Obama’s administration.

Yes, Democrats are slow-walking Trump’s cabinet choices. You can decide for yourself if this is justified. But it’s the deputies who often really run things, and Trump has only managed to name three out of 15 candidates. After he interviewed all those cabinet nominees, I guess he got bored.

In other words, it’s not Democrats who are holding up the rest of government. The problem is that Trump has no idea what he’s doing, and his staff is too busy with Trump’s thin skin and chaotic management style to find qualified deputies that are acceptable to him. After the debacle with his National Security Advisor, I imagine this has gotten even harder. You could almost feel qualified conservatives backing away from Trumpland as that shitshow played out.

Trump has always had a pretty small set of people acceptable to him, and now a shrinking number of experienced players are finding Trump acceptable to them. This doesn’t bode well for basic management of government business, let alone the “change for the ages” that he promised last night.

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Trump’s Thin Skin Is Keeping Him From Staffing the Federal Government

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Do Strict Voter ID Laws Suppress Minority Voting?

Mother Jones

Do photo ID laws reduce minority turnout? Previous studies have suggested that the answer is yes, but the effect is fairly small. However, in the Washington Post last week, three scholars wrote about a new study they conducted, which offers “a more definitive assessment” than previous studies. Their conclusion: states with strict photo ID laws produce a far lower turnout among minorities than other states.

It’s taken me a while to comment on this because I had to read the report a few times to make sure I understood everything. In the end, I found several reasons to be skeptical of their conclusion.

First off, they found much stronger effects in primaries than in general elections. Now, maybe this really is the case, and I can certainly invent plausible stories about why it might be so. But it still seems odd.

Second, in a draft version of their study, they say this:

Importantly, we see no effects for Asian Americans, the one minority group that is, by at least some standards, not socioeconomically disadvantaged. The effects of these laws seem to be concentrated toward the bottom end of the racial hierarchy.

In later drafts, their numbers have been updated and it turns out that Asian Americans are affected by voter ID laws—which makes their important finding disappear. But if this was an important verification in one draft, it ought to be an important discrepancy in the final draft. However, it’s not mentioned.

Third, hardly any of their findings are statistically significant. I’m not a big stickler for 95 percent significance always and everywhere, especially for something like this, where there’s one messy set of real-life data and you have to draw conclusions from it one way or another. If the results are significant at 85 or 90 percent, that’s still strongly suggestive. Nonetheless, that’s all it is.

Fourth, the effect size on African Americans is considerably less than it is for Hispanics and Asian Americans. Maybe this is just because blacks are more politically organized, and therefore more likely to overcome the deterrent effects of photo ID laws. Maybe.

So far, none of these are deal breakers. They made me a little tentative about accepting the authors’ results, but that’s all. But then we get this:

Here’s what’s going on. On the left, you see their main results, based on a model they constructed. It shows very large effects: in states with strict photo ID laws, turnout decreases 8 percentage points among Hispanics, 2 percent among African Americans, and 5 percent among Asians.

On the right, you see the results from a second test. It compares turnout in states before and after they enacted strict photo ID laws, and it shows much smaller effects: about 2 percentage points for all minorities. This strikes me as a better test, since it eliminates lots of confounding variables that crop up when you compare one set of states to a different set. But the authors go to considerable lengths to downplay these results, for reasons that I don’t find very persuasive. Yes, their sample size is smaller, and yes, things can change from year to year. But their sample sizes aren’t that small, and the differences in a single state over the course of two years is probably smaller than the differences between states in the same year.

Maybe I’m totally off base here. I don’t have the raw data or the chops to analyze it. Still, if I had to bet money, I’d bet that the second test is more reliable, and the real effect of photo ID laws is a decreased turnout of about 2 percentage points among minorities. That’s plenty to affect a close election, and the motivation for these laws is plainly partisan and racial. They should be done away with everywhere.

That said, I continue to suspect that the effect is fairly modest.

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Do Strict Voter ID Laws Suppress Minority Voting?

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We Should Practice Truth in Statistics, Even When It Hurts

Mother Jones

Donald Trump at his pep rally yesterday on immigration:

You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.

Nothing happened in Sweden last night, which has prompted lots of IKEA and ABBA joke memes. However, Zack Beauchamp thinks Trump was probably referring not to something that happened recently, but to the alleged “rape epidemic” in Sweden ever since they started taking in lots of Middle Eastern immigrants. This is apparently a staple of the Breitbart-o-sphere. Unfortunately, Beauchamp then says this:

The problem, though, is that this “rape epidemic” is as fake as the Bowling Green Massacre.

Canadian reporter Doug Saunders rigorously investigated the narrative, and concluded that it “falls apart as soon as you speak to anyone knowledgeable in Sweden.” Official Swedish statistics do indeed show a high rate of rape, but that’s because Swedish law has an extremely expansive definition of what qualifies as rape under the law.

….These panics about immigration, instead, reflect a long history of sexual panics in the West about non-white immigrants. Etc.

Whenever I see writing that carefully avoids providing comparative statistics, my BS detector goes off. Sure enough, Saunders didn’t “rigorously” do anything. He linked to an old report that tallies crime rates for the years 1997-2001—which is all but useless in 20171—and then glided quickly past his eventual acknowledgment that the foreign-born have “a higher rate of criminal charges than the native-born.” If you’re interested, here’s the actual data from the report (tables 3 and 6 in the appendix):

These are very big differences. Now, Saunders also links to a study which suggests that “half to three-quarters” of the difference can be accounted for by socioeconomic status. Maybe so. But crime is crime. If you’re the victim of assault from a Syrian refugee, you don’t really care if it happened because he’s Syrian or because he’s poorer than average.

