As near as I can tell, pretty much everyone in America is on Donald Trump's email list. But just in case you're not one of the lucky ones, I thought I'd bring to your attention that Trump is having a big sale on Gold Executive Membership Cards:

During the past year, we have given them to especially generous and loyal patriots who can be trusted to guide our campaign and support us all the way through Election Day. So I want you to carry your own Donald J. Trump Gold Executive Membership Card.

....Only supporters who have donated $100 or more are carrying these Executive Membership Cards. But Kevin, I know you can bring a lot to our team, so if you’ll donate just $35, I will make sure you get your own personalized Gold Executive Membership Card.

You can keep it in your wallet right next to your Trump Decoder Ring (everything decodes to "the media is against me").

We'll Have Self-Driving Cars By 2025

Atrios takes to the podium once again to insist that self-driving cars are just a pipe dream of nerdy cultists:

If the driver has to pay attention it isn't a self-driving car. And the self-driving cars are never going to happen (in my lifetime, yes, yes, one day our descendants might upload their brains into self-driving car bodies). Things which are a bit more self-driving but are really just cruise control plus will become more widespread and the technology will improve. They still won't be self-driving cars....Maybe you'll like your new toys, but they won't be self-driving cars.

After reading several dozen similar posts over the past couple of years, I guess I'm curious: why is he so convinced that self-driving cars are impossible in our lifetime? I happen to be on the other side of this question, and since neither one of us is an expert in artificial intelligence I'll offer up three non-expert reasons to think that self-driving cars will become a reality in the next decade or so:

  • Computing power, and AI in general, continues to improve rapidly. The progress in self-driving cars has been eye-popping over the past ten years. Why should the next ten years be any different?
  • And it's not just AI. Enabling technologies—mapping, radar, machine vision, etc.—are getting better rapidly too. Keep in mind that cars aren't limited to either the senses that humans use to drive a car or to the cognitive algorithms we use. They have additional technology that humans can't make use of.
  • Lots of companies are spending a ton of money on this. If it were just Google, that would be one thing. But can a dozen auto manufacturers, mostly run by distinctly non-nerdy bean counters, all be so bedazzled by the technology that they're wasting millions of dollars year after year chasing after a chimera?

If you want to say that five or ten years is too optimistic, fine. Maybe it's more like 15 years. Or even 20. But 50? What's the argument for thinking the technology is that far away?

Charles Cooke says that Hillary Clinton really does want to gut the Second Amendment:

Before he made his reprehensible “Second Amendment people” joke yesterday, Donald Trump said once again that Hillary Clinton wants “to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment.”

Whenever Trump says this the press works itself up into a tizzy, the typical response being that Trump is “wrong” to make this claim because a) Clinton has not explicitly called for a constitutional amendment to neutralize the Second Amendment, and/or b) she has said “no more” than that the Heller decision was wrongly decided. But both of these positions are too clever by half.

....Americans have enjoyed the right to keep and bear arms for all of their history. Should Hillary get her way, that right would disappear (at least legally), and the government would be freed up to make any policy choice it wished — including a total ban. Who can say with a straight face that this wouldn’t be “to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment”? Who can claim without laughing that a reversal of Heller wouldn’t render the right a dead letter?

Let me get this straight. Cooke says that for the entire 221 years before Heller, Americans enjoyed the right to keep and bear arms. But if Heller were overturned, it would render the Second Amendment a dead letter. What?

Hillary Clinton would clearly prefer to regulate gun ownership more than Cooke would like. That's fair enough. And I'm actually somewhat sympathetic to the claim that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to own guns. But that right—as Cooke admits—managed to thrive during the entire two-century period before the Supreme Court got around to actually saying anything about it in 2008. So why would the Second Amendment suddenly go up in smoke if we returned to pre-Heller jurisprudence? It is a mystery.

UPDATE: Cooke objected to my original lede about Hillary taking away your guns, so I've changed it.

More substantively, based on reaction to this post, there's a general belief that if the Supreme Court overturned Heller, the individual right to own a gun would be dead. But that's nowhere near true. There's a very wide spectrum of decisions the court could hand down, and it would be very unusual indeed for them to write an opinion that flatly ended gun ownership as an individual right. It's almost certain that they would merely move the goalposts a bit, setting up some kind of balancing test that would preserve the individual right in some (or all) cases but would also put some boundaries on it—as they have for every other right in the Constitution.

