Are we in a second housing bubble, as I suggested in a chart I posted a couple of days ago? Brad DeLong has an optimistic take:

There were three good reasons in the mid-2000s to believe that housing prices should jump substantially....How much were these worth? Not enough to boost housing prices to their 2005 values. But plausibly enough to boost housing prices to their values today. IMHO, the best way to view the graph is as a positive "displacement" boom caused by true fundamentals, a bubble upward overshoot, a crash downward undershoot, and now (we hope) equilibrium.

Maybe! Check back in a couple of years and I'll tell you who's right.

This happened on April 3rd:

This happened two weeks later:

After three years in detention, the Egyptian-American aid worker Aya Hijazi was cleared of child abuse and human trafficking charges in Cairo on Sunday, abruptly ending a high-profile case that had become an international symbol of Egypt’s harsh crackdown on aid groups.

Coincidence? I think not. Trump made a deal: he'd praise al-Sisi and host him in the White House in return for the release of a prisoner. This is what happens when foreign governments know that the president is a weak leader who can be humiliated without consequence.

Do I believe this? Nah—though I imagine that al-Sisi did in fact make this happen as a gesture of goodwill. But where are all the right-wingers who insisted for eight years that stuff like this was clear evidence of Obama caving in to hostage-takers? I assume you all feel the same way about Trump. Don't you?

Matt Yglesias says Mark Zuckerberg could do the world a favor by deep-sixing Facebook:

He bases his call to action on research like this:

Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.

This particular study is prospective and longitudinal: it begins with a group of people and follows them for a couple of years. The benefit of this is that you get more than a mere association. If all you had was a set of data showing that (a) Facebook use is (b) correlated with poor mental health, you'd have no way of knowing if A causes B or B causes A.

This longitudinal data still doesn't answer the question conclusively. It could be that as people become depressed, they spend more time on Facebook. In fact, maybe without Facebook they would have gotten even more depressed. Who knows? You'd almost literally need to track day-by-day mental health and Facebook use to find out.

But I'm totally willing to believe that Facebook is evil even without hard evidence. The casually brutal insults almost certainly outweigh the praise for a lot of people. It instills a sense of always needing to keep up with things every minute of the day. It interferes with real-life relationships. It takes time away from more concentrated activities that are probably more rewarding in the long run.

This doesn't apply to all Facebook users. In fact, I'd guess that it applies to only 10-15 percent of them. But that's enough.

It doesn't matter, of course. Mark Zuckerberg surely disagrees, and anyway, he couldn't shut down Facebook even if he wanted to. He may nominally control the company, but shareholders still have rights. Preventing the CEO from blowing up the company because he's feeling guilty about something is certainly one of them.

On the other hand, perhaps we could at least set an age limit for Facebook. If you aren't allowed to drink before age 21, surely you shouldn't be allowed to use social media either. I'd bet the latter is more dangerous than the former.

I love this tweet:

Trump, of course, has accomplished virtually nothing so far. He's issued a few executive orders that are mostly small beer, and signed a few bills that rescinded some of Obama's executive orders. That's it. His health care bill was a fiasco. He hasn't gotten funding for his wall. His immigration order crashed and burned. He has no tax plan. He has no plan to destroy ISIS.

But there's a silver lining here. As always, today's tweet should be read as an alert aimed at his base. He's telling them that in a few days they'll see a lot of stories saying he's accomplished nothing. In fact, less than nothing, since the government might well be headed for a shutdown by the end of next week. But it's all lies! Clearly he's concerned about this.

That should give Democrats an opening. Try to strike a budget deal before next week's deadline. Agree to support some money for Trump's wall in return for making Obamacare's CSR appropriation automatic.1 This would be good for Trump in two ways. First, he gets to say that he's started building the wall. Second, Obamacare doesn't collapse on his watch, and agreeing to the CSR appropriation doesn't do anything to stop him from trying to repeal and replace Obamacare later. It just ensures that it will work in the meantime.

In return, Democrats don't really get anything. Agreeing to funding for the wall is unpopular with their base, and CSR funding is something that only a few wonks care about. Keeping the CSR money flowing would help insurance companies and it would help actual people, but politically it does nothing much for Democrats.

It's kind of funny, isn't it? I assume Trump is unwilling to make this deal. I don't know why, since it seems almost entirely favorable to him. But he won't do it. Maybe Democrats wouldn't do it either. Is the art of the deal really that dead in Congress these days?

