WTF, Donald?

Donald Trump and his mysterious STAR tax credit are back in the news. STAR is a New York state program that lowers the property tax bill for owners of primary residences. This year the amount of the credit is $304, and it's available to anyone with a household income of less than $500,000.

Trump has been getting this credit for years. When it became public earlier this year, he naturally claimed it was all because of a city error and it was being fixed. Nothing is ever Donald's fault, after all. But June 3 was property tax day in New York, and guess what? Aaron Elstein of Crain's New York Business discovered that Trump was still getting his $304. Weird, huh? I mean, you have to apply for this credit, which means that Trump actively sought it out in the first place. But why would a guy with an income in the tens of millions do that? We'll never know: the city of New York says that Trump's application has gone missing. On the other hand, there's this:

Hmmm. No need to reapply, but the city does check your income every year to make sure you still qualify. Trump did—and apparently still does. That's just damn peculiar, isn't it?

Now, unlike some folks, I don't think Trump is too big a liar about his wealth. It's probably nowhere near what he says it is, but there's pretty good reason to think that his net worth is at least $1-2 billion and that his annual income is in the tens of millions. There's just no way that he qualified for STAR. And yet, the state of New York checked for many years in a row and said he did. What does it all mean? Here's my guess:

  • His income is pretty substantial, but he takes advantage of fancy tax accounting to reduce his taxable income to approximately zero. This is why he doesn't want to release his tax returns. Even for his fans, this might seem a little obnoxious.
  • When he's in the public eye, he's a pathological show-off about his wealth: gold plated toilets, private jets, etc. But when he's outside the public eye he's a pathological skinflint. He applies for a $304 tax credit. He tries to weasel out of a $1 million donation to vets. He transfers the salary of his longtime personal bodyguard to his campaign. He's bizarrely unwilling to make charitable contributions.

The guy's just—wait. What's that? We're receiving more Trump news over the transom before I can even finish this post? Sigh. Sock it to me, Bloomberg:

An embattled Donald Trump urgently rallied his most visible supporters to defend his attacks on a federal judge's Mexican ancestry during a conference call on Monday in which he ordered them to question the judge's credibility and impugn reporters as racists.

"We will overcome," Trump said, according to two supporters who were on the call....When former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer interrupted the discussion to inform Trump that his own campaign had asked surrogates to stop talking about the lawsuit in an e-mail on Sunday, Trump repeatedly demanded to know who sent the memo, and immediately overruled his staff.

"Take that order and throw it the hell out," Trump said.

Told the memo was sent by Erica Freeman, a staffer who circulates information to surrogates, Trump said he didn't know her...."Are there any other stupid letters that were sent to you folks?" Trump said. "That's one of the reasons I want to have this call, because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren't so smart."

"We will overcome"? Seriously, Donald? That's the first phrase that comes to mind when you're orchestrating an obscenely racist campaign to smear a judge of Hispanic heritage? Apparently so: "The people asking the questions—those are the racists," he told the folks on the conference call. So I guess "we shall overcome" is totally appropriate.

For the record, Trump hired Erica Freeman six weeks ago to coordinate with his surrogates. I guess he's already forgotten. Presumably she takes orders from Paul Manafort or some similar mucky-muck, so I guess they're all idiots too.

I don't think I've ever come across another person more a slave to their hormones than Donald Trump. No matter what the stakes, he just can't rein himself in. He has to attack in the most boorish way imaginable and he can't stop. Or maybe it's worse: his hormones are OK except when the stakes are the highest. Jesus. Can you imagine what might have happened if Trump had been president during the Cuban Missile Crisis? That's assuming you'd be alive to ponder this question, of course.

In other news, Hillary Clinton acted like a normal human being today and therefore got no press attention. All for the best, I suppose. When your enemies are digging themselves a hole, why take away the shovel?

The current full retirement age for Social Security is not 65. It is 66. For those born in 1960 or later, your retirement age is not 66, it is 67.

This post comes as a suggestion from reader DR, who suspects that most people still think of 65 as the normal retirement age. It's not. You get Medicare at age 65. You can get 86.7 percent of your full Social Security benefits at age 65. But if you want full benefits, it's age 66+ for the 12 percent of us born between 1950-59 and age 67 for the 73 percent of us born after that.

It is not age 65 for any of us.

Ralph Nader Is Tired of You People

Ralph Nader doesn't think much of the kids these days. He wants all you millennials to stop your damn texting and Facebooking and build some lasting institutions instead. Here is his Pacific Standard interview with Lydia DePillis:

Do you think Trump has a point about political correctness? That we’ve gotten too uptight?

Oh, yeah. You see it on campuses — what is it called, trigger warnings? It’s gotten absurd. I mean, you repress people, you engage in anger, and what you do is turn people into skins that are blistered by moonbeams. Young men now are far too sensitive because they’ve never been in a draft. They’ve never had a sergeant say, “Hit the ground and do 50 push-ups and I don’t care if there’s mud there.”

....Do you think social media has been a benefit or a harm to organizers?