If you're in favor of an absolute, unfettered right to bear arms, that's fine. I disagree, but it's fine. However, you simply can't say that the right is all or nothing. The Supreme Court virtually never takes that approach. Two centuries of both gun ownership and Supreme Court jurisprudence suggests very strongly that if they overturn Heller, they'll do nothing more than choose a modestly different middle ground.

A House investigation has confirmed that the military's top brass were a little too addicted to happy talk in the war against ISIS:

A House Republican task force has found that officials from the U.S. military’s Central Command altered intelligence reports to portray the U.S. fight against ISIS and al Qaeda in a more positive light than lower-level analysts believed was warranted by the facts on the ground, three officials familiar with the task force’s findings told The Daily Beast. A roughly 10-page report on the controversy is expected to be released by the end of next week, two officials said.

Only ten pages? That's the length of the executive summary in most congressional investigations. Why so short? And why has this been conducted with so little publicity? It's very odd, isn't—

While it contains no definitive evidence that senior Obama administration officials ordered the reports to be doctored....

Oh. I see. There was nothing that implicated either Obama or Hillary Clinton, so nobody really cared. That makes sense.

I will happily concede that poking holes in Donald Trump's tax "policy" is just an idle way to pass the time, like doing a crossword puzzle or watching a Division III football game. Still, it occasionally pays off in entertainment value.

You all know that Trump's economic plan, unveiled yesterday, is basically a huge giveaway to the rich. However, from the very beginning of his campaign, Trump has been consistent about abolishing the carried-interest loophole, which allows hedge fund managers to pay low tax rates on their management fees, which can sometimes run into the billions of dollars. This is the entire basis of his claim that the rich will pay more under his plan.

But it turns out that he's found a clever way to stick with his promise but nonetheless give the hedge fundies a huge tax cut. CBPP explains:

Mr. Trump said today that he would set the top individual income-tax rate at 33 percent...However, his plan would create a much lower rate than 33 percent for a substantial number of very-high-income households by allowing people to pay a new low rate of 15 percent on “pass-through” income (business income claimed on individual tax returns).

....This large tax cut for pass-through income would also undercut another tax change Mr. Trump mentioned today: eliminating the tax break for “carried interest.” Under current law, investment fund managers can pay taxes on a large part of their income — their “carried interest,” or the right to a share of their fund’s profits — at the 23.8 percent top capital gains tax rate rather than at normal income tax rates of up to 39.6 percent. The Trump plan ostensibly would tax carried interest at ordinary income tax rates. In fact, however, these investment fund managers generally would be able to arrange to receive their income as pass-through income.

Nickel summary: Under the old plan, the tax rate for carried interest would go up from 23.8 percent to 33 percent (or whatever top rate Trump happens to be hawking at any given moment). Under the shiny new plan, it would go down from 23.8 percent to 15 percent. The carried interest loophole would be gone, but the new pass-through income rate would be even better. Hooray for Wall Street!

This is basically a trivial thing, but it just goes to show how fanatic Republicans are about cutting taxes on the rich. Even a small symbolic tax increase that would affect only a tiny number of rich people simply can't be tolerated. Some way has to be found to get rid of it, even if that means inventing a whole new tax giveaway for a huge number of people.

Actually, I suppose that's a feature, not a bug. Silly me.

It's funny how often I react differently from the rest of the world to Donald Trump's various idiocies. Last week, for example, I must have collected a couple dozen of them on the blog. But there were a few I left out. Trump called Hillary Clinton "the devil," for example, and after looking at the context it seemed like a nothingburger. When I started clicking around, however, it was in headlines everywhere. Likewise, it was pretty obvious that he didn't really kick a baby out of his rally last Tuesday, but that dustup lasted days and days. Then today he said this about Hillary Clinton:

If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.

Trump is making a wisecrack about how gun folks could rub out Hillary—ha ha ha—which is pretty obviously not appropriate for a presidential candidate. Still, it's just a dumb aside, and no, I don't think Donald Trump really wants his supporters to assassinate Hillary Clinton. Next.

But no! The world is going nuts over this, and I've now read at least a dozen explanations of why "just a joke" is absolutely not an excuse. These have persuaded me to come around on this, but luckily the Trump folks themselves are not defending it as "just a joke." Their official explanation is that gun owners have "amazing spirit and are tremendously organized," and Trump was just noting that they can cast a lot of votes against Hillary. A few minutes later Trump communications advisor Jason Miller stepped in to second this explanation.

