• Kelly: Trump Has “Evolved” on the Wall

    K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune via ZUMA

    Wut?

    President Trump’s chief of staff privately told a group of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday that Mr. Trump had not been “fully informed” when promising voters a wall along the Mexican border last year, and said that he had persuaded the president it was not necessary….[John F. Kelly] told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he had educated the president about the issue of immigration, adding that Mr. Trump had “evolved” on the wall.

    The comments were an unusual instance of a White House chief of staff seeming to undercut public statements made by the president, in the process contradicting the central message of “Build the wall” that defined Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. The president has recently begun to temper his own statements about the wall, telling a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the White House last week that a 2,000-mile structure would not be needed because parts of the border would be impassible.

    I have no idea what to say about this. True or not, what could possibly have prompted Kelly to say it?

  • Take My Fake News Poll!

    If Donald Trump can turn his stupid fake news awards into a stupid fundraising poll, so can I. Except that mine won’t raise any money. But at least my stupid poll works, so vote anyway! What’s your favorite fake news outlet of all time?

  • Conservatives Are Sick and Tired of…Something or Other

    Glenn Reynolds tweeted about Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels today:

    Life’s a bitch, isn’t it? Jonah Goldberg responds:

    As for [Glenn’s] point that lots of conservatives are tired of having their principles used against them, this seems incontestable to me. This was a big psychological and political undercurrent among Trump enthusiasts in 2016….And, without spelling it out for liberals who might seem flummoxed by this widespread attitude on the right, I think it’s a legitimate gripe. I can even understand why many rank-and-file GOP voters would throw their hands up and say, “If liberals aren’t going to play by the rules, why should conservatives?”

    But I think this is ultimately the wrong way to think about this. It’s a bit like the bureaucrat or cop who won’t take bribes feeling like he’s a fool since everyone else is on the take. He’s not a fool. If it’s wrong to take bribes, it’s still wrong if “everybody does it.”…If you’ve dedicated your professional or pastoral life to upholding and enforcing public standards of decency, there is no principled argument for giving Trump a pass.

    Goldberg ultimately thinks this attitude is wrong, which is great. But he also thinks it’s “a legitimate gripe.” And that’s what I don’t get. I’m not flummoxed by the notion that lots of conservatives feel aggrieved about this, but I am flummoxed by the notion that it’s legitimate.

    Help me out here. What conservative principles are constantly being used against conservatives? I can think of some. There are the Christians who are caught committing adultery. There are the gay bashers who turn out to be gay. There are the small-government types who suddenly love big government when it’s one of their pet projects on the line.

    Now, it’s true that these particular things don’t much affect liberals. Adultery is sort of yucky, but not always a deal killer. Nobody on the left bashes gays in the first place, and we don’t care if someone is gay. And we aren’t committed to small government, so it’s no big deal when a liberal proposes some kind of big project.

    But of course liberals have their own rules. Right now, in fact, we’re in the middle of a huge backlash against liberals who sexually harass and assault women. This is because liberals think those are bad things. Liberals will also get in trouble for saying something even arguably racist because we think racism is wrong. Dianne Feinstein (and others) get a lot of crap from the left over their support of surveillance laws because liberals like to think they favor privacy rights. None of these things would cause a conservative much trouble.

    I could go on and on, but that would be boring. My point, obviously, is that both sides are vulnerable to attacks for violating their principles. However, this mostly comes from their own side. The other side will guffaw and make snarky jokes on Twitter, but that mostly has little influence over anyone outside their own circle. God knows the 2016 presidential election proved that.

    I assume that the comment section will start out with lots of abuse hurled at Reynolds and Goldberg. That’s fine. Gotta get it out of your system, after all. But I’m also genuinely curious. Precisely which principles is it that are constantly being used against social conservatives? And why do conservatives think this only happens to them? Unflummox me, please.

  • Is Trump’s New National Park Fee Increase Really Outrageous?

