U.S.

A Data Double Take: Police Shootings

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A man fires a handgun along a mountain range in Buckeye, Ariz., January 20, 2013. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

In a recent article, social scientist Patrick Ball revisited his and Kristian Lum’s 2015 study, which made a compelling argument for the underreporting of lethal police shootings by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Lum and Ball’s study may be old, but it bears revisiting amid debates over the American police system — debates that have featured plenty of data on the excessive use of police force. It is a useful reminder that many of the facts and figures we rely on require further verification.

The 2015 study considered the number of police-committed homicides on record, how different records, or “lists,” overlap, and what this overlap said about the total number of homicides. Lum and Ball noted then that “the more overlaps among the lists, the more plausible it is that the population they are drawing from is small.” The BJS, a major source of law enforcement data, once used the Arrest-Related Deaths program (ARD), a database that drew from media sources to compile “an annual national census of persons who died either during the process of arrest or while in the custody of state or local law enforcement personnel.”

It turns out that that database drastically undercounted police shootings. In 2015, the BJS conducted a report on the completeness of the ARD. They checked it against the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR), which recorded “homicides committed by police that in the judgment of the police department or the local FBI have been . . . considered legal.” There was substantial overlap between the ARD and SHR: The ARD reported 1,939 homicides, the SHR reported 1,704, and the overlap between the two amounted to 1,681. The BJS therefore estimated a total of 7,427 police homicides between 2003 and 2009 as well as in 2011. This statistical effort was a triumph, but it also illuminated the feeble record-keeping system in use to track police shootings.

In their report, Lum and Ball called this “a striking admission of the weakness of the federal bureaucracy with respect to recalcitrant local law enforcement officials who refuse to publicly share the most basic facts about potential abuses.” In their estimation, the BJS’s updated estimate fell short, failing to account for putative flaws with police homicide reporting. Lum and Ball asserted that the overlap between the ARD and SHR is probably larger than it should be, meaning that the eventual figure was also likely an underestimation.

Why would the overlap be too large? Lum and Ball assumed two things: one, that victims of police force fear government retaliation, and two, that police who commit crimes strive to hide their actions. The result of these incentives, they argued, is that the reported incidents are often the most public:

Consequently, lists of homicides tend to be partial, and they tend to emphasize victims with high social visibility: victims who are relatively well-known, and whose killing occurs in daylight, in urban areas, and in view of bystanders motivated to report the crime. Other killings without these aspects more frequently remain hidden from public knowledge.

Ball argues that in the absence of witnesses and media, a police shooting is more likely to go unreported or filled as an accident. Accordingly, Lum and Ball turned to list correlations that they had found in other countries, including Colombia and Kosovo, to estimate the total number of U.S. police homicides as close to 10,000 over the tested period (about 1,250 a year).

Does that estimate hold up? Thankfully, the ARD no longer exists given its abundant flaws, but other sources have stepped in to provide a more comprehensive look at police shootings. In 2015, the Washington Post started its own police-shooting database, which has found about 1,000 police shootings per year. According to the Post, the data is compiled “by culling local news reports, law enforcement websites and social media, and by monitoring independent databases such as Killed by Police and Fatal Encounters.” Interestingly, these data conflict with Lum and Ball’s findings; the Post is simply counting each incident as it occurs, rather than making statistical inferences. The Post’s reliance on media sources for data also conflicts with Ball and Lum’s assertion that only certain police homicides make it to the news.

This is a promising step forward. The Post’s efforts represent the most comprehensive attempt to track all police shootings. But it would still be wise to heed Lum and Ball’s warnings. Data collection, like all information, can be affected by incentives.

Media

The BBC, at It Again

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The BBC is committed to achieving due impartiality in all its output. This commitment is fundamental to our reputation, our values and the trust of audiences. The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.

Here are two recent examples of the BBC’s violation of its charter.

First, their outrageous libelous report via BBC Four’s six o’clock news that Darren Grimes, a young conservative commentator and pro-Brexit campaigner, described his own website as “a safe space for racist and homophobic views.” In fact, this is the precise opposite of what Grimes had said. In a video promoting his channel, Reasoned UK, he asked: “Do you hide your political views for fear of being called homophonic, a TERF, racist?” In their correction acknowledging the error, the BBC then cited the LGBTQ+ activist news site Pink News. But why, if they are impartial, is this their main source?

