• 1 PM Photo

    Among other things, I thought the fair would be a good place for some people pictures. But despite the outward show of color and light, at ground level it was surprisingly dim unless you were right next to one of the food stands. So this is it. This is literally the only picture of a person I took that was in focus and close to properly exposed. It was taken in an indoor pavilion, the shrewdly-named “Parade of Products.”

  • Noon Photo

    After a dinner of deep-fried peanut butter meatballs, how about a nice ride on the tilt-a-whirl?

  • 11 AM Photo

    Prof M wanted food on a stick. How about a corn dog? Too ordinary. A sausage dog? Too much like a corn dog. Chicken on a stick? That’s just a kabob. Octopus on a stick? Blah. Ravioli on a stick? Meh.

    But credit where it’s due: when I pointed out the deep-fried peanut butter meatballs on a stick, he dove in. But it was a failed mission. He ate one of the meatballs, and tossed the other two. Apparently they were as bad as they sound.

    This is Nick at the peanut-butter meatball stand, aka Chicken Charlie’s. Prof M is in the background negotiating his purchase.

  • 10 AM Photo

    Mmmm, a grill full of nice, smoky, jumbo turkey legs. You can almost smell the fair already, can’t you?

  • 9 AM Photo

    It’s Saturday night, so the fair was nice and crowded. This is what the central midway looked like when we entered the fairgrounds.

  • 8 AM Photo

    I’m off all day today. Please make sure nothing too terrible happens in my absence.

    However, I won’t leave you blogless. My friend Professor Marc is in town, and on Saturday night we headed out to the Orange County Fair. I went to take pictures. He went to find food on a stick. As it turns out, I didn’t get any really good photos—how’s that for salesmanship?—but I got a bunch of OK ones. And thanks to the miracle of computer technology, I can schedule these to show up every hour on the hour while I’m gone.

    First off, here’s the whole fair, taken from the top of the R50XL, “quite possibly the largest traveling observation wheel in the Western Hemisphere.” Come back in an hour for another exciting picture!

  • Trumpcare Is Voted Down

    With debate over health care now proceeding, it’s time to vote on actual health care bills. A few moments ago the Senate voted against BCRA, their primary repeal-and-replace bill. This is the one they’ve been working busily on for the past couple of months. It wasn’t close: the bill went down 43-57 or thereabouts.

    Next up, I suppose, is a bunch of amendments and then a revote? I’m not sure. Or maybe they’ll go straight to voting on the 2015 repeal-only bill.

    Eventually they’ll get to the placeholder “skinny repeal” bill and just punt the whole thing to a conference committee. They’ll probably get 50 votes for that. Senators are always in favor of punting.

    UPDATE: This was just a “procedural” vote. Everything in the Senate is a procedural vote. This means that BCRA might get modified and then get another vote. But chances of passage are dim. It lost by a mighty big margin tonight.

  • Senate Votes to Proceed With Something or Other

    While I was out to lunch, I guess the Senate voted to proceed with debate on the Republican health care bill. They still don’t know which bill they’re going to debate, but they’re going to debate anyway. Welcome to the world’s greatest deliberative body.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    The local tomato crop is coming in, so today I present “Rhapsody in Red and Green.” I am willing to sell it to MOMA for $5 million, and I think that’s quite a bargain.

  • Quote of the Day: “I’m Worried”

    The best kind of mic is a hot mic. Senators Susan Collins and Jack Reed confided in a hot mic yesterday, and the Washington Post has the transcript:

    “I swear, [the Office of Management and Budget] just went through and whenever there was ‘grant,’ they just X it out,” Collins says. “With no measurement, no thinking about it, no metrics, no nothing. It’s just incredibly irresponsible.”

    “Yes,” Reed replies. “I think — I think he’s crazy,” apparently referring to the president. “I mean, I don’t say that lightly and as a kind of a goofy guy.”

    “I’m worried,” Collins replies.

    Collins later claimed that she was “worried” about the budget, not Trump’s sanity. Sure, whatever. But it’s certainly true that she was also worried about the budget:

    “You know, this thing — if we don’t get a budget deal, we’re going to be paralyzed.”

    “I know,” Collins replies….“I don’t think he knows there is a [Budget Control Act] or anything,” Collins says, referring to a 2011 law that defines the budget process.

    “He was down at the Ford commissioning,” Reed says, referring to President Trump’s weekend event launching a new aircraft carrier, “saying, ‘I want them to pass my budget.’ Okay, so we give him $54 billion and then we take it away across the board which would cause chaos.”

    “Right,” Collins replies.

    “It’s just — and he hasn’t — not one word about the budget. Not one word about the debt ceiling,” Reed says.

    “Good point,” Collins replies.

