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Posted by Neil Paine

Although it didn’t exactly come as a shock to NBA observers, both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers opted out of their contracts last week, creating the real possibility that LA’s recent run of relevance is coming to an end. And if the end is near for “Lob City, it would mean one of the sports franchises most associated with failure somehow managed to fail even when it was winning games. Few NBA teams have ever accomplished so little with so much talent.

With 313 wins since Paul joined the team for the 2011-12 season, the Clippers own the league’s third-best record over that span. They’re coming off what is unquestionably the best six-year period in franchise history. Paul is a bona fide Point God, and with Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan, he gave LA a Big 3 that could theoretically go toe-to-toe with the league’s other star-powered trios. In terms of personal honors, Paul has few statistical peers in history among point guards, while Griffin and Jordan made seven combined All-NBA teams. By numerous team and individual standards, the partnership has been a rousing success.

But when dissecting this Clippers squad, there’s always the unfortunate matter of the playoffs to address. Because despite all those victories and accolades, LA has won only three measly playoff series in its Big 3 era and never advanced past the conference semifinals — a truly weak performance for a team with so much regular-season success.

We can measure just how disappointing the Clippers have been with a system called “playoff success points,” which I’ve used before to judge a team’s performance in the NBA postseason. Teams rack up points for winning series and advancing further into the playoffs. A championship is always worth 1,000 points; losing in the Finals, 500; losing in the conference finals, 250; and so forth. Since 2012, the Clippers have accumulated only 562.5 playoff success points, less than half as many as we’d expect based on their regular-season record:

Going back to the 1976 NBA-ABA merger, no other team has won at least 320 regular-season games in a six-year span and accumulated anywhere near as few playoff success points as the 2012-17 LA Clippers did. (The next-closest were the David Robinson-led 1990-95 San Antonio Spurs, another team known for falling short on the cusp of greatness.)

And LA’s star power makes its shortfall even harder to understand. In the CP3-Blake-DeAndre era, the Clippers have been home to 17 individual seasons where a player logged at least 20 percent of available minutes and posted a Box Plus/Minus (BPM) of +3 or better (those cutoffs roughly give you a star-level season): Six by Paul, six by Griffin, four by Jordan and one by Matt Barnes. Only 17 times since the merger has a franchise boasted so many star-level seasons in a six-year span, and they usually come from dynastic teams (Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls; Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs) or would-be dynasties like the Stockton-to-Malone Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers of the early 1980s. Once again, the Big 3-era Clippers have enjoyed the least amount of postseason success of any team in that group:

The Clippers have the stars, but not the rings

Most playoff success points over a six-year span for teams with at least 17 individual player seasons with +3 Box Plus/Minus (BPM) or higher, 1977-2017

1991-96 Bulls 359 17 4250.0
1992-97 Bulls 367 18 4250.0
1993-98 Bulls 362 17 4250.0
1980-85 76ers 354 18 2562.5
2004-09 Spurs 347 17 2562.5
1981-86 76ers 349 17 2187.5
2012-17 Spurs 365 23 2187.5
2009-14 Spurs 347 19 2000.0
2010-15 Spurs 348 20 2000.0
2011-16 Spurs 365 22 2000.0
1994-99 Jazz 355 18 1687.5
1995-2000 Jazz 357 19 1562.5
1996-2001 Jazz 350 19 1562.5
1997-2002 Jazz 339 19 1375.0
1993-98 SuperSonics 357 17 1125.0
1998-2003 Jazz 322 17 937.5
2012-17 Clippers 323 17 562.5

*Wins in shortened seasons are pro-rated to 82 games. Box Plus/Minus (BPM) is an estimate of a player’s net points added per 100 possessions.


None of this is to say that the Clippers’ core should be blown up; after all, players of Paul and Griffin’s caliber don’t grow on trees. Nor do the duo’s opt-outs necessarily mean either (or both) won’t be back in LA next season anyway. The Clippers can still pay each substantially more money than either could get elsewhere, should LA choose to offer them max deals. Griffin and Jordan will still be under 30 next year, and CP3 is coming off his best statistical season as a Clipper (when he was healthy).

So the tank is hardly empty in LA. But with fabled exec Jerry West leaving the champion Golden State Warriors to join the Clippers as a front-office consultant, a Big 3 breakup wouldn’t come as a total surprise, either. And if that does happen, the Clippers and their fans can only look back at the last six seasons with regret over what might have been.

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Posted by A FiveThirtyEight Chat

In this week’s politics chat, we game out how likely the Senate health care bill is to pass, senator by senator. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): The GOP health care bill in the Senate is “in peril” according to The New York Times, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly told members of the caucus that he will delay a vote on the bill until after next week’s July Fourth recess:

But, of course, a vote on the House’s version of an Obamacare repeal bill was delayed before it passed in that chamber. And the media declared that bill nearly dead too. So we’re taking an “it’s-not-dead-until-it’s-dead” approach here at FiveThirtyEight. And, accordingly, we thought it’d be useful to go through the Republican senators who appear most likely to vote “no” on the bill (its official name is the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, fwiw) and talk through their incentives and whether they’ll actually vote no.

Everyone good on the plan?

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Yes.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Can we have a draft?

micah: No.

natesilver: I pick Dean Heller.

micah: We have 10 GOP senators, and then we’ll have a group of wild cards.

natesilver: And how are we evaluating them?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): By looks, the way voters do.

micah: They’ve all expressed some version of concern/reluctance about the bill, so we’ll judge each on how much we think they’re posturing vs. how likely we think they are to actually vote “no”?

clare.malone: Let’s do it.

micah: The scale is …

  1. This person is telling the truth. They’re a likely “no.”
  2. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  3. Bullshit. This senator is posturing and will likely vote “yes” if it comes down to it.

natesilver: Can we use emojis?

  1. 😀
  2. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  3. 💩

micah: In no particular order …

First up: Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.


perry: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

She’s a 2.

clare.malone: Yeah, I think she’s up in the air — like that George Clooney movie.

natesilver: 2.

clare.malone: New senator, and the bill would genuinely screw many people in her state struggling with a massive health crisis. I think that’s a big decision to make if you vote against your party.

micah: Take a stand, Harry.

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): She will probably vote for it if she is the deciding vote but won’t otherwise.

clare.malone: hm!

natesilver: I’d say more like a 2.181461 if we’re using decimals. Are we allowed to use decimals? I think she’d really rather not vote for the bill but probably would if McConnell really needed her vote.

It also seems like she has one of the more buyable votes. Add extra money for opioid care, and she can claim victory, although that bill would still hurt West Virginia in all sorts of other ways.

perry: She has a strong case, being from one of the poorest states in the country, to vote against a bill that rolls back Medicaid. But she has been fairly restrained, so it makes me think she would be open to voting some kind of Obamacare repeal.

natesilver: West Virginia’s senators tend to stay in office for a long time, but one of the ways they do that is by really knowing their state. I think I’m talking myself into thinking Capito needs to get a pretty good deal from McConnell and could be an underrated problem for him. I’m revising back down to a true 2.0.

harry: Going to get a little political science here for you. We saw in the House version that members were more likely to vote against the bill if they had a negative second dimension DW-Nominate score, which roughly corresponds to being more willing to buck the establishment. Capito actually has a positive one. Now, that’s not always indicative, but it does suggest a member of Congress who is more likely to go along with leadership.

clare.malone: What do we think a deal for West Virginia looks like? Increased funds for treatment centers JUST for that state?

natesilver: I don’t think we’re talking about a West Virginia-specific deal. But McConnell seemed to leave a lot on the table in terms of funding for opioid treatment, perhaps specifically in order to give Capito something to bargain with.

micah: OK … Next, from the Lone Star State, is Sen. Ted Cruz!

harry: The man voted for the man who said his father could be involved with the John F. Kennedy assassination.

natesilver: 💩

2.85 on the scale of 1 to 3, i.e., mostly bullshit.

perry: Yeah, he seems like a fake opponent. In general, he is trying to get on Trump’s good side, I assume in an effort to position himself for a future presidential run. I think, if this gets serious and close to a vote, he will find a way toward supporting it.

micah: Wow. People are skeptical of Mr. Cruz. Clare, you agree?

clare.malone: Yeah, do I even need to add a voice to this chorus?

micah: lol

clare.malone: Cruz is posturing to keep up his “constitutional conservatism cred,” but he wants to go with the flow ultimately. I think his buddy Mike Lee is more interesting.

micah: NEXT!!!

Utah Sen. Mike Lee!

(Clare, stop stealing my thunder!)

clare.malone: heh heh

micah: As moderator, I can only do so many things in these chats. (i.e., moderate/sometimes I give my opinion if I want to.)

harry: Here’s why I think Lee could be for real. 1. He didn’t vote Trump in 2016. He stuck to his word. 2. He’s already on the list of people who not only oppose the bill but also say they won’t vote to bring it to the floor. I don’t think he’s un-gettable, but I do genuinely believe him.

clare.malone: Lee’s beliefs, which on paper are similar to Cruz’s, appear more dearly held to him. He strikes me as someone less likely to make a deal with McConnell. I believe they call it “being principled.” I tend to believe that Cruz is more of an opportunist and that Lee is a principled conservative.

As much as politicians are principled. 🙂

perry: I want to reserve my 1s for people who I think are very serious opponents of the legislation. For example, I think another conservative senator is going to oppose this pretty much no matter what. We will get to him later. I would put Lee in a 1.2 or 1.3 — I think he is a serious opponent of the current legislation, but I think he wants to get to “yes.” I would put him in the same place as the Freedom Caucus during the House process. He can be negotiated with.

harry: I think Mr. Bacon is right.

micah: I like using the “what people did on Trump during the campaign” standard for how much to trust what they say.

harry: Yeah, I’d believe someone who said they’d vote for Trump and then did so. Or said they wouldn’t and then didn’t. But how the heck can anyone believe Cruz after the show he put on during the 2016 campaign?

clare.malone: God forbid we hold people to things they said or did eight months ago.

natesilver: Wow. I can’t believe y’all continued the chat while I was picking up your lunch. I’m more skeptical of Lee than Perry and would put him at like a 2.1. I buy that he has genuine ideological concerns with the bill. But he also has been very explicit about saying that he was open to gritting his teeth and changing his mind. I think he’s a vote that would come through for McConnell if McConnell needed his vote. Probably.

perry: Interesting.

micah: Next!

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.

(This one surprised me.)

perry: I would say 2, mainly because I just don’t know much about him. He has been fiery in blasting the bill this week, in The New York Times of all places. But he is not known for crossing leadership in general. I’m somewhat confused by his behavior, tbh.

natesilver: I’d say a 2.3. I can’t quite figure out what he’s up to, but he’s not someone you would have predicted to be opposed to the bill.

Maybe he’s trying to be a hipster by opposing the bill from the right, when he’s actually worried about how it will play from the center/left in Wisconsin.

True, he’s not up for re-election until 2022. But he’s not a particularly strong incumbent, having only narrowly survived last year in a pretty good cycle for Republicans. And Wisconsin is still a purple state, if a bit Trump-y.

harry: If you had asked me a week ago, I would have said that Johnson was bluffing. His current stance is “not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation.” He’s not as conservative as Cruz or Lee. But he’s also suggested that he might be against even bringing the bill to the floor. Also, he wrote that op-ed in the Times.

perry: Exactly! It’s significant this was in the Times, not Washington Examiner or something.

micah: Wait, so the op-ed being in the Times makes you think he’s more serious?

perry: Yeah, I think bashing the bill in the Times is somewhat more aggressive than in a more conservative outlet. Maybe that is a false read, but that was my initial reaction.

micah: I don’t know. I guess I would have thought the opposite. What does Johnson care what Times readers think of him?

clare.malone: I mean, we talk a lot about the regional stereotypes around election time — that upper Midwesterners aren’t the same kind of conservative as other places in the country. Maybe what we’re seeing is a manifestation of that in Johnson: a worry about how his voters might take it.

micah: I like the “he’s opposing it from the right but his political worries are actually from the middle” theory.

perry: Oddly, I think that theory applies most to the chief opponent of the bill — more on that later.

clare.malone: I also think a lot of these guys are salty that McConnell didn’t give them a look at the bill before it was released. Some of this could be personally tinged.

micah: Clare accused me of being “salty” the other day too, so factor that in.

natesilver: Yeah. I know we’re not allowed to say that because the conventional wisdom is that he’s a super-genius. But McConnell’s secretive draft process could have backfired.

micah: OK, NEXT!!!!

micah: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

perry: McConnell will probably invite her to the next bill-drafting club he creates. That was a mistake, leaving her out of the original 13 working on this legislation. She did not bother to hide her annoyance.

clare.malone: Collins seems like she’ll actually vote “no.”

natesilver: 1.2 on Collins. I think her opposition is for real, and I think she’ll be hard to peel off without big, substantive changes.

harry: I mean Collins is the most moderate Republican senator (for the nerds: data is here). She’s voted against Trump more than any other Republican senator. What else do you want?

clare.malone: Her state is very old, and this bill is not good for that. She’s defended Planned Parenthood. To Harry’s point, she’s legitimately moderate.

perry: Yeah, she’s a 1 — probably among the three most likely opponents of the bill.

natesilver: Maine is also a poor state. It hasn’t expanded Medicaid yet because Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed expansion, but it has a ballot initiative to do so this November, which will probably pass. And she’s thinking about running for governor in 2018.

