In its latest tracking poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation decided to test President Trump's theory that if he encourages allows Obamacare to blow up, the public will hold Democrats responsible. It didn't go well:

I hope Trump and the Republican Party have a Plan B ready.

Lunchtime Photo

Mostly I use this space to show off nice photos, but today is different. I decided to try out my camera's top normal ISO setting of 12800.

Old timers like me find this ridiculous. Back in the day, I remember that Kodak made some kind of ASA 1000 recording film that you could special order, which I did a couple of times.1 You could maybe push it a stop or two to ASA 2000 or 4000, but the results were pretty miserable. Nobody in their right mind did it unless they desperately needed to use a decent shutter speed in dim light and were willing to try anything that would produce even a barely usable image.

These days, I guess there are ISO 3200 black-and-white films available, but I don't have any experience with them. As for color, forget it. It tops out around ISO 800 or 1600. Digital to the rescue!

This is a picture of a black cat deep inside a dark cabinet where I could barely see him with my own eyes. The camera's autofocus was hopelessly confused, but manual focus still worked OK. I essentially pushed this inside the camera to ISO 25600, and still ended up shooting at 1/13th of a second. Then I brightened it a bit in Photoshop.

And it's...surprisingly unbad. The combination of a high ISO and anti-shake technology produced an image that's flat and grainy, but pretty useable if circumstances demand it. That's probably not very often, but I'll have to keep this in mind as part of my toolkit.

1ASA is what old people used to call ISO. They're both ratings of film speed (i.e., sensitivity to light). There are digital cameras out there that claim to support ISOs up to a million or so, which seems wildly unlikely, but who knows? Anybody ever tried ISO 3 million with Nikon D5?

The Trump administration has already backed down considerably on its list of NAFTA demands. Gone are 40 percent tariffs and currency rules. Instead, as Michael Grunwald points out in a nice overview, the most recent draft letter contains some pretty familiar negotiating points:

The letter suggests that the overarching purpose of the renegotiations should merely be modernizing NAFTA to deal with issues that didn’t exist when it went into effect, and strengthening it to reflect the standards in more recent U.S. trade deals. “For example, digital trade was in its infancy in 1994,” the letter says. “Labor and environment were an afterthought to the Agreement.” The eight-page draft also cites intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises, and trade in services as areas where NAFTA ought to be updated to reflect 21st-century realities.

Well, guess what? After years of intense negotiations, the Obama administration already finalized a deal in which Canada and Mexico accepted new protections for digital trade, tougher labor and environmental safeguards, stronger intellectual property rules, new limits on state-owned enterprises, and freer trade in services like law, consulting, accounting and wealth management where U.S. firms tend to excel. But that deal was the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Asia-oriented trade agreement that Trump scuttled on his third day in office. Several former Obama aides pointed out that despite Trump’s attacks on TPP as an existential threat to the United States, much of his administration’s list of goals sounded like a rehash of TPP’s achievements.

The difference is that Obama was able to get these concession from Canada and Mexico because they wanted all the other benefits of TPP. Trump doesn't have that to offer them, so it's unclear what motivation they have to give him any of what he wants. Trump can threaten to leave NAFTA entirely, of course, but it's an empty threat. Corporate America would go ballistic if he did it. The damage to supply chains alone would be catastrophic.

This is why multi-country deals are sometimes better for the US: it gives us more levers to get the things we want. In bilateral negotiations, we don't always have that. Eventually, I suppose Trump will learn this lesson. Maybe.

The Washington Post reports:

President Trump's administration is exploring the creation of two controversial new taxes — a value-added tax and a carbon tax — as part of a broad overhaul of the tax code, according to an administration official and one other person briefed on the process.

Sure they are. This sounds more like a strategic leak to demonstrate "seriousness" on Trump's part than anything that's really under consideration. Just give it a moment's thought:

  • Republicans hate both VATs and carbon taxes. Hate hate hate.
  • A package that included top marginal rate cuts, corporate cuts, plus a VAT and/or a carbon tax to make it revenue neutral, would be almost comically regressive. Democrats would hate it even if the carbon tax were for real.

