Over at National Review, Jay Nordlinger comments on racism:

The 2016 election cycle made me much wiser, in addition to sadder....All my life, I had heard about racists, anti-Semites, and other such types on the right. Maybe I was sheltered, but I almost never encountered any of them. I thought they were essentially bogeymen, conjured by the lyin’ Left. The people I met were good Reagan conservatives — the salt of the earth.

Then came 2016, in partnership with the social media. The rock was overturned. In a way, I wish the rock had stayed put.

I hope National Review decides to take this institutionally more seriously, instead of commenting on race only when someone is outraged about some perceived excess of the social justice warriors on the left.

Throughout American history, there have been periodic opportunities to make real headway against racism if only both parties had provided a united front. But that's never happened. One party or the other has always found the votes of white racists too alluring to ignore.

As the number of white racists declines, it should be easier to reject them, but instead just the opposite has happened. In our 50-50 nation, even a smallish bloc is far too large to actively repudiate. Trump may be the last gasp of white racial anxiety in America, or he might represent the start of a global white nationalist movement. I hope for the former and fear for the latter. Either way, it would be nice if both parties recognized the danger.

The latest from our president:

Actually, Trump was obviously joking about destroying the nameless senator's career. The real scandal is what the conversation was about:

SHERIFF: A state senator in Texas was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive that forfeiture money.

TRUMP: Can you believe that?

The target here was probably Konni Burton:

Before the 85th Texas Legislative Session formally opened on Tuesday, state lawmakers had already filed a handful of bills that would curb or strike down the law enforcement practice known as civil forfeiture, which allows law enforcement officials to seize assets from those suspected, not charged or convicted, of involvement in criminal activity.

Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, has her name on the most comprehensive of the lot. Senate Bill 380 was pre-filed on Dec. 20 and would reform asset forfeiture laws to prohibit the state of Texas from taking an individual's property without a criminal conviction, in most cases.

....Burton's bill aims to make sure the possessors of that property, or cash in many cases, are actually criminals and the property related to actual crime before the cops have the right to seize it....Predictably, opposition to such bills comes mainly from law enforcement agencies that seize cash and stand to gain from the sale of seized property.

This demonstrates the problem with Trump's shoot-from-the-hip style.1 My guess is that he has no idea what civil asset forfeiture is and has no real opinion about it. If, say, Trump had been in a meeting with a few senators, and Bob Goodlatte had remarked that "police can seize your money even if you weren't convicted of a crime," Trump probably would have reflexively answered, "Can you believe that?" Instead, a sheriff said it was a bad thing related to Mexicans, so Trump automatically agreed with him. That means it's now official Trump administration policy.

Sad. But then again, Jeff Sessions is a huge fan of civil asset forfeiture and all the corrupt incentives it creates, so he probably would have gotten Trump on board one way or another. Like tax cuts for billionaires, it's yet another big win for the working class.

1One of the problems, anyway.

Over at Vox, Mark Bauerlein has a complaint about public schools:

Last year at a public school in Southern California, my niece’s 12th-grade teacher led the students to the football field one afternoon for a little exercise in social awareness....It’s called the Privilege Walk, and it’s not an uncommon activity in high schools and college. You can see a version of it here. The purpose is to highlight disadvantages some have in life through no fault of their own. When my niece talked about it, she rolled her eyes, not because she denies inequities in the world but because the whole setup was so stagy and manipulative and solemn.

I had a different reaction: Why spend precious class time on non-academic social consciousness exercises when the academic results of public schooling in America are so poor?

Well, I imagine that most private schools don't engage in the Privilege Walk, though possibly not for the wholesome reasons that Bauerlein seems to imagine. And I'm certainly not surprised that a smart 17-year-old would roll her eyes about it. I would have done the same at that age.

But then Bauerlein uses that as a lead-in to his real gripe: public schools suck. He provides a few cherry-picked statistics on this score, but that's all. So for what feels like the millionth time, here's the best data we have about the quality of public schools in America: the long-term NAEP scores in reading and math.