Is she going to take a huge political risk — perhaps tangibly harming her chances of becoming governor — so that McConnell can give a hall pass to Rand Freakin’ Paul? I’m not so sure.

micah: Our next contestant: Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky!

clare.malone: lol. Next!

Paul will not vote for this bill because he loves not voting for things.

micah: Contrarian 🔥 take: He would vote for it if McConnell needed him to.

natesilver: I’m more like a 1.5 on Paul. I think he’s the most interesting vote. And possibly the pivotal vote.

clare.malone: He said he might vote for “80 percent repeal” of Obamacare. I don’t quite know what that means in McConnell terms, though.

natesilver: As I pointed out this morning, the BCRA really is a victory for movement conservatism, which isn’t exactly the same thing as libertarianism but has some overlap with it.

clare.malone: Apparently McConnell won’t talk to him.

perry: I think he is a 1, along with Collins and another soon-to-discussed person, one of the top three most likely to oppose this.

natesilver: I guess I’m just thinking, in terms of the relative order, it matters which one of those three are ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd. And Paul has less credible reasons for voting against the bill than Collins or the guy we’re going to discuss later does.

harry: Paul is just so interesting ideologically. He is someone who is more libertarian than the Freedom Caucus in my mind. That is, he probably has more in common with Thomas Massie or Walter Jones than Justin Amash. But … I don’t know … there’s something just biting me in my neck saying he’s not his father, saying he will fold.

perry: What I’m struggling with is: 1. He is in the state that benefited more from Obamacare than perhaps any other, something he can’t say but is aware of and 2. I think he will have a hard time opposing this bill if it moves right and becomes backed by Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, etc.

natesilver: Yeah, there’s a little bit of the Ron Johnson say-you’re-opposing-it-from-the-right-when-you-actually-have-concerns-from-the-center thing going on with Paul.

Also, I wonder if he hates McConnell’s guts.

perry: Also, the bill is going to move in Paul’s direction. He doesn’t like this bill. But it’s going to move toward him, I suspect …

micah: Sen. Cory Gardner of the great state of Colorado!

natesilver: He’s a bit of a mystery man. I’d put him at a 2, even though he hasn’t been as vocal about the bill as some of the other purple-state senators.

perry: He is a 3. He is in leadership. He probably wants to avoid voting for this. But if a bill gets to the floor, he will vote for it.

harry: Mr. “I am beginning to carefully review it.”

clare.malone: He’s pretty “in the middle” ideologically. What do we think he’s most spooked by?

natesilver: I think I’m just going a little bit more by naked electoral incentives. Colorado is the bluest state with a Republican senator. Gardner is up in 2020, a year that’s sure to have high turnout, and Democrats have a pretty deep bench there.

He’s got to conspicuously begin to moderate, or he’s at a lot of risk of being a one-termer.

harry: One other thing to note, DW-Nominate has scales that join the House and Senate: a single one for the House and a single one for the Senate. On the Senate scale, Gardner is to the left of the average Republican in the Senate. On the House scale, he was to the right of the average Republican. That suggests major moderation given House Republicans are more conservative.

perry: He is No. 1 in our Trump plus-minus, which is not perfect but means that he’s been willing to buck the politics of his state and vote with Trump more often than anyone else. The best outcome for Gardner is to get the bill killed without killing it. I assume he wants to run for president down the line and being perceived as being pro-Obamacare would not help.

micah: President Gardner!?

clare.malone: Sounds like a sitcom prez.

micah: It does.

clare.malone: But there would be a lot of great TV commercials to be made of him walking through fields surrounded by mountains talking about Western independence yada yada yada.

micah: He doesn’t look very “presidential.” He looks like the senior vice president of a regional bank.

perry: He won a blue state by a relatively big margin. If he can do that again, it’s a great narrative. I didn’t say he would win or that I think he is a good candidate.

micah: Perry’s all in on the Gardner 2020 bandwagon!!!

Mark it down!

perry: Also, if you are in leadership this early in your career, it suggests you might want to be majority leader down the line. Another reason not to oppose a bill publicly like this.

natesilver: Perry’s point is a good one, but the fact is also that Gardner is in a pretty comparable position to Dean Heller, who I guess we haven’t mentioned yet but who came out pretty vehemently against the bill.

micah: Next! Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada.

micah: Who all of you apparently could not wait to talk about.

clare.malone: Re-election, baby: 2018 or bussssssst.

natesilver: Heller is a 1.1. He’s in real electoral trouble. And he made very strong comments against the bill, to the point that he seemed to burn his bridges so he couldn’t reverse himself later. Which may have been a deliberate strategy, to make it harder for McConnell to pressure him.

harry: Brother Heller is voting against that bill.

perry: Right. I agree with that take pretty much fully.

natesilver: If the bill goes down, then Rep. Jacky Rosen, who announced her Senate run last week and will be a very tough opponent for Heller, deserves a lot of credit.

micah: As Perry noted in his piece on Monday.

harry: Two sidenotes for the readers out there: Dina Titus, another Nevada member of the House, may also run against Heller. Also, Heller is another former member of the House who moderated significantly upon entering the Senate.

perry: I think Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval, was a key factor here too. He’s expanded Medicaid in the state and opposes this bill.

harry: YES!

harry: Sandoval is very popular in the state. Heller is … not.

micah: Our penultimate senator: Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

clare.malone: She’s a “let’s make a deal” person, possibly.

To go back to the “what could McConnell give these people” vein of things, there could be a carve-out for Alaska as an outlier where health care is more expensive and thus it gets some kind of deal.

natesilver: She’s a 1.75, I think. Federal law makes all sorts of weird exceptions for Alaska and Hawaii, so presumably McConnell can make an “Alaska Purchase.” But she’s pretty fearless of a primary challenge, and Alaska gets very screwed by the bill without changes.

perry: 1.5. I think she has reservations. She has been public about her reservations throughout the year. There are already three “no” votes. I think she will vote “no.” Will she be part of the three “no” votes, meaning that she basically killed the bill. I’m not so sure.

harry: She’s fairly moderate. The bill screws her state, etc.

clare.malone: I like how you guys are doing decimal points on all this. I liked the “buckets” thing better.

micah: The idea behind the buckets was to avoid a false precision … that kinda went out the window.

perry: And we screwed it up. Alas.

micah: lol.

natesilver: I’m revising my grade on Murkowski to a 1.710951012519690346.

micah: Finally, Sen. Rob Portman, from the below-average state of Ohio!

clare.malone: A state where our mothers tell us not to take that kind of bait, Micah.

micah: Damn.

natesilver: Micah is just buttering up to his boss, a Michigan native.

micah: Nah, that state sucks, too.

perry: Portman is a 3. I’m pretty sure he will vote for it.

micah: Anyone disagree with Perry and think Portman might actually vote “no”?

perry: Portman is a fairly loyal Republican. He has helped write the bill. If like 10 members vote against it, sure, he joins them, because of Medicaid and the opioid problem in his state. But I think in a close vote, he will be “yes.”

harry: Yeah, Portman would probably vote for the bill. I’m not sure he’s a full 3, though. Somewhere between a 2 and a 3.

natesilver: I’m a 2.5910234 on Portman. He’s a genuinely moderate guy, but also a guy who’s pretty loyal to leadership.

clare.malone: I mean, he’s on the record as having concerns, so he can wave that to people who say he sold out on the opioid stuff if he votes for it.

harry: He is ideologically very similar to Heller, but he doesn’t have the re-election concerns.

natesilver: Yeah, as with Capito, some extra money for opioid treatment could help to secure his vote. He’s also a plausible-ish future presidential or VP candidate, so he may be thinking very far ahead. About which “lane” he might want to run in.

micah: OK, anyone want to say anything about Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona or Bill Cassidy of Louisiana? That’s our “Marginally Important Wild Card Group.”

You get one reply.

clare.malone: I’m loving the Arizona solidarity.

micah: Now, Louisiana is a great state.

harry: Flake is the only one of those with re-election concerns in 2018, but he has to be concerned over a primary and a general election challenge. He’s also moderated significantly since coming to the Senate. I think he could be interesting to watch.

natesilver: Of the three, Cassidy’s the most interesting wild card, I think. He and Collins had a serious bill of their own, and he was totally left out of the drafting process by McConnell. Plus he has some Capito-ish issues in that he’s in a Medicaid expansion state that would be adversely affected by the House and Senate health care bills. I’d put him at like a 2.15.

perry: I will go with Cassidy, just because he knows health care and has been on the record about his concerns. I could see a case for Flake, for the reasons Harry listed.

clare.malone: To explain my comment above, I actually think McCain is maybe giving Flake some cover.

perry: Interesting theory. Makes sense. I covered McCain in 2008 some. He is not deep on the health care issue, so his speaking out to help Flake makes some sense.

natesilver: If Flake got a strong Democratic opponent in Arizona, his tone might change — so far, he doesn’t have one. McCain is probably just bluffing unless McConnell does weird stuff that violates the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling, and even then he’ll probably cave anyway. So on my scale, Flake’s like a 2.52 and McCain’s like a 2.667103512120.

micah: OK, so here’s generally where you put people:

Rand Paul 😀 (Likely “no”)

Dean Heller 😀

Susan Collins 😀

Mike Lee 😀

Lisa Murkowski ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (could go either way)

Shelley Moore Capito ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Cory Gardner ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Ron Johnson ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Ted Cruz 💩 (would probably vote for the bill if it comes to it)

Rob Portman 💩

Final reactions?

clare.malone: I like our whip count better than other publications’ because it has emojis. Competitive advantage.

perry: What I think this analysis has clarified for me is the importance of Paul and Lee and how much McConnell must move the bill to the right for any chance of passage, since we think Heller and Collins are gone. That means that Murkowski is super-important too and Capito, since they are positioned to object if the bill moves too far right.

natesilver: Heller 1.1

Collins 1.2

Paul 1.5

Murkowski 1.710951013

Gardner 2

Capito 2

Lee 2.1

Cassidy 2.15

Johnson 2.3

Flake 2.52

Portman 2.5910234

McCain 2.667103512

Cruz 2.85

micah: Nate, you don’t get your own scores!

natesilver: Rand Paul is the most important man in the Senate right now. McConnell has a lot fewer degrees of freedom to play with if Paul is truly committed to voting against the bill.

Tim Tebow Is Failing Up

Jun. 27th, 2017 05:42 pm
[syndicated profile] 538_feed

Posted by Rob Arthur

On Tuesday, the nation’s most famous low-A ballplayer, Tim Tebow, was promoted to the New York Mets’ high-A affiliate in Port St. Lucie. It almost goes without saying that the move likely had less to do with baseball and more to do with marketing and selling tickets. Tebow was such an outsized star at this level of pro baseball that one opposing team went so far as to label his teammates as “Not Tim Tebow” on the scoreboard. (The team later apologized.)

But let’s pretend for a moment that the Columbia Fireflies’ left fielder doesn’t have a Heisman Trophy, nearly 7 million followers on Twitter and Facebook and one of the sports world’s most successful brands. If he were your run-of-the-mill anonymous prospect delivering this level of performance, just how peculiar would his promotion be?

The answer, as expected, is that it’s very, very peculiar. Tebow’s resume with the Fireflies was hardly awe-inspiring: In 64 games, he posted a .648 OPS, which would be poor for a third baseman, never mind a left fielder. Nor was his defense excellent, as his seven errors show. In fact, his overall performance was so poor that his promotion is one of the least probable in the last decade.

Baseball Prospectus keeps detailed numbers on the low-A leagues going back to 2005. They track everything from slugging percentage to fielding runs above average, then total it all up into a minor league version of wins above replacement. According to that metric, Tebow’s season was actually below replacement level, in the 4 percent tail of the worst seasons in the last 12 years of low-A ball. In fact, only 17 corner outfielders have posted worse seasons and still played in high-A within the same year.

With that said, minor league wins above replacement numbers must be taken with a grain of salt. Data from the levels below MLB is much less trustworthy, and the shorter seasons mean smaller sample sizes from which to draw conclusions.

But you don’t need a total value calculation to confirm that Tebow has been outmatched on the field. Scouts have called his swing “stiff” and identified his pitch recognition as a potentially fatal flaw.