    “You’ve got [Budget Director Mick] Mulvaney saying we’re going to put in all sorts of stuff like a border wall. Then you’ve got [Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin saying it’s got to be clean,” Reed continues. “We’re going to be back in September, and, you know, you’re going to have crazy people in the House.”

    There are already crazy people in the House, so I’m not sure why Reed thinks September is going to be any different than July. Also crazy people in the White House. And on House of Cards. There are just crazy people everywhere.

  • Can Mitch McConnell Teach a Horse to Sing?

    Chris Kleponis/CNP via ZUMA

    Which health care bill will the Senate vote on today? Apparently the answer is “all of them.” According to reporters on Capitol Hill, there might be three votes today:

    • A vote on the 2015 “repeal only” bill. It’s expected to fail, as well it should since it’s insane.
    • The full BCRA magilla, complete with Cruz Amendment. However, that can’t pass under reconciliation, so it will need 60 votes. Obviously it’s expected to fail.
    • A “skinny repeal” bill with just a few minor provisions. It’s not a serious piece of legislation, just a placeholder to allow negotiations with the House to begin.

    In other words, give up and punt the whole thing to a House-Senate negotiating team. Maybe they can come up with something that the Senate couldn’t figure out on its own.

    That’s not likely. But you know the story: I might die, the king might die, or the horse could learn to sing.¹ You never know what might happen when you buy yourself some time, even in a hopeless cause.

    ¹You’ve never heard this story? Seriously? Fine, here it is: A thief was on trial before the King and sentenced to death. The thief asked the King to spare his life. “You don’t know it, but I am the greatest teacher in your land. If you spare my life, I promise to teach your horse to sing.” The King smirked but accepted the offer. You have a year, and if the horse cannot sing, you will be killed.

    Daily, after that, the thief spent his entire day singing hymns to the horse. His friends laughed as they saw him and asked what he hoped to accomplish. “Many things can happen in a year,” the thief told them. “The King may die, the horse may die, I may even die. Or … maybe the horse will learn to sing.”

  • Trump’s Twitter War Against Jeff Sessions Continues

    The president’s Twitter war against his own attorney general is now going into its fifth day:

    Sarah Sanders, our shiny new press secretary, says we should look forward to more of this:

    Look, I know that he is certainly frustrated and disappointed in the attorney general for recusing himself, but as we’ve said, I think that’s a decision that if the president wants to make, he certainly will. And, he’s continuing to move forward and focus on other things, but that frustration certainly hasn’t gone away, and I don’t think it will.

    Come on, Donald, you’re not a waffler like that Obama guy. You’re a man of action. So order Jeff Sessions to start investigating this stuff. Or just fire the guy. The American people want Rudy Giuliani as attorney general and it’s up to you to give them what they want.

  • Here’s What Donald Trump Told the Boy Scouts

    Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via ZUMA

    By now you’ve heard about President Trump’s address to the Boy Scout Jamboree yesterday. But to really get a feel for it, you need to read a few excerpts. He treated it like a campaign rally, full stop. After all, some of these kids will be old enough to vote in 2020, amirite?

    So here it is. Your president addressing a bunch of boy scouts.


    Tonight, we put aside all of the policy fights in Washington, D.C. — you’ve been hearing about with the fake news and all of that. We’re going to put that aside


    Secretary Tom Price is also here. Today Dr. Price still lives the Scout Oath, helping to keep millions of Americans strong and healthy as our Secretary of Health and Human Services. And he’s doing a great job. And hopefully, he’s going to get the votes tomorrow to start our path toward killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare that’s really hurting us, folks.

    AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA!

    THE PRESIDENT: By the way, you going to get the votes? He better get them. He better get them. Oh, he better — otherwise, I’ll say, Tom, you’re fired. I’ll get somebody.

    He better get Senator Capito to vote for it. You got to get the other senators to vote for it. It’s time. After seven years of saying repeal and replace Obamacare, we have a chance to now do it. They better do it. Hopefully they’ll do it.


    THE PRESIDENT: I’m waving to people back there so small I can’t even see them. Man, this is a lot of people. Turn those cameras back there, please. That is so incredible. By the way, what do you think the chances are that this incredible, massive crowd, record-setting is going to be shown on television tonight? One percent or zero?

    The fake media will say: President Trump — and you know what this is — President Trump spoke before a small crowd of Boy Scouts today.

    That’s some — that is some crowd. Fake media. Fake news. Thank you. And I’m honored by that, by the way, all of you people they can’t even see you. So thank you. I hope you can hear.


    AUDIENCE: We love Trump! We love Trump! We love Trump!

    THE PRESIDENT: By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?

    AUDIENCE: No!