As many people have pointed out, though, this makes no sense. Trump was clearly talking about what people might do after Hillary is elected. The gun vote won't matter at that point. Jake Tapper pointed this out to Trump's deer-in-headlights spokesperson Katrina Pierson, who explained that Trump was only talking about what could happen. Obviously, she said, Trump "doesn't want that to happen." Looked at the right way, he was warning people against violence!

This is yet another example of Trump stepping all over his own message. Yesterday's big economic speech was supposed to be the latest of his endlessly promised turning points toward greater seriousness, which would allow the news cycle to move off of Trump's latest gaffe-of-the-day and instead focus on his policies. But within 24 hours of being unchained from his teleprompter, all that was toast. Nobody cares about his economic policies anymore. They just want to know why Trump thinks it's OK to rally his supporters in favor of murdering Hillary Clinton.

Matt Yglesias points out the broader implications of Trump's childlike inability to control what comes out of his mouth:

Maybe so. On the other hand, in a Trump presidency, the entire world might learn very quickly to ignore everything he says. With any luck, maybe that could start happening tomorrow.

POSTSCRIPT: Paul Ryan's primary election is today. Once it's over and he's won, maybe now would be a good time to finally unendorse Trump?

Hmmm:

This has now become the hottest meme in my Twitter feed. Some have taken it a wee bit too seriously:

Others just want to mock it:

This lasted about five minutes. Nonetheless, it highlights what Twitter is really for.

Here is the Tax Foundation's estimate of how far a dollar goes in each state:

The law of supply and demand works! Highly desirable places to live cost more.

(I could only squeeze in the top and bottom 15. Sorry. Click the link if your state is missing and you want to know how you measure up.)

So which state provides the best bang for the buck? California is a great place to live, but your dollar doesn't go very far. Mississippi is a great place to stretch your dollar, but not such a great place to put down roots. Maybe Ohio? It's reasonably nice, decent weather, etc., but your dollar goes pretty far. It's also chock full of Drum ancestors. Who gets your vote?

Labor productivity is in the dumps:

The longest stretch of productivity declines since the end of the 1970s is threatening to restrain U.S. worker pay and broader economic growth in the years ahead. Nonfarm business productivity, measured as the output of goods and services produced by American workers per hour worked, decreased at a 0.5% seasonally adjusted annual rate in the second quarter as hours increased faster than output, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

How big a deal is this? Just as a point of reference, here is labor productivity since the Great Recession:

Productivity increased considerably in 2009-10 as businesses shed workers but kept producing the same amount of stuff. In 2011 that stopped, and ever since productivity has increased at a modest rate.

Now, this is a bumpy series, as most series are, and you can see that there have already been two periods just since 2011 in which productivity stalled for a full year or more: 4Q10 through 4Q11 and 2Q12 through 3Q13. We're now in our third: 3Q14 through 2Q16. The recent nature of this series is that it goes up, then plateaus for a while, and then goes up again. So in that sense, it's too early to get too panicked about the current plateau.

On the other hand, it has lasted seven quarters now, so we ought to be a little nervous about it. Productivity growth is probably the single most important component of national economic activity, and it doesn't inspire a lot of confidence to see it dog paddling along like this. So don't panic yet, but definitely stay tuned.

Noam Levey reports on some new research about Medicaid expansion:

“The effects of expanding coverage will be an unfolding story over time,” said Dr. Benjamin Sommers, lead author of the study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine....Sommers and other researchers at Harvard University have been tracking the effect of Medicaid expansion by surveying some 9,000 poor residents in Arkansas and Kentucky, both of which expanded Medicaid eligibility, and in Texas, which has rejected the expansion.

In Arkansas and Kentucky, the share of poor adults without health insurance plummeted between 2013 and 2015, from more than 40% in both states to 14% in Arkansas and less than 9% in Kentucky.

In Texas, by contrast, the uninsured rate dropped only from 39% to 32%. Although Texas has not expanded Medicaid, state residents have been able to buy health insurance on the new insurance marketplaces that were also created by the law.

The new coverage in Arkansas and Kentucky dramatically improved poor patients’ access to care and relieved financial strains, the surveys show.

This, of course, is no surprise. If you expand Medicaid, more poor people will get medical care. If you don't, they won't.

Skeptics will suggest that more coverage is not necessarily better. However, I have yet to meet a single one of these skeptics who actually believes this enough to give up their own medical coverage. I'll take them more seriously when that happens.