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Lead Update: White Folks and Alabama Prisoners

Mother Jones

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It’s been…weeks, at least, since I’ve mentioned lead and crime, and today I got two nice little anecdotes at once. The first is from lead researcher extraordinaire Rick Nevin, who directs our attention to this chart:

As predicted by the lead-crime theory, the prison population of younger cohorts (15-25) has dropped the most. The 26-30 cohort is flat, and the older cohorts are making up a bigger proportion of the total prison population. Why? Because everyone under 30 grew up in a fairly lead-free environment, so they’re less likely to commit serious crimes than similar cohorts in the past. 35-year-olds grew up at the tail end of the lead era, and are still moderately crime prone. Older cohorts were heavily lead poisoned as kids, and they’ve remained more crime prone even as they’ve grown older.

If you have a good memory, you may also recall a post I wrote four years ago explaining that lead poisoning affected blacks and Hispanics more than whites because they were more likely to grow up in dense urban environments with a lot of auto exhaust. Because of this, during the great crime wave of the 60s and 70s, their crime rates went up faster than white crime rates. The flip side of this is that with lead mostly gone, their crime rates are dropping faster than they are for whites. We can see this in the declining share of the jail population made up by blacks and Hispanics. Keith Humphreys shows us the mirror image of this, the rising share of the jail population made up by whites:

The lead hypothesis predicts that young cohorts are less crime prone than older cohorts, so their share of the jail and prison population should decline. It predicts that black crime rates will drop faster than white crime rates. And it also predicts that small-city crime rates will drop faster than big-city crime rates. All of these things have turned out to be true.

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Lead Update: White Folks and Alabama Prisoners

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Is Trump’s Popularity Sinking? Here’s the Poll to Look At.

Mother Jones

This Gallup poll has been making the rounds today:

I’ve deleted the rest of this post. It was a comparison of job approval ratings of Republican presidents among Republicans. But I screwed it up. There’s actually nothing interesting to report on that score. Trump’s job approval ratings are about the same as Reagan, Bush Sr., and Bush Jr.

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Is Trump’s Popularity Sinking? Here’s the Poll to Look At.

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Timid Liberals Blew the Election by Flinching at Hillary Clinton’s Email Server

Mother Jones

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A couple of recent conversations about Hillary Clinton’s email server have prompted me to think that I should write about it one more time. Maybe for the last time. You might wonder why. After all, the damage is done, it’s in the past, and no cares anymore. But I continue to think there’s a lesson here that we haven’t all come to grips with yet.

Here it is: As near as I can tell, Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong. Period. No shilly-shallying, no caveats. It’s true that the optics were sometimes bad, and the whole affair showed off Clinton’s political instincts at their worst. But that’s it. Both legally and ethically, she did nothing wrong. And liberals should have been willing to say so.

But a lot of them weren’t. Both in print and on TV, our defense of Clinton was often tepid and full of qualifications. I noticed the same thing after the Benghazi attack. Conservatives went on the attack literally within a few hours. Some liberals fought back, but an awful lot either said nothing or else mounted half-hearted defenses. Why? Were they worried about looking like hacks even though the plain truth was all they needed to defend? Were they worried that some future revelation might make them look stupid? I’m not sure. But I don’t think anyone will argue when I say that this kind of attitude doesn’t work well in contemporary America.

So here’s a timeline of the email server affair. FAIR WARNING: It’s not a complete timeline. Google has plenty of those for you. It’s a timeline that highlights a few very specific things that I think even a lot of liberals never quite understood. Let’s start:

March 2009: Two months after being confirmed as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton makes the fateful decision to host her unclassified email on a private server.

THIS IS IMPORTANT. Everybody at the State Department has an unclassified email account. In the aughts, most used state.gov alone, but lots of people also used Gmail or another commercial email service. These accounts are used routinely for day-to-day business, but only for unclassified material. There is an entirely different system for classified communications. The only way that Clinton’s email account differed from a state.gov account is that it was hosted on a private server.

September 12, 2012: The American consulate in Benghazi is attacked. Even though Clinton is literally faultless in this,1 conservatives begin a four-year campaign of investigations, subpoenas, and conspiracy theories that are plainly little more than partisan attacks designed to smear Clinton.

February 2013: Clinton steps down as secretary of state.

September 2013: The National Archives updates its regulations on the handling of email and other public records.

October 2014: After yet another records request in the Benghazi affair, the State Department asks all former secretaries of state for any official records in their possession.

December 2014: After removing her personal emails, Clinton delivers all her official emails to the State Department. Her staff asks Clinton what they should do with the personal emails, and she tells them she no longer needs them. The hosting company in Colorado, Platte River Networks, is instructed to delete Clinton’s existing email archives and to thenceforth preserve new emails for 60 days before deleting them.

