Consider the following three things that have happened in the past month:

  • After years of promising to repeal Obamacare, Republicans finally have the power to do it. But they've suddenly discovered that it's going to be a lot harder than they thought.
  • President Trump kept his campaign promise to institute "extreme vetting" of refugees and visitors to the US, but the rollout was bungled so horribly that he's losing support for it even among Republicans.
  • Last week Trump approved his first military operation. It was a disaster. The evidence here is a bit murky, but it suggests that the raid was vetted less stringently than usual because of Trump's desire to cut through red tape and give the military more freedom to fight terrorism.

These are examples of what Barack Obama was talking about when he told Trump that "reality has a way of asserting itself." More generally, it's the result of a Republican Party that has been averse to policy for a very long time. They have principles and beliefs, but they don't spend much time thinking hard about how to implement those principles in the most efficient possible way.

They believe that Obamacare is a failure. They believe that immigration should be shut down. They believe the military should be unleashed. But these are just bumper stickers. They haven't spent much time developing serious policy responses on these topics because (a) that would give Democrats something concrete to attack, (b) their base likes bumper stickers, and (c) policy analysis has a habit of highlighting problems with ideological purity and pushing solutions toward the center.1

George W. Bush had the same problem with policy. Remember what John Dilulio said in his famous "Mayberry Machiavellis" letter to Ron Suskind?

In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis, and they were even more overworked than the stereotypical, nonstop, 20-hour-a-day White House staff. Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but, on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking — discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue.

This problem is now a couple of decades old and shows no signs of abating. Quite the opposite: Donald Trump makes Bush look like an analytical genius. But even on their own terms, conservative rule is going to end disastrously if both Trump and congressional Republicans don't spend a little more time on policy analysis and implementation issues. There are only so many disasters that even their own base will put up with.

1Democrats, arguably, have the opposite problem—too much regard for policy analysis—which is why lefties are often so contemptuous of them.

In the Wall Street Journal today, a couple of old-school conservatives propose a carbon tax as a response to climate change. But there's a catch. Here are George Shultz and James Baker:

We suggest a solution that rests on four pillars. First, creating a gradually increasing carbon tax. Second, returning the tax proceeds to the American people in the form of dividends. Third, establishing border carbon adjustments that protect American competitiveness and encourage other countries to follow suit. And fourth, rolling back government regulations once such a system is in place.

....The eventual elimination of regulations no longer necessary after the enactment of a carbon tax would constitute the final pillar. Almost all of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority over carbon emissions could be eliminated, including an outright repeal of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Robust carbon taxes would also justify ending federal and state tort liability for emitters.

Schultz and Baker recommend a $40 per ton "tax and rebate" scheme that would be progressive because it returns a bigger proportionate share of the tax to working families than to the rich. And since it's revenue neutral, presumably Grover Norquist wouldn't issue a fatwa against it.

Now, this is all pie in the sky, since Republicans will never agree to it. But how about liberals? What should they do if this deal were on the table?

For starters, $40 per ton of carbon1 is about the equivalent of 40 cents per gallon of gasoline and 10 cents per kilowatt-hour of coal-fired power. Coal is already declining because it's not price competitive with natural gas, and a carbon tax would pretty much put it out of business for good. Gas plants would remain competitive compared to wind and solar, but only barely. As solar prices come down and the carbon tax rises, even natural gas plants would become uncompetitive. Here's the effect on coal from a study by the Energy Information Administration:

So that's all good. But what regulations would get tossed out? There are two main categories: regulations on power plants and EPA's CAFE standards for cars and trucks. My guess based on the relative numbers is that a $40 per ton carbon tax would probably be as effective as current regulations when it comes to power plants. Giving up those would probably be a good trade. However, it would almost certainly be too low to have much effect on driving and fuel economy. CAFE standards aren't perfect, but they have succeeded in substantially raising the fleetwide fuel economy of cars and trucks. The carbon tax wouldn't—at $40 per ton, anyway.

Here's an illustration from the EIA study. They looked at a $20/ton tax on electricity generators vs. a $20/ton tax on all carbon sources. There's virtually no difference. The tax on power plants has a big impact, but expanding the tax to gasoline accomplishes almost nothing. It's just too small to have much effect.

Of course, in this study EIA was assuming that CAFE standards stayed in place. A carbon tax would obviously have a bigger impact if there were no other regulations already pushing up fuel economy. However, even with CAFE repealed it wouldn't be enough—though there is a possible compromise: a $40 per ton carbon tax plus another 60 cents per gallon tax on gasoline. As a side benefit, the gasoline tax would also provide the revenue to fund significant amounts of infrastructure repair. Offer me that, and I might well be willing to give up nearly2 all EPA regulations on carbon.

Of course, I'd want to know just how "gradually" the carbon tax is going to rise. One approach to this might be to target certain regulations for immediate repeal and others for repeal only when certain tax levels are met.

As always, the devil is in the details. But a carbon tax plus a gasoline tax in return for an end to EPA regulation of carbon might be a deal worth looking at. I doubt that the subject will ever seriously come up, though.

