Kevin Drum Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en No, Immigrants Are Not on a Crime Spree Against Native-Born Americans <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Perhaps the most disgusting part of President Trump's speech last night <a href="" target="_blank">was this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called Voice, <strong>Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement</strong>....Joining us in the audience tonight are four very brave Americans whose government failed them. Their names are Jamiel Shaw, Susan Oliver, Jenna Oliver and Jessica Davis. <strong>Jamiel&rsquo;s 17-year-old son was viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member</strong> who had just been released from prison. Jamiel Shaw Jr. was an incredible young man with unlimited potential who was getting ready to go to college, where he would have excelled as a great college quarterback.</p> <p>But he never got the chance. His father, who is in the audience tonight, has become a very good friend of mine. Jamiel, thank you. Thank you.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is pure demagoguery. Let's ask CIS if immigrants are <a href="" target="_blank">more prone to crime than other groups:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>We find that <strong>it would be a mistake to assume that immigrants as a group are more prone to crime than other groups,</strong> or that they should be viewed with more suspicion than others. Even though immigrant incarceration rates are high in some populations, there is no clear evidence that immigrants commit crimes at higher or lower rates than others.</p> </blockquote> <p>CIS is the Center for Immigration Studies, one of the leading groups that opposes illegal immigration. If there were clear evidence that immigrants committed more crimes than native-born Americans, they'd be all over it. But in a long report, they conclude that the evidence is hopelessly mixed and simply doesn't support the idea that immigrants commit more crimes than anyone else.<sup>1</sup></p> <p>Unfortunately, the raw data for arrests, convictions, and incarceration doesn't include immigration status. This means you have to try to answer the question indirectly. For example, a <a href="" target="_blank">BJS report</a> suggests that 0.64 percent of immigrants are currently incarcerated vs. 0.51 percent of native-born Americans. But that doesn't tell you anything about the type of crime. Maybe a lot of those immigrants are in jail solely for immigration violations. Or maybe not. We don't know.</p> <p>On another note, various studies have tried to correlate immigrant populations in different cities with crime rates. They've pretty consistently found that higher populations of immigrants don't correlate with higher rates of crime. As with any ecological study, though, these conclusions depend a lot on exactly what kind of model you set up, what kind of data you have, and what you control for. They're suggestive, but not conclusive.</p> <p>All that said, there are lots of crime studies out there, and they come to lots of different conclusions about immigrants. But if you take them all together and look at them fair-mindedly, there's really no good reason for thinking that immigrants commit crimes at higher rates than natives. They might very well commit crimes at lower rates. They certainly have more motivation to be law-abiding than most of us.</p> <p>But that doesn't mean they commit no crimes. And if you wave around enough bloody shirts, it's pretty easy to whip up plenty of hysteria about rampaging immigrants murdering hardworking American citizens at every opportunity. That's what Trump is doing, and it's vile.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>They also say this:</p> <blockquote> <p>Nevertheless, it also would be a mistake to conclude that immigrant crime is insignificant or that offenders&rsquo; immigration status is irrelevant in local policing. The newer information available as a result of better screening of the incarcerated population suggests that, in many parts of the country, immigrants are responsible for a significant share of crime. This indicates that there are legitimate public safety reasons for local law enforcement agencies to determine the immigration status of offenders and to work with federal immigration authorities.</p> </blockquote> <p>If they could say anything stronger, I'm sure they would. In any case, it's a pretty good report to read if you want to understand all the problems with existing data and existing studies. It's a few years old, but still provides a nice summary of a complex subject.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 01 Mar 2017 17:48:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 326826 at Inflation Is Still Well Under Control <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Inflation hawks are getting excited again!</a></p> <blockquote> <p>U.S. inflation is closing in on the Federal Reserve&rsquo;s <strong>long elusive 2% annual target,</strong> the latest evidence of firming price pressures that could bolster the case for the central bank to raise short-term interest rates as soon as this month.</p> <p>....Headline prices are <strong>&ldquo;almost in line with the Fed&rsquo;s 2% target&rdquo;</strong> and core inflation is &ldquo;gradually closing in on that target, which partly explains why Fed officials appear to be making the case for a March interest-rate hike,&rdquo; said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, in a note to clients.</p> </blockquote> <p>Almost! Just keep in mind that the Fed's preferred measure of inflation is core PCE, and "gradually closing in" on 2 percent is an understatement. In January 2015 it was 1.41 percent. In January 2016 it was 1.61 percent. In January 2017 it was 1.74 percent. At that rate, it should hit 2 percent by about 2019 or so.</p> <p>There <em>is</em> evidence that core inflation is rising a bit, inflationary expectations are up, and wages are showing moderate gains, which means the labor market is finally starting to tighten. That said, inflation is still well controlled, one year of wage increases is hardly cause for panic, and the labor market is probably still about a million workers away from being at full capacity. Let's not get too excited yet.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_inflation_january_2017.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 01 Mar 2017 16:27:48 +0000 Kevin Drum 326816 at Trump Once Again Covers Up His Own Failure on Yemen Raid <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Watching CNN after Trump's speech, I heard Gloria Borger talk about how authentic Trump's tribute to Ryan Owens was. <a href="" target="_blank">Here's what Trump said:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy special operator, Senior Chief William &ldquo;Ryan&rdquo; Owens. Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero &mdash; battling against terrorism and securing our nation.</p> <p>I just spoke to General [Jim] Mattis, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, &ldquo;<strong>Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid</strong> that generated <strong>large amounts of vital intelligence</strong> that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.&rdquo; Ryan&rsquo;s legacy is etched into eternity. For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one&rsquo;s life for one&rsquo;s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country and for our freedom &mdash; we will never forget him.