An Apotheosis of Garbage

In the wake of two horrifying mass shootings, Nicholas Kristoff has published a supposed guide to reduce shootings. He says it is the result of tons of research and represents a new strategy. But what it really is is a rehash of every bad anti-gun argument and junk science claim made over the last decade with a a few fancy graphs. It has little original insight and no original solutions.

We’ll start at the beginning. The first graphic puts out two facts: that the United States has more guns than any other country and that the United States has more murders than other developed countries.

I have addressed this argument before but it is worth rehashing. This comparison only works if you limit your analysis to guns. If you include all murder, no matter how they are committed, the connection completely falls apart.

Look at the statistics he cites. He has Sweden and Switzerland (countries that, incidentally, have high rates of gun ownership) at gun murder rates of 0.3 and 0.2 per 100,000. But while guns are used for about 60% of murders in the United States, they are only used in about 25% of murders in those countries. Would those gun murders vanish if we didn’t have guns? Or would people just murder with other means? You can’t tell from that data.

Here’s a comparison of the “gun murder rate” with the total murder rate.

US – 3.0 (4.9)
Italy – 0.7 (0.8)
Canada – 0.5 (1.7)
Sweden – 0.3 (1.2)
Germany – 0.2 (0.9)
Switzerland – 0.2 (0.7)
Australia – 0.1 (0.9)
England, Wales – 0.1 (0.9)
France – 0.1 (1.6)
Spain – 0.1 (0.7)
Japan – 0.0 (0.3)

Limiting his analysis to gun murders allows him to conveniently ignore 90% of the murders in France, 80% of the murders in Australia and the UK, two-thirds of the murders in Canada. The clear meaning of that graphic is that we had Japan’s gun laws, we’d have zero murders. I don’t see any evidence of that in the data.

His second section looks at the big decline in automobile deaths, which have resulted, at least in part, from laws passed mandating safety technology and cracking down on drunk driving. We’ll put aside the egregious comparison of something that is a Constitutional Right — the Right to Bear Arms — against something that is a privilege — the ability to drive on public roads. Here, he actually does have a point except … that gun murders have declined too. They’ve declined massively from the early 90’s peak, by at least 50%. And that has happened with gun laws becoming less restrictive.

His third point is that the gun death rates track gun ownership in states. This point was addressed in the links above. But notice a two-step he’s done here. In the first graphic, he was comparing murder rates. In the second, it’s death rates, which include suicides. Why does he do this? Mainly because including suicides would have blown up his point since supposedly idyllic Japan has an astronomical suicide rate. But again, when you look at homicide or suicide by state regardless of method, they don’t track gun laws at all. Just like they don’t with countries. Guns change the method but not the madness.

His fourth section ranks states by how well their laws are rated by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and argues that states with good gun control have fewer gun deaths. But … again … Volokh looked at this and found no correlation between total violent death rate and gun laws. The connection only works if you limit it to deaths involving a gun. Moreover, if you restrict your analysis to just murder — remember in the fist graphic, when we were just concerned with murders? — the relation completely disintegrates. Maryland is rated A on their gun laws. They have 5th highest murder rate in the country. Illinois has a B. They rank #4. Maine has an F for gun laws and has one of the lowest murder rates in the country.

His next point is actually legitimate. He points out, correctly, that mass shooting are a tiny part of our nation’s problem of violence. But then he says America is “moving in the wrong direction” because our gun law are getting less restrictive. But if America is “moving in the wrong direction”, why has gun violence dropped so dramatically in that period of time? Why has the loosening of our gun laws overlapped with the most dramatic drop in violent crime in our history?

He then cites two studies from Bloomberg Center for Gun Policy and Research. One showed Connecticut’s gun registration law cut murders 40%. I’ve talked about this study before. The study is highly dubious, taking one law in one state and comparing the result to “synthetic Connecticut” to show … something. This synthetic state method, by the way, is gaining popularity in gun control circles, primarily because it allows you to prove whatever you want just by changing what states you use for your controls. The other study looks at gun laws in Missouri and says gun violence rose after the laws were eased. While that’s accurate, it elides the fact that gun violence was rising before the law was passed and other states did not see similar increases. These studies are why I call that group the Bloomberg Center for Cherry-Picking. And both of these carefully cultivated studies are undercut by the massive overwhelming national trend of looser gun laws and less violence.

