• Trump Is Upset That He Has Fewer Nuclear Bombs Than Obama

    Sigh. I suppose I have to post this report from NBC News. Apparently our commander-in-chief was upset to learn that America’s nuclear force is smaller than it was in the 60s:

    Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve….Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the build-up. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.

    The July 20 meeting was described as a lengthy and sometimes tense review of worldwide U.S. forces and operations. It was soon after the meeting broke up that officials who remained behind heard Tillerson say that Trump is a “moron.”

    ….[Trump’s] comments raised questions about his familiarity with the nuclear posture and other issues, officials said.

    How dangerous is it to have a president with no clue about how the military works? He doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is. He doesn’t realize that we’ve been negotiating down nuclear stockpiles for decades. He casually threatens nuclear war against North Korea. He thinks the army should have “surrounded” Iraq’s oil. He kept turning down the Pentagon’s ISIS plans because he couldn’t stand the thought of doing pretty much the same thing as Barack Obama.

    Tillerson actually called Trump a “fucking moron.” This is a case where I think truncating the quote produces a real loss of fidelity to the truth.

  • Another Look at Millennials and Mortgage Payments

    I got some legitimate pushback on my post yesterday about housing prices. After all, what counts isn’t so much the price of the house, but the monthly mortgage payments. So if interest rates have been declining, maybe that makes up for the increase in housing prices?

    With a couple of caveats, that’s pretty much true:

    Roughly speaking, in 1975 the average house cost about $120,000 (in 2017 dollars) and mortgage rates were running around 9 percent. This produces a monthly payment of about $1,000.

    In 2017 the average house costs about $200,000 and mortgage rates are running around 4 percent. This produces a monthly payment of about $1,000. So millennials aren’t really any worse off than their parents.

    But here are the caveats. First, inflation was running a lot higher in the past. The chart above shows the initial monthly payment, and it really is about the same as it was in 1975. However, back in the day you could go ahead and squeeze your lifestyle for a while, knowing that inflation would steadily erode the monthly payment. Within a few years, it was likely that your payment would be the equivalent of $500 per month.

    You can’t do that now. Inflation is so low—and likely to stay low—that your payments won’t erode much at all. That $1,000 nut is going to stay close to $1,000 for the entire life of the loan. Here’s how this works out for a $1,000 monthly payment:

    Second, down payments don’t depend on interest rates. If housing prices have nearly doubled, then so have down payments. Young adults today have to scrounge up nearly twice as much ready cash for a down payment as their parents did.

    I don’t really know the best way to account for this. Obviously things vary from place to place, but generally speaking: (a) millennials need nearly twice the down payment their parents did, and (b) they can’t count on their loan payment quickly becoming a much smaller share of their income. That doesn’t show up in a simple number for the initial monthly payment, but it’s still very real. No matter how you slice it, it’s just plain harder to afford a house today than it was in 1975.

  • Fire Dispatch #1: Pack the Cat and Don’t Look Back. I’m Fleeing California’s Firestorm Right Now.

    Paul Kitagaki Jr. /The Sacramento Bee via AP

    While Kevin’s on vacation, we’ve invited other Mother Jones writers to contribute posts.

    I’m waiting about 10 miles from the nearest fire front with bags packed, my cat carrier ready, and my cat locked inside with me.

    My property is strewn with ash and chunks of stuff that’s been snowing down, off and on, for the last two days. The sky is a sickly orange color and the air is thick with noxious smoke a lot nastier than wood fire. I’ve packed up trash bags full of extra blankets and pillows to take to the nearest evacuation center, where I’ve heard that people are sleeping on the floors by night and are bored stiff by day. I wish I could play a musical instrument well enough to entertain them for a spell.

    View from my window, Sebastopol, Sonoma County

    Julia Whitty

    Right now it’s afternoon in Sonoma County. That means the winds are picking up and the wildfires with them. I’m listening in on the Northern California Major Incident (Disaster Event) scanner traffic, which is getting increasingly chaotic.

    Old fires are kicking up. New fires are sprouting. Requests for air support—drops of water or fire retardant from fixed wing or helicopter—are multiplying. More wind means more energy for the fires and with that comes more smoke. Air crews are beginning to report visibility to poor to navigate. Some airstrips are closing. There are increasingly plaintive requests from crews on the ground asking for air support as fires crest ridges and threaten to erase their backbreaking work of the past 24-plus hours—or worse.

    Cal Fire is chasing seven major fires in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Mendocino Counties, totaling 83,000 acres—and growing. A report of a brand new fire is coming in from Lake County and another from Napa County just south of Calistoga. There are reports of new vegetation fires in Kenwood and Santa Rosa threatening structures. The Santa Rosa Police Department has announced that the Nunns Fire is rapidly approaching Oakmont—a retirement community for seniors—in Santa Rosa. It remains under mandatory evacuation. The 25,000-acre Atlas Fire in Napa has jumped Atlas Peak Road—an important line firefighters were hoping to hold.  As of this morning, there was still no containment on any of the fires. Crews are simply scrambling to save lives and structures.

