Archive for October, 2022

Key Races: Election Odds & Bets

October 31, 2022

As I’ve said before, when I’m looking for near real time, “skin in the game”, quantitative assessment of elections, I go to the PredictIt betting market and, more recently, Election Betting Odds (which tries to incorporate the polls and other information).

The chart below summarizes what they’re saying about the key mid-term Senate races.

Bottom line: A GOP runaway in Ohio … a statistically significant GOP lead in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia … a slight GOP lead in Arizona.

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P.S. Election Betting Odds has a very cool interactive map … you can hover over a state to see its specific numbers.

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Disclosure: Long, long ago, I worked on the business staff of The Daily Princetonian with John Stossel — one of the authors of the Election Betting Odds site

Biden: Gas cost $5 a gallon when I took office…”

October 28, 2022

Not a gaffe, not his dementia … an outright lie!
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Source

Also in his Syracuse speech this week — like an arsonist who wants credit for calling 911 — he laid claim to bringing gas prices down by over $1.50.

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Let’s look at the data…

First, the big picture:

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Data Source: EIA

> Gas prices were about $2.50 per gallon when Trump turned over the keys to Biden.

> At the June 2022 peak — a full 17 months after Biden took office — prices reached $5.11 … more than double the prices when Biden took over.

Classical locker room quip: It all depends where you measure from.

> Prices have come down from the peak … to an apparent bottom at $3.77 … down about 25% from the peak …  but, still about 50% higher than when Biden took office.

Analogy: Binge eater puts on 100 pounds … goes on a diet and loses 50 pounds … touts a 50% weight loss.

> Recently, some statistical “noise” ….prices increased by 1.6% in Sept.  … and, most recently, dropped by about 1.5%

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Biden’s response to high gas prices: “Blame the profiteering oil companies and gas stations.” Source

C’mon, Joe.

Just take (dis)credit that your your “war on fossil fuels” is working … and stop the BS.

About learning loss and the declining education scores…

October 27, 2022

Anybody remember No Child Left Behind?
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Let’s start with what everybody is talking about…

According to The Nation’s Report Card the pandemic school shutdowns took a near catastrophic toll … especially in math.

Pre-Covid, over 42% of 4th graders were considered proficient in math; that percentage slid to  36% during the Covid shut downs.

Similarly, pre-Covid, over 34% of 8th graders were considered proficient in math; that percentage slid to  26% during the Covid shut downs.

All of those numbers are pretty dismal.

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I don’t think it’s fair to blame either Trump or Biden for Covid.

While Trump did approve the shutdowns when Covid initially broke out in early 2019 (remember “15 days to stop the spread” ?), he started pushing hard for re-opening in fall 2019 but was stiff-armed by Team Fauci and Team Weingarten.

Biden, though, embraced Fauci and the teacher’s unions’ lockdown position … and, the rest is history.

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Let’s move the ball forward.

This chart from Statista caught my eye:

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Note the presidential “eras”.

During the Bush years, students’ math proficiency increased from about 1 in 4 students to about 4 in 10 fourth graders … and 1 out of 3 eighth graders.

Those numbers strike me as pretty dismal … but the trend was right.

During both Obama’s years and Trump’s pre-Covid years, improvements stalled but the gains held.

Then, of course, Covid hit …

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Flashback: No Child Left Behind

What I find remarkable about the above chart are the the statistically significant gains during the Bush years …  the result of the much maligned No Student Left Behind (NSLB) educational initiative whose “4 pillars” were:

1. Stronger Accountability for Results
More testing and supplemental services, such as free tutoring to bring students up to speed

2. More Freedom for States and Communities
More local control … allowing districts to use funds for their particular needs, such as hiring new teachers, increasing teacher pay, and improving teacher training and professional development.

3 Proven Education Methods
Putting emphasis on determining which educational programs and practices have been proven effective through rigorous scientific research … with a particular emphasis on reading skills.