His last few points are semi-reasonable. He hits Congress for banning federal funding for research and says that proper training might cut gun violence. And while he’s right that majorities agree on some gun control measures, there isn’t a huge wave of support for them.

In a way, I’m grateful for this article appearing. It’s a nice distillation of every BS talking point, every garbage data manipulation, every deceptive claim that has characterized the gun control movement. It’s one-stop shopping for nonsense. If he’d only included ABC’s ridiculous “If I Only Had A Gun” segment, it would be perfect.

Texas Massacre

A few thoughts on yesterday morning’s awfulness in Sutherland Springs.

  • It is hard to overstate how devastating this is to that community. About 1 in 14 people who live in the town are dead this morning, murdered because they were going to church. There are no words for this kind of devastation.
  • I can not comprehend the kind of evil that goes into this kind of act. Murdering for money or out of anger or something is vile enough. But how evil do you have to be to just go into a church and start shooting people, including children?
  • A lot has been made of the fact that three of the five deadliest shootings in American history have taken place in the last few years. A few points on that: first, that only applies to since the mid-20th century. Before then, you will find many shooting massacres that were deadlier. We just called them “race riots” because that was a more convenient term than “white people murdering a bunch of black people because reasons”.
  • That having been said, I do wonder if these mass shooters are refining their methods. We know the Sandy Hook shooter was fascinated by earlier shootings. We are seeing a pattern: multiple guns, rapid-fire guns, tightly-packed crowds, places where there will be little to no armed resistance.
  • I don’t know if we can do anything about that. But maybe not giving these shooters the post-mortem fame they crave would help.
  • This shooting appears to have been made less deadly by the intervention of an armed citizen. While this is the first time that’s applied to this level of massacre, we have seen many shooting stopped by armed citizens either before anyone was killed or after minimal loss of life.
  • The angry Left-Wing response to “thoughts and prayers” seems badly misguided. In the face of incomprehensible tragedy, many people pray. That’s the way religion works.
  • And frankly, given that the immediate response to this sort of thing is a demand for gun control, I would argue that the Left is praying too. They’re just praying to a different god: the tin-plated one of government power.

Events are still unfolding. We’ll hear a lot about the shooter. But my only interest in him is in what we can learn to prevent future incidents. What I really want to hear about is the victims. They’re the ones we should be talking about, not the dirtbag who killed them.

Brazile Spills

When it comes to the Russia collusion thing, I find myself thinking two related thoughts:

  • There was definitely an effort by the Russians to at least cause disruption in our election. It’s worth investigating. And anyone who worked with the Russians should be run out of politics.
  • I seriously doubta few facebook memes and a Wikileaks e-mail trove that no one outside of Washington cared about decided this election. Or even had a big impact.
  • I think the attention on Russia’s influence is, to a significant extent, driven by the Democrats’ need to distract from their own incompetence. Indeed, accounts of the election night indicate that Clinton decided quickly to blame the loss on the Russians, rather than her own mismanagement.

That latter point just got a big jolt of support:

The Saturday morning after the convention in July, I called Gary Gensler, the chief financial officer of Hillary’s campaign. He wasted no words. He told me the Democratic Party was broke and $2 million in debt.

“What?” I screamed. “I am an officer of the party and they’ve been telling us everything is fine and they were raising money with no problems.”

That wasn’t true, he said. Officials from Hillary’s campaign had taken a look at the DNC’s books. Obama left the party $24 million in debt—$15 million in bank debt and more than $8 million owed to vendors after the 2012 campaign—and had been paying that off very slowly. Obama’s campaign was not scheduled to pay it off until 2016. Hillary for America (the campaign) and the Hillary Victory Fund (its joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC) had taken care of 80 percent of the remaining debt in 2016, about $10 million, and had placed the party on an allowance.

In return for this bailout, the Clinton campaign basically took over the DNC’s finances and strategy. It’s normal for Presidential campaigns to joint fundraise with the Party to bypass campaign finance limits. And it’s normal for the Presidential nominee to fill the DNC with their own people. But this began in 2015, long before she was officially the nominee. And the Clinton campaign canted the DNC’s strategies to favor Clinton and, instead of sharing money with the state committed, funneled almost all the money the Democratic Party was raising into Clinton’s presidential campaign. In short, the Democratic Party spent over a year serving as nothing more than a vehicle to advance Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, the rest of the country be damned.

