Rex Tillerson and John Kelly are visiting Mexico this week to discuss NAFTA, tariffs, trade deficits, border walls, and deportations. In other words, pretty much everything Mexicans hate about Donald Trump. The LA Times reports:

[Trump] has threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement and has proposed a tax on imports from Mexico and other countries with which the U.S. has a trade deficit. Both plans pose a serious threat to Mexico, which sends roughly 80% of its exports to the U.S., and whose peso has plummeted amid fears of what the Trump administration may do.

I keep reading this over and over and over. So let's take a look at the value of the peso:

The peso has indeed fallen, losing nearly half its value recently. However, this decline started in the middle of 2014 and it's been rolling steadily along ever since. If there's any evidence that Donald Trump has anything to do with this, I sure can't see it. Can we please retire this fable?

The editors of the Washington Post have a message for Donald Trump:

President Trump is ready to start signing executive orders that roll back Obama-era regulations on climate and water pollution:

While both directives will take time to implement, they will send an unmistakable signal that the new administration is determined to promote fossil-fuel production....One executive order — which the Trump administration will couch as reducing U.S. dependence on other countries for energy — will instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to begin rewriting the 2015 regulation that limits greenhouse-gas emissions from existing electric utilities. It also instructs the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing.

....Trump, who signed legislation last week that nullified a recent regulation prohibiting surface-mining operations from dumping waste in nearby waterways, said he was eager to support coal miners who had backed his presidential bid. “The miners are a big deal,” he said Thursday. “I’ve had support from some of these folks right from the very beginning, and I won’t forget it.”

Will this put miners back to work? Not really, for a simple reason: bituminous coal is only barely competitive anymore with natural gas:1

Bituminous coal is the stuff that's mined in Appalachia and the Eastern US. It's what you think of when you think of coal miners. However, it's faced price pressure for decades from surface-mined subbituminous coal produced with minimal labor in Wyoming and the rest of the West,2 and now it's facing price pressure from natural gas too. Natural gas prices spiked in the aughts, partly due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and just as those spikes began to subside naturally, hydraulic fracturing opened up vast new quantities of natural gas, forcing the price to plummet. Right now, natural gas is only a hair's width away from being cheaper than coal.

Can Trump do anything about this? No. He can repeal all the rules he wants, but returning to, say, the 2014 price of coal just won't make much difference. The price of natural gas is still going be competitive with, or lower than, bituminous coal—and a lot cleaner too. Besides, Trump also plans to ease rules on fracking, which will push the price of natural gas down too. Coal miners are unlikely to benefit from all this by any appreciable amount.

So who will? As usual, the answer is coal mine operators. The repeal of environmental rules won't affect prices enough to make much difference in coal employment, but it will provide a nice chunk of pocket change for the folks who own the mines.

UPDATE: The EIA conversion factor I used for the amount of natural gas to produce 1 kWh is based on the average efficiency of steam and combustion turbine plants. However, combined cycle plants account for about half the gas fleet, so the average efficiency of natural gas plants is a bit higher than the EIA numbers suggest. I've modified the chart to account for this.


1Historical price of bituminous coal here. Recent price history here. Natural gas prices here. Conversion factors to kilowatt-hours here, reduced by about 12 percent to account for the fact that efficient combined-cycle plants make up about half the gas fleet. I've done a bit of massaging here and there in the recent data to make the entire series comparable. Nonetheless, these figures are still slightly approximate, especially for coal, which varies in price fairly widely depending on region and type.

2Wyoming produces 40 percent of all US coal but employs only about 7,000 workers.

In case you're wondering what finally got me to try GeoFRED,1 it was a report I got this morning from the retirement boffins at EBRI, "Geographic Variation in Spending Among Older American Households." This put me in mind of maps, and reminded me to check out FRED's mapmaking prowess.

Anyway, the EBRI report turned out not to be all that interesting, but here's a bit of raw data anyway about retiree spending:

The folks down in Texas and Arkansas sure have low expenses, though I'm not sure how much this tells us. Do they really have low expenses, or do they just have low incomes and can't spend very much? Probably some of both. In any case, this gives you an idea of how much retirees spend in whatever part of the country you live in.

1I realize no one was wondering that. Work with me here.

Here is Mike Males in the LA Times this morning:

President Trump has cast California as “out of control” because of proposed legislation that would make the entire state a sanctuary for illegal immigrants, who, he says, “breed crime.” But in reality, as California’s immigrant population has grown, its crime and violence rates have plummeted.