4. More Choices for Parents
A
llowing parents to transfer their children (with funding) to better-performing public schools and charter schools.

Critics — especially the national teachers’ unions —  lambasted NCLB for its emphasis on testing, “draconian” accountability focus and ever- threatening “freedom of school choice” … which jeopardized enrollments in under-performing schools.

Hmm.

Sometimes we should follow the data and do what works, right?

The Oz – Fetterman debate …

October 26, 2022

One chart says it all !
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You can find lots of commentary re: Fetterman’s disastrous  debate performance…

When I’m looking for near instantaneous, “skin in the game”, quantitative calibrating reaction to events, I go to the PredictIt betting market.

Prior to last night’s debate, Oz and Fetterman were roughly tied in the polls and the betting markets.

But, during and immediately after the debate, the odds shifted big time … to Oz 65 – 39.

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GOP surging in “generic ballot”.

October 24, 2022

Here’s the best explanation that I’ve found.
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First, the data…

According to the RealClearPolitics poll-of-polls, the most recent weeks have been very, very good for the GOP.

One indicator: the generic congressional ballot which asks: Are you more likely to vote for a Republican or Democrat for Congress?

The GOP held a big lead in the Spring, then the Dems closed the gap after SCOTUS’ Dodds decision.

But, look at the recent GOP surge (the yellow circle below).

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Source: RCP

What’s going on?

The most most compelling explanation that I’ve come across is from conservative pundit Erick Erickson.

Erickson says:

Having run campaigns, covered campaigns, etc. I’ve observed a thing that happens in wave years.

About 3 weeks out, everything just shifts.

The undecideds begin to break.

They all break the same way.

The media rushes to capture it, which reinforces it.

Specifically, in years of a Republican wave, the media spends most of the time avoiding or downplaying the issues that the GOP is talking about.

Then, one day, the switch flips and those issues are all that anyone talks about.

In the past couple of weeks, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, CNN have all started airing voters who say crime is bad and getting worse.

Voters on CNN in PA are talking about how Fetterman has too many issues for their vote.

MSNBC talked to black voters in Philly overrun with crime.

CBS is talking to voters in AZ who are upset about crime, the economy and the border.

Once the media starts reporting instead of opinionating, the tide starts to roll in.  Source

Makes sense to me…

OMG: Will Romney be taking the mantle from Manchin?

October 20, 2022

A GOP Senate majority may not be bullet-proof.
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Another case of the obvious becoming evident …

I was scanning an article on election predictions and was stopped in my tracks by an incidental comment:

RealClearPolitics predicts that Republicans will win five of the seven toss-ups, giving them 52 seats (and a Romney-proof majority).

What did he say?

Oh no, is it possible that Mitt Romney will be the legislative decision-maker for the next 2 years.

Manchin loved the spotlight and did slow some progressive steam-rolling … but when the big money chips were on the table, he caved… e.g. he got totally rolled on the $350 billion climate control bill (nee Inflation Reduction Act).

I’d been assuming that a GOP majority  would gridlock the Senate — something that I consider a good thing. Make that “a very good thing”.

But, much like Manchin couldn’t be counted on, for sure, the GOP can’t count on Romney.

He’ll bask in the  limelight and will position himself as the adult in the Senate …. by siding with the Dems on pivotal issues to demonstrate his bi-partisanship.

Why?

To position himself to compete against Trump (maybe) and DeSantis (certainly) for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.

Yipes.

From the frying pan into the fire…

Greater threat to the planet: Putin or climate change?

October 19, 2022

Putin is the clear & present danger … so, unleash our oil & gas industry, Joe.
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Business leaders are now pushing Biden for an “Energy Marshall Plan” … to mobilize U.S. oil & gas companies for energy independence and export capacity.

Here’s what they’re thinking…

Analytically speaking, risk assessment boils down to a couple of decision criteria:

> How immediate is the threat?

> How severe are the potential consequences?

> How likely are the consequences?

> How might mitigation change the odds?

Applying these risk assessment criteria, the answer to the headlined question is pretty clear (to me).

