• But Her Emails

    Hey, who needs a government account to communicate official business? That’s so fuddy duddy:

    K.T. McFarland, it turns out, used an AOL email account while she was deputy national security adviser, but I’m sure it was just for trivia, not important stuff like—

    Cummings also told Cipollone that the committee obtained a document showing that McFarland was using an AOL.com account to conduct official White House business. Cummings said the document shows that McFarland was in communication with Tom Barrack, a longtime Trump confidant and the chairman of the president’s Inaugural Committee, about transferring “sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.” Barrack pitched the plan to Bannon through Bannon’s personal email account, according to Cummings.

    Well, no worries. Nobody cares what anyone but Trump says anyway, and he seems to be very careful in his communications habits.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is the world’s greatest strip mall. Check it out. It has a smokes store, a wig store, another wig store, a tattoo store, a bail bondsman, and a pawnshop. And if the billboard is to be believed, cheap pot is right around the corner. It’s everything you could possibly want all in one convenient location.

    January 2, 2018 — Santa Ana, California

    But wait. What’s that at the far end? It looks like a barber shop. If you go around to the side, you can see what makes them famous:

    March 19, 2019 — Santa Ana, California

    I dunno. They’re still around, so at least a few people must know about them.

  • People Are About As Happy Today As They’ve Ever Been

    Here are a couple of additional charts from the recently released GSS 2018 data. They relate to a longtime hobbyhorse of mine:

    This is another and more up-to-date take on how angry people are, which is often cited as the reason Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016. But are people really angrier than they used to be? Overall financial satisfaction has been rising steadily since 2010, just as you’d expect during an economic expansion. By the end of 2016, financial satisfaction was basically at the same level as it had been since 1990.

    As for job satisfaction, it’s been dead flat for well over a decade. There’s just no movement there at all.

    Now, people might not always tell pollsters the bare truth. And political campaigns can sometimes unmask emotions that are held in check most of the time. Still, as best we can tell from a broad read of the data, people aren’t any angrier than they have been in the past, nor are they less satisfied with their economic situation. There are plenty of people who will gripe to reporters who parachute in to do a “sense of the nation” piece, but there are always people who will gripe to reporters if they get the chance. The question is whether they’re griping more than usual, and the GSS data suggests they aren’t now and weren’t in 2016.

    And now, a chart I’m posting just because it amuses me:

    With the exception of a couple of years around 2000, everyone is actually pretty close on this question. Until now, that is. With Donald Trump in office, Republicans are giddy about their standard of living going up, while Democrats are certain they’re headed to the poorhouse. By this metric, there’s not much question that Trump is the most polarizing president of the past three decades.

  • Progressives Are Getting Better at Bumper Stickers

    Tim Wu says that progressives have a bad habit of making policy too complex for voters to understand:

    The truth is that good public policy can actually be elegant and simple to understand, even when the social problem that it’s addressing is complex. Social Security, Medicare, bans on indoor smoking, the “do not call” list (when it worked) and public libraries are examples of government solutions that are easy to understand and to benefit from.

    Avoidance of complexity and minimizing choices are hallmarks of good design, as we have learned from the technological revolution in user interfaces. The age of impossible-to-use computers and incomprehensible TV remote controls has given way to the sleek and intuitive interfaces offered by pioneers like Steve Jobs of Apple. What progressives most need now is not more brains, but better policy designers.

    His go-to example, of course, is Obamacare, and that’s fair enough. There are lots of reasons for the complexity of Obamacare, but that doesn’t change the fact that for most people it requires a “navigator” to walk you through all the options. That’s bad.

    On the other hand, it’s not as if Republican policies are simple either. How many health care plans did they go through in 2017? Did you understand all of them? Any of them? How about their tax cut? Do you have any idea what taxes it cuts? Republicans also have a “deregulation” agenda, and I doubt that one person in a hundred could tell you what it really involves.

    Obamacare aside—health care really does seem to be a special case until we manage to pass a universal program—the real problem isn’t the grim details of policymaking, it’s the fact that progressives have historically been bad at making bumper stickers for their policies. But that’s changed recently:

    • Medicare for All
    • $15 minimum wage
    • Higher taxes on the rich
    • Break up Google and Facebook
    • etc.

    These may or may not be good ideas, but they’re pretty simple to understand even though many of them would end up being very complex to design and implement. In any case, this is the key: simple marketing slogans even if the underlying policy might require a fair amount of expert work.

    And one more thing: one of the reasons for the complexity of progressive policy is our belief that government programs have to be fair to everyone. Unfortunately, this is really hard, and there are diminishing returns as you desperately try to eliminate every last bit of unfairness. The Green New Deal, for example, would be about one-quarter its size if it just concentrated on climate change instead of tossing in dozens of other items about environmental and social justice. So these are genuinely competing imperatives. Simplicity is good, but so is fairness. It’s hard to get both at the same time.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This is a sunset picture of the Sutter Buttes, the smallest mountain range in the world. That may seem an odd claim, since there are plenty of peaks that are far smaller. However, apparently something is a “mountain” only if it’s created by a specific type of geological activity. Your average foothill doesn’t qualify. However, the Sutter Buttes do, and no other genuine mountain range is smaller.

    June 15, 2018 — Live Oak, California
  • Medicare Growth Has Been Flat Since 2010

    In his latest budget plan, President Trump proposed substantial cuts to Medicare even though he had promised repeatedly on the campaign trail never to do this. Over at NRO, Michael Strain thinks this is fine:

    I’m with the president on this one. Three cheers for slowing the growth of Medicare.