UPDATE: Here's an interesting calculation. The EPA has allowed auto manufacturers to trade greenhouse gas permits since 2012. This paper, in the middle of a bunch of math, says "In the first-order condition λ is the shadow value of the CAFE constraint. With permit trading this shadow value equals the permit price." Meanwhile, this paper estimates that the current permit price is roughly $40 per Mg. One megagram is about a ton, so the permit price is in the neighborhood of $40 per ton.

In other words, the effect of the current CAFE standards is about equal to the effect of a $40/ton carbon tax. This is a rough approximation, but it's at least suggestive that a $40/ton carbon tax would provide the same benefit as all our current CAFE standards, and probably do it more efficiently.

1This is actually $40 per ton of carbon dioxide, which is a common measurement. I assume that's what Schultz and Baker are talking about too, though their op-ed doesn't provide that level of detail.

2There are some exceptions. For example, methane leaks wouldn't be affected by a carbon tax. The only way to reduce them is by ordinary old regulation. There are some other exceptions too.

This is outrageous:

The president of the United States shouldn't play favorites. This tweet should have mentioned that Neiman Marcus also dropped Ivanka's line. Belk, Jet, ShopStyle, and Home Shopping Network too.

I'm also a little confused by Trump's syntax. What exactly is it that's "terrible"? The fact that Nordstrom dropped Ivanka's line? Or the fact that Ivanka is always pestering him to do the right thing? Maybe both, I suppose. Trump is a recognized master at packing a lot of innuendo into 140 characters, after all.

And finally, I have some bad news for Trump: his tweets seem to be losing effectiveness. He needs to up his game.

Did Donald Trump learn his bullshitting skills from the Army, or is it the other way around?

“Only about one-third of our [58 Brigade Combat Teams] are ready,” said Gen. Daniel Allyn, Army vice chief of staff. “Of the BCTs that are ready, only three could be called upon to fight tonight in the event of a crisis.”

As James Joyner says, "This is either utter horseshit or an admission of gross malfeasance on the part of Army leadership." Luckily for the Army leadership, I vote for the former.

Our adventure in Yemen last week failed to kill its target; caused the death of numerous Yemeni civilians; resulted in one dead American sailor; and ended with the loss of a $70 million helicopter. Now comes another blow:

Angry at the civilian casualties incurred last month in the first commando raid authorized by President Trump, Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials.

....The raid stirred immediate outrage among Yemeni government officials, some of whom accused the Trump administration of not fully consulting with them before the mission. Within 24 hours of the assault on a cluster of houses in a tiny village in mountainous central Yemen, the country’s foreign minister, Abdul Malik Al Mekhlafi, condemned the raid in a post on his official Twitter account as “extrajudicial killings.”

This is why decisions about risky operations normally come only after "the kind of rigorous review in the Situation Room that became fairly routine under President George W. Bush and Mr. Obama"—not over dinner, as this one was:

Mr. Trump will soon have to make a decision about the more general request by the Pentagon to allow more of such operations in Yemen without detailed, and often time-consuming, White House review. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump will allow that, or how the series of mishaps that marked his first approval of such an operation may have altered his thinking about the human and political risks of similar operations.

This presents Trump with a dilemma. It sure looks like that detailed White House review is a good idea. On the other hand, we all know that he has nowhere near the patience to sit through regular, hours-long meetings in the Situation Room where he can't have CNN on in the background. He's learning that it's not all fun and games being president, but it's not clear how he'll react to that.

Every day brings new stories out of the White House about what an idiot Donald Trump is. I kinda sorta try to stay away from them, with only sporadic success. But this one is worth it for reasons unrelated to the anecdote itself. Here are S.V. Date and Christina Wilkie:

President Donald Trump was confused about the dollar: Was it a strong one that's good for the economy? Or a weak one?

So he made a call―except not to any of the business leaders Trump brought into his administration or even to an old friend from his days in real estate. Instead, he called his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, according to two sources familiar with Flynn's accounts of the incident.

Flynn has a long record in counterintelligence but not in macroeconomics. And he told Trump he didn't know, that it wasn't his area of expertise, that, perhaps, Trump should ask an economist instead.

Just for the record, the answer about the dollar is: it depends. But a weak dollar is good for boosting exports and reducing the trade deficit, so that's probably what Trump was looking for.

These anecdotes are basically liberal porn for those of us who revel in reports of Trump's almost unfathomable ignorance. I include myself among the revelers, but I also know that there's no way of knowing for sure which of these stories are true and which are just malicious gossip. What's more interesting is the topic of the rest of the story:

Unsurprisingly, Trump's volatile behavior has created an environment ripe for leaks from his executive agencies and even within his White House. And while leaks typically involve staffers sabotaging each other to improve their own standing or trying to scuttle policy ideas they find genuinely problematic, Trump's 2-week-old administration has a third category: leaks from White House and agency officials alarmed by the president's conduct.

…Information about Trump's personal interactions and the inner workings of his administration has come to HuffPost from individuals in executive agencies and in the White House itself. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.

