Liberalism Lives!

There's nothing funny about any of the stuff going on right now, but I still managed to get a little laugh out of the guy holding the sign below. Is this the most stereotypically liberal protest slogan ever, or what?

This is nuts:

  • On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security determined that President Trump's immigration order didn't apply to green card holders.
  • Later on Friday, Steve Bannon overruled them and said it did.
  • Saturday night, DHS confirmed that the order applied to green card holders.
  • Today, chief of staff Reince Priebus apparently overruled Bannon and said it didn't apply to green card holders after all.

Who are Bannon and Priebus speaking for? Neither one of them has the authority on their own to issue these directives. DHS Secretary John Kelly has the authority. Whoever's running the Department of Justice has the authority. Donald Trump has the authority. When are we going to hear from one of them?

Harold Pollack on President Trump's immigration fiasco:

The President’s team had months to prepare this signature immigration initiative. And they produced...an amateurish, politically self-immolating effort that humiliated the country, provoked international retaliation, and failed to withstand the obvious federal court challenge on its very first day.

Given the despicable nature of this effort, I’m happy it has become a political fiasco. It also makes me wonder how the Trump administration will execute the basic functions of government. This astonishing failure reflects our new President’s contempt for the basic craft of government.

This sure seems to be the case. For the barely believable story of just how incompetent the whole exercise was, check out this CNN story. It will leave your jaw on the floor. And yet, there's also one tidbit that makes me wonder if the chaos attending the rollout was quite as unintended as we think:

Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — did not apply to people who with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.

The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President's inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Their decision held that, on a case by case basis, DHS could allow green card holders to enter the US.

The decision to apply the executive order to green card holders, including those in transit, is almost insane. Whatever else he is, Steve Bannon is a smart guy, and he had to know that this would produce turmoil at airports around the country and widespread condemnation from the press. Why would he do this?

In cases like this, the smart money is usually on incompetence, not malice. But this looks more like deliberate malice to me. Bannon wanted turmoil and condemnation. He wanted this executive order to get as much publicity as possible. He wanted the ACLU involved. He thinks this will be a PR win.

Liberals think the same thing. All the protests, the court judgments, the press coverage: this is something that will make middle America understand just what Trump is really all about. And once they figure it out, they'll turn on him.

In other words, both sides think that maximum exposure is good for them. Liberals think middle America will be appalled at Trump's callousness. Bannon thinks middle America will be appalled that lefties and the elite media are taking the side of terrorists. After a week of skirmishes, this is finally a hill that both sides are willing to die for. Who's going to win?

Earlier today the ACLU filed a motion for an emergency stay against President Trump's immigration order. The hearing was held in New York in front of federal judge Ann Donnelly:

This is a very partial victory. It applies to green card holders and others with legal residence status who are on US soil but are being detained in airports. They do not have to be allowed entry into the country, but they cannot now be sent back to their home country. Their eventual status will be determined in subsequent hearings. However, the overall refugee ban stays in place, and the overall entry ban for those from seven Muslim countries also stays in place. Those who are overseas are—for now, anyway—still banned from entering the US, even if they are green card holders.

UPDATE: Here's a copy of Donnelly's order. It applies to "individuals with refugee applications approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as part of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and other individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen legally authorized to enter the United States."

In situations where most people get angry, I mostly get depressed. Today I feel like hiding under a rock.

Yesterday President Trump made good on his campaign promise to halt immigration of Muslims into the United States "until we know what's going on." An explicit ban on Muslims would be illegal, of course, even considering the president's broad authority over immigration, so instead he picked seven Muslim countries and banned their citizens from entering the US for 90 days—by which time, presumably, Trump will have figured out what's going on. He also banned refugees from everywhere for 120 days. The result has been rampant chaos and pointless suffering because no one knows precisely who this applies to or how it's supposed to work.

A friend writes: "I'm amazed at how badly Trump, et al. have been handling the executive orders they've been churning out. Don't they know the orders are legal documents, not corporate memos?" That's a good question. As near as I can tell, Trump is treating his executive orders the same way he treats his tweets: they're designed as communiques to his fans, and that's about it. The actual consequences hardly matter.

What other conclusion can you draw from this latest bumbling fiasco? Consider:

Not a single Muslim extremist from any of the seven designated countries has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil.

But residents of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and other US "allies" are exempt, even though their citizens have committed acts of terrorism here. By coincidence, these are also countries where Trump has commercial interests.