    I have to tell you our economy is doing great. Our stock market has picked up — since the election November 8th. Do we remember that date? Was that a beautiful date? What a date. Do you remember that famous night on television, November 8th, where they said — these dishonest people — where they said there is no path to victory for Donald Trump? They forgot about the forgotten people. By the way, they’re not forgetting about the forgotten people anymore. They’re going crazy trying to figure it out. But I told them, far too late. It’s far too late.

    But do you remember that incredible night with the maps and the Republicans are red and the Democrats are blue, and that map was so red, it was unbelievable, and they didn’t know what to say?

    And you know we have a tremendous disadvantage in the Electoral College — popular vote is much easier. Because New York, California, Illinois — you have to practically run the East Coast. And we did. We won Florida. We won South Carolina. We won North Carolina. We won Pennsylvania.

    We won and won. So when they said, there is no way to victory, there is no way to 270. I went to Maine four times because it’s one vote, and we won. But we won — one vote. I went there because I kept hearing we’re at 269. But then Wisconsin came in. Many, many years — Michigan came in.


    THE PRESIDENT: And I’ll tell you what, we are, indeed, making America great again. What’s going on is incredible.

    We had the best jobs report in 16 years. The stock market on a daily basis is hitting an all-time high. We’re going to be bringing back very soon trillions of dollars from companies that can’t get their money back into this country, and that money is going to be used to help rebuild America. We’re doing things that nobody ever thought was possible.


    And by the way, under the Trump administration, you’ll be saying, merry Christmas again when you go shopping. Believe me. Merry Christmas. They’ve been downplaying that little, beautiful phrase. You’re going to be saying, merry Christmas again, folks.


    But do you remember that incredible night with the maps and the Republicans are red and the Democrats are blue, and that map was so red, it was unbelievable, and they didn’t know what to say?…We won Florida. We won South Carolina. We won North Carolina. We won Pennsylvania. We won and won….And we worked hard there. My opponent didn’t work hard there because she was told —

    AUDIENCE: Booo!

    THE PRESIDENT: She was told she was going to win Michigan, and I said, well, wait a minute, the car industry is moving to Mexico. Why is she going to move — she’s there. Why are they allowing it to move?


    THE PRESIDENT: And I’ll tell you what, we are, indeed, making America great again. What’s going on is incredible.

    We had the best jobs report in 16 years. The stock market on a daily basis is hitting an all-time high. We’re going to be bringing back very soon trillions of dollars from companies that can’t get their money back into this country, and that money is going to be used to help rebuild America. We’re doing things that nobody ever thought was possible.

  • Market Volatility Is Low, But It Doesn’t Really Mean Anything

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the VIX volatility measure is near its all-time low:

    A key measure of market volatility is on pace to set a new all-time low for the first time since 1993….The VIX tends to rise when investors are anxious and stocks are falling. The opposite is happening Tuesday, as equities are rising around the world thanks to a positive reading of business sentiment in Europe and some good corporate earnings results from companies including Caterpillar Inc. and McDonald’s Corp.

    With a close under 10 on Tuesday, the VIX will have closed in single digits in nine straight sessions—by far its longest streak ever….Many investors and analysts say markets are eerily calm this year and that a surge in volatility could be on the horizon if stocks slip from their recently-set record highs.

    So what does it all mean? Beats me:

    The VIX was low in 1994 and nothing happened. It spiked in 1998 and nothing happened. It was low again in 2006, and nothing happened. It spiked in late 2008, long after the Great Recession had already started. Now it’s low again.

    My gut tells me that a low VIX spells complacency and leads to a greater tolerance for stupid risks, which eventually produces a recession. But the data doesn’t really suggest that it means much of anything.

  • Republicans Prepare to Vote on Something or Other

    It’s Tuesday. Mitch McConnell has promised to vote on repealing Obamacare today, so that means senators will finally be told exactly what they’re voting on. Right? Politico has the deets:

    At stake is not just the seven-year-old campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare, but also demonstrating that Republicans — when given full control of Washington — can govern….The vote count was unclear as of Tuesday morning. About a half-dozen senators were publicly undecided about whether to allow debate to start on rolling back the Affordable Care Act.

    ….It is still unclear what policy the Senate is going to vote on. To get their members on board, Republican leaders are being as vague as possible about what the final bill to replace Obamacare would include, after two recent drafts met fatal opposition.

    Credit where it’s due: this is a very creative strategy. Just keep everyone in the dark and don’t tell them what they’re voting for. This kind of fuzziness worked great on the campaign trail for the past seven years, so why not try it on an actual floor vote? And who knows? Maybe there’s a last-minute provision in the bill that names Mitch McConnell king of the world. Who would ever know?