Let’s start with the demographics....Over the last two decades, California has seen an influx of 3.5 million immigrants, mostly Latino, and an outmigration of some 2 million residents, most of them white. An estimated 2.4 million undocumented immigrants also currently live in the state.

....And yet, according to data from the FBI, the California Department of Justice, and the Centers for Disease Control, the state has seen precipitous drops in every major category of crime and violence that can be reliably measured. In Trump terms, you might say that modern California is the opposite of “American carnage.”

It's true. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, here's a picture:

Apologies for the ugliness of the chart. Edward Tufte would be appalled. But here's what it shows. The foreign-born share of the population has increased from 9 percent to 27 percent since 1970. However, from 1995 to 2015, violent crime in California has declined at a faster rate than in the US as a whole.1

So do immigrants cause an increase in violent crime? It doesn't really look like it, does it? And yet, Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the current House majority leader, continues to warn his fellow Californians that they should be nicer to President Trump. At the same time, Trump continues to justify hiring 10,000 new immigration agents and changing the deportation rules based on the idea that it's important to get rid of anyone who's committed even a minor infraction. That might make the base happy, but it's not going to make anybody safer.

1I was lazy and only looked up the crime rates for every five years. I imagine I could also dig up crime rates by state earlier than 1995 if I really tried, but I didn't try very hard. If anybody has them, I'll be happy to pop them into the chart.

I have discovered GeoFRED. Am I the last person to do so? I'm not sure, but it promises to be a lot of fun. Here's a sample:

I think you can safely expect more maps from me in the future. You may decide for yourself if this is a positive development.

The White House is like a rotten onion these days: every time we peel back a layer, it smells worse and worse. First we all heard about Steve Bannon, the Breitbart News CEO who plays the Rasputin role in the West Wing, whispering in Donald Trump's ear about Muslim terrorists and Mexican rapists. Then we all learned about Stephen Miller, the 31-year-old wunderkind who is, if anything, even more glib and hardcore than Bannon. Now we're all learning about Sebastian Gorka:

For years, Gorka had labored on the fringes of Washington and the far edge of acceptable debate as defined by the city’s Republican and Democratic foreign policy elite. Today, the former national security editor for the conservative Breitbart News outlet occupies a senior job in the White House and his controversial ideas — especially about Islam — drive Trump’s populist approach to counterterrorism and national security.

....For him, the terrorism problem has nothing to do with repression, alienation, torture, tribalism, poverty, or America’s foreign policy blunders and a messy and complex Middle East. “This is the famous approach that says it is all so nuanced and complicated,” Gorka said in an interview. “This is what I completely jettison.”

For him, the terror threat is rooted in Islam and “martial” parts of the Koran that he says predispose some Muslims to acts of terror. “Anybody who downplays the role of religious ideology . . . they are deleting reality to fit their own world,” he said.

Last month, as he celebrated at the inaugural ball...Gorka said he had one last message for America’s troops — “the guys inside the machine” — and its enemies. He turned toward the host, his medal glinting in the TV lights. “The alpha males are back,” he said.

It's a sewer in there. But here's the funny thing: Gorka might well be right but for entirely the wrong reasons. Young men who live in a wide swath of the world stretching from North Africa to Central Asia probably are more prone to violence than they are in the developed North. But it has nothing to do with Islam. That's just the handiest thing to latch onto. It's all about lead:

The Trumpies got struck down for temporarily banning immigration from a set of seven seemingly arbitrary countries, so instead they should create a rule that temporarily bans immigration from any country that phased out leaded gasoline later than, say, 2001. They might have to fiddle a bit with the numbers, which they have plenty of experience doing, and maybe add some weird second condition in order to get only the countries they want, but with a little creativity they could make it work. And it's not based on ethnicity, religion, or even nationality. You're welcome!

Behold our White House press office at work:

Sunday: White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells reporters that President Trump “played a couple of holes” today.

Monday: Pro golfer Rory McIlroy says he played 18 holes with Trump. “He probably shot around 80. He’s a decent player for a guy in his 70’s!”

Monday evening: The White House releases a new statement: "He intended to play a few holes and decided to play longer."

Obviously this doesn't matter in any cosmic sense. Who cares how much golf Trump plays? But it's yet another indication that the White House press operation will blithely lie about anything. Is there really any point to having a press office these days?