Well, it’s been a great benefit to Sanders. But I think, on balance, it’s destroying the brains of your generation. In terms of sheer time and sheer trivia and sheer narcissism and sheer emotional pain, it’s unparalleled....This isn’t just like you’re watching television. This is total immersion. And it’s just going to get worse. That means shorter attention spans, less sociability.

....But what if they’re talking to each other through their phones?

Yeah, but it’s not voice. They don’t like to talk by voice. They’re too sensitive.

....What about something like Black Lives Matter, which I think has made quite an impact on the discourse?

Yeah, but how far does Black Lives Matter go? Is it raising money for offices and permanent staff?...And what will happen when the press turns on them? The press finished off Occupy. The minute they were ejected it was no longer news. Not that they knew how to organize anything. Not that they knew how to take any advice from the ’70s and ’60s.

....Do you see any promising young movements or leaders that you think are the real deal?

Well, how do you see them? Those kinds of people don’t get on the talk shows anymore....They don’t appear on television anymore. The media’s been completely commercialized and corporatized. It’s so bad that people like you don’t even watch it. Like, do you ever watch Saturday afternoon network shows?

I never watch TV.

None of your generation does. Do you know what’s on it? You can’t believe how bad it is. About an hour of these bicycle gymnasts competing. Then you have paid infomercials. Then you have horrible third-run B-grade movies.

Bicycle gymnasts? Is he talking about the X Games? But they're typically on cable, aren't they?

No matter. Basically, all you kids need to listen to Ralph Nader more. He's gotten very tired of the fact that you refuse to take his advice these days.

In no particular order:

  1. A tour of the warehouse full of Bibles that people have sent him.
  2. All the news clippings from 2003 about his strong opposition to the Iraq War.
  3. The final report of his Hawaii investigators about Barack Obama's place of birth.
  4. The income tax returns he promised to release several months ago.
  5. A detailed description of the "surgical" strike he supported against Libya.
  6. His directive to all Trump properties that they allow guns on their premises.
  7. Whether he would ever use nuclear weapons against ISIS.
  8. An explanation for why he quietly removed the graphic from this tweet.
  9. An accounting of how much money he made from Trump University, and why he never gave it to charity, as he promised.
  10. His "little retort" to Hillary Clinton's entirely accurate representation of his foreign policy views. (In fairness, he still has a few hours left to make good on this.)

Just curious. He's a busy guy, and definitely not a liar. I'm sure he'll get around to all this stuff eventually.

With no offense meant to Washington DC, the 2016 primary season is finally over tomorrow. Finally. Here's what California looks like in the last polling before the big day. My prediction: Sanders wins 52-48 percent.

California and the Myth of Proposition 187

Keith Humphreys points out today that California used to be a solidly Republican place. But then Republicans reacted to the state's growing non-white population by supporting the infamous Proposition 187:

Like any Californian I can attest to the venomous, racially-divisive nature of the debate that surrounded it. Republican Pete Wilson publicly embraced the measure at every campaign stop, and rode anti-immigrant sentiment to re-election with strong support from White voters. In the process, Wilson and those who advised him to double-down on white voters permanently crippled the California Republican Party. Subsequent Democratic Presidential candidates have not even bothered to campaign in this minority-majority state; why should they?

....The California lesson for the national GOP as party leaders debate whether to not to embrace Donald Trump? Racially divisive appeals to alienated white voters can work, but pursuing such short-term electoral rewards is a route to long-term political oblivion in an increasingly diverse America.

This is the conventional wisdom, and I've never questioned it. For some reason, though, I got curious about it today. Here's what California has looked like in presidential elections over the past 35 years:

Unless I made a mistake somewhere, Prop 187 had precisely zero effect. As the non-white population of California rose, the Democratic share of the presidential vote rose in almost perfect tandem. After 1994, it continued growing at the same rate as ever.

This is just the presidential vote, and maybe things are different in other contests. But I'd be interested to see someone take a more detailed look at this. The real lesson here seems to be that Donald Trump's racist blatherings are likely to have no effect at all on the Republican Party. Non-whites don't like Republicans, and will go on not liking them.

Bottom line: Extra doses of racism probably don't hurt Republicans. Minority voters already know the score, so they don't care much. Until the Republican Party actively goes after the racism in its ranks and actively tries to appeal to non-white voters, it doesn't matter much what else they do.

An Armada of Geese Is Coming For You

This is a very purposeful-looking armada of geese in our local pond. It reminds me of pictures of the Battle of Jutland, all sea and fog with lines of battle wagons in the far distance steaming toward some horrible final confrontation. Tomorrow, perhaps, I will have some pictures of our latest crop of baby geese, who are more reminiscent of an armada of fuzzy dinghies. Soon you will get very tired of geese. But at least it distracts me from writing about Donald Trump.

Here is the start of a Jake Tapper question to Donald Trump this morning. Trump has just gotten done lying yet again—and at length—about his support for the Iraq War, and Tapper finally decides to move on:

TAPPER: At a rally in Sacramento, you accused [Hillary Clinton] of lying about your foreign policy as it relates to expressingsupport for Japan being able to get nuclear weapons.