When asked about the promotion, Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson made no mention of Tebow’s marketability, pointing instead to his “on-base, his isolated power, his swing, exit velocity.” We don’t have access to all the metrics the Mets track at the minor league level, so it’s hard to prove or disprove Alderson’s assertion that Tebow has improved in the last two weeks. He did post a .311 on-base percentage despite only hitting for a .220 average, so at least he can take a walk.

We don’t know whether Tebow’s underlying exit velocity is really impressive or not, but the record of players who were as bad as he was in low-A is not encouraging. Of the 77 left fielders to ever post seasons as poor as Tebow’s, only one — Franchy Cordero of the San Diego Padres — eventually made it to the majors, where he’s now producing at about replacement level, with a .405 BABIP that suggests he’ll regress.

Of course, Cordero was only 20 years old when he last played in low-A, and it took him four long years to climb from there to the majors. At 29, Tebow has a much more difficult road to travel before he can sniff the National League. On the other hand, given his recent promotion to high-A, the Mets may be holding him to considerably lower standards for each level of advancement. If he maintains the same level of poor performance (according to WAR) that he turned in during his time in Columbia, he could rack up a .556 OPS with the St. Lucie Mets and still theoretically find his way to Double-A. As a baseball player, Tebow may be unimpressive, but as a demonstration of the power of marketing, he is unsurpassed.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

23 percent

Percentage of traditional retail jobs in the U.S. located in rural and small metropolitan areas. On the other hand, only 13 percent of e-commerce jobs are in rural or small metros. As the retail business moves increasingly to urban centers and online, the bottom may be falling out for the industry in rural areas already hit by manufacturing closures. [The New York Times]

36.9 kilograms

Seizures of the potent narcotic fentanyl coming into the U.S. from international and express mail carriers in the 2016 fiscal year. In 2013, it was 1.08 kilograms. [The Wall Street Journal]

62 percent

Percentage of Americans who support allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, with 32 percent opposed. In 2011, the nation was split on the issue 46 percent to 44 percent. In 2007, 37 percent supported same-sex marriage and 54 percent opposed. [Pew Research Center]

93 percent

GOP Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada could be the deciding vote on the Senate bill to roll back the Affordable Care Act. He’s voted in line with President Trump’s stated position on legislation 93 percent of the time thus far. [FiveThirtyEight]

$772 billion

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the GOP’s Senate health care bill on Monday. The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 would cut $772 billion from Medicaid over the next decade, and 15 million fewer people would be on the program’s rolls. Overall, 28 million Americans are projected to be without insurance in 2026 under current law; the CBO says it would be 49 million people under the Senate bill. [FiveThirtyEight]

1.2 trillion photos

Estimated number of digital photographs that will be taken this year worldwide. Thanks to the huge growth in mobile adoption, 85 percent of them will be taken with a phone. A mere 400 billion digital photos were taken in 2011, and just half were taken with a phone. [Recode]

If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

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Posted by Nate Silver

The Senate’s version of the GOP health care bill, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled last week, hasn’t had the smoothest rollout. Some 22 million more people would go uninsured under the Better Care Reconciliation Act by 2026, the CBO announced on Monday, essentially unchanged from the House’s version of the bill. The bill has been criticized both by conservative Republicans, such as Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Utah’s Mike Lee, and by relatively moderate ones, such as Maine’s Susan Collins and Nevada’s Dean Heller. Local newspapers have given it negative coverage. The American Medical Association opposes the bill, as does the AARP, while private insurers have had a mixed reaction. It’s gotten a mainly negative response from conservative intellectuals and policy wonks, although with some exceptions.

All of this has cut against McConnell’s reputation as a strategic genius — to the point where some reporters and commentators have suggested that McConnell intentionally drafted a poor piece of legislation. The New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer, for instance, hypothesized that McConnell was hoping for the bill to fail so he could move on to tax reform and other priorities. Balkinization’s David Super argued that McConnell began with a bill he knew “pretty much everyone” would hate so that changes to the bill would make it look better by comparison.

I’d posit a simpler idea: This bill is exactly what McConnell wants because it’s right in line with his long-term goals. As Bloomberg’s Francis Wilkinson points out, the BCRA “will transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from poor and middle-class people, in the form of health care, to rich people in the form of tax cuts.” To be more specific, the bill would cut Medicaid spending by $772 billion over 10 years, according to the CBO, and reduce health care tax credits by about $408 billion. It would also reduce taxes and penalties by more than $700 billion, mostly in the form of “repealing or modifying tax provisions in the ACA that are not directly related to health insurance coverage, including repealing a surtax on net investment income and repealing annual fees imposed on health insurers.”

To put it another way, the BCRA is less a health care bill than a tax cut (that will mostly benefit the wealthy), coupled with a trillion-dollar-plus reduction in federal government spending on health care (that mostly benefited the poor and the sick). Those goals — lowering taxes on the wealthy, trimming the welfare state and reducing the size of government — are at the core of Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of movement conservatism, and they’ve been the primary axis of political conflict between Democrats and Republicans for most of the past several decades.

To Super’s point, the bill does leave McConnell with some room for compromise. There’s more deficit savings than under the House’s bill, so McConnell could cut a deal to get Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski on board — Alaska would be especially harmed by the BCRA because of the cost of health care there — or increase the amount of spending on opioid treatment to help sell Ohio’s Rob Portman and West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito on the bill.

But these are matters of tactics, not strategy. McConnell’s strategy is fairly obvious: He wants to pass legislation that lowers taxes on the wealthy and reduces government spending to the largest extent politically practicable.

Republicans probably would have faced some backlash from their base if they’d made no effort at all to repeal and replace Obamacare. But it’s easy to imagine more popular ways to do it. Removing Obamacare’s individual mandate and employer mandates could have eliminated some of its least-popular provisions and allowed the GOP to claim victory. McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan could have dismantled the Obamacare exchanges but left Medicaid intact. They could have attempted a more comprehensive effort at health care reform, such as the bill proposed by Collins and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, which would have given states flexibility in what to do about Obamacare. None of those options would have done as much to lower taxes on the wealthy or reduce government spending, however.

Needless to say, the approach comes with enormous political risk for Republicans. The House’s bill was extraordinarily unpopular: On average, unfavorable views of the bill exceeded favorable ones by 25 to 30 percentage points. (For instance, 59 percent of Americans disapproved of the House bill, compared with the 32 percent who approved, in the most recent CBS News poll.) The Senate’s bill, since it’s substantially similar to the House’s bill, isn’t likely to rate much better.

The unpopularity of the bill isn’t surprising. Government spending on welfare programs has slowly (if not always steadily) increased throughout U.S. history, and while passing these programs is politically challenging, removing them is even harder once you can identify the groups (in the case of the BCRA, everyone from seniors in nursing homes to opioid addicts) who would lose out. Most people are happy with their own health care, so proposed changes to the health care system usually start out facing a headwind.

The bill also comes at an awkward political moment for movement conservatism. The candidates who ran on those ideas, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, flamed out badly in the Republican primaries. Instead, Donald Trump won. But the ideas in the health care bill also aren’t very compatible with Trump’s populism. Trump ran on repealing and replacing Obamacare, but he promised to replace it with “something terrific,” said he’d protect the “lower 25 percent” even if it defied Republican orthodoxy, and repeatedly criticized other Republicans who said they’d cut Medicaid. McConnell and Ryan have co-opted Trump’s mandate — narrow as it was — and tried to turn it into their own, at considerable risk to both themselves and Trump.

Nevertheless, these sorts of opportunities are rare. Republicans hold both branches of Congress and the White House, and these periods don’t always last for very long; Barack Obama and Bill Clinton lost their House majorities after two years in office, never to win them back again, for instance.

So McConnell has come out swinging for the fences. It still isn’t clear whether he’ll succeed. But it also isn’t all that complicated.

CORRECTION (June 27, 11:26 a.m.): A previous version of this article misspelled the names of New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer and the web site Balkinization. The text has been updated.

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Posted by Perry Bacon Jr.

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday announced an unsurprising but important conclusion: The Senate version of the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is broadly similar to the House version that has been discussed for months. The Senate bill, if it becomes law, is likely to increase the number of uninsured Americans by 22 million by 2026, compared to what would happen if the Affordable Care Act stayed in place, according to the CBO. It would also reduce the number of people on Medicaid by 15 million by 2026. And it would reshuffle the private insurance system set up under Obamacare in a way that is likely to increase costs for older people, while reducing premiums and other costs for some younger people.

The overall number of uninsured people is projected to be slightly different under the Senate plan than the House version, which the CBO said would result in 23 million more Americans being uninsured, although the agency estimates that many of the people losing coverage would be those who chose not to buy insurance because it would no longer be legally required, as it is now under Obamacare. The CBO said the Senate version would cut $772 billion of Medicaid funding over the next decade, compared to $834 billion in the House bill. The Senate bill’s 15 million person decline in Medicaid enrollment is slightly higher than the drop that would result from the House bill, which was estimated at 14 million people. Both bills would repeal a variety of Obamacare tax increases that largely targeted wealthy Americans and the health care industry; those tax cuts are worth about $541 billion in the Senate bill, compared to $664 billion in the House version.

In terms of its costs to individuals, the CBO estimated that a 40-year-old with an annual income of $56,800 would pay about $5,000 in yearly health insurance premiums under the Senate Republican bill, about $500 less than the same person would pay under Obamacare. But a 64-year-old making the same amount of money would pay $4,400 in yearly premiums under Obamacare, compared to $16,000 a year under the Senate health care bill. If those premiums are combined with a high deductible, the cost of health care could equate to nearly 40 percent of that 64-year-old’s annual income.

“This legislation would generally reduce the percentage of income that younger people had to pay toward their premiums and increase that percentage for older people,” the CBO wrote.

And many Americans would get less help under the Senate plan than they get under the ACA. Broadly, the agency concluded, “the average subsidy per subsidized enrollee under this legislation would be significantly lower than the average subsidy under current law.”

The CBO goes so far as to say that few low-income people would buy health insurance, even though they would qualify for subsidies under the Senate plan, because the tax credits would be pegged to plans with high deductibles. That would make the total cost of the plan unaffordable, even if a person can pay the premiums.

These findings are unsurprising because the Senate, despite its suggestions that it would effectively toss out the House bill and create a new one from scratch, wound up including similar provisions to those in the bill passed by the lower chamber last month. But the CBO score is important because those who want to kill the legislation, including Democrats, medical groups like the American Heart Association, the AARP and other constituencies, are very likely to cite these numbers when they blast the Senate proposal. And these findings could complicate Republicans’ plans to pass the legislation through the Senate — which they are rumored to be trying to do as soon as this week — by giving reluctant GOP senators a reason to vote “no” or demand changes to the proposal. The legislation needs at least 50 votes to pass the Senate (Vice President Mike Pence would serve as the tiebreaker if necessary); there are 52 Republican senators, and several have voiced reservations.

On Friday, Dean Heller, a Republican senator from Nevada, said he opposed the legislation, at least “in this form,” because it “takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans.” The CBO has now buttressed his position.

Here are four of the big shifts the Senate made away from the House version of the bill:

  1. Phasing out some of the federal funding for Medicaid expansion over three years rather than reducing funding for expansion all at once.
  2. Using a formula for Medicaid funding that would provide less money to states for the program than the House bill would have provided — and far less than is allocated under the ACA.

The CBO said this change would likely force states to either spend more of their own money on Medicaid, cut payments to doctors and hospitals, reduce services for Medicaid recipients, limit Medicaid enrollment or figure out how to implement “more efficient methods for delivering services.”

The agency predicts that, under the Senate plan, about 15 million fewer people will be enrolled in 2026 than under current law. But the agency also foresees additional drops in Medicaid enrollment after that date.

  1. Barring states from waiving the ACA provision that prohibits insurers from charging higher prices for insurance plans to people with pre-existing conditions. However, this legislation, like the House bill, would allow states to waive some of the insurance laws implemented under Obamacare, and there appear to be a lot of ways that insurers could get around the ban on charging sick people more.

If states drop rules requiring insurers to offer certain benefits, “coverage for maternity care, mental health care, rehabilitative and habilitative treatment, and certain very expensive drugs could be at risk” in those states, the CBO concluded.

  1. Penalizing those who went without insurance for more than 63 days by imposing a six-month waiting period before they can get coverage in a new plan. All three systems — the ACA, the House bill and the Senate bill — seek to punish those who don’t have insurance in order to discourage people from buying health insurance only after they have gotten sick and to make sure that relatively healthy people get insurance, which helps keep insurers’ costs down. The ACA does this through the so-called individual mandate, which charges a tax penalty to people who don’t have health insurance. The House bill would have done it by allowing insurers to impose a 30 percent surcharge on premiums for people who had gone without coverage for 63 days or more in the previous year.