</p> </blockquote> <p>This was, perhaps, the most <em>in</em>authentic part of Trump's entire speech. It was there for one reason only: to exonerate his own bad judgment by insisting yet again that the Yemen raid was "highly successful."</p> <p>It wasn't. It was hastily planned because Trump wanted to show that he was tougher on terrorism than Obama. Instead of going over the plan in detail in the Situation Room, he casually approved it over dinner. The raid itself was a mess, apparently because the SEAL team was detected going in. Owens was killed, a helicopter was destroyed, none of the targets were killed, and contra Mattis, <a href="" target="_blank">it seems to have produced hardly any worthwhile intelligence at all.</a></p> <p>Instead of taking responsibility for this, Trump has done the usual: blamed everybody else. He's implied it was Obama's fault. He's implied it was the military's fault. And when he's not doing that, he simply claims that it was a huge success and only the FAKE MEDIA says otherwise.</p> <p>So naturally it became part of his speech tonight. Was his respect for Owens genuine? Of course it was. Is that why he emphasized how successful the raid was? Of course not. That was purely calculated. He was covering up his own failure with the tears of a widow, nothing more.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 01 Mar 2017 05:07:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 326806 at We're Liveblogging Trump's First Big Speech to Congress <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I can't fault Trump too much for this speech. It was entirely aspirational, but I suppose you can't expect too much more after only a month in office. He mostly stuck to the prompter and kept his tone fairly level. He threw in a few whoppers, but really, not many by his standards. Anybody who disliked Trump beforehand probably still dislikes him, but my guess is that he didn't scare off very many folks in the middle who are still in "give him a chance" mode.</p> <p>On the other hand, gesturing directly toward Nancy Pelosi when he ripped into the "imploding Obamacare disaster" sure wasn't designed to make him any friends among Democrats:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_sotu_2017_trump_pelosi.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>It's a funny thing. Trump doesn't seem to realize that Republicans can't just wave a magic wand and do anything they want. They're going to need Democratic support for most of his initiatives. But that doesn't stop him from insulting them at every turn. If this represents his crack negotiating skills, I wouldn't hold my breath for any great trade deals.</p> <p>That said&mdash;and with the caveat that I faded out during his final 15 minutes&mdash;it was an OK speech. I'd give it a B or a B-.</p> <p>Full transcript <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a></p> <hr width="30%"><p>I am keeping the old-school flame alive tonight with yet another display of liveblogging. This time, it's Donald Trump's first State of the Union address. Except it's not <em>really</em> a SOTU. Right? Anyway, here we go.</p> <p><strong>10:09 pm -</strong> And it's over after 60 minutes. It was pretty policy free, which is maybe understandable after only a month. But it was really nothing more than a statement of goals. You'd think maybe he could have talked a <em>little bit</em> about some details.</p> <p><strong>10:07 pm -</strong> Apologies. I sort of tuned out when Trump started the fearfest over immigrant crime.</p> <p><strong>9:50 pm -</strong> Trump says the murder rate increased in 2015 at highest rate in half a century. This is a brand new crime stat from Trump, but no better than his old ones. Murder was up 11% in 2015, but it was up a whole lot more in the 60s and 70s.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_us_murder_rate_0.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p><strong>9:43 pm -</strong> Nancy Pelosi is not impressed when Trump points at her and demands that we get rid of the "imploding Obamacare disaster."</p> <p><strong>9:40 pm -</strong> No, Donald, the way to make health care available to everyone is not to reduce the price of insurance. It's to reduce the price of health care.</p> <p><strong>9:31 pm -</strong> Trump says American companies are the most heavily taxed in the world. I know Republicans love to say this, <a href="" target="_blank">but it ain't true.</a></p> <p><strong>9:30 pm -</strong> Now it's time to blame Obama for everything wrong with America. And there's plenty wrong! However, the fact that 94 million people are out of the labor force isn't one of them, Donald.</p> <p><strong>9:28 pm -</strong> I knew this speech was going to be pretty policy free, but come on. So far it's just a slightly more decorous version of one of his rallies.</p> <p><strong>9:26 pm -</strong> We cannot allow a "beachhead of terrorism."</p> <p><strong>9:24 pm -</strong> Trump has the guts to say Radical. Islamic. Terrorism. It's about damn time. Now we'll finally get a handle on ISIS.</p> <p><strong>9:22 pm -</strong> China has a Great Wall. Trump says we'll have a Great Great Wall.</p> <p><strong>9:21 pm -</strong> Again with the billions and billions of dollars.</p> <p><strong>9:20 pm -</strong> Now he's going to wipe out the drug cartels and eliminate all the drugs pouring into the country. How? A task force, apparently.</p> <p><strong>9:18 pm -</strong> He's going to save additional billions on government contracts. Maybe. But so far his record is $0.</p> <p><strong>9:17 pm -</strong> "Billions and billions of dollars." Is this some kind of Carl Sagan riff? Does Trump realize that this is not really a lot of money for new jobs?</p> <p><strong>9:08 pm -</strong> Trump is at the lectern early! He's so punctual. Plus he didn't have to waste too much time being mobbed as he walked down the aisle.</p> <p><strong>9:06 pm -</strong> Trump is in the building.</p> <p><strong>9:04 pm -</strong> This afternoon my Twitter feed was all atwitter with a few excerpts from the speech released earlier today by the White House. Apparently Trump is going to suggest that we can cure all of our diseases if we just clap hard enough.</p> <p><strong>9:01 pm -</strong> For the record, I think it will be disgraceful if any member of Congress gets up and yells "You lie!" whenever Donald Trump lies. Which he will. You just know it. OTOH, I think it would be <em>awesome</em> if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer led a chant of the entire Democratic caucus yelling "You lie!" whenever Trump lies. That would be the greatest thing ever.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Congress Donald Trump Wed, 01 Mar 2017 02:00:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 326756 at I'll Be Liveblogging Tonight's Non-SOTU <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Just about every news outlet in the world has spent the day telling us that President Trump's address to Congress tonight <em>isn't</em> a State of the Union address. It's just an address to Congress. Tradition, you know. It seems like kind of a dumb tradition to me, but whatever. I'll be liveblogging it anyway. I'll be starting up around 9 pm Eastern if you want to follow along.