Putin is demonstrably a clear, present, proven and potentially nuclear danger.

Just turn on your TV to watch the slaughter of innocent people and the destruction of a nation and a culture.

Just listen to Putin threaten to use nuclear weapons.

Putin is maniacal (and probably crazy), determined and has planet-destroying nuclear weapons that he might use if he’s cornered.

And, he’s starting to look cornered.

The climate change threat is murky (sorry, but the science is not close to being settled) and prospective (decades off) … with asserted and uncertain long-term consequences.

Bottom line: If the choice is binary, Putin must be stopped ASAP.

If the Putin and climate threats need to be “balanced”, then the scale should be tilted to stopping Putin.

Putin is clearly the more immediate threat.

Climate control can wait.

Let’s drill down on the decision criteria…

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THREAT ASSESSMENT

Immediacy 

The Putin threat is happening now.  Just turn on your TV right and watch the slaughter of innocent people and the destruction of a nation and a culture.

Even climate control zealots concede that its potential “existential threat” from climate change is decades away.

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Severity

Climate control zealots say that, unchecked by draconian mitigation, the planet will be a degree or two warmer in 50 years … and that’s enough to end life as we know it.

Let’s assume that’s true.

Some might argue that the Putin threat is localized and contained.

The Ukraine invasion is tragic and sad, but c’mon man, it’s just Ukraine.

Once Putin gets to the Polish border, the U.N. and NATO will stop him in his tracks.

Might be true.

But, what if Putin is, in fact, crazy and, when cornered, he starts lobbing nukes.

Suddenly, we’re looking at a level of global destruction that gives climate change a run for its money.

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Likelihood

So, what is the likelihood that climate change puts planetary existence at risk?

Sure, clean energy beats dirty energy and a green mindset makes sense.

But, the case for climate change ending the planet’s existence is a reach.

It is disputable whether the “data is clear” and that “the science is settled” on the consequences of climate change.

For details, see 16 Reasons why I’m lukewarm on climate change

Personally, I’d score the likelihood of Putin unleashing planet-destroying nukes higher than a climate existential threat.

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Mitigation

This is where things get dicey.

I’m confident that the U.S. will become increasingly green.

That’s a good thing.

I believe that American ingenuity and technology will — sometime and somehow over the next 50 years — provide game-changing climate control remedies.

But, as Igor Sechin, CEO of Russia’s state-owned Rosneft, has warned

Some ecologists and politicians urge for a hasty energy transition, yet it requires an unrealistically fast launch of renewable energy sources and faces issues with storage, ensuring reliability and stability of power generation. WSJ

And, to this point, climate control initiatives in the U.S. and Europe have largely been virtue signaling … outsourcing fossil fuel production to other countries (most notably Russia!) … putting the U.S. and Europe in a vulnerable security position.

Question: Is Russian oil cleaner than U.S. or Canadian oil?

Answer: Nope!

So, the pivotal question is how to “mitigate” the Putin threat.

Well, maybe Putin can be jawboned and shunned … and will come to his senses and rein in  his destructive tendencies.

My opinion: Odds of that are essentially zero.

Maybe the rational Russian people will rise up and take him out.

I’m betting the under on that one, too

Let’s try diplomacy.

How’s then been working out?

Not to worry, NATO will ultimately use military force to contain the Putin risk at the Polish border.

English translation: NATO nations will encourage the U.S. to kick Putin’s ass when the time comes

Military containment might be doable … but, at a high cost with the incumbent risk that a crazy Putin starts a nuclear war.

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So what to do?

Oh yeah, there are other Putin-mitigating options.

How about draining his war-mongering financial resources with sanctions?

In logic-speak: necessary but not sufficient … especially since the current sanctions explicitly rule out any transactions related to the flow of Russian oil.

According to Biden’s Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh:

“To be clear, our sanctions are not designed to cause any disruption to the current flow of energy from Russia to the world” Source

Say, what?