Second, BBC Sounds recently ran a segment from the podcast No Country For Young Women, in which two young white women advised other white women on how “not [to] be Karens.” The list included: “read some books,” “try not to be defensive,” “be ready to think critically about your identity and your privilege,” “don’t be so loud,” “get of the way,” and “basically leave.” Er, isn’t telling women to shut up and get out of the way basically misogyny?

Film & TV

Ennio Morricone, R.I.P.

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At 91 years old, the great film soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone has died.

Morricone’s work elevated spaghetti Westerns into art. His soundtrack for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly is one of the most enduring and endearing pieces of work for a reason. His status among aural aficionados was given a slight comic tribute in the chick-flick, The Holiday, when Jack Black’s character embarrasses himself trying to explain the sublime power of Morricone’s soundtrack for The Mission, which is really astonishing. It shows Morricone as a true composer. All the courageous idealism of a Jesuit missionary is in the fantasia “Gabriel’s Oboe.” The beauty and transcendent terror of God’s judgement is somehow packed into the “Ave Maria” he composes for the Guarani to sing to the cardinal who will betray them to slavers.

Morricone began his musical career as a trumpeter in jazz bands in the 1940s and later became a studio arranger for RCA in the 1950s. His work on Westerns from 1960–1975 is what made him a star — most famously, his collaborations with Sergio Leone. Once Upon a Time in the West is a masterpiece. Here it is played like one by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

Morricone had long-term relationships with directors like Brian De Palma and Roland Joffre. Quentin Tarantino, a devotee in the Leone cult, had Morricone do the lovely soundtrack for The Hateful Eight. Overall, Morricone composed for over 400 films and television series.

The sounds Morricone created are as essential to the language of cinema as any of Steven Spielberg’s track-in shots , Spike Lee’s montages, or Hitchcock’s “pure cinema” style of visual storytelling.

Music

All Americans Share the Same National Anthem

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The National Football League, as alas many other folks, might think there is a “black national anthem.” But in fact, of course, African Americans share the same national anthem with all other Americans, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And I bet James Weldon Johnson would have agreed. Who’s he? Among other things, this distinguished American was the coauthor (with his brother) of the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as the black national anthem. But Mr. Johnson referred to it instead as the “Negro National Hymn,” which makes a lot more sense if we’re all Americans.

Culture

The Last Sacred Space

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Since we are now dedicated to a great project erasing famous sinners from our public places, shouldn’t we just be absolutely tearing up the Hollywood Walk of Fame? I mean crews of guys with jackhammers just working around the clock. From rapists to racists, the Hollywood Walk of Fame has something for everybody. How is it that this bit of sidewalk is for some reason the one sacred space that cannot be touched?

Education

UNC Pushes the PC Envelope

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How much can our higher-education leaders get away with when it comes to promoting “correct” leftist views? Evidently, they aren’t worried that anything might go too far, as we can see from the latest spate of requirements at the University of North Carolina. The Martin Center’s Shannon Watkins discusses them in this article. 

She writes that “recent moves by the UNC-Chapel Hill administration of chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz threaten the spirit of free inquiry that is the foundation of the modern Western university. The intent appears to be to make the school’s policies and procedures accord with the beliefs of the radical elements that have been rampaging across American universities and cities in recent times.”

How so? For one thing, every person in the campus community will now have to endure “training” to ensure that he or she thinks the right way about race. This is straight out of Orwell.

The university also signals its righteousness by posting a list of approved resources for becoming an “anti-racist.” Of course, it includes nothing but tendentious stuff like Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.

Watkins sums up, writing “Whether these actions — the June 11 email, the resource page, the initiative — are mere pandering to the mob or UNC’s top administrators are really that radical is unimportant; what matters is that they are being undertaken with impunity and little resistance from those entrusted with protecting the university. And that the direction of the university has been handed over to people who think these actions are good ideas.”

Education

In Education, a Silver Lining to COVID-19

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The pandemic has turned much of America inside out, with terrible consequences. But it may have a few upsides, among them increased empathy by instructors for their students. In today’s Martin Center article, Portland Community College writing professor Kathleen Bustamante explains how that is so.

Here is one of the stories she relates in the piece:

A student whose mother had been hospitalized for leukemia, for example, experienced an understandably high amount of stress when the lockdown began. A bright student, he had turned in quality work on time, but started to miss deadlines during the lockdown. He began battling depression and sought treatment because hospital rules stopped him from visiting his mother. He admitted he was having trouble handling the anxiety of a parent battling cancer, a pandemic, and passing my class.

