Let me get this straight. First, Donald Trump pisses off South Korea by parroting the Chinese president's claim that Korea was once part of China. Then he pisses them off again by saying the USS Carl Vinson is on its way to the Yellow Sea when, in fact, it's cruising around in Indonesia. Then, today, he pisses them off again by saying he might terminate our trade agreement with them, and then demanding that they pay us a billion dollars for the anti-missile system we're installing there.

But...we need good relations with South Korea if we're planning to take on North Korea in some way. Right? Why would we be going out of our way to piss them off repeatedly?

It is a mystery. It is a Trumpism. Perhaps Trump still doesn't realize that it's not like the old days, when doing something stupid would get him some attention for a couple of news cycles and then go away. I thought maybe he'd finally figured that out after the whole Obama wiretapping fiasco.1 I guess not.

1In retrospect, it's pretty obvious that he was delighted with those tweets at first because they turned the spotlight back on him and that's all he wanted. He figured it would be like the campaign, when he'd do this kind of stuff, bluff his way through it for a couple of days, and then everyone would get tired and let it go. I imagine he was pretty shocked that everyone took it seriously for weeks on end. Come on! It was a weekend tweet! It's not like I'm the presi— Oh.

Like everyone, I've been watching as the free speech debate on college campuses has morphed from its usual steady background hum into a Big Issue Of The Day. First there was Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley. Then Charles Murray at Middlebury. Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna. Ann Coulter at Berkeley. The right is naturally outraged that these speakers were harassed or banned, and the left is—well, what is the left's reaction to all this? At first, it was mostly a matter of not really sticking up for free speech rights on campus. That was bad enough, but then the conversation changed. Instead of a collective mumble, I began reading affirmative arguments that there was absolutely nothing wrong with "no-platforming" these folks. For example, a few days ago a New Republic article showed up in my Facebook feed and got high fives from several people I follow. Here is Aaron Hanlon:

When departments or groups arrange for a speaker, invitations are usually authorized by small committees or localized administrative offices without a campus-wide discussion or debate....Instead of community-wide discussion and debate over the merits of bringing a given speaker to campus, the debate happens after the invitation, giving the misleading impression that no-platforming is about shutting down speech.

....But no-platforming is better understood as the kind of value judgment that lies at heart of a liberal arts education....This has always meant deciding what people needed to know, but also what they don’t need to know—or at least which knowledge and skills deserved priority in one’s formal education.

....No-platforming may look like censorship from certain angles, but from others it’s a consequence of a challenging, never-ending process occurring at virtually all levels of the university: deciding what educational material to present to our students and what to leave out. In this sense, de-platforming isn’t censorship; it’s a product of free expression and the foundational aims of a classically liberal education.

The sophistry here is breathtaking. If it's just some small group that invites someone, then it's OK if the rest of the university blackballs their choice. After all, universities are supposed to decide what students don't need to know. It may "look like censorship from certain angles," but it's actually the very zenith of free expression. Juliet Kleber followed up today:

As Aaron Hanlon argued in the New Republic earlier this week, choosing not to host Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos on campus is not a suppression of their free speech. Academia certainly has an important place in selecting and elevating certain voices to relevance in a broader culture, but let’s not forget that a college isn’t a town hall: it’s a particular community of people engaged in intersecting missions of education. Coulter is not a member of that community and she has no claims upon it. Campus life is curated, and none of us outside of it are guaranteed access to that platform.

Enough. I don't usually pay a lot of attention to the latest outrages on college campuses because college campuses are teeming with smart, verbal, overconfident 19-year-olds. Of course they do stupid things. We all did stupid things at that age. I'm generally happy for all these micro-outrages to remain local controversies handled by local administrators.

But now everyone is weighing in, and here on the left we're caving in way too often to this Hanlon-esque lunacy. Is some of the speech he's concerned about ugly and dangerous and deliberately provocative? Of course it is. But that's not a reason to shut it down. That's the whole reason we defend free speech in the first place. If political speech was all a harmless game of patty-cake, nobody would even care.

Speech is often harmful. And vicious. And hurtful. And racist. And just plain disgusting. But whenever you start thinking these are good reasons to overturn—by violence or otherwise—someone's invitation to speak, ask yourself this: Who decides? Because once you concede the right to keep people from speaking, you concede the right of somebody to make that decision. And that somebody may eventually decide to shut down communists. Or anti-war protesters. Or gays. Or sociobiologists. Or Jews who defend Israel. Or Muslims.

I don't want anyone to have that power. No one else on the left should want it either.

