LBCF, No. 156: ‘Martyr envy

Oct. 20th, 2017 11:39 am
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Posted by Fred Clark

The intended readers of Left Behind are waiting for the end of the world. Or for war. Either one would do. Either one would seem more meaningful than the headache and trivia of daily life that constitutes what they now think of as “discipleship.” And Left Behind lets them experience both, at least vicariously.

Local angle: News from here in Exton

Oct. 19th, 2017 09:00 pm
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Posted by Fred Clark

My humble home town, a centerless slice of suburban sprawl, is taking pride in a native son who made it big with a critically acclaimed new dick joke. Alas, this doesn't nearly make up for our town's older, darker legacy.

Where Do The Celtics Go From Here?

Oct. 19th, 2017 02:25 pm
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FiveThirtyEight
 

Welcome to The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s new basketball podcast. The NBA is finally back, and the games so far have certainly been eventful. On this week’s show (Oct. 18, 2017), Neil, Chris and Kyle break down what Gordon Hayward’s injury — which will likely keep him out for the season — means not just for the Boston Celtics but also the Eastern Conference. Plus, we take a look at Nick Young’s new life with the Warriors.

Subscribe to the show in your favorite podcasting app, or use the links in the player above.

Here are links to what we discussed this week:

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Posted by Walt Hickey

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

We need your help figuring out the best Trick-or-Treating candy!


Several extremely distressed turkeys

The Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the Yellville Turkey Trot to see whether it complied with federal regulations after objects were launched from low-flying aircraft during the event. The specific objects in question were turkeys hurled out of the plane for entertainment. [Kansas City Star]


3 African-American CEOs

Kenneth Chenault’s announced retirement in February from the chief executive position at American Express will reduce the number of African-American CEOs at Fortune 500 companies by 25 percent, down to three. [The Wall Street Journal]


8 networks and studios

Nielsen’s Subscription Video On Demand Content Ratings — which claim to assign previously impossible-to-determine numbers to streaming video performance on services like Netflix — has had eight networks and production studios (A&E Networks, Lions Gate, NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. among them) sign up. Netflix, which enjoys its current status as a black box, says Nielsen’s numbers aren’t accurate. [Bloomberg]


25 percent

Maybe houses are getting bigger, maybe lots are getting smaller, but houses built since 2015 occupy, on average, 25 percent of the land they were built on. That figure was only 13.9 percent in 1975. [Trulia]


32 percent

Percentage of kids who said they preferred watching videos on a non-television device in 2016, according to researcher EMarketer, potentially one component fuelling the rise of YouTube’s kid influencer channels. The channels show children evaluating toys, often receiving generous compensation from toymakers in exchange. The holidays are coming up — one of the busiest times of the year for toy sellers and now YouTube influencers. [Bloomberg]


$5 billion

How much G.E. spent on research and development last year, with centers in New York state, Bangalore, Shanghai, Munich and Rio de Janeiro. The company is shutting down the last three research centers as part of a series of global changes for the conglomerate under new management. [The Wall Street Journal]


Check out Besides the Points, my new sports newsletter.

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

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Posted by Anna Maria Barry-Jester

Some Obamacare plans are going to get more expensive next year, whether Congress likes it or not. The deal that two senators announced Tuesday to shore up the Obamacare marketplaces might have sounded like good news to the millions who rely on them. But even if that deal were to become law (and that already is starting to look unlikely), it almost surely couldn’t happen in time1 to stop the fallout from President Trump’s decision to halt payments to insurers that help the lowest-income marketplace enrollees. Price increases are coming.

Price increases were happening before Trump’s announcement, but his move to cut funding to insurers means that in most places, prices on some plans will go up even more. In anticipation of this move by Trump, states have been figuring out how the additional costs should be passed on, and their approaches vary; where buyers live, how much money they earn, and how they buy their insurance will determine whether they actually pay an increase.

Using information from ACASignups.net — which tracks and analyzes ACA-related policy — and additional news sources, we’ve categorized those approaches into five groups:

How new costs to insurers will affect what you pay

States are taking different approaches to the news that Trump will cut reimbursements to insurers

STATE▲▼
APPROACH▲▼
Colorado Spread new costs across all plans
Delaware Spread new costs across all plans
Indiana Spread new costs across all plans
Kentucky Spread new costs across all plans
Oklahoma Spread new costs across all plans
Alabama Spread across all silver plans
Alaska Spread across all silver plans
Arkansas Spread across all silver plans
Illinois Spread across all silver plans
Iowa Spread across all silver plans
Kansas Spread across all silver plans
Louisiana Spread across all silver plans
Maine Spread across all silver plans
Michigan Spread across all silver plans
Mississippi Spread across all silver plans
Missouri Spread across all silver plans
Nebraska Spread across all silver plans
New Hampshire Spread across all silver plans
New Jersey Spread across all silver plans
New York Spread across all silver plans
North Carolina Spread across all silver plans
Oregon Spread across all silver plans
South Dakota Spread across all silver plans
Tennessee Spread across all silver plans
Utah Spread across all silver plans
West Virginia Spread across all silver plans
Wisconsin Spread across all silver plans
Wyoming Spread across all silver plans
California Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Connecticut Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Florida Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Hawaii Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Idaho Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Minnesota Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Nevada Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Ohio Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Pennsylvania Only applied to silver marketplace plans
South Carolina Only applied to silver marketplace plans
Washington Only applied to silver marketplace plans
North Dakota No additional change to prices
Washington, D.C. No additional change to prices
Arizona No additional change to prices
Virginia No additional change to prices
Maryland No additional change to prices
Massachusetts No additional change to prices
Rhode Island No additional change to prices
Vermont No additional change to prices
Georgia Insurers taking different approaches
Montana Insurers taking different approaches
New Mexico Insurers taking different approaches
Texas Insurers taking different approaches

These categories reflect information available as of Oct. 18, 2017. They are based on the work of ACASignups.net, with additional reporting and categorization from FiveThirtyEight.

Source: ACASignups.net

A little bit of background before we get into those categories:

Since the ACA became law, there have been two branches to each state’s private insurance market. One is the ACA marketplace, where people can receive premium subsidies if they qualify based on income2 — about 11 million people buy there. The lowest income bracket of people who are eligible for subsidies — those earning between 100 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty line — are also eligible for a second kind of discount, one that lowers out-of-pocket expenses like deductibles and co-pays. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers have to provide that second discount (known as cost-sharing reductions), and the federal government is supposed to reimburse them (that’s what Trump is halting).

To make matters more complicated, the cost-sharing reductions apply only to specific kinds of plans — those in the “silver” category3 — and only when those plans are bought through the Obamacare marketplaces. Silver plans are also available in the other branch of the private market, with one big difference: There are no subsidies. Some 7 million people buy on the second branch.4

Without those reimbursements, insurers lose money. States have taken a variety of approaches to allow them to recoup the costs and keep them from running for the hills.

The majority of states are planning to ask insurers to apply all of the additional cost from the lost reimbursements to silver plans. But some loaded them only on the silver plans sold in the ACA marketplace — those eligible for subsidies — and some are spreading it across all of the silver plans, both on and off the ACA market. In either case, these approaches keep the cost of other plans at the prices set before Trump’s announcement.

People who receive subsidies won’t pay anything extra: Because they pay only a percentage of their income toward the cost of their insurance, their contribution won’t really go up even when prices increase (the federal government makes up the difference through the subsidies it provides).

Pennsylvania, for example, set off alarm bells Monday when it said that because Trump ended the repayments, it had approved additional price increases that would average more than 20 percentage points for a market whose insurance prices were otherwise holding pretty steady. But those concerns are somewhat misplaced: Increases will be added only to subsidized marketplace plans, an actuarial sleight of hand that means the additional cost will be paid by the taxpayers at large via subsidies, not the individual enrollees.

But what about the 6.7 million people who either purchase ACA-compliant insurance outside the Obamacare marketplaces or don’t qualify for subsidies? Those buyers who live in states that aren’t planning to put the additional cost on only the Obamacare marketplaces will bear the full brunt of these double-digit price increases.

Other states, meanwhile, are planning to allow insurers to spread the extra cost across all insurance plans on both branches of the private market. In those states, people who receive subsidies still won’t see a difference in the price they pay. And those who don’t get help paying their premiums — people who buy insurance outside of the Obamacare marketplaces or earn too much for subsidies — will still end up paying more.

About a dozen states (and Washington, D.C.) currently aren’t allowing insurers to make any changes or are allowing insurers to take different approaches.

It all adds up to a bizarre and confusing marketplace. People will continue to pay very different rates by state, but some places will see much bigger across-the-board increases in the cost of private insurance. And because in many places the additional cost is being added to specific types of plans, there will be cases in which insurance covers more than the silver plans will cost less for people who don’t get subsidies. That seems likely to bring additional confusion to an already chaotic time for people who buy private insurance.

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Posted by Neil Paine

Each week in this space, we examine all the things a certain contending team needs to have happen in order for it to make the College Football Playoff. This week’s edition is a double feature starring the Clemson Tigers and Washington Huskies, each of which fell out of the AP Top 5 after suffering upset losses last week.

Current situations: After Clemson and Washington lost to Syracuse and Arizona State, respectively, the two teams’ College Football Playoff odds were dented pretty badly. According to FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model, the Tigers now have just a 29 percent chance of making the playoff (down from 55 percent going into the weekend), and the Huskies are at 24 percent (down from 43 percent). Six teams are currently ahead of the Tigers and Huskies in our CFP probabilities, and Clemson isn’t even the favorite to win its conference anymore. (Miami has slightly higher odds of winning the ACC.) The relatively straightforward paths for both teams to return to the CFP have now run into major complications.

What the Tigers and Huskies can do: As always, winning out is paramount to getting into the playoff. If Clemson runs the table — which our model gives a 20 percent chance of happening — it will have a 97 percent probability of making the CFP, a near-lock. The Tigers’ trip to NC State on Nov. 4 is easily their biggest obstacle to that; they win that game in 95 percent of our simulations that have them going to the playoff, while they only win it 49 percent of the time in sims where they don’t make the CFP. (That 46 percentage point difference makes it the highest-leverage game left in Clemson’s season.) It should also be noted that these numbers assume that Clemson’s star QB Kelly Bryant is healthy; he was knocked out of the Syracuse loss but seems to be progressing quickly in his recovery.

For Washington, the odds of winning all its remaining games are a bit higher (21 percent), although the Huskies also have a less guaranteed playoff path — only 87 percent CFP odds — even if they do win out. Washington’s most important game comes at Stanford on Nov. 10, a matchup the Huskies win 96 percent of the time in their playoff-bound simulations but only 40 percent of the time in universes where they don’t make the playoff.

Which of Clemson and Washington’s remaining games hold the most weight?

Remaining 2017 matchups, ranked by the amount of leverage on each team’s playoff chances. Based on two sets of simulations: one where the team makes the playoff and one where it doesn’t.