Before COVID-19, I might have thought twice before believing him. After 14 years of teaching, I have heard my share of sad stories by procrastinating students who lie to avoid a failing grade.

However, this pandemic has brought about trauma and emotional lows for many people. Experiencing the same stressors as my students has increased my levels of understanding and patience as a teacher.

Bustamante now is more lenient about giving students extensions on assignments and devotes more of her time to helping students who are struggling, but is not demanding added compensation for it.

She concludes, “Teaching through COVID-19 has opened my eyes to the many obstacles my students face beyond academics. After the pandemic ends, I look forward to sending my children back to school and life returning to normal. However, a more nuanced perspective on my students’ lives will stay with me.”

U.S.

If You Want to Rename a Site Named after a Confederate Figure . . .

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President Trump salutes as he stands with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a military honor guard carries the remains of Americans killed in Syria during a dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, in Dover, Del., January 19, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The folks who want to rename landmarks currently named after Confederate generals and leaders are going about it all wrong — that is, if they really want to convince people to rename those landmarks.

Most human beings, and particularly most Americans, are instinctively resistant to any message in the vein of, “That thing you’ve been doing all your life and never saw as harmful to anyone is morally abhorrent and must stop immediately.” Few human beings can easily turn on a dime, and not many of us find changing longtime habits to be easy — otherwise, quitting smoking, drinking, or overeating would be a snap.

If you want people to change, you have to make them want to change. Advocates of cancel culture have only a few moves — mostly demonization and intimidation — and seem to relish turning everything into a contest of wills and basking in their moral superiority over those who disagree. I doubt it ever crossed their minds to try to make those who initially disagree want to rename existing military bases, public squares, and other landmarks.

Take, for example, Fort Benning straddling the Alabama–Georgia border. Few Americans knew it was named after Henry Benning until recently and I doubt many Americans feel any particular reverence towards Henry Benning. When you read Benning’s speech to the Virginia convention on secession, you will probably recoil:

If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished except in Georgia and the other cotton States, and I doubt, ultimately in these States also. By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. [Laughter.] The majority according to the Northern idea, which will then be the all-pervading, all powerful one, have the right to control. It will be in keeping particularly with the principles of the abolitionists that the majority, no matter of what, shall rule. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand that?

Suppose they elevated Fred[erick] Douglas, your escaped slave, to the Presidency? And there are hundreds of thousands at the North who would do this for the purpose of humiliating and insulting the South. What would be your position in such an event? I say give me pestilence and famine sooner than that.

If we were building a new military base today, would we ever name it after a guy like that? Hell, no.

But almost everyone is used to calling it Fort Benning, and many people will instinctively reject demands from a 20-something left-wing activist insisting it be renamed as a rebuke to structural white supremacy or any argument like that.

Don’t argue, “We should take away the name Fort Benning.”

Argue: “We should rename Fort Benning after Pat Tillman, who walked away from a lucrative NFL career to enlist in the U.S. Army, trained at that base, and who was killed in Afghanistan.” Or any other fallen American hero who many would agree deserves a major recognition like that.*

Then the debate shifts away from what people think about Henry Benning or the Confederacy or the South and shifts towards who in American history — including recent American history — deserves recognition and lasting honor and hasn’t received it yet.

There is no shortage of underrecognized exceptional and heroic Americans. We have 26 post-Vietnam Medal of Honor recipients alone, eleven awarded posthumously. Or we can look further back — America was built in large part by valiant and courageous contributions to our battles, often by those who didn’t look like the best-known Founding Fathers. Don’t erase parts of the portrait of America, widen the portrait — and call attention to names Americans ought to recognize but rarely do: Robert Smalls. Mary Ellen Pleasant. Grace Hopper. Jesse L. Brown. William H. Hastie. Hector P. Garcia. Carmen Conteras Bozak. Marcelino Serna. Angel Mendez. Luis Walter Alvarez. Kurt Chew-Een Lee. Joe Hayashi. Virginia Hall. Ely S. Parker. Ernest Evans. Jack C. Montgomery. I’m sure you can think of and find many more.

But for an effort like this, those who are offended by the Confederate names have to want to build a consensus in support of a better alternative — and it’s not clear that this is really their objective. I suspect that for some, the contest of wills is the point.