Lunchtime Photo

I keep mentioning the blimp hangars on the old MCAS Tustin base, so here's a picture of one of them. (The other one is identical.) They were built during WWII as housing for blimps used to patrol the West Coast, and according to the American Society of Civil Engineers they are the biggest wooden frame structures in the world. You can read a book about them here. Or watch a 25-minute video about them here. Every year or two I read a story about how we've finally decided what to do with them, but nothing ever happens. At the moment, they're still behind fencing around the old base and closed to the public.

However, I was invited inside one of them once. Back when the base was still open, Goodyear used the hangars to do maintenance on their local blimp based in Carson. In my senior year in college I was interning at the Orange County bureau of the LA Times when a storm drove a tailfin through the blimp and it was hauled out to Tustin for repairs. The Marine Corps invited the press to come out and see it, and I got the assignment to go. In a preview of Twitter days to come, I wrote a snarky story about how there was nothing to see, really, except a huge piece of flat polyester. Surprisingly, my editor thought it was great even though I offered to write a straight version of the story if he wanted it. The Marine Corps was not so excited. One of their press folks called the next day, reminding me that they had only offered the tour because the press itself asked for it. That was true enough. Live by the snark, die by the snark.

BONUS PHOTO: Here's the interior of the blimp hangar from the 2009 movie Star Trek, where it served as the set for the shuttle bay sequence. Orange County film commissioner Janice Arrington describes the shoot: "The entire Starfleet was built in the north blimp hangar in 2008," she said—not quite accurately, but close enough for government work I suppose. "It was overwhelming to see endless rows of space vehicles lined up and stretching to the ends of the 300,000-square-foot hangar."

The Wall Street Journal has an intriguing story today on its front page:

When stocks rose after last year’s presidential election, DryShips Inc. left the market far behind. The little-known Greek dry bulk carrier’s epic one-week rally pushed its shares up by 1,500% for no apparent reason. The rally quickly unwound after the shares were briefly suspended by Nasdaq, but the run-up appears to have made possible a flurry of financial maneuvers that may earn the company’s founder a huge windfall, according to calculations by The Wall Street Journal, while small investors suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. Since they peaked, DryShips’s shares are down by 99.9%.

The Journal provides a handy timeline of events surrounding DryShips. I've added the line in red:

Somebody was sure excited about the prospects for bulk shipping in the Trump era. This is especially mysterious since DryShips announced that it was defaulting on its loans ("suspending principal and interest payments") right before the huge price runup.

Oddly enough, when I went looking for the performance of other dry bulk carriers at around the same time—fully expecting to find that DryShips was indeed unique—I found another carrier with a very similar profile. Right after the election, stock in Globus Maritime skyrocketed 900 percent for a day or two:

Very strange. I guess the dry bulk market is not a place for amateurs.

Yesterday Donald Trump suggested he might pull out of NAFTA entirely, then turned on a dime and agreed to begin negotiations instead over changes to the treaty. Mexico has finally figured him out:

On Wednesday, the suggestion from the White House that Mr. Trump was finalizing an executive order to begin the process of withdrawing the United States from NAFTA revealed a different, more experienced Mexico, one that was learning to live with what it considers Mr. Trump’s bluster and stagecraft — and not inclined to publicly react too quickly.

“It seems like he’s sitting at a poker table bluffing rather than making serious decisions,” said Senator Armando Ríos Piter, a Mexican legislator. “In front of a bluffer, you always have to maintain a firm and dignified position.”

Has Trump ever threatened to pull out of a deal and then followed through? We know that he talks a lot, and he's quick to file lawsuits. But in, say, the past 20 years or so, has he ever made a great real estate deal? Has he ever threatened to pull out of a real estate deal, and then done so when the other side refused to meet his terms? Ever?

The CDC has a new report out on the chronically uninsured. Here's the good news:

Starting in 2014, when Obamacare went into effect, the number of chronically uninsured plummeted by more than half, from 15.7 percent to 7.6 percent. That's a huge public policy victory.

Now here's the bad news—at least for some people:

States that resisted Obamacare in general, and refused the Medicaid expansion in particular, were largely in the South. In 2013 those states already accounted for 46.1 percent of the uninsured even though they have only 35 percent of the US population. By 2016, as other states were making progress, their share of the chronically uninsured skyrocketed to 54.7 percent.

Put another way: by 2016, the per capita rate of chronically uninsured in the South was more than twice what it was in the rest of the country even though southern states could have reduced their uninsured rate practically for free. This is the triumph of Republican bitterness over human decency.