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 01 Mar 2017 00:39:15 +0000 Kevin Drum 326786 at If You're Poor, Here are the Best Universities To Go To <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">Over at the Equality of Opportunity Project,</a> a group of scholars has ranked every college and university in the country on a measure of how good they are at producing income mobility. For each school, this is defined at the percentage of students who are in the bottom income quintile multiplied by the percentage who end up in the top quintile. For example:</p> <blockquote> <p><strong>CSU Los Angeles</strong><br> 33.1% of students are in the bottom quintile<br> 29.9% end up in the top quintile<br> Mobility rate = 9.89%</p> </blockquote> <p>After scanning the scores, there are two big takeaways:</p> <ul><li>If you're in the bottom quintile, head to Los Angeles or New York City, which absolutely dominate the top 100. The entire CUNY system is really strong, and outside the city, SUNY has a bunch of good campuses. In Los Angeles, both the CSU and the UC systems have a good selection of schools with high mobility rates. Texas isn't bad either, and it has good schools all over the state.</li> <li>If you want the best chance of moving into the top quintile and don't much care about your field of study, apply to the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, right near beautiful La Guardia Airport in New York City. They have a spectacular mobility rate.</li> </ul><p>It's not uncommon for the best scoring school in a state to specialize in something. Welding in Oklahoma. Seamanship in Maine. Pharmacists in Massachusetts. And technical schools all over the place. Are you curious about the top-scoring school in <em>your</em> state? Here they are:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_university_top_mobility_by_state.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 01 Mar 2017 00:29:09 +0000 Kevin Drum 326781 at Trump Says He's Not Even Trying to Staff the Government. He's Probably Lying. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On <em>Fox &amp; Friends</em> this morning, Brian Kilmeade asked President Trump why he's been so slow to fill the thousands of open government jobs that are presidential appointees. Trump said it was because he didn't want to fill them. "A lot of those jobs, I don't want to appoint someone because they're unnecessary to have," Trump said. "In government, we have too many people." <a href="" target="_blank">Nancy LeTourneau comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>That is an important admission as it reflects on both Trump and his so-called &ldquo;shadow president,&rdquo; Steve Bannon. As we&rsquo;ve already noted, in his speech at CPAC, <strong>Bannon suggested that one of his main goals was the deconstruction of the administrative state. Leaving important policy positions open is step one in that process.</strong> Of course, that also leads to the kind of incompetence and chaos that we&rsquo;ve already witnessed from this White House. But for Bannon, that is more likely a feature than a bug.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmmm. Do you think that's what's happening? When I first heard Trump say this, I took it for one of his standard off-the-cuff lies. In reality, his administration is just sluggish and incompetent, but he could hardly admit that. So he came up with some other explanation.<sup>1</sup></p> <p>But if he <em>is</em> telling the truth, he must be surrounded by morons. The open jobs are all relatively high-ranking positions that implement the president's will. If you don't fill them, the bureaucracy is likely to keep lumbering along out of sheer inertia, and that means doing whatever it's used to, not what Trump wants it to do. The more high-level positions you fill with loyalists, the better chance you have of pushing the bureaucracy in the direction you want it go.</p> <p>I guess we'll have to wait and see. At this time next year, if Trump still hasn't filled a substantial number of positions, then he was telling the truth&mdash;and he's surrounded by morons. But if they <em>are</em> mostly filled, it means he was just making up the usual Trumpian hokum on the fly to cover up for his own managerial ineptitude.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>And a really good one, too! Credit where it's due, Trump's extemporaneous bullshitting skills are outstanding.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Feb 2017 22:43:24 +0000 Kevin Drum 326771 at Today Brings Us the Most Trumpian Budget Cut Ever <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A big target for President Trump's budget cutting <a href="" target="_blank">turns out to be foreign aid:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Trump administration is proposing to cut spending by 37% for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development budget, according to a person familiar with the budget deliberations....One U.S. official said that the State Department is <strong>looking at development assistance to other countries</strong> as a significant source for the cuts.</p> <p>....<strong>&ldquo;That is definitely dead on arrival,&rdquo;</strong> Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) told reporters Tuesday, saying the proposed State Department budget &ldquo;puts our diplomats at risk.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>This is the perfect Trump budget cut. Congress will turn down these cuts almost instantly, and anyway, there's not even much money there (foreign aid accounts for about 1 percent of federal spending). However, the American public has <a href="" target="_blank">long been convinced</a> that foreign aid is a huge part of the budget, so Trump's base will view this as a bold action to rein in our spiraling federal debt. It's cynical, ignorant, futile, and makes for brilliant PR. What could possibly be more Trumpian?</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_public_view_foreign_aid_spending_0.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Feb 2017 20:05:10 +0000 Kevin Drum 326751 at Sessions Plans to Stop Investigating Urban Police Departments <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">The latest from the Trump administration:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised on Tuesday a return to more muscular law enforcement and a get-tough approach to drug trafficking and illegal immigration, saying that a recent spike in violence in some cities is <strong>&ldquo;driving this sense that we&rsquo;re in danger.&rdquo;</strong>...In his first official speech since he was sworn in this month, Mr. Sessions told members of the National Association of Attorneys General that he was concerned that the <strong>rise in violence in some cities was not &ldquo;a one-time blip&rdquo; but rather &ldquo;the beginning of a trend.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Here's the raw data from the <a href="" target="_blank">Uniform Crime Report</a> and the <a href="" target="_blank">National Crime Victimization Survey,</a> our two best sources of violent crime data:<sup>1</sup></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_violent_crime_ucr_ncvs_1996_2016_1.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>The Uniform Crime Report shows an increase in 2015, <a href="" target="_blank">which may very well be a reporting issue,</a> and a further increase in the first half of 2016, which may or may not hold up through the end of the year. The NCVS shows a decline in 2015, and hasn't yet released data for 2016.