How much would a 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports cost us? I think it's pointless to delve very deeply into this until President Trump and congressional Republicans produce a serious plan of some kind. Relying on random tweets and leaks from GOP gatherings will just drive us all crazy, as we try to analyze every dumb idea that gets run up the flagpole. Hell, even Paul Krugman says he's a little confused about some of this stuff, and his Nobel Prize was for international trade.

However, there is one bit of raw data that you might as well get familiar with, since it's not going to change. Here are our top 20 imports from Mexico:

I've highlighted a few of the categories that get the most attention: cars, televisions, crude oil, and produce. Generally speaking, if we tax these things at X percent, their price in the US is going to increase X percent. It won't be quite that much, since trade will adjust based on the taxes, and in the long run the dollar will rise. Probably. And this all assumes there's no retaliation from Mexico, which there probably would be.

Still, in the short and medium term, a 20 percent tax will increase the price of Mexican goods by 20 percent. That means a Ford Focus will cost 20 percent more, flat-screen televisions will cost 20 percent more, and avocados will cost 20 percent more. The problem, of course, is that Ford can't increase the price of a Focus by 20 percent. Nobody would buy them. So they'll just have to keep prices low and take it in the shorts.

Bottom line: in some cases, prices will go up, which will be bad for US consumers. In other cases, importers who are stuck with Mexican factories will have to accept lower profits, which is bad for US companies. In yet other cases, imports will just cease and plants will be shut down, which will be bad for Mexico.

So who will this be good for? That's a very good question. In the case of cars and TVs, probably Japan and South Korea. In the case of produce, maybe Chile. In the case of crude oil, maybe Iran.

Of course, if we decide to put a tax on all imports from everywhere—not just Mexico—then consumer prices of just about everything will go up with no release valve. This would violate every trade treaty we're part of, which means that the entire world would probably retaliate. In the end, prices would go up and American factories would either keep production unchanged or even cut back some. This would be pretty disastrous for the working class folks who voted for Trump.

But that's what everyone is talking about.

Why aren't Democrats voting against President Trump's cabinet nominees en masse? Is it because they're just a bunch soft-headed Beltway lifers who don't understand that the base is pissed and wants them to fight fight fight?

Nope. I'm sure they all get that. But there are two reasons not to do this. The first is simple: the tradition that presidents should be able to choose their own cabinet officers really is important. It's important on its own merits, and it's also important politically. We simply can't get to the point where opposition parties routinely vote against every appointee for everything. That would be disastrous anytime different parties control the Senate and the White House.

But maybe this is still too wishy-washy for you. So here's another reason: if Democrats vote against everyone sight unseen, then Republicans will vote for everyone sight unseen. However, if Democrats demonstrate that they're considering each candidate on the merits, they have at least a fighting chance of defeating one or two of Trump's nominees. Betsy DeVos, for example, has shown that she's flatly ignorant of an astounding amount of basic education policy. It might be possible to persuade two or three Republicans to oppose her on these grounds—but only if the entire confirmation process isn't a pure partisan battle.

So that's that. There's a principled reason for not opposing everyone unanimously, but there's also a pragmatic reason. It won't make a huge difference, but it might keep one or two of Trump's worst qualified nominees out of the cabinet.

As long as we're on the subject of economic growth, the Dow has been in the news lately because it broke the 20,000 barrier. A lot of people are pretty excited about this, but just to give you an idea of how totally unexciting this actually is, here's the Dow over the past eight years:

During the Obama presidency, the Dow doubled in real terms. What's more, its growth has been remarkably steady. The trendline here is nothing fancy, just the default linear regression provided by Excel. The Dow has been growing about 9.4 percent per year, year in and year out. There was a tiny uptick in November, which you can see on the chart, but all it did was return growth to the trendline it had been following for the previous eight years. Since then, growth has returned almost precisely to the trendline.

As for breaking 20,000, anyone with a hand calculator could have predicted a year ago that this would happen within a couple of months of the start of 2017. And it did. It means nothing except that growth is continuing along the same path as always.

