The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its latest figures for total job openings, and nothing much changed since December. But it's still a good excuse to show you a chart of the total number of unemployed per job opening, which is a good indicator of labor market tightness. However, in order to count all the unemployed and underemployed, I'm using the U6 measure of unemployment:

We're not quite at dotcom boom levels, but we are at housing bubble levels. The number of unemployed people per job opening is now down to about the same level as 2006-07, the height of the last economic expansion. Obviously different industries have different problems, but overall this means that companies really are having trouble finding workers when a job opens up.

Despite this, and despite other indications that the labor market is starting to tighten, one measure remains an outlier: wages. They've gone up over the past couple of years, but only slowly. This is the ultimate test of labor market tightness: if companies are really having trouble finding people, they'll increase wages to attract more job applicants. So far, that's not really happening. It's a little bit mysterious.

Obamacare mandates an age band of 3:1. That is, old people can be charged no more than three times as much as young people for the same insurance. Conservatives want to change this to 5:1. Why? I'm honestly not sure. But they sure seem to feel strongly about it.

Unfortunately, Obamacare says 3:1, so that's that. There's no way to change the age band except via congressional action. Or so you'd think. Jonathan Cohn reports that the Trump administration has come up with a cunning plan:

HHS has already submitted a proposal of new rules to OMB....Insurers would have more leeway to vary prices by age, so that premiums for the oldest customers could be 3.49 times as large as those for younger customers. Today, premiums for the old can be only three times as high as premiums for the young, which is what the Affordable Care Act stipulates. According to sources privy to HHS discussions with insurers, officials would argue that since 3.49 “rounds down” to three, the change would still comply with the statute.

Is this true? There's no telling since HHS isn't talking and OMB still doesn't even have a website. But I find it hard to believe. Even for the Trumpists, this is an unusually moronic argument. It would get laughed out of court in minutes. I can hardly wait to find out if HHS is seriously proposing this.

Today President Trump told a military audience that terrorist attacks were so common that the press barely even reports them anymore. "In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that."

Asked about these mystery attacks, Sean Spicer said at a press briefing, "We'll provide a list later." And he did! But it was plainly ridiculous, including lots of attacks that were not just covered, but massively covered. The complete list is below. In order to provide a metric that Trump can appreciate, I've highlighted seven of the best-known attacks and provided their Google search scores as a percentage of the Google score for Trump's inauguration:

And now for the $64 question: WTF? Why would Spicer release such an obviously laughable list? I'm not one for 11-dimensional chess, but the answer seems pretty obvious to me.

Just think for a second. What are we all talking about tonight? A great big list of terrorist attacks. Would we be talking about terrorists if Spicer had released this list merely as evidence that there are lots of terrorist attacks in the world? Of course not. That would be a yawn. We're talking about it solely because it's so stupid. That's what got it a lot of attention.

Is this deliberate? Or just an instinctive animal cunning on Trump's part? Beats me. But unlike most of us, Trump doesn't care if lots of people think he's an idiot. He just doesn't have the instinct for shame. What he cares about is getting everybody talking about a big list of terrorist attacks, and he knows that to do that he has to give us all a reason to talk about them. If the price of that is some mockery, that's a trade he's willing to make. Mission accomplished.

CBS News today uses an increasingly common description of a Trump falsehood:

Barton Gellman is not impressed:

So here's a good question: If someone says something with no evidence, is it a lie? Please don't try to evade the question with a knowing reference to On Bullshit, either. Let's assume—because I'm a charitable guy—that Trump isn't affirmatively aware that there are no terrorist attacks that the media has ignored, and is deliberately saying the opposite. Let's assume, instead, that he just doesn't know, and said it because it sounded good.

Is that a lie?

I feel like someone ought to defend the honor of California against our president, so why not me? Here you go:

Since the state GDP series started in 1997, California GDP has grown 12 percent more than the country as a whole. The number of workers has grown 7 percent more. If only every state could be as out of control as California.

