Politico has gotten its hands on a leaked copy of a Republican health care plan. It's a discussion draft of a bill that's a couple of weeks old, but it still provides a good idea of what Republicans are thinking these days. Here's my summary of Sarah Kliff's summary:

  • Good news: Compared to previous plans, it's better on pre-existing conditions; more generous in its funding of high-risk pools; generally cheaper for young people; and includes bigger tax credits than earlier Republican plans.
  • Neutral news: Loosens the list of "essential" benefits for all plans. This is generally better for healthy people and worse for sick people.
  • Bad news: Eliminates Medicaid expansion; cuts Medicaid funding; is terrible for the poor; and is far more expensive for older workers.

There's other stuff (all Obamacare taxes are repealed, for example, which is great news for the rich), but I submit to you that these are pesky details. There's really only one big thing that matters: how much the program costs.

Obamacare spends roughly $100 billion per year on subsidies to make health coverage affordable for the poor, and even at that premiums are too high for many people and deductibles are too high for almost everyone. Handwaving aside, there's no way to produce a plan that's even remotely useful with any less funding than Obamacare. That's just reality.

If the funding is sufficient, we can all have a good time arguing over continuous coverage penalties, age ratios, essential benefits, and all that. If the funding is insufficient, it's all just whistling in the wind.

Rumor has it that an outline of this plan was already submitted to the Congressional Budget Office, and the score they returned was so horrific that it never saw the light of day. So when Republicans do finally release a bill and a CBO score, just turn immediately to the section that estimates the ten-year cost. If it's substantially less than a trillion dollars, you can skip the rest.

Remember those seven countries that President Trump singled out for a travel ban? He asked the Department of Homeland Security to check them out and explain why they deserved to be on a no-entry list. Here's what he got:

Oops. "Rarely implicated" means a grand total of six people out of 82. That's one per year since 2011. And not one terrorist plot per year, either. One "terrorism related offense" per year. In many of these cases, it's probably a material support charge for sending a hundred bucks to some warlord back home.

This comes via the AP, which got this comment:

Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen on Friday did not dispute the report's authenticity, but said it was not a final comprehensive review of the government's intelligence.

"While DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you're referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official, robust document with thorough interagency sourcing," Christensen said. "The ... report does not include data from other intelligence community sources. It is incomplete."

I have a feeling that once the "interagency sourcing" is finished, there might be a different spin on these numbers. This is very definitely not what the boss wants to hear.

The weather has been lovely this week, and Hilbert is spending lots of quality time up on the patio cover. He's gotten pretty adept at scooting up and down the access tree, but he still whines a lot when he wants to come down, hoping that someone will come out and lift him off. I used to fall for this until the third or fourth time that he came over to me and then scampered off as soon as I put up my hands. Ha ha ha. Fooled the human again.

Hilbert is also anxious for everyone to know that he has a college named after him too. Also a local art museum. Plus a summer camp, a village in Wisconsin and its accompanying high school, a lake, and a theater. So there.

From CNN:

CNN and other news organizations were blocked Friday from a White House press briefing....The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Politico were also excluded from the meeting, which is known as a gaggle and is less formal than the televised Q-and-A session in the White House briefing room.

The Associated Press and Time magazine boycotted the briefing because of how it was handled. The White House Correspondents Association is protesting.

The conservative media organizations Breitbart News, The Washington Times and One America News Network were allowed in.

A few days ago, there was some talk about whether Trump would slow-walk federal disaster relief for the Oroville Dam area. As it turned out, he didn't, but the possibility was taken seriously for a while.

This is what makes the Trump presidency so unpredictable. No modern president would even think of taking revenge on a state that voted against him by refusing disaster aid. No modern president would dream of evicting news outlets from a press briefing because they had criticized him. No modern president would lie about easily checkable facts on a routine basis. No modern president would loudly cite every positive bit of economic news as a personal triumph. No modern president since Nixon would casually ask the FBI to take its side in an ongoing investigation.