You should read the whole thing, which is from Donna Brazile, current interim DNC chair. Brazile, of course, has her own history here: she was fired by CNN for feeding primary debate questions to Clinton. And this crosses me an effort to throw Wasserman-Schulz and Clinton under the bus to conceal her own perfidy. Althouse wonders if campaign finance laws were broken, which is a very good question.

We periodically get these reminders that, as bad as Trump is, Hillary Clinton was no panacea. Right now, her cultish followers are screaming sexism and crying, “Well, the DNC didn’t actually force people to vote for Clinton so the election wasn’t rigged!” But the DNC canted the entire process toward her. And she deprived them of any resources they needed for the kind of national presence that might have sustained her momentum. And then she went out and, despite these advantages, lost to her hand-picked tangerine opponent.

I said at the very beginning of the 2016 election that Hillary Clinton was bad at politics and the Democrats were going to be reminded of this in the hardest way possible. This decision to route all the money to her campaign wasn’t just corrupt and unethical, it was stupid. The Republican Party has as national presence; the Democratic Party does not. And decisions like this are why that is so. Even if Clinton had won, her burning of the party to support her own ambitions would have deprived her of the coattails needed to get a compliant Congress. Instead of Trump rage-tweeting about Congress, we’d have Clinton throwing lamps in the Oval Office. I guess that’d be an improvement, but not much of one.

NYC Again

What’s amazing about yesterday’s truck attack in NYC is the lack of immediate panic over it. We used to be able to count on these things to dominate the news and call for legislation. But I’m not hearing a lot of that (other than Trump’s call to end visa lotteries). I don’t know if we’ve gotten used to it or smarter in our approach — probably the former. The latest reporting is that he was radicalized in the United States. It’s hard to imagine some set of laws that will prevent gullible idiots from fall the delusional rantings of maniacs.

In any case, it’s been a long time since New York got hit, partially from luck and partially because they’ve been smart and prepared. This is a horrifying tragedy but they are bearing it well, as they always have.

First Indictments Down

It’s Manafort and Gates:

Paul Manafort and his former business associate were indicted on Monday on money laundering, tax and foreign lobbying charges, a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over President Trump’s first year in office.

Mr. Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, and his longtime associate Rick Gates, surrendered to the FBI on Monday. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort laundered more than $18 million to buy properties and services.

“Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States without paying taxes on that income,” the indictment reads.

Mr. Gates is accused of transferring more than $3 million from offshore accounts. The two are also charged with making false statements.

“As part of the scheme, Manafort and Gates repeatedly provided false information to financial bookkeepers, tax accountants and legal counsel, among others,” the indictment read.

Right now, this is a little less than a giant conspiracy to enthrone Trump. This is about what we expected: Manafort concealed his work for a Russian puppet, tried to hide the money and has now gotten burned. But, as far as I can tell, most of the charges are for things that long pre-date his association with Trump.

That having been said, this is a big deal. The supposed swamp-draining President’s former campaign manager is facing very serious federal charges. This would explain why the Administration suddenly decided to make a big deal about the Uranium One deal and call for Mueller to step down. I suspect more is coming, but it may be quite some time. Manafort was fairly long-hanging fruit, his misdeeds discovered quickly. We’ll see what else comes out.

The Clinton Files

Remember the Steele dossier? Sure you do. This was the file that Buzzfeed ran back in January detailing a mix of rumors and innuendo about Trump’s ties to Russia. At the time, it wasn’t clear where this came from. The dossier was compiled by Christopher Steele working for a company called Fusion GPS. But who hired them to compile that dossier?

Turns out: the Clintons.

Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.

After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the firm in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Prior to that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by a still unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.

The Clinton campaign and the DNC, through the law firm, continued to fund Fusion GPS’s research through the end of October 2016, days before Election Day.

So no deep state. No Obama coup. Just the Clintons up to their usual shit, trying to smear their opponent. The Clintons have a long history here, highlighted by things like Alma Powell’s struggles with depression suddenly becoming news, Newt Gingrich’s first divorce morphing into him serving papers to his sick wife, Bush’s DWI arrested coming to light days before the 2000 election, the sudden interest in Jeremiah Wright, Bernie Sanders’ 40-year old essays, etc., etc. The curious thing was that they couldn’t get the media to bite. As I noted in post above, this dossier was shopped around to the media but they refused to run it because so little of it could be verified. Some of it has since been verified (the conversations with Russian officials) but not the more dramatic allegations (financial ties, peeing hookers).

