Hey, remember those ten sailors who were briefly held by Iran a few months ago when they drifted into Iranian waters? Of course you do. Donald Trump and Fox News will never let you forget. Well, it looks like maybe the investigation is finally starting to wrap up:

The head of a riverine squadron at the center of an international incident in January was fired Thursday....Cmdr. Eric Rasch, who at the time of the Jan. 12 incident was the executive officer of the Coastal Riverine Squadron 3, was removed from his job [...] for what a Navy Expeditionary Combat Command release said was “a loss of confidence” in his ability to remain in command.

Cmdr. Gregory Meyer, who was commanding officer at the time of the incident, is currently with Coastal Riverine Group 1, and has been put on “administrative hold,” meaning the Navy will not transfer him out of the unit, while a high-level review of the Navy’s investigation into the incident continues, said two officials familiar with internal deliberations.

Four months seems like a long time for an investigation like this, but I suppose you can't be too careful. In any case, if people are being fired, I assume that means the Navy is finally convinced that it has a pretty good idea of what happened.

A couple of days ago the big headline was "Why Aren't People Shopping?" Today it's "U.S. Retail Sales in April Grew at Best Pace in More Than a Year." What a difference a single new report makes.

Anyway, retail sales were up 1.3 percent from March and 2.8 percent over the past year. The biggest winner was building supplies. The housing bubble is back! The biggest loser was gasoline, but only because oil prices have been so low. The real biggest loser was electronics and appliance stores. I guess there just haven't been many must-have gadgets released in the past year. Apparently the smart watch revolution continues not to happen.

I just—I can't wrap my...um—I just don't know what to say anymore. Here is Trump doing his best Sarah Palin imitation:

For the record, Amazon now collects sales taxes in most states, including nine of the ten biggest. And if Bezos has said anything about fearing that Trump might go after him "for antitrust," I can't find it. (Although the last time Trump ranted about Amazon because the Post had annoyed him in some way, Bezos did suggest that he'd be happy to send Trump into space.)

Oh, and Bezos is a lot richer than Trump. Maybe that's what really has Trump irked.

Oh, and apparently Trump is now talking about banning Syrian refugees, not Muslims in general. Maybe.

Oh, and Trump agreed to stop insulting Lindsey Graham in the media.

Oh, and Trump's spox now says there are no plans to change his tax plan. "I'm a little bummed," said Stephen Moore, who had been tasked with suggesting changes. So Trump's tax plan for the common man still costs $10 trillion and still looks like this:

Bill Clinton...Did Something Back in 2010

I'm trying hard to remove my partisan hat and look at this objectively, but I'll be damned if I can figure out what the problem is supposed to be with this:

The Clinton Global Initiative, which arranges donations to help solve the world’s problems, set up a financial commitment that benefited a for-profit company part-owned by people with ties to the Clintons, including a current and a former Democratic official and a close friend of former President Bill Clinton.

The story meanders through nearly 2,000 more words, but it can be summarized pretty easily:

  • Energy Pioneer Solutions is a startup company that insulates people’s homes and allows them to pay via their utility bills. It's owned by several Democratic Party donor types and other assorted worthies.
  • Six years ago, a Canadian philanthropist named Kim Samuel decided to make a $2 million commitment to the company. (Though in the end, she decided to commit only $500,000.)
  • For some reason the Journal doesn't explain, Samuel routed this commitment through the Clinton foundation instead of just giving it directly to EPS.

And...that's about it. I gather that although this kind of matchmaking is common for the Clinton foundation, it only occasionally involves for-profit companies. But it's happened before. So what's the problem? Did Kim Samuel get some kind of benefit for directing her money through the foundation? Did Energy Pioneers get some kind of extra benefit above and beyond the money Samuel wanted to give them in the first place? Does this represent some kind of misuse of the foundation's mission? Is foundation money not supposed to go to anyone associated with Bill Clinton? Considering the fact that Clinton seems to be friends with nearly everyone in the world,1 that hardly seems likely.

I dunno. The Journal article does its best to make this sound shady in some way, but I'm not really seeing it. Can anyone help me out?