TRUMP: A hundred percent.

TAPPER: Well, let me just read from you....This is from an April 3 interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News. You said: "North Korea has nukes, Japan has a problem with that. I mean, they have a big problem with that. Maybe they would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea."

And Chris Wallace says, "With nukes?"

And you say, "Including with nukes, yes, including with nukes."


This is followed by nearly a thousand words over the course of three minutes of Tapper vainly trying to get Trump to address his question at all. It's not that Trump tap dances or makes excuses or pretends he really meant something different. He just flatly insists on talking about something else and bowls over Tapper whenever he tries to get him back on track. Finally Tapper gives up and moves on again.

This is not a criticism of Tapper, who has been more aggressive than most about trying to hold Trump accountable for the things he says. But what can you do? Trump very plainly has expressed support for Japan getting nukes. It's on tape. He's been explicit on multiple occasions that we should withdraw our military presence from Japan unless they're willing to pay us a lot more money. That's on tape too.

Hillary Clinton responded with this: "It's no small thing when he suggests that America should withdraw our military support for Japan, encourage them to get nuclear weapons." That's 100 percent accurate. It's not even slightly exaggerated. And yet Trump blithely insists that she's lying and then refuses to answer questions about it. Eventually exhaustion sets in and everyone just lets it go.

How do you handle someone like that?

Tyler Cowen points me to this from the Economist:

Most trading in bitcoin takes place in China: Huobi and OKCoin, two Chinese exchanges, are thought to account for more than 90% of transactions. The currency seems to have become an outlet for Chinese savers frustrated with their limited investment options and searching for high-yielding assets. The Chinese authorities are worried enough to have banned banks from dealing in bitcoin, but individuals are still free to speculate and have been doing so with gusto.

....China has also become the global hub for bitcoin mining, the process by which heavy-duty computing power is used to process transactions involving bitcoin, earning those doing the processing some new bitcoin as compensation. Over 80% of new bitcoin are now minted in data centres in places like Sichuan and Inner Mongolia.

One of the selling points of e-currencies like Bitcoin is that their decentralized nature makes them inherently free of government meddling. But is that really true? I've long thought that techno-evangelists show far less respect than they should toward meatspace assets like nuclear bombs, gun-wielding police forces, ownership of fiber optic networks, vast fortunes in physical goods, and so forth. This is, for example, why so many of them were naive enough back in the 90s to believe that the internet would spell doom for traditional marketing—only to wake up a few years later and discover that traditional marketers had adapted remarkably quickly to their supposed revolution. It turned out that high IQs aren't limited to Silicon Valley, and that websites and Google searches and Facebook advertising posed no more of a challenge to the existing order than television did in the 50s.

So is Bitcoin really safe from government meddling? It has been so far, but only in the same sense that an ant is safe from my boot as long as it doesn't annoy me. China, however, has already proved that a meatspace government can, in fact, crush the digital world if it's sufficiently motivated to do so. It's not even all that hard. So if e-currencies are now mostly a ploy for evading Chinese capital controls, I'd say we're about to learn pretty quickly whether (a) e-currencies can grow big enough to matter, and (b) national governments are truly helpless to do anything about them. I'll put my money on the meatspace men in Beijing if push ever comes to shove on this.

UBI Continues To Be Wildly Unpopular

The concept of an Unconditional Basic Income has become a hot topic on the interwebs. Conservative Charles Murray started things up in 2006 with the publication of In Our Hands, which created a brief stir and then sank into oblivion because (surprise!) conservatives were distinctly uninterested in cutting unconditional checks to lazy welfare bums.

Then it came out of hibernation a few months ago for reasons that escape me. At the time, I vaguely figured that much of the credit belonged to Vox's Dylan Matthews for his tireless advocacy of a UBI. It also, of course, had something to do with the explosion of Bernie mania. Bernie doesn't actually support a UBI, but he's said that it's "something that must be explored" and it pretty plainly fits into his general worldview. Nonetheless, after another 15 minutes of fame, it went into hibernation again. But it refused to die, emerging from its lair yet again a few weeks ago. Considering the fact that a UBI has less chance of being enacted than a law guaranteeing everyone a pet unicorn, this is a little odd. What's going on?

I'm still not sure, but much of it was probably due to an upcoming UBI referendum in Switzerland, engineered by the lefty Swiss community a couple of years ago. Today, after months of anticipation, they finally voted on it—and the results weren't pretty. Even in the heart of social democratic Europe, the mere concept of a UBI1 ended up with only 23 percent approval. It's still in pet unicorn territory.

But eventually it will become reality. We just have to wait for the robot revolution to evolve to the point where lots of middle-class white people are permanently put out of work. Then it swiftly will go from pet unicorn to "duh." I imagine this transformation will take a surprisingly short time and will happen sometime around 2030 or so.

1Despite endless headlines suggesting the Swiss were voting on payouts of $2,500 per month, the actual text of the initiative directs the Swiss parliament only to enact a UBI that "shall enable the whole population to live in human dignity and participate in public life." The actual level and financing of the UBI are not specified.