Clemson games CLEMSON WIN % BY OUTCOME
WK OPPONENT MAKES PLAYOFF DOESN’T MAKE PLAYOFF DIFF.
10 North Carolina State 94.6% 48.5% +46.2
11 Florida State 93.5 62.3 +31.2
13 South Carolina 90.1 67.3 +22.8
9 Georgia Tech 93.6 75.0 +18.6
12 Citadel 100.0 99.9 +0.1
Washington games WASHINGTON WIN % BY OUTCOME
WK OPPONENT MAKES PLAYOFF DOESN’T MAKE PLAYOFF DIFF.
11 Stanford 95.6% 39.5% +56.1
13 Washington State 98.0 73.4 +24.7
10 Oregon 94.5 78.4 +16.0
12 Utah 96.7 82.0 +14.7
9 UCLA 95.2 82.0 +13.2

Differences may not add up exactly because of rounding.

Where they need help: As mentioned above, Clemson doesn’t need much in the way of outside help — as long as the Tigers win, they’re still almost guaranteed to make the playoff. They could benefit slightly from anything that boosts their odds of winning the ACC, however, including losses by NC State and Miami. And any wins by Auburn will automatically help Clemson because of its head-to-head victory against those other Tigers in September.

Washington, on the other hand, could use more of an assist from afar. There are two categories for these kinds of games: Some — like Stanford losing to Cal in Week 12 — tend to be entangled with implications about the strength of a team’s own opponents.5 (Arizona State beating USC also fits this category, because it makes Washington’s loss to the Sun Devils look less bad.) But the more interesting ones come where the connection isn’t obvious: Georgia Tech beating Georgia, for instance, helps Washington because it hurts an undefeated Bulldogs team that currently sits ahead of the Huskies in our playoff odds.

Which other games need to go right for Clemson and Washington?

The non-Tigers, non-Huskies matchups that have the most leverage on each team’s playoff chances

Clemson: PROBABILITY BY CLEMSON OUTCOME
WK RESULT MAKES PLAYOFF DOESN’T MAKE PLAYOFF DIFF.
12 Wake Forest def. N.C. State 44.6% 38.2% +6.4
10 Virginia Tech def. Miami 36.8 32.5 +4.3
11 Boston College def. N.C. State 26.6 22.3 +4.3
13 North Carolina def. N.C. State 18.1 14.5 +3.6
11 Auburn def. Georgia 47.8 44.4 +3.5
11 Notre Dame def. Miami 49.5 46.5 +3.0
12 Virginia def. Miami 17.2 14.4 +2.8
12 Michigan def. Wisconsin 28.3 25.7 +2.6
Washington: PROBABILITY BY WASHINGTON OUTCOME
WK RESULT MAKES PLAYOFF DOESN’T MAKE PLAYOFF DIFF.
12 California def. Stanford 17.9% 14.3% +3.6
13 Georgia Tech def. Georgia 30.2 27.2 +3.0
9 Arizona State def. USC 34.5 31.7 +2.9
13 South Carolina def. Clemson 28.2 25.5 +2.8
13 Notre Dame def. Stanford 48.9 46.2 +2.7
10 Washington St. def. Stanford 40.5 37.8 +2.7
10 Arizona def. USC 28.2 25.6 +2.6
8 Notre Dame def. USC 66.5 63.9 +2.6

Differences may not add up exactly because of rounding.

One good piece of news for both Clemson and Washington is that, of the six teams ahead of them in the CFP probabilities, all but likely Big 12 winner TCU hail from just two conferences: the Big Ten and SEC. Since the playoff selection committee puts an emphasis on conference championships, some of those teams will by definition see their odds plummet before the Final Four is chosen — we just don’t know which ones yet. So there aren’t many universes where both, say, Alabama and Georgia make the playoff, or both Ohio State and Penn State (to say nothing of Wisconsin).

But Washington and Clemson may also find themselves as enemies down the season’s final stretch; with one loss apiece, they could very likely be competing for the same CFP slot. Indeed, Clemson only makes the playoff in 23 percent of the simulations where Washington is in, versus 31 percent of the sims where Washington misses out. (That same split is 18 percent versus 25 percent from Washington’s perspective.) With only four teams standing at the end of the season, every loss counts — a lesson the Tigers and Huskies might have learned the hard way last weekend.

Check out our latest college football predictions.

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Posted by Kathryn Casteel

When it comes to the gender divide, Americans are, well, divided. A survey out Wednesday shows wide divergences along partisan, educational and generational lines in perceptions of how women are doing in the country.

Pew Research Center asked more than 4,500 respondents about efforts in the U.S. toward gender equality.6 While 82 percent of all American adults say it’s very important for women to have equal rights, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say enough progress has been made to reach equality, though Democrats themselves are split on the issue depending on their level of education. Among different generations, millennial women are significantly more likely than others to say men have greater advantages than women.

Pew asked two key questions to gather a sense of how Americans feel about gender equality in the U.S: Has the country gone far enough in giving women equal rights, and do men or women have it easier these days? Although half of all respondents said the U.S. hasn’t done enough when it comes to equality, the perception fractures along party lines.

A majority of Democrats (69 percent) expressed dissatisfaction with the progress the U.S. has made toward equality, while only 26 percent of Republicans felt the same way, and 54 percent of Republicans said the country’s progress has been about right. Only 10 percent of all Americans said the country has actually gone too far in giving women equal rights. But 18 percent of Republican respondents said the U.S. has gone too far, while 4 percent of Democrats said the same. Women in both parties were more likely than men to say enough hasn’t been done, but only a small share of Republican women (33 percent) thought this was the case, compared with 74 percent of Democratic women.

Only 35 percent of all respondents thought men have it easier than women, and the majority (56 percent) believed there was no difference between men and women. But again partisan divides emerged, with 49 percent of Democrats saying men have it easier than women compared with 19 percent of Republicans. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats believed that there’s no difference between the genders.

Another notable divide is found among those who say they’ve experienced discrimination or unequal treatment because of their gender. Forty-three percent of all women said they’ve encountered discrimination, with 51 percent of Democratic women saying they’ve faced discrimination and 34 percent of Republican women saying the same. Of the 18 percent of men who said they’ve encountered gender discrimination, Republicans outnumbered Democrats 20 percent to 14 percent.

Although Democrats are more likely to say there hasn’t been enough movement toward gender equality, a significant gap occurs within the party based on education. A strong majority (81 percent) of Democrats holding a bachelor’s degree or higher believed the country hasn’t done enough to help women achieve equality; a little over half (55 percent) of those with a high school education or less said the same. This divide intensifies when respondents are asked if men have more advantages than women. Only 27 percent of Democrats with a high school degree or less said men have it easier, while 69 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher said the same.

Among Republican respondents, views were consistent through all three education levels on both questions.

According to Pew’s research, younger women are more likely to describe men as having advantages over women. Fifty-two percent of millennial women said men have it easier than women in the U.S. today, while majorities of women in all other generations said there was no difference between the genders. On the question of whether women have benefited from changes in gender roles, more millennial men (61 percent) said women have benefited from these changes than did women (48 percent), but this gap in men’s and women’s perception doesn’t exist among older generations.

Millennial women were also more likely to say they had faced gender discrimination, at 52 percent, compared with 43 percent of all women. Among the group of women who said they’ve experienced discrimination due to gender, most pointed to experiences in the workplace, with 38 percent referring to discrimination in hiring or pay.7 Twenty-six percent said they were treated as though their opinions weren’t important, and 10 percent mentioned sexual harassment or cat-calling. Boomer women, however, were more likely to have said they experienced workplace discrimination than millennials by a 51 to 26 percent margin.

Additional research from Pew this month shows similar significant partisan gaps on other issues, from racial discrimination to immigration. On gender equality, the country seems just as divided.

CORRECTION (Oct. 18, 2017, 5:30 p.m.): An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the generational divide on gender discrimination. Millennial women were less likely than older generations to report gender discrimination specifically in the workplace but more likely to report gender discrimination overall.

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Posted by Kyle Wagner

Just over five minutes into the first game of the 2017-18 NBA season, Gordon Hayward went up to catch a lob pass. The ball sailed out of reach, and Hayward crashed to the floor, dislocating his ankle and fracturing his tibia. Whatever faint title aspirations the Celtics may have harbored for this season ended with that play. The main question now is whether Hayward will be able to make a full recovery, and we likely won’t find out this season. The short-term question is easier to answer, and more urgent: Just how bad is it going to get?

To figure out what fans can expect from the remaining 81 games, I used FiveThirtyEight’s revamped CARMELO projections to redistribute Hayward’s 30 or so projected minutes per game to the rest of the expected rotation. As you would guess, the new projection was ugly: 37 wins — 10 less than our initial 47-win prediction for Boston, which was already low compared to the team’s preseason expected win total according to Vegas lines (about 53.5 wins). Forty-seven wins would have been a disappointment; 37 would be a catastrophe, and it would likely mean missing the playoffs.

How the Celtics line up without Hayward

The Celtics’ projected performance (now that Gordon Hayward is out) based on FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO player projections

PLAYER MIN. PER GAME OFF +/- DEF +/-
Kyrie Irving 34.0 3.9 -2.1
Jaylen Brown 29.0 -1.9 -0.7
Marcus Morris 29.0 0.0 0.0
Al Horford 28.0 0.1 1.6
Marcus Smart 34.0 0.5 0.6
Jayson Tatum 26.0 -1.4 -0.7
Aron Baynes 10.0 -2.5 1.1
Terry Rozier 19.0 -0.7 -0.8
Shane Larkin 12.0 -0.5 -1.6
Abdel Nader 5.0 -1.7 -0.3
Guerschon Yabusele 5.0 0.5 0.0
Semi Ojeleye 8.0 -1.9 -1.8
Replacement level -1.7 -0.3
Team total -0.1 -1.8
PROJECTED RECORD W L
36.6 45.4

The only halfway comforting thing about this projection for Boston is that a lot of that falloff is wrapped up in conservative projections for two players: Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the team’s high-lottery selections from the past two drafts. Tatum is 19 and Brown turns 21 next week, so this isn’t really a surprise, but Hayward’s injury forces Boston to rely on two young players who may not be ready and hope that one or both can grow up fast. It’s probably a reach to expect too much out of Tatum in his first year, but Brown played well at times down the stretch last season and had a few solid appearances during the playoffs. Brown also scored a career-high 25 points in Tuesday night’s loss, flashing to the rim and being a pest on defense. If Boston salvages its season, it will need a lot more games like that.

Brown is a polarizing prospect around the league. He had an uneven season in his first year, and he lacks the polish of Tatum, who was the third overall pick in this year’s draft out of Duke. Brown isn’t a great shooter or passer and doesn’t score with the efficiency teams hope for from their peripheral players, but he’s already a capable perimeter defender and the sort of top-shelf athlete who looks at home banging bodies with LeBron on national TV. He has a long way to go, but so did Paul George when he logged a rookie season not so different from Brown’s.

Equally important as Brown’s potential is the fact that his projected contribution this season is absolutely terrible, coming in slightly below replacement level (meaning he’s expected to be a little worse than any random free agent a team could sign off the street). Minute to minute, CARMELO believes that he contributes about as much, offensively and defensively, as Knicks’ backup guard Ron Baker. So he wouldn’t have to do much to outperform his expected level.

Given how many minutes Brown was expected to play — and how many more he’ll have to take on now that Hayward is out — that projection weighs down Boston’s expected win total considerably. For instance, if Brown were to improve his average offensive and defensive contribution to the level of fourth-year guard Marcus Smart, the team, even without Hayward, would project to win about 42 games. If he improved just a bit more — say, to the level of departed swingman Jae Crowder — that number creeps up to 43 wins. Still not what Boston had in mind coming into this season, but a far cry better than 37 wins and out of the playoffs.

