• There’s No Such Thing as Populist Conservative Economic Policy

    Zach Gibson/CNP via ZUMA

    Over at National Review, Peter Spiliakos writes that Sen. Tom Cotton’s sterling hardline performance in the immigration standoff has strengthened his chance of being president someday:

    He was the most effective Trump surrogate and has earned the “fighter” reputation that Cruz wanted so desperately. He needs a broader populist economic policy to go along with his support for transitioning to a system of high-skill immigration. He should work with Senator Mike Lee on pro-parent tax policy and with James Capretta on health care. A populism that is only about immigration isn’t populist.

    This is a real question, not snark: what “populist” economic policies could a Republican nominee for president possibly support? “Pro-parent” tax policy is mostly just handwaving: usually a modest increase in the child tax credit and elimination of the marriage penalty. It’s peanuts. And no Republican has ever proposed anything in the same zip code as populist health care policy. Spiliakos mentions James Capretta, but Capretta is a standard issue conservative who champions “market-based” reforms like forcing consumers to pay a bigger share of their health care expenses; premium support for Medicare; high-risk pools; and killing off Medicaid in all but name. This may be conservative health care policy, but it would be wildly unpopular. There’s nothing remotely populist about it.

    What else? Taxing the rich? That’s out. Support for labor unions. Please. Higher taxes on capital income. Not gonna happen. Government regulation to rein in the cost of pharmaceuticals? Nah. Free college for everyone? Nope. A higher minimum wage? Not a chance. Wage subsidies (the “thinking man’s minimum wage”)? That costs money, so it’s out of the question.

    It’s popular these days on the right to simply declare policies they like to be populist, but that doesn’t actually make them populist. Anything truly populist is almost by definition something that corporations and the rich oppose, and that means Republicans will never be economic populists. Donald Trump sure isn’t, no matter how much he blusters about his love for the common man.

  • Christopher Wray Is Finally Fed Up With Trump’s War Against the FBI

    The Republican obsession with FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe is too bizarre to bother trying to explain. The nickel version is that he’s literally done nothing wrong, but details are here if you really want to torture yourself. The end result of this jihad, however, has been an increasing drumbeat to fire McCabe even though he’s already set to retire in a few months. Axios reports that FBI Director Christopher Wray finally got tired of this crap:

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the public urging of President Donald Trump — has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge. Wray’s resignation under those circumstances would have created a media firestorm. The White House — understandably gun-shy after the Comey debacle — didn’t want that scene, so McCabe remains.

    Good for Wray. The insane war against the FBI by Republicans desperate to derail the Russia probe needs to get more of a spotlight. If it doesn’t stop, Wray should start calling it out publicly.

  • Trump Slashes Jobs in Solar Industry

    Dong Naide/Xinhua via ZUMA

    America first, bitches:

    The Trump administration announced Monday that it would impose hefty tariffs on the cheap, imported panels that have driven the rapid expansion of solar power in the United States, a move that industry groups warned would slow the spread of renewable energy and cost thousands of jobs….Companies that install solar panels will probably trim their workforces, industry analysts warned, as the tariff — which starts at 30% on the imported panels and gradually declines each year — threatens to substantially raise the price of solar power in the United States.

    There are a couple of ways this could play out:

    • The price of solar panels rises. This might seem to be good news for American solar panel manufacturers—though there are hardly any left—but if prices go up 30 percent it means that solar becomes less cost effective vs. other forms of electricity, which means fewer roof installations and fewer utility-level installations. This in turn means fewer jobs for Americans who work in the solar industry.
    • Other countries get into the solar panel biz and prices stay low. American manufacturers aren’t affected one way or the other.

    Behind Door #1, consumers have to pay 30 percent more for solar panels. Behind Door #2, the whole thing has no effect at all. So this policy might be bad for America or neutral for America, but there’s not much chance it will be good for America.