*From 2006 to 2012, the U.S. Army Forward Operating Base near Lawara, Afghanistan, was named “Forward Operating Base Tillman” in his honor. Since that FOB closed, the U.S. military has not had a facility named after him.

Media

Senator Duckworth and Most of the Press Are Lying about Trump’s Speech

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President Donald Trump speaks prior to signing an executive order on police reform at a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House, June 16, 2020. (File photo: Leah Millis/Reuters)

Senator Tammy Duckworth says that, during his address at Mount Rushmore on Friday, President Trump “spent all his time talking about dead traitors.”

This is a flat-out lie. It is entirely untrue. It is invented from whole cloth. You can read the speech here and see for yourself.

One doesn’t have to like President Trump — or to have enjoyed his speech — in order to acknowledge that Duckworth is lying. One needs only to read what was said.

Trump’s two references to the Civil War came in passages praising Lincoln and condemning slavery.

Here is the first:

Abraham Lincoln, the savior of our union, was a self-taught country lawyer who grew up in a log cabin on the American frontier. The first Republican president, he rose to high office from obscurity based on a force and clarity of his anti-slavery convictions. Very, very strong convictions. He signed the law that built the Trans-Continental Railroad. He signed the Homestead Act given to some incredible scholars as simply defined ordinary citizens free land to settle anywhere in the American West, and he led the country through the darkest hours of American history, giving every ounce of strength that he had to ensure that government of the people, by the people and for the people did not perish from this earth. He served as commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces during our bloodiest war, the struggle that saved our union and extinguished the evil of slavery. Over 600,000 died in that war, more than 20, 000 were killed or wounded in a single day in Antietam. At Gettysburg 157 years ago, the Union bravely withstood an assault of nearly 15,000 men and threw back Pickett’s Charge. Lincoln won the Civil War. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He led the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery for all-time and ultimately his determination to preserve our nation and our union cost him his life. For as long as we live, Americans will uphold and revere the immortal memory of President Abraham Lincoln.

Here is the second:

By tearing down Washington and Jefferson, these radicals would tear down the very heritage for which men gave their lives to win the Civil War, they would erase the memory that inspired those soldiers to go to their deaths, singing these words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, while God is marching on.” They would tear down the principles that propelled the abolition of slavery and ultimately around the world ending an evil institution that had plagued humanity for thousands and thousands of years. Our opponents would tear apart the very documents that Martin Luther King used to express his dream and the ideas that were the foundation of the righteous movement for Civil Rights. They would tear down the beliefs, culture and identity, that have made America the most vibrant and tolerant society in the history of the earth. My fellow Americans, it is time to speak up loudly and strongly and powerfully and defend the integrity of our country.

Quite how Duckworth gets from there to “spent all his time talking about dead traitors,” I don’t know.

By contrast, I do know why she said what she said. Duckworth said what she said because almost the entire press corps said the same thing within seconds of the speech’s conclusion, and, in so doing, it signaled to her and to everyone else that she could get away with it.

Which, of course, she will. The press will, too. Try to point out that her claim isn’t actually true, and you will be met with a series of non sequiturs, along with some pointed questions as to your motivations. “Well he says other things.” “Well, he’s not a good person in general.” “Well, I doubt he wrote it himself.” “Well, last year he said . . .” Or: “Why do you care, anyway?”

Why do I “care”? I care because (a) I don’t think it’s good for America to have a press corps that lies as brazenly as ours does, and (b) because what Trump actually said is exactly what we should want American presidents to say. The Confederacy was a monstrous and unsalvageable tyranny, led by figures who explicitly rejected the American Founding. It needed crushing, and it is a good thing that it was crushed. The Revolution, by contrast, was a unparallelled leap forward, the consequences of which have been almost entirely salutary, not only for America, but for the world.

At Mount Rushmore, Trump made a speech about the Revolution, not about the Confederacy. I know this because I can read. “Declaration of Independence” appears in the speech three times. “Revolution” and “Founders” appear four times each. “1776” appears five times. The phrase “all men are created equal” is singled out as a set of “immortal words” that “set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom.” By contrast, “Confederacy” isn’t there at all, nor are “Stephens,” “Davis,” “Lee,” or “Forrest,” and the sections on the Civil War are vehicles for the adulation of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Trump did mention statues, but the names he mentions in connection are “George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, abolitionists, and many others,” as well as “Andrew Jackson.” In addition, he mentions the other two men on Mount Rushmore — Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt — and, in a variety of contexts, name-checks the “Reverend Martin Luther King,” “Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody,” “the Wright brothers, the Tuskegee airmen, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, George Patton, General George Patton, the great Louis Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Elvis Presley, and Muhammad Ali,” Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Irving Berlin, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope.