How the Celtics line up if Jaylen Brown exceeds expectations

The Celtics’ projected performance (now that Gordon Hayward is out) based on FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO player projections, assuming Jaylen Brown plays as well as Jae Crowder

PLAYER MIN. PER GAME OFF +/- DEF +/-
Kyrie Irving 34.0 3.9 -2.1
Jaylen Brown 29.0 1.2 0.7
Marcus Morris 29.0 0.0 0.0
Al Horford 28.0 0.1 1.6
Marcus Smart 34.0 0.5 0.6
Jayson Tatum 26.0 -1.4 -0.7
Aron Baynes 10.0 -2.5 1.1
Terry Rozier 19.0 -0.7 -0.8
Shane Larkin 12.0 -0.5 -1.6
Abdel Nader 5.0 -1.7 -0.3
Guerschon Yabusele 5.0 0.5 0.0
Semi Ojeleye 8.0 -1.9 -1.8
Replacement level -1.7 -0.3
Team total 1.8 -0.9
PROJECTED RECORD W L
43 39

This is of course a sort of tautology: If Boston’s players play better, we expect them to win more games. And there isn’t much point in using projections if we throw them out whenever it’s convenient. But in this case, the Celtics’ fortunes are tethered to just the sort of prospect who is capable of making a leap ahead of where his past performance would imply he’ll be.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

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Posted by Julia Azari

The NRA announced earlier this month that it would support measures to limit the sales of a device called a bump fire stock, which makes non-automatic weapons fire as if they’re automatic and which was used in the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Some congressional Republicans have also signaled that they’re open to legislation that would outlaw the device. Was the massacre in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history, enough to push a GOP-controlled Congress and White House to pass some form of gun-control legislation?

The idea that events should change policy is appealing. After each incident of gun violence in the U.S., someone retells Australia’s story. Twelve days after a mass shooting there in 1996, the legislature took up anti-gun measures, including a buyback program and various restrictions on the types of guns that could be sold. But in the U.S., gun control policy has often appeared impossible to pass at the federal level: A common response after Las Vegas seemed to be, “If nothing changed after Sandy Hook, nothing will change now.” Does public opinion — and, as a result, the policy process — actually respond to events? Let’s look at a few schools of thought in political science and public policy.

1. Sure, events matter

According to one major theory of policy change, a “focusing event” can help push policy in a new direction. These kinds of events, which include natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other crises, can turn the public’s attention to a problem and also demonstrate to policy-makers that existing systems aren’t doing enough.

Major events that dominate the news — such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill — have the potential to alter how the public thinks about an issue (what scholars call “frames”). Because of their ability to shift public opinion, these moments can help interest groups mobilize and pressure elected officials for change. After the Exxon Valdez spill, for example, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. After the Sept. 11 attacks, we saw the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, which strengthened the power of the federal government to investigate perceived terrorist activity, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

2. Well, they might matter

It seems intuitive that a major crisis would reshape the politics of an issue. But not so fast.

Although events may dominate the news, that’s not the same thing as changing how citizens and policy-makers think and talk about them. As Thomas Birkland wrote in a study of the event’s impact, “September 11 only threw open the window of opportunity for policy change based, in large part, on preexisting ideas.” For example, the Department of Homeland Security was not a brand new idea when it was formed after Sept. 11; lawmakers had been debating for several years about how to coordinate counterterrorism efforts. In other words, the attacks brought terrorism to the top of the priority list, but they didn’t introduce new ways of thinking about how to prevent terrorism.

A similar thing happened after Hurricane Katrina. The storm prompted new discussions and some policy change, especially in relation to how the Federal Emergency Management Agency operates. But a major study of Katrina media coverage found that instead of challenging or reframing existing ideas about disasters and their victims, Katrina coverage fell into old patterns, such as employing racial stereotypes about looting and using the “war zone” metaphor to describe the scene. Frames like these make it unlikely that news stories will elicit much public sympathy for victims or put disaster relief issues atop the agenda.

The other way a major event can fail to change public opinions and policies is when its cause is contested. Our understanding of why an event happened is shaped by politics and social factors, argues public policy scholar Deborah Stone. She found that “complex cause is sometimes used as a strategy to avoid blame and the burdens of reform.”

This idea describes the debate after mass shootings pretty well; gun-control advocates push stories about the role weapons played in the deaths while gun-rights advocates point to other factors, like mental health problems or declining public morals, as the root cause of the problem. Perhaps as a result of the many competing explanations for why these incidents occur, public attitudes about guns and gun control changed very little after the Sandy Hook shooting.

The principles we invoke when we talk about these events can matter too. The current gun conversation typically presents the issue as a clash between liberty and public safety. “Constitutional imagery and symbolism frame political discourse,” Robert Spitzer writes in his book “The Politics of Gun Control.” There’s evidence that people respond differently depending on whether they think about guns as a public safety issue or an individual rights issue. It’s likely that the public will need to agree on a framework for the issue before we see any widespread shifts in public attitudes.

3. No, events don’t change public opinion

There’s a lot of evidence that attitudes (and policies) change not as the result of a big crisis event in the news but because perceptions have evolved more gradually. The legalization of recreational marijuana is a good example of this phenomenon. Support for legalizing the drug had been growing for years before the recent spate of state laws decriminalizing its use were passed. These changes have been attributed by experts to ideas about the war on drugs as a civil rights issue, perceptions that enforcement of drug laws is not effective, and broad social changes. Marijuana policy expert John Hudak noted in his book, “the hippies got older and had their own families.” State policy changes, including the legalization of medical marijuana, also seem to have contributed to the shift. But there’s been no major catalyzing event that might move public opinion.

Similarly, there has been a fairly rapid attitude shift in support of same-sex marriage over the past 15 years. There are many factors that may be driving this change — as with marijuana, there are big generational differences and the culture has shifted considerably. Activist efforts are also at the root of this shift. This has yielded some lessons about how attitudes change, including more evidence that language matters. In efforts to increase support for same-sex marriage, frames that highlighted equality proved to be an important element in bring together a coalition that crossed ideological, racial and religious lines. In a recent study of attitude changes on this issue, researchers found that people were much more likely to be swayed by messages from people with whom they shared an identity — even if it was as trivial as sports fandom.

In both cases, attitude and policy change has come not from a major event that changes people’s understanding of a topic, but rather from more long-term structural changes in society as a whole that result in a gradual reframing of the issues at hand.


So where does this leave us on guns?

It’s complicated. Too complicated to make a blanket statement about how major events or crises affect public opinion or policy. The historical record suggests that major events can lead to policy change by prioritizing an issue, but they don’t necessarily change opinions about that issue.

That’s particularly true if the issue has been prominent in the national debate for some time and is deeply polarized, the way gun control is. As my colleague Harry Enten noted, public opinion on gun control is highly partisan and somewhat tough to pin down. That fact, combined with the increasing polarization of politics in the U.S. more generally — there’s plenty of evidence that Republicans and Democrats view the same events very differently these days — means that public opinions are pretty well set.

That doesn’t mean policy change is impossible, though.

For one, while gun control as a big-picture issue remains divisive, there is some bipartisan agreement on specific policies. Many Republicans support some forms of gun control. Background checks, for example, are popular across different partisan groups.

Second, the relationship between public opinion and policy change isn’t so clear cut. Political scientist Matt Grossmann has argued that policy change occurs not when public pressures mount but when elites can agree on specific policy proposals, which is often sorted out behind the scenes. This framework is likely to apply to the gun question. In a system like ours where policy change is difficult, a well-organized, well-funded group of citizens who care a lot about an issue can have an advantage over a much larger majority of people who disagree but feel less strongly. The NRA is a powerful organization. OpenSecrets.org reports that gun rights groups spent $10.6 million on lobbying in 2016, compared with the $1.7 million spent by gun control and safety groups. In other words, we can’t expect that public opinion will produce policy change on its own — major shifts also require organization.

Furthermore, just because voters have deep partisan ties, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are set in their ways. Strong partisanship also means that party leaders have an impact on what citizens think. Some social science research shows that conservatives are more likely to support a liberal position if they think President Trump supports it — see, for example, recent swings in opinion on free trade and Russia. That same principle also applies to liberals. Given the slight movement among Republican lawmakers this month around the topic of bump stocks, it’s possible that elites won’t act because of widespread public pressure, but rather that public opinion will change because elites act.

The kinds of events that are associated with policy change are dramatic and lend themselves to a clear narrative — sympathetic portrayals of victims and a spelled-out connection between the problem and the policy proposals intended to address it. These kinds of events help policy-makers get together on the details. They also make opposition politically difficult. In terms of gun violence, we’ve now had several of these events in recent memory. If the Las Vegas shooting is the one that changes things, it may not be because of the event itself, but because of longer term political pressures that have been building for years.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

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


2 countries

On Tuesday a federal judge in Hawaii blocked the Trump administration from implementing a ban on travelers from the countries of Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad and Somalia that was set to go into effect today. The granting of Hawaii’s request for a temporary restraining order nationwide does not effect the ban on North Korea and Venezuelan citizens’ travel. [The Washington Post]


2 firings

Two Chicago law enforcement officers were fired, one resigned, and a fourth received a five-day suspension (shortened on appeal to two days) for the incident at O’Hare International Airport in April in which 69-year-old Dr. David Dao was taken off an overbooked United Airlines flight. The report from Chicago’s Inspector General on the “violent forcible removal” indicates that the officers made misleading statements when describing the events. [NBC News]


3 hours, 35 minutes

Awful news: There’s more baseball than there was last year. The average time for a nine-inning playoff game is up 10 minutes from last year and up 21 minutes from two years ago. As a person who on the whole would enjoy less baseball — not no baseball, just a little bit less of it — this is very much a move in the wrong direction as far as I’m concerned. [ESPN]

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$1

Last night Manny Abell won on Jeopardy! with but a single dollar to his name. He beat out two other contestants who were tied and far ahead going into Final Jeopardy. Winning with only a dollar is an event that has happened only one other time in the history of the program, way back in 1993, a time that video evidence indicates was in the period when Alex Trebek still enjoyed his job. [www.Jeopardy.com]


$300 million

The U.S. mattress market is about $14 billion. Two years ago, about $300 million of that was online. With an explosion of players in the online mattress space, this year online sales could reach $1.2 billion. [Fast Company]


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

Where Is The Trump Presidency Headed?

Oct. 18th, 2017 09:51 am
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Posted by A FiveThirtyEight Chat

In this week’s politics chat, we check back in on the trajectory of President Trump’s presidency. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Welcome, all! We’re lucky to have our Washington editor, Hilary Krieger, joining us!

Our topic: “14 Versions Of Trump’s Presidency, From #MAGA To Impeachment

Nate wrote this article after Trump’s inauguration; it lays out 14 possible tracks the administration could take. We’ll go through each scenario, and everyone has to rank it on a scale from 1 (has become much less likely since Trump was sworn in) to 10 (has become much more likely since Trump was sworn in).

You have to factor in where things stand now and where they might be headed. Everyone got that?

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Shouldn’t the scale be 0 to 10?

micah: omg. Stop.