It's not that modern presidents couldn't do these things. They just didn't. And we all came to assume that none of them would. The technical machinery of government—collecting data, hiring staffers, working by the rules—would be left alone to operate in a professional and impartial way. But that's no longer something we can assume.

Trump is going to find lots of things like this. Things that nobody ever thought of before, but aren't illegal. Or maybe just slightly illegal. And he's going to use them to demagogue his enemies and take revenge on people who badmouth him. Fasten your seat belts.

Bryan Caplan:

 U.S. immigration law — and U.S. immigration statistics — makes a big distinction between full-blown deportations ("Removals") and "voluntarily" returning home under the threat of full-blown deportation ("Returns").

The distinction is not entirely cosmetic. If you re-enter after Removal, you face a serious risk of federal jail time if you're caught. If you re-enter after a mere Return, you generally don't. But Return is still almost as bad as Removal, since both exile you from the country where you prefer to reside. Since I've previously suggested that we should count each Return as 85% of a Removal, I've constructed a "Deportation Index" equal to Removals + .85*Returns to capture the substance of U.S. immigration policy. Check out the numbers:

No, no, no. I love ideas like this, but it demands a visual presentation. Here it is:

Under Obama, removals were much higher than any other president. However, there were far fewer returns. Thus, "deportations" were higher than any other president, but the total number of people who were actually sent home was lower than any other president.

The next step is to calculate this as a percentage of the number of illegal immigrants in the country each year. Here it is:

This is approximate, since the total population of illegal immigrants is a little fuzzy before 2000. But it's close enough. Obama still has a higher removal rate and a lower index rate than any other president, but the winner for the title of Deporter-in-Chief is...Ronald Reagan. Every president since then has been successively more tolerant of a large undocumented population.

A reader emails to ask me where I get my data:

I'm curious as to what your process is....Do you usually start with Google? LexisNexis? Something else? You seem to have a preference for citing public sources, but how often do you start with a private aggregator like LexisNexis, and then find a public link from that? I guess what I'm asking with that one is, how much does it help to have access to private sources like LexisNexis? Is it instrumental in this kind of thing, or just nice to have, or not really that big of a deal?

I don't have access to any private sources. I just have a computer and a web browser. That's the hub of my data-driven empire.

But what are my favorite sources? Maybe some people would be interested. And it would be kind of fun to list them. So here they are.

IMPORTANT WARNING: Knowing where to find data is very helpful. However, what's really important is knowing which data is appropriate to your purposes. You have to develop a feel for which sources are trustworthy. You have to know which data you need. (GDP? Real GDP? GDP per capita? GDP at purchasing power parity?) Sometimes you have to be creative. But the bottom line is that access to data doesn't do any good unless you understand it first. There are no shortcuts to that. That said, here are the sources I use most often. Since I spend a lot of time writing about the economy, this list is very top heavy with economic data sites.

  • FRED is by far my most frequently used source. It's run by the St. Louis Fed, and it aggregates tens of thousands of economic data series in a single place. It's pretty flexible, it produces nice charts, and it lets you download the data to Excel so you can play with it yourself. If you're looking for US economic data, it's usually your first stop. It's got some overseas economic data too.  
  • The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics are also good sources. Most of their data is in FRED, but not all of it. The BLS jobs report is released on the first Friday of every month, along with all supporting data. The BEA's GDP report is released each quarter on the last Friday of the following month (i.e. the end of April for the Q1 report). The BEA release calendar is here. The BLS release calendar is here.
     
  • The Census Bureau collects historical data on household income that isn't available on FRED. Ditto for trade data, though it's clunky and frustrating to use. I really wish the trade data was presented more cleanly and made available to FRED.
     
  • The Federal Reserve has a ton of data, some available on FRED but some not. Their Flow of Funds report is basically a balance sheet for the United States.
     
  • For US crime statistics, go to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. Their data delivery tool provides a lot of flexibility, allowing you to get data for specific crimes, specific localities, and specific time periods. Unfortunately, it's usually two years behind the latest release, so you have to wade through the most recent PDF reports if you want current data. If you need a complete series, start with the data tool and then fill in the most recent couple of years by hand from the relevant reports.
     