1Except me. What have I done wrong?

Another Look at Young High School Grads

Over at the Economic Policy Institute, I'm in hot water over my question about the unemployment rate for young high school grads:

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum seems to dislike a New York Times article calling job prospects for young high school graduates “grim.” Along the way, he directs an odd bit of unprovoked snark at us....The reason we get 17.8 percent while Kevin gets 11.2 percent when looking at unemployment rates for young high school graduates is pretty obvious: we’re looking at 17-20 year old high school graduates who are not enrolled in further schooling while he is looking at 20-24 year old high-school graduates (no college).

For the record, I meant for my snark to be aimed not at EPI, but at the Times. Their reporter should have done at least a cursory check of standard BLS data to see if it backed up her story, but she didn't. That said, let's take a closer look at the EPI data.

I can't quite recreate their methodology, but that doesn't matter. As usual, I'm only asking, "Compared to what?" In this case the question is, "How does unemployment among young high school grads compare to the normal rate before the recession?" Here's the EPI chart:

I'm just eyeballing this, but it looks like the pre-crisis average was a little over 15 percent. Today it's 18 percent. In other words, about one-fifth higher than normal. That's roughly the same as 6 percent compared to 5 percent.

So if the headline unemployment rate were at 6 percent, would you call that "grim"? I wouldn't. I'd say there's certainly room for improvement, but it's not too bad. Ditto for young high school grads. There's clearly room for further improvement, but the current numbers don't suggest an ongoing crisis. Things are very much getting back to normal.

I realize that my hobbyhorse about the economy might be getting annoying. And I sympathize with everyone on the left who wants to make sure we don't declare victory and give up on further economic gains, especially for the working and middle classes. At the same time, we should also respect what the numbers are telling us. And by all the usual conventional measures, the economy is in pretty good shape. For now, at least, the recession really is largely over.

POSTSCRIPT: Just to make sure I'm as clear as possible, I'll repeat what I said a couple of days ago: what the numbers tell us is that the current state of the economy as conventionally measured is pretty good compared to normal. This has nothing to do with larger, structural critiques of the economy. If you think that tax rates are too high or wages are too stagnant or income inequality is out of control, those are entirely different issues. These kinds of critiques have very little to do with how well or badly the economy is performing at the moment.

Weekly Flint Water Report: April 30-May 6

Here is this week's Flint water report. As usual, I've eliminated outlier readings above 2,000 parts per billion, since there are very few of them and they can affect the averages in misleading ways. During the week, DEQ took 397 samples. The average for the past week was 10.91.

BinC Watch: Trump Knows All the Best People

Donald Trump has based his entire campaign on the idea that the government is managed by idiots and will run better once he appoints smart people to head things up. The smartest, in fact! So who has he appointed so far? Let's take a look:

VP search: Ben Carson, then Corey Lewandowski. Carson is the guy whose ignorance during the debates was so stupefying that even the Republican base rejected him. Lewandowski's job is to follow Trump around wherever he goes.

Foreign policy: Keith Kellogg, Joseph Schmitz, George Papadopoulos, Walid Phares, and Carter Page. Huh? "I don't know any of them," said a former official in the George W. Bush State Department. "National security is hard to do well even with first-rate people. It's almost impossible to do well with third-rate people."

Muslim ban commission: Rudy Giuliani. Nuff said.

Tax plan: Larry Kudlow and Steve Moore. Kudlow is a CNBC talking head. Moore is the Heritage Foundation hack who wrote a column so riddled with errors that the Kansas City Star announced, "There will be no future Heritage pieces published that don't get thorough factchecking."

The best and the brightest! I can't wait until the federal government is fully staffed with people of this caliber.

Should Donald Trump release his tax returns? Sure. So why won't he? There are probably a few embarrassing things tucked away in there, but I doubt this is the real reason. The real reason is that they'd show Trump isn't worth $10 billion. Or $5 billion. Or, who knows, maybe not even $1 billion. His ego just couldn't stand having that made public.