  • Blame Hospitals for the Big Spike in Out-of-Network ER Charges

    I finished reading Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness a few days ago, so the depradations of the American health care system are even fresher on my mind than usual right now. Unsurprisingly, one of the things she talks about is the surge in hospitals surreptitiously employing doctors who are out-of-network and therefore not covered by a patient’s insurance. The result is gigantic bills for people who thought—quite reasonably—that if they went to an in-network hospital they had nothing to worry about.

    It turns out this scam is especially common in emergency rooms, precisely the place where patients are least likely to be thinking clearly. Today, the New York Times writes about what happens when ER services are outsourced to a company called EmCare. A chart is worth a thousand words, so here’s 8,000 words on the subject:

    When EmCare takes over, out-of-network billing jumps almost instantly from about zero to about 100 percent. But is EmCare really the culprit? Here’s an excerpt from the Times piece:

    Early last year, executives at a small hospital an hour north of Spokane, Wash., started using a company called EmCare to staff and run their emergency room….Although the hospital had negotiated rates for its fees with many major health insurers, the EmCare physicians were not part of those networks and were sending high bills directly to the patients.

    ….“Fiona Scott Morton, a professor at the Yale School of Management and a co-author of the paper, described the strategy as a “kind of ambushing of patients.” A patient who goes to the emergency room can look for a hospital that takes her insurance, but she almost never gets to choose the doctor who treats her.

    ….When emergency room doctors work for a company that has not made a deal with an insurer, they are free to bill whatever they want, insurers say. “The more they bill, the more they get paid,” said Shara McClure, an executive with Blue Cross of Texas.

    Hospitals know perfectly well that patients expect doctors at in-network hospitals to also be in-network. That’s why hospitals negotiate with insurers in the first place: to get a place in the insurer’s network so they can attract the insurer’s customers.

    Likewise, if they contract with a third-party firm to run a part of their hospital, they know perfectly well what will happen if the third-party hasn’t negotiated with the same set of insurers: their patients will get outrageous out-of-network bills.

    Unlike patients, hospitals are sophisticated actors. They know enough to ask whether or not EmCare’s doctors belong to their networks. Obviously they did ask, and just as obviously the answer was no. But they signed up with EmCare anyway.

    So whose fault is it that ERs are increasingly turned over to outfits like EmCare and that EmCare charges sky-high rates? It’s the fault of the hospitals who knowingly do this because it helps them run more profitably.

    EmCare is hardly blameless here. Scams like this depend on everyone buying into a clever new idea. But if hospitals refused to deal with EmCare unless EmCare signed up for the same networks the hospital advertises itself belonging to, none of this would happen.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is a great blue heron down at Dana Point. It flew right by my ear and then settled down on the rocks long enough for me to get surprisingly close. I guess they get used to human company down there.

  • Productivity Growth Has Been Declining For a Long Time

    Speaking of cherry-picked statistics, Brad DeLong is unhappy with John Cogan, Glenn Hubbard, John Taylor, and Kevin Warsh, who insist that Donald Trump might very well produce sustained economic growth of 3 percent. They back up their view with this chart of labor productivity:

    Aside from looking like something a first-grader would put together, real economists don’t just draw miscellaneous arrows through data. DeLong shows how it’s done correctly, drawing a nonparametric smoothed lowess trend through a scatterplot. However, he admits that us amateurs could show the same thing using a standard-issue curve fitted by Excel. Here it is:

    Hmmm. When it’s plotted with no particular bias to produce a specific result, it looks like productivity has been on a steady downward trend for the past 65 years, with a brief and modest uptick during the 90s.

    Is it possible that tax cuts for the rich will produce a sudden, gigantic surge in productivity and therefore a sudden, gigantic surge in economic growth? Sure. Tax cuts for the rich have never produced this before, but anything is possible. Should you bet on it based on a crude chart drawn by folks who have an axe to grind? Well, it’s your money.

  • Today in Trump Whining: Dobbs, Clinton, Schiff, and More

    Today’s news: Lou Dobbs is great; Hillary Clinton is a criminal; Jeff Sessions is “beleaguered“; Adam Schiff is sleazy; Republicans are cowards; and anyone who suggests that Russia affected the election is insulting the white working class.

    Got it?

  • The Economy Is Collapsing Under Donald Trump!

    The American economy has been collapsing ever since Donald Trump took office. Our trade deficit with Mexico has ballooned. Consumer confidence has cratered. Auto sales are plummeting. And job growth is slowing down. Check out the numbers:

    This is, of course, ridiculous. I cherry-picked these statistics; plotted them in a way that made their decline look enormous; and provided no context about what any of them looked like in the year before Trump took office. It’s an easy game to play, and it’s all meaningless.

    So why bother? Just to make a point. Right now the economy is doing about as well as it’s been doing for the past few years. Nothing great, nothing terrible. You should pay no more attention to anyone who says the economy is booming under Trump than you should to anyone who says it’s collapsing. Right now, it’s just puttering along.