The executive order mis-cites the relevant immigration statute. Ed Whelan wonders if this means the Office of Legal Counsel is out of the loop:

The refugee ban is heartbreaking, especially for folks who have sold everything and were literally in the airport waiting to board a plane when they were turned back. But the order also applies to green card holders. These are legal residents. If they were overseas at the time the ban went into effect, they can't return home.

There's no excuse for this. The EO could have exempted green card holders. At the very least, it could have gone into effect for them after a warning period. But nobody in the White House gave a damn. So now airports are jammed with legal residents who are trying to return home to their families but are being denied entry.

The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security are allowed to issue exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Does this mean either of them can, or that both have to sign off? Because there is no Secretary of State right now.

Republicans are mostly too callous, or too craven, to speak up about this debacle. I don't need to bother checking to see what Breitbart and Ann Coulter think. I'm sure they're thrilled. But even mainstream conservatives are largely unwilling to speak up about this. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has been unable to rouse itself so far to express an opinion. Ditto for the Weekly Standard. I thought the same was true of National Review, but no: they roused themselves to mostly approve of what Trump is doing. Paul Ryan, who once thought this kind of thing was terrible, is also on board. So is Mitch McConnell. And Mike Lee. And most of the rest of the GOP caucus. This is how we got Trump in the first place. Is it really worth it just for another tax cut?

Airports are now flooded with stranded travelers. People who have lived in the US for years are unable to return to their homes. Nobody knows if any exceptions will be forthcoming from our Secretaries of State or Homeland Security. It's chaos everywhere.

And for no reason. Refugees are already extremely tightly vetted. Visas are tightly vetted too from the countries on Trump's list. The green-card chaos could have easily been avoided if anyone had cared enough to think through the executive order before issuing it. Or if Trump had thought that any high-ranking Republicans would make him pay a price for being so ham-handed.

But they didn't. As always, Republicans are ruled by a mean-spiritedness that's just plain nauseating. They're perfectly willing to go along with a plan that will cause tremendous hardship for other people even though they know perfectly well it will do nothing for national security. Its only real purpose is to send a message to a GOP base eager for a show of bravado against the rest of the world. Is that worth a bit of senseless cruelty aimed at defenseless foreigners? Of course it is. Hell, that's the whole point. And the suffering this causes? As usual, they just don't give a damn.

Donald Trump wants American corporations to invest in America, and he's promised to enact policies that will make America First. So how do we measure whether he's successful? I don't know, but I'll toss out a possible metric:

During the past eight years, US corporations invested about $300 billion overseas each year. If Trump is successful, this number should go down.

Or, perhaps some ratio would be a better measure: foreign investment as a percent of total investment. Or maybe something entirely different. In fact, I'm mostly publishing this as a provocation: if this is the wrong measure, what's the right one? What's the best way of knowing if US corporations start to direct more of their investment dollars into domestic expansion instead of building or buying overseas? Any trade economists want to weigh in on this?

Here's a chunk of President Trump's executive order banning refugees:

The Secretary of State shall suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days....Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, 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. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

In practice, the temporary suspension of the refugee program chiefly affects majority Muslim countries, which means that it's designed to stop the flow of Muslim refugees into the US.

Or is it? I suspect that was indeed the intent, since the plight of Christian refugees has been a hobbyhorse on the right for years—something that Mike Pence is keenly aware of. But the actual data begs to differ. Here are the top ten countries that the United States accepted refugees from in 2016:

Syria gets all the attention, but the top refugee contributor was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is 80 percent Christian. Among the top ten countries, we accepted about 44,000 refugees from majority Muslim countries and 43,000 from other countries.

Likewise, once the 120-day suspension is over the "minority religion" provision will affect both Christians and Muslims relatively equally. Favoring Christian refugees may well have been the intent of this provision, but in practice it doesn't actually seem to favor any particular religion. This was not what I expected when I decided to take a look at the data. But that's what it shows.

POSTSCRIPT: Just in case it's not obvious, I'm talking here only about refugee prioritization after Trump's 120-day ban is up. Trump has also barred the entry of anyone from seven Muslim-majority countries for the next 90 days, and barred Syrian refugees indefinitely. Those are different provisions of his order, and they pretty obviously target Muslims.

Also, we'll have to wait and see what orders the State Department issues at the end of the 120-day suspension. Right now we don't know what they'll do.

UPDATE: I got the refugee numbers wrong in the original version of this post. Both the chart and the text have been corrected.