“Imposing that waiting period” proposed by the Senate “would … slightly increase the number of people with insurance, on net,” the CBO concluded.

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Posted by FiveThirtyEight


Public health reporter Anna Maria Barry-Jester joins the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast team to break down the Senate’s health care bill and its implications for the public. The team also discusses how likely the bill is to pass and whether a bill this unpopular will affect Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Monday evenings, with occasional special episodes throughout the week. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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Posted by Perry Bacon Jr.

At a press conference on Friday, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, a Republican, sharply criticized the Senate version of Obamacare repeal, arguing that it “takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans” and that “there is nothing in this bill that will lower premiums.” He called the idea that the legislation would reduce health care premiums for some Americans a “lie.”

“It’s going to be very difficult to get me to a yes,” he added.

Heller’s comments — particularly the sharpness of his opposition — were something of a surprise, because he had not been particularly vocal about Obamacare before. And while this is impossible to prove, it’s likely that the aggressive liberal organizing against the Obamacare repeal, both nationally and in Nevada, even before the formal release of the GOP’s Senate health care bill, helped move Heller against it. After all, Heller is perhaps the GOP senator most susceptible to liberal political pressure, because he is the only Republican in the chamber up for re-election next year in a state where Hillary Clinton won (by 2.4 percentage points) in November.

So now one of the big questions as this health care debate continues will be if the liberal “resistance” to Trump can keep Heller in the “no” column on the Obamacare repeal. He may have sounded firmly against the bill, but the last time the resistance was in this position on health care, they lost.

The intense liberal opposition to President Trump has had some clear successes during the five months of his presidency. The women’s marches, a day after Trump’s inauguration, drew huge crowds and were a visible illustration that the president would not get the honeymoon period that his predecessors had. People rushed to airports to protest Trump’s travel ban, which helped turn that controversial policy into a media frenzy. Angry liberals calling into the offices of Senate Democrats appeared to push the senators left and get them to start opposing Trump’s Cabinet nominees en masse. And throughout the year, even more moderate Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have largely stuck with the party and opposed Trump’s key initiatives. For example, no House Democrats voted for the Obamacare repeal in that chamber, and all Democrats in the Senate are expected to oppose the Senate version of the legislation.

But on health care, the resistance, while heavily mobilized, had a clear loss: The House passed an Obamacare repeal in May.

And that defeat included the defections of members of Congress who sounded like Heller on Friday — until they didn’t. In March, on the eve of an expected vote on the House version of Obamacare repeal, GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey said he couldn’t support the legislation, as he worried about the “loss of Medicaid coverage for so many people in my Medicaid-dependent state.” Frelinghuysen is in a state where Clinton won (Trump carried Frelinghuysen’s district but by less than 1 percentage point), and there had been strong liberal organizing in his district against the bill.

But on May 4, he voted for an updated version of the American Health Care Act that had very similar Medicaid provisions. Similarly, Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican who represents a district Clinton won by 16 percentage points, said he was leery of the March version of the House Obamacare repeal but voted for the arguably more conservative version in May.

Republicans in blue and purple districts backed the AHCA

How House Republicans who represent districts where Clinton won in 2016 or lost by less than 5 points voted on the American Health Care Act

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen FL-27 -19.7
Carlos Curbelo FL-26 -16.1
David Valadao CA-21 -15.5
Barbara Comstock VA-10 -10.0
Erik Paulsen MN-3 -9.4
Mike Coffman CO-6 -8.9
Ed Royce CA-39 -8.6
Darrell Issa CA-49 -7.5
Peter Roskam IL-6 -7.0
Steve Knight CA-25 -6.7
Mimi Walters CA-45 -5.4
Martha McSally AZ-2 -4.9
John Katko NY-24 -3.6
Will Hurd TX-23 -3.4
Jeff Denham CA-10 -3.0
Dave Reichert WA-8 -3.0
Patrick Meehan PA-7 -2.3
Pete Sessions TX-32 -1.9
Dana Rohrabacher CA-48 -1.7
John Culberson TX-7 -1.4
Kevin Yoder KS-3 -1.2
Leonard Lance NJ-7 -1.1
Ryan Costello PA-6 -0.6
Brian Fitzpatrick PA-8 +0.2
Rodney Frelinghuysen NJ-11 +0.9
Jason Lewis MN-2 +1.2
Mario Diaz-Balart FL-25 +1.7
Don Bacon NE-2 +2.2
Scott Taylor VA-2 +3.4
Rod Blum IA-1 +3.5
David Young IA-3 +3.5
Randy Hultgren IL-14 +3.9
Dave Trott MI-11 +4.4
Frank LoBiondo NJ-2 +4.6

Sources: Clerk of the U.S. House, Daily Kos Elections

Heller could change his mind, too, as there is some evidence that he wants to see Obamacare rolled back. At a closed-door meeting of conservatives in April that was secretly recorded by a Democratic operative, Heller said, “I will do everything I can to get to a yes” on Obamacare repeal. And Heller has never appeared particularly liberal on health care, or overall. In fact, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Trump plus/minus rating, which measures how often a member votes with Trump compared to the politics of his or her district or state, Heller ranks second among GOP senators in taking the Trump position on key issues more often than expected. (The Trump position is nearly always that of the Republican leadership in the Senate.)

Which GOP senators vote with Trump more than expected?

How often each senator votes in line with President Trump’s position on bills (Trump score) compared to what’s expected based on the political lean of their state

<input ... >

Cory Gardner CO 95.3% 43.9% +51.5
Dean Heller NV 93.0 49.2 +43.9
Ron Johnson WI 97.7 56.4 +41.3
Marco Rubio FL 97.7 57.4 +40.3
Patrick J. Toomey PA 95.2 56.2 +39.0
Susan M. Collins ME 86.0 48.0 +38.1
Richard Burr NC 97.7 62.9 +34.7
Thom Tillis NC 97.7 62.9 +34.7
Jeff Flake AZ 95.1 62.3 +32.8
David Perdue GA 97.6 65.4 +32.2
Johnny Isakson GA 96.3 65.4 +30.9
John McCain AZ 90.5 63.0 +27.5
John Cornyn TX 97.7 73.8 +23.9
Rob Portman OH 95.3 72.2 +23.2
Ted Cruz TX 95.3 73.8 +21.6
Joni Ernst IA 95.3 74.5 +20.8
Chuck Grassley IA 95.3 74.5 +20.8
Dan Sullivan AK 97.6 82.6 +15.0
Tim Scott SC 95.3 82.0 +13.3
Thad Cochran MS 97.7 86.2 +11.5
Roger F. Wicker MS 97.7 86.4 +11.3
Orrin G. Hatch UT 93.0 82.0 +11.0
Lindsey Graham SC 97.7 87.0 +10.7
Roy Blunt MO 92.9 82.3 +10.6
Lisa Murkowski AK 97.7 87.9 +9.8
Bill Cassidy LA 97.6 88.5 +9.1
Jerry Moran KS 95.3 87.9 +7.4
Pat Roberts KS 95.3 88.6 +6.7
Mike Lee UT 97.6 92.0 +5.6
John Kennedy LA 93.0 87.5 +5.5
Steve Daines MT 97.7 92.8 +4.9
Lamar Alexander TN 97.6 93.8 +3.8
Todd Young IN 97.7 93.9 +3.8
John Boozman AR 97.7 93.9 +3.8
Richard C. Shelby AL 95.3 91.8 +3.5
Mitch McConnell KY 95.3 92.8 +2.5
Mike Rounds SD 97.7 95.5 +2.2
John Thune SD 97.7 95.6 +2.1
Deb Fischer NE 97.7 95.6 +2.1
Ben Sasse NE 93.5 91.7 +1.8
Tom Cotton AR 97.6 96.2 +1.4
John Hoeven ND 97.7 96.5 +1.2
James M. Inhofe OK 97.7 96.5 +1.2
Michael B. Enzi WY 97.7 96.5 +1.2
James Lankford OK 95.3 94.6 +0.7
Luther Strange AL 95.3 94.6 +0.7
Mike Crapo ID 95.3 94.6 +0.7
James E. Risch ID 95.3 94.6 +0.7
Shelley Moore Capito WV 90.5 92.2 -1.7
Bob Corker TN 90.5 92.2 -1.7
John Barrasso WY 87.8 94.0 -6.2
Rand Paul KY 87.8 94.0 -6.2

In other words, Heller is pretty conservative considering how blue his state is.

On Friday, he said he opposed the Senate bill “in this form.” There are likely to be revisions, although it’s not clear if those changes will be made to appeal to the concerns of more moderate Republicans like Heller or conservatives such as Rand Paul of Kentucky, who feels the bill does not repeal enough of the original Affordable Care Act.

And Heller is now about to feel political pressure from the right, too: A pro-Trump group called “America First Policies” is considering running digital, radio and TV ads demanding that Heller back the Obamacare repeal bill. A day after Heller’s press conference, American First was already going after him:

Hugh Hewitt, an influential conservative radio talk show host, blasted the Nevada senator as a “hollow man” and warned that Republican voters will abandon Heller next year if he prevents Obamacare’s repeal. Trump himself appears to be leaning on reluctant Republicans and trying to tie the Obamacare repeal to the broader struggles of the Affordable Care Act’s state-based markets.

“I cannot imagine that these very fine Republican senators would allow the American people to suffer a broken ObamaCare any longer,” he said on social media Saturday.

So, to keep Heller opposed to this legislation, liberal organizers say they will keep pushing him. The liberal group Indivisible Project has named a “Trumpcare Ten,” a bloc of GOP senators it views as most likely to oppose the legislation. The group is urging its members to contact these senators and has set up an online tool for users to send an email to Heller’s chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and main health-care staffer. Nevada activists from groups such as Planned Parenthood will hold a protest outside of Heller’s Reno office on Thursday.

“We don’t plan on pulling back until Sen. Heller actually votes no,” said Laura Martin, associate director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “The fact that he said ‘as written’ when talking about his vote … shows he is open to voting ‘yes’ on a very, very bad bill.” She added: “We have said from the beginning Congress needs to find ways to expand coverage, not take it away. We will keep calling, visiting his office, educating Nevadans and supporting Nevadans on Medicaid as they share their personal stories until a vote is taken or the bill is shelved.”

Heller has three other potential challenges to getting to a “yes” vote that are in some ways outside of the liberal resistance. First, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada has been strongly defending the Medicaid expansion and saying it is vital to the state. Second, the AARP is running ads in Nevada against the repeal. AARP is not traditionally liberal but strongly dislikes this bill, feeling it hurts the elderly. And finally, the electoral stakes of Heller’s decision on health care are more immediate now: He’s drawn a serious opponent in his 2018 re-election bid, Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat, who announced last week that she will run against him. If he votes “yes” on health care and Nevada voters don’t like it, they have a viable alternative.

Heller’s vote is significant, since three Republicans can kill the Obamacare repeal effort. But how he positions his opposition is also important. His early stance, casting the bill as not reducing premium costs and being too aggressive in cutting Medicaid, is hard to reconcile with the concerns of Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. If liberal activists can keep Heller in effect defending the bill with Democratic-style rhetoric, that will make it hard for GOP Senate leaders to make changes that would accommodate him that don’t irritate more conservative Republicans. If Heller continues to sound like he did on Friday, that will be a huge victory for the liberal resistance and potentially torpedo the Obamacare repeal effort.

The NBA Haters’ Ball

Jun. 26th, 2017 09:35 pm
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Posted by Kyle Wagner

Tonight at New York’s Pier 36, the NBA will host its first annual awards show, heaping praise on the best and most outstanding players of the season. We are here today to do the opposite.


Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Thanks to a draft-day trade, Tom Thibodeau is reunited with defensive stopper Jimmy Butler, and not a moment too soon. Butler will be joining forces with the single most catastrophic defender in the league: Andrew Wiggins.

Using the NBA’s player-tracking data to look at shots defended and how those shots turned out, we can see who’s making a positive impact, who’s making a negative impact, and who’s making the most impact.

Possession by possession, there are a few defenders who are as bad as Wiggins. When Wiggins contests a shot, opponents have a 56.1 effective field goal percentage; when they are unguarded, they have a 56.4 eFG percentage. Fundamentally, getting a shot up against Andrew Wiggins is the same as getting an open shot.

Wiggins’s deficiencies are too many to list quickly, but at root the issue seems to be basic effort. He barely jumps to contest shots, doesn’t run hard to close out, and gets lost watching the ball.

But the truly destructive part of Wiggins’s defense is how much of it there was. In the way that defenders like Draymond Green or an in-his-prime Tony Allen seem to be in all places at all times, challenging seemingly every shot on the floor, Wiggins is omnipresent in his awfulness. He defended the 10th most shots in the league, by far the most by a below-average defender. Most teams do their best to hide their weak defenders, but opponents seek Wiggins out like no other defender in the league.


Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns

The missed dunk is one of the more universal plays in basketball. In a split-second, it has a neat little narrative arc: the audacity to leap in defiance of gravity and the instant comeuppance. Some players experience this more than others. Marquese Chriss experiences it more than anyone.

Chriss missed 26 dunks this season, four more than second-place DeAndre Jordan … on 146 fewer attempts. Chriss’s 79.8 shooting percentage on dunks is the worst mark Basketball Reference has on record for any player who tried at least 100 dunks in a season.

Not all missed dunks are of equal difficulty, of course. Dwyane Wade getting stuffed by the bottom of the rim in a playoff game is not the same as Chriss blowing in-traffic NBA Jam dunks. But there’s a certain charm to Chriss’s misses, like he knows they aren’t “all worth two points” and he’s determined to collect the difference, even at the cost of the two points.


Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

At a certain point, you just have to admire the confidence.

Marcus Smart was not the worst 3-point shooter in the league this season. But he was the worst 3-point shooter who routinely took a lot of threes. Smart took 4.2 3-pointers per game in 2016-17 and made 28.3 percent of them. Only two players in the 3-point era have taken four or more 3-pointers per game and shot a worse percentage than Smart did this season: Mookie Blaylock in 1997-98 and Latrell Sprewell in 1994-95. And it’s not like Smart was launching nothing but bad shots, either — 3.1 of his 3s per game came on spot-ups, which are usually high-quality looks. But Smart shot 31.2 percent on those.

Smart contributes in other ways — mainly through being Point Guard Ben Wallace — and his shooting percentage did, briefly, see an uptick in the playoffs. That’s enough to make him useful, at least on a team that gets stomped by the Cavs.


Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers

In a lot of ways, 36-year-old Jamal Crawford is miraculous. In his 17th season, Crawford played 26.3 minutes per game and averaged 12.3 points on 52.6 percent true shooting, just a hair under his career mark. But on the nights he doesn’t have it, he really doesn’t have it.

On January 8, Crawford played the single worst game of the season by any NBA player. In a home win against the Miami Heat, Crawford put in 31 minutes and went 1-for-12 on 2-point shots (0-for-4 from three) while collecting one rebound, one assist and two turnovers. He came out of the game with a break-even plus-minus, though any success the Clippers had was mainly due to a great game from Chris Paul (19 points, 18 assists, 1 turnover) and Heat players Dion Waiters, Rodney McGruder, Wayne Ellington and Willie Reed going a combined 7-for-32.


Los Angeles Lakers’ youth

On the one hand, it’s frustrating that the Lakers have to sell off their best young players in order to get out from under contracts that were bad news from the moment they were signed. On the other hand, hoo boy, those young players really, really didn’t play well when they were all on the court together.

D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance, Jr. played 108 minutes across 20 games this season — not a huge sample, but not quite nothing, either. By pure net rating, they were the second worst lineup in the league (-28.3 points per 100 possessions), trailing an especially grim configuration of Sacramento Kings. But it’s not so much the margin that was demoralizing about the group as it was the humiliating way in which it was run up.

Out of 103 non-free-throw scoring plays against this Lakers’ lineup, 24 were dunks. (For comparison’s sake, the league-average team would figure to allow 10.3 dunks for every 103 buckets.) Not mere layups, not simple wide-open shots — dunks! A quarter of all points from the floor scored on the Lakers’ Team Of The Future were on dunks, as though the goal of the defense was to corral the opposing team into the most efficient route possible on the way to the rim.


Los Angeles Clippers

For the most part, teams know that defenses play better coming out of timeouts than offenses. There’s no cross-matching to worry about, and no early-shot-clock semi-transition rush job to stamp out. Every time an offense called a timeout in 2016-17, the ensuing play was worth about 3.5 points per 100 plays for the defense compared to typical halfcourt offense. So the offense generally needs to cram enough value into that time to make it an even proposition — advancing the ball late in the game, or subbing in shooters, or trying to take the air out of a run. For some teams that’s possible. For a team that digs as deep a hole as the Clippers, good luck.

The Clippers got 10 points worse per 100 plays every time they called a timeout. This is confusing, because the Clippers had one of the best halfcourt offenses in the league, ranking fourth at 98.6 points per 100 plays. But after timeouts, that rate shrunk to 88.7. It’s not just a matter of inferior bench players coming in after the timeout, either: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, both excellent halfcourt players, fall off significantly after timeouts. Paul’s typical halfcourt offense is good for 101.2 points per 100 plays; he falls to 87.7 after timeouts. Griffin’s falls from 96.6 to 84.7.

After timeout stats tend to be noisy, and in 2015-16 the Clippers were one of the better teams in the league in those scenarios. But in 2016-17, no team lost more steam during breaks than the Clips.


Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers

The player to whom no one passes the basketball is a typically a well-earned title, and one held by the inimitable Bismack Biyombo for the last few years. This season, however, Biyombo’s offensive role has, erm, flourished. He averaged a robust six points per game for the Orlando Magic after posting the highest usage rate of his career, at 13.2. But with Bismack abdicating the throne, who is the least passed-to man in the league?

Finding players to whom no one passes is easy thanks to the NBA’s player tracking data. Take the number of “front court touches” (that is, the number of times a player touches the ball on the offensive end of the floor) and subtract the number of offensive rebounds he collected, and you’ve got something close to the number of times he was passed the ball.

The players no one passed to

NBA players with the fewest touches per 36 minutes, 2016-17

1 Jakob Poeltl TOR 11.7 3.1 1.5 14.8
2 Lucas Nogueira TOR 19.0 4.4 1.4 16.7
3 Salah Mejri DAL 12.3 2.9 1.3 17.0
4 Noah Vonleh POR 17.1 4.4 1.8 17.5
5 Tristan Thompson CLE 30.0 8.1 3.7 17.5
6 Ed Davis POR 17.2 4.3 2.1 18.0
7 Roy Hibbert DEN 14.2 4.6 1.1 18.3
8 Miles Plumlee CHA 10.8 2.5 0.8 18.3
9 Omer Asik NOP 15.6 2.7 1.5 18.5
10 Willie Reed MIA 14.5 5.3 1.8 19.1

Source: nba.com

Unsurprisingly, the list of players who don’t see much of the ball fit a profile: big men who are on the floor for defense and rebounding, not scoring. Strictly speaking, Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira see the least of the ball on a per possession basis, which is probably to be expected on a team with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. But a little ways down the list is another name, and a bigger number: Tristan Thompson played 30 minutes per game for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but was passed the ball just 14.6 times per game and 17.5 times per 36 minutes.

Thompson isn’t as offensively bereft as many of the other players on the list this season or in seasons past. He has good instincts in pick-and-roll and finds space off the ball (or at least, puts himself in positions where LeBron James can find him). But he also has by far the smallest offensive role on the team. Kevin Love, who has seen his role reduced drastically from his superstar days in Minnesota, got 37.8 touches per 36 minutes. James got 66.8; Irving got 67.2; even Iman Shumpert, who cannot dribble, pass or shoot, got 30.1. Richard Jefferson, who was drafted when Thompson was 10 years old, got 26.8.

Like Marcus Smart, Thompson has other skills that are important to the Cavaliers. They trust him with important responsibilities. Just not with the basketball.

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Posted by Oliver Roeder and Harry Enten

Neil Gorsuch’s first term on the Supreme Court adjourned for its summer recess on Monday. And although the rumors of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement did not come to pass, the court did make big news. It agreed to hear a case involving President Trump’s travel ban, while unanimously allowing the ban to take partial effect in the meantime. It also issued a ruling in a religious liberty case, agreed to hear another on the rights of businesses to deny services to same-sex couples, and declined to hear a case on carrying guns in public.

Beyond the cases themselves, the decisions shed further light on Gorsuch, the court’s newest justice, whom Trump nominated in January and who took the bench in April. Gorsuch wanted the court to go even further in allowing all of the travel ban to go into effect. In this and his other decisions, Gorsuch has paid dividends for Trump more than perhaps any other move the president has made.

Gorsuch, 10 weeks in, has been one of the most conservative members on the high court. That isn’t necessarily surprising — when Gorsuch was first nominated we called him a likely “Scalia clone” based on his lower court record — but it was far from guaranteed. Other justices, such as David Souter, ended up with far more liberal records on the Supreme Court than court-watchers expected when they took their seat.

Gorsuch, in fact, may settle to the right of Scalia. In each of the 15 cases he’s weighed in on so far, Gorsuch has sided with the court’s single most conservative member, Justice Clarence Thomas. More than that, he’s joined every concurring opinion that Thomas has issued so far. That is, he didn’t just agree with Thomas on the outcomes of the case but also with the reasoning by which those outcomes were reached.

Of course, Gorsuch’s Supreme Court tenure is in its infancy. And some justices have become more liberal while on the bench. But the cases Gorsuch has seen so far have covered a wide menu of topics, including same-sex marriage, the right to counsel, patent infringement and citizenship. In two of them — Davila v. Davis and California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. ANZ Securities — Gorsuch’s vote was pivotal, leaving the final tally at five votes to four. The first of these dealt a blow to death penalty opponents, and the latter makes it more difficult to file certain class action claims.

Gorsuch’s ascendance to the court has been one of only a handful of outright policy victories for Trump. Although we cannot know how Gorsuch will rule on other issues, it seems so far that his confirmation to the Supreme Court could lead to vastly different outcomes than had Merrick Garland (former President Barack Obama’s selection to fill the vacancy left by Scalia) been confirmed by the Senate. And were Kennedy to retire, and were Trump to successfully name his replacement, the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts would likely become the court’s new swing justice. That could leave liberals with far fewer victories on the court.

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Posted by Neil Paine

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has been the presumptive Best Pitcher In Baseball for so long that it might as well be printed on the front of his baseball card. Since his debut during the 2008 season, Kershaw has over 10 more wins above replacement than any other pitcher in the game — his former Dodgers teammate Zack Greinke is a distant No. 2 — and he has consistently managed to fend off any challenger to his crown as the game’s greatest.

But this season, Kershaw has shown a few surprising cracks. (Yes, this is basically akin to saying, “some of Mozart’s concertos were just great, not brilliant.”) Despite throwing six (only six?) shutout innings on Saturday, Kershaw’s earned run average is the highest it’s been since 2012, and his fielding independent pitching, which measures a pitcher’s dominance in the factors he directly controls (strikeouts, walks and home runs), is at its worst since Kershaw’s rookie year. He’s been giving up an uncharacteristic number of home runs (a career-worst 17, and it’s not even July), perhaps having been swept up in the juiced-ball power surge that’s jolted so many pitchers over the past few seasons. Two starts ago, he let the lowly New York Mets take him deep four times, the only four-homer game he’d ever suffered in his entire career. As a result of all this, Kershaw’s status as the game’s unquestioned top ace is in danger for the first time in a while.

FiveThirtyEight’s MLB Elo ratings have a component that assigns each starting pitcher a grade, reflecting how much influence he wields over his team’s chances of winning. Kershaw usually has the top mark in baseball; up until the past two weeks, he’d held it for 37 of the previous 38 weeks of MLB action, including 31 consecutive weeks between mid-May 2016 and late April 2017. But Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals passed Kershaw a few weeks ago, thanks to his ongoing run of six consecutive starts with double-digit strikeouts, and Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale has edged ahead of Kershaw as well. (Sale passed Kershaw as No. 1 for a week in April, but Kershaw quickly reclaimed the top spot and held it for six more weeks.)

Now, Kershaw ranks “only” third in our starting-pitcher ratings. The last time Kershaw sat so low was midway through the 2015 season, when for one week in July he dropped behind Sale, Scherzer and then-Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto, who’d just finished spinning an 11-strikeout complete-game shutout. But within two weeks, Kershaw had climbed back to No. 1, the place he’s spent 106 total weeks (out of a possible 142) since early in the 2013 season. Only three pitchers in the expansion era (since 1961) — Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and fellow Dodger Sandy Koufax — have logged more weeks in the top slot than the 29-year-old Kershaw has in his career.

Since Kershaw first rose to No. 1 in 2013, the most consistent assault on his top ranking has come from Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs. For 13 straight weeks between the 2015 stretch run and the first month of the 2016 season, Arrieta ranked first in Elo as part of his stunning ascent from washout to Cy Young winner. That’s the most weeks (consecutive or not) anybody has stood between Kershaw and the No. 1 slot since 2013; the Rangers’ Yu Darvish ranks second with six weeks of sporadic challenges.

Right now, Scherzer is in his third week (second in this particular bid) atop Kershaw’s throne. His peripheral stats — and, even more so, Sale’s — have been superior to Kershaw’s on the season so far. Maybe this is the season Kershaw’s grip on best-pitcher status loosens.