Bottom line: The only non-military way to cripple Putin’s war mongering is to use U.S. oil & gas production as a geo-political strategic tool … the geo-political strategic tool!

As one right-leaning pundit puts it:

Putin’s power comes from money, most of Putin’s money comes from oil and gas.

It stands to reason that if you’re trying to punish him, hitting him in the wallet is the most effective way to do it.

So why would our President specifically exempt what is the best, most effective, and really only significant way to hurt Putin in way that might impact his behavior?

Of course, there’s an explanation…

Biden is boxed by his party’s far left climate control zealots.

Nonetheless, as we’ve said before:

It’s time to reprioritize energy security and independence by unleashing U.S. oil & gas production!

He has to do an objective risk assessment (see above), stiff-arm his parity’s uber-left loons, restore U.S. energy superiority by unleashing our oil & gas industry.

It’s as simple as that!

 

Joe’s giving me an 8.7% raise!

October 17, 2022

And, he rushed to tell me before the mid-term elections.
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Here’s an email that I got from the Social Security Administration over the weekend:

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A couple of takeaways from the email…

  1. The 8.7% COLA (cost of living increase) is the Fed government’s inflation estimate … required to keep SS recipients whole 2023.
  2. The notice was sent to Social Security recipients on October 15.

What’s interesting about the date?

> Last year, we SS recipients were notified of the 2022 cost-of-living increase (5.9%) on December 3, 2021.

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> Two years ago, we SS recipients were notified of the 2021 cost-of-living increase (1.3%) on November 3, 2020.

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Let’s recap …

> Based on Trump’s last year in office (2020), the inflation-based COL increase for 2021 was 1.7%

> Based on Biden’s first year in office (2021), the inflation-based COL increase for 2022 was 5.9%

> Based on Biden’s 2nd year in office (2022 YTD), the inflation- based COL increase for 2023 is 8.7%.

Ouch.

But, that’s not really new news, right?

What’s more interesting (to me) is the timing of the announcements.

The past years’ practice had been to notify SS recipients of their COLA adjustments (for the next year) in late November or early December.

This year the COLA notification was sent on October 15 … a couple of weeks before the mid-terms.

Coincidence?

Call me skeptical.

I can just envision Biden screaming:

“I protected your Social Security benefits against inflation … and, the Republicans want to take them away.”

That’ll be me screaming when he reads the words from the teleprompter …

Why does inflation feels so much worse than 8%?

October 14, 2022

Since Biden was inaugurated consumer prices have increased by over 13% … more in key consumer categories
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Following the stats communications principle of “bite sizing” large numbers into smaller (less alarming) ones, Biden likes to focus on month to month price changes.

Along the same vein, the BLS and media norm is to focus on year-over-year percentage increases.

For example, the latest CPI increase is reported at 8.2%

But, when we go to a store or a gas station, prices seem so much worse.

Why is that?

Simple answer: the headlines aren’t reporting the most relevant numbers — price levels and their change from a meaningful starting point.

A more complicated statistical answer has to do with the “miracle of compounding” … which in the case of prices, is more like the “disastrous effect of compounding”

Case in point: this week, the BLS reported that, in Sept. 2022, the CPI increased 8.2% from Sept. 2021.

Let’s set a different comparative point — namely, January 2021 — when Trump turned over the WH keys to Biden…

in January 2021, the CPI was 261.6 … in Sept. 2022, it was 296.8 … that’s an increase of 13.1% …  which is 1.6 times 8.1% (i.e. 60% higher)

That’s what people are feeling … not the year ago comparison … since the year ago number already has some jaw-dropping inflation baked in.

In stats-speak, this is the “lapping principle” 

And, as the chart below shows, the price tag pain is worse for the most relevant home budget items.

For example, since Biden’s inauguration…

  • Food at Home is up 17.7%
  • Gas is up 58.6%
  • Electricity is up 23.3%
  • Natural gas is up 51.8%
  • Used cars are up 36.2%
  • Housing costs are up almost 10%
  • Air fares are up 41.8%

click table  to enlarge
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The red  numbers above show what consumers are feeling … not “just” the 8.2%.