While some of the leaks are based on opposition to his policies—the travel ban on all refugees and on visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations, for instance—many appear motivated by a belief that Trump's words, deeds and tweets pose a genuine threat.

This is truly bizarre and unique. Every new White House has lots of growing pains and plenty of leaks. But they never feature leak after leak after leak portraying the president as a boob. That's something new.

At this point, I'm mostly curious about who's doing the leaking. Is it career staff from the Obama era who are still working in the White House until they get reassigned? Or is this coming from folks who were actually hired by Trump? If it's the former, it's still unprecedented but probably just represents lingering resentment. However, if Trump's own people think he's an idiot and are happy to let the whole world know it, something is very, very wrong.

But I don't know which it is.

I'd forgotten all about this, but tonight was the date of the great Ted Cruz-Bernie Sanders debate. Apparently Cruz decided to haul out the old chestnut about Canadians fleeing en masse to the US for health care, which just proves how crappy government-run medicine is.

Lots of people are pointing out that this isn't really true, but I want to point out something different: Americans flee the US in pretty similar numbers to Canadians fleeing Canada. The best numbers we have suggest that about 45,000 Canadians left the country for medical care in 2015. (That's all destinations, not just the US.) Meanwhile, about 250,000 Americans left the US for medical care abroad. And these numbers don't even count the number of Americans who get their prescription drugs from overseas.

Overall, then, that's about 0.13 percent of Canadians and 0.08 percent of Americans who flee their countries for health care. Those are pretty similar numbers. The only real difference is the reason for leaving. Canadians mostly cite wait times for elective surgery. Americans mostly cite the high cost of medical treatment.

So you see, every kind of health care system has its own problems. Canada's is bad for rich people who can afford to pay top dollar to get faster service. America's is bad for poor people, who would go bankrupt if they paid American prices. Check your moral compass and take your pick.

In the New York Times today, Scott Arbeiter writes about abortion:

The Guttmacher Institute reported last month that the rate of abortions per 1,000 women has fallen to the lowest rate since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. While the causes for this decrease are complex, many of us who are pro-life found this to be good news.

I'm not sure it's all that complicated, especially for teen abortions. Take a look at this chart, which uses Guttmacher data on teen pregnancy rates and teen abortion rates:

As you can see, the teen abortion rate almost precisely followed the teen pregnancy rate from 1979-88 and 1995-2011. So there's not a big mystery about abortion per se: when teens get pregnant less, they get fewer abortions. The exception is 1988-95. For some reason, teen abortion rates declined fairly dramatically even though pregnancy rates stayed about the same. So there are two interesting questions here:

Why did the teen pregnancy rate go down? The most obvious possibility is increased contraceptive use, but since 1995, at least, that doesn't really seem to be the case (1995-2006 here, 2007-12 here).1 Another possibility is that teens became less impulsive starting around 1990 thanks to lower rates of lead poisoning.

What happened in 1988-95? Beats me. Teen pregnancy rates were fairly flat. Ditto for contraceptive use. But the abortion rate plummeted by a third.

The primary answer to the question of declining teen abortion rates is that teens are simply getting pregnant a lot less than they used to. That's the issue to focus on.

UPDATE: A reader emails with a possible explanation for the 1988-95 mystery:

As a child of the 80s who sat through many health classes, I think you may be missing an important factor in the decline in teen pregnancy: AIDS. In the 1988-1995 period you describe, I can tell you that it was drilled into teenagers' heads that unprotected sex would lead to AIDS and death. This was the era of Magic Johnson, Philadelphia, TLC's Waterfalls, etc. Unlike earlier in the 80s, AIDS was no longer seen as confined to homosexual communities. Relatedly, condoms became widespread and "cool" for teenagers, in a way they weren't in the 70s and 80s.

Maybe! It sounds pretty plausible, anyway.

1Data on teen contraceptive use is frustratingly hard to get. If anyone knows of a reliable data series that goes back to the 70s, I'd be obliged. It's also worth noting that although overall contraceptive use has been fairly flat since 1995, the use of highly effective methods has increased.

Ruthann Robson says this today about President Trump's immigration order:

Moreover, the EO itself does address religion. In its subsection on resuming refugee claims, which the EO suspends for 120 days, it instructs the government 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.” In the seven nations covered by the EO, the majority religion is Islam. Thus, unless the government considers different sects of Islam as minority religions, only non-Muslims would be eligible for a claim of religious-based persecution.

I've seen this formulation over and over, but it's wrong. The "religious persecution" clause applies to refugees, who have been banned worldwide. This clause affects Muslims and non-Muslims about equally.

The travel ban applies to any visa holder, and is restricted to seven Muslim-majority countries. There's a good case to be made that this ban is not truly based on nationality but is instead effectively aimed at Muslims, but the religious persecution clause doesn't apply and has nothing to do with it.

Here's a funny thing. President Trump's job disapproval rating has increased a staggering eight points in just two weeks:

And yet his overall favorability rating has stayed steady. In fact, it's actually gone up a smidge. How is it that 20 million additional people have decided he's doing a lousy job but this hasn't affected his favorability? It's a mystery.