</p> <p>So is this a blip or the beginning of a trend? There's evidence for either one, <a href="" target="_blank">especially if you look just at large cities,</a> so you can call it anything you want. It serves Sessions' purpose to believe it's the beginning of an urban (wink wink) crime wave, so that's what he's decided to call it. After all, <a href="" target="_blank">it helps justify stuff like this:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>The Justice Department will likely pull back from the investigations into alleged abuses at municipal police departments</strong> that were a hallmark of the Obama administration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday in his first major speech as the nation&rsquo;s top law-enforcement officer.</p> <p>....&ldquo;Where you see the greatest increase in violence and murders in cities is [where] somehow, someway, we undermine the respect for our police, and make, oftentimes, their job more difficult,&rdquo; Mr. Sessions said....&ldquo;We are going to try to pull back on this, <strong>and I don&rsquo;t think it&rsquo;s wrong or mean or insensitive to civil rights,</strong>&rdquo; Mr. Sessions said in his speech Tuesday. &rdquo;I think it&rsquo;s out of a concern to make the lives of people, particularly in poor, minority communities...safer, happier.&rdquo;</p> </blockquote> <p>See? Sessions just wants to make the lives of black people better. I hope all you haters are satisfied.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>The NCVS "serious violent crime rate" is higher than the UCR "violent crime rate" because it uses a more expansive definition of violent crime.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Feb 2017 19:33:53 +0000 Kevin Drum 326741 at Russia Sours on Trump, But China Is Thrilled <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From David Remnick of the <em>New Yorker</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>If you talk to people in Moscow now, there&rsquo;s a lot of buyer&rsquo;s remorse.</strong> There was an order sent down to Russian television, "enough with the celebrating about Trump!"</p> </blockquote> <p>From the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> on the White House <a href="" target="_blank">barring disliked reporters from a briefing last week:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>China Gloats as Trump Squanders U.S. Soft Power</strong></p> <p>To Chinese propagandists, the widely criticized White House move was a cause for glee&mdash;<strong>and another example of Donald Trump playing into China&rsquo;s hands. </strong>For almost seven decades, the U.S. has championed a liberal order in the Asia-Pacific....Today, America&rsquo;s ideological shift, part of a populist backlash to globalization, threatens to undermine Washington&rsquo;s position in a region it transformed.</p> <p>To the extent that the Trump White House closes the country&rsquo;s borders to immigrants, raises the specter of trade tariffs, or impedes the operations of a free press&mdash;even when those restrictions have no equivalence in the repression that Chinese journalists suffer&mdash;<strong>it creates an opportunity for Beijing.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>So Russia put in all this work to elect Trump, and the big winner is...China. Nice work, Vlad.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Feb 2017 17:44:39 +0000 Kevin Drum 326711 at The Robots Are Coming. Really. They Are. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This is pretty damn impressive. And if you're wondering after the first minute, "Sure, but can it go down a flight of stairs?"&mdash;well, just keep watching. (OTOH, if you're wondering "Can it go <em>up</em> a flight of stairs?" you'll have to keep on wondering.)</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Boston Dynamics introduces its latest future robot overlord <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) <a href="">February 27, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Feb 2017 17:34:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 326706 at Let's Do a Failure Analysis of the Best Picture Debacle! <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I'm not on the entertainment beat, but I was thinking yesterday about Sunday's massive FUBAR at the Academy Awards from a failure analysis point of view. It's remarkable the number of things that had to go wrong:</p> <ul><li>There had to be two sets of envelopes (one for each side of the stage). This never should have happened. Things should have been set up backstage so that presenters all go through a single point, receive their envelope, and then walk to whichever wing they're going to enter from. This is pretty simple stuff, but for decades the Academy didn't take the possibility of failure seriously enough to do it.</li> <li>One of the accountants from PWC had to be a moron who spent so much time tweeting pictures from backstage that he lost track of his envelopes.</li> <li>Warren Beatty, who plainly saw that he had the wrong award, had to be unwilling to embarrass himself by leaving the stage to get the right one.</li> <li>Faye Dunaway had to be inattentive enough to take a quick glance at the card, see the words "La La Land" beneath Emma Stone's name, and then read it off since it fit with everyone's expectations.</li> <li>Finally, both PWC accountants, who knew immediately that the wrong movie had been announced, had to be so flummoxed that they froze, instead of immediately alerting someone or even walking on stage themselves to tell the presenters they had it wrong.</li> </ul><p>This is an impressive list, and it encompasses an impressive number of modes of failure. You have denial. You have idiocy. You have fear of embarrassment. You have a disposition to accept conventional wisdom even in the face of obvious contrary evidence. And you have good old deer-in-headlights syndrome, which turns ordinary failures into spectacular calamities.</p> <p>All of the first four had to go wrong for this to happen in the first place, and the fifth had to be added to turn it into a fiasco. You'd think the odds would be at least a million-to-one against. But that vastly underrates our human ability to screw up. It turns out it was more like a thousand-to-one.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Feb 2017 16:29:17 +0000 Kevin Drum 326691 at Once Again, Trump Dissents From His Own Policy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Hey, Mr. President, where is the money going to come from for that <a href="" target="_blank">$54 billion increase in the defense budget?</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>&ldquo;The money is going to come from a revved-up economy,&rdquo;</strong> Mr. Trump said on Fox and Friends when asked where he would find the budget cuts. &ldquo;I mean, you look at the kind of numbers we&rsquo;re doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than 1%. And if I can get that up to three, maybe more, we have a whole different ballgame.&rdquo;</p> <p><strong>His words were the latest example of the president offering a conflicting point of view from a member of his cabinet.</strong> On Monday, his director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, said nondefense agencies were being asked to find cuts to offset the boost to defense.</p> </blockquote> <p>What do you think the strategy is here? Or is there one? I mean, this business of Trump directly contradicting something his staff says&mdash;or vice versa&mdash;has happened way too often to be a coincidence. Is it designed to confuse everyone so that nobody knows what to protest? Or is it just incompetence? Or is it a clever strategy of always saying the least objectionable thing possible whenever he's on a TV show watched by his base?