    On the bright side, these tariffs basically act as a subsidy for fossil fuels, so Trump can pretend that it’s good for coal miners. And that’s what matters, amirite?

  • We Are All Just Overclocked Chimpanzees

    Imago via ZUMA

    Having spent the weekend arguing about whose “fault” the government shutdown was, we have moved on. The government is back up and running and we’re now obsessed with who “won.”

    So who did win? Beats me. On the one hand, Democrats caved by agreeing to yet another continuing resolution that doesn’t restore DACA. On the other hand, Democrats got CHIP funding out of the deal, as well as a promise from Mitch McConnell—admittedly a bit nebulous—to allow a vote on DACA restoration in the Senate. Is that a win? On the one hand, Democrats got CHIP. On the other hand, they would’ve gotten CHIP eventually anyway. On the third hand, getting CHIP now means that kids won’t start losing health care as the current funding slowly disappears state by state.

    OK, but what other evidence is there? Well, there’s the fact that Mitch McConnell seems to be really happy today. Does that mean he’s pretty sure he put one over on the Democrats? Probably—but then again, McConnell is no immigration hardliner, and he hates the Bannon/Miller wing of the GOP. So maybe he thinks he put one over on them. Besides, if McConnell was really so sure that Republicans were winning this showdown, why didn’t he just let it continue to play out?

    But wait. A bunch of Democrats voted against the deal and are unhappy about it. Is that evidence that Democrats are admitting that McConnell beat them, as Aaron Blake suggests in the Washington Post? Maybe. But let’s not be too naive here. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein? They’re both from California, where a hard line against Republicans plays well. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren? They’re the leaders of the resistance. Kirsten Gillibrand? She’s running for president. They all have good reasons to insist that they’d never betray the Dreamers like this.

    And anyway, if there’s no deal in the next three weeks, the government will shut down and Democrats will have a fresh chance to show how dedicated they are to DACA. So maybe this doesn’t even really matter.

    To summarize, then, I have no idea who won. But I do know this: the fact that we’re so obsessed with this is just a bit of fresh evidence that H. sapiens as a species is little more than a modestly souped up version of P. troglodytes. For chimps, knowing precisely who won and who surrendered in every encounter—and therefore who outranks you—is vitally important and has been bred into the species by millions of years of evolution. A few hundred thousands generations later, it still controls human society. The only difference between chimps and humans is that they do it with screeching and feces flinging, while we do it with Twitter and cable news. I think their way is probably more dignified.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    The Women’s March in Los Angeles on Saturday was huge. I don’t think the crowds were quite as big as Hizzoner Garcetti claimed, but the most reliable estimates still put it at 300-400,000, about as big as last year. I spent several hours there, but my train was late so I went straight to City Hall and didn’t see any of the crowds at Pershing Square, where the march started. However, Spring St., Broadway, and Hill St. were all jammed for the entire mile between Pershing Square and City Hall, as was much of First St. And Grand Park in front of City Hall was thronged too.

    The mood was loud and vibrant, and the theme of the marchers seemed to be at least as much anti-Trump as it was pro-feminism. In fact, if I had been a Martian who parachuted into the scene, I probably would have guessed it was an anti-Trump rally with a few other social issues tossed in. Here’s a small gallery of photos from the march.

    A view of the crowd looking south on Spring St.

    Faces in the crowd.

    A protester at the corner of First and Spring St.

    The main stage seen through a sea of pussy hats.

    Another view of the crowd looking south on Broadway.

    A little girl on Broadway near City Hall. She and her mother were having a ball.

    Signs of the time.

    “Respect my existence or expect my resistance.”

  • America Is Getting More Liberal Every Year

    Over at Vox, Alissa Wilkinson gives a glowing review to Sorry to Bother You, “the loony directorial debut from rapper Boots Riley….a commentary on race, labor, and American capitalism that veers in so many directions that it’s best to just strap in and let it take you where it wants you to go.” One of the central conceits of the movie is an exploitive company called WorryFree:

    [WorryFree] encourages people facing financial difficulty to sign a lifetime labor contract in which they’ll work for the company for the rest of their lives. In turn, they can stop worrying about things like rent and car payments; the company guarantees bunk-style housing and lousy-looking meals that WorryFree customers insist are delicious. In other words, it’s modern-day indentured labor.