Given how much Kershaw’s dominated that distinction over the past half-decade, though, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

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Posted by Dan Hopkins

We now know Republican senators’ plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. And while GOP senators are struggling with the question of whether they can pass the bill, they’ll also be asking a longer-term question: Will Americans like what’s in it? In general, public opinion toward the GOP’s health reform efforts has been decidedly negative. But the key question is not necessarily how the bill polls in the coming weeks — it’s what Americans will think about the legislation if it passes and they begin to experience changes to their health insurance.

One way to assess Americans’ likely views about the GOP’s Better Care Reconciliation Act is to look at what they do and don’t like about the Affordable Care Act. In a recent interview with Vox, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski — a pivotal vote on health care— summarized her constituents’ views like this: “I continue to hear stories of great frustration. Increasing premium costs. Increasing share of deductibles. Decreasing access. They know what they don’t like. They know what they do like. They do like the fact that they have gotten coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

For years, the Kaiser Family Foundation has surveyed Americans about health policy and the ACA, aka Obamacare. Periodically, those surveys have included open-ended questions about why Americans do or don’t support the law. Since the implementation of the law’s main features in 2014, Americans have thought about the ACA much as the Alaskans described by Murkowski have: Those who back it cite increased access, and those who oppose it worry about rising personal costs.

Consider the tables below, in which I categorized responses along with the share of people falling into each category in Kaiser’s March 2014 and March 2015 surveys. For the law’s opponents, the single biggest issue to emerge from these answers is what I term “personal cost.” Thirteen percent of all respondents — and 23 percent of the law’s detractors — gave responses that fit into this category. This March 2014 response was emblematic: “My insurance has went up 400 percent. I think it rips off the doctors and young people. I can’t believe Congress will pass a law with them not knowing what it’s about.” If the new Senate bill seeks to improve upon the ACA in the public’s eyes, and especially in the eyes of the ACA’s detractors, it will need to keep out-of-pocket health care costs down.

Reasons survey respondents gave for opposing the ACA
Personal costs/unaffordable 12.8%
Infringes on rights/unconstitutional 8.2
General negative 7.3
Not proper role of government 5.7
Constrains choice 4.0
Unfair 4.0
ACA is too complicated 3.4
Costs government too much 1.7
Economic costs 1.6
Bad for specific groups 1.6
Government won’t do this well 1.4
Policymaking processes 1.3
Hurts quality of health care 0.7
Don’t want illegal immigrants included 0.3
Concerned law will fund abortion 0.3
Prefers single-payer system 0.3
Leaders oppose ACA 0.2

From Kaiser Family Foundation surveys in March 2014 and March 2015

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

Reasons survey respondents gave for supporting the ACA
Increased access 16.9%
Fairness and equality 9.1
Good for U.S. 5.6
Affordability/lowers costs 5.3
Step in right direction 2.5
Protecting consumers 1.7
Helps specific groups 1.6
Reform is overdue 1.0
Positive international comparison 0.6
Improves quality of health care 0.2
Leaders support ACA 0.2
Balances federal budget 0.1
Economic benefits 0.1

From Kaiser Family Foundation surveys in March 2014 and March 2015

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

There is also significant opposition to the ACA as a matter of ideology. Eight percent of all respondents were opposed because they felt its requirement that most people buy insurance was an infringement of personal rights. For instance, one respondent explained that it should be “completely up to people if they want to do it or not; people shouldn’t be forced to get health insurance.” Another 6 percent raised closely related concerns about health insurance being outside the proper scope of government.

People were less concerned, in the end, about the effect the ACA had on the budget deficit, or the federal government’s long-term spending. It wasn’t always that way, though. In three surveys conducted after the law was enacted but before it was implemented, the most prevalent concern among opponents was that the law would drive up spending and so increase taxes, the deficit, or both. But after implementation, those concerned dropped to just 1.7 percent of responses, perhaps partly because the law’s main taxes don’t hit many voters directly. While one of the new GOP bill’s main features is its large tax cuts for high-income Americans, the ACA’s taxes haven’t been a cause for much concern in years.

Among the public, ACA opposition stems more from concerns about rising personal costs than costs borne by the government. One might think that the GOP’s activist core has different priorities, priorities more closely aligned with the Senate GOP’s bill. To find out, I teamed up with Georgetown’s Hans Noel and Huffington Post’s Pollster and fielded a separate poll of 1,000 Republican and Democratic activists in October 2016 via YouGov that can speak to that question. It turns out that activists who oppose the ACA don’t differ as much from the public as might be expected. They, too, prioritize reducing personal costs — 23 percent of all responses talked about rising costs under the ACA. By contrast, just 7 percent of all activists’ responses fell into the more ideological category about the ACA being an improper exercise of federal authority. So if the GOP bill doesn’t focus on reducing costs, it won’t just be out of sync with GOP-leaning citizens–it will be out of sync with the GOP’s activists, too.

With respect to ACA supporters, too, Murkowski’s perceptions are on target. The most common reason respondents gave in 2014 and 2015 for supporting the ACA was increased access: 17 percent of all respondents and 37 percent of all the law’s backers cited increased access to health care. One supporter, for instance, backed the law because “everyone can have health insurance … I went several years and haven’t had it and know how difficult it is to go to the doctor/hospital.” Meanwhile, another 9 percent of respondents fell into a related category focusing on fairness and people’s right to health care.

The ACA stands as a reminder to politicians that if you want a law to hold up, you have to think about its political dimensions as well as its policy dimensions. Americans have come to think about the ACA largely in terms of their personal health care costs and access to the system. Whatever the Republicans ultimately come up with is likely to be judged using similar criteria. And given his remarks Thursday on Fox News, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price knows it: He argued for the legislation by saying, “We’ve got prices going up, we’ve got deductibles going up, premiums going up. … We’ve got people who have an insurance card but they don’t have any care because they can’t afford the deductible.”

Still, initial analyses suggest that the proposed changes probably won’t cut out-of-pocket spending. If those prove accurate, and if the reform reduces access to health insurance, it’s hard to envision the bill becoming more popular than the law it seeks to replace.

Tiger Brown, Saleel Huprikar, and Louis Lin provided research assistance. A Russell Sage Foundation Presidential Authority Award supports Dan Hopkins’s ACA-related research.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news.

22 U.S. House seats

An Associated Press study of U.S. House races found that Republicans may have gained up to 22 additional seats in the 2016 election due to redistricting. The AP’s analysis also found four times as many states with GOP-skewed state legislative maps as Democratic-skewed ones. [The Associated Press]

37 percent

Kentucky’s government employee pension system is in bad shape. The pensions managed by Kentucky Retirement Systems “had just 37 percent of the money required to pay current and future retirees.” And the state isn’t doing those retirees any favors: It’s way more reliant on “alternative investments” — pricey hedge funds and private equity — than its peers. So far, the result has been higher costs and lower returns. [The Huffington Post]


Expected opening weekend take for “The Big Sick.” And Kumail Nanjiani’s romantic-comedy opened in just five locations, giving it the highest per-screen average gross of any film released in 2017 — a good sign for the film. [Variety]

1 million deaths

A White House budget proposal cuts $1.1 billion from a George W. Bush-era program that funds antiretroviral drugs for people with H.I.V. in sub-Saharan Africa. That kind of cut could lead to an estimated 1 million additional deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, according to researchers. [The New York Times]

1.4 million people

That’s the number of Americans who live in nursing homes, and Medicaid pays for most of their costs. In the U.S., 64 percent of people in nursing homes rely on Medicaid, so the Medicaid cuts in the Republican health care law could have far-reaching consequences for them. [The New York Times]

$1.6 billion

Takata, the company that makes the airbags that have been linked to at least 16 deaths and 180 injuries, filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday. Key Safety Systems, a rival air-bag maker not known for firing shrapnel when its airbags inflate, will buy most of Takata’s assets for $1.6 billion. [The Associated Press]

If you see a significant digit in the wild, send it to @WaltHickey.

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Posted by Ben Casselman and Kathryn Casteel

As cities across the country pushed their minimum wages to untested heights in recent years, some economists began to ask: How high is too high?

Seattle, with its highest-in-the-country minimum wage, may have hit that limit.

In January 2016, Seattle’s minimum wage jumped from $11 an hour to $13 for large employers, the second big increase in less than a year. New research released Monday by a team of economists at the University of Washington suggests the wage hike may have come at a significant cost: The increase led to steep declines in employment for low-wage workers, and a drop in hours for those who kept their jobs. Crucially, the negative impact of lost jobs and hours more than offset the benefits of higher wages — on average, low-wage workers earned $125 per month less because of the higher wage, a small but significant decline.

“The goal of this policy was to deliver higher incomes to people who were struggling to make ends meet in the city,” said Jacob Vigdor, a University of Washington economist who was one of the study’s authors. “You’ve got to watch out because at some point you run the risk of harming the people you set out to help.”

The paper’s findings are preliminary and have not yet been subjected to peer review. And the authors stressed that even if their results hold up, their research leaves important questions unanswered, particularly about how the minimum wage has affected individual workers and businesses. The paper does not, for example, address whether displaced workers might have found jobs in other cities or with companies such as Uber that are not included in their data.

Still, despite such caveats, the new research is likely to have big political implications at a time when the minimum wage has returned to the center of the economic policy debate. In recent years, cities and states across the country have passed laws and ordinances that will push their minimum wages as high as $15 over the next several years. During last year’s presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton called for the federal minimum wage to be raised to $12, and she faced pressure from activists to propose $15 instead. (The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour.) Recently, however, the minimum-wage movement has faced backlash from conservatives, with legislatures in some states moving to block cities from increasing their local minimums.

Many economists, meanwhile, have acknowledged substantial uncertainty over the likely effects of the recent wage hikes. Most — though by no means allpast research has found that modest increases to the minimum wage have little impact on employment, and that if employers do eliminate jobs or cut back hours, those losses are dwarfed by the income gains enjoyed by the majority of workers who keep their jobs. But those studies were mostly based on minimum wages that were much lower than the ones beginning to take effect now. Even some liberal economists have expressed concern, often privately, that employers might respond differently to a minimum wage of $12 or $15, which would affect a far broader swath of workers than the part-time fast-food and retail employees who typically dominate the ranks of minimum-wage earners. Other economists said there simply wasn’t enough evidence to predict the impact of minimum wages that high. The new laws in Seattle and other cities, then, could provide an ideal testing ground.

“The literature shows that moderate minimum wage increases seem to consistently have their intended effects, [but] you have to admit that the increases that we’re now contemplating go beyond moderate,” said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who was not involved in the Seattle research. “That doesn’t mean, however, that you know what the outcome is going to be. You have to test it, you have to scrutinize it, which is why Seattle is a great test case.”

Seattle’s minimum-wage ordinance was one of the earliest and most aggressive of the recent wave. In 2014, the city passed a law raising the city’s minimum wage — already among the nation’s highest, at more than $9 an hour — to $15 an hour over several years. Economists immediately saw the law as an opportunity to study the effects of an unusually high minimum wage, and the city of Seattle agreed to help fund a team of researchers to look into the policy’s impact.

The group’s first major report, released last year, looked at the first big increase under the law, in April 2015, in which the minimum wage went from $9.47 to $11 for large employers. The report found relatively little effect, for good or ill: The policy led to some lost jobs and hours, the report concluded, but those were more or less offset by the increased income enjoyed by workers. For workers who kept their jobs, the higher wage was a clear benefit; for low-wage workers as a whole, the impact was minimal. One reason for the muted impact: In high-cost Seattle, not many workers earned less than $11 an hour even before the law took effect.

Monday’s report looks at the impact of the second wage increase under the law: the January 2016 hike to $13 an hour for large employers. This time, the findings look very different: Compared to a counterfactual in which Seattle didn’t raise its minimum wage, the number of hours worked by low-wage workers (those earning less than $19 an hour) fell by 9.4 percent over the first nine months of 2016, and the number of low-wage jobs fell by 6.8 percent. Cumulatively, those add up to the losses of 5,000 jobs and 3.5 million hours of work. The average low-wage employee, they found, saw his or her monthly paycheck shrink by $125, or 6.6 percent.

The study is far from the last word on the impact of Seattle’s law, let alone the $15 minimum wage movement more generally. Indeed, just last week another study used similar methods to reach seemingly the opposite conclusion: A report from the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, found that Seattle’s minimum wage, “raises pay without costing jobs,” as a press release on the study announced.

The Berkeley study, however, looked exclusively at the restaurant industry. That has been a common practice in minimum-wage research, because the industry is one of the largest employers of low-wage workers. But the University of Washington study suggests a possible flaw in that approach: That research, too, found essentially no job losses in the restaurant sector as a result of the city’s minimum wage hike. That suggests that studies that focused on the restaurant industry might have missed larger effects in other sectors. (Michael Reich, one of the authors of the Berkeley study, said he was confident in his findings. Bernstein said focusing on restaurants, especially fast food, was a widely accepted approach that was well grounded in economic theory.)