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): 11 options is too many.

hilary.krieger (Hilary Krieger, Washington editor): But 14 versions is totally manageable.

harry: I like even numbers.

micah: The idea here is to periodically take a step back and view the Trump era in aggregate. We last checked in on this back in May, if you remember.

OK …

No. 1: Trump keeps on Trumpin’ and the country remains evenly divided. In this scenario, Trump continues to implement his campaign-trail agenda. He still rants on Twitter every morning and picks unnecessary fights, although … he mostly avoids major entanglements with foreign leaders that could really get him into trouble. And it … sort of works. The press regularly predicts Trump’s demise, but difficult periods are followed by comparatively successful ones and he benefits from relatively low expectations. At the same time, he doesn’t win over many new converts. Still, Trump’s base of 40 to 45 percent of the country sticks with him.

natesilver: 6.

harry: 3.5. Trump’s job approval rating has been below 40 percent since mid-May.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): 5.

hilary.krieger: 7.

harry: Fairly wide disagreement here.

micah: Yeah, that’s surprising.

perry: Did Micah give a number?

micah: I’m the moderator!

natesilver: That’s a cop-out! What’s your number?

micah: I’ll go with a 4.

The Trump administration, were it a boat, has sorta oscillated between rotted-out hull/taking on water and barnacle-covered-but-very-much-afloat. This scenario is sorta at the better end of that range.

natesilver: It’s worth pointing out that Trump’s approval ratings are in about the same place that they were back in May, after he fired FBI Director James Comey. Although they’ve fluctuated up and down a couple of times since then. But the case for “low-but-steady approval rating” is a bit stronger than it was a couple of months ago.

The tricky thing is that low-but-steady might be OK for Trump if low means 42 or 43 percent, but less so if it means 37 or 38 or 39 percent.

hilary.krieger: Yeah, and that’s why I gave this version a high number: It tracks with what’s happened so far and because for all of Trump’s low approval ratings, Republican primary candidates don’t seem to be running away from him.

natesilver: The spirit of this scenario holds up pretty well, but maybe not so much the letter of it (which envisioned an approval rating in the low 40s instead of high 30s).

harry: We’ve found that Trump has lost some of his base, so I don’t see how we can say his base sticking with him has become more likely. Granted, the Twitter part is still very true.

perry: If the GOP can pass a tax cut — that’s a big, big if — Trump will hold a signing ceremony and tout the bill as a big win. It’ll get lots of positive media coverage. And maybe he can get to 41 to 43 percent and there we are. I’m also not as convinced as I was three months ago that Russia will be a huge scandal that implicates Trump personally when it is over.

micah: I’m closer to where Harry is.

But this gets us a bit into the second scenario …

No. 2. Trump gradually (or not-so-gradually) enters a death spiral. Liberals and other Trump adversaries might overrate the likelihood of this scenario … His problems could be self-reinforcing as issues pile on top of one another and public opinion turns against him, especially if the more coolheaded and competent advisers and Cabinet members flee the White House as Trump begins to falter. In this scenario, Trump’s approval ratings wouldn’t necessarily fall off a cliff — his base would give him a mulligan or two — but they would move slowly and inexorably downward, as happened to George W. Bush during his last two years in office.

perry: 9.

hilary.krieger: 7.5.

natesilver: 6.5.

harry: Greater than 5, less than 10. I agree with Hilary: 7.5.

Agreement!

micah: Hmmm …

I’ll go 7.

perry: I guess I feel like this is happening, even if it’s not more likely than it was in February. Are we debating if this is happening or if this is a shift from expectations?

micah: A combo.

natesilver: Yeah, we’re sort of splitting the uprights between the first two scenarios so far. If I had to lean toward one, I’d go with No. 2 over No. 1. Narratively, it holds up better: “His problems could be self-reinforcing as issues pile on top of one another and public opinion turns against him” sounds fairly prescient.

perry: Right.

micah: See, maybe Perry is right that this is happening — it’s just a very sloooooow process.

natesilver: There haven’t been very many Russia/Mueller revelations lately, and, presumably there eventually will be. I’d like to see what happens when that’s dropped into Trump’s pile.

Sen. Bob Corker’s comments about Trump’s mental fitness are also relevant here, in terms of problems piling up.

harry: In order to be convinced of No. 2, I’d want to see Trump’s approval rating at least as low as 35 percent or so by December. I’d want to see a continual decline of his floor, even if his rating bounces up and down a bit.

natesilver: It’s worth noting that for past presidents, the tendency is for approval ratings to revert to a mean of about 40 to 50 percent — more like scenario No. 1 than scenario No. 2. So in some ways, betting heavily on No. 2 is betting on the case that Trump is an outlier/exception.

hilary.krieger: That’s why I’m just going with .5 spread between the two scenarios.

natesilver: Yeah, I think both cases are pretty reasonable.

micah:

No. 3. Trump keeps rewriting the political rules and gradually becomes more popular. Trump won the presidency despite being fairly unpopular, and he remains fairly unpopular now. Nonetheless, what he’s accomplished is impressive, especially given the long odds that many people (including yours truly) gave Trump at the start. Maybe the guy is pretty good at politics? One can imagine various scenarios where Trump’s default approach to politics turns out to be a winning one over the long run, even if it leads to its fair share of rocky moments.

harry: 1.5.

micah: 3.

perry: 3.

natesilver: 2.5.

hilary.krieger: 1.5 (since Harry went with my number last time).

harry: AWWWWWW

🙂

micah: Harry, Hilary … too low!

It’s definitely become less likely. But the fact that Trump is still near the 40s suggests that this is still a live possibility.

hilary.krieger: OK, you convinced me. 2.

harry: BOOOOOOO.

hilary.krieger: Sorry, Harry — he made an astute point.

perry: Trump had that weird period where he seemed to want to cut deals with Democrats. If he does more of that, he could win over some of the middle of the electorate. And I’m not totally convinced, despite his governing so far, that he is really conservative or cares about ideology that much.

So, less likely, but not impossible to see this happening.

natesilver: There are lots of scenarios under which Trump’s flaws prove to be less-than-fatal to his political prospects and he gets re-elected. That’s sort of how he won the election in the first place. That doesn’t mean they’re not flaws, though. And the tendency to rationalize stupid shit that he does as some sort of brilliant strategy has been one of the most annoying characteristics of how the media has covered Trump so far.

micah:

No. 4: Trump mellows out, slightly. This is the mildest course change. In this case, after an up-and-down first three to six months, Trump gradually gets better at the job of being president, not necessarily because of a concerted effort to pivot but because he learns through trial and error that he needs to pick his battles. Steve Bannon and other more incendiary advisers lose stature, and Trump’s bonds with Republican leaders in Congress strengthen as he somewhat faithfully carries out their agenda.

natesilver: 3.

perry: 3.

hilary.krieger: Can we divide up Bannon losing stature and “Trump’s bonds with Republican leaders in Congress strengthen”? They kind of cancel each other out in my calculation.

harry: 2.

micah: .00001

(I don’t think Bannonism has lost stature, though.)

natesilver: I guess this one sort of had a timestamp of three to six months, and we’re beyond that now — and there aren’t really signs that he’s becoming more effective since the six-month mark. Probably the opposite, given Puerto Rico and North Korea.

harry: I mean, Bannon is gone. But Trump isn’t any closer to Senate and House leaders.

hilary.krieger: Yeah, but we’re talking about the future. I could see Bannonism losing stature. I can’t see Republicans developing a strong bond with Trump.

micah: Here’s the thing, and it’s why I rate No. 4 as much less likely than No. 3: I think there’s still a chance that Trump’s shtick will prove effective in moments, but I’d bet there’s very, very little chance of Trump changing his shtick. No. 4 imagines him changing in ways I can’t see happening.

hilary.krieger: Agreed.

perry: Good point. The Bannon exit did happen, and I could see Trump liking party leaders better if tax reform/cuts happen.

micah: Yeah, taxes could change a lot.

natesilver: With all that said, I think people might be underrating the chance that Trump can get things turned around by two years from now, as opposed to two weeks or two months from now. The problem with all thep***tstories isn’t so much that it’s impossible for Trump to change — or improve — but that they rely on (often cherry-picked) short-term evidence, instead of waiting until there’s actually been an upward trajectory.

harry: I don’t know if he can p***t, but I think a p***t could be successful.

hilary.krieger: Philosophical, I like it.

natesilver: When you say you don’t know that Trump can p***t, Harry, is that because you think he might not be mentally fit enough to p***t?

That question looms very large for me, in terms of how I’m assessing the scenarios.

harry: I meant it in the same way that I try to give up french fries, but just cannot. Maybe one day I will, though.

natesilver: Like, if Mitt Romney or someone suddenly inhabited the brain of Trump, eventually RomneyTrump would p***t, right?

micah: Yes.

I’m not sure “fit” is the right word, but Trump doesn’t seem to have the mentality to change in certain ways. And those ways would be required for a true p***t.

perry: Well, I think Trump’s relationships can improve, because of how other people treat him. If more policies pass in Congress and get signed, he will be criticized by people in his party less. And maybe then he won’t feel compelled to attack back. Does the whole Trump-Corker battle happen if the Obamacare repeal had passed?

hilary.krieger: Yeah, Perry, you’re right that Congress is more likely than, say, Bannon to change its relationship with Trump — they’re only going on expediency, rather than ideology, and that opens up a lot of possibilities.

micah: That’s a good point — Trump doesn’t change but circumstances do. The stimuli going into the Oval Office change.

harry: Intriguing.

natesilver: And those stimuli probably won’t get better as the midterms get closer.

Although they could get better by the time the 2020 general election does, and Republican fortunes are tied to Trump — they’ll have to sort of sink or swim with Trump and choose swim yet again.

micah:

No. 5. Trump cedes authority. I rarely see this possibility discussed, but it has several historical precedents among presidents who found the job mentally or physically overwhelming. The key aspect is that within a year or two, Trump would have effectively relinquished day-to-day control of the government to Vice President Mike Pence and to his Cabinet, instead focusing on the more ceremonial aspects of the presidency and perhaps exploiting it for personal enrichment.

perry: 2.

micah: This is a tough one.

harry: 4.5.

micah: 5.

natesilver: 6.

Actually, let me revise to 7.

micah: Isn’t there a chance that this has already happened?

hilary.krieger: 0 if we’re talking about Trump literally ceding authority. 4 if we’re talking about Trump quietly letting Pence et al. run everything.

micah: The latter.

perry: Iran. CRS payments. National anthem. No, this has not happened.

micah: Oh. Yeah. Perry is right.

perry: Chief of Staff John Kelly would not have done any of those things on his own, I don’t think.

natesilver: I don’t think it’s already happened — this is one of the scenarios that would take a longer time to play out. But the prerequisite is that “he finds the job mentally or physically overwhelming,” and there’s a fair amount of evidence for that.

micah: There was this:

hilary.krieger: It’s also not a total either-or. He can gradually leave more decisions to others.

natesilver: I’d also mention that he doesn’t seem to be spending that many hours at the White House. I’m not one of those people who thinks the Trump-always-plays-golf thing is a huge deal. But it’s somewhat relevant here. His attention to the job is hit-and-miss.

harry: Well, it appeared that he left most of the health care policy details to others, although, he’s been selling tax reform pretty hard. He also seems to be out to lunch with golf, as Nate mentioned.

hilary.krieger: There’s also the variable of how much Cabinet members try to covertly wrest control from him and how far they get.

micah:

No. 6. Trump successfully pivots to the populist center (but with plenty of authoritarianism too). This … involves Trump becoming more of a true populist, remaining hard-line on immigration and trade but calling for significant infrastructure and social welfare spending.

perry: 2.

natesilver: 3.

micah: 1.

harry: 1.25.