UPDATE: I've gotten a bit of grief from folks suggesting that this difference is just because California's population has grown faster than the rest of the US. Not so: between 1997 and 2015, California's population increased about 20 percent while total US population increased about 18 percent. If the difference were bigger I would have gone to the trouble of calculating GDP and employment per capita, but there wasn't much point.

Atrios today:

Self-Checkouts

Those still a thing? I mean, I know they are, but around me the 3 major supermarkets within walking distance got rid of them....Anyway, I know they still exist, but I do think our robot future is not quite as inevitable as people think. Worrying about the impact of future automation on jobs seems to be a cool tech away of ignoring the current fucked and bullshit jobs situation. And, yes, automation has been going on for decades, which is actually my point. There's nothing new about it, and I don't know why people think there will be this sudden automation discontinuity. The robots have been here for awhile, and they aren't really going away, but that doesn't mean the sci-fi dystopian workless future is just around the corner. Shit is fucked up and bullshit enough without worrying about things which haven't happened yet, and likely won't.

It really doesn't matter if artificial intelligence is distracting us from whatever you think the "real" problem is. It's coming anyway. The speed of the AI revolution depends solely on fundamental factors (mostly continued reductions in the cost of parallel computing power) and the level of interest in AI software development. The fundamental factors are obviously still barreling ahead, and it sure looks like the free market has a ton of interest too:

Besides, AI is the real problem. As we all know (don't we?), the decline of manufacturing in the US has far more to do with automation than with trade or globalization. That decline set up the conditions for an angry working class in three Midwestern states that finally decided it had found a savior in a guy who claimed it was all the fault of a bunch of foreigners. So now Donald Trump is president. How much more real can you get?

And that was just old-fashioned dumb automation. Smart automation is going to have a far bigger and far faster effect. We're not very far off from the first real destruction of an industry (probably long-haul trucking) thanks to smart automation, and after that it's going to come thick and fast.

So what are we going to do? Will our future be in the hands of demagogues who gain power by lashing out at scapegoats while they work hard to make sure that rich people get all the benefits of AI? Or will it be in the hands of people who actually give a damn about the working class and understand that a world of increasing automation requires a dramatic rethink of basic economics? I would sure like it to be the latter.

Unfortunately, like global warming, the effects of AI are slow and invisible—on a human timescale anyway. So it's easy to pretend—no matter how idiotic this is—that AI is just a rerun of the Industrial Revolution. It's easy to pretend that each new advance isn't really a step toward true AI. It's easy to pretend that each individual industry to fall is just a special case. It's easy to pretend that something else is always more important.

Is AI coming soon? I find this question too boring to spend much time on anymore. Of course it's coming soon. The only question I'm interested in is what we're going to do about it. I keep pondering this, and I keep failing to come up with any likely answers that are very optimistic in the medium term. Maybe I'm not thinking outside the box enough. But it sure looks like we're determined to keep our collective heads in the sand for a long time. At best, the result is going to be a grim future of plutocracy for some and the dole for everyone else. At worst, it's going to be a future of global genocide (do you think there's enough aid in the world to keep Bangladesh afloat when there's no longer any work there?).

Eventually everything will work out, probably after a lot of suffering and a popular revolt. But wouldn't it be nice to avoid all that?

Oh, and those self-checkout machines? I don't know about Philly, but there's hardly a supermarket within ten miles of me that doesn't have them. Not only are they still a thing, but they're only going to get better. So sorry about all those nice union jobs as checkers and baggers.

I try to ignore Donald Trump's tweets unless they actually have some substantive impact. As I've noted before, they're basically just communiques to his fans, and they should be read that way. Sometimes, though, it's worth noting what he's telling his fans:

I guess Trump has abandoned subtlety altogether. If a poll doesn't go his way, it's fake. Like this one:

And this one:

And this one:

And this one:

Ignore them. They're all fake.

Kellyanne Conway insists that her reference to the "Bowling Green massacre" was an "honest mistake." Guess what?