The Washington study has one big advantage over most past research: The authors had access to detailed data on the hours and earnings of nearly all employees in Washington state, allowing them to measure the effects of the minimum wage much more directly than is possible with less complete datasets. But the study has its own weaknesses. Because the researchers had data only for Washington state, they had only a limited pool of places they could compare Seattle to — a key step for figuring out the effects of the minimum wage policy. (The Berkeley paper, by contrast, compared Seattle to similar communities across the country.)

The Washington researchers also had to exclude many multilocation businesses, which means their sample could leave out major low-wage employers such as fast-food chains. Reich, in a letter to Seattle’s mayor responding to the study, called the findings “not credible” in part because they differed so much from those of past research. But Jeffrey Clemens, an economist at the University of California, San Diego who has studied the minimum wage, said it isn’t surprising that Seattle’s minimum wage would have an unusually big impact because it is so much higher than most other minimums.

Even if the Washington study stands up to scrutiny — and it will get lots more scrutiny — it carries important caveats. Vigdor cautioned that the study makes no claims about individual workers: It is possible, for example, that workers who lost their jobs after the wage hike quickly found other jobs outside of Seattle, or that they made up for lost hours by driving for Uber. Neither shift would show up in the researchers’ data.

Some people almost certainly benefited from the higher wage. David Rolf, president of SEIU 775, a union representing home care and nursing home workers in Washington state, said many of his members have seen clear gains since the law took effect.

“It’s no one’s idea of a luxury wage, but caregivers in Seattle can escape poverty if they work full time, and that’s something most caregivers across the country can’t say,” Rolf said.

But Rolf also noted that workers have benefited from the strong overall economy in Seattle, where the 3.2 percent unemployment rate is forcing companies to compete with each other for employees. Economists say that any negative effects of the minimum wage could become more evident when the economy inevitably cools. And Vigdor said that while experienced workers have probably benefited from the higher wage, new entrants to the labor force, including teenagers, have probably lost out.“This is a ‘canary in the coal mine’ moment,” said David Autor, an MIT economist who wasn’t involved in the Seattle research.

Autor noted that high-cost cities such as Seattle are the places that should be in the best position to absorb the impact of a high minimum wage. So if the policy is hurting workers there — and Autor stressed that the Washington report is just one study — that could signal trouble as the recent wage hikes take effect in lower-cost parts of the country.

“Nobody in their right mind would say that raising the minimum wage to $25 an hour would have no effect on employment,” Autor said. “The question is where is the point where it becomes relevant. And apparently in Seattle, it’s around $13.”

We’re Hiring A Copy Editor

Jun. 23rd, 2017 08:11 pm
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Posted by Meghan Ashford-Grooms

FiveThirtyEight is hiring a copy editor. We’re looking for someone to edit articles for clarity, style and, especially, accuracy. A significant portion of the FiveThirtyEight copy desk’s job is fact-checking stories that rely on statistical analysis and data, so the ideal candidate will be comfortable working with numbers. He or she will also be collaborative and adaptable, eager to join a team in a fast-paced news environment. This is a full-time, permanent position based in New York City.

Candidates also must:

  • Have a minimum of three years of editing experience at a news website or publication.
  • Have sound news judgment and be able to edit quickly.
  • Be familiar with Associated Press style.
  • Be familiar with spreadsheet software and Google Docs.
  • Have a demonstrated knowledge of some or all of the topic areas covered by FiveThirtyEight — politics and policy; sports; science and health; and culture.

We would prefer that candidates have:

  • Five years of editing experience at a major website or publication.
  • A proven ability to write web-savvy headlines.
  • Familiarity with web publishing platforms, including WordPress.

To apply, please go to the listing on the ESPN Careers website.


Breaking Down The Jimmy Butler Trade

Jun. 23rd, 2017 07:07 pm
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Posted by Kyle Wagner and Tony Chow

The Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves completed the biggest draft-day trade, swapping draft picks and moving Jimmy Butler to Minnesota in exchange for a couple of lesser players. In the video above, Kyle Wagner breaks down the trade and wonders what the Bulls were thinking.

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Posted by Chris Herring

CHICAGO — NBA franchises fail all the time in trying to construct a team. On Thursday, the Bulls illustrated that it’s possible to botch the dismantling of one.

Anyone who watched the Bulls over the past two years could see that this team — whether it managed to sneak into the playoffs or not — was on a treadmill of mediocrity. And that was the case despite having an All-NBA talent like swingman Jimmy Butler. The reset button needed to be hit.

That happened Thursday when the team traded Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 draft pick, Lauri Markkanen. Without context, acquiring young players like LaVine (who averaged 19 points a game last season), Dunn (the highly sought-after No. 5 pick from last June) and 7-foot sharpshooter Markkanen would be a decent return for a player of Butler’s caliber. But, like always, the devil is in the details here. LaVine missed the final 32 games of the season after tearing his ACL — an injury the Bulls are all too familiar with — while Dunn had an incredibly rough rookie season, one in which he not only posted the lowest true-shooting percentage among first-year players, but the worst true-shooting mark of any player, period.

And while it’s too soon to truly criticize anything about the Markkanen acquisition, it was shocking that Chicago felt the need to send its No. 16 pick to the Wolves to complete this trade, given how much better Butler was than everyone else involved. The Bulls shouldn’t have needed to send anything else to sweeten the deal. Yet the team says this was the best offer they had for Butler, by far, and that the move gave Chicago an opportunity to move from the center of the totem pole all the way near the bottom, where it will be easier to build through the draft in the future.

“Jimmy has improved as an individual maybe as much as any guy we’ve been around,” said Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson of Butler, who went from averaging 2.6 points as a rookie to nearly 24 points in his sixth year. “Minnesota is obviously getting a heck of a player. He’s going to be missed. But with that said, what we’ve done is set a direction. We’ve gone to the playoffs, but not at a level that we’ve wanted to. And in this league, success is not determined that way. And we’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

VIDEO: Breaking down the Butler trade

ESPN Video Player

The rebuild is already off to an odd start, though. Beyond LaVine’s injury risk, the Bulls are also getting him at a time when the 22-year-old is on the cusp of landing what figures to be a big payday. (In fact, they’ll be forced to hammer out an extension this summer — perhaps well north of $20 million a year, without seeing him play meaningful basketball since the injury — or else risk another team throwing a bigger offer at him as a restricted free agent and forcing Chicago to match.) There’s a decent chance his next deal briefly outpaces Butler’s annual salary of almost $19 million, one of the best bargains in the NBA, since Butler is locked in until at least 2019.

In other words: The rebuild will require the Bulls to shell out considerable salary to a young player who hasn’t proven to be a sure thing yet. And with Dunn, one of the older rookies in last year’s draft, they’ll be hoping that last season was just an aberration for him.

Part of what makes the swap so disappointing for the Bulls is the fact that they were engaged in draft-day conversations about the same players last year, before talks eventually broke off. The Bulls have more information now — that LaVine showed vast improvement on offense before tearing his ACL, that Dunn’s college success probably won’t translate right away, and that Butler is truly an elite, All-NBA talent — yet the Bulls pulled the trigger on a package that should be even less attractive to them now than it was then.

From Minnesota’s vantage point, it’s easy to imagine how Butler can immediately come in and change things for the youthful Timberwolves, who were a great first-half team but blew more double-digit leads in second halves than any other team in the NBA. The 27-year-old was fantastic when it counted this past season, posting a 44.5 player-efficiency rating in clutch scenarios, second-best in the NBA behind only Russell Westbrook, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. His presence also boosts a defense that was fifth-worst in the league last season, in part because Andrew Wiggins still really struggles on that end, even though he has wingspan and athleticism of a stopper. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear some put Minnesota on a short list of clubs that could potentially beat Golden State a couple of years from now if they continue to build out that roster.

There are a handful of things that figure to work out nicely for the Bulls as a result of this trade, too. LaVine showed considerable improvement as a shooter last season, something Chicago can use given the team’s abysmal numbers from outside. And his ability to get up and down the floor should allow coach Fred Hoiberg play the uptempo style he’s wanted to use since joining the Bulls more than two years ago. (This becomes even more true if Dwyane Wade, who recently told the team that he was opting into the last year of his deal for $24 million, decides it’s best to negotiate a buyout with the club.)

With Dunn, even if his offense doesn’t improve a ton, the team will at least have a very good, capable defender at the guard spot. The ex-Providence standout is a pest and uses his length to disrupt the passing lanes. He ranked fourth in the NBA with 4.6 deflections per 36 minutes.

All things considered, though, there’s a reason that the Bulls are getting failing grades for this move. No one is knocking the idea of conceding that a rebuild was necessary. That much was obvious. But given that Butler had more time left on his deal, the team’s hand wasn’t forced to do something this very moment. Chicago easily could’ve waited until the trade deadline to try to sell the swingman off to a desperate contender.

Either way, the Bulls should have been able to get more than damaged, or diminished, goods in exchange for their franchise player.

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Posted by Nate Silver

We’ve seen this movie before. Republicans, after a secretive drafting process, finally unveil a health care bill. But the initial reaction is tepid, with both moderate and conservative Republicans expressing “concerns” and demanding changes to the bill.

That’s what happened when the House Republican leadership released its health care bill, the American Health Care Act, in March. And that’s what happened on Thursday, when Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released the Senate’s version of a health care bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

Soon after the BCRA was officially released, four conservative senators — Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Ron Johnson — issued a statement saying that they were “not ready to vote for this bill,” although they also said they were “open to negotiation” about it. This was hardly the only opposition to the bill, however. According to The Washington Post’s whip count, five other relatively moderate Republicans — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Dean Heller, Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito — said they had serious concerns with the bill, ranging from its defunding of Planned Parenthood to its cutting of funds for Medicaid. That would seem to put McConnell in a difficult spot: Assuming no Democrats vote for the bill, McConnell can afford to lose only two of his senators. But he already has nine senators objecting to the bill from various directions.

We also remember how that other movie ended, however. After a false start in March, when House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the AHCA from the House floor, Republicans regathered to pass their bill in May by a 217-213 majority.

It’s tempting, therefore, to assume that the same process will play out in the Senate and that the BCRA will eventually pass after a few weeks of drama. When the ink is still drying on the bill, as it is right now, Republican senators have lots of incentive to express their concerns, whether to stake out a negotiating position or to posture before their constituents. McConnell is a skilled vote-whipper, however, and the Senate has generally toed the party line in support of the GOP agenda and President Trump. And even if the bill isn’t exactly the one that senators might want, it’s still in line with longstanding GOP policy objectives.

So all of this probably ends with a big signing ceremony in the Rose Garden — and millions of people losing their insurance, right?

Well, maybe. Betting markets give roughly even odds that key provisions of Obamacare, such as its employer mandate, will be repealed before the end of the year. I don’t know what probability I’d assign to the bill’s passage myself. But I do think it’s worth pausing to take an inventory of some of the differences between the House’s situation and the one the Senate now faces. There are quite a few of these — some of which make the bill more likely to pass and others less so:

  • Republicans need a higher percentage of their members to vote for the bill in the Senate. In the House, the GOP needed 216 of its 237 members to support the bill, or 91 percent. In the Senate, they need 50 of 52 members, or 96 percent. This is a big difference. If McConnell can’t nail down the most critical votes — such as Collins, Heller, Murkowski and Paul — he doesn’t have a lot of backup options. This factor is harmful to the bill’s chances of passage.
  • Senators face less immediate electoral pressure than members of the House did. Whereas every member of the House will face voters next year, only eight Republican senators are up for reelection in 2018. And of these, only Nevada’s Heller, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and mayyyyybe Texas’s Cruz look as though they’ll face any real pressure in their general elections. It’s true that the AHCA/BCRA would have profound repercussions for people’s insurance for many years, so the Republicans up in 2020 and 2022 will eventually have to deal with the public fallout if the bill become law. Still, this factor is helpful to the bill’s chances for now.
  • The House had to start from scratch, whereas the Senate can piggyback on the House’s bill. This factor is helpful to the bill’s chances in various ways. McConnell can tell his members that the sky didn’t fall after House Republicans passed their bill. He can tell Cruz and Lee that if the bill was good enough for the House Freedom Caucus, it should be good enough for them. And he can argue that abandoning the bill now — after the House has already taken a tough vote on it — would leave the GOP in the worst of all possible worlds, with swing voters angry at the GOP for passing the AHCA in the House, and base voters angry at them for not getting health care over the finish line in the Senate.
  • Senate Republicans won’t get a “do-over.” One conceit about the House bill, which Ryan may have used to gain leverage with moderate members, was that it would be completely rewritten in the Senate. Just vote on something to keep the process moving, Ryan could argue, and we’ll fix the problems later. But, in fact, the Senate bill turned out to be extremely similar to the House bill. Furthermore, Senate Republicans won’t get a second chance to fix problems with their bill because the House is expected to approve the Senate bill’s “as is” if the Senate passes it, which would send BCRA right to the president’s desk. This raises the stakes and is harmful to the bill’s chances.
  • The Senate must use reconciliation (or Republicans will have to rewrite the rules). Republicans are hoping to use reconciliation to pass the BCRA, which would allow them to pass it with a simple 51-vote majority and avoid a Democratic filibuster. But the Senate parliamentarian has not yet ruled on the bill and will not to do so until a Congressional Budget Office score is released next week. If some parts of the bill don’t pass muster, Republicans will either have to rewrite the BCRA or adopt novel interpretations of the reconciliation rules. (Or if they so choose, they could eliminate the legislative filibuster altogether.) The more drastic the procedural step, the more likely that moderates such as Collins and perhaps traditionalists such as John McCain will object to it. This limits McConnell’s flexibility and is harmful to the bill’s chances of passage.
  • The Obamacare exchanges are in more trouble than they were a few months ago. Obamacare isn’t in a “death spiral” — but it is in a more precarious position than it was a few months ago, with insurers pulling out of markets or substantially raising premiums on a state-by-state basis. (In part, this is because of problems the GOP itself has helped to create.) Trump has claimed that this will create political problems for Democrats and force them to the negotiating table. Polls suggest that Trump is wrong about this: Instead, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in April found that by a 2-1 margin, voters would blame Trump and Republicans for problems with Obamacare going forward. Nevertheless, this gives McConnell and Trump a certain sort of leverage over congressional Republicans. If Republicans will be blamed either way — for an unpopular bill or for the collapse of Obamacare — there’s no politically easy way out and the GOP might as well pass its bill, McConnell and Trump can say. Therefore, this dynamic is helpful to the bill’s chances of passage.
  • Trump and the bill have grown even more unpopular. Trump’s approval rating was 44 percent when the House first considered the bill in March and about 42 percent when it passed the bill in May. Today, Trump’s numbers are closer to 38 or 39 percent. But the really shocking numbers are on the bill itself. For instance, voters disapproved of the Republican bill by a 59-31 margin in the most recent CBS News poll. (Although the numbers vary some from survey to survey because of question wording, the CBS results are fairly typical of the consensus.) Furthermore, the bill’s numbers are getting even worse as the Republicans’ secretive drafting process hasn’t helped to sell the bill to the public. It’s unusual to see major bills that are this unpopular become law. Maybe Republicans will keep the blinders on, but this factor is harmful to the bill’s chances of passage.
  • There have been several special elections since the House vote. Special elections for vacant House seats were held in Montana last month and in Georgia and South Carolina this week. Republicans won all three. At FiveThirtyEight, we look at the margins in these races and not just the winners, which leads us to conclude that these were a pretty bad set of results for Republicans, who won by much smaller margins than the GOP typically does in these districts. But we don’t expect Republicans to see things that way. Instead, we expect these results to give Republicans a morale boost and to be helpful to McConnell’s chances of passing a bill.
  • The news cycle is slowing down, and health care is the lead story again. Paul, Collins and the other Republican objectors won’t kill the bill outright; most have explicitly said they’re open to negotiations. Those negotiations will take time, however. Meanwhile, we’re entering a moment when the political news cycle is seemingly slowing down, with no more special elections in the immediate future and the Russia story having been in something of a lull for the past week or two. There’s a reason that McConnell drafted his bill in secret: With a bill so unpopular, he doesn’t want his members to be exposed to public scrutiny about it. But now that voters and the media have fewer distractions, some of his senators will get an earful. This factor is harmful to the bill’s chances of passage.

Finally, there’s the wild card of Trump, who reportedly called the House bill “mean” but praised the very similar Senate bill on Thursday. I’m not going to score that in either direction.

So to tally things up, that’s four “helpfuls” and five “harmfuls.” Furthermore, the first “harmful” — that McConnell can afford far fewer defections than Ryan had — is especially important. Overall, the Senate bill faces a somewhat different and probably also more difficult set of obstacles than the House one did. Therefore, I’d guard both against interpretation that the bill will necessarily pass the Senate because it passed the House. At the same time, Ryan and House Republicans overcame some of the same obstacles — and if that precedent isn’t dispositive, it’s at least highly relevant. Among other things, we know that early whip counts aren’t all that reliable and major legislation often follows a bust-and-boom cycle in which it seems to be falling apart only to come together in the end. Neither Democrats nor Republicans ought to be taking much for granted.

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Posted by Edited by Oliver Roeder

Welcome to The Riddler. Every week, I offer up problems related to the things we hold dear around here: math, logic and probability. There are two types: Riddler Express for those of you who want something bite-sized and Riddler Classic for those of you in the slow-puzzle movement. Submit a correct answer for either, and you may get a shoutout in next week’s column. If you need a hint, or if you have a favorite puzzle collecting dust in your attic, find me on Twitter.

Riddler Express

From Colm Kelleher, a small but tricky number square problem:

6 4 7
5 X 12
3 11 16

There is a very specific logic underlying the grid of numbers above, and X is somewhere between 1 and 14. What, specifically, is X?

Submit your answer

Riddler Classic

From Dan Waterbury, a participatory collective-action caffeine problem:

Riddler Headquarters is a buzzing hive of activity. Mathematicians, statisticians and programmers roam the halls at all hours, proving theorems and calculating probabilities. They’re fueled, of course, by caffeine. But the headquarters has just one coffee pot, along with one unbreakable rule: You finish the joe, you make some mo’.

Specifically, the coffee pot holds one gallon of coffee, and workers fill their mugs from it in sequence. Whoever takes the last drop has to make the next pot, no ifs, ands or buts. Every worker in the office is trying to take as much coffee as he or she can while minimizing the probability of having to refill the pot. Also, this pot is both incredibly heavy and completely opaque, so it’s tough to tell how much remains. That means a worker can’t keep pouring until she sees or feels just a drop left. Anyone stuck refilling the pot becomes so frustrated that they throw their cup to the ground in frustration, so they get no coffee that round.

Congratulations! You’ve just been hired to work at Riddler Headquarters. Submit a number between 0 and 1. (It could be 0.9999, or 0.0001, or 0.5, or 0.12345, and so on.) This is the number of gallons of coffee you will attempt to take from the pot each time you go for a cup. If that amount remains, lucky you, you get to drink it. If less remains, you’re out of luck that round; you must refill the pot, and you get no coffee.

Once I’ve received your submissions, I’ll randomize the order in which you and your colleagues head for the pot. Then I’ll run a lot of simulations — thousands of hypothetical trips to the coffee pot in the Riddler offices. Whoever drinks the most coffee is the ☕ Caffeine King or Queen ☕ of Riddler Headquarters!

Submit your amount

Solution to last week’s Riddler Express

Congratulations to 👏 Peter Sloan 👏 of Montreal, winner of the previous Express puzzle!

In a certain family, there have been some funny coincidences. Among an extended family of 23 people, three pairs of people share birthdays. What are the odds of that? Moreover, all these pairs are on one side of the family, a group of only 14 people. What are the odds of that?

They’re roughly 1.8 percent and 0.07 percent, respectively.

To calculate these odds, we need to calculate two separate things. First, we need the total number of different ways that a group’s birthdays could be arranged. Second, we need the total number of different ways that a group’s birthdays could be arranged such that three pairs of them share a specific birthday. Then, because any individual arrangement of birthdays is equally likely, we’ll divide that second number by the first number and voila.

Our winner, Peter, walks us through the rest of the details:

Let’s start with the extended family of 23 people. There are \(365^{23}\) (an enormous number, 85 octodecillion) ways that this family’s birthdays can occur, since each person has a shot at having a birthday on any of the 365 days in a year. (Let’s ignore leap years.) That’s our first piece. Next, we can split the second calculation into three products. Since there are three pairs of shared birth dates, there are 20 unique birth dates in total among the group, which allows us to break things down like this:

  1. The number of ways to choose 20 unique birth dates out of 365 multiplied by
  2. the number of ways to choose three birth dates out of 20 to be our “pair” birth dates multiplied by
  3. the number of ways to assign our 23 people to the chosen birth dates so that two are assigned to each pair birth date and one is assigned to each of the other birth dates.

The first two expressions are given by what’s called the choose function, which gives us the number of ways you can select a set of objects from a larger collection: \({365 \choose 20} \cdot {20 \choose 3}\). The third expression is given by the multinomial distribution as \(\frac{23!}{2!^3 1!^{17}}\), and works out to 23!/8. So the solution is \({365 \choose 20} \cdot {20 \choose 3} \cdot \frac{23!}{8}/365^{23}\), or about 1.832 percent. The odds of getting three pairs in a group of 14 people are, similarly, \({365 \choose 11} \cdot {11 \choose 3} \cdot \frac{14!}{8}/365^{14}\), or about 0.07956 percent. But we must also take into account that on the other side of the family, nine people don’t share any birthdays. The odds of this happening are \({365 \choose 9} \cdot 9!/365^9\), or about 0.905. Thus the total odds are 0.07956*0.905, or about 0.072 percent. Lucky family!

Solution to last week’s Riddler Classic

Congratulations to 👏 Laurent Bartholdi 👏 of Paris, winner of the previous Classic puzzle!

On a sunny summer day, you’ve gone to the park with your friends. You decide to play a game of “chaos tag,” according to the following rules: Any group of two or more people can play. All players are active at the start of the game. Active players can run around and tag other active players. A player who is tagged becomes inactive and must sit on the spot where they were tagged. An inactive player becomes active again when the player who tagged them is tagged. Victory is achieved by being the only remaining active player.

Suppose N of you are at the park that day. If all active players are equally likely to tag someone and any of the possible targets are equally likely to be tagged, how long will the game last on average, as measured in tags?

It will last an average of \(2^{N-1}-1\) tags.

Many of you solvers turned to computer simulation, with you and your digital friends sprinting around at lightning speed inside your CPUs. David Gardner modeled the problem in the numerical computing environment MATLAB, and his simulations gave him the following trend in number of tags:

As the number of players increases, the number of tags the game will take increases very fast — you’ll notice the y-axis of David’s chart is on a logarithmic scale, ranging from 1 tag to 100,000,000 tags.

2 1
3 3
4 7
5 15
6 31
7 63
How long will a game of chaos tag take?

Zack Segel modeled it in the programming language Python and found the pattern shown in the table at left. One thing quickly becomes clear: The average number of tags for each number of players are all very close to powers of two! That is, they almost, but not quite, match a simple doubling pattern of 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and so on. From that simple observation, we can posit our general solution for N players: \(2^{N-1}-1\) tags.

But others, of course, took more analytical (and analog) approaches. Here’s Joseph Wetherell’s nifty solution:

Each player \(P\) is responsible for some number \(n(P)\) of currently inactive players. For example, at the start of the game \(n(P) = 0\) for all players and at the end of the game, \(n(Winner) = N-1\). Define the “score” of player P to be \(2^{n(P)}-1\), and define the “total score” of the current game to be the sum of the scores of the players. So the total score at the beginning of the game is 0 and the total score at the end is \(2^{N-1}-1\). Suppose we are in the midst of the game and we consider what is going to happen next. In this scenario, \(P\) and \(Q\) are two active players. If \(P\) tags \(Q\), the change in the score is \(2^{n(P)}-2^{n(Q)}+1\), while if \(Q\) tags \(P\), the change in score is \(2^{n(Q)}-2^{n(P)}+1\). Note that the average of these two values is 1. Since these two options are equally likely, according to the assumptions of the problem, and in fact all options occur in pairs like this, we see that the expected value of the score goes up by 1 each time. It follows that the expected remaining duration of the game starting from any given situation S will be Score(EndState) – Score(S). Thus, the expected length of the game will be Score(EndState) – Score(BeginState) = \(2^{N-1}-1\).

And Sawyer Tabony shared his lovely pen-and-paper work:

This week’s 🏆 Coolest Riddler Extension Award 🏆 goes to Tim Black of Madison, Wisconsin. Tim proposed a variant of this game that he calls break-free chaos tag. Another good name might be “even more chaotic tag.” “Each time you are inactive,” he wrote, “you have one chance to flip a fair coin. If it comes up heads, you ‘break free’ and become active again. You win the game when you are the only active player and all other players have used up their coin flips.”

Tim was kind enough to publish his analysis, along with a very clever solution to the original problem, on his blog. Again, there’s a tidy solution to this variant, but I hope you’ve been getting your cardio in: In even more chaotic tag, the game lasts \(3^{N-1}-1\) tags on average.

Want to submit a riddle?

Email me at oliver.roeder@fivethirtyeight.com.



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