1CSR stands for Cost Sharing and Reduction. It's money paid to insurance companies to reduce deductibles and copays for low-income families. It's been the subject of a long-running court fight, and insurers are justifiably worried about whether they're going to receive the money they've been promised.

The New York Times reports that gerrymandering is headed to the Supreme Court again:

A bipartisan group of voting rights advocates says the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election — so artfully, in fact, that Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote. In November, in a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges agreed.

....In Supreme Court cases in 1986, 2004 and 2006, justices variously called partisan gerrymanders illegitimate, seriously harmful, incompatible with democratic principles and “manipulation of the electorate.” But they have never struck one down....One participant in the 2004 decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, may prove the fulcrum in the court’s deliberations....“The ordered working of our Republic, and of the democratic process, depends on a sense of decorum and restraint in all branches of government, and in the citizenry itself,” he wrote then.

At a time of soaring concern over hyperpartisanship, those words could resonate. That sentence “is the most important line” in the court’s decision, said Edward B. Foley, director of the Election Law Project at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. “He’s going to look at what’s going on in North Carolina as the complete absence of that. I think that helps the plaintiffs in any of these cases.”

Today's gerrymandering is not your grandfather's gerrymandering. It's a practice that's been around for a long time, but back when it depended on humans it was necessarily limited. There were a few legislative geniuses who could wreak real havoc, and anyone could gerrymander well enough to gain a seat or two. But computers have changed the game fundamentally. Every legislature is now a supergenius at gerrymandering, which is why estimates of the number of congressional seats attributable to gerrymandering have been going up for years.

There's a point, I think, where the Supreme Court has to recognize that quantitative changes over time have finally produced a qualitative change. Modern gerrymandering is just too good. The silver lining here is that if computers can revolutionize gerrymandering, they also hold out hope of revolutionizing the detection of gerrymandering. You can no longer say that there's no possible standard for ruling that a particular district map is unconstitutional. In fact, there are several plausible candidates. Hopefully the court will finally recognize this.

Back during Steve Mnuchin's confirmation hearings for Treasury Secretary, he said he was surprised that IRS staffing had gone down. This just reduces the number of audits they can perform, and therefore the amount of tax revenue they collect from high earners. Just think about it. If you increased hiring, it would pay for itself!

It was très adorbs. But Mnuchin is a quick learner, and he never brought that subject up again. Instead, he's now talking about a much more acceptable kind of plan that pays for itself. The subject, of course, is tax cuts:

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the economic growth that would result from the proposed tax cuts would be so extreme — close to $2 trillion over 10 years — that it would come close to recouping all of the lost revenue from the dramatic rate reductions. Some other new revenue would come from eliminating certain tax breaks, although he would not specify which ones.

“The plan will pay for itself with growth,” Mnuchin said at an event hosted by the Institute of International Finance.

The Congressional Budget Office will have a very different take on this, and their take is the only one that matters. So why does Mnuchin even bother with this tired old charade? Maybe so that Donald Trump can yell and scream about how the CBO is rigged when they say that his tax plan is a deficit buster? Maybe to give congressional Republicans an excuse to fire Keith Hall and install a new CBO director who will give them whatever numbers they want?

Who knows? Maybe it's just reflex. While we wait to find out, however, here's a chart showing income tax receipts following the five most recent big changes to tax rates. You can decide for yourself if tax cuts pay for themselves or if tax increases tank the economy.

Below are excerpts from a baker's dozen reviews of Hulu's new adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale. Can you figure out what they all have in common?

New York Times: The television adaptation arrives with a newfound and unexpected resonance in Trump’s America....“We were hoping to be relevant, but we weren’t hoping it would be this relevant.”

io9: It’s incredibly difficult to watch The Handmaid’s Tale and not be affected, to feel like we’re so much closer to it being reality than when it was first written.

Washington Post: The phrase “now more than ever” has become a tiresome cliche in the past few months, but so what: “The Handmaid’s Tale” is here and it demands our attention, now more than ever.

Hollywood Reporter: Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale may be the most unintentionally timely show of the year.

Entertainment Weekly: Their performances — and the show’s consistent sense of textural, lived-in realism — anchor the drama in something beyond speculative sci-fi, making the story feel less like a quasi-fictional fable than an entirely possible preview of what’s to come.

Wall Street Journal: You can’t quite call it a bad dream come true, not yet. But given what might be termed “recent events,” it’s certainly cautionary, and more than urgent.