None of these people were “traitors” — not one — which may go some way to explaining why The Hill approvingly quotes Senator Duckworth’s lie, and cites a CNN tweet that claims that Trump “defended Confederate monuments” but provides only this as evidence:

Trump blasted demonstrators who are requesting the removal of statues, saying they want to “overthrow the American Revolution” at Mount Rushmore’s Fourth of July event.

If the truth matters, it matters all the time, including when reporting on Donald Trump. That Trump lies himself does not change this. That Trump is often incoherent does not change this. That Trump has said some awful things over the past five years does not change this. This was not a speech about Confederate monuments, it was not a speech about traitors, and it was not a speech that equivocated on the question of racial equality. Senator Duckworth is lying, and the press is helping her do it. Do they think we’re incapable of reading?

World

Who Supports the Hong Kong National Security Law?

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Riot police officers in front of a water cannon vehicle during a march against the national security law on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China from Britain, in Hong Kong, China, July 1, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

In the wake of Beijing’s move to enact a draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong this week, China’s state-owned media outlets and foreign ministry have gleefully highlighted a statement by Cuba’s delegate to the U.N. on behalf of 52 other countries lauding the law. Curiously, none of these reports mentioned any of the other countries standing with China.

The statement’s co-signatories remained unknown — until this morning, when Axios published the full list.

These countries include North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Eritrea, and Belarus. Of course, none of the governments in this group have particularly admirable human-rights records; most of the 53 countries are autocracies with one-party rule. That the U.N. Human Rights Council — which earlier that day was addressed by pro-Beijing Hong Kong executive Carrie Lam — would be the forum for the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda games is unsurprising, to say the least.

More interesting, as many have pointed out online, is the geographic dispersion of the group of 53, when compared with the 27 countries that condemned the National Security Law in their own statement. The CCP allies wrap around less-developed parts of the world, tracing the path of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, most of the 27 opponents of the law were liberal democracies located in Europe, in addition to Canada, Japan, and Australia.

Coordinated opposition to Beijing by Western democracies has percolated for years now. In the United States, it’s conventional wisdom that the past three years have seen a dramatic shift in China policy, moving from an approach that prioritizes the management of a problem to one that mitigates a threat. The coronavirus marked another sharp shift — U.S.–China relations reached new heights of acrimony, and Europe, Canada, and Australia saw an acceleration of the deterioration of their relations with Beijing. As it turns out, spreading disinformation, sentencing prisoners on political grounds, and launching massive cyberattacks has not won the CCP many friends. Meanwhile, an international coalition of legislators working on China-related issues formed in June. And political parties across the West are beginning to re-evaluate their attitudes toward China.

The events of the past week seem to mark a significant new rupture. In addition to the National Security Law, this stems from new concerns that the CCP’s treatment of the Uighurs constitutes a genocide. These are only the latest outrages. We can certainly expect many more.

Will there be a united Western response? Despite the usual concerns about America’s treatment of its allies in the Trump era, U.S. partners have no choice but to stand with Washington against Beijing’s assaults on fundamental human rights. As the CCP rallies authoritarian regimes around its worldview at international organizations, liberal democracies catch a glimpse of how an emboldened CCP will wield its influence around the world. Fortunately, they’re getting their act together.

Elections

After What Happened in 2016, You’d Think People Would Be More Skeptical about 2020 Polling

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question from the audience during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., October 9, 2016. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

It’s been odd watching the national political conversation march forward as if the 2016 election had never happened. While the world’s changed dramatically in four years, much of 2020’s poll numbers are strikingly similar to those of 2016.

The most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, for instance, gives Biden a 53–43 percent lead among registered voters nationally. On June 26, 2016, a Washington Post/ABC News poll — noting that Trump’s support had “plunged” — put Hillary up over the Republican 51–39 among registered voters nationwide in a head-to-head contest.

The reasons?

The survey finds broad objections to Trump’s candidacy — from his incendiary rhetoric and values to his handling of both terrorism and his own business — foreshadowing that the November election could be a referendum on Trump more than anything else.

