The sleep of reason brings nightmares

Nothing combines Trump’s ignorance, cruelty, fecklessness and desperation like [what I suppose is] Stephen Miller’s idea of sending refugees into sanctuary cities.  It’s nature imitating art, Brers Fox and Bear throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch.

The way this scheme is supposed to work is that we (I live in one of those places) will be terrified at the prospect and crime will soar when it happens, so we will vote against all our Democratic officials and, I guess, form vigilante gangs and go after the refugees violently. Boy, that’ll show those luftmensch liberals and the refugees both, right?

But every assumption behind this is completely wrong. These are people who don’t want to be raped and killed, and have the courage to trek two thousand miles to protect their kids, and who trust US decency and law, and being immigrants will have lower crime rates than the native population. The idea that they are going to scare the pants off us is completely and obviously nuts. Sanctuary cities declared themselves such having lots of experience with immigrants; we know exactly what to expect, and it’s OK with us.

Aside from its viciousness and illegality, it’s hard to think of a Trump initiative that is so completely disconnected from facts and reality; not just slightly off, but totally mad.  The White House continues to plumb new depths of sick and stupid; are there any more wheels that can come off this thing?

The opioid crisis and the border Wall

The states hardest hit by the opioid crisis are a long way from the Mexican border. Trump’s Wall remains a solution in search of a problem.

One of the sillier talking points in the Wall debate is that we need a physical barrier to keep opioids from coming into the country from Mexico.  Various commenters have pointed out that: (1) The fentanyls, which are the fastest-growing segment of opioid use and overdose deaths, mostly come directly from China; and (2) What does come across the U.S./Mexico border comes through overwhelmingly by common carrier at ports of entry; it isn’t backpacked through the desert by immigrants.

A point I haven’t seen made, and didn’t know about until Kevin Drum posted this graph based on data from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, is that the crisis isn’t concentrated anywhere near Mexico. All of the hardest-hit states in terms of opioid mortality rates are east of the Mississippi and north of the Tennessee, about as far as they could be from the Rio Grande. Of the four states that actually border Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona are in the middle of the pack, while California and Texas rank 45th and 47th.

So Trump’s Wall remains a solution in search of a problem.

Immigration

A moment of sympathy for Republicans.  Trump won’t protect them from the agony of an immigration debate or lead them through it in any useful way, and now they are being tasked by the zero-tolerance fiasco to show (or at least emulate) courage and decency they long ago threw on the political bonfire.  Today, he even denied them the tough, never-settle leader today’s GOP wants to cower behind, left them thousands of kids in secret prisons, and the larger issue remains.

It is an exquisitely difficult issue, especially for the rich and xenophobic. To enact any kind of immigration reform requires keeping the following balls in the air:

(1) Agriculture, hospitality, domestic service, home construction and repair, restaurants, and gardening are all important to rich people, whether as proprietors or consumers. All depend on a docile, cheap work force, often a seasonal one.  Americans will not tolerate lettuce prices high enough to support ag wages that get Americans to work in the fields, or hotel rates ditto.  Fear of ICE is almost indispensable in insuring docility.

(2) The hi-tech industry also depends on a work force that Americans will not pay to educate, especially in red states, so we also need an ample supply of H-1b immigrants who don’t need salaries that will amortize crippling student loan debts; they aren’t as cheap as farm workers, but their docility needs even more reinforcement, and not being able to quit their jobs helps with this.

(3) The Republican game plan, since the party’s consignment of its brain and conscience to Trump, demands that the image of immigrants as murderous brown gangsters, planning their assault on your job and your family in Spanish, be vividly front and center. It also requires a population on which the old, and many young, white  Trump-base frightened haters can look down.

(4) Trump himself requires regular opportunity to hurt the weak, unfortunate, sick, helpless, and poor, and to be seen doing so. Immigrants, especially refugees, are not indispensable for this–plain Americans with pre-existing medical conditions or dependent on Social Security, in any color, qualify–but are still very useful.

(5) Somehow the whole project has to enrich Trump personally, his circle of grifters, and the top 1% who gave him to us, or why bother? It’s really not clear how any particular immigration scheme can be monetized this way, though (1) and (2) are relevant.

[correction 21/VI/18: (5) above is not quite true; there is real money to be made from immigrant

abuse. ]

These criteria comprise pretty fundamental contradictions, and the discovery this week that there really are limits to the official cruelty Americans will tolerate makes everything so much harder. No wonder Republicans scatter like cockroaches at the approach of a reporter these days.

 

 

Arbeit Macht Frei

The Casa Padre internment camp for child migrants.

A photo in a handout given by the management of the Casa Padre detention centre in Brownsville, Texas, to MSNBC reporter Jacob Soboroff. The centre houses child migrants separated from their parents by officials acting in the name of the United States. Twitter source.

Trump mural at Casa Padre

It reminds you of something else, doesn’t it.

Gate at Sachsenhausen

Unfair? Soboroff saw no evidence of abuse by the Casa Padre staff – beyond the inherent cruelty of separation.  The analogy is the sickening bad faith and institutionalised in-your-face lying to cover up horrific policies. Oh, and mass incarceration outside the rule of law.