I can still remember a decade ago, when Col. H.R. McMaster, the hero of Tal Afar and genius of counterinsurgency, had been passed over for the second time for promotion to brigadier general. Did we ever find out who had it in for him? Probably not. In any case, he eventually got his star, and then another, and then another, and now he's got an office in the White House:

President Trump appointed Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster as his new national security adviser on Monday, picking a widely respected military strategist known for challenging conventional thinking and helping to turn around the Iraq war in its darkest days.

....General McMaster had the aura of disruption that Mr. Trump has valued in several cabinet secretaries, said a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to describe internal deliberations. Another candidate, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, the superintendent of West Point, impressed Mr. Trump as being “from central casting,” the official said. But the president wanted him to stay at West Point, which he reveres.

I see that Trump is using his usual keen management insights to choose the folks responsible for running our country. Luckily, he somehow decided that the guy from central casting ought to stay at West Point, and accidentally chose McMaster instead. This is probably a pretty good selection, so I guess we should all be grateful regardless of how we got there.

I wonder what McMaster thinks of K.T. McFarland? That seems to be a key prerequisite for NSA these days. I sure hope they get along, since I assume McFarland will have no problem using her personal connection with Trump to complain about McMaster behind his back if she doesn't like what he's doing.

President Trump just can't give up on Sweden:

I suppose that "beautifully" is subjective, so I won't comment on that. But Trump is specifically talking about crime here, and a bit of googling tells me that the real target of the fear-o-sphere isn't so much Sweden in general, but the city of Malmö, just across the sound from Copenhagen. About a third of Malmö's population was born abroad, the highest rate in Sweden, and to listen to the right-wing media it's basically become the Beirut of the North ever since immigrants started pouring in. "How Muslim Migration Made Malmo, Sweden A Crime Capital," blares the Daily Wire. "Malmo, Sweden is the Most Dangerous City in Western Europe," says Infowars, adding that it's suffering from "soaring crime, murder." Over in Britain, the Express puts things plainly: "SWEDEN CRUMBLING: Demands for military intervention as thugs turn Malmo into 'no-go zone.'"

(Sorry, no links. Google 'em yourself if you really want to read this stuff.)

Luckily for the rest of us, Sweden has quite an excellent crime reporting website, helpfully offered in both Swedish and English. Here are the crime rates in recent years for Sweden's three biggest cities:

Sadly, the laggard Swedes don't have 2016 numbers for Malmö even though we're a full 50 days into 2017, so this will have to do. As you can see, Malmö's crime rate is higher than Sweden's, which is the usual case for big cities, but generally lower than Stockholm's. It's been trending slightly downward over the past decade. Here's property crime:

Malmö doesn't look much like a hellhole, does it? Violent crime looks fairly normal for a city of its size, and it's trending down. Property crime looks better than you might expect, and it's trending distinctly down. For a longer-term look at things, here are the total number of murders in Sweden over the past 50 years:

I suppose you all recognize this shape from my hundreds of posts about lead and crime, right? In any case, it's been trending steadily downward since 1990 while the number of immigrants has been steadily rising. Drilling down, the murder rate between 1991-2014 in Skåne county, which includes Malmö, has stayed flat. However, the murder rate in Malmö itself has nearly doubled in the past two years, increasing from about seven murders in 2014 to twelve in 2016.

Why? Gang wars. This is also the reason Malmö has been the victim of a surprising number of hand grenade attacks lately. Apparently they're leftovers from the Balkan wars that are smuggled into Sweden and used by rival drug gangs in their turf wars. There's no question that gang wars fought with hand grenades and handguns are the kind of thing that could put people on edge, but these gangs have been around for a long time and it's unclear what's caused the recent surge in turf wars. It might be related to the influx of immigrants, but since immigrants have been moving to Malmö for years, while the gang wars have increased in just the last two, that seems a bit of a stretch.

All this said, Malmö's overall crime rate, both violent and property, has been pretty flat for the past decade, and the murder rate has been flat for the past three decades. All this has happened while the immigrant population in Malmö has increased more than tenfold.

So that leaves us with the recent gang wars, which have caused an uptick in murders over just the past couple of years. That's it. If you cherry pick a single city with a sudden upsurge in gang warfare, and then assume it's all the fault of immigrants, then Sweden becomes the poster child for immigrants and crime. But that's a pretty thin case.