Ruthann Robson says this today about President Trump's immigration order:

Moreover, the EO itself does address religion. In its subsection on resuming refugee claims, which the EO suspends for 120 days, it instructs the government to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality.” In the seven nations covered by the EO, the majority religion is Islam. Thus, unless the government considers different sects of Islam as minority religions, only non-Muslims would be eligible for a claim of religious-based persecution.

I've seen this formulation over and over, but it's wrong. The "religious persecution" clause applies to refugees, who have been banned worldwide. This clause affects Muslims and non-Muslims about equally.

The travel ban applies to any visa holder, and is restricted to seven Muslim-majority countries. There's a good case to be made that this ban is not truly based on nationality but is instead effectively aimed at Muslims, but the religious persecution clause doesn't apply and has nothing to do with it.

Here's a funny thing. President Trump's job disapproval rating has increased a staggering eight points in just two weeks:

And yet his overall favorability rating has stayed steady. In fact, it's actually gone up a smidge. How is it that 20 million additional people have decided he's doing a lousy job but this hasn't affected his favorability? It's a mystery.

Over at National Review, Jay Nordlinger comments on racism:

The 2016 election cycle made me much wiser, in addition to sadder....All my life, I had heard about racists, anti-Semites, and other such types on the right. Maybe I was sheltered, but I almost never encountered any of them. I thought they were essentially bogeymen, conjured by the lyin’ Left. The people I met were good Reagan conservatives — the salt of the earth.

Then came 2016, in partnership with the social media. The rock was overturned. In a way, I wish the rock had stayed put.

I hope National Review decides to take this institutionally more seriously, instead of commenting on race only when someone is outraged about some perceived excess of the social justice warriors on the left.

Throughout American history, there have been periodic opportunities to make real headway against racism if only both parties had provided a united front. But that's never happened. One party or the other has always found the votes of white racists too alluring to ignore.

As the number of white racists declines, it should be easier to reject them, but instead just the opposite has happened. In our 50-50 nation, even a smallish bloc is far too large to actively repudiate. Trump may be the last gasp of white racial anxiety in America, or he might represent the start of a global white nationalist movement. I hope for the former and fear for the latter. Either way, it would be nice if both parties recognized the danger.

The latest from our president:

Actually, Trump was obviously joking about destroying the nameless senator's career. The real scandal is what the conversation was about:

SHERIFF: A state senator in Texas was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive that forfeiture money.

TRUMP: Can you believe that?

The target here was probably Konni Burton:

Before the 85th Texas Legislative Session formally opened on Tuesday, state lawmakers had already filed a handful of bills that would curb or strike down the law enforcement practice known as civil forfeiture, which allows law enforcement officials to seize assets from those suspected, not charged or convicted, of involvement in criminal activity.

Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, has her name on the most comprehensive of the lot. Senate Bill 380 was pre-filed on Dec. 20 and would reform asset forfeiture laws to prohibit the state of Texas from taking an individual's property without a criminal conviction, in most cases.

....Burton's bill aims to make sure the possessors of that property, or cash in many cases, are actually criminals and the property related to actual crime before the cops have the right to seize it....Predictably, opposition to such bills comes mainly from law enforcement agencies that seize cash and stand to gain from the sale of seized property.

This demonstrates the problem with Trump's shoot-from-the-hip style.1 My guess is that he has no idea what civil asset forfeiture is and has no real opinion about it. If, say, Trump had been in a meeting with a few senators, and Bob Goodlatte had remarked that "police can seize your money even if you weren't convicted of a crime," Trump probably would have reflexively answered, "Can you believe that?" Instead, a sheriff said it was a bad thing related to Mexicans, so Trump automatically agreed with him. That means it's now official Trump administration policy.

Sad. But then again, Jeff Sessions is a huge fan of civil asset forfeiture and all the corrupt incentives it creates, so he probably would have gotten Trump on board one way or another. Like tax cuts for billionaires, it's yet another big win for the working class.

1One of the problems, anyway.

Over at Vox, Mark Bauerlein has a complaint about public schools:

Last year at a public school in Southern California, my niece’s 12th-grade teacher led the students to the football field one afternoon for a little exercise in social awareness....It’s called the Privilege Walk, and it’s not an uncommon activity in high schools and college. You can see a version of it here. The purpose is to highlight disadvantages some have in life through no fault of their own. When my niece talked about it, she rolled her eyes, not because she denies inequities in the world but because the whole setup was so stagy and manipulative and solemn.

I had a different reaction: Why spend precious class time on non-academic social consciousness exercises when the academic results of public schooling in America are so poor?

Well, I imagine that most private schools don't engage in the Privilege Walk, though possibly not for the wholesome reasons that Bauerlein seems to imagine. And I'm certainly not surprised that a smart 17-year-old would roll her eyes about it. I would have done the same at that age.

But then Bauerlein uses that as a lead-in to his real gripe: public schools suck. He provides a few cherry-picked statistics on this score, but that's all. So for what feels like the millionth time, here's the best data we have about the quality of public schools in America: the long-term NAEP scores in reading and math.

Over the past three decades, math scores are up across the board and reading scores are flat. Are these "poor" results? I'm not sure why, unless we expect schoolkids to get smarter and smarter forever. Basically the NAEP scores suggest that today's kids are doing a bit better than their parents, so unless you think America is hopelessly stupid across all generations1 there's no real evidence that public schools are doing a noticeably bad job. They certainly seem to be doing at least as well as they were 30 years ago, and other evidence suggests they're also doing at least as well as they were 70 years ago.

Now, what public schools are doing a bad job of is closing the gap between white kids and black/Hispanic kids. Whether private schools are doing better on this score is a subject of intense controversy, but that would certainly be something worth griping about.

POSTSCRIPT: I should note that Bauerlein also complains that we spend a lot more on schools even though results haven't improved. This is true, largely because teachers are paid a lot more than they were 50 years ago. I assume the reason for this is obvious enough not to require explanation.

1Admittedly, November 8 has changed my priors about this.

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.