In the first week of July 2016, Reuters/Ipsos had Clinton up 44–33 (in November of that year, the pollster gave Hillary a 90 percent chance of winning.) The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll has Biden up 48–35. The latest New York Times/Siena poll that has Biden up 14 points nationally over Trump. In the last poll conducted by Siena before the 2016 election (I don’t see any from June–July), Clinton carried a 17-point lead over Trump. In June of 2016, Fox News had Hillary with a 49–39 lead, and now it shows Biden with a 50–38 lead. In May 2016, USA Today/Suffolk poll had Hillary’s leading 50–39 percent. In June 2020, USA Today/Suffolk poll finds Biden leading 53–41 percent.

It’s difficult to conjure up a more precarious political environment for a national candidate than the one Trump finds himself in — due to both self-inflicted troubles and events out of his control — and yet the RCP average right now has Biden up over nine points. In July of 2016, a CNN/ORC poll had Trump down 52–43. In August of 2016, Quinnipiac had him down 51–41, and McClatchy/Marist had him down 48–33.

Plenty of polls, it’s true, showed a closer race, but even some of those had obvious problems. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in late June 2016 had Clinton up 46–41 percent, with the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and Green Party’s Jill Stein winning 16 percent of the vote combined. They ended up with around 4 percent in a contest in which both major candidates were personally unpopular.

It’s also true that national polls are about as useful as the “popular vote.” State polls, however, were hardly better — and quite similar in 2016 to 2020.

RCP average of Pennsylvania in July of 2016 found Hillary up by over a seven-point spread. Right now, Biden is up seven points. The last poll CBS News/YouGov conducted in the state had Hillary winning 48–40; the last New York Times/Siena poll, 46–39; the last Bloomberg poll 48–39; and the last NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll, 49–37.

In the final Wisconsin RCP average spread, which remained consistent throughout the election, had Hillary ended up over six points. Biden is up over six points right now in the RCP average.

In Michigan, polls show Hillary at around 6.2 average in July of 2016. The number spiked in the fall — Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, and Detroit Fox, all had Hillary with a double-digit lead in October — before the race tightened. Biden’s spread is over seven points.

None of the above is scientific, and I certainly don’t claim any special expertise on the matter. If polls tell me Donald Trump is in trouble in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, I’m inclined to believe them, because the events I’m witnessing tend to confirm it. Trump hit a low in the national average today, and that’s a trend that should concern Republicans. On the other hand, lots of media and liberals seem awfully confident they’re going to run away with the election. It seems to me a little more skepticism about the polling might be in order. Especially considering recent history.

Culture

Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Human Rights, Abortion, Hugh Downs & More (July 2, 2020)

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1. The Washington Post: ‘Cries for help’: Drug overdoses are soaring during the coronavirus pandemic

Nationwide, federal and local officials are reporting alarming spikes in drug overdoses — a hidden epidemic within the coronavirus pandemic. Emerging evidence suggests that the continued isolation, economic devastation and disruptions to the drug trade in recent months are fueling the surge.

2.

3. Msgr. Ratzinger, retired pope’s brother, dies at 96

4.

5. The Washington Post: Virginia maternity housing charity sees spike in need, challenges in fundraising

The demand for help exceeded the nonprofit’s housing capacity, so Mary’s Shelter came up with a new way to meet needs. It placed women in hotels, paid their rent, or covered transportation to friends or family willing to take them in, [Kathleen Wilson, executive director of Mary’s Shelter] said.

“We’re just meeting the needs wherever they are,” Wilson explained. “If we have to buy a bus ticket so they can get some place else or if we have to keep them in hotels for three weeks and incur that cost, we’ll do that.”

6. Supreme Court turns away two challenges to buffer zones outside abortion clinics

7. Black Disabled Man in Texas Dies After Being Denied COVID Treatment and Starved for Six Days, Wife Alleges

8. Cardinal Timothy Dolan: For God’s sake, stop demonizing the NYPD

Continue reading “Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Human Rights, Abortion, Hugh Downs & More (July 2, 2020)”

Education

U.K.: An Economist Looks at 90: Tom Sowell on ‘Charter Schools and Their Enemies’

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The day before this show was recorded, Dr. Thomas Sowell began his tenth decade of life. Remarkably on one hand and yet completely expected on the other, he remains as engaged, analytical, and thoughtful as ever. In this interview (one of roughly a dozen or so we’ve conducted with Dr. Sowell over the years), we delve into his new book Charter Schools and Their Enemies, a sobering look at the academic success of charter schools in New York City, and the fierce battles waged by teachers unions and progressive politicians to curtail them. Dr. Sowell’s conclusion is equally thought-provoking: If the opponents of charter schools succeed, the biggest losers will be poor minority children for whom a quality education is the best chance for a better life.