Now, there’s plenty more to legitimately say about this. If poverty really is a causal factor, maybe it means Sweden needs to be more generous. Other statistics suggest that the children of the foreign-born have much lower crime rates than their parents. And as Beauchamp says, “rape” in Sweden is defined pretty broadly.

Still, if we bring up this subject at all, we have to present the statistics fairly. In the US, immigrants seem to commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. But Sweden is a different country, and the statistics suggest that foreign-born immigrants do indeed commit crimes there in much larger numbers than native Swedes.

1Apparently this is the most recent report that examines crime rates by area of origin. I don’t know why Sweden hasn’t done anything more recent.

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We Should Practice Truth in Statistics, Even When It Hurts

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A Travel Query for the Hive Mind

Mother Jones

Ben Cawthra/Rex Shutterstock via ZUMA

OK, hive mind, I have a question for you. My sister is heading to London later this year, and this time she has a shiny new iPhone to take with her. She’s on T-Mobile, so allegedly she’ll have access to calling, texting, and low-speed data without doing anything. So here’s one plan:

Download the maps she needs before she leaves.
Rely on T-Mobile for calling and texting.
Use WiFi whenever she’s at the hotel, in a coffee shop, etc.
Register for The Cloud, and use that when she’s out and about.
When all else fails, use T-Mobile’s low-speed data.

Alternatively:

Buy a SIM when she gets there and use local calling, texting, and high-speed internet.

Do I have any T-Mobile readers who have been to London lately? What’s the dope? What do you think her best alternative is?

UPDATE: Thanks everyone! It sounds like T-Mobile’s native service works pretty well.

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A Travel Query for the Hive Mind

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“Jane Roe” Has Died. Abortion Rights Might Not Be Far Behind.

Mother Jones

Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States, died Saturday at at an assisted-living facility in Katy, Texas. She was 69.

McCorvey was a complicated symbol for the political fight over abortion rights. Following the high court’s 1973 decision, she became the face of the pro-choice movement. At the time, she represented the struggles faced by ordinary women confronted with unwanted pregnancies. Abortion was illegal in Texas in almost all cases when she learned she was pregnant in 1969. Poor and with a ninth grade education, she didn’t have the means to seek abortion across state lines. The legal battle dragged on for three years; by the time she won, she had long since carried the pregnancy to term. She gave the baby up for adoption.

But in 1995, McCorvey reversed her stance on abortion after discussing the Bible with Pastor Flip Benham, the director of Operation Rescue, an aggressive pro-life group that had moved in next door to the women’s health clinic where McCorvey worked. She soon quit her job at the clinic and was baptized by Benham. She became a spokeswoman for the anti-abortion movement, penning a book about her ideological transformation and traveling the country giving speeches to religious groups.

Like McCorvey’s own views on abortion, popular opinion about a woman’s right to choose has been the subject of much conflict and debate since the landmark 1973 case. And while a strong majority of Americans still agrees with the Roe decision, dismantling the right to an abortion is now an explicit objective for both the new administration and the Republican-led congress.

In the month since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, GOP lawmakers have put forward measures aimed at pulling federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood and repealing the Affordable Care Act, including its requirement that insurance plans cover contraceptives. They have also introduced bills that would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks of pregnancy and would ban the standard abortion method used by doctors in the second trimester.

A Supreme Court majority that would be open to overturning Roe is becoming increasingly likely, as well. This is something Trump promised repeatedly during the campaign as part of his largely successful effort to win over skeptical evangelical voters. As a candidate, he made four promises to the anti-abortion community: He pledged to nominate anti-abortion justices; defund Planned Parenthood; sign the 20-week abortion ban; and permanently enshrine into law the Hyde Amendment—a 40-year old budget rider that Congress has repeatedly used to bar federal tax dollars from funding most abortions. Assuming that Judge Neil Gorsuch is confirmed this spring, it may only take the departure of one pro-abortion-rights justice to tip the balance on the court against Roe.

During the campaign, the formerly pro-choice Trump brought on Mike Pence to shore up his anti-abortion bonafides. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed some of the country’s strictest abortion restrictions into law, including a measure requiring burial or cremation of aborted fetus remains and a ban on abortions due to fetal anomaly. In a September 2016 speech, Pence told an evangelical conference in Washington, DC, “I want to live to see the day that we put the sanctity of life back at the center of American law, and we send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs.”

Last month, Pence became the highest-ranking government official to ever address the annual March for Life in person. “Life is winning again in America,” Pence said at the anti-abortion gathering, pointing to the “historic election of a president who stands for a stronger America, a more prosperous America, and a president who, I proudly say, stands for the right to life.”

Roe has been seen by many as an imperfect decision. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the foremost legal warriors for gender equality, has criticized the decision for changing too much, too quickly. After founding the ACLU’s women’s rights project in the 1970s, Ginsburg focused on fighting sex discrimination with an incremental strategy. She brought several cases to the Supreme Court, building up a body of court victories that together established a sweeping legal and moral understanding of sex discrimination as something that is both illegal and wrong. Roe, she said at a conference in 2014, “established a target” for abortion opponents because it ditched this incremental approach, instead imposing a drastic change on states across the country. She suggested that if the high court had moved a little more slowly, today the idea of reproductive choice wouldn’t be so controversial. “A movement against access to abortion for women grew up, flourished, around a single target,” Ginsburg said.

After her victory as Roe’s main plaintiff, McCorvey joined the movement that sprung up to oppose Roe. Her death comes at a time when that movement, with help from the Trump White House, could achieve many of its long-held goals.

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“Jane Roe” Has Died. Abortion Rights Might Not Be Far Behind.

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