</p> <p>I suppose the smart money is on incompetence. Occam's Razor and all that. But I'm going with the third option. I think Trump lets his staff dole out bad news, which will show up at the <em>New York Times</em>, but personally presents the same news in the best possible light whenever he's on friendly TV turf. He won't be questioned about it, and his base will be reassured that everything is fine. If the eggheads all get into a tizzy over this on their blogs and newspaper columns, who cares?</p> <p>In any case, what's really amazing is how much nonsense Trump was able to pack into two sentences:</p> <ul><li>He is directly contradicting the statement of his OMB director less than 24 hours before.</li> <li>He can't increase the defense budget by $54 billion anyway, since that would violate the Budget Control Act.</li> <li>His plan to get real GDP growth up to 3 percent is a ridiculous fantasy.</li> </ul><p>Impressive! No wonder he's so good on Twitter.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Feb 2017 15:36:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 326681 at Here Are the Top Ten Republican Accomplishments of 2017 So Far <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Here are the top ten Republican accomplishments of 2017 so far:</p> <ol><li>Trump signs executive order on immigration, but it's so badly drafted it causes chaos around the country and is immediately put on hold by court.</li> <li>Trump chooses crackpot as National Security Advisor, fires him three weeks after inauguration.</li> <li>Trump tries to bully China by playing games with One China policy, is forced into humiliating retreat after realizing he's playing out of his league.</li> <li>Paul Ryan proposes border adjustment tax to raise $1 trillion, but can't convince anyone to sign on.</li> <li>Trump casually green-lights raid on Yemen over dinner, it turns into an epic disaster that kills a SEAL and <a href="" target="_blank">accomplishes nothing.</a></li> <li>Trump blathers about the wall and a 20 percent border tax on Mexico, causing the Mexican president to cancel a planned visit.</li> <li>Congress goes into recess, but Republicans are embarrassingly forced to cancel town hall events because they're afraid of facing big crowds opposed to their policies.</li> <li>Trump continues to claim that crime is skyrocketing; that he won a huge election victory; that his inauguration crowd was immense; that polls showing his unpopularity are fake; and that refugees have wreaked terror on America, despite the fact that these are all easily-checkable lies.</li> <li>After weeks of confusion on their signature priority, Republicans finally realize that repealing Obamacare isn't all that easy and basically give up.</li> <li>Trump proposes spending an extra $54 billion on defense without realizing he can't do that.</li> </ol><p>Have either Trump or the Republican Congress done anything yet that's been both successful and non-routine? Unless I'm forgetting something big, it's just been one failure after another for the past two months. And that's not even counting all the day-to-day idiocy coming out of the White House ("enemy of the people," Sweden, "so-called judge," Bowling Green massacre, national security confabs at Mar-a-Lago restaurant, etc.).</p> <p>Help me out here. Am I missing some big success?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Feb 2017 06:28:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 326671 at Conservative Republicans Declare Opposition to Any Health Care Plan That Spends Money <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>The Hill</em> reports that Obamacare replacement <a href="" target="_blank">has taken yet another hit:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee said Monday he would vote against a draft ObamaCare replacement bill that leaked last week. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), head of the 172-member committee, said Monday <strong>his opposition stems from the draft bill's use of refundable tax credits.</strong><br> &nbsp;<br> "There are serious problems with what appears to be our current path to repeal and replace Obamacare. The draft legislation, which was leaked last week, risks continuing major Obamacare entitlement expansions and delays any reforms," Walker said in a statement Monday.</p> </blockquote> <p>Refundable tax credits are the mechanism for funding the Republican replacement plan. So what Walker is saying is that he opposes any plan that spends money.</p> <p>The only alternative, of course, is a plan that costs nothing, which would be suicidal for Republicans. Even Donald Trump couldn't bluster his way into convincing people that a zero-dollar plan would help them compared to what they have now.</p> <p>Republicans are really truly in a pickle. Here are their options:</p> <ul><li>Leave Obamacare alone. This would obviously enrage their base.</li> <li>Repeal Obamacare and propose a replacement acceptable to conservatives. This would be so obviously useless that everyone <em>outside</em> their base would be enraged.</li> <li>Repeal Obamacare with no replacement. But since Republicans <a href="" target="_blank">can only repeal parts of Obamacare</a> while leaving other parts alone, this runs the risk of imploding the entire individual insurance market. That would be an electoral disaster.</li> </ul><p>It's no wonder that Paul Ryan feels so backed into a corner that his latest "strategy" is to bull through a repeal-and-delay bill&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">and then dare anyone in the GOP caucus to vote against it.</a> It's a desperate ploy that's bound to both fail <em>and</em> to piss off a lot of his fellow Republicans in the process. But what choice does he have? He has to pretend to do something.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Tue, 28 Feb 2017 00:09:38 +0000 Kevin Drum 326656 at Wait a Second — Jon Huntsman Is a Candidate For the #2 Job at State? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">From the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Former Utah Gov. and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is in talks to be the No. 2 at the State Department, U.S. officials said Monday....The search for the deputy secretary of state has continued after President Donald Trump rejected Elliott Abrams, who had the backing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is nuts. How do you go from Elliott Abrams to Jon Huntsman? This is like deciding to buy a Hummer and then changing your mind and deciding that a Prius is a better fit after all. Does Tillerson have any idea what he really wants? Or is this coming from Trump, who thinks that Huntsman has that central casting look he's so fond of in his cabinet?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Feb 2017 23:42:31 +0000 Kevin Drum 326651 at The DNC Battle Has Actually Ended Pretty Amicably <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href=";utm_term=.fb2edfb882dc" target="_blank">Dave Weigel</a> recaps all the currents that flowed around the Ellison-Perez contest for DNC chair, and covers most of the bases very nicely. One of those bases, of course, is that Ellison was the Bernie guy and Perez was the Hillary guy. <a href="" target="_blank">Josh Marshall comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The Democratic party will have a hard time moving forward if every contest must be reduced and simplified into a replay of the 2016 primary battle.