Recorded on July 1, 2020

Capital Matters

Jobs: Good News/Bad News — and Wee Tim’rous Beasties

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People who lost their jobs fill out paperwork to file for unemployment following an outbreak of the coronavirus, at an Arkansas Workforce Center in Fayetteville, Ark., April 6, 2020. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

The headlines look just fine. No, more than fine.

CNBC:

Nonfarm payrolls soared by 4.8 million in June and the unemployment rate fell to 11.1% as the U.S. continued its reopening from the coronavirus pandemic, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting a 2.9 million increase and a jobless rate of 12.4%. The report was released a day earlier than usual due to the July Fourth holiday.

The jobs growth marked a big leap from the 2.7 million in May, which was revised up by 190,000. The June total is easily the largest single-month gain in U.S. history.

But:

. . . . because the government survey comes from the middle of the month, it does not account for the suspension or rollbacks in regions hit by a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

As CNBC noted, new jobless claims rose, and by more than estimated, but the most interesting number (to me) was highlighted by Felix Salmon for Axios:

Thursday’s jobs report showed 4.8 million jobs created in June, but those were overwhelmingly people beginning to return to places where they had been temporarily laid off. The number of “permanent job losers” went up, not down, rising 25% in just one month to 2.8 million from 2.2 million.

This, I think, underlines the point that you cannot just switch an economy off and then on, just like that. A “pause” on the scale and, possibly more seriously still, of the duration, that we have seen was always going mean that the recovery would fall very far short of the ‘V’ on which so many are pinning their hopes.

I cannot help wondering whether it might have been different if the U.S. had had something in place more directly akin to Germany’s Kurzarbeit arrangements (It’s well worth reading Standpoint’s Christopher Rauh on this topic).

If I had to guess (which is all, really, that anyone can do), the most likely shape of the recovery will be a ‘K’.  That won’t be good news for those in the wrong part of the K, or, for that matter, the GOP in November.

I’d also pay close attention to Salmon’s comments on where the money that is being pumped (theoretically) into the economy is going.

Short answer: Much of it is going nowhere, at least for now.

Salmon:

We’ve already thrown $6 trillion at this crisis. Much of it seems to have found its way into the stock market, which rose 20% in the second quarter. A new stimulus bill could add another $1 trillion or so. But far too much of that money just isn’t being put to effective use . . . .

If money flows into a bank and just sits there, that’s a sign of severe economic malaise — the “paradox of thrift.” In a healthy economy, individuals and corporations spend freely, and that free spending causes more money to come in tomorrow. In an unhealthy economy, cash gets hoarded and does not contribute to economic activity . . .

Americans saved 32% of their income in April, and 23% in May — numbers vastly higher than all previous records. Money-market funds now hold $4.7 trillion. Corporate cash balances are similarly surging, and now stand at well over $2 trillion. And the total amount of cash available for spending in checking accounts and other readily-accessible locations is now over $5.2 trillion.

Part of this reflects the simple reality that, particularly where discretionary spending is concerned, there are limited opportunities for spending with so much of the consumer economy shut down. But part of this may be simple caution. People do not feel secure enough to spend.

While, as Salmon notes, “insofar as the CARES Act was designed to ensure that America didn’t run out of money, it succeeded. And the individually-focused elements of the act — the $1,200 stimulus checks and the $600-per-week extra unemployment benefit — worked to cushion the economic blow that hit millions of Americans.”  That’s good, but the broader picture — that of a nervous consumer is unchanged.

And if the consumer is nervous, so are companies.

Salmon:

Much of the corporate aid in the act — from $500 billion in emergency relief for businesses to the Fed’s Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility — has ended up almost entirely untouched. Even the Main Street lending facility has lent almost nothing.

Keynes saw a revival in what he referred to as “animal spirits” as an essential element in any recovery.

The only animal I can see (borrowing shamelessly from Robert Burns) is a “wee . . . tim’rous beastie,” cowering in its burrow. That’s understandable — and it’s not good news.

Capital Matters

A Fuller Picture of Unemployment

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The headlines are understating how much unemployment there is, but they’re also understating how fast it’s falling. See here for more.

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