    Jesse Lee is unhappy:

    Naturally, I got curious. Is this truly outrageous? I wanted to find out, but it turns out that the history of automobile fees at national parks is surprisingly hard to get a handle on. Every park is different and there are lots of different kinds of fees (single visit, annual, all-park passport, etc.). Eventually I gave up and limited my scope to Yosemite, which acts as sort of a bellwether for park fees (Yosemite and Yellowstone have always had the highest vehicle fees in the national park system). I can’t guarantee that this chart is completely accurate, but I think it’s pretty close:

    Long story short, yes, it’s outrageous. The orginal $5 fee (about $115 adjusted for inflation) was set sort of haphazardly back when cars were a rich man’s toy, but for the past century the vehicle fee at Yosemite has hovered around $30 or so in current dollars. The most recent increase, in 2015, kept vehicle fees right in line with inflation, but the Trump administration’s proposal would more than double that to $70 during peak seasons. About a dozen other parks are also affected, and presumably this would represent an even bigger increase since most of them have historically had lower vehicle fees than Yosemite.

    As I was checking up on this, I skimmed through a monograph on the history of park fees and read several newspaper articles about past fee increases. They are all identical. On one side are folks who want the Park Service to generate more revenue to cover its costs, and on the other side are folks who think that fee increases will put national parks out of reach for anyone who’s not rich. The current debate is precisely the same. The only difference is that this time the proposed increase really would set park fees far higher than they’ve been for nearly a century.

    POSTSCRIPT: The answer to the headline of this post is “Yes.” I did that just to prove that Betteridge’s law of headlines is more like a guideline than an actual law.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is a lovely climbing rose on a house in Castlecove. Isn’t it pretty?

  • More Good News on Retirement Savings

    Here’s some interesting news from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Not everyone is aware of this, but Americans have more retirement income in IRA accounts ($7.2 trillion) than in 401k accounts ($5.6 trillion). A few years ago EBRI started collecting information about IRA contributions, and they now have enough data to show some trends over the past few years. For starters, more people are putting money in IRAs: 14.1 percent in 2015 compared to 12.1 percent in 2010. And the amount of money they’ve been contributing has gone steadily up:

    The basic story is simple: more people are starting IRAs, and the ones who do are contributing more to them. That’s especially true of young people, who are contributing 15-20 percent more than they were just a few years ago.

    IRAs tend to be popular with middle-class and upper-middle-class workers, so this doesn’t tell us anything about the retirement prospects of the poor and working class, who rely primarily on Social Security. Still, it’s consistent with the numbers for 401k accounts, which have been used by more people; more young people; and more low-income people ever since the Pension Protection Act passed in 2006.

    We still need to make Social Security more generous for the poor and working class, but this data is consistent with the notion that the demise of old-school pensions hasn’t been a disaster. The source of retirement income has changed over the years, but the amount has stayed about the same.

  • Split Up All the Big States? Why Not Just Reform the Senate Instead?

    There’s yet another movement to split California in half, and Eric Levitz says that sounds great. In fact, every big state should split itself up in order to create fairer representation for everyone in the Senate, which has become “one of the most genuinely tyrannical institutions of our government.”

    Well, OK. But if that’s really the issue, wouldn’t it be easier to just change the apportionment of senators? That would fix the Senate too and it would require only one constitutional amendment, rather than a dozen states all petitioning to be broken up. How should we do it? Hmmm. How about every state gets between one and five senators depending on population? That makes it fairer, but not merely a duplicate of the House. Or maybe every state gets two senators, and then we add a hundred more that are apportioned by population? Or wait. Every state gets allocated senators by a formula: the cube root of population divided by 75.

    I think you get the idea: not gonna happen. Like it or not, the current system gives small states a lot of power, and they aren’t going to allow anything to diminish that power. That includes splitting up states.