Economic growth continued to be OK but not great at the end of 2016, growing at an annualized rate of 1.9 percent in the final quarter:

For the record, GDP grew from $14.4 trillion to $18.9 trillion under President Obama's watch. Adjusted for inflation and population growth, that's an increase in real per-capita GDP of 10 percent, or 1.25 percent per year. For comparison, here's a chart of all OECD countries over the past eight years:

This isn't adjusted for inflation, but it still gives you an idea of how things have been going around the world since the end of the Great Recession and how we compare. In case you're curious, the two countries above us are Norway and Switzerland.

I went to lunch, did a bit of shopping, and came home. Elapsed time: about 90 minutes. In that span:

  • President Trump endorsed a plan for a 20 percent tax on imports from all countries we're running a trade deficit with.
  • Sean Spicer said Mexico's portion of the tax would pay for the wall.
  • Spicer then said this wouldn't raise prices for American consumers, though it quite plainly would.
  • Finally, a few minutes later, Spicer reversed himself and said the 20 percent tax is not a policy proposal after all, merely an example of how we might pay for the wall.

As of now, no one really knows what any of this means. The Trump team still doesn't seem to get that they're in the effing White House now. What they say matters. You don't just toss out any random shit that comes to mind.

In the meantime, Steve Bannon took to the New York Times to up the ante on the White House war with the media:

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Mr. Bannon said during a telephone call. “I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

....Mr. Bannon, who rarely grants interviews to journalists outside of Breitbart News, the provocative right-wing website he ran until last August, was echoing comments by Mr. Trump this weekend, when the president said he was in “a running war” with the media and called journalists “among the most dishonest people on earth.”

Actually, I think we all understand just fine why Donald Trump is president: because he ran a racist, boorish, epically mendacious campaign and Republicans all decided to go along with it. And even that wouldn't have been enough if Trump hadn't gotten some additional help from his pals James Comey and Vladimir Putin. In any case, to the extent that the media is dedicated to exposing lies and reporting the truth, it is indeed the opposition party to people like Bannon.

Then there's this:

Finally, if you need a bit of levity to make up for all the rest of this, our friends at Public Policy Polling have released yet another of their entertaining trolls:

Then again, I suppose this isn't really funny. Here's my guess: despite more than a year of spittle-flecked fury at Hillary Clinton for using a private email server, most Trump voters probably don't even know what a private server is. Nor do they care. It was just a buzzword that somehow meant Hillary was a crook.

ABC's David Muir has gotten some flak for his performance interviewing President Trump yesterday, but I'm not sure it's deserved. Maybe he could have done better, but if the guy won't answer a question, he won't answer a question. Most of the time, Trump barely let Muir get in a word edgewise. Every time half a question came out, Trump would barrel over it and deliver a rambling, unrelated screed. If Muir had asked him what 2+2 equaled, Trump would have blathered for five minutes about our terrible schools and the Chinese are killing us and nobody knows numbers anymore and we have to get rid of Common Core and blah blah blah. Muir tried four or five times to get a straight answer about Trump's idiotic claim that 3-5 million noncitizens voted, and Trump just flatly wouldn't engage.

Still, there were a few interesting tidbits. I count four altogether. First, what's this business of sending in the feds to deal with Chicago's crime problem?

DAVID MUIR: You will send in the feds? What do you mean by that?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's carnage....It's horrible carnage....Now if they want help, I would love to help them. I will send in what we have to send in. Maybe they're not gonna have to be so politically correct. Maybe they're being overly political correct. Maybe there's something going on.

Chart above adapted from CNN chart. Next up: Does Trump endorse torture?

DAVID MUIR: The last president, President Obama, said the U.S. does not torture. Will you say that?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I will say this, I will rely on Pompeo and Mattis and my group. And if they don't wanna do, that's fine. If they do wanna do, then I will work for that end....And I'm gonna rely on those two people and others. And if they don't wanna do it, it's 100 percent okay with me. Do I think it works? Absolutely.

How about the oil in Iraq? Are we going to go back in and take it?

DAVID MUIR: You brought up Iraq and something you said that could affect American troops in recent days. You said, "We should've kept the oil but okay maybe we'll have another chance." What did you mean by that?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, we should've kept the oil when we got out....

DAVID MUIR: You've heard the critics who say that would break all international law, taking the oil.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Wait, wait, can you believe that? Who are the critics who say that? Fools. I don't call them critics. I call them fools....

