Last year, the Obama administration issued a directive telling public schools to allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom matches their gender identity. This week, that turned into a fight between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over an order that would repeal the Obama directive:

Ms. DeVos initially resisted signing off on the order and told President Trump that she was uncomfortable with it....Mr. Sessions, who strongly opposes expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, fought Ms. DeVos on the issue and pressed her to relent.

....Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, these Republicans said, telling Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her objections. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the choice of resigning or defying the president, has agreed to go along. The Justice Department declined to comment on Wednesday.

This is going to happen a lot. Even on issues where Trump might be personally flexible, he's now surrounded by hardcore ideologues who will push him as far to the right as public opinion will allow. We basically live under a Pence administration with Trump acting as head carnival barker and showman.

Over at Bloomberg, Noah Smith argues against getting too worked up over immigration:

Illegal immigration to the U.S. ended a decade ago and, according to the Pew Research Center, has been zero or negative since its peak in 2007....Why? One reason might be economic....The economy has improved, and the fertility rate has fallen a lot, meaning that young Mexicans are needed back in Mexico to take over family businesses and take care of aging parents....A third reason is increased border enforcement. For years, many Americans demanded that the border with Mexico be secured in order to stem illegal immigration. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama did exactly that. Obama, especially, stepped up the pace of deportation.

OK. But how do Americans feel about immigration?

Here too, surveys show that there isn’t really a problem. The percent of Americans telling Gallup that immigration should be decreased went up after 9/11, spiked again during the Great Recession, but has since fallen to about a third. As of 2016, a clear majority say that immigration should either be kept at its present level (38 percent) or increased (21 percent) — hardly a mandate for immigration restriction.

Quite so. Here is Gallup's chart of public opinion:

But that tells only half the story. Here are all the recent Gallup polls I could find that break out Republican responses about immigration:

Smith argues that "there is no big anti-immigrant wave in the U.S....Instead, the current anti-immigrant fervor among Trump’s hardcore supporters might simply be a brief spasm of anger by a strident minority." But that doesn't seem to be the case. For at least the past decade, a strong majority of Republicans has favored decreasing immigration—and if the question were limited to illegal immigration, the numbers would certainly be higher.

This is no brief spasm. The country as a whole may be getting friendlier to immigration, but Republicans decidedly aren't. If Democrats ever want to pass some kind of comprehensive immigration reform, they're going to have to figure out some way to get Republican votes for it, but that's not going to happen as long as the entire GOP—not just diehard Trump fans—is dead set against it.

Charges of hypocrisy in politics are kind of tedious. However, last night TPM reported a bit of hypocrisy that's considerably worse than the usual kind. It's all about a suit brought by House Republicans against Obamacare that would have killed any payouts to insurance companies for something called Cost Sharing Reduction. These are additional subsidies that reduce your out-of-pocket max, and they apply only to silver plans for families who make less than about $40-50,000. In other words, the working class and the working poor.

CSR subsidies are paid directly to insurance companies, but Republicans argued that although Obamacare authorized the subsidies, the House hadn't voted to appropriate the funds—and had no plans to do so. If Republicans won the case, it would have caused considerable chaos in the market as insurers scrambled to make up for payments they had been promised but weren't going to get.

Last year a judge ruled in favor of the Republicans, and the Obama administration appealed. In December Republicans asked for a temporary stay to give them time to sort things out legislatively now that they controlled all branches of government. The stay was granted, and now Republicans are back in court. Here is Alice Ollstein:

In a joint motion (see below) filed Tuesday, the two branches of government asked the court not to rule yet on the legality of these subsidies "to allow time for a resolution that would obviate the need for judicial determination of this appeal, including potential legislative action.”...The new motion seeks to extend the current stay indefinitely to give lawmakers on Capitol Hill time to figure out the future for the entirety of the health care reform law, including the cost-sharing subsidies.

Translation: back when Democrats would have been responsible for the chaos this ruling unleashed, Republicans were all in favor of unloading both barrels on Obamacare. But now that Republicans would have to deal with the chaos, they've suddenly gotten gun-shy.

Republicans understood perfectly that winning their suit would hurt not just the insurance industry, but probably millions of workers as well. They didn't care, as long as Democrats got the blame. Now that Republicans would get the blame, they want the temporary stay to be made permanent.

This, ladies and gentlemen, demonstrates just how much Republicans really care about the working class voters who are the ones who mostly benefit from CSR payments: they don't. They're just pawns in the GOP's endless partisan wars.

The New York Times says that President Trump's immigration order last month cratered the tourism business:

The airfare prediction app Hopper, for example, analyzed 303 million flight searches between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1 and found that flight search demand from 122 international countries to the United States dropped 17 percent after the implementation of the travel ban, compared with the first three weeks in January.

Demand bounced back slightly after the ban was temporarily lifted on Feb. 3 but was still down by more than 10 percent as of Feb. 10, compared with the first three weeks in January, said Hopper’s chief data scientist, Patrick Surry.

I clicked the link. Here's the chart from Hopper:

Flight demand is generally down in 2017, but that all happened before the travel ban. In fact, right after the travel ban was announced, flight demand increased about 17 percent. This is exactly the opposite of what the Times reported.

This is why I almost never pass along any news story with numbers attached to it unless I check the numbers myself.

POSTSCRIPT: I should add that Hopper's own analysis isn't much better. Patrick Surry says: "Flight search demand from international origins to the US has dropped 17% overall since Trump's inauguration, and the implementation of the travel ban, compared to the final weeks of the Obama presidency."

Huh? The only way you can get close to that is to compare the peak day of January (+8 percent) to the day of the Robart TRO (-11 percent). Or perhaps by comparing the pre-inauguration average (-1 percent?) to the worst post-inauguration day (-18 percent). Either way, it says nothing at all about the effect of the travel ban.

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.