    ….WorryFree also evokes some familiar practices — labor in for-profit prisons and the endless cycle of debt that keeps people in poverty — that may feel ripped from a dystopian novel, but are just one tick away from plausible.

    I’m not trying to pick on anyone here, but this is a trope that bugs me. Modern-day indentured servitude—though it sounds like Boots Riley actually means for us to think of WorryFree being in the slavery business—is not “one tick” away from being plausible. Neither is The Handmaid’s Tale, which frequently gets the same treatment as an “all too possible” look into the near future.

    I don’t quite get why so many people feel like they have to say things like this. On the evangelical right it’s practically the stuff of day-to-day conversation. They really and truly seem to believe that gay marriage and access to abortion are signs that America’s moral decay has gone so far that the country will be literally beyond saving within a few years. There’s nothing quite like that on the left,¹ but there is a weird tendency to believe that America is just a hair’s breadth away from 1984 or The Hunger Games whenever a Republican is president. This is despite the fact that on social issues related to race, feminism, gay rights, trans right, and so forth, the country has done nothing but get steadily more liberal for the past 50 years. Nor has that slowed down recently. Here’s a sampling of Gallup poll numbers on the evolution of opinion on various moral issues since 2001:

    I’m sure there are a few social issues that poll more conservative today than they did in 2001, but I’m not sure what they are. I think the evangelical obsession with the decay of America is crackpot stuff, but at least they’re responding to genuine losses. All that stuff in the chart above is bad news for them. But for liberals? It’s just one good thing after another.

    POSTSCRIPT: I forgot about immigration! There’s no long-term data for stuff like DACA and the wall, which are fairly recent developments, but here are a couple of things that Gallup has tracked since 2002:

    The number of people who worry about illegal immigration has stayed steady for the past 15 years—including 2016 and 2017, when it was a mainstay of Donald Trump’s campaign. The number of people who want to cut back on immigration (both legal and illegal) has declined by 20 percentage points. At the same time, DACA is extremely popular and the wall isn’t. Despite the loudness of the voice on the far right, most of the evidence suggests that Americans have generally gotten more liberal on immigration issues since the turn of the century.

    ¹I wouldn’t count climate change alarmism here, since climate change is objectively real and might genuinely lead to disaster if we don’t do something about it.

  • Ban Government Shutdowns? Maybe We Actually Need More of Them.

    Over the weekend, the White House released this widely-mocked picture of Donald Trump "working to resolve the budget impasse." The fact that it's so obviously a joke is a sign of how seriously modern Washington takes budget issues these days.Joyce N. Boghosian/White House

    Ramesh Ponnuru wants to get rid of government shutdowns:

    The U.S. has had four partial shutdowns of the federal government in the last 25 years. Each time we have one, we debate who’s responsible: which party is the formal cause of it, which is being less reasonable in budget negotiations. Maybe it’s time instead to debate doing away with the possibility of shutdowns.

    There’s no law of nature that requires the federal government to run at partial capacity when Congress and the president can’t agree on a budget bill. Long ago Congress could have passed, and a president could have signed, a law stipulating how the government would operate in case of such a disagreement.

    This sounds appealing, and I’d certainly be in favor of eliminating debt ceiling standoffs, which truly are pointless and dangerous. But getting rid of budget-driven government shutdowns would be sort of like banning strikes by labor unions. Sure, strikes are annoying for everyone, but without them there’s no leverage to force a deal to be made. Human nature being what it is, both sides sometimes need the spur of looming catastrophe to force them toward an agreement.