March 2015: The New York Times reveals that Clinton’s emails were hosted on a private server. The Benghazi zealots immediately subpoena her email server.

March 2015: A Platte River tech discovers that he never deleted the email archives. At this point, even though Clinton’s staff has notified him not to make any changes (due to the subpoena), he deletes the old archive.

THIS IS IMPORTANT. It is now six years since Clinton began her tenure at the State Department and two years since she left. In that entire time, there was never any concern over the possibility that Clinton sent or received classified material over unclassified channels. In fact, I don’t think there has ever been any official concern about any secretary of state sending classified information over unclassified channels.

March 2015: Republicans in Congress ask the inspectors general of both the State Department and the intelligence community to review Clinton’s email practices. Their letter states, “We are concerned that diplomatically sensitive, and possibly classified, information may have been transmitted and stored in an insecure manner.”

July 2015: The IC inspector general tells Congress that it found classified information in a small sample of Clinton’s email that it reviewed. Both inspectors general ask the Justice Department to review all of Clinton’s email for a “potential compromise of classified information.” This is the start of the FBI investigation.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: Although the referral came from both IGs, the underlying issue is an ancient feud between the State Department and the CIA. The CIA basically wants to classify everything. The State Department, which has to work in the real world, takes the pragmatic view that classified information sometimes has to be discussed over unclassified channels. It just has to done carefully and circuitously.

July 2016: After a full year, the FBI finally concludes its investigation. Normally, FBI officials merely turn over their recommendations to prosecutors at the Justice Department, but this time FBI Director James Comey decides to host a detailed press conference about the investigation. He says Clinton did nothing illegal, a conclusion that he later describes as “not even a close call.” However, he also declares that Clinton was “extremely careless” with her email.

August 2016: The FBI releases its interview notes, which make it clear that Comey exaggerated wildly in his press conference. Clinton’s archives contained only three trivial emails that were marked classified. A couple of thousand more emails were retroactively classified. Should they have been? The CIA says yes. Clinton says no: They were carefully worded discussions between professionals who knew perfectly well how to conduct conversations like this. Comments from other State Department officials back up Clinton’s view. There was, it turns out, little evidence that anyone was careless, let alone “extremely careless,” but since the emails are now classified, no one will ever know for sure.2

October 2016: Two weeks before Election Day, Comey writes a letter announcing that the FBI has discovered records of emails between Clinton and her aide, Huma Abedin, on the computer of Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. There is nothing unexpected about this. All of Clinton’s aides probably have copies of emails from her, and as we now know, the FBI had no reason to think Abedin’s emails were anything they hadn’t already seen. But Comey declines to say any of this in his letter and the press goes nuts.

November 6, 2016: Comey announces that the investigation is over and none of the Abedin emails were relevant.

November 8, 2016: Donald Trump is elected president of the United States.

So here’s what we’ve got. Clinton used a private server for her unclassified emails. However, that doesn’t provide any reason to think she was any more careless about discussing classified information than any other secretary of state. Nevertheless, Republicans used the excuse of the Benghazi investigation to demand an inspector general’s audit of her emails. The intelligence community, naturally, concluded that Clinton’s archives contained thousands of discussions of classified programs. They would most likely conclude the same thing if they audited the email account of any ranking State Department official. It’s just a fact of life that State and CIA disagree about this stuff.

Comey certainly knew this, and he also knew that Clinton had done nothing out of the ordinary. However, in an attempt to appease congressional Republicans, who were sure to go ballistic when their hopes of putting Clinton in the dock failed yet again, he held a press conference where he called her actions “extremely careless.” Then, three months later, with absolutely no justification, he announced that more emails had been discovered—and he announced it in the most damaging possible way.

This is the meat of the whole affair. The rest is chaff. Did Clinton violate the Federal Records Act by holding her email on a private server? Was she trying to evade FOIA requests? Did she lie about wanting to use one email device? Did she violate agency regulations because she used an outside mail account for all her communications, rather than just part of them, as others have routinely done? Etc. etc. We can argue about this stuff forever and we’ll never know the answer. If you hate Clinton, you’ll insist that these are major felonies that should have landed her in a Supermax for life. But if you don’t hate Clinton in the first place, none of these will strike you as anything more than minor infractions at best and ungrounded speculation at worst. Plus there’s this: No one ever came close to investigating any of this, let alone trying to bring charges. Among the folks who know the most about these things, there was never so much as a hint that there was anything illegal among all the sensational accusations.3

The bottom line is simple: There was never any real reason for either the IG investigations or the FBI investigation. And in the end, the FBI found nothing out of the ordinary—just the usual State-CIA squabbling. Nevertheless, under pressure from Republicans, Comey spent a full year on the investigation; reported its conclusions in the most damaging possible way; and then did it again two weeks before the election. Because of this, Clinton lost about 2 percent of the vote, and the presidency.