There's zero chance that anything like this could make it through Congress. The "administration official" peddling this is just blowing smoke.

UPDATE: Well, this little run up the flagpole didn't last long:

You may have heard people muttering lately about a Republican effort to revive Obamacare repeal. Sarah Kliff has all the details here, but I don't plan to say much about it for now. There are several reasons:

  • The CBO has basically told us already that the old version of Trumpcare was as bad as just repealing Obamacare and not replacing it with anything. The ultras in the House want to make Trumpcare even worse, but it's a little hard to see how they can do that. Can they really make things worse than they were before Obamacare was passed? I wouldn't put anything past them, I guess, but it seems a little pointless to follow the twists and turns of bad vs. really bad vs. catastrophically bad.
     
  • Trump still has to face the same political dynamic as he did before: if he makes Trumpcare even worse, he might get the ultras back on his side but he'll lose more of the moderates. It remains unclear if there's a sweet spot to be found.
     
  • Finally, keep in mind that the House was supposed to be the easy part. For a long time, we all just assumed Paul Ryan would manage to pass something, but then the real battle would be in the Senate. That's still the case. And if it's hard to figure out where the sweet spot in the House would be, it's all but impossible to figure out where it would be in the Senate.

That said, Republicans do have one thing going for them: the defeat of Trumpcare was a political debacle that might have woken them up. One way or another, if health care gets back on the agenda they might be extra motivated to make sure that something passes. Going down in flames twice in a few months would be pretty devastating.

A trio of researchers at Stanford University has taken a first cut at the effects of AB60, a new California law that allows undocumented immigrants to get a drivers license. They performed a pretty straightforward regression that compared the rate of accidents in various counties to the number of AB60 licenses issued. They were interested not in the absolute level of accidents, but in whether the rate changed after AB60 was passed.

In the case of all accidents, they found no change. In the case of fatal accidents, they found no change. But in the case of hit-and-run accidents, they found a very strong change:

Counties that issued very few AB60 licenses saw an increase in hit-and-run accidents. Counties that issued a lot of AB60 licenses saw a big drop. The authors conclude from all this that (a) most unauthorized immigrants were driving unlicensed before AB60 and were already experienced drivers, and (b) with less fear of serious repercussions, they were more likely not to flee the site of a hit-and-run collision:

The fact that most AB60 license holders were driving unlicensed before the policy change points to a potential explanation for why accidents per capita and the share of fatal accidents were unaffected by this law: the majority of new license holders had sufficient driving experience, and obtaining a driver’s license did not change their routine driving behavior.

....AB60 explicitly prohibits law enforcement officers from reporting license holders to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Consequently, unauthorized immigrants with a valid form of in-state driving authorization have weaker incentives to flee the scene after an accident, because they are less likely to fear deportation. Alternatively, unauthorized immigrants involved in an accident before the reform also may have been concerned about having their car impounded as a result of driving without a license. Fees to recover a vehicle after impoundment can easily exceed $1,000....With AB60 in place, however, unauthorized immigrants who obtain a license may no longer fear impoundment of their vehicles and are, thus, more likely to stay after involved in an accident.

AB60 was passed in 2015, so this is a very short-term study. Follow-on studies will tell us whether the AB60 effect is for real or not.

From Rick Hasen:

"AMK" is Anthony McLeod Kennedy,1 the famous swing justice of the current Supreme Court lineup. And sure, this is a perfectly serviceable argument. If it floats your boat, go with it.

My own argument is a little different: Piss off, Republicans. You can keep whining about the 30-year-old rejection of Robert Bork forever—and I'm sure you will—but he got hearings and a fair vote. He was voted down because he was too extreme, and the next judge nominated by Reagan was approved 97-0 by a Democratic Senate. That was during an election year, by the way. You guys, by contrast, refused to even consider Merrick Garland because you didn't want anyone nominated by Barack Obama to serve on the court. Just like you didn't want anyone nominated by Barack Obama to serve on the Federal Circuit Court, so you filibustered all of his nominees.