Still, he did promise to release them. And Quin Hillyer has an...exotic reason why he should keep that promise:

Republicans, especially delegates, have every right not just to ask for, but to demand, the release of the returns before the convention. With a crew of Lois Lerners running the IRS, those returns surely will leak right after the nomination is made formal.

That's right. The IRS is such a beehive of Democratic Party corruption that Hillary Clinton will have no trouble getting one of her moles to hand over the entire Trump record. Hell, she's probably done it already and is just waiting for the right time to start dribbling out explosive revelations. It's exactly the kind of thing she'd do. Amirite or amirite?

Between left and right, I feel like I'm almost entirely enveloped by bizarre paranoia these days. Can we all just settle down and return to planet Earth for a while?

As I mentioned the other day, conservatives are outraged over a report that Facebook manipulates its "trending topics" feed to favor liberal issues. So far, this allegation comes from one (1) ex-Facebook guy, so I'm inclined to wait a bit and see if it turns out to represent anything real or not. We have some history here, after all, and conservatives manage to routinely feel victimized by things that, in the end, turn out to be nothingburgers. So we'll see.

In the meantime, Megan McArdle suggests this might pose a problem for liberals:

We are headed for a clash of principles on the liberal side. On the one hand, the principle that the media must be free from government interference....On the other hand, the principle that corporations that have acquired a great deal of market power must not be allowed to abuse that power, even inadvertently.

Facebook has indeed acquired a great deal of power. It dominates the news diet of millennials, and is becoming more and more important for the rest of us....Liberals who are fond of press freedom and vigorous antitrust enforcement are going to be forced into making one of two arguments, neither of them perfectly satisfying. The first is that while heavy-handed government smiting of monopoly (or quasi-monopoly) powers is necessary and justified, the media is a special exception where the government should allow powerful corporations to do whatever they want.

....The greater danger is that liberals will end up falling back on an argument that is gaining more and more currency on the left: that this biasing of information is not merely an unfortunately insoluble problem, or so minor that it doesn’t make much difference in our politics, but that it is actually an affirmative good.

I don't think there's any problem here. For starters, the media is a special exception thanks to the First Amendment. This might favor liberals in the case of Facebook and conservatives in the case of AM talk radio, but it's an exception regardless.

More to the point, the limits on government interference apply only to content-based rules. The Justice Department routinely halts media mergers, for example, if they'd end up concentrating too much power in a single corporation. They did this just recently when they prevented the company that owns the LA Times from buying the company that owns the Orange County Register. That may or may not have been wise, but it posed no First Amendment issues.

Likewise, no liberal would suggest that the right way to rein in Facebook is to regulate its news feed. If there really is a news monopoly here, it would be addressed by breaking up Facebook; or preventing acquisitions that might increase their news monopoly; or (possibly) by asking Facebook to create a public interface that allows third parties to create their own news feeds. Or by doing nothing at all because there's nothing to be done. Plenty of metro areas have only one newspaper these days, for example, and that's just the way it is. Nobody thinks the feds can do anything about it no matter how biased any particular newspaper's coverage might be.

My guess is that (a) the whole Facebook news feed issue is probably overblown, and (b) even if it's not, it poses no special problems that we haven't seen before. Lots of news organizations are biased, and the government rightfully takes no action against them. I don't think liberals have a problem with that.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, Donald Trump backed off his call to ban Muslims from the United States:

We have a serious problem. It’s a temporary ban. It hasn’t been called for yet. Nobody’s done it. This is just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on.

Come on! It was just a suggestion. Why is everyone getting so upset? Greg Pollowitz updates the scoreboard:

Which Trump "policy" will be the next to fall? Perhaps there's a clue in Politico's top story at the moment:

Politico deployed its policy experts to study a week’s worth of Trump commentary and decipher what he’s saying, how his ideas would work and how far he could really go with positions that are unorthodox at best, and often heretical to his party’s ideology.

They actually did this, too, earnestly explaining why Trump's blathering is idiotic and unrealistic. Their conclusion for pretty much every Trump statement is that (a) he couldn't do it without congressional approval, and (b) fat chance of that. Still, just by taking Trump seriously they've probably done him a favor. You'd almost think his random bloviating added up to a real policy platform.