    Some of the cuts are very well designed because they would change the structure and underlying incentives of certain Medicare components. For example, physicians working in offices owned by, but not located in, hospitals would no longer be paid more for services than physicians working in offices not owned by hospitals. Other cuts are simply blunt reductions in payments to providers. The proposed budget is awarded 1.5 cheers for the way the overall cuts are designed.

    I’m not going to comment on every single aspect of Trump’s cuts. Some of them might be reasonable reforms that are worth supporting. But three cheers for slowing the growth of Medicare? How much does Strain want it to slow down?

    Medicare spending per person grew substantially up through 2009, with an especially big increase in 2006 when the prescription drug benefit kicked in. But since 2010 it hasn’t grown at all. In fact, Medicare spending per person has gone down by 1.6 percent.

    That’s eight consecutive years of flat spending, and it’s consistent with the slowdown in private health care spending that we’ve seen over the same period. Medicare just isn’t the big, bad budget killer that it used to be.

    Now, total Medicare spending will still go up as the baby boomers retire and more people are enrolled in Medicare. But that’s not a bad thing. People who retire over the next decade deserve Medicare coverage as good as it’s been in the past, don’t they? It’s one thing to oppose Democratic plans to expand Medicare, but it’s quite another to pretend that traditional Medicare spending is still spiraling out of control. It just isn’t.

  • EU to Britain: Approve the Brexit Deal or Fuck Off

    It looks like rough weather ahead for Great Britain.Kevin Drum

    The EU has spoken: They will not grant a short Brexit extension unless Britain approves the deal negotiated by Theresa May.

    So that’s that. Approve the deal or crash out of the EU in nine days. This should certainly get everyone’s attention, shouldn’t it?

    UPDATE: Apparently there is still the possibility of a long extension if May’s deal isn’t approved:

    Brussels expects the British government to request a lengthy extension, and hold European elections, if the deal fails in the Commons at the third time of asking, so as to allow time for cross-party talks on a soft Brexit or a general election or second referendum.

    ….EU diplomats had been led to believe by May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, who was in Brussels on Tuesday, that the British government would be seeking a lengthy extension with an option to leave after three months should the deal pass. After a stormy cabinet meeting, however, a letter from Downing Street did not appear overnight as had been expected. When it did emerge there was a sole request of a extension until 30 June to provide time for withdrawal legislation to be passed should the main deal be backed.

    Hmmm. The EU “had been led to believe” that Britain might ask for a long extension, and presumably the EU would accept this if asked. But no one has asked. So I guess the long extension is still on the table, though only barely.

  • Trump Loses Yet Another Federal Case

    Speaking of the Trump administration’s inability to get anything done because they don’t understand the law, today brings yet another example:

    A federal judge ruled late Tuesday that the Interior Department violated federal law by failing to take into account the climate impact of its oil and gas leasing in the West.

    The decision by U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Rudolph Contreras marks the first time the Trump administration has been held to account for the climate impact of its energy-dominance agenda, and it could have sweeping implications for the president’s plan to boost fossil fuel production across the country. Contreras concluded that Interior’s Bureau of Land Management “did not sufficiently consider climate change” when making decisions to auction off federal land in Wyoming to oil and gas drilling. The judge temporarily blocked drilling on roughly 300,000 acres of land in the state.

    ….While the Interior Department began to take into account the climate impacts of federal oil, gas and coal leasing toward the end of President Obama’s second term, Trump administration officials jettisoned those plans right after President Trump took office. Trump and several of his top deputies have dismissed recent federal findings that the United States and other countries must curb their carbon output in the next decade or face potentially disastrous consequences from climate change.

    You see what happened? The Obama folks took a long time to put new policies in place, but that’s because they followed the rules. They got sued anyway, and who knows? Maybe they would have lost. However, the Trumpies just casually dumped Obama’s policies, which goes over well with big donors and the Republican base but guarantees a loss in court because it’s illegal. This is why Obama said, as he was leaving office, that his legacy might be a wee bit harder to kill off than Trump thought.

    UPDATE: I changed the final paragraph to make it clear that the lawsuit was originally against the Obama administration. However, it was defended in court by the Trump administration.

  • Centrists Have Great Bullshit Radar (in Sweden, Anyway)

    Via Tyler Cowen, here are the results of “The Complex Relation Between Receptivity to Pseudo-Profound Bullshit and Political Ideology,” a recently published paper:

    Among Swedish adults (N = 985), bullshit receptivity was (a) robustly positively associated with socially conservative (vs. liberal) self-placement, resistance to change, and particularly binding moral intuitions (loyalty, authority, purity); (b) associated with centrism on preference for equality and even leftism (when controlling for other aspects of ideology) on economic ideology self-placement; and (c) lowest among right-of-center social liberal voters and highest among left-wing green voters.

    I don’t have access to the finished paper, but here are the main findings from a preprint version:

    For some reason, “bullshit receptivity” is reversed in the chart, so lower numbers mean a higher affinity for bullshit. In Sweden, at least, the lowest tolerance for bullshit is clearly in the center: the two most centrist partisan categories have high reasoning abilities, excellent sensitivity to bullshit, and very low tolerance for it.

    The highest tolerance for bullshit is among Greens and two of the right-wing parties. The far left and social democrats are about average.

    What I was most curious about, however, was how the authors identified bullshit. It turns out there’s considerable prior research on this, but the paper provides one example:

    We measured bullshit receptivity and profoundness receptivity by asking participants to rate the meaningfulness and profundity of seven bullshit statements (e.g., “Your movement transforms universal observations”) and seven genuine aphorisms (e.g., “Your teacher can open the door, but you have to step in”) respectively on a Likert response bar ranging from 1 (not at all meaningful) to 6 (very meaningful).

    I guess that sounds reasonable, although seven statements seems a little thin. Still, I’d count this as a big win for centrists. Maybe they have more going for them than we partisan types care to admit?