This is just a reminder that while Trump may be a dumpster fire, his opponent was hardly a shining bastion of decency and decorum. The Clintons spent real money trying to get dirt on Trump and then tried to shop around a file containing spectacular but unsubstantiated allegations. They tried to shop around a file so speculative that the media, all of whom hated Trump, refused to touch it. Do we have any doubts as to what Clinton would be doing right now where she in office with the powers of the FBI, NSA and CIA at her disposal?

Another Gold Star Feud

One of themes I keep returning to on Twitter is this:

Yes, the media has it in for Trump and will happily blow up even minor gaffes into major crises. Our entire media-political establishment has gotten twitchy and panicky about everything.

But, good Lord does Trump make it easy for them.

I have no idea what was said on the call between Trump and the family of La David Johnson. A Democratic Congresswoman says he said some dumb things and couldn’t remember the soldier’s name. The family has vaguely confirmed this; the Administration has vaguely denied it. I suspect that the family — like most Gold Star families — would rather keep politics away from their tragedy. If forced, I would guess that Trump tried to say something nice but bungled it — i.e., intended to commend Johnson’s bravery but it came out wrong. And now, being Trump, he’s refusing to let it go.

As I said in my post on empathy, part of the job of the President is to make them feel like their concerns are being listened to. Bill Clinton was probably the best I’ve ever seen at this but most Presidents have at least some ability to look people in the eye and make them feel like they care. Trump is able to speak to people’s fears and prejudices, which is probably why he won. But he can’t speak to their higher aspirations, their hopes, their dreams … or their very real sorrows.

This is who he is. We shouldn’t act surprised anymore.

LIGO Triumphs Again

Boom:

Some 130 million years ago, in a galaxy far away, the smoldering cores of two collapsed stars smashed into each other. The resulting explosion sent a burst of gamma rays streaming through space and rippled the very fabric of the universe.

On Aug. 17, those signals reached Earth — and sparked an astronomy revolution.

The distant collision created a “kilonova,” an astronomical marvel that scientists have never seen before. It was the first cosmic event in history to be witnessed via both traditional optical telescopes, which can observe electromagnetic radiation like gamma rays, and gravitational wave detectors, which sense the wrinkles in space-time produced by distant cataclysms. The detection, which involved thousands of researchers working at more than 70 laboratories and telescopes on every continent, heralds a new era in space research known as “multimessenger astrophysics.”

I was part of one of those 70 observatories. It was a very exciting week and represents one of the seminal discoveries in astrophysics. It’s a great day to be an astronomer.

Update: If you want to know what I sound like, here I am, talking to our local NPR station.

Trump Dumps On Iran

After weeks of hinting at it, Trump finally geeked:

President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to pull out of a deal freezing and reversing Iran’s nuclear program if Congress and US allies do not agree to strengthen it, as he unveiled a tough and comprehensive new policy toward the Islamic Republic.

“As I have said many times, the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” Trump said in a major speech at the White House.

In effect, Trump put the agreement in limbo without killing it off entirely as some backers had feared. But his strategy risks setting off a chain of unpredictable consequences that could end up derailing the deal anyway and eventually raise the risk of war between the US and Iran.

By decertifying the deal, Trump has sent it back to Congress, who can decide to get rid of the deal, remake the deal or send it back to him, at which point he can break it.

A few things to get out of the way: Trump is completely full of shit when he says Iran is violating the deal. The IAEA and every partner in the deal — including the United States — has confirmed that they are in compliance. They had done things we don’t like, such as continuing their missile program. But none of that violates the deal. In fact, the EU has already rejected Trump’s assessment and said they will continue to comply with the deal (EU companies are already doing billions in business with Iran).

Seen in that light, decertifying it like this is pure stupidity. The Iran deal is far from perfect but if we abrogate the deal, that does not restore sanctions. It makes it more likely for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon as they can now resume nuclear research, knowing it will have no effect on whether the US imposes sanctions or not. It also undermines our attempts to negotiate with North Korea (or any country that decides they want a nuke) because they now know that the US will simply back out of a deal even if they are in compliance. This is why almost everyone within Trump’s Administration opposed this move. But one of the running themes of Trump’s presidency is his hatred of Obama and his determination to undo anything Obama did, whether it was a good idea or a bad one. And so … the deal has to go, no matter what the consequences.