How big an impact did NAFTA have on the US economy? Back when it was being debated, there were several fairly extravagant studies floating around, and to this day nobody has forgotten about them. Practically every discussion of NAFTA begins with something like "advocates of NAFTA made at the outset some wildly optimistic claims about what NAFTA was going to achieve." For example, here's Dani Rodrik:

Remember first that many advocates of NAFTA made at the outset some wildly optimistic claims about what NAFTA was going to achieve....A recently published academic study by Lorenzo Caliendo and Fernando Parro uses all the bells-and-whistles of modern trade theory to produce the estimate that these overall gains amount to a “welfare” gain of 0.08% for the U.S.

Brad DeLong pushes back against this here, but I want to show you something which should convince you that NAFTA's impact on the US—whether good or bad—is inevitably tiny. The chart on the right shows total US GDP: about $19 trillion. The next bar shows total US trade—both imports and exports—with Canada and Mexico. It's about $1 trillion. Finally, the third bar shows how much of the increase in this trade since 1993 is due to NAFTA. Most estimates put it at 20 percent or less of the total.

In other words, NAFTA's gross trade effects, at most, are about 1 percent of GDP. And since many of the positive and negative follow-on effects of that trade cancel out, the net effect on the American economy has to be a fraction of a percent. It's just not a huge deal. It hasn't accounted for very many jobs lost or gained. It hasn't accounted for a big change in GDP. It hasn't accounted for a significant change in price levels. Making it the centerpiece of any kind of trade story is just absurd. It's a good hobbyhorse for populist demagoguery of trade deals, and it's a good hobbyhorse for populist demagoguery of Mexico. But that's about it.

I've managed to restrain myself from commenting on President Trump's idiotic claim that 3-5 million noncitizens voted in the 2016 election,1 but I have to admit that I've been entertained by the ever-changing cast of studies that have been trotted out to defend this claim:

  1. Trump himself first cited a 2012 Pew study, and became angry when ABC's David Muir suggested he had misinterpreted it. But he had. The study in question was solely about inefficiencies in voter registration, not fraudulent voting. In fact, at the time the report was released the author specifically said that he had "not seen evidence" of any fraudulent voting.
     
  2. With that shot down, attention turned to a 2014 study by Jesse Richman and David Earnest. This one used survey responses to construct an estimate of fraudulent voting, and concluded that a maximum of 500 thousand to 1 million noncitizens might have voted in recent federal elections. This is far below Trump's claim, and anyway it's virtually certain that the study is massively flawed due to its tiny sample size. Once that's accounted for, the most likely conclusion from this study is that zero noncitizens voted.
     
  3. With two studies shot down, Trump tweeted today about an old favorite that he heard about again on CNN this morning. This time it's a guy named Greg Phillips, an old tea partier who's now a board member of True the Vote. Remember them from 2012? Phillips is also the author of a smartphone voter-fraud reporting app. I'm not joking about this. Phillips recruited a small army of folks who were worried about the election being rigged, and they all downloaded his app and then sent in reports of fishy-looking voters on Election Day. The app is, um, not very sophisticated. Check it out:
     
    That's the whole thing. Phillips combined these reports with his archive of "184 million voting records we've collected over time," and then applied an "enormous amount of analytic capability" to produce a final list of 3 million fraudulent votes. He claims that after everything is verified, which will take a few more months, he will release his full list along with the algorithm he used. You betcha. This is so ridiculous it's basically self-debunking.

So that's where we are. Trump burbles something stupid, and then his defenders rush out to dig up evidence to support him, each defense more harebrained than the last. I can hardly wait to see what's next. Sampling the entire nation's voting records for names with diacritical marks and then comparing it to a survey of people in Toledo? Claiming the NSA has phone records of voter fraud stored at Area 51? The mind boggles.

1Even without knowing anything, it's idiotic. There are about 20 million noncitizens in the US. Trump is therefore saying that 15-25 percent of all noncitizens voted. This is fantastically beyond anything even remotely plausible.

Our furballs don't tend to curl up together much anymore. They still play, mostly by chasing each other around the house like crazed lemmings during the witching hour (about 8 pm or so), but I don't often get pictures of them together.

But a few days ago they were kinda sorta curled up next to each other on the bed. Luckily for you, I have an upstairs camera and a downstairs camera, so I was able to record this for posterity before they headed downstairs for the food bowl. Hopper is sporting her usual disdainful look at daddy's omnipresent camera. Teenagers. What can you do?