  • I almost hate to mention the OECD data portal because it's such a pain to use. However, it's gotten better, and it's your first stop for data about other countries. They only cover OECD countries, of course, which basically means the 35 richest countries in the world. The OECD tries hard to present uniform data for all countries, but that's a difficult task. When comparing countries, it's worth being even more careful than usual about what data you use and how different countries account for different things.
     
  • Needless to say, I use Google a lot too. Obviously you need to have some idea of what you're looking for so you can use the right search terms, and often you have to iterate. That is, do a search, find a word or a reference that seems close to what you want, do another search using that word, rinse and repeat. You'll usually get to something reliable and relevant eventually. Tips for best results: use Google Advanced Search. Make use of all its fields. Go to Settings and set your results to 50 or 100 per page. After you get results, click on Tools to restrict your search to a specific time period.
     
  • There are also some miscellaneous sites that aren't technically data portals but still provide a lot of useful information. EIA has good energy data. The White House Office of Management and Budget has tons of historical budget data, but the Trump administration doesn't have a useful OMB site yet. Go to the archived Obama OMB site instead. Google's Ngram viewer has pitfalls, but it's a lot of fun for tracking the rise and fall of words and phrases. The Tax Policy Center has loads of useful data on taxes. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a terrible name but lots of good analysis. Ditto for the Economic Policy Institute. Both are left-wing, so keep that in mind. Gallup has lots of good poll data going back a long way, and Pollster does a good job of poll aggregation. Wikipedia is also great. It's a genuinely useful site if you want a brief primer on something or other, and every article has lots of links to its sources. I always check its data back to the primary source, but it often points me in a direction I hadn't considered.
     
  • Finally, this isn't data per se, but the site I probably use the most often is Thesaurus.com. I head over there something like 20 or 30 times a day. It's fantastically better than any printed thesaurus because you can quickly hyperlink through synonyms until you find just the right one. I use it so much that I have it set up as one of the standard searches in my browser's address bar.

I'm probably forgetting a few places that I use a lot. I'll update this post if any come to mind.

Steve Bannon says that President Trump appointed all his cabinet members with a common goal: "deconstruction of the administrative state." Meaning what?

Meaning the system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president says have stymied economic growth and infringed upon U.S. sovereignty. Bannon says that the post-World War II political and economic consensus is failing and should be replaced with a system that empowers ordinary people over coastal elites and international institutions.

At the core, Bannon said in his remarks, is a belief that “we’re a nation with an economy — not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being.

Oh. Bannon is supposedly the brains behind the Trump operation, but this still sounds like gibberish to me. Combined with his calls for increased "sovereignty," "economic nationalism," and an epic twilight battle against Arabs for the soul of humanity, I assume this is just a politically correct phrase that describes his personal jihad against non-Christianity without quite saying so. In particular, Bannon's "deconstruction" appears to encompass a war against Muslims, secular humanists, liberal Catholics, and maybe Jews. But it's so crude to say that out loud, isn't it?

In any case, I eagerly await huge crowds of Trump supporters waving signs that say "Deconstruct the Administrative State!!!" What will the competing signs say?

The White House has an official excuse for asking the FBI to debunk a New York Times story about Trump campaign aides having frequent contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Here it is: They started it. That is, the FBI approached them, not the other way around.

I guess that's appropriate for the Trump administration, which is best thought of as an overgrown kindergartner. However, First Read isn't sure this defense does them any favors:

This White House explanation raises the question: So what's worse — the White House asking the FBI to publicly knock down a story, or the FBI pulling aside a top White House official to comment on the big story of the day? Just ask yourself: If you substituted Clinton's and Lynch's names for Priebus' and McCabe's, would the congressional hearings already be scheduled?