Part of this also goes back to Trump’s deluded belief that he’s a great deal-maker, a reputation that his career and the first nine months of his presidency show to be undeserved. As a businessman, his method of making deals was to stiff contractors and milk companies for money while driving them into bankruptcy. He thinks that’s how deals work: Trump does well; everyone else gets shafted. That’s why he sees NAFTA and TPP and Iran as bad deals; because the other side got something too. Real businessmen (and competent Presidents) know that good deals benefit both sides.

And if his history as a businessman weren’t evidence of his lousy deal-making ability, his Presidency has cemented it. With a Republican Congress, it has been highlighted by a failure to fix or repeal Obamacare, a total cave-in to the Democrats on DACA, a failure to reform the budget and a pending failure on tax reform. I realize that his defenders will blame the establishment, the GOP Congress, “the Deep State” and the establishment. But Trump has shown, repeatedly, that he is unfamiliar with policy and has no desire to learn, which makes negotiation impossible. The Republican Party — like all parties — has factions. Uniting those factions requires leadership from the top, which Trump is unable to provide. He expects deals to just sort of … happen.

The result of this decision will not be a better deal. It will be either the resumption of Iran’s nuclear program or a war. Such is the price we are paying for electing this vacuous egotistical idiotic hamster.

And to think what we could have had.

Update: One key point: the Iran deal would have been much more secure had it been made into a treaty and sent through Congress. That may not have happened, of course. But this serves as yet another illustration of why Obama’s Law of the Phone and a Pen was such a terrible idea.

The Weinstein Affair

So last week, the story broke that Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s biggest hitters, has been sexually harassing and abusing women for decades:

An investigation by The New York Times found previously undisclosed allegations against Mr. Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades, documented through interviews with current and former employees and film industry workers, as well as legal records, emails and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and the Weinstein Company.

During that time, after being confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact, Mr. Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. Among the recipients, The Times found, were a young assistant in New York in 1990, an actress in 1997, an assistant in London in 1998, an Italian model in 2015 and Ms. O’Connor shortly after, according to records and those familiar with the agreements.

Since the story broke, Weinstein had made an unconvincing defense of his behavior, the Weinstein company has fired him and his lawyer has quit. Reactions are ranging from outrageous “everyone knew” to absurd “no on knew”. I can’t judge what other people knew or didn’t know. But it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that Weinstein was not only a sexual predator but allowed to get away with it for decades. This is, after all, the industry that once gave child rapist Roman Polanski a standing ovation. This is, after all, the industry, that blacklisted Rose McGowan for speaking out on sexism. This is an industry that has made a chilling phrase — the casting couch — into a joke. I guarantee you that Weinstein is not unique or even that unusual. This is just the tip of a loathsome iceberg. And the reaction we are seeing from his company his co-workers is not a response to his behavior but a response to the revelation of his behavior.

Naturally, this being 2017, everyone is trying to find a political angle. Weinstein was a big donor to Democrats, so … something. I think that’s a bit rich coming from the party that nominated and elected Donald Trump to the White House. But in any case, Weinstein’s misbehavior means nothing as far as politics goes. There are plenty of rich people who donate to political parties and there may be three or four who don’t have some pattern of abusive behavior in their past. If you want to hit the Democrats for their hypocrisy on Trump, Weinstein should not be who you talk about. You should talk about Ted Kennedy. Or Chris Dodd. Or Bill Clinton. Or John Edwards. Or Mel Reynolds. People they have elected to public office and blindly supported through multiple allegations of misconduct. You should talk about the way they disparaged victims like Juanita Broaddrick and even willing partners like Monica Lewinsky. You should talk about their ties to Jeffrey Epstein.

The horrible truth is that … in his perverse way … Donald Trump was kinda right on the Pussy Tape. He was wrong that women let you grope them if you’re rich and famous; they merely bear it in silence. No, it’s everyone else who let’s you do it. It’s fellow politicians, it’s political followers, it’s fans, it’s producers, it’s actors, it’s the press, it’s the media. Until that changes, powerful men like Weinstein and Trump and Clinton will do whatever they are allowed to do.