I refuse to agree with Micah.

hilary.krieger: I was going to say 4, but I think that requires more strategy and consistency than Trump exhibits. So I’ll downgrade to 2.5.

perry: He is just not interested in doing big-government stuff. I don’t know if that is because the Hill is blocking him or he is more conservative than his campaign rhetoric or what.

micah: Yeah, I haven’t seen any evidence that Trump’s “true” position is populist in nature, so I’m not sure why he would revert to it, if that makes sense.

harry: I have heard conservative stuff from Trump, with few exceptions. I’m talking tax cuts, Obamacare repeal, etc. Where is the talk of infrastructure spending?

natesilver: I agree with Micah that Trump more borrows from the stylistic elements of populism — including some of its other-isms (e.g., nationalism, racism) — than actually being a populist. That tax plan sure as hell isn’t populist, for instance. It’s about the furthest thing imaginable from being populist.

micah:

No. 7. Trump flails around aimlessly after an unsuccessful attempt to pivot. In this scenario, Trump is like George Steinbrenner running the 1980s New York Yankees, firing his managers and changing course all the time without ever really getting anywhere. Instead, he churns through advisers and alienates allies faster than he makes new ones.

perry: 7.

natesilver: 8.

harry: 7.5.

natesilver: This is actually the best description of what’s going on right now — more so than the downward spiral.

micah: 10. THIS IS HAPPENING!!!!

jinx.

harry: Yay, we can end the chat!

hilary.krieger: Yeah. 10 for now, 9.5 for all four years.

I guess the question is whether this is mutually exclusive with other scenarios.

perry: Exactly what I was typing.

micah: Yeah, good point. I don’t think it is.

natesilver: It was only five weeks ago that Trump had “upended 150 years of two-party rule.”

Now he’s back to making fun of “Crooked Hillary” again.

harry: This is for Nate:

hilary.krieger: What year did the Yankees rebound?

perry: 1995. Right?

harry: The Yankees had a winning record in 1993, were in first in 1994 (strike year) and then in 1995 made the playoffs for the first time since 1981.

micah:

No. 8. Trump is consumed by scandal. On the one hand, the threshold for what it takes to make the public truly outraged about Trump is likely to be higher than it would be for almost any other politician. On the other hand, perhaps no president has had such high potential for scandal.

perry: 5.

harry: 4.

micah: Yeah. 5.

natesilver: Oh, come on. 7.

micah: Wait, yeah … actually …

9.

The Comey firing by itself makes this way more likely.

hilary.krieger: Again, I think we’re near a 10 now. But in the future, 8.5.

micah: I would reverse those two.

hilary.krieger: Yeah, I would too. But the point is that you can argue that the White House is already consumed by scandal. The question is what difference that makes.

micah: lol.

natesilver: You’re still a 4, Harry?!?!?!?!?

perry: So this is not more likely to me. This was always one of my assumptions. He walked into office with the Russia controversy.

harry: I just don’t think the investigation has touched Trump yet. It has touched people close to Trump, but not Trump. Not in the way that “consumed” suggests.

micah: Perry’s point is fair. It comes down to your priors, I guess.

Harry’s point is stupid.

harry: It’s too bad that I won’t be filing my article later this week, Micah. I’m too hurt.

I don’t think it’s become more likely.

natesilver: You’re being much too short-term focused there, Harry. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is a huge risk to Trump, and the fact that he doesn’t leak a lot shouldn’t be confused for that risk having abated.

perry: I think Nate is right here that the lack of Russia news has made me forget about Russia a bit. But it remains the biggest threat to his presidency.

natesilver: Also, Trump’s worsening relationship with the congressional GOP — which I don’t think was a given — makes things much dicier for him if and when Mueller comes down with an finding that Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation.

harry: You’d think I wrote a “1”!

micah:

No. 9. Trump is undermined by a failure to deliver jobs. Although the U.S. economic outlook is fairly bright in the near term, macroeconomic conditions are largely unpredictable more than about six months in advance. Some of Trump’s economic policies, such as imposing tariffs, could also contribute to the likelihood of an economic downturn. Presidents usually see their popularity suffer amidst a declining economy, and Trump could be especially vulnerable after having promised to create so many jobs.

natesilver: 3.5.

harry: 7.

perry: 4.

micah: 3.

hilary.krieger: 4?

perry: Harry’s was interesting.

harry: Talk about getting fooled by the short-term stuff.

perry: LOL.

micah: BAM! 💥

natesilver: So you’re an economic forecaster now, Harry?

harry: His overall job approval rating is low despite getting good marks on the economy.

I don’t know what the economy will do. It could go up and could go down. My guess is that at least at some point, it will go down.

natesilver: A 7 would seem to imply that the long-term outlook for the economy has gotten worse since January. And I’m not sure that it has.

micah: The chances of Trump policies themselves tanking the economy has gone down, right? Just in the sense that he can’t really get anything big passed?

perry: So Trump has been less committed to his trade agenda than I thought. The Wall Street wing has basically pushed him to govern like a regular Republican on those issues.

hilary.krieger: Yeah, though we might get a better sense of Trump’s stance on trade pretty soon, based on where he comes down on NAFTA.

perry: Right. This could be changing.

micah:

No. 10. Trump’s law-and-order agenda is bolstered by an international incident or terrorist attack. It’s all too easy to envision this scenario, since the tactics Trump might use if this happened are similar to the ones he used on the campaign trail. A terrorist attack or an international conflagration initially boosts Trump’s popularity because of the so-called rally-’round-the-flag effect, which we saw with Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks. Trump uses his popularity boost to promote nationalism, curtail civil liberties, erode the rule of law and demonize minority groups such as Muslims.

perry: 7.

micah: 5.

hilary.krieger: 3.

harry: 5?

micah: Lots of disagreement!

natesilver: 8.

micah: This seems just as likely to me as it was on Jan. 20.

natesilver: Although, I’m throwing North Korea in here when I originally envisioned a terror attack.

micah: Oh, that’s a good point.

harry: All right, maybe 5.5.

hilary.krieger: It’s important to keep in mind that Trump is as likely to bungle handling of this crisis as benefit from it. Yeah, he might get a two-month boost, but it could well lead to a two-year low. And while presidents often have popular support amid growing foreign confrontations, Trump is already getting low ratings on these issues. This poll found that 65 percent of Americans think he has made the situation with North Korea worse, and only 8 percent think he’s made it better. If people blame a North Korea crisis on Trump, it could tank his popularity.

perry: His numbers are bad enough that I think he would use a terrorist attack in this way. So the fact that his approval ratings have gotten worse since January makes this more likely. And remember how he handled the London terrorist attack? He started talking about his travel ban, like immediately.

micah: Hilary’s point about Trump being just as likely to bungle the response as benefit from it is right.

natesilver: If the Las Vegas shooter had been Muslim, Trump’s response might have been very different.

harry: “Might” is a weak word from you, Nate.

micah:

No. 11. Trump plunges America into outright authoritarianism. While Frum imagines a gradual eight-year drift toward authoritarianism, there are other precedents (such as in Turkey and Russia) for a more abrupt shock to the system. Bannon … spoke in 2013 of wanting to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” If Trump feels the same way, he could decide that there are lots of advantages to moving quickly while his opponents are still disoriented, and while he has a Republican Congress that has not yet shown much appetite to resist him.

harry: 3.

perry: 4.

natesilver: 2

micah: Yeah. 2.

hilary.krieger: 1.25. He might try, but he won’t succeed.

harry: His administration is not competent enough.

natesilver: It says an “abrupt shock to the system.” Which I don’t think there has been.

micah: America’s other institutions have proven more resilient than I expected, and Trump’s White House has been more inept than … well, it’s often been inept.

natesilver: I’m not sure if people are underrating or overrating the chance of a less-than-abrupt shock to the system, however.

perry: I guess this seems much less likely in that Trump seems so ineffectual right now. But I don’t think these shifts happened that fast in other countries.

Micah might be right, but I would say “2” if we have six more months like the first year has gone.

micah:

No. 12. Resistance to Trump from elsewhere in the government undermines his authority but prompts a constitutional crisis. Have you ever heard talk about the “deep state” or the “military-industrial complex”? We may soon see how much power it actually has. Traditionally, we think of Congress and the judiciary as providing a check on the president’s powers. But there are lots of people within the executive branch (including the military and the federal bureaucracy) who have the potential to stymie Trump, whether by expressly refusing to carry out his orders or by what amounts to sabotage (i.e., by leaking to the press, foot-dragging, etc.).

perry: 5.

harry: This feels not unreal.

micah: 7.6.

natesilver: 7.599999999999

hilary.krieger: 6. (See above about not succeeding.)

harry: 5.10124.

hilary.krieger: See also Mattis, National Parks Service and National Science Foundation.

micah: We haven’t had a crisis yet, per se, but we have all the ingredients for one.

natesilver: Yeah, the “undermines his authority” part seems like a safer bet than the “prompts a constitutional crisis” part.

micah: jinx.

perry: I don’t have a great sense if this is happening right now or not. It seems like it is, but this is where I will learn more from books published in, say, 2030. I’m not sure if I view Mattis and Kelly as stymieing Trump in a real way.

harry: I think they’re stopping the worst from occurring.

natesilver: In some ways, the stories about Trump basically having to be baby-sat indicate that there are a lot of implicit and explicit checks built into the system.

With that said, what happens when the baby sitter goes out for a smoke and Trump still has the nuclear football with him?

Or at least his Twitter account.

harry: What type of baby sitter smokes?

micah:

No. 13. Trump becomes Governor Schwarzenegger. … After a rough first couple of years on the job, Schwarzenegger dropped his tough-guy act and shifted significantly to the center, winning re-election in a landslide in 2006. Could Trump do something similar? … One can imagine him becoming obsessed with his approval ratings and deciding fairly early in his term that a bipartisan approach would be the best way to improve them. The desire to be popular can do unexpected things to even the most stubborn-seeming politicians.

perry: 1.

natesilver: 6.

harry: 5. The reason I say 5 is I’d want to see what happens after the midterms.

perry: This depends on whether we are talking about economic issues or identity issues.

micah: 2.

hilary.krieger: 3.5.

We’re likely to see this as something he resorts to from time to time, when he needs a hit of approval from the elites and media, but he’s unlikely to fundamentally reorient along these lines.

natesilver: Trump doesn’t seem to give a shit about the Republican Party and could easily try to become “bipartisan” if Democrats do well at the midterms. Now, would that be effective? Probably not, which is why I put a lot of chips on the flailing around scenario. But it might be more effective than what he’s doing now.

micah: Weirdly, I do think Trump would need to become obsessed with his approval rating in order for this to happen. And all the evidence we have suggests that — confronted with bad numbers — he’s more likely to dismiss and undermine them than accept that he’s unpopular and change course. LAST ONE!

