• Lunchtime Photo

    Different weather provides different opportunities for picture taking. I’ve been wanting to try some fog pictures for a while, but I’ve had no luck. First I went to Ireland. Gotta be fog there. No fog. So I went to London. No fog. In London! I came home as winter was settling in, but there was no fog. Just the light marine layer that we always have in the morning.

    Then, last week, I woke up and looked out the window. Fog! Nice, thick fog. So I grabbed my camera and went out to the lake. The result is the pair of coots below.

    I love coots. They’re like little bowling balls on stilts, and they look like they can barely stay upright when they waddle around looking for food. I just want to pick them up by their round little bellies and squeeze them. But I never have and probably never will.

  • The Stock Market Is on a Tear

    Let’s just finish up with all the charts I have today, OK? Then I’ll go to lunch, and maybe I’ll come back with some ideas for less analytical posts.

    The stock market has gone crackers this month. Here’s the growth rate of the S&P 500 for the past year, with the first two weeks of January extrapolated to a monthly rate:

    Hmmm. And here’s the Shiller PE ratio, which uses 10-year inflation-adjusted earnings:

    It’s currently at about 34, which is lower than it was at the height of the dotcom bubble, but higher than Black Tuesday of 1929, the height of the 1960s bull market, Black Monday of 1989, and the height of the housing bubble. Is it too high? I guess that’s for each one of us to decide.

  • Renewable Energy Is Kicking Ass in Colorado

    I’ve got nothing but charts for you today. Sorry about that. But I might as well get them out of my system. Here’s one that Dave Roberts is excited about. It shows the average bid response to a request for new power plants from Colorado’s biggest electricity supplier:

    Now, the bad news is that renewable sources are still more expensive than fossil fuels. Gas turbine plants clock in at about $4 per MWh, while renewables range from $18-36. On the bright side, renewables are already a lot less expensive than building new coal plants, which is one reason coal is dead no matter how much Donald Trump allows coal companies to ignore environmental devastation from mining operations.

    Roberts also points out that the cost of storage is surprisingly low. For wind plants it adds about $3/MWh to the cost, and for solar it adds about $6. Since storage is necessary for renewables to become reliable baseload generators that can supply electricity 24/7, this is important.

    Roberts also points to the sheer scale here. Xcel received 430 bids compared to 55 for a similar request a few years ago. Of those, 350 were for renewable energy, representing over 100 GW of capacity. There are lots of companies working feverishly in the renewable energy sector.

    Renewables still have a ways to go. They still cost significantly more than fossil plants, and the most efficient type of fossil generation—gas-fired combined cycle plants—is redacted in the Xcel report. Those bids probably came in even cheaper than the other fossil bids.

    But read the whole thing. One of the things that Roberts is excited about is that these are actual, concrete bids, and they’re considerably less than anyone was projecting a year ago. In the real world, the price of renewable energy is dropping faster than even the most optimistic projections.

  • Black Incomes Have Fallen Further Behind Whites for the Entire 21st Century

    Over at the mothership, Eli Day points out that blacks still earn a lot less than whites and have way less wealth. That’s bad enough, but it’s actually worse than that. Here are working-class black earnings since 1979 as a percent of white earnings:

    Black men have made essentially no progress in the past four decades, while black women have fallen considerably further behind. Since 2000, both both men and women have fallen further behind their white counterparts. Here’s median household income:

    And here’s family wealth:

    Black households made income and wealth gains up through about 2000, but since then have gone backwards. Any way you look at this, the gap between black and whites has gotten worse throughout the 21st century. Anyone who doesn’t understand why the African-American community has seemingly become more despairing of racial progress lately should take a look at this. Sure, much of it is because of Ferguson, and much of it is because of Trump. But it’s more than just that, and it didn’t suddenly come out of nowhere in 2014.

  • Uninsured Rate Holds Steady Through the Middle of 2017

    I missed this during the holiday season, but the CDC released updated numbers for the number of uninsured in the US. These estimates go through June of 2017 and show that nothing much has changed:

    Since the beginning of 2015, the number of uninsured ages 0-65 has been flat at 10-11 percent. This varies from Gallup’s survey, which shows a small, steady increase in the number of all uninsured adults (ages 18-∞) starting in early 2017. The CDC will release its latest survey estimates at the end of February, so we’ll have to wait until then to see if they also begin to show an increase in the Trump era.

  • Paul Romer Explains the “Doing Business” Ranking FUBAR

    I don’t want to spend forever on the controversy over the World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings, but Paul Romer put up a post today that shows what kind of effect the new ranking methodology had on Chile. Here it is:

    The new rankings (light orange) started in 2013 and showed Chile improving under its conservative president. Then Chile’s ranking fell substantially starting in 2014, when socialist Michelle Bachelet took office.

    If the old ranking methodology (dark orange) had been used throughout this period, Chile’s rank would have fallen substantially under the conservative president and then stayed pretty much flat under Bachelet.

    I have no idea how much difference this made to anything. As for how it happened, Romer says, “the fundamental failure can be traced back to a lack of clarity in our communication.” Stay tuned.

  • Why Trump Killed the Immigration Deal: Because Democrats Made Him Look Bad

    Erik Mcgregor/Pacific Press via ZUMA

    I’ve long supported the idea of making a deal that would give President Trump a piece of his wall in return for legislative authorization of DACA. But it turns out that Democrats were prepared to offer him even more: not just some money to start the wall, but also an end to chain migration and the visa lottery. Nancy LeTourneau comments:

    In years gone by, that would have been the kind of compromise one would expect from bipartisan negotiations. But it wasn’t enough for Trump. He said, “no,” and, in the process, made his “shithole” comments. But even beyond that, the entire meeting involved an ambush that many have credited to Stephen Miller.