DAVID MUIR: What got my attention, Mr. President, was when you said, "Maybe we'll have another chance."

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, don't let it get your attention too much because we'll see what happens. I mean, we're gonna see what happens.

Finally, will Trump guarantee that folks currently covered by Obamacare will remain covered under his new plan?

DAVID MUIR: You've seen the estimate that 18 million Americans could lose their health insurance if Obamacare is repealed and there is no replacement. Can you assure those Americans watching this right now that they will not lose their health insurance or end up with anything less?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: .... Here's what I can assure you, we are going to have a better plan, much better health care, much better service treatment, a plan where you can have access to the doctor that you want and the plan that you want. We're gonna have a much better health care plan at much less money.

And remember Obamacare is ready to explode. And you interviewed me a couple of years ago. I said '17 — right now, this year, "'17 is going to be a disaster." I'm very good at this stuff....And why not? Obama's a smart guy. So let it all come due because that's what's happening.....

DAVID MUIR: So, no one who has this health insurance through Obamacare will lose it or end up with anything less?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: You know, when you say no one I think no one. Ideally, in the real world, you’re talking about millions of people. Will no one. And then, you know, knowing ABC, you'll have this one person on television saying how they were hurt. Okay. We want no one. We want the answer to be no one.

So there you have it:

  • Two weeks ago, the Justice Department released a "blistering" report about the Chicago Police Department that said "excessive force was rampant, rarely challenged and chiefly aimed at African-Americans and Latinos." But Trump thinks maybe they're being too soft and they need someone to come in and toughen them up.
  • Torture is a war crime, but Trump is explicitly fine with it if any of his guys recommend it.
  • He still wants to take Iraq's oil, and refuses to rule out the possibility of going back in and doing it. Trump seems to still not realize that the oil is all in the ground and he can't just "take it," nor that taking it would also be a war crime.
  • He thinks President Obama deliberately designed Obamacare to implode in 2017 when he would no longer be in office.
  • His health care plan will cover everyone who currently has coverage under Obamacare. No one will end up with something worse. "We want the answer to be no one."

I would have posted this last night, but I just couldn't stand any more Trump. It took me all morning to work up the willingness to tackle it.

And we're only partly through the first week. There are 208 to go.

We've seen a bunch of recent polling that shows an uptick in support for Obamacare now that the prospect of gutting it has become more real. However, as with any polling, you can get a better picture of what things really look like if you aggregate all the polls. Here is Pollster's aggregate for Obamacare approval:

There has been an upward trend over the past six months of about five points or so. The rise since Donald Trump's election has been a little less than two points. Technically, then, Obamacare is "more popular than ever," but not by a lot.

Hopefully this trend will continue, but for now it's not something to hang our hats on. We're far better off hammering Republicans on specific features of Obamacare that truly have very high support: the pre-existing conditions ban, the cap on out-of-pocket payments, the tax credits, the Medicaid expansion, etc. That's most likely where the battle will be won or lost.

WTF?

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's job running the State Department just got considerably more difficult. The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don't want to stick around for the Trump era.

…[Patrick] Kennedy and three of his top officials resigned unexpectedly, four State Department officials confirmed. Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, followed him out the door. All are career foreign service officers who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

…In addition, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr retired Jan. 20, and the director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, Lydia Muniz, departed the same day. That amounts to a near-complete housecleaning of all the senior officials that deal with managing the State Department, its overseas posts and its people.

…Several senior foreign service officers in the State Department's regional bureaus have also left their posts or resigned since the election. But the emptying of leadership in the management bureaus is more disruptive…"Diplomatic security, consular affairs, there's just not a corollary that exists outside the department, and you can least afford a learning curve in these areas where issues can quickly become matters of life and death."

That's from Josh Rogin of the Washington Post. Were these people pushed out? Did something happen that caused them to want nothing to do with the incoming regime? Nobody knows. This is very, very peculiar.

I mentioned yesterday that continuing to keep Flint residents in terror of their water, even though it's now safe, is just compounding tragedy with tragedy. Today, however, a friend directs me to another example of this, from a New Yorker story about Maya Shankar, an Obama staffer who was looking at ways that behavioral science might be put to work in Flint. It starts with a conversation between Shankar and Kent Key, who works at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine:

Key shared a personal story about the son of a family friend who had begun acting out in school. The boy’s mother had come to Key for help. When Key asked the boy what was going on, he replied, “Well, they said I’m not going to be smart anyway.”