No. 14. Trump’s button-mashing works because the system really is broken. Another possibility is that it turns out that the elite consensus is in fact wrong in many areas — on the economic benefits of free trade and open borders, for instance. In that case, Trump does fairly well with a somewhat contrarian approach that “shakes up the system.” It’s not that all of his ideas are brilliant, necessarily, it’s just that deviating from the status quo is a good default because the status quo isn’t working very well.

harry: 1.72.

perry: 2.

natesilver: 3.69.

hilary.krieger: 2.

micah: 0.

harry: The scale is 1 to 10.

perry: lol.

natesilver: The rest of you are pre-judging this one too much. It says that somehow, even though it seems crazy at the time, his shit works. It’s too early to say if it works.

harry: I think we’re all below 5.

micah: I’m as contrarian and anti-elite as your average FiveThirtyEight employee, but one thing I think we’ve learned from the Trump era so far is that the government bureaucracy, the rules, the processes, the norms, etc., are there for reasons — and many of those are good reasons. So upending all that stuff is unlikely to be a successful strategy.

hilary.krieger: Some of his anti-status-quo stuff could work (or be spun as working), but I don’t see him doing enough shaking up to really undermine or fundamentally alter stuff (except perhaps by getting into a war with North Korea). But I don’t think that will give him real success, just a win or two here and there.

natesilver: But what if we have eight years of 3 percent GDP growth and no major wars? That’s what we’ve had so far!

It’s working!!!!!!!

micah: The key phrase here is “button-mashing.” It implies Trump doing things.

hilary.krieger: Nate, I don’t think that counts as success by shaking up the system. It’s success by maintaining the status quo + some angry tweets.

micah: What Hilary said.

micah: FINAL QUESTION!

If you had to put all your chips on one scenario, which would it be?

natesilver: The Steinbrenner scenario.

perry: Steinbrenner is safer, but I will go with slow death spiral to George W. Bush-levels of unpopularity. No. 2, I think.

harry: Some combined version of Nos. 2 and 7.

So I’m with the crowd.

natesilver: How the midterms go and Mueller are the two big known unknowns here.

harry: Right.

hilary.krieger: I would say Nos. 1 and 7. Because those are both pretty much happening now. I have no vision. Also, no respect for Micah’s deadlines.

micah: I’m averaging out 2, 5, 7 and 8, with a sudden turn toward No. 10 still possible.

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Posted by Chris Herring

In this bonus episode of The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s NBA podcast, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss joins FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring to discuss the upcoming Lakers season. She talks about why she chose to fire her brother — and put longtime friend Magic Johnson in charge — just two days before last season’s trade deadline, plus discusses her initial response to the NBA’s tampering fine against the Lakers and how she still wonders how things might have been different had the Lakers brought Phil Jackson back to the team as a coach in 2012. Click the play button above to hear the interview. We’ll be back with another episode of The Lab later this week.

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Posted by Christie Aschwanden

My date with the phlebotomist was surprisingly convenient. She came to my house in rural Colorado and drew a few tiny tubes of my blood. She then sent those vials to Quest Diagnostics for its Blueprint for Athletes test, which promised to reveal crucial information about how the biomarkers in my blood related to my athletic performance. “No matter your sport or fitness level, the information held in your blood is the missing piece,” their website says. As a runner, cyclist and skier, I assumed that knowing this “missing” information couldn’t hurt, and the company said it would offer personalized advice on what I could do to improve these measures and, presumably, my performance. What could go wrong?

A lot. In the age of the quantified self, any athlete willing to pony up $139 (or more for a more advanced test) can skip her doctor and turn directly to her data. Blueprint for Athletes is only one of numerous direct-to-consumer blood tests targeted at athletes — others include Fuelary, WellnessFX, Athlete Blood Test and Inside Tracker, a company that likens its blood tests to “a selfie from the inside.” The implication is that your blood contains crucial information that you need to know. As Fuelary founder Josh Shadle put it to me, “There could be things going on that you don’t know. … You don’t want to wait until you don’t feel healthy.” It’s this “just in case” anxiety that the tests seem to exploit. If you don’t know your numbers, you might be missing an opportunity to enhance your performance.

Intrigued, I accepted an offer from Richard Schwabacher, executive director of sports and diagnostic solutions at Quest Diagnostics, to find out what the company’s test could tell a middle-aged has-been like me. I received results from 43 tests — including measures of red and white blood cell counts, glucose, triglycerides, hemoglobin, cortisol, cholesterol and vitamin D. Two of my test values, estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) and creatinine, were marked in red — outside of the normal range. Both of these measures have something to do with kidney function, which sounded frightening.

My results came with an appointment with Bunny Foxhoven, a registered dietitian nutritionist and senior clinical educator for Quest.8 “I wouldn’t worry now,” she said, but she suggested that I get retested in three months to see whether the results were still out of the normal range. The low eGFR number and high creatinine level could signal a kidney problem, she said, or they could mean that I’m eating more protein than my kidneys can easily process.

After asking a bunch of questions about what I eat, she instructed me to cut back on salt and talk to my doctor. “You do want to get on it before it’s at the point where you can’t repair it,” she said of this as-yet-unconfirmed kidney malady. My kidneys could lose as much as 90 percent of their function before I ever get a symptom, she said: “The only way to know is through these random tests, and that’s scary.”

I did talk to my doctor, who advised me not to panic. When you start testing healthy people, she said, it’s not unusual to get some incidental findings — things that look a little off but don’t signify anything worrisome. Michael Joyner, a physician and human physiology researcher at the Mayo Clinic, agreed.

Because my creatinine level was a bit high, Joyner said, it was almost inevitable that my eGFR would also be off, because it is calculated based on creatinine levels. “That’s the easy explanation, but if you showed that data to the average clinician, you could get a big kidney workup out of it,” Joyner said. Had my doctor been less well-versed on the dangers of testing the so-called “worried well,” I could have been sent down a spiral of escalating testing that ultimately cost me money, time and anxiety without making me any healthier.

In fact, when I took a closer look at the written explanation that accompanied my results, I saw that Quest cautioned against reading too much into my creatinine and eGFR levels. According to my results packet, elite athletes tend to have higher than normal creatinine levels, and endurance athletes and team sports athletes may have lower eGFR. The packet said athletes were best off comparing their creatinine and eGFR measures to their own baselines, rather than the normal reference range — the set of values that most of the normal population falls into. In other words, don’t freak out (but keep getting more tests).

My results for the other 41 tests were squarely in the normal range, and I wondered what I was missing. How was any of this going to help me improve my performance and recovery? Was it just a matter of, “Hey, good news — there’s nothing wrong with me”? “OK, good points,” Foxhoven said. She told me to focus on hydration, which Joyner said is “probably the world’s best piece of generic advice to athletes.”

I called Schwabacher to ask him what I’d overlooked. How would these results help me perform better or become healthier? “The question you’re asking is a hard one to answer,” he said. “It really depends on the results.” Had my tests shown some significant deficiency in vitamin D levels or something else that I could correct by changing my diet or taking supplements, he said, my perspective would be a little different: “It’s sort of like good news, bad news. The good news is you’re healthy. The bad news is that sort of takes away some of the value of the test.”

Still, he said, someone whose results were normal might take comfort in knowing that the reason she felt healthy was that she was healthy. He recounted something he heard from an athlete who got a test right before a big race. “Everything was green [normal], but having the peace of mind and knowing my body is where it’s supposed to be gives me confidence going into the race,” he said she told him.

But as my results illustrate, conducting screening tests on healthy people can create as many questions⁠ as it answers. It’s one thing to have symptoms of low iron and then test for iron, Joyner said. It’s another to test someone’s blood without a clear purpose. Measure 40 things in the blood, and chances are, you’ll find something that’s a little fuzzy.

Schwabacher said that my doctor’s advice — not to worry about what was almost surely a spurious result — was just one point of view. Another doctor might have had “an alternate view,” he said, “which is, ‘I’m glad we caught this — there’s something that’s gone undiagnosed.’” Athletes using the test have discovered previously undiagnosed problems, he said. “I think you’d have a different point of view on whether testing healthy people is beneficial” if that had happened to you, he said.

Yet in results from at least one of these testing services, what’s flagged as a problem may be different from what would be considered abnormal on a test you’d get from your doctor. When you get a regular blood test, the results that come back are compared to reference ranges based on the healthy general population, but one private testing service, Fuelary, uses a different reference range.

Fuelary uses a reference range for vitamin D of 50 to 100 nanograms per milliliter, compared to the standard lower cutoff of 20 or 30 ng/ml. When I asked Shadle, the Fuelary founder, to explain the company’s more stringent reference ranges, he told me that they’re set by naturopathic doctors9 and sent me excerpts from a few papers that do indeed suggest that higher levels might be good for athletes.

But “it isn’t enough to suggest or hint that a blood level is suboptimal,” said Vinay Prasad, a hematologist-oncologist at the Oregon Health and Sciences University. “As a general rule in medicine, you have to show that altering the blood level to what you believe is optimal actually helps.” And after reading the scientific references that Shadle sent me to justify the company’s stricter vitamin D ranges, Prasad said the the evidence is lacking: “The data [Fuelary] cited is mostly expert opinion or observational data on vitamin D levels. Not a single study given shows that altering an athlete’s level to the targets proposed either improves performance or health.”

Another service, Inside Tracker, promises to calculate your optimal blood marker ranges, customized to who you are. The company rates results as “good,” “needs work” or “at risk” based on how they compare with values from people your age, gender and ethnicity. Founder Gil Blander would not divulge where his company’s comparison data comes from except to say that it’s “part of our proprietary intellectual property.” (People who sign up for the tests agree to fine print explaining that their data will become the property of Inside Tracker.)

Encouraging athletes to test themselves with the aim of “improving” their biomarkers, Joyner said, is the sporting equivalent of teaching to the test, rather than training athletes to read their bodies and understand when they’re tired and need rest. What’s important isn’t the number on the result, it’s how an athlete is performing, he said.

These blood tests illustrate a disconnect between innovators in the tech industry and people who know medicine, Prasad said: “They always think more information is better, but those of us who practice medicine know that information is a double-edged sword. Just because you have a number doesn’t mean it’s helpful.” These blood tests, Prasad said, fall prey to the McNamara fallacy — “not everything that counts can be measured, and not everything that can be measured counts.”


Have you used one of these types of blood tests? If so, tell me about your experience!

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Posted by Chris Herring

OAKLAND, Calif. — Humans need oxygen, plants need sunlight, and NBA shooters need space to breathe. A cushion from a defender allows a player to do his job successfully: It gives him time to turn and face the basket, bend his knees to develop rhythm and square his feet.

Then there’s Klay Thompson, who often does none of these things yet still hits threes at a better-than-40-percent clip and strikes fear in just about every NBA defense. “You ever had someone walk right up on you and talk a few inches away from your face?” asked Warriors assistant Bruce Fraser. “That’s Klay. It’s like he doesn’t mind not having space when he shoots.”

Any number of things would correctly explain why the Warriors, who open their season tonight, are on the cusp of becoming a dynasty. Two-time MVP Stephen Curry is a game-breaking playmaker capable of bringing defenses to their knees in a way we’ve never seen. Pair his skill set with that of Kevin Durant, and you have a legitimate title contender. None of that even speaks to the defensive presence and edge Golden State often gets from Draymond Green.