The Economist: As the Trump administration continues to cut funding and roll back family-planning services, it is easy to hear echoes of its rhetoric on the screen.

Vogue: Could the timing be any more apt?

TV Guide: The show and its source material feel more timely and relevant than ever....With women's rights again on the chopping block under a Trump administration, and a common refrain from critics on the left to resist normalizing Trump, it's difficult if not impossible not to draw parallels between the show and real-life events.

Deadline Hollywood: If ever a television series could border on being too relevant, Hulu’s gripping, chilling and brutal adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, which launches with its first three episodes on April 26, would be the one.

Huffington Post: Whether the show sets out to directly compare its dystopian themes with today’s political climate, for some readers ― and for the story’s author ― the similarities are ripe for picking.

Vanity Fair: All dystopias are meant as cautionary tales. But at this particular moment in time—one marked by a powerful but misguided nostalgia, and religious zealotry, and an increasing sense that paranoia is justified, with the powers that be seemingly determined to chip away at the rights of women—The Handmaid’s Tale feels especially current, cutting, and vital.

Harper's Bazaar: You won't see a more timely or essential onscreen story this year than Hulu's extraordinary rendering of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale, reimagined as a fundamentalist nightmare for the Mike Pence era....Like all the best dystopias, Gilead is not a truly fictional world, and The Handmaid's Tale is not a dark fantasy. It's a warning.

Lunchtime Photo

This is dark, gritty Jeffrey Road, part of my dark, gritty reboot of The OC starring a grown-up Ryan Atwood as an upper-middle-class finance manager who's moved to Irvine. Feeling mildly resentful about his association's rule against non-white window coverings, Ryan's troubled childhood increasingly haunts him until he finally cracks and begins a suburban campaign of mayhem and retribution. In the first episode, he sneaks into neighboring houses at night, replacing the kitchen curtains in each one with a tasteful paisley pattern—and a clue to where he'll strike next. The police are confounded, but one detective—a crusty maverick who sometimes walks to work even though he lives a full half mile from the station—is determined to stop the Paisley Prankster at all costs. But can he do it without becoming the very person he's dedicated his life to tracking down: a serial violator of HOA rules and regulations?

From Attorney General Jeff Sessions, still unhappy that President Trump's immigration order has been stayed by the courts:

I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.

An "island in the Pacific"? Seriously? That island is Hawaii. It's a state. It has federal judges, just like all the other states. That includes judges in Washington, Virginia, New York, and California, who stayed Trump's original order, and judges in Wisconsin and Maryland, who stayed Trump's revised order in whole or part. Nor is it "amazing" that a judge can stay an executive order. That's what judges do if circumstances warrant. That's how our country works. The attorney general should respect this, even when he disagrees with a court's decision.

Congress is in recess, but Robert Costa reports that Republicans are still hard at work on yet another health care bill:

So the plan is to gavel the House back into session on Tuesday and then vote on the bill on Wednesday. Really?

I can well imagine. The Republican leadership is stuck: the only way to pass a health care bill is to do it fast, before there's a CBO score and a million phone calls and an outbreak of fighting between moderates and HFC ultras. But there's a limit to how far they can push even the folks who sympathize with them. I mean, negotiate in secret, drop the text, and then give everyone 24 hours to read it before holding a vote? That's a mockery of your own caucus, let alone everyone else.

I confess that I don't quite get the point of all this anyway. Even if these junior high school antics manage to get a bill passed in the House, it still has to go to the Senate, where it won't sail through in 24 hours. There will be plenty of time for the CBO score and all the rest, not to mention negotiations between the House and Senate. One way or another, this process will take a while. So what's gained by making every Republican in the House take a difficult vote when the outcome will most likely be the same as last time?

This whole thing is crazy. I still don't quite understand how gutting health care helps tax reform down the road, but let's assume it does. Who cares? Without the health care bill, Republicans can still pass any tax bill they want with a ten-year expiration. So just do it. Then extend it next year. And the next. Keep doing this every year, and they're guaranteed to have at least ten years of their tax plan after they lose power. Of course, if Democrats ever win total control of Congress and the presidency, they'll change things, but they can do that regardless.

It sure seems like Republicans are spending a lot of political capital for not much benefit. In Washington, ten years might as well be forever. They should just shore up Obamacare a little to get it off their plates, pass a ten-year tax bill, and declare victory.