    Apparently, when Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin showed up for last week’s meeting with Trump, they were blindsided by the presence of a bunch of Republican immigration hardliners. “That was obviously designed by Stephen Miller to try to kill the deal,” said a senior Democratic aide.

    That’s eminently plausible, but I have a different theory. All of this stuff happened last Thursday, two days after Trump’s televised session on Tuesday morning designed to prove that he’s not an idiot. Unfortunately, in that Tuesday meeting Sen. Dianne Feinstein tricked him into showing that he is, in fact, an idiot who has no idea what his own party’s position on immigration is. It’s not clear to me if Feinstein meant to do this, but it happened. Everyone in the world picked up on it and mocked Trump’s obvious dimwittedness.

    This is, needless to say, something that Trump can’t abide. My guess is that by Wednesday he had already decided to sabotage the negotiations and then blame it on Democrats, all as retribution against liberals for making fun of him. Stephen Miller may have played a role too, but I’ll bet Trump was the driving force.

    Everyone understands how you handle Trump: you offer him ridiculous, over-the-top praise and insist that he’s the smartest, toughest negotiator you’ve ever been up against. That softens him up for a deal. Plenty of Republicans have figured this out. Plenty of foreign leaders have figured this out. I’m sure plenty of Democrats have figured this out too, but they just don’t have the stomach to play the game. The result is that Trump inevitably becomes offended by the lack of praise and kills any possible deal. I suspect that’s what happened this time.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 89 today. It’s striking to think that if he hadn’t been killed 50 years ago, he might still be alive today. Would the civil rights movement have progressed differently if he had been part of it for the past half century? King was already losing influence when he was assassinated, and there’s no telling how he would have addressed that; how he would have evolved; or what influence he would have maintained. Would he have prevented the movement from turning to violence? Would that have lowered the temperature of the white backlash? Would we be further along the moral arc of the universe than we are?

    I have to imagine he would have made a difference. At the same time, racial hatred is so deeply embedded in the souls of so many whites that it’s unlikely anything—or anybody—could have turned it aside by more than a few hairs. This has always been obvious, but the past year has made it even more obvious than ever. We have so far yet to go.

    This picture may look like it’s from deep in the Amazon jungle, but it was actually taken at the Sand Canyon Wash, a smallish wildlife preserve near UC Irvine. The cross belongs to a Methodist church across the street.

  • The Population of Young Men Is Down, and So Is Crime

    In the Daily Beast, criminologist Barry Latzer writes that murder is down in New York and is likely to stay down. Why? Because young men are responsible for most murders (true) and the population of young men has declined since the baby boom years (also true). Now that the baby boom is over for good, the number of young men is also down for good, which in turn means that crime is down for good.

    It’s true that violent crime is related to the population of young men. The problem is that it’s not all that related. Here are the national numbers for all violent crime:

    There’s a relationship there, but not a strong one. The population of young men dropped sharply between 1980 and 1990, but crime kept going up. It was flat between 1990 and 2000, but crime dropped sharply.

    This isn’t dispositive. There’s probably some momentum built into the system, and men age 25-30 also contribute a fair amount to the crime rate. Most likely the rise and fall in the number of young men explains some of the change in the crime rate between 1960-2010, but not a lot of it.

    But this reminds me: I’ve been thinking of creating an updated lead-crime roundup. I haven’t done one since 2012, and there’s been a ton of new research since then. I need to put that on my list of things to do.

  • Here’s the Latest Stupid Conservative Conspiracy Theory

    Tong Wu/TNS via ZUMA

    It’s hard keeping up with conservative conspiracy theories. Did you know that for the past week the usual suspects (Hannity, Drudge, etc.) have been circulating the bombshell news that we now have PROOF the FBI was conspiring against Donald Trump during last year’s campaign? Naturally this involves Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the two FBI agents who were conducting an affair and have had their entire text message history laid bare to the world. And just as naturally, congressional Republicans are investigating it.

    Long story short, last week John Solomon wrote a piece for The Hill about the Republican investigation. His article suggested that Page and Strzok had advance knowledge of a Wall Street Journal piece, which means they may have been the ones who leaked it. In the hands of the idiot conspiracy loons at Gateway Pundit, this became “Obama’s Deep State FBI and DOJ Caught Synchronizing Anti-Trump Classified Leaks to Liberal Media.” By now it’s probably entered the eternal lore of the right-wing grievance industry.

    Ryan Reilly and Nick Baumann have looked into the whole thing over at HuffPo and produced 2400 words of debunking. Here’s a quick summary:

    • Reporters usually call the FBI for comment on stories like this, and word spreads pretty quickly. This is most likely why Strzok and Page knew the Journal article was coming.
    • The article in question wasn’t anti-Trump. It was anti-Hillary.
    • Strzok and Page seemed pretty annoyed by the fallout from this leak.

    I can’t say that I really care about this story, which is obviously ridiculous, except as an example of how this stuff spreads in the right-wing universe. Strzok and Page have become the Susan Rice of Russiagate, all-purpose villains whose lives are casually ruined in service of smearing Democrats. Nobody else is paying any attention to this dumb story, but among the conservative ALL CAPS crowd, it’s probably holy writ already.

    POSTSCRIPT: I probably don’t need to add this, but everyone already knows the real story here: there was only one set of politically-motivated leakers in the FBI during the 2016 campaign, and that was the New York office, which was virulently anti-Hillary. They were the ones who apparently forced James Comey to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation 11 days before the election.

    It’s this obvious fact that seems to have been responsible for the furious pushback from conservatives. Donald Trump can’t bear the thought that people believe the FBI was responsible for his victory, so he’s busily smearing the entire organization and promoting stories about the FBI being anti-Trump. Naturally, his fans are all playing along.