    If the government were put on automatic autopilot in the absence of a budget agreement, the incentive to pass a budget would shrivel even further than it already has. Sometimes this might favor Democrats and sometimes Republicans, so there’s no real partisan valence here. But I’d be very careful about “recognizing reality” and doing something like this. Half a century ago Mike Mansfield recognized the reality of filibusters and decided to change the Senate rules so that no one actually had to talk and the Senate could go about its business while simply acknowledging that a filibuster was taking place. Later the rules were changed so that nobody even had to be present in the Senate to keep a filibuster going. But guess what? When the price of a filibuster went down to nearly zero, the number of filibusters skyrocketed and we ended up with the 60-vote Senate we have today. That’s not something Mansfield or anyone else ever expected.

    So what happens when the price of a budget deadlock goes down nearly to zero? My guess is that we’d have a lot more budget deadlocks. Contra Ponnuru, then, I might propose something 180 degrees different: pass a law that bans continuing resolutions and shuts down the government on October 1 if there’s no budget. Passing a budget is the prime purpose of Congress, but in recent years both Democrats and Republicans have all but abdicated this responsibility. Maybe they need some incentive to start considering the budget their top priority, not a bit of trivia to be ignored while they fight base-pleasing battles over ideological hot buttons.

  • Will Chico Ever Get Commercial Air Service Again?

    Military planes still fly out of Chico, like this M. C. 130 P Combat Shadow that helps with firefighting. But there's no commercial air service.Sacramento Bee/ZUMAPRESS

    Six days ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that airlines are abandoning small towns:

    Chico, with a population of 92,000, is one of 20 small communities in the U.S. to lose regular commercial air service in the last four years….At 91 other small airports nationwide, the number of departures has been cut by at least half in that same period, including Yuma International Airport in Arizona, Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis, Mass., and Branson Airport in Missouri.

    ….“As airports lose frequency and destinations, communities experience diminished connectivity, which weakens their link to the global economy,” said Faye Malarkey Black, president of the Regional Airline Assn. The closures grew out of lessons learned by the airline industry during tough financial years capped by the last recession.

    But wait! Today the Wall Street Journal says that airlines are flocking back:

    Airlines are returning to midsize U.S. cities. American Airlines Group Inc. plans to launch 49 new nonstop domestic flights in 2018, the carrier said last week, mirroring similar expansion over the past year by United Continental Holdings Inc. that is taking carriers back to places such as Fort Wayne, Ind.

    The shifts reflect big changes in airline economics, including lower fuel prices, a desire by carriers to attract more passengers to their fortress hubs such as Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and competition on major routes from low-cost carriers that have driven down fares and taken market share….“There are markets that we’re coming back to,” said Vasu Raja, American’s vice president for network and schedule planning.

    So when does Chico get its air service back?

  • Whose “Fault” Is the Government Shutdown?

    Miguel Juarez Lugo via ZUMA

    “Why aren’t you writing anything about the shutdown?” The masses demand to know what’s up. Well, I’ve been busy with some other stuff this weekend, and anyway, I’m not even sure what to say.

    Let’s start with an obvious point: any government shutdown is the result of disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. In that sense, it’s not really anyone’s “fault.” Either side could cave at anytime if they really wanted the government to start running again.

    That said, the question of who bears most of the fault for the current shutdown depends on who’s making the more outrageous demands. I can’t pretend to be neutral about this, but let’s roll the tape.

    Republicans control Congress, but this year they never even came close to passing a budget because they were too busy failing to repeal Obamacare and enacting big tax cuts for corporations. Democrats, for reasons best left unexamined, gave Republicans the headroom to do this by agreeing to multiple continuing resolutions that would keep the government running in the meantime. All along, however, Democrats had one demand: that the eventual budget include language that restored DACA, the “mini-DREAM” act that Donald Trump killed. Eventually, they said, they’d stop voting for more CRs that didn’t include DACA. And so they did. Republicans have known this for months.