Footnote: I deliberately took Sachsenhausen not the better-known Auschwitz gate. Konzentrazionslager – KZ – was a broad Nazi term for a variety of civilian camps, including pure extermination camps like Treblinka, slave labour camps like Sachsenhausen, political prisons like Dachau and Flossenburg, and of course Auschwitz, an unusual combination of an extermination and labour camp, giving rise to the infamous selections. The slogan was common but not universal; it was up to the camp commandant.

 

Ripple Effects

Tonight, Fox News will undoubtedly be highlighting the report by the CBO and the JCT that the passage of the Dream Act “would increase budget deficits by $25.9 billion over the 2018-2027 period, boosting on-budget deficits by $30.6 billion and decreasing off-budget deficits by $4.7 billion over that period.” At least in part, the calculations are clearly incorrect because the report does not take into account the provisions of the new tax bill.

Here’s the pertinent portion of the report that deals directly with the tax effects (pages 15-16 of the pdf):

Higher revenues, according to JCT’s estimates, would largely stem from increased reporting of employment income by people who would legally be allowed to work under the legislation. That increase in reported wages would cause increases in receipts, mostly in the form of Social Security taxes, which are categorized as off-budget. In addition, CBO and JCT estimate that an increase in the number of people paying penalties associated with not having health insurance would increase revenues by $0.7 billion over the 2018-2027 period.

Those increases in revenues would be mostly offset for two reasons. First, increased reporting of employment income would result in increases in tax deductions by businesses for labor compensation, including those businesses’ contributions to payroll taxes. As a result, corporations would report lower taxable profits and pay less in income taxes. Noncorporate businesses, such as partnerships and sole proprietorships, also would report lower taxable income, which would decrease individual income taxes paid by the partners and owners. The decrease in income tax receipts would total $3.8 billion over 10 years. Second, CBO and JCT estimate that there would be a $1.2 billion decrease in revenues over the 2018-2027 period associated with increases in the nonrefundable portion of the premium assistance tax credit provided through the health insurance marketplaces established under the Affordable Care Act.

The new tax bill would increase the bottom line cost because it does away with the heath insurance penalties (an increase of $0.7 billion), but decrease the bottom line cost because, by lowering the tax rates on businesses, the tax decreases the $3.8 billion that the CBO/JCT estimates will be lost if the Dream Act is past due to increased business tax deductions.

Going one step further, the CBO/JCT estimates that the Dream Act will cost the federal government $11.8 billion in subsidies for health insurance purchased through the marketplaces. (Pages 10-11 of the pdf.) Of course, this assumption is incorrect, since it does not factor in the reduction of the subsidies anticipated as a result of the tax bill.

Finally, the report anticipates that passage of the Dream Act “would increase outlays for the . . . child tax credits, which are refundable, by $5.5 billion over the 2018-2027 period.”  (Page 12 of the pdf.) Of course, this is now incorrect since the tax act first increases the amount of the child tax credit, but then lowers the threshold when it phases out.

I will update this posting when I can get better numbers from the CBO on the tax bill. Suffice it to say, however, the headline numbers on the CBO/JCT report on the Dream Act are simply wrong.

Type K Error

What statisticians call Type 1 errors (incorrectly rejecting the null hypothesis) and Type 2 errors (incorrectly accepting the null hypothesis) initially arose from signal detection theory: is that blip on the radar screen a signal or just noise? The two errors were known to us engineers (my former life) as either a false alarm or a missed detection.

But these are not the only statistical errors that can occur. Andrew Gelman proposed two additional statistical errors, Type S (confidently stating that a value is positive when it is negative, or vice versa) and Type M (confidently stating that a value is small in magnitude when it is large, or vice versa). They have less to do with the actual statistics than with interpretation of those statistics.

In furtherance of Gelman’s extension of statistical errors, I’d like to propose a new one, the Type K error. This is in recognition of the attempt by Kris Kobach (Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of a federal voter fraud commission) to deny the vote to (at least)  tens of thousands of US citizens in order to prevent the two or three improper votes (out of millions cast) from occurring. [My numbers may be off, but you get my meaning.]

There have been other manifestations of this “error” in recent days. A report detailing the economic consequences of admitting refugees did not include the overwhelming financial benefits they provide over the long haul. In other words, the Type K error might be defined as “the deliberate and wrongful act associated with a statistical evaluation of the effect of only one side of a policy.”

NAS Studies and President Trump’s Address

I received this post from a friend:

This morning I received an email from the National Academies Press (see the URL, below) containing both the script of President Trump’s recent Joint Address to Congress and — interspersed at relevant locations — copies of various NRC reports from the National Academies containing information, data and recommendations about the many scientific, engineering and medical issues facing our country (and the world).

This is a perfect representation of the Academies’ primary mission — to serve the federal government by bringing unbiased (and carefully refereed) technical and analytical expertise and results to the nation’s decision-makers.  I thought you, and friends and colleagues, might be interested in this document.  Feel free to forward it to all and any.