    Still, at least this latest proposal splits California between coast and inland, which makes more sense than the usual moronic suggestions to split it north and south. On the other hand, New California is going to be a mighty poor state. They’ve tried to massage this by including Orange County and San Diego in their new inland state, but that’s pretty ridiculous. Both of these places may be relatively conservative, but neither one has any interest in being the piggy bank for all the farmers and pot growers in NewCa. If you assume that both would stay in Old California, here’s how things look:

    Pretty dismal. New California is about as rich as Kentucky and Alabama. They’re going to miss a whole lot of amenities that they get right now thanks to the largesse of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

    POSTSCRIPT: On the other hand, NewCa would have all the water. So there’s that.

  • Here’s Yet Another Confirmation of the Donald/Stormy Hookup

    What could possibly be better than a tabloid magazine reporting on a sex romp between a porn star and the future president of the United States? It’s got everything! Stormy Daniels may now deny that anything happened, but back in 2011 she apparently told In Touch magazine all about it:

    It all started at the American Century celebrity golf tournament in July 2006. “[Trump] was introduced to everybody. He kept looking at me and then we ended up riding to another hole on the same golf cart together,” Stormy recalled, adding that the business mogul later came to the gift lounge her adult-film company, Wicked Pictures, sponsored and asked for her number, which she gave him, before they posed for a photo together.

    “Then he asked me if I wanted to have dinner that night. And I was like, ‘Yeah, of course!’” she told In Touch. Stormy, dressed up to go out on the town, arrived at Trump’s hotel room, where she says she was greeted by a bodyguard named Keith, who let her inside. Stormy claims Trump was sprawled on the couch watching TV, wearing pajama pants. “We ended up having dinner in the room,” she revealed to In Touch.

    At one point, Stormy told In Touch, she excused herself to go to the bathroom. “When I came out, he was sitting on the bed and he was like, ‘Come here.’ And I was like, ‘Ugh, here we go.’ And we started kissing.” After having sex, Stormy said, “We hung out for a little while and he just kept saying, ‘I’m gonna call you, I’m gonna call you. I have to see you again. You’re amazing. We have to get you on The Apprentice.’”

    It sounds like Stormy had a great night! As for the sex itself, she described it as “textbook generic.” That’s really going to piss off Trump.

    In Touch says that Stormy’s account was corroborated at the time by “her good friend Randy Spears and supported by her ex-husband Mike Moz.” So now we’re up to three news outlets that knew about the hookup: In Touch, Slate, and Fox News. Two of them knew about the hush money, but none of them wrote about it during the campaign. How many more are there?

  • Cryptocurrency Rout Now in Full Swing

    Sad news today. Yesterday’s cryptocurrency rout is continuing. Bitcoin toyed with $10,000 yesterday, but then recovered slightly, only to plunge right on through this morning. It’s at $9,916 as I write this, but I’m sure that will change by the time you read it. I wonder what all those miners are going to do with their racks and racks of specialized servers that are good for nothing other than performing useless proof of work calculations?

  • California’s Bullet Train Gets Yet Another Price Hike

    California High-Speed Rail Authority

    Buckle your seat belts for yet another big surprise. This one is for Californians:

    The estimated cost of building 119 miles of bullet train track in the Central Valley has jumped to $10.6 billion, an increase of $2.8 billion from the current budget….The new estimate was presented Tuesday by Roy Hill, who leads the main consulting firm on the project, WSP (formerly Parson Brinckerhoff). Hill said the cost increases were mainly driven by problems including higher costs for land acquisition, issues in relocated utility systems, the need for safety barriers where the bullet trains would operate near freight lines and demands by stakeholders for mitigation of myriad issues.

    “The worst case scenario has happened,” Hill said bluntly.

    Uh huh. The “worst case” scenario. Except that pretty much everyone who’s ever looked at this project figured this would happen. My guess is that this is nothing close to worst case.

    I also wouldn’t assume that this is the last cost increase we’ll see on the bullet train. Still, it’s a 36 percent hike, which is plenty. And keep in mind that the Central Valley segment is by far the easiest segment to build. The current cost estimate for all of Phase 1 is about $65 billion, and this will go up by $23 billion if we see a 36 percent increase across the board. We’ll be at $100 billion before you know it.