In an interview with Cosmopolitan.com conducted by phone days earlier, on Sunday, Jan. 29, Conway used the same phrasing, claiming that President Barack Obama called for a temporary "ban on Iraqi refugees” after the “Bowling Green massacre.” (The quotes did not appear in either of two stories recently published on Cosmopolitan.com.)

"He did, it’s a fact," she said of Obama. "Why did he do that? He did that for exactly the same reasons. He did that because two Iraqi nationals came to this country, joined ISIS, traveled back to the Middle East to get trained and refine their terrorism skills, and come back here, and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre of taking innocent soldiers' lives away."

....In a follow-up text exchange Sunday night, Conway wrote, "Frankly they were terrorists in Bowling Green but their massacre took place in Iraq. At least this got clear-thinking people to focus on what did happen in Bowling Green. I gave new life to that ABC News investigative report and the fact that these two Iraqi nationals came to the US with a plan of death and destruction."

So the whole thing was deliberate, and she'd already given it a test run before she mentioned it on Hardball on February 2. She lied about the "massacre," and then she lied some more after she was caught. She also lied to Cosmo about the Iraqis joining ISIS and traveling back to the Middle East. But hey—at least it got people thinking about refugees being terrorists, and that's what counts, amirite?

From this point forward, we should all assume that everything Conway says is a lie unless proven otherwise.

A reader tweets: "CA high speed rail *and* Trump. Your favorite things, together at last!" The San Francisco Chronicle has the story:

Freshly empowered California Republicans in Congress are pushing the Trump administration to hold off on approving $647 million for the Caltrain system to go electric — something that could kill the redo of a line that carries more than 60,000 riders a day between the South Bay and San Francisco.

Wait a second. Caltrain is just an ordinary commuter line. I have nothing against electrifying it. What kind of bait-and-switch is this? Well, it turns out that this is just leverage to try to kill the LA-San Francisco high-speed rail project:

The Republicans don’t have anything against Caltrain electrification per se — it’s the high-speed rail line they can’t stand. And high-speed trains will have no way of getting from San Jose to San Francisco if the Caltrain line isn’t electrified....Republicans have long seen high-speed rail as a boondoggle, but they’ve been up against an Obama administration that refused to spike its funding. That’s not a problem anymore.

Huh. That's hardball for sure. Presumably, if Gov. Jerry Brown killed his beloved bullet train, nobody would have any objection to the Caltrain electrification anymore. Unfortunately for Brown, this actually seems like the kind of assholery that would appeal to Trump. We'll know his decision in a week or two.

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman have a deeply reported story today about the first two weeks of the Trump presidency, filled with lots of juicy little details. But here's what leaped out at me. See if you can figure out what ties together these five excerpts:

  1. Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of the president's, said, "I think, in his mind, the success of this is going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, then somebody's going to have to bear some responsibility for that."
     
  2. For a sense of what is happening outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day—too much in the eyes of some aides—often offering a bitter play-by-play of critics like CNN's Don Lemon.
     
  3. [Steve] Bannon remains the president's dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump's anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council.
     
  4. He almost always makes time to monitor Mr. Spicer's performance at the daily briefings, summoning him to offer praise or criticism, a West Wing aide said.
     
  5. To pass the time between meetings, Mr. Trump gives quick tours to visitors, highlighting little tweaks he has made after initially expecting he would have to pay for them himself.

Trump watches lots of cable; he monitors Sean Spicer's press briefing every day; and he fills up time between meetings by showing off the decor of the White House. He doesn't seem to be very busy with actual work, does he? And yet, he wasn't fully briefed on a simple executive order, something that would have taken no more than a few minutes. What's more, it's pretty obvious that he's also signed other executive orders that he barely understands.

This is pretty much what we all expected from Trump, but it's still jarring to see it confirmed. He spends a lot of time in front of the television, he obsesses about polls, he keeps an eye on the daily press briefing, he seethes with anger at criticism, and he putters around whenever there are no meetings scheduled. In other words, he still thinks he's the star of a reality TV show. He cares about his image and his ratings, but that's about it. When it comes to making America great again, he expects his staff to take care of things.