Over the past three decades, math scores are up across the board and reading scores are flat. Are these "poor" results? I'm not sure why, unless we expect schoolkids to get smarter and smarter forever. Basically the NAEP scores suggest that today's kids are doing a bit better than their parents, so unless you think America is hopelessly stupid across all generations1 there's no real evidence that public schools are doing a noticeably bad job. They certainly seem to be doing at least as well as they were 30 years ago, and other evidence suggests they're also doing at least as well as they were 70 years ago.

Now, what public schools are doing a bad job of is closing the gap between white kids and black/Hispanic kids. Whether private schools are doing better on this score is a subject of intense controversy, but that would certainly be something worth griping about.

POSTSCRIPT: I should note that Bauerlein also complains that we spend a lot more on schools even though results haven't improved. This is true, largely because teachers are paid a lot more than they were 50 years ago. I assume the reason for this is obvious enough not to require explanation.

1Admittedly, November 8 has changed my priors about this.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its latest figures for total job openings, and nothing much changed since December. But it's still a good excuse to show you a chart of the total number of unemployed per job opening, which is a good indicator of labor market tightness. However, in order to count all the unemployed and underemployed, I'm using the U6 measure of unemployment:

We're not quite at dotcom boom levels, but we are at housing bubble levels. The number of unemployed people per job opening is now down to about the same level as 2006-07, the height of the last economic expansion. Obviously different industries have different problems, but overall this means that companies really are having trouble finding workers when a job opens up.

Despite this, and despite other indications that the labor market is starting to tighten, one measure remains an outlier: wages. They've gone up over the past couple of years, but only slowly. This is the ultimate test of labor market tightness: if companies are really having trouble finding people, they'll increase wages to attract more job applicants. So far, that's not really happening. It's a little bit mysterious.

Obamacare mandates an age band of 3:1. That is, old people can be charged no more than three times as much as young people for the same insurance. Conservatives want to change this to 5:1. Why? I'm honestly not sure. But they sure seem to feel strongly about it.

Unfortunately, Obamacare says 3:1, so that's that. There's no way to change the age band except via congressional action. Or so you'd think. Jonathan Cohn reports that the Trump administration has come up with a cunning plan:

HHS has already submitted a proposal of new rules to OMB....Insurers would have more leeway to vary prices by age, so that premiums for the oldest customers could be 3.49 times as large as those for younger customers. Today, premiums for the old can be only three times as high as premiums for the young, which is what the Affordable Care Act stipulates. According to sources privy to HHS discussions with insurers, officials would argue that since 3.49 “rounds down” to three, the change would still comply with the statute.

Is this true? There's no telling since HHS isn't talking and OMB still doesn't even have a website. But I find it hard to believe. Even for the Trumpists, this is an unusually moronic argument. It would get laughed out of court in minutes. I can hardly wait to find out if HHS is seriously proposing this.

Today President Trump told a military audience that terrorist attacks were so common that the press barely even reports them anymore. "In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that."

Asked about these mystery attacks, Sean Spicer said at a press briefing, "We'll provide a list later." And he did! But it was plainly ridiculous, including lots of attacks that were not just covered, but massively covered. The complete list is below. In order to provide a metric that Trump can appreciate, I've highlighted seven of the best-known attacks and provided their Google search scores as a percentage of the Google score for Trump's inauguration:

And now for the $64 question: WTF? Why would Spicer release such an obviously laughable list? I'm not one for 11-dimensional chess, but the answer seems pretty obvious to me.

Just think for a second. What are we all talking about tonight? A great big list of terrorist attacks. Would we be talking about terrorists if Spicer had released this list merely as evidence that there are lots of terrorist attacks in the world? Of course not. That would be a yawn. We're talking about it solely because it's so stupid. That's what got it a lot of attention.

Is this deliberate? Or just an instinctive animal cunning on Trump's part? Beats me. But unlike most of us, Trump doesn't care if lots of people think he's an idiot. He just doesn't have the instinct for shame. What he cares about is getting everybody talking about a big list of terrorist attacks, and he knows that to do that he has to give us all a reason to talk about them. If the price of that is some mockery, that's a trade he's willing to make. Mission accomplished.

CBS News today uses an increasingly common description of a Trump falsehood:

Barton Gellman is not impressed:

So here's a good question: If someone says something with no evidence, is it a lie? Please don't try to evade the question with a knowing reference to On Bullshit, either. Let's assume—because I'm a charitable guy—that Trump isn't affirmatively aware that there are no terrorist attacks that the media has ignored, and is deliberately saying the opposite. Let's assume, instead, that he just doesn't know, and said it because it sounded good.