Yep. And if an FBI official really did pull aside Reince Priebus to whisper in his ear that the Times story was wrong, that still suggests an improper relationship between the FBI and the White House. In any case, First Read goes on to suggest that the Times wasn't all that wrong anyway. Here is Ken Dilanian:

"NBC News was told by law enforcement and intelligence sources that the NYT story WAS wrong — in its use of the term 'Russian intelligence officials.' Our sources say there were contacts with Russians, but that the US hasn't confirmed they work for spy agencies. We were also told CNN's description of Trump aides being in 'constant touch' with Russians was overstated. However, our sources did tell us that intelligence intercepts picked up contacts among Trump aides and Russians during the campaign."

Of course, the Times may have different sources telling them different things. One way or another, it appears that Trump aides were in periodic contact with Russian officials during the campaign, and the only questions are: (a) were they intelligence officials? and (b) how often did they talk? Considering Trump's bizarre fixation on Vladimir Putin and his administration's obvious panic over this story, a good guess is that there really is something there they want to keep under wraps.

And just for a final comical effect, after asking the FBI to leak information to the press, Trump himself then took to Twitter to complain about the FBI being unable to stop leaks:

Do you laugh or cry? We're going to be asking ourselves that a lot, I think. Only 204 weeks to go.

Yesterday I griped about a story that wildly misrepresented the alleged effect of President Trump's travel ban on the tourism industry. However, it's worth pointing out that there does seem to be a milder version of the story that's actually true:

It’s known as the “Trump Slump.” And I know of no reputable travel publication to deny it.

Thus, the prestigious Travel Weekly magazine (as close to an “official” travel publication as they come) has set the decline in foreign tourism at 6.8%....On the web, flight searches for trips heading to the U.S. out of all international locations was recently down by 17%....According to the Global Business Travel Association, in only a single week following announcement of the ban against certain foreign tourists, the activity of business travel declined by nearly $185 million.

International tourism contributes about $100 billion to the US economy each year. If that declines 6.8 percent, that's $6.8 billion. If you figure the Trump Slump is a temporary thing, maybe it's more like $3 billion or so.

In other words, not earth shaking on a national level. Still, if Trump's immigration policies are going to cost us $3 billion, he'd better figure out how he's planning to make that up. A few hundred jobs at a Carrier plant aren't going to come close.

Last week the New York Times reported that members of Donald Trump's campaign staff "had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election. The White House vigorously denies this, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus went on TV to knock down the story. That's fine. But it turns out Priebus did more than that. According to CNN, Priebus asked the FBI to tell reporters that there was nothing to the story:

The discussions between the White House and the bureau began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe1 and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.

....[A] White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories.2 A law enforcement official says McCabe didn't discuss aspects of the case but wouldn't say exactly what McCabe told Priebus.

Comey rejected the request for the FBI to comment on the stories, according to sources, because the alleged communications between Trump associates and Russians known to US intelligence are the subject of an ongoing investigation.

I wonder if anyone in the Trump White House even understands how inappropriate this is? They might not. Partly it's because they're so inexperienced, and partly it's because they've all been marinating in the Trump worldview that you're a chump if you let delicate moral sensibilities get in the way of hitting back against your enemies. They might well believe that asking the FBI to talk to reporters is no different than asking the press secretary to talk to reporters.

If this is true, it's no excuse. I'm just curious. If Priebus knew this was wrong, it's hard to believe that he would have pressed the bureau multiple times, even knowing that it was almost certain to leak eventually.

In other words, at best they're muttonheads. At worst they're casually corrupt. Take your pick.

1In case that name sounds familiar, it's the same Andrew McCabe who was supposedly at the center of one of the dumbest "Hillary scandal" stories ever written outside of the fever swamps.3 Long story short, McCabe's wife is a Democrat. ZOMG!

2This is especially rich since Reibus whined just a few days ago about reporters using anonymous sources. "Put names on a piece of paper and print it," he said on Face the Nation. "If people aren’t willing to put their name next to a quote, then the quote shouldn’t be listed."

3Speaking of which, can you even imagine the epic meltdown we'd be enduring from Republicans right now if Hillary Clinton had done anything like this?