“These kids are internalizing the messages about how the lead is affecting them,” Key said....It wasn’t immediately clear what had come out of the gathering. But, as she and Tucker-Ray left for their next appointment, Shankar began contemplating aloud the possibilities. She said to Tucker-Ray, “Did you see how my eyes widened when he said that thing about the kids giving up because they think they’re going to be dumb?”

....As their last day in Flint drew to a close, Shankar and Tucker-Ray hurried to a final meeting. They had arranged to talk with a disabled Gulf War veteran and community activist named Art Woodson, who didn’t think much of the federal government. At a local municipal building, where an enlarged photograph of corroded lead pipes adorned one wall, Woodson told Shankar about his worry that local kids would give up when lead’s symptoms surfaced, or even before. “What I see,” he said, “is hopelessness.”

This is yet another tragedy. Children in Flint had mildly elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream for about a year or two. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, but the effects of this are fairly modest. To put it in terms most people will recognize, it means that some children in Flint will lose about one IQ point. Maybe two. That's a tragedy, but it's an even bigger tragedy if kids and their parents respond to this by thinking their lives are permanently ruined. The truth is that in nearly all children, the effects will be only barely noticeable.

I don't know what the right response is here. On the one hand, nobody pays attention unless you yell and scream and demand attention. If it weren't for this, authorities would have ignored Flint even longer than they did. On the other hand, the effects of all this yelling and screaming can be disastrous in the long term if residents end up with the belief that Flint's kids are now all destined for a life of misery and cognitive decline.

What's the answer? I'm just some white guy in California, and nobody in Flint is going to pay any attention to what I'm saying. I don't blame them. Nor do doctors want to publicly agree with me, because nobody wants to downplay the effects of lead poisoning. I get that too. I can already imagine the number of tweets and emails I'm going to get demanding to know why I think Flint is no big deal. And yet, the effects of not acknowledging the truth in a serious but sober way can be devastating. There has to be a better way.

Donald Trump thinks the official unemployment rate is "fiction," so Jordan Weissmann suggests we judge him by a different metric. Instead of a complicated measure that tries to divine whether someone "wants" to work, or whether they "want" full-time work but can't get it, or any of that nonsense, let's use a simpler measure for this new, simpler era:

The BLS even produces a data point that Trump himself might like: The employment-to-population ratio for adults between the ages of 25 and 54—or “prime-age EPOP.”...It gives us a raw look at the employment rate, without any fancy caveats about who is and isn't part of the labor force. And because it only tracks workers 25 to 54, it isn't really distorted by the wave of retiring boomers or growing college attendance. It's a simple snapshot of the portion of the population we most need to worry about....Best of all, from Trump's perspective at least, prime-age EPOP has plenty of room for improvement....If Trump wants to argue that Obama left him an economy that was still hurting, this is one stat that will easily help make the case.

Fine. But we don't really want to know how many people are working, we want to know how many people aren't working. So here's the inverse prime-age EPOP, since 1990:

IPA-EPOP1 fell steadily during the postwar period as more and more women left the (unpaid) household workforce and entered the (paid) market workforce, but it's been relatively stable since 1990. That means we can think of the period from 1990 until the start of the Great Recession as sort of a baseline for normal. The average during this period was 20.2 percent, and right now we're still 1.6 percentage points away from that. As Weissmann says, this gives Trump some room to show improvement.

Now, naysayers are going to complain that this doesn't really make sense. After all, this number includes lots of people who don't want to work, mostly stay-at-home mothers and fathers. Shouldn't we take them out of this calculation? Sure, we should, but then we're back to that whole tedious discussion of who's in the labor force and who's just given up and all that stuff. We want simple: working or not working, end of story. And in fairness, when the economy is hot, wages go up and more stay-at-home parents are drawn back into the workforce. That makes this an OK measure of economic hotness.

So there you have it. Trump's starting point is an IPA-EPOP of 21.8 percent. In four years we'll see if he's managed to bring that down.

1Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?