Is that a lie?

I feel like someone ought to defend the honor of California against our president, so why not me? Here you go:

Since the state GDP series started in 1997, California GDP has grown 12 percent more than the country as a whole. The number of workers has grown 7 percent more. If only every state could be as out of control as California.

UPDATE: I've gotten a bit of grief from folks suggesting that this difference is just because California's population has grown faster than the rest of the US. Not so: between 1997 and 2015, California's population increased about 20 percent while total US population increased about 18 percent. If the difference were bigger I would have gone to the trouble of calculating GDP and employment per capita, but there wasn't much point.

Atrios today:


Those still a thing? I mean, I know they are, but around me the 3 major supermarkets within walking distance got rid of them....Anyway, I know they still exist, but I do think our robot future is not quite as inevitable as people think. Worrying about the impact of future automation on jobs seems to be a cool tech away of ignoring the current fucked and bullshit jobs situation. And, yes, automation has been going on for decades, which is actually my point. There's nothing new about it, and I don't know why people think there will be this sudden automation discontinuity. The robots have been here for awhile, and they aren't really going away, but that doesn't mean the sci-fi dystopian workless future is just around the corner. Shit is fucked up and bullshit enough without worrying about things which haven't happened yet, and likely won't.

It really doesn't matter if artificial intelligence is distracting us from whatever you think the "real" problem is. It's coming anyway. The speed of the AI revolution depends solely on fundamental factors (mostly continued reductions in the cost of parallel computing power) and the level of interest in AI software development. The fundamental factors are obviously still barreling ahead, and it sure looks like the free market has a ton of interest too:

Besides, AI is the real problem. As we all know (don't we?), the decline of manufacturing in the US has far more to do with automation than with trade or globalization. That decline set up the conditions for an angry working class in three Midwestern states that finally decided it had found a savior in a guy who claimed it was all the fault of a bunch of foreigners. So now Donald Trump is president. How much more real can you get?

And that was just old-fashioned dumb automation. Smart automation is going to have a far bigger and far faster effect. We're not very far off from the first real destruction of an industry (probably long-haul trucking) thanks to smart automation, and after that it's going to come thick and fast.

So what are we going to do? Will our future be in the hands of demagogues who gain power by lashing out at scapegoats while they work hard to make sure that rich people get all the benefits of AI? Or will it be in the hands of people who actually give a damn about the working class and understand that a world of increasing automation requires a dramatic rethink of basic economics? I would sure like it to be the latter.

Unfortunately, like global warming, the effects of AI are slow and invisible—on a human timescale anyway. So it's easy to pretend—no matter how idiotic this is—that AI is just a rerun of the Industrial Revolution. It's easy to pretend that each new advance isn't really a step toward true AI. It's easy to pretend that each individual industry to fall is just a special case. It's easy to pretend that something else is always more important.

Is AI coming soon? I find this question too boring to spend much time on anymore. Of course it's coming soon. The only question I'm interested in is what we're going to do about it. I keep pondering this, and I keep failing to come up with any likely answers that are very optimistic in the medium term. Maybe I'm not thinking outside the box enough. But it sure looks like we're determined to keep our collective heads in the sand for a long time. At best, the result is going to be a grim future of plutocracy for some and the dole for everyone else. At worst, it's going to be a future of global genocide (do you think there's enough aid in the world to keep Bangladesh afloat when there's no longer any work there?).

Eventually everything will work out, probably after a lot of suffering and a popular revolt. But wouldn't it be nice to avoid all that?

Oh, and those self-checkout machines? I don't know about Philly, but there's hardly a supermarket within ten miles of me that doesn't have them. Not only are they still a thing, but they're only going to get better. So sorry about all those nice union jobs as checkers and baggers.

I try to ignore Donald Trump's tweets unless they actually have some substantive impact. As I've noted before, they're basically just communiques to his fans, and they should be read that way. Sometimes, though, it's worth noting what he's telling his fans:

I guess Trump has abandoned subtlety altogether. If a poll doesn't go his way, it's fake. Like this one:

And this one:

And this one:

And this one:

Ignore them. They're all fake.