Every day brings new stories out of the White House about what an idiot Donald Trump is. I kinda sorta try to stay away from them, with only sporadic success. But this one is worth it for reasons unrelated to the anecdote itself. Here are S.V. Date and Christina Wilkie:

President Donald Trump was confused about the dollar: Was it a strong one that's good for the economy? Or a weak one?

So he made a call―except not to any of the business leaders Trump brought into his administration or even to an old friend from his days in real estate. Instead, he called his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, according to two sources familiar with Flynn's accounts of the incident.

Flynn has a long record in counterintelligence but not in macroeconomics. And he told Trump he didn't know, that it wasn't his area of expertise, that, perhaps, Trump should ask an economist instead.

Just for the record, the answer about the dollar is: it depends. But a weak dollar is good for boosting exports and reducing the trade deficit, so that's probably what Trump was looking for.

These anecdotes are basically liberal porn for those of us who revel in reports of Trump's almost unfathomable ignorance. I include myself among the revelers, but I also know that there's no way of knowing for sure which of these stories are true and which are just malicious gossip. What's more interesting is the topic of the rest of the story:

Unsurprisingly, Trump's volatile behavior has created an environment ripe for leaks from his executive agencies and even within his White House. And while leaks typically involve staffers sabotaging each other to improve their own standing or trying to scuttle policy ideas they find genuinely problematic, Trump's 2-week-old administration has a third category: leaks from White House and agency officials alarmed by the president's conduct.

…Information about Trump's personal interactions and the inner workings of his administration has come to HuffPost from individuals in executive agencies and in the White House itself. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.

While some of the leaks are based on opposition to his policies—the travel ban on all refugees and on visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations, for instance—many appear motivated by a belief that Trump's words, deeds and tweets pose a genuine threat.

This is truly bizarre and unique. Every new White House has lots of growing pains and plenty of leaks. But they never feature leak after leak after leak portraying the president as a boob. That's something new.

At this point, I'm mostly curious about who's doing the leaking. Is it career staff from the Obama era who are still working in the White House until they get reassigned? Or is this coming from folks who were actually hired by Trump? If it's the former, it's still unprecedented but probably just represents lingering resentment. However, if Trump's own people think he's an idiot and are happy to let the whole world know it, something is very, very wrong.

But I don't know which it is.

I'd forgotten all about this, but tonight was the date of the great Ted Cruz-Bernie Sanders debate. Apparently Cruz decided to haul out the old chestnut about Canadians fleeing en masse to the US for health care, which just proves how crappy government-run medicine is.

Lots of people are pointing out that this isn't really true, but I want to point out something different: Americans flee the US in pretty similar numbers to Canadians fleeing Canada. The best numbers we have suggest that about 45,000 Canadians left the country for medical care in 2015. (That's all destinations, not just the US.) Meanwhile, about 250,000 Americans left the US for medical care abroad. And these numbers don't even count the number of Americans who get their prescription drugs from overseas.

Overall, then, that's about 0.13 percent of Canadians and 0.08 percent of Americans who flee their countries for health care. Those are pretty similar numbers. The only real difference is the reason for leaving. Canadians mostly cite wait times for elective surgery. Americans mostly cite the high cost of medical treatment.

So you see, every kind of health care system has its own problems. Canada's is bad for rich people who can afford to pay top dollar to get faster service. America's is bad for poor people, who would go bankrupt if they paid American prices. Check your moral compass and take your pick.

In the New York Times today, Scott Arbeiter writes about abortion:

The Guttmacher Institute reported last month that the rate of abortions per 1,000 women has fallen to the lowest rate since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. While the causes for this decrease are complex, many of us who are pro-life found this to be good news.

I'm not sure it's all that complicated, especially for teen abortions. Take a look at this chart, which uses Guttmacher data on teen pregnancy rates and teen abortion rates:

As you can see, the teen abortion rate almost precisely followed the teen pregnancy rate from 1979-88 and 1995-2011. So there's not a big mystery about abortion per se: when teens get pregnant less, they get fewer abortions. The exception is 1988-95. For some reason, teen abortion rates declined fairly dramatically even though pregnancy rates stayed about the same. So there are two interesting questions here:

Why did the teen pregnancy rate go down? The most obvious possibility is increased contraceptive use, but since 1995, at least, that doesn't really seem to be the case (1995-2006 here, 2007-12 here).1 Another possibility is that teens became less impulsive starting around 1990 thanks to lower rates of lead poisoning.

What happened in 1988-95? Beats me. Teen pregnancy rates were fairly flat. Ditto for contraceptive use. But the abortion rate plummeted by a third.

The primary answer to the question of declining teen abortion rates is that teens are simply getting pregnant a lot less than they used to. That's the issue to focus on.

UPDATE: A reader emails with a possible explanation for the 1988-95 mystery:

As a child of the 80s who sat through many health classes, I think you may be missing an important factor in the decline in teen pregnancy: AIDS. In the 1988-1995 period you describe, I can tell you that it was drilled into teenagers' heads that unprotected sex would lead to AIDS and death. This was the era of Magic Johnson, Philadelphia, TLC's Waterfalls, etc. Unlike earlier in the 80s, AIDS was no longer seen as confined to homosexual communities. Relatedly, condoms became widespread and "cool" for teenagers, in a way they weren't in the 70s and 80s.

Maybe! It sounds pretty plausible, anyway.

1Data on teen contraceptive use is frustratingly hard to get. If anyone knows of a reliable data series that goes back to the 70s, I'd be obliged. It's also worth noting that although overall contraceptive use has been fairly flat since 1995, the use of highly effective methods has increased.

Ruthann Robson says this today about President Trump's immigration order:

Moreover, the EO itself does address religion. In its subsection on resuming refugee claims, which the EO suspends for 120 days, it instructs the government to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality.” In the seven nations covered by the EO, the majority religion is Islam. Thus, unless the government considers different sects of Islam as minority religions, only non-Muslims would be eligible for a claim of religious-based persecution.

I've seen this formulation over and over, but it's wrong. The "religious persecution" clause applies to refugees, who have been banned worldwide. This clause affects Muslims and non-Muslims about equally.

The travel ban applies to any visa holder, and is restricted to seven Muslim-majority countries. There's a good case to be made that this ban is not truly based on nationality but is instead effectively aimed at Muslims, but the religious persecution clause doesn't apply and has nothing to do with it.

Here's a funny thing. President Trump's job disapproval rating has increased a staggering eight points in just two weeks:

And yet his overall favorability rating has stayed steady. In fact, it's actually gone up a smidge. How is it that 20 million additional people have decided he's doing a lousy job but this hasn't affected his favorability? It's a mystery.

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.