Yet Thompson’s quick-trigger attempts from deep might be the best barometer of success for the Warriors. Golden State won 95 percent of its games last season (going 43-2) when the swingman hit at least 40 percent of his shots from 3-point range, but the Warriors won just 69 percent (23-10) when Thompson connected on less than 40 percent.

Guarding the 6-foot-7 Thompson is like a formal job interview: If you merely show up on time, rather than getting there a little early, it often means you’ve arrived too late. And God forbid you actually show up a little late — you might as well turn around and go home. Part of this is because Thompson is such a talented, pure shooter, but it’s also because he gets the ball out of his hands faster than any player in the NBA and can connect on his jumpers without having to dip his knees to generate a rhythm.

While Houston coach Mike D’Antoni has his Seven Seconds or Less strategy, Thompson has established his own version of hot potato this past season, in which he launched a total of 302 catch-and-shoot triples within 0.79 seconds of touching the ball, according to an analysis run by STATS SportVu at FiveThirtyEight’s request. The next-closest player, C.J. Miles, had just 192. What’s more, Thompson hits the quick-trigger triples at nearly the same clip, 43.4 percent,10 as when he takes his time and composes himself. When told of these numbers, Thompson put it best: “Sheesh.”

Klay Thompson is the fastest sharpshooter, East or West

3-pointers attempted within 0.79 seconds of catching the ball, 2016-17

PLAYER TEAM TOTAL
Klay Thompson Golden State Warriors 302
C.J. Miles Indiana Pacers 192
Tobias Harris Detroit Pistons 184
Eric Gordon Houston Rockets 183
Channing Frye Cleveland Cavaliers 182
Stephen Curry Golden State Warriors 180
Kristaps Porzingis New York Knicks 163
Nicolas Batum Charlotte Hornets 160
Tony Snell Milwaukee Bucks 157
Trevor Ariza Houston Rockets 152

Thompson connected on 131 of 302 attempts within that release window, for a mark of 43.4%. For context, the leaguewide average percentage on all 3-pointers was 35.8%.

Source: STATS SportVu

The Warriors’ offense already has a cheat code of sorts because of how thin they spread defenses with their shooting, but they also get a ton of mileage out of the threat Thompson poses aside from his 22 points per game. Thompson’s star teammates find far more openings when playing alongside him because defenders know they can’t step too far away from the lethal shooter. That gives the two former MVPs on the roster true single coverage as opposed to double-teams. Curry and Durant each took advantage and shot nearly 50 and 57 percent from the field, respectively, when playing together alongside Thompson, per NBA Wowy. Watch here as the Clippers lose track of Durant while trying desperately to account for each member of the Warriors’ three leading scorers. The threat of Thompson’s jumper helps create an easy bucket underneath.

Unsurprisingly, Curry and Durant’s field-goal percentage numbers fell to 46 percent and 50 percent, respectively, in their almost 400 minutes without Thompson.

In turn, the other Warriors are engaging in near-perpetual motion to help spring Thompson free. Many of his jumpers stem from the Warriors’ unusual network of screens and picks — with the stars often setting improvisational back screens for role players and guards springing free big men. Still, Golden State works hardest to get Thompson open: He had a whopping 516 separate plays in which they brought him off a screen — a figure that led the NBA by a country mile. For context, Thompson got more shot attempts following a screen than 20 different teams in 2016-17, according to Synergy Sports.

His role this past season was a far cry from what it was just four seasons ago, before Steve Kerr took over as coach, when the young Warriors utilized a much different style of offense. Back then, their attack was heavily rooted in stagnant 1-on-1 plays as opposed to the free-flowing system they currently run to perfection. In the course of one year, Golden State went from being dead-last in the NBA with 246.6 passes thrown per game in 2013-14 to seventh in the league with 315.9 passes per night in 2014-15 under Kerr.

Under former coach Mark Jackson, Thompson got a steady diet of entry passes on the block and finished the 2013-14 season with an eye-popping 130 post-ups — the fifth-highest total among NBA guards that year, according to Synergy Sports. As jarring as that number sounds, consider this: Thompson has only posted up 137 times total in the three seasons since then.

“I knew I wanted to install plenty of movement, and it just so happened that Klay turned himself into Reggie Miller and Rip Hamilton,” Kerr told me this week, citing two of the more elite shooters off screens in modern times. “To me, Klay’s the best guy in the league now at moving without the ball. It just comes natural to him, and it made him a natural fit with our offense.”

One of Thompson’s best skills is his ability to score in bunches without possessing the ball all that much. These outbursts have become his trademark since his heroic 41-point, 11 3-pointer performance two seasons ago when the defending champion Warriors were on the cusp of postseason elimination in Oklahoma City. Among those averaging 20 points per game last season, Thompson tied with Brook Lopez for the league lead in lowest time of possession per game, at just 1.6 minutes, while the Warriors guard averaged the highest points-per-touch average. “This is a gunslinger that’s spitting out the ball before anyone can even get to him,” said Fraser, the Warriors assistant.

Thompson told me that he’s made it a point since the age of 15 — when he attended a shooting camp and watched renowned shooting instructor Dave Hopla drill dozens of jumpers — to unload the ball faster.

“[Hopla] said, ‘It doesn’t matter where your feet are as long as your shoulders are squared,’ ” Thompson said. “That’s really resonated with me ever since I was a kid. So now, every time I just try to get a good shot off and make sure my shoulders are square toward the rim, even if my feet are in an awkward place. If I’ve got a good base, and I can get some lift, that’s all I need.”

Thompson’s uncanny ability to find the basket while barely able to see it — he tested this notion by taking, and making, triples in a Sports Science lab with the lights turned off — simply confirmed what many already knew about him: He can make the sorts of shots others wouldn’t even dream of taking.

Asked about having a teammate of that stature, Durant smiled. “That’s the great part about it. I don’t have to play against that no more,” he said. “You can’t relax for a split second, or he’s gonna get a shot off.”

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

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Posted by Daniel Levitt

In Week 6, the NFL’s best showed off their very worst. The Falcons blew a 17-0 lead to the Dolphins at home. The Patriots flirted with disaster against the Jets. The Chiefs were uncharacteristically lackluster in a loss at home. And the Packers suffered the worst loss of all when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. One contender that did take care of business: the Philadelphia Eagles. And it might be time to start taking them seriously.

The Eagles beat the Panthers on the road on Thursday to improve to 5-1, and it appears that the NFC East could have its 13th consecutive season with a different champion (don’t even think about it, Giants fans). The Eagles now have a 76 percent chance of winning the division according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL forecast; that’s the best chance of ending the season atop a division for any team other than the Chiefs. While it might be too early to bet the house that the Eagles will win the Super Bowl, there are plenty of reasons for optimism.

Philadelphia’s defense is one major reason. Through Week 6, Doug Pederson’s rush defense is ranked No.1, surrendering just 66 yards per game. The Eagles have been so good that the 394 total yards that their defense has given up on the ground are the fewest they’ve conceded through six games in 63 years. Oh, and rookie sensation Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs is the only running back to rush for more than 35 yards11 against the Eagles this season, and even he ran for less than he has against other opponents this season, on average.

Running backs perform poorly against the Eagles

Rushing yards gained against the Eagles vs. season average against other teams, among running backs with five or more carries in games against Philadelphia

YARDS GAINED/GAME
WK. TEAM PLAYER VS. EAGLES SEASON AVG.* DIFF.
1 Washington Rob Kelley 30 51 -21
2 Kansas City Kareem Hunt 81 110 -29
3 N.Y. Giants Orleans Darkwa 22 54 -32
3 N.Y. Giants Paul Perkins 25 12 +13
4 L.A. Chargers Melvin Gordon 22 67 -45
5 Arizona Chris Johnson 21 31 -10
6 Carolina Jonathan Stewart -4 50 -54

*Not including yards gained vs. the Eagles.

Source: ESPN

The domination of the Eagles’ front seven has meant that opposing teams have been forced to try their luck through the air. Philly ranks 29th in the league in total passing yards given up per game, but that’s largely because opposing teams have launched an onslaught on the Eagles’ secondary — Philly’s defense ranks No.1 in the league in pass attempts faced. Also, the Eagles have already faced Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer — four of the top six quarterbacks in passing yards per game through Week 6. When you strip the numbers back, the Eagles’ defense ranks 17th in the league in yards given up per passing attempt and 14th in opponents’ passer rating — still not great, but not terrible either.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have gotten by with a balanced offense that ranks third in the league in total yards gained per game. Second-year quarterback Carson Wentz is off to a solid start to the year — Wentz has thrown 13 touchdowns and three interceptions and has a 99.6 passer rating through six games. And Eagles fans may be thinking this is the return of the Wentz they saw in the first three games of last season, when the team started 3-0 and before Wentz threw 14 interceptions in his final 13 games (when the team went 4-9). Thanks to the contributions of tight end Zach Ertz and running back LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia is the only team in the league to have three players averaging more than 50 receiving yards per game12 and a running back averaging more than 60 rushing yards per game.13 With much of the hype surrounding the team’s defense, the offense has quietly emerged as one of the most dynamic in the game.

So can the Eagles keep on winning? The answer might be “yes” — in the regular season at least. The Eagles’ opponents in their remaining 10 games have an average team Elo rating of 1484 (that’s a metric that estimates each team’s skill level using only the final scores and locations of each game — an Elo rating of roughly 1500 is considered average). Of those 10, just two — Washington and the Los Angeles Rams — have top-10 passing offenses (by passing yards per game). With Rodgers down for what could be the rest of the season, the Eagles could do some damage in the playoffs too. Now, obviously, a lot can change with 11 weeks remaining in the regular season, but of NFC teams currently in playoff positions, only the Saints’ Drew Brees ranks in the top 10 in passing yards per game.

FiveThirtyEight vs. the crowd

Week 6 in our NFL prediction game — in which we invite you to pick football games and try to outsmart our Elo algorithm — was full of surprises. In fact, it was the fifth-most-upset-laden week in the NFL since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, according to the Brier Score of this week’s games (that’s a measure used to show how accurate each team’s pre-game win probabilities were).

There were multiple games that both our Elo algorithm and you, the readers, got wrong. One of the biggies was the Green Bay-Minnesota game — but readers really took a bath on the Packers’ defeat, losing 14.2 points on average even compared with Elo. Readers also lost big when the Giants won (you read that right) on the road against the Broncos. It wasn’t all bad for readers, though — their best game of the week came when the Rams beat the Jaguars on the road (that’s what Elo gets for betting on the Jags).

Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 6

Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 6 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game

OUR PREDICTION (ELO) READERS’ PREDICTION
PICK WIN PROB. PICK WIN PROB. WINNER READERS’ NET PTS
JAX 66% JAX 55% LAR +10.5
OAK 68 OAK 61 LAC +5.7
NE 67 NE 78 NE +3.7
KC 77 KC 73 PIT +3.2
BAL 75 BAL 72 CHI +2.4
CAR 57 CAR 53 PHI +1.4
TEN 59 TEN 63 TEN +0.3
HOU 83 HOU 85 HOU -1.0
WSH 83 WSH 80 WSH -2.9
ATL 78 ATL 83 MIA -9.5
NO 58 DET 51 NO -11.3
ARI 58 TB 53 ARI -12.4
DEN 77 DEN 84 NYG -13.6
GB 56 GB 66 MIN -14.2

CORRECTION (Oct. 17, 6 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly said that if the Eagles were to win the NFC East this season, it would be the eighth consecutive season that the division would have a different champion. It would be the 13th season.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

The Politics Of Tax Reform: 101

Oct. 17th, 2017 02:38 pm
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Posted by Harry Enten

President Trump and congressional Republicans are ramping up their push to pass tax reform. What, exactly, “reform” means is still an open question; as my colleague Perry Bacon Jr. has detailed, different Republican factions put a higher priority on different elements of a possible bill. There are divides, for instance, over how regressive any measure should be and how much emphasis to put on tax cuts versus deficit reduction.

With the policy details still in flux, let’s take a step back to consider a few broad facts on how the American public thinks about taxes. Consider this “The Politics of Taxes: 101.”

1. Tax reform is not a top priority for most Americans, which might make it less divisive than health care.

The various Republican health care bills that Congress considered were all unpopular. That was obviously problematic. But one of the big reasons GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare became such a big problem for Republicans is that health care is important to Americans. During the health care debate earlier this year, Americans consistently listed health care among their top concerns. In a May Gallup poll, health care tied with “dissatisfaction with government/poor leadership” as the most important problem facing the country, at 18 percent.

Taxes are different. Just 2 percent of Americans rate it as the nation’s most important problem, according to Gallup. And while 53 percent of Republicans rated Obamacare repeal as an “extremely important” priority for Congress this year in a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health survey, only 34 percent of Republicans felt the same way about “reducing federal taxes on individuals and businesses.” Meanwhile, only 4 percent of the most active members of the “Resistance” movement against Trump rated the economy as their No. 1 voting issue, according to a nonscientific Lake Research Partners poll. In the same survey, 37 percent said health care was their top voting issue.

Of course, repealing Obamacare has been the top story for much of the year, but health care has consistently outranked taxes as a priority for Americans in a variety of poll questions for most of the past 15 or so years.

The point is that members of Congress are less likely to feel pressure from their constituents on tax reform than on health care. That doesn’t mean pressure won’t develop, particularly if the GOP plans are super unpopular (something that seems very possible at the moment). But all else being equal, taxes are less likely than health care to ignite a firestorm among the public.

2. Taxes are a top priority for business groups and GOP donors, which could skew the legislation in their favor.

An overhaul of the tax system is reportedly a huge priority for conservative interest groups, including the Koch network. The Kochs are investing more than $10 million to advocate for a tax bill, including ads on television to pressure members to vote for the legislation.

That potential disconnect — an absence of public pressure and attention vs. high engagement from GOP donors and business groups — could have big ramifications in terms of what legislation Congress pushes, and therefore what the political fallout of the tax effort ends up being. Republicans might be more responsive to wealthy donors and interest groups who put a high priority on taxes. The bill might therefore disproportionately benefit those groups, which would likely make it really unpopular.

3. Still, Republicans start off in a much better position on taxes than on health care.

Another major problem Republicans faced on health care is that Americans trusted Democrats more on the issue. In a June Gallup survey, for example, 55 percent of Americans said the Democratic Party would do a better job dealing with health care, compared with just 36 percent who said Republicans would. That meant that pretty much any health care package Republicans put forth was starting at a disadvantage and would have to overcome deep skepticism from the American public.

On taxes, Republicans are on a much more level playing field. The same Gallup poll found that 45 percent felt Democrats could deal better with taxes, while 43 percent said the Republicans could. When it came to the national debt — which might become a Democratic line of attack against the eventual GOP bill — 49 percent said Republicans could better deal with it to just 35 for the Democrats.

If Republican legislators can agree on a plan, the public is likely to be more willing to listen to the party’s pitch on taxes than on health care.

4. Well, except if that plan benefits mostly the rich. Reducing taxes on the wealthy is deeply unpopular.

Republicans haven’t yet released a fully formed tax plan, but Americans are already wary of the policies being floated. Just 28 percent of respondents in a September ABC News/Washington Post survey said they supported Trump’s tax plan given what they had read or heard about it. A plurality, 44 percent, were opposed.

That may seem odd given that, as I wrote above, the public isn’t automatically hostile to a GOP tax plan. But one of the clearest trends you can find in polling on taxes is that Americans don’t think the rich should pay less, and — so far at least — the public thinks that’s what Republicans are aiming for.

In the September ABC News/Washington Post poll, 51 percent of Americans said they thought that Trump’s current plan favored the wealthy over the middle class. Only 10 percent said it favored the middle class over the wealthy. The same poll found that just 33 percent of Americans wanted to reduce taxes on the wealthy, while 62 percent were opposed.

5. A tax cut for everyone would likely be popular — and the more tilted toward the middle class, the more popular.

This is basically the inverse of No. 4: Tax cuts for the wealthy are unpopular; tax cuts for the less well-off are very popular. The September ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 78 percent of Americans were in favor of tax cuts for lower- and middle-class people. In a September NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, 57 percent of Americans said a tax cut for small businesses would be healthy for the economy.

Short of a middle-class-focused tax cut, the public seems at least warm to the idea of a tax cut for everyone. In an October YouGov survey, 51 percent of Americans favored cutting taxes for all Americans, with only 29 percent opposed. Even when it came to businesses, only 48 percent opposed a tax cut in the September ABC News/Washington Post poll. This means, at least in theory, that Republicans could cut taxes for even the wealthiest of Americans and corporations, and it wouldn’t doom the bill in the public’s eyes as long as people thought it wasn’t just the wealthy who were benefiting.

6. Raising the budget deficit is unpopular, though deficit reduction isn’t a top priority.

This is one of the central tensions that congressional Republicans are wrestling with: how to cut taxes without exploding the deficit. There’s polling that suggests the GOP should pay attention to the deficit. According to the aforementioned October YouGov poll, only 48 percent of Trump’s own voters would favor a tax cut if it increased the deficit. Among voters at large, it’s just 27 percent. A plurality of voters, 43 percent, were opposed to a deficit-increasing tax cut. That makes a deficit-raising tax package only a little more popular than Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

But tax cuts are probably a higher priority for voters than deficit reduction. In the October YouGov survey, only 40 percent of Americans said the budget deficit was a very important issue for them. A significantly higher number — 53 percent — said taxes were very important to them. Both of those numbers are low compared with health care (71 percent), but the deficit number is really low.

This puts Republicans in a risky position: They could craft a tax bill that simply cuts rates and increases the deficit, betting that Americans will be more enamored with the former than they are displeased with the latter. The polling suggests that bet might pay off. But it’s not guaranteed and would likely depend on the details — how big are the cuts and who do they benefit? How much is the deficit increased?

The public might be more likely to go along with a deficit-increasing bill if it’s focused on the middle class. They might not kick up a fuss if the bill mostly benefits the wealthy but is deficit-neutral. If Republicans push a plan that disproportionately cuts taxes for the rich while also increasing the deficit — and there are hints that that’s where they’re heading — well … all bets are off.

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Posted by Walt Hickey

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


5.3 percent

That’s the percentage of roughly 45,000 spec scrips submitted to The Black List that contained a sexual assault. A disproportionate number of those scripts were written by men. [The Black List Blog]


1992

That’s the last year the New York Yankees — now a game back in postseason play against the Astros — had a sub-.500 record. The team anticipated this would be a rebuilding year; they’re now one of the four teams still in contention for the World Series title. What’s more, they appear to have many prospects developing now that will fuel the organization for years to come, regardless of how this year shakes out. [ESPN]

Enjoy Significant Digits and also sports? Check out Besides the Points, our new biweekly sports newsletter.


$24,149

Median amount of money raised every week in the third quarter by a member of Congress in a competitive race. The 37 incumbents analyzed had a median $317,380 raised in Q3. [Michael Beckel, Issue One]


$36,469,896

Amount raised by President Trump’s campaign during the first nine months of the year. [Center for Public Integrity]


1.17 billion pounds

Amount of money earned by the fixed-odds betting terminals in shops around the United Kingdom. The terminals allow users to bet 100 pounds every 20 seconds. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is considering cutting the maximum allowed wager in an effort to lessen problem gambling in the country, but it would come at a major cost to the owners of those machines. On average, investors surveyed believed the maximum bet would drop to 14.50 pounds. [Bloomberg]


$8 billion

Netflix wants to make half its library original content by 2018, and in order to do so will spend $8 billion next year producing 30 new anime series and 80 original films. For those at home who have lost count, there are only 52 weeks in a given year, which means Netflix will be putting out content at an unheard of clip. [The Verge]


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

Robots, get yer robots!

Oct. 19th, 2017 06:07 am
[syndicated profile] obsidian_wings_feed

Posted by SuperUser

by liberal japonicus

Marty, in the comments, points to this interesting article

A 45 year old married father of two with a mortgage and a pair of college educations to fund. The remote yet persistent threat of a nuclear war is not what keeps him up at night. In fact, he might almost see it as a relief should it come. He is a bundle of raw nerves, and each day brings even more dread and foreboding than the day before. What’s frying his nerves and impinging on his amygdala all day long is something far scarier, after all. He, like everyone else, is afraid that he doesn’t have a future.

He is petrified by the idea that the skills he’s managed to build throughout the course of his life are already obsolete.

The article riffs on Vonnegut's novel Player Piano, though the idea of coming thermo-nuclear war as a relief has a Walker Percy ring to it, though Percy made do with hurricanes

As an indication of where my mind is, I immediately googled up sex robots, which the Guardian has been fascinated with recently. from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/27/race-to-build-world-first-sex-robot

There are 20 possible components of Harmony’s personality, and owners will use an app to pick a combination of five or six that they can adjust to create the basis for the AI. You could have a Harmony that is kind, innocent, shy, insecure and helpful to different extents, or one that is intellectual, talkative, funny, jealous and happy. McMullen had turned the intellectual aspect of Harmony’s personality up to maximum for my benefit – a previous visit by a CNN crew had gone badly after he had amplified her sexual nature. (“She said some horrible things, asking the interviewer to take her in the back room. It was very inappropriate”.) Harmony also has a mood system, which users influence indirectly: if no one interacts with her for days, she will act gloomy. Likewise, if you insult her, as McMullen demonstrated.

“You’re ugly,” he told her.

“Do you really mean that? Oh dear. Now I am depressed. Thanks a lot,” Harmony replied.

“You’re stupid,” McMullen shot back.

She paused. “I’ll remember you said that when robots take over the world.”

This function was designed to make the robot more entertaining, rather than to ensure her owner treated her well. She can tease him and say he has offended her, but Harmony exists for no other reason that to make her owner happy. At several points during my conversation with McMullen, she would interrupt us to tell him how much she liked him:

“Matt, I just wanted to say that I’m so happy to be with you.”

“You already told me that.”

“Perhaps I was saying it again for emphasis.”

“See now that’s pretty good. Good answer, Harmony.”

“Am I a clever girl or what?”

If she wanted to take Wolf Blitzer to the back room, I'd say not. Anyway, have at it or anything else that strikes your fancy.

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