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's true, but you know what? It's only been a few months since the election. These things take time. All things considered, Democrats are in surprisingly fine fettle considering just how thoroughly they've been tromped over the past few years and how little time has passed since Donald Trump won. A few high-profile lefties have been complaining about Keith Ellison's loss and how it proves the Democratic Party is a pawn of Wall Street etc. etc., but the emphasis here should be on "few." And those few are mostly people who had no patience for mainstream liberalism anyway. All things considered, there's been very little blowback from Tom Perez's win. Nearly everybody seems pretty anxious to move on and win some elections.</p> <p>One other point while I'm on the subject. Marshall also says this:</p> <blockquote> <p>I think most Democrats realize or believe that the politics of the Obama era will not be the politics that is necessary in the post-Obama era. But probing beneath that general agreement is where things get more contentious. For many on the left of the party&nbsp;&mdash; and broadly speaking, the Sanders wing of the party&nbsp;&mdash; this isn't some evolutionary development or a general insufficiency of the Obama era. <strong>Obama's incrementalist, cautious policy approach&nbsp;&mdash; deemed "neo-liberal" in its policy particulars&nbsp;&mdash; is what made Trumpism possible, they argue.</strong> So Obama-ism it is not just outdated or insufficient. It is the cause of the present crisis and must be specifically repudiated before the party can move forward.</p> </blockquote> <p>For a long time, one of the favorite tropes of centrist columnists was that Republicans needed a candidate who was fiscally conservative but socially liberal. This was primarily because these columnists themselves were fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Someone,<sup>1</sup> however, pointed out that exactly the opposite approach was more likely to succeed with actual voters: fiscally liberal but socially conservative. And roughly speaking, that's how Trump campaigned.<sup>2</sup> By adding a wall and an immigration ban to the normal conservative stew, he was, in effect, more socially conservative than even a guy like Ted Cruz. Fiscally, however, he was relatively liberal for a Republican. Sure, he yakked about the national debt, but he also promised not to touch Social Security or Medicare; he wanted to tear down Obamacare but was vocal about replacing it with something even better; he wanted a surge in Pentagon spending; he touted a huge infrastructure spending plan; and he promised tax cuts for all.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_fiscally_socially_liberal_conservative_0.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Roughly speaking, the fiscally conservative/socially liberal quadrant describes libertarians, who have spent decades trying to gather a following but haven't succeeded anywhere in the world, as far as I know. It's literally the only quadrant of this matrix that's clearly a loser. Conversely, the basic Democrat and basic Republican quadrants have attracted plenty of followers. The only one that's never really been tried recently is the Donald Trump quadrant.</p> <p>But if it weren't for the hammerlock of the two-party system, it's long been viewed as a very plausible winning combination&mdash;and Trump just proved it could be. But he pulled this off by taking advantage of his rare ability to work around the traditional parties, not because of a backlash to the "neoliberalism" of the Obama era. White working-class voters have been fleeing the Democratic Party for decades, but not because Democrats were too stingy. It was because they were too friendly to gays, too prone to spending welfare money on blacks, and wanted to take their guns away. Donald Trump fixed all that.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> When I say that the DNC race ended amicably, I mean that it was relatively small beer compared to lots of intra-Democratic battles of the past. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd maybe give it a 3. However, I'm willing to change my mind if someone who's been closer to these battles over the past few decades disagrees. How about Ed Kilgore? I'd trust his judgment on this.</p> <p><sup>1</sup>Sorry, I don't remember who. It probably came from more than one person.</p> <p><sup>2</sup>Whether he governs that way remains to be seen.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Feb 2017 21:23:05 +0000 Kevin Drum 326631 at My Epiphany For the Day <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I have finally figured out who Donald Trump reminds me of. He's a dumb version of Robert Moses.</p> <p>This is a relief. It's been burrowing around in the back of my mind for a long time, but I couldn't quite place who I was thinking of. This should free up some space in my brain for further incisive political comparisons.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Feb 2017 20:29:45 +0000 Kevin Drum 326626 at Trump Wants to Increase Defense Spending by $54 Billion. Can He Do It? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>We learned today that President Trump wants to increase defense spending by $54 billion. How much is that, anyway?</p> <p>This is tricky. Normally, you'd just take a look at defense spending over the past decade or so and see how it compares to the trend. However, ever since 9/11, a big chunk of defense spending has been for <a href="" target="_blank">"Overseas Contingency Operations,"</a> known to the rest of us as "wars." You don't want to count that as part of the baseline. On the other hand, the OCO account sometimes acts as a sort of slush fund for ordinary spending, which basically hides increases in baseline defense expenditures.</p> <p>With that caveat in mind, here is baseline defense spending since 2001:<sup>1</sup></p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_baseline_defense_budget_authority_2001_2018.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>There are two ways you can look at this:</p> <ul><li>All this is doing is getting defense spending back up to its Obama-era levels prior to the sequester.</li> <li>Yikes! That's a 45 percent increase since 2001.</li> </ul><p>Do we really need to be spending 45 percent more than we did in 2001 for baseline defense? Remember, if we decide to invade Iraq and take their oil, that would get funded separately. The baseline budget is just to support basic military readiness.</p> <p>I guess we can all make up our own minds about this, though I can't say that I've heard any persuasive arguments that the Pentagon is truly suffering too much with a $550 billion budget. The real question is whether Trump's $54 billion increase can get through Congress. Normally, Republicans would pass it via reconciliation and they wouldn't need any Democratic votes. However, this increase would blow past the sequester limits put in place in 2013, and this can only be done via regular order.<sup>2</sup> That means Republicans need at least eight Democratic votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster.</p> <p>Normally, they could probably get that. But if they try to balance this $54 billion increase with a $54 billion cut to the EPA and safety net programs, there are very few Democrats who will play ball. So what's the plan here?