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Chart notes:

  1. Columns (a) and (b) are from the published BLS reports for January 2021 and September 2022
  2. Column (c) “Point to Point % Increase” is the % increase from Jan.2021 to Sept. 2022
  3. Column (d) “Compound Annual Rate” is the   is the annualized percentage increase from Jan. 2021 to Sept. 2022
  4. Column (e) is the percentage change from Sept. 2021 to Sept. 2022

Again, IMHO, column (c) “Point to Point % Increase” from Jan.2021 to Sept. 2022 are the numbers that we should all be focusing on.

More: Is STEM — the last bastion of academic integrity — now in the crosshairs?

October 13, 2022

Old school science prof fired when students protest his “too hard” course.
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In a prior post, we reported on a letter signed by over 500 top scientists ringing an alarm bell re: the current direction in math & science education.

In a nutshell, their concerns:

  • Dumbed down courses to accommodate less well prepared and less ambitious students
  • Opposition to “right” answers and established protocols
  • Grade inflation across the grading range
  • Resistance to enforce minimum “passing” standards

Here’s a case on point…

New York University recently fired a professor after students complained that his class was too hard.

The instructor, 84-year-old Maitland Jones Jr., is a legend in his field who literally wrote the book on organic chemistry.

In a petition to the university, the students complained that Jones did not provide opportunities for extra credit and gave out grades in his orgo class that were “not an accurate reflection of the time and effort” that they had put into it.

Let’s unpack that …

> The prof is too “old school” and by implication, just too old to be teaching woke age students

> Grades should consider “time & effort” expended, not just on  subject mastery.

> “Extra credit”  should be allowed when the fundamental course material is not adequately mastered

> “Alternative performance indicators and constraints” should be considered in the grading process (think: “social promotions”)

The bottom line: It’s yourfault, not mine.

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So, how did NYU respond to the student’s petition?

NYU granted the students “the opportunity to retroactively withdraw from the class and thus spare their transcripts from the smear of a low (or failing) grade” …  and fired the legendary prof.

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Who’s right — the students or the prof?

A bit surprising (to me), based on a quick Goggle-scan of media reports, the popular support leans for the students.

For example, see NY Magazine: “The Whiny Grade-Grubbing NYU Students Have a Point

The essence of the pro-student argument…

> Prof. Jones is, in fact, too damn old.

“It’s not exactly hard to believe that an 84-year-old might not be the most engaging and accessible instructor for students who were born in 2004.” Source

> The pandemic handicapped students’ prior learning and eroded their study skills.

“The pandemic undermined the quality of an entire cohort’s education, and thus, of its academic development.

Ideally, students would be held back to repeat the year that they effectively lost to substandard schooling.

But of course, at universities that charge more than the U.S. median income for a year of instruction, this is not typically viable.” Source

> The performance measurement system is too rigid — too focused on right answers and outdated protocols.

“The story is illustrative of the burgeoning consumer-centric model of the university.

The students’ suggestion that grades should accurately reflect “the time and effort” put into the class, irrespective of whether that time and effort translated into subject mastery, does seem to support the entitlement of a consumer.” Source

> Organic Chemistry is too difficult, too reliant on  memorization skills and largely irrelevant — even for doctors.

“The substance of the organic-chemistry curriculum does not come up all that much in medical training or practice.

So, the subject should not be a precondition for medical training in the United States.” Source

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Suffice it too say, it’s probably good that I retired when I did…

Is STEM — the last bastion of academic integrity — now in the crosshairs?

October 11, 2022

Scientists: “Alarmed over recent trends in math education”
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It’s oft reported that the U.S. is 25th (or lower) in the world in math & science … and things aren’t getting any better.

Case in point: Previously, we posted study results indicating that K-8 students’ standardized math scores have fallen by about 10% since the pre-pandemic levels.