From an anonymous White House official:

I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here. But this shit is hard.

It's early morning here on the West Coast, but I'm pretty sure this quote is going to be the winner for the day. It comes from a Politico story, yet another in the "interviews with dozens of aides" genre. Basically, it paints a picture of a president and a White House who have no idea what they're doing:

[Trump] sat at the Resolute desk, with his daughter Ivanka across from him. One aide said the chat was off-the-record, but Trump insisted, over objections from nervous-looking staffers, that he be quoted....It was classic Trump: Confident, hyperbolic and insistent on asserting control.

But interviews with nearly two dozen aides, allies, and others close to the president paint a different picture — one of a White House on a collision course between Trump’s fixed habits and his growing realization that this job is harder than he imagined when he won the election on Nov. 8.

So far, Trump has led a White House gripped by paranoia and insecurity, paralyzed by internal jockeying for power. Mistrust between aides runs so deep that many now employ their own personal P.R. advisers — in part to ensure their own narratives get out. Trump himself has been deeply engaged with media figures, even huddling in the Oval Office with Matt Drudge.

....As Trump is beginning to better understand the challenges—and the limits—of the presidency, his aides are understanding better how to manage perhaps the most improvisational and free-wheeling president in history. “If you’re an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins,” said one Trump confidante. “To talk him out of doing crazy things.”

....“You don’t walk in with a traditional presentation, like a binder or a PowerPoint. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t consume information that way,” said one senior administration official. “You go in and tell him the pros and cons, and what the media coverage is going to be like.”...What the president hears on the cable morning gabfests on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN can redirect his attention, schedule and agenda. The three TVs in the chief-of-staff's office sometimes dictate the 8 a.m. meeting — and are always turned on to cable news, West Wing officials say.

Go ahead and read the whole thing if you want to ruin the rest of your day.

This is from the New York Times:

When does this nonsense stop? Republicans aren't deficit hawks. They haven't been since the Reagan era. Republicans used to be deficit hawks, but the whole point of the Reagan Revolution was that tax cuts were more important than deficits. Their only concern about the deficit these days is as a handy excuse for opposing any increase to social welfare programs.

I know I'm a partisan, but the evidence behind this is about as clear as it could be. Read up on the Reagan tax cut. It took about a decade for the GOP to completely shake off its historical aversion to deficits, but George H. W. Bush's tax increase in 1990 was the final straw. Since then, deficits have been a rhetorical trope, but nothing more.

The latest from Capitol Hill:

Ever since Jason Chaffetz announced he would be leaving Congress, people have been trying to figure out what's going on. Why would he do that?

But it doesn't seem like much of a mystery to me. Chaffetz is a very ambitious guy. Like everyone else, he assumed Hillary Clinton would win the election and provide him with endless fodder for high-profile investigations from his perch as chairman of the Oversight Committee. He'd be on the front page all the time, doing CNN hits, and just generally gaining lots of name recognition for the next step in his career. President Chaffetz? It could happen!

Then Trump won. Suddenly the Oversight Committee was all but shut down. There would be no investigations. In fact, it was even worse than that. There was a real possibility that Trump would do something so outrageous that Chaffetz would have no choice but to hold hearings. Then he'd really be in trouble. He'd be caught between loyalty to party and the need to avoid looking like a total shill. It's a lose-lose proposition.

tl;dr version: Trump's election transformed the Oversight Committee from a platform for fame and fortune into a backwater at best and an endless tightrope with career-ending risk at worst. So Chaffetz decided to quit. In the meantime, though, he might as well get his foot fixed on the taxpayer's dime, amirite? Plus it gets him out of the line of fire even quicker. What's not to like?

Here's the first quick-and-dirty estimate of how much Donald Trump's tax plan would cost. It comes from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

Oh please. This is a ridiculously pessimistic estimate because CRFB doesn't account for the economic growth this tax plan will unleash. They estimate that productivity would need to grow 3.8 percent per year to make Trump's plan pay for itself, something they scoff at. But that's well within reason:

I don't see a problem with that. Do you? Yes? That's probably because you don't believe in the power of the white American worker. That's why you lefties lost the election.

Perhaps you sense that I'm taking this less than seriously. Guilty as charged. But if Trump himself doesn't take his plans seriously, why should I?1

1Also, the eagle-eyed might have noticed that although the 1-page tax plan summary we got today was very similar to Trump's campaign document, one thing was left out: it no longer claims to be revenue neutral. Funny how that works.