</p> <hr align="left" width="30%"><p><sup>1</sup>Historical budget authority <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>. OCO levels <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>. I adjusted for inflation using the GDP deflator. This seemed more appropriate than consumer inflation measures like CPI and PCE, but it doesn't actually make much difference. They all show pretty similar inflation levels over a short period like this.</p> <p><sup>2</sup>Though I admit I can't find an authoritative confirmation of this. I <em>think</em> that any spending above the sequestration levels can be filibustered, but I'd appreciate confirmation from someone knowledgeable about this. The sequester applies only to discretionary spending, and it's possible that Republicans can add $54 billion to defense if they slash $54 billion from mandatory spending elsewhere.</p> <p><strong>UPDATE:</strong> OK, <a href="" target="_blank">Stan Collender confirms</a> that spending above the sequester caps can filibustered. If Stan says it's true, then it's true. He goes on to say that the only options for Republicans are (a) to put the increase in the OCO fund, or (b) to authorize the spending, trigger the sequester, and then for Trump to ignore the sequester. They're both illegal, but it's hard to tell if anyone cares these days.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Feb 2017 19:01:23 +0000 Kevin Drum 326611 at Meet the New ISIS Plan, Same as the Old ISIS Plan <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>President Trump long ago gave up on the fib he told repeatedly throughout the campaign about having a secret plan to defeat ISIS. There was never any plan, so now it's up to the Pentagon to come up with one. They should have it ready for Trump in a few days, <a href="" target="_blank">and this morning the <em>LA Times</em> gives us a preview:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The month-long strategic review, which Trump requested Jan. 28, is expected to include proposals to <strong>send more U.S. troops to both countries,</strong> deploy more U.S. forces near the front lines, give greater authority to ground commanders, and possibly provide weapons to Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.</p> <p>....<strong>U.S. analysts said they don&rsquo;t expect the new plan to differ dramatically from the Obama administration&rsquo;s approach,</strong> at least in Iraq.</p> </blockquote> <p>No, of course it won't differ much from Obama's approach. That's because Obama's approach is pretty much the only possible approach unless you're willing to send tens of thousands of front-line troops to Iraq to do the fighting. Nobody, including Trump, is willing to do that, so you're left with only tweaks here and there. A few more advisors, an uptick in bombing runs, small changes in the rules of engagement, etc. That's been true from the start.</p> <p>Trump, of course, will sell his base on the fiction that this plan is a radical toughening up of Obama's feckless approach, and they'll believe him. Eventually it will work, whether or not they make changes to Obama's plan, and then Trump will crow endlessly that this is what happens when you put a man of action in the White House. Sigh.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Feb 2017 17:20:36 +0000 Kevin Drum 326596 at Quote of the Day: Presidenting Is Hard <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG. We are all so screwed.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet tw-align-center" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Trump: &ldquo;Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.&rdquo;<br><br> Nobody???! <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) <a href="">February 27, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Feb 2017 16:50:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 326591 at WSJ: Republicans Give Up, Admit They Can't Create a Non-Appalling Health Care Plan <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Our story so far: Republicans spent years vilifying Obamacare and promising to repeal and replace it at their first opportunity. Then that opportunity came, but they still couldn't agree on the "replace" part, so they suggested something called repeal-and-delay: repeal Obamacare now, and work on a replacement plan later. But that turned out to be pretty unpopular even among Republicans, who naturally wanted to know what they were going to get before Obamacare was dismantled. So Republican leaders went back to the drawing board and tried to draw up a replacement plan. So far this has been a dismal failure, for the obvious reason that even a mediocre replacement plan will cost a lot of money, and they don't want to spend a lot of money.</p> <p>What to do? The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> reports that <a href="" target="_blank">repeal-and-delay is back:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Republican leaders are betting that the only way for Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act is to <strong>set a bill in motion and gamble that fellow GOP lawmakers won&rsquo;t dare to block it.</strong></p> <p>Party leaders are poised to act on the strategy as early as this week, <strong>after it has become obvious they can&rsquo;t craft a proposal that will carry an easy majority in either chamber.</strong> Lawmakers return to Washington Monday after a week of raucous town halls in their districts that amplified pressure on Republicans to forge ahead with their health-care plans.</p> <p>Republican leaders pursuing the &ldquo;now or never&rdquo; approach see it as their best chance to break through irreconcilable demands by Republican centrists and conservatives over issues ranging from tax credits to the future of Medicaid.</p> </blockquote> <p>There you have it. It has "become obvious" they can't craft a decent replacement plan now, so instead they're going to try to convince everyone that they <em>can</em> craft a replacement plan later. This is obvious nonsense, but they're just going to bull ahead and dare anyone to stop them.</p> <p>This is extremely high-risk-high-reward. First of all, they might just lose. All it takes is three defections in the Senate. Second, they can't repeal everything, and a partial repeal will send the individual insurance market into chaos. Third, President Trump has already gone on record opposing this strategy, and he's not a guy who likes to publicly back down. And fourth, they're leaving themselves open for the mother of all Democratic attacks. I don't think Democrats are nearly as divided as the press would have us believe, but if Republicans go ahead with this plan it will unite the party instantly. Politically, it would be a godsend for Democrats.</p> <p>The desperation Republicans are showing here is remarkable. They are all but admitting that they flatly can't pass a health care plan that's worth the paper it's printed on. This is not an auspicious start to their plan to show the country how great things can be if they'd just put the GOP in charge once and for all.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Feb 2017 16:14:34 +0000 Kevin Drum 326586 at The Enduring Mystery of Japan's Economy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The <em>Wall Street Journal</em> writes today about <a href="" target="_blank">Japan's stagnant economy and persistent deflation:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>During Japan&rsquo;s go-go 1980s, Hiromi Shibata once blew a month&rsquo;s salary on a cashmere coat, wore it a few times, then retired it. <strong>Today, her daughter&rsquo;s idea of a shopping spree is scrounging through her mom&rsquo;s closet in Shizuoka, a provincial capital.