That’s ringing alarm bells for scientists and mathematicians.

So says a letter boasting about 500 signatories, including:

Four winners of the Fields Medal in math; two winners of the Turing Award in computing; a Nobel laureate in physics and another in chemistry; 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences; and faculty at Stanford, Berkeley, CalTech, MIT and every top U.S. university for hard science.

As the WSJ opines: “When mathematicians, physicists and engineers speak up to defend the integrity of their fields, Americans should pay attention.”

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The scientists buy-in to making math more inclusive (i.e. more “welcoming” to women and black / brown minorities) and more relevant (e.g. injecting practicality and social meaning).

My take: Their issues seem to revolve around:

> “Slow rolling” … the elimination of “tracking” in favor of one-size-fits-all courses that get watered down for the general student population (think: common denominator)

> Performance measurements …  the elimination or diminution of standardized testing … intended to reduce students’ anxiety and potential loss of esteem … at the expense of clear metrics re: achievement and progress, individually and collectively.

> Subjectivity …  minimizing “right” answers … in favor of ones that are “directionally correct” or simply “nice tries”

> Grade inflation … a logical extension when standardized testing and right answers are non grata … “A” grades are tossed around like penny candies …. failing grades become practically extinct.

Weighing in, in absentia, is Albert Einstein:

“One reason why mathematics enjoys special esteem, above all other sciences, is that its laws are absolutely certain and indisputable, while those of other sciences are to some extent debatable and in constant danger of being overthrown by newly discovered facts.”

> Methodology … ditching road-tested protocols and procedural documentation in favor of “many ways to skin a cat” and informal or mental “scratch-padding”.

Again, quoting Einstein:

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of expressed logical ideas.”

> Diminished “higher math” … delaying algebra until high school … and squeezing calculus offerings in high school … reducing students’ preparedness for college and making colleges responsible for skills’ remediation.

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The signatories largely dodged the remix of education emphasis away from hard sciences and math towards social and political discourse.

Einstein would be disappointed on that count:

Yes, we have to divide up our time like that, between our politics and our equations. But to me our equations are far more important, for politics are only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands forever. Albert Einstein

But, the signatories’ did issue a strong warning:

“The erosion of math and science education is threatening America’s prosperity and survival in a competitive world.

Those disciplines are centuries old and arguably even more critical for today’s grand challenges than in the Sputnik era.”

Amen.

AAA: Gas prices up almost 3.5% in a month …

October 7, 2022

That’s a whopping 50% annualized inflation rate!
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AAA reports gas prices every day.

Today’s report pegs a gallon of regular at $3.81 per gallon.

That’s up 3.45% from a month ago … which equates to a 50% annual compound rate.

For reference, today’s price is up 3.73% from a year ago … and up 52% since Biden was inaugurated.

Biden’s answer: squash the U.S. energy producers, cozy up to the Saudi, Iranian and Venezuelan dictators.

Might work…  since “nobody (effs) with a Biden”

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A picture is worth a thousand words…

October 6, 2022

During his trip to Florida, Biden yielded the Presidential podium DeSantis…

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If only…

Have you been catching more colds this year?

October 5, 2022

Your immune system probably got weaker during covid-induced isolation …. but not to worry.
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In a couple of recent friend & family chats, it became evident that more folks are catching more colds more often.

One hypothesis is that the cold-wave is a result of immune systems that weakened during 2 years of covid-confinements.

Might be … but not to worry.

Just follow the late George Carlin’s advice for building (or re-building) a strong immune system.

His prescription for building a strong immune system to battle germ attacks is a bit contrary to current conventional wisdom and CDC guidance.

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WARNING: Adult content – profanity-laced, politically-incorrect, totally insensitive to the current COVID situation and likely to offend practically everyone.  Do not play in earshot of children, co-workers or sensitive adults. Hit delete now if you self-classify in that latter group.

In other word, this is classic George Carlin.

click to view (if you dare <= you’ve been warned!)
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