    Tomorrow’s weather bodes ill. Northerly winds are forecast to reach 30 mph or more over the North Bay ridges from 5pm Wednesday through 5pm Thursday. This is the kind of weather that drove the Tubbs Fire twelve miles across the rugged terrain between Calistoga, in Napa Valley, and Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, at lightning speed in the early hours of Monday morning. Nobody wants to know how these fires are going to act in the next few days.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    Here’s a panoramic photo of Trafalgar Square, looking south toward Parliament and Westminster Abbey. If you squint, you can see Big Ben right behind Nelson’s column.

    As you can see, we’ve been blessed with amazingly good weather our entire trip. Even when it’s rained, it’s been light and brief. Temps in London are in the low 60s, which is a little chilly for Marian but perfect for me.

  • Buying a House Sucks for Millennials

    Standard & Poor’s released the Case-Shiller Housing Index for August today, so that seemed like a good excuse to follow up Monday’s post about the feeble growth of millennial income. Here is income growth for 25-34-year-olds vs. housing prices since 1975:

    The income of young adult families has gone up about 18 percent since 1975. Housing has gone up about 65 percent. So if you remember buying a house in the 70s, and how tough it was to make the payments, multiply that by two-thirds to see what young adults have to put up with today.

    And if you’re thinking that mortgage rates are lower today than they were in the 70s, think again:

    Real interest rates are lower than they were in the 80s, and a couple of points lower than they were in the 90s. But that’s it. Buying a first home just sucks these days unless you’re lucky enough to be in the top 20 percent or so.

  • Bob Corker on Donald Trump: “Everyone Knows”

    Alex Edelman via ZUMA

    Sen. Bob Corker says that pretty much every Republican in Congress knows that Donald Trump is a liar and a buffoon:

    I don’t know why the president tweets out things that are not true. You know he does it. Everyone knows he does it….The vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here. There will be some — if you write that, I’m sure there will be some that say, ‘no, no, no I don’t believe that,’ but of course they understand the volatility that we are dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes from people around him to keep him in the middle of the road. No question.

    They know. They all know. But most of them aren’t even willing to acknowledge it, let alone do something about it.

    And if World War III does break out because Trump doesn’t know the difference between berating a contestant on The Apprentice and berating an insecure young man with dozens of nuclear weapons at his disposal? I don’t know. I suppose they’ll just blame it on Obama ruining America’s standing in the world. That’s always worked before.

  • Chart of the Day: Millennials Really Have Taken It On the Chin

    Here’s another random chart. It was motivated by a column I happened to read in a free copy of the New Statesman that I picked up today. The numbers are ordinary income figures from the Census Bureau:

    So in case you’ve been wondering, millennials really do have it hard. Their income has grown the slowest of any age group since 1974. Pick another starting point and you get pretty much the same thing. If you’re careful with your starting point, you might produce a chart where they’re only second worst. If you’re really careful with your starting point, you might even produce a chart where they’re only third worst.

    Basically, though, they’re worse off than pretty much every other generation. And this doesn’t even count the higher cost of both housing and education¹ since 1974, which obviously affects young adults more than other age groups.

    Anyway, they’re pretty screwed no matter how you look at things. Those of us who are older and did better, didn’t do better because we’re smarter or harder working. We were just born in a luckier year.

    ¹Higher than inflation, that is.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is not just any Burger King, it’s the Burger King in Leicester Square, where a guy was lofting giant bubbles in the air for the amusement of young children (and photographers). I’ll admit that I would have preferred something better than Burger King for the background to this shot, but sometimes life hands you ham. When that happens, all you can do is make hamburgers.

  • Donald Trump Sure Is Unpopular

    Oh, what the hell. Here’s a chart of approval ratings for our four most recent presidents:

    I have no special reason for posting this. It just felt right to remind everyone that Trump is not only a belligerent, thin-skinned moron, but also a really unpopular one.

  • Two Perfect Quotes

    Larry Marano/Rex Shutterstock via ZUMA

    I got nuthin’ today. And I think I’m coming down with a cold, so I’m feeling sorry for myself. But I feel like I ought to post something today, so here it is: two perfect quotes. The first is about Donald Trump, from Peter Baker of the New York Times:

    Mr. Trump considered [Bob] Corker as a candidate for secretary of state after last year’s election but was said to have told associates that the 5-foot-7 senator was too short.

    That says it all about Trump. Next up is Hillary Clinton describing her typical day in What Happened:

    Six a.m.: I wake up, sometimes hitting the snooze button to steal a few more minutes. Snoozing leaves you more tired—there are studies on this—but in that moment, it seems like such a great idea.

    Of course there are studies on this. And of course she knows about them. This is Hillary Clinton in a nutshell.

    It’s also why I like her. I like studies too! I like charts! I like knowledge! I like people who give a damn about the actual world instead of just relying on their own internal fantasies. Sadly, people like us appear to be out of fashion these days.