</strong></p> <p>....The U.S. appears to be leading other parts of the globe out of an extended era where central banks relied heavily on low and negative interest rates and stimulus to jump-start growth and keep prices from falling....<strong>Japan remains definitively stuck, despite a long and aggressive experiment with ultralow rates.</strong> A quarter-century after its property bubble burst, a penny-pinching generation has come of age knowing only economic malaise, stagnant wages and deflation&mdash;a condition where prices fall instead of rise.</p> <p>....<strong>Since then, annual growth has averaged less than 1% amid periodic recessions.</strong> Prices began falling in the late 1990s....Many economists believed the Bank of Japan&rsquo;s 2013 stimulus would be enough to jolt the nation out of its downward spiral of weak growth and falling prices....Some economists contend the government should try even more fiscal stimulus and monetary easing. Others argue the stimulus has already saddled Japan with so much debt&mdash;now 230% of gross domestic product&mdash;that it could end in an economic collapse.</p> </blockquote> <p>It's true that Japan has suffered through two decades of low growth:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_gdp_usa_japan_1994_2016.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>But there's way more to this story. Obviously, the bigger your population, the bigger your GDP. The fact that the Russia has a bigger GDP than Switzerland doesn't mean it has a better economy. It just means it's bigger. The key metric to judge whether an economy is in good shape is GDP per working-age adult, since that tells you how productive your workers are. So let's look at that:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_japan_gdp_per_working_age_1994_2016.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Despite its persistently low inflation, Japan's economy is doing fine. Their GDP per working-age adult is actually higher than ours. So why are they growing so much more slowly than us? It's just simple demographics:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_japan_working_age_population.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>Japan is aging fast. Its working-age population peaked in 1997 and has been declining ever since. Fewer workers means a lower GDP even if those workers are as productive as anyone in the world. Now put all this together, and here's what you get:</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_japan_gdp_per_capita_1994_2016.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 15px 0px;"></p> <p>This is GDP per capita. That is, the amount of stuff that Japan produces for each person in the country. Over the past two decades it's grown 20 percent. And aside from the Great Recession, that growth has been pretty steady. It's not declining. It's not stagnating.</p> <p>Under the circumstances, Japan is doing fine. Each of their workers is as productive as ours, and their productivity has actually grown a little <em>faster</em> than ours. But there's only so much you can do when your population is declining. Given the demographic realities, Japan is probably doing about as well as they could.</p> <p>There are two things I take away from this. First, there's not much the Bank of Japan can do to stimulate their economy. It's already running pretty well. Second, despite this, Japan <em>is</em> suffering from persistent deflation. Why? If their economy is productive and growing, deflation shouldn't be any more of a problem for them than it is for us. Somehow, though, the very fact of a declining working-age population&mdash;and, since 2011, a declining overall population&mdash;seems to be driving deflation. This is very mysterious, especially since Japan's deflation has persisted even in the face of massive BOJ efforts that, according to conventional economics, should have restored normal levels of inflation.</p> <p>So why didn't it? Is it really a consequence of demographic decline? Or is it something else?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:50:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 326571 at The President Is Determined to Be Presidential <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The <em>New York Times</em> tells us about <a href="" target="_blank">President Trump's TV strategy:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>One West Wing official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about strategy, said the administration craved the split-screen television images of Mr. Trump at round-table discussions with business executives every few days on one side, and the vehement protesters of his administration on the other.</p> </blockquote> <p>This sounds right. Trump seems to believe that sitting around a table with powerful business executives is "presidential." It's basically a child's idea of what a president looks like. So that's what he does. I don't think it's even cynical image manipulation on his part. He really does think this is what makes a president presidential.</p> <p>Meanwhile, back in the real world, we have this:</p> <blockquote> <p>A day before delivering a high-stakes address on Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Trump will demand a budget with <strong>tens of billions of dollars in reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency</strong> and State Department, according to four senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the plan. <strong>Social safety net programs, aside from the big entitlement programs for retirees, would also be hit hard.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>This is obviously the work of Mike Pence and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney more than it is of Trump himself, but Trump will nonetheless be the master showman selling this plan. It's also more symbolic than anything else, but it's symbolism that matters since it means Trump is signaling that he's willing to go along with Paul Ryan's feverish devotion to cutting spending on the poor. We already know that Trump is also eager to cut taxes on the rich, so it appears he and Ryan are entirely on the same page. The next few months promise to be bloody.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Feb 2017 08:06:59 +0000 Kevin Drum 326576 at The Dead Pool - 26 February 2017 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Man of the people that he is, Donald Trump likes to pick rich guys for high-level positions in his administration. Unfortunately, <a href="" target="_blank">that poses a problem:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>President Donald Trump&rsquo;s nominee for Navy secretary, investor Philip Bilden, is expected to withdraw from consideration, sources familiar with the decision told <em>Politico</em>, becoming the second Pentagon pick unable to untangle their financial investments in the vetting process....Like billionaire investment banker Vincent Viola, who withdraw his nomination to be secretary of the Army earlier this month, Bilden ran into too many challenges during a review by the Office of Government Ethics to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the sources said.</p> </blockquote> <p>To become Secretary of State, maybe all this divesting of huge fortunes is worth it. But Navy Secretary? Probably not.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_dead_pool_2017_02_26_0.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Sun, 26 Feb 2017 23:47:40 +0000 Kevin Drum 326561 at