You can make up all the ridiculous "traditions" you want, but everyone knows what you did. And no party with even a pretense of a spine would let you get away with it. So of course Democrats are going to filibuster Gorsuch and make you go nuclear. You're going to do it anyway the first time you need to, and everyone knows it. So what's the point of putting it off?

That's it. That's the only reason anyone needs. You took nuclear to the next level already, and it would be craven for Democrats to shrug and let you get away with it. You made this bed, now it's yours to lie in.

1Yes, I had to look up his middle name.

This is not motivated by anything in particular. I just happened to come across it last night:

January data for all 50 states is here. I chose to highlight California because it's big and diverse and I happen to live there. There's no special point I want to make except for the fact that a single state or national-level unemployment rate hides a lot of detail. Here in California, the Bay Area is fine. San Diego is fine. Los Angeles is fine. Sacramento is fine. But El Centro and Fresno and Santa Cruz and Chico aren't all that fine (though some of this seasonal). It's just one reason why the politics of inland California are so different from the politics of the 50-mile coastal strip that everyone thinks of as "California."

Here we go:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a sweeping review of federal agreements with dozens of law enforcement agencies....In a memorandum dated March 31 and made public Monday, the attorney general directed his staff to look at whether law enforcement programs adhere to principles put forth by the Trump administration, including one declaring that “the individual misdeeds of bad actors should not impugn” the work police officers perform “in keeping American communities safe.”

I think we can safely guess that many or most of these agreements will, upon review, be discovered to be heavy-handed and unfair sanctions based on a few individual bad apples. They will then be gutted or thrown out.

These are shaping up to be golden years for police departments, who are getting a very clear message: Paint the town red, boys. No need to worry anymore about the feds ginning up any ridiculous "civil rights" concerns just because you harass lots of black people or beat up prisoners in your jails. Just catch us some bad dudes, OK?

James Pethokoukis has a pair of posts up today that reignite a longstanding question: What's the right way to measure inflation? And what does that mean about earnings and income mobility over time?

These are both complicated questions, but we can start with a very simple chart. If we want to compare, say, 30-year-old men to their fathers, and their fathers to their fathers, we can do it pretty easily. The Census Bureau collects data on median cash earnings (i.e., not counting health care, employment perks, or government benefits) and then all we have to do is adjust for inflation. But which measure of inflation?

The CPI story is grim: In the previous generation, young men earned about 8 percent more than their fathers. That's not great, but it's better than nothing. However, in this generation, millennial men earn 10 percent less than their fathers.

The PCE story is different. In the previous generation, young men earned 22 percent more than their fathers. That's pretty good. In the current generation, millennial men earn about the same amount as their fathers. Stagnation like that is bad news, but at least millennials aren't literally losing ground.

So which should we believe? There are arguments for both, and it's a political hot potato too since inflation measures show up in all sorts of benefit calculations. It would be nice if the economic community could thrash out agreement on an overall best measure, and then make it available as a standard series going back 70 years, but if it turns out that the new measure leads to (for example) lower cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security benefits, you can expect a massive pushback. Republicans have shown a particularly aggressive form of this kind of political hackery in the past, approving of new inflation measures that would decrease benefits, but opposing the same measures if they meant that people might pay higher taxes.

All that conceded, we really should be able to agree on a good, general-purpose inflation measure. We can still have lots of different measures for specialized purposes, but the headline inflation rate should be something that, say, 90 percent of economists can agree about. (There will always be a few outliers.)

In a way, though, this doesn't matter too much for the question of how millennial men are doing. On one measure, their market earnings have dropped from 124 percent of per-capita GDP to 72 percent. On the other measure they've dropped from 108 percent to 72 percent. That's pretty grim either way.

For more on this, Pethokoukis points us, first, to a new study by Bruce Sacerdote, which suggests that consumption has increased substantially over the past several decades, once you adjust for inflation bias and include the growth of government benefits. On a less happy note, he also points us to a study by Scott Winship about income mobility. Winship concludes that although there's still a fair amount of income mobility within the broad middle class, there's very little at either end. Poor kids stay poor, and rich kids stay rich.