    Now, Republicans are allegedly in favor of restoring DACA too, so the easy solution would have been to include it in the latest CR, perhaps along with some kind of concession from Democrats on military spending. All done, and then everyone can get down to the serious work of writing real appropriations bills. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

    I’ll confess up front that I don’t know precisely what DACA demands Democrats are making, but I don’t think they’ve moved the goalposts on this noticeably. They just want DACA. So do Republicans. So does the vast majority of America.

    So what are Republicans demanding in return? Unfortunately, it’s all but impossible to figure that out. At first it was a few restrictions on chain migration and some money for border security. Democrats were willing to work with this, and Donald Trump said he’d sign anything Congress sent him, even if he didn’t like it that much.

    But then Trump changed his mind and decided the bill should contain an almost complete wishlist of Republican demands from past immigration negotiations. This was faintly ridiculous, since Democrats would certainly want more in return for all that than merely DACA. Nonetheless, Dems were willing to compromise and accept much of this. Once again Trump seemed amenable. And once again he changed his mind after Stephen Miller and Tom Cotton got to him. Mitch McConnell threw up his hands, saying he couldn’t really do anything until he knew what Trump wanted, and Paul Ryan maintained a studious silence. And then the government shut down.

    From a PR standpoint, Democrats have a positive message: we just want protection for Dreamers. That’s very popular. But Republicans have one too: Democrats are willing to shut down the government over illegal aliens. That also polls well. I don’t know how that will play out.

    However, in terms of demands, it’s hard to see how anyone would think Democrats are being the outrageous ones. They want something that’s simple and reasonable (and popular); they’ve been consistent about what they want; and they’ve generally been open to compromise to get it done. Republicans, by contrast, have demanded concessions for something they supposedly support themselves; their demands have become ever more onerous over the past few weeks; the president keeps changing his mind about what he wants; and at this point literally no one knows what it would take to close a deal with Republicans. Democrats couldn’t cave in even if they wanted to.

    Republicans even refused to pass a routine measure to keep paying the military during the shutdown, something that would have passed easily on a bipartisan basis. Why? So that when they go on TV to argue that Democrats are responsible for the shutdown, they can also blame Democrats for service members not getting paychecks.

    Am I missing anything important here? Have Democrats raised the stakes in ways I’m not aware of? Have Republicans been more consistent in their demands than I’m giving them credit for? Why is this whole question even remotely debatable?

  • A Decade After the Great Recession, We’re Outsourcing Home Appraisals to India

    Manuel Romano/NurPhoto via ZUMA

    The Wall Street Journal reports that banks are getting tired of performing actual appraisals for high-volume home loans—the kind that get packaged into mortgage-based securities—and are turning instead to less rigorous broker price opinions:

    Now these perfunctory valuations abound, underpinning tens of billions of dollars of home deals. Sometimes the process is outsourced to India, where companies charge real-estate agents a few dollars to come up with U.S. home values by consulting Google Earth and real-estate websites. BPOs have been used to value collateral in the more than $20 billion of bonds sold by institutional landlords, such as Blackstone’s Invitation Homes Inc., and in the fast-growing business of lending to individual house flippers.

    What could go wrong? “Their popularity,” says the Journal, “shows how Wall Street is finding ways to adapt to government efforts to crack down on some of the excesses that contributed to the housing crisis.”

    It’s remarkable how fast we’ve decided to ignore the lessons of the great housing bubble and the subsequent crash. Republicans, of course, never wanted to learn any lessons from the very start, but Wall Street stayed cautious for at least a few years. Now even that’s receding into the rear view mirror, a mere decade after the second-worst recession of the past century. Republicans are naturally happy to help this process along, because the market is always right, even when the market is wrong. Plus the finance industry is generous to politicians who let them do whatever they want.

    It took upwards of 50 years to unlearn the lessons of the Great Depression. The Great Recession took only ten. I wonder how long we’ll pretend to have learned anything from the next one?