Liberals should have defended her with gusto from the start. There was never anything here and no evidence that Clinton did anything seriously wrong. And yet we didn’t. Many liberals just steered clear of the whole thing. Others—including me sometimes—felt like every defense had to contain a series of caveats acknowledging that, yes, the private server was a bad idea, harumph harumph. And some others didn’t even go that far. The result was that in the public eye, both liberals and conservatives were more or less agreeing that there was a lot of smoke here. So smoke there was. And now Donald Trump is a month away from being president.

1I mean literally. She was not responsible for the fact that the Benghazi consulate had too few guards. She was not responsible for Chris Stevens taking a big risk that he was well aware of. She was not responsible for the nearby CIA compound. She did not lie about the attacks afterward. Susan Rice did not lie about them afterward. There was no “stand-down” order. Etc. There were lessons to be learned from the attack, but nothing that points to negligence on Clinton’s part.

2As long as we’re on the subject, I’ve long had another beef with Comey’s presentation. He said it was “possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account,” but he based that on literally nothing. There was no evidence of any successful hack. None. There was no more possibility of Clinton being hacked than anyone else who did the kinds of things she did.

3The only thing the FBI investigated was whether national security had been compromised. Neither the FBI nor anyone else ever investigated anything else.

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Timid Liberals Blew the Election by Flinching at Hillary Clinton’s Email Server

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Donald Trump is Predictable and Controllable. On the Other Hand, He’s Also Predictable and Controllable.

Mother Jones

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Ezra Klein writes about what we’ve learned for the thousandth time this week about Donald Trump:

The problem isn’t that Trump is cruel, though he is. The problem isn’t that Trump is boorish, though he is. The problem isn’t that Trump is undisciplined, though he is.

The problem is that Trump is predictable and controllable….His behavior, though unusual, is quite predictable — a fact the Clinton campaign proved by predicting it. His actions, though beyond the control ofhis allies, can be controlled by his enemies — a fact they proved by controlling them.

….Donald Trump can be forgiven for being caught off-guard at Monday’s debate. His presidency-disqualifying sin came in the hours after the debate. The Clinton campaign released a slickly produced video featuring Machado. The Guardian and Cosmopolitan rushed pre-planned Machado profiles to publication. Hillary Clinton did everything but spraypaint “THIS IS A TRAP” on the side of Trump Tower.

And still Trump fell for it. And fell for it. And fell for it. Six days later, he’s still falling for it.

All of this is precisely true. As Klein says, what Hillary Clinton did was so obvious, and so ploddingly executed, that it’s almost wrong to call it a trap. Any half-witted high school debater could have swatted it away contemptuously. But the Clinton camp knew Trump would fall for it anyway, and he did. His lizard-brain approach to life is that predictable.

But the funny thing is that there’s a completely different way that Trump’s biggest problem is that he’s predictable and controllable. In fact, it’s what I expected Klein’s post to be about when I read that line.

For months, liberals have been afraid that Trump might be smarter than he seems. Once the primary was over, he’d be able to remake himself as a normal person for a few consecutive months, and that might be enough to convince fence-sitters that he was presidential material. And for a while, after he brought Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway on board, it looked like that might happen. Trump calmed down and allowed his team to guide him. He started picking up a few points in the polls. Democrats were getting scared.

If he had kept that up, this might have turned into a real nailbiter of an election. And that was the real fear. Trump can, in fact, be predictable and controllable in a good way, and if he had managed to keep up that facade from Labor Day to Election Day, he might have fooled a fair number of people into voting for him. Fortunately, he couldn’t keep up the act, and within a few weeks he once again became predictable and controllable in a bad way.

In the end, Trump’s inability to play a role for even a few weeks in a row might be the only thing that saves us from a Trump presidency. That’s a little too close for comfort.

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Donald Trump is Predictable and Controllable. On the Other Hand, He’s Also Predictable and Controllable.

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Why Ignoring Global Warming Is Like Driving Across a Rickety Bridge

Mother Jones

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Earlier this week, the non-profit group WWF-UK sent out this twitpic:

As of this writing, it had been retweeted some 1,800 times.

Like the excellent medical analogy (which compares ignoring global warming to ignoring the risk of smoking; or not listening to your doctor when you’re told to eat healthier and exercise), this image makes perfectly clear just how irresponsible it is to ignore the overwhelming consensus of experts.

The message also relies on the highly influential “97 percent” study, which found that of scientific papers taking a position on global warming, 97 percent agreed that humans are causing it. There is still some scholarly debate over whether this message is the best one to use to convince those who are in doubt about climate change.

But there’s no doubt whatsoever that the message can be viral. Not only does this WWF-UK tweet show that; President Obama himself tweeted out the original “97 percent” study.

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Why Ignoring Global Warming Is Like Driving Across a Rickety Bridge

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